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Thursday, July 1, 2010

EDITORIAL 01.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  july 01, edition 000555 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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














































































In a throwback to the Cold War era, 11 Russians have been arrested by the FBI and charged with spying for their country. Russia, of course, has denied any such nefarious activity on American soil. Back in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, when there was an ideological East and a counter-ideological West and a third block of fence-sitters posing to be non-aligned with either the East or the West, it was routine for both Washington, DC and Moscow to 'out' Russian and American spies in the US and the USSR respectively, frogmarch them to prison, plant colourful stories in the media (there was virtually no television in those days and newspapers lapped up spicy details, adding some more garam masala of their own) and then swap the men who had come in from the cold at Checkpoint Charlie. What happened to them subsequently nobody quite knows. Perhaps they were debriefed and given new identities; or, for all we know, they simply disappeared into the cold once again. Those were days of agents, double agents and honey traps: The Profumo affair captures the times as no other story of lust, sex and betrayal of state secrets. Oxford and Cambridge produced some of the finest spies — young men, gay in more than one sense of the term, who served both MI6 and KGB, and gracefully retired to a life of leisure in Australia. Ian Fleming created his own version of the Cold War era spy, the dashing James Bond who was licensed to kill. John le Carré, on the other hand, was a cerebral chronicler of espionage on either side of the Iron Curtain.

But all that was supposed to have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the break-up of the East Bloc and the lifting of the Iron Curtain. Russia was a pale shadow of the USSR and Great Britain had been reduced to little England. True, the US had emerged as the sole superpower, but it was no longer an attractive proposal for Russians to turn into agents and double-agents: Moscow was broke and the KGB had been disbanded, replaced by the Federal Security Service which barely had enough resources to keep a tab on what was happening at home. Things have changed since then. Russia is flush with profits from gas and oil exports and Mr Vladimir Putin (never mind his official designation) believes the Kremlin shall be feared once again. It would also be wrong to write off the Russian intelligence system as decrepit. After all, Moscow did succeed in getting rid of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB man who had defected and joined MI6: London won't easily forget his dramatic assassination. So, for all we know, the Russians arrested by the FBI were actually up to no good. Or it could simply be a case of mistaken identities. You can never tell for sure!







The sudden spurt in violence engineered by separatists in the Kashmir Valley is no doubt cause for concern, not least because the belligerence on display in the streets, which have been taken over by trouble-makers, unless tackled firmly but deftly, could instigate people elsewhere. Till now, the violence has remained largely restricted to Sopore, although some other places in the southern parts of the Valley have also witnessed groups of people pelting stones at the security forces. Hurling stones at the police and security personnel is a new tactical ploy adopted by the separatists who, for long, have been trying to emulate the first intifada in the Gaza Strip where young Palestinian protesters, their faces covered with masks, would throw stones at Israeli soldiers. It made good copy for reporters and dramatic footage for television channels: David fighting Goliath is a theme that touches a soft spot in most hearts, so did the first intifada. We could, therefore, assume that those who are instigating teenagers to wear masks and hurl stones at security forces in Sopore are trying to portray their separatist and anti-national activities as a struggle between the 'powerless' and the 'powerful', which of course is balderdash. Stone-pelting as a protest in the Kashmir Valley (as in Gaza) is not about David fighting Goliath but young boys being used as cannon fodder by men with evil minds — they know that sustained attacks are likely to result in retaliatory action and loss of lives, and this is precisely what they desire. The sound and fury we get to hear about 'innocent boys' being shot dead — 11 have lost their lives in June — by the CRPF is so much bunkum and no more: If anybody is to blame for the fatalities, it is the separatists who sit in the safe confines of their hideouts and plot the violence.

That apart, three points merit elaboration in the context of past week's events. First, there is evidence to prove that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and its operatives in Sopore have been engineering the 'protests', knowing full well the consequences which they hope to use to their advantage. Since the LeT is sponsored by the ISI and backed by the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment (which sees Hafiz Sayeed's terror group as a 'strategic asset'), it would not be incorrect to say that Pakistan is now waging a different kind of cross-border jihad against India. Second, the State Government must assert its authority in a more forceful manner. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah should be seen to be in command of the situation. Third, the security forces, whether the State police or the CRPF, must exercise greater restraint. It is true that patrolling the streets in Sopore or Baramullah can be a stressful experience with youngsters brainwashed by separatists jeering at the men in uniform, pelting them with stones and spitting at them. Their nerves frayed, security forces tend to respond with a heavy hand. This is not to blame the police and the jawans — scores of them have suffered grievous injuries in the stone-pelting and after being set upon by thugs — but recommend a different approach to tackling the 'protesters'. Mr Omar Abdullah has appealed to parents not to let their children join the motivated 'protests'. Perhaps a larger campaign could be launched to expose those organising the 'protests'. Meanwhile, political parties both in Srinagar and New Delhi should work together to restoring calm and isolating the LeT's agents.










Yet another date has been set for Pakistan to display demonstrable action against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai serial terror attacks. India will now "wait for them (Pakistan) to take action before the July 15 meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers". This, nearly two years since Pak-origin terror ripped India's financial heart — a period during which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under intense American pressure, agreed to exchange meaningless pleasantries with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh last year followed by Thimpu this April.

