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Monday, June 28, 2010

EDITORIAL 28.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 28, edition 000552 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































  2. WAR CRY
















































The rehearsed bonhomie that marked last week's India-Pakistan talks in Islamabad will no doubt be cited as 'success' by the Governments of both countries. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is singularly obsessed with Pakistan to the exclusion of all other countries (barring, of course, the US), including those in India's neighbourhood, will tout the Foreign Secretary and Home Minister-level talks as a 'breakthrough', his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani will smirk and say that nothing was conceded, nothing acknowledged and nothing promised by his men, which by itself is a big achievement for his country. A reality check would suggest that the talks have resulted in photo-ops and little else. Of course, it would be absurd to expect anything more than that; India-Pakistan dialogue is like a merrygoround which occasionally comes to a halt whenever Pakistani terrorists carry out a spectacular strike on our soil, as it happened after the fidayeen attack on multiple targets in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Ironically, both sides know that the so-called composite dialogue process is unlikely to result in a product that is acceptable to the people of either country, but they persist with the dumb charade for reasons that are well known. For Pakistan, talking to India provides an opportunity to reiterate old grievances, restate claims and add some more to the list: Apart from Kashmir, we now have the Islamabad accusing New Delhi of meddling in the affairs of Balochistan and denying river water to Pakistani farmers. This helps the regime of the day to indulge in rhetorical grandstanding for its domestic audience as well as to tell the world that Pakistan is willing to talk on all issues provided India is also willing to do so. For India, or rather Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, talking to Pakistan is both an act of faith as well as a compulsion: Washington, DC would not hesitate to convey its displeasure if New Delhi were to be seen as being reluctant to pander to Islamabad. Given this backdrop, mutual back-slapping and plastic smiles for television cameras is the best we could have expected and we have not been let down.

It is nobody's case that India-Pakistan relations should not improve or that the two neighbours should reconcile themselves to living in perpetual hostility. But for a lasting peace, if not friendship in its truest sense, the Governments of both countries must get real and focus on issues that can be resolved, rather than set for themselves impossible goals. For starters, it is now more than evident that Pakistan, or at least influential and powerful sections of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment, will continue to foster jihadi terrorism against India. We should, therefore, make it equally clear to Pakistan that every possible counter-terrorism measure shall be adopted by us, the nature and scope of which will not be circumscribed by what anybody else may have to say. In brief, instead of talking in shades of grey, perhaps we could be more specific and state our case in black and white, which would require clarity. Meanwhile, strategists crafting Mr Manmohan Singh's Pakistan policy would be well-advised not to see bilateral dialogue in isolation of events as they are unfolding in Afghanistan and America's role in the region. In fact, talks in Islamabad and New Delhi could be reduced to no more than sideshows in the coming months.








A group of lawyers on Thursday evening vandalised the Chief Justice's courtroom ostensibly protesting against their eviction by the police from a room used by them following its allotment to the Assistant Court Officer on Thursday night. Instead of sending a strong message dissociating itself from this display of reckless behaviour, the Bar Council of West Bengal has surprisingly expressed solidarity with the lawyers and called for stoppage of work in all the courts in the State. Coincidentally, Chief Justice MS Shah was on Friday transferred to the Bombay High Court. According to the Registrar's office, Chief Justice Shah had sought a transfer long back and it was overdue, as it had been cleared by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan. While there is no apparent link between the unseemly incident and the Chief Justice's transfer, the fact that he chose to leave for Mumbai immediately tells its own story. Obviously he did not want to spend another day in a court where his writ did not run. If the Chief Justice of a High Court can't take and implement administrative decisions like who gets to use which room, can he really expect his rulings, as also those of his brother judges, to be taken seriously? More importantly, it would be pertinent to ask as to how this room came to be occupied without authorisation in the first place. Or, if the lawyers had sought and secured permission from a previous Chief Justice, why wasn't the issue resolved in an amicable manner? The majesty of the Bench and the dignity of the Bar cannot but suffer erosion when such incidents occur in full gaze of petitioners and are reported widely by media. What does this do the people's faith in the justice system?

The issue raises a fundamental point that has been largely ignored till now. Most of our High Courts are located in old buildings and are cramped for space. As the number of cases has grown, so has the size of the lawyers' fraternity. It is true that they require — and should get— space for chambers either on near their respective court premises. It is equally true that they do not get this space or other professional facilities. Our High Courts barely make do with what is available; the appalling conditions in district and lower courts need not be elaborated: Suffice to say, they reflect the state of the judiciary as a whole. However, this by no means justifies the vandalism that occurred on Thursday evening. Nor is this the first time that lawyers have shown scant regard for decorum. We have witnessed similar incidents in other courts, most notably in the Madras High Court. The Bar Council of India could perhaps consider taking up the issue and, in consultation with judges, work towards a resolution that will obviate ugly stand-offs similar to what transpired in the Calcutta High Court.








There are various definitions of corruption, the best one, in my view, being corruption is monopoly of authority sans transparency. Indian society and public life has been overrun by corruption for the simple reason that, irrespective of the party or parties in power, the Governments of the day have at best sought to play it down, offered it tacit support and at worst connived with the perpetrators.

Scams, frauds and other graft cases are detected with overwhelming rapidity and the latest ones surpass older ones in technique and figures involved. Everything happens right under the nose of the mighty Union Government, the agencies of which are spread across every nook and corner of the country.

In June, the CBI unearthed a railway recruitment scam following simultaneous raids in Mumbai, Bangalore, Raipur, Hyderabad and Kolkata. The additional divisional railway manager, Raipur, AK Jagannatham, in connivance with the officials of Railway Recruitment Board, Mumbai, had secured a copy of the question paper before the examination date and leaked its contents to several applicants for the posts of assistant loco pilot and assistant station master in exchange of bribe worth Rs 3.5 lakh per person.

Those arrested include SM Sharma, chairman of Railway Recruitment Board (he has since been suspended), his son Vivek, AK Jagannatham, his son Srujan, divisional railway manager (personnel) Sethi and a Raipur-based agent. The applicants were required to deposit their original certificates with Jagannatham. The question paper was provided to them a day prior to the examination and their certificates returned after payment of the complete amount.

Searches in Mumbai led to the detection of Rs 60 lakh in bank accounts of family members of Sharma. In Hyderabad, Rs 21.5 lakh in cash and original certificates of 444 applicants were recovered from the residence of Jagannatham. A sum of Rs 12 lakh was recovered from his possession at a hotel in Bangalore where he was staying. Incriminating documents, such as question papers and original certificates of the aspirants, were recovered from him.

Four months ago, two IAS officers (husband and wife) posted in Madhya Pradesh were suspended after a raid on their home by income tax officials led to the seizure of Rs 3.26 crore in cash, jewellery worth Rs 67 lakh, Rs 7 lakh in foreign currency and other assets. In Chhattisgarh, Rs 52 lakh in cash, jewellery worth Rs 73 lakh, and 220 fake bank accounts with transactions amounting to Rs 40 crore were seized during income tax raids in the same period; 14 bank lockers have been sealed.

What has been seized, however, represents only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The real moolah would have been converted into property or stashed away in foreign bank accounts. What's worse is that the rot has spread everywhere: From the Income Tax Department, Customs, defence forces and IPS to health services and education.

In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State in charge of the Department of Personnel and Training Prithviraj Chavan said, "As on March 31, 2010, the number of IAS and IPS officers facing trial for criminal charges in CBI cases is 84 and 33 for the two respective categories."

According to Transparency International, India ranks 84th in integrity assessment out of 180 countries and scores only 3.4 on a scale of zero to 10. World Bank official and co-coordinator of Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative Adrian Fozzard says that assets to the tune of $ 40 billion are annually lost to corrupt practices, which include bribery and misappropriation of funds, in developing countries. Only $ 5 billion of such funds have been recovered in the past 15 years.

In the name of exercising authority on behalf of the Government, white collar professionals and bureaucrats have converted every assignment into a cash cow and have thoroughly exploited the power structure for their own pecuniary gains. India has been robbed of its resources not by foreigners but by its own citizens. In the name of protecting the rights of the accused, the rights of the victims of this robbery have either been trampled upon or put on the back burner.

India has a number of anti-corruption watchdogs, including Central Vigilance Commission, Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, the CBI, anti-corruption agencies, Intelligence Bureau, Economic Intelligence Bureau, Serious Fraud Office, Securities and Exchange Board of India, Reserve Bank of India, Defence Intelligence Agency and National Security Board besides Parliamentary Standing Committees and a ridiculously excessive number of regulators in addition to State-level agencies. It is surprising, therefore, that the Government manages to lose sight of so many frauds.

One of the laws struck down by the Supreme Court on December 17, 1997, was a directive issued in 1988 which made it mandatory that for an inquiry against an officer of the level of Joint Secretary and above prior permission of the Government. The Supreme Court had clearly said that it was ultra vires of the Constitution as taking kickbacks and bribery is not the part of the duties of any Government servant.

The same directive was smuggled in as a part of the Central Vigilance Commission Bill, which came into force in September 2004. Surprisingly, no political party raised a finger against it. When I made inquiries, I was informally told that the Joint Secretary's level in the Government of India was a decision-making level. If the post was not provided protection, nobody would agree to do anything illegal at the behest of their political masters.

So the present position is that neither the CBI nor any other agency can even start an inquiry to cross-check whether an allegation at this level is true or not. Getting sanction to start an inquiry can take days, if not months and years. The result is quite often those responsible get to know well in advance about the investigation to be undertaken against them. If a cognisable offence is discovered against them, a case is registered. After the investigation is over, another detailed report with the full evidence and results of the investigation is sent to the Government for sanction under Section 197 of the CrPC, without which no court can take cognisance of the offence.

Corruption has become a low-risk and high-paying activity. It makes no difference that the Government increases the allocation for poverty alleviation schemes. What is the point of having schemes running into thousands of crores of rupees, in which the money, instead of reaching the intended beneficiaries, is siphoned along the way? More importantly, will the situation ever improve?







An exponential rise in incidents of so-called honour killing reveals that Jats are not the sole practitioners of this despicable act. Gurjars, whose leadership sees little dishonour in agitating for Scheduled Tribe status, might find a matrimonial alliance with the royal race of Rajputs undignified. It is fabled that the Gurjara-Pratihara (Parihars) were one of the four Rajput clans who rose from the flames of the mythic Agni-Kula Yajna on Mount Abu; Chauhans, Solankis and Parmars being the other three. Prior to the cataclysmic Turkish conquest of north India, which reduced Gurjars to highwaymen, they were considered co-equals of Rajputs.

There were no 'honour killings' in Ramayan or Mahabharat for unconventional matrimonial alliances. Maharaja Suraj Mal (1707-1763) of Bharatpur, the 'Plato of Jats', had a Rajput queen, Rani Gauri, through whom he had two sons: Jawahar Singh and Ratan Singh.

Sagotra marriage among Jats is apparently the lynchpin of the 'honour killing' phenomenon. Sagotra marriages are discouraged among all Hindus. But there seems to be a communication gap between Jats that rests on the understanding of gotra. While the Haryana Chief Minister and an otherwise modernist MP are sympathetic to khaps the intelligentsia finds it medievalist. But there is little discourse in the Indian perspective.

The Jat understanding of gotra is different from the standard Hindu definition. Gotras, to Hindus, are named after a select few rishis like Kashyap, Sandilya, Mudgal, Bharadwaj, Gautam, etc, and are often common across castes. But Jat Gotras are unmanageably numerous, none of them named after a rishi. There are 2,700 Gotras of Jats in India, according to the Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha. Some are common among Jats, Gurjars and Rajputs.

Jat Gotras are more like functional clan names — Abusaria, Ahlawat, Ahluwalia, Barham, Dabas, Nehal, Tatran — which reveal the regimented antiquity of this martial race. Jats are believed to be descendants of Scythians from Central Asia. They picked up the nomenclature 'gotra' to suit their divisions.







Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of Allahabad High Court passed away in Allahabad on March 20, 2008, at the ripe old age of 88 years. His mortal remains were consigned to flames the same day but he will always remain immortal in the history of Indian judiciary. He was undoubtedly a great, bold, unbending and fearless judge. His courage was unsurpassed by any other judge of any High Court of our country since independence or even prior to that.

Justice Sinha heard the election petition Number Five of 1971 filed by petitioner Raj Narain against Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, challenging her election to the Lok Sabha in 1971 from the Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, home State of both the petitioner and the respondent.

The hearing of the election petition took more than four years, concluding on May 23, 1975, and the judgement was reserved. It was later announced that the judgement would be pronounced on June 12, 1975. Then came the momentous day when the judgement was to be pronounced. On June 12, courtroom No. 24 was jam-packed with lawyers, litigants and the general public. No sooner than the clock struck 10 am, Justice Sinha, then aged 55 years, stepped into the courtroom through the entrance door of his chamber and assumed his seat. Everyone waited with bated breath. He read only the operative portion of his findings and pronounced the judgement amid pin drop silence. Mrs Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha in 1971 was declared void, she was pronounced guilty of corrupt practices under Section 123(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 and was disqualified from membership of Parliament or a Legislative Assembly for a further period of six years. There was stunned silence.

The judgement ran into 258 pages. I was present in the courtroom throughout the day. I had earlier appeared as the petitioner's witness No 36 and was subjected to cross-examination by the counsel of Mrs Gandhi.

The main point in issue in the election petition was the date when Mrs Gandhi held her out as a candidate for the 1971 Lok Sabha election. The petitioner's case was that she held her out as a candidate immediately after dissolution of the Lok Sabha on December 27, 1970 and Mrs Gandhi's pleading in the case was that she held her out as a candidate for the first time on February 1, 1971.

Mrs Gandhi also appeared in the witness box, she was subjected to cross-examination by the petitioner's counsel and Justice Sinha closely observed her demeanour. Discussing the testimony of Mrs Gandhi, Justice Sinha observed, "The counsel of respondent No. 1 (Mrs Gandhi) even suggested that while assessing the weight of the evidence of respondent No. 1, the fact of high office held by her should not be ignored. The status and respectability of the witness alone cannot, however, induce the court to accept her testimony, more so when she is herself a party to the proceedings and interested in the result of the case. In such cases, the evidence of that person has to be assessed without in any manner being obsessed by the high office that she may hold. The evidence of the respondent No. 1 should, therefore, be assessed according to established principles like the evidence of any other witness without in any manner being influenced by her high office."

The evidence of Mrs Gandhi on the point in issue was not accepted by Justice Sinha and he observed "the evidence leaves no room for doubt that the respondent No. 1 held herself out as a candidate before January 25, 1971. The plea of respondent No. 1 that she held herself out as a candidate for the first time in the first week of February 1971 is not established to be true."

It is interesting, gratifying and satisfying to note that while not relying on the testimony of Mrs Gandhi, Justice Sinha never used harsh language. He was very careful and used dignified, polite and restrained language. Some of the words or sentences used by Justice Sinha in the judgement are as under:

"The statement does not appear to me to be natural or probable."

"All that I would say is that the statement made by the respondent No. 1 fails to satisfactorily explain the inconsistency."

"I regret my inability to accept her evidence. Her plea has no legs to stand on."

"I have given my very careful and dispassionate consideration to the reply given by the respondent No. 1 and I regret my inability to accept it."

"The plea, therefore, appears to be an afterthought and I have already discarded the respondent No. 1's testimony."

In his judgement, Justice Sinha also observed, "There is the evidence of S Nijilingappa (Prosecution Witness 14), Arjun Singh Bhadoria (PW l5), Mr SP Malaviya (PW 6), Karpoori Thakur (PW 37), Ram Saran Das (PW 38), Banarsi Das (PW 40) and Mr LK Advani (PW 44). Though they belong to the Opposition parties, the fact remains that all of them are public workers of some repute. Each one of them stated on oath that the statement made by the respondent No. 1 at the Press conference on December 29, 1970, was construed by them to mean that the respondent No. 1 was not changing the constituency."

Just within 13 days of the historic judgement delivered by Justice Sinha on June 12, 1975, the nation had to go through the trauma of the internal Emergency called on June 25, 1975, which landed me at Model Jail, Lucknow, for 19 months.

In March 1977, Mrs Gandhi had to face a humiliating defeat and the electoral rout of her political party and the end of her uninterrupted rule at the Centre. The Indian people forcefully and wonderfully reasserted their inalienable right to justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy. Mrs Gandhi was thrown out of power by an alert and vigilant electorate. It was a revolution — a peaceful and non-violent change of Government through the magic of ballot boxes — followed by the meteoric climb of the Janata Party to power in March 1977.


Democracy emerged gloriously triumphant over dictatorship and autocracy.

Promulgation of internal Emergency while the external Emergency was already in force
by Mrs Gandhi was a Himalayan blunder on her part. MC Chagla, in his autobiography Roses in December, described the decision of Mrs Gandhi to declare internal Emergency as "the most disgraceful and dishonest in Indian history".

It has also been disclosed that Justice Sinha could not be tempted, he did not submit to pressures. According to Mr Shanti Bhushan, Raj Narain's counsel in the election petition, "While the case was being heard, the then Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Justice DS Mathur, visited Justice Sinha. He was related to the Prime Minister's personal physician. Justice Mathur told Justice Sinha that Justice Sinha's name had been considered for the Supreme Court. Of course, Justice Sinha maintained a discreet silence."Chief Justice Mathur could have been hauled up by Justice Sinha for committing a gross contempt of court.

Mr Shanti Bhushan has also disclosed that Justice Sinha declined the offer he had made as Law Minister in 1977 to transfer him to the Himachal Pradesh High Court so that he could be elevated as Chief Justice when a vacancy arose.

It is well known that after Justice Sinha delivered his judgement, he was put under constant surveillance of the Government's intelligence agencies who were trying to fabricate a link between him and Jayaprakash Narayan. The fact is that Justice Sinha never met JP even once — either before or after he had delivered the judgement.

Mrs Gandhi was so annoyed with Justice Sinha that in a fit of rage in Mumbai on September 19, 1979, she said that "a petty judge has disqualified me on flimsy grounds".

In November 1982, two years after Mrs Gandhi had come back to power, Justice Sinha was invited to deliver the third Jayaprakash Narayan Memorial Lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on the topic, 'The Constitution, the Judiciary and the People.' In the lecture that Justice Sinha delivered, he stressed on the desirability of a strong judiciary for the survival of democracy in India. He remarked that if the judiciary loses its independence, our political system would become undemocratic. On what is expected of a judge, he added, "A judge wears the robes not to flaunt his authority, but to remind himself that he is the high priest in the temple of justice and is charged with obligations of a most sacred character that he cannot avoid fulfilling, whatever the risks involved."

Referring to the risk of incurring the displeasure of the executive in being true to one's judgement and conviction, Justice Sinha remarked, "Let a few heads roll here and there but the chariot of justice must be driven on and on, manned by honest and independent people who will mind no sacrifice too high to keep the chariot moving along its path." He said that in a republic like India, "the judges represent the people and it is the people's faith that matters. A silent majority always stands solidly behind such judges who discharge their duties without fear or favour."


He emphasised that in India, the judiciary should remain independent and that "it should not stumble whatever the obstructions in the way and it should not stoop in any manner, whatever the temptations and threats. The faith in the supreme lord above and of the people below is a sacred trust deposed in the judges and it has to be preserved at all costs".

A large number of distinguished personalities and intelligentsia of Delhi listened to Justice Sinha in rapt attention. For three days, he was prominently in print in the leading daily newspapers of the capital. Senior officers of the then Indira Gandhi Government were annoyed with the organisers of the lecture and even expressed the Governments' displeasure.

Justice Sinha bowed before the Constitution of India and the temple of justice only. He religiously stuck to the solemn oath that he took under Article 217 of the Constitution in accordance with the form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule before he entered upon his office as a judge of Allahabad High Court which read as under "I, JML Sinha, having been appointed judge of the High Court in Allahabad, do swear in the name of god that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my ability, knowledge and judgement, perform the duties of my office without fear or favour, affection or ill will and that, I will uphold the Constitution and the law."

His judgement of June 12, 1975, did the entire judicial system proud. He was a judge of whom any nation would be justly proud of. His indomitable courage and judicial independence will continue to inspire and remind the present and future generations about what he did in upholding the independence of judiciary which is the cornerstone of our Constitution.

Now is also the appropriate time to remember and pay my humble tribute to my dear friend, RC Srivastava, a senior advocate and a former judge of Allahabad High Court who laboriously built the edifice of the election petition and relentlessly encouraged Raj Narain to file and pursue the petition while others were discouraging him not to do so. Alas, he passed away two years ago.


The writer is a former Union Minister. With this article, we conclude our series marking the 35th anniversary of Mrs Indira Gandhi's Emergency which she declared on June 25, 1975.








AS the global financial meltdown triggered by a fall in US home prices demonstrated all too clearly, when US financial markets catch a cold, the rest of the world faces a life- threatening illness.


But will the contrary hold true? After the anti- regulatory orgy of the Reagan and Bush eras, the US has swallowed a stiff dose of reform medicine, as it attempts to put in place some essential safeguards to prevent the recurrence of a similar crisis.


The US financial regulation Bill, set to pass into law after US lawmakers reached compromise on contentious clauses, is America's most sweeping attempt at financial reform since the great depression. It imposes a tighter leash on the largest financial institutions, forcing banks to limit investments in hedge funds and private equity arms to 3 per cent of their capital, the spinning off of trading in risky derivative instruments — at the heart of the global spread of the crisis — into separately capitalised subsidiaries and creates a new financial oversight council which has the powers to seize and even dismantle entities judged to be putting the system at risk. Standards for everything from bank capitalisation to the giving of financial advice by brokers have been raised; and aims to protect consumers from predatory lending practices.


However, the Bill will fall far short of fundamentally restructuring the US financial system, something which the rest of the world had been hoping for. It has transferred the risk of derivatives trading away from banks and to specialist trading outfits, but the system as a whole will largely function as it did before.


This raises the very real possibility of a similar crisis developing in the future, since the core issue — of leverage, or using debt to create more debt with the help of ever more sophisticated, and ultimately disastrous derivative products and swap deals — remains unaddressed.


The rest of the world has the right to feel disappointed.


Ordinary individuals from Iceland to India have paid a heavy price for the financial profligacy of the US consumer and the reckless risks taken and outright frauds perpetrated by mainly US financial institutions. They deserved a better deal.


A govt of plunderers?


THE decision of Karnataka's Lok Ayukta Justice N. Santosh Hegde to resign from his post is a damning indictment of the Bharatiya Janata Party regime in Karnataka. Justice Hegde cited non- cooperation from the state government and belittlement of the institution as the reason for his action. This is the judge who had earlier won praise for taking on the infamous mining lobby in the state.


Justice Hedge's complaints are a comment on how partisan interests are guiding the functioning of the Karnataka government.


He has revealed that the Yeddyurappa government had reinstated officials who had been caught indulging in corrupt practices by the Lok Ayukta.

He has also pointed out that officials who were a part of the Lok Ayukta's team to curb illegal mining in Bellary district and illegal export of iron ore were being persecuted by the state government.


Nothing illustrates this better than the case of Uttara Kannada's deputy conservator of forests who had seized a huge consignment of illegally mined iron ore worth Rs 200 crore at the state- run Belikeri port and later reported that it had been exported without valid documentation.


He found himself suspended on frivolous grounds.

This episode reiterates two vital issues. One, notwithstanding the uproar it has caused, the mining lobby led by the Reddy brothers, who are ministers in the Yeddyurrappa government, continues with its operations, robbing the state of valuable natural resources and damaging the environment. According to the Lok Ayukta, iron ore worth Rs 1,200 crore has been illegally exported from Belikeri and Karwar ports in Karnataka in 2009- 10 alone.

Two, as Justice Hegde's case makes evident, the office of the Lok Ayukta in the states where it exists is unable to live up to its mandate on account of lack of adequate powers and its dependence on the state government on crucial matters.


For instance, the Karnataka government did not appoint an Upa Lok Ayukta, hampering the functioning of the body which faced a pendency of 8,000 cases. It is another matter that its equivalent institution at the Centre, the Lok Pal, is yet to see the light of day.







T HE quip by P. G. Wodehouse that caning " stingeth like a serpent and biteth like the adder" cloaks the real face of corporal punishment in schools ( CPS). It has no foundation in law. It is a barbaric practice with little justification.


Unfortunately, there are too many wrongly perceived ambiguities in the laws applied by the various states of India.


Teachers who inflict CPS need their head examined for the cruel pleasure they derive from inflicting pain on hapless children in the name of discipline.


What triggered off our present discontents is the suicide of a school boy, Rouvanjit Rawla, four days after he was caned by Sunirmal Chakravarthy, the principal of La Martiniere Boys School, Kolkata.


Evidently, the cane broke, but not the punishment. The fact that the principal says he did not know the law applicable to West Bengal is unworthy.


On 18 June 2010, after intense public controversy, the Board of Governors announced that CPS was abolished in La Martiniere. Meanwhile, Principal Chakravarthy is vulnerable to civil and criminal action and possible dismissal from service as recommended by the team of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights which also canvases changes in the Indian Penal Code to deal with caning specifically.




As far as West Bengal is concerned there was no ambiguity in the law. In Tapas Kumar Bagchi's case ( 2004) there was a clear order by Chief Justice A. K. Mathur that ( i) caning should not be resorted to as a corporal punishment ( ii) the director of school education should circulate this and ( iii) schools resorting to this shall be dealt with strictly by the state administrator. At least, as far as caning is concerned, this legal message was clear as crystal.


In Rekha Bharat's case ( 2009) which was a well known cause celebre, criminal prosecution was continued in a case where the teacher's whack on the head led to the death of the child. The judges spoke of how the statements in the " case diary were quite spine chilling... One has to rub one's eyes to be sure whether it is a crime thriller depicting the tale of a sordid killer…". So neither La Martiniere nor Principal Chakravarthy had a leg to stand on as far as their legal excuses for their actions were concerned.


Apart from an apology, the decent thing for La Martiniere to do is to sack the principal, after due inquiry, and offer compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh, if not more.


While the Calcutta rulings are on caning and punishment resulting in death, the issue needs to be discussed on the wider considerations of the rights of the child.


The Delhi High Court through Justice Anil Dev Singh struck down the Delhi School Education Rules of 1973 which dealt with " corporal punishment". Here caning was a part of the wider issue of corporal punishment in schools.


Why Justice Dev Singh was not elevated to the Supreme Court shows faults, bias and favouritism in our judicial appointments system. Along with other visionary judgments ( such as those on elections) Justice Dev Singh looked at the gruesome reported instances, examined the life and liberty ( article 21) and other constitutional provisions and laid down that the infliction of pain on students through " light punishment" was also impermissible as it could " degenerate into an aggravated form". The Delhi judgment rightly isolates and injuncts " physical pain". But, after the judgment, a wider approach was implanted in section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 to discipline those in charge of or with control over children to protect the latter from unnecessary " mental or physical suffering". To inflict this could attract jail up to six months plus unlimited fine. This is the more incisive test. In Tyrell's case ( 1978) the European Court in Strasbourg discussed this threadbare. Birching was found to be a degrading punishment.


But, the court added to the repertoire of tests by further examining the mental consequences of humiliation to the child.


Any punishment attracts humiliation.


Shame and public obloquy come to all but the shameless. The test of the European Court was that the " humiliation or debasement involved must attain a particular level … other than the usual humiliation" flowing from being found guilty. So what was degrading was not just the painful assault, but its excessive nature.




Teachers, even parents, may regard this ' humiliation' test as going too far. Imagine a teacher who has chalk or a stone thrown at her. Prohibited from physical corporal punishment, is she precluded from sending the thrower to the corner or making him stand on his chair with a dunce cap on his head? This would surely be humiliating. But, here too, some element of proportionality would decide the issue. Discipline yes. Pain no.


Punishment — no more than necessary.


I think the test in Section 3 of India's Juvenile Act of 2000 puts it well by injuncting " unnecessary mental or physical suffering" by threat of jail or fine.


Teachers are allowed to impose discipline but they cannot be cruel. The nexus between Rouvanjit's caning and his suicide cannot be wished away because the school's Diocese Board says so.


The La Martiniere incident represents legitimate middle class outrage. But why do these issues achieve public notoriety only when well off kids are involved? Children in cheap government and other schools are cut, bruised, damaged, killed and driven to despair by cruel and humiliating punishment every day. We cannot also overlook beatings and humiliation in the place of work. Parents feel free to punish their children — sometimes without remorse on a day to day basis. Both civil and criminal liabilities lie. Any lacunae are now plugged by Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 which is not restricted to schools but " whoever has the actual charge of or control over a juvenile or child". This includes parents and employers alike. Parents cannot claim ownership of their children.


Twenty- six countries restrain parents and 112 countries forbid schools from imposing corporal punishment.




Unfortunately, even if the law speaks with protective concern, it remains immobilised. Children cannot go to court.


Few want to go to court for them. Children cannot be protected through law circulars. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights banned corporal punishment in schools on August 9, 2007, on the basis of the Delhi judgment and by wrongly assuming it was decided by the Supreme Court. There is little follow- up to the Union ministry letter of December 17, 2007, against caning.


The letter itself shows ignorance of Indian law but relies on the National Policy on Education ( 1986) and article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requiring school discipline to be imposed " consistent with the child's dignity". India's legislation of 2000 is wider and applies to parents, guardians, store helpers, the chotus who work in tea shops and dhabas and those in factories and hazardous trades. What is needed is a machinery of enforcement including social and legal support.


The La Martiniere incident has ruffled middle class sensitivities. But while India pampers its richer children and pedigree dogs, most of the kids in most schools are unprotected by society and the state. The legislation is inadequate. The courts do not convict. And worst of all, the callous treatment meted out to most children continues hidden from the public domain.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer sadists








IT WAS once touted as a cadre- based party, bred on iron discipline whose leaders do not compromise on principles. Today, it is at best an uneasy union of various factions, some more powerful than others, but each doing what it thinks is best to serve its own interests while running down the rest. The last fortnight has seen the fissures in the party crop up like never before as the BJP tried to grapple with the twin issues of Rajya Sabha elections and reinduction of two of its talismanic expelled leaders. Neither party president Nitin Gadkari nor senior leaders seemed capable of loosening the stranglehold the powerful clique, the D- 4 as they are called, have had on the party ever since it was voted out of power six years ago.


For more than a month now, there has been talk about the party welcoming back into its fold two of its most charismatic leaders.


There are valid reasons why Gadkari and senior leaders like L. K. Advani and Rajnath Singh wanted Jaswant Singh and Uma Bharti back. Jaswant's homecoming wasn't a smooth affair, but with Advani determined to bring back the seventerm parliamentarian and former finance and external affairs minister, on whom Advani often falls back on for intellectual inputs and sagacious advice, the D- 4 could do nothing but fall in line.


Uma hasn't been so lucky. Her proposed reinduction has much to do with the party needing her grassroots connections as the BJP prepares to fight assembly elections later this year in Bihar and in the next couple of years in many cowbelt states. But the opposition to her re- entry from the resident Gang of Four at 11, Ashoka Road, was bolstered by the stiff resistance from Shivraj Chouhan, who succeeded Uma as Madhya Pradesh chief minister. There are reports that Chouhan told the party's central leaders to take his resignation before reinducting Uma.


What all this makes abundantly clear is that in Uma's homecoming, the D- 4 sees a threat to the status quo — the power- sharing arrangement allows them to control the party setup both at the Centre and in the states. It is actually a self preservation society at work. From 1998, they have controlled the levers of power, either as ministers in the NDA government and, after being booted out of power, as party officebearers. That their power is not commensurate with their acceptability is evident from the fact that while most of them sweat at the mere Jaswant Singh prospect of fighting a popular election, they have the power to decide who will get tickets to contest polls or even who will be the chief minister.


The opposition to Narendra Modi addressing a JD( U)- BJP joint rally in Patna was not so much from Nitish Kumar as from Friends of Nitish Kumar ( FONK) in the BJP's central office who are visibly disconcerted at the pan- Indian appeal of the Gujarat chief minister and are unnerved by the prospect of him moving to Delhi.


Greed and self interest rule over everything else but in the process, the party and the NDA coalition that it led are paying a heavy price.


In the last six years, the alliance has shrunk beyond recognition. It once had 21 parties glued by the unmatched charisma of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


Today, there are barely half a dozen. Among those forced out are the National Conference, the DMK, the INLD, the Telugu Desam Party, the MDMK, PMK, the Trinamool Congress, the Lok Janshakti, Ajit Singh's RLD, to name a few.


Worse, its relations with existing partners are at best tenuous, as exemplified by the recent game of brinksmanship with the JD( U).


In the hands of the ruling clique, its future appears bleak.


But there may still be some hope left. In the recent Rajya Sabha elections, the old guard was as assertive as could be.


Vasundhara Raje Scindia, whose disdain for Jaswant is no secret, was asked to assemble and keep in isolation the party's Rajasthan MLAs in the run- up to the elections to the Upper House.


And Venkaiah Naidu, an important cog in the gang that was initially opposed to fielding Ram Jethmalani from Rajasthan, was tasked with being the election manager.


The old guard is finally showing that there is still some fight left in them. And that's good news for the party and all those who wish it well.



HE WAS seen as someone who was in the cabinet only because his father, M. Karunanidhi's clout in the UPA is second only to its chairperson Sonia Gandhi. He was mocked as an ignoramus who knew nothing about the important portfolios that he handled, fertilisers and chemicals, and for his inability to connect with anybody outside his Madurai constituency because he could understand no language other than his native Tamil.


His record of truancy in office and in cabinet meetings rivalled that of the temperamental Mamata Banerjee. But M. K. Alagiri, the eldest of the Tamil patriarch's politically ambitious children is undergoing a sudden and rapid transformation that would make his critics blush if they had any shame.


He skipped the inauguration of the World Tamil Conference in Coimbatore last week, where he was to have inaugurated the book fair, and was the only DMK minister who attended the Empowered Group of Ministers meeting on Bhopal.


Papa Kalaignar has apparently told him that he must either take his duties as a minister seriously or stay away from politics altogether.


The underlying message to Alagiri is that he will no more dabble in politics at the state level which is the domain of his younger brother, M. K. Stalin.


Last week, Alagiri sought and got permission from the Prime Minister's Office for a fortnight's leave to take his

mother, Dayalu Ammal, to the US for medical treatment. Alagiri will be off in the first week of July and will return well before the Parliament's monsoon session begins.


That will give him enough time to brush up on Rapid English Speaking lessons that he is said to be taking. When the session starts on July 26, we may be in a for a surprise: a dapper Alagiri, shedding his trademark mundu- shirt for a safari suit and replying to questions in Queen's English.


These babus neither tire nor retire


LIKE old soldiers, retired bureaucrats don't pass on, but unlike them, former babus don't fade away. Many are getting resurrected as MPs, ministers or in some cases political advisers, cosying up to the powers that be, at the Centre or the states. Quite a few of them are turning out to be the cause of friction in the parties which adopted them and none more so than Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, the former IAS officer and now Rajya Sabha MP of the Biju Janata Dal ( BJD), and N. K. Singh , the former finance secretary whom Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar sent to the Upper House as a JD( U) MP. Last year, Mahapatra, who is said to be Naveen Patnaik's chief strategist, played a key role in pulling the BJD out of the NDA and, if the grapevine is to be believed, Singh is doing the same in Bihar. Reports suggest that Singh is the cause of the rift in the JD( U)- BJP tie up which is almost a decade- and- a- half old.


It is said that Singh, a networker par excellence who counts the Ambani brothers, Sunil Mittal, Praful Patel and the like among his close friends, is acting at the behest of a senior Congress minister who wants to bring the Congress and the JD( U) closer before the state assembly elections later this year.


If true, Mahapatra and Singh are merely following in the footsteps of their predecessors, some of whom have caused immense embarrassment to the parties that inducted them into politics.


Nitish Sengupta, a former revenue secretary, joined the Trinamool Congress in 1999 and successfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Contai in West Bengal, but Mamata Banerjee had to show him the door after he tried to sabotage TC- BJP ties.


Among JD( U) and BJD cadres in Bihar and Orissa, there is immense resentment over the disruptive tendencies of these retirees and it will come as no surprise if both find their wings clipped in the not too distant future.






THECBI's reward of Rs 1 lakh for information leading to the arrest of Jhargram train derailment accused Bapi Mahato found too many takers. As many as 21 officers of the West Bengal Police claimed a pie of the reward money, along with three civilians who acted as informers. To top it, the Jharkhand Police also claimed credit for the catch saying they helped in Mahato being nabbed from Jamshedhpur.


Realising that only a small amount would land in the kitty of each claimant, the CBI decided to add Rs 50,000 to the reward to ensure that a respectable amount goes to each claimant.



IT SEEMS the Indian Army is keen to learn a lesson or two from — hold your breath — Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary organisation based in Lebanon, considered by many countries outside the Muslim world as a terrorist organisation. The office of the additional director general of public information at the army headquarters in South Block displays a quote from Hezbollah. A painted board in one of the rooms reads: " Media has innumerable guns, whose hits are like bullets. Use them effectively." The board, of course, gives due credit to Hezbollah. After all, everything is fair in love and war!



PEOPLE know about railway minister Mamata Banerjee's firebrand image and mercurial temperament. That she maintains a simple lifestyle is also common knowledge. But little is known about her fitness regime. Immensely fond of chocolates, Banerjee, however, eats frugally.


The Trinamool chief relishes Bengali food — puffed rice commonly known as ' muri'. Chocolates are her favourite while she is on the road. And she probably burns the calories by running on the treadmill. Another little known facet about her lifestyle is the time devoted for sleep. It is understood that the railway minister loves to work through the night and takes a nap early morning.



IT IS rarely that arguments of a psephologist, who claims to understand the poll process more than mere mortals, are trashed by the Election Commission.


But pollster GVL Narasimha Rao, who doesn't hide his saffron sympathies these days, has become an exception. Rao recently wrote a book Democracy at Risk in which he cited several examples of electronic voting machines being tampered with during the elections. A complainant cited the book as " evidence" of tampering of the voting machines. The EC got the cases cited by Rao investigated and each instance mentioned by him was found to be false. Will Rao now come forward to challenge the poll panel's findings?



STAND up comedian Jaspal Bhatti has a solution for housewives combating the LPG price hike." The housewives should burn effigies of prominent politicians for everyday cooking and do away with gas stoves since LPG is not affordable," he said. At his satirical best with the members of his Nonsense Club in Chandigarh, he suggested, " If the government cannot give subsidy on LPG, it must announce sufficient subsidy on effigies. It should promote the effigy- making industry." Burning effigies is an integral part of every protest. " If the same energy is harnessed for cooking, people will beat the price hike," he said.




TWO notorious jewel thieves, who have swindled at least 50 Delhi jewellers since 2004, were arrested in Model Town recently by police officers pretending to be customers.


The two criminals — identified as brothers Sandeep and Vijay Chaudhary — had absconded after their cons, but were lured out of hiding by the police team.


The brothers' modus operandi allegedly involved duping unsuspecting jewellers while posing as jewellers looking to open a showroom in Model Town.


A police source said: " We were informed that they had called up a jeweller a few weeks ago and told him they were interested in purchasing jewellery from him." " Their target — a friend of a victim they had conned in Karol Bagh — came to us and we decided to nail them," he added. " We called them claiming to be jewellers. After verifying our story, they invited us to their Model Town shop," the source said.


On June 16, a team of plainclothed police officers waited while the decoys entered the shop along with the jeweller who had approached them and who could identify the duo.


" The jeweller drew the brothers into a lengthy conversation while the team outside received confirmation about their presence," the source added. The police then sprung the trap and nabbed the con- artists.


Both brothers appeared in court the next day and were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.


" They have been arrested and the probe is on," said Dr Sagarpreet Hooda, deputy police commissioner ( North).


The duo's victims are now coming forward. V. N. Seth, a Karol Bagh jeweller, said: " Initially, they pay you the money — in some cases, even more than what the jewellery is worth — to win your confidence." " Later, after taking more jewellery, they give you cheques that bounce. They ran away with my jewellery worth Rs 38 lakh," he said.


For some victims, the men's arrest has come too late.


After being conned out of lakhs by Sandeep, Devender Pasricha fell into severe depression which spiralled into a serious health risk.


In order to pay for his medical expenses, Pasricha was forced to sell his shop and then his wife's jewellery. In 2008, he died of a heart attack.


Pasricha's widow, Pinky, says Sandeep owes them Rs 17 lakh, but says she can offer no proof for her claim.


She asked: " From where can I bring proof? He ( Sandeep) tore up the bounced cheque." This is not the first time the two have been arrested. They were picked up by the crime branch for cheating Jain Art Jewellers in Karol Bagh to the tune of Rs 88 lakh.


A court had then ordered them to repay the money in monthly installments of Rs 1 lakh. Several cases are still pending against the two at various Delhi police stations.




THE Centre will release 35 lakh tonnes of foodgrains to the states at a lower price in a bid to control the rising prices of essential commodities.


The cabinet committee on food security decided on Wednesday to release a higher quantity of wheat and rice at the rate of Rs 8.45 per kg and Rs 11.85 per kg respectively through the Open Market Sale Scheme ( OMSS).


" The prices of atta should come down with this move. We understand there is a problem. There is a major wing of traders in this sector. That is why we decided to release wheat in bulk," K. V. Thomas, minister of state in the food The prices of almost all essential commodities have been increased in the past year and the government has been able to do little to control the rocketing rates.


On Friday, the Centre's move to increase fuel prices led to fears that this would have a cascading effect on the prices of essential commodities.


Despite this, food and consumer affairs minister Sharad Pawar did not object to the petroleum ministry's proposal to hike oil prices.


cascading affect because of the fuel hike. But we were told the decision is to regulate the oil prices in line with the international prices," a senior official in the food ministry said.


On the move to release foodgrains at a lower price to the states, the Opposition said the decision will have no impact on the open market.


" The measure is too little and too late, especially in view of the fuel price hike. It will not have any impact on the open market as consumers will not buy foodgrains from outlets of the public distribution system at a higher rate. The government just wants to sell the surplus wheat and rice to the states," Kerala food and civil supplies minister and CPI national executive member C. Divakaran said.








After an aborted attempt by the NDA regime in 2002 to deregulate fuel prices, the UPA administration has finally bitten the bullet and moved on implementing the Parikh committee recommendations. True, this is still a first step. While petrol price has now been pegged to the international market, diesel remains partly controlled and LPG and kerosene wholly so. But given the price hikes across the board and the planned deregulation of diesel that is to be implemented in phases it is a crucial one. The first beneficiaries will be state-run oil companies with under-recoveries dropping from Rs 770 billion to Rs 530 billion. But the ripple effect will, in actuality, spread far beyond that with benefits accruing to consumers in the long term. The challenge now is for the government to stand firm against the inevitable political backlash and populist demands.

Given that inflation is as much a function of perception as actual inflationary pressure, a short-term rise in prices of goods and services is perhaps inevitable. But there are several factors that could contain and counter this in the longer run. A decreased subsidy burden on the government will mean a reduced deficit and healthier public financing, exerting downward pressure on prices. And, crucially, by moving to deregulate transport fuels, the government has made competition viable. Private players unable to cope with an uneven playing field where the government mandated loss-inducing price levels, then underwrote public companies' deficits, will now have an incentive to re-enter the market. And an open market means competitive pricing and inducement for investment to bankroll both the breadth and quality of services, eventually benefiting consumers.

There are other non-quantifiable benefits as well. Exposure to price fluctuations in the international market could provide an incentive for energy efficiency and the development of alternative energy and clean technology that is lacking in the present protected economic environment. It could, in short, bring home the energy security and environmental concerns that are shaping discourse between the leading global economies today. And that is all to the good.

Questions remain, however. The government has left itself a back door of sorts by reserving the right to step in and insulate consumers if global price levels rise beyond a certain point. More specificity is needed here to prevent it from becoming an easy way out, to be employed when politically convenient. And while kitchen subsidies cannot and should not be wholly done away with for both political and socio-economic reasons, scope for price rationalisation in line with the Parikh committee recommendations remains. New Delhi has taken the crucial first step. Now it has to stay the course.







The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last week once again failed to tackle the problem of rampant commercial whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway. Consensus eluded a compromise deal that would have seen the three countries regulate and reduce their whale hunts. Despite the global moratorium on commercial whale hunts Japan, Iceland and Norway continue hunting whales with impunity, exploiting the scientific whaling clause in the IWC rules. This is the single greatest threat to the world's endangered whale population. Japan, for example, has killed 8,201 minke whales in the Antarctic, allegedly for scientific purposes, since the 1986 moratorium. Take the case of blue whales, the earth's largest and longest-lived mammal. They had been driven almost to extinction before they began to be protected in 1966. Although they have just about been saved, their numbers haven't recovered significantly. In addition, climate change poses further threats to the continued existence of many species of whales.

The logical way forward is to adopt a tough approach and implement a total ban on whaling, including scientific whaling. If it is allowed to continue even in limited amount, it will encourage potential whaling nations like South Korea to demand a piece of the whaling pie. Hence, it is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Unless a complete ban is imposed, the gentle giants of the oceans could soon be sharing space with the dinosaur displays in our museums. And that would be an irreparable blow to civilisation.







The recent discovery by the US of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan valued at around $1 trillion has led many to conclude that Afghanistan could emerge as one of the world's most important mining centres. It is equally likely Afghanistan might fall prey to the 'resource curse' the idea that natural riches often create more problems than they solve. In any case, this is the only bit of good news to have come out of Afghanistan in the last few months.

There are growing signs that Barack Obama's surge strategy, announced with great fanfare in March 2009, is in real trouble. The US Congress is seeking explanations as to why the Afghan government is not assuming greater share of the burden and trying to assess if the president's July 2011 deadline to commence troop withdrawal is feasible. And the disdainful comments of General Stanley McChrystal who has been dismissed since about Obama and his civilian policy team have exposed enduring fault-lines in Obama's strategy and underlined the sense of peril pervading the corridors of powers in Washington.

Senior US military leaders openly talk about the Taliban regaining momentum. The US-led offensive in Marjah, the showcase of the new counter-insurgency strategy, has achieved only limited gains. Absence of governing institutions in Marjah has brought the offensive on the verge of failure. Because of difficulty in winning local support, the much-anticipated campaign to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, will begin after several months and proceed more slowly than planned. Much-needed training of the Afghan army is not going anywhere with NATO short of trainers on the ground and the difficulty in figuring out how to replace Canadian and Dutch troops that will withdraw this summer.

Relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the White House are at an all time low. Karzai lost no time in dismissing two high-profile ministers interior minister and intelligence chief from his cabinet who were most closely allied with the US. These were men Washington had insisted Karzai include in his cabinet after his re-election last year and they were resisting Karzai's attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.

Obama lost credibility with Karzai when he started publicly rebuking him for various governance failures. True, Karzai has spectacularly failed in constructing modern governmental machinery and seems to have little interest in building provincial and local governance institutions. But for better or worse, that's the hand Washington has been dealt in Afghanistan. Obama has tried to belatedly handle Karzai with greater sensitivity but his problem was compounded by the fact the US ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, didn't see eye to eye on strategy with the now-replaced top military commander, General McChrystal.

The perception that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan come what may has created a situation where the Taliban has every incentive to hunker down and wait out US assaults, Karzai has every incentive to keep dragging his feet and US military commanders have every incentive to keep producing easier solutions as opposed to achieving harder and longer-term results. Karzai has lost confidence in America's commitment to win the war and is seeking to strike deals with the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons. The biggest strategic mistake the Obama administration made was announcing a pullout date starting next summer. While pouring in more troops is politically no longer feasible, pulling out altogether will be a shot in the arm for the Islamist extremists.

There is complacency in certain quarters in India that America cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. While this may indeed be the case, America's Afghanistan strategy is facing a crisis. India will have to preserve its own vital regional interests. The Indian foreign secretary has recently articulated a set of principles underlining India's Af-Pak policy. They include accepting reintegration of the Taliban rank and file if they give up violence, a regional framework to complement an internal peace process, adherence to the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan's affairs, and ensuring that Afghanistan emerges as a regional trade and transit hub.

This is a laudable set of principles but can India translate it into reality? It reads more like a wish list than actionable policy, especially in the regional context where Pakistan's security establishment relishes the double game it is playing in Afghanistan. Pakistan's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan continues to be sanctioned at the highest levels of government with the ISI even represented on the Quetta shura the Taliban's war council to retain influence over the Taliban's leadership. Taliban fighters continue to be trained in Pakistani camps. The ISI does not merely provide financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency. It retains strong strategic and operational control over the Taliban campaign in Afghanistan.

Despite launching offensives against militants in North and South Waziristan, Pakistan's military continues to look upon the Taliban as a strategic asset. Asif Ali Zardari has visited captured Taliban leaders, assuring them support. Pakistan's security establishment is manipulating the Taliban's political hierarchy so as to have greater leverage over future peace talks.

India's urgent task is to move beyond mere articulation of wishful principles and carve a policy response that can reduce the damage to Indian national interests from the Afghan war's mismanagement by the Americans.

The writer teaches at King's College, London.








Sachin Pilot , minister of state for IT and communication, believes that schemes like the National e-Governance Programme are evidence of the government's commitment to leverage technology and improve delivery of public services. He spoke to Subodh Ghildiyal :

How will National e-Governance Programme help the common man?

The National e-Governance Programme seeks to transform public delivery system in India by setting up one lakh common service centres (CSC) in private-public entrepreneurship. These centres, run by village-level entrepreneurs, will not only provide large-scale employment, but also enable the government to deliver services such as making birth and death certificates and land records available at the doorstep, give relevant mandi-related information to the farming community, create online systems for filing IT returns and facilitate judicial processes through electronic record-keeping. Already, 76,000 CSCs have been set up. The Centre and the state governments propose to spend $10 billion over the next five years along with private partners to implement the e-governance plan.

There is a lot happening in IT. The cabinet recently approved Rs 5,990 crore for National Knowledge Network (NKN), which will connect institutions of higher learning and research laboratories in India with a high-speed information network. The NKN will function in tandem with National Mission on Education through ICT of the ministry of human resource development.

What's the budget for these initiatives?

The total budget of the department of technology on R&D, infrastructure and human resource development is Rs 1,825 crore for 2010-11. Ten per cent of the total expenditure has been earmarked for north-eastern states.

There is talk of IT leveraging mobile phones to deliver financial services and to enhance financial institutions.
India presently has 584 million mobile phones. A study shows that roughly 40 per cent of the phone owners have bank accounts. For the remaining 60 per cent, bank accounts can be created on the basis of the verification done when they were given mobile connections. This way we can deliver safe and affordable financial services to many more people. Flow of micro credit will enable these people to augment their incomes as well as break free of moneylenders. The RBI has also permitted engagement of CSCs of IT department to conduct transactions on behalf of the banks.

What about taking the services to rural areas?

I have focused on border states, particularly J&K and the north-east. We want to upgrade telecom services and infrastructure and bring them on par with the metros. We plan to install around 11,000 new mobile towers with the universal obligation fund in remote villages across the country where private operators are not ready to go. Markets there don't offer a good return on their investment. I believe all sections of society must feel they are part of the telecom revolution and the government will ensure that.

Similarly, we supply satellite phones to the paramilitary forces such as ITBP, BSF, SSB. These jawans serve in inhospitable conditions. I found they were paying a call charge of Rs 5/min to use these satellite phones which i thought was too much. So we have slashed the call charge to only Re 1/min so that it's easier for jawans to be in touch with their family members back home.

The department is also planning to use solar panels to power mobile towers instead of diesel-guzzling generators, which will result in less pollution and more fuel savings along with a reduced carbon footprint.







Vegetables, like people, have their own unique personalities. There is something distinctively arrogant about broccoli, celery and asparagus. They seem to scream out, "I am too good for you", every time one toys with the idea of investing in them. On the other hand, brinjal, pumpkin and radish are like your average friendly neighbours not royal by any stretch of imagination, but they'll put on a smile and follow it up with a quick 'namaste' whenever paths cross. And then there is the potato. The potato is that life-long friend we take for granted. It is the most honest vegetable out there. It will never pretend to be more than what it is a fat brown blob and is content to occupy the lower strata of the veggie hierarchy. Or, for those with Marxist inclinations, the potato is the proletariat's vegetable.

Hence it comes as no surprise that the Chinese government has decided to take the potato seriously. Describing it as a vital tool for maintaining social harmony and preventing the less privileged proletariat from doing a coup de grace on the more privileged, it sees the potato as the ultimate panacea for the mother of all problems: hunger. It turns out that the potato can yield far more calories per acre than rice and needs much less water; not bad for a fat brown blob. In fact, the Chinese are taking this so seriously that there is an aggressive campaign underway to make the potato an integral part of the Chinese diet. Thus, not too far in the distant future, we might strut into a perfectly average Chinese restaurant, drooling at the prospect of stuffing ourselves with some noodles and prawns in black bean sauce, only to find that the mouth-watering dishes have been supplanted by our desi aaloo. Imagine our horror as we peruse the menu to find aaloo manchurian, aaloo in oyster sauce and aaloo noodles szechuan style staring back at us.

Not very appetising? Neither is the prospect of making the aaloo the central vegetable in the Indian culinary pantheon anymore appealing. To be honest, the aaloo has been at best a side show in the Indian kitchen. Some people might daydream about aaloo paratha, but it won't be something that you would serve an honoured guest. In fact, the aaloo is primarily used in Indian cooking to give the illusion of variety when there is none. It is thrown into dishes according to the whims and fancies of the chef to make them seem more wholesome. Other than that, no one in his right mind would make an aaloo number the special of the day.

But we must keep up with the times. If the Chinese can re-engineer their palate to accommodate the humble spud as their staple food crop, we, a country where 200 million can't even have two square meals a day, need to start giving the aaloo more credit. We need to start producing more of it and create a sustainable demand. The trick is to launch a nationwide campaign to put out subliminal messages that will subtly push consumers towards the tuber and push up production. We could come up with a popular cartoon character along the lines of the spinach-eating Popeye the Sailor, only our's would be called 'Aaloo Badshah'. And given its fading fortunes, perhaps we could persuade Air India to lend its mascot, the Maharajah, for the project. A mustaschioed, pot-bellied character is just what we need no reference to Inzamam ul-Haq intended.

