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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 30.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 30, edition 000554 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































































  1. EU AND UN







After much hype and hoopla over the prediction of the south-western monsoon being on time and the promise of abundant rains made by the Indian Meteorological Department, despair, if not gloom, has begun to set in across large swaths of the country. This year's particularly harsh summer continues to torment both cities and villages in central and northern India, giving rise to a lurking fear: What if the monsoon fails again? The IMD had predicted normal rains last year too, only to be proven wrong; the resultant drought has adversely impacted one and all, its savagery most felt in galloping food prices and runaway inflation. True, there is time yet for the monsoon to set in, but with each passing day, as further delays are announced by the IMD, concern is beginning to turn into alarm, especially for farmers with parched land. We are now told that the monsoon, after progressing smoothly in its initial phase, has stalled and will miss its date with north and central India. As if that were not bad enough, we have also been told that so far there has been a 12 per cent deficit in rains. Though the dreaded El Nino has dissipated, this has not been able to provide any succour. La Nina, which usually promises good rains, continues to play truant. What is worrisome is that with a deficit of 12 per cent, if the monsoon does not quickly revive and gather momentum by next week, the situation could turn tricky — as much has been confirmed by the IMD. This, in turn, raises the spectre of drought and its attendant consequences. Is the Prime Minister, who has been waxing eloquent on how to manage the global economy and save the world, aware of the monsoon playing hide-and-seek? Are his Ministers preparing for the worst? Or, as in the past, they are blissfully ignorant and couldn't care a toss? Cynical as it may sound, we cannot rule out the possibility of some of them rubbing their hands in glee at the possibility of a failed monsoon leading to a food crisis which in turn shall necessitate emergency food imports at exorbitant prices that will help some individuals feather their nests while the masses are left to cope with further inflation. If the Government is prepared for a second successive year of drought, it should take the people into confidence and tell them how it proposes to deal with the situation and shore up its dreams of near double-digit GDP. Mere bunkum and bogus assurances won't do.

The June-September rains are the main source of irrigation in India. The monsoon is vital for the production of paddy, sugarcane, oilseeds and other important food crops. How much of the expected agricultural output has been affected by the delayed monsoon? What does it do to foodgrain supplies? These are questions that cannot but be bothering the people as they wait for the elusive monsoon clouds and the even more elusive rains. Ironically, rather than take pre-emptive measures to hold the price line and stave off a crisis similar to last year's, the Government is busy taking steps that will lead exactly to the opposite. The sudden hike in fuel prices, at a time when inflation is running riot, merely to showcase the Government's efforts at reducing fiscal deficit at the G-20 summit — nothing else explains the timing of the flawed decision — and so that Mr Manmohan Singh gets a pat on the back from world leaders who are least interested in the plight of India's masses, speaks volumes about the uncaring UPA regime we are saddled with.








There are ominous signs of an incipient political confrontation between the Government and the Governor emanating from Karnataka which reflect poorly on the current occupant of the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore. Ever since Mr HR Bhardwaj, who was dropped by the Congress from the UPA2 Government at the Centre — as Union Law Minister in UPA1 he had served his party well and demonstrated his loyalty more than once by tweaking, if not twisting, the law, but there was little left for him to do — was packed off to Karnataka, he has chosen to play an active political role than spend his days in splendid retirement at the tax-payers' expense. He is not the first Governor who sees himself as New Delhi's Viceroy, nor shall he be the last. But what makes Mr Bhardwaj particularly undesirable as Governor is his penchant for backroom politics and natural urge to spite Opposition parties, more so the BJP. There is also the additional factor that while the Congress may have thought it fit to put him out to pasture, Mr Bhardwaj believes that he can still make a meaningful contribution to his party by making things difficult for the BJP and Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. Since politics for most of our cynical politicians bereft of ethics and morality is the art of the possible, he may have convinced himself that by causing political instability in BJP-ruled Karnataka he will succeed in sufficiently impressing his party's supreme leader about his indispensability at the Centre. As the adage goes, hope springs eternal in the human heart; in Congress loyalists, it gushes, no matter how down and out they may be.

What should concern people, however, is the mischief potential of an active politician in Bangalore's Raj Bhavan. Mr Bhardwaj's several attempts to create problems for the State Government are known to all. So is his despicable effort to create a rift between the State Government and the Election Commission of India and thereby embarrass both the Chief Minister and his senior Ministers. This does not bode well. If there are specific complaints against Ministers, irrespective of their nature, they should be definitely looked into by the appropriate authority. But allegations, unless established as facts with the help of irrefutable evidence, cannot become the basis for sacking Ministers or initiating disciplinary action against individuals. In any event, Raj Bhavan does not have the power to arbitrate or the authority to sit in judgement, nor can its occupant arrogate to himself or herself the right to play ombudsman: A duly-elected Government which enjoys majority in the Assembly and popular support is answerable to the people, not the Governor. Mr Bhadwaj would do well to accept this fact. If that makes life too boring for him, we can only wish him tough luck. Of course, he has the liberty to dump it all and return to Delhi. That's entirely his choice.









Kyrgyzstan's emergence as Central Asia's only parliamentary democracy should not distract attention from the parallel race riots that again pose a questionmark over the future of multi-ethnic states. India may have been a nation long before it became a state, as Mr Jaswant Singh claims, but some historians still do not discount the possibility of countries like India, Indonesia and Russia one day splitting at the ethnic seams. They predict that the future belongs to smaller mono-ethnic states where a common cultural heritage creates a sense of identity that inspires and sustains economic growth.

This seems a contrary destiny for what is trumpeted as a borderless world. But while immigrants to the US willingly reshape their identities to conform to the 'American Dream', people elsewhere are becoming more possessive about the culture, language and religion that set them apart. Since ethnic form also often masks political identity, this means rival communal claims to political power. It also points to a role for trans-national organisations that can ensure administrative uniformity without violating ethno-nationalistic sentiment.

Belgium illustrates the extent to which nationalism feeds on economic and political factors and can, therefore, be subsumed under the over-arching authority of an organisation like the European Union. The kingdom's current political deadlock was caused by the emergence of two evenly-matched parties, the New Flemish Alliance in Flanders in the north and the Socialist Party in the French-speaking south, in the recent election. Even the cause of the election reflected the inability of Flems and French to live harmoniously for Prime Minister Yves Leterme resigned in April following disputes over the areas surrounding Brussels, the capital, a French-speaking enclave in Flemish territory. The electoral outcome confirmed the division and refuelled the break-up fears.

No wonder General Charles de Gaulle remarked that the British invented Belgium to annoy the French. For ignoring ethnic logic, the 19th century British helped Dutch-speaking Flems (about 60 per cent) to secede from Holland and join French-speaking Walloons (31 per cent) to create a kingdom for Queen Victoria's beloved Uncle Leopold.

Demographic inconsistency also explains Kyrgyzstan's anti-Uzbek riots. One-sixth of the population was liquidated when the Kyrgyz revolted against Tsarist Russia in 1916. We do not know how many Kyrgyz perished under Stalin who is unlikely to have treated them more benevolently than he did the Cossacks, but Kyrgyzstan's borders are a relic of imperialism so that the Kyrgyz comprise only 65 per cent of the population. Moscow protects the 13 per cent Russians but Uzbeks (14 per cent) are at Kyrgyz mercy.

As events in East Pakistan, Timor Leste and Sri Lanka have confirmed, there are usually sound political or economic reasons for nationalistic fervour. Kyrgyz wrath exploded when Russia raised the price of energy and was vented on the Uzbeks for several reasons. They occupied fertile lands that Kyrgyz farmers coveted, they supported President Roza Otunbayeva in a region that backed the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakuyev, and Kyrgyzstan has an undemarcated 130-km border and territorial disputes with Uzbekistan.

Nor is Belgian tension only about language. Though in Flanders, Brussels enjoys bilingual status and is dominated by French-speakers, to the annoyance of the Flemish who, being richer, want more power in regional hands. They also complain of having to subsidise wasteful, leftist French-speaking southerners, knowing that Belgium's economic cohesion would be threatened if transfers of money from the north to the south stopped. The New Flemish Alliance tapped into this resentment.

A decisive outcome would have simplified Government-forming but the New Flemish Alliance is just one seat ahead of the Socialists in the Lower House of Parliament. That suggests that instead of separating, the two groups might settle for a loose federation. A similar formula might have spared Sri Lanka the agony of a bitter civil war if Sinhalese diehards had not been convinced that federation was the thin end of the wedge of secession. Jawaharlal Nehru thought a confederation would take care of the problems as then articulated of Jammu & Kashmir and East Pakistan, while creating a bridge for cooperation between India and Pakistan. Today, only a federal solution gives Iraq's Kurdish minority self-Government and preserves the fragile unity of a country that, too, the British created with no regard for ethnic homogeneity but to serve Britain's imperial purpose.

Iraq is not the only victim. The receding tide of Empire has left behind a number of states in Asia and Africa whose boundaries do not conform to national logic. These are not so much "imagined communities" in Benedict Anderson's sense as imperial provinces that decolonisation has forced into independence. Nigeria fought a bloody war to prevent Biafra separating. So did the Congo to hold on to Katanga. Mineral wealth rather than national loyalty accounted for both campaigns. But ethnic cleansing has already occurred on a vicious scale in several regions and border revision is bound to follow.

Europe is familiar with the process. Nationalism provoked two World Wars, led to the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and more recently of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. Belgium and Switzerland are now the only two European states without a single overwhelmingly dominant nationality. Today's map of Europe testifies to the triumph of ethno-nationalism. Some might say that with Basque nationalists lurking in Spain and other small groups in the Balkans — and, of course, Russia's Chechens — the painfully drawn-out process of ethnic disaggregation is still not complete. But the EU and Nato can be relied on to ensure there are no major jolts.

The Indian Union performs a similar function. Leaving aside mystic claims of a sense of nationhood predating political unity, the real reason for India holding together despite a million mutinies is that good governance and parliamentary democracy (both relative) have invested the Indian label — originally an administrative device — with political and cultural content. Diverse races and religions have acquired something in common as a result. Even those who might still chafe at the common nationality cannot deny they have gained much from its system of markets, communications, public services and finance.

Trans-national groups like the Organisation of American States, Association of South-East Asian Nations, Gulf Coordinating Council, Organisation of African Unity and even our own moribund South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation might one day be able similarly to compensate for the weaknesses of small states driven by ethnic sentiment rather than hard logic.








As if the present rate of inflation at 17 per cent were not enough, the Government has set the fuel prices on fire. The common man's back is already breaking due to the high cost of food and essentials. Yam is selling at Rs 100 a kg, ash gourd at Rs 30, French beans at Rs 100, tomatoes at Rs 40, cluster beans at Rs 60, colocasia at Rs 50. The price of apples is over Rs 100, banana Rs 35, plums Rs 100. The price of cereals has also shot up to unimaginable heights. And now due to hike in fuel prices, all these prices will shoot up due to rise in transportation costs. The price of cement and other construction material will go up as also the cost of accommodation and other infrastructure projects. For senior citizens, it is simply unbearable as interest rates on bank deposits have been reduced simultaneously.

It is not clear if the Government is really concerned over the matter. It is said 90 per cent of our requirements of crude are imported. The prices and inflation depend on this factor. Yet the number of personal vehicles on the roads is increasing resulting in humongous fuel consumption and atmospheric pollution. Most of the personal vehicles do not carry passengers to their full capacity. Their owners drive around with the air conditioners on full blast. They constitute 80 per cent of the vehicles on the roads while buses for mass transportation constitute only 20 per cent.

While decontrolling fuel prices will bring down the deficit, the Government needs to formulate a policy for mass public transportation to reduce congestion, pollution and global warming instead of encouraging mass automobile manufacture. As an immediate measure to discourage private cars on the roads, it should subsidise fuel prices like diesel for mass transportation. The affluent should be made to pay for their transportation from their pockets.

Besides hike in parking charges, taxes on entry and exit of cars should be raised. Entry tax into the central business district of cities and other congested zones during peak hours should be introduced as in Singapore or the UK. This could take care of the problem to a great extent.








On May 28, there was a massacre of over 100 worshippers at two mosques in Lahore by Pakistani militants. The worshippers belonged to the Ahmediya sect, one of the religious minorities in Pakistan that the Government machinery either discriminates against or declines to adequately protect. The Ahmediyas are regarded as heretics for believing that Mohammed is not the last prophet.

According to police sources, Punjabi Taliban groups were behind the massacre. Following the twin strikes, the militants also carried out an audacious attack on a hospital in order to free one of the captured terrorists receiving treatment. Though they did not succeed in freeing him, they killed four policemen and a patient before escaping. The victims in the mosque massacre include a retired Army Lieutenant-General and several former judges and civil servants.

In the past, Punjabi militants have been somewhat distinct from militants from tribal areas and the Pakistan armed forces retained a semblance of control over them. This is no longer true. The growing role of Punjabis marks a major escalation of extremist threats in Pakistan. Punjab is the heartland of Pakistan and home to its political and military elite. Many Punjabi Taliban leaders have received military training which makes them more lethal than rural Pashtoon fighters. Pakistan is now witnessing a coalescence of various militant jihadi groups. According to Bruce Riedl, a former top official in the White House National Security Council dealing with South Asia, the big danger is that these groups are fighting for recruits from the same Punjabi families and clans that the Pakistani Army recruits from for its Officer Corps.

Southern Punjab has become a hub for Punjabi militants who maintain close touch with the Taliban and travel to the tribal belt for both training and combat. The traffic is in fact two-way with Punjabi militants providing safe havens to Taliban fighters and commanders when needed. Indeed, the Taliban movement in Pakistan is now dominated by Punjabi militant groups once created and controlled by the ISI. Like Frankenstein's monster, these groups have now joined Al Qaeda and the Taliban to battle the Pakistani Government. Their goal is to spread the message of their rigid, intolerant interpretation of Islam to the heartland of Pakistan and beyond.

The extremists' goals have become increasingly maximalist. Many seek just not to liberate Kashmir but see eventual control of territory within India as the true prize of their struggle. Addressing a gathering at Kuba mosque in Islamabad on February 5, 2008, Nasar Javed, a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba functionary, said, "The Government of Pakistan may have abandoned jihad but we have not. We will continue to wage jihad till eternity."

According to political analyst Hasan Askari, the militants have polished their approach, expanded their arsenal and improved their tactics. They also seem to be targeting the Army as well as the police — their original targets. The federal Government says that Punjabi groups have been responsible for most of the daring strikes in the province, but authorities in Lahore continue to deny their existence. The provincial Law Minister insists that he did nothing wrong to canvass for votes in the company of some of these militant leaders. While the Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs and other foreign fighters who have found refuge in Pakistan's tribal areas have no option but to fight the Pakistani Army, the Punjabis have the option to return to their own province and stage more attacks.

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf outlawed two Punjabi extremist groups — the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi following attacks on the Shia sect. Many Jhangvi fighters then moved to North-Western Frontier Province. They are now the operational arm of the Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Rohan Gunaratne, the author of Inside Al Qaeda, says that it is difficult to distinguish between the three groups.

Islamabad is trying hard to stop other militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and LeT from joining the Taliban. Jaish-e-Mohammad, based in Bhawalpur, is ambivalent when it comes to fighting the Pakistani state. The 50,000-strong LeT, the largest Punjabi militant group, has so far not responded to the Taliban siren call. The LeT was responsible for perpetrating the massacre in Mumbai in November 2008 that pushed the two countries to the brink of war. Though sympathetic to other jihadi groups, the LeT has not been taking part in the current spate of attacks because it still has close links with the ISI.

Many suspect that Punjabi groups are still accorded some kind of protection by the ISI. Punjab Government official says the activities of Punjabi groups are not sectarian but directed mainly against India. Domestic terrorism is not on their agenda. The killings in Lahore have brought to the surface the rift between the Central Government and the administration in Punjab. Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that an operation has to be launched to flush out these Punjabi groups. According to him, groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are part of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Punjab Government, however, does not agree with this assessment. There has been no disarmament or de-mobilisation programme for the Punjabi Taliban because every Pakistani Government has so far denied that they exist.

The Punjabi leadership has come to the forefront because of the American success in targeting the Pashtoon militants. In comparison to the rag-tag and bobtail Pashtoon, Punjabi Taliban are highly trained and motivated. Another new group calling itself the Amjad Farooqi Taliban comprising Punjabis claimed responsibility for attacks on Rawalpindi military headquarters and three security installations in Lahore as well as a suicide attack in the North-Western Frontier Province. Pakistan, therefore, can no longer afford to limit its fight against the terrorists to the north-west. Terrorist groups are now striking roots in Punjab and the distinction between those that the state is willing to tolerate and those it wants to curb is rapidly fading.

The growing nexus between the jihadis based in FATA and extremists outside the region is one of the most troubling recent developments. According to Ms Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst, "If the Taliban spreads its tentacles across the province this would change the battlefield completely." Although the number of jihadis operating on the Pakistan and Afghanistan border is not very large, their growing ideological appeal represents the biggest threat to Pakistan and other countries targeted by the jihadis, including the US.

There is, however, one heartening trend. Some civil society groups in Pakistan have been increasingly vocal in demanding action against terrorist groups for the horrendous bloodletting since the mosque massacre. They have also been rooting for a crackdown on Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h. Their protests offer a glimmer of hope.

-- The writer is former Director, National Police Academy, and former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission.







Israel is subject daily to scores of false claims and slanders that receive a remarkable amount of credibility in Western media (as also elsewhere), academic, and intellectual circles even when no proof is offered.

Palestinian groups (including the Gaza and Palestinian Authority regimes), associated local and allied foreign non-government organisations, radical and anti-Israel groups, and politically committed journalists are eager to act as propaganda agents making up false stories or transmitting them without serious thought or checking.

Others have simply defined the Palestinians as the 'victims' and 'underdogs' while Israel is the 'villain' and 'oppressor'. Yet truth remains truth; academic and journalist standards are supposed to apply.

While regular journalists may ask for an official Israeli reaction to such stories the undermanned Government agencies are deluged by hundreds of these stories, and committed to checking out seriously each one. Thus, the Israeli Government cannot keep up with the flow of lies.

So the key question is to understand the deliberateness of this anti-Israel propaganda and evaluating the credibility of the sources.

An important aspect of this is to understand that Israel is a decent, democratic country with a free media that is energetic about exploring any alleged wrong-doing and a fair court system that does the same. To demonise Israel into a monstrous, murderous state — which is often done —makes people believe any negative story.

Some of these are big false stories — the alleged killing of Muhammad al-Dura and the supposed Jenin massacre — others are tiny. Some — like the claim Israel was murdering Palestinians to steal their organs — get into the main Western newspapers while others only make it into smaller and non-English ones.

Taken together, this campaign of falsification is creating a big wave not only of anti-Israel sentiment but of anti-Semitism on a Medieval scale, simply the modern equivalent of claims that the Jews poisoned wells, spread Bubonic Plague, or murdered children to use their blood for Passover matzohs.

Come to think of it even those claims are still in circulation. Indeed, on June 8, the Syrian representative at the UN Human Rights Council (oh, the irony!) claimed in a speech that Israeli children are taught to extol blood-drinking. No Western delegate attacked the statement.

Here are three actual examples of well-educated Westerners believing such modern legends reported to me recently by colleagues:

n A former classmate, one told me, claimed that the Palestinians are living in death camps, being starved, etc. Asked to provide facts and provided with evidence to the contrary, he could provide no real examples. Finally, he remarked, "The truth is always somewhere in the middle."

n Hundreds of American college professors signed a petition claiming that Israel was supposedly about to throw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of the West Bank though there was zero evidence of any such intention and, of course, nothing ever happened.

n A British writer of some fame claimed, on the basis of an alleged single conversation with a questionable source, that Israel was preparing gas chambers for the mass murder of Palestinians. When asked if she was really claiming this would happen, she stated that it wasn't going to happen but only because people like her had sounded the alarm to prevent it.

And what of the accusations of genocide contained in an article by sensationalist Israeli reporter Uzi Mahnaimi (even though his stories almost always prove to be wrong The Sunday Times never learns) and the respected Marie Colvin's November 1998 in The Sunday Times reporting Israel was attempting to build an "ethno-bomb" containing a biological agent that could specifically target genetic traits present amongst Arab populations? Or the Guardian's more recent distortion of documentation to claim that Israel was selling nuclear weapons to South Africa?

There is no limit. When stories are proven wrong, the damage remains, apologies are non-existent or muted, and no lesson is learned because the same process is soon repeated. (In The Guardian, it is repeated not only on a daily basis but sometimes several times a day!) But perhaps readers could learn to disregard what they have repeatedly seen has been untrue?

Note, as in so many of these stories, the Israeli goal is said to be murder pure and simple. The message conveyed is: What kind of people would behave this way? The Israelis (or Jews in general) not only don't deserve to have a state, they don't even deserve to live. Wiping them off the planet would be doing the world a favour. Hmm, where have we heard this before?

Having seen so many such stories disproved over the years — as Israel's credibility, while not perfect, has compared favourably with that of any Western democratic state — one might think a lesson would be learned. But as the great American journalist Eric Severeid remarked many years ago, nothing can protect someone when the media sets out deliberately to misunderstand and report falsely about them.

The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.








Of all the challenges discussed at the G20 summit in Toronto, the largest and most pressing was Government debt and related issues — unsustainable budget deficits and the need for tax increases and cuts in social programmes, pensions and wages.

The leaders of the world's 20 largest economies were forced to acknowledge that the world needs to start sobering up after a 25-year debt-fueled bender. The G20 comprises the 20 largest economies in the world, with the European Union counting as one member. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the European Central Bank also participate in G20 summits. The group accounts for 85 per cent of the global GDP.

Serious economists have long compared debt and alcohol. The cheap loans of the 1990s and the early 2000s were certainly no less intoxicating than wine, whisky or vodka. Many borrowers simply could not resist taking out more and more easy loans. They lost control, much like alcoholics who cannot stop after the first shot. The inevitable hangover came in the form of the global financial crisis, and it has lasted for over a year already.

Others go even further, calling the debt trap divine retribution for extravagant spending and the arrogance of unbridled consumerism. As proof, they point out that the words 'debt' and 'sin' are synonyms in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples.

How simple it would be if debtors and sinners could find salvations in indulgences, like the final statements of G20 summits. But life is more complicated than that. Governments will have to reform their own spending and work together to reform the entire global financial system. They will have to learn to live within their means and borrow only when absolutely necessary. The debtors and sinners must repent. And there is only one way to repent in the global economy: To spend less.

But can they do it? The severity of the sins (and the hangover) varies from country to country. Russia has been more fortunate than most thanks to its stabilisation funds, which were financed by high oil and gas prices. It has the least debt (including sovereign, business and consumer debt) of the 20 leading economies.

Russia's debt-to-GDP ratio is currently 71 per cent, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). The world's biggest debtors are Japan (471 per cent), Britain (466 per cent), Spain (366 per cent), France (322 per cent) and Germany (286 per cent). The foreign debt of the United States is 296 per cent of GDP, China's is 158 per cent and India's is 129 per cent. This translates into hundreds of billions of dollars.

When a country's debt exceeds GDP several times over, this means it is borrowing much more than it takes in. The figures cited by the McKinsey Global Institute are stunning but by no means record-setting; they are still manageable. The countries in serious trouble are Iceland (1,200 per cent) and Ireland (700 per cent).

Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are the exceptions. Norway's GDP actually exceeds its foreign debt by 156 per cent, Finland's by 57 per cent and Sweden's by nearly 20 per cent, even though they have tons of social programmes and a generous safety net that Americans can only dream of. In these countries, the Government spending actually benefits the economy. This is a testament to Scandinavian socialism.

There comes a time, even in large economies like the United States, when a country's ability to absorb debt reaches a limit — when each borrowed dollar yields less and less return. According to US statistics, each borrowed dollar yielded nearly 90 cents of profit in the 1960s compared to just 10 cents in 2010. The debt super-cycle has petered out; the time has come to start repaying our debts, as the G20 leaders affirmed in Toronto.

They have agreed that there should be common principles, but methods should be differentiated for and tailored to national circumstances.

The problem is that the United States, Japan, and especially Europe are overly optimistic about the prospects for economic recovery. The world's wealthiest countries are facing major demographic changes, and the generation of the 2030s will be forced to pay the debts incurred in the 2000s.

The population in Japan, Britain, France, and Germany is aging so fast (and their senior citizens are living much longer and better) that in a few years a single working citizen in these countries will have to pay for the pension of one or two retirees. Rapid economic growth is simply not possible in the face of a declining workforce, which means that debts will not be repaid quickly.








THE circle has turned full in India- Canada relations. Just two weeks ago, Canada accepted full responsibility for the bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 " Kanishka" by Khalistani terrorists. On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper signed a civil nuclear agreement over a quarter of a century after Ottawa reneged on a previous deal.


In 1974, protesting India's first nuclear test at Pokhran, Canada had terminated all nuclear cooperation with India and dealt the fledgling Indian civil nuclear programme a near- mortal blow. The reason for the Canadian action was that India may have used nuclear materials supplied by it for the Cirus ( Canada India Research US) reactor for making the explosive device.


This agreement pre- dated the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty or the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the only commitment India made was that the US- supplied heavy water that was used to start up the reactor would be used only for peaceful purposes.


The worst impact fell on India's nuclear power programme which was based on the CANDU ( Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactor.


It would be safe to say that almost all of India's nuclear power programme is even today based on CANDU derived technology which India had to learn from scratch.


India has now upgraded the old 200 MW CANDU design to 640 MW. Meanwhile, Canada has developed more advanced designs of 700- 800 MW and even a 1000 MW reactor.


Canada, of course, holds some 20 per cent of the world's reserves of natural uranium.


The combination of advanced technology and nuclear materials makes Canada a good partner for India's civil nuclear programme.


Hopefully, the two countries will be able to work out an effective implementation plan and make up for the lost time.



IF evidence was really needed about how brutal policemen can be in their ways, it is to be had from the death of a Government Railway Police constable in police lock- up in Kaushambi district of Uttar Pradesh.


That the Saini police could fatally injure Ansar Ahmad, who was in uniform when he was detained, is also an indicator of the treatment cops must be meting out to civilians, especially those from the poorer sections.


The incident should once again highlight the continuing problem India has with custodial deaths and torture. Figures collated by the Asian Centre for Human Rights say nearly 1,500 custodial deaths take place in India every year. The atmosphere of impunity under which our agencies function can be gauged from the fact that few convictions have been recorded for custodial deaths.


While the Centre is to be commended for introducing the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 in Parliament, greater transparency is needed on its provisions. Simply acting on the Law Commission's recommendation of placing the burden of proof on law- enforcing agencies in the case of a custodial death, will greatly redress the situation.



IN not many places do you see a battle between the desire to save an ancient culture and the temptation to bring it into the socalled mainstream. The Jarawa tribal culture in the Andaman Islands is one such.


The Unesco wants the 300 remaining Jarawa tribals left in the island's jungles to retain their identity by closing the Andaman Trunk Road, while the local MP wants them to integrate with the mainstream. This is a debate whose answers are not easy to find, and they are certainly not to be found with politicians whose motives are always suspect.


Integrating them with the mainstream would mean introducing them to modern, urban amenities, but also its numerous ills.


For one, once the integration takes place, the Jarawas would run the risk of exposing their complex, yet fragile ecosystem to the settlers. Second, the Jarawas could end up being discriminated against in a completely modernised world, which could subvert their identity once and for all.


The Jarawas must not be forced to walk this tightrope and must get all the space they need to take these decisions by themselves.






THERE should be no doubts in anyone's mind that what is unfolding in the Kashmir Valley is not part of the separatist game plan. While alienation and angst may be the cause for young men to come out and take on the police, their motivators are hardened militants who operate in the shadowy world of subversion, insurgency and espionage.


But let us be equally clear that the big failure has been New Delhi's. The present mood in the Valley has been set by large public agitations such as those related to the Amarnath Yatra in 2008, followed last year by the Shopian rape case protests.


The failures can be divided into three— that of imagination, anticipation and that of management. There is little use blaming Omar Abdullah for the problem. The responsibility must be shared between the state and Union governments and the answers that are needed can come only from the effective team- work of the two.


All this is to state the obvious.


The failure of imagination lies in the inability of Manmohan Singh's government to build upon the solid foundations of the 2003- 2007 period when the ceasefire on the Line of Control came into effect and Pakistani infiltration markedly declined, as did the violence in the Valley. One indicator of this is that the number of security personnel killed went from a high of nearly 300 in 2004 to 80 or so in 2009.




In all fairness, the Prime Minister did a lot in terms of resolving the issue with Pakistan. It were his personal efforts that led to the breakthroughs in opening up the LoC to trade and to advancing the back- channel discussions till they narrowed the Indian and Pakistani positions dramatically. But, where he could have done more, he failed. This was in negotiating with Kashmiri parties to draw down the separatist agitation.


True, this was a more complex task since there were so many more variables at play— the various Kashmiri political parties, the different groups of militants and Kashmiri civil society elements and so on. But it is difficult to avoid the feeling that this was due to a shortfall in the effort, rather than the degree of difficulty that was confronted.


The issue of anticipation and management must rest with the intelligence and security establishment in Srinagar and New Delhi. Anticipation can only help you if you have the managerial abilities to deal with the situation and, important in the current context, the effective instrumentalities to do so.


It has been 70 years since the Central Reserve Police Force was founded to take on the resurgent national movement in 1939. It's been sixty plus years since India became free, and two decades and more since the force was first deployed in Jammu & Kashmir, yet there has been no change in its organisation, principles and ethos. It was— and it remains— essentially a crowd control force which relies on the sequence of tear gas, lathi and bullet. Across the world, even in authoritarian states like China and Iran, managing violent demonstrators and crowds has become a fine art, but in India, it remains a uniquely brutal colonial- era industry.


North Block refuses to see the Kashmir problem in any but a transient mode.


The assumption is that the Kashmiris can be defeated through attrition brought on by applying overwhelming force. What it is doing to the security forces has been amply manifested in the instances of suicides of personnel posted in operational areas. What it is doing to the civilians has been clear to us in the past few days.


Because the Ministry of Home Affairs has worked with the assumption that status quo ante will soon be achieved, they have yet to train the kind of police forces that are needed to cope with the demands of the long haul.




The ad hoc approach is manifest in the fact that the CRPF is being used as a crowd control force in most of India, an urban counter- insurgency and anti- riot force in the Kashmir Valley and a rural counter- insurgency force in the jungles of Dantewada— and it is not being adequately trained and equipped for any of these tasks.


In Kashmir, for instance, though the challenge has morphed from the early days of the insurgency to a sophisticated political struggle, the CRPF has not changed in terms of equipment, organisation and doctrine. The CRPF needs a new set of crowd control equipment, training and orientation.


There is a two- track struggle going on in the Valley. The first is a military conflict involving Pakistan- trained and armed militants who are adopting the clever tactic of mostly lying low and allowing the overground elements to stoke anti- Indian fires. The second is a civil protest movement which is a mélange of separatism, Islamism and alienation against misrule and lack of avenues for productive employment. It is important to understand the difference between the two and to acknowledge that to counter them require two different sets of tactics.


The military challenge is easy to handle and it has been handled competently by essentially containing the Pakistandirected insurgency. The civil challenge is more complex and is not being handled well at all. Instead of using a mix of political, police and psychological tactics, we are witnessing a military response, or, to be precise, a paramilitary one.




The same Union government decided in the early 1990s that a special force was needed to handle communal violence and so the Rapid Action Force was created as a sub- unit of the CRPF. But it took three decades of communal violence and its increased virulence for the Home Ministry to finally act. In fact the RAF's model of independently mobile units with specially selected personnel who are trained and equipped for their specific task is a good one for Kashmir. To this end personnel need to be educated on the sociology and pathology of street violence, and the units asked to familiarise themselves with the sensitive areas.


All that is lacking is imagination in North Block, and some bureaucratic energy, to create such a special force for the Kashmir Valley.

These days it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu on Kashmir. As in 1990, the heart of the separatist struggle has shifted to Baramulla and Sopur, which are strongholds of the Jamaat- e- Islami. Then, as now, the CRPF is playing a stellar role, or to be accurate, the role of a dark star that sucks up every possible effort to normalise the situation.

If things continue the way they are doing, you can be sure that we are far from resolving the Kashmir problem, even after discounting the Pakistan factor.







BRIJ BEDI— an industrialist turned social activist— has started a crusade to educate underprivileged slum children and improve the lives of people in Amritsar. Known to be eccentric, Bedi would also prick the consciousness of common people and confront the authorities for solutions to some common public problems. In 1999, the plight of the dwellers of Maqboolpura— a slum which became notorious as the "Place of Widows" — moved Bedi.


Drug addiction had claimed many lives in the locality leaving their traumatised spouses and small children to fend for themselves. Almost every household in the area had witnessed at least one death due to drug abuse. Bedi decided to set up a school to rehabilitate the children of Maqboolpura.


He met a teacher couple in the locality— Ajeet Singh and Satpal Kaur— who promptly agreed to let Bedi convert their doublestorey house into a school for the children of drug addicts. The family of five moved to their master bedroom.


The school began with about 25 students and has now gone up to a strength of about 550 students— majority of them being underprivileged girls.


Bedi's wife, the first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi, also visited the school in 2003 and started bearing the educational expenses of the students. Springdale School— a leading educational institution in Amritsar came forward for training the teachers of the school.


The Harmony Movement awarded the school for its selfless efforts and Bedi received the award from the Dalai Lama in 2003. He purchased a plot with the award money. A three storey building was built on it after a London-based NRI contributed Rs one lakh.


Once the school took off, various Indian organisations and individuals settled in countries like UK, USA and Canada pitched in for funding the education of the children.


Bedi also been raising his voice on road safety. As Chief Traffic Warden he constantly attempted to educate people and help the police improve traffic management in the city. He was shocked to learn that most of the bus and auto- rickshaw drivers did not have driving licenses. He is outraged that the politicians and bureaucrats themselves violate the norms in Punjab. He opines that people lack road sense and pose a danger to commuters.


A few years ago, when Bedi discovered that the Baba Atal Sahib Gurdwara in Amritsar was set to replace the centuriesold paintings and murals with ceramic tiles, he cried foul.


He picked up his camera and photographed the paintings and murals. He raised the issue with the authorities and highlighted the importance of preserving this rich heritage. The curators responded and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee ( SGPC) acknowledged the worth of this treasure. The paintings and murals are being preserved now.


T HE root cause of the problems in Punjab's cities and other parts of the country, according to Bedi, is the way bureaucrats function.

They are indifferent to social and public issues and do not guard the citizens' rights to freedom and education. Moreover, they do not address the issues of public interest when they are in conflict with political motives.


" Public servants stoop so low that they become politicians' servants. The problem lies in the faulty system of recruitment and training. Leaders should resolve against wasteful ceremonies and spend the money on improving the quality of education. Policies should be in the larger public interest. The people should stand up for restoring order in their own neighbourhood, then the scenario in the whole country will change," says Bedi.



PEOPLE suffering from various diseases " owing to" the high concentration of Uranium and other dangerous heavy metals in the water in Punjab's Malwa region are upset due to the " gimmicks" of some NGOs to gain popularity.


Recently, while the people suffered, some volunteers affiliated to these NGOs tracked media persons to mark their presence on the TV screens and newspaper columns. They told the media about the problem of toxins in the water but they failed miserably to locate the affected villages during one of their visits to the border area.


One such NGO representative intimidated some local social activists by demanding that the activists arrange for " accommodation in a better hotel" for their stay during their second visit.


The residents have been upset that these selfappointed guardians have been concentrating on publicity instead of trying to provide health care to the affected children and old people. " What will people gain by making it to the newspapers if the authorities and NGOs do not care to ensure their treatment," said a resident.


The recent studies have revealed that hair samples taken from 80 per cent of the neurologically disabled children, and their drinking water contained high levels of uranium, a radioactive element. The claim was however countered by some government authorities.



FORMER Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh has again stoked the politics of interstate water sharing. Singh — under whom the Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a law in 2004, which annuled the water sharing agreements with its neighbouring states— told Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal to safeguard the interest of Punjab since the matter was coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court on July 4. The President had referred the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act 2004 to the SC. Singh said " Badal's past history has been of doing anything to safeguard his own interests, even to the extent of supporting Haryana." Singh seems to sparked off a chain reaction, with Badal saying that the river water flowing through Punjab into Haryana was Punjab's property and the former should pay royalty for the water. This incensed Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. He retorted that Punjab had failed to honour the water sharing agreements and should compensate Haryana for using its share.


Meanwhile, Himachal CM PK Dhumal also remarked that the rivers flowing through Punjab start from Himachal therefore both Punjab and Haryana need to pay Himachal.


Pritam Singh Kumedan, an expert on river water issues also jumped into the fray. He claimed that the non- riparian states— Haryana and Rajasthan — were not entitled to any share in Ravi, Beas and Sutlej water since there was no " surplus" water. Kumedan claims that Punjab owns the river waters. This has been contradicted by former Haryana finance minister Sampat Singh.






LOK Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan understands the virtue of patience.


For over a year now his sprawling bungalow in the Capital had nearly turned into a deserted mansion. But now it is bristling with activity. For, the LJP leader is back in the Capital as a Member of Parliament through the Rajya Sabha route.


The house, next door to Congress president Sonia Gandhi's bungalow, was kept on for a whole year by Paswan despite losing the Lok Sabha elections. But now that he is back in Parliament, his occupation of the house has become legal again.



MONSOON rains have ditched Delhi and it seems the weather gods have also not been kind to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who has been travelling away from the Capital a lot in the break between the budget and monsoon sessions of Parliament.


During most of her travels abroad away from the sweltering heat of Delhi, she was promised the prospect of delightfully cold weather. The Speaker duly packed her woollens and headed for the various destinations such as Luxembourg, Hungary and Swaziland. Sadly, sunny days prevailed wherever she went and the extra bags ferrying woollens were never opened. She still seemed determined to try her luck in Mongolia where again cool weather conditions had been forecast before her departure.


Last heard, the Speaker was still waiting to use the additional baggage.



WHEN in office, former President APJ Abdul Kalam was known as one of the most " active" presidents, one who never shied away from speaking his mind.


Even after vacating office Kalam continues to have an active public life. Addressing a convocation ceremony of pharmacy students at a university in Mysore he made an impassioned plea for weeding out spurious drugs.


He exhorted the pharmacy students to equip themselves with the knowledge and ability to prevent entry of unauthorised drugs into circulation.


He placed before the postgraduate students a vision for the pharma industry for 2020 and said this industry in India should set a target of increasing its turnover from the present $ 17 billion of generic drugs for domestic and export markets to $ 100 billion.



SHARAD Pawar has again made it clear that he is not ready to play second fiddle by merging his Nationalist Congress Party with his former party, the Congress.


The NCP dismissed with contempt a suggestion of a close associate that the party should merge with Congress to save the country from communal forces.


" Some individuals speak out of their personal frustration. I don't think it merits any political response," party general secretary D. P. Tripathi said.


He was reacting to the suggestion of Ratnakar Mahajan, founder member of the party that the NCP should merge with Congress.


Mahajan had written a letter to Pawar saying, " Even you ( Pawar) have, on several occasions, said NCP has decided to support Congress to save the country from communal forces and there was no reason to justify existence of a separate party." Evidently, Pawar does not agree.




INDIA had an irreplaceable opportunity to go down in history as the nation which discovered water on the moon.


But bungling Indian officials ensured that " the credit was taken by the US" instead, a leading scientist has alleged.


Rajesh Kochhar, a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR) Emeritus scientist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, said water was first discovered by an Indian payload onboard Chandrayaan- 1.


But a " wrong decision" by the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) to publish the discovery in an international journal delayed the announcement, which was instead made by the US team, that had also made a similar discovery later.


A similar discovery made later by American payloads was published much before the Indian paper.


" India had the opportunity to be the first past the post, but it chose to be an alsoran," Kochhar has written in a letter published in scientific journal Current Science . " ISRO could have published a paper on the discovery immediately in any of the Indian journals or put it on their website or come out with a press release. Then, anybody working on the same subject would have had to take note of ISRO's finding. Instead, the find ended up being a me- too paper," he said.


But ISRO scientists dismissed Kochhar's claims as insignificant. " We wanted to publish the finding first in an international journal, with a rigorous review," said Prof J. N. Goswami, the principal scientist for the Chandrayaan mission.


" It is not a discovery that holds importance only for India. It is something which is significant for the whole world," he added.


Goswami said true to scientific traditions, he decided not to go to the media before publishing the finding in a peer- reviewed publication.


" We wanted to prove it beyond reasonable doubt — no one should question our discovery," he said. ISRO research teams would soon be announcing more findings, he added.


R. Sridharan, former director of the Space Physics Laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram and the lead author of the ISRO paper in Planetary and Space Science , also dismissed the " notion of competition" with his western counterparts.


" People are trying to overplay things," he had commented in an earlier interview.


" We don't care about who published the paper first." " Our finding stands on its own merit. There has been no direct evidence for water vapour on the moon ( before the ISRO finding)," Sridharan added.


BJP MLA jailed for his role in Orissa riots




BJP MLA Manoj Kumar Pradhan was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in prison by a fast track court for his role in a murder during communal riots in Orissa's Kandhamal district in 2008.


The 36- year- old Pradhan was taken to jail within hours of judge S. K. Das convicting him and pronouncing the quantum of punishment.


Along with him, another convict Prafulla Mallick was ordered to pay a fine of Rs 6,000 each. He was also awarded a jail term of seven years.


Pradhan was accused of being involved in the killing of Parikhita Digal, a Christian from Budedi village on August 27, 2008. The police had registered a case against Pradhan under various sections of the Indian Penal Code ( IPC) including 302 ( murder).


However, Pradhan's lawyer Ramesh Mohanty said the court found Pradhan guilty under Section 326 ( voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 147 ( rioting) and 149 ( unlawful assembly) of the IPC. Pradhan's other lawyer Ajit Kumar Patnaik said the MLA's name did not figure in the original FIR filed by the victim's wife, Kanaka Rekha Naik, at Raikia police station. His name was added during the hearing of the case.


" I have the highest regard for the judiciary.


We will appeal against the verdict in a higher court," he said.







The Dr. M. G. R. Engineering College has successfully completed through two decades, being originally started in the year 1988 and the Thai Moogambigai Dental College in 1991. The Dr.


M. G. R. Educational and Research Institute, a deemed university, came into existence in 2003. All the courses conducted by Dr. M. G. R. Engineering College are accredited by NBA of AICTE. All the Courses conducted by Thai Moogabamigai Dental College are recognised by the Dental Council of India.


Dr. M. G. R. Educational and Research Institute University through its Dr. M. G. R. Centre for International Studies has signed many MoUs with foreign universities such as University of Sunderland ( UK), University of South Australia, Perth College ( Scotland) and University of Farleigh Dickenson ( USA).


The University is also poised to enter into an agreement with Government of Malaysia and Government of UAE for establishing off- shore campus centres at Malaysia and Dubai respectively.


A 500- bedded ACS Hospital is functioning for the past two years at their medical campus at Velappanchavadi. It has six fully equipped operation theatres with all other required equipments and surgical instruments required for the MBBS Degree programme. The Medical College has commenced classes from the Academic Year 2008- 2009. Apart from this the deemed university also offers B. Sc. - ( Nursing), B. P. T., M. P. T. and B. Sc. ( HMCT). The University conducts B. Tech. and M. Tech. part time programmes in engineering disciplines for the benefit of those working in industries.


On the placement front, 75 per cent of their eligible candidates have been well placed. Several of their students have secured admissions in universities abroad, and some have secured very decent positions in India.



ShadWell'S is empowering education service providers and institutions with effectiveness to manifest


ShadWell'S is an education management company registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956. It imparts education of international standard through holistic approach and producing exorbitant quality output to cater the current professional demand.


ShadWell'S extends complete education solution setting it apart as the forefront education management company in the international scenario and first of its kind in India. The portfolio of services capitalises in new generation programmes catering the Education and Employment Habitat.


The service umbrella extends to ShadWell'S Media Services, Event Management; Training Modules, Publishing, Human Resource Management, Entrepreneurship Development Forums and a wide range of Knowledge dissemination Platforms. Its core competency is sharpening the student's output, also empowering education service providers and Institutions with effectiveness to Manifest.


ShadWell'S bridges the gap between the Knowledge starving and the resources with optimal delivery with effective innovations on a perennial basis and its making a difference.


Growing trends in the market was capitalised and an effective platform was created by ShadWell'S for the training of the international finance and accounting courses in this part of the country. The warm acceptance in the market itself showed the potential of the programme and the mileage of the efficient delivery by ShadWell'S. It has been delivering highly competitive ACCA Programme marking exuberant success for the programme initiations in the campus.



One of the premier universities in India, Saveetha University is pleased to announce MM Scholarship for the academic year 2010- 11. Since its inception, Saveetha Group of Institutions has been extending scholarships for meritorious students. Dr. N. M. Veeraiyan, Chancellor, Saveetha University, has announced the management's consent to offer a scholarship of more than Rs. 7 crores for the students enrolling in the academic year 2010- 11.


On celebrating the 11th rank offered by Anna University among all the affiliated colleges, the management of Saveetha University believes that this scholarship would encourage students to pursue their career without any barricade.


For all the institutions in Saveetha University, all class toppers will be given 100 per cent fee waiver. For all the PG Courses, 100 per cent and 50 per cent fee waiver will be extended depending on the score in national level/ state level entrance exam.


Saveetha University also helps the students to avail government scholarships under various categories. In the

academic year 2009- 10, Saveetha Engineering College helped the students to avail scholarships worth Rs. 50 lakhs from various central and state government bodies.








As a potential source of cheap and environment-friendly natural gas, shale gas can revolutionise the global energy sector. More and more players outside North America - a pioneer in the business - seem to think so and want to be early birds to catch the worm. Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) sealed a far-sighted $1.35 billion deal on a US shale field, its second big-ticket investment in such assets in America. State-owned ONGC has a pilot project to drill wells in the Damodar basin. Neighbouring China too has woken up. Its largest state oil firm has engaged a Canadian company on possible joint stakeholding in exploitation of British Columbia's reserves. That two of the world's most energy-starved emerging economies have jumped on to the shale gas bandwagon is good news for global clean energy development.

Thanks to shale gas, the US has a gas surplus. Having drastically cut prices even while pushing green energy use, it's a ready example to emulate. Both Asian giants need to prune dependence on fossil fuels and contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. In India's case, imports service nearly 25 per cent of its gas demand, estimated to grow rapidly in the coming years. And, as the planet's fifth largest consumer of energy, it's burdened with a mammoth import bill for 70 per cent of oil needs. With sizeable estimated shale deposits in the Gangetic plain, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and coastal regions, it can turn to shale gas in a big way since new drilling technologies have made extraction viable.

In this context, China has fashioned a memorandum of cooperation on shale gas with the US. This is expected to lead to transfer of know-how and technology to help it capitalise on huge domestic reserves. Unfortunately, despite talks on the subject, India hasn't pursued a similar partnership. Without the requisite technological expertise, the authorities will find it difficult to implement any national production blueprint. One major reason RIL has tied up with US companies is reportedly to acquire skills in the trade.