Or maybe our very own Lalu Prasad could help us out. After all, didn't he once say something about his political career being intimately linked to the aaloo in our samosas? Whatever the modalities, there is merit in fighting for the aaloo's cause. It is time to give a new meaning to the term couch potato, turn a blind eye to the weight scale, and dig into those aaloo bondas.








Oil prices in India remained administered for eight years after they were ostensibly freed. Only now the government has mustered the courage to free petrol from bureaucratic pricing. The arguments for subsidy and damping international crude price fluctuations bear little iteration. But the way we go about it, however, has left a lot to be desired. India changes its fuel prices with an eye more on the election calendar than on the Brent graph, losing much of the damping desired and stretching in the process both the buyer and seller of oil. With the price of petrol pumped out at the refinery as well as at the gas station following international crude oil prices, the consumer will be subjected to the harsher discipline of market forces that curbs wasteful expenditure. It remains to be seen how efficient the mechanism we devise to transmit global oil movements to the Indian market is; the hard part will be for the government to resist the temptation to decide when and by how much fuel prices should move.

Petrol is, of course, the easy bit. It accounts for only one in ten rupees Indian oil companies and the government lose on account of selling fuel below its market price. Diesel, kerosene and cooking gas make up for the other nine. In the 12 months to March 2010, the government picked up a tab of Rs 71,300 crore of the Rs 103,300 crore under-recoveries of the oil companies. Friday's hikes in the prices of diesel and the cooking fuels will shave Rs 24,000 crore off the Rs 77,000 crore estimated losses this year, but they fall short of the government-appointed Kirit Parikh Committee recommendations for deeper reform. Freeing up diesel prices alone would have wiped out another Rs 25,700 crore. Steeper hikes in the prices of cooking fuels would have limited the government's oil subsidy to

Rs 23,000 crore for any price of crude oil between $70 and $140 a barrel. Presumably, some sort of subsidy sharing will be in place till the next logical step of free diesel prices is reached. Its contours will keep shaping the fiscal deficit.

Free fuel prices are a precondition to reducing the tax burden petroleum carries in India. Although the government does not put out numbers, conservative estimates suggest half the excise duty collection in the country is from petroleum products. Even with the subsidy in place, petrol cost thrice as much at an Indian gas station as it did in the US. As domestic petrol prices rise another 10 per cent, this gap opens up. Part of the reason for India's relative lack of competitiveness among Asian manufacturing exporters is its expensive energy: the latest round of hikes could add up to a percentage point to wholesale inflation. Dismantling its high-cost energy economy has been a crusade India has shied away for too long. Rejoice in the baby steps we have taken last week.






The prodigal bushy-browed son returns and the verdict is that he's returned to his mothership 'on his own terms'. Not quite breaking into a baritone version of Frank Sinatra's 'My way', Jaswant Singh, MP from Darjeeling and son-of-the-Barmer-soil, is back in the BJP that had expelled him last summer for saying 'nice things' about Mohammad Ali Jinnah, not the Sangh parivar's favourite freedom fighter in a book that he had written. Almost 12 years later, the BJP doesn't want to talk about Mr Singh's 'Jinnah' episode — perhaps because someone else more high-ranking than him had also praised Jinnah's 'secular credentials' when the latter had made a trip to Pakistan.

But what about the rather strong words Mr Singh had used against the BJP? After all, not even the CPI(M), in its more secular seances, has ever dared to ask whether the BJP was "turning into some kind of an Indian version of the

Ku Klux Klan"? But as the not-too-well-known saying goes, a year in politics is an orbital change. Like a naughty boy, of course, the Congress still wants to know what the BJP leadership thinks of that, eh?

The truth is that in the party of the voiceless or the cacophonic — the two extreme positions the BJP keeps of late — a gravel-voiced gent can be helpful. The once mighty 'party with a difference' has been a party with too many differences over the last one year. Now with Mr Singh back and Uma Bharti waiting to see how the canary survives in the mine that is the BJP, we may just be seeing the grand old opposition party bolstered by its old grandees.






Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh has ended his estrangement with the saffron brigade but the reasons for his expulsion from the party don't appear to have been addressed. The former foreign minister was unceremoniously booted out of the organisation in Shimla last year when the parliamentary board, in what seemed to be a pre-determined decision, acted against him for writing a book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was said that this followed serious concerns expressed by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the fallout of the book on some polls that were to be held in his state at that time. The BJP subsequently won those elections.

While his divorce with his party took everyone by surprise, his reunion was on cards even before the recent Patna session of the National Executive after Jaswant Singh accompanied L.K. Advani in his plane to attend the funeral of former vice-president and top BJP leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Singh's return has also paved the way for the return of Uma Bharti, one of the few second-generation mass leaders in the party.

Jaswant Singh has reiterated that he stood by the book, which had got him in trouble and has stated that he was very happy with his re-entry into the Sangh fold. He had earlier stated that the BJP should become a party of the present and not be a prisoner of the past.

There are several dimensions to this expulsion and return which must puzzle political analysts. Was Jaswant Singh thrown out of the party to ensure that after Advani ceased to be the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, he did not become a claimant for the position since he had a similar status in the Rajya Sabha? Now since the issue was settled and Advani had appointed Sushma Swaraj in the

Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha, Singh's claim, if any, had become infructuous.

Second, by getting him back, Advani, who has become even more powerful than he was before the RSS got after him, has dealt a blow to his detractors in the Sangh parivar for criticising and replacing him as the BJP chief for his Jinnah remarks in Pakistan in May-June, 2005. Jaswant's readmission into the party is despite his (Jaswant's) views on Jinnah and also to drive home the point that Advani had committed no sin when he had praised the Qaid-e-Azam on Pakistani soil.

Third, if one goes by what Nitin Gadkari said while admitting Jaswant Singh into the party, it is possible that the party was under pressure from both within and outside to take him back. Gadkari said that he looked to his margdarshan (direction) in strategic and foreign affairs. The reference to foreign and strategic affairs is baffling since his views are not consistent with those of the RSS on Jinnah and Pakistan and not in line with Hindutva philosophy. Several Sangh activists are hoping that Singh's proximity to the Americans beginning with his stint as foreign minister had nothing to do with his comeback.

The RSS and its nominee Gadkari have come out very poorly in the whole affair. It is evident now that the RSS sarsanghchalak has no control left over the parivar but what is equally surprising is why various constituents like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are taking things lying down. Has their belief in Hindutva been shaken beyond repair and have they reconciled to giving respectability to Jinnah, the man whom they accused of dividing the country. Or is it that Advani has conquered his detractors and both Mohan Bhagwat and Nitin Gadkari are now at his mercy. It may be good news for its adversaries, but if this has happened, the future of the RSS's ideology is dim. Between us.






The best answer I got was at a convenience store, where I bought a paper and asked my question. The man looked puzzled, then nodded across the road. "Think it's down there," he said, "but I'm not sure. Take that street and ask." As I walked, odd stares from behind fences, behind lacy curtains. Somewhere a muscular young man strode up and asked in that lilting brogue, "Where're you for, then?" I told him. "Just cruisin' the 'hood, eh?" he observed, and walked off.

My quest had started some days earlier, when I read these lines in a book: "[H]eavy military searches in the Kashmir area in February provoked a bitter reaction from local women. This escalated into serious rioting."

I might have read these lines in any of hundreds of news reports over the last decade or so, but where I did not expect to read them was in this book: a history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Over the years, it told me, some of the troubles of the Troubles have happened in the "Kashmir area" of Belfast. I began reading about Northern Ireland because it seemed there were parallels there to our own Kashmir. Who would have thought that the parallels begin with the word 'Kashmir' itself? And that's why I roamed Belfast, searching for Kashmir.

And here's one more parallel. Earlier this month, the British government made public the report of an inquiry into the infamous 'Bloody Sunday' incident of January 30, 1972: in Derry, British soldiers shot dead 14 young men who were taking part in a protest march that day. This morning, I find on my front page news that in Srinagar, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel shot dead a teenager participating in a funeral procession that turned into a protest.

And as an aside, the funeral was of a young man who had died after being beaten up by other CRPF men on June 12. In turn, he was part of a protest over the killing of yet another young man by security personnel on June 11.

So it goes, it seems, in Kashmir.

After Bloody Sunday, the British government instituted an inquiry by a judge, Lord Widgery. His was a "disgracefully short and lazy report", as Robert Fisk described it recently: he submitted it in April of that year, without even calling for eyewitness testimony. Widgery blamed the demonstrators for their deaths. Some of them were armed, he wrote, and fired at the soldiers. Thus: "There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first."

Naturally, Widgery's whitewash of a report left Northern Ireland spluttering in outrage. Arguably, it was responsible for decades of hatred and violence that have killed more than 3,500 people. Twenty-six years later, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair set up another inquiry, this one by Lord Saville. Saville took over a decade to complete his work, and he interviewed hundreds of eyewitnesses. It is his report that the British government has just made public.

His conclusions are shocking. That is not merely my assessment from half the world away. British Prime Minister David Cameron used the word to refer to Saville's report. Speaking to his packed and hushed Parliament, Cameron said plenty more too: "What happened should never, ever have happened … The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government — and indeed our country — I am deeply sorry."

Even if it comes 40 years later, a prime minister's apology is something. Even if, as Bono commented in the New York Times, "Thirty-eight years did not disappear in an 11-minute speech". Yet, what struck me as even more significant was something else that Cameron said to his country in that speech: "You do not defend the British army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth."

Yes, it remains to be seen whether Cameron's government actually punishes the policemen who fired and killed on Bloody Sunday. But his words are a reminder to too many who wave away reports of crimes by security forces by saying they never happened, or if they did happen they were justified, or come on, some amount of 'collateral damage' is inevitable and acceptable, dammit, because those guys are protecting the country! And, of course, any move to punish such crimes will 'reduce the morale' of the forces.

I know enough times that our security forces have been accused of criminal conduct and have had others among us — and I don't mean just ministers — leap to their defence with arguments like those above.

The truth is simple: some crimes are indefensible. When instead of punishing them, we try to defend them, try to hide the truth — then we only insult the many men in uniform who do their jobs selflessly and conscientiously. Men who uphold the best standards of professional and personal conduct.

Back in Belfast, I never did find Kashmir. I've always thought of that as a metaphor of a kind, the quietest, saddest parallel of all.

(Dilip D'Souza is the author of Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America The views expressed by the author are personal)







Over the past few months, HT has been carrying various stories about so-called 'honour killings'.


It was recently used in a story from Uttar Pradesh about a man strangling his 18-year-old daughter for eloping with a boy and in another from Punjab about the murders of a new bride and her mother-in-law by the girl's family, who were against the marriage.

Feminists have long objected to the phrase's unqualified use. They argue that the word 'honour' has positive connotations and shifts at least some part of the blame from the perpetrator to the victim, mostly a woman, and the larger culture. Readers' objections run along similar lines.

I asked a group of senior editors at HT-Mumbai what they thought of this critique. All of them more or less agreed with it. "There can never be any honour in killing," said Sujata Anandan, HT-Mumbai's political editor. "We are using the term rather loosely, which lends legitimacy to murder, plain and simple, and romanticises growing brutality and intolerance in Indian society."

What the editors found hard to agree on was what to use instead. Anandan suggested that the newspaper use 'caste killing' to describe murders where caste tensions are clearly at play, as they seem to be in a large number of murders now being described as 'honour killings'.

For his part, Soumya Bhattacharya, HT's Mumbai editor, said that the newspaper might think of using scare quotes around the word 'honour.' This would convey that the newspaper does not believe honour is in any way a mitigating factor.

Both suggestions seem reasonable, and are, in fact, not mutually exclusive. The newspaper could do both, i.e. use 'caste' for murders in which that is an issue and scare quotes for the others.

I have one more thought, however — not about the handling of such stories but about the reporting. In how many cases that newspapers describe as 'honour killings' — with or without scare quotes — are the cultural dynamics of honour really at work in the first place?

Social science research suggests that many cultures do have the concept of honour killings. But it is not monolithic: its history, practice and meaning vary from culture to culture.

For instance, Sharif Kanaana, a Palestinian anthropologist, believes the practice emerged in the pre-Islamic era and has deep historical roots in Arab society. He argues that it is "an attempt by the men of a family or clan to control women's reproductive power…because women are considered a factory  for making men." (

Tahira Shahid Khan, a Pakistani gender studies academic, has a different analysis. "Women are considered the property of the males in their family, and the owner of the property has the right to decide its fate," shewrites. (

But as non-experts without the luxury of being able to do two years of ethnographic research before deciding whether or not a particular community has an honour code, journalists should avoid labels as far as possible.

What we need is detailed reporting — about the backgrounds of the perpetrators, of events that led up to the murder,  of views of neighbours and friends, etc — in other words, the journalistic equivalent of what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called "thick description."






Your perfect image is one with eternity. As the weeks pass and you become familiar with your perfect image, you will naturally and effortlessly begin to act as your perfect image.

When you are talking to another person, doing a chore, or are engaged in other activities, feel yourself being your perfect image and allow yourself to be  that way. Trust your perfect image.

By being 'who you are', you create your reality moment by moment. The Universe always responds to you as you are being at every moment.

"Who you think are" will change as you follow this programme. Let that  happen. Act as the extra  special person you meet in your imagination, because  on that level you are that  person.

By experiencing your  perfect image, you will bring that being to that surface of your life and everything will be different for you — far better, far brighter, far easier, far more possible.

Drop all aspects of 'you' that are not part of your perfect image, aspects like fear, smoking, using alcohol or drugs, swearing, weakness, lying, meanness, stinginess, and all limitations that are obstacles to achieving your goals.

"Who you think you are" is now going through the same process a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. Let the process happen and fly.

The image of "who you think you are" has been around since the day you were born. Your 'perfect' image has been around since the dawn of time.

It is as bright, fresh, vital, alive, and powerful as the first brilliant day of the Universe. It is all powerful.
It is you.

Extract from Be who you want, Have what you want








This was to be Africa's World Cup — thanks to Shakira's controversial and catchy cup anthem, and of course the fact that the continent is hosting it for the first time; if not for Pelé's routine, and never vindicated, forecasts of an African team winning the Cup before the end of the 20th century. Well, the 20th century's been left behind by a full decade, and Africa's best show yet has been quarter-final appearances — Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and now Ghana. Statistically, in fact, this is South America's World Cup, with all its five teams having progressed to the knock-out stage (with Uruguay entering the last eight after 40 years), and pundits talking of a South (if not Latin) American resurgence that will push beyond the Brazil-Argentina binary.


Africa is not out, and Asamoah Gyan dedicated his winning goal against the US to his continent, seen solidly behind the lone African team left. Ghana may be the most youthful and energetic African side in this World Cup, but the disappointment that is African football needs clear insights into the malaise. Even two of the three Asian teams moved to the second round, as against Africa's one out of six, with South Africa distinguished as the first hosts to not progress.


African football's problem is primarily poor management, not poverty or socio-political violence as that would undo the South American story. Nor is it foreign coaches ignorant of the natural "African game", or best players going abroad too early. Africa must build and sustain its domestic leagues, investing in resources and infrastructure — if gigantic sums can be spared for star coaches, some such money can also go where it matters most. Take Brazil, where footballers may still come from extremely poor quarters, yet where football tradition ensures as much talent in domestic-league players as in the stars playing in Europe. Given the talent in the continent, African football bosses actually have it easy.







After his meeting with Rehman Malik at the SAARC Interior Ministers' Conference, P. Chidambaram has struck the right notes of hard talk and patient engagement with Pakistan. He gave Pakistan some wiggle room by appreciating its intentions to address terror, but added what mattered ultimately were hard results. These "outcomes" include a sincere and thorough investigation and follow-up of 26/11 leads, dealing with plotters and handlers of the attack, and ensuring that terrorists don't have a free run. While acknowledging the fact that Malik's speech devoted a considerable part to terrorism, 9/11 and 26/11, the home minister pointed out that bringing the Mumbai attack to "a logical end" would benefit both countries, beset by the same problem.


Pakistan, predictably, played hardball about Hafiz Saeed, almost framing it as a hate-speech issue — "there are all sorts of people making all kinds of speeches... in both India and Pakistan." However, when accused of fixating on the Saeed issue, Chidambaram pointed out that it was only accurate to recognise that the process had been interrupted, but that both India and Pakistan were now picking up the threads of dialogue again. He also laid down the mutual parameters for progress — "it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the instruments and resources at our disposal are put to best possible use in our fight against terrorism. We need to examine whether existing conventions at our disposal have been effective and, if not, we need to understand why."


Keeping the conversation moving is in India's own interests, and, more importantly, we must recognise that in Pakistan the government is not fully behind the wheel, and state agencies are not necessarily on the same page. For India, the political capital that can be wrung from suspending all dialogue has already been exhausted. And talking to the civilian government should only be one strand of India's diplomatic efforts, because Pakistan is a jigsaw of overlapping interests — the army, fundamentalist groups and civil society inhabit sometimes different, sometimes overlapping planes, and each tugs a little differently at it.


India must have the wits to engage each of them patiently, along with other international actors invested in Pakistan.







News from Bellikeri port in Karnataka that 5 lakh tonnes of confiscated iron ore has "disappeared" is shocking, but, sadly, not altogether a surprise. It's already become clear that Karnataka politics has become deeply compromised by interests vested in the mining economy. Even so, the barefaced effrontery of what appears to have taken place in Bellikeri is exceptional. The 5 lakh tonnes stored in the Karwar port were central, of course, to the decision of Karnataka's top anti-corruption official, Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, to resign. He had made the investigation of this ore a priority; but, being thwarted at every turn, he said he chose to resign following the attempted suspension of the Deputy Conservator of Forests for Karwar, R. Gokul, who had been pivotal in the detection, seizing and investigation of the ore.


These 5 lakh tonnes, as The Indian Express reported in April, comprised the biggest haul of illegally mined iron ore discovered. The scale of the operation was astounding. An enormous amount of ore — between 25,000 and 40,000 truckloads! — was stored in state government port facilities using forged permits. The ore, worth between Rs 150 and Rs 250 crore, had been transported across various jurisdictions by 400 to 500 trucks a day for some months. The faked permits and documents discovered filled 41 gunny sacks — and were just for a couple of days in February. That alone should make an unanswerable case for the complete breakdown of any sort of accountability or legality in Karnataka's ore-rich districts. But the discovery that, in spite of this well-publicised discovery by the duly constituted anti-corruption authorities, whoever mined that ore felt absolutely no compunction in completely ignoring the investigation and — presumably — exporting it anyway, is truly chilling.


Yeddyurappa himself appears to have made little attempt to follow up on the former Lok Ayukta's complaints. As this newspaper has shown in extensive reporting, and as has been argued on these pages, the state's politics, particularly that of the ruling BJP, has been deeply influenced by the power of those, especially the Reddy brothers, who run the iron ore mines of Bellary. Karnataka's government cannot afford to continue to show itself unable to clean house. The open contempt for legality visible at Bellikeri port is extremely disturbing.









India has for some time now had a unique opportunity to build a bridge between its remarkably successful telecom revolution and relatively dismal banking evolution. The telecom revolution that began with extensive liberalisation of the sector at the end of the '90s has been a model of inclusive growth; more than 500 million Indians own a mobile phone. The banking revolution that began with nationalisation in 1969, and which purportedly had a similarly noble end-goal of inclusion, has been a dismal failure, at least for the more than 900 million Indians who still don't have access to a bank account, four decades later. Mobile banking offers a window of opportunity to leverage the outreach of telecom to foster financial inclusion.


Unfortunately, not enough progress has been made. A news report last week suggested that TRAI and RBI, the two sectoral regulators concerned with the roll-out of mobile banking, may have finally agreed to an appropriate division of turf when the roll-out happens. Not much has unfortunately been done by either to actually facilitate a quick roll-out, and the RBI must take the lion's share of the blame for that.


The RBI's lukewarm attitude towards mobile banking reflects its lukewarm attitude towards radical banking reform in general. Even in post-liberalisation India, the RBI has been notoriously conservative about allowing greater competition in banking — it is only just considering giving out new bank licences for the first time in many years. It has consistently been conservative on the role of foreign banks. The banking regulator has even been miserly in permitting existing banks to open more bank branches. And it has resisted the idea of business correspondents who could go out into unbanked areas and open bank accounts without the need for a bank branch in the vicinity. Public sector banks, shielded from competition and dominant in the Indian banking scene, have no incentive to reach out to the underbanked. In short, the plain result of the RBI's conservatism on banking is that too few people have access to bank accounts in India.


Private telecom companies (unlike the struggling MTNL and BSNL), on the other hand, free from government control and overbearing regulations have done a wonderful job of reaching out. This is not because of altruism of course, but rather the result of a fiercely competitive market where each operator needs to reach out to more and more customers to stay in business. What competition has done in addition to forcing tariffs down (and incoming calls are free) is allowing access to hundreds of millions not-so-well-off Indians to use mobile phone services.


The same entrepreneurship and competition will automatically propel mobile companies to offer mobile banking services should they be allowed to do so.


The technology has already been developed and there are successful role models for both telecom companies and the regulators to examine and emulate. Kenya, a considerably less developed economy than India, rolled out the globally celebrated mobile banking service M-Pesa more than three years ago in March 2007. The service is operated by Safaricom, a Kenyan telecom affiliate of Vodafone, and uses a technology originally developed by British technology firm Sagentia and now operated by IBM which enables subscribers of its mobile phone service to also conduct basic banking transactions — like depositing and withdrawing money and transferring money to other users and non-users, without having a bank account. The agent who tops up airtime for prepaid subscribers, usually a local shopkeeper, simply doubles up as a banking agent collecting money from, and giving money out to, subscribers. The service has already revolutionised life for millions of poor Kenyans who had no previous access to a bank, and the techno-logy has been deployed in Tanzania and Afghanistan.


The key lesson from the M-Pesa experience is to allow telecom companies to provide some minimal banking services (deposits, withdrawals, transfers) without necessarily having to tie up with a bank.


For the moment, in India, we seem to be heading in the opposite direction — of not allowing telecom companies to offer minimal banking services by themselves. Banks will effectively have to tie up with telecom companies, and the latter will only facilitate interaction between banks and final customers. This is unlikely to foster financial inclusion. It will still be as difficult for the unbanked to actually open an account with a bank first in order to use a mobile service to transact. Frankly, it is easy enough for the RBI to liberalise rules for mobile banking for those like you and I who already have bank accounts. Just as many of us already bank on the Internet and through ATMs without visiting a bank branch, we can be allowed to do so through our mobile devices. But that is a very incremental change. The real gamechanging potential of mobile banking lies in providing some minimal banking services to those who do not have existing bank accounts.


The majority of poor Indians need only basic services of the kind offered by M-Pesa (money transfers for example) that do not necessarily require a bank. All that it requires is for the agent who sells airtime for prepaid services to double up as a business correspondent for basic banking services. This doesn't require any more skills from the kirana store owner than the ones he in any case deploys to top up a phone electronically.


Of course, the RBI should be concerned about adequate security and protection against fraud. But those need smart regulation, not shutting out of mobile banking altogether. And if Kenya and Tanzania can work those out, there is no reason to believe that India cannot.


There is one enticing prospect though if the RBI sticks to its gun on not permitting telecom companies to launch a service like M-Pesa without the backing of a commercial bank. Might it prompt some telecom companies to then consider applying for the new banking licences that the RBI has promised this year? Ultimately, Bharti and Vodafone will have to take a call, but given the huge business potential of mobile banking in India, it may be worth their while to seriously consider acquiring a banking licence.


Needless to say, all this is in the realm of wishful thinking as long as the RBI remains firmly rooted to its old-fashioned thinking on banking. But if the government is serious about financial inclusion, it must make the RBI see reason in being liberal about the roll-out of mobile banking.


The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'







Missing from the list of teams that are a part of the hoopla, vibrancy, sheer agility and skill, and drama of the FIFA World Cup Finals 2010, at least on paper, is the Indian football team. "Missing", of course, is a loosely defined term here: Indian football fans have deep loyalties to various European and South American teams, and this is why the viability of football as a potentially lucrative sport is undeniable. This is primarily because the basic revenue streams for any sport are broadcasting, sponsorships, merchandising/ licensing of equipment and apparel, F&B, and of course, gate receipts. And, while the Indian team isn't likely to set the world of football on fire, over time, if the systems are in place, there is every possibility that the Indian team will improve enough to at least make it to the Cup Finals. And while on its own this wouldn't have been enough to excite the football pundits to declare football to be the next big sport in India, the WC's sharp rise in the public's awareness has been accompanied by a steep fall in terms of viewership, interest levels, and over time, the profitability of ODI cricket, namely the Asia Cup.


It's true that this compares the world's most beloved event (staged only once every four years), and an event where only four South Asian nations competed in a dying format of the game, with little to play for. However, for cricket, the facts are somewhat more sinister. Essentially, cricket is a regional sport, and the South Asian region encompasses the normal distribution parameters for cricket's viewership and fiscal viability. An India-Pakistan ODI, replete with suspense, anger, anguish, superstars, and uber-performances, at an audience-friendly time on a weekend afternoon, should have been the recipe for redemption of international limited-overs matches. It wasn't. Now with dwindling talent pools in most pockets of the world, cricket is no longer the odds-on eyeballs and sponsorship magnet that it used to be. And any automatic transition to T20 is clearly not a foregone recipe for profitability and critical acclaim. In many ways, cricket has seen unprecedented metamorphosis, in a manner which defies the idea of an organised and sustainable "look and feel" that most global sports possess. No other sport has so many different variants.


Football is the poster child for longevity, sustainability, passion, fervour, and packaging. And profitability. It is played across the world, in every country; it is affordable, requires no infrastructure, equipment, or philanthropy. And, with France's Les Bleus doing their best impression of the Pakistan cricket team's patented self-destructive Molotov Cocktail, even the pyrotechnics one expects from the prototypical India-Pakistan cricket match have been usurped. Cricket has reason to fear for its future over time, and the proof lies in the dilemma: reinvent, and get chastised, or stay inert and get fossilised.


A full-strength Indian team won the Asia Cup after 15 years, in the wake of a series of disappointing performances over the last year or so. What's worrying is that no one seems to care, and indifference is bad news in the business of sports. Contrast that with the approximately 80 million Indians across socio-economic demographics who are following the World Cup, as if the futility of the Indian football team's future chances is minor.


However, the future of football in India is bright. Corporate sponsorships and professionalism in football leagues and clubs will lead to the inflow of funds, increase in qualitative competitive levels, and, above all, could set the foundation for a professional football league that will attract and feature international football stars, either on a loan basis, or as contracted professionals by the league or clubs. For that to happen, there needs to be a focus on structuring, funding, and monetising the sport to the extent that the market can support a professional football league.


What remains to be seen in following a clearly successful Cup (despite the time difference, and the limitations on F&B options due to the lateness of the matches), and of this woeful four-nation cricket series, is how this moment is leveraged. Priorities, choices, and conscious decision-making will define the future of professional domestic football in India — from the grassroots to the I-league play-offs. There is a huge potential for domestic football, and there needs to be a multi-pronged impetus provided to infrastructure, technical skill development and academies of all kinds, tournaments and amateur leagues, and above all, a focus on making the domestic I-league a professional, high-quality, coveted football league. If all goes according to plan, one has the feeling that Les Bleus might just become the moniker for all other emerging and established sports in India, and not just for the French faux pas. C'est la vie.


The writer is a sports attorney with a national corporate law firm. Views are personal.







Few remember it today but when it was held in April 1955, the Bandung Conference was an international sensation. For it was the first gathering, in the Indonesian resort of Bandung, of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa at that time plus a few, like Gold Coast (now Ghana) that were on the verge of independence. Bandung was also the first international conference that Zhou Enlai, prime minister of the People's Republic of China, was attending, and this added to the prevailing excitement.


The sponsors of the Afro-Asian conference were the Colombo Powers — India, Indonesia, Burma (now Myanmar), Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) — that had first got together in the Ceylonese capital. It was President Sukarno of Indonesia who had suggested the holding of the wider conference. Interestingly, Jawaharlal Nehru — who as head of the interim government had organised the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1947 well before independence when nobody even knew whether there would be one successor government to the British or two — was not in favour of Sukarno's idea. He was apprehensive that the proposed conference might become a forum for "heated discussion on local or regional issues, particularly Israel and Palestine". This embarrassment he wanted to avoid.


However, gradually he changed his view and felt that the conference could perhaps be made a platform for "refuting the United States policy of imposing military alliances on Asia and Africa" — an objective on which India, Burma and Indonesia were united. From this moment onwards he became the moving spirit behind Bandung. No organisational detail was too trivial for him. For instance, he directed the Indian ambassador to Indonesia, B.F.H.B Tayabji, at considerable length, to see to it that there were enough bathrooms and lavatories at the conference site!


Who was to be invited and who not was a serious issue and this was decided by a summit of the Colombo Five at Bogor (also in Indonesia) a few months before the conference. From the newly independent Afro-Asian countries, South Africa and Israel was excluded. Because of apartheid, Nehru considered South Africa's exclusion justifiable. But to keep Israel out, he thought, was an "illogical surrender to Arab susceptibility". China was keen to attend and Nehru firmly believed that it must be invited. At Bogor only Pakistan demurred briefly before the Colombo Five agreed to invite the Chinese. But a different drama had taken place behind the scenes even before Nehru had left Delhi for Bogor. From London, Anthony Eden conveyed to him that an invitation to China would create a "bad impression" in Britain and the United States. Nehru rejected this "irritating" intervention sharply.


The sabotage by Taiwanese agents of Kashmir Princess, an Air India plane chartered by the Chinese government and carrying an advance party, did come cause some gloom at Bandung but once the conference got going the outlook was sunny. Nehru had worked hard to ensure that the conference concentrated on general issues and projected the voice of Asia and Africa across the world. Contentious issues were to be left to informal meetings only. In this he succeeded — to use his own words in a different context — not fully but substantially. When a resolution condemning colonialism was moved, Sir John Kotelawala of Ceylon insisted that "Soviet colonialism" in Eastern Europe must also be covered. Nehru was annoyed. A conference of governments must function "within that limit". All East European countries were sovereign and members of the United Nations. To call them colonial territories would be "a most extraordinary position to take up". If the conference wanted to discuss "pressures and coercion" to which independent countries were subject, the result would be chaos and confusion. Eventually, a compromise was reached. The conference condemned colonialism in "all its manifestations". Draftsmanship came to the aid of statesmanship.


Historically, the centrepiece of the Bandung Meet consisted of the equation between the two towering personalities, Nehru and Zhou, who were unquestionably the main performers. Zhou hadn't met any of the assembled leaders before, so Nehru took him round to introduce him to them. Several delegates thought that the Indian prime minister was being patronising. One biting comment was that he was escorting Zhou "like a dowager chaperoning a niece of dubious upbringing". It was many years later that Zhou gave vent to his feelings, describing Nehru as the "vainest man" with whom he had ever to deal. At the conference Zhou was his best — courteous, moderate and accommodating. He lost his temper only once when he thought that China was being "bullied".


At all major conferences the real drama takes place in the wings, not on the stage. So it was at Bandung though critically important facts began to trickle out much later. Publicly, Zhou was extremely friendly and cordial to Nehru. Privately, he did all he could to undermine India and its prime minister. When Nehru had successfully prevented a condemnatory resolution on Palestine from being moved, Zhou quietly cultivated Arab delegates and described Western support to Israel as "worse than that to Taiwan". More importantly, especially from the Indian point of view, the nexus between China and Pakistan first began at Bandung. Pakistan's prime minister, Mohammed Ali Bogra assured Zhou that his country, though a member of SEATO, was "not hostile to China, did not fear Chinese aggression, and would not be dragged into any war between the United States and China". In return, as Pakistani sources confirmed in later years, Zhou assured Bogra that there was "no conceivable conflict of interest which could imperil relations between the two countries, but that this was not true of relations between India and China". (Source: L. F. Rushbrook Williams, The State of Pakistan, pp.120-21)


At the end of the conference, Nehru invited President Nasser — who until then had never left Egypt except to go to Mecca for Haj — to stop over in India. He gave a largely attended reception in Nasser's honour at Hyderabad House. The first three guests Nasser shook hands with were Communist leaders A. K. Gopalan, Renu Chakravartty and Hiren Mukherjee. The surprise on his face was visible. "Gamal", Nehru said to him, "you put your Communists in prison; I put them in Parliament".


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








The political battle currently raging in Bihar is most likely a sample of what will unfold during the assembly elections scheduled later this year. It will demonstrate whether Nitish Kumar's rhetoric of social justice and good governance will translate into victory for the JD (U). It will also determine the fate of the other political players in the fray - the BJP's chances if it decides to go solo, and the Congress capacity to pull off a revival like in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. It would also be interesting to see if Lalu Prasad Yadav — who has kept a low profile for a while now — succeeds in reversing the tide, and if Paswan manages to keep his ship afloat.


At the heart of this recent controversy is Bihar's much-fought over seventeen per cent Muslim electorate. It is being argued that at no price does Nitish want to be associated with Narendra Modi's brand of BJP politics which might cost him a crucial chunk of the Muslim votes. Cancelling the dinner meant for BJP leaders and returning the five crore Kosi flood relief package to the Gujarat government needs to be read as a part of this calculated alienation narrative woven by Nitish.


There is also the anticipation that a resurgent Congress will garner a good portion of Muslim votes as it did in the last Lok Sabha elections. If Nitish Kumar manages even a small slice of the vote from this community, he will make Lalu bleed where it hurts. His government is extending significant patronage to the community through several minority welfare schemes. By helping two prominent Muslim politicians (Ali Anwar of the All-India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj and Dr Ejaz Ali of the All India United Muslim Morcha) to become Rajya Sabha MPs, Nitish has carefully designed a strategy to move from his current "coalition of extremes" to a catch-all rainbow coalition. If he succeeds in rallying a segment of upper caste voters opposed to Lalu, there is an opportunity to carve out a new Mandal bloc of non-Yadav OBCs plus a chunk of Muslim and Mahadalit votes. Thus Nitish is not only benefiting from the bad memories of Lalu's rule but also reaping the dividends of a possible "Mandal harvest".


There is rising speculation that Nitish Kumar may dump the BJP, Naveen Patnaik style, or that the BJP itself may need to move out of the coalition in order to save face. One thing is certain — if the BJP decides to move out, it will be political hara kiri, because it risks getting reduced to a marginal player in Bihar. However, Nitish may not pull the Patnaik stunt because Bihar, unlike Orissa, has an array of strong Opposition leaders.


In the backdrop of fast-changing social equations Lalu has failed to retain the niche he had carved out for himself over the last two decades. The continuous downslide in voter turnout (from 66.2 per cent in 1990 to 44.5 per cent in 2009) has been one of the most ignored angles in understanding the processes and trajectories of electoral competition in Bihar. Time series data from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) of the last eight elections since 1995 suggest that the number of voters from the poorer sections is declining. One would be surprised to note how this downslide of voter turnout mirrors declining RJD vote share in the state.


This should be the biggest worry for Lalu, who has successfully mobilised the voters from the poorer sections of the society. The pro-poor tone and tenor of his electoral mobilisation seems to have lost its teeth in his anti-communal rhetoric. He needs to understand that though in the popular imagination, the RJD's vote-bank is the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) equation; the truth is that the RJD has always been critically depended on other communities, particularly the Dalits, lower and Other Backward Classes and some upper castes for its vote. Though loss of a big chunk of Muslim votes to the Congress has damaged his electoral prospects; the biggest setback comes from the continuous declining popularity among lower OBC votes. The lower OBC vote has shifted decisively in favor of JD (U) in the last two elections.


Thus the big battle in Bihar is just not for the Muslim votes as it may seem. The results would be more of a reflection of the fragmentation that will take place in the upper caste votes. It is highly likely that the Congress would make its presence felt among the upper caste voters. And in case the BJP and JD (U) contest separately, the upper caste votes may get divided. Nonetheless, in the end this seemingly major rift between the BJP and JD (U) may well turn out to be just a tussle preceding seat sharing negotiations. Meanwhile, Lalu Prasad Yadav, it must be remembered, is a ruthless campaigner and may well be busy reinventing his organisational machine and setting things right in his own constituency.


The writer is with Lokniti, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, Delhi







The moment he pulled the trigger, there was near-universal agreement that President Obama had done the inevitable thing, the right thing and, best of all, the bold thing. But let's not forget what we saw in the tense 36 hours between when word spread of Rolling Stone' s blockbuster article and when Obama MacArthured his general.


What we saw was this: 1) Much of the Beltway establishment was blindsided by Michael Hastings's scoop, an impressive feat of journalism by a Washington outsider who seemed to know more about what was going on in Washington than most insiders did; 2) Obama's failure to fire McChrystal months ago for both his arrogance and incompetence was a grievous mistake that illuminates a wider management shortfall at the White House; 3) The present strategy has produced no progress in this nearly nine-year-old war.


There were few laughs in the 36 hours of tumult, but Jon Stewart captured them with a montage of cable-news talking heads expressing repeated shock that an interloper from a rock 'n' roll magazine could gain access to the war command and induce it to speak with self-immolating candour. Politico theorised that Hastings had pulled off his impertinent coup because he was a freelance journalist rather than a beat reporter, and so could risk "burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal's remarks."


That sentence was edited out of the article after the blogger Andrew Sullivan highlighted it as a devastating indictment of a Washington media elite too cozy with and protective of its sources to report the unvarnished news. In any event, Politico had the big picture right. It's the Hastings-esque outsiders with no fear of burning bridges who have often uncovered the epochal stories missed by those with high-level access. Woodward and Bernstein were young local reporters, nowhere near the White House beat, when they cracked Watergate. Seymour Hersh was a freelancer when he broke My Lai . It was uncelebrated reporters in Knight Ridder's Washington bureau who mined low-level agency hands to challenge the "slam-dunk" WMD intelligence in the run-up to Iraq.


The Interior Department follies will end promptly only if Obama has learned the lessons of the attenuated McChrystal debacle. Lesson No 1 should be to revisit some of his initial hiring decisions. The general's significant role in the Pentagon's cover-up of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death in 2004 should have been disqualifying from the start. Once made the top commander in Afghanistan, the general was kept on long past his expiration date. We now know, thanks to Hastings, that the general was out of control and the White House was naïve. The McChrystal cadre's utter distaste for its civilian colleagues on the war team was an ipso facto death sentence for the general's signature counterinsurgency strategy.


This fundamental contradiction helps explain some of the war's failures under McChrystal's aborted command, including the inability to hold Marja (pop 60,000), which he had vowed to secure in pure counterinsurgency fashion by rolling out a civilian "government in a box" after troops cleared it of the Taliban. Such is the general's contempt for leadership outside his orbit that it extends even to our allies. The Hastings article opens with McChrystal mocking the French at a time when every ally's every troop is a precious, dwindling commodity in Afghanistan.


What McChrystal's supporters most seemed to admire was his uniquely strong relationship with Hamid Karzai,

our Afghanistan puppet. As if to prove the point, Karzai was the most visible lobbyist for McChrystal's survival last week.


The war, supported by a steadily declining minority of Americans, has no chance of regaining public favour unless President Obama can explain why American blood and treasure should be at the mercy of this napping Afghan president. Karzai stole an election , can't provide a government in or out of a box, and has in recent months threatened to defect to the Taliban and accused American forces of staging rocket attacks on his national peace conference . Until last week, Obama's only real ally in making his case was public apathy. As a senior McChrystal adviser presciently told Hastings, "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular."


To appreciate how shielded Americans have been from Afghanistan, revisit Rahm Emanuel's appearance last Sunday on "This Week" just before the McChrystal firestorm erupted. Trying to put a positive spin on the war, the president's chief of staff said that the Afghans were at long last meeting their army and police quotas. Technically that's true; the numbers are up. But in that same day's Washington Post , a correspondent in Kandahar reported that the Afghan forces there are poorly equipped, corrupt, directionless and infiltrated by Taliban sympathisers and spies. Kandahar (pop 1 million) is supposed to be the site of the next major American offensive .


The gaping discrepancy between Emanuel's upbeat assessment and the reality on the ground went


unremarked because absolutely no one was paying attention. Everyone is now. That, at least, gives us reason to hope that the president's first bold move to extricate America from the graveyard of empires won't be his last.








Throughout most of their conflict, Arab and Israeli leaders have tended to oscillate between two, and only two, worldviews: I am weak; how can I compromise? I am strong; why should I compromise? Israel today is very much in the second mode. For Israel, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Globally, the campaign to de-legitimise Israel has never been more virulent, while locally the beaches and restaurants of Tel Aviv have never been more crowded — as suicide-bombing and rockets from Gaza and Lebanon seem like a distant memory.


In noting this contrast, Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz , reported that the number of Israeli millionaires "soared by 43 per cent between 2008 and 2009, with 2,519 new ones joining the 5,900 we already had, for a total of 8,419 Israeli millionaires. ... Never has life been so good here for so wealthy an elite, as the country is poised at the brink of the abyss."


Israel's newfound sense of security, though, was bought at a very high price — and it is not a steady state. The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarised in one sentence: "War, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout..." What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.


Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.


What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call "Hama Rules" — which are no rules at all. "Hama Rules" are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighbourhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.


In Israel's case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.


The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a UN investigation into alleged war crimes.


This is important: For its first 30 years...


Israel bought its timeouts with conventional wars against conventional armies of nation states. But now that Israel's primary foes are nonstate actors who deploy rockets nested among homes and schools, the cost of buying its timeouts has gone up dramatically. Now they include potential UN indictments of generals and political leaders for war crimes and corroding relations with democrats everywhere.


That is why it is vital that Israel use this moment of strength, this timeout, to do precisely what Defence Minister Ehud Barak suggested to the cabinet the other day — offer a "daring and assertive political initiative" to advance the peace process with the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.


If only... Bibi Netanyahu has been Israel's prime minister now for 15 months. If he retired tomorrow, this term in office, like his first, would not merit a footnote to a footnote in Israel's history. Yes, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he grudgingly accepted the idea of a two-state solution, but it was a speech addressed to Barack Obama to get him off his back. It wasn't to the Palestinian people to get them on his side.


"Bibi thinks the negotiations are not about the future of Israel, but the future of US-Israel relations," Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University philosopher, told me when I visited Israel last week.


Which brings me to the surprise. Israeli defence officials were clear with me: The Palestinian security forces built by Abbas and Fayyad in the West Bank are the real deal, and their effectiveness is a vital stabiliser of the current timeout.


But Abbas and Fayyad will not be able to sustain this timeout if Netanyahu resumes settlement-building in September, when the partial freeze expires, and if Israel doesn't soon start gradually transferring control of major West Bank Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.


Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative.


Because the risks to Israel's legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.


The New York Times










The monsoon impact on the Indian economy has surprisingly risen over time as the balance of purchasing power has begun to tilt towards rural India. So the timely arrival of the monsoons in fairly good bursts, unlike in 2009, is a welcome development. In 2009, when rains almost vanished after making a healthy start, the country was pushed towards the worst drought in almost three decades. This was not only the base of the inflationary spiral but the lower income in rural India translated into a reduction in the rate of GDP growth. This time, the initial indications fortunately don't point towards such a desperate scenario. Although monsoon rains from June 1-23 have been about 11% below normal—above the 'tolerable limit' of 5-6%—if met officials and others are to be believed, things should improve now onwards. The government, in its June prediction of the Southwest monsoon, has forecast that rains would be around 102% of the Long Period Average (LPA) in 2010, almost 4% more than its April forecast of 98%, which means that although the beginning has not been spectacular, the end should be better.


The LPA rainfall in India for the period 1941-90 was 89 cm. The latest forecast shows that rains in July would be 98% of LPA and in August, around 101% of the LPA. In other words, overall rainfall across the country would be more in August than in July. Region wise, rainfall is likely to be 102% of the LPA over north-west India, comprising big foodgrain-growing areas of Punjab, Haryana, western UP and Rajasthan. In central India, which suffered heavily in the 2009 drought, it would be 99% of the LPA. The monsoon in eastern India, where kharif paddy production last year was severely impacted because of low rainfall, is expected to be a healthy 103% of the LPA. Water in the country's 81 major reservoirs, as on June 24, was around 18.28 billion cubic metres. This is 131% of last year's reserves and should take care of any immediate water needs in irrigated areas, in case the predictions fail to come true. A problem, however, will arise if rainfall doesn't follow the IMD's prediction for July and August—the two months in which more than 60% of the June-September Southwest monsoon season falls. Equally important is how rain is distributed throughout the four-month season. Nevertheless, farmers across the country have started planting kharif crops, with the hopes that rains will be better. Until June 25, rice has been sown in around 24.12 lakh hectares, oilseeds in 11.46 lakh hectares, and sugarcane and pulses in 47.28 and 3.07 lakh hectares, respectively. It is expected that the optimism created by IMD and the initial rainfall will sustain these hopes.







Just how effective is the liquidity management system operated by RBI and the finance ministry? From the second week of June this year, banks have been borrowing huge sums of money from RBI, and on Thursday borrowed a record Rs 82,915 crore. The last time such a high level of borrowing by banks in India was seen—after the crash of Lehman Brothers in 2008—at the onset of the global economic crisis. The spurt in borrowing started from June 7 onwards, with Rs 62,305 crore on the day, up from Rs 18,945 crore on June 4. The spurt in late-June is surprising as companies have already paid off their first instalment of advance tax—around Rs 30,000 crore. In addition, the 3G spectrum auction prices, of about Rs 68,000 crore, have also been paid by the telecom companies and Rs 38,000 crore for wireless broadband spectrum licences is also largely through. So what continues to cause the hump? Nobody has made any comments that could explain the sharply raised cost of borrowing for banks. RBI, as a measure to infuse liquidity into the system, had allowed banks to maintain a lower SLR of up to 0.5% for a short period, until July 2. Now, with the sudden spurt in borrowing, it is to be seen whether the central bank will extend the time window for the special facility it has provided to banks. The effective rate in money markets is being capped by the 5.25% repo rate—the facility through which RBI lends to banks.


The sudden spurt in borrowing could lead to a spike in interest rates on various market instruments, bank deposits and government bonds. If the rush for heavy borrowings continues, the government may have to spend aggressively to bring money back into the system. Going ahead, the central bank will also have to play a fine balancing act in its forthcoming monetary policy next month. Any increase in the cash reserve ratio—portion of deposits that banks park at the central bank—would put pressure on banks and any reduction in the CRR will signal a reversal of its policy stance. It could look at the possibility of buying back bonds from the market under its open market operations, since on July 2 a government bond worth Rs 15,515 crore is due for redemption and another redemption for Rs 34,000 crore is due on July 28. It will be a tough situation for both the government and the central bank to tide over.









There is a strong political message in UPA's bold decision to decontrol the prices of petrol and diesel, and to gradually target, more tightly, the subsidies on kerosene and LPG. The political message is directed at both the domestic constituency and the international community, which is increasingly building pressure in regard to the conservation and optimal pricing of fossil fuels. India, as a responsible member of the various multilateral organisations, can ill-afford to ignore the new thinking on the pricing of fossil fuels, especially in the context of evolving climate change protocols.


No wonder, in an article authored on the eve of the G-20 meeting in Toronto, the US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner specifically said America expects to get some agreement among the G-20 nations on how the fossil fuel subsidies would be brought down. In a sense, the big bang decision to decontrol the price of some fuels and the courage displayed by the UPA to increase the price of kerosene, a holy cow not touched for many years, will be welcomed by other G-20 members in the context of forging a global policy on rational pricing of fossil fuels. Though India's share of global GDP on a purchase power parity basis is about 5%, its share of fossil fuel subsidy offered worldwide could be close to 15% if you also include the massive underpricing of domestic coal, where the benefit goes to companies that own captive coal mines.


Clearly India has a lot to answer for in the way it prices fossil fuels. It is just as well that the UPA timed the

long overdue decision to reform the pricing of oil just before the G-20 meeting in Toronto. India's negotiators will be far less defensive on the issue of fossil fuel subsidy, just as the Chinese will be less defensive on the issue of yuan revaluation. It is becoming apparent that both China and India, seen as rising economic powers, will have to shoulder greater responsibility in maintaining a rational and stable economic order in the years ahead.


On the domestic political front, the UPA has indeed taken a calculated risk in raising prices of fuels, especially kerosene. Both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee appeared to have done their homework well this time around. In the past, we have witnessed a partial roll-back of oil prices due to communication gap between the government and party. Pranab Mukherjee seems to have impressed upon key allies like Trinamool Congress, NCP and DMK that there was no other alternative but to increase the price of oil, if the sanctity of the Union budget were to be maintained.


The finance minister had committed in his budget statement that oil subsidy will not be put as a below the line item. In the past, the government essentially showed these as a liability, which did not translate into a higher budget deficit as it was kept outside the government balance sheet. This non-transparent practice has been done away with. Mind you, even after the current price increases, the government will still have to meet a subsidy bill of about Rs 50,000 crore. But things will be far more manageable than before.


The price increase, in some ways, also amounts to a partial withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus because the oil subsidies acted as an income transfer to the consumer. Politically, the government will have to hone its communication skills and tell the people that the oil price hike will only temporarily increase the wholesale price index. The WPI inflation rate could go up by 0.9%, according to the Chief Economic Advisor, Kaushik Basu. Consequently, the overall inflation rate could cross 11% by August, say analysts. Basu has argued that inflation will go up sharply in the short run but will moderate in the medium term because of fiscal correction and a reduced budget deficit. This is an economist's logic, which needs to be packaged in an effective political message.

At a broader level, the Congress leadership has taken a calculated risk based on an understanding that the current rise in food and manufacturing inflation rates is partly being caused by a robust rise in household incomes across rural India. This was partly fed by the big government spending on social and farm sectors towards the end of UPA-1's tenure. There is a view, now accepted by many within the Congress leadership, that rural incomes have risen faster than the rate of inflation, thereby protecting real incomes adequately. Even RBI seems to be somewhat sympathetic to this line of thinking, which is why RBI is moving very gradually in raising interest rates. Politically, the Congress is saying that double-digit inflation will have to be tolerated in the short run. It is this line of thinking that has emboldened the UPA to raise oil prices. This strategy might work, provided the UPA takes care of its distribution logistic and succeeds in delivering subsidised food to 37% of the population under the proposed food security legislation.


By decontrolling petrol and diesel prices, the UPA has shown some resolve that it can take tough decisions to withdraw subsidies from those who must pay more. Oil prices must get totally depoliticised in due course. This is the only rational thing to do.








Capital formation in agriculture went down in the 1990s, first in the public sector and then in the private sector. Public sector capital formation has revived since the UPA came to power, but policy issues for private investment remain. Increasingly, there are questions of the effectiveness of investment due to receiving low returns.


After liberalisation in 1991, the economic policy system for agriculture was extremely weak in terms of market signals to farmers. We said agricultural profitability is going down and investment will fall. In those days, younger economists—now stars—would start by saying that Hanumantha Rao Garu and I were decrying the fall in investment. The argument was first given for the Narasimha Rao government and later for the 1990s.


Public investment decreased on account of the restriction on public expenditure as a part of the Bretten Woods programme of budget reform, and private investment fell on account of profitability falling. The agricultural economy had both diminishing returns and cost push declines in profitability, which took place in a period of substantial privatisation of agriculture. These trends were decisively reversed in this decade. The UPA government gave agriculture high priority in the mid-term review of the Tenth and Eleventh Plans. This led to a substantial revival of public capital formation in agriculture. The period also saw an improvement in the terms of trade for agriculture and a revival of private investment.


Agricultural capital formation as a percentage of agricultural GDP rose from 14.07% in 2004-05 to an amazingly high 21.31% in 2008-09, with increases in both the public and private sector, according to recent estimates at 2004-05 prices. It is now silly to say that the sector is investment starved. Private agricultural capital formation as a percentage of agricultural GDP, according to these estimates, fell from 12.41% in 2005-06 to 11.58% in 2006-07. But preliminary estimates for 2008-09 show an increase to 17.55%, which is phenomenal. So what is the problem?


In the low investment phase, economists like me had argued that a gross rate of capital formation of about 12% of agricultural GDP was necessary to support an annual agricultural growth rate of around 3.5-4%. In 1997, this author said that, "It would be naïve to plan agricultural growth and policies with low incremental capital-output ratios (ICORs). (In terms of gross capital formation, past ICORs were 4.37 from 1978-79 to 1986-87 and 3.32 from 1987-88 to 1991-92). Agricultural gross fixed investment is around two-thirds of agricultural gross investment. It would be imprudent plan for an ICOR of less than 3 for agricultural fixed capital formation." It is now obvious that these kind of investment levels have been consistently exceeded but the agricultural growth rate does not show the resilience that a 20% capital formation would provide. This, in turn, raises fundamental questions on productivity of investment, and land and water constraints.


We need to get back to the drawing board. We built an agro-climatic plan but let it fizzle away. This land needs treatment of very different kinds in its great diversity. So does its water. My favourite map is one which shows that all the world's land and water resources are in India. And one-fits-all means money literally down the drain because drainage is a real problem in excessively irrigated areas. The mithun and upland paddy cultivation is important in Arunachal, but also a fascinating bounty of spices, drugs, you name it. Did you know that muesli grows wild there? But we don't give long-term credit for it at the same rates as on the west coast. Why can't we let farmers switch from paddy to prawns or fish in the backwaters, coastal areas and in the Deccan river valleys? The issue is demand-driven technology, now that the farmer and others outside agriculture are investing in agriculture. Otherwise, the 21% figure is not possible.


Montek is right in saying that we live in silos. The solution to canals, as also to ponds, is one—to pump another. Drips are a different story. But the farmer does it all together. He pumps out water from canals and IFPRI says surface irrigation is all wrong. He uses drips, with the water he gets from non-perennial canals in the Deccan, for fruit and hi-tech horticulture. When he invests heavily in seeds, he keeps a small farm pond handy for the stress period if all fails. For he has to repay debt.


The Planning Commission is apparently now saying that it is against strategic planning. If you don't have an overarching vision you will always remain in the world of the proverbial frog, which is the worst of all silos, even if you call it a systemic solution. Your vision has to be operationalised at the cutting edge of praxis.