Also, India has no business-friendly policy on harnessing non-conventional energy sources. Firms can produce conventional oil and gas. But they have to keep their hands off, say, coalbed methane or shale gas even if they discover coal seams or shale deposits in their exploration blocks. This is patently absurd. India gets periodically trapped in politically fractious debates on fuel price rise or decontrol. Why not instead deal seriously with the structural challenges of energy hunger? Since gas can be a cheaper, cleaner alternative to oil, a promising resource like shale gas shouldn't lie untapped. The faster policy change enables seismic surveys to locate deposits and allows extraction as well as facilitates building of a gas distribution network throughout the country, the better for India's energy future.







The violence over the last fortnight in certain parts of Jammu & Kashmir stands out in stark contrast to the gains in peace and development in the state. Though militancy in the Valley is at an all-time low, forces are at play to keep the overall atmosphere volatile. There is a pattern to the series of protests that has seen protesters clash with security personnel, prompting the latter to retaliate. This in turn provides fuel for more violent demonstrations. The only people who stand to benefit from such cascading violence are hardline separatists. In recent months, the latter have found themselves being steadily marginalised. It is very important that the mainstream political parties in the state see through the separatists' ploy and deny any political space to the hardliners.

In order to achieve this, they must first stop the blame game amongst themselves and work together for the interest of the state. Second, they must divide the separatist ranks by engaging and weaning away the moderates. And, third, they must work towards making the state administration more efficient. There is a strong case for enhancing the quality of the state police force. It is absolutely imperative that the Jammu & Kashmir police adopt the primary role for maintaining law and order. In this regard, the force needs to be better trained and equipped to handle all kinds of incidents, not relying on the central paramilitary forces alone. It is a mix of good administration on the ground and prudent politics that Jammu & Kashmir needs.






Is big-bang innovation about to arrive in India or is it struggling due to judicial intervention and inadequate protection of patent rights? Several recent newspaper reports indicate that while talking about 'innovation' may be the flavour of the month, what it takes to make it happen is either not understood or willingly glossed over. It must not be forgotten that the primary driving force behind innovation is that of making profits, what the celebrated economist Joseph Schumpeter termed entrepreneurial "raw instinct". An Austrian who also taught at Harvard, Schumpeter was probably the first economist to elaborate on the incredible power of technological innovation in the growth of a capitalist economy and coined the phrase "creative destruction", something that is brought about by new technologies replacing the old ones.

The game of innovation in the 21st century reflects the spin and hype of our time but the most discernible changes are those brought about by globalisation. Low-cost labour in the developing world and uniformity in patent rights in more than 100 nations are the two factors that have had maximum impact on the innovation process. An educated workforce with specialised knowledge and abundant spending on research are critically necessary for any innovation. However, for a commercially viable technological innovation there are many other factors such as intellectual property law, tax codes, patent procedures, export controls, credit policies etc that come into play. The apparently conflicting signals from the innovation scene in India are to be understood against this backdrop.

A plan for an investment of Rs 10,000 crore for an innovation park spread over 5,000 acres in Mumbai metropolitan region that would employ 25,000 scientists of 100 nations initially, and on completion will generate almost a million jobs in allied sectors, is apparently under scrutiny. The proposed areas of technical activities read like a laundry list - no fashionable area of science is left behind. Why is it difficult to take this grand road map for innovation seriously?

There are many causes, but the track record of the Indian corporate houses over the last several decades and the nearly dead scientific competency in India are reasons enough for being sceptical. Setting up research laboratories, spending money and bearing the risk of long-term projects that may or may not lead to winning technologies are certainly not the hallmarks of Indian industry. With very few exceptions what passes in the name of research and development by industry is nothing more than glorified quality control and technical service.

This is evident from a cursory examination of the number of granted patents to Indian corporate houses in the US patent database. As the patent examination procedure in the US, though far from ideal, is a lot more rigorous than in India, it is that much more difficult to get away with false claims of novelty. Buying turnkey technologies from the West by paying hefty licence fees has been the only visible technology strategy for almost all large Indian corporate houses. Is there any reason to think that the setting up of an innovation park would either propel them towards serious R&D or tempt them to change their technology buying habits?

The proposed innovation park is supposed to focus on several areas, many of which are biology related. Indian pharmaceutical companies will presumably be among the potential customers for new technologies. In the pharmaceutical sector, Indian players have so far enjoyed a specific advantage for the so-called generics drugs, i.e. pharmaceuticals for which the patents are no longer valid. Teaching and research in organic chemistry in India have traditionally been better than that in the many other areas of science. In developing cheaper manufacturing processes for a known organic molecule, it is this knowledge and competence that come into play. The recent adverse court rulings in India on litigations brought about by global giants such as Novartis AG, Bayer etc have less to do with country-specific judicial perspective and more with lack of genuine innovation. A patent application with negligible technical novelty that delays the onset of competition by taking advantage of a legal loophole is a well-known tactic of large pharmaceutical companies the world over. It is to the credit of the Indian judiciary that it has interpreted the law keeping the interest of the huge majority of the Indian population in mind.

Discovering a new drug is a different ball game. It is a very expensive and lengthy process that requires integration of several scientific disciplines and associated skills and, like most major discoveries, a considerable amount of luck. All over the world, large pharmaceutical companies are trying to cope with the increased cost of R&D and reduced numbers of new drugs. There may be an opportunity for innovation there but it is difficult to see how issues related to risk, ownership and cost are going to be resolved in an innovation park set up with scientists from 100 nations.

Innovation with an Indian face can only happen when corporate houses walk the talk by aligning their Schumpeterian "raw instinct" with the PM's oft-quoted words about 'technology-led accelerated inclusive growth'.

The writer is a visiting professor at Northwestern University, US.







Every fourth woman with cervical cancer is Indian. Some 130,000 are diagnosed and 74,000 die of it every year. This despite it having a known primary cause, the human papilloma virus, HPV, and being preventable. Qiagen NV, makers of the 'gold standard' Digene HPV test, joined hands with Kolkata's Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute to launch the first, large-scale cervical cancer-screening programme in April 2009. Peer Schatz, Qiagen's 40-something CEO, spoke to Bachi Karkaria at the path-setting Women Deliver conference in ashington, DC:

What makes the Digene HPV the 'gold standard'?

The technology plus the validation. The test is robust yet clinically sensitive in identifying the true disease. The HPV is a complex virus, there are 100 different types, of which over 13 are known to lead to cancer. The others result merely in 'the flu of the cervix'. Our test filters out the not-wanted information and zeroes in on the target. In screening, you want to identify the most number of those most at risk. Validation is equally important. Ours is the only HPV test so fully endorsed by dozens of big clinical studies.

What is the careHPV test?

It is a simple, digital, objective test we developed in collaboration with PATH, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It can be operated by a healthcare worker with minimal lab training; performed where there is no running water or mains electricity; samples can also be self-collected which is critical in the context of cultural barriers; and results are available within two-and-a-half hours, so pre-cancerous lesions can be treated during the same visit. In 2009, a landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that in low-resource settings, a single round of HPV testing significantly reduced the number of advanced cervical cancers and deaths compared with Pap testing (cytology) or the common visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA).

The HPV test is prognostic, showing the likelihood of the disease developing, so it is highly effective in a risk management strategy. The Pap test is diagnostic, and needs very skilled technicians to 'read' the cell structure and decide if it is cancerous. But, just as wi-fi leapfrogged over the limitations of landline, HPV testing can bypass the shortcomings of conventional tests. Where the Pap system is established, it is difficult; but where it's not so entrenched, you can jump in afresh. From the public health perspective, you could get better cervical cancer care in rural India than in Frankfurt, Germany.

So what happens after the screening?

High specificity allows a woman to go home assured that she doesn't have cervical cancer. She can have a single test at a certain age, and repeat it at intervals of 18 months to three years because HPV is a slowly integrating virus. Early detection of it having advanced to the cancerous stage means, after a confirmatory coloscopy, you can treat it with cryotherapy, chemo, or radical hysterectomy depending on its advance. With the combined onslaught of a vaccine and screening, for the first time we have the opportunity to eliminate a cancer.

What are the lessons from your experience?

You need ongoing commitment - from politicians, health and research departments and the local clinical community. Two, it's not true that women 'can't handle' information about this sexually transmitted virus. They do, provided there's the right education and sensitising. Then, it creates a network of awareness.








On October 25, 2010, a temple is to be inaugurated in UP. This in itself would not be news but for the fact that the temple is to be dedicated to an unusual deity: the English language. The date of the inauguration coincides with the 210th birth anniversary of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose famous - or infamous, depending on your point of view - Minute on Education institutionalised the teaching of English to Indian 'natives' and, in the process, turned them into brown-skinned Englishmen. The idea was to create a body of English-literate scribes and clerks who would handle the bureaucratic affairs of British India at a fraction of the cost of importing Britons to do the same job. Macaulay's innovation could be said to have been a pioneer version of a cost-cutting BPO.


Like other, later, BPOs English in India has been the source of cultural, social and economic controversy. 'Angrezi hatao' advocates, like Mulayam Singh Yadav, have indicted English for severing Indians from their cultural and linguistic roots, and turning them into puppets of post-colonial manipulation. A valid argument, but one which is compromised in that the most vehement of the anti-English brigade tend to send their own sons and daughters to study in English-language institutions, both in India and abroad.


Proponents of English - among whom Mayawati is prominent, following Ambedkar's precept of social emancipation through western-style education - point out that knowledge of the commercial language of the world has given India a huge headstart in the global market, a headstart that countries like China are desperately trying to narrow by giving top priority to teaching English to their own populations. Seen in this light, Macaulay's motivated gift to us is not a bane but a boon. And, like all boons, deserving of a shrine in its honour.


By all means let's have a temple to English, and that too in the so-called Hindi heartland. But why inaugurate it on Macaulay's birthday, thus underlining the fact that English was an alien and exploitative imposition on us by our foreign rulers? Why not instead inaugurate the temple on the birthday of independent India, on August 15?


The real problem with English is that we continue to see it as a foreign language, as a gift, or a burden, bestowed on us by the British. We need to free ourselves from this idea. In much the same way that IPL has transformed and indigenised the once-English game of cricket, we have Indianised English through everyday conversation, advertisements, popular entertainment and serious literature. Indeed, we are not the only ex-colony to have done so. American English - with its distinctive spelling and vocabulary - has long enjoyed autonomy from its colonial parent. Similarly, there is Australian English (or Strine, as it calls itself with its characteristic nasal twang), New Zealand English, and Jamaican English, to name only a few variants of the E-word.The fact is that the E-word - English - has long become obsolete. The recognised language of international communication ought not to be parochialised by nominal association with a small, rainy island of diminishing consequence in the realm of global affairs. Like the brand name of cricket has become IPL, English needs a new brand name which reflects both its international reach and the many contributions made to it by India; which today possibly has more 'English'-speaking people than any other country in the world.


The British didn't give India independence; India won its independence. Similarly, over the years we have won over English - the state language of Nagaland, incidentally - and made it our own. So by all means let's chuck out English as she is called and introduce by its appropriate name a language which is both international and Indian at the same time. How about Interboli?







To be in Kashmir Valley at any point of time is to be in a room filled with inflammable helium. Despite all the 'invisible' signs of normalcy that breaks out — which in this state can, at best of times, mean the absence of 'abnormalcy' — all it takes to start a fire here is a spark. Such a spark was struck on Sunday when a youth was killed, allegedly by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) opening fire against a procession in north Kashmir. Less than 24 hours later, two other Kashmiris died under similar circumstances, with some 60 people injured in the clash between protestors and the police. One key facet of Kashmir's bushfires is how quickly politics becomes a fuel in the furnace. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has already asked New Delhi to 'control' the CRPF, a rather strange request considering that the force's operational duties fall under the state's purview. The CRPF, on its part, has denied that its personnel had fired live rounds of ammunition at the mobs who had attacked J&K policemen and paramilitary posts. The fact that Mr Abdullah is seeking out an easy scapegoat in the CRPF fails to hide his administration's increasingly pellmell and unsuccessful approach to tackling what could very well be a resurgence in separatist activities. As a result, the only certainties we are left with are that three people, including a 10-year-old schoolboy, have died after being struck by bullets, and that the situation, instead of being brought under control, has further escalated.

One of the major crises afflicting the 'management' of riots in India is that it isn't 'managed'. The usual reaction has been that the hands of the security forces were forced and a 'last resort' option to contain mobs had to be taken. The photograph of a Kashmiri policeman lying on the ground and being thrashed by protestors may provide grist to this mill, but the fact remains: mob violence is countered by an asymmetrical counter-violence by government forces. This is not confined to Kashmir; we have seen this being played out time and again in other parts of the country as well. But to put it plainly: such an approach doesn't work especially in Kashmir. If it did put a cap on the domino effect of mob violence followed by police-CRPF counter-violence followed by mob counter-counter-violence, it would still have been a firefighting strategy. Instead, what's unleashed is the clichèd 'spiral of violence'.

It's bad enough to keep passing the buck from Srinagar to Delhi. But it's far worse for people entrusted with the job of dousing a fire to actually fuel it. Proper riot-control skills must be imparted to our security forces. And the response can no longer be the standard ones: that we already have such skills in place and that 'our men didn't do it'. The bottomline is containment, even if it means not shooting people dead.





Face it, India and Pakistan will have to think of new and inventive ways to broker a lasting peace. To our chagrin, Pakistan is, on the face of it, one or two steps ahead of us. In what could be a new chapter of in-your-face diplomacy, the Pakistanis have used the good offices of a renowned face reader, who is also the director-general of South Asia, to get a look at what Indian officials were thinking as talks began again last week. He nipped across to study the fetching visage of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and was also in Delhi earlier this year with an official delegation.

How can we respond to this? We could send along Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who will be able to look beyond the face and into their respiratory systems. Or we could send across the hugging sanyasin, Ma Amritanandmayi. Nothing like a feel of diplomacy at close quarters. But what is puzzling us is why this face-reading officer has not been used to greater good in reading say, the bushy-bearded visage of Osama bin Laden. Could his burning eyes give away his location or his attack plans? Could the face reader not have told Pakistan's ally Uncle Sam that General Stanley McChrystal was really thinking the lads in Washington were a bunch of wusses? Of is his expertise race-specific, i.e. those of subcontinental origin?

Now that we know that we can't take Pakistan at face value, should we countenance this rather unorthodox element in the talks? Perhaps. We may not always see eye-to-eye but we will don't mind moving into a phase were we don't have to have a face-off. At the moment, all we seem to have are several faces on both sides, most of whom have launched a thousand slips.







It's no surprise that the likes of Mamata Banerjee, the Marxists, most Indian politicians and the general public will be protesting against any price rise. They are all now predictably reacting to the recent price hikes of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). All price rises are inflationary, but these are not nearly as damaging as many seem to think them to be. Very few people realise that the Rs 2 — roughly 5.7 per cent — increase in diesel prices will only affect freight transport costs by a minuscule 0.12 per cent — equivalent to 12 paise on every Rs 100  that you spend on the products that you buy. India's four million trucks have to also pay for finance costs, depreciation, staff salaries, tyres, repairs, taxes, bribes, etc.

Elementary arithmetic makes this easy to understand. The total cost of transport averages just 5 per cent of the cost of most goods and the cost of diesel is about 35 per cent of the cost of transport. Thus the cost of fuel is just 1.75 per cent of the cost of goods. A 5.7 per cent increase on this 1.75 per cent will, therefore, have an impact of just 0.1 per cent. Transporters, bus and taxi companies will, however, routinely demand huge fare increases to exploit the situation and these must be resisted by showing the real economics. Six per cent of India's diesel is also consumed by the railways that transport most of the food grains, sugar, petroleum products, steel, coal, cement and bulk goods, so subsidised diesel for the railways will ensure that the impact on inflation can be further moderated.

As for the politically important farmer community, diesel consumption for tractors and irrigation pumps is estimated at about 20 per cent of total use in India but the cost of diesel is less than 2 per cent of the cost of agricultural products. So a 5.7 per cent price increase in fuel should again have a very marginal direct impact on food prices. Very few of the tractors and pump sets are incidentally owned by poor farmers so there are no weaker farm sectors for the government to protect.

The Rs 3.50 increase in the price of petrol is, however, very unjust. Petrol not only fuels some 14 million cars but also some 80 million motorcycles and scooters that transport millions of middle income commuters who do not  deserve to be punished for an obsolete old socialist shibboleth that cars are the luxury toys of the elite. Petrol consumption is also just a quarter of diesel consumption, so hiking the cost of petrol will not have a big impact on containing the fallout of the rising crude prices.

But the impact of diesel costs will more seriously affect passenger fares of taxis and buses, where fuel also accounts for about 35 per cent of transport costs and a 5.7 per cent price hike on this 35 per cent should result in a small 2 per cent increase in passenger transport costs. Road transportation is today estimated to account for over 55 per cent of India's total diesel consumption.

There is, however, an affluent segment that does not deserve any diesel subsidy. It is roughly estimated that 20 per cent of India's diesel is consumed by industry and private gensets. Most factories, offices, malls, cinemas and condominiums need captive power but they can easily be made to pay a fair market price. Dedicated tankers for bulk supply to them can easily be made to charge the full commercial price.

The cost of petrol and diesel is nearly the same at the refineries, as is clear from the fuel costs in almost all countries. But the Indian government rigs these by a series of costs and taxes to make them over 40 per cent more costly. So the users of petrol vehicles that ferry roughly 200 million people every day, on about 80 million petrol-engined two-wheelers and 14 million cars, are being unjustly victimised. The Rs 3.50 increase in petrol prices will hit their pockets directly. If they feel that the government is being unjust, they could become a sizeable political constituency.

India's diesel consumption is four times that of petrol. So, from the revenue standpoint, every Re 1 increase in the cost of diesel is equivalent to a Rs 4 increase in the price of petrol. The main beneficiary of the continuing subsidy on diesel (and kerosene) in relation to petrol are not the weak sections but rich fuel adulterators. The government must transparently reveal the real costs of all fuels and also show the real impact of fuel cost increases to prevent vested interests from exploiting the confusion.

(Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobiles analyst The views expressed by the author are personal)






Saina Nehwal's rise to the top of the world badminton rankings is yet another landmark in the history of women in Indian sports and comes on the 40th anniversary of their first significant international achievement.

It was at the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok that Kanwaljit Sandhu won the first international gold medal for an Indian sportswoman in the 400 metres. This was followed by the PT Usha era of the 1980s while this decade saw the emergence of Sania Mirza and world amateur boxing champion MC Mary Kom.

It was an uphill struggle for sportswomen from the time of Independence till the 60s, with just a handful of sports like tennis, badminton, table tennis, athletics and hockey open to them.

The tiny Parsi and Anglo-Indian communities led the way in those early years and it was in the matter of clothing that sportswomen in India saw their progress stifled. A girl seen in public in shorts or skirts was considered scandalous and it was a common sight to see them competing in salwar-kameez and even saris.

Among the early stars were Roshan Mistry (a Parsi), 100m silver medalist in the first Asian Games in Delhi in 1951; and Stephie D'Souza, the first woman to receive the Arjuna Award in 1963. D'Souza was part of the relay team that won gold in the 4x100m at the 1954 Asian Games and also represented India in hockey. Geeta Zutshi also struck gold in the 800m  in the 1978 Asian Games. But by now the Kerala era in women's athletics was beginning to unfold. This was thanks to the sports hostel concept in the state, under which the government funded the education and training of promising young athletes.

When the Asian Games returned to New Delhi in 1982, M.D. Valsamma was one of the stars with her gold in the 400m hurdles. The Indian women's hockey team also made up for the ignominy suffered by the men who were trounced 7-1 in the final by Pakistan. Angel Mary Joseph, Valsamma, Usha and Shiny Abraham were at the forefront of the Kerala surge while Karnataka produced the first glamour girls of Indian sport in Ashwini Nachappa, Reeth Abraham and Vandana Rao. This trio could not match the medal-winning feats of their Kerala counterparts but captured the media glare with their good looks and daring outfits.

Usha won silver in the 100m and 200m in 1982. For the rest of the decade there was no one to challenge her supremacy in Asia. But Usha's greatest,   and saddest, moment came at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when she became the first Indian woman to reach an Olympics track and field final in the 400m hurdles, but was edged into fourth place.

Since then only Anju Bobby George has matched Usha's feat when she reached the final of the women's long jump in the 2004 Olympics, having won silver in the world championship at Paris the previous year. That remains the lone medal won by an Indian athlete — male or female — at the world event.

By 1986 Usha was unstoppable. The Seoul Asian Games were an all-time low for Indian sport as they brought India just five gold medals. Four were Usha's, and the fifth was won in kabaddi.

The rapid strides taken by women on the sports field saw them shift their focus, from the 1990s onwards, to the traditionally masculine preserves of weightlifting, boxing and wrestling. Karnam Malleswari and Kunjarani Devi bagged international weightlifting medals galore and when Malleswari won the bronze in the 69kg division at the Sydney Olympics, she set yet another landmark — the first Olympic medal for an Indian woman.

Sania Mirza burst onto the scene spectacularly in 2005 by rising in the world tennis rankings while at the same time turning heads and raising eyebrows. She broke down barriers of gender and religion and had the world media turning its attention to India. Her glam appeal meant that endorsement deals for the Hyderabadi heartthrob were now rivaling those of India's top cricketers.

But the shift from the sports pages to front page news, and then to the glamour of Page 3 — combined with injuries and various controversies — saw Mirza lose focus, rankings and popularity. Today she has been reduced to an also-ran on the world tennis circuit. Her comet-like career has sent warning signs to Saina who, no doubt, has learnt some important life lessons from her fellow-Hyderabadi's sudden rise and equally rapid fall.

In sports as varied as archery, shooting, chess — Koneru Humpy is ranked world number two — to boxing, where M.C. Mary Kom is the four-time amateur world champion in the 46 kg category, women have made impressive strides since Kanwaljit Sandhu's breakthrough feat four decades ago.

Today, thanks to the courageous pioneers who defied the oppressive constraints of a patriarchal society, the sky is the limit for women's sports in India. The forthcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and the 2012 Olympics in London should see this movement reach its pinnacle and bring more glory to Indian sports.

(Gulu Ezekiel is a Delhi-based sports writer The views expressed by the author are personal)






Mandira Bedi, she of the spaghetti strap fame, has done much harm to women sports fans. Till she unwittingly came along and adulterated that heady mix of testosterone and contained IQs with her low necklines and high estrogen quotient, we were doing just fine without dazzling the world with our passion for various sports or their secretly-acquired trivia. We generally ignored the pre- and post-game shows, ogled the hunks in their sweaty team jerseys and enjoyed the game without offering sage opinions on the state of the pitch or painfully dissecting a missed penalty shot.

Well, there had been women commentators before, and here tennis pro Andrea Leand comes to mind, ably volleying with Vijay Amritraj during many Wimbledons of yore. But the rest of us had been able to stay under the radar.

We could happily slip up with our practised ignorance about a sport's finer points or unassumingly slip in a googly from a decades-long familiarity with it, much to the indulgent admiration of the boys. There was no pressure to perform under the cynical gaze of male sports aficionados. To understand the offside rule was a bonus and, alternatively, to have nary a clue about why 22 men would tire themselves silly over a round object was par for the course.

Then someone decided they needed to even the playing field, unleashing an epidemic of female sports jockeys. Suddenly, apathy was no longer an option. We were damned, no matter how well we held our own against those for whom women on a sports field had to be restricted to either wearing short skirts and hopping about on the sidelines, or as screaming bearers of "Ronaldo, will you marry me?" placards in the stands.

With women beating their pants off them in every sphere imaginable, men had long held on to a semblance of control in that last bastion of male hegemony — the commentary box. Especially for 'hardcore' sports like cricket and soccer. And for years, we had successfully let them labour under a valiant compulsion to throw a spotlight on the game and impress us.

No more. The delicate peace has been disturbed for good. Now, even the most innocuous comment is seen as 'doing a Bedi' in the midst of a serious discussion among those who know best. So, even if we open our mouths to ask for that bowl of chips, we're likely to be beaten back by a reminder of various war wounds acquired while actually playing the game on a real sports field. As a result, every time the Fifa World Cup games go into half time I slink off to a corner before they bring on the 'experts'. It matters little whether 'that girl on ESPN' these days knows a thing or two about football or not.

As for me, I haven't a clue about the strategy, or lack of it, that edged the Azzurri out of the contest, but I sure can tell you they fill out their blue jerseys well. And that's been enough to buy my loyalty for the last 20 years, ever since Roberto Baggio made it cool to cry over a silly penalty shot.







Modern biology describes man not only as an inter-breeding species, the only such species in nature, but also as an inter-thinking species. 

Man thinks and thinks together and, through such interpenetration of minds, achieves great heights of culture and civilisation.

Our ancient culture is a product of such profound thinking and inter-thinking.

But the rote in our civilisation today is due to the disintegration and misinterpretation of our thought processes.

With change in time, the thinking processes (without a check) have changed the whole scenario of mankind.

Earlier, thought processes were controlled, well judged and a process of discarding un-wanted and irrelevant thoughts were practiced in such a way that mankind's every action was rated according to a prescribed thought and were named within the two-fold realm of dharma or religion.

Dharma or religion was understood as Vedanta.

Vedanta is an integrated philosophy of a two-fold dharma, namely, pravrtti or outward directed action and nivrtti or inward-directed meditation.

Together they form the means for the maintenance of the world on even keel; for they are, verily, the means of the abhyudaya, social welfare, and nihsreyasa, spiritual growth and fulfillment of all beings.

But, with the passage of time we have gradually deprived ourselves of the great discipline of thought and its great energy resources.

We became complacent. With complacency, neglect of dedication and growth of lack of vision took place, which resulted in degradation of humanity and human values.

Today, a man engrossed in sense-objects, knows neither himself nor the Supreme Self.

He vainly leads a vegetative life and ultimately vanishes.

He remains ignorant throughout his life and as ignorant as he was when he first entered this world.

It is only knowledge and control of thought processes that show us the true path and true meaning of life. One therefore must strive hard to shun ignorance and light the lamp of knowledge.






It's no surprise that the likes of Mamata Banerjee, the Marxists, most Indian politicians and the general public will be protesting against any price rise. They are all now predictably reacting to the recent price hikes of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). All price rises are inflationary, but these are not nearly as damaging as many seem to think them to be. Very few people realise that the Rs 2 — roughly 5.7 per cent — increase in diesel prices will only affect freight transport costs by a minuscule 0.12 per cent — equivalent to 12 paise on every Rs 100  that you spend on the products that you buy. India's four million trucks have to also pay for finance costs, depreciation, staff salaries, tyres, repairs, taxes, bribes, etc.

Elementary arithmetic makes this easy to understand. The total cost of transport averages just 5 per cent of the cost of most goods and the cost of diesel is about 35 per cent of the cost of transport. Thus the cost of fuel is just 1.75 per cent of the cost of goods. A 5.7 per cent increase on this 1.75 per cent will, therefore, have an impact of just 0.1 per cent. Transporters, bus and taxi companies will, however, routinely demand huge fare increases to exploit the situation and these must be resisted by showing the real economics. Six per cent of India's diesel is also consumed by the railways that transport most of the food grains, sugar, petroleum products, steel, coal, cement and bulk goods, so subsidised diesel for the railways will ensure that the impact on inflation can be further moderated.

As for the politically important farmer community, diesel consumption for tractors and irrigation pumps is estimated at about 20 per cent of total use in India but the cost of diesel is less than 2 per cent of the cost of agricultural products. So a 5.7 per cent price increase in fuel should again have a very marginal direct impact on food prices. Very few of the tractors and pump sets are incidentally owned by poor farmers so there are no weaker farm sectors for the government to protect.

The Rs 3.50 increase in the price of petrol is, however, very unjust. Petrol not only fuels some 14 million cars but also some 80 million motorcycles and scooters that transport millions of middle income commuters who do not  deserve to be punished for an obsolete old socialist shibboleth that cars are the luxury toys of the elite. Petrol consumption is also just a quarter of diesel consumption, so hiking the cost of petrol will not have a big impact on containing the fallout of the rising crude prices.

But the impact of diesel costs will more seriously affect passenger fares of taxis and buses, where fuel also accounts for about 35 per cent of transport costs and a 5.7 per cent price hike on this 35 per cent should result in a small 2 per cent increase in passenger transport costs. Road transportation is today estimated to account for over 55 per cent of India's total diesel consumption.

There is, however, an affluent segment that does not deserve any diesel subsidy. It is roughly estimated that 20 per cent of India's diesel is consumed by industry and private gensets. Most factories, offices, malls, cinemas and condominiums need captive power but they can easily be made to pay a fair market price. Dedicated tankers for bulk supply to them can easily be made to charge the full commercial price.

The cost of petrol and diesel is nearly the same at the refineries, as is clear from the fuel costs in almost all countries. But the Indian government rigs these by a series of costs and taxes to make them over 40 per cent more costly. So the users of petrol vehicles that ferry roughly 200 million people every day, on about 80 million petrol-engined two-wheelers and 14 million cars, are being unjustly victimised. The Rs 3.50 increase in petrol prices will hit their pockets directly. If they feel that the government is being unjust, they could become a sizeable political constituency.

India's diesel consumption is four times that of petrol. So, from the revenue standpoint, every Re 1 increase in the cost of diesel is equivalent to a Rs 4 increase in the price of petrol. The main beneficiary of the continuing subsidy on diesel (and kerosene) in relation to petrol are not the weak sections but rich fuel adulterators. The government must transparently reveal the real costs of all fuels and also show the real impact of fuel cost increases to prevent vested interests from exploiting the confusion.

(Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobiles analyst The views expressed by the author are personal)








The resignation of Justice N. Santosh Hegde as Karnataka Lokayukta has spotlighted irregularities in the mining sector. He quit last week, saying the state government was not cooperating in the pursuit of cases of corruption. A case he cited then is the transport of eight lakh tonnes of illegally mined iron ore at Bellikeri port, more than half of which subsequently "disappeared". He referred to attempts by the state government to suspend the Karwar deputy conservator of forests who was supervising investigations in the case. The investigation has now been given to the CID, and a forest officer investigating the case transferred.


Ironically, these developments substantiate Hegde's argument that the office of the Lokayukta needs to be empowered and engaged imaginatively if it is to substantively fulfil its charter as an anti-corruption ombudsman. The office was introduced following the first Administrative Reforms Commission. The federal equivalent, the Lokpal, has been much debated but is yet to be established. But the experience of Lokayuktas in states too has been chequered. Orissa, for instance, was the first state to pass an enabling legislation (1970), and then the first to abolish it (1993). Many states have not had a Lokayukta. Even within states with the office, experience is varied; and the Hegde controversy shows how dependent its relevance is on the incumbent. Hegde pushed the envelope by enlarging the scope and powers of the office. It is perhaps not incidental that Karnataka did away with the Vigilance Commission in the '80s, and the Lokayukta consequently was sought to fill that vacuum.


The second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended giving the Lokayukta more powers to investigate corruption. Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, who headed the second ARC, told The Indian Express that the Central government is considering key amendments to make it mandatory for each state to have a Lokayukta. A group of ministers is studying various suggestions, but among Moily's recommendations is that the Lokayukta should be relieved of investigations against junior function-aries, so it can concentrate on


corruption at the higher levels. It is perhaps collateral benefit that Hegde's resignation has underscored the need for his office. Amending the law could help, in time. But the office's relevance must immediately be honoured through follow-up in the cases that brought around this controversy.







According to the new regulations notified by the University Grants Commission, university faculty will now be tested for their teaching chops as well as the quantity and quality of their published work, which will now determine how they ascend in their careers. Academic performance indicators will score them on teaching duties as well as co-curricular or departmental contribution, and fulfilling these will let them offer themselves for promotion — so they can clamber up the ladder on their own terms instead of being mechanically moved upwards. On the surface, this is an unobjectionable, even important advance, given the need to create a clear, performance-centred ethos in our colleges.


First, the larger question — are matters of academic judgment and merit reducible to metrics? Second, why should all university work be judged by the same template? Even an attempt to evolve objective and verifiable criteria drawn up by a screening/ selection committee entails similar difficulties. Subjectivity creeps in at every stage — for instance, the proposed system is heavy on "research and academic contribution" — papers published in refereed journals wins 15 points per publication, and 10 in case of a non-refereed journal. While that will certainly goad faculty to publish prodigiously and boost the journal business, it is debatable how that indicates improvement for all kinds of schools. Also, how is a university equipped to assess previous institutional performance when a faculty member moves schools?


This system also mandates specifics — a minimum 40 hours of teaching load a week for 30 working weeks, six hours for research, and the capacity to hire 10 per cent teaching staff on contract. While it is patently important to ensure minimum standards, there needs to be adequate scope for flexibility. A single paradigm cannot apply to all kinds of knowledge production, and while the regulation acknowledges the differing requirements of humanities and science, for instance, the current notification should be a starting point towards a more supple approach. Some institutions might have to rely more on adjunct faculty than on a committed core of research-driven professors. Instead of letting institutions put stress on different areas and place their own individual demands on faculty depending on that self-conception, this regulation appears to fit them all into one supposedly high-yield formula.


But comforting as it may be to go quant, it is no substitute for a real test of achievement. Simply mechanising the input process does not produce better output.








Two and a half months away from the second anniversary of Lehman Brothers meltdown, four G-20 summits since those frightening days, but we still don't have a convincing plan and a firm deadline on global financial action. What's G-20 doing? It's doing very well.


The Toronto G-20 meeting produced yawn-inducing quasi-commitment that new banking rules will be (make that, may be) produced by 2012. And when will they be implemented? Frankly, no one knows. But no one should care to know. The idea that a world body can produce a detailed roadmap for world finance comes up against the reality that world finance is a collection of national finance models that don't add up.


India is the obvious example for us. Heavily regulated banks, a large number of them government owned, a terribly underbanked population — this is a world away from banking reforms of the kind that G-20 talks about. But there are Western examples. The host country for this G-20 summit, Canada, has a banking sector dominated by a few large institutions that are heavily regulated and where banks were largely untouched by the financial crisis. Canadian bank consumers pay a higher price for services but, as Canadian authorities like to point out, they and the banks are safer. Canada will not have much use for a detailed new global bank rule book either. That's why it staunchly opposed the idea of a global bank tax. India should have no time for this either.


The argument against a G-20 finance formula however doesn't depend only on examples like India and Canada. America and major European countries were the epicentres of the crisis, where banks took similar kinds of risks under broadly similar kind of regulatory assumptions — even here the simplest of new bank rules won't have much meaning in terms of implementation.


Everyone agrees that big American and European global banks that were savaged by the crisis and only survived because of public bailouts need big infusions of private capital. The International Institute of Finance estimates that at the very minimum crisis-hit banks will need around $700 billion (yes, billion) of new equity financing. How to get this money to the banks? How soon? These involve complex questions of national political economy.


Crisis-hit banks are right now still wary of lending to businesses, they would rather make quick money by financial trading, which is what they are doing. Also, they are unwelcome in capital markets. Also, they haven't crimped on paying out bonuses and dividends. The ideal alternative scenario is that they are given new standards on how much capital they need to keep with themselves, which forces them to, first, pay out less by way of dividends and bonuses, which also makes them go to capital markets for fresh equity, and thus energised they start lending to businesses and become safer.


There's no way, repeat, no way, this can happen as a supra-national effort. What should be the timeframe allowed for banks before they are asked to raise new capital? That's a national political question. The quicker the deadline, the more the chances of a short-term but sharp fall in business lending as banks rush to meet new capital rules. That impacts economic growth. Ergo, that's national politics. European business in general relies more on bank lending than American business. That's one big difference. One deadline for all countries with crisis-hit banks won't work.


How fast should banks wind down on paying out bonuses and dividends and start keeping that money for shoring up capital? That's an especially sharp national political question because political classes across countries and within countries have many, many views on that. But without some across-countries consensus on this a G-20 imposed deadline won't have much meaning.


Should banks beyond redemption — those so hit by the crisis that even post-bailout they may not be ready for tougher rules — be identified and, if they are, what should be done with them? Again, a sharp national political question. And again, it's being so shows up the futility of trying to fashion a widely applicable roadmap.


So if G-20 restricts itself to giving heft to some good general ideas on safety, like strengthening bank capital, and ends up far short of producing a how-to guide, it would do very well. The same holds for the even bigger thing many want G-20 to produce: finance reform. Should banks be stopped from becoming too big so that they can be allowed to fail? Just this one question has complex national political implications, and it is unresolvable at the G-20 level. Or take the apparently simple issue of mortgages, which were at the core of the crisis.


In Canada, any home purchase that has 75 per cent or more bank financing is required to be accompanied by a purchase of insurance — a conservative, a priori safety measure. Housing finance in America has been and will be revisited. And after the Goldman Sachs fraud allegations, the political momentum for big reform increased. But can American finance approach Canadian conservatism? That's only for America to find out, not for G-20 to try and figure out.


Is G-20 another talking shop, then? No. It can usefully occupy itself as a prestigious forum that makes countries more serious about issues from currency reform to energy policy. As Arvind Subramanian pointed out recently, China's moves on the yuan and India's commitment on oil price deregulation were both aimed at going to the Toronto G-20 meeting with something to show. Remember, also, that post-crisis, G-20 was instrumental in a coordinated effort to ease trade finance; capital for global goods trade had dried up in the wake of the Big Fear. G-20 can and should play a key role in rewriting the agendas of the World Bank and IMF.


But the one thing G-20 must not try is to rework finance at a supra-national level. True, this is what G-20 thought it would do as it met after the crisis. True, that was the big idea that gave it prestige. But just because an idea is big doesn't mean it can't be loopy.


Remember that other big idea on global finance? Twenty or so big US, European banks were showing the way to the world's financial nirvana. Twenty big governments taking us to new financial nirvana is just as loopy an idea.








Can we conceive of a historical sequence without causality or consequentiality? If an incident is dropped or altered at any point of the sequence, does the order of incidents or events that follows change? And do the events also change qualitatively, to the point of not occurring at all? Well, ceteris paribus, they do. Frank Lampard and England must be the object of our sympathy (without any of us being particularly fond of the English soccer team or grieving their exit from a World Cup) in being denied Lampard's 20-yard goal against Germany on Sunday. As should Mexico, after the unpardonable decision to let the goal by a Carlos Tevez offside by yards to stand.


Lampard and company went too far in claiming that being denied that goal cost them the match — they were clearly outplayed by an immensely superior German side that pumped in two more goals post-Lampard, sporting a flair and flamboyance so uncharacteristic of German football. However, the English and Mexicans were not guilty of a post hoc error in categorically arguing that after the error, things changed, because of that error. That is true, although no one would hazard a guess about alternative outcomes. These were horrendous decisions, and football had to change after this WC, on a scale larger than the back-pass and three points for a win post-Italia '90.


So on Tuesday, Fifa and its President Sepp Blatter had to apologise to England and Mexico and announce a re-look at goal-line technology. Nevertheless, Fifa's instant reaction of banning replays of controversial match action on the giant stadium screens was more in character — shooting the messenger, burying its head in the sand of its blindness and arrogance. If anything was more outrageous, it was the press conference after Sunday's errors to which Fifa made it a point to not send a single official overseeing referees. Rather than blame the replays, Fifa should have precluded the real cause for trouble. But to do that it would first need to shed its dinosaur tag.


For one, arguments about football's native incompatibility with technology have been made ad nauseum. The game has been cleaned up to the point of a referee asking a goalkeeper to remove negligible confetti from the pitch — and stopping the game for doing so — to say nothing of the protection given to strikers and attacking midfielders (which makes Pele and Maradona rue they were born 40 or 20 years too soon), or the impossibility any longer of an Argentina needing to beat Peru by 4 goals to keep out a Brazil almost already in the final and then cakewalking through that encounter 6-0 (still the worst allegation of match-fixing and bribery in the WC, post-1934 ), or a referee blowing his whistle after the ball is shot and before it entered the net (Brazil vs Sweden, 1978).


Yet, errors as witnessed in the 1966 England-West Germany final recur, even if as history's revenge, or Luis Fabiano's double handball goes unpunished — because Fifa keeps insisting that errors are as much a part of the game as goals and fouls. They are, and will be; but not at, literally, gamechanging junctures. Admittedly, referees long ceased enjoying a wide latitude to sway outcomes; and, undeniably, their or their assistants' human eyes and ears will err. But to not come to their aid when help is close at hand, and in the process wound nations and ruin a referee's reputation, is stubbornly callous.


Prominently on Fifa's opposing side of the technology divide are the English Premier League and Fifpro, the international players' union and... the entire football-loving world. When Fifa dropped the debate last March, Blatter had argued that video technology was "too expensive" for global application, that it would destroy the game's "flow" and that its evidence was not conclusive. Football is indeed a free-flowing sport, very different from cricket or tennis, which have successfully applied technology but whose success is attributed to their stop-and-start character, deprived of the rhythm intrinsic to football. But then, hockey — football's close rhythmic and rules cousin — uses technology for tight calls.


Referees and assistants can make or break a team in a split-second decision. Advocates of goal-line technology argue that the answer in close calls can be provided in half a second. Regardless of the debate between Hawk Eye (used in tennis for line calls, and cricket for lbw decisions by commentators but not umpires) or a micro-chip in the ball, the (Johan) Cruyff line is likely to see ready endorsements after Fifa's latest humiliation — it's all right, in fact necessary, to use cameras for goal-line; however, it's best not to tie that to offside decisions which could further complicate what's already so.


Football can never be fully cleaned up. But if it can be made 95 per cent error-free, that's a lot. History's weight is now decisively against Fifa's refusal to evolve. The bottomline will have to be minimum, but indispensable, technology; referring only extraordinary calls; and strictly limiting appeals. If an overwhelming majority desire this change, they can't all be wrong. A little investment in the right place, instead of additional assistants behind goals, and rhythmic interruptions can still stay well below the unwatchable and unplayable mark.








Until 10 years ago, Alandur, a residential suburb of Chennai in the Kanchipuram district, famous for its ancient temples, had no underground sewerage. As in 80 per cent of the metropolitan area outside the city of Chennai, most households depended on septic tanks with soak pits.


The urban landscape of Alandur has been transformed with an infrastructure project which has provided comprehensive underground sewerage network and a sewage treatment plant. Provision has also been made for community toilets on municipal land. This has been accomplished over a period of five years from 2000 to 2005 by empowering the residents of Alandur to take responsibility for finding a solution within the framework of a public-private partnership and become stakeholders in the success of the partnership.


The dynamic leadership of a directly elected mayor of Alandur in the late 1990s and the supportive role played by the municipal commissioner enthused the people of the town so much that they were willing to put their own deposits with the municipality to ensure that the project is adequately funded and effectively implemented. The government of Tamil Nadu provided an enabling environment in which the promises could be kept. For example, the Tamil Nadu Urban Local Bodies Act 1998 facilitated the process of financing and cost recovery.


The result of these efforts was visible to us as we drove through the streets of Alandur. Covering an area of a little over 4800 acres, the town today has a population of 1.5 lakh which has basic sanitation facilities expected of a middle class town. With its proximity to the airport, and progress on the metro rail linking the town to Chennai, Alandur is clearly on the move. Not surprisingly, land value has escalated beyond imagination. Price of one ground (2400 sq. ft.) of land which was Rs 3-4 lakh in 1996, increased to Rs 50-60 lakh in 2003, and is now close to Rs 1 crore.


Providing water and sanitation to the metropolitan region of Chennai had all along been the responsibility of the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board. The municipality of Alandur decided to take charge in the late 1990s. It all began with a perceived urgent need for sanitation by the then mayor of Alandur, R.S. Bharathi. A major campaign was launched to create awareness on the importance of sanitation and mobilise public support for the project. From distribution of leaflets in English and Tamil and using newspapers and local cable networks on TV to meetings with NGOs and election-style campaigning by councilors and officials, no stone was left unturned to get the message across.


The transparency of the process was crucial in inspiring confidence among the residents. Resident Welfare Associations organised the collection drive for deposits (varying from Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 depending on ability to pay) from the public. The separate bank account was monitored by a special committee with the municipal commissioner as chairman and representatives from the three registered local resident welfare associations as members, and its status made public every month. People without bank accounts could deposit cash with the treasury. A special installment scheme was arranged for those who could not pay at one go. A large number of slum dwellers opted to pay for connection to the sewerage network.


The original target of raising Rs 3.4 crore was far exceeded to yield a collection of Rs 12.4 crore. Another Rs 2.5 crore was earned through interest on depositing the funds with the Tamil Nadu Power Finance Corporation thanks to an exemption by a flexible state government from placing the funds with a public sector bank where the interest rate was much lower (differential of 5 per cent).


A willingness to pay survey of the residents of Alandur was conducted in 1997 by TNUIFSL, a private finance company, which was designated the nodal agency and was responsible for structuring the project, arranging feasibility studies, formulating the contract and arranging the finances. The survey covered a representative sample of households in Alandur whose average monthly income ranged between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000.


The tariff regime was designed taking account of the survey findings. It had an element of cross-subsidy built into it. Most residents fall within the category of property area between 500 and 1500 sq. ft. and pay Rs 80 per month. No user charges were collected in the first year. In 2009-10, the collection amounted to Rs. 3.4 crore and the municipality generated a surplus.


The project was expected to cost Rs. 34 crore and the financing was arranged such that half the amount would come from the Government of India's Megacity program (a precursor to the JNNRUM) as a loan at an interest rate of 5 per cent and Rs 1 crore as grant. A significant part of the rest, i.e. Rs. 13.6 crore was to come from the World Bank intermediated through TNUIFSL at an interest rate of 16 percent, and a small part (Rs. 3.4 crore) was to be funded by residents' deposits. In the event, the residents contributed Rs. 11.85 crore and only Rs. 3 crore was drawn from the World Bank/TNUIFSL.


Consulting Engineering Services (India) were appointed the project management consultants. The project involved the construction of a sewer line covering the entire road length of 137 km, a pump house, 5650 manholes and 23,700 house service connections. The network construction contract was awarded to IVRCL, a private infrastructure company now listed on the NSE and BSE. The company made a 15 per cent return on the construction of the sewerage network.


A global tender for a sewage treatment plant of 12 mld capacity on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis with a 14 year concession period was also won by IVRCL. The cost of the sewerage treatment plant (Rs. 7 crore) was borne by the private party. The municipality provided 0.5 hectares of land for the plant and the pumping station. The payment stipulated that the higher the quantity of sewage received at the treatment plant the lower the unit rate. The private company shall also construct another 12 mld sewage treatment plant to meet the town's growing requirements till 2030 by when the population is expected to double. As risk mitigation, a state government guarantee was provided through TNUIFSL to the contractor. The private company is free to add to its revenue by sale of treated water to industry, composting etc.


Alandur is an excellent example of the politics of empowerment. It is a welcome and refreshing change from the all pervasive politics of entitlement. Bharathi, the dynamic mayor who was the father of the project proclaimed proudly to us, 'where people are involved, politicians cannot harm the project'. The Alandur project was initiated in the DMK political regime and was commissioned by the chief minister, Tamil Nadu in the AIADMK regime. The project won a National Urban Water Award in 2008.


Today, 54 of the 148 municipalities in Tamil Nadu are trying to emulate this model.


Alandur has shown how we can and why we must respond to the atrocious state of sanitation across the cities of India.


Dr. Isher Judge Ahluwalia is the Chairperson of ICRIER and Chair of the High Powered Expert Committee on

Urban Infrastructure. Ranesh Nair is a Consultant to the Committee. Views are personal.







South Africa is a country where race is not the subtext of existence. It's the text. I was at dinner the other night with my cousins, white South Africans divided as to whether they still have prospects here. The elder men said things like, "I now feel like a visitor," or "The future is for the blacks." They see race relations worsening, corruption spreading and inefficiency rampant.


Not the youngest among them, a law student in his mid-20s, proud African, brimming with indignation at his elders' perceived conceits: "Is it race or is it class?" he asked. "What is freedom to them?" he demanded, voice rising. "They want houses, schools, sewage. They want justice."


Conversation turned to this tidbit: Under apartheid, blacks could not be bricklayers because the job was classified as whites-only skilled labour. The student's mother expressed anger, prompting a furious rebuke from him: "Why are you angry now when you weren't 30 years ago? Your anger's useless now. Drop it. When it would have been useful you didn't have it. Now it's payback time for them."


"They" are the eternal other, of course, the blacks in this white conversation, the whites in mirror-image black conversations.


There are plenty of iterations of "they" in a land where the 1950 Population Registration Act (evil legislation is always innocuously named) ran a fine comb through types of inferior being, among them Indians and mixed-race "coloureds." Almost a generation from apartheid's end, South Africa is struggling to compose these differences into something foreign to nature: a sustainable rainbow.


The world has much at stake in this quest. South Africa — 79 per cent black, 9.5 per cent white and 11.5 per

cent Asian or mixed race — is the ground zero chosen by history and geography for the dilemma of otherness, the violent puzzle of race with its reflexive suspicions and repetitive eruptions.


At moments, as during this first African World Cup, the rainbow shimmers. This was supposed to be the competition of smash-and-grab and of machete attacks. Many stayed away.


The fear merchants, always hard at work, have been proved wrong. German grandmas do not lie savaged on the road to Rustenburg. Unity has unfurled, calm broken out. Smiles crease black and white faces alike. To the point that the most asked question here is: Will this moving honeymoon last beyond the World Cup?


It's a good question. South Africa, in the run-up, smouldered, crime eating at its heart like a surrogate for the post-apartheid bloodletting that never was.


There was the murder in April of the white supremacist Eugène Terre'Blanche, hacked to death after the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, Julius Malema, revived the "kill the Boer" line of black struggle. There were Malema's endorsements of Zimbabwe's disaster merchant, Robert Mugabe. There was the unhappy sight of the ANC, torn between its liberation mythology and the mundanity of governance, gripped by paralysis as unemployment climbed over 25 per cent and its "tenderpreneurs" prospered.


A tenderpreneur is an insider pocketing millions from rigged government tenders for everything from air-conditioners to locomotives. The word denotes failure, that of black economic empowerment, which has come to mean much for the few and little for the many. If the powerful steal with front companies, why should the weak not steal with guns?


Yes, as my young cousin said, blacks want justice, from other blacks as well. If President Jacob Zuma does not use the lessons of this World Cup — that colour lines can blur, that things can get done — to build momentum for reform, he will have failed. He must put the tenderpreneurs out of business. He must reverse the crumbling of education. Jobs do not lie in digging more stuff out the ground. The knowledge economy is where opportunity resides.


Is it class or race? South Africa is not going to rainbow race away, but it can bring blacks out of their miserable shacks and educate them — if its leaders are prepared to lead by example. I say it's more class than race.


I was driving the other day with my colleague, Jere Longman, who mentioned that growing up in a small town in Lousiana in the early 1960s, he would see a "whites only" sign outside the launderette and imagine that meant white clothes alone. Almost a century separated the end of slavery from the end of Jim Crow segregation in the United States. Sixteen years have passed since the first free elections here.


There are no quick fixes. But I take heart from the African patriotism of my young cousin. I take heart from another 20-something white South African, a young woman who told me: "I am so happy for Ghana and so proud to be an African."


That was after Ghana, lone African World Cup survivor, booted the United States out, a victory dedicated by its players to Africa, Nelson Mandela's "proud continent." We all know what Ghana long shipped to America: slaves.


It's a pity President Obama couldn't find time to be here in the land where race is text and the way it gets written will affect everyone's future.







In the light of the turmoil in Kashmir, the CPM says that the alienation of the people is expressing itself through mass protests and strikes when there are atrocities committed by the security forces. Given hardline separatist tactics of inciting the youth to confront the police, it calls for maximum restraint and says stone-throwing youth must be tackled without resorting to firing.


The lead editorial in CPM weekly mouthpiece People's Democracy says "what stands out in the J&K situation currently is the complete lack of any political initiative by the Central government" and points out that it was time the UPA gets down to the "serious business of providing the political framework for the process of dialogue and the crystallisation of a political settlement within the state of J&K." "The prime minister's visit to Srinagar in the first week of June was remarkable for the lack of any worthwhile political initiative to tackle the basic problems. The round-table talks have gone nowhere. The UPA government seems oblivious of the need to revive the political process whereby issues such as provision of maximum autonomy for the state and regional autonomy for the three regions can be discussed and concretised alongwith the dialogue with Pakistan which is just beginning to resume".


Righting the Left


As the Left Front government completed 33 years in office, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made yet another desperate bid to win back the confidence of the people. He gave an interview to party daily Ganashakti confessing that his government had made mistakes and is trying to make amends.


After the setback in Lok Sabha election, he says the Left Front has identified areas in the government's planning and action where mistakes have been made. Bhattacharjee identifies land acquisition as one such area. "We have now become more careful. The policies for acquisition of land for industries and rehabilitation must be made more realistic, so that the peasantry and the people in general accept that and participate voluntarily," he says.


"We will protect the fertile lands while non fertile lands would be used for industrialisation. In this case too, we have to be much more sincere on compensation and rehabilitation. If the poor people feel ignored in any area of government and panchayat activities, we have to correct those mistakes. We have to be more sincere about the development of minorities," he says. Besides, he says "there have been instances of undesirable activities which have dented the party's image and "we have decided to rectify quickly."


Covering tracks


The CPI feels the Group of Ministers on the Bhopal tragedy has made an attempt to hoodwink the people. It says the motive behind the swiftness with which the GoM came out with its recommendations was to "cover up certain serious crimes committed by the Congress regime of the early 1980s and the follies of the rulers in the succeeding years."


The editorial in CPI mouthpiece New Age says the "GoM did not feel it necessary (either) to remove the apprehensions in the minds of the people that the judicial process, even at the highest level was manipulated to help the American multinational." "By all accounts, it is obvious that Rajiv Gandhi government had deliberated allowed the American culprit to run away from the country. It could not be the decision of either a state chief minister (Arjun Singh) or the then Union home minister (P.V. Narasimha Rao) alone. The then prime minister was very much responsible for the episode," it says criticising the GoM's silence on this aspect. The compensation package announced has also come under criticism since it has not covered all the victims till date, it says noting that the culprits — Union Carbide and its present owner Dow Chemicals — have not been touched at all.


Compiled by Manoj C.G








Doing the deal US President Barack Obama is neither endorsing nor rejecting the Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani's shuttle diplomacy to Kabul. Asked on the margins of the G-20 summit in Toronto over the weekend about Kayani's efforts to impose Pashtun militant groups on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Obama was careful in the construction of his response.


"I think it's too early to tell. I think we have to view these efforts with scepticism but also with openness". The president added that "conversations between the Afghan government and the Pakistani government, building trust between those two governments, are a useful step."


The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, was a little more sceptical on whether it was possible to cut a deal with any of the militant groups — the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani network. "We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation... would surrender their arms... denounce al Qaeda... would really try to become part of that society," Panetta said.


Unless the militants are "convinced that the United States is going to win and that they're going to be defeated, I think it's very difficult to proceed with a reconciliation that's going to be meaningful," Panetta insisted. The remarks of the US president and his intelligence chief bring us to the central questions of the current American strategy towards Afghanistan. One is that Obama wants to find a "political" solution to what has become the longest military intervention in American history.


Two, it is not a question whether Washington wants to negotiate with the Taliban and other militant groups; the issues are about when and how. What is at stake, then, is not high principle, but the timing and terms.


The realists in the administration argue that without gaining the military upper hand over the Taliban, Washington can't persuade them to negotiate reasonably. No one is betting right now that the Americans are in sight of a victory in Afghanistan.


The other set of issues are about the terms of reconciliation. As Panetta summarised them, the US wants the Taliban to lay down arms, dissociate from al Qaeda, and accept the current Afghan constitution.


The Taliban has its own pre-condition. The international forces must withdraw before any serious talks. For the moment, clearly there is no room for a serious negotiation. What then is Kayani upto? To tease Kabul and/or Washington to scale down their demands for reconciliation.


July 2011


The negotiation of a political deal will be significantly influenced by how other important political actors in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the region and the United States choose to respond. Of all these actors, the US Congress is one of the most important, for it holds the purse-strings for the conduct of the American war in Afghanistan.


At the confirmation hearings of Gen David Petraeus as the new military commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, the full range of Congressional views — from demands for an early withdrawal of American troops to the removal of an artificial deadline for the beginning of US disengagement — will be heard this week.


Obama's opponents from the left and the right would want to shred the deliberate ambiguity that the president has constructed around the date of July 2011 that he set for the "beginning" of a political transition in Afghanistan.


The last time he was in front of Congressional panels a few days ago, Gen Petraeus had to carefully skirt probing questions on where exactly he stood on the question of July 2011. The general, whose political skills are widely acknowledged, chose to underline the importance of the ground conditions that obtain in the summer of next year. He would want to make sure there is no light between himself and the commander-in-chief on July 2011.


Kayani's ambition


Since the partition of the subcontinent, the Pakistan army has been consistent in its quest to establish a government in Kabul that is deferential to Rawalpindi. Success has been elusive, except for a brief period during 1997-2001.


Sceptics would argue that for all his recent bold moves towards Kabul, Kayani can't control Afghanistan. They would say the Pakistan army and ISI are good at "deconstruction" but not the "construction" of any thing, let alone a stable regime in Kabul.


Cynics would simply add that a Pakistani "triumph" in Kabul will be short-lived and will mark the beginning of yet another cycle of conflict where all internal and external actors regroup. Delhi's worriers would want to know the consequences of a Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan, even if it were short lived. It is this debate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have to address in defining the Indian response to Kayani's shuttle diplomacy.







As reported yesterday, an exclusive study done for FE by NCAER-CMCR provides really interesting shades to the 400-million strong mass that has been classified as BPL—a Planning Commission estimate of 37.2% of India's total population. This estimate was made for the purposes of the proposed Food Security Act and in accordance with the methodology recommended by the Suresh Tendulkar committee. The study finds that around a fourth of urban BPL households own a two-wheeler, a third own a colour TV and almost two-thirds a pressure cooker. Findings from rural India also throw stereotypes into the waste basket, with every one in ten BPL persons having a two-wheeler, every fifth BPL village kitchen having a pressure cooker and around 6% owning a colour TV. There is also interesting and upbeat news on the education and employment front. Almost one in five urban BPL households has at least one well-educated—graduate or above!—member and over 13% of them are led by a salaried chief wage earner (CWE). Only under a tenth of rural BPL households have an illiterate CWE. While these findings throw established formulas into a spin, others are along expected lines. For instance, BIMARU states account for around 60% of India's BPL population. The bottom-line takeaway from the huge diversity in disparity thrown up by the NCAER-CMCR study is that the government cannot deliver on its development mandate without more nuancing. The upcoming BPL Census 2011 will have to take careful note of such nuances. As for the endgame, the study provides increased impetus for more carefully targeted BPL support, whether it is via food or kerosene or the like.


As the Food Security Bill gathers momentum while winding its way through the NAC and the government, these columns have consistently and repeatedly made the case for improving the mechanisms intended for extending entitlements to vulnerable groups. There is no question that an emerging global power has to show substantive commitment for compensating its poor. It is equally imperative that such a commitment should not endanger India's fiscal stability. This means efficiencies are essential. The NCAER-CMCR study gives us food for thought; it demands that we reconsider all the BPL numbers floating around. Without properly nuanced statistics, there cannot be proper targeting. And in the absence of the latter, we will be looking at more wastage, more fake claims and more inappropriate dole-outs. Nobody could be unhappy that a fourth of urban BPL households possess a two-wheeler, but everybody has the right to wonder how much subsidised grains or kerosene these households are getting. India can redefine its BPL standards to include two-wheelers, but then let's at least be upfront about doing this.







Insurance regulator Irda's sweeping changes in the structure of Ulips will pave the way for long-term investments in the product. The extension of lock-in period from three to five years, the minimum guarantee of 4.5% returns on pension plans and a 10-times increase in the minimum risk cover will bode well for those retail investors who are looking at an investment avenue with an insurance component linked to it. Buyers will pay lower charges for the same premium they paid earlier and any top up on insurance premiums will be treated as a single premium, which means that every top-up that one makes will have an additional insurance cover backing it as well. For insurance companies, the new regulations will enable them to get more long-term funds, which will be helpful for the stock markets and funding infrastructure projects. Undoubtedly Ulips, which accounted over 40% of the total life insurance policies sold, were marketed very aggressively by distributors because of the high commission they got. More than Rs 2 lakh crore is mobilised annually as premium from Ulips and the tax exemption has been a major driver behind the success of the product. Now, distributors may not find it lucrative enough to sell the product and, going forward, insurance companies will have to spend more money on consumer awareness and make their products pull-driven rather than push-driven, which has been the case so far. Distributors will see some reduction in volume as is the case with any long-term financial products and they will have to come out transparent on what they promise to investors. As we have argued in the past, the recent spat between the Sebi and Irda has brought the entire issue of mis-selling to the forefront and made the latter come out with a notification addressed to companies to spell out to customers the commissions they pay to agents for selling Ulips and the benefits to a policy holder upon maturity.


After a spate of changes in regulations, Irda will now have to ensure that they are implemented in the right earnest and protection of consumers' interest must be the overarching goal. Insurance companies must draw up plans to make Ulips a disciplined investment product and commit investors to pay the premium regularly. As the viability of an insurance company depends heavily on the persistence of products, they will have to ensure that the products do not get surrendered or lapse. Insurance companies and Irda will now have to work in tandem to regain investors' confidence and make Ulips a long-term investment product.









The shift from a benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) to a base rate regime has been kicked off with State Bank of India (SBI) saying its base rate will be 7.5%. Clearly, India's largest lender doesn't want to outprice itself, although it's possible that a couple of the newer private sector banks may price themselves a tad more competitively. They can afford to do that because they're more efficient and are allowed to be so. But SBI doesn't need to worry about them; no big borrower would want to end up in its bad books. And there are ways of compensating big corporates who may feel they're being charged too much. The other public sector banks will almost certainly follow the leader; it's unlikely any one of them will have a rate that's meaningfully lower than that of SBI's, if at all they do decide to undercut the market leader. SBI hasn't really spelt out how it arrived at 7.5% but the number doesn't really seem out of sync with the cost of money today. AAA companies today are able to borrow at around 6.5% or thereabouts. In a rising interest rate scenario, this could go up to about 7% or slightly higher. On the other hand, a one-year term deposit today costs banks barely 6%, although they may be forced to increase this by at least 50 basis points or more if the demand for credit picks up. Already, the pace at which deposits have been growing has slowed over the past few months.


To be sure, the base rate may be just an indicative reference rate because obviously banks will add a spread, depending on the quality of the customer, to arrive at the final lending rate. However, it is an important rate because no bank can lend below the base rate, except to some small-ticket borrowers, bank employees and those who borrow against deposits. It's a floor that cannot be breached and therefore, has some sanctity.


For sure, more creditworthy companies aren't about to see their interest costs shooting up; they will shop for credit and it's possible that a couple of private sector banks will be more than willing to lend to them at less than 7.5%. Else, they will pick up some part of their requirement through short-term instruments like commercial paper, as the base rate does not apply to that mode of lending. Indeed, short-term bonds could proliferate. Why shouldn't banks lend to large companies at fine rates? After all, they aren't just focusing on plain vanilla credit when they deal with big companies; they're also pencilling in fees from other services they could offer. As for small companies, if it's true that they were being overcharged without being given an explanation, they will at least know on what basis they are being charged a certain rate. At the end of the day, it would be unjustified for SMEs to expect that they can borrow at anything less than what their risk profile commands.


Will the new system ensure that interest rates are transmitted more efficiently across the system, or in other words, will banks quickly heed the signals sent out by the central bank? In the past, the central bank hasn't always been able to get banks to change rates in line with the levels signalled by them. It's hard to tell how things will work this time around but the new system may be more effective since there is a floor in place. In a competitive environment, however, it's only natural that banks would tweak their rates, either for loans or deposits, depending on their individual business economics and strategies. Ultimately, they will look out for their bottom lines of course, making sure that they don't damage their balance sheets.


It's true that the BPLR method didn't work and that banks were lending below it. But in all fairness, even after the downturn in the Indian economy, which started in late 2008, the level of non-performing assets in the system didn't really endanger any bank, though it is a fact that a large amount of loans have been restructured. If at all, it was the huge quantum of retail lending, without proper assessment of the credit risks involved, that resulted in huge non-performing assets for a couple of banks. The rate at which the loans were given had less to do with the defaults. Banks may believe that the base rate leaves them with less flexibility, although they have a window of six months to adjust, but since the central bank itself has suggested that the base rate be reviewed at least once in a quarter, it would imply that it wants banks to make changes if necessary. In a competitive market, banks will be compelled to keep costs in check and get cracking on their processes so that customers get their money fast. Otherwise they won't be left with too many good ones.










Much has been written about the continuing shift in the balance of global economic power towards Asia. The focus has been on the spectacular rise of China and India, and how and when they will overtake the US as the largest global economic powers. But the implications of the ascent of Asia for global economic policy making have been relatively unexplored. Asia's growth story is impressive and is expected to remain so. Asia now accounts for about 27% of world GDP at market exchange rates. In terms of contributions to global growth, the record is even more impressive—Asia contributes close to 50% towards global growth compared to 25% just a decade ago. China has surpassed the level of output achieved by Japan, Korea and the Asean countries when they were at a similar stage in their growth takeoffs. China's population and urbanisation is likely to sustain rapid growth. In India's case, the potential for growth to continue is significant, with the favourable demographic trends (expected to result in labour force growth for at least two decades), urbanisation and investment prospects.


Fast forward to 20 years from now and the numbers are truly staggering. By 2030, Asian economies will account for more than 40% of global GDP. They will be larger than the US and EU combined, and larger even than all the G-7 economies put together. Asian economies will be about half the size of the entire G-20.


Mirroring their growing economic muscle is Asia's growing heft in global financial markets. From around 30% today, Asian equity markets could reach almost half of world's total market capitalisation by 2030. The global corporate landscape already includes more and more Asian companies, and this will only continue in the future.


The sources of future Asian growth, however, will need to be different from the past. Thus far, Asia's growth has been heavily based on exports, primarily to advanced economies in the West. But with those countries likely to continue to see sluggish growth as they recover from the effects of the global economic and financial crisis, exports will not be the engine of growth. Domestic demand in Asia will have to play a stronger role in sustaining growth and therefore the priority is to resolutely implement policies to generate growth from domestic sources. Even as Asia's reliance on domestic demand grows, the region will continue to be increasingly integrated in the global economy. The emerging shift in economic power will involve a continuation of the process of real and financial integration—indeed, in the multipolar world, more linkages will develop across the world, not fewer.


The key implication for policy making is that a multilateral approach to policy will remain essential. What does this mean? It means that we will need to do more of three things: 1) analyse shocks and spillovers coming from different economic centres, 2) internalise the consequences that a country's policies will have on other countries and 3) devise mechanisms to cope with global and regional shocks and their spillover effects. All this requires abandoning country silos and embracing a multilateral perspective, a challenge for policymakers and international institutions alike.


The IMF and other international institutions and fora will have to play a key role in helping countries analyse, internalise and devise coping mechanisms in a highly integrated world. At the IMF, we are adapting to these new challenges. We are placing greater emphasis on multilateral surveillance, looking at cross-border linkages and spillover effects, especially in our publications. Vulnerability assessments, which help identify the sources and impacts of tail events, have been expanded to include advanced countries and financial surveillance enriched by new tools. The importance of internalising implications of policies has pushed countries during the recent crisis to coordinate their policies more closely—the fiscal stimulus is an example. The G-20 MAP exercise is another avenue to encourage countries to internalise the implications of their policies for others. These initiatives are all work in progress, but will be important contributors to the success of the global economy going forward. Even with better analysis of spillovers and better policy coordination, countries will still suffer periods of difficulty. Hence, the need to devise mechanisms that can help countries cope with these situations. The IMF's new Flexible Credit Line is an example of a mechanism that can help countries limit the spreads of contagion.


Asia's ascent is inexorable and so is its integration among economies in this new multipolar world. The world needs Asian leadership to sustain growth and to develop mechanisms to analyse, internalise and devise ways of coping with the inevitable difficulties the global economy will encounter in the future.


—The author is the deputy director of the Asia and Pacific Department of the IMF. This article is coauthoured with Laura Papi, division chief in the same department. Views are personal










Give a rural, uneducated man Rs 5,000 and chances are that he'll spend it on alcohol and tobacco. A woman, on the other hand, is more likely to use the same money for her family's nutrition and education. At least that's what the current generation of 'social entrepreneurs' who are setting up BPOs in remote parts of India seem to think. Rural BPOs, as they are called, are hiring women in large numbers and that could have a big say in the social upliftment of rural areas as a whole. Still in their early trial and error days, rural BPOs have the potential to work for everybody—the client, who gets substantial reduction in price; the BPO firm, which has to deal with much less attrition and lower cost of operations; and the employee, who is paid a decent salary that allows higher savings compared to peers in cities as a consequence of spending less on travel and lodging.


However, it is surprising that rural BPOs have been able to hire so many women—working if you are unmarried is a social taboo in rural areas. Still, some enterprises ensure they hire only women, in others women account for more than a quarter of employees.


Thus, rural BPOs have successfully created a positive working environment. The number of women employees indicates that families see value in such centres. A healthy dose of supplementary income and a steep learning curve are attractive incentives. Most first-time employees who come to rural BPOs are not computer literate and are provided free training. Early results from these centres suggest that after training, the women are able to execute work like data entry, handle health care and insurance processing, as well as other non-voice processes such as scanning and indexing.


Working in such set-ups adds to a woman's sense of pride. CEOs believe that working in a new economy industry will help women become role models.










Over the past fortnight, the Janata Dal(United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have practised a form of brinkmanship politics that is not unusual when partners have to go to elections with separate agendas. The latest in the long-winding saga is a possible rapprochement between the sniping allies. Though ideologically incompatible, the JD(U) and the BJP have proved to be a great political fit, with the JD(U)'s OBC base perfectly complementing the BJP's forward caste core vote. Yet politics is not business where tremendous care is taken to preserve a successful model. Like so many of the BJP's other past and present partners, the JD(U) has the self-image of a secular-liberal party practising an inclusive agenda. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is ambitious, image-conscious, and would like nothing more than to be able to win the upcoming Assembly election on his own terms. Naveen Patnaik in Orissa went through the same tensions with the BJP until, on the eve of the 2009 general election, he boldly threw off the Hindutva albatross, striking pay dirt with the gamble. Mr. Patnaik's was a swift, surgical operation that carried conviction with the voters. Unfortunately, Mr. Kumar has played the on-again, off-again game far too long for the electorate not to spot the opportunism in it. There was much talk of a JD(U)-BJP split around the time of the Biju Janata Dal-BJP break-up. Mr. Kumar volleyed and thundered but, as always, withdrew from the brink, going on to pose with none other than Narendra Modi at an election rally in Ludhiana.


It is no small irony that today the same photograph — used as advertisement by the BJP — has caused a fresh rift between the partners. Mr. Kumar is justified in taking the BJP to task for the advertisement, which the party appears to have released without the Chief Minister's express consent. Yet even he cannot deny that in 2009 he shared a political platform with Mr. Modi, and seemed none too concerned when the photograph in question appeared in print. Further, Mr. Kumar was a Cabinet Minister at the Centre at the time of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. If the Bihar Chief Minister is serious about his secular credentials, he ought to go beyond grandstanding. Gestures such as returning the Gujarat government's Rs.5 crore flood relief assistance can backfire, more so should the JD(U) and the BJP jointly fight the election. For its part, the BJP ought to reflect seriously on its inability to retain allies, the latest instance of this being the unedifying drama played out in Jharkhand. Insider Jawant Singh might have beenfloored by Nitin Gadkari's charm offensive, but external allies willwant verifiable proof that the party has disinvested from its divisive agenda.







Politics has seen some fast moves but the one that unfolded in Australia last week had to be among the fastest. In less than 24 hours, Kevin Rudd, the hero of Labour party's comeback in the 2007 election and once the most popular Australian Prime Minister, saw the premiership slip from his hands into that of his deputy, Julia Gillard. The revolt within Labour was triggered by the rapidly falling popularity of Mr. Rudd and his government in opinion polls conducted in May. This happened after he deferred a vote on an important scheme to tackle climate change that was promised by Labour during the election campaign. The Emissions Trading Scheme was an initiative to reduce Australia's carbon emissions. But without adequate support for it in the powerful Senate, where Labour does not enjoy a majority, Mr. Rudd had to announce that the government would take a decision on how to proceed on it after a couple of years. It was amid the discontent over this issue that the government slapped a new tax on mining profits. In the face of a high-voltage campaign against the tax by the big mining companies and their shareholders, a beleaguered Mr. Rudd could not convincingly defend the idea that profits from a national resource must be shared nationally. With the government's ratings crashing in every opinion poll, and national elections due next year, a nervous Labour decided swiftly to jettison its leader in favour of Ms Gillard. In the end, Mr. Rudd's two big achievements — ratifying the Kyoto protocol, and a formal apology to the aboriginal people of Australia — were of little help in a high-stakes political battle.


The new Prime Minister, the first woman to make it to that office in Australia, faces the task of correcting the course of "a good government [that] was losing its way" and recouping lost ground for Labour. Ms Gillard, who entered parliament first in 1998, is known to be a pragmatic politician. One of her first actions in office was to reach out to the mining companies for negotiations to arrive at a compromise on the tax. She has also promised a review of the government's stand on carbon-trading. With immigration a major issue of concern to Australian voters, Ms Gillard has signalled a break from the Rudd vision of a "big Australia" and her preference instead for a "sustainable Australia." It could end up giving Labour a Right-ish look but her party is unlikely to complain if it can win them the next election.










Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament, has been on death row for nearly five years, after his appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court on August 5, 2005. His execution, due on October 20, 2006, was stayed by the government because a clemency petition was filed by his family to the President. A decision on the clemency petition has not been taken till today. In the meantime, Afzal Guru suffers in solitary isolation, not knowing whether he will be executed or not. The agony of his family must not be any less.


On September 30, 2009 Home Minister P. Chidambaram said 28 mercy petitions, including that of Afzal Guru, were pending with the President and with the Government of India. He said he would have a fresh look at them and each case would, on average, take three to four weeks. The first case would be the one from Tamil Nadu, which has been pending with the President for 11 years — since April 1988. On this schedule, it was estimated that the government would take two years to decide on Afzal Guru's petition. But suddenly after Ajmal Kasab — the lone surviving terrorist in the Mumbai 26/11 attack — was sentenced to death in May this year, Afzal Guru's case has been taken up out of turn for immediate action. We are now informed that the Home Ministry has forwarded his petition to the President.


The courts of civilised states have recognised and acknowledged that a prolonged delay in executing a death sentence can make the punishment, when it comes, inhuman and degrading. The trauma and physical stress coupled with solitary confinement of a convict known as the "death-row phenomenon" is itself a cruel punishment. The prolonged anguish of alternating between hope and despair, the agony of uncertainty, the consequences of such suffering on the mental, emotional and physical integrity and health of not only the convict but also his family should not be allowed in civilised societies.


It is a misnomer to describe the petitions made to the President and Governors under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution by convicted persons as mercy petitions. The Constitution confers a right on such convicts and a duty on the Presidents and Governors (in reality the respective government) to duly consider the petitions and take action on them expeditiously. Properly exercised, this power of clemency has in several cases in the U.K. set aside miscarriage of justice even by the highest court. But this power has never been exercised properly in a timely and humane manner in India.


Keeping such petitions pending for an inordinately long period, the government seems to be totally ignorant of its obligations in law and of the human aspect of the suffering of persons on death row. It treats them as if they are standing in a queue for rations.


Of all the cases awaiting execution, Afzal Guru's is the most poignant one as he has been made a political pawn, with the BJP unseemingly demanding his immediate execution and making it an issue in the last general election, while the government thinks it is equally expedient to delay it for political considerations but giving unconvincing grounds such as saying his file was not returned by the Delhi government for four years. It is now revealed by the Delhi Chief Minister that the previous Home Minister deliberately instructed the government not to act promptly on Afzal Guru's file.


Afzal's mental agony can be seen from his pathetic statement made in June last year. He said: "I really wish L.K. Advani becomes the next Prime Minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering will ease then." On the UPA government's ambivalent attitude, he said: "I don't think the UPA government can reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game." Whatever his crime, surely Afzal does not deserve this predicament.


In 1993, in a case of delay in the execution of two convicts in Jamaica and Trinidad, the Privy Council said, "There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he had been under sentence of death for many years. What gives rise to this revulsion? The answer can only be our humanity. We regard it as inhuman to keep a man facing the agony of execution for a long extended period of time. To execute these men now after holding them in custody in agony of suspense for so many years would be inhuman punishment."


In 1983, the Supreme Court observed in the Sher Singh case: "We must take this opportunity to impress upon the Government of India and the State governments that petitions filed under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution or under Sections 432 and 433 of the Criminal Procedure Code must be disposed of expeditiously. A self-imposed rule should be followed by the executive authorities rigorously, that every such petition shall be disposed of within a period of three months from the date on which it is received." The government has ignored this advice as is evident from the number of prisoners on death row.


In its latest pronouncement on September 18, 2009 in the case of Jagdish vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, the court in a strongly expressed judgment noted the cruelty and torture of a prisoner on death row caused by the inordinate delay in deciding his petition. The court cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision which observed "The cruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the dehumanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution. The prospect of pending execution exacts a frightful toll during the inevitable long wait between the imposition of the sentence and the actual infliction of death."


The Supreme Court's observations require to be stated at length to remind the Government of India of its failure in clemency petitions.


The court stated:


"We, as Judges, remain largely unaware as to the reasons that ultimately bear with the Government in taking a decision either in favour of the prisoner or against him but whatever the decision, it should be on sound legal principles related to the facts of the case. We must, however, say with the greatest emphasis that human beings are not chattels and should not be used as pawns in furthering some larger political or government policy."


It further observed: "Equally, consider the plight of the family of such a prisoner, his parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters, who too remain static and in a state of limbo and are unable to get on with life on account of the uncertain fate of a loved one. What may be asked is the fault of these hapless individuals and should they be treated in such a shabby manner."


Continuing, the court stated: "The observations reproduced above become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of twenty-six mercy petitions before the President of India, in some case, where the courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago. We, too, take this opportunity to remind the Governments concerned of their obligations under the aforementioned statutory and constitutional provisions."


After the powerful indictment by the Supreme Court of the inhumane practice of the Government of India in keeping mercy petitions pending for inordinate lengths of time, the President and the Government of India are obliged to commute the death sentences imposed on prisoners. This is particularly so in the case of Afzal Guru, who has been made a political pawn. To do this is not only to act legally but to act humanely which is surely expected of the President and the Government of India.


(The writer is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and former Solicitor-General of India.)









  1. A prominent example of a print paper opting to transform itself entirely into a Web publication is the venerable Christian Science Monitor
  2. With the galloping fortunes of high-technology driven portable gadgets, media organisations see the advantage of pushing content through telephony


I was dining with John Seeley in the Grill Room of The Four Seasons Restaurant, the one place in New York where the city's elite habitually congregate for their "power lunch" five days a week. Mr. Seeley, like others in the wood-panelled, Philip Johnson-designed room, is a player — which is to say that, as founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's new "Greater New York" daily supplement, he's someone whose presence is immediately noticed and whose attention is sought, even by other influential figures in a power obsessed metropolis like New York.


Mr. Seeley, a trim, bespectacled man in his early 40's, wears his power lightly; he's an old friend, and one of the finest editors I've worked with. He takes his work very seriously, not the least because his new section is competing head-on with The New York Times' formidable local report, both in print and on the Web.


One of the topics we discussed was the decline of print publications and the question of whether major newspapers should put up a "pay wall" for the content they offered on the Web. The proprietor of Mr. Seeley's paper, Rupert Murdoch, is an enthusiast of the pay-for-content concept; The New York Times has announced that it will start charging visitors to its popular Web site for much of its content.


This topic may not have dominated conversation at every table of The Four Seasons Restaurant. But it would be safe to assume that it was lodged in the minds of the media tycoons there. On this day, the restaurant's other diners included a variety of top media figures, including Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS; he was lunching with Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, who privately advises media companies. ( Newsweek has put itself up for sale, and the prospects of a financially viable future seem grim.)


Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of The New York Daily News was there, too; his paper's print circulation has been steadily declining, as is that of its Murdoch-owned tabloid rival, The New York Post. In another corner, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was eating with Vernon Jordan, arguably the closest friend of former President Bill Clinton, and a former member of the board of Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rubin is co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious think tank whose Web publications have been winning awards as well as more and more visitors. Still another diner was a top executive of Condé Nast, which recently shut down the bible of the food industry, the monthly magazine Gourmet, and is reviving it as a Web offering.


Upturned in the U.S.


"Print versus Web" is a topic that has upturned the media industry in the United States, and in many other countries, resulting in significant job losses for print journalists. In 2007, there were 6,580 daily newspaper around the world, including nearly 1,500 in the U.S.; by mid 2010, the overall figure is down by 500, while newspaper revenues have declined by a fifth on account of an advertising fall precipitated by the global recession, as well as a migration of many advertisers to the Web.


A prominent example of a print paper opting to transform itself entirely into a Web publication is the venerable Christian Science Monitor, the Boston-based newspaper that was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy. It shut down its daily print edition on March 27, 2009, citing losses of $18.9 million per year versus $12.5 million in annual revenue. It now offers content online on its Web site and via e-mail. John Yemma, the paper's editor, says that the move to go digital was made because the management recognised that the Christian Science Monitor's reach would be greater online than in print. He says that in the next five years the Monitor will aim to increase its online readership to 25 million page-views, from the current figure of five million.


In the United Arab Emirates, the daily business daily, Emirates 24/7 — which is owned by the Dubai Government company, DMI — announced a few days ago that it, too, would terminate its print edition. Like the Christian Science Monitor, Emirates 24/7 will be published daily solely as a Web newspaper.


While newspapers generally are suffering from a decline in advertising and subscription revenues, rising newsprint costs simultaneously besets them. U.S. East Coast prices — the barometer of global rates for newsprint — rose to nearly $600 a tonne in January 2010, compared to $464 in August 2009. Moreover, new contracts concluded after March 2010 include an additional $50 a tonne. (Indian publishers for whom newsprint constitutes the single largest cost element — accounting for 40 to 60 per cent of total cost, are bracing themselves for this rise, even though newsprint is current exempt from customs duty; publishers import 50 per cent of the 1.8 million tonnes of newsprint used annually.)


Here's another set of statistics that should be sobering for the print industry: The online ad business, excluding mobile ads, is set to expand to $34.4 billion in 2014 from $24.2 billion in 2009, according to a report released last week by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The same report says that newspapers continue to suffer from a decline in advertising revenue. According to the Newspaper Association of America, print advertising revenue dropped 28.6 per cent in 2009 to $24.82 billion. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report estimates that print advertising in newspapers will drop to $22.3 billion by 2014. It also estimates that mobile advertising in North America will quadruple from $414 million in 2009 to $1.6 billion in 2014.


With the galloping fortunes of high-technology driven portable gadgets such as Apple's iPad and the new iPhone4, media organisations clearly see the advantage of pushing content through telephony. This doesn't augur well for the print industry, although, of course, its decline may not suggest imminent demise.


Still, as The Wall Street Journal's John Seeley told me, smart media organisations are revving up their digital technology. "You need to be where the readers are," he said. The Journal is in the comfortable position of having a daily print circulation of 2.09 million, compared to 952,000 for The New York Times. Neither paper is taking its relatively high print circulation for granted — both are spending fresh sums of money on boosting print circulation through ads and provocative marketing. But both are also accelerating their Web operations.


(Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and author. His next book is on India and the Middle East.)










The most exciting new idea for tackling poverty and feeding billions around the world has got nothing to do with hydroelectric dams or back-slapping summitry. Instead, this one begins with a story about kung-fu movies.


In the mid-90s, Claire Melamed was working in a village in the far north of Mozambique. Nacuca had no electricity, nor running water, and precious few distractions. As the development economist recalls: "Villagers would ask, 'We have to live here, but how come you've chosen to stay?'" Then one day visitors came, bearing entertainment.


They were former soldiers from Mozambique's long civil war and, like the other 90,000 or so demobbed men, they were getting $15 a month from donors, along with some funding to start businesses. This lot had pooled the hand—outs to buy a TV, a video recorder and a generator.


Oh, and a few old Bruce Lee tapes.


The former soldiers toured villages across Mozambique showing copies of Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury for cash or, failing that, maize and cassava. And they went down a storm in the remote rural yawn of Nacuca, staying for days and playing the same films over and over.


New idea in aid


What Melamed saw in Mozambique was one of the first major exercises in what is now among the most talked—about new ideas in aid, called cash transfers — or, as a new book title puts it, "Just give money to the poor", as those donors did to the former soldiers. The authors, Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, count 45 countries that hand cash to more than 110 million families. In Brazil, poor families can collect money from lottery shops. Pickup trucks drive across Namibia, bearing safes with cash machines welded on the front, used by old ladies to take out their monthly pensions.


It sounds forehead-smackingly obvious: isn't giving cash to the poor what we do every time we shovel change into an envelope, or pledge a donation to a fundraising telethon? But when that money — whether from individuals or governments or big international institutions like the World Bank — gets to Africa or Asia, it's typically turned into new roads, schools, even community radio stations. The idea is to give poor people the infrastructure and training they need to lift themselves out of destitution.


Or perhaps I should say that was the idea. Looking back over the last few years, we see in retrospect a brief golden period for aid. It was marked in Britain by turning Clare Short into the new secretary of state for international development, and defined internationally by the 2005 pledge at Gleneagles of the G8 richest countries to give more money to Africa. And it appears to be drawing to a close. Academics and writers such as Bill Easterly and Dambisa Moyo now gain plaudits for books with titles such as Dead Aid. Recession—hit politicians at events such as last weekend's G20 summit in Toronto avoid even mentioning the Gleneagles promises. And when official money is handed over, it often ends up on the most useless projects. In 2008, Berlin spent half a million dollars on what it called a "basic nutrition project" but which turned out to be a scheme to reduce unpleasant smells from food—processing factories in China and (naturally enough) Germany. That would be called a joke, if it was only remotely funny.


Against all that, the idea of just handing over a hefty chunk of the world's $100bn aid money directly to the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day is pretty attractive. Less funny business from donors, and far less waste. And what makes this most remarkable of all is that while the rich countries squabble over how much money to give and in what form, this initiative has sprung largely from the poor nations — usually under pressure from some of their poorest people.


This is the world of aid turned upside down. A couple of years ago, Oxfam tried the idea out in a few villages in Vietnam. Charity workers gave the equivalent of three years' wages in one go to more than 400 families. When they returned they found that poverty had dropped through the floor, with most of the money spent sensibly on food or fertilisers, seeds and cows. But older people had put some cash towards coffins, explaining that funerals were a major expense. And one group had built a communal house, to practise yoga.


It takes a village to raise a child, Hillary Clinton once wrote; on this showing, it takes just a few million Vietnamese dong to raise a village into a bijou Notting Hill.


Findings such as these have led the author Joe Hanlon to call for most of the Gleneagles millions to be shovelled into poor people's pockets. That's going too far: individual donations cannot replace schools or hospitals. It may be that giving cash works best when there are amenities and opportunities — and people who can use both.


As Richard Dowden at the Royal African Society points out: "Village communities are often tightly controlled by elders, chiefs and kings. Just handing over dollars to a rural community — even to the supposedly poorest people — risks reinforcing that hierarchy." But, qualifications aside, the concept is only going to get more popular. Indeed, New York recently tried the idea with its poor citizens, handing over money if they successfully sent their kids to school.


Cash transfers may first have been made in a poor country, but the idea travels well. A bit like those Bruce Lee films. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Nothing riles the so-called Tory "modernisers " — that is, Prime Minister David Cameron and his Notting Hill set — more than the taunt that behind the shining new mask they are the "same old Tories." But the more they protest the more their actions suggest that they are protesting too much. It is barely six weeks since they came to power and, already, their old Tory instincts are on the rampage?


The swingeing Thatcher-style cuts to public spending proposed in their first interim budget (the biggest package of cuts and taxes in a generation) was pure old Tory stuff reflecting their deep-seated ideological aversion to the welfare state.


The £60-billion cuts which, according to independent experts, will hit the poorest the hardest and could tip the economy back into recession came wrapped up in the flimsiest of fig leaves — namely the claim that they were "unavoidable'' in order to bring down the "crippling" budget deficit which, if allowed to balloon, would wreck the economy.


Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz rubbished the claim pointing out that, on the contrary, nothing could be worse than cutting back on spending just when the economy is starting to recover. The reasons for the cutbacks, he suggested, were purely ideological.


Indeed, the Tories fought the election campaign on an anti-state platform vowing to dismantle it by handing over more and more functions to the private and voluntary sectors in the name of promoting individual enterprise or what they grandly called the Big Society to replace the Big State created by their Labour predecessors. And they got down to it within days of moving into Downing Street.


The Liberal Democrats, their junior partners in the ruling coalition, are clearly embarrassed at having to back the Tory agenda that they had so fiercely opposed during the election campaign. Not surprisingly they are being accused of ``selling out'' to the Tories in exchange for a few plum jobs in the cabinet and deputy prime ministership for their leader Nick Clegg.


Many Lib Dems are seething with anger and the party is said to be losing support on the ground with some 48 per cent of those who voted for it at the last election saying they may not vote for it again. Nor are its Tory partners being exactly helpful. Apparently, Lib Dems have become a favourite target of jokes in Tory circles with some openly (and gleefully) saying how the Lib Dems are being used to give legitimacy to a Thatcherite agenda. One senior Tory is reported as saying that they are "like prisoners of war being made to read out our agenda."


But forget Lib Dems and their unease over Tory policies. There are fears of a public backlash as the deep spending cuts start to bite. A summer of discontent is said to be looming with trade unions flexing their muscles over threatened job losses and wage freeze reviving memories of the mayhem caused by Margaret Thatcher's slash-and-burn policies in 1980s. What we are seeing is a replay of the same old Tory tactics under a new — and more slick — management.


Similarities don't end here. For, it seems, Mr. Cameron's Tories are as blasé about the impact of their policies as were their Thatcher predecessors. In 1981 (sorry to keep harping on the 1980s but that was the period of Tory high noon), as unemployment rose Norman Tebbit , the Tory grandee who became famous for prescribing the cricket loyalty test for Asian migrants, memorably advised the unemployed to stop being lazy and to "get on your bike" to look for work.


Thirty years on, another senior Tory has the same advice for millions of people facing unemployment: get a move on, stupid. If there are no jobs in your area, get out and try and find work somewhere else even if it means moving hundreds of miles away.


The Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smtih, who represents the same constituency that Mr. Tebbit once did, says that people should not sit around and moan if they don't find jobs locally. Instead, they should be willing to uproot their families and move to areas where they might find jobs. Or as Mr Tebbit barked: "Get on your bike mate."


The same old Tories? No?


And, here's another echo from the Thatcherite 1980s. Remember Enoch Powell, another claw-and-tooth Tory with a visceral dislike of immigrants? He warned that if the influx of foreigners was not checked it could cause "rivers of blood" to flow across Britain.


Well, his ghost is still stalking the Tory HQ judging from the party's continuing obsession with immigration. Clamping down on immigration was the Tories' headline campaign plank and, despite resistance from Lib Dems, one of Mr. Cameron's first acts has been to make good on that promise by announcing an annual cap on the number of people coming into Britain from outside the European Union.


Indeed, the Tories were in such a hurry to push it through that they have effectively brought forward the original time-line according to which a cap would have come into force only next April. Instead, they have gone ahead and imposed a temporary cap that would care of the nine-months until then. The argument is that it is intended to prevent a last-minute rush ahead of the April deadline but, in truth, it is the Enoch Powell strain of Toryism in operation.


Ah, the same old Tories.







GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Novartis have taken the top three spots again on the Access to Medicine Index, which ranks pharmaceutical companies on how readily they make their products available to the world's poor. It was the second time the rankings, which were created in 2008, have been issued. This time, 95 per cent of the brand-name companies approached by the Dutch foundation that started the index agreed to provide information; two years ago, only about half did.


European companies slightly edged U.S. companies in the rankings, while the four Japanese companies ranked were at or near the bottom.


The companies are graded on many factors, including whether they offer lower prices or donate drugs in poor countries, whether they license generic versions of their products or fight to prevent them, whether they donate expertise or money to struggling health systems and whether they do research on neglected diseases.


Gilead Sciences and Pfizer rose several ranks from 2008.


Those falling in rank were Novo Nordisk, Bayer, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Merck KGaA (a German company no longer connected to the Merck based in New Jersey).


The index, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Dutch and British governments, Oxfam and other donors, also issued detailed "report cards" on 20 companies.


For the first time, generic drugmakers were ranked separately. Three Indian companies, Ranbaxy Laboratories, Cipla and Dr. Reddy's, took the top three spots. — New York Times News Service









Karnataka's BJP-led B.S. Yeddyurappa government, under siege following the resignation of Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, has transferred yet another forest official, Ankola's assistant conservator Narendra Hittalamakki, who was investigating the disappearance of five lakh tonnes of iron ore worth $50 million from Belekeri port in Karnataka, impounded en route from Bellary, the state's mining belt. The state government had earlier sought to suspend deputy conservator of forests R. Gokul, who was supervising investigations into the disappearance of the illegal iron ore from Belekeri port.

The speed with which key officials tasked with the investigation are being transferred could be the handiwork of powerful elements within the Karnataka government seeking to shield a powerful mining lobby plundering a key resource that belongs to the state and the nation. This is particularly shameful given the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the matter. While Justice Hegde had trained his guns on the Bellary-based Reddy brothers, ministers in the Yeddyurappa government who enjoy the patronage of senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, there is, as yet, no proof of their involvement. Indeed, the mine barons of Bellary are drawn from every political persuasion. But of this there can be no question — nowhere in the world is a country's natural resource given away as freely as in India.