The author is a former Union minister










Sebi's move to stretch the deadline to comply with new debt norms for mutual funds has come as a breather for the industry. Debt funds this month have been facing huge redemptions—expected to touch levels of Rs 1,00,000 crore. The memories of 2008, when some mutual funds faced huge liquidity problems, are yet to fade away and the last thing that the regulator wants is a repetition. While this extension is a commendable step by the regulator, there are challenges to be faced. For instance, what happens to existing investors—will they lose out since the new norms specify marking-to-market all debt papers with remaining maturity of more than 91 days? Earlier, the period was 182 days. This will affect the NAVs of liquid/short-term funds, whose average holding period of debt papers is higher.


If interest rates rise during this period, existing investors would take a hit. Debt papers, particularly those between 91-182 days, would be marked to market. This would cause bond prices to fall. But if investors could exit one day before the deadline, they could do so at a higher NAV. In such a case, it is the remaining investors who bear the brunt whenever the NAV corrects. On the flip side, if interest rates fall during the period, investors could hold on till the deadline, let the fund NAV appreciate and then exit. Many years ago, there was a system where the investors of a particular mutual fund house allotted the NAV to its investors one day before the buying date. If the market rose during that day, some smart investors bought into it. However, such arbitrage opportunities were stopped when the fund house changed the rules.


All said, Sebi's move to reduce the period for mark-to-market from 192 to 91 days has its merits. It serves to check the higher portfolio risk that some short-term-oriented debt funds are not supposed to take. In its quest for higher returns, it was seen that liquid and short-term funds were investing in long-term papers. This was against the investment mandate. But since investors chase returns, some fund managers stretched the limits. The new norms will check these risky investment practices.








In a move that some describe as bold and others as callous, the central government has substantially raised the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene, and LPG. It has also moved to a decontrolled price regime in the case of petrol and promised to implement the same for diesel in the near future. The immediate and near-term impact of these decisions would be an aggravation of the inflation focussed on essential commodities that currently burden the common person. Petroleum products are consumed in some measure by all. Being universal intermediates, increases in their prices have a cascading effect on the costs and prices of all commodities, including essentials. Given the current inflationary surge, therefore, this is the worst time for hikes in, and the decontrol of, the prices of petroleum products.


The government's claim that this was unavoidable because of the "losses" being suffered by the oil marketing companies (OMCs) is difficult to swallow. When the domestic prices of oil products are controlled but the price of imported oil is rising, oil marketing companies receive from the consumer less than what it costs them to acquire the products they distribute. This leads to what are termed "under-recoveries." However, in most years these under-recoveries do not turn oil refining and marketing firms into loss-making enterprises. This is because they deliver a range of products and services, the prices of all of which are not controlled. Under-recoveries are notional losses that only lower book profits relative to some benchmark. Thus, there is little danger that the industry would be bankrupted even if prices were kept at their earlier levels. Moreover, because until recently the industry was wholly in the public sector, the prices of oil products were treated as one set of instruments in the tax-cum-subsidy regime of the government. Any losses suffered by the industry or additional funds it required for investment could be met from resources mobilised through taxes that fall on the rich. There is, of course, the question of fairness. Since there are many players involved in the industry, there is no reason why under-recoveries should affect only the books of the oil marketing companies. This requires the oil refineries to offer discounts when selling products to the OMCs and for the government to reduce the taxes it levies on oil products in order to absorb part of the under-recovery. The government should have focussed on these matters for which rules can and have been devised. Opting instead for a steep hike in petroleum product prices in the midst of an inflationary episode is clearly mistimed, insensitive, and politically self-damaging. It also seems intended to favour the private companies that have been allowed to enter and expand in this sector. Private companies will treat any shortfall in profits as a "loss" and demand price adjustments. But they cannot be placated by unduly burdening the rest of society, especially the hundreds of millions of poor people.








The rationale for introducing sudden death in sporting encounters is founded on the premise that viewers, particularly in this age of shrinking attention spans, tire of long-drawn-out encounters. In tennis, the tiebreaker — the equivalent of the penalty shootout in football or a play-off in golf — is the peremptory method for arriving at a solution. The tiebreaker was introduced in Wimbledon as early as 1971. This was a decision justified by recalling an enervating contest between 41-year old Pancho Gonsalez and Charlie Pasarell in 1969, which seemed like it lasted forever. Although there would be no tiebreakers in the final set, their introduction in Wimbledon and other tournaments had an immediate impact on match length. Well, at least until last week. Stretching over three days and consuming 11 hours and five minutes, the epic first-round Wimbledon clash between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut was a marathon that made the Gonsalez-Pasarell contest seem like a 100-metre dash. By the time Isner won the fifth set 70-68, the world's longest tennis match had caught the attention of the world, hitting the band of most popular topics on Twitter, making it to the front pages of newspapers round the world, and even daring to steal a bit of attention from football at a time when the entire planet is waka waka over it.


That a seemingly interminable first-round encounter between two modestly talented players could have captured the world's imagination is a reflection of the truth that our love for sport is not driven by flair and genius alone. But time does usually matter today. The longest cricket Test match, between England and South Africa in 1939, consumed nine playing days — the outcome of a brief and aborted innovation to stage 'Timeless Tests,' an idea spurred by the desire to force a result and, believe it or not, increase gate collections. Ironically, the farce ended in a draw — else the English would have missed their boat home. As for football, the world's longest match took place last month between two minor football clubs in England to raise money for an Indian charity. It lasted 35 hours, short of the 40 planned, thanks to England's default weather condition: rain. The lesson here: even in this age of short attention spans and multi-tasking, there is nothing like an unplanned battle of mammoth proportions to delight the eye and engage the mind.










Indian discourse on regional security has traditionally paid scant attention to the country's extended neighbourhood of Central Asia. No discourse on the Afghan problem will be complete without co-relating it with the geopolitics of Central Asia, and yet our strategic thinkers somehow manage without it.


The crisis in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan no doubt holds out grave implications for regional security and India cannot remain impervious to them. Kyrgyzstan too is a land-locked country like Afghanistan that at once becomes highly susceptible to foreign interference. Again, the deepening crisis in Kyrgyzstan contains a mirror image of almost all the elements associated with the Afghan civil war. The international community's reaction to the Kyrgyz crisis, especially the glaring absence of a coordinated regional response, is bound to cast shadows on the endgame in Afghanistan.


Briefly, the established government in Kyrgyzstan headed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown in April in a bloody uprising whose mainsprings still remain to be fully understood. Conspiracy theories are aplenty and the great game theorists hastened to view the uprising as the manifestation of a proxy struggle for regional influence between the United States and Russia. But these estimations remain insufficient to explain the eddies that have since surfaced. True, a range of protagonists are available on the Kyrgyz political landscape in recent years with the capacity to directly or indirectly fuel instability — Islamist militants, terrorist groups affiliated to the Al Qaeda and based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, Uighur separatists, the drug mafia and criminal networks and so on. These forces are willing to be pawns of big powers striving to carve out "spheres of influence" in Central Asia while acting as agents of regime change.


Added to this are the objective realities of post-Soviet Central Asia — the nascent stage of state formation, chronic problems of poverty and economic disarray, gross mis-governance, rampant corruption and cronyism, incessant clan struggle, weak regional integration processes, and so on, — and the brew becomes explosive indeed. That is, even leaving out the backlog of history in the form of the unresolved nationality question dating back to the Soviet era when Joseph Stalin arbitrarily carved Turkestan into "autonomous republics" that today appear on the map as the five "Stans" of Central Asia.


The interim power structure in Bishkek headed by Roza Otunbayeva, a former Kyrgyz ambassador to the U.S. and the United Kingdom, who replaced Mr. Bakiyev in April, has found it hard to consolidate power and to gain political legitimacy. The interim government comprises disparate elements that came together to oust Mr. Bakiyev but are increasingly falling apart in the pursuit of raw power. They have been exposed as being ineffectual when large-scale ethnic violence involving ethnic Kyrgyz Uzbeks erupted in the southern regions of Osh and Jalalabad resulting in the death of hundreds of people. (In Ms Otunbayeva's estimation, close to 2,000 people were killed.) Whether the brutal violence was pre-meditated remains unclear, but it took the form of an ethnic pogrom against ethnic Uzbeks, who form roughly 15 per cent of Kyrgyzstan's population and are concentrated in the southern regions.


That Osh is an extension of Ferghana Valley adds a sensitive dimension to the crisis since the latter region has been historically the cradle of political dissent and religious extremism in Central Asia. As if all this were not enough, Kyrgyzstan is the only country where both the U.S. and Russia maintain military bases, which overlook Russia's "soft underbelly" and can eavesdrop on China's volatile Xinjiang province. In short, the Kyrgyz denouement at once becomes a litmus test of big-power equations in the contemporary international system.


There are several templates to the Kyrgyz crisis that are impacting on regional security. One, the genesis of the crisis lies in the 2005 "colour revolution" driven by the neoconservative agenda of the George W. Bush administration to introduce western-style democracy in the post-Soviet space. Clearly, countries like Kyrgyzstan or Afghanistan have their history and traditions of governance, and imported ideologies simply do not work in the local milieu. Just as well that Afghan President Hamid Karzai finally began charting his own path to develop his political base and consolidate power. Equally, Ms Otunbayeva may be an amiable figure for the U.S. strategic community but her staying power in Bishkek ultimately depends on her power base — which seems narrow, to say the least.


Two, both Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan suffer from the absence of any regional security architecture. There has been no regional initiative to address the Kyrgyz crisis. At the end of the day, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) limited its role to one of mounting a team of observers to monitor the national referendum in Kyrgyzstan on June 27 apropos of a new constitution and the parliamentary elections in September. The SCO summit in Tashkent did not contemplate any role to try to stem the cascading violence in Osh.


Three, neither the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) nor the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) — in sum, neither Russia nor the U.S. — has shown willingness to depute peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan despite the desperate cry from Bishkek for intervention by foreign forces to put down the violence. The CSTO lacks a rapid reaction force and some of the member-countries like Uzbekistan remain ambivalent about creating the precedent of outside intervention in the name of collective security. Similarly, NATO, despite pretensions of becoming a global security organisation, did not volunteer to wet its toes in a peacekeeping role, given its overstretch in Afghanistan and the battle fatigue. Ideally, NATO and the CSTO could act in concert. But then, Washington disfavours any move that amounts to tacit acceptance of the Moscow-led alliance's pivotal role in the post-Soviet republics' security.


For fear of repeating their respective "Afghan experiences," Moscow and Washington remain chary of any direct military intervention in Kyrgyzstan, either. Indeed, there is a real danger that any foreign interventionist force could get bogged down in a Kyrgyz quagmire.


Of course, the "great game" remains a key subplot. For Washington, the airbase in Manas is not only a vital hub for rotating its troops in Afghanistan but also a useful "listening post" close to Xinjiang's border and Russia's vast open space. Washington banks on its excellent equations with Ms Otunbayeva to ensure that Bishkek does not demand the vacation of the Manas base. For this reason, the U.S. would prefer any peacekeeping initiatives in Kyrgyzstan to be left in the hands of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe rather than a Moscow-led alliance that might browbeat Bishkek. To be sure, Russia and China remain wary of U.S. intentions. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow expects the U.S. to quit Manas once the NATO-led Afghan operations ends. China too revealed its mind when the Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Beijing, "China has taken note of the CSTO meeting on the Kyrgyzstan situation and understands the organisation's efforts to preserve peace and stability in Central Asia."


Evidently, the U.S. does not see eye to eye with Russia and China on regional security in Central Asia. Meanwhile, Washington maintains constructive ambiguity about setting a timeline regarding Manas. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has visited Bishkek twice since the April uprising. It is during times like this that the "hidden agenda" of the ostensible war on terror in Afghanistan surfaces — and Washington's dependence on Pakistan to transform the Afghan war becomes comprehensible.


The fault lines in Kyrgyzstan form an extension of the geopolitics of the Afghan war, where the U.S., unsurprisingly, shows reluctance to give up its monopoly of conflict resolution. An open-ended American military presence is on the cards. Without doubt, it is the Islamists and the drug mafia who stand to gain most from the big power rivalry in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The radicalisation of Kyrgyz politics is only likely to accelerate in the event of the return of the Taliban into mainstream politics in Kabul in whatever form, which, in turn, will give a fillip to the Islamist forces that are already active in Ferghana Valley. The Kyrgyz developments are in this sense a wake-up call regarding the profound implications of an Afghan settlement involving reconciliation with the Taliban.


Finally, it is only through patient economic reconstruction that the roots of instability can be eliminated in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Whereas the Afghan economy was devastated by three decades of modern war, the Kyrgyz economy got derailed with the disintegration of the Soviet material supply system. The prerequisite of economic reconstruction is security, to safeguard which sustained international commitment is needed both in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is fortunate insofar as it does not face the sort of foreign interference that Afghanistan faces from Pakistan. Its two big neighbours — Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — have behaved with restraint. The big question is: what happens if the Kyrgyz statehood continues to dissolve.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)







Pope Benedict XVI criticised on Sunday the "regrettable methods" of the Belgian police who raided a bishops' meeting as part of a paedophilia probe, as Brussels accused the Vatican of over-reacting. The pontiff's criticism of the search came in a message of support to Brussels-Malines Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian bishops' conference.


"I want to express ... my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and regrettable methods, searches were carried out including in the Malines cathedral and in the premises where the Belgian episcopate was meeting in plenary session."


The raids on Thursday came amid fresh claims of child abuse by members of the clergy.


Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Saturday said the detention of a number of bishops during the raid was "serious and unbelievable." The Vatican has also expressed anger over the confiscation of phones, computers, the archdiocese's accounting system and other items during the raids.


But Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck defended the police action, putting the government's side of the story in a series of television interviews on Sunday. "The bishops were treated completely normally during the raid on the archdiocese and it is not false to say that they received no food or drink," he said, referring to media reports. Mr. De Clerck said the Vatican's reaction had been excessive as it was based on false information, dismissing the question of the police raids becoming a diplomatic incident.


However Fernand Keuleneer, the lawyer for the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese where the raids occurred, said "there is, of course, a diplomatic aspect to this whole matter and I think perhaps the (instructing) judge did not really sufficiently consider the diplomatic aspects." Belgian bishops meeting with a Vatican envoy were detained and their phones, computers and other materials confiscated leaving it impossible, according to Keuleneer, for the archdiocese to function properly.


Keuleneer said the Church would consider legal action if it became clear the police raids were a mere "fishing expedition" for evidence and the action was disproportionate. Belgian officials have been at pains to explain that the separation of powers in Belgium would not allow politicians to meddle in such judicial action. The procedure is clearly laid out in the judicial code, the Belgian minister said, underlining the independence of the instructing judge. — AFP








The last column ("How The Hinducovered the 1984 Bhopal calamity"), published on June 21, 2010, has been well received. Referring to an observation made on the Three Mile Island accident and its aftermath in The Hindu'sleader on Bhopal published on December 5, 1984, a reader has made some comments. The relevant paragraph reads: "This led to a re-examination of the design, operations, and safety features in nuclear stations across the world and, as a result, the dangers associated with nuclear power plants have been drastically reduced."


The reader, Dr. Siva Kandasami (Coimbatore), an independent structural consultant who has worked in the nuclear industry, makes a case for "enhanced clarity in perception": "Despite the best of efforts and technological advances, the grave threat of accident in a nuclear plant is real and the consequences are undisputedly lethal. As a fall out of the Three Mile Island accident, better safety mechanisms have been designed and in fact only the probability of occurrence has been drastically reduced and the dangers remain. To bring some realism [into the discussion], the recent accident (in July 2007) at the sensitive Sellafield thorium reprocessing facility in the U.K., which shockingly took eight months to comprehend, indicates the increasing complexity in modern plant operations."


The reader's concern over the continuing threat from nuclear installations is understandable. But the leader writer's focus in December 1984 would have been on a proper inquiry into the functioning or malfunctioning of the safety mechanisms in the Bhopal plant. Hence the comparison with the Three Mile Island accident in which there was no loss of life or injury to anybody. The characterisation of the Bhopal tragedy as "the worst environmental disaster in history" and the reference to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant and the Sellafield Ltd. (formerly known as Windscale), a thorium reprocessing facility in U.K., take the discussion further — to the growing environmental awareness among people besides the real, continuing risks in operating nuclear reactors despite improvements in their design and safety aspects.


On April 26, 1986, less than two years after Bhopal, a major accident in a nuclear plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine region of the Soviet Union sent shock waves across the world. It caused the dislocation and resettlement of over 3,36,000 people, although the official count of the dead was only 52. The disaster proved to be a teacher by negative example. It raised public awareness of industrial, and especially nuclear power industry, safety across the world and led to tangible improvements on the ground.


Chipko and Silent Valley


Although conservation, environmentalism, and ecology have all been familiar to India since the early 20th century, mass awareness of the specific issues is only of recent origin. An effective environmental movement began to take root in India only in the 1970s. The Declaration of the Conference of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 helped create a lot of interest in environmental studies in India. In fact, two strong movements emerged, one in the Himalayan region in the north, the other in the Western Ghats region of the far South in the mid-1970s. The Chipko Movement of the North predates, by a few years, the "Save Silent Valley movement" in Kerala and Southern India.


The Chipko Movement comprised a group of villagers in the Uttarakhand region of India who were opposed to commercial logging. The first direct action was spontaneous. It was staged in 1973 by the people of Mandal village in the forest area of the Upper Alaknanda Valley against the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to allot a plot of forest land to a sports goods company. The people were naturally angry considering that the authorities had refused them permission to use the wood in the forest to make simple agricultural tools.


Thanks to the encouragement of a non-governmental organisation, Dasoli Gram Swarajya Sangh, a group of women led by an activist entered the forest and encircled the trees, preventing the men from cutting them down. Poor women hugging trees with a view to preventing forest guards from felling the trees has become an iconic image for the environmental movement in India — at its best. Leading the struggle for justice was an array of iconic figures like Sunderlal Bahuguna and the writer Mahaswetha Devi. From resisting the felling of trees to mobilising people against large-scale displacement through the construction of big dams, the movement spread its wings, bringing in tens of thousands of men and women. The leaders' commitment to the Gandhian strategy of non-violent protest has proved to be an important moral advantage.


Role of the media


Another tangible advantage for the champions of the Chipko movement was sustained support from the news media. The communication and people skills of the movement's leaders, many of whom had an academic and scientific background combined with activism, certainly helped. In the 1970s, several universities conducted workshops for journalists on conservation, the environment, and related issues. These developments enabled journalists to reach out to the people with competent, and often expert, inputs from environmentalists. Today, almost all newspapers publish articles on environment-related issues on a fairly regular basis, although there is much scope for qualitative improvement. The Hinduhas been publishing an annual Survey of the Environment for nearly two decades now.


Kerala Minister for Forests Binoy Viswam, for one, has appreciated the contribution of the media in creating popular awareness of the need to protect and improve the environment. In an interview published in the online edition of The Hinduon the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Silent Valley Movement in December 2009, Mr. Viswam rightly called attention to the fact that one of the most important positive changes in social attitudes during the half century following the formation of Kerala was the growth in environmental consciousness. He attributed this growth to the message of the Stockholm Convention of 1972 and to the 'Save the Silent Valley' movement in his State. The movement was a turning point in that it demanded and brought the attention of society to matters not discussed or attended to previously. 'Save the Silent Valley' was launched against a hydroelectric project cleared by the Planning Commission in 1973 and taken up for implementation three years later by the State Government. Had the project been implemented, it would have submerged a beautiful rainforest on the Western Ghats, adversely affecting the flora and fauna in the Valley, besides ruining its ecosystem. Thanks to a seven-year-long non-violent struggle, a progressive response from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the Centre's eventual denial of permission to the project (based on the recommendation of an expert committee headed by an eminent scientist, M.G.K. Menon), the project was abandoned in 1984.


There is little doubt that there has been a significant rise in the number of Indians aware of, and concerned over, environmental issues. This number will increase further and attain critical mass when more working people start realising that pressures on, and threats to, their lives and livelihoods are very real when imbalances are created in the system. Apprehension of the adverse impact of global warming and climate change on agriculture and water availability has brought in a new dimension. This is where the Indian news media, which have not done a bad job so far of covering climate change issues, need to raise both the qualitative and quantitative levels of their efforts — with help from scientists and other experts.







The first time Dave Rauschkolb staged a rally against offshore drilling with people holding hands across the beach outside his restaurant in Seaside, Florida, barely anyone noticed. Four months and a colossal oil spill later, the second Hands Across the Sand event held at noon on Saturday was nothing short of a worldwide movement.


In all, mainly by connections made through Facebook, 820 events were scheduled in all 50 States and in 34 countries. Thousands of people worldwide stood hand in hand — with some, in South Beach at least, breaking the chain only for surfers or topless women — to protest drilling and to demand cleaner energy sources. "I believe every American and every person has a beach that they hold dear to their heart," said Rauschkolb, 48, a lifelong surfer.


He added: "This is not rocket science. Our basic message is no to offshore oil drilling and yes to clean energy. Why is it that it takes a disaster in the gulf of this magnitude to get our leaders to pay attention? They need to stop taking that oil money and listen to their constituents." — New York Times News Service







'The only thing the government has done correctly — it should have been done 14 or 15 years before — is to increase the compensation, if they genuinely believe that the victims have not got their amount.'

Fali S. Nariman , 81, is one of India's most illustrious lawyers and constitutional jurists and a former nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha. His recently published autobiography, When Memory Fades (Hay House, 2010) is a fascinating read in which he devotes one chapter to the Bhopal gas leak case in which, as senior counsel, he represented Union Carbide Corporation. In an interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate, Mr. Nariman re-looks at the issues from a reflective distance and offers his insights and impressions of what may be in store. Edited excerpts from the interview:


Mr. Nariman, after 25 years and after all that's been revealed and has emerged, do you regret accepting the Union Carbide brief?


Well, let me put it this way, If I had to live my life all over again, as a lawyer, and the brief came to me and I had foreknowledge of everything that later came in, I would certainly not have accepted the civil liability case which I did.


So, in other words, with hindsight, you would have said no?


Yes, only with hindsight.


Looking back at that time in 1985, when you accepted the brief, did you see this largely or simply as a legal case rather than as a national tragedy and, in that sense, was that the mistake you made?


Yes, I think so. Because I thought this was one more case which would add a feather to my cap. I mean one is always ambitious at that age. But I found later – but then it's too late, one can't walk out of the case one has already taken up – that it was not a case, it was a tragedy. And in a tragedy, who is right, who is wrong etc., all becomes marred in great deal of justifiable emotion.


The settlement


There is something very interesting embedded in the beginning of your answer – one can't walk out of a case once taken. But that does suggest that whilst you were the lawyer, you were beginning to have regrets about accepting the brief?


This is why I was very happy when, at the court's suggestion, the compromise ultimately took place: of civil liability between $500 million-odd, which the government was suggesting ultimately, and $350 million, which the Union Carbide suggested. And then I left it to the court and the court fixed $470 million.


I think the court had this problem before it. This was only an interim order. You remember, this was an interim order directing us to pay compensation, from which we came to the Supreme Court, Union Carbide came to the Supreme Court.


Let me raise this issue with you. This whole matter, after 1989, went into appeal, the appeal judgment came out in 1991 and, at that time in the appeal judgment, the Supreme Court said that it was unlikely that the settlement would be found to be inadequate. The Supreme Court has been proven to be hugely wrong. But that apart, the Supreme Court then said that in the event it was inadequate, those who fall ill thereafter would be the responsibility of the Government of India, totally letting Union Carbide off the hook. Was that fitting and fair and proper?


Because it's a settlement. There is no question of fitting and fair because if it had been a regular hearing, which

[means that] after looking at all the documents and taking the evidence they had found that there was liability, then it would not be fair. But if it was without admitting liability that this sum was paid up, then the question was, and this was again argued in the second round, who should be liable. And the court said unanimously it is the government only which would have to foot the bill.


You are saying two very important things to me: that perhaps the victims, and the need for adequate compensation, would have been better served if a settlement hadn't been reached but a proper case for liability had been fought.


That was the dilemma. If that had been fought, it would have taken more years.


But it would have got a better outcome?


But the victims wouldn't have been helped because, in the meanwhile, what?


Unreformed tort law


So there was a trade-off between the time a court case would take and the fact that the settlement might not be as good as a court outcome but it would be quicker and faster. Is that right?


Let me tell you one thing. In tort cases, the law has been, right through, that unless liability is ascertained and fixed, there can be no interim compensation. In England, they altered that by statute long, long ago.


We haven't done it in India.


We haven't done it as yet.


As a result of which we wanted an interim settlement, we wanted a quick settlement and as a result of which the liability was never established in a court case. Let me put the second critical question to you. Would you today, maybe with the benefit of the hindsight, accept that at the end of it all, the settlement was inadequate and therefore unjust?


No, no I don't think so.


But surely it was inadequate? Surely, you accept that?


I am not sure. I have no means to say that it is inadequate. I think the fault perhaps is not only the quantum of the settlement, if you put it like that, but the delay in its distribution.


The delay in its distribution is explained in the manner in which the procedure and the law works in India but the quantum of settlement has turned out to be derisory not just for those who died but also for those who were crippled and disabled for life as well as those who were marginally injured. You surely must accept that the quantum is inadequate.


The inadequacy arises because there was a very large sum of money which was sought to be distributed amongst people living in certain areas not by reason of what they suffered but by their living in those areas. This was the problem.


As a result of which too many people qualified?


Too many people qualified.


Plight of hardcore victims


So the amount given shrank miserably?


Whereas the hardcore really suffered. So if you ask me, the answer would be yes, qua the hardcore victims.


What you are saying is qua the hardcore victims, the settlement was inadequate?




And therefore, qua the hardcore victims, the settlement was also unjust?




You accept both?




Government will not succeed


Let's turn now to the steps the Government of India is trying to take today in 2010, in a sense to remedy the situation. First of all, they want to reopen the settlement with the hope of increasing the compensation. Do you think that's likely to succeed?


No, I don't think so.




Because a settlement is a settlement and unless there is some fraud involved, it's never reopened.


Even though, for the very hardcore, the settlement has turned out to be inadequate and unjust. Even then the settlement can't be reopened?


Yes, because the court had, in fact, stated that even assuming it was wrong with regard to the quantum, it would be the responsibility of the government to make up that extra amount.


But the same judgment that you cite, of May 1989, also ends by saying that the court would not leave people in despair. Doesn't that hold out a small hope that if the government goes back and proves that there are people in despair because the settlement was inadequate, it must be re-opened?


I don't think so. That's not my reading of the judgment. My reading of the judgment is that since there are, maybe, more victims or the compensation may not be sufficient, it would be the government's duty because it is the government which took over all the victims' claims by that special Act.


So if compensation has to be enhanced today, it is for the government to enhance out of its own coffers. You don't believe the Supreme Court of India will reopen the settlement and increase the compensation paid by Union Carbide?


Yes, I believe so.


So that settlement of 1989 is full and final, full stop?




Criminal cases and Section 300 CrPC


The second thing the government is trying to do is to prosecute Keshub Mahindra and six or seven others under 304 (2). Do you believe that is likely to succeed or do you see it as an essential breach of the Code of Criminal Procedure?


I don't know very much about that criminal case, or judgment. I have just seen a copy of the judgment. I haven't examined the 10,000 pages of events because I was not in that trial court in Bhopal.


But Section 300 of the Code of Criminal Procedure says that a person cannot be tried for the same offence, with the same facts, twice. Would re-opening the case, even under 304(2) rather than 304(A), amount to a breach of Section 300?


Yes, because 300 not only says another offence, it says for another offence, based on the same facts, involving a higher degree of punishment. So that for the same set of facts, you cannot have another offence and convict them, either on appeal or otherwise, and then say that they are liable to a higher degree of punishment.


Just to be absolutely clear, what you're saying is the attempt of the government to re-prosecute Keshub Mahindra and others under 304(2) is going to be a breach of Section 300.


Yes, absolutely.


It's illegal?


Yes, of course it is. And therefore my contention is whether Justice [A.M.] Ahmadi was right in dropping that

charge under Section 304(2) or not is an irrelevant consideration at this stage. He could have been challenged when the trial was going on.


But not now?


Not now.


But the point is that the belief that the government can re-open the case and now charge Keshub Mahindra under a higher offence, 304(2) rather than 304(A), is a belief that has been emboldened by the advice of the Attorney General.


Then you'd better ask the Attorney General.


But you believe the Attorney General is wrong?


Of course.


So once again the government is intending to do something that would be wrong, that would be illegal, and would be struck down?


You see, this only raises the expectations of everybody.


To dash them?


Ultimately to dash them, but then public memory is short.


Once again the government is embarked on something which legal luminaries like you are saying is wrong and will not succeed?


I wish you had asked somebody who was not acquainted with the case and he will probably confirm it.


Finally, the government is also attempting, one more time, to extradite Warren Anderson. The man is 89. What are the chances of success?


It looks grim to me but if they have any means to do so, well, certainly they can do it.


What lies ahead?


Then what is the point of these three exercises, because you've made it clear, as a leading lawyer, that they are unlikely to succeed? They are probably wrong in law and they would be struck down by the court. So what purpose will be served?


The only thing which the government has done, in my opinion, correctly — but it should have been done 14 or 15 years before — is to increase the compensation if they genuinely believe that the victims have not got their amount.


So all that the government can do is pay more from its own exchequer but the attempt to re-prosecute, the attempt to open the settlement and get more compensation, as well as the attempt to extradite Warren Anderson, all three are unlikely to succeed?


Unlikely is correct.









After all the sanctimony about ideology that was tossed about when the BJP struck former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh off its rolls ten months ago, it appears the thikanedar from Jodhpur has had the last laugh. Mr Singh, who is thought to zealously guard his sense of honour, has been duly invited back into the party and all concerned are said to be cooing into his ears. Political parties are known to take back those who have been declared renegade. The history of the Congress and the Lohia stream is replete with instances of the return of the prodigal. Not so the communists and the Hindu nationalists, at least not at the top leadership level.
There can be little question that Mr Singh leans toward the Hindutvawadi tendency. In that sense, he is more than just a representative of the Right. However, he has always given the impression of being only a light shade of saffron and was not raised in the hard RSS tradition like most of his colleagues in the BJP leadership. Considering this, he was dispensable and could well have been left out in the cold after being removed for praising Jinnah as a secular politician in a book he wrote. But this would have been uneven treatment, considering that Lal Krishna Advani was rehabilitated after being hung out to dry for exactly the same infraction. The balance is now redressed. Nevertheless, there does still remain a sense of curiousness about the Singh affair. After being expelled at the BJP's chintan baithak in Shimla last year, the former Union minister did not fail to take a swipe at the RSS. For the BJP, this was cardinal sin. The return of Mr Singh does possibly indicate that yardsticks might be changing imperceptibly in the saffron party, although it is far from clear that others who dare mock the RSS might not get away so lightly.

One might say the balance of circumstances worked for Mr Singh. He is sufficiently moderate and suitably modern, one apt to impress the BJP's middle class constituency and the Westernised, English-speaking, upper crust. At a time when the party is still in the dumps after the crushing Lok Sabha defeat, a senior figure with these qualifications might be seen as well worth wooing back. It is also in Mr Singh's favour that he is not a strong faction leader type. Thus, his re-induction is unlikely to ruffle feathers in the Rajasthan unit of the BJP. It might have been a somewhat different story if Vasundhara Raje, with whom Mr Singh had crossed swords, were still chief minister. The tale may also have been different if one of the senior office-bearers of the party had been promoted to BJP president, instead of a rank outsider being appointed to that position. Mr Singh had quite appropriately raised questions about the party not subjecting to scrutiny those who were part of the top leadership team that ran the disastrous election campaign which ended in ignominious defeat last May. None of this team might have easily forgiven the criticism. It is thus fortuitous that Nitin Gadkari, picked from the periphery, is now party chief, and Mr Gadkari can do with gathering as many people who agree to back him at the top.

For this reason, the BJP president might find it expedient to re-induct some of the other high-profile figures who have been out in the cold. Ms Bharti comes to mind. She has also been making the right noises. However, the sanyasin from Khajuraho, for all her iconic status in saffron circles, can be a divisive figure. It is not unlikely that this season Mr Singh may be the lone sparrow to home back on target.








The United Progressive Alliance-2 government of Manmohan Singh-Pranab Mukherjee has introduced major reforms in economic policies in India, which may have a much more far-reaching impact on our economy than the 1991 economic reforms of Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh. The reforms introduced today are clearly with a social purpose. They will stimulate economic growth but at the same time try to look after the social development programmes which affect millions of the poor and underprivileged.


Until now, these policies were related to expenditures on employment guarantee, Bharat Nirman, food security, social security and pension schemes. But last week the finance ministry introduced a major change in our taxation system, which brings us back to the fundamental principles of reforms for economic growth reaching out to the common man. The latest example of that is the notification about exemption of savings-related instruments from direct taxes. They were introduced as part of setting up a new tax code for direct taxes. But the principles go far beyond procedural changes, raising questions about the basis of direct taxes, whether they should be income or expenditure and how the system is going to use increased saving through increased productive investment keeping up the rise in growth of income.

The Direct Tax Code proposes major tax incentives for savings, through exempt-exempt taxation (EET) method of taxation of saving where contribution towards certain amount of savings in instruments that can be invested in socially desirable projects as deductible from income. Then the accumulation of accretions to those sums remain exempt from any tax incidence so long as they remain invested. But all withdrawals from this fund at any time are subject to tax at the applicable marginal rate of tax, as such withdrawals are potential expenditures on consumption, i.e. non-saving or non-investments. Even these have been simplified now because of the transaction cost of relating expenditures to specific saving instruments. As long as they are maintained with permitted saving intermediates, such as provident fund, superannuation fund, life insurance and new pension system, the accretion to these deposits will remain untaxed till they accumulate in their accounts.
In short, practically all savings are now exempted from income tax, which would essentially be imposed on expenditure (i.e. income-saving) on consumption, but it does not have any effect on expenditure on investment. This is essentially reviving the old system of "expenditure tax" popularised by the famous Keynesian economist, Nicholas Kaldor, in the 1960s. The idea was that income earned by individuals should not be penalised by taxes, which should be directed towards expenditure in a progressive scale, so that those who spend more on consumption are primarily richer and therefore should be made to pay more than the poorer people to finance socially desirable investments.

When this expenditure tax scheme was introduced by Kaldor, it was regarded as a revolutionary change not only because it changed the notion of taxable income but also because it gave a direct push to non-consumption and productive investment, where these savings were to be deployed and provide stimulus to economic growth. The problem remained with treatment of these savings and the detailed procedures which were increasingly found to be intractable. It is for the same reason that Kaldor's proposal for India, made in 1956 with the active interest of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, could not go far. Successive budgets tried to introduce procedural changes trying to approximate savings to expenditure on productive investment. Most of these efforts proved to be impracticable.

But the principles of expenditure tax became a basic part of development literature. In the '50s and '60s that literature was concerned mostly with capital formation expanding more the productive potential of the economies through capital investment. Since economic policies could not be used to reduce overall demand, a policy to increase savings had to be complemented by policies to increase investment. Gradually, it became clear that such policies would have to be related to promoting public investment, which were treated as autonomous or mostly guided by principles of public goods or social infrastructure, the returns from which mostly remained unmarketable for private investors. If public investment is not expanded to overcome the shortfall of private investment, the total savings of the economy would be higher than the total expected investment. That would repress domestic demand and income.

I suspect that this particular feature of expenditure tax, which implicitly favoured programmes of public investments that was the cause of the neglect of Nicholas Kaldor's proposal in capitalists economies. Instead of making attempts to devise saving instruments which will directly expand the productive capacities or expenditure in socially desirable schemes that increase social incomes, the policymakers in the capitalist countries chose to stick to the incentives in the market system through expanding expenditure on consumer goods production, meeting the requirements of the private sector.

It does not mean, however, that any scheme to promote savings would have to be necessarily connected with increasing public investment. In a growing economy the requirements for financing private investment will continue to grow and increased supply of savings through market principles would still be an effective instrument to channel those savings to productive investment.

But the usefulness of expenditure tax or increased savings in a developing country like India goes far beyond any possible dichotomy between private and public investment. There is such a huge deficit in infrastructure investment, both physical and social, that it is hard to imagine that there would be an excess of saving over investment that will depress domestic demand. If private investment is not forthcoming, public investment should cover the gap with the help of increased revenue or accretion to specifically designed savings funds. This would be true even if the country is going through financial repression. It is always possible to design investment programmes which would be justified over their lifetime through increased social revenue, even if the private returns in the immediate future are not commensurate with social benefits.
All these, of course, raise fundamental questions about the purpose of economic growth or reforms and the design of public investment. The jury is still out on the merits and disadvantages of the different schemes of tax and expenditure reforms. The finance minister's latest proposal will reopen those discussions.

Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








The visits of home minister P Chidambaram and foreign secretary Nirupama Rao to Islamabad have created the usual flutter, especially in the media, on both sides.


There were no unrealistic expectations of improvements or breakthroughs in bilateral ties.


The euphoria and depression that has marked interaction between the two in the last decade is not a story of the past. 


Of course, the nature of the two visits is quite different. The home minister went there to attend the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc), and his interaction with his Pakistan counterpart Rehman Malik was on the sidelines.


Chidambaram has focused on dealing with the suspects in the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. The visit of the foreign secretary was a bilateral affair, to prepare for the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries next month, and it covered a broad spectrum of issues, including J&K and Balochistan.


Interestingly, at the Saarc interior ministers' conference, India and Pakistan found themselves on the same side, opposing the move from other members for a common police network for the region. The two big countries are averse to sharing information in the sensitive arena of policing.


This position has its impact on the question of terrorism. Whereas other Saarc members are inclined, at least in theory, to combat terrorism collectively, India and Pakistan want to deal with it on their own. It means that New Delhi wants Islamabad to rein in terrorists with bases in Pakistan, while Islamabad would make polite and vague assurances.


India is at a disadvantage in its dealings with Pakistan. If it were to choose to talk to Islamabad, it cannot make much headway. If it keeps away from dialogue, India is made out to be a belligerent! New Delhi's fond hope that the United States will pressurise Pakistan to change its position on troublesome issues like terrorism has remained a mere hope.


If New Delhi were to set its own agenda with regard to Islamabad, without looking over its shoulder, then it may manage to make relations between the two countries a little more consequential than they have been so far.


Pakistan too will have to learn to deal with India on its own and not look to the US or to China for support. The relations have to truly become bilateral to be effective.







For the third year running, the Maharashtra government has managed to delay junior college admissions.


Its intentions have been clear — it wants to give a handicap to students who pass through the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) board, at the expense of students from other boards.


Behind this thinking is the implied idea that SSC students are more "local" than other students and the government wants to be seen as giving them an advantage. In a sense, it is the 'sons of the soil' argument in another garb.


The problem is not just that the state education department's ideas are discriminatory and un-Constitutional and have therefore been struck down by the courts for three years. It is that it is playing ducks and drakes with education.


First it was the '90% SCC-10% other boards' formula, then the percentile system to favour SSC students and now the 'best-of-five' subjects for SSC students and all seven subjects for others.


This year the state government has decided to appeal the Mumbai High Court decision in the Supreme Court, thereby delaying admissions to junior college till at least the middle of July.


In all this supposed concern for students, the fact is that it is students who will suffer the most.


As of now, whichever board they belong to, they will miss part of the academic year which they will have to make up. The larger issue is of this narrow-minded intention to win votes through parochial politics, without any concern for education itself.


The Opposition in Maharashtra and the Congress's own alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, have both criticised the government's stance.


If the state government indeed feels that SSC students are at a disadvantage compared to those who go through other boards then the intelligent and long-term solution would be to improve the level of SSC students.


If they have to be brought up to par — and there is no evidence that SSC students are less intelligent, capable or hard-working as the government intervention seems to suggest — then give them the tools to rise. Bringing other students down is hardly the answer.


Moreover, there is time for a serious debate on whether education really needs to be a state subject where local politicians can mess around with the student population. India is becoming smaller everyday as people move much more than before.


It would then make sense to have a nationwide level playing field where all students have a fair chance to compete. Politics in education is one more setback on our road to progress.








Sometimes, there's a flash of lucidity in the fulminations of ageing Sena leader, Bal Thackeray. Two days ago, the Sena patriarch combusted in an editorial in party gazette Saamna, when he sneered at his political ally, the BJP, for believing that a Narendra Modi could help the latter win an election outside Gujarat. 


Thackeray was only exorcising his own Modi nightmare — the Sena patriarch has often made scathing barbs about the Gujarat CM whenever the latter has campaigned in his fiefdom of Maharashtra, but is soon mollified by Modi's hollow impact on the Marathi manoos, Thackeray's  self-proclaimed prized possession.


This time, the Sena chief was referring to the tumultuous events in Bihar when the Gujarat chief minister 'outed' himself in a blaze of self-sponsored flattering ads to the horror of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.


While Kumar was quick to condemn and disassociate himself with Modi, it pushed the Bihar CM and his ally in the state, the BJP, to a flashpoint — from Kumar's partymen declaring that Modi will be disallowed to campaign in Bihar for the Assembly elections in October, to the BJP digging its heels in about self-respect and coalition dharma.


Now everybody loves a good spat, but the Bihar brawl once again reveals the desperation to re-invent Brand Modi. In the last few years, ever since the murderous Godhra riots of 2002 in Gujarat, Modi has had  so many makeovers he could make the pop queen of reinvention, Madonna, look orthodox.


From being the pin-up poster guy of prototypal Hindutva, to declaring himself as Hindu hriday samrat (King of Hindu hearts)  with his chappan ki chatti (56 inch chest), to becoming a Capitalist Dreamboat embracing  tycoons and industrialists from Ratan Tata to Anil Ambani, to becoming CEO of Gujarat who makes tough decisions, to becoming the man about town in trenchcoat and cowboy hat, to evolving to the People's Man with his pro-poor and pro-development garib kalyan rallies, the list is endless. While political commentators lament about Modi stuck in an image trap, can Modi make up his mind whether he wants to be Rambo (Combatant of Evil) or Nano (Development Man)?


Modi, it seems, wants to be all at the same time, and is schizoid in his hurry to get out of Gujarat and claim national status as leader and as the BJP's PM-in-waiting in the next round of elections. So convincing was Modi about his own power and potency after the Godhra massacre and his subsequent triumphant electoral victory in the state that the BJP succumbed to it, making him a star campaigner for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.


The party got a rude shock when it was not only ousted out of power but Hindutva Modi was a no-no with the majority of India. It has been a downslide ever since — the Modi campaign trail barely makes an impact, in election after election, from assembly to Parliament, from Shahadra in Delhi to Ludhiana in Punjab, Vidharbha in Maharashtra to Bengalaru in Karnataka. The ultimate snub came from his own party colleagues after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when they admitted the BJP lost because they made the blunder of projecting Modi as PM mid-stream of campaigning.


However, the Bihar fracas also highlights another phoneyism — Nitish Kumar's hypocritical secular credentials. The political class has already exposed Kumar's bogus secular pose — why did he not resign as the BJP-led NDA's  Union railway minister when Godhra burned and other such posers — but what about his sneaking secular build-up by defining himself against the "fanatic, anti-Muslim" Modi? Kumar is coveting the Muslim vote, to expand his votebank to include More Backward Castes (MBCs), more deprived Dalits, to make a pitch for the top job in the state yet again later this year. By taking on Modi, Nitish Kumar has fashioned himself as the saviour of the secularists, that he is the only one who can silence and cut the Hindutva Hero to size. It's Super Secular Me.


If there's  anything as dangerous as the shrillness and divisiveness of Hindutva politics, it is the stealthy manipulation of people's fears and terror of fascist politics. If Hindutva has to be silenced, it cannot be done by banning its top honchos and their extremist views, it has to be challenged and exposed in informed public discourse and through hard-headed administrative policies — if Modi breaks the law by creating enmity among communites, show courage to throw him into prison.  By banning Modi to campaign in the state, Nitish Kumar is merely selling an image of the Force of Good over Evil, and hopes to reap a rich harvest in the October polls. If you have nothing to say for yourself as chief minister or leader of the party, use the Modi bogey to show how principled and virtuous you are as leader. Mercifully, nobody is fooled either by Modi or Kumar.








The monsoon is the worst time to fly. Added to the normal hazards of flying, you now have to worry about weather related hazards. Like lightning bolts ready to strike. (The other evening one plane was struck twice. And survived.) Or air-pockets as deep as Vijay Mallya's. Or sudden fluctuations in atmospheric pressure which can send aircraft into dizzying falls…


But none of this is as bad as the normal hazards of flying in India. Here's why: only eight of the country's 50 operational airports have the mandatory licenses issued by the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation).


Those without a license include the Anna International airport in Chennai, the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International airport in Kolkata, Sardar Vallabhai Patel International airport in Ahmedabad. What a wonderful roll of honour! What a grand sounding roster of names! What an absolute and utter disgrace!


Does the license mean anything at all? Not having it, according to aviation experts, means that that particular airport does not conform to Indian Aircraft Rules, 1937 or the International Civil Aviation Organisation's safety standards. Who is to blame? Both the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and DGCA.


The former because it operates a majority of these airports; the latter because it issues the licenses and enforces the rules. But things aren't as bad as they seem: most of the airports have applied for the renewal of their licenses, a process which has to be repeated every two years.


The AAI often applies late and the DGCA generally takes its own time to issue licenses, which means that many of these 42 airports are without licenses only because the paperwork has not been completed on time. Apparently this is because both AAI and DGCA are short-staffed. 


The fact that a license is issued for only two years, as opposed to say five or 10, tells its own story. Presumably the reason is to ensure that the authorities can keep a periodic check on airports to ensure that safety procedures and equipment are in place and that they are updated quickly as and when required. 


But if AAI and DGCA are so short of manpower that they cannot even process applications for renewal, where would they have the manpower for the much more onerous and time-consuming task of actual physical inspections and verifications at each and every airport? And even if they do, do these inspections mean anything?


After all, the Mangalore airport did have a valid license when the Air India Express plane crashed there on May 22.


After the Mangalore crash, we learnt that its airstrip is not long enough; that though jet aircraft can — and do — land there, there is very little margin for error. Then we learnt that Mangalore wasn't the worst: several airports in the country have shorter or more hazardous runways.


The question for civil aviation minister Praful Patel is this: Do we stay with this uncomfortable state of affairs? Or do we take the measures required to upgrade these airstrips?


Common sense — that word again — tells me that we should separate the renovation and upgradation of airports, which is essentially about passenger amenities and comfort from what I would call airport essentials, which are the runway itself and the control tower and its equipment which guide aircraft movement, landings and take-offs.


The essentials cannot wait; passenger comfort can. Recently there have occurred some bizarre incidents like a departing aircraft in Mumbai airport almost going into the path of an arriving plane because there was no indicator to tell the pilot that he should turn one way, not the other. This is the equivalent of not providing a traffic light at the busiest city junction.


The easiest fall-guy in aviation is the pilot, and pilot error is often given as the reason for an accident. But a pilot needs infrastructure and that is what is surely lacking in our country.









India and Pakistan are now back in dialogue mode after the peace process between the two got snapped with the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. During the exchange of views between Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik on Friday, and between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with her opposite number in Pakistan Salman Bashir the previous day, both sides avoided taking aggressive postures, reflecting a welcome change in their attitudes. Interestingly, the two Foreign Secretaries talked of "working together" to remove the "trust deficit" and resolve the "outstanding issues". The focus on Thursday, as expected, was on "deliverables" like people-to-people contacts, trade expansion and humanitarian issues, which are likely to be taken up during the July conference of the Foreign Ministers.


Despite the attempt to speak in a conciliatory tone, terror emanating from Pakistan was in focus on both days. Mr Chidambaram was more specific when he pointed out that Pakistan would have to deliver on the front of terrorism in the interest of peace in the subcontinent. This is essential for any government in India to remain engaged with Pakistan. Islamabad's positive response does not mean much unless the results are seen on the ground. It has to answer nagging questions related to 26/11. Why are only two of the many masterminds of the Mumbai attack being proceeded against? Lashkar-e-Taiyaba founder Hafiz Saeed, the key plotter, continues to remain free. Why? Why has Pakistan not honoured the commitment it has been making, as it did during the Thimpu SAARC gathering recently, that it will not allow its territory to be used for carrying out terrorist attacks on India?


This, however, does not mean that the dialogue that has begun is an exercise in futility. India and Pakistan talking to each other is always better than their remaining incommunicado. The issues that have been the cause for tension between the two can be resolved only when they remain engaged. If it is not possible to settle issues like Kashmir these should be kept aside to make India and Pakistan move ahead on the road to normalisation of relations. There is a large peace constituency on both sides which must be allowed to expand.








The truth about why and on whose authority Union Carbide Corporation chief Warren Anderson was allowed to flee India after he was mysteriously freed from house arrest which had been ordered by a court in the wake of the world's deadliest chemical disaster in Bhopal, and whether an all-clear signal was flashed to the Dow Chemical Company by the Indian authorities when that company was in the motions of buying UCC would perhaps never be authenticated. After the Group of Ministers appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh skirted these issues in its recent report, the Union Cabinet has put the seal of approval on the whitewash job. Strangely, the Group of Ministers did not carry out its own fact-finding. It relied instead on "contemporary media reports" to claim that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was briefed on the matter of the UCC chief's arrival, arrest and departure "after Anderson left the country."


The Cabinet has evidently tried to deflect attention from Anderson by announcing a fresh compensation package, but that relief has been confined to the kin of 5,295 dead, 3,199 permanently disabled, and 3,000 affected by either cancer or renal failure. A large number of people who continue to seek medical treatment 25 years after the disaster have been categorised as "temporarily injured" and denied compensation. There is no word on allowing the CBI to execute the letter rogatory issued by a Bhopal court 22 years ago for investigations in the US. While the Cabinet decision to undertake "environmental remediation" to clear the ill-fated site of toxic wastes is a welcome move, the question of liability of UCC and its present owner, the US-based Dow Chemical Company, has not been adequately addressed.


If public faith in the government's version of events is to be established, it is indeed vital that responsibility be fixed for the manner in which Anderson left the country. It is also incumbent on the government to hold Dow liable for cleaning up the toxic remains in the Bhopal Union Carbide plant which is a job that requires huge expenditure. If Dow was told that it would have no spillover liabilities, that needs to be unravelled.









Karnataka Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde's resignation from his post on the ground that the state government is not cooperating with him in curbing corruption suggests that this institution has failed to deliver the goods because of the government's reluctance to arm it with adequate powers. Justice Hegde, a former Supreme Court Judge, had been carrying on a relentless campaign against illegal mining of iron ore and corruption in the state. He revealed how nearly five lakh tonnes of iron ore worth Rs 200 crore, which was seized by the forest staff at Belikeri port in February following a Lok Ayukta report, mysteriously vanished. He has also taken exception to the reinstatement of a Bangalore City Corporation official within days of his suspension after his team caught him while taking bribe. His complaints that over 8,000 cases are pending due to the government's refusal to appoint an Upa-Lok Ayukta and harassment of his officers fighting corruption are very serious.


Unfortunately, the plight of the Lok Ayuktas in 16 other states is no better. No government has armed them with teeth to bring culprits to justice. In Punjab, the Lok Pal is a toothless tiger. In Haryana, he works more like a forum for the redressal of grievances against junior employees rather than fighting corruption and catching the big fish. In Himachal Pradesh, as in most states, the Lok Ayukta has only recommendatory powers. He neither has adequate infrastructure nor powers to deal with complaints against higher-ups, including politicians.


Even at the Centre, the fact that the government's actions would come under public scrutiny has invariably discouraged successive governments from enacting a Lok Pal Bill. Each government is fearful that the Bill would boomerang on it. However, the mere creation of this office — or that of the Lok Ayukta in states — can hardly guarantee an effective solution to public grievances unless the incumbent is allowed to act independently with adequate powers, staff and infrastructure. It is a moot point whether Justice Hegde would heed Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Karnataka Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj's appeals and continue in office. However, in view of the increasing cases of corruption and nepotism in the government, we need Lok Ayuktas like Justice Hegde to stem the rot in the system.

















Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar spoke about some important decisions taken on the conduct of question hour from the fifth session of the 15th Lok Sabha in her address to the 75th All-India Presiding Officers Conference in Jammu on June 20. She said question hour had a special significance in the proceedings of the House, particularly in ventilating the grievances of the public on matters concerning the administration and the working of the ministries and their allied departments and organisations. She also indicated that she will be discussing with party leaders the growing tendency to disrupt question hour and the need to check it.


The rules of business of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha state that unless the Speaker/Chairman directs otherwise, the first hour of every sitting shall be available for the asking and answering of questions. In the context of the frequent disruption of question hour in both Houses of Parliament, it would seem logical to shift question hour to a later part of the day to avoid the disruption, and it may seem surprising that the legislature parties are not too keen on it.


However, a closer analysis may reveal why. It is by now quite evident that question hour by itself has nothing to do with the disruption of the first hour of the sitting. If question hour was held at 12 noon and instead laying of papers and special mention/zero hour (presently scheduled for 12 noon) took place at 11 a.m., the scene at 11 a.m. would probably be no different.


Secondly, it must be pondered over that if parties are giving up their valuable right to ask questions and enforce accountability of the government in favour of something else through disruptive behaviour, it must be a matter of considerable importance (to that party). After all, politicians are hard-headed and calculating people. The very fact that despite the inevitable adjournment, if the party persists with the strategy this means it perceives the strategy as having paid off in terms of publicity for the cause in question.


As such, it must be expected that even if question hour is fixed, say at 12 noon, the proceedings at 11 a.m. are likely to be disrupted unless, at the very least, the oxygen of publicity through live TV and media coverage is cut off. Even curbing the oxygen availability may be no guarantee in some situations!


It would seem, therefore, that the better strategy would be either or both of the following: Stopping live TV

coverage of the proceedings in the case of disruption, ordering of expunction and editing out of the disruption from the Official Records (Live Webcast may, however, continue). This can be done by an order of the Speaker/Chairman, but tradition demands that all parties should be fully aware that this will be done, and done as a systematic practice.


Interchanging question hour and special mention/zero hour; and allowing the 11 a.m. special mention/zero hour to be liberally used for the parties wishing to make their point. Here again, parties need to be aware that this is being done to facilitate them in making their point of view heard in respect of matters of "urgent public importance".


It is important that the Presiding Officers (and the media) stop treating the issue as one of "law and order", and approach it as a "governance" issue, and, therefore, desist from playing to the gallery through meaningless gestures meant for public consumption. The stillborn idea of "automatic suspension" of members rushing to the Well of the House, though possibly actuated by the sincerest of intentions, is a case in point. The fact is that it is practically difficult for a Presiding Officer to actually enforce discipline except possibly through reprobation of the conduct.


Certainly, any formal punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal or suspension, which requires a resolution to be moved and passed by a vote, is almost impossible in today's circumstances in respect of such disruption, which is always a party-level strategy rather than an individual-level misconduct. How difficult the task is may be gauged from the experience that the person who headed the list of the expelled members from the House for disruptive conduct in the early nineties became a distinguished and conscientious Speaker of the Lok Sabha years later.


It is likely that parties bent on making demands such as votable motions on an issue or at a time when the government is not confident of defeating the motion (particularly in the Upper House when it may not enjoy a majority, and even in the Lok Sabha because of differences among coalition partners), will continue to lead to the disruption of the House. But this is inevitable when we have a coalition government of disparate parties. Indeed, as a strategy, the Opposition cannot be faulted; it is only on the extreme nature of the methodology that the objection can be sustained.


Is there a way out of this vicious circle where all parties behave in the same way when in power and when in the opposition? There are many who still remember the resolution passed unanimously in a special session of both Houses on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Independence in 1997, solemnly affirming the inviolability of question hour along with several other pious declarations. No doubt, had the parties now in government set the example when they were in the opposition, they would have today a stronger case. It would seem, therefore, that we are condemned to see this continue as long as coalition governments are there.


The best that can be done is to attempt to reduce the legitimacy of the strategy of disruption through various devices which, needless to say, have to be parliamentary in character. The Press and public opinion can help accelerate the process of delegitimisation only if the unreasonableness of the disruptive strategy is fairly evident in relation to the issue in question, and in relation to the response of the government of the day.


The governing party must realise that in spite of seeming ideological differences, the Opposition parties are part of governance and, therefore, the imperatives of good governance should supersede competitive partisan politics. The leading Opposition parties which have a stake in the governance of the country as a whole should not only be involved but also seen to be involved in the process of governance. It is sad to state that our political parties are yet to mature to that level of democratic culture.








ON my trips across various places in India and abroad, I have always been tempted to visit monuments and mausoleums. On my visit to Hyderabad last week while having a hurried round of the famous Hussein Sagar Lake I came across a signboard — PV Gyan Bhoomi. Inquisitively alighting from the car I along with my wife went inside that non-descript park and found it to be the samadhi of PV Narasimha Rao, the tenth Prime Minister of India.


Known as the father of Indian economic reforms, PV would have turned 89 today. Presiding over an eventful time of country's history, he was often referred to as the Chanakya of modern India for his ability to steer through tough economic and political legislation through Parliament. Practicing the 'sam-dam-dand-bhed' policy in true sense he ran a minority government for full five years during the time which was dotted with so many good and bad events.


The inscription at the memorial described him — apart from being an economic reformer — as a linguistic scholar who knew 13 Indian and foreign languages, a great visionary, a master political strategist, an unwearied diplomat and a man of unparalleled intelligence. Initially a freedom fighter and later Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Narasimha Rao rose to national prominence in 1972 and held many important portfolios in the Cabinets of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.


While I was standing at the samadhi, many events of recent history flashed into my mind making me think how luck and destiny play their role in building or destroying the profile of a person. PV had almost retired from active politics when the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi made him stage a comeback and that too to become the Prime Minister of the country. It was the demolition of the Babri Masjid and later the infamous JMM bribery scandal which tore down all the positive aspects of the person and the politician called Narasimha Rao.


Many people believe that providence chases a person even after his death. Some of our Prime Ministers or other politicians are known to have committed greater blunders. The aftermath of those continue to torment our country even many decades later. But they were lucky in their lifetimes and more so later. Perhaps Rao fell in the category of those unlucky leaders whose all achievements were deliberately undermined by his own party to facilitate a new order.


As I was leaving the samadhi, my wife reminded me of two sad events that happened just after the death of Narasimha Rao. His body was denied entry into the AICC office at Delhi. Later a TV news channel which is notorious for telecasting stories of occult forgot to pay even the scant respect to the former Prime Minister. It repeatedly and shamelessly showed the half burnt mortal remains of Narasimha Rao as the firewood on the pyre was not sufficient for the cremation.








President Obama cannot be faulted for taking the harsh decision to accept General Stanley McChrystal's (forced) resignation after the latter made derogatory references about the American civilian leadership in an interview to the left-of-centre magazine Rolling Stone. The magazine cited General McChrystal saying President Obama seemed "uncomfortable and intimidated" during their first meeting, referred to Vice President Biden as "Bite Me," and called the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, General James Jones, a "clown."


No Government-civilian or military-can afford to let its serving officials-civilian or military-speak out in public mocking the leadership and thus display insubordination or criticising national policy. Accepted bureaucratic practice, however, allows debate, often acrimonious, within the confines of the government. But debate cannot proceed in the public space; otherwise the anonymity required for objective decision-making would get compromised. Besides, discipline within the bureaucracy would collapse, a crucial requirement for the armed forces, given its hierarchical command structure. More significantly, the hallowed tradition of civilian control over the military would be eroded, which is the basic principle on which democratic societies are designed to function. All these are settled issues, and can hardly become the subject of a new debate.


Within the American experience itself, the cases of Generals Patton, Stillwell and MacArthur have been recalled to illustrate these settled principles. All of them were removed from office after making indiscreet remarks or questioning the decisions made by the civilian leadership in public. General McChrystal and his staff officers were hardly unaware of these rules of the game.


Why then had General McChrystal and his aides deliberately made these derogatory statements that had rightly inflamed the American leadership? How can their conduct be rationally explained? Pique? Frustration at not being able to press their viewpoint? Concern that the logistic support required for the American war effort in Afghanistan was faltering? All of the above? Or, was the reason something quite different, relating to the hiatus that had developed between the military and civilian authorities in their understanding and approaches to the Afghanistan imbroglio.


The President's special envoy, Holbrooke, for instance, is known to be abrasive and overbearing and very difficult to work with. It is possible that the on-going Marja operations in Afghanistan having met a stumbling block, the existing differences between the civilian and military leadership had dramatically widened. No doubt, more authentic accounts to explain the aberrant conduct of General McChrystal and his aides will surface in the fullness of time. General McChrystal might also feel impelled to pen his memoirs in the established American tradition sooner or later.


The more relevant operational issue is that changing the military leadership during the Afghanistan operations conveys the wrong message to both friend and foe. President Karzai and elements in the Pakistani leadership have already voiced their dismay. The Al Qaeda and Taliban, it can be assumed, would sense confusion and demoralisation in the American ranks and that would boost the morale of their militant followers.


Significantly, General McChrystal was executing a new counter-insurgency policy in Afghanistan devised by General Petraeus; which seeks to restore normalcy in Afghanistan and permit a withdrawal of the U.S. forces by 2011.


However, replacing General McChrystal with General Petraeus is most appropriate, since the latter is the architect of the strategic policy that was devised for Iraq, and is being currently pursued in Afghanistan. .

And, what is this Petraeus strategy? One, the population has to be won over by living among them, and by respecting their rights, including those suspected of being insurgents. He believes in following the doctrine, "Live your values." The damage done by Abu Ghraib is permanent; since "The human terrain is the decisive terrain." The theater of operation thus becomes the whole country, Such "Full Spectrum Operations" require all available resources to be utilised, including the military but also the civilian agencies, armed militias and NGOs.


Apparently, the figures for Americans killed in Iraq and violent incidents have fallen dramatically in Iraq after this new strategy was put in place. Basic utilities have been restored and life is returning to normal. Quite evidently, suicide bombings continue in Iraq and the Al-Qaeda remains a disruptive presence. But, President Obama is confident that he can shift out American troops from combat missions and reduce their overall numbers by end-August, which is a fair indication of the success achieved.


Can this success be repeated by General Petraeus in Afghanistan ? The Marja offensive in February was premised on these principles in action. It was announced months in advance to allow civilians to leave the impending theatre of operations if they wished. Civilian deaths could not be avoided, which is unavoidable in urban fighting but were much less than what could otherwise have been expected.


Moreover, these casualties could not be exploited by the Taliban to channel public opinion against the United States. Currently, the Marja operations can only be considered a partial success since the Taliban are staging a comeback. But, it could be reasonably expected that the U.S. operations in Afghanistan will gain new vigor with Petraeus replacing McChrystal, although it should be assumed that the Al Qaeda and Taliban have also learnt their lessons.


So, what are the wider implications of the McChrystal ouster? The most obvious is that policy differences within the higher command apparatus for defence should not be aired in public. The 'No Comment' modality has its uses in conflict situations. The military should also realise that it will always come out second best in public encounters with the civilian leadership, particularly in democratic cultures. Nevertheless, this does not justify the civilian leadership displaying insensitivity towards the military's problems and their advice.


The strange aspect of the McChrystal affair is that nobody from the civilian side has been indicted for letting matters deteriorate to reach this pass. Civilian control over the military cannot mean civilian dictatorship over the military.


( The author is associated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies )








General David Petraeus has a deservedly high reputation with an acute sense of US politics combined with a realisation of the importance of understanding the politics of Iraq and Afghanistan. His great achievement in Iraq was to persuade Americans that they had won the war when, in fact, they were withdrawing with little achieved.


He was able to sell the "surge" as a triumph of military tactics when in reality its most important feature was

that Sunni insurgents allied themselves with American forces because they were being slaughtered by the Shias.


Some US diplomats are astonished at the willingness of Congress and the US media to accept the Pentagon's version of what happened and the belief that the same success could be replicated in Afghanistan. One American diplomat said: "I am appalled ... It is like going back to pre-Vietnam days, when Americans accepted that what the military said was true."


An important aspect of the Iraq and Afghan wars is the degree to which US foreign policy has been militarised, with the State Department and civilian agencies playing only a limited role. This helps explain the lack of caution shown by General Stanley McChrystal in openly bad-mouthing civilians from President Barack Obama to the US ambassador in Kabul.


I first met General Petraeus in January 2004, when he was commander of the 20,000-strong 101st Airborne Division based in Mosul in northern Iraq. He was one of the few Americans in Iraq who showed any inkling about the ethnic and communal minefield in which the US had landed.


In Baghdad, the US envoy, Paul Bremer, had banned Baath party members from state employment, which meant that thousands of former Iraqi officers were ready recruits for the growing insurgency. General Petraeus was quietly sabotaging official policy. He was getting former officers to turn up in batches and renounce the Baath party and all its works.


He made other astute moves. He prevented returning exiles from getting positions of power. I asked him what would be his most important advice to his successor and he replied that it was "not to align too closely with one ethnic group, political party, tribe, religious group or social element".


This is what will be so difficult to do in Afghanistan. Already, suggestions that the Afghan government should talk to the Taliban is frightening members of the administration in Kabul who are not Pashtun. Last year, General Petraeus gave the impression that the Iraq troop "surge" could be restaged in Afghanistan. But conditions are very different in the Pashtun south and east of Afghanistan.


A problem for General Petraeus is that the Taliban appear to think they are winning and that their own "counter-surge" has been successful. General McChrystal's heavily publicised takeover of Marjah did not evict them permanently. When the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, and US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, both maligned by General McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article, visited Marjah a few days ago, their helicopter was shot at and suicide bombers blew themselves up.


In Iraq, General Petraeus was able to take advantage of local political conditions to claim success for a military strategy that was mostly an illusion. In Afghanistan, the problem is not that the Taliban is so strong but that the government is so weak.


(By arrangement with The Independent)






Georgian authorities in a secret, midnight operation removed a massive statue of Joseph Stalin from the main square of his hometown, Gori. The statue was put up in 1952, a year before Stalin's death.The statue will however adorn the Stalin Museum located a Kilometre away. A new monument will be built to honour those who died in the war with Russia in 2008.


Georgia's relationship with its most famous son has changed markedly over the years. Since Georgia's independence in 1991, he has been increasingly associated with foreign occupation. "We know that his roots are Georgian, we can't deny that," says Gigi Tsereteli, vice speaker of the Georgian parliament. "But we also can't deny the terrible things he did to Georgia." Stalin is vastly more popular abroad than at home. In a 2009 TV show designed to find "The Greatest Russian", Stalin came third; in the Georgian equivalent, he was outside the top forty. But some in Georgia still revere the Soviet strongman, especially in Gori, where residents laid flowers at the foot of the statue on Stalin's birthday. Georgia's tiny Communist Party is also outraged by the decision


More on Julia


The new Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (48) is an industrial lawyer. She had joined a leading law firm, Slater & Gordon, after qualifying and became the firm's youngest partner at 29. She entered parliament in 1998, after three unsuccessful attempts.


Her family migrated to Australia when she was just four. A former university activist, she had to fight long and hard to make her mark in politics. She endured insults from her political opponents, who have called her a union stooge and a communist. One conservative backbencher even accused her of being "deliberately barren". Her childless, unmarried status (she has a long-term partner) has attracted much comment, along with her hairstyle, her fashion sense and her lack of interest in cooking.


Generally unflappable, Ms Gillard has a fiery nature to match her red hair, according to her mother, Moira, who told a recent documentary, "Julia is very easy-going but when something does upset her, just look out. She gets into a temper, just like a sleeping volcano."


Racist attacks rise


Researchers at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in Britain analysed 660 racist attacks last year and found growing evidence to suggest that violence against minorities has shifted to rural areas and towns. The IRR said hatred and bigotry had spread in less than a generation thanks to the influx of asylum seekers, migrant workers, overseas students and the movement of settled ethnic minority families. Prejudice was also being fanned, they concluded, by mainstream political parties competing with one another over which could cut immigration the fastest.


They found asylum seekers, newly-arrived migrant workers and people who look Muslim are most at risk of attack, while trades that isolate individuals, such as cab driving, serving in takeaways and staffing small shops were found to be the most dangerous.


In 1999-2000, London recorded 23,401 racist incidents, 49 per cent of the total. But by 2007-08 that number had dropped to 9,866, a 58 per cent reduction. Last year, however, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Thames Valley and Lancashire accounted for 28 per cent of the national total, a 103 per cent increase in 10 years.










Writing to a minister at the height of the contentious debate over the Hindu Code Bill debate in the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru characteristically pointed out, "We have to remember that in the acknowledged social code and practice in India, as it has existed, thus far, there was no lack of moral delinquency as well as extreme unhappiness. There were two codes, one for the man and the other for the woman. The woman got the worst of it always."


Then as now, in the debate over honour killings and khap panchayats, those against the winds of change argued about the inviolable sanctity of tradition, about keeping up a way of life that has been inviolable for centuries and more cynically about the political costs of change. Then as now, the appeal was made to people's sentiments and those wanting reform were accused of bringing in Western ideas antithetical to 'local sentiments'.


The battle to pass reformist legislation in Hindu personal law, took 10 years of hard bargaining but at the core of its success was a strong political will, irrespective of the political cost. It is important to hark back to that seminal struggle in Indian law to provide context to the recent debate about khap panchayats, caste and marriage. Some of the hypocritical noises and halfhearted ambivalence from the political class in Haryana is revealing. Very broadly speaking, the argument from Chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hooda down to Navin Jindal is this: violence is wrong but khap panchayats are fine, the law should be followed but samegotra marriage does not really cut it.


The back-ballast in the media about the honour killings means that the issue cannot be swept under the carpet – the ritual political condemnations of the honour killings have all followed the script – but it is equally clear that there is a clear political reluctance to take on the substratum of caste leaders and to question the edifice itself, for fear of vote banks going astray.


 Let us be clear. Honour killings are only a symptom. The recent murders in Delhi and Haryana are only a manifestation of a deeper problem of hidebound social structures that are increasingly at odds with the new India and indeed with the principle of equity and freedom of choice enshrined in the law. So long as caste and its structures retain social sanctity, these disputes will keep festering.


What we need is a renewed social and political movement that goes to the heart of the issue and doesn't just treat the surface. And it needs political courage, of the kind exhibited by Nehru and Ambedkar in the 1950s when faced with similar opposition to change. The Supreme Court's intervention and the move to bring in a law against honour killings are welcome but the solution must go beyond to the core issue and here political courage is crucial.


Instead, we are seeing a push by Haryana's politicians to make samegotra marriage illegal. They seem to have forgotten that in 1945 the Bombay High Court ruled that there was nothing wrong in such marriages. They were perfectly valid under Hindu custom itself. Consulting eminent scholarly accounts of the dharmashastras, and after looking at the texts of Manu and Yajnavalkya, the Court ruled that requirements on gotra were not mandatory. It further argued presciently that societies in any case are not static. They constantly change and must keep up with the times.


It would be misleading to see the recent murders and the voices in favour of the same-gotra idea of marriage as simply an atavistic blast from the past or as an urban-rural divide. The recent violence is, in fact, reflective of a distorted urbanised modernity that is developing in India. In the popular discourse, it is perhaps too easy to blame it on the primordial village folk that exist in our imaginations but one look at the marriage columns in the English newspapers, patronised by the middle classes, should be enough to junk that notion. Virtually every advertisement starts with the caste of the prospective groom or bride. It is precisely this kind of social attitude that is the core of the problem. The violence is only an extreme manifestation.


The term 'honour killings', attained notoriety in the British press in the 1990s after a spate of violence among immigrant families from Mirpur in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. Now, our Mirpur is staring us in the mirror. The question is will we have the courage to confront it?



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





While consumers will, of course, be unhappy and the country's opposition political parties will exploit this unhappiness, the Union government had no option but to move away from the ancien regime of administered prices for petrol and return to the path of deregulation that the National Democratic Alliance government had, in fact, first opted for. Sooner rather than later, it must also deregulate the prices of other petroleum products, including kerosene and diesel. Before moving to deregulation of the latter, it must at least take the steps it is now beginning to take of raising administered prices to more realistic levels. There is no convincing case for subsidising petrol, even if there can still be some case for subsidising diesel and kerosene. These are all old arguments that have been gone through for over a decade now. It was the so-called "R group", headed by economist Vijay Kelkar, a former petroleum secretary, that first laid out the road map for deregulation of petrol and petroleum product prices over a decade ago. The argument is based on the simple principle that an import-dependent nation like India cannot afford to encourage excessive consumption of energy based on unrealistically low prices. This does not mean there cannot be some element of cross-subsidisation in energy prices. The consumers of petrol can continue to cross-subsidise the consumers of kerosene. But this rational social measure must be properly administered so that kerosene is not mixed in petrol, as it continues to be.


While cost-based pricing of energy is a rational policy, there is always the case for some element of regulation based on the principle that volatility in international market prices need not necessarily be passed on to consumers. In other words, some sort of mechanism by which the ups and downs in international crude oil prices get evened out is a sensible idea. But evening out the cycle does not imply fixing prices that have no relation to global trends. The government must be complimented for finally showing some determination in biting the bullet on petroleum prices. It must now stand its ground and ride the wave of political protests that are bound to be staged by an Opposition waiting to return to relevance. Indeed, a large part of the political problem that the government faces is of its own making. Both Mani Shankar Aiyer and Murli Deora, the United Progressive Alliance government's two ministers for petroleum and natural gas, had excessively politicised the process of energy price fixation. Rather than return to the path laid out by Dr Kelkar's "R group", they chose to make energy pricing a purely political affair. This has cost the government dear. Finally, the government has shown courage and good sense, helping the finance minister get the fiscal numbers he has promised.







Turf wars are distinct from informed debates. The episode between the two regulators, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), on the unit-linked insurance policies (Ulips) issue was in large part a turf war but in essence also one of differing perceptions. The end of such turf wars is not to be celebrated with congratulations and jubilations, but with a sigh of relief and a few lessons learnt. First of the lessons is that such disputes must not be allowed to brew so long that it turns toxic and necessitates a remedial action through the court. It is alright to say that settlement of regulatory disputes through courts helps establish the jurisprudence. It may even be argued that one salutary outcome of the unseeming publicity of the dispute is that changes are now being made in Ulips to benefit those who invest in the instrument. But these ends could well have been achieved through deliberations and a structured mechanism for settling disputes in an atmosphere of respect, candour and trust. Collaboration and cooperation are generally believed to result in the most efficient outcomes in most situations. The second lesson is that such disputes in the financial market tend to undermine the confidence of market players on regulators. In fact, Sebi's precipitate action caused avoidable confusion that necessitated to an extent governmental intervention. Heavens would not have fallen if Sebi had been a little more patient with Irda. Regulated industries might begin to wonder if regulators themselves do not believe in a structured mechanism to settle their own disputes, would they have the ability to determine regulatory infringements of market players?

The government helped by finally stepping in to resolve matters by issuing an ordinance to clarify that the life insurance business shall include Ulips or scrips or any such instruments. But this has raised a bigger question: Would the government always step in to resolve every such dispute? Developments in the finance ministry are indicative of the fact that such may well be the state of play in near future. This would be disturbing, for two reasons. One, it would then tantamount to an honest admission that the non-statutory mechanism of the high-level committee on capital and financial markets (HLCCFM) which worked so well for so long is no longer doing its job well enough. If regulatory coordination is not happening now, then the reasons would warrant an inquiry. Two, whether the government, by this intervention, is building a much larger case for setting up a statutory coordinating agency which finds mention in the finance minister's last Budget Speech. That would be another way of saying that statutory regulators and the regulatory process in India are still to mature and hence require the government to hold hands for some more time — a sad commentary on the state of regulations.

 The test of the efficiency of financial regulation is its contribution to capital formation. This should remain the focus of all financial regulators. The savings of those who invest in financial instruments in the securities market and of those who invest in insurance products are equally sacred. It's the protection of their savings and their rights which should be the uppermost in the minds of the regulators. Size of the industry, commission rates and lobbying powers should not play a decisive role in the public choice of the type of regulatory architecture. This is the fourth lesson








Later this week, New Delhi will have a new airport. Its scale and size have been designed to shock and awe. Passengers will without doubt walk through its impressive interiors, experiencing the comforts of a world-class airport. But an airport is not just about how it looks, it is also about how it feels. That feeling is shaped as much by physical comfort as it is by human interaction. People make the difference. That is the key to success in the services business.

India prides itself as a "services economy" merely because more than half of India's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the services sector. The rapid and sustained growth of the sector over the past two decades, and of services exports have placed India's services sector in the global spotlight. If China is the "workshop of the world", we have heard many business pundits say, India is the services sector of the world. Is that assured?

 After having made its mark as a manufacturing power, China is focused on its services sector. Speaking last week in Taipei, Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and author of the book The Next Asia, predicted, "The China of tomorrow is not going to be the China of today. It's going to be a consumer-led China, a services-led China."

It is a thought that jumps to one's mind as one encounters China's services sector — be it in a market, a hotel, a bank or an airport; be it as a tourist or a business person. Nowhere does the human factor in services come out more sharply than in an airport where both the private sector and the public work side by side. After the pleasant encounter with a charming clerk at the check-in counter comes the brusque interface with immigration and security. The speed and efficiency of check-in and baggage-handling are often in sharp contrast to the painful slowness of security.

The generation and social gap between the two categories of service providers is visible and explains to some extent the gap in quality of work. That is why passengers at Beijing airport are invited to rate the officials! I have mentioned before in my columns the sharp contrast between the immigration/emigration and security counters at the New Delhi and Beijing airports. For a so-called "bureaucratic state", China makes sure its lower level bureaucracy is people-friendly.

The services sector accounts for just about 40 per cent of China's GDP but it remains a small part of China's external trade. Compared to the over 60 per cent share of merchandise exports in China's GDP, services sector exports accounted for just about 7 per cent till recently. However, with the rapid rise of travel and tourism, transport and logistics, banking and financial services, and the phenomenal growth of power and telecommunications, the share of services in national income and trade is expected to rise sharply in China. Analysts expect China's educational and health sectors to also grow rapidly on both counts.

In 2002, China became the world's largest market for telecommunications; by 2020, it is expected to become the world's biggest market for tourism and related services. In line with this growth in income and expansion of capacity, China is also investing in the quality of its manpower in the services sector. In a recent column, Barry Eichengreen made the telling point that while Japan caught up with the United States in manufacturing, it had failed to do so in services because of its failure to invest in the productivity of services sector workforce.

People are to the services sector what machines are to manufacturing. Investment in research and development and new technology aimed at increasing the productivity of people working in the services sector is vital to the sector's growth. But an increase in human productivity comes not just from access to better technology but from creation of a "better" workforce. People matter. This is where India can still score over China if business leaders and managers understand the importance of investing in people. The quality of human power is vital to success and growth of the services sector. It defines the competitive process.

Consider the airlines business. Private airlines overtook Indian Airlines very easily on the back of better quality service more than anything else. The game has now shifted to competition among private airlines and this is a different ball game, as each of the players has come to recognise. Taking on Indian Airlines was easy for Jet Airways, not so facing the competition from Indigo!

The story is no different in telecom where private players easily competed against public sector players but are sweating it out in competition with equals. In both cases, airlines and telecom, the quality of employees who interact with customers is emerging as a major factor determining consumer preference. It is not just the giveaways that make a difference, but the takeaways too.

For India's services sector to maintain its lead and remain globally competitive, it will have to invest in new technologies and in the quality and productivity of its manpower. Skill development is a challenge both in manufacturing and services sectors in India.

The methodologies for quality improvement used in manufacturing, like Six Sigma, are increasingly being applied to the services sector too, and Indian services sector businesses must invest in them. A new generation of Indians with new attitudes to work has been entering the services sector in a big way, with India having more white collar services sector employees than blue collar workers. They need better training and better management to become more productive and compete with potential rivals from across the world.







Members of the opposition, both within the government and outside it, will do well to read the Kirit Parikh report on oil sector decontrol to know just how much has been done and how much remains to be done. To get details of the subsidies that have been cut (Rs 20,000 crore this year) and the ones that remain (Rs 53,000 crore).

 There's little doubt a lot has been done. But years of neglect has also meant that there's a huge lot that's left to be done. More important, decontrol isn't a done deal in even petrol; in the case of diesel, even the ministry's press release, which talks of market-determined prices, says: "Further increases will be made by the public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) in consultation with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas." As for petrol, where the government says full decontrol has been done, keep in mind that such decontrol first happened when the NDA was in power but was later rolled back — partly by the NDA and then fully by the UPA — when oil prices started rising. 

 ·  Look at the Parikh report to see what happens when oil prices start rising from the $80 or so per barrel that they are right now. At $100, petrol and diesel prices need to be raised another Rs 8 per litre or so beyond what was done last Friday; at $120 the hike required for petrol and diesel is yet another Rs 8 per litre. And make no mistake about it, crude prices are on their way up given the huge shortages in global supplies. 

·  Prices of kerosene have been raised by Rs 3 per litre but as Parikh points out, the subsidy on this is around Rs 18 per litre (this goes up to Rs 25 per litre when crude prices rise to $100 and to Rs 32 at $120). But what's a lot worse, if you read the Parikh report, is that all this is money down the drain. Just 1.3 per cent of all rural households, for instance, use kerosene for cooking — to the extent kerosene is used for lighting, surely the increased subsidies given to increase electricity supplies to all villages should be matched with cuts in kerosene supplies.

Interestingly, while the number of households using kerosene fell a third between 1999 and 2005, the government cut the hugely subsidised kerosene allocations under the PDS by just 13 per cent. Obviously the rest is going to adulterate diesel and the current round of price hikes hasn't done anything to reduce the differential in diesel and kerosene pricing.

Even worse, since kerosene prices were last raised in 2002, you'd think the price rise would keep the rise in per capita incomes in this period in mind. Since per capita incomes have risen 60 per cent, this means prices could have been raised by around Rs 6 a litre instead of Rs 3 without changing the level of welfare of consumers. 


Crude oil
($ per barrel)

Rs per litre

Rs per litre

Rs per litre

Rs per cylinder





















 Current price





('000 tonnes)




(86 crore cylinders)


       Rs 53,000 crore at $80 a barrel in 2010-11

Source: Kirit Parikh report; ministry of petroleum

·  The situation in LPG is similar. Even if you mark prices to those in 2003-04 when the LPG subsidy was still a whopping Rs 5,523 crore, the hike in per capita incomes justified at least a hike of Rs 200 per cylinder.

While economists and columnists will urge the government to decontrol all prices given what's just been said, there's a flip side that needs to be kept in mind. Decontrol means a greater role for the private sector — with the government forcing its PSUs to sell at below-cost prices, private firms like Reliance stopped retail sales several years ago. Now that prices are getting back to free market levels, it's very likely that firms like Reliance will be back in business. While Reliance and Essar have just 3,000 outlets right now versus around 35,000 for the PSUs, keep in mind that in 2006, while it was still selling in India, Reliance had a 13-14 per cent market share in diesel sales. Getting back that market share, and more, could take just a couple of years, maybe less.

PSU oil firms have about half the gross refinery margins that RIL has, thanks to the fact that they have much older and smaller refineries. If they're still going to lose Rs 15,000-20,000 crore this year, in addition to the Rs 55,000 crore they've already lost over the previous five years (upstream firms like ONGC lost Rs 101,000 crore), there's no way they can possibly hope to modernise. And we're not even talking of their excessive manpower and severe restrictions on operational freedom. Comparisons are odious but keep in mind that it took just 10-15 years for market-leader PSUs like BSNL and Air India to be bested by private sector firms.








Since the pronouncement of the judgment in the Bhopal gas leak case a couple of weeks ago, and after 26 long years, the people and the media have been righteously indignant about the way the whole Bhopal tragedy has been handled and are angry about the way Warren Anderson was allowed to go back to the US. While the anger is understandable, there surely are many other lessons to be learnt from the case.

Once the tragedy occurred and Anderson flew to Bhopal, the first step was to arrest him. Should that have been the priority? If there is a fire, the priority should be to extinguish it before considering whether anybody's negligence and/or actions led to the fire. In the Bhopal case, the first step should have been to deploy teams of doctors and nurses to treat those affected and, simultaneously, to control and assess the damage and destroy any stocks of the dangerous chemical. Who was in the best position to do the latter part? The company itself as it knew about the chemicals and the plant far better than anybody else. As it happens, 350 tonnes of the dangerous poison still remain on the ground and have caused untold damage to a massive number of lives in the past 26 years.

 As the scale of the tragedy became better known in the days that followed, the next priority should have been to assess the damage to life and property with a view to compensating those who had suffered. Even now, we do not seem to have an exact number of the people who died during the accident and through subsequent infection of the poison. As soon as the damage control was over, which, as I argue above, could be done quickly with the cooperation of the company, hundreds of assessors, experienced in estimating property damages, should have been drafted. General insurance companies have on their approved list a large number of assessors who do the work professionally and it would not have been difficult to get them to provide the needed number of professionals to do the work. The same goes for the compensation for lives lost. There are no limits on third-party claims for lives lost in vehicle accidents. There are thousands of records available on how the "value" of a lost life is estimated and there are well-established procedures too. However, there does not seem to be any indication that such efforts were made to collect the data in a professional manner with the help of insurance companies in order to make a proper case for damages.

Only after this the question of accountability, of guilt by negligence, criminal or otherwise, should have been considered. And let us accept that these are technical issues which only chemical experts and investigators would have been able to address after a detailed examination of the company's records, papers, documents, which could have been sealed pending an expert inquiry. A detailed technical report by experts that was submitted in the year after the tragedy seems to have been gathering dust somewhere.

Instead of arresting Anderson first, the chief minister could have called him to his chamber after he had landed in Bhopal and seen the damage, giving him a dressing down, reading the "riot act" to him and getting him to commit the resources of the company he headed, technical and financial, to damage-control and assessment, and, if necessary, threatening him with criminal prosecution in India, and civil damages claims by ambulance-chasing lawyers in US courts. Considering the scale of the damage, it is difficult to believe that any chief executive of a company would have refused cooperation on these issues, all the more so when it is a public company in which he has little personal interest, and also for the fear of the global public relation disaster non-cooperation would have led to.

Obviously, none of this was done. A troubling question is: Why? Is it because of our highly feudal political culture where initiatives have to come from the all-powerful high command of the party? A culture that encourages a behaviour which is politically safe and not always obviously right and needed on the ground? A culture where you get power as a minister or a chief minister, or whatever, bestowed from the top and not because of your achievements on the ground? But why criticise the politicians or the high command? It is we, the feudal people of India, who have been giving them the power; it is we who indulge in "honour killings" of our daughters and sisters marrying outside our caste, and no politician or community leader openly dares to take a stand on the issue, some even justify such killings!

But to come back to Bhopal, the post-accident mishandling of the disaster has perhaps led to more deaths and health damages than the original incident. Will anybody, either politicians or bureaucrats, be ever held accountable for this?








The state of Kerala is fascinating in many ways. This lush green coastal beauty is deservingly called God's Own Country. A drive through the state almost never shows any distinction between urban and rural regions. The houses generally reflect a good standard of living and even the cities do not seem to have beggars on streets.

The good standard of living and the scenic beauty of the state do not seem to motivate Malayalis in general to work hard in their own state. They stopped cultivating labour-intensive rice paddy and shifted to coconut and rubber plantations long ago. Like Punjab, Kerala imports farm labour from Bihar.

 Kerala has succeeded in keeping most industries out. It never joined the rat race that Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu indulged in to attract investments. Neighbouring Karnataka's extraordinary vigour in wooing investments in recent months indicates that it has taken some serious lessons from Gujarat. But not Kerala. On the contrary, the state seems to be quite content with not attracting any new industrial investments. It ranks 14 out of 23 states in terms of outstanding investments.

States attract investments to ensure employment and growth for its citizens. Kerala solved this problem in a different way long before others even thought about it. If the Andhraites and the Kannadigas discovered the advantage of exporting software engineers in the 1990s, Kerala had discovered the advantage of exporting its labour to the Gulf in the 1970s.

Kerala has been ahead of the curve in globalisation. While the North battled with intruders, Kerala quietly incorporated first Christianity and then Islam and enhanced its trade with the rest of the world. There were no famous battles in Kerala. It is just a story of seamless and peaceful globalisation over time without much ado. Today, Kerala exports its labour to the world and also imports labour into the state. This is globalisation at its best.

When the time came, Kerala embraced communism too. But the Malayali communist does not bring the rest of the state to a halt when the government raises oil prices. Kerala has less of state bandhs compared to West Bengal and it has no Nandigrams.

It is interesting to note that today the country's top administrative official, the cabinet secretary, is from Kerala; so is the home secretary, the principal secretary in the Prime Minister's Office and the national security adviser. Yet, there is no chest-thumping about it. Kerala's history has no wars and, therefore, the state does not believe in heroes. To put it simply, it has simply progressed to become the most literate state of the country.

The popular perception of Kerala outside of Kerala does not reflect this tranquillity and progress. Correspondingly, most Malayalis do not have a great opinion of the rest of the country.

Official statistics do little justice to Kerala's prosperity. Kerala was ranked ninth in terms of net state domestic product (NSDP) among 22 states in 2008-09. This is a reflection of its small size. It ranks higher at the sixth position in terms of per capita NSDP. Goa, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab (in that order) beat Kerala in terms of per capita NSDP. But, this does not do justice to the state.

Per capita NSDP is a poor estimate of the well-being of the people of a state because it is a measure of the income generated in a state and not the income accruing to the people. Thus, globalised Kerala, whose households receive a lot of remittances from Malayalis working in the Gulf and in other regions, suffers because NSDP does not reflect these remittances in the income of the people.

The official statistical machinery does not measure the income of households. It estimates the income of households along with that of the not-for-profit institutions that serve the households at the all-India level. Even this combined estimate is available only at the all-India level. There is no estimation of even this indicator at the state level. Therefore, commentators are forced to use only NSDP in their analysis.

The Consumer Pyramid put together by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) bridges this gap. And, in the process, it amends our (mis)understanding of Kerala. According to the Consumer Pyramid, Kerala ranks first, and not sixth, in terms of per capita household income.

Kerala's per capita income in 2009 at Rs 63,000 was the highest among all states in the country. It is way ahead of Delhi (Rs 55,000). Punjab is a distant third with Rs 42,000. The official per capita NSDP understates the income of Kerala households by 22 per cent at Rs 49,000. It also overstates the income of Delhi households by a massive 65 per cent at Rs 90,500. Punjab is overstated by 22 per cent.

Delhi generates a lot more income than Kerala does. But the income of Delhi does not accrue to the people of Delhi. Therefore, the purchasing power of consumers is much lesser in Delhi. Kerala does not generate much income, but its households receive a lot of transfers in the form of remittances from its people working outside. These transfers raise the purchasing power of Kerala households substantially.

Kerala is correspondingly a big spender. As a result, its household savings rate is close to the all-India average. This is also the case with Delhi and Punjab. Ownership of assets such as household appliances and entertainment devices is high in Kerala, but the ownership of transport equipment is low. This explains the clean air in Kerala.

Given the excellent transfers, the Malayalis do not find it necessary to pollute their land by having scooters and industries. They do not even find it necessary to work hard in God's Own Land. But it's not that the Malayalis are lazy. Their excuse for taking it easy is that they have worked hard elsewhere. They work hard elsewhere and transfer part of the income back to Kerala where they build a nice home and spend a relaxed life.

Kerala is also the land of India's best-known rationalist, Abraham Kovoor.

The author is managing director and CEO, CMIE  









THE revised direct taxes code proposes to bring back capital gains tax at the normal income-tax rates, subject to some yet unspecified deduction. Governments the world over are desperate for revenue, and India is no exception. Yet capital gains are typically taxed very inefficiently, and India needs to avoid this trap. The tax is not levied on all capital gains — rise in asset value — but only on those assets that are sold. These are called realised capital gains: unrealised gains are exempt. However, looked at from a portfolio management viewpoint, the incentives in such a tax are singularly perverse. Any asset manager who did not churn his portfolio would be sacked for incompetence. Competence requires that a manager constantly sell assets that look overvalued, and in their place buy assets that look like bargains. Only because of the positive gains from churning is the asset manager able to charge any fees. However, when an individual sits tight and does not churn his portfolio, the exchequer rewards him by exempting all his unrealised gains. If the individual acts prudently and churns his portfolio, he is taxed every time he sells. Thus the capital gains tax is really a tax on churning, which should be encouraged and not discouraged.


 Not all asset sales are for churning. Sometimes a person sells assets to get money for consumption. This kind of capital gain can certainly be taxed. But gains arising out of churning should not be taxed. This principle is already well accepted in housing: if you sell a house and invest the proceeds in a new house, the capital gain is exempt from tax. The same principle should, logically, be applied to all other asset churning, especially in the case of financial assets. Indeed, churning should be encouraged across assets: there should be no tax on gains from a home sale that are invested in shares, and vice versa. Will such a scheme lose revenue? Not at all. The securities transaction tax is going to be retained. So any revenue at all from a capital gains tax levied only on asset liquidation for consumption will be additional money in the kitty. That is the way to go.








 THE Sebi chief has done well in asking mutual funds to stop chasing short-term gains and instead enhance returns for the retail investor. The regulator's concern, aired after Sebi was denied the right to oversee unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips), is valid. Mis-selling of marketlinked products, be it mutual funds or Ulips, is unacceptable. Sebi should tighten the rules for fund houses to improve disclosures and make distributors accountable for their advice to investors. Sure, it scrapped entry loads and allowed agents to negotiate fees directly with investors. It has also rightly changed the accounting norms to discourage fund houses from declaring artificial dividends. Distributors have, however, failed to act as advisors and this defeats the goal of a fee based model. Reforms are needed to make mutual funds a vehicle for mass investment. Today, there are around 3,000 mutual fund schemes in the market. Proper disclosures on the performance of the scheme are a must to enable investors to make the right choice. Sebi's mutual fund advisory committee has reportedly recommended that distributors maintain written records of their recommendations and fund houses present a clear picture of the performance of the scheme to investors. This should be implemented. The cost structure for market-linked products should be simple. The pension regulator has shown the way, making the new pension scheme load free. A clean-up in the cost and incentive structure of Ulips is underway to prevent mis-selling. Mutual funds too should put their house in order.

   Fund houses rely on banks and companies to make short-term money. Companies and banks invest in mutual funds when they have cash that needs to be parked for short periods. Banks also prefer to lend to one another and to companies through MFs due to the tax arbitrage. However, mutual funds face redemption pressures when banks pull out their money. The RBI too wants moral suasion to stop banks from putting their money in mutual funds. Fund houses should stop banking on short-term money. Individual investors are more stable and their money yields higher margins. Widening retail investor participation, therefore, makes eminent sense








IT'S clearly no fun to be the husband of a world leader; in fact, they are widely expected to be not heard and rarely seen. As always it's a summit that brings that sad fact to attention. Only half of the spouses check in at the G-20 summit in Toronto, predictably neither of the male ones turned up — the husbands of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Nor would they have had much to do, as those in charge of keeping the spouses occupied while the heads of governments get engrossed in their deliberations seem to presume they will all be ladies. In Toronto, for instance, some exciting, mind-broadening activities were lined up for the spouses who had already arrived for the power-packed G-8 jamboree that precedes the G-20. These include meeting Canadian craftspeople and 10 'women of distinction', partaking of a meal that included chocolate paddles and nasturtium butter, besides being handed goodie bags containing a made-for-the-summit designer necklace. Their statesmen-husbands, on the other hand, have squeezed in a trip to the countryside, where the ladies were not invited. Apart from the logistics (cited as the reason to keep them away) maybe the organisers thought that simple pleasures like toasting marshmallows on campfires, or marvelling at Canada's natural beauty would hardly satisfy these sophisticated ladies. If a few spoilsport gentlemen-spouses had decided to tag along for the summit, this decision to have neat, segregated, gender-specific activities would have been thrown totally out of kilter. No wonder Dennis Thatcher rarely accompanied his prime-ministerial wife Margaret to most places.


Lucky for summit organisers, women heads of government are still relatively rare among these high-profile nations. Of course India's President Pratibha Patil — like Queen Elizabeth — is often accompanied by her husband, but heads of state have largely ceremonial roles, where spouses, of either gender, are not a problem!








FOR those of us, who have been in microfinance since its origins about 20 years ago, we remember the days when no one paid much attention to us except other colleagues in the development sector. Much has changed in the past two decades and microfinance has evolved into a thriving sector. Today, microfinance even creates newspaper headlines, sometimes adulatory, and at other times sensational. The truth lies somewhere in between. Microfinance is not a panacea which removes poverty in one go, nor is it a new form of money lending to exploit the poor. Many people in mainstream circles, who have visited field operations of microfinance institutions (MFIs) now understand how a poor borrower can use a tiny loan to start a sustainable business, generate more income and over a period of time, come out of poverty. They also understand why this kind of painstaking work could not be done by traditional banks, and required a new set of dedicated institutions — the MFIs.

Unfortunately, recent headlines have focused on some aberrations in microfinance that have then spread misconceptions about the industry as a whole. These misconceptions need to be corrected. For example, parts of southern Karnataka has been in the spotlight because some microfinance customers in districts last year defaulted on loans. While any defaults are troubling, it is important to keep this in perspective. About 25,000 borrowers in southern Karnataka were affected, out of 25 million in the microfinance industry across India — about 0.1% of the industry's total portfolio. We are not downplaying the seriousness of what has happened and our industry must strive to curb similar events in the future. But contrary to what a recent spate of articles would have you believe, defaults are not rampant. As a whole, repayment rates across the microfinance industry are 98% and above.

In December 2009, a new microfinance industry association called the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN) was formed by the top 35 MFIs, which are registered as NBFCs with the RBI. In March 2101, MFIN launched a self-regulatory code of conduct that underscores our commitment to good governance and customer protection. It emphasises transparent interest rates; limits a borrower's loan through group lending to less than Rs 50,000 total from three microfinance institutions; and includes a whistle-blower policy on code of conduct violations, among other pledges.


MFIN also has collected Rs 2 crore from its members and has invested this in a RBI-approved credit information bureau. By getting information on the prior borrowings of a customer, MFIs will be able to curb multiple borrowing which can result in over-indebtedness.


MFIN's code of conduct also provides that no coercive practices can be used to collect loan repayments. The media have reported some incidences of such practices but specific details are not mentioned. If anybody reports specific incidents of malpractice, MFIN will investigate the incident and if found materially correct, take punitive action against the concerned MFI, as provided in the code of conduct. We want to emphasise that the sector should be judged by its median and best and not by the black sheep that damage our cause and the cause of the people we wish to serve. Every industry has its bad apples and we are committed to expose and expel them.


ANOTHER common issue raised is that the interest rates of MFIs are high, as these range between 18% to 30% per annum on a declining balance basis. How do we explain these rates? We must borrow funds from commercial banks to on-lend to our customers because Indian regulation restricts microfinance institutions from accepting savings deposits. Banks charge us 11% to 14% for funds. Next, our operational costs are high because loan officers have to travel to each village every week by motorbike to distribute loans and collect payments in person. Our operational costs range from 6 % to 12% (depending on volume of loans and the remoteness/ density of the area served). This includes salaries for staff, field travel expenses, branch administrative expenses and head office costs such as maintaining IT systems, accounting, raising finance, risk management, audit and compliance. We incur another 1-2% for provisioning of overdue loans, as mandated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). This brings the total costs to 18% to 28%.


At this rate we are able to cover our costs and earn a reasonable profit that is necessary to maintain the capital adequacy ratio of 12% mandated by the RBI. Without profitability, it will not be possible to expand our outreach or deliver other financial services such as life and health insurance and micro-housing loans. In addition, we must compare these rates to the alternative — the local money lenders and traders who charge anywhere from 36% to 120%. Over the years, MFIs have already lowered their interest rates when they achieved lower costs due to economies of scale. We have also urged the RBI to let microfinance institutions accept savings deposits at least from our borrowers, thereby reducing the cost of funds as well as allowing us to offer a much needed service to the customers. Technological breakthroughs, such as capturing field transactions via mobile phones direct into servers, will also reduce costs, and we could pass on the cost savings to customers by lowering interest rates.


The poor deserve to participate in the opportunities that the overall growth of the country offers and microfinance is an essential step towards that. Stories about high interest rates, over-lending, defaults and coercive recoveries make sensational headlines. But independent studies by NCAER, CRISIL and others show that most MFIs are credible and committed to providing affordable financial services to India's 150 million financially-excluded households. Anyone is welcome to visit and talk to any of 25 million MFI customers, to check if they are satisfied or not. The answer will be a resounding yes, because it is due to the goodwill and patronage of the poor that MFIs have been growing at 100% per annum, and without any government subsidies.
(The author is the president of Microfinance Institutions Network)








THE Indian economy largely sidestepped the financial crisis because of wise banking practices; its overall growth rate is second in the world, only to China. Its major corporations are growing at rates of 20% to 40% per year, competing and winning in precisely the international markets where the US sees its future: high-skilled service industries.


Indian companies have been on an acquisition binge, and the evidence suggests that when they acquire foreign companies, those companies perform better. My colleagues — Harbir Singh, Jitendra Singh and Michael Useem — and I recently completed a study of Indian businesses based around interviews with the leaders of 100 of the biggest companies in India... We asked them to rank their priorities as the company leader. No prizes for guessing that US corporate leaders are almost required to say that shareholder value comes first. Here's what the Indian leaders said: Indian business leader priorities — chief input for business strategy; keeper of organisational culture; guide or teacher for employees; representative of owner and investor interests; and representative of other stakeholders (e.g., employees and the community). In these companies, competitiveness is seen as coming from within the firm, not from clever marketing strategies, financial deals, or mergers and acquisitions — but through superior capabilities at problem solving and execution, which fundamentally come down to employees and the way they are managed. Culture plays a big role there.









 COMPUTER-AIDED design (CAD) is now being used to create a host of products, from snazzy guitars to cool cars. Which means the software behind that design needs to be available to the broadest community of developers, says SolidWorks' chief executive Jeff Ray, who was recently in India. The $367-million US-based SolidWorks creates software products for designers and design hot spots, part of the monolithic €1,335-million Dassault Systemes. Ray, who took over the reins three years back, speaks about design simplicity and sustainability.

"At SolidWorks, we are simplifying threedimensional CAD from cost and ease-of-use perspectives. As we expand offerings to our customer's (read product engineers) adjacent needs like data management and simulation, we've remained true to this philosophy. You don't have to be an engineer or have a PhD to complete complex vibration and flow testing," says Jeff.


For one, SolidWorks is extending online its product data management solutions, which will help individual users or smaller firms share and collaborate on designs. "Our technologies now allow a digital experience before you do it physically. A website that offers lighting solutions can allow you to download a particular lamp, and you can combine that with a picture that you have taken of your room and then see how the room lights up with that lamp," he explains.


 Bang in the middle of the recession last year, SolidWorks launched SolidWorks Sustainability, a tool that helps to modify a product with selected materials to lessen adverse ecological impact. "It measures the environmental impact over the life-cycle of your product in terms of four factors: carbon footprint, air acidification, water eutrophication (rise in chemical nutrients in an ecosystem), and total energy consumed," Jeff explains.


He says product engineers need to be environmentally conscious about design. That implies that product engineers have to look at a large database of materials, be cognisant of where the materials are mined and consumed, — which, in turn, determines transport cost. So, you not only have a massive amount of data to analyse, but also a massive amount of iterative steps to test your theory.


What the new solution can do is to take individual part models and automatically show how the 'like' material compares with the original material you chose on environmental impact. "This helps you to hone in on the perfect material more efficiently. In European Union, where environmental regulations are very strict, TVs are being designed to be broken up easily so that most parts can be reused and very little goes to a landfill. Products like Sustainability can help designers of such products," he says.


The inevitable question about India's contribution crops up. "India's growth potential is important to SolidWorks. Much of the Indian market has begun adopting 3D CAD tools to compete in time-to-market, quality, and innovation. And we want to make sure that our solutions are the software of choice. Moreover, many US and European companies are investing in Indian design teams. So, we are extending our support in India so that these firms are able to use one CAD system globally," says Jeff.


About $75 million of SolidWorks' 2009 revenues came from Asia-Pacific. India is one of the top three markets after Latin America (mainly Brazil) and China. Also, Solid-Works follows a value-added reseller model in India as against a distributor one, say in Russia. Jeff is effusive about the Indian development centre: "The Indian R&D centre has taken on significant projects like some of the key parts of the SolidWorks Professional product. We will rely on this centre as a valuable part of our overall R&D operations."


 How does SolidWorks look at cloud computing, the seemingly overarching technology that everybody is talking about. "Let me tell you that cloud is an option, not a replacement for traditional desktop applications. With that said, we do see cloud computing offering productivity advantages to many 3D designers like: the ability to benefit from integrated collaboration and data management tools without a major upfront investment or internal IT support; the ability to run complex calculations parallelly to design processes," says Jeff. He feels that cloud computing allows smaller companies to take advantage of some of the technologies and features that larger companies have had access to for years — in effect, it levels the playing field for greater innovation.









AT THE ground zero of realpolitik, the small tricks of spin doctors crumble before the big, smart moves of real leaders. No wonder the Narendra Modi camp's image-building gimmick at Patna has reduced the BJP to a spinning-top on Nitish Kumar's fingertip. The Modi self-goal proved more humiliating for the BJP than Lukas Podolski's squandering a penalty kick for Germany. Not only did Nitish show the BJP its place, he even demanded the party acknowledge — no matter how discreetly or informally — that its 'Hindutva hriday samrat' is a rogue element in alliance politics.

 A wounded BJP initially vowed to take on Nitish and pulled out its party deputy CM from the Viswas yatra only to crawl back a few days later when Nitish stood unapologetic and the JD(U) asserted that Nitish alone will choose the campaigners for the alliance. So, for all the BJP's posturing of not agreeing to quarantine Modi, we will soon see whether the Gujarat chief minister will dare to cross the Nitish rekhaagain.

   Besides the Nitish power-play, the Patna bout exposed Modi exactly where his imagemakers were trying to camouflage him by packaging him as a development messiah. With his one-upmanship with his own party colleagues and allies, Modi packaged, sealed and delivered himself as what his critics always said he is: a Parivar hero unpresentable in alliance politics outside his state. Nitish's stamp on this fact also means a big blow on Modi's projection as the BJP's next prime ministerial nominee when the saffron race for party leadership in 2014 is wide open.


If this is what Modi has managed for himself after all those PR projects like Gujarat gauravand the cut-and-paste transformation of a UP Muslim girl as a prosperous Gujarati Muslim face, it is quite a feat.
So, what can the BJP leadership do now? It can, as it initially said, confront Nitish and say it will swim, float and even drown with Modi for the sake of swabhiman. It will be a tough call for a BJP ravaged by two general election routs and acute in-house troubles and increasing loss of allies, to initiate the divorce process with its most credible ally at a time when the party needs partners and electoral victories quite badly. Imagine a party that, in desperation, readmits packages like Jaswant & Jinnah and Uma & tantrums while rejecting Nitish and his utility!


The fact that the same Nitish, who remained in the Vajpayee cabinet when even as Gujarat burnt and still fought three more elections with the BJP, has now chosen to play the bully highlights his reading is that BJP is now shorn of its muscles, if not utility. After all, Nitish has been craftily grooming a personal constituency through his 'pasmanda (backward) Muslim', 'Mahadalit' and 'tenancy' planks, designed to downsize both the BJP's and Lalu's influence. Without Nitish, the BJP only has a Modi-plank to ride Bihar's choppy waters. But by going ahead without a Modiled BJP, Nitish can still play around with new options both in Patna and Delhi.
   BJP hawks may be still raring to break off with Nitish to fight for 'Hindutva pride' under Modi's command. That, of course, can electrify the Parivar's core-constituency, not its core concerns in Patliputra or national priorities even with Modi's event-managers setting the atmospherics at his rallies. So, in a Modi-inspired break with JD(U) — the ally that enabled (during its Samata days) the BJP to expand its reach beyond the core company of Shiv Sena and Akali Dal — the saffron party risks reverting to its days of splendid isolation.
   The realistic lot within the BJP leadership knows too well that at the height of the party's popularity (182 Lok Sabha seats) it was the projection of the liberal Vajpayee and his skills in rallying around 20-odd allies that helped the party rule India. So, when the BJP is facing serious electoral meltdown, political/ organisational dullness and a first-rate leadership crisis, what the party needs badly is to reinvent the kind of leadership and synergy that attracts allies and non-core voters, not a blind date with Moditvathat repulses even old allies. Can a party that had to shun its core agenda to remain in coalition mode hoist a mascot which is a coalition hazard?
   In fact, the BJP has already experienced in the 2009 hustings, which was the party's first national outing without Vajpayee, the limits of its Parivar heroes in reaching out to the non-core populace. The BJP's 2009 poll projection of L K Advani, the original Parivar hardliner, as the prime ministerial candidate and Modi, the Hindutva darling, as the star campaigner not only came a cropper, but the party also ended up losing Navin Patnaik in Orissa and failed to win back old allies like Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu.
   So on the Patna crossroads where theatrics has met realpolitik, the BJP leadership has to, beyond sound-bytes, take a dispassionate view on whether to stick with the political limits of Narendra Modi and damage the party's larger stakes. It can be a choice between realistically staying on in the coalition stream or embarking on a noisy gaurav yatra to a 'Modi-fied isolation'. Indeed, this is the BJP's 'Modi moment'.