The issue of illegal iron ore mining in Karnataka has been simmering for nearly a year. Justice Hegde had submitted a 2,000-page report last year detailing the extent of the illegal mining, and the matter is being pursued by a host of Central agencies, including the CBI, DRI, Survey of India, Bureau of Mines, the customs department and the environment and forests ministry. All eyes are now on the Election Commission, which has asked the Karnataka government why it dropped charges against the Reddy brothers and to examine if they should be disqualified as ministers as their involvement in the mining business is a case of conflict of interest. That deal was reached when the Yeddyurappa government agreed to look the other way in a bid to buy peace when the Reddys mounted their November putsch.

With this increased public scrutiny, can the state continue to look the other way? Illegal mining is a hugely lucrative business. The global price of iron ore has gone up from $18 a tonne to around $100-130 a tonne. One can imagine the size of the loot of five lakh tonnes of iron ore that is smuggled out. This is where the clout of the mining lobby comes from. Karnataka is the biggest exporter of iron ore in India — 35 million tonnes a year, which goes primarily to China and Japan. Goa comes second: ironically, in that state, where the BJP is in Opposition, its leader is accusing the Congress of benefiting from the 100 new licences given for mining manganese and iron ore, in addition to the 110 mining leases already in existence. It has been alleged that a particular state minister has cornered six of these licences.

Several politicians and public figures across the country, including Union home minister P. Chidambaram, have called on Justice Hegde to withdraw his resignation and continue his campaign for good governance in Karnataka. While the Yeddyurappa government would like the issue to simply fade away, that is now easier said than done. The state government shifting an investigating officer even after the furore over Justice Hegde's resignation does not augur well for the state or the country. It is a pointer to the triumph of corruption and the plunder of national resources.








When the Congress Party lost its position as the dominant national party in the 1989 elections, many people believed that this role would be inherited by the Janata Dal coalition under the leadership of V.P. Singh. However, it proved to be much more unstable than the government under Morarji Desai and very soon the country witnessed the rise of a number of regional (state) parties sporting the name "Janata Dal". The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajyapee, emerged as an alternative to the Congress but it was able to retain its position only for six years and had to revert to its role as the main Opposition after the 2004 general elections.

Even though many Congress supporters take the victory in the 2009 general elections as confirming the return of the Congress as the party of governance at the Centre, the trend of voting in some of the large states in India and the number of seats it had won from 1989 does not give much room for such hopes. The Congress' strength in the Lok Sabha rose to 405 seats in 1984, but fell to 197 in 1989. It made a partial recovery to 232 in 1991 but the number of seats fell to 140 in 1996, 141 in 1998 and to 145 in 2004. The 206 seats tally in 2009 is no doubt a significant achievement, but not enough to warrant much optimism. The main weaknesses that plagued the Congress from the mid-60s, such as lack of inner-party democracy, poor leadership in states et cetera, continue even now. In fact, the main advantage that the Congress has at the Centre is that its rivals are in a worse position on the criteria of inner-party democracy and state-level organisational strength.

As far as the BJP is concerned, its unity and coherence as an all-India party has been badly shattered by the electoral reverses of 2009. A great blow to the morale of the rank and file of the BJP has been the open display of divisions and rifts among its national level leaders after the 2009 reverses.

More disappointing to those who were entertaining hopes for the emergence of a viable third alternative has been the trend of decline that has set in most of the small parties. Anti-Congressism and anti-Hindutva had provided an ideological platform for the various remnants of the old Janata Dal and a number of Left parties under the leadership of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), but the CPI(M), today, is in much greater disarray and state of decline than the Congress or the BJP had been at any time in the recent past. The question now is whether the CPI(M) will get enough seats on its own to prop itself as the leader of the Left group in any future third front.

The trend of decline in the small parties carrying the label of "Janata Dal" is more conspicuous than that in the CPI(M)-led Left Front. In the early years after its founding, the Janata Party could attract not only the followers of certain castes, in some states, but also a good number of followers committed to the socialistic ideologies of Jayaprakash Narayan. They claimed to be equally opposed to the policies of the Congress and the BJP, but now people don't know where senior leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav stand. They seem to have opted for a very flexible ideology for their parties, guided more by their personal interests than any principles or socialist philosophy. Their sudden shift from anti-Congressism to the position of supporters of the Congress has landed their parties in a "nowhere land" and stifled the idea of a third front even before it was born. Public would find it difficult to accept their leadership for a third front when they are seen to be guided more by convenience than by their commitment to the ideologies claimed by them till now.
The senior functionaries in Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's party are members of his own family and he retains a tight control over the affairs of the party without involving the other senior members in the process of decision-making, even on important issues. In Bihar, people will not easily forget the past when Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav could not consider anybody else except his wife to hold the office of chief minister when he had to face certain serious criminal charges. The masses in these states are getting more and more educated and politically enlightened and are no longer convinced about the logic of their top leaders advocating democracy for those outside the party, but practising "one leader dictatorship" within their parties.

Many people who have been watching the record of Nitish Kumar as chief minister of Bihar had developed great admiration and respect for him as a good and clean administrator. In fact, many think that the third front will have a worthy leader in Mr Kumar if Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav are unable to retain leadership in the Opposition front that comprises of small parties. However, the manner in which he has treated Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has now created serious doubts about his potential to develop into an all-India leader.

One can understand his dislike of the poster of his shaking hands with Mr Modi on the latter's visit to Bihar recently but this is not an adequate reason for denying Mr Modi the basic courtesies due to a visiting chief minister. Worse still was the decision of Mr Kumar to return the Rs 5 crores donation that the government of Gujarat had generously given to for the flood-affected people of Bihar. There may be many in the country who do not agree with the way Mr Modi handled the Godhra riots, but one doubts whether they would endorse the methods chosen by Mr Kumar to display his dislike to a visiting dignitary.

Many admirers of Mr Kumar would be disappointed by these developments and one can only hope that a person who tries hard to provide good governance to his state will also become an example for politeness and courtesy in pubic relations, particularly to visitors from outside, however great may be the dislike for the alleged wrong-doings of the visitor in controlling communal riots in his state.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








It is summer simmer in Jammu and Kashmir again. In 2008, there were protests on the Amarnath shrine land issue. In 2009, it was the rape and death of Shopian sisters.


Now, the killing of seven youth by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) when it opened fire at protesters pelting stones in Srinagar, Sopore and Baramulla. The angry protesters, led mainly by the separatist Hurriyat Conference of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are once again raising slogans of freedom.


The other political parties, including the ruling National Conference, blame it all on the CRPF and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The state government finds itself in a tight spot. It is quite clear that Mehbooba Mufti's People's Democratic Party (PDP) wants to use this to nail chief minister Omar Abdullah's inept government, while Hurriyat wants to fan the dying embers of separatism. The situation is both prickly and tricky.


One of the ways of proving that the state is back to normalcy is to let the political opposition vent its fury through protests as long as they are peaceful. It seems that the presence of Central security forces like the CRPF is a provocation in itself and the protesters run amok. Some would argue that the better way of dealing with the situation is to withdraw the forces to barracks as far as it is possible.


It makes sense but it seems that the state police is not yet confident of dealing with the situation on its own. Secondly, both the Opposition and the separatists — there are enough lines to demarcate the two — may not be willing to accept the protocols of peaceful protests. The situation is not special to J&K. Political opposition everywhere in the country has a tendency to push the government to the brink. When it happens in J&K, it rings alarm bells.


The other argument that not enough development is happening does not carry much weight but the fact that general protests in the state have a way of turning into a crisis is a matter of concern. In this context, home secretary GK Pillai's statement that the protesters were not innocent civilians but determined provocateurs who violate curfew and attack security posts and use innocents as scapegoats may be true but it is not the kind of statement that will help restore order or soothe frayed nerves.


This is not the time for rationalisation of any kind. What is needed is deft handling of the situation, where anticipatory measures would preempt violent protests.








But the governing body of football, FIFA, is unwilling to introduce the electronic review to the refereeing system in the game.


This World Cup in South Africa has been full of referee errors and two bloopers in quick succession on Sunday — in the matches between England and Germany and Argentina and Mexico — provoked the world to sit up and take note.


Electronic refereeing is now an integral part of several sports — cricket, tennis, hockey, ice hockey and basketball for instance all use it to assist human judges.


All the arguments used by FIFA to block the use of technology during football matches have been answered and dealt with by them. The number of times it can be used is restricted depending on the sport and its particular nature, the procedure is fast so it does not hold up play unreasonably and the cost is offset by the benefits.


TV and live audiences in fact have been in complete support of electronic reviews.


The fact is that wrong calls or wrong decisions caused by human error can be corrected by technology. If sport is about fair play, then patently erroneous decisions — which can be clearly detected by a television audience — are actually detrimental to the idea of justice.


Within a match, the player or players have a limited number of opportunities to score points and if human error steals that chance, then play has not been fair. There is an argument that human error applies to all players so they even out in the end.


However, this is not an argument that England,who were denied a legitimate goal because the referee did not see it, or Mexico, who had to concede an offside goal by Argentina for the same reason, are likely to accept.


For them this World Cup is over and the fallibility of human error and official obstinacy have been ruthlessly brought home to them.


Technology — whatever its problems — has changed the way we live our lives. For each of the things that technology helps us with today, there have been older and more "human" ways to do them.


The fact that we have changed and for the most part for the better is because as humans adaptability is our biggest strength. As applies to life, so it applies to sport. It is possible surely to use technology for our benefit and electronic assistance to referees is unlikely to kill football.


However, the same cannot be said of the antiquated argument put forward by FIFA.







A few days prior to home minister P Chidambaram's arrival in Islamabad, the amir of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT),  Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, addressed a large public meeting in Lahore, ostensibly to express solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.


The meeting was attended by senior functionaries of Islamic parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami. The dignitaries were seated with their feet planted firmly on the national flags of India, the US and Israel.


There was much raving and ranting about "Hindu-Jewish conspiracies" against Muslim nations, with Saeed proclaiming: "Mossad instructors are training Indian troops to crush the liberation movement in Kashmir".


It was also revealed that Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Pakistan's Punjab province and brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had provided Rs83 million to Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was declared a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council after 26/11.


Throughout his visit to Islamabad, India's normally candid home minister chose not to publicly accuse Pakistan's government or security agencies of complicity in the Mumbai terrorist attack.


There was measured restraint in everything Chidambaram said in public. His refrain was: "Nobody is questioning anybody's intentions. It is the outcome that will decide whether we are on the right track or not. We should allow the outcome to become visible.


We have agreed that there are certain outcomes we are looking forward to".


It is evident that Indian investigators have picked up a substantial amount of new information during the interrogation of David Coleman Headley in Chicago, which was carried out in the presence of FBI officials. Confronted with full facts of official involvement by Pakistani state agencies and Saeed, Chidambaram's counterpart  Rehman Malik had no option but to promise to look into them.


His colleague, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi, however, put on an air of injured innocence, describing Chidambaram's comments implying that Pakistan had not done enough as "unfair" and "presumptuous".


While Pakistan has now been forced to accept that material provided by India is not mere 'literature', as its foreign secretary claimed in New Delhi a few months ago, it would be naive to presume that it will act against the real perpetrators of 26/11.


Malik may enjoy the confidence of president Zardari, who is known to be against ISI support for jehadi groups like the LeT and the Taliban. But Zardari was unable to persuade Pakistani military establishment to cooperate during a UN investigation into the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.


The UN commission investigating the assassination noted: "Ms Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included the al-Qaeda, the Taliban, local jehadi groups and, potentially, from elements in the Pakistan establishment (a euphemism for the military establishment).


The investigators have been hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials." The report also noted: "The Sunni groups are largely based in Punjab. Members of these groups aided the Taliban in Afghanistan at the behest of the ISI, later cultivated ties with the al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban groups.


The Pakistani military and the ISI also supported some of these groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity remains the work of groups like the LeT, which has close ties with the ISI".


If there has not been any major terrorist attack after the Mumbai carnage in 2008, it's partly because the Pakistani military establishment is focusing primarily on developments in Afghanistan.


The ISI has rendered massive support to Taliban military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, while the Taliban political leadership led by Mullah Omar enjoys safe haven in Pakistan.


Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha are trying to do a deal with president Karzai involving "reconciliation" with the Taliban which, will, in effect, give Haqqani control over southern Afghanistan.


It is now known that LeT cadres have joined Haqqani with the aim of targeting Indians in Afghanistan. Given the key role of the LeT and its leadership in the Pakistani military's strategic calculations in India and Afghanistan, New Delhi should be prepared for constant stalling, obfuscation and prevarication by Pakistan in taking any meaningful action against the real perpetrators of 26/11.


Chidambaram would be well advised to use the Pakistan army's current preoccupation with developments in Afghanistan to build on the substantial improvements he has effected in India's internal security. India and the rest of the world need, in the meantime, to think over how Afghanistan can be saved from a second Taliban takeover, which will have far-reaching implications.








New forms of media have always caused moral panics: newspapers, paperbacks and television were all once denounced as threats to their consumers' brainpower and moral fibre. So too with electronic technologies. PowerPoint, we're told, is reducing discourse to bullet points. Search engines lower our intelligence, encouraging us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive to its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.

But such panics often fail basic reality checks. When comic books were accused of turning juveniles into delinquents in the 50s, crime was falling to record lows. The decades of television, radios and rock videos were also decades in which IQ scores rose continuously.

For a reality check today, take the state of science, which demands high levels of brainwork and is measured by benchmarks of discovery. These days scientists are never far from their email, rarely touch paper and can't lecture without PowerPoint. If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies. Other activities in the life of the mind, like philosophy, history and cultural criticism, are likewise flourishing.

Critics sometimes use science itself to press their case, citing research that shows how "experience can change the brain". But cognitive neuroscientists roll their eyes at such talk. Yes, every time we learn a fact or skill the wiring of the brain changes, but the existence of neural plasticity doesn't mean the brain is a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience.

Experience does not revamp the basic information-processing capacities of the brain. Speed-reading programs have long claimed to do just that, but the verdict was rendered by Woody Allen after he read War and Peace in one sitting: "It was about Russia." Genuine multitasking, too, has been exposed as a myth.
Moreover, as the psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons show in their new book The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, the effects of experience are highly specific to the experiences themselves. If you train people to do one thing (recognise shapes, solve math puzzles), they get better at doing that thing, but almost nothing else. Accomplished people don't bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes. As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

The constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, but it is not a new phenomenon. The solution is to develop strategies of self-control. Turn off email or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time.

And to encourage intellectual depth, don't rail at PowerPoint or Google. It's not as if habits of deep reflection came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.

The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage our collective intellectual output at different scales. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart. —NYT









Jammu and Kashmir is faced with a new crisis today. This can be easily understood by those who might have seen the picture of a jawan of the paramilitary forces, carried in sections of the media, being beaten up by young protesters, near Srinagar, on Monday. Eight young men have lost their lives since Friday in clashes between CRPF men and protesters in the valley. It all started with two suspected terrorists being killed in an encounter with CRPF jawans in the Sopore area on Friday morning. While the security forces claimed that both were terrorists, most local people refused to believe it, saying that one of the persons done to death in the Sopore encounter was an innocent young man. The situation provided an excellent opportunity to separatists to incite youngsters to protest against the "highhandedness" of the security forces. The situation took a turn for the worse with the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat Conference organising a protest march from Srinagar to Sopore.


The CRPF, the most visible force fighting militancy in the state, is under attack from the state government as well as the ordinary people. The state government has described it as having gone "out of control". Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed concern to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram over the recent killings of civilians. What steps are taken after Mr Chidambaram's scheduled visit to Srinagar on Thursday remains to be seen, but two state ministers, Mr Ali Mohammed Sagar and Mr Taj Mohideen, have declared that the government has "devised a mechanism" to ensure that there will be "no casualty from tomorrow". Such assurances have no meaning when there is a strong anti-CRPF sentiment all over Kashmir.


CRPF men cannot avoid opening fire in self-defence when they fear threat to their lives from emotionally charged protesters. The problem, however, is that every civilian death in a CRPF firing is used by separatists and their supporters to vitiate the atmosphere in the valley. The security forces are faced with a tricky situation. They have to learn to maintain restraint even in most provocative circumstances so that there are no human rights violations. The erring personnel should be punished to ensure that anything that has the potential to derail the drive against militancy in the state is prevented. 








The Group of 20 ended its summit in Toronto on Sunday by somehow reconciling two divergent viewpoints on how to handle the shaky economic recovery. One school of thought, articulated by President Barack Obama, contended that time was not ripe for a stimulus exit or slowing government spending as this would stunt growth and spur unemployment. Deflation, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was a greater threat than inflation. Dr Manmohan Singh, however, also accommodated the European concerns when he advocated a calibrated approach to the 2008 stimulus phase-out, depending on each country's conditions. This found a wider acceptance and justified President Obama's compliment that "when the Prime Minister (Dr Manmohan Singh) speaks, people listen".


On the other side of the table were nervous European countries that had piled up heavy debts and run up unmanageable fiscal deficits while trying to boost growth. They pleaded for cutting deficits and undertaking austerity measures. The European Union did manage to influence the final communiqué to stress on fiscal tightening. As a result, G20 pledged to halve the budget deficits by 2013. Though Europe also secured a push for stronger banking regulation and financial reform, its proposal for a tax on banks to fund future bailouts was dropped after strong opposition from India, Canada and other countries unaffected by the banking crisis.


Since Brazilian President Lula da Silva did not turn up at the summit, the other BRIC members – Russia, India and China – called off their scheduled meeting and did not put up a united front on financial challenges. China was appreciated for its currency exchange flexibility but Beijing got the laudatory references removed from the final communiqué. Despite its clout, the US did not achieve much at Toronto. Obama said: "Our fiscal health tomorrow will rest in no small measure on our ability to create jobs and growth today". The G20 communique did not pay much heed to President Obama's otherwise pragmatic advice. 









Indian students in Australia are feeling the heat of changes in rules for visas and permanent residency that come into effect there from July 1. So far, there were 400 occupations in the Skilled Occupations List (SOL) which got a person permanent resident status and student visas. Australia has now reduced it to just 181. That means that those international students who pursued courses like cooking, hairdressing or hotel management will no longer be able to apply for permanent migration. That has put the future of around 15,000 Indian students in Australia in jeopardy. Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi visited Australia recently and requested the government to exempt existing students from the new list.


Many Indian students had made a beeline for Australia during the past 10 years because certain courses were touted as guaranteed to deliver a visa. Many of them went there on student visas without vocational or language skills. Out of the 41,000 visas issued last year in the skilled category, 12 per cent went to cooks and hairdressers. Nearly three-fourths of those visas went to those — mostly Indians — who had studied in Australia. It is such students who are now in big trouble.


The situation is ticklish. While the Indian delegation reasoned with the Australian authorities that since these students were issued student visas despite prior knowledge that they lacked vocational and language skills, they cannot be forced to leave. The Australian argument is equally strong that they were only given student visas and they cannot be given permanent resident status under the new occupations list. Not only that, all 1,300 private colleges have been told to apply for re-accreditation. This will make it hard for them to offer entry into Australia in the guise of providing education. The turnaround should be a warning to all those who are ever eager to try their luck abroad.

















There is little in common between BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the December 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal that killed over 20,000 and left over a million affected with toxins. Except that, the United States is involved in both. In the BP case, as a victim; and, in the other, as the defensive fortress of the man and the multinational charged with criminal and constructive responsibility for gas leak in the Indian city.


The world, including developing countries, are well informed of every aspect of the BP spill — its cause, consequences, and, of course, the costs. The oil spill and how US President Barack Obama made BP cough up $ 20 billion in compensation is all too well known. The US and Britain, both nuclear powers separated by the Atlantic and English language, quickly came to terms on what needs to be done in the aftermath of the spill. There was little acrimony and very minor disagreements considering the scale of the disaster and the huge amount.


In stark contrast, Bhopal is not on the world's radar. President Obama has no reason to be affected by Bhopal. Even Warren Anderson, Union Carbide's Chief Executive when the disaster struck Bhopal 26 years ago, roams free and, despite an arrest warrant and extradition request out for him, is at no risk of being brought to account. As much as Anderson, Dow Chemicals, which owns Carbide, has rejected liability and stonewalled attempts to make it clean up or pay for cleaning up the toxins that remain at the Bhopal site.


It is shocking that Indian corporate houses, as also eminent jurists, should have been rooting for Union Carbide and Dow rather than for their own countrymen, particularly the victims of the gas leak. What is it about Indian capital that makes it betray national interests, or certainly, make common cause with international capital against the Indian people.


Like Seveso, Minamata, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, Bhopal in central India is synonymous with one of the worst industrial disasters of the 20th century, the aftermath of which still haunts its long-neglected victims. In fact, Bhopal ranks at the top with Chernobyl. There is no agreement on the number of dead and affected. But there is no disagreement that Bhopal's greater misfortune is that it belongs to the developing world. I had reached Bhopal soon after the gas leak. The place was awash with rumours and speculation. One "rumour" was that Union Carbide had knowledge of an antidote for treating the victims of the gas leak, but it had refused to share particulars about the antidote.


Subsequently, there have been other reports of the company being in possession of an antidote. Regardless of

the truth of the matter, the fact that the rumour persists shows the contempt of Western multinationals for lives in developing countries. Neither the Indian government nor its institutions such as the CSIR and the ICMR thought it fit to investigate the technological disaster for its medical consequences.


The international community of scientists and bodies such as the World Health Organisation are equally guilty of wilful neglect of their responsibility in the matter. Instead of the culprits being brought to book and delivering justice to the victims, conveniently confusing questions of the company's responsibility and the compensation case's jurisdiction were raised to obfuscate the real issues. And, the issues are legion, including the role of the state, the government, the judiciary, the efficacy of (extradition) pacts between nations and the corporate class in both India and the US.

The cruelest irony was the recent Bhopal court verdict: two years in prison for seven Indian executives of Carbide at the time of the gas leak while the American interests involved continue to go untouched. This raises a number of new issues, not all of which can be dealt with in this space.


The most important question today, unlike in 1984, when every issue gets easily internationalised, is: Why is the rest of the world, especially the developing world, silent on Bhopal?


When it comes to climate change, the environment, human rights and other such issues, be it in India or China, the West is the first to raise a hue and cry about so-called violations which may not even affect their interests. They perceive this as part of their global leadership role, of a responsibility they owe to the people in the developing countries. But this great injustice, this wilful denial of justice to the victims of Union Carbide in Bhopal has not stirred the messianic zeal of the West, not stricken its conscience nor moved it to act with a modicum of concern for its fellow humanity in the developing world.


There is a lesson in this for India as much as for China, both rising powers and aspiring to be superpowers. Their economic clout may grow by leaps and bounds; they may have nuclear deterrence; and their respective governments may be backed by the resolve of over a billion people. But unless they learn to confront and negotiate the prevalent global power structure in defence of their people and secure their national interests, striving to become superpowers is pointless.


Just as the developing countries joined hands at the climate change convention, it is essential that they come together, define the issues that is their common lot, and arising from that, set the agenda to determine international equations.


China and India should learn from the way the US struck terror in BP and the British government, and silenced everybody else in its single-minded pursuit of making the culprit pay for the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico.


Unless the developing countries that matter on the world stage learn to exercise power on issues critical to their people, achievements such as nuclear superiority and GDP growth are pointless.n


The writer, who had covered the Bhopal gas leak in 1984 and subsequent developments, is an editor/writer with the Global Times in Beijing.








Last Sunday I almost made it to the Guinness Book of Records by hiccuping non-stop for three hours, 58 minutes and 49.7 seconds and Good Samaritans preferring outlandish (and landish) suggestions for relieving me of my distressing affliction were many and rest assured, when my eagerly awaited. 1001 Household Remedies for Hiccups is published, their contribution will be handsomely acknowledged on the fly page.


The first to weigh in was the family retainer — a toothless old thing on the wrong side of 90 who should have been pensioned off and sent home packing around the turn of the century.


"I know just the right cure for you, sir, "she said trying to look bright (but falling flat on her gnarled face); "I'll take a pinch of methi and sock it in turmeric water and I'll grind it into a fine paste and add a little asafoetida and wrap it in a betelleaf. You stand on one leg facing nor' nor'west and swallow the stuff whole while I chant a mantra in chaste Sanskrit. That's what we do in my ancestral village in Northern Karnataka and not once has it failed!"


"Oh yeah, "I snarled between bouts of hiccups," while at it, how about mixing your 'stuff' with a quart of moonshine whisky?"


The chap who had looked in to strike a lucrative multilateral barter deal — a plastic shaving mug for a priceless Benares silk saree, said: "I know just what's to be done, sir. You strip to your waist and lie flat on your back, your arms spreadeagled and legs doubled up at the knees, I'll squat on the nape of your neck and pummel you with all the brute strength I've got between your solar plexus and the 12th vertebral rib cage. That'll force the air out of your lungs and with it the hiccups. That's what we do on the North-west Frontier!"


"You lay so much as a grubby little finger on me and I won't be answerable for the consequences," I vowed grimly.


My next-door neighbour who had looked in to borrow my BPL ration card and misappropriate for herself my monthly quota of sooji and maida said" "what you should do is mix some sour curds and clarified buffalo ghee and swallow it whole!"


She didn't get my ration card.


The old retainer wasn't thru' yet. "I know an even better cure," she said, "I'll take a little....."


I held up a restraining hand.


I can appreciate your eagerness to know if any of the above suggestions were of any help in getting rid of my hiccups. Oh yes, very definitely yes. HIC!









It is well known in Punjab that the Malwa region shows a very high incidence of cancer, stunted growth and other neurological disorders. High level of uranium concentration has been found in the hair samples of children of Centre for Special Children, Faridkot by Dr Caren Smith, visiting toxicologist from South Africa. Blood samples were analysed in a German Lab. Besides uranium, lead, cadmium, strontium, barium were also found in the samples.


A study carried out by PGIMER Chandigarh doctors is not tenable because they compared the chemical quality of ground water in and around Talwandi Sabo (Bathinda) with that of Chamkaur Sahib, even though the two regions have different geology.


The absence of any systematic study carried out by Indian or foreign scientists has left sufficient room for wide and wild speculation on probable causes for this tragic phenomenon.


The high values of uranium have been attributed to Kota nuclear power plant; Khushab heavy water plant in Pakistan; and uranium-carrying winds from Afghanistan, without any scientific basis.


Though Malwa is a part of Punjab, geologically it is more akin to Haryana and Rajasthan.


There are no rocks exposed on the surface in the SW Punjab. However, the rocks of Aravalli-Delhi ridge and

Malani granites and rhyolites are exposed at Tusham, district Bhiwani, just south of the region.


These rocks take a northwest turn from Tusham and become submerged under the Punjab Plains, only to get resurfaced at Kirana Hills, Pakistan. The gravity data have delineated 6 km wide and 240 km long pear shaped body under the Punjab plains covering the SW Punjab.


The Tusham granites are high heat producing granites, that is, they are enriched in uranium, thorium and calcium. The uranium concentration in the granites is 8 to 11.5 parts per million (ppm) as compared to the normal value of 4.5 in granites in general. The average crustal value is 2.7 ppm.



The main source of uranium appears to be Tusham granites of Malani suite. There is a indiscriminate quarrying of granites being done at Khanak and adjoining areas of Tusham causing a lot of dust due to crushers.


Besides, there is a thick evaporites (salt) sequence with a total thickness of 130 m occurring at a depth of 305-350 m, below alluvium in Faridkot and Ferozepur districts. Evaporites also occur near Sirsa in Haryana. The evaporites have limestone, shale, gypsum, halite, sulphate etc. Limestone has 2.2 ppm and shale has 3.2 ppm of uranium.


Another natural source of uranium is the thick sediments under alluvium brought down by the Satluj and Beas rivers. In addition, the Satluj flows through Shivalik rocks which have dispersed uranium in them. Apart from these another source could be flyash coming out of the Bathinda thermal plant. Uranium gets concentrated after burning of coal. One kg of coal ash produced 2000 Bq of radioactivity whereas one kg of granite produced 1000 Bq of radioactivity in the environment.


A collaborative study undertaken by me and other scientists revealed that most water samples tested for uranium had higher concentration than the WHO-prescribed tolerable limit of 0.015mg/l, with some showing a value 20 times higher, that is 0.316 mg/l.


Interestingly, in spite of high concentration of uranium in water, the radon activity is within permissible limits ( less than 400Bq/l) , because the gas escapes into the atmosphere.


Detailed study of chemical quality of groundwater in Jajjal, Malkana, Talwandi Sabo, Gyana and adjoining areas has shown that the groundwater in these areas contains more than the permissible limits of fluorine, sulphate, uranium, lead, chromium, and nickel, etc.


The high concentration of these elements can be attributed to the subsurface geology i.e. the presence of granitic rocks, evaporites sequence and limestone and dolomites. It may be mentioned that the chemical quality of ground water is influenced by the interaction of rainwater with bed rock, residency time of groundwater and the type of flow and the mineralogy of aquifers.


Permissible limit of sulphates in drinking water is 400 mg/l .However some of the samples we analysed , showed a value as high as 880 mg/l. It may be noted that excessive sulphate presence can cause diarrhea.


In small doses fluoride inhibits dental caries, while in higher doses it causes dental and skeletal fluorosis. Concentration levels of fluoride reported from groundwater in the study area vary from 0.30 to 3.82 mg/l. Here also, the upper value is way above the WHO limit of 1.5 mg/l


Lead is a poison and accumulates in the skeletal structure of human beings and animals. It has adverse effect on the central nervous system, kidney and may cause cancer and brain damage. While the prescribed maximum permissible limit for lead in drinking water is 0.05 mg/l, the six samples showed a range of values from nil to as high as 0.18 mg/l.


As is well known, there is indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals in the region as the area lies in the cotton belt of Punjab. The pesticides, phosphates and nitrogen fertilisers also contribute heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic to soil and water.


To sum up , the high concentration of hazardous elements in the region can be attributed to the reactions of groundwater with the rocks of buried Aravalli - Delhi ridge and uranium-rich granites of Tusham area along with the evaporites, including sulphur-rich limestone and dolomite which could contribute sulfate, carbonate and salinity to the groundwater.


It is unfortunate that we neither have authentic data on human misery nor a systematic scientific study of the causes thereof. There is urgent need for credible research carried out by an interdisciplinary team comprising geologists, medical doctors, nuclear scientists, biologists, anthropologists, agricultural scientists and others.


(The writer is from the Geology Department, Panjab University, Chandigarh)








Tribune News Service

FARIDKOT: Armed with the report of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) declaring the gamma radiation and radioactivity levels in the soil samples within the permissible levels here, the medical fraternity has put a question mark on the claim of a local NGO that high concentration of uranium and heavy metals in drinking water was making the Punjab kids mentally retarded.


The report of a German laboratory confirming high content of uranium and other heavy metals in the water that was recently released by Pritpal Singh, president of the NGO, Baba Farid Centre for Special Children (BFCSC), has created panic, particularly in the Malwa belt.


A similar report released by the centre almost a year ago had also created ripples following which a team of BARC collected samples of water, soil and hair of the mentally challenged children. The civil surgeon of Faridkot had also constituted a team of five doctors to look into the issue. He constituted a similar committee last week to probe into the functioning of the BFCSC and also look into the treatment they were providing to the affected children.


Civil surgeon, Dr Harjit Bharti, said the purpose was to verify the authenticity of the report and also ascertain whether the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children was being run by qualified staff or not.


He said that an enquiry into the functioning of the centre was also initiated by the then civil surgeon last year but the process got bogged down due to a number of enquiries that were ordered by various governmental and autonomous organisations on the complaints of the NGO. Bharti said that the report of BARC had pointed out that of the nine water samples collected from various areas of Faridkot and Amritsar, only three from the borewells of the Narayangarh Gurdwara and railway crossing at Kotkapura and also Taina village were found to be containing uranium beyond the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) limit of 60 micro grams.


However, Pritpal Singh contested the report of BARC and claimed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has fixed the limit of 15 micro grams of uranium content for safe drinking water. He said that the centre was set up six years ago and had started treating the mentally challenged children four years ago during which


Dr Manjit Bhalla, a child specialist in the civil hospital, who was also a member of the team that was constituted last year to enquire into the issue of uranium content in water and functioning of the centre, said at least six children undergoing treatment in the centre of the NGO had suffered retardation due to complications at the time of delivery and not due to uranium. Their mothers had confirmed this during the visit of the team to the centre, he claimed.


This fact also came to light when a woman from Hoshiarpur I met at the centre she confirmed that one of her twins who suffered oxygen problem at the time of birth was mentally challenged while the other one was a normal child and studying in a school.


Pritpal Singh claimed that the committee that had collected the entire record of the NGO  last year did not detect even a single fault in the centre's functioning.









Afew days ago while sobbing through Toy Story 3 – easily the best big-screen movie experience 2010 has had to offer thus far – I wondered just how Pixar does it. No, I'm not even going to try and crack their shamanistic formulae; they are clearly a cabal of highly efficient wizards, giving us all one masterpiece after another. By now we're used to them routinely albeit miraculously topping their previous efforts with each release, but while they are clearly the world's most consistent movie studio in terms of sheer quality, my ruminations this week are about how solid and unwavering their moral compass seems to be – and how gladly we let their films preach to us.


For sermonise they do, despite the gobs of shiny, colourful entertainment on offer. Pixar's films are always built around strong, basic moral cores: Ratatouille is about ambition, The Incredibles is about responsibility, Cars is about pride, Up is about love and commitment, the new Toy Story is about roots and belonging, and Wall-E, while a masterful love story for the ages, warns us against sloth and stupidity. And while unquestionably clever and very well-written, none of these films give their message any elbow-room.


Our unanimously lapping up these movies, therefore, is odd, considering our jaded, cynical distaste for the message-movie in any incarnation. We have learnt that mainstream cinema works best when they go for broke with the entertainment – toss us cars and bombs and legs and ha-ha jokes – and while the good guys invariably win, the only message most summer blockbusters aim to provide is that there will be a sequel. Attempts at unsubtle moralising are invariably met with jeers and rolled eyes.


Why, then, do we take it from a bunch of vividly conjured-up cartoons? Why is it okay for them to tell us what to do, what's right? Perhaps it is the cloak of children's cinema these films wear for camouflage, a cloak that urges us overgrown-ups to leave the snark aside and try and dial ourselves back down to our younger, more naive selves. If this is the case, then Pixar – and, indeed, any phenomenal children's cinema like Where The Wild Things Are, a passionate celebration of imagination, and the overwhelmingly whimsical The Fantastic Mister Fox – has truly struck gold. Clearly, we want to be talked down to, but aren't comfortable with actors telling us what to do; talking fish, on the other hand, work just fine.


 Looking back at the Panchatantra, the brothers Grimm, Aesop and Roald Dahl, this doesn't seem as much of a revelation anymore. Fables, folktales and the best of our children's fiction have always managed to use allegory – and, indeed, animal costumes – to sell us morality more effectively, masked as instructive tales to tell our children what is right and wrong. Pixar and Co are now riding this wave further, using that teach-the-kids pretext to pack in some seriously grown-up thematic heat, and weaving it all together into a story so marvellously amusing and visually spectacular that we applaud louder than the young ones.


This isn't just children's cinema anymore. Each film offers moments of severely adult pleasures, the kind we can't quite explain to the kids next to us. Translating them would be futile, and they're best left discovered on their own as these tykes grow into our shoes. For now, let's surreptitiously push fingers behind 3-D glasses and wipe, take big gulps of cola to hide the lump in the throat, and hope nobody sees us cry – even though being driven to such a fantastically undisciplined outpouring of emotion provides the most satisfying motion picture experience most of us have had in ages.



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Some called it the "mixed economy", some called it the "mixed-up economy", some others termed it state capitalism and some even dubbed it a "bureaucratic socialist" economy. For the first 50 years after Independence, the Indian economy has been described by many epithets. The bottom line was, of course, the fact that a large part of India's modern industrial and services economy was in the public, or state, sector. While the agricultural economy was largely characterised by private ownership, manufacturing was predominantly in the public sector till the 1980s, and following the nationalisation of banks, the financial sector too was dominated by state-owned institutions. All that began to change in the 1980s. The 1990s witnessed dramatic changes in policy and the unleashing of Indian enterprise. However, it is only since 2000 that private Indian enterprise has come into its own. As a recent report in this newspaper (BS, June 26, 2010) showed, in the decade 2000-2010, the private corporate sector overtook the public sector both in terms of net sales and net profits. The private sector's share in the net sales of manufacturing and services sector output increased from 48.83 per cent in 2000-01 to 68.55 per cent in 2009-10, with the public sector's share consequently falling from 51.17 per cent to 31.45 per cent. Similarly, the private sector's share of net profit in the non-agricultural economy increased from 39.17 per cent to 63.86 per cent for the same period, with a decline in public sector share from 60.83 per cent to 36.14 per cent. (A detailed analysis of these numbers is available at In short, the past decade has seen India's "mixed economy" become an essentially private enterprise economy. Thousands of entrepreneurs, led by some inspiring leaders who have acquired a global footprint, are driving the growth process in India.


Several factors, both positive and negative, explain this phenomenon. On the positive side is the rise of Indian enterprise, especially in the energy, telecommunications, civil aviation, manufacturing, finance and banking and information technology sectors. The sharp increase in foreign direct investment during this decade has also contributed to the increase in the share of the private sector in national income, sales and profits. On the negative side, the inability of the public sector to generate internal resources for growth and the fiscal constraints on government that have contributed to a decline in public investment have contributed to a decline in the share of the public sector. While the dynamism and the growth of private enterprise are cause for celebration, the sluggishness of public investment is a matter of concern. India needs more public investment, especially in social and economic infrastructure, to sustain upwards of 9 per cent national income growth and also to fuel private sector dynamism. Most developed market economies also have a substantial public sector, especially in infrastructure, public services and defence. As a developing economy striving to industrialise and generate employment, India needs a balanced growth of both the private and public sectors.







India has everything it takes to become a respected name in aerospace — scientific, engineering and software expertise. But while it has forged ahead in space, it has till now failed to make a mark one level below in aviation. It has successfully launched others' satellites but there is no globally commercially successful aircraft that it can call its own. The disconnect has become more glaring in the last decade as India has forged ahead as both a source for engineering services and a location for R&D facilities for the aeronautical industry. While leaders like TCS and HCL Technologies offer engineering design services to global aeronautical leaders, international names like Airbus, GE and Honeywell have set up in India research laboratories to cater to their aeronautical businesses. This hiatus — having the bricks but not owning the building — is, in fact, a reflection of what prevails in the software space where high-end service capability to develop products is not matched by the ability or willingness to own them.

To own products and become an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), you need not just capabilities but an appetite for risk-taking, deep pockets to back it up and both the desire and the resources needed to build and own brands. It is the latter which have been missing in aeronautics and it is here that the worm seems to be turning. Mahindra & Mahindra has announced not just its desire but also an impatience to successively manufacture aircraft components, assemble general transport planes and design an 18-seater aircraft in two years. Towards this end, it has acquired an Australian company which makes 6-20 seater turboprops and teamed up with National Aerospace Laboratories to develop a five-seater. M&M has spent Rs 175 crore on the acquisition and earmarked Rs 250 crore for the manufacturing programme. The Tatas are treading a similar path. They have tied up with several international aerospace companies to go into full-scale assembly and production for both the civilian and defence markets. Most recently, group company Tata Advanced Systems has signed up with Sikorsky Aircraft to manufacture helicopters.

 The importance of this entrepreneurial push can be gauged by comparing the aeronautical history of India and Brazil. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and the iconic Brazilian firm Embraer both began life in the public sector. The Brazilian firm kept moving forward by absorbing technology which it licensed and getting orders through the offset route. HAL has also done the same and is among the top-50 global aeronautical firms, but it is not known as an independent aircraft-maker. Embraer, on the other hand, is now the world's third-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer and has a dominant position in regional jets. India buys VIP jets from Embraer, not the other way around. Significantly, after falling into a severe financial crisis following the failure of an aircraft it designed, Embraer was privatised in 1994. HAL has not been blessed or cursed (depending on your viewpoint) by overvaulting ambition, crisis and privatisation. Currently, there is a massive offset opportunity of $30 billion before India which all Indian players in the field are banking on for their bread and butter needs. But offset by itself will not get you far. You need to have a dream. Anand Mahindra says he wants M&M to be India's Embraer and that it is his role model







The new Direct Taxes Code (DTC) has been put in the public domain and will most likely be up for debate in the monsoon session of Parliament. There are three major components to the code — personal income taxes, treatment of capital gains, and corporate taxes. This and the next article will talk about the first two.

 But first, some deep congratulations to all those, and especially the UPA government, for daring to change the landscape. The credit largely goes to the present Home Minister, P Chidambaram, who, in his previous avatar, introduced wide-ranging tax reforms in early 1997. Then, starting in May 2004, he started his campaign again, and while there were some missteps (e.g. the fringe benefit tax, banking transaction tax), the overall thrust of tax reforms under his leadership has been immense.

And now the credit goes to the man for all seasons (and all policies) — Pranab Mukherjee. We have been witness to a flurry of activity since his arrival on the scene in 2009. First, the successful fire-fighting with the Great Recession, then the introduction of long overdue rational pricing of fuels, and, of course, the presentation and championing of the DTC. A noteworthy feature of this new policy is the transparency and humility with which it has been handled. It has been up for debate, and the government is listening. Whether it continues to listen, especially on its rather non-economic, non-logic and ideologically inconsistent recommendations on capital gains tax, remains to be seen.

But there are many, including some senior economists/journalists, who question the DTC on its recommendation of personal taxes. Their belief is that the DTC is a giveaway, i.e. it has reduced the effective tax rate for all individuals by too much. If these learned people were younger, they would be chanting "down with imperialism, down with fascism, down with capitalism" and "the government recommendations will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer". Further, according to the learned, this is a particularly bad time for giveaways because India has a major debt and deficits problem. And finally, the critics add, only 30 million or 3 per cent of the people in India pay taxes (this news is received with much applause by those who believe in rank populism). The 3 per cent figure is broadly correct. But not much more should be expected!

The reasoning is straightforward. First, the universe is not the total population but the worker population, and this is 40 per cent of the total. Second, only non-farmers pay income taxes, and farmers are about 10 percent; so the relevant population universe is 300 million, not a billion. Given that not everybody who has income is eligible to pay taxes (there is a minimum exemption which, for the fiscal year 2009-10, is Rs 1.6 lakh per earner), the number of people in the taxable bracket goes down still further.

In 2007-08, the last year for which returns data are available, about 74 million workers were eligible to file tax returns, and 33 million did (see table). This means that only 7.4 per cent of the population should be filing taxes, and the fact that 33 million did is bad, but 45 per cent compliance rate (ratio of 33 and 74) is much, much better than "only" 3 per cent (the compliance rate is expected to have averaged 39/69 or 56 per cent in 2009/10).

The critics have a second arrow; they come armed with the following (and only!) fact in their favour, i.e. there has been stagnation in personal income tax (PIT) revenues. In 2007-08, PIT collections were Rs 118,000 crore, and in 2009-10, Rs 125,000 crore. Worse, the critics argue, the budgeted tax collections with the new 2010-11 code is only 121,000 crore.

While the bare facts are correct, the critics miss the whole picture. First, that there has been a phenomenal over-the-top increase in PIT since tax cuts were first introduced in the 1997-98 Budget. The effective tax rate (defined as the tax rate applicable to the tax-paying population) in 1996-97 was 16.8 per cent. The next year, the effective tax rate was reduced by more than 6 percentage points to 10.2 per cent, and in 1998-99, a recession year, the tax rate went up to 11.6 per cent. What happened to PIT revenues? They went up from Rs 18,000 crore to 21,000 crore, a 17 per cent increase (the 1997-98 tax collections are "tainted" by collections due to the tax amnesty VDIS).

How did tax revenues go up when tax rates were going down? Because of the Laffer effect, or the compliance effect. As tax rates are raised, more and more people cheat, and cheating takes two forms — under-declaring your income, or not filing tax returns. As tax rates decrease, the reverse gear operates — less people cheat, and tax revenues increase. Which brings us to the stagnation of tax revenues in the last few years. Note the steady increase in tax rates since 2002-03 — in 2007-08, the effective rate was 15.7 per cent, almost identical to the peak tax rate of 16.8 per cent in 1996-97! Any wonder then that the government made the sensible decision of reducing the effective tax rate by 6 percentage points in 2008-09 and by a further 2.6 percentage points in 2010-11? And taxpayers are rewarding the good sense prevailing: Mumbai TDS returns for April 1 to June 9 are up 18 per cent over last year; and this, based on the reduced tax code!

There is logic and substance behind the government's new tax code. As the Indian landscape has changed, so has the tax code. Let us applaud the change, especially since this is a rare instance of the government being a few steps ahead of the so-called civil society intelligentsia.

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm. Please visit  for an archive of articles etc.; comments welcome at:  








The complex in Chandigarh that has the largest number of rooms with all boarding and lodging facilities is not a five-star hotel. It belongs to Infosys Technologies. The information technology giant's special economic zone (SEZ) in Chandigarh, built on an area of 30 acres, has about 200 rooms, which offer facilities that will be the envy of any five-star hotel. The only difference is that Infosys Technologies has built these facilities for the benefit of its employees, associates, visitors and business guests. Not just the number of rooms, its food court has a seating capacity of over 1,200 and no restaurant in the city can even dream of coming close to that number.

 Infosys has, of course, been criticised for building its office complexes in large tracts of land, offering facilities that few offices or commercial complexes provide to people who work with them. Ask any official at Infosys if acquisition of such facilities is a sign of its greed or an attempt at grabbing land at concessional prices, she is likely to give a long explanation in defence of what the IT giant is trying to achieve. The idea, she will argue, is to provide an office with a kind of infrastructure and working environment that should enhance the performance and efficiency level of Infosys employees.

Thus, there is a swimming pool in Infosys' Chandigarh SEZ (it has a seating capacity of 5,000 people and is now only two-thirds full), a full-fledged gymnasium, mobile phone vendors, laundry machines, vegetable shops and several other such facilities. "We want our employees to come to our office and only worry about work. The support facilities are created in the special economic zone so that our employees can work late, if they want to, and pick up vegetables or do their banking on the campus without losing sleep over such issues," an Infosys official said.

Now, Infosys may be an unusual employer as its past record in offering a satisfying workplace environment is exemplary even when it is not operating out of an SEZ. However, the advantages of an SEZ become obvious when one sees what Infosys has managed to achieve in its Chandigarh complex. Since the policy for SEZs allows certain benefits to a company to help create world-class facilities for employees and all its stakeholders, SEZs as an idea cannot be dismissed easily. For the same reason, the proposal to give it a quiet burial because of land-related controversies deserves a review.