The Narendra Modi self-goal proved more humiliating for BJP than Podolski's squandering a penalty kick for Germany

Nitish's stamp on Modi's unpresentability means a big blow against Modi's projection as the BJP's next PM nominee

Can the BJP that had to shun its core agenda to remain in coalition mode put up a mascot who is a coalition hazard?










EVEN many earnest seekers of worthwhile living find that they are often baulked in their progress. Try as they might, they become stuck to an agonising world of pretence, absurdities and mediocrity, having to cohabit, interact and pull on with attendant shallow relationships and absurdities. They know that they are trapped in this 'dead' world, feeling also inexplicable obstacles overcome them, which prevent their natural and cherished world from being born to reality — a world peopled by those persons, ideas and deeds, which alone would serve to fulfil.


 Four lines from Matthew Arnold's

Grande Chartreuse

picture vividly this predicament. These lines are: Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/ The other powerless to be born,/ With nowhere yet to rest my head,/ Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
   Indeed, in his frustration, the confused seeker often also has to give in and compromise, as if, pretending to enjoy persons and things in his enforced decadent world, pulling on 'somehow'. Like the proverbial sour grapes, he may find reasons to even ridicule what he would bring himself to believe is an impractical and imaginary world. But then, deep within, he would know only too well that he is deceiving himself by creating alibis for his inability and that the imagined 'impractical' world is the one which he actually had worshipped all along!
   True inner convictions would thus not allow him to rest contended, ever. In spite of readiness to embrace that ordinary or rat race living, enforced by limitations within and without, there would, thus, continue to burn that fire within, fanned by continual upsurges of delight in the sublime.

   In fine, many a seeking soul is thus rendered unable to reconcile to that world, which figuratively is 'dead' and also is simultaneously rendered helpless to attain that life, longed for and cherished always — that effective life, which practical observation and also history, would remind, can actually be lived out in actual practice. Frustrated, thus, this seeking, though shackled soul, constantly unhappy, thinking of what "might have been", has to necessarily wander, "between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born".
   Comprehension of this concept to apply it to oneself, is, indeed, the first step to empower one's true and natural world to be born to real and eternal life!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



India's executive has moved with speed to create the Pakistan season. But it is far from evident what the nuts and bolts are for the scaffolding of happy ties to be built. Within weeks of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, deciding — in spite of misgivings at home — to break the ice with the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, at Thimphu, the foreign secretary visited Islamabad last week, and the home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, seized the occasion of the Saarc interior ministers' conference in the Pakistan capital to hold a bilateral with his host country counterpart, Mr Rehman Malik, last Saturday. On July 15, the foreign ministers of the two countries are slated to meet in Islamabad. But do we know where we are headed?
The express purpose of last week's meetings in Islamabad was to negate or narrow the "trust deficit", which the principals acknowledged exists between their countries. This year's first meeting between the foreign secretaries — held in New Delhi on February 26 after an uncomfortable hiatus — produced acerbic sound-bites because India demanded progress on punishing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, but the Indian Prime Minister did not allow the discouraging notes to come in the way of efforts to establish goodwill. The June 24 interaction — a necessary follow-up — has been officially described as a "good essay in mutual comprehension". Unless this leads to some give on Pakistan's part on the issue of dealing with the Mumbai attack masterminds in a manner that assuages public opinion in India, we may end up with a dialogue process that is adrift. Mr Chidambaram told reporters in Islamabad that his discussion with Mr Malik was positive, and forward movement in the Mumbai case was promised. He was not slow to point out, however, that outcomes will determine progress, not expression of intent. The foreign secretaries indicated that the two sides were likely to pay attention to the "doables" in the run-up to the meeting of their foreign ministers. This is cautious and timid and cannot conceivably be grounds for the resumption of the composite dialogue stalled after the Mumbai terror attacks by Pakistan nationals who are coddled by sections of the establishment. Seen from the Indian perspective, it is hard to point to a "doable" in the absence of visible action against the dangerous men behind the 26/11 assault. It has been a refrain in Pakistan that India should not focus on the brutality perpetrated on Mumbai by Pakistani civilian commandos, and address the whole range of issues that lie between the two countries. Mr Chidambaram answered this in Islamabad when he said that it wasn't "myopic" to pay attention to the 26/11 attacks as the episode had the effect of rupturing ties between the two countries.
Even when times are hard, it doesn't take much to change the atmospherics between India and Pakistan. This is a tribute to the intrinsic closeness that the peoples of the two countries share. Islamabad should learn to respect this. On the terrorism issue, if it is as solicitous of India as it is of China in addressing the latter's concern in respect of Xinjiang, there can be a world to win.






The United Progressive Alliance-2 government of Manmohan Singh-Pranab Mukherjee has introduced major reforms in economic policies in India, which may have a much more far-reaching impact on our economy than the 1991 economic reforms of Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh. The reforms introduced today are clearly with a social purpose. They will stimulate economic growth but at the same time try to look after the social development programmes which affect millions of the poor and underprivileged.

Until now, these policies were related to expenditures on employment guarantee, Bharat Nirman, food security, social security and pension schemes. But last week the finance ministry introduced a major change in our taxation system, which brings us back to the fundamental principles of reforms for economic growth reaching out to the common man. The latest example of that is the notification about exemption of savings-related instruments from direct taxes. They were introduced as part of setting up a new tax code for direct taxes. But the principles go far beyond procedural changes, raising questions about the basis of direct taxes, whether they should be income or expenditure and how the system is going to use increased saving through increased productive investment keeping up the rise in growth of income.

The Direct Tax Code proposes major tax incentives for savings, through exempt-exempt taxation (EET) method of taxation of saving where contribution towards certain amount of savings in instruments that can be invested in socially desirable projects as deductible from income. Then the accumulation of accretions to those sums remain exempt from any tax incidence so long as they remain invested. But all withdrawals from this fund at any time are subject to tax at the applicable marginal rate of tax, as such withdrawals are potential expenditures on consumption, i.e. non-saving or non-investments. Even these have been simplified now because of the transaction cost of relating expenditures to specific saving instruments. As long as they are maintained with permitted saving intermediates, such as provident fund, superannuation fund, life insurance and new pension system, the accretion to these deposits will remain untaxed till they accumulate in their accounts.

In short, practically all savings are now exempted from income tax, which would essentially be imposed on expenditure (i.e. income-saving) on consumption, but it does not have any effect on expenditure on investment. This is essentially reviving the old system of "expenditure tax" popularised by the famous Keynesian economist, Nicholas Kaldor, in the 1960s. The idea was that income earned by individuals should not be penalised by taxes, which should be directed towards expenditure in a progressive scale, so that those who spend more on consumption are primarily richer and therefore should be made to pay more than the poorer people to finance socially desirable investments.

When this expenditure tax scheme was introduced by Kaldor, it was regarded as a revolutionary change not only because it changed the notion of taxable income but also because it gave a direct push to non-consumption and productive investment, where these savings were to be deployed and provide stimulus to economic growth. The problem remained with treatment of these savings and the detailed procedures which were increasingly found to be intractable. It is for the same reason that Kaldor's proposal for India, made in 1956 with the active interest of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, could not go far. Successive budgets tried to introduce procedural changes trying to approximate savings to expenditure on productive investment. Most of these efforts proved to be impracticable.

But the principles of expenditure tax became a basic part of development literature. In the '50s and '60s that literature was concerned mostly with capital formation expanding more the productive potential of the economies through capital investment. Since economic policies could not be used to reduce overall demand, a policy to increase savings had to be complemented by policies to increase investment. Gradually, it became clear that such policies would have to be related to promoting public investment, which were treated as autonomous or mostly guided by principles of public goods or social infrastructure, the returns from which mostly remained unmarketable for private investors. If public investment is not expanded to overcome the shortfall of private investment, the total savings of the economy would be higher than the total expected investment. That would repress domestic demand and income.

I suspect that this particular feature of expenditure tax, which implicitly favoured programmes of public investments that was the cause of the neglect of Nicholas Kaldor's proposal in capitalists economies. Instead of making attempts to devise saving instruments which will directly expand the productive capacities or expenditure in socially desirable schemes that increase social incomes, the policymakers in the capitalist countries chose to stick to the incentives in the market system through expanding expenditure on consumer goods production, meeting the requirements of the private sector.

It does not mean, however, that any scheme to promote savings would have to be necessarily connected with increasing public investment. In a growing economy the requirements for financing private investment will continue to grow and increased supply of savings through market principles would still be an effective instrument to channel those savings to productive investment.

But the usefulness of expenditure tax or increased savings in a developing country like India goes far beyond any possible dichotomy between private and public investment. There is such a huge deficit in infrastructure investment, both physical and social, that it is hard to imagine that there would be an excess of saving over investment that will depress domestic demand. If private investment is not forthcoming, public investment should cover the gap with the help of increased revenue or accretion to specifically designed savings funds. This would be true even if the country is going through financial repression. It is always possible to design investment programmes which would be justified over their lifetime through increased social revenue, even if the private returns in the immediate future are not commensurate with social benefits.

All these, of course, raise fundamental questions about the purpose of economic growth or reforms and the design of public investment. The jury is still out on the merits and disadvantages of the different schemes of tax and expenditure reforms. The finance minister's latest proposal will reopen those discussions.

- Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi







Throughout most of their conflict, Arab and Israeli leaders have tended to oscillate between two, and only two, worldviews: I am weak; how can I compromise? I am strong; why should I compromise? Israel today is very much in the second mode.

For Israel, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Globally, the campaign to de-legitimise Israel has never been more virulent, while locally the beaches and restaurants of Tel Aviv have never been more crowded. — as suicide-bombing and rockets from Gaza and Lebanon seem like a distant memory.

In noting this contrast, Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, reported that the number of Israeli millionaires "soared by 43 per cent between 2008 and 2009, with 2,519 new ones joining the 5,900 we already had, for a total of 8,419 Israeli millionaires. ...Never has life been so good here for so wealthy an elite, as the country is poised at the brink of the abyss".

Israel's new-found sense of security, though, was bought at a very high price — and it is not a steady state.

Let me explain. The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarised in one sentence: "War, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout..." What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.

Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shia towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.

What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call "Hama Rules" — which are no rules at all. "Hama Rules" are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighbourhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people. In Israel's case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.

The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a UN investigation into alleged war crimes.

This is important: For its first 30 years — from 1948 to 1956, from 1956 to 1967 and from 1967 to 1973 — Israel bought its timeouts with conventional wars against conventional armies of nation states. But now that Israel's primary foes are non-state actors who deploy rockets nested among homes and schools, the cost of buying its timeouts has gone up dramatically.

That is why it is vital that Israel use this moment of strength, this timeout, to do precisely what defence minister Ehud Barak suggested to the Cabinet the other day — offer a "daring and assertive political initiative" to advance the peace process with the Palestinian authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

If only. ...Bibi Netanyahu has been Israel's Prime Minister now for 15 months. If he retired tomorrow, this term in office, like his first, would not merit a footnote to a footnote in Israel's history. Yes, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he grudgingly accepted the idea of a two-state solution, but it was a speech addressed to US President Barack Obama to get him off his back. It wasn't to the Palestinian people to get them on his side.

"Bibi thinks the negotiations are not about the future of Israel, but the future of US-Israel relations", Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University philosopher, told me when I visited Israel last week.

Which brings me to the surprise. Israeli defence officials were clear with me: The Palestinian security forces built by Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad in the West Bank are the real deal, and their effectiveness is a vital stabiliser of the current timeout.

But Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad will not be able to sustain this timeout if Netanyahu resumes settlement-building in September, when the partial freeze expires, and if Israel doesn't soon start gradually transferring control of major West Bank Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.

Bottomline: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel's legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.







The last time the BJP was in power in Rajasthan, its government officially promoted "religious tourism" by sanctioning funds for the development of pilgrim centres such as Pushkar.

But the party was more accomplished in conducting "political tourism" that involved herding MLAs to resorts in troubled times. It offered royal hospitality to Jharkhand's 41 NDA MLAs when the tribal state was in political turmoil. The MLAs enjoyed the stay at the heavily guarded resort.

In similar fashion, Goa MLAs were also taken to Jaipur and kept in good spirits. Recently, the BJP leaders locked up all its MLAs at a five-star hotel during the Rajya Sabha polls in the state. The drama ended only on June 17 when the polling ended.

After the successful venture, a senior BJP leader said, "Next time we come to power we should officially promote this kind of tourism for all states that face political instability."

Arjun in 'Raavan' posters

Indore residents faced confusion of epic proportions last week when they saw new "Raavan" posters on the streets. No, these did not have a snarling Abhishek Bachchan on them but the senior Congress leader, Mr Arjun Singh.

The posters, which termed him the saviour of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson, were found at half a dozen prominent places.

One of these posters was also put up near the booking counter of a cinema hall where Raavan was running to a packed house. Film lovers were puzzled as to who was the real hero (villain) of the new Mani Ratnam movie.

When word spread, the police swung into action and removed them. But the message had reached the public before that.

Rahul, tie the knot

The new slogan doing the rounds in Mahila Congress circles in Uttar Pradesh is "Rahul, tie the knot". It was on the occasion of Mr Rahul Gandhi's birthday that the women leaders came up with the new slogan.

This was an attempt to upstage those Congress leaders who celebrated his birthday by cutting cakes of various shapes, ranging from cute teddy bears to the tricolour. Depending on the calibre of the leader, the weight of the cakes ranged from 40 kilos to 40 pounds.

But it was the Mahila Congress that took the cake by demanding that Mr Rahul Gandhi marry at the earliest. The entire women's wing of the Congress would hold grand gala celebrations to mark the event, they promised. The customary sangeet, the leaders insist, should happen in Lucknow.

Another group of Mahila Congress leaders are preparing to meet the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, to request her to persuade her son to tie the knot at the earliest.

"Now that Mr Varun Gandhi is getting married, Rahul should beat him to it because he is the eldest in the family", one Mahila Congress leader quipped. Wonder what Mrs Gandhi would make of the demand.

An intellectual dilemma

A delegation of Assam intellectuals who went to New Delhi to lobby for the release of jailed Ulfa leaders were in a tight spot after an "encounter" with the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram.

The home minister asked them if they could put it in writing that the jailed Ulfa leaders would not escape into the jungles once released. "Will you take up the responsibility if they do so?" he asked. This put them in a great intellectual dilemma.

In fact, Mr Chidambaram was very positive and sympathetic to the delegation headed by Dr Hiren Gohain when they argued for peace talks with the rebels, but as soon as the issue of releasing the Ulfa leaders came up, he got angry.The home minister also asked the delegation if they knew the amount of pressure his ministry had to exert on Dhaka to secure the eviction of Ulfa leaders from Bangladesh. The delegation had no choice but to quickly return to the subject of peace talks to restore peace.

Lalu's love for cows

Besides his almost jingoistic defence of secularism and inimitable rustic humour, the RJD chief, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav is best known in Bihar for his love for cows and his taste for cow milk. When the US consul-general, Ms Beth A. Payne, recently paid him a visit at his Patna home, it was another opportunity for the former Bihar strongman to show off his fine collection of cows. With Bihar's Yadavs, the traditionally milkman community and supposed supporters of the RJD, losing faith both in the party and its leadership, photographs of Mr Lalu with the American lady and his cows published in some newspapers caused quite a sense of nostalgia within the community. However, whether the RJD gets the Yadav community's votes in the upcoming Assembly polls remains to be seen.

Nanda a happy man

The Nationalist Congress Party's Orissa president, Mr Prashant Nanda is more than just happy. Earlier the chief minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik had shunted him out of his ministry on corruption charges but now treats him on equal footing.

Mr Naveen now calls him: "Leader of our valued partner".

Mr Nanda, a popular film personality of yesteryears, was all smiles when on the eve of the recently held Rajya Sabha elections the chief minister posed with him for photographs before the media and showered praise on him.Knowing fully well that the CM was concerned more with his party's three votes as the BJD was one short of the required number to get its third candidate elected than cultivating a true relationship, the master actor-turned politician utilised the opportunity to play a few expressions on his face to indicate to mediapersons the extent to which the "clean" and "transparent" Mr Patnaik can compromise .

Bright ideas for Brand Mamata squelched

Many firms in Kolkata had bright ideas in the wake of the publication of an advertisement of a popular brand of slippers with the railway minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee as its brand ambassador.

A leading manufacturer of cotton saris now wants Ms Mamata to be its brand ambassador too. "The sale of our saris would double if she is seen as wearing them", said a representative of the firm.

Not to be left behind, a small time trader felt he could make a fortune by marketing his cotton bags as Didi's prothom pacchando (first choice).

The ordinary cotton sari, a pair of cheap Hawaii chappals and a cotton jhola slung over her shoulder had helped Ms Banerjee cultivate her image as the common people's leader. She never imagined that her style would be used by businesses to promote their products.

However, with a furious Ms Banerjee slapping a police case against the shoe company that used her photo, all the bright ideas have been squelched.







The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.

Just as parents now tell their kids that, believe it or not, there was a time when nobody knew that cigarettes and tanning were bad for you, those kids may grow up to tell their kids that, believe it or not, there was a time when nobody knew how dangerous it was to hold your phone right next to your head and chat away for hours.

We don't yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We're living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we'd probably keep typing.

San Francisco just became the first city in the country to pass legislation making cellphone retailers display radiation levels. The city's Board of Supervisors voted 10 to one in favour. The one against, the Democrat, Mr Sean Elsbernd, said afterward: "It's a slippery slope. I can go on Google right now and find you a study that says there's a problem with the Starbucks you're drinking."

Different phone models emit anywhere from 0.2 watts per kilogram of body tissue to 1.6 watts, the legal limit. The amount of radio frequency energy seeping into the body and brain is measured by a unit called the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).

"You see all these kids literally glued to their phones", Mr Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, told me. "And candidly, my wife was pregnant and on her cellphone nonstop. So I dusted off some studies and started doing research.

"That's when I discovered that companies who make cellphones are already required to disclose that information to the federal government, and that it exists but somewhere on someone's Web page on the 88th page." Why not underscore it, he thought, by alerting consumers at the store, putting the SAR level in the same font as the phone price?

His alarmed advisers, accustomed to seeing the sleek Mr Newsom diving into bold stands without calculating the potential blowback — as with gay marriage — told him to focus on jobs and the economy.

"They said: There you go again. They're going to mock you. It's going to be another sideshow", he recalled. But stroking his baby daughter's soft head and reading new studies on the vulnerability of children's thinner skulls to radiation, he persevered.

One Swedish study that followed young people who began using cells as teenagers for 10 years calculated a 400 per cent increase in brain tumours. But as Mr Nathaniel Rich recently pointed out in Harper's, studies about cellphones' carcinogenic potential all contradict one another, including those involving children.

When Mr Newsom proposed the bill, telecommunications lobbyists went to the mattresses, as did hoteliers, who feared losing convention business.

He said that lobbyists from Washington made it clear that they would invoke "the nuclear option" and come down "like a ton of bricks".

"This is tobacco money, oil money", he said. "But these guys from D.C. do not know me because that has exactly the opposite effect. Shame on them, to threaten the city. It's about as shortsighted as one could get in terms of a brand."

Months before the bill passed, he read me a letter that Marriott sent him: "CTIA — The Wireless Association, which is scheduled to hold a major convention here in October 2010, has already contacted us about cancelling their event if the legislation moves forward. They also have told us that they are in contact with Apple, Cisco, Oracle and others in the industry, as you know, about not holding future events in your city for the same reason".

Sure enough, when the bill passed Tuesday, CTIA issued a petulant statement that after 2010, it would relocate its annual three-day fall exhibition, with 68,000 exhibitors and attendees and "$80 million" in business, away from San Francisco.

"Since our bill is relatively benign", Newsom said, "it begs the question, why did they work so hard and spend so much money to kill it? I've become more fearful, not less, because of their reaction. It's like BP. Shouldn't they be doing whatever it takes to protect their global shareholders?"

So now we have Exhibit No. 1,085 illustrating the brazenness of Big Business.

They should be sending Mayor Newsom a bottle of good California wine for caring about whether kids' brains get fried, not leaving him worried about whether they'll avenge themselves in his campaign for lieutenant governor.

He's resigned to that possibility, just as he is to his own addiction. "I love my iPhone", he said cheerfully.






It is a practice of devotees to give various offerings to God in return for favours received or to get what they have prayed for.

Most devotees consider this a "favour" to God. But this approach is quite wrong. This is in fact against the very concept of offering as defined in Indian philosophy.

Devotees should remember that God is the Almighty and he doesn't need anything from anyone.

Look at these definitions of God. "Eeswara: Eeesana Aethani Eesathe" (He who rules is God. He rules all these), "Aiswarya daanat Eeswara" (He is God because he spares grace) and "Vasitwad Api Avasyatwad Eeswara (He is God because he holds everything, But he can never be held by anything).

These interpretations of God given in Brahma Vaivarta Ka Puranam make it clear that it is for the sake of the devotee that God accepts an offer and not for his own sake.

Therefore, the devotee can offer the deity sweet broth, garlands, lamps or anything auspicious in the right spirit. After making an offering, the devotee should submit himself to the deity and offer continuous prayer.

In fact, every offering is a symbol of self submission. Offering is not bribing God. Instead, it is sacrificing part of one's possession to the Almighty. It gives the devotee a psychological feeling that his prayers will be heard.

It is also a living truth that prayer made in the proper way, fetches results. If it is accompanied by an offering, it becomes all the more powerful and evokes God's grace.

Prayer emerging from the heart and sincere offerings that imply a true sense of sacrifice will get response. In that sense, making an offering is advantageous to the devotee.

Offerings have not only a psychological value, but practical and spiritual value also.

Let us take the example of fireworks as offering to deity. It is neither to deafen the ears of the devotees nor to rouse the deity who "remains asleep" within the sanctum sanctorium.

On the contrary, it is meant to kill the harmful germs in the ambience of the temple. It also represents the primal explosion or Big Bang from which the universe was born. The simple form of the sound of the explosion "phat" is used as a mantra in the puja as well.

The fireworks are a reminder of the eternal power of God whom we please with prayers and offerings.

It is still considered a taboo to touch the priests in India. It may appear to some that this is a remnant of the evil practice of untouchability. But the fact is different. A priest is a person practicing austerities and chanting hymns most of the time. His body is virtually a storehouse of spiritual energy. If someone touches him, he will lose that energy. Everyone has an aura around his body. When we touch the body of a person, this aura is believed to be affected. This is the secret behind the much misunderstood practice.

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at [1]







THE Bharatiya Janata Party hasn't changed its perception of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Nor for that matter have LK Advani and Jaswant Singh.  But there was distinctly an element of a comedown by the party in last Thursday's political grandstanding that marked Mr Singh's return to the fold after close to a year. In his reckoning, he had been transformed from the BJP's Hanuman to its Ravan with the expulsion order issued at the chintan baithak in August 2009. That analogy has now been reversed though it might be embarrassing for the party to make a formal admission. The MP from Darjeeling stands by the views expressed in his book, Jinnah ~ India, Partition, Independence. Specifically, his perception that Nehru and Sardar Patel were more responsible for  Partition than Jinnah.  That forceful reaffirmation of the freedom of expression ~ whether in Jinnah's Karachi mausoleum or in a book ~ has placed the BJP on the backfoot. In the fitness of things, Mr Narendra Modi ought now to lift the ban on the book in Gujarat.  It was fairly  apparent at the re-induction ceremony that as a party in the rough, the BJP is now in desperate need of Mr Singh's experience and sagacity. Notably in such spheres as foreign affairs, defence and finance. As much was clear from Nitin Gadkari's address. The BJP must realise that Jinnah's role is history, a discipline that is open to subjective reflection of both the Right and the Left. The CPI-M has altered its perception of Netaji, the Quit India movement and Independence from the ye azadi jhooti hai construct. So too can the BJP initiate an essay towards the re-evaluation of the historical process leading up to 1947.

The BJP's treatment of Jaswant Singh throws up the larger issue of expulsion of veterans on grounds of dissension. And it would do the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ~ also in the rough ~ no harm at all if Mr Somnath Chatterjee is re-admitted. The West Bengal Assembly Speaker has complimented Mr Chatterjee as "the best person" to deliver the Jyoti Basu memorial lecture on 8 July. A message there for a section of the Politburo. The present leadership has done more harm to the party than the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha.







IT may be early days to gauge the intensity of the jolt, but it is a jolt nevertheless. The "emergency budget" of George Osborne, Britain's youngest Chancellor of the Exchequer in 100 years, has caused a flutter and this isn't confined to the social groups. Last Thursday's warning by Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, that he will rewrite parts of the budget has doubtless ruffled what did appear to be an unlikely coalition with the Conservatives. The immediate disquiet at the LibDem level could serve as a caveat to the coalition over its treatment of the less privileged. The junior partner has made no secret of its reservations over Mr Osborne's presentation, and it is fairly obvious that the unity of the arrangement ~ forged last month to keep Labour at a distance ~ is under strain. In an exercise purportedly aimed at austerity, Mr Osborne has tried to balance increased taxes with reduced spending. And it is precisely the targeting of welfare benefits that has raised the hackles of the LibDems. The poor and that segment which depends largely on State support will have to bear the brunt of dramatic cuts in spending and entitlements. The LibDem members of the coalition are particularly concerned over the plan to cut the winter fuel allowance to pensioners and increase VAT to 20 per cent. The Chancellor sounded forthright in his statement, "I will not hide hard choices from the British people." But his tough economic medicine at the threshold of the new dispensation has left economists wondering whether it will actually help growth. Mr Osborne is known not to believe in fiscal stimuli. At the height of the recession in 2008, he had compared stimulus to "a cruise missile aimed at the heart of the economy".  

In Britain's salubrious summer, there are clear indications that the political weather may get stormy in the weeks ahead. If Mr Hughes's statement to the House of Commons is any indication, the LibDems are ruffled over the Conservative backtracking on commitments, chiefly, the plan to overhaul the pension scheme which the government considers to be "outdated and inadequate". In a sense, the "emergency budget" has exposed the inherent fragility of the coalition. Mr Hughes has hinted at "trouble" not least because "the coalition deal is a deal and what has been agreed must stand". The centre must if the Con-Lib coalition is to survive.








UNLIKE most politicians Sheila Dikshit does not feel shy to speak the unflattering truth, occasionally. Hence even as she suggested that the Capital would be well-suited to host an Olympiad there was more significance to her observation that she still felt "nervous" about the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, and appealed for public support to make a success of the nation's most ambitious sporting venture. Candid, if not confessional, was the comment that: "The conceptualisation began six to seven years ago. However, as is the nature of Indians we left everything towards the end". There would be thousands in the city who would share the chief minister's nervousness: maybe the competition venues will be "readied" for the events (that is not the same as being completed on schedule) but it is so evident that a number of other infrastructure projects will miss the deadline. Already revised schedules have been announced for a few. Alas, Mrs Dikshit's comment about it being the "nature of Indians" to leave everything to the end is no valid explanation or excuse. Recall the Commonwealth Games Federation having to raise a stink, an authentic expression of its satisfaction is still awaited. If concerns over physical projects for the competitions are winding down, "management" issues still persist. Not the least of them pertain to satisfactory spectator-control: the police's highhanded approach to "security" has been slammed by all those who attended preparatory events. There are also grave apprehensions over traffic conditions, for the Games cannot bring normal life to a standstill ~ the moves to enforce closure of schools, courts, local government offices and markets on specific days is a reflection of an administration as "nervous" as the chief minister: a damning admission of its incompetence.

 Mrs Dikshit's plea for public cooperation is also telling, for as yet there are few signs of mass interest (ticket sales are not the sole indicator) in Delhi putting on a "great show", the Capital is too "official" to inspire that. Maybe in the less-than-hundred days ahead some window-dressing will prove effective and once the torch is lit a certain warmth will prevail. But who can deny that Delhi had been more enthusiastic in the run-up to the Asian Games 28 years ago? And whatever little is contrived will dissipate when the cloak of secrecy is ripped away and an accurate figure is presented on what has been spent on a fortnight of faked fantasy.









A LONG time ago I visited Beirut through the courtesy of Inamullah Khan, secretary- general of the World Muslim Congress.  I also became a fortunate guest of Haji Amin Alhusaini who was the mufti of Jerusalem. He was a rich Palestinian living in exile in Lebanon. We talked at length about the injustices inflicted on Palestinians first by the British and later by Israel, a neo-colonial state created by an act of the United Nations backed by the United States. The mufti had a distinguished history as a fierce proponent of the independence of Palestine and for the rights of Arabs residing there. During our discussions he said that the Jews he met often posed a tart question ~ why he supported one religious state, Pakistan, while rejecting the other one, Israel. They expected him to be unable to answer.

Israel was created as a state for the Jews of Europe who survived the Nazi mass killings. After the war no one in the Western countries wanted to keep them. Since the late 19th century, the Zionists wanted to occupy Palestine. The interests of both parties coincided, so Europe and America succeeded in creating an extension of their own civilization in an alien land.  

Pakistan, on the other hand, came into existence through the choice of Muslims living in areas of India where they were in a majority and moreover, according to its founder Jinnah, as a secular state. Israel since its inception, despite a secular socialist fringe largely isolated in kibbutzes, was fated by the very composition of its Zionist majority to become a racial and religious state. Yet there the dissimilarities begin to disappear. Pakistan now is fast becoming a fanatically sectarian state too.

Callous tendencies

IT is ironic that Pakistani society, and especially its urban elite, are behaving in the same way that Israel behaves when suppressing the demands of the Palestinians. Israel only manages to be more brutal because it is more powerful and the most powerful military state, the USA, backs it. We saw these same callous tendencies in Pakistan in 1971 when the eastern part of the country was invaded and lost. Not one country supported that intervention by the Pakistan army, which was not strong enough to fend off India when it moved in. Bhutto was the main political force behind the army action.

Bhutto of course railed against Bengal. After dismissing the elected Balochistan government he was responsible for army atrocities there as well. The repercussions of his actions continue and after 35 years Pakistan is now facing civil war in Balochistan. Bhutto also created a 'false' minority from amongst Muslims through an amendment in the Constitution. Zia-ul-Haq then worsened the miseries of the new minority of Ahmediyas. Through an Ordinance, Zia prohibited them from calling themselves Muslims and their place of prayers as mosques. He even forbade them  the use of symbols or religious words that mainstream Muslims use to address each other. Nawaz Sharif did not want to lag behind in stirring up sectarian prejudices so he changed the name of the place, which the Ahmadis built after migrating from India, from Rabwah to Chunab Nagar. The recent killings of about 90 Ahmadis while praying in their place of worship sent shockwaves throughout the world. But it was the logical conclusion of those cynical and bigoted laws concocted by Bhutto and Zia. Wild accusations that India's RAW is behind these atrocities do not absolve us Pakistanis of our own homegrown blame and responsibilities.

The Israelis are pleased to exploit this terrible event in order to deflect attention from their brutal action against the Gaza aid ships. Undeniably, sporadic outbursts of hatred and killing of Christians, Shias and other minorities have become a regular feature in Pakistan. This is one story the Israeli authorities aren't making up. The blasphemy law imposed by Zia is used shamelessly to persecute non-Muslims. It is used by fanatical or just cynical people who say they are real Muslims versus the minorities. They generally invoke the blasphemy law to assault their prey. An atmosphere of hatred is slowly growing in which no one sect of Islam seems able to accept the other as a fellow Muslim. Strangely enough, the Ahmadis contributed much towards making Islam a state religion and at the time of army actions against the Bengalis they were among the hawks. This is a fair warning that no one, no matter how religiously self-righteous, should imagine they are safe from suffering accusations. The State is not entitled to keep the unjust laws on its statue book and not look after everyone's lives and property.


About ten years ago I was asked to give three lectures at the University of Pavia in Italy on Indian independence. After one lecture a student asked a question, echoing the title of a Tariq Ali book, Can Pakistan Survive? I explained to him that the chances of survival depend entirely on its constituent units of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP to reach an agreement. If they fail there is a looming danger to its existence. Pakistan came into being as a result of vote by these constituent units. The student said that he was an Israeli and that he saw lot of similarities between the two countries and that he had no faith in the future of Israel. He knew more than an average student, being the son of a diplomat. He mentioned that the Rabbis are so rigid in Israel that they even do not allow a body to be buried if the deceased was not circumcised. They force circumcision on the dead before burying. What sort of secular democracy is that?


Romanticised creation

ISRAEL has wasted almost all its moral credibility which it managed to accrue at the time of its romanticized creation. Some intrepid Israeli historians are demolishing the Zionist myth of Palestine. In a formidable book, The Invention of the Jewish People, Shlomo Sand of Tel-Aviv University proves that the European Jews who migrated to Israel were not the expelled ones from the area of Palestine but the descendents of the converts from Khazars in the tenth century. In fact no major expulsion took place 2000 years ago. During the change of the regimes through history only the urban elite migrated while the rural Fellahin remained, and they are the real Palestinians. These Fellahin were Jews who became Christians during the Christian era. Later, when Islam dominated, most of them became Muslims but some also remained Christians. And there always was a small community of Jews whose numbers increased during Muslim rule.

As for Pakistan, the intensifying and needless ethnic divisiveness is eating into its soul. There is grinding poverty and inflation. The ruling class does not care who will move along with their movable assets to England or Canada. They already hold dual nationalities. The middle classes have their children either studying or working abroad. There seems to be no individual or any political party which has any goodwill left. One shudders to think what is in store for the country if this trend continues.








Orissa is an ancient seat of culture and The Telegraph is the newest chronicler and analyst of the state's many achievements and of the activities of its people. This contrast between the ancient and the latest should not, however, be pushed too far because Orissa is today a vibrant province and The Telegraph is wise beyond its years. The contrast carries within it the promise of a fruitful partnership. In the last decade or so, Orissa has rapidly transformed itself from a backward and poor state into one that is seen by most investors, domestic and foreign, as the preferred destination. The chief minister of the state, Naveen Patnaik, has claimed that Orissa has attracted investments of Rs 6 lakh crore. Given the fact that Orissa is rich in mineral resources, it is not surprising that mineral-based resources have attracted the bulk of the investments. But infrastructure, especially power, transport and communication, has also seen substantial inputs of capital and an impressive record of growth. All these suggest that Orissa is poised to be the pace setter of economic development in eastern India, if not in India. The Telegraph comes to Orissa with the eagerness to report and analyse the events of this phenomenal success as it unfolds day to day.


It would be simplistic to view the Orissa success story only through the prism of economic achievements. Education, the most important vehicle to make any growth sustainable, has also felt the winds of change. The fruits are most visible in the field of higher education with the establishment of an Indian Institute of Technology in Bhubaneswar and the National Institute of Science, Education and Research, and many other government and private institutes. With a thriving poverty alleviation programme — according to a World Bank study, Orissa has lifted nearly three million people out of the vicious circle of poverty and debt — it can be expected that primary education will also experience a spurt in growth. The people of Orissa and the political class that represents them are displaying the political will to free the state from the coils of past backwardness. This will is also manifest in the manner in which the people of Orissa attempt to refashion their own proud regional identity with a new and emerging presence in the national scene. This is one reason why Orissa is an exciting place. The Telegraph, by bringing that excitement to its readers, wants to be part of it.








History is not the sole judge of an action. For people of transient fortunes like the modern-day president of a nation, it is inadvisable to wait for its judgment. Barack Obama had an entire nation looking at him to know if he would excuse a general in command of one of the most serious wars the United States of America has ever fought for not having the common sense to know that a spit in the air usually hits one on the face. There cannot be any disagreement over the fact that General Stanley McChrystal, in charge of the US forces in Afghanistan, showed "poor judgment" in venting his spleen over the civilian command freely to the media. This automatically raised questions about his capabilities. But the other equally worrying question that the spontaneous flow of venom raised was of control. By pitting the image of the self-sacrificing, battle-hardened men in uniform against that of confused, self-seeking politicians, General McChrystal was quietly announcing the army's prerogative in the conduct of war. In itself, this is not unusual and armies the world over have pushed this claim. Unfortunately, in a democracy, this claim is unsustainable. The military, in all democracies worth their salt, has to be subservient to civilian control. With his nation watching, it is this fine balance that Mr Obama sought to restore with the sacking of General McChrystal. Very few commanders-in-chief would have stuck their necks out to state the obvious at a time when the nation was so critically dependent on the army for security, perhaps the least so in India, where showdowns with the military are conscientiously avoided, never mind its transgressions.


Given that General McChrystal's replacement has been so easily found in General David Petraeus, history may even be kind in its judgment of Mr Obama's action. General Petraeus is the father of the counter-insurgency operation that General McChrystal had been running in Afghanistan — which means that there will be no decisive break in battle policies. But the realities — a war room working at cross purposes, the confused loyalties of the Afghans, the irreconcilability of the Taliban and an unrealistic date of withdrawal — that surfaced in General McChrystal's killer interview will remain. General Petraeus's political savvy and connections in the Muslim world may help but not win Mr Obama his war.









The world economic recession of 2008 was triggered off by the greed of large financial firms, poor corporate governance in them, and the ineffectiveness of regulatory authorities who had not kept pace with changing markets. There were few self-imposed restraints. Public restraints were ineffective because of poor and biased enforcement. A current example is the massive ongoing oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil well. It seems to have been caused by cost-cutting while overriding well-established industry practices and public regulation biased in favour of the drilling oil companies. The Bhopal disaster of 25 years ago was also caused by poor oversight within Union Carbide, and failure of the Indian and Madhya Pradesh governments to ensure safe practices because of incompetence and perhaps corruption. The welfare of the people was neglected before the disaster and ignored afterwards.


I wonder whether Indian companies and Indian regulatory authorities have learnt from Bhopal. Are all of them prepared to handle disasters? Disasters can arise in many situations: for example, in industry, transport, mining, drilling and in sectors where poisonous or inflammable substances are handled, or when geological disturbances occur.


Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) was a diversified multinational company. Such multinational companies have good management structures and staffing in their many operations. Each product, function and region has parallel specialists at headquarters. Each HQ specialist is fully involved in the aspect he specializes in. Every activity and action thus has duplicate (and hence perhaps fail-safe supervision) — at local HQ and multinational HQ. In a production operation all decisions would be double-checked — for example, on the appointment of high level staff, technology, plant layout, production processes and systems, productivity, finances, operating costs, inventories, health, safety, internal audit and so on.


There is such continuous interaction between functional and product departments in each country, frequent mutual visits, conferences, as well as regular reports, which many times lead to instructions for action. The intent is to apply to each of its companies best practices from learnings everywhere. There is no doubt in my mind that many officials at Union Carbide headquarters (and in India) must have known and participated in decisions about the Bhopal plant. Indian investigating agencies obviously did not pursue them.


The Bhopal plant was one among Union Carbide's many other Indian operations and, as in any well-run company, must have had strong superintendence in India as well. A director must have made regular visits to the Bhopal plant. In most multinational companies, safety is on the agenda of the top management and the board. Production and storage of poisonous gases, their storage and handling and safety standards would have been approved by both Indian and overseas HQs, and periodically reviewed by the board.


If investigators had studied the Indian company records, reports, minutes of internal meetings, and correspondence with the American HQ, people could have been identified for responsibility and held accountable for the tragedy.


How responsible is a non-executive chairman (like the iconic Keshub Mahindra) for a disaster of this magnitude? Such positions carry no executive responsibility. Twenty-five years ago, corporate governance practices since laid down by the Securities and Exchange Board of India did not exist. The role of independent directors, even non-executive chairmen, was ill-defined and their time poorly remunerated. Even today, when these have changed, unless the operating management discloses the facts, independent directors and non-executive chairmen are unlikely to know the who, why and what of decisions regarding a matter like the storage and handling of poisonous gases. Satyam is a good example of the wilful non-disclosure of facts by the management. We cannot apply the standards of today to events of 25 years ago. Perhaps though, the non-executive chairman of Union Carbide could have publicly accepted company responsibility, pushed the operating management to clean the site and make it safe, as well as offered help to the victims.


Warren Anderson was in overall charge as the chief executive officer of the multinational company. He is ultimately responsible for the disaster and its aftermath and has to be accountable for it. Union Carbide (and its successor Dow Chemicals) have to take responsibility. Arresting Anderson and letting him go are not vital for the victims' welfare, compensation, treatment, and cleaning up of the site. Union Carbide has not acted responsibly and has avoided all these. Their managers in India and Union Carbide (now Dow) must be made to pay. Even by standards of 25 years ago there was a failure of corporate governance.


The American government is adopting double standards. Just as it has pushed ultimate responsibility on to BP

for the damage due to the oil-well explosion, the Indian government must fix responsibility on Union Carbide, its CEO and the concerned managers. Our political parties and electronic media are hysterical today about less vital matters, after not pursuing them for 25 years.


Instead of relying on the lethargic Indian judicial system, government and civil society organizations can still file class action suits in the United States of America against Union Carbide/Dow. The government could also have intervened in the subsequent sale of the Eveready battery division of Union Carbide to McNeil Magor and seized the amount paid. The government could have threatened to nationalize Union Carbide too.


India was not strong enough to do these things 25 years ago. We were not then the fifth largest economy with nuclear military capability, growing faster than any country except China. A new, young and inexperienced prime minister, succeeding an assassinated mother, in the middle of a hectic national election, had to recognize that India under licence-control-permit raj was vulnerable and could not challenge the wishes of the Reagan administration of the US, the only superpower left, to protect one of their top businessmen. No other prime minister or political party could have acted differently. They did not when they later exercised power.


India's antiquated laws are an embarrassment today. As we develop industrially, disasters in industries, oil and gas drilling and production, mining, and other accidents, are certain to occur. Our laws, enforcement, monitoring, penalties, disaster management systems, judicial processes for disasters, and so on, should be ready at all times. This has yet to happen, after 25 years. As the US Congress has told BP, "We need agreement that any exploring agency, nuclear plant operator, or anybody in a business that can cause major human or environmental damage to a country as in the Gulf, or to many countries, should follow safe practices laid down by a global group of experts." India has not even thought of this, let alone the procedures and institutions for the purpose. At least companies should do so.


Our regulatory agencies must enforce legislation and rules, and publish new and tougher ones, for manufacturing and storage of poisonous gases and other such matters. Galloping urbanization demands that strict laws and policing agencies are in place since slums come up quickly in close proximity to factories. Our laws and the judicial mechanism require change to quickly prosecute and penalize the guilty in industrial disasters.


Our governments, instead of passing on blame or being defensive, must put a remedial framework in place. The nuclear liability bill is the first opportunity for comprehensive legislation and implementation mechanisms that will prevent another Bhopal and its subsequent careless handling. It must be suitably extended to other industries.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








General Stanley McChrystal deserved to be fired as the US commander in Afghanistan because he and his staff were openly contemptuous of their civilian superiors. It's a popular attitude among the dimmer sort of military officers, but for a theatre commander to tolerate and even encourage it among his own senior officers and advisers is reckless and stupid. Such a man is not fit for command.


But why was McChrystal in a state of perpetual rage against President Obama, Vice-President Biden, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, and practically every other civilian authority he had contact with? Could it be because they don't really believe that the United States of America can win a decisive military victory in Afghanistan?


Eikenberry almost certainly doesn't. Late last year, when McChrystal was pressing for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the ambassador wrote to the White House (in a cable later leaked to The New York Times) saying that, "Sending additional forces will... make it difficult ... to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable."


McChrystal's "proposed counterinsurgency strategy assumes an Afghan political leadership that is both able to take responsibility and to exert sovereignty in the furtherance of our goal," Eikenberry wrote. "[Afghan president Hamid Karzai] and much of his circle do not want the US to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending 'war on terror' and for military bases to use against surrounding powers." So don't send any more US troops, he concluded.


Biden has also publicly supported Obama's target of beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. McChrystal, like any general who believes his task is to win the war, saw that deadline as a terrible mistake.


In good time


Senator John McCain, still the senior statesman in the grown-up wing of the Republican Party, shares McChrystal's view on this. "We can't tell the enemy when we're leaving," said McCain — "because if they know when we're leaving, they'll just wait for us to go." No doubt General David Petraeus, who has been pulled out of his (more senior) job to replace McChrystal, thinks the same.


But what if Obama, Biden and Eikenberry really think that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and that it isn't important for the US to win it anyway? What if they privately hope that the July 2011 date for the start of the withdrawal will persuade the Taliban to hold back for the next year, which would make it look like the US was winning the war? No matter who is running Afghanistan two or three years later — and it wouldn't necessarily be the Taliban — it's highly unlikely that hordes of Afghans would "follow the Americans home" and blow them up.


If Obama and his friends understand this, then they will have realized that the best way to end the Afghan war is simply (as they used to say about Vietnam) to "declare a victory and leave." But they cannot say this out loud in the US where most believe that the "war on terror" must be won in the hills of Afghanistan.


It would take more time and political capital than Obama has to persuade the US public that this is arrant nonsense (though it is). So if he wants to extract American troops from an unwinnable and unnecessary war, then he is condemned to do so by subterfuge. He must engineer an apparent but temporary military success in Afghanistan, do a quick hand-over to Karzai and Co. and get out while the going's good. But if that's what Obama's up to, then it's understandable that McChrystal was deeply frustrated (though that doesn't excuse his behaviour). Petraeus will be equally frustrated.



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





The government decision for partial deregulation of petroleum prices will deal a heavy blow to the people who are reeling under the impact of double-digit inflation. Oil products are part of the common man's requirements and any hike in their prices is sure to affect his life. The UPA government has chosen a politically risk-free time, when there are no major elections on the horizon, and an economically opportune moment when international crude price is moderate at $70 a barrel, for the across-the-board price hikes. But the decision is inopportune in an environment of all-round price rises, which the government has not been able to control for months. The finance  ministry has admitted that there would be an immediate increase of 0.9 percentage points in the wholesale price index as a result of the oil price hike. Retail prices might rise more.

In the future the price of petrol will be linked to international prices. At present, it will be increased by Rs 3.50 per litre (In Bangalore it will be above Rs 58). It was to protect domestic consumers from the vagaries of the international market that the system of price controls was adopted. But they will now be exposed to the play of market forces. Though the government has said it will intervene if the prices went up too high, it has not clearly said at what point it would do that. Diesel prices, which have a greater bearing on inflation, have not been fully deregulated but the process has been set in motion. Kerosene and LPG prices have also gone up. The whole exercise is in accordance with the recommendations of the Kirit  Parikh committee and earlier committees which wanted the subsidy system to be scrapped altogether. A major part of the prices of petroleum products is made up taxes. The people can be spared the burden if these taxes are reduced.


The most important arguments for deregulation is that it will reduce the under-recoveries of oil marketing companies, help the government to reduce fiscal deficit, encourage economy in the use of petroleum products and promote exploration of alternative and renewable sources of energy. Many of these aims can be achieved without increasing oil prices and burdening the people if there is a genuine commitment to achieve them. And there is no assurance that the professed macro-economic rationale will be proved correct with the decontrol of prices.







An unprecedented third major crown in as many weeks is a testament to the giant strides Saina Nehwal has taken in recent times. The most glittering jewel in India's badminton crown has graduated from being very good to a potential great. Still only 20, the Hisar-born shuttler with wrists, as well as nerves, of steel has the world at her feet. The points gained from her latest triumph, in the Indonesia Super Series on Sunday, are almost certain to propel her to second in world rankings, already an exceptional accomplishment given the iron hand with which the Chinese women have dominated the sport for over two decades. For nearly a year now, Saina has repeatedly stated her desire and determination to scale the summit and occupy the number one position. With her on-court heroics, she has made it clear that that is no empty boast.

The Hyderabad-based Saina has had to perform in the giant shadow of her city-mate whose first name too has the same letters. Sania Mirza has been in the news for a long time now for all kinds of reasons, though gradually, it is becoming increasingly obvious that she will never touch the peaks Saina has in her chosen sport. While Sania has basked in the attention, Saina has gone about her business without fuss, putting in the hard yards and careful not to rest on her laurels. She typifies the new-age Indian who doesn't settle for second-best, though she has also imbibed qualities from the old-age Indian that include not cutting corners and playing the game in its true spirit.

Indian badminton is replete with examples of champions who have debunked the myth that nice guys finish last. First, Prakash Padukone, then Pullela Gopichand both showed that one doesn't need to be brash and arrogant to embrace success. The two All-England champions have set an example well worth emulating, and Saina is merely carrying forward that tradition. While it's inevitable that the nation will bask in glory and feel justifiably proud of the youngster's stirring deeds, it is well worth recognising the fact that success hasn't come her way by chance. Saina is what she is today because she works exceptionally hard, because she is supremely skillful, because she has the temperament, and because she has excellent training facilities and coaching inputs. But most of all, because she has the heart, and the ambition.







The pessimistic definition of India-Pakistan relations is succinct. The two nations are walking on different pavements on either side of a street that has caved in and become an abyss.



The two are always in each other's sights, but there is no meeting point; neither has the psychological or emotional resources to mark out a zebra crossing since the traffic lights cannot be trusted. Nor does the distant horizon bend towards a common focal point. Over the last six decades, a narrow dividing pathway has become an eight-lane highway. The best you can do now, if you are bursting with the spirit of peace, is exchange pleasantries through officials; the worst is apparent in terrorist violence.

Manmohan Singh is attempting something audacious in an attempt to sweeten an arsenic-laced history. Aware of such lethal road rage, he is, inch by imperceptible inch, trying to build a bridge above the traffic. It is one of those Japanese projects, in which a skyscraper hotel is built behind the walls of secure and hidden space, and then, when the moment is right, airlifted and planted from above on a clearing, an empty space that has served so far as a symbol of hope. The people are permitted some vague knowledge about the grime and sweat that is going on behind the scenes, but the effort will mean something only if and when the finished product is visible.

A bridge, however commendable, must be more than it seems to be. It may float through the air, but it must be anchored in rock. The question is as old as 1947: how firm is the ground beneath your feet? Can it deal with sappers and saboteurs nursed by differing ideals of nationalism? A sense of injustice and denial is so deeply embedded in the consciousness of Pakistani nationalism — after all, the 'K' in the acronym stands for Kashmir — that it is difficult to see how Islamabad can reach a final settlement without taking that which Delhi cannot give, some part of the Muslim-majority valley. This is a classic impasse between an irresistible object and immovable force.

Since there are, wisely, no secrets anymore, India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has publicly outlined the contours of an interim arrangement, a crucial part of a longer process, around the Singh-Musharraf formula of soft borders, trade and travel. Two questions arise. Is an interim agreement better than no agreement? Will it be a stage en route to a common destination, or will the two nations remain on separate pavements until either the immovable shifts in Delhi or resistance collapses in Islamabad? The soft border options were, after all, in place when Mumbai was attacked; and organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba continue to receive patronage and encouragement from wide swathes of the Pak establishment.

During her visit to Islamabad, Nirupama Rao was far more considerate to her hosts than her counterpart was when he came to Delhi. She called terrorism unacceptable, but expanded it to a general principle, rather than specifically demanding that Pakistan do something about those who use the Kashmir dispute as an excuse for surrogate war. Nor did she compare the manner in which Pakistan sentences terrorists accused of war against the United States within six months, with those facing far more serious charges vis-à-vis India. On the day of Home Minister P Chidambaram's visit to Islamabad for a SAARC meeting, IB intercepts picked up conversations between terrorists operating in the Kashmir valley and their handlers across the border. If this is what happens when the border is officially hard, we need to worry a little about what will happen if the Line of Control goes soft.

Perhaps Delhi's tactic is to keep the left hand of foreign office as distant from the right hand of the home ministry as possible. This is a palliative, not a cure.

Maybe the mistake being made is not in the level of dialogue, but in the level of expectations. Neighbours must talk; that is a no-brainer. But it takes more than words to convert a conversation into a love affair.

The objective environment for peace will not emerge until there is a fundamental change in objectives. The fundamental flaw is easily identified. Before you can sign off on a soft or hard border, you have to first agree on a border. India has made up its mind. If the LoC were turned into the international border, India would celebrate. Pakistan, for obvious reasons, would not. But as long as this basic question is not resolved, the only thing that Delhi and Islamabad can do is agree to disagree.

That, by any stretch of imagination, is not a description of peace.








Middle-class men are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women.



Will women soon have a Viagra of their own? Although a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recently rejected an application to market the drug flibanserin in the United States for women with low libido, it endorsed the potential benefits and urged further research.

The implication is that a new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the US. But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?

In the 1950s, female 'frigidity' was attributed to social conformism and religious puritanism. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, American society has become increasingly secular, with a media environment drenched in sex.

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humourous sexual candour of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare's plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm.

Careerist technocracy

Only the diffuse New Age movement, inspired by nature-keyed Asian practices, has preserved the radical vision of the modern sexual revolution. But concrete power resides in America's careerist technocracy, for which the elite schools, with their ideological view of gender as a social construct, are feeder cells.


In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it's not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There's no mystery left.

The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early '70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the '90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Furthermore, thanks to a bourgeois white culture that values efficient bodies over voluptuous ones, American actresses have desexualised themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy's thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts.
Country music, with its history in the rural south and southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarised in the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, rock music, once sexually pioneering, is in the dumps. Black rhythm and blues, born in the Mississippi Delta, was the driving force behind the great hard rock bands of the '60s, whose cover versions of blues songs were filled with electrifying sexual imagery.

But with the huge commercial success of rock, the blues receded as a direct influence on young musicians, who simply imitated the white guitar gods without exploring their roots. Step by step, rock lost its visceral rawness and seductive sensuality. Big-ticket rock, with its well-heeled middle-class audience, is now all superego and no id.

In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna's dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.

Pharmaceutical companies will never find the holy grail of a female Viagra — not in this culture driven and drained by middle-class values. Inhibitions are stubbornly internal. And lust is too fiery to be left to the pharmacist.






My sister said: ''I knew you would not die without my permission.''


"I am not afraid of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens," quipped Woody Allen. Impossible? Maybe, but it pretty much describes what happened to me recently.

A few days ago, I opened the newspaper to see a familiar name jump at me. It was my own and set out in bold print. I am not unused to seeing my name in print, but this time it stared at me from the obituary column. I felt a thrill run through me. Was I alive or dead? But there I was reading and registering what was in front of me and so alive I must be. A wave of relief washed over me.

The matter did not end there. The phone rang. It was my sister and, in the teasing manner she often reserves for me, said, "I knew you would not die without my permission." As usual I failed to come up with a repartee. I had barely disconnected when the phone rang again. This time it was my friend H. When I said "Hello", there was a small but significant pause. Then with unusual brightness, she said, "Leela, I thought I saw your 'middle' yesterday. Am I right?" I told her she was wrong, but I knew very well she was not seeking the answer to that question. After a few desultory remarks, she put the phone down.

It was the turn of N next. She came quickly to the point. "I am so glad to hear your voice," she exclaimed. Then rather disappointingly continued, "I have seen you once or twice, but the face in the photograph could have been yours. Besides, the age mentioned is more or less the same." I forgave her because she added, "I am happy to know you are alive and around." It was the turn of my granddaughters next. Hearing all the excited comments of the adults, they picked up the newspaper and stared at the relevant piece of news. Then they came running to me and putting their arms around me, said, "We are very, very glad it is not you, Mamama." I came to know later that friends called on friends to discreetly find out whether the concerned person was me or not.

With all respects to the departed, I must say this was an enlightening experience. For one thing, it put me in a philosophical frame of mind, reminding me that all things, whether good or bad, will some day come to an end. More importantly, when my last call comes, I know now that I will leave behind me some fond memories in the hearts of those I love. Lastly, morbid as this may sound, a missed call such as this can be thought-provoking. It makes you think and ponder, laugh and smile all at the same time!








With yellow ribbons tied to their wrists, Noam and Aviva Schalit, accompanied by thousands of supporters, left their house in Mitzpe Hila on Sunday for an 11-day trek, to end outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. The march is aimed at mobilizing public pressure to bring about the release of their son, Cpl. Gilad Schalit.

"Let [the Schalits] appeal to that place in your hearts where there is no debate of cost and effect," singer and writer Shlomo Artzi urged Sunday in Yediot Aharonot, "just human understanding of what will happen to their son if we do not end this [tragic] story."


Artzi's call for Israelis to show solidarity and empathy with the Schalits should be heeded. His implication that Israel should suspend reason and cave in to Hamas's exorbitant demands is far more problematic.

Hamas has not even bothered to answer Israel's offer, made six months ago, to release 1,000 terrorists, including 450 Hamas operatives, 100 of whom are murderers responsible for the deaths of about 600 Israelis and an additional 550 Fatah prisoners.

The government had understandably rejected Hamas's demands to include the "mega-terrorists" responsible for the 2001 suicide bombing in Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant that killed 15, the 2001 bombing of Tel Aviv's Dolphinarium which killed 21, the 2002 Rishon Lezion attack where 16 were killed, and the 2002 Park Hotel massacre perpetrated on Seder night, which left 30 people dead.

The 1 to 1,000 ratio would be the most disproportionate in Israel's long history of asymmetrical prisoner swaps.

The first crack in Israel's "we-don't-deal-with-terrorists" facade appeared in 1968, when Israel agreed to release 16 Arab prisoners in exchange for 12 hostages held by Palestinian hijackers of an El Al plane forced to land in Algiers.

In August 1969, Israel released 71 Arab prisoners in exchange for 113 hostages on board a TWA flight bound for Tel Aviv diverted to Damascus. In 1970, night watchman Shmuel Rosenwasser, abducted by Fatah in Metula, was released in exchange for Fatah's Mahmoud Hijazi.

But terrorists' demands grew. In March 1979, Israel released 76 Fatah operatives – 20 with blood on their hands – for the release of a single soldier, Avraham Amram.

The "Jibril deal" of May 1985 upped the ante even more. Israel released 1,150 terrorists for three soldiers.

In 2004, over 400 terrorists were released by Israel in exchange for alleged criminal Elhanan Tannenbaum, reportedly abducted while on his way to complete a drug deal in the Persian Gulf, and the bodies of three IDF soldiers.

In 2008 Israel secured the return of the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser for the release of five prisoners, including terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 brutally murdered a four-year-old girl and her father and caused the mother who hid from him to suffocate her two-year-old baby.

In the Tannenbaum deal alone, 52 percent of those released returned to terrorism and are said to have been responsible for the subsequently deaths of 27 Israelis.

ARTZI'S EMOTIONAL plea to suspend "debate of cost and effect" is rooted in the obligation this country rightly feels to those it sends into battle for its defense.

But to suspend that debate is precisely what Israel has done over the past four decades, with devastating results. Terrorist victims and their families have stood by helplessly while those who inflicted so much pain are let free. IDF soldiers who risked their lives to arrest terrorists see their work squandered. And the pool of trained terrorists willing and able to kill Israelis is regularly replenished.

Israel has offered far more than would logically be expected to try to secure the release of Schalit – because logic is not the only factor here. But Israel dare not allow itself to suspend debate in this most agonizing of dilemmas, and to give the heart definitive rule over the head.

What is needed now, rather, is concerted US and European pressure on Hamas. Sadly, instead of seeking every means to pressure the terrorists holding Schalit, the international community has been pressing Israel to end the blockade against Hamas-controlled Gaza, one of whose goals was to weaken Hamas and create the circumstances for Schalit's release.









The White House's June 20 statement on the Gaza blockade shows that the Obama administration has abandoned all strategic concepts in its approach to the matter.

The White House's June 20 statement on Gaza is immensely revealing of the shortcomings in US policy. It isn't at all just a matter of policy toward Israel but of a failure to consider the broader US national interest.

Here's the real issue: Does the US want the long-term existence of a revolutionary Islamist mini-state on the Mediterranean, spreading terrorism and anti-Semitism, eager to go to war with Israel again, working hard to block any Israel-Palestinian peace, expelling Christians, oppressing women and subverting moderate Arab states? It begins: "The president has described the situation in Gaza as unsustainable and has made clear that it demands fundamental change."


One would expect the words "unsustainable" and "demands fundamental change" to mean the president demands the overthrow of the Hamas regime. In fact, it signifies the exact opposite: He demands that regime's stabilization.

The statement continues by describing Obama's plan to give roughly $200 million to Gaza as "a down payment on the US commitment to the people of Gaza, who deserve a chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank."

Just think of that paragraph's implications: a "down payment" on a "US commitment," that is, not an act of generosity for which the US must get something in return. Rather, the phrasing makes it seem the US owes them the money.

Moreover, such aid retards rather than advances building a Palestinian state by shoring up a Hamas government which is against the Palestinian Authority, against peace with Israel and against a two-state solution.

Note, too, that Hamas is put on an equal plane with the PA. And couldn't the administration have said that the state must be built in the context of the Oslo Accords or under the PA's leadership? There is no mention of even the Quartet conditions: Nothing is said about Hamas abandoning terrorism or accepting Israel's existence or submitting to the PA as the legitimate government.

The statement is absolutely unconditional. Only the "humanitarian" consideration counts, as if the US government is a community organizer building a welfare program.

THIS ABDICATION of strategy and politics would be like the US making a commitment to help the people of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War or North Korea during the Korean War by pouring in money and goods unconditionally, saying this would help lead to a moderate unified state.

Don't those who govern the Gaza Strip as a dictatorship (an anti-Semitic, anti-American, terrorist, revolutionary Islamist, would-be genocidal, Christian-expelling, women-repressing and allied to Iran dictatorship at that) matter one bit? The announcement continued by welcoming Israel's new policy as something that "should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza, while preventing the entry of weapons."

In other words, the US has no problem with Hamas ruling Gaza as long as weapons are kept out. There is absolutely no strategic concept in the US approach.

Meanwhile, the White House makes clear that Israel's concessions aren't sufficient. Blandly but incredibly, the statement continues: "We will work...


to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank."

Now while it is true that this could mean PA supporters go to Gaza and subvert the regime's power, it's more likely that the practical implication would be that Hamas militants, bomb-makers and agitators would get into the West Bank. When Israel restricts the passage between the two areas, would it then be accused of inhibiting Palestinian "freedom of movement?" Did anyone in the administration think of conditioning the easing of the embargo and the US aid on Gilad Schalit's release or some other Hamas concession? Of course not.

And the statement ends: "We urge all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. There is no need for unnecessary confrontations."

Of course, all of this won't discourage ships sailing and pro-Hamas militants seeking confrontation. After all, Western policy teaches them that confrontation means massive victories in demonizing Israel and gaining concessions. Why should anyone dismiss them as "unnecessary"? In this statement there is not one word criticizing Hamas. And there is no hint that any thought has been given to the strategic implications of accepting a Hamas regime and allowing it to normalize the economic situation even while it is creating a nightmare political and social situation for Gazans.

Let's assume the administration had the same goals but went about it with different rhetoric. It would condemn Hamas extensively but then say that, of course, it should not be able to hold the people in Gaza as hostages and that they should not suffer just because they are ruled by a terrible dictatorship.

The statement could look forward to the day when they are liberated from these extremist, repressive rulers. I'm not saying this is my preferred policy, but it is a way for the Obama administration to implement its policy without abandoning any strategic interest in weakening Iran-backed revolutionary Islamism and terrorism.

In other words, the administration could have said: Hamas is our enemy; the people of Gaza are our friends. We don't want you to suffer. We want you to get rid of Hamas, join with the PA and make a lasting peace with Israel. If you are moderate and abandon terrorism, you will be better off and get your own state through negotiations with Israel.

But that was not the strategic line taken.

In this bland little White House statement we see the current US government's massive strategic failure.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at






Settlement of US class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 against major Swiss banks during Nazi era is now under threat by Israel and US survivors' groups

Repeat after me: bank accounts, bank accounts, bank accounts. In the mid-1990s, Jewish organizations and a handful of lawyers – some savvy, some less so – demanded the return of Naziera Jewish accounts in Swiss banks. The accounts had become dormant because the Jewish depositors did not survive the Holocaust, or because crucial documents did not survive, leaving families unable to prove their rights to the accounts.

The claims against the Swiss banks fostered an environment in the US that, decades after the Holocaust, generated other Nazi-era claims, including for insurance policies that European companies had failed to honor, as well as compensation for slave and forced labor. There also were claims for artworks that had been looted or displaced in Europe between 1933 and 1945.

These were material claims with strong moral underpinnings – the idea that survivors and heirs should recover what was taken from them, or be compensated for damages done to them during the Nazi era.

A class-action lawsuit against the major Swiss banks was filed in US federal court in Brooklyn in 1996. A $1.25 billion settlement was announced in 1998 under US District Judge Edward R. Korman.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse seemed to fall on their proverbial swords, accepting virtually all liabilities for the wartime behavior of Switzerland, its national bank, as well Swiss private banks. The two banks insisted on a "global settlement" – a kitchen sink of claims in which the common factor was some claim or grievance against Switzerland or a Swiss enterprise. This compelled dividing the $1.25 billion into five classes.

These classes were claimants for bank accounts (the depositors); two classes of slave laborers (those who performed slave labor for Swiss corporations, or those who were in German facilities that were financed by the Swiss); a class of refugees who were excluded or deported from Switzerland, or mistreated in Switzerland because of their ethnic or religious origin. Finally, there was the "looted assets" class, which referred to Nazi victims whose looted property was fenced through Swiss entities.

That UBS and Credit Suisse were willing to bear all the weight of Switzerland's Nazi-era history was their prerogative. It made for an odd situation. As Korman noted, "The claims of those other [non-bank] classes lacked any legal merit."

However, the fundamentals of the case did not change: the lawsuit against the two banks was a restitution case to recover bank accounts.

IN AN ORDER issued on June 16, with the unwieldy name "Memorandum & Order Approving Adjustment of Presumptive Values Used in the Claims Resolution Process and Authorizing Additional Payments for Deposited Assets Class Plausible Undocumented Awards," Korman signaled that the Swiss banks case is nearly at an end all these years later.

The judge has managed to keep the settlement on track. No easy task for claims for accounts that are more than 60 years old, and that originated in a foreign nation whose institutions' assets have been absorbed and reabsorbed by changes in bank ownership and organization.

According to court documents, some $581 million has been allocated to nearly 18,000 owners of Holocaust-era Swiss bank accounts. In addition, compensation has been paid to nearly 200,000 slave laborers and their heirs, and more than 4,100 survivors or heirs received the so-called refugee funds from the settlement.

The court faced daunting forensic accounting problems in assessing and adjusting the current value of bank accounts. But these problems seemed to pale against efforts by some Jewish organizations, lawyers and the State of Israel to ignore depositors' property rights – their claims to their family accounts – and to treat the Swiss case, even in advance of the settlement announcement, as a Jewish slush fund. Early on, many survivors cruelly were led to believe that they would benefit from the lawsuit, even if their families had no connection to Switzerland or its banks. In 1997, Switzerland itself created a humanitarian fund, separate from the banks case, to aid needy survivors. Many viewed that Swiss money as an entitlement, not a generous gesture, feeding the notion that the Swiss banks lawsuit was money-for-all.

The settlement's "looted assets" class, not well understood by some and exploited by others, created additional problems. In theory, it would have required a mechanism to determine whether property, from among more than a million potential claimants, had been looted and whether it passed through Switzerland. Such a mechanism would have been prohibitively expensive and an administrative nightmare.

Korman's alternative remedy was to craft a system to benefit the neediest survivors who, in this specific instance, wouldn't have been eligible for payments under the Swiss banks settlement. The humanitarian aspects were not negotiated under the settlement; the original parties to the suit did not advocate for the interests of needy survivors. Nonetheless, the judge was within his judicial discretion when the settlement provided $205 million to help some 231,000 needy survivors, primarily in the former Soviet Union, obtain food, medical care, winter relief and emergency grants.

Now, as Korman seeks to wrap up the claims for the Swiss banks lawsuit that began in 1996, there has been the continuing threat from the State of Israel and survivors in the US to delay the process.

They seek more funds for a select group of the needy. They question the increases in the adjusted value of bank account awards, as if a depositor should be compelled to relinquish a percentage of his bank account to help Nazi victims in Israel or Florida. They also suggested that victims in the former Soviet Union receive a disproportionate share of the funds intended for the needy, as if humanitarian funds should be allocated on the basis of geography rather than hunger.

Korman, whose decisions were upheld by a US appellate court, did a noble service to the needy.

But this compassionate aid should not distort the essential purpose of the Swiss banks settlement. The lawsuit was a restitution case about bank accounts, bank accounts, bank accounts. It was a claim with legal and moral legitimacy. But when the State of Israel and survivors' groups in the US demanded more cash for their own purposes, they did not simply stall the conclusion of the Swiss banks settlement. Instead, they ran roughshod over individual property rights and undermined the moral basis of every Jewish claim: that victims are entitled to recover the property stolen from them.








The haredi parents were championing their rights to educate their children as they saw fit. They, if anyone,are the Martin Luther Kings here. The High Court assumed the Bull Connor role.


The recent High Court ruling against parents of students in the Israeli town of Emmanuel and the ensuing massive haredi demonstration on the parents' behalf present an opportunity to either jump to conclusions or objectively evaluate the facts.

Several Sephardi parents – Israelis of North African and Middle-Eastern backgrounds – in the town brought a lawsuit aimed at preventing other parents of students who had been studying in the local Beit Yaakov girls' school from maintaining a new school the latter group had established. The court ruled that the new school was born of illegal ethnic discrimination and, later, that the "new school," the parents' subsequent second choice – to send their daughters to a school in another city – was also forbidden. The court fined those parents for each day they refused to comply with its order to return their children to the Emmanuel Beit Yaakov school, threatened them with prison and then made good on the threat. On June 17, the parents, wearing their Shabbat clothes, were held aloft and escorted to the prison by a peaceful crowd of tens of thousands, singing and dancing, in a demonstration of support for the soon-to-be prisoners.


WHAT GIVES here? Well there are two versions. First, the one presented by most media: That racial prejudice lay at the root of the parents' desire for a separate school for their children and their refusal to abide by the court ruling. The large number of supporters who turned out on their behalf reflected a general haredi Ashkenazi disdain for the "segregation" between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

Version two: The jailed parents sought only to preserve the religious standards the Emmanuel school had maintained for many years.

Changing demographics over the years in Emmanuel brought an influx of families with less stringent standards of Jewish observance, dress and insularity (including things like use of the internet and personal messaging, which are shunned by many haredim for religious reasons) than the original residents of the town. Some of the longtime residents with schoolage children saw a need for two different educational institutions to service Emmanuel's girls. That most of the new families happened to be of Sephardi heritage played no role at all in that decision.

The first version was endorsed by the High Court, which pronounced that the new school evidenced prejudice and ordered the parents who had founded it to return their children to the Emmanuel school. Those parents, however, insisted, and still insist, that the court finding was wrong, that their choice was a matter of religious conscience. They refused to be coerced to send their children to a school of the court's choice and readily went to jail for their civil disobedience.

The larger haredi community, wary of the High Court in the best of circumstances and seeing it as having ignored clear facts in this case, rallied to the parents' side.

WHICH VERSION reflects the truth? There is no doubt that discrimination against Sephardim exists in Israeli society, and that it is pernicious and must be fought wherever it appears. The question about the Emmanuel issue, though, is whether such discrimination – or, rather, parents' concerns for the tenor of their children's educations – motivated the establishment of the new school.

Several simple facts, although oddly absent from most news reports, seem to point in one direction: More than a quarter of the girls who had been enrolled in the new school were… Sephardi. And there were Ashkenazi girls who remained in the original Beit Yaakov school too. What is more, not one applicant to the new school was rejected.

Any girl willing to abide by the school's standards was welcomed, regardless of her ethnic background. The "segregation," it seems, consisted of nothing more than two schools offering two different sets of religious standards.

The High Court emperor's nakedness may have been most succinctly voiced by one of the parents who went to jail, as he was held aloft by the crowd and a reporter's microphone put before him.

"Are you a Sephardi?" asked the off-camera voice, its owner having apparently noticed the man's complexion.

"Yes," he replied, "A Yemenite."

Then, with a wry smile at the absurdity of it all, he added "A Yemenite is being taken in [to prison] for racism.

Ata mevin [you understand]?" And yet the headlines blared on, using charged phrases like "ethnic prejudice" and "segregation," and portraying the jailed parents and their supporters as seeking to discriminate against Sephardim, invoking, as did the court, American blacks' struggle for civil rights in the 1950s.

They got it perfectly backward.

The haredi parents and marchers were championing their rights as parents to educate their children as they wish. They, if anyone, are the Martin Luther Kings here.

The court, sad to say, assumed the Bull Connor role.

The writer is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. The above essay is offered courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.








I see a movement that has lost its way and forgotten its mission. Is it any wonder that secular Israelis pull away from Judaism?


While many may look at the state of Judaism here at the moment in very positive terms – largest concentration of Jews in any country, more yeshivot and more boys studying in those institutions than at any time in history, etc. – I am afraid they are viewing matters through rose-colored glasses.

For as I survey the situation, I see a movement that has lost its way, forgotten its mission; most disturbing of all, the branch of Judaism which should be steering us in the right direction, the Orthodox (of which I myself am a member), is the one leading us astray.


SIMPLY READING the daily newspapers or listening to the news on the broadcast media leaves one to wonder – whatever happened to Jewish religious/ethical principles? A few examples:

• Religious parties – To my way of thinking, a religious political party is what the Talmud refers to as s'tira mi'nehu bei (a contradiction from within itself), or an oxymoron.

The Ethics of the Fathers warns us, "You shall despise authority." Commentators note that, in some form or other, currying favor with those in power (joining the coalition??) will inevitably lead to one having to sacrifice religious principles. The same text counsels, "Do not turn your religion/learning into a spade"; i.e., do not use your religiosity as a tool for financial gain (ministries, perks, financial grants). And as secular Jews observe the antics of these parties, how many are drawn towards the religion and how many are driven away?

• The Tal Law – Halacha is crystal clear on this matter.

When Israel is fighting an offensive war (milchemet reshut), the Levites (those responsible for maintaining religious observance and study) are exempt from serving in the army; when the nation is engaged in a defensive battle, no one is exempt. I am sorry, but however one attempts to twist the facts, at present the nation is in a state of siege. Surrounded as we are by those who seek our extinction – Iran, Syria, and their proxies (Hizbullah, Hamas) – we are clearly fighting a defensive battle, fighting for our very existence. Everyone is to serve in the army, period. Again, when secular Jews see their sons' blood being spilled in defense of our country, while their religious counterparts sit ensconced in halls of learning, how many are drawn closer to Judaism and how many are driven away?

• Eda Haredit – "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck" might be true, but as we watch the despicable antics of the Mea She'arim goons, we are hardpressed to equate that axiom to "If one walks like a hassid and dresses like a hassid, one is a hassid."

Throwing dirty diapers and stones at police officers on Shabbat? Calling members of the riot squad Nazis? Setting public facilities on fire? What warped sense of Judaism allows one to desecrate the Sabbath in order to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath? How does one who knowingly injures a fellow Jew acquire the moniker "haredi"? I seriously believe those who are careful in their adherence to the kashrut laws should question the validity of kashrut supervision provided by an organization (Badatz) which condones and implicitly supports such anti-religious behavior.

• Conversions – The Torah is blanketed with demonstrations concerning how we are to treat converts. We are to welcome them with open arms; we are warned against making their lives difficult; we are commanded to include them in our religious festivals; we are forbidden to throw up their past in their face. "Do not oppress the convert/strangers, for you were strangers in Egypt."

So, can someone please explain to me upon what basis do religious judges/courts discard all these indelible precepts and retroactively void hundreds and thousands of conversions performed by a fellow religious authority? And why did the Supreme Rabbinical Court, whose members I am sure are familiar with the prohibition of shaming a fellow Jew in public (lest one loses one's share in the world to come), feel it necessary in voiding the conversions of the Conversion Authority under the aegis of Rabbi Haim Druckman to point out that the first letter in Haim's Hebrew name (het) is the same as the first letter in the Hebrew word for sin (heit)? I would be most interested in your response, Rabbi Avraham Sherman.

• Emmanuel – Unfortunately, the public at large has been subjected to this most unseemly display of action antithetical to the foundation stones of the Jewish religion.

Perhaps the Slonim Hassidim were too busy creating dividing barriers in their schools to keep Sephardi schoolgirls away from their daughters to have found the time to reflect upon "and you shall love thy neighbor as thyself." Or "every Jew is responsible for every other Jew." Or "do not create divisions."

I have heard all the gossamer-thin excuses posed in this matter – some Sephardi customs were not to their liking; some did not keep Shabbat, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

As the expression goes: not worth the paper they are written on. By the same litmus test, how many secular Jews are drawn closer to the religion by such abhorrent behavior, and how many are driven away? THE LIST goes on and on – Selma, Alabama-like city buses, redacted issues of the Talmud with all mention of Jesus deleted, ordering special kosher meals on our national airline El Al (when all meals served are kosher), etc.– but by now the point should be clear.

Haredi Judaism has lost its way. The hard-line, "just say no" position taken by a large segment of the religious public and its rabbinic decisors (to the exclusion, for the most part, of the religious Zionist movement) is one which has been summarily rejected by the Jewish populace throughout the ages.

In the time of the Talmud, there was Beit Hillel, which generally followed a liberal, accommodative course, against which stood Beit Shammai, which proposed a very strict posture on all matters. Yet throughout the 26 tractates, the law follows Beit Hillel, in all but eight instances. The Talmud teaches us that if we are to be a light unto the nations, if we are truly the chosen people, if we are to draw fellow Jews closer to the religion instead of driving them further away, we must just say no to "just say no."

In closing, let me suggest the following to all my fellow Orthodox Jews. Each morning, before you begin your daily regimen, recite the following: "Hillel says you should make yourself into one of the students of Aaron [the high priest]. A lover of peace, one who runs after peace, one who loves all fellow creatures [not only those born Jewish], and brings them closer to the Torah."

The writer is a professional portfolio manager for both highnet-worth individuals and institutions. He resides in Kochav Yair







While hailing the achievements to close the gaps between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Israel, we cannot be blind to the failures.


The recent exclusion of Sephardi girls from a Beit Ya'acov school in Emmanuel raises afresh the issue of equality between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Israel.

Whenever this issue rears its head, I feel that I am on the wrong side. I am an Ashkenazi. Furthermore, I am an Ashkenazi born to a bourgeois Polish-Jewish family. However, I was born color-blind.


The color, or ethnic origin of human beings never meant a thing to me. Perhaps my color-blindness was caused by my childhood in a right-wing Revisionist family.

The national strife against the British rulers, the fight for independence united all ethnic groups within the Irgun.

One of my most memorable memories was the joint suicide of Meir Feinstein, an Ashkenazi, and Moshe Barazami, an Iraqi Jew, a short time before they were due to be hanged by the British Mandatory regime. A hand grenade was smuggled into their cell by the Irgun and both of them blew themselves up hugging each other. When Menachem Begin mentioned their self-sacrifice in an election rally in 1981, my old Revisionist blood rushed to my head. I was a Shinui man then, but remembering these two martyrs, my Revisionist childhood woke up inside me.

Since I was born color-blind but not blind, I could see what was happening in our society: I saw the achievements as well as the failures to close gaps between Ashkenazi and Sephardi segments. And I always had a guiding principle: to shrink these gaps until the future of every Israeli child – Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian and Druse – will not depend on the ethnic descent of his or her parent.

I am not blind to the achievements: Few countries have overcome the social challenges as Israel has. Perhaps, the greatest achievement is that the original substantive differences in family patterns of Ashkenazim and Sephardim – in the rate of marriage and divorce as well as the number of children – have almost disappeared.

Moreover, many gaps depend not upon ethnic origin but on place of residence (center or periphery), service in the IDF (an important factor in gap-closing), size of family and number of cohorts.

There are many spheres in society in which the integration of Sephardi Jews is remarkable. In politics, business, the arts, the army – all unparalleled in European societies.

BUT ONLY the blind will fail to notice the unpleasant facts. Thus, in recent research, a social scientist found that of the universities' tenured staff, the share of Sephardi Jews was 8.9 percent and at Tel Aviv University less than 8%. It should be assumed that among full professors, the rate is even lower. Can we explain this scandalously low figure by objective criteria? If so, how do we explain the fact that at the top of the Finance Ministry, there are so many Sephardim while at the parallel university schools of business and economics there are so few? Indeed Sephardi scholars hold tenured and highly regarded positions – in foreign universities.

I do not think this is due to outright discrimination, but rather to the fact that Israeli academics, especially in the politicized social sciences, tend to replicate themselves. Indeed, some university departments look as if the academic staff is made up of academic clones, sharing a similar curriculum vitae and identical political and ideological views. Anyone who is familiar with the groves of academe will immediately identify this mold, which excludes not only non-Ashkenazi candidates but also anyone who does not fit.

Obviously, side-by-side with this wrongful selection in universities, there looms the fact that there are painful educational gaps between the two communities.

In the past, many of us hoped that the high rate of intercommunal marriages would produce a third generation, in which descent would not matter, and all inequalities would be eradicated. Unfortunately, another research project indicates that among pupils of this third generation, whose parents are Israeli-born, the gaps remain (especially among boys).

Worse – even, in cases of offspring of intercommunal marriages, the gap is reduced by half but it still exists. The report contains one bright hope: The spread of academic colleges throughout the country, which allows students from underprivileged parts to acquire academic education, may bear egalitarian fruit in the future.

Indeed, the Emmanuel crisis points to our duty: endeavor to eliminate all differences between all Israelis, including Arabs, so that one day we shall live in a country where the future of a child does not depend on where, or to whom, he or she was born.

The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and MK and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.









Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced yesterday that he was joining the later stages of the march for captive soldier Gilad Shalit. The marchers set out yesterday from the Shalit family's home in Mitzpeh Hila, heading for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Yishai's announcement is puzzling, to say the least. The assessment last night that other ministers might join the march totally obscures the scope of a cabinet member's responsibility.


It is of course good that Shalit's fate touches the heart of the interior minister, and good, too, that he wants to show his concern along with the crowds of marchers. However, a member of the forum of seven senior ministers, which is responsible for deciding on a deal for Shalit's release, cannot live in both worlds. He cannot be both a party to decision-making and a concerned citizen protesting against the government of which he is a top member.


After the demonstration by Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who pitched a tent opposite Maasiyahu Prison to protest against the High Court of Justice's decision in the Immanuel school-segregation case, now comes the interior minister, who takes the madness even further.


Yishai's proper place is at the cabinet table. Responsibility for Shalit's fate is on his shoulders, just as it is on the shoulders of Netanyahu and the rest of the cabinet. If the interior minister believes that the cabinet has not done enough to free the captive soldier, he should take the steps expected of a minister and try to win a cabinet majority to support his position. He should also voice his position in public.


If his request is not adopted, he should accept the decision of the majority with the knowledge that he is a full partner to it, or in extreme cases, he should resign from the cabinet. That is the significance of the collective responsibility that exists among cabinet members.


Yishai cannot simply pretend to be virtuous by being party to a policy he thinks is mistaken, perhaps seriously so, while protesting against it with members of the public. This is a populist step by someone who wants to sit in the cabinet while evading ministerial responsibility for Shalit's fate by showing the public he is part of the Shalit family's popular cause.


Yishai has to decide whether he is a minister or a demonstrator. Being both is intolerable.















The Americans are once again disturbing our peace with their "peace process," and are already talking about continuing the settlement construction freeze. Everything was so simple with the three "no"s of Khartoum from September 1967: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization's armed conflict did cost us lives, but there's need to talk peace with terrorists. When the Arabs refused to recognize us it was 10 times more convenient to settle, to annex and to assassinate. When the Arab world refused to negotiate with us, the Western world was a lot more friendly.


And then, one day in late March 2002, without any warning, the Arab League summit proved once again that you just can't trust the Arabs; the 22 members of the Arab League cruelly erased the three "no"s.


And they didn't make do with turning them into a yes to peace, yes to recognition and yes to negotiations. The Arab League (and subsequently, the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference ) suggested replacing its hostile relations with Israel with normalized relations. Every March since then, the umbrella organization of Arab states ratifies the formula: an end to the conflict in exchange for an end to the occupation.


As if that weren't enough, the Arab peace initiative skips over the settlement issue, leaving an opening for compromises like swapping territory. Similarly, it doesn't mention Jerusalem's Holy Basin. But there's no need to despair. The Jewish brain finds a cure for every peace disease: in this case, UN General Assembly Resolution 194.


Israel Harel argued in this space last week, in a piece called "The Saudi bluff," that certain Israelis tried to whitewash the clause that demanded a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, in accordance with Resolution 194. He accused them of attempting "to blur a clear demand for a Palestinian right of return," which he said stems from the same UN resolution (which also appears in the Clinton peace plan from December 2000 ). Harel has certainly studied the Arab initiative, so it's hard to believe that he was unable to find in the plan the statement that the refugee problem must be both just and agreed upon.


Harel also wrote that yours truly "featured prominently" at a conference on the initiative held last week at Ben-Gurion University's Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. Could it be that he forgot that he (and others who don't support the initiative ) spoke at the conference as well? The difference in our relative prominence was that I didn't come just to hear myself talk and take the opportunity to vilify academia, which Harel says is speaking in a uniform voice.


Had Harel bothered to attend Prof. Eyal Benvenisti's lecture, he would have heard a renowned expert in international law stating that Resolution 194 actually rejected the refugees' right to return to their homes. Benvenisti explained that the resolution left it up to Israel to decide whether, when and how many refugees it would accept - details that would be determined in a peace deal between the parties to the conflict.


But Harel and his comrades on the right (much like Muammar Gadhafi ) won't give in to the Arabs over the right of return. They have learned that even sworn opponents of the settlements remain silent in the face of that terrifying phrase. Harel complains that the king of Saudi Arabia hasn't come to Jerusalem to sell the Israelis on the Arab peace initiative.


And really, why not? The mayor will welcome him by demolishing homes in Silwan and if he's really lucky, the interior minister will honor him with the dedication of a new complex in Ramat Shlomo.


Al Jazeera will be able to report on the visit while showing images of the residents of Ofra pounding one more stake into the ground at the Migron outpost.


The Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers were sent to Jerusalem to present the peace plan to the Israeli public. The Palestinian Authority expressed its support in the form of ads in the Hebrew-language press, and has made its reconciliation with Hamas dependent on Hamas' acceptance of the plan, in its entirety.


But we won't relinquish the Arabs' "no"s. Or, as the poet Constantine Cavafy wrote in "Waiting for the Barbarians" (as translated into English by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard ): "And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? / They were, those people, a kind of solution."










Last week the cabinet decided to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Will it implement the resolution this time? Is that an odd question? Not at all.


More than a year ago, on March 22, 2009, the cabinet decided to ease the blockade, in these words: "The government of Israel has instructed the bodies dealing with the matter to enable the entry - without restriction - of foodstuffs to the residents of Gaza from all relevant sources, after it has been verified that they are indeed foodstuffs, and this in the framework of the humanitarian efforts. The government directs that the foregoing be scrupulously implemented."


It's possible that had the resolution been implemented then those who wish us ill would not have succeeded in causing so much damage to Israel in the recent flotilla incident. For it is not the flotilla and its outcome that should guide us in our policy toward the blockade of Gaza. We must consider our policies in various areas according to their affects on the main components of our national resilience.


Does the blockade contribute to security in the short term? Is it the blockade that is preventing the smuggling of arms into the Strip, or is that affected more by events in the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza? Is it the blockade that is causing Hamas not to fire the thousands of rockets in its possession, or was that the result of Operation Cast Lead and the strategic considerations of Hamas and Iran?


How does the blockade affect security in the long term and our ability to cope with the gravest threat to our security, an Iran with nuclear capabilities? Does the blockade not actually restrict Israel's freedom of action and make it easier for Iran to expand its influence in the region, to divert attention from its nuclear project and to dodge international pressure? And what are its repercussions on regional stability and the prospects for peace? How does the blockade policy affect our relations with Egypt and Jordan and our ties with other entities, from the Gulf to North Africa? How does the blockade affect our relations with Turkey? It has not brought an end to Hamas rule in Gaza. Does it affect the chances for progress toward security and peace with the Palestinian Authority?


How does the blockade affect Israel's future as a Jewish democratic state? Does it not leave us with part of the demographic burden of Gaza, after we relinquished its geographical advantages? What is its affect on the inner strength of Israeli society? The blockade has not led to the release of Gilad Shalit, but is it preventing erosion of our inner resilience as a result of our helplessness with regard to Shalit, or is it merely a tool used by the politicians' hands to divert public attention from its pain and frustration?


Is there a danger that the continuation of the blockade will lead to a dulling of Israel's moral edge? What impact does it have on the Jewish Diaspora, our partners and our resource?


What is the blockade's effect on Israel's international standing? Isn't the strangulation of the Gazan economy liable to harm the future of international economic openness toward Israel, an openness that is critically important to our economy? Is the diplomatic, public and economic price worth the ostensible benefits of the blockade policy?


It is to be hoped that last week's cabinet resolution was the result of the discussion of these questions rather than capitulation to international pressure. If strategic considerations did indeed guide the ministers, what a pity that they waited until the flotilla incident before making the decision, or more precisely, before acting to implement the cabinet resolution of last year.


The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.









It happened in the past, and it can happen again before the next elections. There are plenty of people in Israel, most of them educated, secular, well-off and moderate in their political views, who feel uncomfortable - in part justifiably, in part not - with the existing parties and their leaders come election time. Since they find it hard to vote for these parties, they find themselves drawn, almost magically, toward some of the season's saviors: people who are impressive in appearance, not corrupt, and who promise new politics.


Once it was the Dash party of Yigal Yadin, then Shinui of Yosef "Tommy" Lapid. Even Tzomet of Rafael Eitan played a similar role. The phenomenon peaked with the bizarre vote for the Pensioners Party of Rafi Eitan.


This time, for the role of this season's savior, it's anchorman Yair Lapid.


It cannot be denied: There is something enticing and attractive in voting for people like this. While every leader of an existing party carries behind him a long trail of activity that can easily be criticized, the season's savior has no record of political activity. Yadin made his name in the Masada and Hatzor archaeological digs, to which was added a vague memory of being chief of staff. Yair Lapid's father, Yosef, was a journalist and a sharp-tongued pundit. But they did not have a real record of public activity or responsibility. No one heard about the political compromises they had to make, about the declared policy that was never achieved, about failures and mistakes, simply because they were never really active in the political arena.


No one could blame them for selling out for a position in the coalition, for having to make painful and sometimes ugly concessions to stay in power or maybe to fulfill a desired vision. Indeed, they were not corrupt, but they had also not done very much.


The higher the hopes, the deeper the disappointment when these parties joined the coalition as junior partners. When the enchanting rhetoric of Yadin ("regional ministers" as a solution to the problems of governance in Israel ), or the fiery promises of Yosef Lapid to break the power of the ultra-Orthodox community and create a "free" society is measured by the results, it's hard to point to any real achievement.


Yadin turned out to be a failure when it came to leadership, not one of the reforms he promised was achieved, and in the end failed to lead even his own party, which broke up under him. Lapid, who served as justice minister, did not leave any imprint on legislation or relations between religion and state. Why? Because the political reality is a lot more complicated than election speeches, and leadership requires experience and ability, which are not identical with fiery campaign rhetoric or impressive television appearances.


These saviors of the season, just as they arrived from nowhere, returned to nowhere. And never have so many votes of hundreds of thousands of educated and well-intentioned people been wasted as they were when these voters selected Dash or Shinui.


It would be wrong, however, to maintain that these saviors had no political impact; yet it was different from what was expected. In all the cases these parties, whose supporters came from the center or the moderate left, tipped the political balance to the right and helped Likud win, under Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon.


That's how it was in the upheaval of 1977, when Likud won not because it had increased its power significantly but because the Alignment (Labor-Mapam ) lost a third of its supporters to Dash. The Alignment went down dramatically from 51 MKs to 32, while Likud merely grew from 39 to 43. The votes the Alignment lost did not go to Likud but to Dash, which took 15 Knesset seats. Yadin put Begin in power.


A similar thing happened in the 2003 elections. One reason for Labor's dismal failure was that Shinui won 15 Knesset seats, most of them with the help of Labor and Meretz voters, thus making Ariel Sharon prime minister. Seven Pensioner MKs in 2006 also helped the right.


Therefore, if someone wants to vote in the next election for Likud, let him do so directly. All other voters need to remember that if they select this season's savior (Lapid or someone else ) they will bring Likud to power again. There should be no illusions about that.









Faced with the pictures of the barely conscious and bloody and beaten naval commandos on the deck of the Mavi Marmara, it's doubtful that anyone in Israel doesn't feel heartbroken, with his stomach turning and rage percolating, and the desire for revenge rising. This isn't a matter of political opinion, and it doesn't only apply to people serving in the navy. It also does not stem from knowing one of the soldiers personally. It's part of belonging to a community, to the Israeli family, in which everyone has a human face and a genuine human presence, just like each of us, our children and our close friends.


And now, with your empathy at its height, pain still fresh and rage boiling - think about, even just as a theoretical exercise, our Palestinian neighbors, for the most part enemies for these 43 years, who every day see their children and parents shot, beaten and bloody, barely conscious and completely helpless, under our occupation. And if they are indeed human beings, in the intellectual spirit of conjecture, they bleed when shot, and they scream in pain when beaten and call out to be freed when imprisoned. And when they are treated with contempt they feel humiliated and miserable. So imagine how their hearts break, stomachs turn and rage boils as their desire for revenge fills their lives and daily routine.


There is nothing new or revolutionary about this intellectual exercise. All it requires is a simple step away from a tribal mentality and family feeling toward a universal moral awareness, about which uncounted artistic, philosophical and religious texts have been written. In other words, to look at the other, even if he is a stranger or an enemy, as a human being in the full sense of the term, exactly like you and your near and dear ones.


And here lies our big problem; here is where our process of barbarization begins. This fundamental human value of seeing others as human beings just like us is disappearing; some people even consider it a betrayal. From so much self-love and narcissism about the Land of Israel, the dogma of Israel and the Israeli people, we have sealed our eyes and ears and shut down our minds and consciences until we can no longer see or hear others. We can no longer be attentive to their point of view and give legitimacy to the logic of their claims and cultural narrative.


We are so full of ourselves and so good at understanding our own arguments that others have become invisible; for us, there's no one else but us. No one wants peace more than we do, the Israel Defense Forces is the most moral army in the world, and no one can investigate our actions better than we. As Jews it's obvious that we're allowed to settle everywhere; of course it's our right to wipe out enemies in every country and on every continent, and anyone who denies this is nothing but an anti-Semitic non-Jew or a traitorous Jew consumed by self-hate.


One of the editions of the television news recently showed a group of extremist settlers who arrogantly and contemptuously challenged U.S. President Barack Obama's peace initiatives with the words, "This kushon won't dictate our fate here," using a derogatory term for black people. Some people say these are simply extremist settler youths from the illegal outposts, like those who console themselves that only a small handful of Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans who curse Arabs are really racist and tell themselves that Interior Minister Eli Yishai is an exception in his racist incitement against immigrant workers. Friends, let's not fool ourselves: For some time, this has not been a vilified handful, but rather a large camp of fanatic pioneers. The majority first becomes reconciled to them and then adopts their ways.

The settlement enterprise is an impressive product of every Israeli government and the crowning success of everything connected to the perpetuation of the occupation and the undermining of any genuine option for peace under two states for two peoples. Add to this a survey conducted two months ago in which more than half of Jewish high school students would revoke Israeli Arab citizens' political rights, and we get a clear picture of what people almost everywhere in the world see and we manage to hide from ourselves. We don't see others, especially the Palestinians, as human in the full sense of the word, so, just like the ultra-Orthodox community vis-a-vis secular people, we, the Israelis, seek more rights for ourselves than we grant others.


In sum, when the mind and conscience are enslaved to nationalist narcissism, others become invisible to us, and we look like bullies and become lepers in the eyes of others. One's heart breaks over the insensitivity that's having a field day here, and its many victims - ours and the others'.


The writer is director of the Institute for Educational Thought at the Kibbutz Teachers College in Tel Aviv.









The dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top commander in Afghanistan halted U.S. President Barack Obama's downward slide in the opinion polls, The Washington Post reported Friday. The outcome of the act does not necessarily attest to the reason, but Obama's decision will affect his presidency and its policies on two central issues for Israel - the peace process and the Iranian nuclear program.


Obama was elected to lead the executive branch, but if his Democratic Party suffers because of him in the November midterm elections, the president will have a hard time functioning in the second half of his term. In a little over a year, he will have to stop wavering over whether to run in 2012. The party will demand a clear-cut answer soon, to get ready for an internal struggle over who will be the candidate.


A good example of the supremacy of the party over the man, albeit in another type of regime, happened last week in Australia. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who made the mistake of miscalculating the balance of forces in the Labor Party, struck a hasty blow against his deputy, Julia Gillard. She was forced to choose between coming to terms with being marginalized and direct confrontation. The Australian method allows the leader to be challenged. The contender taps him on the shoulder and invites him to a duel in the party's institutions within 24 hours. Gillard jumped into the abyss without knowing whether she would win, although the party's concerns about a defeat in the next elections imbued her with hope. Politics as an extreme sport.


Rudd's sudden end recalls that of Margaret Thatcher in 1990, when senior members of the Conservative Party had enough of her rule and wanted to combine saving the party with personal advancement. Under the British system, the party is more important than the party's head. That is, after all, what Shimon Peres tried to explain to Yitzhak Rabin when he tapped him on the shoulder daily over the years.


Obama is an admirer and a student of Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president during the Civil War and liberator of the slaves. Not only did Lincoln declare the split in the 90-year-old United States into the Union and the Confederacy, he was also exemplary as a civilian wartime leader. The first commander of his forces, Gen. George McClellan, who disappointed him, was dismissed and challenged him in the next elections.


Lincoln was pleased only with the last of his commanders, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. In the first elections after the war and Lincoln's assassination, Grant was elected president. McClellan was known as "Little Mac," long before the McDonald's Big Mac and a series of generals with the same prefix: Douglas MacArthur, who was impertinent to Harry Truman; David McKiernan, who was dismissed from his command in Afghanistan; and now McChrystal, only 18 months after Obama beat another Mac, the Republican candidate John McCain.


The leadership exercise of dismissing McChrystal was Obama's first gamble. An even bigger gamble is the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as supreme commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus will be his own man and immune to dismissal; after the two Macs, his failure will reflect badly on the person responsible for the three appointments.


If he succeeds, despite the difficult conditions and following his image as victorious in Iraq, he can skip directly to the Republican presidential primaries. When Truman fired MacArthur during the Korean War, the real political threat to him came actually from another general, NATO commander Dwight Eisenhower, who was summoned almost directly from basic training to the White House; Truman decided not to run.


Moving Petraeus from U.S. Central Command means Israel's security establishment loses a friend, who under the right circumstances could play an important role in persuading Obama that there is no longer a choice but military action against Iran. He could also move ahead vigorously on the Syrian and Palestinian tracks.


But in the McChrystal crisis, Colin Powell has once again appeared - the indispensable man whom, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, the two presidents Bush needed to wage war in the Persian Gulf. Powell, who helped Obama against McCain, is also Obama's mentor in war. His counsel may tip the scales when Obama agonizes over the question of war against Iran. Here is a challenge for Powell's old friend, Ehud Barak.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Elena Kagan has produced distinguished scholarship on the First Amendment, taking clear positions favoring a broad interpretation of free speech. She opposed bans on flag burning and hate speech, and tried to come up with a framework for deciding when laws unconstitutionally suppress protected speech. In the Clinton White House, as a domestic policy adviser, she was an advocate for responsible positions on campaign finance limits, tobacco regulation and gun restrictions.


Still, she arrives for her Senate hearings Monday as one of the most enigmatic nominees for the Supreme Court in recent memory. It's not simply that she has kept her writings and opinions to a minimum through two decades of public life; it's that the contradictions in the thinking she has expressed in public raise as many questions as her silence.


There is nothing wrong with being an unorthodox thinker who defies ideological categories, if indeed that describes Ms. Kagan. But members of the Judiciary Committee from both parties should press her sharply to discern which of her writings represent her true beliefs and which were professional boilerplate, made necessary by the demands of her jobs representing the legal interests of the Clinton and Obama administrations.


Ms. Kagan's academic writing on the First Amendment brooks little interference with the free speech of citizens, though she clearly understands the moral dilemmas inherent in these debates. In one 1992 law review article, she wrote about the "profound and indisputable harms" caused by the "special evil" of hate speech, and wondered whether it was possible to isolate it from constitutional protection, before deciding it was probably impossible.


But as President Obama's solicitor general — the executive's advocate before the Supreme Court — Ms. Kagan has advocated far more problematic positions on the First Amendment, executive power and national security. In the government's brief in United States v. Stevens, decided earlier this year, she said there was no protection for videos depicting the cruel treatment of animals, and proposed that the court balance each First Amendment claim against the harm caused by such speech. Even Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. described that idea as "startling and dangerous."


Ms. Kagan also signed an unfortunate government brief supporting a statute that made it a crime to provide any form of expert advice, even legal briefs, to terrorist groups. That interpretation of the law significantly diminished First Amendment protections for journalists, academics and human rights groups. (Her position was upheld by the Supreme Court last week, but Justice Roberts again criticized her First Amendment stance.)







Superfund — which cleans up abandoned hazardous waste sites — is one of the country's most important environmental programs. It has been struggling since 1995, when a Republican Congress refused to renew the corporate taxes that gave it a steady source of financing. The pace of cleanups has dropped markedly.


The Environmental Protection Agency has now asked Congress to reinstate Superfund taxes. Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, has introduced a bill that would raise about $19 billion over 10 years by imposing excise taxes on oil producers, refineries, chemical manufacturers and a few other industries.


Mr. Blumenauer's bill stands a good chance in the House. But industry is expected to push back hard in the Senate, where Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, has offered a similar measure.


Superfund was enacted under President Jimmy Carter in 1980 to clean up thousands of the country's most contaminated waste sites that were polluting local water supplies and causing health problems. Its core principle was that polluters should pay for the messes they had caused. Companies that were clearly responsible for the pollution would have to foot the entire cleanup bill — just as G.E. is now paying for cleaning up the PCBs it deposited in the Hudson River decades ago.


In some cases, however, it was hard to pinpoint responsibility because sites had changed hands over the years or

the owners had gone bankrupt. So Congress created an "orphan fund" financed by corporate excise taxes to clean sites where the polluter could not be clearly identified.


Before it ran out of cash, the orphan fund had paid for cleanups at more than a third of the 1,000 or so sites Superfund has so far dealt with. But as the program came to depend increasingly on uncertain Congressional appropriations, the pace of cleanup slowed — 19 total sites last year, compared with 89 a decade before that.


Every year, new sites are added to the list. There are now about 1,200 sites waiting to be cleaned up, of which

roughly half are orphan sites. Congress needs to reinstate the excise taxes so Superfund can get back to doing its job.







The United States Treasury forgoes about $100 billion a year in uncollected taxes from businesses and wealthy individuals that keep their money in offshore accounts, out of reach of the Internal Revenue Service. This is not only notoriously unfair; it is a crime. It has also proved notoriously difficult to stop because of the bank secrecy statutes in tax havens around the world.


The Swiss Parliament's approval of a deal to give the I.R.S. the names on 4,450 American accounts at the Swiss bank UBS is an important victory. And with international tolerance for this grubby business running out, other tax havens are taking a hard look at their policies.


Switzerland, Singapore, Luxembourg and others have begun entering into bilateral tax treaties under standards codified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Those rules commit them to provide information requested by their treaty partners to enforce tax laws, regardless of any bank secrecy laws on their books. The United States has signed several new treaties, including one with Switzerland.


The I.R.S.'s campaign in the UBS case has already yielded a trove of information and important new policies. Last year, 15,000 Americans took advantage of a temporary amnesty and came clean about their offshore accounts. In March, Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.


Starting in 2013, foreign financial institutions will be required to disclose to United States authorities information about American account holders, and companies in which Americans have at least a 10 percent interest. If they refuse, the I.R.S. can impose a 30 percent withholding tax on their income from United States' securities.


Still, the difficulty in getting Switzerland to provide the names on 4,450 accounts at UBS suggests that this struggle is far from over. I.R.S. investigators expect that information will open up leads about tax evaders and the financial advisers and institutions that abet them. We will know how useful the new treaties to combat tax evasion really are by how quickly and comprehensively Switzerland and others respond to the I.R.S.'s requests.










Most states, including New York, have longstanding laws saying that a prison is not a legal residence. But that hasn't stopped prison gerrymandering — the cynical and unfair practice under which inmates are counted as "residents" as a way of padding populations that are too small to pass muster under federal election law.


In addition to verging on fraud, the tactic inflates the clout of underpopulated districts where prisons are most often built and siphons off power from more populated districts where the inmates actually live.


When the prison population was small, this was easy to ignore. With more than a million people nationally now behind bars, the tactic of drawing districts around prisons must finally be recognized for what it is: a way of hijacking power from one part of the state to another.


The New York State Legislature can stand up for electoral fairness this week by passing legislation that requires prison inmates to be counted at their home addresses. There is a great deal of momentum behind the Assembly's bill. The Senate version is meeting resistance from upstate lawmakers. The rest of the Senate needs to push back, and both houses need to send this bill on to the governor for signing.


Other states have figured this out. Earlier this year, the Maryland Legislature passed a law requiring inmates to be counted at home — after learning that prisoners made up an astonishing 64 percent of the population of one county commission district. Delaware and several other states are moving toward similar laws.


Local officials in New York concluded years ago that it was unfair to award county legislative seats to thinly populated areas simply because they had giant prisons. As a result, a majority of the counties with big prisons now subtract inmates from the population count when drawing districts. It is time for Albany to follow and end this practice once and for all.








Here is the grim paradox of America's involvement in Afghanistan: The darker things get and the more setbacks we suffer, the better the odds that we'll be staying there indefinitely.


Not the way we're there today, with 90,000 American troops in-theater and an assortment of NATO allies fighting alongside. But if the current counterinsurgency campaign collapses, it almost guarantees that some kind of American military presence will be propping up some sort of Afghan state in 2020 and beyond. Failure promises to trap us; success is our only ticket out.


Why? Because of three considerations. First, the memory of 9/11, which ensures that any American president will be loath to preside over the Taliban's return to power in Kabul. Second, the continued presence of Al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan's northwest frontier, which makes it difficult for any American president to contemplate giving up the base for counterterrorism operations that Afghanistan affords. Third, the larger region's volatility: it's the part of the world where the nightmare of nuclear-armed terrorists is most likely to become a reality, so no American president can afford to upset the balance of power by pulling out and leaving a security vacuum behind.


This explains why the Obama administration, throughout all its internal debates and strategic reviews, hasn't been choosing between remaining in Afghanistan and withdrawing from the fight. It's been choosing between two ways of staying.


The first is what we're doing now: the counterinsurgency campaign that Gen. David Petraeus championed (and now has been charged with seeing through), which seeks to lay the foundations for an Afghan state that's stable enough to survive without our support.


The second way is the "counterterrorism-plus" strategy that Vice President Joe Biden, among other officials, proposed last fall as a lower-cost alternative.


Advocates of a swift withdrawal tend to see Biden as their ally, and in a sense they're right. His plan would reduce America's footprint in Afghanistan, and probably reduce American casualties as well.


But in terms of the duration of American involvement, and the amount of violence we deal out, this kind of strategy might actually produce the bloodier and more enduring stalemate.