Undoubtedly, the biggest problem SEZs encountered pertained to land acquisition. As the policy allowed companies to acquire huge tracts of land, some of which was fertile, at a concessional price and because many farmers and villagers lost land as a result, the groundswell of protests against SEZs soon became strong enough to create hurdles for the idea to take shape. Worse, opportunistic politicians took full advantage of the situation in a bid to garner a few more votes in their kitty.

On the other hand, the latest export figures for 2009-10 show the crucial role SEZs played in boosting India's foreign exchange earnings from exports of goods and services. Exports from SEZs stood at $49 billion, compared to total exports of $138 billion. In 2008-09, the share of SEZ exports was lower at $22 billion out of total exports of $169 billion. With more SEZs coming up, their share in total exports will become even more significant. Latest numbers have also dispelled the earlier fear that SEZs would result in diversion of existing exports. Only about 5 per cent of the exports from the zones have actually shifted from domestic tariff areas to the zones. Policy-makers, therefore, must examine how SEZs can overcome their main problems over land acquisition.

The Madhya Pradesh government has made a positive beginning in this direction. It has begun allotting land for SEZs, with the proviso that land-losers will get land from the SEZ developers just outside the proposed zone. This has now become a win-win proposition for the land-losers. Yes, they lose land, but they also get similar-sized land just outside the SEZ, which appreciate in value and marketability because of the construction of the zone. Instead of becoming land-losers (or project-losers like the farmers in Singur), they emerge as stakeholders and gainers in the prosperity that the proposed zone brings about in that area.

With this scheme clicking with land-losers in a few of the SEZs in Madhya Pradesh, there is naturally a revival of interest in such zones. The Union government too recognises the growing importance of the zones from the exports point of view. The idea of discontinuing the tax benefits for SEZs under the proposed direct taxes code (DTC), therefore, appears to be a counterproductive move. Even the proposed goods and services tax (GST) regime must make specific provisions for tax incidence on units in SEZs. In short, the government must give the idea of SEZs a fair trial, ensuring its special tax benefits even under the new DTC and the new GST regimes. It is not fair to kill an idea that was born just five years ago and, as it appears, whose time has come!







Ministers who speak and act out of turn have been a blight on coalition governments and a delight for the mass media in recent times. There is another brand of loose cannons that passes orders sitting in ministers' chambers without following the rules of business. The first sort causes embarrassment; the second type goes further and invites charges of corruption.

The founding fathers had foreseen such a possibility. Therefore, they introduced sufficient safeguards in Article 166 of the Constitution. According to it, all executive action of the government shall be taken in the name of the governor who shall make rules for convenient transaction of business of the government.


 A question arose recently in the Supreme Court: Should the rules of business be followed mandatorily or were they mere guidelines for administration? Arrayed on one side were a large number of industries in Goa which were beneficiaries of a huge rebate in electricity charges. When it was withdrawn, they challenged the state action in the Bombay High Court and failed. The high court held that the rules of business were not followed when the rebate was granted.

When the industries moved the Supreme Court (Goa Glass Fibre Ltd vs State of Goa), their main contention was that the power minister had granted the concession and it was binding on the government. According to them, the legal flaw that the decision was not approved by the chief minister or the Council of Ministers did not matter as the rules of business were not mandatory. The court rejected the contention, thus restricting the scope of individual ministers taking important decisions on their own, affecting the revenues of the state.

This interpretation of Article 166 covers not only ministers who act as knight errants but also bureaucrats whose administrative orders could encroach upon the territory of government policy. The court stated with emphasis that "the Rules of Business are mandatory and must be strictly adhered to. Any decision of the government in breach of these rules will be nullity in the eye of the law".

The consequences of not following the rules would be "disastrous" for democracy, the judgment said. "In a democratic set-up, the decision of the state government must reflect the collective wisdom of the Council of Ministers or at least the chief minister who heads the council. The fact that the decisions taken by the minister alone were acted upon by issuance of notification will not render them decisions of the government even if the government chose to remain silent and the secretary did not take any action."

If an individual minister breaks the regulations, it would lead to a "chaotic" situation. "The chief minister would remain a mere figurehead and every minister will be free to act on his own by keeping the business rules at bay," the court explained. Further, this would make it impossible to discharge the constitutional responsibility of the chief minister of advising the governor.

In the Gulabrao Keshavrao Patil vs State of Gujarat (1996) case, the court underlined that the decision of a minister was not final unless the rules of business were followed. It explained that the rules were made for the convenient transaction of business at various levels through designated officers. The decision of one minister will have financial and other implications on other ministries. Therefore, the chief minister can call for the files and engage other ministries in the decision.

It is not just individual ministers who may flout the rules. In the K K Bhalla vs State of Madhya Pradesh (2006) case, the government allotted land under the Jabalpur Development Authority to a person at concessional rates to set up a printing press, though the land was earmarked for commercial use. In this case, the Supreme Court stated that the decision was not taken by the appropriate ministry or authority. "Such a decision could not have been issued at the instance of the chief minister or any officer alone unless it is shown that they had such authority in terms of the rules of business." Another chief minister's decision was held to be violation of the rules of business in the Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation vs PNFC Karamchari Sangh (2006) case.

An officer cannot arrogate to himself the power to issue directions where even an individual minister cannot. In the State of UP vs Neeraj Avasthi (2006) case, the judgment said: "In the instant case, the directions were purported to have been issued by an officer of the state. Such directions were not shown to have been issued pursuant to any decision taken by the competent authority in terms of the Rules of Executive Business framed under Article 166 of the Constitution."






Dilution of the core principle of accountability will mean double standards, but punishing those who are not directly responsible will deprive companies of valuable talent.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Member of Parliament & Chairman, Jupiter Capital

The move will prove counterproductive as it will encourage independent directors to remain unaware and ignorant in their dealings with management

The year 1984 is marked by many unfortunate incidents in India's contemporary history. The first assassination of a prime minister of the country, the resulting anti-Sikh riots that claimed many innocent lives and the Bhopal tragedy that took an estimated 15,000- 20,000 lives.

There is a common theme to these "incidents" as these significant acts are often described in bureaucratise. In both cases where massive loss of life was involved, no person of stature has been held responsible and punished, while thousands of our countrymen and women have suffered the loss of their loved ones. It is against this background that we need to ensure that Bhopal isn't another case of sweeping corporate crime under the carpet. The thousands of shattered families in Bhopal deserve to get justice and closure even if the guilty are the rich and powerful.

In our country, public policy is significantly influenced by corporate lobbying and by the so-called icons of industry with hardly any challenge being posed to them. So, it's not surprising that efforts are under way to soft peddle the concept of corporate negligence by trying to amend the Companies Bill, 1956. The argument being advanced by some chambers of commerce and industry that prosecution of directors of a company will somehow impact the "availability of independent directors" is laughable if it wasn't so pathetic.

The whole idea of the institution of independent directors is simple. It is up to each company and management to establish trust and credibility to attract independent directors who have the confidence to be on its board. They are expected to be independent from the management and act as trustees of shareholders, which means that they are obliged to be more "aware" and to question the company on issues that are relevant. In other words, independent directors have obligations which they must fulfil. A board of directors is not a cozy club, much as how some promoters would like it to be.

The lobbying by some organisations like the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to protect non-executive directors from criminal liability and moves to amend laws to provide them immunity from the laws of the land are not tenable. It suggests that independent directors do not have any obligation or responsibility for the civil/criminal misconduct/negligence of company. This is an unacceptable proposition. They cannot escape this obligation by claiming to be ignorant of what management was doing. This is a universal law and should be so in India as well. The issue of the personal liability of the directors can be addressed separately by seeking indemnification and protection from the company/management/promoters. They can also seek directors insurance to protect themselves as individuals.

But the core principle of accountability cannot and should not be diluted at the behest of a few worried companies. This will prove counterproductive as it will, in a way, encourage independent directors to remain "unaware" and "ignorant" in their dealings with the management. It also reeks of double standards by allowing a privileged group to remain above the laws that govern the ordinary citizens of country.

I was expecting a spin to start in support of this proposition, so I wasn't surprised by the statement by Deepak Parekh who is quoted as saying, "I agree Bhopal is our worst tragedy. But we can't get emotional about it. Just by putting a chairman and CEO in jail is not going to solve the problem!" This is an amazing statement and shows just how compromised and lopsided our system is. The hypothesis that is being advanced by Parekh is that we should forget that there was someone culpable and responsible for this negligence simply because he was a chairman or CEO of a powerful company. He is wrong. Why is holding a chairman or CEO responsible for negligence any more special than holding an ordinary citizen accountable? If anyone violates the law of the country and is found to be negligent, he ought to face the consequences.

We cannot allow this double standard anymore. It might have worked for 26 years but not any more. This is the only way to send a message to other lawbreakers. Break the law and you will held accountable. Dilution of the current law will dilute the core principle of accountability and all arguments advanced should be rejected for what they are — a plea for double standards and dilution of accountability.

S Mahalingam

CFO & Executive Director, TCS

Fixing differential liability for independent directors will enable them to function as an effective oversight body, thereby reducing accidents

There is increasing clamour today for meting out punishment to directors, including non-executive and independent ones. While responsibility for any omission or commission needs to rest with the perpetrators, who should society look to punish in a situation where the responsibility for a tragedy rests with a corporation? In ascribing the fault to a non-executive chairman who is an independent director, are we not punishing those who are not in direct line of responsibility? This attitude is already resulting in not getting valuable talent into the board at a time when the country needs to have a large number of companies, actively traded in the stock exchanges.

This debate brings us back to the basic question: What are the responsibilities of the board of directors and, in particular, what is the role that can be played by independent directors? Non-executive directors should contribute to and constructively challenge the development of company strategy. They must scrutinise management performance; make sure that financial information is accurate and ensure that robust risk management systems are in place. It is important for them to meet collectively once a year without the chairman or executive directors.

The key to being a truly effective independent director is time management. A non-executive director should be able to devote enough time to the affairs of the company. The importance of a non-executive director has been underscored by America's Securities Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Leavitt who said: "I don't care how talented you are, you can't be a good watchdog if you're only on patrol three times a year."

Independent directors these days are worried about the issue of potential liability as they are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company for which they bear responsibility. This fear of the unknown also arises from the fact that they could be held liable for offences related to fraud, safety-related issues and environmental issues. Independent directors are also concerned about the amount of time and money that is lost due to such litigations and more so the risk to their integrity.

However, the excuse that they were ignorant about a fraud brewing in the company should not be reason enough for letting independent directors go free. Indeed, we need to fix their liability as distinguished from that of other directors and executive directors. This would naturally limit the liability of the independent directors.

Various expert committees over the years have clearly delineated the roles and responsibilities of independent or non-executive director. The Naresh Chandra Committee Report on Corporate Audit and Governance in 2002 said that non-executive and independent directors should be freed from criminal and civil liabilities and should also be indemnified against costs of litigation. The Narayana Murthy Committee Report in 2003 also supported the notion of limited liability and further argued that independent directors should periodically review legal compliance reports prepared by the company as well as steps taken by the company to cure any taint.

Further, no criminal liability should be attached to independent directors unless it is proved that he/she has personally committed a wilful crime. They should be held liable only if they were either in charge of the matter or had knowledge of the offence and failed in their responsibility to ensure compliance.

This differentiation in liability can be achieved if independent directors ask the right questions at the right time. Raising appropriate red flags at the opportune moment would help avoid occurrence of such untoward situations to a great extent. Asking questions assumes utmost significance. One of the most important tools that independent directors possess is the right to insist on a particular agenda and have an in-depth discussion of such items at board meetings. Independent directors should also make sure that the agenda put before them is informative and, at the same time, provides the "big picture" without burdening them with too many details.

If independent directors are able to function as an effective oversight body and monitor the performance of the management, the occurrence of mishaps and crimes would reduce. In such a scenario, independent directors should be seen as part of the solution, and not that of the problem.

For example, when a mishap occurs, independent directors can prove that steps were taken to make sure that a framework was in place and that the reasons for the occurrence of such an event was unsuccessful implementation of such a framework.

Views are personal









 KASHMIR being on the boil is a situation that now occurs with depressing, and dangerous, regularity. It is a lurch from one crisis to the next, the sickening cycle of a protest against a killing leading to more youngsters being shot dead. This, in turn, leads to yet another protest and street battle. Underlying this is a wider crisis covering the lack of firm political will at the top, seething resentment against the security forces and latent separatism. The state government, apparently witless about how to bring the situation under control, might inject more security forces into the troubled areas, try to enforce a curfew and attempt to bring the situation under control. But that will, in all likelihood, again prove to be a momentary calm. What is sorely needed is the political will to change the status quo on the ground. And given that the security forces, the local administration, the local political class and the separatists — all those part of the power matrix in the state — have little incentive to change an equation that gives them unaccounted money and power, it is New Delhi that must display that political will for a change. What is required is nothing short of a different vision of Kashmir.

 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his recent visit to the Valley, expressed a willingness to explore those new equations, including zero tolerance for human rights abuses. What is required is the will to make the whole administration deliver on such promises. The question isn't merely of ensuring the paramilitary forces or police follow certain standard operating procedures. Rather, the Centre must cease viewing Kashmir as solely a law and order problem, and seek to end the existing culture where the very close and constant presence of military and paramilitary forces creates a conflict-prone atmosphere. When separatism is such a strong force, the normal security clampdown on demonstrations will not yield the results it does elsewhere. Immunity laws like the AFSPA, are part of the problem, but so is separatism. Even after two decades of the primacy of the law-and-order paradigm, Kashmir remains a tinder box. A new political solution — which engages Pakistan too — could end this stalemate.







THE insurance regulator Irda's new rule mandating life insurers to offer a minimum guaranteed return of 4.5% on unit-linked pension and annuity plans is unsound and defies free-market principles. Equity is risk. So, risk-averse investors should not buy unit-linked insurance plans. Irda should have sent out this message to policyholders instead of being populist and forcing life insurers to offer guaranteed returns on unit-linked pension plans. In 2002, the government was forced to bail out UTI to honour its obligations to unit holders, after a massive erosion in the portfolio of US-64 and other assured-return schemes. Irda should have drawn lessons from UTI. Sure, insurers have to earmark enough capital to cover guaranteed payouts. But pressures to bail out policyholders cannot be ruled out if a company goes bust. Irda should reverse its decision. This will help policyholders earn higher returns and improve profitability of the insurers. Equity investments will yield investors a 10-12% compounded return over a 20-year span. The yield will be lower on guaranteed returns as insurers will have to invest policyholders' premium in fixed-income plans. Life insurers also have to set aside more capital for guaranteed products and a strain on capital will dent their profitability.


Life insurers in Japan, for instance, had a disastrous experience with guaranteed products. Many of them turned unviable when interest rates on government bonds crashed. In the UK too, Equitable Life was almost ruined in 2000 after it failed to earmark enough capital to cover guaranteed payouts on some of its pension plans. Irda has retained the right to review the guaranteed rate of 4.5% based on macroeconomic developments. However, forcing insurers to guarantee a return, and that too on equity-linked pension plans, is flawed. There are other ways for Irda to achieve its goal of encouraging long-term savings and helping policyholders build a nest egg. A longer lock-in period of five years instead of three years is one way. Lower commissions will also contribute to better returns. So, guaranteed returns on equity investment should be shunned.








" THE Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes / But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes," wrote Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat some 900 years ago. Whether the Jabulani — the football specially manufactured by Adidas for the ongoing World Cup in South Africa which has been roundly criticised by strikers and defenders for being difficult to control — has failed to live up to its Zulu name of 'to celebrate' is now an academic question insofar as English fans are concerned, with their team back home after being unceremoniously knocked out by Germany in a battle that the British tabloids had headlined as World War Three! However, all is not lost insofar as British fans are concerned. The English cricket team has just beaten world champs Australia 3-0 in a five-match ODI series. And where striker Rooney singularly failed to score in the football World Cup, Britain's Andy Murray has stormed into the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, the only player this year, or so the BBC informs us, to reach that stage without dropping a set.

 If Murray continues to show the same form, he could even go on to win the Wimbledon men's singles title and become the first British player in 74 years to do so. His performance has already lifted the drooping spirits of patriotic British fans, going by a placard held up by a female supporter at Wimbledon and carrying the 'punny' wedding proposal of "Andy, will you Murray me!" It's a bit like Indian sports fans not being unduly disappointed by Sania Mirza's first-round exit at Wimbledon and finding plenty to cheer about in Saina Nehwal's being ranked women's world No. 3 in badminton. If Murray wins Wimbledon this year, the British tabloids could even celebrate with banner headlines screaming P-Andy-Monium! Which is a trifle involved but still chirpier than the latest post-World Cup one in The Independent, "England wakes up to a new national sport: the blame game"!







THE government has finally hiked the prices of diesel, kerosene and LPG, though by less than recommended by the Kirit Parikh Committee. It has decontrolled petrol, and hopes to decontrol diesel in due course. But its timidity suggests that price controls will return if global oil prices shoot up again.

Financial TV channels had discussions clearly favouring decontrol. But politicians on news channels were overwhelmingly against any price rise. Their objections included exaggerations, halftruths and plain falsehoods.

They said this was a political issue affecting the common man, and could not be treated just as an economic matter. Yet, dozens of countries across the globe have no price controls. The common man in Japan, the Philippines or the US treats changes in petrol and diesel prices as no more political than changes in the price of bananas or eggs. Only when governments impose price control do prices become political, and that's the best reason for avoiding controls. India had no oil price controls till 1973, and price changes were not seen as political then.

 Indian politicians claim that the common man will be pushed into poverty and privation by the price hike, while farmers and agriculture will be ruined. That's plain wrong, and such claims have no basis either in other country experiences nor India's own past. The common man faces price changes up and down in any market system. In a non-market communist system, all prices can indeed be controlled forever, but the collapse of the Soviet Union showed how myopic and bankrupt such an approach really was. Price controls can provide shortterm relief to consumers, but act as longer-term disincentives to production and efficiency, the cumulative impact of which toppled communism.


 Deng Xiaoping in China moved towards the market fast enough to escape a Soviet-type collapse. Countries without price controls have far outperformed those with controls, in terms of poverty removal no less than GDP growth. Yet, Indian politicians on TV talk as though Soviet-style price controls are the only rational and humane way to manage economies.


Indian politicians claim that price decontrols will spur inflation. But despite price controls, India has 10% wholesale price inflation and 14% consumer price inflation. By contrast, inflation is just 2-3% in the US, Europe, Japan, the Philippines and other countries without price controls, where consumers are paying in full for the doubling of crude price from $40 to $80 a barrel over the last year. Inflation is caused by faulty fiscal, monetary and trade policies, not by price decontrol.


Diesel and petrol have gone up around 5%, which is hardly sensational. Yet Indian politicians say the back of the common man will be broken.


Really? Between 1970 and 1973, crude went up from $1.20 a barrel to $3.65 a barrel, and this tripling was passed on in full to the Indian consumer. Then Opec became an effective oil cartel in 1973-74, and oil shot up to $10 a barrel. Once again, the Indira Gandhi government passed on the rise to the consumer. Obviously it hurt. But the economy adjusted, and agriculturists did not commit suicide.


NEXT came the second oil shock of 1980. Crude tripled from $10 a barrel to $30 a barrel. Again, Indira Gandhi passed on almost all the burden to the consumer. Once again, the consumer adjusted, with no economic collapse or impoverishment. Indeed, poverty started falling for the first time after Independence. Leftists claimed that farmers would be decimated. In fact, the green revolution spread fast after the first oil shock of 1973-74, and again after the second oil shock of 1980. Higher petrol and diesel prices went hand in hand with falling poverty and rising farm production.


Communists are the biggest critics of higher prices, claiming that these are an artificial creation of speculation by 'international financial capital'. This is eerily Hitlerian. Hitler too claimed that the global economy was controlled and distorted by financiers, who were mainly Jews, and so resorted to mass murder of Jews. Communists perpetrated mass murder of another sort, based on class rather religion, but with as little moral or factual basis.


To be fair, communists are not alone in blaming financial speculation for artificially driving up oil prices. The trading volume of oil futures and derivatives has skyrocketed in the last decade, when prices too skyrocketed before nosediving. Academic studies have investigated the possibility that financial speculation made oil prices especially high and volatile.


But these studies failed to establish a link. Other commodities like iron ore, coal, uranium and cobalt are traded for physical delivery only in the spot market, and have no derivative markets. Yet, the prices of iron ore and coal proved if anything more volatile than that of oil. Iron ore shot up from $40 to over $200 a tonne in the boom.

Why so? Well, 2004-08 witnessed the mother of all booms, with world GDP growing at a record rate. Environmental and safety clearances made the opening of new mines a lengthy process. Hence, commodity supplies could not keep up with demand, and enormous price spikes were the result. The oil price spike was not exceptional. For every financial seller there was necessarily a buyer too, so speculation did not create one-way trends.


Why has trading in oil futures and derivatives skyrocketed? Some of it is pure speculation. But much trading is now related to risk management, both by suppliers and consumers, who hedge against adverse developments by locking in future prices. This constitutes a rational form of insurance. Communists who condemn this blindly as 'international financial capital speculation' are simply exposing their ignorance.


These comrades need bogeymen to justify their life-long defence of communist murder and torture in pursuit of a bankrupt economic ideology. Rather than learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union, they would rather use old, hollow slogans to justify the unjustifiable. When exposed by newspapers like this one, they have no factual reply, but repeat empty slogans about the pink press being the voice of international financial capital. How pathetic!







Former Petroleum Minister

Petro-price hike is war on people


WITH an unprecedented petro-price hike and that too at a wrong time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has literally waged a war against people.


While commenting on the recent petroleum price hike, a section of media reported that the UPA government should be given credit for taking a bold decision that may have political repercussions. Nothing can be further from truth.


 In reality, petrol and diesel were deregulated in April 2002 when I was the petroleum minister in the Vajpayee government. During my tenure, we increased the prices eight times and also reduced them on seven occasions.

However, when Manmohan Singh became the prime minister and Mani Shankar Aiyar petroleum minister in 2004, they reversed the decision and prices have been regulated over the last six years. What has been done now is ad hocism, with the UPA government deregulating the prices of petrol, but not diesel in its second tenure.

The timing of fully removing price controls on petrol and raising the prices of kerosene and LPG is wrong. Such decisions should be taken when the economy is stable. The aam aadmi is faced with the unprecedented inflation. So, the current heavy price increase is the last straw on the camel's back.


What should the government have done is the most obvious question. Had we been running the government, we would have reduced the excise duty and import duty to bring it to a revenueneutral level and passed on the benefit to oil companies and the consumer. We would have also issued oil bonds to oil marketing companies to compensate them for under-recoveries. That would have improved the health of oil marketing companies.
   The price increase will certainly stoke inflationary pressures and the vicious circle of price increase will further accelerate and result in untold miseries to the aam aadmi. The road ahead is dangerously slippery. Only a full rollback can save the situation.



Distinguished Fellow, ORF*

No, half-baked measures don't help


THE immediate reaction to raising of petro product prices has, as expected, been anguish over the inflationary impact of the move. However, with almost 80% of crude oil being imported, concern with inflation, beyond the immediate spillover effect, is grossly exaggerated. If crude oil prices shoot up, the economic burden cannot be wished away: costs cannot be escaped and must be absorbed within the overall system. Irrespective of the level of prices at the pump, these costs haunt the economy through misallocation of investment and resources; inefficiencies of sourcing, production and misuse down the supply chain; and end in inflationary pressures fuelled by rising deficits —precisely what is sought to be avoided here.


 Today, petrol prices have been freed, but diesel continues to fall prey to half-measures. With not even the pretence of a roadmap for freeing diesel prices, a mere statement of intent about eventually making them market-determined rings hollow: more so when in the same breath it is said that government would intervene if crude prices were to spike again. So far, this has been limited to walking the tightrope on precarious fiscal rebalancing rather than a tailored systemic response. Such 'intervention' amounts to little more than ostrich-like burying our heads in sand, and wishing the problem away.


 Protecting vulnerable consumers is not just a sovereign prerogative but a duty. However, a price control mechanism instead of reducing the price burden on vulnerable consumers only creates opportunities for capturing premiums by diverting fuel away from them. It makes vital daily energy unavailable to those most in need and makes them the least-serviced market segment. Instead of competition for market share, consumers have to be content with sibling rivalry between PSUs for the fish and loaves of subsidies doled out by a paternal government.

 There is no incentive to invest in improving operations to make them more cost-effective. Price reforms will be adequate when they restore to the consumer the ultimate power of choice — which can happen only if 'intervention' is direct and targeted at the last consumer.

 *Observer Research Foundation








THE frameworks and examples in this book point to several key action items for companies operating in and out of emerging markets... Foreign as well as domestic companies have found success in emerging markets by positioning themselves as partners in progress — building businesses that also advance market development. Initiatives along these lines can take a number of forms — from advancing traditional corporate social responsibility to filling institutional voids — in service of businesses or as stand-alone projects.


Microsoft's investments in the development of China's software industry facilitated the development of its own business in the country. The job creation and tax revenue produced by Zain's business in African countries facilitated its government relations and operations. Similarly, the employment Tata Consultancy Services brought to Uruguay enabled the company to receive fast-tracked visas for employees travelling from India. At home, Tata Group filled voids in social services for employees in Tata Steel's company town Jamshedpur. Metro Cash &Carry's primary business filled voids in the food supply chains in emerging markets, reducing waste and bringing more transactions into the tax net, although this argument could not overcome entrenched opposition in Bangalore. Nonetheless, working to be — and to be seen as — a partner in progress can help companies in emerging markets, particularly multinationals coming in from more developed markets.








 LAST week's broad sectoral change in the pricing of the main petroleum products, petrol and diesel, so as to have 'market-determined' prices both at the refinery gate and the retail level, marks a landmark in public-policy terms. It's certainly a move in the right direction of reforms. After all, extensive price controls and subsidies on high volume petro-products do have a panoply of distortionary effects economywide, including huge and wholly questionable demands on scarce budgetary resources. But in tandem, what's surely required is rationalisation of the taxes levied on petrogoods, so as to have less-distorting retail prices. In parallel, market design in the oil sector needs policy attention as well.


 Now, it is welcome that the Centre has deregulated petrol prices, both ex-refinery and retail, in the backdrop of hardening prices of crude oil in the global market. The price revision is in the range of Rs 3.50 to Rs 4 per litre. As for diesel, by far the most used petroproduct, prices have, in principle, been decontrolled, although the upward revision, for now, would be Rs 2 per litre in Delhi, and slightly different in other places, depending on taxes and local levies. As for household fuels, cooking gas and kerosene, the subsidy levels have been tweaked downwards, in an attempt to better reflect scarcity value.


Anyway, open-ended consumption subsidies just make no sense. The plain fact is that non-revised retail prices of petro-goods, in the face of rising costs of imported crude, is fiscally reckless and not sustainable. It would mean mounting under-recoveries, the difference between cost price and realised prices, for the public sector oil marketing companies. In the past, the usual practice of the Centre has been to court populism, keep retail oil prices unrevised, and instead endeavour to finance the under-recoveries by issuing governmental IOUs read oil bonds. But since the bonds do need to be redeemed with budgetary funds, it necessarily implies economising on other heads, such as social expenditure, which is clearly retrograde.


 Besides, keeping domestic oil prices artificially low does send entirely wrong price signals, and would hardly encourage fuel conservation, or rev up energy efficiency and instead perversely jack up the price of promising alternative fuels. There would be still other ill-effects of non-revision, such as huge unscheduled borrowings by oil companies, and given the volumes involved, would verily shore up the cost of funds quite across the board. And yet we have followed warped policy, for years.


 Note that domestic oil prices were very much market-determined, well into the early 1970s. In fact, after the first oil crisis and following the price spike brought about by Opec, the oil cartel, retail prices pan-India were massively revised upwards — and overnight — albeit from a low base. In today's prices, the increase then was small change. But what's important was that there was no pricing of oil by fiat, complete with a host of attendant negative effects and implications. However, the fortuitous discovery of as large an oilfield as Bombay High must have encouraged policymakers to contemplate autarky, elaborate administered pricing, together with high taxes and duties on oil products. The policy outcome was suboptimal.


The regime of cost-plus returns did not really encourage productivity gains and proactive investment along the entire oil and gas value chain. The structure of indirect taxes on oil products hugely increased effective tariff protection for refining. And, every time global oil prices flared up in the late seventies and through the eighties, India had a balance of payments crisis thanks to structural economic weaknesses and vexed administered pricing. There was much recourse to oil bonds in the cavalier 1990s.


Be that as it may, in the late nineties, the weak United Front government at the Centre did decide to dismantle the administered pricing mechanism in 2002, no doubt quite certain that it would not be around to implement its policy decision. The dismantling did happen nevertheless, complete with a gazette notification which is notable in that there was no mention of deregulation and decontrol of pricing. There was some semblance of regular revision of retail prices, for a few months. But with dearer crude prices, price controls were back in place for petrol, diesel, etc, although it must be said that for industrial petro-products, prices have been market-determined in this decade. So doing away with formal controls did have some beneficial effects. There have been three expert-committee recommendations, for instance, calling for reform of the policy on oil pricing. Fast-forward to the here and now, and while the deregulation is noteworthy, taxes on petrol, diesel, especially state levies remain distortingly high, cascade as they do across the value chain. We don't have valueadded taxes in oil, unlike most other hightax regimes. Also, there's effective ring-fencing of oil sales here, with no real scope for independent oil retailing. The bottom line is the pressing need for proactive reforms, for truly competitive, efficiency prices in oil.


The Ramsey tax rule, used to justify high oil taxation, needs to be reconsidered, given overall tax reforms in the pipeline

In the mature markets, generally, independent oil retailers account for 50% or more of the offtake
We do need market-determined prices in petrol, diesel, etc, as was normal in the pre-control days of the 1970s








ANEW spin's just been added to the old debate about who is the better Mogul of them all: Microsoft's Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of Apple? In the last 10 years, Gates Foundation is reported to have given over $1.14 billion, far more than the $569 million that the US government gave to the WHO's international vaccine initiative. Will that transfer some of the glow from St Steve's shining pate to the cloud glowering over Bill Gates' hirsute head? The latter has often been caricatured as a vengeful nerd or a cutthroat capitalist more interested in maximising his monopoly rather than perfecting technology.


In contrast, until recently St Steve was widely venerated as an artist-savant who happened to be a visionary entrepreneur almost by default.


Of late, however both these stereotypic images have begun to change. Gates has been giving away his fortune with the same gusto that he displayed in acquiring it while Jobs has started coming across as curmudgeonly control freak who's more interested in protecting his private fantasy than in advancing broader needs of society. Of course even this image could be wrong if it emerges that Jobs has been giving away his wealth to charity anonymously. For a person who seems so obsessed with privacy such a prospect could be quite likely. But less explicable is his public silence on vexatious social and political issues (excepting banning of porn from Apple applications which is not the same thing as blocking 'lazy' Flash drives from the iPad).


 Meanwhile, Gates continues to up the ante: At an event described as the 'First Supper', the Messianic billionaire with friend Warren Buffett and select fellow billionaire apostles in attendance, has launched a campaign to persuade the super-rich in the US to give away half their fortunes to charity. This could change the face of philanthropy beyond recognition. If everybody on the Forbes-400 list complied, the collection would add up to $600 billion.


 The New Gospel of Giving was further spelt out in a dozen riveting stories which also spoke about things like fears of alienating near and dear ones while leaping from making small to large donations. Subsequent suppers showed that like lesser mortals, many super rich too did not want to plan for their death or even to think about it. It's the one equaliser which is still the world's greatest wonder, says the Mahabharata.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



If there are still sceptics out there who have doubts about India's emerging role in the international stage, they just need to take a second look at the media reports on the G-20 summit. It was Dr Manmohan Singh all the way. He went, he saw and he conquered. This is not some kind of parochial patriotic chest-thumping. The US President, Mr Barack Obama, had a point when he said that the world listens when this economist-turned-politician speaks. Of course, it does have much to with his erudition in the subject at hand — the economic slowdown. It also has much to do with the way India has edged forward to the centre-stage of the world in the last two decades. So it is no wonder that Dr Singh, who successfully steered India from the economic slowdown, was able to give food for thought to the world's super economic powers at the G-20 meeting in Toronto. He warned the leaders (especially those who spoke in highly optimistic tones) that the world economic recovery was 'still fragile' and time had not come for the bugles to be brought out. It was too early for governments to step back since demand was still weak, he added. The only qualified economist among the G-20 leaders did not miss a beat while telling the superpowers that the world economy would be in trouble if all of them pulled in different directions. In the climate of uncertainty it would be best if the stimulus packages were continued, he added in his determined voice and the world listened. Perhaps this G-20 summit would come to be known as the one in which India came to the forefront and did not remain in the sidelines, courtesy Dr Singh. Not only does he have a deep knowledge of economic issues, but has an economic vision too. And it is this economic vision that helped India to negotiate through the tricky swamp of recession, which sucked in many other countries. Dr Singh has also emerged as a leader committed to global peace and prosperity. As Mr John Kirton, director of G-20 Research Group of the Toronto University, pointed out, Dr Singh's understanding of complex economic issues coupled with the country's thriving democracy that has given India an edge at international economic summits these days. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Prime Minister has also played a key role in transforming G20 into a premier forum for international economic cooperation rather than a club of super powers in which other countries played the role of glorified cheerleaders. He was instrumental in G20 taking certain decisive actions to help the world deal effectively with the ongoing economic crisis. He also scored a diplomatic victory by persuading his Canadian counterpart, Mr Stephen Harper, to sign a civil nuclear deal with India, ending 36 years of sanctions. India will also receive uranium supplies from the country. So as Dr Singh flies back home to grapple with a host of domestic troubles, he can do so with the confidence of having left the stamp of his country in the G-20 summit.






When the Congress Party lost its position as the dominant national party in the 1989 elections, many people believed that this role would be inherited by the Janata Dal coalition under the leadership of V.P. Singh. However, it proved to be much more unstable than the government under Morarji Desai and very soon the country witnessed the rise of a number of regional (state) parties sporting the name "Janata Dal". The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajyapee, emerged as an alternative to the Congress but it was able to retain its position only for six years and had to revert to its role as the main Opposition after the 2004 general elections.

Even though many Congress supporters take the victory in the 2009 general elections as confirming the return of the Congress as the party of governance at the Centre, the trend of voting in some of the large states in India and the number of seats it had won from 1989 does not give much room for such hopes. The Congress' strength in the Lok Sabha rose to 405 seats in 1984, but fell to 197 in 1989. It made a partial recovery to 232 in 1991 but the number of seats fell to 140 in 1996, 141 in 1998 and to 145 in 2004. The 206 seats tally in 2009 is no doubt a significant achievement, but not enough to warrant much optimism. The main weaknesses that plagued the Congress from the mid-60s, such as lack of inner-party democracy, poor leadership in states et cetera, continue even now. In fact, the main advantage that the Congress has at the Centre is that its rivals are in a worse position on the criteria of inner-party democracy and state-level organisational strength.

As far as the BJP is concerned, its unity and coherence as an all-India party has been badly shattered by the electoral reverses of 2009. A great blow to the morale of the rank and file of the BJP has been the open display of divisions and rifts among its national level leaders after the 2009 reverses.

More disappointing to those who were entertaining hopes for the emergence of a viable third alternative has been the trend of decline that has set in most of the small parties. Anti-Congressism and anti-Hindutva had provided an ideological platform for the various remnants of the old Janata Dal and a number of Left parties under the leadership of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), but the CPI(M), today, is in much greater disarray and state of decline than the Congress or the BJP had been at any time in the recent past. The question now is whether the CPI(M) will get enough seats on its own to prop itself as the leader of the Left group in any future third front.

The trend of decline in the small parties carrying the label of "Janata Dal" is more conspicuous than that in the CPI(M)-led Left Front. In the early years after its founding, the Janata Party could attract not only the followers of certain castes, in some states, but also a good number of followers committed to the socialistic ideologies of Jayaprakash Narayan. They claimed to be equally opposed to the policies of the Congress and the BJP, but now people don't know where senior leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav stand. They seem to have opted for a very flexible ideology for their parties, guided more by their personal interests than any principles or socialist philosophy. Their sudden shift from anti-Congressism to the position of supporters of the Congress has landed their parties in a "nowhere land" and stifled the idea of a third front even before it was born. Public would find it difficult to accept their leadership for a third front when they are seen to be guided more by convenience than by their commitment to the ideologies claimed by them till now.

The senior functionaries in Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's party are members of his own family and he retains a tight control over the affairs of the party without involving the other senior members in the process of decision-making, even on important issues. In Bihar, people will not easily forget the past when Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav could not consider anybody else except his wife to hold the office of chief minister when he had to face certain serious criminal charges. The masses in these states are getting more and more educated and politically enlightened and are no longer convinced about the logic of their top leaders advocating democracy for those outside the party, but practising "one leader dictatorship" within their parties.

Many people who have been watching the record of Nitish Kumar as chief minister of Bihar had developed great admiration and respect for him as a good and clean administrator. In fact, many think that the third front will have a worthy leader in Mr Kumar if Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav are unable to retain leadership in the Opposition front that comprises of small parties. However, the manner in which he has treated Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has now created serious doubts about his potential to develop into an all-India leader.

One can understand his dislike of the poster of his shaking hands with Mr Modi on the latter's visit to Bihar recently but this is not an adequate reason for denying Mr Modi the basic courtesies due to a visiting chief minister. Worse still was the decision of Mr Kumar to return the Rs 5 crores donation that the government of Gujarat had generously given to for the flood-affected people of Bihar. There may be many in the country who do not agree with the way Mr Modi handled the Godhra riots, but one doubts whether they would endorse the methods chosen by Mr Kumar to display his dislike to a visiting dignitary.

Many admirers of Mr Kumar would be disappointed by these developments and one can only hope that a person who tries hard to provide good governance to his state will also become an example for politeness and courtesy in pubic relations, particularly to visitors from outside, however great may be the dislike for the alleged wrong-doings of the visitor in controlling communal riots in his state.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








South Africa is a country where race is not the subtext of existence. It's the text.

I was at dinner the other night with my cousins, white South Africans divided as to whether they still have prospects here. The elder men said things like, "I now feel like a visitor", or "The future is for the blacks". They see race relations worsening, corruption spreading and inefficiency rampant.

Not the youngest among them, a law student in his mid-20s, proud African, brimming with indignation at his elders' perceived conceits: "Is it race or is it class?" he asked. "What is freedom to them?" he demanded, voice rising. "They want houses, schools, sewage. They want justice".

Conversation turned to this tidbit: Under apartheid, blacks could not be bricklayers because the job was classified as whites-only skilled labour. The student's mother expressed anger, prompting a furious rebuke from him: "Why are you angry now when you weren't 30 years ago? Your anger's useless now. Drop it. When it would have been useful you didn't have it. Now it's payback time for them".

"They" are the eternal other, of course, the blacks in this white conversation, the whites in mirror-image black conversations.

There are plenty of iterations of "they" in a land where the 1950 Population Registration Act (evil legislation is always innocuously named) ran a fine comb through types of inferior being, among them Indians and mixed-race "coloureds". Almost a generation from apartheid's end, South Africa is struggling to compose these differences into something foreign to nature: a sustainable rainbow.

The world has much at stake in this quest. South Africa — 79 per cent black, 9.5 per cent white and 11.5 per cent Asian or mixed race — is the ground zero chosen by history and geography for the dilemma of otherness, the violent puzzle of race with its reflexive suspicions and repetitive eruptions.

At moments, as during this first African World Cup, the rainbow shimmers. This was supposed to be the competition of smash-and-grab and of machete attacks. Many stayed away.

The fear merchants, always hard at work, have been proved wrong. German grandmas do not lie savaged on the road to Rustenburg.

Unity has unfurled, calm broken out. Smiles crease black and white faces alike. To the point that the most asked question here is: Will this moving honeymoon last beyond the World Cup?

It's a good question. South Africa, in the run-up, smouldered, crime eating at its heart like a surrogate for the post-apartheid bloodletting that never was.

There was the murder in April of the white supremacist Eugène Terre'Blanche, hacked to death after the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, Julius Malema, revived the "kill the Boer" line of black struggle. There were Malema's endorsements of Zimbabwe's disaster merchant, Robert Mugabe. There was the unhappy sight of the ANC, torn between its liberation mythology and the mundanity of governance, gripped by paralysis as unemployment climbed over 25 per cent and its "tenderpreneurs" prospered.

A tenderpreneur is an insider pocketing millions from rigged government tenders for everything from air-conditioners to locomotives. The word denotes failure, that of black economic empowerment, which has come to mean much for the few and little for the many. If the powerful steal with front companies, why should the weak not steal with guns?

Yes, as my young cousin said, blacks want justice, from other blacks as well. If President Jacob Zuma does not use the lessons of this World Cup — that colour lines can blur, that things can get done — to build momentum for reform, he will have failed. He must put the tenderpreneurs out of business. He must reverse the crumbling of education. Jobs do not lie in digging more stuff out the ground. The knowledge economy is where opportunity resides.

Is it class or race? South Africa is not going to rainbow race away, but it can bring blacks out of their miserable shacks and educate them — if its leaders are prepared to lead by example. I say it's more class than race.

I was driving the other day with my colleague, Jere Longman, who mentioned that growing up in a small town in Lousiana in the early 1960s, he would see a "whites only" sign outside the launderette and imagine that meant white clothes alone.

Almost a century separated the end of slavery from the end of Jim Crow segregation in the United States. Sixteen years have passed since the first free elections here.

There are no quick fixes. But I take heart from the African patriotism of my young cousin. I take heart from another 20-something white South African, a young woman who told me: "I am so happy for Ghana and so proud to be an African".

That was after Ghana, lone African World Cup survivor, booted the United States out, a victory dedicated by its players to Africa, Nelson Mandela's "proud continent". We all know what Ghana long shipped to America: slaves.

It's a pity US President Barack Obama couldn't find time to be here in the land where race is text and the way it gets written will affect everyone's future.






Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah speaks to Yusuf Jameel about the need to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in part two of an interview given recently. He also thinks hanging Afzal Guru will create more problems than it will solve.

Q. There seems to be a race between some political parties with regard to the hanging of Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru, who is from J&K. Don't you think this can exacerbate the situation in the state?
A. I'm not sure whether the people of India are as foolish as some politicians. I don't think hanging Afzal Guru is going to win a single Parliament seat for any party, let alone a majority in Parliament. As an individual, I'm against death penalty. Hanging Billa and Ranga, child killers in Delhi when I was a boy, didn't change anything for crime. Hanging Maqbool Butt, in fact, created more problems than it solved. I, therefore, say that hanging Afzal Guru will probably create more problems that it will solve. Recently I read in some newspapers that I've to sign the black warrant before he can be hung. My understanding is that perhaps that is not true as the crime has not been committed in J&K. The cases are all in Delhi. But I'll ask the advocate general to ascertain.

Q. Has the Centre consulted you on the possible fallout of Guru's hanging on the law and order situation in J&K?
A. We've not been consulted as such. I'm sure should the situation reach the point where they need to hang him, they will have to take the state government into confidence, for the biggest fallout of hanging him will be in Kashmir. But I think we are still very far from that point. Let us not forget that even if all the appeals were to get exhausted, there are still more than 25 people who are already on the death row, whose executions have to be carried out. So, I think the hanging is being conducted more in the media than in actuality.

Q. The PM's Srinagar visit seems to have failed to create any impact as far as the people are concerned. Too many restrictions were imposed on movement and the shutdown sponsored by separatists pushed people indoors. Did this disappoint you?
A. I thought in the circumstances it was a good visit, given the inputs generated about security threats. It was even suggested at one point that the PM should just fly into the Army cantonment to attend the University (convocation) function and fly out. I agree that perhaps greater than necessary precautions had to be taken. The wider inconvenience to the people, was, however, set off by the separatists. They have to answer for this. They have made it a habit to call for strikes. We seem to want to hold the government responsible for everything. I find it difficult to find a justification for what they do.

Q. The PM was somewhat indistinct on the human rights issue. He didn't reiterate his zero-tolerance commitment this time, and some say he tried to justify the violations at the hands of the troops when he said aberrations are bound to occur while dealing with violence and terrorism.
A. I think zero-tolerance is more important in terms of how you implement it, rather than how many times you repeat it. The evidence of zero-tolerance to human rights violations is visible in the response of the Government of India (GoI) to the Macheal fake encounter. It is visible in the response of the GoI to the killing of the youth by the BSF at Brein, Srinagar.

Q. You have accused the separatists and other political elements of pitting the Valley's youth against the security forces to serve their own ends. But some people say "vested interest" in the security agencies, and even sections of the bureaucracy, are equally responsible. Do you agree?
A. No. Any "vested interest" in the government that may wish to create problems for the government will do it with regard to the implementation of the policies of the government vis-à-vis development. I don't believe it is possible that "vested interests" within the government will create law and order disturbances, stone-pelting and the like.
Q. Your predecessors would opt for the "carrot and stick" mantra to deal with law and order situations. By picking up the stick and discarding the carrot, you seem to be of the view that the problem is not political. Was the crackdown on separatists and activists unavoidable?
A. We're working to handle it politically, particularly with those who believe there is scope for talking. Unfortunately, there are those who believe in taking an extreme position, and putting people into difficulty. I've no political problems with the separatist leaders. If I wasn't chief minister, I wouldn't worry about the political line they take.
But I'm acutely aware of my responsibility to the people of this state. If some elements are going to continuously try to disrupt the education of children, or the earnings of small businessmen and traders, if they are going to disrupt the activities of the government through calls to close government offices, then I'm afraid I'm not left with very many options other than to get tough with them from time to time. But I'm willing to provide all the space they require to project their views to people within the separatist camp, even to Geelani Sahib. Until recently when he decided that he wanted to damage the secular fabric of the state by waging a front against the Amarnath yatra, I had no problem with his going out and propounding his views wherever he chose to in the Valley.

Q. An Army general has described the AFSPA as a "holy book" which can't be annulled. Are the people in khaki trying to overrule the political leadership?
A. Fortunately for us, unlike with most if not all our neighbours, we have never had a problem with the uniform trying to overrule the political establishment, whether at the state level or at the national level. And I'm sure that not only the officer you are referring to but his colleagues too will go along with the political leadership when the political decision is taken to amend the AFSPA. That has always been the strength of our armed forces. Even our Constitution is open to amendments. The AFSPA is not a document handed down to us from God almighty. It is a creation of man through legislation, and it can be amended exactly like other laws.

Q. You have said that AFSPA has been a problem in the way of the government's endeavour to ensure that perpetrators of innocent killings such as those in Macheal in north Kashmir are brought to justice. Why haven't you arrested Major Upinder so far when you were quick to make arrests in the case of the earlier Brein shootout in Srinagar?
A. We knew exactly what had happened at Brein. It was a plain case of unprovoked firing which claimed the life of a boy. In the Macheal case, the inquiry is on. Punishment will follow. There has been a difference in the response of the Central paramilitary forces and the military. That perhaps is one of the reasons why there is a need to amend such a requirement for the amendment in the AFSPA, so that not only is justice done but also seen to be done. That is what we are working on.