It wouldn't actually eliminate the American presence, for one thing. Instead, such a plan would concentrate our forces around the Afghan capital, protecting the existing government while seeking deals with some elements of the insurgency. History suggests that such bargains would last only as long as American troops remained in the country, which means that our soldiers would be effectively trapped — stuck defending a Potemkin state whose leader (whether Hamid Karzai or a slightly less corrupt successor) would pose as Afghanistan's president while barely deserving the title of mayor of Kabul.


At the same time, by abandoning any effort to provide security to the Afghan people and relying instead on drone strikes and special forces raids, this approach would probably produce a spike in the kind of civilian casualties that have already darkened America's reputation in the region.


This grim possibility is implicit in the Rolling Stone profile that undid Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week. Ostensibly a left-wing, antiwar critique of counterinsurgency, Michael Hastings's article relied heavily on complaints that the current strategy places too much value on ... innocent Afghan lives. "In a weird way," the Center for a New American Security's Andrew Exum pointed out, Hastings ended up criticizing counterinsurgency strategy "because it doesn't allow our soldiers to kill enough people."


Such ironies suggest that if the current strategy proves ineffectual, the alternative that the Obama administration falls back on won't be remotely antiwar. Instead, it will be a recipe for still more dead Afghans and a near-permanent military presence. And in the long run, it will mean more enemies like Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, who cited civilian casualties in Afghanistan as his prime motivation for turning to terrorism.


The bleakness of this Plan B is the best argument for giving our military the time it needs to try to make a counterinsurgency succeed. We can't hold the current course indefinitely, and we won't: President Obama's decision to set a public deadline was a mistake, but everyone knows there are limits to how long the surge of forces can go on. But of the options this White House seems willing to consider, it's the one that holds out hope of enabling a real withdrawal from Afghanistan.


So this is what General Petraeus will be fighting for, across the next year and more — not to keep us in forever, but to seize what may be our last chance at getting out.








Recessions are common; depressions are rare. As far as I can tell, there were only two eras in economic history that were widely described as "depressions" at the time: the years of deflation and instability that followed the Panic of 1873 and the years of mass unemployment that followed the financial crisis of 1929-31.


Neither the Long Depression of the 19th century nor the Great Depression of the 20th was an era of nonstop decline — on the contrary, both included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses.


We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.


And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend's deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.


In 2008 and 2009, it seemed as if we might have learned from history. Unlike their predecessors, who raised interest rates in the face of financial crisis, the current leaders of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank slashed rates and moved to support credit markets. Unlike governments of the past, which tried to balance budgets in the face of a plunging economy, today's governments allowed deficits to rise. And better policies helped the world avoid complete collapse: the recession brought on by the financial crisis arguably ended last summer.


But future historians will tell us that this wasn't the end of the third depression, just as the business upturn that began in 1933 wasn't the end of the Great Depression. After all, unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly. And both the United States and Europe are well on their way toward Japan-style deflationary traps.


In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven't yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy.


As far as rhetoric is concerned, the revival of the old-time religion is most evident in Europe, where officials seem to be getting their talking points from the collected speeches of Herbert Hoover, up to and including the claim that raising taxes and cutting spending will actually expand the economy, by improving business confidence. As a practical matter, however, America isn't doing much better. The Fed seems aware of the deflationary risks — but what it proposes to do about these risks is, well, nothing. The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won't authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels.


Why the wrong turn in policy? The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing Greece and other nations around the edges of Europe to justify their actions. And it's true that bond investors have turned on governments with intractable deficits. But there is no evidence that short-run fiscal austerity in the face of a depressed economy reassures investors. On the contrary: Greece has agreed to harsh austerity, only to find its risk spreads growing ever wider; Ireland has imposed savage cuts in public spending, only to be treated by the markets as a worse risk than Spain, which has been far more reluctant to take the hard-liners' medicine.


It's almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don't: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating.


So I don't think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.


And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.









FIVE years ago, the Supreme Court, like the United States, had a plurality of white Protestants. If Elena Kagan — whose confirmation hearings begin today — is confirmed, that number will be reduced to zero, and the court will consist of six Catholics and three Jews.


It is cause for celebration that no one much cares about the nominee's religion. We are fortunate to have left behind the days when there was a so-called "Catholic seat" on the court, or when prominent Jews (including the publisher of this newspaper) urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 not to nominate Felix Frankfurter because they worried that having "too many" Jews on the court might fuel anti-Semitism.


But satisfaction with our national progress should not make us forget its authors: the very Protestant elite that founded and long dominated our nation's institutions of higher education and government, including the Supreme Court. Unlike almost every other dominant ethnic, racial or religious group in world history, white Protestants have ceded their socioeconomic power by hewing voluntarily to the values of merit and inclusion, values now shared broadly by Americans of different backgrounds. The decline of the Protestant elite is actually its greatest triumph.


Like any ethno-racial or religious group, the population of white Protestants is internally diverse. It would be foolish to conflate the descendants of New England smallholders with the offspring of Scandinavian sod farmers in the Middle West, just as it would be a mistake to confuse the Milanese with the Sicilians, or the children of Havana doctors with the grandchildren of dirt farmers from Chiapas, Mexico.


So, when discussing the white elite that exercised such disproportionate power in American history, we are talking about a subgroup, mostly of English or Scots-Irish origin, whose ancestors came to this land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their forebears fought the American Revolution and wrote the Constitution, embedding in it a distinctive set of beliefs of Protestant origin, including inalienable rights and the separation of church and state.


It is not as though white Protestants relinquished power quickly or without reservation. Catholic immigrants, whether from Ireland or Southern Europe, faced a century of organized discrimination and were regularly denounced as slavish devotees of the pope unsuited to democratic participation.


And, although anti-Semitism in America never had anything like the purchase it had in Europe, it was a persistent barrier. Protestants like Abbott Lawrence Lowell, a great president of Harvard in the early 20th century, tried to impose formal quotas to limit Jewish admissions to the university. The Protestant governing elite must also bear its own share of responsibility for slavery and racial discrimination.


Yet, after the ideals of meritocratic inclusion gained a foothold, progress was remarkably steady and smooth. Take Princeton University, a longtime bastion of the Southern Protestant elite in particular. The Princeton of F. Scott Fitzgerald was segregated and exclusive. When Hemingway described Robert Cohn in the opening of "The Sun Also Rises" as a Jew who had been "the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton," he was using shorthand for a character at once isolated, insecure and pugnacious. As late as 1958, the year of the "dirty bicker" in which Jews were conspicuously excluded from its eating clubs, Princeton could fairly have been seen as a redoubt of all-male Protestant privilege.


In the 1960s, however, Princeton made a conscious decision to change, eventually opening its admissions to urban ethnic minorities and women. That decision has now borne fruit. Astonishingly, the last three Supreme Court nominees — Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are Princeton graduates, from the Classes of 1972, '76, and '81, respectively. The appointments of these three justices to replace Protestant predecessors turned the demographic balance of the court.


Why did the Protestant elite open its institutions to all comers? The answer can be traced in large part to the anti-aristocratic ideals of the Constitution, which banned titles of nobility and thus encouraged success based on merit. For many years, the Protestant elite was itself open to rising white Protestants not from old-family backgrounds.


Money certainly granted entrée into governing circles, but education was probably more important to the way the Protestant elite defined itself, which is why the opening of the great American universities has had such an epochal effect in changing the demographics of American elites. Another key source was the ideal of fair play, imported from the ideology of the English public schools, but practiced far more widely in the United States than in the class-ridden mother country.


Together, these social beliefs in equality undercut the impulse toward exclusive privilege that every successful group indulges on occasion. A handful of exceptions for admission to societies, clubs and colleges — trivial in and of themselves — helped break down barriers more broadly. This was not just a case of an elite looking outside itself for rejuvenation: the inclusiveness of the last 50 years has been the product of sincerely held ideals put into action.


Interestingly, this era of inclusion was accompanied by a corresponding diffusion of the distinctive fashion (or rather anti-fashion) of the Protestant elite class. The style now generically called "prep," originally known as "Ivy League," was long purveyed by Jewish and immigrant haberdashers (the "J." in the New Haven store J. Press stands for Jacobi) and then taken global by Ralph Lauren, né Lipschitz. But until the Protestant-dominated Ivy League began to open up, the wearers of the style were restricted to that elite subculture.


The spread of Ivy League style is therefore not a frivolous matter. Today the wearing of the tweed is not anachronism or assimilation, but a mark of respect for the distinctive ethnic group that opened its doors to all — an accomplishment that must be remembered, acknowledged and emulated.


Noah Feldman is a law professor at Harvard and the author of the forthcoming "Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of F.D.R.'s Great Supreme Court Justices."








Herzliya, Israel

QUIETLY and with barely any public confrontation, Israel is creating a new enemy for itself: the Kingdom of Jordan. In the situation that we justifiably or unjustifiably find ourselves now — boycotted and isolated — we do not need to lose the only Arab state with which we have peace-like relations.


This is the story: Jordan is a poor country, lacking almost any natural resources, that spends billions of dollars each year to import 95 percent of its electricity. But in 2007, at least 65,000 tons of uranium ore was found in the Jordanian desert — the 11th-largest deposit of uranium in the world. Jordan is now taking international bids to build a 1,100-megawatt reactor, the first in a planned series of plants that would allow the country to produce a substantial part of the electricity it needs and, by 2030, to export power to its neighbors in the Middle East.


The Obama administration, however, is trying to dissuade Middle Eastern countries from producing their own atomic fuel; the fear is that any low-level uranium enrichment would inevitably lead to high-level enrichment of bomb-grade materials — and then to a regional arms race. As a result, American diplomats are trying to prevent Jordan from getting the necessary technology unless it agrees to purchase its nuclear fuel on the open markets rather than use its own uranium.


Jordan's king, Abdullah II, is furious and, to make matters worse, he is convinced that the demands of the United States are the result of Israeli pressure. The last thing Israel needs today is a confrontation with Jordan on this subject.


Jordan is a stable, pro-Western Arab country, which signed a peace agreement with Israel — a peace that has survived grave challenges in recent years. What's more, Jordan is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which explicitly allows participants to enrich uranium for peaceful power production. And the king has continuously affirmed his willingness for transparency on all matters relating to the production of nuclear power plants.


Why should his country be denied the right to use its own uranium to produce energy? Why suspect his country of doing exactly what it has said it won't do? Why deny Jordan nuclear technology out of fear of some "worst-case scenario" whereby his regime collapses and is replaced by one that attempts to develop a bomb? This could occur in many other places.


Indeed, the United Arab Emirates recently agreed to a deal with the United States like the one Washington wants Amman to sign — the emirates, having agreed to purchase uranium on the international market, are planning to build a $20 billion nuclear reactor. Similar deals are being worked out with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But none of those states have uranium deposits, and Jordan does.


King Abdullah is a great believer in peace in our region. For example, a few years ago, he expressed his unreserved support for the peace plan presented by the Geneva Initiative, of which I am the head, in a public appearance before a joint session of Congress. Other Arab leaders merely expressed their support behind closed doors.


There is a certain risk in allowing Jordan to enrich uranium so close to Israel's border, but the risk in denying the king's request is far greater. Indeed, there is much more at stake here than Jordan's desire to establish power plants for electricity. This is about how Israel treats its pragmatic neighbors, like President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah. Do we strengthen those who want peace and stability in the region or, with the help of the American government, do we turn our backs on them?


We must remember that extremists are always there, lurking behind the shoulders of pragmatists in anticipation of their downfall.


Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister of justice, is the head of the Geneva Initiative, an independent peace organization.








 Fifteen years ago, having seen firsthand the posturing and evasions that have come to typify Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Elena Kagan wrote aptly that the process had become a "hollow charade" and "ritual dance." In a law review article, she decried the lack of serious discussion of the Constitution, saying the public should have the opportunity to learn something significant about a nominee for a lifetime job in a "seat of power and a public trust."


Kagan was then a young law professor who'd served briefly with the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1993 hearings for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, Kagan herself is the nominee going before the committee for the start of hearings today, and she'd do a great service if she could break from the tawdry precedent she criticized. But that depends as much on the senators as it does on Kagan, and all signs point toward another round of small-minded political theatrics.


Since her nomination last month, a one-note chorus on the right has decried her "lack of judicial experience," conveniently ignoring the fact that they have only themselves to blame. When President Bill Clinton tried to put Kagan on the federal court of appeals in 1999, Senate Republicans stonewalled the nomination and it never came to a vote.


In fact, more than half the appointees to the high court over the past century did not come directly from the lower-court bench, and at least two chief justices —Earl Warren and William Rehnquist, both Republicans — had never served on a court. One of the most persistent peddlers of the lack-of-experience line, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, thought bringing on a justice who'd not spent her career in the judicial establishment was a good idea back in 2005 when Harriet Miers was under consideration. But not now.


Then there's the drumbeat about what's described as hostility to military recruiters at Harvard Law School when Kagan was dean. In fact, she was administering a university-wide policy that had been in place for years, a policy like those of many other universities: not providing official help to any employer known to have discriminatory personnel practices, in this case the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays and lesbians. Students who were there at the time say she worked to find ways to keep the welcome mat out to recruiters unofficially and reach out to veterans.


Most preposterous, some of her critics profess to be shocked that political considerations surfaced in some of her memos when she worked as a key domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House. Politics in the White House? Imagine that!


Indeed, a California law professor (and former Supreme Court clerk) put it appropriately in USA TODAY last week saying the hearing is likely to be driven by "what there's political mileage to talk about."


Kagan herself has acknowledged that the kind of high-tone hearing she wished for 15 years ago was probably unrealistic — and that nominees can't be expected to say how they would rule on specific issues that might come before the court. That's long been the case, only reinforced when Robert Bork talked himself out of a seat on the court back in 1987 by revealing views that were radically at odds with the previous half-century of Supreme Court jurisprudence. Bork is now part of the anti-Kagan bandwagon.


Thus the pattern of bloviating senators and wary nominees won't change anytime soon.


Senators just can't seem to respect the fact that the public picks the nominees by picking its presidents and that it should confirm all but those found to be incompetent, corrupt or far outside the legal mainstream.


Republicans have had no more luck showing Kagan to have such failings than Democrats did challenging the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts. But in Washington, that's hardly reason not to have a fight.







The conservative Judicial Crisis Network: "Solicitor General Elena Kagan is far outside the mainstream of American legal thought, out of step with Main Street Americans, and lacks any substantial qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court....


President Obama embraces the lawless 'empathy' standard because he views the Constitution as an inconvenient limitation on his ability to tax, regulate, or otherwise control virtually every aspect of American life. We therefore should not be surprised that he would nominate someone who would ignore the Constitution in order to rubberstamp ObamaCare, gun control laws, more bailouts and buyouts, and support the other litmus test issues of the liberal agenda, including racial preferences, same-sex marriage, and abortion on demand. ...


Obama found his rubber stamp in Elena Kagan, a nominee who has never been a judge on any court, federal or state, trial or appellate.


Kagan's lack of relevant experience is so glaring that it has prompted comparisons to Harriet Miers, the Bush nominee who was attacked by Republicans for her inexperience and inscrutability and by Democrats for being too close to the president."


Letter to the Judiciary Committee from the previous eight solicitors general: "We have served as solicitors general in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, William Clinton and George W. Bush. We support the Kagan nomination in the same spirit of fairness and bipartisanship, and deference to presidential appointments of well-qualified individuals to serve on the Supreme Court, that was also due the nominations of then-Judges John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to serve on the Supreme Court.


Elena Kagan would bring to the Supreme Court a breadth of experience and a history of great accomplishment in the law. ...


During the past year, Kagan has honored the finest traditions of the Office of the Solicitor General and has served the government well before the Supreme Court."


Former solicitor general and failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork: "Ms. Kagan has not had the time to develop a mature philosophy of judging. It is typical of young lawyers going into constitutional law that they have inflated dreams of what constitutional law can do and what courts can do. That's the danger of Ms. Kagan that she hasn't had any experience that would lead her to mellow. ... The academia is not a place where you use prudence and caution and other virtues of a judge."


Michael W. McConnell, conservative law professor and former judge: "On a significant number of important and controversial matters, Elena Kagan has taken positions associated with the conservative side of the legal academy. This demonstrates an openness to a diversity of ideas, as well as a lack of partisanship, that bodes well for service on the court. No one can foresee the future, but I would not be surprised to find that Elena Kagan, as a justice, serves more as a bridge between the factions on the court than as a reliably progressive ideological vote. In short, I think she will be more conservative than liberals hope, and less liberal than conservatives fear. ...


Publicly and privately, in her scholarly work and in her arguments on behalf of the United States, Elena Kagan has demonstrated a fidelity to legal principle even when it means crossing her political and ideological allies. This is an admirable and essential quality in a judge."


Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee: "This is a very young nominee, with a very thin legal record, a very strong commitment to politics and liberal causes and an ideology of judging that seems to favor and respect judges who advance the law beyond its plain meaning. In many ways, I'm feeling this is a more dangerous nominee (than Sonia Sotomayor








Jim Henderson is a recovering evangelist. Back in his soul-chasing, church-starting days, he began hearing a grating dissonance between his faith in Jesus and the way he went about winning new converts. Henderson realized he was doing unto others what he would never want done unto him. He was manipulating conversations to set up a pitch. Viewing people as potential notches on his evangelism belt rather than fellow sojourners and prospective friends. Listening only to the extent it could reveal an argumentative opening. He realized he hated the whole enterprise.


"I told the people in my church, 'I don't like evangelizing, and I know you hate it, so I've decided that I'm formally resigning from witnessing. You're all free to do so the same,' " Henderson recalls. "I said, 'I love Jesus, you love Jesus, and we all want to connect people with Jesus. But we're gonna have to figure out new ways to do it.' "


In the 15 years since, Henderson has blazed a new path as an innovator, author, church-evaluator, self-professed subversive, and leader in the creation of new ways to be publicly and persuasively Christian in the 21st century. Maybe the most subversive — and sensible — surprise of all is the population to which this well-caffeinated Seattle man has turned for partners, friends and teachers: atheists.


What could a Christian possibly learn from atheists? A lot, it turns out. As more and more Jesus followers like Henderson are discovering, taking a look at yourself and your religion through the eyes of the unconvinced can be a revelatory experience.


Although he is just north of 60, Henderson is emblematic of an up-and-coming wave of evangelicals intent on course correction for the church. Through public-opinion research, grassroots dialogue and ears to the shifting ground, they are getting the message that the old ways don't cut it anymore.


The shift has serious implications for the age-old mission to evangelize — the focus of untold generations of well-intentioned Christians compelled to live out the Great Commission that Jesus laid out in the Gospel of Matthew ("Go and make disciples of all nations"). The standard argumentative approach — built around "spiritual laws," A-to-B-to-Z logic, and black-and-white propositions about the one religious truth — seems more counterproductive with each passing year, more likely to repel than persuade.


Soul for sale


Rather than arguing with an atheist, Henderson bought one. In 2006, he heard about an atheist offering his soul to the highest bidder on eBay, laid down $504 and, lo and behold, claimed the prize. Henderson didn't try to convert that atheist, a Chicago graduate student named Hemant Mehta. Instead, he asked him to evaluate churches and report on his findings.


From that sprang a series of church visits and reports, books by both Henderson and Mehta, and Henderson's website, where people read and post reviews of churches they've attended. Henderson has also launched an offshoot church consulting business, again using non-Christians as partners in his work to help churches evaluate themselves through the eyes of outsiders.


What do Christians learn when they start listening to atheists? Henderson, author of the forthcoming book The Outsider Interviews, has found that the "I'm right/you're wrong" model is a conversation-killer par excellence. So is speaking of non-converts as "lost." "Nothing sets off an atheist more than hearing a Christian say, 'I know Jesus is God and that I'm going to heaven when I die,' " Henderson says. "They also notice that we often say it loudly and arrogantly, which only serves to reinforce their negative opinion of our certainty."


Atheists are also wary of being seen as "projects." Does continued contact and eventual friendship with the Christian in their life depend on them converting?


Possibilities for a new model hit home for me in a recent public conversation I had with my friend Doug Pollock, evangelism trainer for the sports-ministry organization Athletes in Action. Pollock had invited me, the non-evangelical religion commentator, to join him for his keynote remarks at an evangelism-training event at a megachurch in the Portland area. When Doug asked me what advice I would have for the assembled missionaries in training, the answer came quickly: If you want to have influence, I said, you have to be willing to be influenced. If not, I asked, would anyone want to have a conversation with you? (This was obviously not news to Pollock, as evidenced by his inviting me to participate in the first place.)


'Necessary interlocutors'


As Christian pastor Samir Selmanovic has written, two-way conversations with the not-like-minded are vital for a devout person's spiritual growth. Selmanovic, author of the 2009 book It's Really All about God, wrote in a Huffington Post article that friendly atheists are "desirable and necessary interlocutors in our human conversation. ... To us religious people, atheists are not only precious neighbors but also strangers who see what we cannot see and ask questions that we don't know how to ask. ... Atheists are God's whistle-blowers."


Benefits flow in both directions when Christian-atheist conversations break out. Matt Casper, the atheist co-

author with Henderson of Jim and Casper Go to Church, and Henderson's partner in the venture, says his engaging with Christians is motivated by his desire to get them to question their certitude and to see that atheists don't have tails and horns. Being around Christians, Casper adds, "has made me a better person."


Conventional evangelism is often accused, and rightly so, of "bait and switch" tactics; think attractive social gathering or sports outing that, unbeknownst to invitees, is really designed to segue into a Gospel pitch. Henderson has a fascinating alternative to propose: all bait, no switch.


Call it promotion by non-promotion, evangelism by attraction, goodwill mongering, or letting one's life speak for itself, but this is what will best represent the faith among the many Americans who do not share the evangelical faith. Henderson and his fellow travelers are right in urging would-be evangelists simply to get to know people, become their friends and let the spiritual chips fall where they may.


This re-imagined form of witness trumpets good news all around — for Christians who, as Henderson puts it, want to be "normal," for the public credibility of Christianity, and for all of the not-yet and never-will-be converts who don't want to be pitied or demonized for (supposedly) living in the dark.

These new-century Jesus representatives seem to be arriving at just the right formula for making their faith real and known in these changing times: no formula.

Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. His book Onward Christian Athleteswas published last fall.








Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins our hearings on the nomination of Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court of the United States. The hearings are an opportunity for the current solicitor general to explain how she would approach the task of judging. They are also an opportunity for the American people to witness the battle between two very different judicial philosophies.


For decades, judicial activists have often tried to change the meaning of the Constitution to impose their own personal policy preferences on the American people. Beginning in earnest under the Warren Court of the 1960s, many judicial activists have in effect replaced "we the people" with "we the judges." Judicial activists believe that judges should create new constitutional rights when they see fit. They believe that many protections in the Bill of Rights, including the Second and 10th Amendments, should be reinterpreted until they are virtually toothless. And they believe that judges need not enforce the Constitution's limits on the scope of federal power.


Those of us with a more traditional view believe that the Constitution means what is says, and that the sovereign power to change it rests with the people, not the judges. Through the amendment process established in the Constitution itself, the people have ended slavery, given women the right to vote, and changed the way we elect senators and presidents. When judges bypass the established ways of changing the Constitution, they usurp the right of the people to choose their form of government.


On which side of this debate is Kagan? We honestly don't know. She certainly has an impressive academic résumé and considerable experience as a political operative and policy adviser. But she has never served as a judge and has relatively little experience in the courtroom. She has also managed to spend decades in public life without expressing clear views on the role of the Supreme Court in our system of limited and separated federal powers.


Nevertheless, there are two reasons to suspect that Kagan would be a judicial activist if confirmed to the Supreme Court. First, she has named as her heroes some of the most liberal judges of the past few decades. One hero is Israeli Supreme Court Judge Aharon Barak, who is not merely out of the U.S. legal mainstream; he's swimming down a completely different river. Another hero is Justice Thurgood Marshall, who won a great victory in Brown v. Board of Education as an advocate before the Supreme Court, but became a notorious judicial activist once he joined it. Marshall described his judicial philosophy as "do what you think is right and let the law catch up," and the White House has assured liberal interest groups that Kagan's judicial philosophy owes much to her former mentor.


Second, it is reasonable to worry that Kagan is a judicial activist simply because President Obama nominated her. The president has said that a judge should look beyond the law to his or her own personal values, empathy and "core concerns." He has said that the critical ingredient in judging is often supplied by "what is in the judge's heart."


Obama's nominations to lower federal courts reflect this philosophy. One nominee has argued that there is a constitutional right to welfare payments. Another nominee bent over backward to try to keep a confessed serial killer from the death penalty. The president's judicial nominees over the past 17 months show an unmistakable determination to create a more activist federal judiciary.


The Senate Judiciary Committee needs to determine whether Kagan is a judicial activist, and we must be wary of another "." Last year, then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor disavowed any activist convictions before our committee. She specifically said she wouldn't approach the issue of judging in the way the president does, and that "judges can't rely on what's in their heart." Yet since her confirmation, she has been aligning herself with the court's liberal wing and voted the same way as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about 90% of the time.


I respect Elena Kagan's intellect, and this week I intend to take some of her advice. In 1995, she wrote that senators must determine what perspective a judicial nominee would add to the bench, as well as "the direction in which she would move the institution." Those remain very much open questions with regard to her own nomination, and I hope she will take the opportunity this week to answer them.


John Cornyn is a Republican senator from Texas.








It seems to happen every year when temperatures rise. Parents or others leave kids in cars or trucks, or youngsters climb inside a vehicle and then can't get out. The result is predictably tragic: An increasing number of children -- most often infants or toddlers -- die every year after being trapped inside broiling vehicles where temperatures easily can reach 140 degrees or more.


This year promises to be no different. A meteorologist who tracks data on deaths to children trapped in hot cars reports that 18 children have died of hypothermia or heat exhaustion this year, with at least eight reported since June 13. That is the highest number of fatalities in the first half of the year since Jan Null began keeping records in the 1990s. The number understandably worries public health officials and safety advocates. It should.


The time of year when such deaths occur most often has yet to arrive. July is typically the deadliest month for kids trapped in hot cars and trucks. Given the current pace of heat-related deaths, officials worry that the year's ultimate total could reach a record level.


The growing problem prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a consumer

advisory warning parents and others that leaving kids unattended in or near a car or truck could have tragic consequences. The advisory is timely.


Since 1998, nearly 500 children across the nation -- including some in the tri-state area -- have died as a result of heat exhaustion in superheated cars and trucks. The number of deaths increased significantly in the mid-1990s when new safety laws required that children ride in the back seat, where they would be safer in case of an accident. An unintended consequence of those rules, though, was that kids in the back seat -- especially little ones who might fall asleep or be unlikely to protest when left alone -- are more likely to be forgotten when adults leave their vehicles.


There is no easy antidote to the problem. Those who travel with kids obviously should check the back seat before they leave the vehicle. Those who park cars or trucks where children might have access to them should make sure the doors are locked and windows rolled up. Experts suggest creating a reminder to look for kids before leaving the vehicle.


One suggestion is that drivers and/or passengers put phone, purse or wallet on the floor near a child in the back seat. Hopefully, that should remind the adult to get the child out of the vehicle when the item is retrieved. If that doesn't serve, create your own system. Hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles are preventable, but it requires a level of concentration that is, regrettably, not always present.







The federal government has been notoriously lax about enforcing our nation's laws against illegal immigration. But not only is the government failing to root out illegal aliens, it is even turning them loose in some cases once it has them in custody.


An illegal alien who has been attending Harvard University was recently detained by immigration authorities when he tried to board an airplane in Texas. It was a clear-cut case that called for his prompt deportation to his homeland, Mexico.


But instead, Harvard officials began lobbying on behalf of the illegal, Eric Balderas. Now, the federal government has declared that he will not be deported. No good reason for allowing him to remain in this country was offered. Immigration officials just said they first wanted to focus on illegals who had committed other crimes once they were here.


Obviously there should be an urgency to capturing illegal aliens who commit additional serious crimes after they are on U.S. soil. But is that any excuse to turn loose an illegal whom the federal government actually has in custody? Balderas could have been deported easily, yet the feds let him go.


To make that bad situation worse, some Democrats in Congress see the Balderas case as a reason to enact a law granting permanent legal status to many thousands of illegal aliens.


"They are American in every sense except their technical legal status," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement.


But that "technical legal status" is extremely important! If that condition is dismissed by lawmakers, then what is to stop tens of millions more people around the world from invading our nation?


The American people are fed up with illegal immigration, and Congress and federal bureaucrats are making this crisis worse.


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Americans' interest in Central and South America seems to be on the wane. There's a possible explanation for that. A series of pressing issues -- jobs, the economy, health care, midterm elections, the Gulf oil spill, nuclear proliferation, hostilities in the Middle and Far East, to name a few -- engages their attention. Private citizens and public officials who ignore events to the nation's south, though, do so with some risk. What occurs in that still volatile part of the world remains diplomatically and economically important to the United States.


Colombia is a case in point. That nation is a strong U.S. ally and a relatively stable democracy in contrast to some of its neighbors. It just concluded a generally uneventful presidential election in which Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister, won office with more than two-thirds of the vote. His victory is a reaffirmation of the democratic process.


He will succeed Alvaro Uribe, an extremely popular, two-term president who was urged to seek a third-term though Colombian law prohibits it. When the Supreme Court ruled against a referendum on a third term, Mr. Uribe calmly accepted the ruling. That's not the norm in South America. Historically, it's been far more typical for leaders to ignore the law and to use strong-arm methods to maintain their hold on power.


Though Mr. Uribe and Mr. Santos share many policies -- including strong ties to the United States and support of a a free-market economy -- the transition from one government to another likely will be difficult. Mr. Santos will be hard-pressed to match his predecessors' achievements. Mr. Uribe took charge of an almost lawless nation and in eight years stabilized its government, military and economy and almost neutralized the guerrilla movement that once came close to overthrowing the government.


To be successful, Mr. Santos will have to expand that legacy. Colombia, despite its recent gains, is still a nation where extreme poverty remains the norm, where political corruption and human rights violations taint everyday life and where drug trafficking, while diminished, persists. Reducing those problems will be difficult for Mr. Santos, who will enter office in August with a mandate to do so.


The United States' can play a positive role in Colombia -- if it chooses to do so. The recent U.S. relationship with the country has been checkered. While both Democratic and Republic administrations clearly have valued tight ties to Colombia and applauded its embrace of democratic government, more could be done to strengthen a mutually beneficial relationship.


U.S. aid to Colombia should be stabilized rather than reduced. That would support continued democratization. Congress also should ratify an already negotiated free trade agreement between the nations. Ratification would dovetail neatly with the Obama administration's oft-stated desire to improve U.S. exports and solidify trade. It also would be a signal to other leaders and nations that the United States continues to maintain an active and healthy interest in what transpires in Central and South America.


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





The war in Afghanistan has cost a thousand American lives and billions of dollars.


How did we get into that mess -- and how do we get out of it?


Most Americans surely don't know.


Our Afghanistan involvement began as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, to remove al-Qaida harbored in Afghanistan, and "get" Osama bin Laden, who was behind the New York and Washington hijacked-airliner attacks.


Also, we had been previously troubled by long Russian involvement in Afghanistan. In our interests, we wanted to help stabilize a local, anti-Russian government.


But now the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has been going on for an astounding 104 months -- so far!


American involvement in Vietnam lasted 103 months. So we have exceeded the length of that quagmire, without solution. And we haven't squelched al-Qaida, or caught and disposed of Osama bin Laden.


There have been many U.S. military and humanitarian efforts. We have many thousands of American troops bogged down there, but with no immediate prospect of a satisfactory "solution."


There have been "peace initiatives." We have propped up a local Afghan government. There have been efforts to stop the local drug trade. Nothing has worked very well. In short, we have really just managed to keep things from getting "worse."


The United States has about 94,000 troops in Afghanistan. The Obama administration expects to add thousands more this summer, and "begin" pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer.


How should we define success?


Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces. The pace with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based."


There seems to be no real plan to "win" and "solve" in Afghanistan.

What would be the "worst" results if we had a total American withdrawal? Who can guess what would happen?

Nobody knows.

We have a "tar-baby" situation: We're stuck and can't turn loose -- much as we had in Vietnam for many years, now longer in Afghanistan.


Would you want to be the president and make the decision as to whether to stay in Afghanistan -- till July 2011, or indefinitely -- and then face the unpredictable consequences in that difficult part of the world, whatever happened?








Nobody should doubt the magnitude of the problems that the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico is causing. Estimates of the number of gallons spilled over the past two months range from around 70 million to roughly 130 million -- so far. That's very bad news for the many people along the Gulf Coast and farther inland who depend on tourism, fishing and so forth for their livelihoods.


But the numbers used to quantify the spill are hard to grasp concretely, so The Associated Press dug up some comparisons that help put them in perspective. The comparisons are based on the higher-end estimate of the size of the spill.


Here they are:


* In less than a minute, the amount of water that flows from the Mississippi River into the Gulf equals the amount of oil that the leak has sent into the Gulf in two months. Every five minutes, an additional billion gallons of water enter the Gulf from the Mississippi, and there are about 5 billion gallons of water in the Gulf for every 1 gallon of oil that has leaked from the BP well.


* The oil spilled would fill well over 9,000 average-size living rooms.


* If you could pour the oil that has been spilled so far into the New Orleans Superdome, it would fill it about one-seventh of the way up. But if you poured it just onto a standard football field, including end zones, it would rise 100 yards into the sky.


* A row of gallon jugs filled with the oil spilled thus far would stretch 11,000 miles.


The natural pressure forcing the oil up into the Gulf is astounding -- as is the sheer volume of water in the Gulf. That may or may not give you much comfort with the oil still spewing, but it does help put the spill in perspective.








The last month has been a crazy one for journalists in Turkey. While we at the Daily News were chasing stories such as the raid on the Gaza flotilla, the Iranian nuclear deal and escalating terrorism in the country, we also found time to appreciate the showpiece event of the beautiful game.


Although Turkey did not make it to the finals despite its heroic performances at the 2008 European Championships (by the way that semifinal place is at least as shocking as the country's third place finish at the 2002 World Cup), Daily News staff members have had one eye on the TV while writing their stories.


Many people feared that organizational problems and a high crime rate in South Africa would mar the 2010 World Cup, but the level of competition at the tournament so far has satisfied football fans, except for many of our friends in Europe.


The round of 16 games will be completed Tuesday and only three European teams will continue their quest for the big prize in the quarterfinals. We know for a fact that no European team has ever won a World Cup outside Europe, but that fact still cannot explain how the defending champion Italy and European powerhouse France could not make it past the group stage.


It's maybe because European football, with the help of financial power, has dominated world football. Most players on the South American and African teams play in European leagues and have adopted the "European style." Their football depends on a solid defensive strategy supported by high physical effort. That explains why the Europeans fail on the pitch, but it does not explain what they do off the pitch.


We must admit that we kind of enjoy the scandals and humiliation the French team has got itself into. From the pre-tournament sex scandal around French star Frank Ribery to Nicala Anelka's expulsion from the team in South Africa followed by a mutiny in the squad, France gave us a lot to be happy about.


We are not happy because many of us believe that France, with a little help from UEFA Chairman Michael Platini, "stole" Turkey's rightful place as the host country of the 2016 European Championships, nor is it because we are not big fans of Mr. Sarkozy. It's simply because Ireland should have been in South Africa instead of France.


Mr. Sarkozy lost no time to take the matter into his own hands and consulted Thursday with the one person he shouldn't have: Thierry Henry, whose scandalous handball against Ireland carried "Les Blues" to the World Cup finals.


French government spokesman Luc Chatel last week said the French players lacked "respect, team spirit, pride and enough dignity to wear the shirt of any club."

Well, we will not go that far, but we will definitely enjoy watching Argentina coach Armendo Diego Maradona jumping near the touchline in his fancy suit instead of the glum France coach Raymond Domenech.







In my heated arguments with die-hard Republican People's Party, or CHP, supporters, where I almost always end up being labeled as a closet Justice and Development Party, or AKP, sympathizer, I try to defend myself, when my political arguments fail, highlighting that we know nothing about CHP's economics policy.


But with the new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, things seem to be moving in a new direction, and a good direction at that, in terms of economics. For one thing, Kılıçdaroğlu has made economics one of the main items in his agenda after he took over the main opposition party following a dramatic episode of sex, lies and videotape. In an interview with our sister daily Referans last week, he outlined CHP's economics agenda.


Although we do have to see more details, Kılıçdaroğlu is right on target by placing transparency and accountability at the pillars of CHP's economics program. While his suggestion of printing, on the back of tax returns, where taxes were spent last year will be a drop in the ocean, he is correct in stating that when you set politics out of the accountability domain, you cannot prevent corruption.


That's how the developed world handled corruption in the past. It is a little-known fact that today's richest country was once one of the most corrupt ones. There is a huge economics literature on how the U.S. dealt with corruption in the era of the Robber Barons. While it is difficult to single out one or two policy recommendations out of that episode and others, accountability, transparency and rule of law always seem to come out on top as the main pillars of any anti-corruption strategy.


Another useful suggestion comes for tackling poverty. Although he again does not provide any details, Kılıçdaroğlu's suggestion that the level of poverty should be determined by experts is a necessary first step in overhauling the current multifaceted poverty reduction strategy, which does not allow for meaningful impact analysis and is appallingly open to pork-and-barrel politics.


On the other hand, I see traces of CHP's old guard with Kılıçdaroğlu's handling of the Kurdish problem. While his suggestions of subsidies, incentives and zero-interest credit are sweet music to many, I am not sure, despite being a die-hard economist who sees the dismal science everywhere, that those are the real binding constraints. But since I don't want to be the latest Ergenekon casualty, that's all I have to say about that.


As for Kılıçdaroğlu's family insurance scheme, it reeks of the old guard all over. For one thing, unconditional cash support or minimum income guarantee for poor families (it's not clear which he has in mind) would not only be providing the wrong incentives, it would also disrupt efforts to fix poverty reduction strategies. As for the state preferring those on this insurance in its hiring decisions, it is the worst economic policy recommendation I have heard in a long time.


But Kılıçdaroğlu might be onto something when he says that all state projects would be analyzed in terms of social welfare. I doubt that he has in mind a building full of people drawing supply and demand curves and calculating areas of rectangles, trapezoids and triangles, but goal-oriented spending and impact analysis are the big deficiencies of Turkish fiscal policy at the moment. If CHP would enact an institute similar to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, they would steal my vote on that alone.


As for being labeled as a closet AKP sympathizer, I have learned to live with that, especially after I was able to document the degree of polarization in the Turkish society in the KONDA surveys I have been working on as a consultant.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








It was Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist, who once said: "Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." I could not help thinking of his famous quote while looking at the mess this country has gotten itself into again.


Once more, blood is being spilled and all institutions involved basically behave the same way as they did the last time around. Be it the government, the opposition parties, Kurdish politicians or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, all of them seem to hope that by duplicating previous strategies, they will manage to solve the problems of the Kurds living in Turkey – although maybe with the exception of the PKK. They know perfectly well that killing Turkish soldiers will not bring the Kurds anything. The leaders of this organization adopted their own kind of cynical calculations a long time ago, aiming solely at perpetuating a conflict that serves them well.


Last year, it looked like the ruling party had finally come to the conclusion that a wide-ranging democratic initiative was the only way to solve a conflict in which identity politics and issues of democracy and sustainable social economic development are so inextricably connected. After a promising start, the initiative got stuck somewhere in between. It was badly managed by the government and after problems occurred at the initial implementation phase, the whole project was put on ice.


The main result of all these stalled good intentions: expectations and hopes among the Kurds were raised but in the end they were left with the conviction that, as in the past, this government was also unwilling to do what it takes to solve the Kurdish problem. To many observers, it was clear that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, allowed itself to be pushed back, away from the reforms, by the aggressive pro-status quo attitude of the main opposition party and the clumsiness, bordering on willful sabotage, of the Kurdish representatives in Parliament. The only thing the Republican People's Party, or CHP, had to say about the democratic initiative was a repetition of the old worn-out phrases about splitting the country and not giving in to terrorism. The politicians of the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, which was banned by the Constitutional Court, were torn between trying to cooperate with authorities not used to creating synergy and giving in to demands from the radical part of their electorate, fueled by the PKK, to distance themselves from the AKP's efforts.


After witnessing so many mistakes and miscalculations, it is easy to get disillusioned and come to the conclusion that this country will never be able to solve its main domestic problem. The point is that Turkey simply cannot afford such pessimism. All the goals that this government has set itself (a robust economy, a first class democracy, membership in the European Union, becoming a regional power), will not be reached if the Kurdish problem is not solved. Whether they like it or not, for the AKP there is no alternative than to return to the democratic initiative plans. If the CHP wants to become the ruling party after the next elections, they should allow their new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to change the party's anti-solution attitude and try to find a compromise with the AKP. The majority of the Kurds who want a peaceful resolution should speak out clearly against the PKK tactics and push their representatives to look for common ground with Turkish and Kurdish NGOs that, over the last couple of days, have spoken out against violence and in favor of more cultural rights, social economic incentives and some degree of decentralization.


The frustrating thing about all of this is that most Turks and Kurds know, more or less, how the solution should look like but see that the road to get there is blocked by key actors repeating past mistakes. The promising thing is that a growing number of citizens of this country seem willing to push their leaders to act differently this time and prevent another round of insanity.








A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article with the catchy title "Intrigue in Turkey's bloodless civil war." It was referring to the ongoing "cold war" climate between Turkey's Islamic-leaning ruling party - the Justice and Development Party (AKP) - and the country's old laicist elites, who describe themselves as "Kemalists" and seek to keep religion and politics entirely separate. But that's just the latest "battle" in the "cold war" between political Islam and Turkish laicism that started nearly a hundred years ago.


Understanding the history of the two sides and their relationship with one another is key in resolving Turkey's cold war so the country can make peace with itself.


It started in 1923 when the Turkish Republic emerged out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, immediately launched his "cultural revolution." He believed that Islam had no place in the state's affairs and embarked upon a campaign to subordinate religion to the state: he abolished the caliphate; closed all religious schools, orders and institutions; replaced Islamic law with Swiss civil law, German trade and commercial law, and Italian criminal law; replaced the Arabic script with the Latin one; introduced compulsory education and female suffrage; and banned the display of religious symbols in public institutions.


But Atatürk's "cultural revolution" was a revolution "from above" and never reached the hearts and minds of the majority.


The first major run-in between political Islam and Turkish laicism occurred during Atatürk's heyday with the Menemen incident of 1930 when a group of Sufis incited rebellion. The rebellion was quelled, and the instigators were eventually killed or jailed by the Turkish army.


After Atatürk's death in 1938 and the first multi-party elections of 1950, political leader and soon-to-be Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his Democratic Party campaigned and won on the platform of incorporating Islam back into public life by legalizing Arabic and lifting the ban on the call to prayer. However, the Turkish army launched a military coup in 1960, proclaiming itself the guardian of Kemalist laicism and arresting Menderes on charges of violating the constitution.


Political Islam went underground again, only to re-emerge with the election of former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and his Welfare Party, or RP, in 1996. It was Erbakan who politicized the headscarf issue for the first time and also promoted closer cooperation with Muslim-majority countries. However, the RP was also overthrown by the army in 1997 and banned the following year.


Despite the ban, in 2001 the reformist wing of the RP created what was to become the greatest success of political Islam in Turkey to date. Current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP won the majority vote in the 2002 general elections and has been governing the country ever since.


The AKP has brought Turkey to the doorstep of the European Union, politicized religion with the headscarf as its flagship issue and tacitly encouraged the conservative transformation of Turkish society through its rhetoric and policies at the top level, translating into "neighborhood pressure" to become increasingly religious at the grassroots level.


Eight years later, Turkish society is increasingly polarized. There is an ongoing struggle by the government and its supporters to take control of the media, the police and the judiciary out of the Kemalists' hands though a large share of the country's media, including Zaman newspaper, is already said to be pro-government.


At the same time, one cannot fail to notice a shift in Turkey's foreign policy, focusing on the so-called Muslim world and distancing itself from its traditional Western allies.


But for genuine sustainable progress, Turkey has to address its own internal cold war without polarizing the two sides as winners and losers.


After all, it takes two to tango. The country's laicist elites have to come to terms with Turkey's distinctive religious landscape and sensitivities, and political Islamic activists have to realize that many believe Islam is a religion, not a way to run the state, and that it should stay in the private sphere.


The EU and its Copenhagen criteria for accession eligibility - which includes respect for democracy, rule of law, human and minority rights and a functioning market economy - seem like the best way to ensure Turkey's two worlds finally meet so that the country can make peace with itself through a socio-political framework both sides can compromise on.


For this to be achieved, the EU needs to play the major peacemaking role, which involves a great deal of responsibility. Europe is the orchestra playing this tango. And in order for the dance to continue the music has to keep playing.


* Leonidas Oikonomakis is a research associate at the University of Crete, as well as at the Center for European Studies of the Middle East Technical University. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).







An article by journalist Sibel Arna, about her impressions of a vacation with her 9-month-old son, has provoked one of the most heated debates in the Turkish press. Arna, who usually is known for her articles on fashion, has started to write about her experiences after giving birth.


The article that has led to heavy storms of criticism in the press was about her experience of a boat trip she took with her son. From what she tells us we understand that she took what is known in Turkey as a "blue voyage." She and her friends took a seven-day boat trip on the Aegean, accompanied by her son and his nanny.


The first half of the article is about the difficulties she faced: that every time she wanted to swim, her son would start crying, that the whole day would revolve around chasing the baby who was crawling around on the ship and that she also had to worry about his food, etc.


Then in the second half, she complained about the nanny's attitude. Basically she illustrated her frustration about what she calls the nanny's wish to enjoy a holiday as well, instead of watching a baby. "After going to Göcek, Rhodes and Simi, our nanny has changed. Despite the fact that she does not know how to swim, she kept talking about her wish to swim as well. She kept talking about how she wished to have her husband and son as well." The article ends up with an insulting comment about other nannys' "performances on holidays."


Obviously, a nanny who is paid to take care of a baby is supposed to take care of the baby. It was rather her elitist, condescending style that has led to a storm of reaction. What strikes me the most was the absence of the father in the article.


She is not a single mother and my understanding is that the father was also present on the boat. Now, let's not exclude the possibility that the father might have told her journalist wife when she started to write about her motherhood, not to mention him.


So perhaps, the father spent a considerable time with the baby, but if that was the case, that did not help Sibel Arna to fully enjoy her cruise, since she tells us in the article she spent most of the time running after her crawling baby.


Let's take this case apart. We know that in Turkey, fathers spend less time with their kids, compared to mothers. The usual justification is that after having worked during the day, the father lacks energy to take care of the child. Yet, the situation does not change that much when both parents work.


In addition, mothers still take more care of the child, when the usual justification is no longer valid. That is, during holidays, when fathers do not work, the picture is still the same. You would see mothers rather than fathers spending time with the kids.


This obviously has to do with the traditional perception of gender roles. The few fathers who took daddy leave back in the 1970's in Sweden were called "velvet daddies."  Now, apparently it's only natural to see dads walking around the park with baby strollers.


Turkey's conservatism makes itself felt in this domain, too. In especially urban areas, fathers are discouraged to show their affection to their kids. Yet, as in all cases, things are changing in Turkey, too.  No one finds it odd when a father and son get along well in the kitchen and cook together in a TV advertisement for a oven. Men who know how to cook have become more attractive for woman and they use their culinary talent to seduce urban women.


Obviously, there is a long way to go for Turkey to reach the standards of Sweden's gender equality. Yet I hope Turkey will soon see days when fathers devote more time to their kids and enjoy it while doing so








Every few months we keep on returning to an old discussion ever since emergency law was lifted in the country eight years ago after a long and painful period. Emergency law might indeed be considered a final alternative when and if all other options are exhausted and the civilian government, the police force and the military cannot overcome a problem or if there is a natural disaster that necessitates such a grotesque measure. In any event, emergency law should always be an exceptional measure for a limited period. It definitely should not last for more than 15 years and turn into the routine of a country or part of a country.


For almost two decades, in most parts of eastern and southeastern Anatolian parts of Turkey there was emergency rule declared in the hopes of "wiping out" a separatist terrorist campaign. Looking back now to what they indeed have achieved during all those years, even the top civilian and military people who occupied very responsible positions in the emergency rule area must have been very sorry for the "great accomplishments."


Let alone all other emergency law-related trauma, thousands of people have become victims of "mystery killings" and hundreds of mothers are still waiting today for a miraculous return of their "missing" beloved children.


With the surge in separatist violence once again and indications that the problem at hand might be far more serious than the "low-intensity warfare" description of the recent past, we have started hearing once again the voices of some nationalists stressing that Turkey should perhaps consider reintroducing emergency rule in the terrorism-stricken southeastern parts of the country so that the Turkish military can fight more effectively against the terrorist threat.


Definitely, emergency law is a constitutional measure that a government might resort to when and if needed. Yet, Turkey should never ever forget that emergency rule and such methods are exceptional measures. Furthermore, the past experience of Turkey clearly demonstrated that often such stringent measures might produce more harm than good and could indeed aggravate a problem rather than offering a resolution of it. The era of those who know no other tool than the truncheon should be long gone in this country.


Declaring emergency law will not be a wise move at all. The recent declaration of the justice minister that the government has no such plans and that he believed declaring emergency law could indeed serve the aims of the separatist gang might be the best answer to those drummers.


The government's refusal to declare emergency law should not be considered a sign of reluctance to take effective measures against terrorism which only in the past few weeks fired immense pain into many homes. Obviously, it is the fundamental duty of any state and government to take within the limits of law whatever security measure is required to provide security of its people. It is the fundamental right of any state to protect its national and territorial integrity.


Yet, Turkey should not forget that while the resolve of the military to eradicate terrorism must be maintained, this country is obliged to try to provide a political resolution to the Kurdish problem through democratic openings and reforms that would satisfy the majority of the expectations of this country's ethnic Kurdish population without compromising the integrity of the Turkish Republic.


I firmly believe that the Kurdish problem as well as Turkey's other social problems cannot be resolved though use of force alone. The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorist campaign this country has been trying to deal with since August 1984 is the third of such major problems that this nation has faced in the republican period. Like all the preceding 76 – according to one count – similar problems this country has faced, if not resolved on the basis of reconciliation and democratic openings and instead only use of brute force is preferred, the problem could be shelved once again … until it flares up at a later date.


Broader democracy and more rights and liberties and above all a change in mentality that would allow all segments of the state establishment to consider each and every citizen of this country to be equal, first-class citizens irrespective of whatever differences they might have, respect and recognition of the differences and to develop an ability to amalgamate a nation and democratic society understanding without losing the many colors of the people of this land are the only ways to overcome our problems.










In 1982, the Unified Resistance Front Against Fascism (FKBD-C), an umbrella organization covering leftist terrorist groups in Turkey, was founded in Syria by the leaderships of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and Dev-Yol. At first, it didn't attract the attention of the Syrian regime. Soon, however, the Syrian government, as part of its efforts to exercise more control over it, demanded its leaders be in much closer collaboration with its intelligence services, known as the Mukhabarat.


In the eyes of the members of the front, such a move meant giving in to the Syrians. For this reason, one-by-one they began pulling their militants out of Syria rather than accept the new demands. The only person who refused to follow suit was PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. "If you stay any longer," Dev-Yol leader Mesut Akyol warned him one day, "you will become a pawn shared among the states of the region." His response to that warning precisely exemplifies Öcalan's long-standing line of thinking, which included both pragmatism and opportunism: "I know they want to use me, but I will use them as well."


The idea of using Öcalan first flourished in the minds of the Soviets. Yuri Andropov, after taking over the leadership of the KGB in 1967, initiated a campaign of international terrorism through satellite states and Marxist liberation fronts. He revived the KGB's special actions as a useful and essential tool of Soviet strategy during the Cold War and terrorist organizations all around the world, ranging from the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, were provided with Soviet weapons or other logistical and material support.


In the 1970s, Andropov's attention slithered to the Middle East where Soviet interests were at stake. One important concern for the Soviets was Turkey. The Soviets for quite some time supported the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA. Nevertheless, ASALA was not efficient enough to destabilize Turkey. The real reason behind Soviet support for ASALA was more for internal political considerations revolving around their efforts to contain Soviet Armenia's nationalism and to direct it to an outsider.


After July 1983, much to our surprise, ASALA all of a sudden disappeared into the same Lebanese valley, Bekaa, where the PKK found shelter as well. It is assumed that its birth was orchestrated by the same Soviet cadres that initiated the ASALA. It was indeed their idea that it should represent a radical departure from the past record of Kurdish resistance or terrorist groups. In contrast to other Kurdish groups, for instance, the Soviets designed it as a strongly Stalinist organization. Still, the only leader Öcalan says he admires is Josef Stalin, actually one of the most brutal figures world history has ever seen.


In those days, the subcontractor for the PKK's military training was Nayif Hawatmah's Syrian-backed Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or DFLP. What is also clear today is the Bulgarian agents' contribution during its initial stages. But less is known about Öcalan's connections with the Stasi, the Eastern German secret service, or his short trip to East Germany. I believe the Stasi must have played a very influential role in the indoctrination of the PKK, because its documents of this era, first and foremost its manifestations, strongly resemble those prepared previously by the Stasi.


Since then, the actors that have used the PKK are numerous. In the meantime, however, Öcalan has managed to successfully use them as well. Actually, no one should deny his ability to read the course of international conjuncture and to adapt himself to newly emerging circumstances. In that regard, the PKK has indeed been a subcontractor. It was a subcontractor when its attacks in eastern Turkey increased as part of international energy wars. It was a subcontractor when it derailed a train that was discovered to be carrying undeclared Iranian rockets and small arms.


At present, on the other hand, the situation is much more complicated, since the PKK has become a kind of a multinational holding, each branch of which is in connection with another international actor.


But those actors who use the PKK as a subcontractor must never forget one fact of grave importance: Öcalan's allegiances shift very rapidly.


To be continued…







The now infamous Flotilla incident which resulted in the death of eight Turks and an American of Turkish origin has sparked a whirlwind of accusations and provocations between Israel and Turkey that has put the relationship at an all time low. The timing could not have been worse, as Israel and Turkey have struggled to find common ground in their strained relations since the wake of the Gaza war. Yet the political ramifications between both allies are much deeper than the problem of Israel's blockade or Turkey's attempts to break it.