Q. So, you agree the AFSPA is an impediment in delivering justice?
A. AFSPA has huge problems of perception on both sides — the perception of the average resident of J&K that it is abused, and the sense that it is indispensable for the security forces. The need is to address both views. I don't think we should constantly look at the AFSPA only from the prism of J&K. Long before this law was seen as a problem in J&K, it was a big problem in the Northeast. The move to amend it started there.






On December 14, 1934, a failed stockbroker named0 Bill Wilson was struggling with alcoholism at a New York City detox centre. It was his fourth stay at the centre and nothing had worked. This time, he tried a remedy called the belladonna cure — infusions of a hallucinogenic drug made from a poisonous plant — and he consulted a friend named Ebby Thacher, who told him to give up drinking and give his life over to the service of God.

Wilson was not a believer, but, later that night, at the end of his rope, he called out in his hospital room: "If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything. Anything!"

As Wilson described it, a white light suffused his room and the presence of God appeared. "It seemed to me, in the mind's eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing", he testified later. "And then it burst upon me that I was a free man."

Wilson never touched alcohol again. He went on to help found Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), which, 75 years later, has 11,000 professional treatment centres, 55,000 meeting groups and some 1.2 million members.

The movement is the subject of a smart and comprehensive essay by Brendan I. Koerner in the July 2010 issue of Wired magazine. The article is noteworthy not only because of the light it sheds on what we've learned about addiction, but for what it says about changing behaviour more generally. Much of what we do in public policy is to try to get people to behave in their own long-term interests — to finish school, get married, avoid gangs, lose weight, save money. Because the soul is so complicated, much of what we do fails.

The first implication of Koerner's essay is that we should get used to the idea that we will fail most of the time. Alcoholics Anonymous has stood the test of time. There are millions of people who fervently believed that its 12-step process saved their lives. Yet the majority, even a vast majority, of the people who enrol in the programme do not succeed in it. People are idiosyncratic. There is no single programme that successfully transforms most people most of the time.

The second implication is that we should get over the notion that we will someday crack the behaviour code — that we will someday find a scientific method that will allow us to predict behaviour and design reliable social programmes. As Koerner notes, A.A. has been the subject of thousands of studies. Yet "no one has yet satisfactorily explained why some succeed in A.A. while others don't, or even what percentage of alcoholics who try the steps will eventually become sober as a result".

Each member of an A.A. group is distinct. Each group is distinct. Each moment is distinct. There is simply no way for social scientists to reduce this kind of complexity into equations and formula that can be replicated one place after another.

Nonetheless, we don't have to be fatalistic about things. It is possible to design programmes that will help some people some of the time. A.A. embodies some shrewd insights into human psychology.

In a culture that generally celebrates empowerment and self-esteem, A.A. begins with disempowerment. The goal is to get people to gain control over their lives, but it all begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.

In a culture that thinks of itself as individualistic, A.A. relies on fellowship. The general idea is that people aren't really captains of their own ship. Successful members become deeply intertwined with one another — learning, sharing, suffering and mentoring one another. Individual repair is a social effort.

In a world in which gurus try to carefully design and impose their ideas, Wilson surrendered control. He wrote down the famous steps and foundations, but A.A. allows each local group to form, adapt and innovate. There is less quality control. Some groups and leaders are great; some are terrible. But it also means that A.A. is decentralised, innovative and dynamic.

Alcoholics have a specific problem: they drink too much. But instead of addressing that problem with the psychic equivalent of a precision-guidance missile, Wilson set out to change people's whole identities. He studied William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. He sought to arouse people's spiritual aspirations rather than just appealing to rational cost-benefit analysis. His group would help people achieve broad spiritual awakenings, and abstinence from alcohol would be a byproduct of that larger salvation.

In the business of changing lives, the straight path is rarely the best one. A.A. illustrates that even in an age of scientific advance, it is still ancient insights into human nature that work best. Wilson built a remarkable organisation on a nighttime spiritual epiphany.






The Sufi path consists of different spiritual stations including taubah (repentance); zuhd (piety); tawakkul (trust) in God; faqr (poverty); dhikr (remembrance of God); sabr (patience); shukr (thankfulness); rida (contentment); mohabbah (love); and marifah (Divine knowledge). These stages are travelled through mujahidah (self-mortification).

Taubah, repentance is the first station in the Sufi path signifying an awakening of the soul. It involves turning away from sin with the intention of remaining steadfast on the right path. Compassion and mercy are among the foremost attributes of Allah who accepts forgiveness from those who truly seek it. The Sufis believe that loving Allah's friends effectively cleanse one's sins. Bayazid of Bistam said, "Love those beloved of Allah and make yourself lovable to them so that they love you, because Allah looks into the hearts of those he loves 70 times a day. Perhaps he will find your name in the heart of the one He loves. He will love you too and forgive your wrongdoings. This is the quickest way to reach Him".

Allah waits for his servants to ask forgiveness, assuring in the Quran that He is Most Forgiving and Most Merciful "Why turn they not to God, And seek His forgiveness? For God is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful" (5. 74).

Forgiveness and mercy are the dominant themes that run through the Holy Quran. Prophet Mohammad said that all of us err to some degree, but the best are those who reflect and then ask Allah for forgiveness for their wrong actions.

Sufis have a treasure of stories relating to methods used in replacing unworthy attributes by praiseworthy qualities. One day the bazaars of Baghdad caught fire and Sari Saqti, the ninth century mystic was informed that his shop had burnt down. He later learnt that somehow his shop did not get destroyed in the fire whereas most of the other shops in the street had been destroyed completely. Saqti said he gleefully thanked God, but soon realised his selfishness in not feeling immense pain for fellow shopowners. He admitted to repenting that one sin for over 40 years. Eventually, Saqti gave away the shop and everything he owned to the poor embraced the Sufi path.

A true repentance is an awakening of the heart in making a connection with God. The Sufi philosophy outlines three kinds of taubah, which vary in rank because of the intent with which it is made. The first taubah is of the people who leave sin for the fear of Hell, the second kind is rooted in the desire for Heaven. The third taubah is not made out of fear or desire, but simply for the love of Allah. This is the true taubah of the lovers, where they get to a point that they have no complaints, remaining content with whatever comes from God, be it tribulation or joy.

Abu Said Ibn Abi Khair, Sufi poet of the 11th century explains, "Sufism is glory in wretchedness; richness in poverty and lordship in servitude; satiety in hunger and clothedness in nakedness; freedom in slavery and life in death and sweetness in bitterness".

Islam accords a high rank to those who forgive while in a position to retaliate. Abu Said Ibn Abi Khair writes:

"He who is not my friend — may God be his friend

And he who bears ill will against me, may his joys increase

He who puts thorns in my way on account of enmity

May every flower that blossoms in the garden of his life be without thorns."

Sufi Masters remind followers that the door of repentance remains open till doomsday. Rumi's mausoleum in Konya has his famous verse inscribed on it, "Come back, come back, even if you have broken your repentance a thousand times".

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]








POLITICAL lethargy rather than CRPF action underlies the current upsurge of anger and acrimony across the Kashmir Valley. The mass protests triggering a circle of violence that threatens to negate all the hard-fought gains in countering militancy cannot be oversimplified. Indeed they are a flashback to the late 1980s/early 1990s, for the cry for azadi is being raised as forcefully as the condemnation of the Central forces. Had Omar Abdullah provided the requisite quality of governance there would have been little public resentment for the separatist elements to exploit ~ attacking the CRPF is essentially symptomatic, the malaise runs deeper. It is so easy for the state government to point the accusing finger, had its own machinery sufficed there would have been no requirement for the CRPF to be deployed on virtually every law-and-order maintenance exercise. There can be little justification for the force's over-reacting, yet on almost every occasion it has been required to first defend itself ~ if it went overboard it could be the result of having been under the sustained pressure that the political leadership opts to ignore. Sure it is tragic that young people should die, one said to be just 10 years of age: but who roused youthful emotions, misled them into thinking it was heroic to "take on" the paramilitary? Sharing some part of the blame is the main Opposition party in the state; Mehbooba Mufti's politics are anything but constructive or responsible. 

When the Valley is "ablaze" New Delhi is guilty too, for putting J&K on the backburner. The Prime Minister's promises have yielded nothing, what happened to the expert groups or their recommendations? It is significant that the violent expressions of frustration have followed Dr Manmohan Singh's essentially ceremonial trip to Srinagar. As in the past, the Centre pays attention to insurgency-affected areas only when blood flows. For the better part, if violence is contained the problems of those regions are shelved. It would be improper to pre-judge the impact of the home minister's proposed trip to the Valley. Hopefully some flames will be doused, but until core issues are addressed ~ autonomy is a critical one ~ the tensions will simmer. And with dangerous regularity will erupt against the manifestations of "India": earlier it was the Army and BSF, now the CRPF. Instead of advocating CRPF restraint, the Congress party spokesman should energise his government.








Given the passions that go into the promotion of linguistic identities, there is no reason why an event as elaborate as a World Classical Tamil Conference ought not to be mounted with the objective of not only looking back but also looking ahead to see how the language can grow. At a time when northern India presents various dialects of Hindi and regional languages have suffered on account of neglect or the pressures of establishing new links in a global environment, the commitment with which the Tamil Nadu chief minister has helped stage an expression of "Tamil pride'' in the presence of Indologists and international scholars ought logically to be seen as an example of how a language whose roots go back to the Indus Valley civilisation can unite people. The question survives as to whether the President who spoke of the vibrancy and richness of Tamil helping to make India "a proud multi-lingual society'' and Mr Karunanidhi who claimed that Tamil is older than Sanskrit and "the mother of all languages'' were on the same wavelength. Mrs Pratibha Patil was referring to the manner in which a linguistic heritage embracing literature, religion and the arts is an integral part of Indian society. The chief minister, on the other hand, may have been concerned about how the heritage can be "protected'' with the excessive display of regional fervour which, in this case, has drawn thousands and has cost the organisers more than Rs 300 crore. 

That political rivalries have crept in is evident from the AIADMK's absence. With the DMK in power both in Tamil Nadu and at the Centre, this is the best time to make a grand display of political power. But linguistic chauvinism is also liable to take unexpected, often unhealthy, turns as when leaders of the Tamil film industry, citing outrage at discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka, threatened to boycott Bollywood stars who participated in an awards ceremony in Colombo. Nor is Jayalalitha likely to observe a sudden burst of Tamil pride at the behest of her staunchest rival without an agenda of her own. This means there are dividing lines that need to be removed. While a conference of this nature has more political than academic value, there is room still for reconciling strident expressions of regional sentiment with the possibilities of communication and fruitful exchanges in a federal structure.








Last weekend's de-Stalinisation in Georgia comes 19 years after the statues of another era were craned off the pedestals in Moscow. The pro-Western government of the former Soviet republic has snapped the last link with its Communist past, and done so with despatch. The statues of Stalin in his hometown of Gori and another at Tkibuli have been dismantled in a span of 48 hours. No less astonishing is that it was a secret removal operation, effected at midnight on Friday and Monday. The timing was clearly intended to forestall reactions, perhaps even outrage as a section of the local populace had opposed the removal since the collapse of the Soviet era. Unmistakable is the popular sentiment that hasn't waned since the end of Communism in the Soviet Union and East Europe (1989-91). Indeed, a generation has grown up since that historic phase. The statue at Gori had been a mute witness to momentous changes in Soviet history ever since it was installed in 1952, a year before Stalin's death. It had even survived the denunciation of the Stalin cult by Nikita Krushchev and not least the purge of statues in Moscow. More recently in August 2008, it had even weathered the Russian bombardment and occupation of Gori during the war with Georgia over South Osetia. Ergo, the removal of the landmark in Gori and Tkibuli may itself turn out to be a watershed in the history of the former Soviet republics.  
The perceived liberal intelligentsia, under the influence of the West, have had their way in the tussle with Gori's old-time residents who wanted to keep the statue where it was. The decision to erect a monument in honour of those who died in the war with Russia in 2008 testifies to the overriding anxiety to update history. Symbolically, the break with the Soviet past is complete in Georgia with the unannounced toppling of the last remaining statues of Stalin anywhere in the world.









Economists are trained to distinguish between two major types of inflation. One is called demand-pull inflation, brought about by a growing expansion of monetary demand while supply is constant or nearly so. In this case, a rise in prices is the only possible outcome since supply has reached its limit. Of course, the rising prices will further strengthen the demand-pull pressures and inflation will become a cumulative process.  Where the forces behind this cumulative process originate on the demand side, stopping the process will call for resolute action to check demand growth.

The other type of inflation, which is usually described as cost-push (or supply side) inflation, also tends to turn into a cumulative process. The basic reason is, however, either a wage-push or a push arising from monopolist or quasi-monopolist traders and industrialists. Either labour or capital may, by exercising its organisational powers, hold society to ransom. Once the price level departs from its stance of equilibrium, the upward spiral becomes too rapid to be halted by the agencies which try to restore the earlier balance.

Quantity theory

Classical economists spoke of the Quantity Theory of Money when trying to explain and control inflation. The theory is an over-simplication of a very complex problem. To accept the Quantity Theory in toto, you must postulate that the real determinants of the economic process have nothing to do with money, that money is nothing but a "veil" while the real governing forces lie outside the monetary sphere. This position has been virtually abandoned by post-Keynesian economic theorists.

The demand-pull type of inflation calls for demand management. This can be brought about both by reducing money in circulation and by weapons of fiscal contraction. Either instrument seeks to bring down the demand level, but generally fails when inflation has been allowed to reign for some time and inflationary expectations have started building up. The greater the duration of the inflationary process, the harder it becomes to bring under control the demand-pull forces arising out of the cost-push factors that generated the cumulative process.
In economic theory supply responds to price movements as surely as demand moves. Of course, it is recognised that both changes are subject to their respective elasticities.  But rarely do we take into account that in certain situations demand changes can occur much more easily than changes in supply. For example, in the housing market demand can be deferred, but even in a rising market supply cannot be augmented (or depleted) in the near future. Alfred Marshall pointed his finger towards the importance of "time" in economics, but seems not to have applied his mind to situations where supply elasticity is zero in the short run, while rising demand, derived from the continuous rise in prices plays havoc.

When inflation starts from a zero supply elasticity situation ~ for example after the season's principal crop has been harvested or a one-sided decision has already been taken regarding the amount of crude petroleum to be lifted from the oil-wells ~ supply elasticity ceases to work. Classical equilibrium analysis fails in such situations. The period of money circulation, which naturally increases as prices continue their upward movement, has to be brought in for a meaningful (though yet aggregative) dis-equilibrium analysis.

In this situation, monetary contraction has a part to play, but can hardly provide a radical solution. The inflation will continue till the next agricultural season unless cheap imports can be arranged for and substantial loss of monetary reserves is bearable. In the interesting case of a "fabricated" inflation (eg in crude petroleum) the demand cuts which inflation causes are frequently not enough in industrialised or industrialising societies. The  search for cheap, alternative fuels, if successful, can alone close the gap which the OPEC participants are keen to maintain.

 In India the availability of food may not go up when drought conditions continue to prevail over a number of years. Food prices will in that case spiral upwards until a bumper crop exerts downward pressure on prices. Accordingly, anti-inflationary measures will be only partially effective in such situations.


Monopolists' game

MONETARY measures will have to be supplemented by measures which remove the kink that brings about total inelasticity in supplies. This often remains beyond policy control unless the next agricultural season generates a bumper harvest. Monetary authorities will have to keep the public quiet by uttering inanities, for example the coming rabi season will make good the kharif losses, when they know that the rabi crops cannot fill in the void left by the earlier lean kharif season. In the case of crude petroleum or other artificially regulated natural products monetary measures can only scrape the surface of the price problem. The inflation continues until the monopolists' game yields a lower pay-off than an alternative game. We must recognise, though, that costlier petroleum today enables us to leave at least some of this precious resource for the people who will hopefully inhabit this planet after we are no more.

Inflation is obviously a curse, except for those who can foresee its course ~ those who can buy and sell well in time. Of course such persons will prevent higher prices from constricting demand. When prices fail to work on both demand and supply, no theory of steady or systematically changing prices can be formulated and one does not know what type of measures will have to be adopted for stopping the random price movements that characterise an inflationary situation.


After being caught in an uncomfortable situation like this it is idle to think of an easy panacea. We have already indicated why traditional monetary and fiscal policies cannot rescue the economy from the mire which Nature and greedy men have constructed. Now we have only some emergency measures to rely on, such as arranging imports of essentials and providing relief for the very distressed.

(The writer is a noted economist)









Readers will perhaps recall that in 2004 an incident of starvation death in the village of Amlashol sparked a series of media reports and a public outcry. How could people starve in the cherished land of land reforms and Panchayati Raj? The government was forced into a defensive mode and had to accept that tribals have died although the official cause of death was malnutrition.

What is less known is that in the same year, the Department of Panchayats and Rural Development carried out an innovative computerised exercise to locate 4,612 villages across the state (roughly 11 per cent of the total number of villages) and they officially came to be known as the "backward villages" of West Bengal. Once again the official explanation had nothing to do with Amlashol. It was described as the result of the government's continuous effort to identify poverty in the state. Whatever the explanation, the official acceptance of these villages was an important step towards addressing the problems of poverty in villages like Amlashol. The identification was followed by a sanction of funds for their development and many district magistrates even visited some of the villages and filed reports regarding their condition and what needs to be done.

Soon, however, the news became stale, and the excitement produced by Amlashol was lost. Matters became routine and the backward villages were forgotten. In 2006-07 the department, as part of the research activities of the Strengthening Rural Decentralisation programme, set up a research team to look into the situation of the backward villages. I was part of the team and coordinator of the research activities. The research looked into a sample of 92 backward villages in seven districts of the state.

The result was horrifying to say the least. Illiteracy was at 55.01 per cent and female illiteracy was 75.49 per cent. Nearly 32 per cent of the 3,815 respondents did not have any land. There was hardly any cottage industry and also hardly any presence of NGOs to compensate for the failure of the state's welfare mechanism. Irrigation facilities were was poor and the villagers even had to buy water from private sources. The presence of the money lender was strong and less than 20 per cent received credit from formal sources such as banks or credit cooperatives. Only about five per cent of the villagers lived under concrete roofs. The people suffered from malaria and fever, pointing towards lack of sanitation and expenditure on health was a drain on limited income of the households. Not surprisingly, the research team found a very high concentration of backward villages in the tribal areas of Purulia, Bankura and Purba Medinipur which are now Maoist strongholds.
The report made several recommendations to the government. It called for a task force to be set up under the chief secretary. It called for all vacant posts in the panchayats to be filled and raising the awareness levels of people of the villages regarding various poverty alleviation schemes. NREGS needed to be implemented on an urgent basis, the report said. The recommendations were not followed although the report was accepted. It is yet to be published.

Over the last three years, government of West Bengal has continued with some budgetary support for poverty alleviation programmes in these villages and some development has taken place in a routine manner like forming SHGs, building schools or improving drinking water. In the latest annual report of panchayats and rural development (2008-09), the backward villages occupy a tiny part of the voluminous report. It says that out of Rs 20 crores allocated for backward villages by the state government, Rs 14.47 crores were released by the department and only Rs 1.60 crores spent upto 31 March 2009. The delay in spending is given the usual administrative explanation ~ "utilisation of the amount got hampered due to panchayat election".

It is, of course, true that the impact of all schemes such as NREGS or SGSY would also be felt in backward villages and, therefore, it is possible that, thanks to other schemes, their condition has improved since the evaluation in 2007. However, it is important to remember that the scheme on  backward villages is state-sponsored and, therefore, it shows how keen the Left Front government is to remove poverty on its own. How well the state government is implementing its own schemes reflects its political will.

Six years have gone by since the list of backward villages was drawn up. It is, therefore, legitimate to ask for setting up of an independent task force to review the progress made in these villages. If this had been a project funded by the World Bank or DFID, then they would have conducted independent reviews by now. The state government, on the other hand, is quite casual about reviewing its own schemes, which is why the district administration also does not bother to worry about the performance of state-sponsored schemes.
The media and the civil society also have an important role. It is only when the media focuses on certain issues and civil society raises its voice that Writers' Building wakes up. It is also important to review the situation in backward villages because the ones in Purulia, Bankura and Paschim Medinipur are situated in the areas where Maoists have a stronghold. In order to counter the Maoist forces, it is important to track how far these villages have developed. Let us all hope that Amlashol never gets repeated.

The writer is associated with the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi








"Do you want to buy a papaya, Sir?" my driver's question on our way home from office startles me out of my abstraction. How on earth did he divine that papaya was the very thing my heart, nay my palette, craved whenever I saw a cartload of them by the roadside? I had not mentioned papayas, or any fruit for that matter, to him. But that was Pradhan, chauffeur extraordinaire. He had been with me for hardly a couple of months, and yet in that short time he had catalogued all my likes and dislikes ~ and my wife's as well. There was no magic wand involved; he had simply made it his business to observe and store these details, making it appear as if he had read my thoughts. Like my seeking Lord Hanuman's blessings on Saturdays. After the first time I asked him to take me to a Hanuman temple, I didn't have to remind him every Saturday. In fact, out of the four Hanuman temples I frequented, he would invariably select the one I wanted to visit that day, so statistically he had worked out and mapped my previous outings!

There had been many drivers before him, all of them drivers, merely drivers. They ferried me mechanically wherever I wanted them to go ~ not necessarily where it was my real wish to go. My mandatory darshan of Hanuman would be aborted on a Saturday if for some reason, preoccupied with things urgent, I failed to specifically ask the driver to take me to the temple. It was not that all of them who had been in my employ before Pradhan came along were rogues. Many of them had been quite decent, carrying out their assigned duty of transporting me or my wife from Point A to Point B (and then to Point C, Point D and so on as ordered), but they were always in a tearing hurry. Their sole motto was to beat the traffic in general and the car in front in particular. I had to shout at them to take it easy and drive only the car, not my blood pressure up. I was in no hurry; so what was the reason for their hurry? But my harangue mostly fell on deaf ears.
Their mind seemed to have been sealed by a glass ceiling, beyond which they could not thinik. Far from drawing my attention to the cartload of papayas, these drivers would simply drive past; so solely intent they were on vanquishing the car in front. Even after shouting at them to stop, their mental faculty would take something like a full minute to register my command and apply the brake. By that time, of course, the cart with the papayas would have been left far behind.

Pradhan was a Jeeves among drivers, the rarest of a rare species. God (or whosoever makes drivers) doesn't supply them any more. So I have decided to "in-source" this vital role and drive my own car, as I used to do in my early, "proletariat" days. That way I can stop whenever and wherever I like. My blood pressure too would not be driven up the wall, as I can drive at a gentle speed that I am comfortable with.

But I seemed to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. How can I prevent my blood pressure from shooting up when I see these huge buses swarming all over the road and rushing down to crush my small vehicle to pulp?






Imagine if Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had announced after the 1997 election that public services were even more decrepit than they had feared and were going to raise taxes immediately in order to improve them. Their extreme timidity in Opposition meant Blair and Brown had no mandate to make such a move and would have been slaughtered in the media if they had broken their pre-election promises. They did not dare to do so.
In contrast the coalition, or at least its Conservative wing, is hailed in much of the media for its plans to cut spending in most departments by more than a quarter and put up VAT even though no such revolutionary programme was highlighted in advance of the election. With a lack of logic the coalitionis leaders claim their novel arrangement gives them a mandate to act, as if two parties combining legitimises policies never outlined by either. Before the election the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were adamant that they had no need to raise VAT. You will search in vain for any pre-election statement from Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg arguing for large swathes of the state to be cut by more than 25 per cent.

Indeed the pre-election sequence was altogether different. When Cameron gave clearer voice to his anti-state instincts in his party conference speech last October, support for his party declined in the polls. Never knowingly inflexible in the face of obstacles to power, Cameron changed tack and gave several speeches in which he was tonally more sympathetic to the state. By the time of the election the Conservatives' focus was on a cut here and there, but absolutely nothing that would impact on frontline services.

Clegg gave an interview at the start of his conference last year speaking of the need for savage cuts, but by the end of that sunny week in Bournemouth he had qualified his comments. Although the Lib Dems were braver than their new Conservative allies in specifying cuts in their manifesto they did not get anywhere near the quarter of public spending about to be slashed.

Almost certainly the coalition wonit succeed in implementing such a reduction, in spite of the current crusading zeal within No. 10 and the Treasury, one that is genuine and well intentioned. Energetic zeal tends to be a dominant characteristic at the start of a crusade rather than at the end, or even in the middle. In opposition Cameron and Osborne changed their economic policies several times and I anticipate several more changes of direction as they head off on their self- proclaimed unavoidable journey. But the intention is clear. They plan to cut on a scale and at a pace that makes the 1980s seem like a decade of recklessly big government.
The wisdom of replacing government spending with a private sector-led recovery at a point when the rest of Europe is contracting will continue to be the subject of much debate. I note that in an attempt to win the debate Osborne cites the cuts being planned elsewhere in the EU. The contraction of other European economies might allow the Chancellor to claim vindication but is unlikely to help an export led recovery in the UK. Presumably in the coming months a local police station or Sure Start centre will close to be replaced by a bright new business that will struggle to trade in a declining European market. This is seen as good news for the British Chancellor because countries are following his Thatcherite instincts.

There are odd contortions wherever we turn. Cuts in Germany and France are good news for Osborne. When it was revealed last week that Britain was borrowing less than forecast this was seen as bad news for the Chancellor as he wanted more evidence of crisis in order to justify his revolution. Bad news becomes good. Good news becomes bad.

A coalition embarking on its topsy-turvy revolution does not have a mandate to do so. This is more than a theoretical issue. Sweeping cuts and additional tax increases imposed without a degree of electoral legitimacy are likely to lead to higher levels of unrest. Adding together the support of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems from the last election is not enough. Nor is it adequate for the coalition to offer a consultation with the public now, a move the largely supportive Lord Lawson rightly describes as cosmetic.

I have some sympathy with politicians in relation to calls for pre-election candour. If they are too candid they will lose elections. It is a matter of degree. Probably there was some space in 1997 for Blair and Brown to put the case for immediate increases in public spending given the dire state of hospitals, schools and transport. If they dared to occupy such thorny pre-election terrain they would have had the chance to increase spending more evenly and in less fraught circumstances than those that marked their second term. Similarly if Cameron, Osborne and Clegg want to implement their small state vision so quickly they should have said more in advance, not as much as they are declaring now the election is safely over, but not as little as they did up until 2 May. The voters did not give them the authority to act in this way.

The support of some newspapers should not be mistaken for a mandate. A few of them always oppose public spending in general and then scream with anger about the impact of specific cuts. The same applies to opinion polls showing support for icutsi. If voters were asked whether they supported better equipped schools or cheaper train fares they would also say iyesi by a big majority.  I cannot recall an equivalent gap between pre-election statements and post election implementation. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher was wise enough not to spell out in detail the 1981 Budget, the shrine for monetarists in the current coalition, but she argued openly for a shift from direct to indirect taxation and made clear she would take on the trade unions. Voters knew where they stood when she arrived at No 10. In 1992 John Major was not exactly candid when he promised no new tax rises, but he had some excuse for an imposed change of course after Britain fell out of the ERM. Cameron, Osborne, and Clegg pretend the economic situation is worse than they realised; yet nothing of significance has changed since the election. Perhaps the coalition needs unexpected igoodi news such as an economic humiliation on the scale of the ERM withdrawal. Until then Lib Dem MPs have every right to vote against elements of the Budget. None were elected to vote for them.

;The Independent








Half-done is rarely well done. The government's decision to hike petroleum product prices on Saturday was half-done; petrol prices were fully deregulated, and diesel partially, but in those of the supposedly more politically sensitive kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas, or cooking gas, there were only price hikes — by 33 per cent in the former, and 11 per cent in the latter. Losses for the oil companies — that will have to be financed at least partly by the government — will come down from about Rs 81,000 crore to about Rs 54,000 crore: Rs 21,000 crore from LPG, Rs 17,000 crore from kerosene and Rs 15,000 crore from diesel. The government's fiscal balance will look better, and many expect its fiscal deficit for this year to come down to 4.4 per cent of GDP from the estimated 5.5 per cent (this revision includes the better-than-expected revenues from the auction of telecom spectrum that just concluded a few weeks ago). But the government will also worry about the impact on inflation: some analysts estimate that the wholesale price index could be higher by almost a percentage point year on year this June because of higher fuel prices, unless food prices moderate; it was already higher than expected at just over 10 per cent in May.


But the rationale for the political sensitivity of kerosene prices — which is used mainly in rural India — is suspect. Kerosene is used mostly for lighting, and accounts for just two per cent of the monthly expenditure of rural households. The kerosene supply is also quite adulterated, and a lot of it is smuggled to neighbouring countries where prices are three to four times higher. An even bigger worry for those who look to the government for serious reform in the administered pricing mechanism of petroleum products is the protests from the Congress party's coalition partners would actually roll back the hike in kerosene prices; a one rupee rollback would amount to Rs 1,300 crore. Granted, the concerns over inflation are warranted. The hitherto weak monsoon — cumulative rainfall has been 11 per cent below normal thus far — is a bother. In the north-west region, however — the crop-critical area — the shortfall is just seven per cent below the long-run average. Industry is also justifiably worried that taken together with the fuel price hike, this raises the probability of a policy interest rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India sooner rather than later. The government cannot take too long to get the other half done.








So far, there has been no Tamil conference that has 'failed' in Tamil Nadu, although it may have had varying results — for the language, for its speakers, or for its political patrons. Hence, it should be no great surprise that the recently concluded World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore has been declared a thundering success. It has led to the creation of a Rs 100 crore corpus fund for the research and development of the language and given a major boost to Tamil computing, besides tickling public memory in the right places in an effort to rekindle the fierce language pride that had once changed the face of politics in independent India. However, it is unlikely that the conference would have as easily lent claim to success had it not achieved the targets of its organizer — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government. Much like its predecessors, the Coimbatore conference has been the perfect showcase for the might of the ruling government, particularly of the leadership of the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi. But it is also from the conference's single-minded focus on the promotion of the larger-than-life image of Mr Karunanidhi that problems arise. The chief minister has seized for himself the role of the ultimate benefactor of the Tamil language and the leader of the Tamil people. It is now the responsibility of his government to hold language conferences every five years and uphold the antiquity of the Tamil language by pushing for its inclusion as an official language of India. Mr Karunanidhi's selfless promotion of classical Tamil does not stop at that. He wants Tamil to be the language in the law courts and to reserve government jobs for Tamil speakers.


Mr Karunanidhi's push for Tamil as an official language is grounded in his belief that Tamil, as "the first mother tongue in the world", is superior to both English and Hindi. The argument necessarily relegates other languages to a more inferior status. This is linguistic chauvinism in its most dangerous matrix. It may revert back to the Dravidar Kazhagam's earlier cry of Tamil Nadu for Tamils. The imposition of the Tamil syllabi and the job reservation plan are indications of that. The rehashing of the old formula may do the DMK good, but it is unlikely to be healthy for either Tamil or its speakers in the state.









There was this girl from a Brahmin clan long ago, ran family lore, whose father failed to find her a suitably young and prosperous husband from a different gotra. Finally she was married to a very old and very poor Brahmin beggar from an acceptable gotra. A year later, the father decided to pay his daughter a visit. He was appalled to see her in rags, roasting a fistful of coarse grain over a twig fire in a hut. "What are you roasting child?" the father asked gently. "My caste and your gotra, Babuji," the girl replied.


Fastforward to story number two. The year was 1991. A batch of young Indian administrative service probationers visiting eastern India as part of their mandatory Bharat darshan were taken to an ancient temple, considered an archeological treasure. On their way out, they decided to leave behind a donation. The priest-cum-accountant, as he filled out the form, asked the young lady handing him the donation, "What gotra shall I write here?"


"All India Services 1991 batch," replied the lady without batting an eye.


Caste, gotra and women have obviously come a long way since a young wife in Uttarakhand sat roasting them over twigs. But that transition is actually the real source of the recent spate of caste-gotra related lynchings and murders in the north, especially in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The khap panchayats that have aided and abetted the lynching mobs have of late been delivering harsh judgments over various issues that range from marriage to education (separate school-timings for area boys and girls) to sharing the state's waters with Delhi. And their being controllers of vital caste vote banks in the area gives them a covert political protection from the police and the law and order machinery.


In television debates, their semi-literate supporters are quoting everyone from Manu to the geneticists on how a same gotra marriage means mixing up genes among siblings — which is both incestuous and will mean risking genetic defects among the progeny. If this were so, how come Brahmins in the south are allowed to marry their daughters to boys of their wife's natal family, or into the married sister's husband's family, by the same tradition? How about the treatises on the Dharmashastras that say that a Kshatriya or a Vaishya (perhaps they travelled so much, or perhaps because they gave good dakshina), if he cannot recall his gotra, can avail of his guru's or family priest's gotra as his own? And last, but not the least: if caste identity is so sacrosanct to the Jats , how come they are now threatening to cut off water supplies to Delhi unless they are listed not as upper castes but as other backward classes?


Unlike the Vedic and post-Vedic era, when all the deemed founders of the four major gotras bore their mothers' names, Manu's law is father-centric. According to it, each legitimate caste male is born into a specific gotra, and lives and dies as a member of the same, but women join the paternal gotra of their husbands when they are married. The gotra of the khaps accepts the patriarchal system, but then goes on to redefine siblinghood and kinship for Jats. It dates back to the 14th century — the time of Timur's massive assault on western India — which may have suddenly exposed the vulnerability of disunited landowning clans in the region. Each khap, when it was created, was said to be based on a cluster of 84 villages united by caste and geography. All young boys and girls of such a khap area were declared siblings, who must not intermarry. You can see how vast one gotra pool now becomes. Add to it the fact of an increasingly female deficient society (the male-female ratio in Haryana now stands at less than 800 females to 1,000 males) and you begin to understand (though not condone) the desperation of the khaps to protect the marriageable girls for their own and prevent same-gotra or intercaste love marriages by supporting the killing of rebels. There are not many takers for the recent assertion of the chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, that khap panchayats never order honour killing; the affected families kill their young on their own.


The khaps' efforts at preserving the gene pool are being threatened also by the new urbanized India, which now has new markers for assessing the worth of available grooms for their daughters. The flaunting of caste, gotra, family land and gold is no longer enough. Affirmative action, amendments in the laws restrictive of women's, Dalits' and OBC's democratic freedoms, and the spread of education have all but destroyed the age-old backwardness of marginalized groups and their access to good jobs. The matrimonial ads reveal a new type of suitable bridegroom from the erstwhile backward groups: young, confident, holding a lucrative job in the private sector or the government or working abroad. In states like Punjab and Haryana, where massive female foeticide has created a gravely skewed gender ratio, there are fewer marriageable daughters in caste families. Not only young girls but also many families, disenchanted with uneducated and uncouth young men from landed families who may be the right gotra but gamble or drink all day, feel that their much-pampered daughters deserve better. Such families will support their daughters' demand for overlooking the gotra of a suitable groom. The rich and the powerful still get away even after they have bent the rules — with a rap on the knuckles, as it were. They are asked to pay a small fine and give a feast to all and ask for forgiveness. That's all. But it is only the economically weaker (a poor fatherless Dalit or OBC boy marrying a Jat or Gujjar girl, or a Jat girl eloping with a Bihari Yadav lad) who literally get it in the neck even after they have moved to a city and asked for police protection. Actually, the logic that runs like sap through all caste based panchayats shows you the rule when you show them the man.


Area politicians of all ages and from various parties, even those who have studied abroad, have by now made it clear that when it comes to community laws, they would not intervene on the side of the law, but justify the caste panchayats' stance on gotra and arranged marriages. This is where one begins to look to, and expect, both the civil society and the government at the Centre to assert themselves immediately and see that what prevails ultimately is the law of the land, not the law of the landed.


Gotras only meant clansmen who shared the same cowshed during the pre-Vedic ages when the term was coined. The Vedas linked it to four rishis (all of them known by their matronymics) and increased the footprint. Manu linked it to the caste system much later and made the whole issue patriarchy-centric.









Norman Douglas Hutchinson, who died in Marrakech, Morocco, last week, had a life that was lifted out of a fairy tale. Norman was an Anglo-Indian who did not know his parents till he became an adult. He was abandoned and taken into that unique institution, Graham's Homes, Kalimpong, when he was an infant. He grew up in the Homes and it was there that he discovered his talents as a painter. He shot into prominence with his portrait of Lady Mountbatten, then the vicereine of India. Norman was only 18 then. He never looked back and never forgot his roots.


Norman decided to make a career as a painter of portraits. The early days were not without hardship. He bore them with humour and the support of his wife, Gloria, whom he married when he was a young man. His talents were too good to go unrecognized; soon, commissions started coming in. He painted Jawaharlal Nehru, Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and many other luminaries. There hang in quite a few Calcutta drawing rooms paintings by Norman that show his special gifts of eye and craft.


Norman painted with "a sincere hand and a faithful eye". His portraits were life-like and displayed his outstanding craftsmanship. Degas once said, "We were created to look at one another, weren't we?'' Norman's portraits were reminders of this insight from one of his favourite artists. The person Norman loved to look at and paint again and again was his wife. Gloria was Norman's muse.


The Hutchinsons moved from Calcutta to London in 1959 and then to France and finally to Morocco. But in many ways, Calcutta and Kalimpong were Norman's homes. He came back every year during the winter and always stayed in Fairlawn Hotel on Sudder Street. He had an unalloyed loyalty towards Graham's Homes to which he made many endowments.


He made the effort to find his parents. He discovered that his father was of the lineage of the earl of Queensberry (hence the middle name Douglas) and his mother an ordinary Anglo-Indian girl who, when Norman discovered her, was living in penury. Norman supported her till her death. Norman himself had risen from poverty to affluence. This made him extraordinarily generous.


Norman was an unforgettable man. This will be borne out by all who met him in Calcutta and elsewhere. He had a wicked sense of humour, and laughter was constant when he was around. There was, however, a very serious side to him. He was very conscious of his dignity as an artist. And perhaps because he drew portraits, he could size up an individual's character and persona almost always correctly and that too at the first meeting. He was also immensely knowledgeable about Western art. I recall sitting with him in a noisy dinner party when he waved everyone away and spoke to me about Degas's drawings. I came away enriched.


It was apposite that Norman died peacefully before the pain of cancer destroyed his mind and body. Gloria kept from him for one year the news that he had the dreaded disease. He told her that she, their three daughters and all his friends should mourn for him. One can mourn the fact that Norman's brush will never touch canvas again, one can mourn that his inner eye will never capture the individual he painted, but Norman the man is difficult to mourn because he had so much talent and because he was so much fun. One can only raise a toast to him and expect him to join us from the vaulted sky above where he now resides with the painters.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee


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





The situation in the Kashmir Valley has assumed worrying proportions. Eight teenagers have been killed in CRPF firing in Srinagar, Sopore and Anantnag over the past five days; three of them on Tuesday. With mob violence spreading like wildfire, curfew has been clamped in parts of Baramulla, Anantnag and Srinagar. Public anger with the CRPF's trigger-happy behaviour is escalating. This is understandable to some extent. The CRPF could have acted with more restraint, using tear gas to disperse mobs rather than resorting to gunfire. Firing on a mob, however unruly it might be, is not the best way to prevent a situation from escalating.

A part of the problem lies in the CRPF's style of functioning. It is not a disciplined force. Its personnel are poorly trained and overworked. This has contributed to making the CRPF part of the problem in areas where it is being deployed, rather than a force that will facilitate a solution. In Kashmir, the CRPF is in a particularly tricky situation. Over the last couple of years, it has been confronted by stone-throwing mobs. These stone-pelters have been described by the separatists as 'non-violent' protestors. They are not. Stone-pelting has killed people, including a 10-month-old baby, and grievously injured dozens. It has put the CRPF in a quandary. Those they are confronting on the streets of Srinagar and Sopore are not wielding guns. But they are using stones to deadly effect. And this requires the police to respond sternly.

What is more, it has become increasingly evident that several of those protesting on the streets of Kashmir today are not 'innocent civilians' ventilating their anger against the state. Neither are the protests spontaneous. Rather, these appear to be part of deliberate strategy to provoke the CRPF and several protestors are militants in civilian clothing. With the armed militancy becoming unpopular among the Kashmiri people and under international scrutiny, it is likely that Pakistan's ISI is seeking to trigger unrest in the Valley again by provoking the CRPF to crackdown on the public. There are striking similarities between the situation in the Valley in 1987-89 and that which exists today. Public disaffection with the Indian state is rising and this could escalate into insurgency again. The CRPF must not allow itself to get provoked by the protestors. Firing at protestors must be avoided.








FIFA president Sepp Blatter's belated assurance to take another look at technological means to reduce refereeing errors in football has not come a day too soon. Twice in one night at football's biggest carnival, the sport's top officials were found wanting when it came to making the right calls. Sunday's games at the World Cup — England versus Germany and Argentina against Mexico — were expected to showcase high octane action. While the fare on view did not disappoint the fans, the refereeing certainly did, with television easily picking out their mistakes, triggering demands that technology be used to help them in their jobs. For decades, FIFA has resisted calls to use technology, saying it would rob the game of its 'human face.' In March this year, the International Football Association Board, the sport's rule-making body, rejected a proposal to use technology. What the stand has actually done is to show the referees in poor light, even reducing them to a laughing stock in the eyes of millions of viewers across the world.

Decisions on offside and whether the ball has actually crossed the goal-line generate maximum debates in a football game and at least on the latter issue, FIFA had the opportunity to cut out the errors, with two options in front of them — the ball developed by Adidas with an electronic chip embedded in it and the Hawkeye technology which is a familiar sight in cricket as well as in tennis. The eight-member IFAB said no to both, rejecting by a 6-2 majority any use of technology to assist the referees. With the World Cup nearing the final phase, it has become evident how wrong the authorities were. A string of poor decisions has infuriated the teams and at least in a couple of cases, might have influenced the course of the games. After the latest poor decisions, Blatter finally stepping in with an apology to the concerned teams.

There might be some merit in FIFA's argument about use of technology disrupting the flow of the game but the overriding concern here has to be the interests of the teams and the game itself. The World Cup is an assemblage of top talent and they deserve nothing less than the best. Sadly, it has not been the case at least in this edition but with Blatter reopening the case, there is hope yet on the officiating front in future tournaments.







There are many alternatives, so the choice of the power plant has to be based on the cost, affordability and impact on environment.



The race for establishing extremely expensive solar photovoltaic power stations (SPPS) in India, which even rich countries cannot afford, started with the setting up of a 2 mw solar photovoltaic grid-based power station in West Bengal at an exorbitant cost of Rs 39 crore or about Rs 20 crore per mw. This was followed by the construction of a 1 mw SPPS at the Asiad village in Delhi at a cost of Rs 23 crore.

Now to top these, Karnataka is setting up a 3 mw grid-based solar photovoltaic plant near Kolar, with two more similar projects nearing completion in Belgaum and Raichur. These are to be followed by many more such plants going up to 10 mw, which are under planning.

The cost of 3 mw plant is Rs 58 crore which also works out to almost Rs 20 crore per mw in spite of being grid operated. It is about 4 times that of a stand alone coal-based power project or 2.2 times that of a nuclear energy installation. Even the estimated cost of running a SPPS is expected to be over Rs 15 for kilo watt hour (kwh) as against just about Rs 2 for a coal or gas based system and Rs 3 for a nuclear station.

How can India, a poor developing country with a low per capita income and a very large population of about 1.1 billion, afford the use of silicon based photovoltaic systems for energy production till such systems become economically viable? Basic amenities like public health, sanitation, environmental degradation, both rural and urban infrastructure, including energy starvation are seriously limiting the growth rate of the country.
Even though the country has witnessed an 8 per cent growth rate per year, during the last five years, sustenance of high growth rate and providing basic food security to people critically depends on the rapid improvement of infrastructure, particularly in the power and transportation sectors.

In order to achieve a sustainable 8-10 per cent growth rate, it is absolutely necessary to at least double our installed electricity capacity by 2020 by adding 2,00,000 mw of electricity generation. Even at the cost of Rs 5 crore per mw, equivalent to that required for a coal-based power plant, the total cost for providing this basic infrastructure would exceed an astronomical figure of Rs 10,000 billion. While there are various alternatives for generating electricity ranging from hydroelectric and coal-based plants to nuclear and solar energy, the choice of the power plant has necessarily to be based on the cost, affordability and its effect on environment.

Fossil fuel based energy systems have no doubt significantly contributed to the global warming phenomena through emission of carbon-di-oxide into the atmosphere, which has resulted in the increase of global temperature by about 0.8 C over the last 150 years. It is also well known that global warming is the result of the extravagant profligate habits of the highly developed countries, which carry just about 1 billion people, less than a fifth of the global population, even though they contribute over 50 per cent of global CO2 emission. The Indian citizen contributes just about 1.2 tonnes/capita of CO2.

Commitment vs cost

Sadly the Copenhagen Summit of last year failed to produce any tangible result primarily due to the unwillingness of developing countries to agree to significantly reduce their CO2 emission. While all of us have indeed to work towards decreasing the global warming trend, developing countries like India, with extremely low per capita electricity generation, have also to ensure that their growing energy requirement has to be met using affordable energy generation mechanisms in order to achieve a sustainable growth rate.

We recognise that it is important to reduce CO2 emission by using clean energy sources as much as possible. However, except for wind energy which contributes just about 7,000 mw out of a total of 1,60,000 mw installed power capacity in India, the rest of the solar energy power systems including photovoltaic systems have made no significant impact primarily because of the excessive cost.

In spite of the worldwide intensive research efforts aimed at the development of high efficiency solar photovoltaic systems being carried out for over 60 years, the cost of silicon based solar photovoltaic power generation systems have not significantly come down because of their poor efficiency for conversion of solar energy.

There is no doubt that all over the world we need to continue to do research to substantially improve the efficiency of solar systems to make them affordable. Recent research findings indicate that it may be possible to enhance the efficiency of solar cells by at least a factor of 4 using non-silicon based multi-layered systems and nano-technology. However, till such a time high efficiency photovoltaic systems with a conversion efficiency of at least over 60 per cent are discovered to bring down the cost of power generation to Rs 6 to 7 crore per mw, their use for large scale power generation by any nation and particularly a poor country like India is not feasible.

Yet the attempt to build grid-based large scale SPPS is a tremendous waste of our resources, which we can ill-afford. It is not even clear whether the decision making in these cases involved knowledgeable and competent scientists who have worked on photovoltaic systems.

Our claim that we are the first to carry out such ventures is not only hollow but also an indicator to confirm that where angels fear to tread we jump in, even if the cost involved is exorbitant.

(The writer is former chairman, ISRO and former secretary, Department of Space)








The US' interests coincide substantially with those of many of the regional powers.


I supported President Obama's decision to double American forces in Afghanistan and continue to support his objectives. The issue is whether the execution of the policy is based on premises that do not reflect Afghan realities, at least within the deadline that has been set.