Both powers have been intransigent and uncompromising on their views of how to deal with conflict-management, and the latest uproar has highlighted an all around inability to compromise or even see the greater forest through the trees. If there is any prospect of mending their relations, as both sides profess they want, understanding first what went wrong is not only necessary but might help prevent the current conflict from becoming a full fledged crisis. There are a few factors that have contributed to both Turkey and Israel's divergent view of their countries' regional roles that highlight the nature of the disaccord.


One of the first factors behind Turkey's boisterous behavior has to do with its rising position in the global arena in the post-9/11 world. Turkey has benefited greatly from its status as a member of NATO and the Global 20 largest economies, as well as its customs trade deal with the EU that makes Turkey a major exporting power not dependent on the United States market. Add to this Turkey's location, as a border country to the EU, Iraq and Iran, its status as the only other major democracy in the region besides Israel, and its military prowess, and the fact remains that Turkey sees itself in a position to exert a substantial amount of influence in the region.


By refusing Turkish airspace to the American's before the Iraq war and very publicly condemning Israel's incursion into Gaza, the voice of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has also resonated well in the Arab and Turkish street, a factor which plays into a new brand of Turkish populism. The ability to serve as a stabilizing force between Israel and the Arab states, between Iran and its adversaries, and between East and West puts Turkey in a unique position no doubt, but only as it remains in the center of these many poles. But in the wake of the recent events, starting with the Flotilla incident and culminating with Turkey's split from the UN Security Council on sanctions for Iran, it seems Turkey has not only overestimated its power in the region but gambled on some of its most critical relationships.


One factor that has raised concerns about Turkey's role as a mediator is a view that it is trading its impartiality for good favor with its Eastern neighbors. The "zero problems with neighbors" strategy heralded by Foreign Minister Davutoğlu sent a message to the world that Turkey was interested in becoming an honest broker and ally to all parties in the region. In theory, the strategy is an admirable one, yet its credibility lies in Turkey's ability to balance its relationships with all parties in practice, without pandering to any one side.


Yet since the 2008 Israeli incursion into Gaza, the Erdoğan government has consistently used public occasions to rabble rouse and condemn Israeli policies without making much effort to empathize with its Jewish ally or condemn on equal grounds its Arab and Muslim neighbors. The fact is that while improving ties with Syria, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and many other Arab states is consistent with Turkey's desire for Middle East stability and to exert regional leadership, undermining its relations with Israel raises serious questions not only about the doctrine of "zero problems with neighbors" but Turkey's ability to be an honest broker. Turkey's leadership in the region will depend entirely on its ability to maintain strong relationships with all parties to the conflict, what it has failed to realize is that as soon as it takes sides it forfeits any potential as a mediator.


Turkey has every right to oppose Israel's blockade of Gaza, to promote a nuclear-free Middle East, or to support bringing Hamas and Hezbollah into the political reconciliation process. But doing so in fiery speeches and PR stints while never acknowledging publicly Israel's security concerns, Iran's nuclear intransigence, or the threats coming from Hamas or Hezbollah have shown a new style of political pandering that the AK Party has adopted in the lead up to elections. Although Mr. Erdoğan felt deceived by Israel's former Prime Minister Olmert for not informing him of the pending assault on Gaza, his repeated verbal assaults against Israel without as much as mentioning the 6,000 rockets fired over a period of five years by Hamas gave the Israelis a serious pause as to Turkey's ultimate intentions.


Moreover, by singling out Israel as the greatest threat to Middle East peace while standing next to President Sarkozy in Paris, Mr. Erdoğan has further invoked a most troubling question about Turkey's desire to restore friendly relations.


Many Israelis have expressed dismay as to how such a strong alliance with Turkey extended over a few decades could come to such an abrupt halt. Here too there are a number of facts that explain the reasons behind what is happening. It is important to note that however important the strategic alliance between the two countries has been over the years, it did not strike deep roots among the Israeli and the Turkish public. Although hundreds of thousands of Israelis visit Turkey each year, the people-to-people interaction is quite limited. And on an economic level Israel has not been as open to Turkish technology and business deals as would be needed to foster stronger financial ties between businesses and corporations. Thus the relationship has been largely limited to the military realm, which has not been very public at that.


Israel has also failed to live up to the responsibility that goes with a strategic alliance. The Israeli-Turkish strategic alliance covers by its very nature the entire Middle East. As such it is not enough to cooperate on military level without a genuine understanding of either side's regional strategy. Israel never reached out to Turkey in a comprehensive way on Iran, not in just intelligence sharing but in taking into account that Turkey shares a border with Iran and has a vested interest in engagement rather than confrontation with its Iranian ally. Israel also allowed Turkey to invest serious political capital into mediating a peace agreement with Syria before failing to inform Turkey about its incursion into Gaza just as a deal was meant to be signed.


Israel has acted as if it is accountable to noone and independent of everyone, which has resulted in its isolation, especially with the Turks who felt that their peacemaking efforts were rebuked without fair consideration. Turkey feels it has major stakes in all of these issues and it is loath to merely accept Israeli de-facto policies that run contrary to Turkish national interests. From the Turks perspective, a strategic alliance is meaningful only when there is full and open cooperation between the parties.


Finally, Israel has invested little in public relations to inform the Turkish public about its plight with Hamas, Hezbollah and other extremist groups bent on its destruction. Israel, who at one point valued its Turkish relations to be second only to the U.S., has not made the effort in Turkey to provide the public with pertinent information or an alternative narrative to what is peddled in the news. Public disgraces like Danny Ayalon's humiliation of the Turkish ambassador have also contributed to an unsavory view of Israel in the Turkish media. But Israel's public relations failure transcends the Palestinian problem – it is the image of intransigence and bullying that the Israeli government portrays which has put Israel on the defensive, especially since the advent of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government.


Unfortunately, with both sides there seems to be more smoke and mirrors surrounding gaffe after gaffe than constructive engagement. Mr. Erdoğan and Netanyahu do not see eye to eye, but regardless of their discord the fundamentals of the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance remain solid and central to regional stability and peace. If Israel wants to be accepted as an ally in the region in pursuit of peace, it will need to work with Turkey and listen to its legitimate grievances. It should not have taken the flotilla uproar to force Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. And just the same, for Turkey to maintain its unique role and position of power as an ally to all sides, it cannot act as if Israel is dispensable. To that end, both nations need to take a step back and commit immediately to a cooling-off period to allow for the resumption of constructive dialogue to mitigate some of thorny issues that separate them. Otherwise, it will become a zero-sum game in which case both countries will end up on the losing side.


* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies







Little did Babar Awan, the law minister, know when he took the job that his credentials were to be scrutinised as they are being currently, and he would not have expected, as neither have other assembly members and ministers, to be examined as he is. Generations of public servants, MNAs and senators, ministers and first secretaries have lied, cheated and connived their way to the top with little thought that they might one day be held accountable. But times are changing. There are checks and balances emerging within the system they had so casually abused, and there is a print and electronic media that can smell a rat from a mile off. Currently the law minister has a choice of three buckets to be upended in. The first contains worms waving placards saying 'fake degree' and refers to the PhD he claimed to have been awarded by an American university that was shut down in year 2000. His 'doctorate' was obtained by distance-learning – allegedly – from the University of Monticello in 1997-8. The United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan has confirmed that UoM was never an accredited degree-awarding institution, and was never allowed to issue PhDs. It was eventually closed for defrauding its customers, and perhaps Babar Awan was one of those deceived – either way, his doctorate looks worthless.

The second bucket contains worms holding up placards which say simply 'OOPS!'. The 'OOPS' in question concerns whether or not all – as in every single one – of his actions since his appointment as law minister are actually lawful. It would appear that there has been an administrative error and his appointment has not been formally notified, as required, by the cabinet division – a fact confirmed by none other than the secretary of the cabinet division, who one might assume to know what they are talking about. Former law ministers, gathering quickly as to an animal run over by a bus, assert that every act performed by Babar Awan sans the correct notification is illegal and termed 'quorum non-judice.' Bucket number three is full of worms holding up 5,000 rupee notes and yelling 'Bribery' at the tops of their voices. Why might this be? Well for no other reason than that the law minister is said to be running from end to end pelting the legal community with money in the hope of influencing elections to the Supreme Court Bar Council. We suppose, in light of his recent statement, that this is his way of 'making history'.












The root cause of militancy has become a pressing issue in our society. In many places – roadside tea shops, cafes, offices and government buildings – debate rages on about how it has arisen and assumed such menacing proportions. The growth of madressahs has been repeatedly cited as a key factor in this. But is this really the case? The Brookings Institute in Washington has raised doubts. In a new report it has pointed out that less than ten per cent of Pakistani parents send their children to seminaries and the institutions are probably not instrumental in fuelling militancy. The report, however, also points to the terrible state of mainstream schooling in the public sector and calls for reform. This is indeed an essential requirement for more reasons than one. The decline in the quality of government-run schools has been a key factor both in the drop-out rate, which stands at over 50 per cent for the first five years of learning, and in the resort to madressahs. The food and shelter offered by these institutions offer a further incentive for poverty-stricken parents. There is a need to put everything into perspective. Poor mainstream schooling denies people opportunity. This in turn creates the frustration that so often pushes them towards militancy. The answer to militancy then lies, at least in part, in ensuring access to quality learning.

That, however, is just one part of the equation. Through madressahs, and also through narrow curriculums offered at regular schools, we have created a mindset that lends itself to militancy. The problem exists everywhere and has grown over the decades. We need to find ways to counter it. At the same time we must also re-think schooling as a means to enhance the lives of people. This at present is not the case. Only when a holistic approach is adopted can there be any realistic hope of defeating militancy. It is obvious that terrorism presents an immense threat to the well-being of our country, even to its future survival. We must therefore think carefully and at some length about why it has grown such deep roots in our soil. More important still is the need to pluck its roots out from the base. The means to do so will need to be multi-pronged, addressing the many factors that give rise to militancy and drive it on across our country.







These days we are hearing new tales of horror every day. Like several others before, the latest too comes from Lahore, where a mother poisoned her four children and herself. The wife of a constable, she felt compelled to do so reportedly because of the financial problems the family faced. All four children are dead. Their mother remains in a critical state. We should ask ourselves some hard questions. What kind of situation have we created where mothers or fathers feel they have no choice but to kill their own children? The act goes against almost every established notion of parental love. The desperation that forces people to do this is appalling. And yet we have heard from one minister a statement about the fact that suicides take place in the developed world. Another parliamentarian has described the deaths as an 'act of God'. Such ludicrous approaches will lead us nowhere. We need to find solutions that are humane, and that at the very least acknowledge the misery of people.

The government must go beyond this. It must also face up to the fact that its own policies have contributed to such deaths. The unchecked inflation, the lack of a welfare net and the feeling that they have been abandoned put people under huge strain. In this situation, even the cash handout schemes introduced under the BISP do not go very far. Measures are needed to create employment and relief must be offered by controlling prices. Poverty is not an inevitable condition. The challenges it poses can be tackled. That the government has shown no inclination to do so reflects a terrible callousness.








The contrast between BP's response to the outrage over the oil spill in the US and Union Carbide's attitude to the uproar over the Bhopal disaster of 1984 couldn't have been sharper. Confronted by a hostile public and a president who wants to "kick ass", BP has pledged $20 billion in initial remediation and is mobilising another $50 billion — although its legal liability is only $75 million.

Carbide got away with $470 million, equivalent to its insurance cover plus interest, for causing the world's greatest industrial disaster. It didn't even have to liquidate major assets. The spill's death-toll (11) is tiny beside Bhopal's, although the impact on fisheries and the environment will be enormous. But BP's bosses are in trouble. Its chairman had to apologise repeatedly for referring to the affected fisherfolk and petty businessmen as "small people". Its CEO Tony Hayward got serious flak from the administration for attending a yacht race at the height of the crisis.

Carbide chairman Warren Anderson was briefly arrested in Bhopal. But he was released within hours, treated like a VIP, and flown to Delhi in a state plane. Why, he had a meeting not just with Foreign Secretary Rasgotra, but also with India's president.

In the US, corporations and politicians are straining to align themselves with strong anti-BP public opinion. In India, companies and industry associations have been largely silent on the June 7 Bhopal judgment which treated the disaster on a par with a traffic accident. Worse, some business leaders, including Deepak Parekh — one of India's best-regarded executives, who serves on many companies' boards — found the verdict harsh. They warned it would scare independent directors away from companies.

They ignore the notion of strict or no-fault liability. Negligence which causes public harm can only be deterred if severely punished. Being corporate decision-makers, directors are liable — even if they aren't personally responsible for every design detail or operational hazard.

Their culpability is greater — as in Bhopal — if they have prior knowledge of the hazards. Union Carbide's directors clearly knew of the Bhopal plant's potential for fatal accidents. These had occurred before December 1984.

This doesn't argue that the US government and legal system are pro-people, only that India's legal system is institutionally flawed. Its self-appointing higher judiciary is unaccountable. It hasn't developed instruments for punishing corporate crimes. The Indian establishment is, like those in the neighbourhood, cravenly pro-rich, pro-corporate and pro-American. This includes top judges, lawyers, opinion-shapers and bureaucrats who inherit a colonial state structure indifferent to the people.

Yet, so great has been the public outrage over the latest Bhopal judgment that the government reconstituted the Group of Ministers on Bhopal, which has submitted its report. On its positive side are recommendations for a curative petition on the judgment and the 1989 compensation award; expediting Anderson's extradition; and speeding up the case against Carbide's successor, Dow Chemical, in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

On the negative side are its silence on Dow's liability and its paltry recommendations for relief to the victims.

A curative petition asking the Supreme Court to modify its 1996 order downgrading criminal charges against UCC, Carbide's fully-owned Hong Kong-based subsidiary Union Carbide Eastern, and its 51 per cent-subsidiary Indian subsidiary Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), is welcome. But this shouldn't stop at restoring the charge of culpable homicide.

The Indian Penal Code clearly defines murder in subsection 4 of Section 300: "If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury …."

Carbide indisputably committed such acts by operating an unsafe, poorly designed plant — which, it knew, would lead to large-scale fatalities. The plant's pipeline design was faulty. A 1982 safety audit said it had 30 major flaws. Logically, the accused must be re-tried for murder.

Yet, Anderson and UCC and UCE directors weren't even tried in Bhopal because they absconded. This violates a condition stipulated in Judge Keenan's order, which sent the case back to India — namely, they would stand trial in India and abide by an Indian judgment.

Not only does this warrant Anderson's extradition; it allows India to press fresh charges against UCC in the US, including contempt of court. This must be done expeditiously. The 1989 compensation award was based on the assumption of 3,000 deaths. But the official death-toll is five times higher and the number injured 10 times greater. The average compensation for death was Rs100,000 — a travesty given that death in rail accidents and natural disasters is better compensated.

In Bhopal, about 200,000 people were significantly injured, but 574,000 were given compensation. This reduced the amount paid to the seriously affected. This couldn't even pay for their medical treatment, leave alone get damages for suffering or disability. The victims' categorisation was arbitrary. Over 92 per cent were categorised as having "minor" injuries. Only 3,241 people (0.7 per cent of those affected) were categorised as severely injured. This makes nonsense of surveys by the Indian Council of Medical Research and other agencies.

The GoM-proposed enhanced compensation looks impressive. But it will cover only 42,208 people and exclude 91 per cent of those affected. This is grossly unjust.

The GoM report fails to mention the need for a high-level Empowered Commission on Bhopal, including medical and rehabilitation experts, NGOs, and the victims' representatives, which collates all available evidence and organises adequate compensation and medical treatment. This was demanded by the victims and agreed to by the government in 2008. But the GoM doesn't even mention it.

Yet, new medical facilities must be urgently established so the victims can live with dignity, and freedom from pain and humiliation. These must be staffed by competent, sensitive professionals who understand the need to rebuild the survivors' lives in their entirety.

Now, consider the GoM's negative side. It doesn't hold Dow liable for land and water contamination around the Bhopal plant because Dow doesn't own it. What matters is that Carbide created a liability over and above the accident through the contamination. Carbide knew this and its likely effects, having conducted numerous site surveys. By natural justice principles, a successor company inherits both the assets and liabilities of the corporation it purchases. Dow is clearly obliged to clean up the Bhopal site and compensate the 30,000 people who are forced to drink the polluted water.

To evade this responsibility, Dow's chairman Andrew Liveris has pressed his nefarious case through business leader Ratan Tata, Home Minister P Chidambaram and other bigwigs. He has twice met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, it's imperative to hold Dow liable as Carbide's successor.

If the government presses charges against Carbide in the US for violating the conditions under which the litigation was sent to India, the issue of liability will inevitably arise. That must be settled now.

The effort to bury the Bhopal legacy is misguided. Unfortunately, the legacy lives on. Justice demands that it is brought to an honourable, dignified closure in a fair and transparent manner. The GoM has failed to do that.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based

in Delhi.









One of the challenges of writing a weekly column is not just finding something different to write about fifty-two times a year, but also finding something positive to say. The hunt is not always successful and there have been some gloomy pieces over the years – and this, Dear Reader, is going to be one of them. The debate about whether or not we are a failed state was reawakened last week with the publication of the annual failed states index. We rank at number ten this year.

Without going into arcane detail I would argue that we are nowhere near as 'failed' as the index would have us believe; but that is going to change and the state will, eventually, fail. My most optimistic guess is that that is fifty years hence, others are less hopeful and give us half that.

There are a number of reasons, all interlocked, that add up to a very large elephant in the sitting room that nobody wants to see. Firstly, there are too many of us. Demographic projection is a kind of geopolitical cartography which maps futures – and ours is bleak. There were fewer than 40 million of us around the time of Partition. Today the number is probably over 170 million. We are the seventh most populous country in the world. Our population doubled between 1961 and 1982 and by 2050, possibly sooner, it will have doubled again to more than 350 million. Population growth can be good or bad news, and for us there is a little good and a lot of bad. The good news is that fertility rates have dropped, the bad news is that we now have a very young population – a 'youth bulge' — that is being comprehensively failed at a policy level.

At its simplest, young people require society to invest in health and education, working-age adults are supposed to supply the labour that fuels this investment and at the other end of the continuum the elderly will need investment in their health. Equally simply, none of this is happening on a scale which would allow us to benefit from the so-called 'demographic dividend'. The proportion of our working-age population aged 15-64 reached 59 per cent in 2006, and there is a tragic irony in that the demographic dividend is within our reach — but the policy environment will not allow us to grasp it. Attainment of the demographic dividend is closely linked to female education and empowerment because it depends upon sustaining the lower fertility rate. Is there any sign that female education is being adequately prioritised, or that there are the cultural shifts that would allow moves in that direction? None whatsoever. By 2050 the number of potential workers will have risen to about 221 million. If by then we have failed to adequately train and educate the workforce, bring women into the workplace at par with men, then it is not difficult to project future turmoil.

Now stir into the pot food, water and energy. At risk of stating the blindingly obvious, we have insufficient of all of them now and the proportion of insufficiency is going to increase exponentially as the population grows. Today, over 60 million of us are food insecure.

About 25 per cent of the population does not have access to potable water. The UNDP Human Development Report predicts a global water crisis by 2025 (which is a mere 15 years away) and we are one of the nations which are going to be hardest hit. Why? Because the Himalayan glaciers are melting and the entire Indus River system is at risk. By 2050 it will be a trickle.

In our entire history no administration, civilian or military, has been able to come up with a long-term and comprehensive strategy for the management of food, water and energy insecurity and there is no indication that the current dispensation is going to be any different.

The dams will not get built, rainwater catchment will not be managed, power generation will remain below installed capacity because of chronic systemic failures and galloping desertification is taking agricultural land out of production by the day.

None of these things are exactly new news. All of the information here is in the public domain. So why will nothing change? Because not enough of us want it to, and those that do want it to are a largely insignificant and powerless minority. Our political system oscillates between the army and a civilian government that has evolved into elective feudalism. The establishment, a rich mix of old money, corruption, preferment and nepotism, dynastic politics and self-perpetuating cultural conservatism, is going to stifle development at every turn – a look at the budgets for health and education over the last thirty years tells that story in capital letters. There is no indication that within the little time we have that a fresh political system is going to evolve, this is what we have got and nothing much is going to change until all the lights finally go out.

So what about a revolution? A kind of revolution is already under way as the drift towards extremism takes hold. This is gathering traction by the month and is less and less likely to find itself challenged because as a nation we are more inclined to obey than to challenge or question. Especially to question or challenge orthodoxy. Revolution, as in a move forwards rather than an engagement of reverse gear, ceased to be an option long ago.

Pakistan is not going to suffer the catastrophic collapse that some Cassandras predict. It is going to be a slow and gradual descent down a shallow slope. We could have done more to mitigate the worst of the damage that The Elephant is doing, but for whatever reason we have not and for things like mitigating the effects of global warming we are decades too late anyway. The Elephant has always been there, and as somebody remarked to me on Facebook last week, there are those who feed it. Unfortunately, it is about to take over the room.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:







The old saying "Nowadays blood is cheaper than water" tragically manifested itself at Karbala when the army of Yazid surrounded Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of our Holy Prophet (PBUH), and his family and stopped their access to water. In all 72 people were martyred there. Hazrat Abbas (RA), brother of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) could not bear to see the suffering of the thirsty children and went out alone to fetch water from the river, ignoring the dangers involved. He was soon surrounded by the enemy and his hands were chopped off. Thereupon he held the leather water bag in his mouth. This scene has been immortalised by the legendary marsiago (composer of dirges), Mir Anis, in the following words:

Mashkiza tha key sheyr key munh mey shikar tha?

A somewhat similar situation prevails today and applies to this whole poor country. Items of daily necessity, though not completely unavailable, are beyond the reach of the poor (i.e., most of our countrymen). It has become a tradition in our country that whenever a shortage of some item is imminent, hoarders and profiteers create an artificial shortage and then sell it at an exorbitant price. People have no option but to pay the price demanded. Not only is the price exorbitant, but quality is compromised too. The most recent examples of this are of flour and sugar. The poor suffered while the hoarders and profiteers made billions, practically overnight. It is most unfortunate that both the ruling elite and the opposition participate in this dirty practice, and hence no strict measures are taken or enforced to contain the menace.

In the olden days life was much simpler. People were content and thankful to Allah. If they could afford only roti and dahl they were not ashamed to say so. Nowadays dahl costs about Rs100 per kg, way beyond the means of the poor.

Every day we see more than one ad on TV promoting one brand or another of edible oils. Tables are shown over-laden with dishes of all kinds, with only two, three or four people at the table. Imagine the feelings this vulgar display must create in the hearts of the millions of poor who can't even afford three square meals a day. It is high time a code of conduct was laid down for TV advertisements. Ads such as these should not be shown, as they are an insult to the poor and their poverty.

While meat, vegetables, fruits, pulses, flour, sugar, tea, etc., are essential commodities, let us not forget water–I mean clean, potable water. Due to load-shedding and mismanagement by the supplying agencies, there is hardly any water available in the supply lines. One sees long queues of poor people–old men, women and children–gathered around a single tap to get a container full of water. They mostly have to depend on tankers, which seem to be under the control of a mafia. While to the poor water is sold at a high price–and even then it is not potable, often brackish and/or taken from unhygienic sources–the well-to-do can enjoy bottled mineral water. It is difficult to say whether the mineral water supplied by many companies is actually of good quality, but the illusion of drinking pure water gives great satisfaction to the rich.

So much about food and water–necessities of life–but even more shocking is the fact that blood seems to have become cheaper than water in this Land of the Pure. When you leave your house, you are not sure whether you will return alive. There are many dangers lurking outside–traffic accidents due to rash and negligent driving, kidnapping for ransom and targeted killings, to name but a few. Being fed up with officials' lethargic attitude, the mischief perpetrated by influential people, such as the feudals, and without having recourse to justice, people have taken matters into their own hands, resorting to any means. Equally deplorable are the actions taken by the various intelligence agencies whereby opponents of those in power are either made to disappear or are killed in fake encounters. Worse still is the complicity of the rulers in allowing US drone attacks. Thousands of innocent men, women and children have been literally blown to pieces without having anything to do with insurgents (if you must insist on calling them this).

Even those who have taken oaths to protect our physical frontiers (but are often more interested in the so-called ideological ones) have joined hands in this dirty work, all for the sake of a few dollars and a few trips to the USA. We are so proud of ourselves when we eagerly claim to have killed X number of our own people. Do we perhaps receive head bounties, as Gen Musharraf claimed in his book? Why bother with a complicated oath. Why not a simple one whereby it is agreed to obey, without question, every order given by the rulers?

As if all this is not enough, the cruel method of targeted killings to eliminate opponents has now become common. The residents of Karachi–my city–have become the main targets. The city (and the whole province) is ruled by a PPP-MQM-ANP coalition, and each party is blaming the other for this heinous crime. Only ordinary citizens are targeted. Not a single leader of any party has sacrificed his life. Condemnation of these acts has been formulated, promises made and secret talks held, but nothing changes. It seems that in Karachi, blood is much cheaper than water, even more so than it was at Karbala. We can't expect Hazrat Umar (RA) or Hajjaj bin Yusuf to bring peace and stop this menace, but we can hope for someone effective to put an end to this heinous crime. Whenever some unknown person is killed, one or other of the parties immediately claim them to be their party member and the claims of the number of people killed is increased for political leverage.

We all know that the law enforcing agencies are under the command of the above-mentioned coalition. Meetings are regularly held, committees are formed, but nobody is ever arrested despite his being recognisable on security cameras or mobile phone pictures/videos.

If we look at Islamic history, we find many occasions when blood was cheaper than water. The first was the murder by Alauddin Khwarazm Shah of Mongol Muslim traders and Genghis Khan's vengeance. The whole kingdom was destroyed, Bokhara, Samarqand, etc., were razed to the ground. More than a million Muslims later massacred. The bloodshed involved included massacres during the sacking of Baghdad. The caliph himself was murdered, together with the whole population (by Hulagu Khan, son of Genghis Khan). Fortunately, Allah sent Malik Az-Zaheer Baybars, the Seljuk king of Egypt, who defeated the Mongols, broke their strength and saved Syria, present-day Jordan and Egypt.

Before that, the wars of Jamal and Siffin between the Muslims themselves saw almost a hundred thousand people killed. The massacre of thousand of Muslims in Delhi by Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali and about eighty thousand Muslims were killed by the Crusaders after they occupied Jerusalem. In all these episodes, life counted for nothing and blood became cheaper than water, even as it is in our country today.







While one must give credit to American officials for mastering the art of saying 'thank you' with a kick, one also needs to acclaim the western media for becoming thoroughly proficient in media propaganda, distortion of truth and biased reporting. To keep Pakistan's armed forces on the back foot, the western media frequently indulges in army-Kayani-ISI bashing. But then, should we hold them responsible for their utterances or forgive them for relying on incorrect information 'fed' by lobbyists and vested interest groups?

The chief problem is that when US officials visit Pakistan they talk to the same people over and over again and think they are in the know. The briefing they get by the Pakistani government is that the situation in the country is hunky-dory and the agitators are people who have a vested interest in the failure of democracy. US officials leave with the perception that the Zardari-led PPP government is besieged by anti-democratic forces and the US needs to support it.

There is a Danish proverb that says, "One eye is a better witness than two ears." The latest global attitudes survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Institute shows a dramatic decline in the standing of the president. Mr Zardari's popularity has sunk to an all-time low; only 32 per cent of people hold a favourable view of the president, and most citizens now see him as a key reason for the problems they face as a nation. This is mainly due to the "culture of scandals, corruption and cronyism" contributing to the weakening of institutions. Blatant misrule, monetary mismanagement, perpetuating illegality, spawning endemic dishonesty, flouting the rule of law, adding distortions in the Constitution, disregard of the judiciary, hypocrisy, economic underperformance and apathy towards public woes have already caused a 'national crisis of confidence' in the democratic system.

The Zardari government has done the impossible. They have brought the people out of their homes, into the streets. The lawyers' movement was instrumental in ousting Musharraf, but this time around we see 'leaderless violent protesters' demonstrating discontent across the county; chanting slogans, burning effigies and thumping their chests with agony, agitated by the rising cost of living and prolonged power cuts. A leaderless mob, angry gangs and young have-nots on the roads mean chaos is just around the corner. It's a dangerous and frightening development.

These demonstrators are not mobsters, criminals, hooligans, terrorists or anti-democratic forces. They are people of Pakistan, enduring great hardships and sufferings due to the energy crisis, food insecurity, unemployment and price hike. The indicators of bad governance are affecting everyone, regardless of their ethnic, religious, social, or political background. Overpowered by poverty many have committed suicides, killed their families and sold organs to make ends meet. With a largely young population, this risky domestic cocktail could be a recipe for disaster leading to widespread turmoil. The formula of burgeoning poverty minus education and job creation equals an ideal breeding ground for terrorists.

No doubt street protest is a legitimate political weapon available to people in any democratic society. But, like they say, when the floodgates open, it's all downhill from there. The normal course for a sensible government would be to think strategically, address systematic root causes of problems and brainstorm to create real breakthroughs. But it seems the government is incapable of making policy decisions that could forestall the decline. Senator Raza Rabbani has already warned the government, saying: "The rulers will invite revolution and anarchy if they do not change their way of life."

Nor was it surprising to hear Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, fearing that a much larger portion of the billions of dollars promised under the Kerry-Lugar Bill could end up in accounts of the corrupt elite of Pakistan. Senator Kerry's concerns are legitimate because most of us are sure that the funds will be siphoned off. However, if the US genuinely desires a favourable outcome then it must ensure that the aid flows to projects — such as the energy sector, mass transport system, education and job creation — that win the hearts and minds of the public. The US must hold the government responsible for every dollar it receives.

0Unfortunately, the government's corruption and polluted credibility have brought us to a juncture where everyone eyes us with suspicion. The Friends of Pakistan have not given a cent for the same reason and interestingly US senators were opposing Kerry-Lugar aid to Pakistan, alleging that Pakistan at this point of time was being ruled by a leader who, in the past, was called "Mr 10 per cent". Republican senator from Tennessee Bob Corker said, "I do think we need to understand how these moneys are going to be circulated through these countries in such a way that they don't end up in a bank account in Switzerland."


The writer is an MNA. Email:







The writer is an MNA and former federal minister for information.

The nexus between state identity and religion is always a dangerous link. When citizens are massacred and abused on the status of their religious identity, then the slide into bestiality is no longer a heartbeat away. It is firmly among us. At this point only unmitigated public outrage and a matching state response puts us back in the league of the civilized and therefore, human.

The massacre of Ahmadis in Lahore is not the first event to have exposed fault lines in the crafting of a national identity in Pakistan. The Christian pogrom at Gojra in 2009 where the police provided impunity to the attackers, instead of protection to the victims, did just the same. Equally disturbing is the level and scale of ambiguity from several political parties on the action that governments need to take to protect their citizens.

Of course many voices were raised at the brutal attack on May 28, but a religious party actually had the audacity to exhort minorities to live within their implicitly secondary status in Pakistan. Eleven of them condemned the Punjab leadership for declaring solidarity with the Ahmadis, in an act of state contrition. The parliament rallied eventually to voice their condemnation, but even among the heartland of non-denominational parties from Punjab the reluctance exposed the rot at the heart of the promise. One public official from Punjab actually said on a live public transmission that he could not even remove the banners inciting hate against the Ahmadis. We cannot handle the repercussions of that, he openly confessed. Several politicians from across the political divide held their peace as many retained links to extremist and sectarian parties for their votes, mainly again from Punjab.

This admission of state inability to punish minority-haters is no small event. It reinforces the belief that like the murderers at Gojra, the Ahmadi-killers too will remain unpunished. It tears the mask from the conceit that in Pakistan, despite its contested identity, the government will at least strive to adhere to some of the fundamental rights of equal citizenship enshrined in the Constitution to all minorities.

Of course these notional equalities too were brought into challenge by the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which despite its welcome thrust at restoring many entitlements, including the right for minorities to worship "freely" reversed some critical ones, by creating an obligation to be Muslim to be president or prime minister. This clearly states that according to the Constitution now, the right to represent Pakistan in its top elected offices can only go to Muslims. Will we one day only allow a particular sect of Muslims to represent Pakistan? Because if we continue on these lines, that is the next logical step on a slippery slope of concessions that began with the Objectives Resolution. No one should be surprised that Shia doctors are the target of another grisly round of planned exterminations in Karachi.


There can be no right to worship "freely", if a community is made to carry its denomination on its sleeve, like a star of David in Nazi Germany. To qualify for a Pakistani passport, that ultimate marker of citizenship, all Pakistanis have to sign a disclaimer confirming each person's commitment to condemn the Ahmadis, and this continues even today. Other than the anti-Ahmadiya Ordinance passed in 1984, which has not been allowed to lapse, the Zia government took several steps to marginalize and persecute this largely educated community. In order to forswear their citizenship, Pakistan has forgone its only Nobel prize-winning laureate, Professor Abdus Salaam, who accepted his physics prize in national dress. Vicious anti-Ahmadiya propaganda was inculcated in classrooms, and there have been many episodes since then, when Ahmadi students were beaten, tortured and hounded on false charges of blasphemy under the black laws introduced in 1986. The list is long and shameful.

Violence gains velocity in an atmosphere of impunity. Quite simply, in the absence of state action, there is little opposition to the narrative that always shifts the debate off-centre from the rights of Pakistani citizens. On all the television channels, religious leaders pop up to cite the primacy of religious law, undeterred and possibly spurred on by the fact that there is no one single codified Islamic law, to subvert the polar axis of the discourse to a privatized view of justice. The rights of citizens as guaranteed under the Constitution get left far behind, while the counter-narrative from civil society and isolated political voices based on recourse in the Constitution, remains un-buttressed by support from the state.

Inertia at a time when moral and political choices have to be made amounts to complicity with turpitude. The government has a unique opportunity to begin incremental reversals of this embrace of insanity. The Constitution, battered as it is, protects minorities very explicitly. While it can certainly do more, even a token adherence to a slew of clauses, particularly Article 20, which allows "each citizen to have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion" can go a long way in shutting down vitriol against citizens who peacefully worship according to their faith. The courts too can and should use these provisions to take suo moto notice of such outrages in the name of religiosity. So far the superior courts have remained silent on the flagrant violation of the Constitution.

In order to confront this political Islamist lobby it would be useful to remind all concerned that in Islam the core idea of justice is seen as the highest moral path to practical proximity to God. As for minorities specifically, the government can exhort detractors by iterating the words and deeds of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) when he says: "Beware! If anyone dare oppress a member of a minority or has usurped his or her rights, or tortured, or tool away something forcibly, I will fight on behalf of the minority against the Muslim on the day of Judgement." (Sunaan–I–Abu Dawood).

The government can start by following up on the review of the Blasphemy Laws promised last year. If the debate is given priority, this parliament will provide the majority needed, and it must act fast to block reactionary hangovers from past governments to challenge the emerging national consensus against extremism and terrorism. There can be no equivocation on the truth that militancy, extremism and terrorism are explicitly connected in Pakistan. We wilfully embrace insanity if we provide impunity for persecution of our minorities, if we pamper militancy on the one hand, and denounce it on another. If the provincial budget of the Punjab government grants money to banned terrorist outfits, even if it is to their charitable wings, then we are truly embracing insanity. Because this is no political leader using extremist votes to buy power. This is institutionalized support to the same outfits we have banned.

Such actions will empower the very forces the Pakistan government and army is engaged in fighting at a very heavy cost. It is a negation of the tremendous sacrifice we as a nation are making, of 3000 people killed in the name of terrorism since last year, of the children still living in refugee camps in their own country, of the fear that stalks our streets after thousands of bombs detonate in reprisals to state operations against militants. It is a negation of the democratic, humane identity of Pakistan.

Our post-colonial state identity may be ambiguous, but it is precisely this space that can be used as an opportunity to steer our fragile nation-hood in another direction.

Email: sherryrehman@jinnahinstitute. com








Recently Pakistan — especially cities in Punjab — has witnessed a number of suicides due to extreme poverty,. The casualties of poverty include individuals who killed themselves and those who took their whole families with them. One of the recent tragedies falling in the latter category occurred in Lahore, where a rickshaw driver, Akbar Ali, attempted suicide along with his entire family. Only his wife survived the effects of the poisonous pills they had swallowed.

Nadeem, also from Lahore and likewise the sole-bread earner of his family of six, lost his battle against poverty and committed suicide. His anguish is evident from the fact that even though he was well aware of the needs of those dependent on him, he could not take it any longer and ended his misery, only adding to that of his family.

Mere promises, especially baseless ones, don't hold much weight with the people of Pakistan. They know that their lives will not change no matter how passionately the callous politicians and their cronies debate the problems. It would be advisable for these politicians and their cronies to stop hopping from one talk show to another and concentrate on what they are being paid for—to work for the betterment of the people of Pakistan.

TV appearances will not solve the serious problems faced by the nation. Unfortunately, these suicides only spurred further television debates among the leaders of the country.

Commenting on the sudden alarming rise in the rate of suicide in Pakistan, Riaz Pirzada, a member of the National Assembly belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, opined on television that suicides were the will of God. He added that everyone has to die and nobody should try interfering with God's actions. Since there is no disputing the will of the Almighty, can this statement be interpreted to mean: let them, the poor masses, commit suicide, because the government will not, cannot or does not want to, do anything to change the prevailing situation?

People like Mr Pirzada should look up the famous, or infamous, statement attributed to French Queen Marie Antoinette, who, on learning that the peasants of France did not have bread, said, "Let them eat cake."

This indifference to the plight of the masses, or feigned ignorance about it, led to the deadly French Revolution which led to Marie Antoinette and many others being beheaded at the guillotine.

Seven thousand people are reported to have committed suicide since 2008 due to abject poverty On the other hand, while Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has given Punjab subsidised bread, his brother, Mr Sharif Senior, can't seem to get over his personal vendetta against military dictator Musharraf.

Maybe Chief Minister Sharif should tell brother that most people will not agree that Mr Nawaz Sharif's personal vendetta has anything to do with the real concerns of the masses who are struggling to make ends meet. If the nation ever rises up to punish former and current rulers and leaders, it won't be for personal vengeance but because they don't have enough to eat.

A large number of people believe that these suicides are heralds of a worse and truly devastating public reaction. They say Pakistan is on the brink of a bloody revolution. That will be God's will too!

The writer works for Geo TV.







SAARC Ministerial Meeting in Islamabad, in a joint statement, pledged to join hands to eradicate menace of terrorism which is a major challenge facing the region. This is a positive development that the countries of the region have expressed their resolve to work collectively and extend cooperation to each other to root out the scourge of terrorism.

There is no doubt that a single country cannot overcome this problem, but we would like to point out that the Indian Home Minister availed of the opportunity to exploit his visit to Pakistan and once again asked Islamabad to try more people in Mumbai terrorists attack case. SAARC Charter lays down in categorical term that bilateral matters cannot be raised at the forum. Indian Home Minister Chidambaram violated the SAARC Charter and raised the issue amid SAARC meetings by demanding that he wanted more suspects on trial for alleged links to the 2008 Mumbai attack. Pakistan had several time asked India to provide concrete evidence so that their cases are moved in the courts. Pakistani courts have ruled that there is no enough evidence to detain Hafiz Saeed. However in our view in addition to cooperation at the regional level to eliminate terrorism, what is equally important is that the member countries should have pondered over the causes of terrorism. Unless and until the causes are identified and addressed the menace of terrorism could not be eliminated. We would emphasise that people choose terrorism when they are unable to correct what they perceive to be a social, political or historical wrong — when they have been stripped of their land or denied basic fundamental rights. People are also forced to take up arms when they feel that they have left with no other way out to get their grievances listened to and addressed. Any effective strategy against terrorism requires knowing what motivates this form of violence against innocent civilians. No doubt terrorism is the biggest challenge in the South Asian region yet it is also a global phenomenon. Therefore in our view high profile moots like the SAARC Ministerial Conferences should not be used for propaganda by a country but for more productive purposes by identifying the causes, making an objective approach to the problem and laying of uniform standards that would boost trust among the member nations and promote the development of an effective counter terrorism strategy.







Law Minister for doling out huge sums of money among bar councils to seek their support against the judiciary and using a PAF plane for visiting various cities. Addressing a public meeting in Sialkot he also accused President Zardari for giving a safe exit to former President Pervez Musharraf under an agreement.

The tone and tenor of Mian Saheb indicates that he has started lashing out at certain personalities in the Government and workers of his party would welcome this. But in our view lot of water has passed under the bridge and there are many critical issues facing Pakistan including terrorism, law & order, economy, unemployment and inflation which deserve urgent attention of top political leadership of the country. The PML-N Quaid, no doubt, is a popular leader and after the 18th amendment he has an opportunity to become Prime Minister of the country for the third time. Main opposition party is always considered as government in waiting and keeping that in view, we think it is opportune time for Mian Nawaz Sharif that he should come out with a positive and implementable agenda to address the problems the country is confronting. He has a vision to take Pakistan on the path of progress, prosperity and people have pinned high hopes on him. We think MNS has a good team of financial experts and top among them is Senator Ishaq Dar who enjoys good reputation among politicians of all shades as well as in the business community. A team under him could be tasked to identify the ills in our economy and how the PML-N, if voted to power would put the economy on the path of accelerated development. The country would be facing many more problems in the coming years like the shortage of water and lack of a plan for food security. In this scenario, people are tired of listening the routine sermons and accusations against the past and present rulers by the political parties. They expect from Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is a respected and matured politician to give his future plan to get the country out of the multifarious crises.







ABJECT poverty and desperation are forcing people in the country to commit suicides and sell their children, as they see no sign of relief in their unending daily sufferings. The latest suicides took place in Rahimyar Khan where a woman took her life as well as of her three children when they hurled themselves onto a rail track and were crushed by the train.

Yet another gruesome incident took place in Lahore where a woman in desperation injected poison to her children and herself over family dispute. Such shocking incidents have become a routine particularly in Punjab. Almost on daily basis one reads or hears such reports which are reflective of the crumbling down of the social fabric and lack of concern in the society for the poor who cannot afford two times meal or resources to get treatment. There are apparently two major causes i.e. crushing poverty and severe dent in the psyche of the society for not taking care of the poor neighbours on which our Great Religion lays special emphasis. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had attached great importance to the rights of neighbours and had declared good neighbourliness to be part of Imaan and an essential requisite for salvation. Projection of such incidents in the media had also a negative impact and brutalized the society. It is shameful that in Pakistan which is an Islamic Republic and was carved out not only for ideological purposes but also to ameliorate the lot of the poor masses, people are committing suicides. We have no doubt that there are millions in Pakistan who pay Zakat and ready to extend assistance to deserving people. It is time that Members of the civil society and welfare organisations must play a pro-active role in identifying those in need and helping them out so that the poor are not forced to commit suicides.








Our rulers are going round with a begging bowl in US and West Europe. Persons are committing suicide in Pakistan out of starvation. Common man is in dire straits for his inability to meet his two ends meet. The economic scene is dismal. But our leaders are rolling in wealth. While common man cannot dress properly they wear Savil Row suits, and dress like film actors. There is not the slightest indication in their behaviour, in their houses, love for most expensive fleet of cars, in their lavish style of stopping reeking out of the public money Every rupee they can extract etc.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken many actions for the benefit of the country to bring home the need for accountability. One such actions was to demand the list of loan defaulters who had huge mounts of loans written off since 1971, province wise. I wonder who was given the absolute power to write of huge amounts of loans taken from public money with the banks. These loan write off beneficiaries were allowed to eat up billions of rupees. They were not poor persons who could not pay back loans , they were not small borrowers but the mighty lords of the country, political heavy weights. In case of small borrowers the banks would have had loans recovered through their noses. The Supreme Court has also asked for the details of the properties which were mortgaged to the banks as sureties against the loans, and the Attorney General has been asked to assist in the enquiry. These loans were in huge millions totaling billions. For the Political barons to ask for small amounts would have been below their dignity. It is said that there were cases where ' big" people established banks whose money they gobbled.. The account holders are going round trying to get their money. It is feared that when the real figures are revealed, and if there is no hanky panky in supplying the figures, the amounts of written off loans might well be in astronomical figures comparable to the amount of charity we are begging abroad.

One thing people would like to know whether in countries like US, UK India, such huge amounts of loans have ever been written off and if so, were they the mighty political barons or those financial institutions which went into bankruptcy? I wonder if in India there has been cases of write off of such huge amount of loans of political barons . It could emerge from the enquiry that the blessings of such generosity is a feature of Pakistan only but I would like to wait for the facts to emerge.

This is part of the big enquiry From where the high and mighty of Pakistan got the power to do as they please , pardon their beloved ones the moment they are sentenced, to write of loans, or do anything the mighty in Pakistan wish to do. From where they have such unfettered powers. It seems that the Rulers in Pakistan can do whatever they want, as if they have some divine attribute to have no limitation on their powers. It seems that even the so-called Maharajas did not exercise such unfettered powers as our rulers have started to take it for granted. One thing is well known about democracy: No one can just by word of mouth do whatever one wants. This is just to stop such arbitrary powers that limitations are provided in all REAL democracy. It is negation of democracy to take actions on personal whims or likes and dislike of rulers. All actions have to conform to the law and observance of the procedures required to ensure that due care has been taken to remove any doubt that the action was motivated by personal considerations . There are cheeks and balances and procedures through which decisions of the Rulers have to pass, Orders of words of mouth are extreme arbitrary authoritarianism and militate the essence of democracy.

The extraordinary powers to grant pardon or bestow any favour like write off of loans where they exist in foreign countries are exercised only under very exceptional circumstances , very rarely and with much deliberation. Such extraordinary powers are exercised where quite obviously there is a borderline cases where it would lead to injustice were an exception not made. The 'discretionary powers do not create a zone in which all reserves of rules are thrown to the winds and there is no limit to the cases in which discretionary powers can be used. Discretionary powers do not mean taking action in total disregard of normal limitations. To give an example of the right of a "democratic" rule to determine the strength of a cabinet can it mean that the Ruler can nominate a cabinet of one thousand ministers ? Nowhere it is written how many ministers can be appointed in a cabinet ( Now an indication has been given in the 18th Amendment to limit the size of the federal cabinet but it remains to be seen what will be its fate, Or the Government cannot appoint five thousand Special Advisers to the Prime Minister and the President. One may ask are these high and might so ignorant in affairs of the State that they need unlimited Advisers and Special Advisers "with the rank and privileges of a cabinet minister" or is it a whimsical approach to nepotism and favouritism? Or appoint Roving ambassadors or special envoys as many as one pleases.

Do our rulers not find that in those countries which are counted as democratic rationality and not whim of the rulers determine what should be done? Perhaps it would be useful for Pakistani rulers and power elite to find out how their counterparts dress, live, what kind of cars they use, how much money is given to them for entertainment, how much is the expenditure of Indian President on each item, entertainment, maintenance of the Prime Minister's house etc. They may try to come down to the facilities available to their counterpart in that "poor" and "small" country. They might go and visit the State Guest Houses and see how public money is spent carefully there. What is the harm in making such comparisons?

While on this subject of saving money, may I venture to request whether the Government has taken any action on the information made available to them that in Tokyo half of the electricity is produced by burning the waste of the city, Have they approached the Japanese Government to solicit information on utilization of waste for producing electricity, have we asked our Embassy in Tokyo to seek information on this method or not ? If this is one of the several cheapest methods of producing money why should we not find out how it is or was being done? I was surprised to learn from my house cleaner, who works as cleaner in CDA, that he knows that in Japan the waste is first sorted out in various type of waste and then used for this purpose. Obviously he had a briefing in the CDA on the use of waste in Japan. To run a country is by selfless service not by loud and cheap propaganda of beating drums of singing praises of what :we: have done. Thick lading of propaganda can become counter productive and boomerang on the rulers. It becomes sickening.








It would be naive to assume that General Mc Chrystal was unaware of the consequences of 'Rolling Stone' saga. He willfully committed professional suicide by stepping on a media equivalent of WMD. Probably he could clearly see his Waterloo approaching fast. Obama administration had given him almost all the resources that he had asked for. Now it was time for accountability. It is not the fall of a general; it indeed is the fall of a strategy which was constructed in vacuum, based on denial of ground realities. Fixations and oversimplifications had effectively blocked the way of healthy inputs, which have all along been plenty, from within American intelligentsia as well as from the well wishers of America, the world over.

Just thirteen months after the sacking of Mc Chrystal's predecessor General David McKiernan, on the pretext of the need for a fresh approach, the things have fallen wide apart. Mc Chrystal is the latest scapegoat. General Petraeus could the next, followed by the Supreme Commander himself, unless a reality check is carried out, followed by an honest course correction. Afghan war is much serious in complexity to be won through military surges as championed by Mc Chrystal as indeed by Petraeus, and steered by ruthless military industrial mafia. With each passing day Mc Chrysal's frustration was soaring, he could no longer sustain the pressure from within and chose to become a 'Runaway General'.

Now Petraeus' nightmare must have started with a ticking clock haunting him, snowballing a feeling of strangulation. At its focal point, the Afghan war is not winnable by force, irrespective of how much force is injected into it. Use of military force could bring unimaginable destruction to this region but not a victory for Americans. Success requires a complicated political process with the forces that be. That is the force that holds the country and actually rules the territory. It is quite clear that the government in Kabul and the security forces under its command are not that force. The Taliban alone may also not be that force either. However, these two in unison are certainly a powerful factor to be reckoned with. Of these, Taliban believe that they are winning the war; and Karzai government has lost faith in the occupation forces' ability to salvage the situation. Hence, coaxing Taliban to agree to a relationship of a co-dominion over Afghanistan from their position of strength is not an easy task. Especially when casualties of occupation forces are on the rise and public support for war effort is waning in most of the Western capitals.

It is amply clear that the counterinsurgency strategy that was envisaged to turn around the Afghan war by July 2011 has collapsed, both conceptually as well as structurally. Powerful actors in the Obama administration widely disagree on the counterinsurgency strategy of weakening the Taliban, securing major population centres, bolstering the Afghan government's effectiveness and rushing in aid and development. Critics often argue whether a strategy aimed at bolstering the Afghan government can ever succeed in a country with ethnic divisions and a history of tribal rule. Afghanistan is in disorder and it is because of an American policy mired in fatal contradictions. Split between the US civilian and military teams in Afghanistan has not disappeared with Mc Chrystal's departure. Fissures, exposed in derogatory remarks to 'Rolling Stone' magazine would continue to haunt Petraeus. He has indeed inherited countless challenges. Eighty international troops have died so far this month, making it the deadliest month of the war. Offensive in Helmand province earlier this year has yielded poor results. Security campaign envisaged for Kandahar province is mired in controversy' and is lost in the mind of field commanders even before it could begin. Mc Chrystal had a tendency to say in public what others said in private. His leaked assessment of the Afghan war last year was one of the first official U.S. documents to note that "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India". Since then he was in the cross hair of a very powerful pro India lobby.

Nearly 100,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan, but security has never been so elusive for them or for Afghan civilians. A recent UN report amply reflects the realities on the ground. A record 153 Americans have been killed in IED attacks, this year. Explosions that maim or kill Afghan civilians are up by 94 percent over this period last year. Afghan officials are being assassinated at a rate of almost 30 a month. Suicide attacks, once unknown in Afghanistan, are occurring at a rate of about three per week. To gauge the inability of occupation forces to protect Afghan civilians: 332 children were killed or badly injured between March and June. Taliban attacks on schools, which included putting IEDs inside classrooms, kidnapping and killing school staff, and arson, have been increasing steadily in the whole of the country.

Central to the U.S. strategy of providing security in Afghanistan is the accelerated recruiting and training of Afghan soldiers and police officers, but here, too, dismal news confronts Petraeus. These forces are in shambles, marred by ethnic and sectarian tensions. Factions of the Pashtun defence minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, and Army chief Gen. Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, are conducting a virtual war with each other.There are other problems, including the Afghan army's inability to move, feed or re-supply its own troops. Money and weapons the United States pumps into the army and police feeds an illicit shadow economy. This kind of factionalism and power corruption has infected the rest of government as well, hampering its ability to extend its positive presence beyond Kabul.

Similar assessment also surfaced in a corruption investigation, into trucking and security contractors in Afghanistan; hired to transport critical war supplies to the troops. The investigation, by a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was prompted by reports that contractors were paying off Taliban not to attack truck convoys, whereby using Pentagon money in a protection racket. Congressional findings confirmed these reports. Pentagon's system of contracting fuels war-lordism, extortion, and corruption, and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents, the House panel said, adding that the Pentagon has been largely blind to the potential strategic consequences of this arrangement in which the Taliban may be buying weapons with American dollars!. Finally on the list of problems confronting Petraeus is what is widely considered a dysfunctional team of U.S. political, diplomatic and military officials with a hand in the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy. Well! General Petraeus has an unenviable job; well wishers of peace in this region wish him luck! It's time for making graceful departures from traditional fixations; such departures usually unhinge other players from their rigid positions, and hence door is opened for win-win solutions.

—The writer is a regional security analyst & a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.








In the wake of ongoing misperceptions, China has clarified that it will provide nuclear reactors to Pakistan under the years old nuclear deal. As clarified by Qin Gang, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, that the, "the nuclear cooperation between the two countries was for peaceful purposes and are "totally consistent" with its international obligations and safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency". Under the deal, "China will export two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan in a USD 2.375-billion agreement.

New Delhi and Washington objects that this deal will breach the international protocol, regarding the trade of nuclear equipment and material. U.S also object that this deal will overstep "the guidelines of the 46-country Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which bars nuclear commerce between Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) members like China and non-member states like Pakistan". Indeed, Pak-China Nuclear Deal was concluded in 1986, when China was neither the member of NSG nor it had signed the NPT. China signed the NPT in 1992 and became the member of NSG in 2004. By 2004, almost ¾th progresses had already been made on the deal between Pakistan and China. Therefore, neither of the two is applicable in case of this deal. Furthermore, the 'Indo-US Nuclear Deal-2005' later finalized in 2008, provides the precedence, and actually has opened the door for any such like deal in the future. Indeed, after setting precedence by itself, U.S has no lega