The central premise is that, at some early point, the US will be able to turn over security responsibilities to an Afghan government and national army whose writ runs across the entire country. This turnover is to begin next summer. Neither the premise nor the deadline is realistic.

Afghanistan has never been pacified by foreign forces. At the same time, the difficulty of its territory combined with the fierce sense of autonomy of its population have historically thwarted efforts to achieve a transparent central government.

The argument that a deadline is necessary to oblige President Hamid Karzai to create a modern government challenges experience. What weakens the argument is not so much Karzai's intentions, ambiguous as they may be, but the structure of his society, run for centuries on the basis of personal relationships. Demands by an ally publicly weighing imminent withdrawal to overthrow established patterns in a matter of months may prove beyond any leader's capacities.

Public mood

Every instinct I have rebels against this conclusion. But it is essential to avoid the debilitating domestic cycle that blighted especially the Vietnam and Iraq wars, in which the public mood shifted abruptly from widespread support to assaults on the adequacy of allies to calls for an exit strategy with the emphasis on exit, not strategy.

Afghanistan is a nation, not a state in the conventional sense. The writ of the Afghan government is likely to run in Kabul and its environs, not uniformly in the rest of the country. The attainable outcome is likely to be a confederation of semi-autonomous, regions configured largely on the basis of ethnicity, dealing with each other by tacit or explicit understandings.

We are needed to bring about the space in which non-jihadist authorities can be established. But if we go beyond this into designing these political authorities, we commit ourselves to a process so prolonged and obtrusive as to risk turning even non-Taliban Afghans against us.

The facile way out is to blame the dilemma on Karzai's inadequacies or to advocate a simple end of the conflict by withdrawing from it.

Yet America needs a strategy, not an alibi. We have a basic national interest to prevent jihadist Islam from gaining additional momentum. A precipitate withdrawal would weaken governments in many countries with significant Islamic minorities. It would be seen in India as an abdication of the US role in stabilising West Asia and South Asia and spur radical drift in Pakistan.

It would, almost everywhere, raise questions about America's ability to define or execute its proclaimed goals. A militant Iran building its nuclear capacity would assess its new opportunities as the US withdraws from both Iraq and Afghanistan and is unable to break the diplomatic stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme.

Afghan strategy needs to be modified in four ways. The military effort should be conducted substantially on a provincial basis rather than in pursuit of a western-style government. The time scale for a political effort exceeds by a wide margin that available for military operations. We need a regional diplomatic framework for the next stage of Afghan strategy, whatever the military outcome. Artificial deadlines should be abandoned.

A regional diplomacy is desirable because our interests coincide substantially with those of many of the regional powers. All of them, from a strategic perspective, are more threatened than is the US by an Afghanistan hospitable to terrorism. China in Sinkiang, Russia in its southern regions, India with respect to its Muslim minority of 160 million, Pakistan as to its political structure, and the smaller states in the region would face a major threat from an Afghanistan encouraging, or even tolerating, centres of terrorism. Regional diplomacy becomes all the more necessary to forestall a neocolonial struggle if reports about the prevalence of natural resources in Afghanistan prove accurate.

A regional diplomacy should seek to establish a framework to insulate Afghanistan from the storms raging around it rather than allow the country to serve as their epicentre. It would also try to build Afghanistan into a regional development plan, perhaps encouraged by the Afghan economy's reported growth rate of 15 per cent last year.

Military operations could be sustained and legitimised by such diplomacy. In evaluating our options, we must remember that every course will be difficult and that whatever strategy we pursue should be a nonpartisan undertaking. Above all, we need to do justice to all those who have sacrificed in the region, particularly the long-suffering Afghan people.







Stray dogs lie curled up like centipedes early in the morning.


I have just returned after staying with my daughters in an American leafy suburbia for a month where the only noises were those of rain on rustling leaves, an occasional car swishing by or the ice cream van tinkle. The contrast with the street where I live in Bangalore is quite amazing.

The street is a leafy cul-de-sac leading from a very confused and confusing main road which is still deciding whether it is one-way or two-way. It has its own special brand of animals and birds. There are the stray dogs which are mostly harmless and lie curled up like centipedes early in the morning when I go for walks. The birds frequent two tall trees. They arrive in droves — especially the mynahs and the crows — around twilight and then leave early in the morning in a cacophony of noises. By midmorning the kites circle round, skimming closer and closer until one of them alights, proud and disdainful, on the rooftop of the apartment block opposite.

There is a lot of activity on the street. Mostly it is residential — apartment blocks and houses, plus a playschool. So early mornings come the schoolchildren, some with bright morning faces, some with petulant sleep clogging their eyes, led by parents or caregivers. The older ones who stand on the road waiting for the bus are smartly uniformed, their shoulders weighted down with their back packs.

The cars begin to be washed. The milkman comes on his bicycle announcing his arrival with the typical wailing honk. Then the domestics arrive. They jocularly call out to each other and congregate near the chaiwalla, leaving behind their debris of plastic cups until the rubbish woman comes along and gathers them, grumbling. Cars begin reversing and  honking. The used paper man sounds his 'Paapeeah' call and on rare days, you hear the twang of the cotton man and the cry of the knife grinder.

The construction people next door start cutting their stones. The vegetable women arrive with their carts and quite surreptitiously, a couple meet under the tree at the corner — he on a cycle looking casual and she, twisting her duppatta in her hands.

Towards evening the children come out to play — with wickets in the middle of the street. My neighbour's son pedals his new cycle, showing off with a 'hello auntie.'

Now the sun has gone down. The cars come back, the birds begin to roost. I hear the azan from the nearby mosque, a bhajan from a home next door. The day is ending; the street is ready to welcome the quiet and the dark.









The Jewish tradition of fasting and adopting certain mourning rites during the three weeks that stretch between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha Be'Av is meant to spark introspection and reflection. It was the Jewish people's divisiveness and infighting that precipitated the end of Jewish sovereignty and the beginning of exile – events commemorated during this period. Sadly, some of the same internecine tensions exist today, including in conflicts between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, haredim and other streams of the Jewish community, Left and Right.

As though Jewish dissent within Israel were not enough, there are also widening gulfs between Israel and the Diaspora, and notably American Jews, the largest Diaspora community. A 2007 study by sociologists Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, for instance, noted a marked decline, at all ages, in the level of American Jewish identification with Israel and a rise in discomfort with the idea of a Jewish state. A 2008 study by sociologists Leonard Saxe and Theodore Sasson documented that younger, non-Orthodox, American Jews were less identified with Israel, a fact that has been true for some time.

The worrying rise in intermarriage in the Diaspora is one cause. Intermarried Jews and their children tend to have looser ties to Judaism and Israel. Wider public opinions for or against Israel also have a major impact on Jewish opinion.

In a controversial essay that appeared in the New York Review of Books in May, writer Peter Beinart argued that the widening divide between Israel and America's young, non-Orthodox Jewry was a direct result of Israeli policies, which Beinart harshly criticized.

Beinart's explanation was not new. In fact, over three years ago, Cohen and Kelman rejected "widely held beliefs" that American Jews' left-liberal political identity was responsible for a fall in support for Israel. A more likely explanation is that American Jewry is simply increasingly indifferent to Israel – which would be worse. Better to grapple with engaged criticism like Beinart's than face disconnected apathy.

Though Beinart was right to point out that Israeli and American Jews hold sharply different political sensibilities, he was wrong to imply that these discrepancies point to American Jewry's moral superiority. They are, rather, a result of deep historical and cultural differences as well as the unique challenges faced by Israel.

American Jews enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity, successful cultural integration and readily internalized liberal democratic ideals granted them by America's founding fathers. Israelis, in contrast, are refugees or their descendants, many of whom came from countries lacking a democratic tradition, and who opted, out of either choice or circumstance, to embrace Zionism's nation-state solution to "the Jewish question." Israel's fledgling democracy has developed under the existential threat posed by a violently militant Palestinian nationalist movement, while integrating a significant Arab minority that unsurprisingly identifies more with the surrounding Arab majority than with Zionism – as well as over a million immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, devoid of a liberal democratic culture. Remarkably, throughout all this, Israel has managed to maintain an irreverent, muckraking press, a highly activist judiciary and a parliament that provides Arab Israelis with equal political representation.

STILL, THE gulf between Israeli and American Jews remains. Thankfully, steps are being taken to bridge it.

Just last week the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors, meeting in Jerusalem, unanimously approved a new, broader mission that will focus on strengthening Diaspora Jewry's ties with Israel.

Interestingly, one of the most effective ways of achieving this goal is by facilitating a visit to Israel, like the ones provided by Taglit-Birthright or MASA.

By simply meeting with Israelis and seeing up close their unique challenges, American Jews gain a better understanding and return home with closer ties to Israel, whether or not they agree with the policies of the government of the day.

During the "three weeks," when history teaches of the terrible price paid for a lack of Jewish solidarity, one could not wish for a better outcome.








The Times Square bomber flies in the face of Obama administration efforts not to name Islamism as the enemy.

Talkbacks (2)

The jaw-dropping court testimony by Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, singlehandedly undermines Obama administration efforts to ignore the dangers of Islamism.

Shahzad's statements stand out because jihadis, when facing legal charges, typically save their skin by pleading not guilty or plea bargaining.

Consider a few examples:

• Naveed Haq, who assaulted the Jewish federation building in Seattle, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

• Lee Malvo, one of the Beltway Snipers, explained that "one reason for the shootings was that white people had tried to harm Louis Farrakhan." His partner John Allen Muhammad claimed his innocence to the death chamber.

• Hasan Akbar killed two fellow American soldiers as they slept in a military compound, then told the court: "I want to apologize for the attack that occurred. I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness."

• Mohammed Taheri-azar, who tried to kill students on the University of North Carolina by running over them in a car, and issued a series of jihadi rants against the US, later experienced a change of heart, announced he was "very sorry" for the crimes and asked for release so he could "reestablish myself as a good, caring and productive member of society" in California.

THESE EFFORTS fit a broader pattern of Islamist mendacity; rarely does a jihadi stand on principle.

Zacarias Moussaoui, 9/11's would-be 20th hijacker, came close: His court proceedings began with his refusing to enter a plea (which the presiding judge translated into "not guilty") and then pleading guilty to all charges.

Shahzad, 30, acted in an exceptional manner during his appearance in a New York City federal court on June 21. His answers to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum's many questions ("And where was the bomb?" "What did you do with the gun?") offered a dizzying mix of deference and contempt.

On the one hand, he politely, calmly, patiently, fully and informatively described his actions. On the other, he in the same voice justified his attempt at cold-blooded mass murder.

The judge asked Shahzad after he announced an intent to plead guilty to all 10 counts of his indictment: "Why do you want to plead guilty?" A reasonable question given the near certainty that guilty pleas will keep him in jail for long years. He replied forthrightly: I want to plead guilty and I'm going to plead guilty 100 times forward because – until the hour the US pulls it forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands and stops killing Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government – we will be attacking [the] US, and I plead guilty to that."

Shahzad insisted on portraying himself as replying to American actions: "I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing [of] the Muslim nations and the Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attacks," adding that "we Muslims are one community."

Nor was that all; he flatly asserted that his goal had been to damage buildings and "injure people or kill people" because "one has to understand where I'm coming from, because... I consider myself a mujahid, a Muslim soldier."

WHEN CEDARBAUM pointed out that pedestrians in Times Square during the early evening of May 1 were not attacking Muslims, Shahzad replied: "Well, the [American] people select the government. We consider them all the same."

His comment reflects not just that American citizens are responsible for their democratically elected government, but also the Islamist view that, by definition, infidels cannot be innocent.

However abhorrent, this tirade does have the virtue of truthfulness. Shahzad's willingness to express his Islamic purposes and spend long years in jail for them flies in the face of Obama administration efforts not to name Islamism as the enemy, preferring such lame formulations as "overseas contingency operations" and "man-caused disasters."

Americans – as well as Westerners generally, all non- Muslims and anti-Islamist Muslims – should listen to the bald declaration by Faisal Shahzad and accept the painful fact that Islamist anger and aspirations truly do motivate their terrorist enemies.

The writer ( is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.









Last week I was bicycling through Jerusalem's picturesque German Colony. Suddenly, at one of those blind intersections where the picturesque building looms dangerously close to the picturesque curb, an SUV cut me off. The next thing I knew my face was bonded with the pavement on picturesque Rehov Hatzfira.

I was lucky. My helmet did its work. I stood up immediately. I had no headache, no neck pain, no breaks, no internal injuries and am happy to be alive. But I ended up with stitches on my now-very-fat lip, a swollen nose, a huge multicolored raspberry across my left cheek, a black eye and stitches over my eyebrow. I look monstrous. All this while facing a week with two bar mitzvas, four speaking engagements and five end-of-year class parties or performances, including my younger son's Tae Kwon Do competition just hours after the accident.

My wife wisely insisted I skip the competition to avoid "freaking out" everyone. Otherwise, although my children suggested I hibernate, I attended every event.

WALKING AROUND with a gruesome face, however temporary (I hope), has stirred up "stuff," as we non-touchy-feely guys call "feelings." I gird myself for each interaction, from going to the bank to greeting friends, planning what to say, seeking just the right tone of bravado. I recall my teenage years in the 1970s. Back when Woody Allen was king of New York, we Jewish-intellectual wannabes built our defense mechanisms around his. As kids from Queens, my friends and I constructed personae compensating for our lack of good looks and wealth by mocking vanity and materialism.

Steeped in a culture worshiping blond-haired, blue-eyed, moneyed jocks – on screen and even at university – we were happily counter-cultural. Unkempt hair, flannel shirts and T-shirts, ripped jeans and construction boots were our uniform, our psychic armor. Rather than competing with the mythical WASPs in realms we never could master, we changed the channel, valuing winning quiz bowls not college bowls or beauty pageants.

Even so, it's no fun unsettling passersby, and wounded pride kicks in on many levels.

Expressions of sympathy often come with bike-safety lectures, as if I had failed. I constantly relive the moments before the accident, wondering why I had not fixed my shrieking brakes, should I have been going slower? Seeking to reassert control over my life, I made sure, before Shabbat, to order new glasses, fix my watch, buy a new bike – and helmet.

Simultaneously, as I wander about looking gruesome my new-found insecurities are blunted by feelings of self-righteousness. I know I'm the same me who never before received double-takes on the street. My fleeting disability provides a quick taste of how tough life is for those born impaired or permanently scarred by some moment in life they relive constantly but can never undo. Looking monstrous, feeling virtuous reminds me of my graduate school poverty. Working as an historian never felt as pure as when I was accumulating debts rather than earning a salary.

POLITICALLY, MY horrid new look has me wondering about the distortions in Israeli political culture that come from appearing so monstrous to most of the world. Our enemies' enmities – like people's prejudices – clarify yet distort. Underlying the latest surge in attempts to de-legitimize us is a systematic campaign to single us out for special opprobrium.

No country has endured such a decades-long campaign against its very right to exist, fueled by petro-dollars, ramped up by Islamist fanaticism, ingrained into Arab political culture, integrated into parts of Western political culture. No other country has been kept on probation for 62 years, with its legitimacy subject to good behavior, with its leaders, founding ideology and people condemned so harshly, so disproportionately.

And yet, as I do with my accident, Israel should take some responsibility for its own predicament. If just because you are paranoid does not mean you don't have enemies, just because you are demonized does not mean you don't make mistakes. Dismissing any criticisms because they amplify the vicious condemnations is as destructive as not taking responsibility for how criticisms de-legitimize.

Israel must learn from legitimate criticism and make necessary policy changes while fighting off illegitimate criticism and defending its right to self-defense.

That is why the current moment is so dangerous.

Too many honest, patriotic critics are not doing enough to fight de-legitimization, while too many ardent patriotic defenders are not doing enough to help the country reform where necessary. Those deemed to be on the Left must marshal more forces to fight de-legitimization, distancing themselves from the ugly cesspools of Arab anti-Semitism and Palestinian rejectionism feeding it. The Zionist Left must do a better job of criticizing Israeli failures in the territories and elsewhere, without using false analogies about Nazism and apartheid, without repudiating Zionism's essence, while acknowledging the poisoned atmosphere in which Israel operates.

The Zionist Right must stop using our adversaries' fanaticism as excuses for failed leadership. Just days after US President Barack Obama fired his top commander in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's inability to fire any number of incompetent ministers because of coalition politics and this lockdown mentality becomes even more glaring.

As the New Israel Fund meets this week, the Left and the Right must rally together, fighting de-legitimization while acknowledging differences on other issues. The stakes are too high to accept the denial on the Left which minimizes the harmful nature of the vicious attacks, or to accept the laziness on the Right which hunkers down rather than moving forward.

As my own recent experiences reminded me, appearances count, like it or not. Israel needs some of its critical patriots to help improve its image abroad. Israel also needs some policy changes and governmental renewal to make that image change significant.

Better to feel virtuous because you are, rather than because others misperceive you.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.








Lieberman's ideas fall right into the hands of Palestinian extremists.

It seems the controversies and pain in Palestinian- Israeli relations never end. It's enough to make people even more despondent about the possibility of peace and turn toward extremism, not as a solution but rather as a means of either defending one's sense of being right or to justify the unjustifiable.

Israel is in that position today in part because it allows the conflict to worsen. There's no real progress.

Little by little, though, Israel is becoming isolated in the world. And worse, more and more Americans are starting to recognize that it is as much a part of the problem as the Palestinians.

So what can Israelis do? Well, they can turn to people like Avigdor Lieberman, a politician often shrugged off as representing far right-wing extremism. But he's not just any politician. He is the foreign minister, though far from the stature of a man like Abba Eban, the former South African-born statesman who became Israel's most eloquent spokesperson. And Lieberman is also deputy prime minister under Binyamin Netanyahu. As wild as they are, his ideas cannot just be brushed aside.

Last week, Lieberman, unveiled his blueprint for peace in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. He chose this Englishlanguage publication as a clear sign he is trying to speak to the American public – and a clearer sign that he realizes that attitudes toward Israel are changing fast, with which I agree.

The failure of the peace process is falling on Israel's shoulders. Netanyahu won't fully freeze settlement expansion, continues to insist that Jerusalem cannot be shared, and uses disturbing policies meant to restrict non-Jewish life there.

In the face of these policies, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been left with little choice but to reject negotiations, including the ridiculous process of negotiations at a distance called proximity talks. Lieberman, with the backing of some of the Israeli public, represents a frightening future for those who believe two states and compromise are possible.

In the Lieberman blueprint, instead of swapping land for peace, Israel would draw new borders, kind of trying to redo the 1947 UN partition plan which divided Mandatory Palestine into two criss-crossing states whose borders were based mainly on where most of the Jewish population was located. Lieberman's idea is basically a repeat of the idea that some suggest caused the problem in the first place.

Lieberman also says he wants most if not all of Israel's Arab citizens to be drawn out of Israel so that the "Jewish state" can really be all Jewish. Israelis fear that the non-Jewish population might one day exceed the Jewish population and while the fear is exaggerated, Lieberman's idea falls right into the hands of the Palestinian extremists who are calling for the creation of one state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims – well, basically Israelis and Palestinians, since there are so few Christian Palestinians left – would simply come together and live in peace.

THINGS MUST really be bad for Lieberman to take his ideas into the English forum. Yet this will only serve to push more and more Americans to recognize that the conflict is not being resolved and Israelis and the Palestinians are headed toward an even more cataclysmic future, one that Americans will probably have to pay for.


There is a choice, though. Israelis could push their government to do the right thing. Instead of Lieberman's blueprint, Israelis could rethink the proposals Ehud Barak supposedly offered during the failed non-face-toface peace talks with Yasser Arafat. The "best offer" was far from great and all it lacked was just a little more creative compassion to work. Share Jerusalem. More importantly, Israelis could overcome the obstacle that made Barak's offer impossible for Arafat to accept by recognizing and addressing fairly the rights of the Palestinian refugees.

But that option is missing one ingredient. A leader with courage. Someone like, well, the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. In 1977, Sadat did something so dramatic that he singlehandedly changed the dynamics of the Middle East conflict.

Is there a Sadat in Israel today? Or are leaders like Netanyahu and Lieberman all Israel has to offer? A courageous leader must surface, someone who can do the unthinkable to preserve Israel and make peace a reality.

A new era of cooperation could eliminate all of the conflict and one day we all may look back at today and wonder how this insanity all came to be.

The writer is an award- winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.








Israel has every right to close its border to a belligerent neighbor intent on eradicating it.

Bowing to misguided international pressure, particularly from the West, the government lifted nearly three years of restrictions on civilian goods allowed into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The restrictions had been imposed in reaction to the repeated launching of missiles into the Negev. This decision hardly makes any strategic sense because it helps Hamas, an ally of revolutionary Islamist Iran. Both are anti-Western forces focused on destroying the Jewish state.

The easing of the blockade reflects the success of a Hamas propaganda campaign to depict the situation in Gaza as a humanitarian disaster.

While Gaza is not prospering, the standard of living there is generally higher than in Egypt – a little-noticed fact. The ability of this Goebbels-type propaganda to entrench a tremendous lie in the consciousness of the international community testifies to the continued vulnerability of naive Westerners to sophisticated psychological warfare, and to the complicity of much of the Western press in this enterprise.

The step taken by the government also significantly helps Hamas strengthen its grip on Gazans, as it controls the distribution of any goods entering its territory. Moreover, even if Hamas allows for a general improvement in the daily lives of all Gazans, this reduces the incentive for regime change, which should be part of the Western goal. Strengthening this radical theological regime in the eastern Mediterranean defies Western rational thinking.

The entrenchment of Hamas rule in Gaza amplifies the schism in Palestinian society and strengthens Hamas's influence in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. It is also a slap in the face of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who demanded the blockade's continuation. Hamas's achievement here further undermines whatever ability – albeit a very limited one – the Palestinian national movement had to move toward compromise with the Jewish state.

THE INTERNATIONAL pressure that led to the decision also indicates a gross misunderstanding of Israel's predicament and its legitimate right of self-defense. Israel totally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, hoping that the Gazans would focus their energy on state-building and achieving prosperity.


Gazans could have decided to try to become a Hong Kong or a Singapore.

Yet Hamas turned Gaza into a political entity engaged in waging war on the Jewish state by launching thousands of missiles with the specific intention of harming civilians.


Ironically, Hamas demands that Israel allow a supply of goods into the Strip.

It is legally and morally outrageous to claim Israel is responsible for the Gazans, who are no longer under occupation and who have supported the rule of Hamas in great numbers.

After the 2005 withdrawal, Israel's responsibilities – stemming from previously being an occupying power – ended.

Since Gaza is an enemy country, it does not deserve any special treatment from Israel beyond its legitimate steps taken in pursuit of selfdefense.

Israel, like any other sovereign state, has every right to close its border with a belligerent neighbor.

Moreover, it has no obligation to provide water, electricity, fuel or access to food and/or medical supplies to its enemies. Why on earth should it aid those that want to eradicate it? The bewildering and hypocritical international response to Israel's attempts to prevent war material from reaching Gaza, as manifested in the criticism surrounding the Gaza flotilla incident, should be of great concern to Jerusalem. Again, we see the successful application of propaganda whose objective is to deny Israel its legitimate right of selfdefense.

This campaign is part of a larger plan designed to neutralize the superior capacity of the West, and Israel in particular.

Instead of easing the blockade, the government should have announced its intention to exercise its sovereign right to close the border with Gaza and halt the transfer of any goods to its enemy within several months.


Israel must make clear to the world that it refuses to accept responsibility for the welfare of Gazan residents, particularly since they are employing violence against the Jewish state.

The period leading up to the actual border closure should be used to establish alternative routes of supply via Egypt, which also borders Gaza.

Egypt is unlikely to welcome such a development because it prefers to keep the Gaza hot potato in Israel's lap. However, the Egyptians are much more adept at dealing with the Gazans, whom they ruled in the past.

The Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere are not only Israel's problem, but constitute a regional headache.

The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. This article first appeared on and is reprinted with permission.







Nir Barkat's plan aims to create jobs.

A lot has been said about Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's plan to destroy houses in Silwan in order to build a new tourism center in the east Jerusalem neighborhood. Many opinions have been voiced, from those in favor to the fiercely against. This is typical of any issue involving Jerusalem, especially in these times.

However, one thing needs to be clarified; this is not a "whim," and it is not an attempt by Barkat to derail a potential peace process, and it should also not be seen as a cynical effort to grab international headlines.

The plan to build a park with a commercial and tourist center is something the mayor truly believes is in – it is in the interest of the future of Jerusalem and the improvement of its local economy through the expansion of tourism. It's not about Barack Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas, but rather, along the lines of the famous Bill Clinton campaign slogan: "It's the economy, stupid."

FOR YEARS, anyone who met with the mayor or followed his public statements and policies has heard him speak time and again about the fact that the biggest concern for the future of the city is the job market.

I grew up in Jerusalem and have seen most of my friends migrate elsewhere. I know this is true. Young residents don't leave Jerusalem just because of the nightlife in Tel Aviv, or due to the lack of housing (anyone who has lived in Tel Aviv can tell you that the housing's no picnic there either). They also don't leave due to the secular/religious tension. They leave, first and foremost, because more often than not, Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas are where the jobs are; where they can work and prosper. That's where opportunity lies these days.

Barkat is right to try to boost the local economy by further capitalizing on Jerusalem's best economic asset – tourism. The re-zoning of the area known as the "King's Gardens" into a vibrant park (which it has been zoned as for years) complete with a commercial and tourism center, will draw large numbers of tourists, which will benefit both Jewish and non-Jewish residents. This is municipal planning aimed at serving east Jerusalem while enforcing the rule of law.

It makes sense to focus on revitalizing the King's Gardens area, which for years has been "zoned" as "green" but has been built on illegally. The historical and religious significance of these gardens is well known; they are where King Solomon sat and wrote the Song of Songs, and where in the times of the Temples the herbs were prepared for the ritual incense. So it would seem like a smart move to use this asset to Jerusalem's advantage.

Yes, the Silwan project includes the always-tough demolition of homes.

However those homes were built illegally.

Barkat's Silwan project is not a "Holyland" type project born in (alleged) sin, but rather in accordance with the law. The best evidence is that it will most probably be challenged in the courts by both the Left, angry at the demolitions, and by the Right, angry by the move to retroactively legalize illegally built homes in the area (at three times the number of those that will be demolished), not to mention the inclusion of a municipally funded community center.

BARKAT HAS a vision for Jerusalem.

This includes creating places of employment, first and foremost by drawing millions of tourists a year to the city. He campaigned on it, was elected on it, and is now taking another step to implement it. Yes, he sees Jerusalem as indivisible, but even those that disagree with his geopolitical views need to acknowledge that he is showing willingness to serve all his constituents, whether Jewish or Arab. The Silwan saga should not be taken either as a lesson in political cynicism or as an international provocation. This is called good governance, plain and simple.

In the face of tremendous criticism both at home and abroad, Barkat should be applauded for his political courage and not ambushed by coalition partners like Meretz, which signed off on these plans when it joined his local government.

This is especially true in a country lacking politicians capable of developing a long-term strategy for serving the public, and where most would rather seek immediate results. Barkat's consistent approach should be appreciated.

Let's hope this project is approved, and that it will be only one of many initiated to ensure a better future for our capital.

The writer was bureau chief for the former minister of public security Avi Dichter.








The agencies concerned are now faced with the question of what conclusions to draw with regard to those responsible for the grave mishaps that occurred in the Ramon case.


State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' report on the sensitive issue of the use of wiretaps in criminal investigations is a very valuable and significant document. Wiretaps are vitally important in Israel's war on crime, yet their permissibility gives law enforcement agencies great power, which "requires restraint," as the comptroller stressed.


Discretion is necessary - by the police and other investigative agencies, with regard to if and when to request a wiretapping permit; by the prosecution, both in its handling of material produced by wiretaps and in overseeing sensitive investigations; and by district court presidents, in deciding whether to grant wiretapping permits. The comptroller found flaws in the process and suggested ways to correct them: involving legal officials from outside the police force in preparing requests for wiretapping permits; setting clear rules to ensure the proper use of material obtained through wiretaps; and examining the efficacy, and the use made, of procedures for giving wiretapped material to the defense.


The report aroused particular public interest because of the flaws it discovered in the transfer of wiretapped material from the police to the prosecution, and thence to the defense, in the trial of former minister Haim Ramon. Against this background, some have purported to find statements in the report that are not actually there.


The comptroller's finding of "genuine negligence by those involved in the work" - police investigators Brig. Gen. (ret. ) Miri Golan and Chief Superintendent Eran Kamin, Tel Aviv District Attorney Ruth David and prosecutor Ariela Segal-Antler - is grave. Nevertheless, this was a "personal failure" on the part of those involved, not a "systemic or organizational failure." It would be wrong to slide from an appropriate critique of the prosecution's work into a sweeping onslaught on the agency responsible for enforcing the law.


The report does not revisit Ramon's criminal conviction or have any impact on it. His conviction, in a final verdict that cannot be appealed, remains in force. Ramon has the right to request a criminal investigation or even a retrial, but it would be a shame to drag the entire law enforcement system into additional proceedings after the comptroller has already exposed the flaws in the handling of wiretapped material in his case.


The agencies concerned are now faced with the question of what conclusions to draw with regard to those responsible for the grave mishaps that occurred in the Ramon case. But no less important, they must implement the report's systemic recommendations, which come on top of both previous comptroller's reports and the recommendations of a parliamentary commission of inquiry.









The Netanyahu government is operating like a ship stalled at sea after running out of fuel. While it is still not in danger of sinking, it is unable to propel forward. Nor does it know where to propel to. Without a destination or clear direction, the prime minister is digging his heels into a policy of sitting tight. His political standing is robust; nobody from either his party or the opposition is threatening his grip on power. Every so often he is burdened with a crisis, like the flotilla raid, but overall life is good. A settlement freeze here, some settlement construction there, fight and then make nice with U.S. President Barack Obama - and all the while time passes without him having to concede an inch of the West Bank.


Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are preoccupied with argumentative discourse aimed at justifying Israel's continued hold on the territories. Their statements are reminiscent of the official Israeli line during the days of Golda Meir and Abba Eban: Settlements are not the cause of the conflict, the Palestinians are inciting and supporting terrorism, and Israel is combating "a campaign of delegitimization" that aims to dismantle the state and send its Jews back to Poland and Morocco.


Last week Lieberman showed journalists a copy of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' doctoral dissertation, which he wrote as a student at Moscow's Lumumba University, and in which he sought to minimize the scope of the Holocaust. Lieberman hurled the book on the table, saying Abbas' work compared Zionism to Nazism. Such a person, Lieberman said, cannot be a partner to peace talks.


In his last speech before the Knesset, Netanyahu chronicled the recent string of attempts to delegitimize Israel, which he said is being led by Iran, the European left and radical professors in Israel. According to the prime minister, this campaign began at the Durban conference against racism in 2001 and has continued apace. In other words, Netanyahu's policy is not the reason for the wave of hostility toward Israel. His predecessors - Ariel Sharon (whom in retrospect is pegged by Netanyahu as a leftist ) and Ehud Olmert, who either conceded territory or offered to concede territory - were hit with arrest warrants for war crimes as well as hostile resolutions from international institutions. Netanyahu's conclusion is simple: No diplomatic process will help Israel in its struggle against the enemies who are conspiring to destroy it; rather, it should focus on internal unity and a determined stance.


It's a shame Netanyahu is preoccupied with the past, to the point where he has no time to deal with the future. What is his vision? What kind of state will Israel be? Where will its borders lie? What place will it hold among the nations? Or perhaps he simply does not care as long as he remains in power and the settlements remain in place. This is indeed a mystery.


Statesmanship does not only entail an exchange of accusations with the Palestinian Authority. A statesman is supposed to lead, to shepherd, set out a path - not just warn of the dangers and slander an adversary, as the prime minister is doing.


Now Netanyahu has a chance to correct his error, a sort of makeup exam on the subject of leadership. On Tuesday he is due to visit the White House, where Obama will ask him where he is headed. If Netanyahu goes to Washington and tells the Americans there is no one to talk to and they don't know what to talk about, that Abbas is a Holocaust denier and leftist professors are the enemy, he might as well stay home and continue his futile governance until the next crisis hits.


But if he actually intends on making a move, he has an extraordinary opportunity to do so. The U.S. administration has no idea how to push the diplomatic process forward and prevent the eruption of another war in the region. Wise leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Sharon knew how to take advantage of such situations to set the agenda and dictate how events would unfold, as opposed to being led and subjected to pressure.


Instead of citing hostile statements from the archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Netanyahu needs to present Obama with a practical proposal that can be neatly packaged and marketed. His current formula - "a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state" - is yawn-inducing. Such a tedious and cumbersome message would receive a failing grade in any marketing course. Compare that with phrases like "the ingathering of the exiles," "peace," "an end to the conflict," and "disengagement," as enunciated by his predecessors. These messages electrified the public and tilted world governments toward Israel.


The prime minister is at the height of his power and capable of choosing from a variety of options: A Palestinian state with provisional borders, final-status negotiations and peace with Syria. If only he would make a decision and not recant immediately afterward, Obama would stand beside him. But in the meantime, Netanyahu is showing no signs of change. On the contrary, he is moving backward, to the days of Yitzhak Shamir and his efforts to buy time. It would behoove him to come to his senses and take advantage of the rare opportunity before him, because there's a chance he will not have another chance at a do-over.









I accompanied Noam and Aviva Shalit's trek from their home to Jerusalem for only two days, and since then I haven't been able to stop thinking about them with bitter sadness, wishing these two proud, reserved people will have their son returned to them soon.


However, behind their backs stretches a march. There are also many good people on it, but it is problematic: With lots of funding along with backing from slick advisors who've worked with top politicians - it expresses a different grievance, which has to be understood.


"We want the march to become our flotilla," said the organizers. It turns out, then, that they have put their finger on the weak point of the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which instead of formulating a policy and implementing it, reacts to damage to its image - and they hope this will work to their benefit. This is what opposition leader Kadima MK Tzipi Livni has vaguely understood since the day the government was established.


Livni dreamed the government would topple itself and sank into a deep beauty sleep, which is melting away the 28 Knesset seats the public gave her. On one occasion her voice was heard, for a brief moment, in the matter of Immanuel. But the ultra-Orthodox have, after all, always served as an excellent card vis-a-vis the consensus. It's a fact: Television personality Yair Lapid, who meanwhile is running the country from Channel 2 and in emotional letters to his son Yoav, is successfully following in his father's footsteps in this area.


Livni and Lapid are accurate embodiments of the wishes of the group marching behind the Shalit family's back. This is the new Israeli bourgeoisie: A public from a defined socioeconomic sector, which in recent years has felt robbed of its political influence and reacted by opening a lion's mouth and emitting a pampered meow of people with connections; they feel that it is better to launder a political stance in emotional soap powder and always place the personal versus the public in the center; that nothing of the ills of this government - the discrimination and racism, the refusal to make peace and the clinging to dangerous bullying, the introversion from the world, the McCarthyism in education and academia, and more - will bring them out into the streets. Only "every Israeli's child" can.


These are the same people who a decade ago shouted they were fed up with corruption, scorned politics and gazed longingly at the meteors of the day in a vague political "center," wept in the square after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and scurried off to study Judaism with the settlers because "we are one people." They cried out to Barak "anything but Shas," and they weren't referring to Eli Yishai, who is now the Interior Minister, but rather to his voters, and they fled from the Labor Party to Kadima so as not to get caught, heaven forbid, supporting MK Amir Peretz.


The person who is pinpointing the mood of the new bourgeoisie is, naturally, Benjamin Netanyahu. It isn't the Shalit family that is worrying him, but rather the pseudo-protest behind them. It is stealing the spin, mixing emotionalism with patriotism and interests with vague messages, showing public opinion polls of its own that contradict his polls and pushing him out of his home playing field, the image playing field.


This march is a struggle for image, indeed, because it is the only force field the new bourgeoisie still control. What other public is able to recruit donations, public relations people, consultants, producers of placards and balloons, and put together such an impressive production, creating an atmosphere of media publicity - and all this with conscious blurring of political stances? What other public could have adopted an apolitical visage, as though working from within some vague Israeliness, while advancing a protest against the government the only aim of which is "do as we say"?


Because like Livni and her party, which is spending time at Club Med without paying any price, and like the Labor Party, which day after day is backing the worst and most harmful government Israel has ever had - the protest hiding behind the narrow backs of Aviva and Noam Shalit wants politics, but a different politics. Not left and not right. Not one iota different from the policy or economics of Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Simply politics that will restore them their lost status and weaken the other sectors that are disturbing their rest.


But how ironic - who is joining them but none other than Eli Yishai? And MK Miri Regev from the Likud, and mayors from the right? All of them have realized that the new bourgeoisie's hollow and publicized populism will promote their image as well. And this is also proof that Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu and the Likud have understood that the new bourgeoisie, just like themselves, is nothing but another sector looking after its own interests.









In the past two years I have been invited to take part in many conferences hosted by the American Anthropological Association. The topic of discussion at these forums has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I agreed to take on a thankless task not as a spokesman for Israel's education ministers or as a mouthpiece of the right or left. I appeared before an academic audience not noted for its sympathetic views on Israeli policy. This group is more inclined to support the Palestinians, albeit with the belief that neither side holds a monopoly on truth and justice.


I tried to place this awful conflict in the context of two truths, with two claims that contradict each other in terms of historical facts and painful memories, between two national movements that have lost all sense of proportion while striving for a settlement that does not provide either side with complete justice.


Alas, I have no plans to accept similar invitations in the future. In the past year, I have lost the conviction that I can truthfully speak for the current Israeli government's suicidal behavior. The recent statements by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who vowed to deal with university lecturers and professors who condemn Israel and support a boycott of Israeli universities, reflect the deep abyss the current government has led us down.


I tend to believe that it is only a matter of time before this country's academic institutions are boycotted, regardless of the wishes of the education minister and other champions of Israeli patriotism. They will be boycotted not because of the handful of Israeli professors who have unabashedly supported such a step, but because Israel is under a global microscope that perhaps unfairly discriminates against it compared with other countries that act unjustly, even violently, toward their minorities and neighbors.


For better or worse, Israel does not enjoy the same luxury as countries like Russia and China, which do not rely on the support of Europe and the United States. Indeed, a look through this microscope reveals the foolishness of Israel's weak-kneed leadership.


The education minister's remarks are a sign of the Israeli government's increasing self-seclusion inside a bunker of delusions, as it distances itself from considerations guided by historical, political and social wisdom. His statements befit benighted regimes that have lost connection to the world, like Iran and other totalitarian states. Israeli academia is losing its international standing on its own account. The brightest students, the hopes of a young generation in academia, prefer to stay abroad.


As early as the 1980s, when I researched yordim - Israeli emigrants - in the United States, I concluded that the overwhelming majority of them will not return. The book in which I included my findings was not translated into Hebrew because at the time it contradicted the dominant ideology. Sa'ar and the rest of this bizarre government of ours would prefer to hunker down and cling to the belief that the entire world is against us and we are in the right.


We have become numb to these eye-popping facts: Operation Cast Lead did not bring back Gilad Shalit, nor did it topple the Hamas government. Instead, it sowed destruction in Gaza and undercut our global standing. Our pathetic cries against the Goldstone report did not help, either. The takeover of the pathetic flotilla once again lined up the world against us. Ultimately we opened the Gaza border crossings.


More than anything, Sa'ar's recent initiatives will help worsen the brain drain and the university boycott that awaits us. The despair that a vital sector of Israeli society, including academia, finds itself in needs to get the education minister to consider a renewed way of thinking that does not rely on a mob like that represented by right-wing Zionist movement Im Tirtzu. This brings to mind the moving call by late Labor MK Yizhak Ben-Aharon, who urged for "courage to make gains before calamity strikes." There is no need to silence "treacherous" professors, for the calamity has already struck.


 The writer is a professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University.









In an interview with Amalia Rosenblum, Avshalom Kor claimed that the Arabs inherited "place names as they heard them from Jews" (Haaretz Hebrew Edition, April 19 ). His statement implies that the Arabs did not put their stamp on place names in Israel. To prove this, Kor makes unwarranted generalizations and ignores the traditions that have drawn this land's historical map.


I contend that all the names used by Arabs for places where people live in this country have their source in the Arabic language. In my research I have found that some of the place names in Arabic also indicate a combination with Hebrew elements; sometimes names that seem to have no meaning in Arabic are explained by a Hebrew origin.


However, those cases of adoption from Hebrew do not come close to Kor's wide-ranging claims. Had he abided by the rules of scientific discourse, he would have explained that Arabic's imprint is also obvious in place names. His claims make it clear that he aims not to investigate scientific truth but to use his knowledge as a lever for ideological claims. By denying Arab ethnolinguistic markers he is trying to prove that this country's past is exclusively Jewish.


The Bible and other historical sources contradict this position. According to the Book of Joshua (3:10 ), for example, before Joshua's conquest, seven peoples were living in this land. Is it possible to prove today that all the names in the Bible are Hebrew, and not the continuation of linguistic traditions of the peoples who lived in this land before it was conquered?


This country's past is rich in ethnolinguistic and religious traditions. It is possible to identify influences of the Canaanites, Hebrews, Byzantines, Arabs and others. Place names have superimposed themselves in differing versions in accordance with the period of settlement at a site, just as levels accumulate in a tel - the hill covering the remains of an ancient settlement.


The human mosaic this country has known has made its mark on the landscape of its names; this landscape provides textual testimony to the waves of peoples that came through its gates and its multifaceted identity. Is it possible the Muslims who marched here to make war and the Arab inhabitants of the land who have been living here for hundreds of years did not give names to its places?


One could fill a book with examples of names the Arabs gave to human settlements and natural sites. I will confine myself to a few: The name of the village Kawkab al-Hija perpetuates the memory of Abu al-Hija, the commander of Saladin's army. Al A'asem is named for the members of the tribe who live there; Hudj al-Arus ("the bride's canopy" ) is the name of the place where processions from Reina and Saffuriya (now Tzippori ) would exchange brides. It is impossible to claim that these names are Hebrew, and it is impossible to make the existence of the society that created them disappear with the stroke of a false scientific claim.


As if this were not enough, Kor has submitted a plan to the Jerusalem municipality for giving names to the stations of the light railway, which is nothing but the uprooting of Arabic names and supplying Hebrew names in their place.


Kor's ideological greed seeks to erase from consciousness the place's Arab past and thereby prove to the entire world that it is under Jewish ownership, and that the Arabs of Jerusalem have no linguistic and spatial identity connecting them to "terrestrial Jerusalem" and the city where they have been living for generations. Kor would have done well to propose to the municipality a plan for preserving the Arabic names. In that way he would have shown that there remains language coexistence in the torn city and the country as a whole.


The writer researches the link between place names in this country and the identity of places in stories, autobiographical materials and historical memoirs.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Without doubt, the two biggest threats to the economy are unemployment and the dire financial condition of the states, yet lawmakers have failed to deal intelligently with either one.


Federal unemployment benefits began to expire nearly a month ago. Since then, 1.2 million jobless workers have been cut off. The House passed a six-month extension as part of a broader spending bill in May, but the Senate, despite three attempts, has not been able to pass a similar bill. The majority leader, Harry Reid, said he was ready to give up after the third try last week when all of the Senate's Republicans and a lone Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, blocked the bill.


Meanwhile, the states face a collective budget hole of some $112 billion, but neither the House nor the Senate has a plan to help. The House stripped a provision for $24 billion in state fiscal aid from its earlier spending bill. The Senate included state aid in its ill-fated bill to extend unemployment benefits; when that bill failed, the promise of aid vanished as well.


As a result, 30 states that had counted on the money to help balance their budgets will be forced to raise taxes even higher and to cut spending even deeper in the budget year that begins on July 1. That will only worsen unemployment, both among government workers and the states' private contractors. Worsening unemployment means slower growth, or worse, renewed recession.


So if lawmakers are wondering why consumer confidence and the stock market are tanking (the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index hit a new low for the year on Tuesday), they need look no further than a mirror.


The situation cries out for policies to support economic growth — specifically jobless benefits and fiscal aid to states. But instead of delivering, Congressional Republicans and many Democrats have been asserting that the nation must act instead to cut the deficit. The debate has little to do with economic reality and everything to do with political posturing. A lot of lawmakers have concluded that the best way to keep their jobs is to pander to the nation's new populist mood and play off the fears of the very Americans whose economic well-being Congress is threatening.


Deficits matter, but not more than economic recovery, and not more urgently than the economic survival of millions of Americans. A sane approach would couple near-term federal spending with a credible plan for deficit reduction — a mix of tax increases and spending cuts — as the economic recovery takes hold.


But today's deficit hawks — many of whom eagerly participated in digging the deficit ever deeper during the George W. Bush years — are not interested in the sane approach. In the Senate, even as they blocked the extension of unemployment benefits, they succeeded in preserving a tax loophole that benefits wealthy money managers at private equity firms and other investment partnerships. They also derailed an effort to end widespread tax avoidance by owners of small businesses organized as S-corporations. If they are really so worried about the deficit, why balk at these evidently sensible ways to close tax loopholes and end tax avoidance?


House lawmakers made an effort on Tuesday to extend jobless benefits but failed to get the necessary votes, and it remains uncertain if an extension can pass both the House and Senate before Congress leaves town on Friday for a weeklong break. What's needed, and what's lacking, is leadership, both in Congress and from the White House, to set the terms of the debate — jobs before deficit reduction — and to fight for those terms, with failure not an option.







One good measure of the intensity with which phone and cable companies dislike the Federal Communications Commission's plan to extend its regulatory oversight over access to broadband Internet is the amount of money they are spending on political contributions.


Last month, 74 House Democrats sent a letter to the F.C.C.'s chairman, Julius Genachowski, warning him "not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it." Rather than extend its authority over telecommunications networks to broadband under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, they demanded that the F.C.C. wait for Congress to pass specific legislation.


The message parroted views held by AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — the biggest broadband service providers in the country. (Comcast warned that the F.C.C.'s efforts could "chill investment and innovation.") Their executives and political action committees have been among the top 20 campaign contributors to 58 of the 74 lawmakers in the past two election cycles.


As the F.C.C. proceeds with its plan to regulate broadband access, it seems likely we can expect more of this resistance from members of Congress.


Political contributions from AT&T in the current election cycle reached $2.6 million by May 16, on the way to exceeding the total in each of the last three elections. The company has contributed to the campaigns of every Republican and all but three Democrats on the subcommittee that deals with the Internet in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It has given money to more than half the members of the equivalent Senate panel.


Comcast has spent more than $2 million on campaign donations; Verizon has given $1.2 million. The National

Cable and Telecommunications Association — the industry's collective lobbying group — has spent about $1 million more. And just in case that isn't persuasive enough of the ills of government regulation, telephone and cable companies spent $20.6 million lobbying the government in the first quarter of the year.


The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks industry lobbying, reported that cable and phone companies had 276 former government officials lobbying for them in the first quarter, including 18 former members of Congress and 48 former staffers of current members of Congress on committees with jurisdiction over the Internet. The list includes former staffers of at least six of the House Democrats who signed the letter to the F.C.C.


To us, it seems obvious that the Federal Communications Commission should extend its oversight to broadband, the most important telecommunications network of our time, to guarantee open, nondiscriminatory and competitive access and to protect consumers' rights.


But reason is not always a match for money in Washington. The F.C.C. has a rough road ahead.







The Food and Drug Administration is taking some long overdue but still too timid steps to rein in excessive use of antibiotics in American agriculture. For years now industrial and many smaller-scale farmers have routinely fed antibiotics to their cattle, pigs and chickens to protect them from infectious diseases but also to spur growth and weight gain while using less feed. That may be good for agricultural production, but it is almost surely bad for the public's health.


An alarming number of human pathogens have become resistant to one or more medicines, undermining the ability of doctors to treat patients effectively. Experts believe the primary cause is overprescribing in human patients, often for conditions like colds, where antibiotics are ineffective. But overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is also thought to be stimulating the emergence of resistant bacterial strains that can infect humans or pass their resistance to other germs that infect humans.


On Monday, the F.D.A. issued a "draft guidance" on the "judicious use" of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals. The document suggested that the use of such drugs should be limited to treating or controlling infectious disease in animals or to prevent infections before an outbreak occurs. And in all of those cases, the drugs should be administered in consultation with a veterinarian whose oversight would likely restrain excessive use.


The draft guidance is a statement of principles that is open for comment and could ultimately lead to regulatory action. Past efforts to restrict agricultural antibiotics have had only limited success; the powerful agricultural lobbies usually prevail over public health advocates. We can only hope that the F.D.A. will be more successful this time.










The turmoil in Albany over New York State's $136 billion budget stands in stark contrast to the way New York City has quietly outlined its own $63 billion in planned spending. Like the state, the city's revenues have not fully recovered, forcing tough decisions about painful spending cuts. Yet Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council leaders have managed to agree on a four-year budget outline.


Due on Wednesday, the city's budget was ready ahead of time. The state budget was due on April 1, and they are still haggling in Albany.


The city budget tackles the hard issues directly, facing a $5 billion gap by cutting most services. It will eliminate 2,000 jobs, about half through attrition. Teachers' raises are on hold, a better choice than the mayor's other option: forcing out 4,400 teachers.


After negotiations that were considerably milder than in Albany, City Council members managed to restore a few public services. Most important on that list was the children's services agency, which will save caseworkers who help prevent child abuse, among other things. Fire companies, swimming pools and libraries will be kept going. As the mayor put it, "pain, yes, serious damage, no."


In part, the city budget process runs more smoothly because the state imposed fiscal discipline more than 25 years ago in dire times. Now the city tries to maintain a surplus. This year, Mayor Bloomberg managed a respectable $3.6 billion extra to start the fiscal year. In today's economic climate, that was quite a feat.


The city system is not perfect, of course. City officials still hand out pork, known as member items, money that needs to be watched carefully. These city leaders got the Legislature to grant an exception to city budgeting rules to borrow about $150 million for removing environmental hazards. Borrowing for operating expenses is what got the city in trouble in the first place.


Still, it was the height of fiscal responsibility compared with Albany, where budgeting should long ago have mirrored the city's process. That would have averted the need for this year's patchwork budget, which will almost certainly need redoing in a few months.









As one general tried to reassure Congress that she respects the military, the other general tried to reassure Congress that the military respects civilians.


The split-screen Obama nominees for huge, daunting jobs were accompanied by family. The solicitor general and the solicitous general, politically shrewd navigators adept at climbing the career ladder, are regarded as shoo-ins for an administration where little else is going smoothly.


Over and over Tuesday, David Petraeus had to assure Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supported the president's timeline for starting to get out of Afghanistan.


"Do you agree with the president's policy?" Senator Carl Levin asked Petraeus.


"I do," the general replied.


Levin pressed on, needing to hear more soothing subordination subsequent to the bonfire-of-the-vanities flameout of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Team America.


"Do you agree," the senator asked, "that the setting of that July 2011 date to begin reductions signals urgency to Afghan leaders that they must more and more take responsibility for their country's security, which is important for success of the mission in Afghanistan?"


"I do," the general repeated respectfully.


Like a child with a favorite bedtime story, Senator Jack Reed wanted to hear it again. "You're fully supportive of the president's policy, including beginning a transition based upon the conditions on the ground in July of 2011?" Reed queried.


"Let me be very clear if I could, senator," Petraeus tried again. "And not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it."


Signaling that NATO allies would be treated with more respect than they were by McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article, Petraeus pledged an "unshakeable commitment to teamwork" with the allies. The Michael Hastings profile began with the open-to-a-fault four-star general in a four-star suite in Paris, there to sell his new war strategy to the NATO allies and, as the writer astutely observed, "to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies."


Preening with Spartan street cred, disdaining anything too "Gucci," like restaurants with candles, McChrystal groused about having to go to some fancy dinner with a French minister — an occasion profanely mocked as "gay" by one of the aides in his insolent retinue.


Petraeus began his testimony with an encomium to his retiring protégé. But besides the display of caustic disrespect for the president, his civilian advisers and the allies, the McChrystal profile exploded because it crystallized some wrenching questions: Does President Obama lay back too much at critical junctures, bending too much to Congress, corporations and generals? He looked good firing McChrystal, but those crisp moments need to come more often and more swiftly. With rising violence in Afghanistan, and rising doubts even among the brass and troops on the ground, is it time to drastically revise the strategy in Afghanistan? At what point does America lose moral authority by propping up a corrupt regime? As the allies pour billions in, some in Hamid Karzai's inner circle, including his brother, may be transferring as much as a billion a year out to Dubai and elsewhere.


Obama aides were happily aware that sending the ambitious Petraeus back to work on its Gordian knot would eliminate him from consideration for the 2012 presidential race. But choosing Petraeus means reupping with a fatally flawed policy, not revamping it.


"This is a contest of wills," Petraeus observed about the U.S.-Taliban nine-year standoff, freely admitting that we are stuck there "for quite some time."


He conceded that "we cannot kill or capture our way out of an industrial-strength insurgency like that in Afghanistan."


But killing and courting an enemy at the same time seems more like a contradiction than a counterinsurgency.


Across the TV screen and over at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Elena Kagan — who is supposed to be addressed as "General Kagan" — was waging her own battle to prove that she is not a radical, antimilitary pinko.


"You know, I respect — indeed, I revere — the military; my father was a veteran," said Kagan, after Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican of Alabama, grilled her about denying military recruiters equal access to the Harvard Law School's office of career services because she considered the "don't ask, don't tell" policy abhorrent and discriminatory.


When Sessions quizzed the Supreme Court nominee and former Harvard Law School dean about her treatment of "those men and women who we send in harm's way to serve our nation," she asserted that "the military at all times during my deanship had full and good access."


Sessions rebutted that her remarks were "unconnected to reality," while over at the Armed Services Committee, Petraeus did his best to make the case that our goals in Afghanistan are not unconnected to reality.


"Somebody," said a disgusted Senator Lindsey Graham, "needs to get it straight, without a doubt, what the hell we're going to do come July."


If Kagan was headed toward the land of First Mondays, Petraeus was headed toward the land of "Who's on first








pssssst. i've got a stock tip. ready? the al-quds index.


what's that? it's the p.s.e., or palestine securities exchange. based in nablus, in the west bank, the al-quds index has actually been having a solid year — and therein lies a tale.


"it has outperformed the stock exchanges of most arab countries," said samir hulileh, the c.e.o. of palestine development and investment, which owns the exchange. the p.s.e. was established in 1996 with 19 companies and now has 41 — and 8 more will join this year. the companies listed there include the commercial bank of palestine, nablus surgical center, palestine electric company and arab palestinian shopping centers. "most are underpriced because of the political risk component," said hulileh. so if you don't mind a little volatility, there is a lot of potential upside here. indeed, there will soon be an e.t.f. — an exchange-traded fund — that tracks the al-quds index so you can sit in america and go long or short peace in palestine.


the expansion of the al-quds index is part of a broader set of changes initiated in the west bank in the last few years under the leadership of prime minister salam fayyad, the former world bank economist who has unleashed a real palestinian "revolution." it is a revolution based on building palestinian capacity and institutions not just resisting israeli occupation, on the theory that if the palestinians can build a real economy, a professional security force and an effective, transparent government bureaucracy it will eventually become impossible for israel to deny the palestinians a state in the west bank and arab neighborhoods of east jerusalem.


"i have to admit, we, the private sector, have changed," said hulileh. "the mood used to be all the time to complain and say there is nothing we can do. and then the politicians were trying to create this atmosphere of resistance — resistance meant no development under occupation."


fayyad and his boss, president mahmoud abbas, changed that. now the mood, said hulileh, is that improving the palestinian economy "is what will enable you to resist and be steadfast. fayyad said to us: 'you, the business community, are not responsible for ending occupation. you are responsible for employing people and getting ready for the state. and that means you have to be part of the global world, to export and import, so when the state will come you will not have a garbage yard. you will be ready.' "


meeting in his ramallah office two weeks ago, i found fayyad upbeat. the economist-turned-politician seems more comfortable mixing with his constituents in the west bank, where he has quietly built his popularity by delivering water wells, new schools — so there are no more double shifts — and a waste-water treatment facility. the most senior israeli military people told me the new security force that fayyad has built is the real deal — real enough that israel has taken down most of the checkpoints inside the west bank. so internal commerce and investment are starting to flow, and even some gazans are moving there. "we may not be too far from a point of inflection," fayyad said to me.


the abbas-fayyad state-building effort is still fragile, and it rests on a small team of technocrats, palestinian business elites and a new professional security force. the stronger this team grows, the more it challenges and will be challenged by some of the old-line fatah palestinian cadres in the west bank, not to mention hamas in gaza. it is the only hope left, though, for a two-state solution, so it needs to be quietly supported.


the most important thing president obama can do when he meets israel's prime minister, bibi netanyahu, on july 6 is to nudge him to begin gradually ceding control of major west bank palestinian cities to the palestinian authority so that fayyad can show his people, as he puts it, that what he is building is an independent state "not an exercise in adapting to the permanence of occupation" — and so that israel can test if the new palestinian security forces really can keep the peace without israel making nighttime raids. nothing would strengthen fayyadism more than that.


i am struck, though, at how much fayyadism makes some arabs and israelis uncomfortable. for those arabs who have fallen in love with the idea of palestinians as permanent victims, forever engaged in a heroic "armed struggle" to recover palestine and arab dignity, fayyad's methodical state-building is inauthentic. some arabs — shamefully — dump on it, and only the united arab emirates has offered real financial help.


and for israelis on the right, particularly west bank settlers, who love the notion that there are no responsible palestinians to talk to so the status quo will never change, fayyadism is a real threat. akiva eldar, a columnist for the israeli daily haaretz, described this group perfectly the other day when he wrote how they "won't relinquish the arabs' 'no's. or, as the poet constantine cavafy wrote in 'waiting for the barbarians' ... : 'and now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? / they were, those people, a kind of solution.' "








NOT all groups that the United States government classifies as terrorist organizations are equally bad or dangerous, and not all information conveyed to them that is based on political, academic or scientific expertise risks harming our national security. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, which last week upheld a law banning the provision of "material support" to foreign terrorist groups, doesn't seem to consider those facts relevant.


Many groups that were once widely considered terrorist organizations, including some that were on the State Department's official list, have become our partners in pursuing peace and furthering democracy.


The African National Congress is now the democratically elected ruling party in South Africa, and of course Nelson Mandela is widely considered a great man of peace. The Provisional Irish Republican Army now preaches nonviolence and its longtime leader, Martin McGuinness, is Northern Ireland's first deputy minister. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization have become central players in Middle East peace negotiations.


In the case of each of these groups, there were American private citizens — clergymen, academics, scientists and others — who worked behind the scenes to end the violence.


The two of us are social scientists who study and interact with violent groups in order to find ways out of intractable conflicts. In the course of this work and in our discussions with decision makers in the Middle East and elsewhere we have seen how informal meetings and exchanges of knowledge have borne fruit. It's not that religious, academic or scientific credentials automatically convey trust, but when combined with a personal commitment to peace, they often carry weight beyond mere opinion or desire.


So we find it disappointing that the Supreme Court, in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, ruled that any "material support" of a foreign terrorist group, including talking to terrorists or the communication of expert knowledge and scientific information, helps lend "legitimacy" to the organization. Sometimes, undoubtedly, that is the case. But American law has to find a way to make a clear distinction between illegal material support and legal actions that involve talking with terrorists privately in the hopes of reducing global terrorism and promoting national security.


There are groups, like Al Qaeda, that will probably have to be fought to the end. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court reasonably conjectures that any help given such enemies, even in seemingly benign ways like instruction about how to enhance their human rights profile, could free up time and effort in pursuit of extremist violence.


Yet war and group violence are ever-present and their prevention requires America's constant effort and innovation. Sometimes this means listening to and talking with our enemies and probing gray areas for ways forward to figure out who is truly a mortal foe and who just might become a friend.


It is important to realize that in a political struggle, leaders often wish they could communicate with the other side without their own supporters knowing. Thus the idea that all negotiation should be conducted in the open is simply not very practical. When there are no suitable "official" intermediaries, private citizens can fill the gap.


Conditions, of course, should be stringent — there must be trust on all sides that information is being conveyed accurately, and that it will be kept in confidence as long as needed. Accuracy requires both skill in listening and exploring, some degree of cultural understanding and, wherever possible, the intellectual distance that scientific data and research afford.


In our own work on groups categorized as terrorist organizations, we have detected significant differences in their attitudes and actions. For example, in our recent interactions with the leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad Ramadan Shallah (which we immediately reported to the State Department, as he is on the F.B.I.'s "most wanted" list), we were faced with an adamant refusal to ever recognize Israel or move toward a two-state solution.


Yet when we talked to Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas (considered a terrorist group by the State Department), he said that his movement could imagine a two-state "peace" (he used the term "salaam," not just the usual "hudna," which signifies only an armistice).


In our time with Mr. Meshal's group, we were also able to confirm something that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officers had told us: Hamas has fought to keep Al Qaeda out of its field of influence, and has no demonstrated interest in global jihad. Whether or not the differences among Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other violent groups are fundamental, rather than temporary or tactical, is something only further exploration will reveal. But to assume that it is invariably wrong to engage any of these groups is a grave mistake.


In our fieldwork with jihadist leaders, foot soldiers and their associates across Eurasia and North Africa, we have found huge variation in the political aspirations, desired ends and commitment to violence. And as one of us (Scott Atran) testified in March to the emerging-threats subgroup of the Senate Armed Services Committee, these differences can be used as leverage to win the cooperation of the next generation of militants, who otherwise will surely become our enemies.


It's an uncomfortable truth, but direct interaction with terrorist groups is sometimes indispensable. And even if it turns out that negotiation gets us nowhere with a particular group, talking and listening can help us to better understand why the group wants to fight us, so that we may better fight it. Congress should clarify its counterterrorism laws with an understanding that hindering all informed interaction with terrorist groups will harm both our national security and the prospects for peace in the world's seemingly intractable conflicts.


Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France's National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Michigan and John Jay College, is the author of the forthcoming "Talking to the Enemy." Robert Axelrod is a professor of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan, and the author of "The Evolution of Cooperation."










A ring of Russian agents who look and sound like ordinary Americans! Suburban spies with orders to infiltrate United States "policy-making circles" and report to Moscow! So, the cold war is back?


No, not really. For the intelligence agencies on both sides — the F.B.I. and the K.G.B.'s successor, the S.V.R. — it never ended.


The Russians love to dispatch "illegals" — spies who usually adopt the identities of real (or dead) Americans — as opposed to the traditional cold war custom of posing as diplomats. Since the illegals act like the family next door, complete with backyard barbecues and unruly teenagers, they can be impossible to detect. Unless, as some of the 11 spies arrested this week did, they communicate with Russian intelligence officers at the United Nations mission or the consulate in Manhattan. Then the F.B.I.'s counterintelligence agents, always keeping an eye on Russian officials, may sniff them out.


What is new about the network of illegals rolled up by the F.B.I. this week is the hi-tech methods they used to communicate with Yasenevo, the supersecret S.V.R. headquarters on the Moscow ring road. Old-fashioned dead drops — leaving documents in a drainpipe or under footbridges, as the American spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen did for their Soviet paymasters — are passé. These illegals used laptops and set up private wireless networks to communicate with Russian officials parked in a van near a coffee shop on Eighth Avenue, a bookstore in Tribeca, a restaurant in Washington.


They also used steganography, the technique of using highly secret software to insert coded messages into images on ordinary Web sites. The messages could be read only by S.V.R. experts in Moscow using the same software. As it turns out, today's spies, like everybody else, use the Internet.


All of this was an expensive business for the Russians, who had to train and support their operatives here, and for the F.B.I., which spent years trailing them. To what avail? None of the illegals was charged with espionage, which means that none was caught accepting documents from government officials. Instead they were charged with failing to register as foreign agents — take that, James Bond — and money laundering.


And how many secrets from the White House, the Pentagon or the C.I.A. could a Russian spy living in Yonkers or Montclair, N.J., acquire? Unless some future bombshells are disclosed, it sounds as though the S.V.R. did not get much for its investment.


Conspiracy theorists are already asking, why did the arrests come just days after President Obama's friendly cheeseburger summit with Russian President Dimitri A. Medvedev? Was the White House sending a message, or the F.B.I. trying to sandbag détente?


Most likely neither. The criminal complaint reveals that on Saturday, a Russian-speaking F.B.I. undercover agent met with Anna Chapman, one of the illegals, and instructed her to hand a fake passport to another supposed illegal the next day, using this password exchange: "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"; "No, I think it was the Hamptons." (The Hamptons!)


But Anna Chapman, it seems, smelled a rat. She bought a cell phone that could not be traced to her and may have called Moscow to find out what was going on. She never showed up for her meeting on Sunday. The F.B.I., fearing the game was up, moved in and arrested her and nine others. The bureau, like the S.V.R., ends up with little to show for its decade of hard work. But its agents can take heart: cold wars come and go, but Russian spies are here forever.


David Wise is writing a book on Chinese espionage against the United States.








In politics, nothing is easier than maintaining the status quo. That's because any special-interest group at risk of losing benefits can mobilize its membership and lobbying clout, while those who benefit from change — often the public — tend not to be organized.


By that measure, the f inancial overhaul that emerged last week from a House-Senate conference committee, and is awaiting final votes in the two chambers, is exceptional. On several fronts it would deprive big banks of money streams that they have usurped and come to see as theirs by right.


The measure would greatly limit banks' ability to: force retailers (and, by extension, their customers) to pay outrageous fees for routine debit card transactions; maintain highly leveraged balance sheets to beef up profits and bonuses while putting taxpayers on the hook; and operate as casinos by betting on risky financial instruments known as derivatives.


By successfully challenging banks in so many ways, the legislation would have to be called a success. This is not to say that it would prevent another financial bubble and bust like the one the nation just experienced. Human folly can't be outlawed. But the measure is a clear step in the direction of making the financial system safer.


The legislation attempts to limit the risk-taking by banks, particularly huge ones that can bring down whole economies if they fail. It does this by, among other things, requiring them to maintain larger cash reserves to buffer them in times of financial crisis. In place of the awkward and unpopular bailouts of 2008, it would set up a rapid resolution process for failing institutions that resembles what the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. does with smaller banks.


For consumers, the bill would create a new bureau to write and enforce lending rules. And, in the wake of "liar loans" that contributed to the subprime mortgage fiasco, it would require lenders to verify borrowers' income and assets. Imagine that.


If the measure passes — the conference committee was reconvened late Tuesday as Senate Democrats scrambled to round up enough votes — it also would be a win for the legislative process as it is supposed to work. The conference was open and captured by C-SPAN cameras. That's a far cry from health care reform, much of which was negotiated in private by Democrats. And, unlike health care, some Republican lawmakers played constructive roles.


Even so, the bankers staved off much of what they feared most. Congress stopped short of more radical steps such as breaking up the biggest banks or reimposing the wall between investment banking and commercial banking that was built after the Depression and torn down in 1999. Lawmakers punted on what to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing finance concerns that continue to accumulate foreclosed properties and hemorrhage money. They left many of the specific rules to regulators, giving financial lobbyists another shot at influencing the outcome when the public isn't watching as closely.


The legislation is also not lacking in special deals for well-connected interests. Perhaps the most disappointing is that car dealers — notorious for steering customers into disadvantageous loans — would be exempt from the consumer protection provisions.


But all in all, in a city where it's always easier to block progress than to enact change, the move to fix a broken banking system while pushing back against entrenched interests is impressive. It's just too bad it took a financial calamity to make it happen.








Far from reform, the Democrats' Wall Street bailout bill embodies everything that is wrong with Washington in the Obama-Pelosi-Reid era. Instead of adopting common-sense reforms to protect taxpayers and ensure fairness, this 2,000-page bill enshrines us as a bailout nation through its permanent TARP-like bailout mechanism for big financial institutions.


This mechanism replaces the orderly process of bankruptcy for failed institutions and lets government bureaucrats arbitrarily pick winners and losers among creditors. By elevating special interests over the rule of law, this bill represents crony capitalism at its worst.


The bill also has the wrong focus, attacking gift cards and payday lenders while refusing to consider any reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two failed mortgage giants have already cost the American people $147 billion, yet Democrats disappointingly claim they are "too complicated" to address here.


Additionally, at a time when unemployment is hovering near 10%, this bill does nothing to create the jobs our economy desperately needs. Instead, it makes credit — especially small-business credit — less available and more expensive by creating a new federal loan czar with the power to ban and ration consumer credit products.


Overall, Democrats have claimed their bailout bill won't cost taxpayers anything. Of course, that's what they said about the bailout of Fannie and Freddie, which are losing an average of $7 billion each month.


Even if they aren't directly charged for these bailouts, taxpayers will ultimately end up paying for them in the form of higher fees and restricted access to credit. That impact will be devastating, especially on small businesses. As one small-business owner from my district lamented, "Without easy reliable access to that credit, I am out of business."


The answer to criminal greed on Wall Street is not more taxpayer bailouts, it is bankruptcy and more vigorous enforcement of our existing fraud and consumer protection laws. The fundamental truth is that the best way to prevent future taxpayer bailouts is to end taxpayer bailouts. Republicans proposed, and Democrats rejected, these and other reforms that would have ended "too big to fail" once and for all.








It's hard to find any coherent foreign policy emerging from the political slogans shouted at "Tea Party" rallies. Sure, its members support a strong national defense, with some faint echoes of the libertarian call that the primary purpose of the government is to keep Americans secure. And like all good conservatives, they are suspicious of foreign alliances and institutions such as the United Nations.


Yet what's most remarkable is that even though, according to a March 2010 Gallup Poll, 28% of American adults identify themselves with the Tea Party, more questions on national security and foreign policy are not being asked of the movement's supporters, much less its candidates, who could wield significant leverage on U.S. policies abroad if they're elected in November.


The reason? There is no consensus. Tea Partiers are a ragtag bunch, for sure, united more by hot-button domestic issues such as lower taxes and states' rights than by any deeply held conviction about the U.S. projection of power in the world. When they wade into global affairs, it mostly concerns protecting the borders against illegal immigration or enforcing free trade. There are realists and internationalists, non-interventionists and neo-conservatives, hawks and doves within its disparate ranks — but the biggest bloc appears to be undecideds. "Foreign policy is just not a big issue for us," says Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah chapter of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group with close ties to the Tea Party.


An anti-war tone


That may explain the isolationist strand running through the Tea Party's DNA. America, the thinking goes, cannot afford to be fighting two costly wars overseas or building military bases all over the Middle East. Nor should American troops be the world's policemen. But that raises conundrums and inconsistencies, says James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations. If the primary role of government is to keep the country secure, does that "require going abroad and whacking bad guys?" If so, he says, then that "feeds the growth of a large state and may curtail civil liberties." That may be why there is an anti-war tone to the Tea Party's rhetoric. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas famously found himself in a lonely position during a 2008 Republican primary debate when he called for ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.


After his son, Rand, won the Kentucky Republican primary in May, Daniel Larison of The Week wrote that "this is the first time in memory that a Republican champion of a non-interventionist, Jeffersonian approach to international alliances and foreign wars has won a significant victory." But it also opened up the candidate to criticism from harder-core elements within conservative ranks that he was soft, inexperienced and naive on national security.


True, it is not unusual for foreign policy to take a back seat during the run-up to midterm elections, not to mention that most other candidates are probably unfamiliar with the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr or George Kennan. Still, it does seem strange that no worldview has emerged among a movement generating so much press.


One hint of what a Tea Partyist's foreign policy might resemble is that of John Dennis, a "pro-liberty Republican" running to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He takes a narrow constitutional view of the powers of the president to declare war. Yet he also waxes Jeffersonian, if not Obama-esque, at points: "We should welcome trade with all countries, resolve our outstanding disputes with countries considered unfriendly and have diplomatic relations with all." And he stamps out the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.


But then there are those such as Arizonan senatorial candidate J.D. Hayworth, whose platform could have been written by Karl Rove: He supports "enhanced interrogation techniques," wants to keep Guantanamo open indefinitely, and even accuses his opponent, a decorated war veteran named Sen. John McCain, of being soft on national security.


Pulling back into our shell


Whatever their leanings, if more Tea Party loyalists enter Congress, expect U.S. foreign policy to change in subtle ways. In his new national security strategy, President Obama genuflects to globalism and multilateralism, both of which are anathema to most Tea Partiers.


"The only thing worse (for them) than a big federal government," says Walter Russell Mead of Bard College, "is a big world government." Going forward, he adds, expect it to become even more difficult for Congress to ratify international conventions (on, say, global warming).


Put more broadly, because of the influence of Tea Party upstarts such as Dennis and Paul who rail against ballooning deficits — to say nothing of the battle fatigue setting in, what with Afghanistan now the longest war in our history — expect Congress to lean more non-interventionist in the near future. The powers of the executive branch could be reined in. And congressional support for the wars may wane.


To date, foreign policy has been largely absent from the Tea Party's agenda, but that will change as the movement gains steam. It's not enough to say you're patriotic and in favor of a strong military.


The Tea Party would be wise to lay out a foreign policy platform beyond the conservative Heritage Foundation's talking points, particularly one that does not run counter to the notion of shrinking government, balancing the budget and lowering taxes.


Lionel Beehner is a 2010 fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest human being on Earth. Olympic gold medals. World records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. In fact, his speedy accomplishments may well have inspired a commercial last year featuring a sprinter darting past the competition, texting the whole time. In the end, he wins the race without once setting foot outside his lane.


If only it were that easy — and safe — to text while driving.


As a country, we seem to be getting this message. Individual states have been steadily enacting laws to ban the use of cellphones and to restrict texting while driving. In fact, we're halfway there. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, text messaging has been banned for all drivers in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Safety advocates are coming out of their seats to reiterate what many studies have revealed — that the combination of texting and driving is profoundly dangerous.


But in order to get the rest of the country to come along — and to save countless lives in the process — we'll need to do more than just tell people "no." People should understand that this isn't a matter of a nanny state gone mad. It's a matter of science.


Focus, people


There are three basic types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. While all driving distractions carry some risk, texting is the most dangerous because it involves all three types. As the National Safety Council has argued, the human brain cannot multitask. Sure the human brain can juggle tasks very rapidly, but it can only perform one task at a time. A person who is texting while driving is overloading his brain, requiring divided attention.


Just a year ago, a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute using long-haul truck drivers concluded that when motorists texted while driving, their collision risk was 23 times greater.


The researchers also found that actively texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds. At 55 mph, these drivers will travel the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. With more than 280 million cellphone subscribers — and climbing — in the USA, the risk is growing exponentially.


Only birds can fly


A bird in flight might be able to get away with not paying attention during a cross-country trip. After all, millions of years of evolution have given birds the sharp visual acuity to recognize and react to objects at high speed. But man was not meant to fly. Physiologically, man was designed to travel on two legs. Even Bolt, when setting the world speed record, was clocked at a mere 27 mph — hardly the requisite speed for flight.


Clearly, few of us can run anywhere nearly as fast as Bolt. In fact, the average top running speed for most of us is about 15 mph. When we get behind the wheel of a car, we experience some of the same sensations of flying, such as speed and centrifugal force. But as we begin to move at speeds greater than what we are designed to handle, we have difficulty reacting.


The faster motorists drive above this 15 mph threshold, the harder it is to escape the physiological limitations that separate us — and, yes, even Bolt — from our high-flying friends. Throw in texting while driving at such speeds, and you have a deadly mix for the driver and those unfortunate enough to share the road with him.


Robert Petrancosta, a 41-year trucking industry veteran, is vice president of safety for Con-way Freight, a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier.








Monday, the U.S. Justice Department accused 11 people of spying for the Russian Federation. The formal charge is "conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government," and nine of the defendants are also charged with "conspiracy to commit money laundering." (You can read the legal paperwork here and here.) These arrests follow a multi-year investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the Justice Department's National Security Division.


Having spent so much time following these 11 people, bugging their houses and secretly scanning their home electronics, U.S. authorities have at last brought down the hammer — hours after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev left North American airspace and days after a warmly received visit to California and Washington, D.C. This international scandal comes during a period of "reset" dizziness — as the United States commits to Russian entry into the World Trade Organization, Russia agrees to renew U.S. poultry imports, and both nations come nearer to ratifying the New START treaty on arms reductions.


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have responded cautiously so far, though the Kremlin's patience for espionage accusations — true or false — is notoriously thin.


The feds now have 11 people in custody who might be guilty of receiving money and passing it between each other illegally. The "unregistered foreign agents" charge carries a maximum penalty of only five years in prison. The details of the money laundering are almost comical. We have people burying bags of cash in roadside ditches, marked by dirty beer bottles. There are bag-exchanges in public parks, and dollar-filled fanny packs. The secrecy with which these individuals operated has the appearance of a (bad) spy novel, but the results of this conspiracy are closer to Naked Gun than James Bond. Indeed, one of the top-secret communiqués intercepted includes complaints about the low quality of their reporting. "They tell me that my information is of no value because I didn't provide any source," one suspect tells another. "Put down any politician!" she answers.


These "sleeper agents" or "moles," as they used to be called during the Cold War, residents of the U.S. for years — some of whom have even had children here, apparently to improve their "cover" — are hardly the super spies either of fiction or the past. From what we know thus far, it appears that this was a "softer" wide-net operation of what they used to call "sleeper" agents. Its design was not to ferret out the "hard" secrets (à la notorious spies Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen), but to see how policy is made — how the government interacts with Congress and think tanks. This is not about silent engines for nuclear subs, anti-submarine warfare plans, or torpedo designs, but about how the U.S. manages to revolutionalize its technology — a keen interest underscored by Medvedev's visit to Silicon Valley last week. In other words, both in the political and technological sides of the operation, Russians here appear to be not after the sausage, but sausage-making. And speaking of sausages (all right, hamburgers), one wonders if chatting with President Obama in an Arlington joint was Medvedev's contribution to the operation.


In a sense, this is more sophisticated "research" than we have been used to from Moscow. Still, the entire thing is a bit bizarre. What are their diplomats for? And why didn't they just read The New York Times or The Washington Post, or simply ride the D.C. conference circuit.


The impact on U.S.-Russian relations is likely to be minimal. If Ames or Hanssen (who were paid millions) did not cause upheavals, this graduate-school type of operation is very unlikely to. Countries, even friendly ones, engage in this sort of thing all the time, we are likely to be told. True enough, except for a typical Soviet-like overkill with the thickness of the "cover." The only — minor — intrigue is why the arrests so shortly after Medvedev's visit? Are we going to hear from Moscow about the "reactionary forces" again at work trying to undermine the fragile détente of the "reset"? Stay tuned.


Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Kevin Rothrock is Research Associate in Russian Studies.








Acting again on a narrow and harshly divided 5-4 opinion, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal Second Amendment gun rights it asserted two years ago must be protected under state and local laws, as well. Under this interpretation, the majority ruled that Chicago's 1983 ban on handguns is unconstitutional.


The ruling will cheer those who keep pressing to gratuitously intrude guns into the public sphere. But it is thoughtlessly and maddeningly reckless, again, in its lack of precision and definition of citizens' rights to bear arms.


In upending Chicago's handgun ban, for example, the court declared again -- as it did in the related Heller gun case two years ago -- that states and local governments still possess the right to enact reasonable regulation on the use and carrying of guns in public places. Indeed, the five justices in the majority on Monday mainly just extended the same Second Amendment right, and caveats, that they noted in 2008 in the Heller case, which struck down a similar ban on possession of handguns in Washington, D.C., a uniquely federal jurisdiction.


Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, reiterated those caveats in the case at hand. As in Heller, he wrote that the court did not intend to undermine state and local laws that prohibited gun rights, for example, to felons and the mentally ill; or that forbid possession of guns in sensitive public places like schools and government buildings; or to forbid laws regulating commercial sales of firearms. All of these areas would be subject to state and local regulation, as well as federal regulation, the majority ruled.


The court, however, offered no guidelines in any of these areas. That leaves the nation subject to waves of future lawsuits from advocates or critics of local and state gun laws, while gun violence plays out.


There is ample reason now for the court to fix such ground rules. States and cities that contend with rampant gun-related crime and violence still want and need to regulate where, how and by whom guns may be sold and carried in public places.


Yet the court's majority has oddly declined to delineate what constitutes reasonable regulation. In the void, state legislatures, including Tennessee's, have pushed a National Rifle Association agenda of allowing gun-carry for permit holders in bars and restaurants, schools and churches, state and parks and employer-provider parking places, and in favor of an expanding array of firearms subject to ready purchase by citizens.


In the meantime, gun violence nationally continues to mount. More than 60,000 people are killed or injured by firearms in America every year, dissenting justices noted in Monday's ruling. Police officers, moreover, are growing more afraid of encountering heavy-duty firearms and related equipment that once were available only to the nation's military: i.e., assault rifles, machine guns, semi-automatic (and easily modified to automatic) handguns and rifles, as well as bullet-proof vestments, armor-piercing shells and night-vision goggles.


It is hard to imagine that the Second Amendment could be interpreted to authorize Americans access to such high-technology guns, munitions and permutation of force. Certainly the founding fathers who wrote the Bill of Rights hardly could have conceived the evolution of weapons and firearms equipment that rabid gun-rights groups now embrace.


Regardless, the current Supreme Court majority has facilitated this leap by overturning long-settled precedents which posited Second Amendment rights as a group right in accordance with the first phrase of the amendment, which states: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."


Now that they've twice decided the second half of the amendment is paramount, that Second Amendment guns rights are personal individual rights unrelated to state militias, the court's activist radicals should say precisely how well-regulated our potential militia should be to achieve the security of a free state. The longer the court is mute on this issue, the more lawsuits we will see on these issues, and the longer blood will flow from easy access to more powerful guns.







Chattanooga's excellent U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, after many beneficial terms of outstanding conservative service in the U.S. House of Representatives, has chosen a "change of direction." He's running for governor of Tennessee.


Always extremely energetic, he is citing his extensive experience in public service for Tennessee and the nation, emphasizing education, health, the economy and reducing crime as his key objectives.


He is seeking the Republican nomination in competition with some other fine candidates in the August primary election, to face a Democrat nominee in the November general election. Able Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen will be leaving office after his legal maximum of two terms.


Rep. Wamp believes education is the key to the success of every young person. He wants every ninth-grader to be on an education track for vocational or other professional success. He notes that Tennessee's HOPE scholarships help finance "regular" college semesters, but he wants the tuition aid program to apply also to summer school courses. That would help students graduate from college earlier, and get into work activities qualified to earn and enjoy a good income.


He emphatically says, "We will not enact a state income tax."


He has pointed to his efforts to bring Volkswagen and its jobs to Chattanooga, and his successful efforts on behalf of other new industries in our state, emphasizing Tennessee's "Technology Corridor." His goal is to make Tennessee's economy "the most dynamic in America."


Rep. Wamp promotes the "right to work," high-quality jobs, and variety to improve our economy. He has emphasized cooperation between political parties, and having the federal government and state government cooperating constitutionally, without dictation from Washington.


Rep. Wamp has an encouraging view for progress for all Tennesseans.







While Chattanoogans rightly celebrate the new, high-paying jobs coming to our area with the construction of the big Volkswagen plant and the expansion of Alstom Power's local facilities, we are sadly reminded that this region, too, continues to suffer from the ongoing economic crisis.


Just recently, it was announced that the Blue Bird bus-manufacturing facility in nearby LaFayette, Ga., will close in August, at a cost of 350 jobs. Blue Bird is a big employer in Walker County, so the loss will be felt not only by the workers directly affected but also by the wider community as those workers have less income to spend at businesses in the area.


Blue Bird officials said that in response to the economic crisis, the company is centralizing its operations, staff and services at its headquarters in central Georgia, near Macon.


Those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs should reach out to help those who would like to have jobs but cannot find them. The 350 soon-to-be-unemployed workers in LaFayette as well as others throughout our area who have been idled the past few years are in a difficult position. But strong support by the rest of us can ease their circumstances while we await the return of more prosperous days -- and hope that our federal government will help bring back better times by reversing its current course of trying to spend the nation our of economic troubles.

Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





If the early American colonists of 1776 had not exercised their "right to bear arms," it is very unlikely there would have been a successful American Revolution, which led to American independence and our freedom in the United States of America.


That's why the authors of the Constitution of the United States wrote the Second Amendment in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, reading, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."


Early Americans' ownership of guns was vital not only in winning independence but in taming a wilderness inhabited by hostile Indians and wild animals.


But the Second Amendment obviously was never intended to permit American gun owners to engage in aggression against other Americans. That's why we have many laws on federal, state and local levels prohibiting the wrongful and illegal use of guns.


But some people who would like to disarm Americans have argued that the right to bear arms does not apply to "individuals," since the first words of the Second Amendment refer to a "well regulated Militia."


Questions about legal gun ownership have been repeated in many lawsuits. The latest ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States came this week.


The justices ruled 5-4 that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense.


The majority included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.


Dissenting were Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and the newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor.


Justice Alito, who wrote the majority ruling, said, "It is clear that the Framers ... counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."


He is right, of course. But this ruling surely is not the "last word" on gun rights. There certainly will be future gun-rights cases in which various aspects and circumstances will be debated and ruled upon. There will be questions about some state and local gun laws, and about guns and convicted criminals and the mentally ill, guns in "sensitive places" such as schools and government buildings, etc.


Obviously, there is no desire to invite unlimited "gunslingers" in the streets, as in the old "Wild West." But the Supreme Court majority recognized that the Constitution does provide for gun possession for self-defense, and does not require a disarmed American populace.







It is obviously desirable in our society to avoid the infliction of painful mistreatment of animals. We have reasonable laws on the subject. But amazingly, there still arise cases from time to time about illegal cockfighting.


Some people seem to be thrilled to see roosters equipped with sharp steel spurs fight to the death -- while viewers gamble on which will win.


The subject is in the news now because of a raid at a cockfight near Ducktown, Tenn., that led to many citations.


Being involved in cockfighting is just a misdemeanor. In the past, it was a felony in Tennessee. While cockfighting is not an "everyday" offense, it is regrettable that such things sometimes occur. But because they do, some are inspired to call for tougher laws against such abuse of animals.


"Blood sports" have no proper place in a civilized society.








Sen. Robert Byrd, the Democrat from West Virginia, died this week at 92. Sen. Byrd has long been admired in Turkey as a "friend" and loyal ally who came to Turkey's side in many a political fight in Washington. Behind the scenes, many have asked the same question for decades: why?


In the ethnic group interests vs. commercial interests lobbying cauldron that sadly defines much of American foreign policy-making, Byrd was an outsider. His state of West Virginia is home to neither the defense contracting nor the energy interests that serve as incentives to be a "friend" of Turkey. Largely rural and poor, West Virginia is also not home to any of the ethnic constituencies that would have translated into a voter base in exchange for challenging Turkey on a host of issues. In short, Byrd operated outside the script with which we have become all too familiar when it comes to calculating power in Washington.


But one explanation we have heard several versions of over the years rings true. A perhaps apocryphal tale, it comes to us second hand, originating with a translator who served Byrd on a visit to Turkey in the 1980s. By this account, Byrd had taken on visiting several cities near the Black Sea. Among them was Zonguldak, the center of Turkey's gritty coal mining industry.


Byrd met with the miners and talked to them of their trials and tribulations. After the conversation, he returned to a waiting car with his translator. Seated inside, he turned to the translator, and with tears in his eyes declared, "These are my people."


We can't vouch for the story's accuracy. But those who met and knew Byrd always understood it was the "little guy" who provided the source for his political passion. Yes, Byrd was a lawyer and was regarded as the most knowledgeable member of Congress on constitutional law. Yes, Byrd was a classical scholar who would evoke the battles of Carthage or the conquests of the Roman Legions when debating with military appropriations.


But he was also raised in poverty in hardscrabble coal country by an aunt after the death of his mother. He was descended from coal miners and his high school sweetheart, whom he married at 19, his companion until her death two years ago, was the daughter of coal miners as well. Before finishing school and entering politics in 1946, Byrd worked as a gas station attendant, a welder and a butcher.


That this background made him a champion of workers' rights, health care reform and anti-poverty initiatives is a fact that has been commented on by many. That this same background helps explain his love for Turkey, his affection for the sides of this country that most Americans never see, makes sense to us.


America has lost a great statesman. But Turkey has lost more than a "friend." We have lost an international

leader who once drank tea in Zonguldak. We have lost an American lawmaker who truly understood our soul








As Ankara faces different perspectives on various of its foreign policy initiatives, competing ambitions are becoming apparent making it difficult for a coherent Turkish foreign policy to be enacted


When my door bell rang I was sitting at my desk and lazily listening to government bigwigs on the radio telling a willing audience that the government had nothing (repeat, nothing) to do with the help Gaza flotilla organizers, that it was not involved in the adventure in any way. A cargo delivery boy asked for my signature. I signed, took envelope and opened it.


I understood from the masthead on the envelope that the sender was the Prime Ministry's Press and Information General Directorate. I was on the list of recipients for being a member of the foreign media (as I also regularly write for foreign publications).


The envelope did not contain a letter, or an explanatory note. Instead, its only content was a DVD whose cover showed the photo(shop) of an Israeli soldier pointing a rifle to a vessel (probably the Mavi Marmara). The vessel was encircled in David's Star. The DVD cover read: "Moments of Horror." And the line below read: "Interviews with the injured aboard the aid for Gaza ship / with English subtitles." The radio was still quoting very important persons as saying that the flotilla was an entirely nongovernmental initiative.


Now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was speaking. The moment he talked about (official) Turkish initiatives for peace and stability in the region and Turkey's dedication to mediation in the world's conflict areas I turned off the radio in horror. My thoughts went back to 2008.


Just when Mr. Erdoğan spoke of Turkish ambitions to create sustainable peace and stability in the Caucasus, the Russian-Georgian war broke out. There is no longer war there, probably because there are no longer Turkish efforts for peace-making. The Georgians should enjoy relative calm and hope that Ankara is too busy bringing peace to other parts of the world.


It is needless to remind anyone how Turkey's vigorous efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria have ended up first with the Israeli Defense Forces attacking Gaza and killing over a thousand people, including civilians, and later with Turkey and Israel coming to the brink of war.


But how Turkey and the United States have traveled from the realm of 'model partnership' to a rattled partnership relationship – despite Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's early 2009 optimism that "Turkish and U.S. interests have never this much converged" – should have a lot to do with Turkey's peace and mediation efforts.


The usual Turkish confidence that "they need us more than we need them" has turned the model partnership into something perhaps best explained by Philip Gordon, the Obama administration's top diplomat for European affairs: "We think Turkey remains committed to NATO, Europe and the U.S., but that needs to be demonstrated."

Ironically, Turkey's model partner's major adversary, Iran, happens to be Turkey's great friend and ally. So the idea was that Turkey finds a peaceful way between its model partner and friend which were at odds over the latter's nuclear program. Turkey tried hard for peace between Iran and the West. As a result, the U.N. Security Council imposed the most powerful ever sanctions on Tehran. And Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, vowed to "punish the West."


It may have gone largely unnoticed, but Mr. Gordon also made an explicit warning to Ankara that "(all that)… makes it harder for the U.S. to support some of the things that Turkey would like to see us support." What those things could be? How harder will it be for the Americans to support them? Not too difficult to guess. It's just that the official American line does not perfectly fit into partner language.


The Turks, upon his election as president of the U.S., gave Mr. Obama a heartfelt welcome. He was the first U.S. president whose election victory was celebrated in big feasts in remote Turkish (and Kurdish) villages. Last week, Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project told us that the Turkish confidence in Mr. Obama fell to 23 percent from 33 percent last year.


Another major peace effort was the Armenian initiative which we all supported. Messrs Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had just missed one tiny detail though. While trying to make peace with one neighbor they forgot the other which is technically at war with the one they wanted to make peace. Now that the Armenian protocols are in deep freeze with an unknown fate, Ankara is buying the Azeri natural gas at a more expensive price than it used to.


Blessed are the peacemakers, but peace may come at an expensive price. Only nine months after Mr. Davutoğlu was sporting big smiles in anticipation of a historic peace with Yerevan, four ethnic Armenian troops and one Azeri soldier were killed in an exchange of fire near Nagorno-Karabakh.


But probably the most important 'Turkish peace project' was peace with the (separatist-minded) Kurds. Since

Mr. Erdoğan spoke of 'peace' almost daily and inaugurated his "national unity and peace project," hundreds of Turks and Kurds have been killed in clashes, bombings, air raids and mine explosions.


At times like this I cannot help but worry about Cyprus. And I pray everyday that Messrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu do not roll up their sleeves and launch an all too ambitious "this-time-there-is-going-to-be-peace-on-Cyprus" project.








Turkey has not traditionally boasted strong popular support for Hamas, or any other groups with a violent Islamist agenda. Turks generally have had an attitude of benign indifference towards their country's ties with Israel. Lately though, this is changing. Whereas anti-Israeli demonstrations would have typically attracted only a few thousand people in the past, today pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli demonstrations attract hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey, and the country is witnessing drastic changes in popular attitudes toward Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian issue.


These changes are rooted in the transformation of Turkish views of the world and the accompanying transformation of Turkish foreign policy: the Turks' view of the world is changing, with the Turks taking a negative view of the West: today, few in Turkey care for the West, most people oppose EU accession, many Turks hate America, and almost no one likes Israel. At the same time, Turkey's foreign policy toward the West is also changing, with Turkey becoming friendlier with Hamas, Sudan and Iran.


Why are the Turks turning anti-Western? Why are Turks viewing themselves in contrast to the West – meaning the United States across the world – Israel in the Middle East and Europe within Turkey's immediate neighborhood? Examining the development of Turkish policies towards Israel and Hamas over the past seven years since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2002 can provide many lessons.


In the 1960s and afterwards, various Arab regimes initiated policies that turned the Israeli-Palestinian dispute into a domestic issue. In this regard, the Arab regim