In addition, despite the Pakistan Foreign Ministry dismissing India's 26/11 dossier as mere "fiction", the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries have met twice this year. Last week witnessed another such tedious attempt, this time by Home Minister P Chidambaram to get his counterpart Rehman Malik on the same page — that Pakistan must bring the 26/11 perpetrators to book. While we wait for the Foreign Ministers to meet next month for some visible 'action', we now have a laughable proposition flowing out of Mr Chidambaram's visit — Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency and the Central Bureau of Investigation will "interact with each other on terrorism and the Mumbai attacks". Predictably, American endorsement was quick to follow. "We encourage this kind of pragmatic and direct dialogue," said US State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley.

Inexplicably, Pakistan has described each bilateral meeting since the Mumbai attack as an exercise in reducing the so-called 'trust deficit' between the two countries, a term that Indian officials can be now heard echoing. If at all, India has legitimate reason to complain about 'trust deficit', not Pakistan. After all, it has a history of betrayals by Pakistan. Unfortunately, however, the Manmohan Singh Government has systematically ceded every right to make Pakistan accountable, indeed pay, for the trust it has so often betrayed. As a result, despite no visible signs of Pakistan accepting its terror culpability, the Manmohan Singh Government, with an unacceptable degree of 'trust surplus', has chosen to engage Pakistan on the latter's terms.

Peaceniks will say let us give talks another chance. Let us not frontload our bilateral engagement with 'contentious' issues like terror; never mind if Islamabad's vocabulary rarely extends beyond Kashmir. A case has also been made for the need for the two South Asian nuclear-armed neighbours to accept the exigencies of geography and the attendant burden of a territorial conflict left behind by history. Admittedly, routine verbal skirmishes with its neighbour do carry the potential of limiting India's ambition to wrest its legitimate place on the global stage. However, that ambition seems severely compromised when India, instead of being granted space to pursue its larger global aspirations, is left fixing dates for bilateral exchanges with a hostile neighbour unwilling to bend.

One only need recall the 2001 Parliament attack and what followed. India, back then, had justifiably used the weapon of diplomatic non-engagement to send an unambiguous message to Pakistan, and the world community: Countries that sponsor and shelter terrorists lose the right to diplomatic engagement and that they can, in fact, expect military retaliation. Sample the manner in which the United States treated Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 2001 terror attack on American soil. Clearly, while the Americans reserve the right not to talk to those who terrorise them, India is expected to talk peace with its tormentors. Finally, with a pliant Government in New Delhi — the most malleable in India-US bilateral history — Washington is now assured of India not distracting Pakistan from America's messy military task in the AfPak region.

Had this been a temporary phase of vested American interests in the region, there was hope that India would emerge unscathed from this Pakistan obsession. What is however infinitely worrying is the fact that both the US and China have started a geopolitical game in the region in which India is not a player but a pawn. While it suits the US to keep Pakistan in good humour with millions of dollars of aid and an India that will not act the Big Brother in the region, China has, in earnest, embarked upon its goal of establishing itself as the true global counter to the US, this by tightening its screws on India.

While the US at least tried to play up the fiction that its military and financial aid to Pakistan would not be used for anti-India activity, China is not even pretending. Pakistan is after all its old, trusted ally and India was just beginning to look like a serious rival. What better way to thwart this competition than to hem India in and limit its vision to its immediate geographical borders. China's huge infrastructure build-up on its borders with India amply indicates its preparedness for a conventional war. While the possibility of such an engagement is indeed remote, the signals ought to be copied by the Indian establishment. On the other front lies Pakistan with whom China has decided to strike a civilian nuclear deal on the lines of the India-US deal, an unapologetic attempt to right the 'skewed' balance of power in the region.

It is no secret that China has conventionally supported, sponsored and built Pakistan's military muscle. What was hitherto clandestine, however, is now official Chinese policy. Given that Pakistan has a history of military hostility with India alone, every attempt by China to aid Pakistan's military and nuclear programme can only be seen as directed against India. A decade ago this muscle-flexing by China would have seemed unlikely, given that the US was then the world's sole superpower, in charge of key geopolitical equations. But Beijing's aggressive posturing today has become possible in no small measure owing to America's eroding economic and strategic leverage in the global arena in recent years and the simultaneous rise of China as an economic powerhouse.

While China's nuclear deal with Pakistan may not survive the Nuclear Supplier Group's stringent examination, the proposal itself is ample indication of Beijing's determination to establish itself as Washington's counter in this part of the world. As for India, it can be entangled in myopic, bilateral issues with Pakistan and, in effect, be prevented from setting its sight on a larger global role for itself. Ironically for India, while the US would like to see it talk peace with Pakistan, China would want an undercurrent of military tension in India-Pakistan relations to continue. While it is a win-win situation for Pakistan in either game, neither scenario bodes well for India.







The fuel price hike is an illogical step by the Government. Ostensibly aimed at containing oil PSU losses and the oil subsidy crisis, it lacks political and economic justification both at the bureaucratic and ministerial levels. The increases announced in basic prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and LPG have the Central and State excise and local octroi departments laughing all the way to the treasury.

The taxes on petrol and diesel include 20-30 per cent value added tax, infrastructure cess worth Re 1 and 4.5 per cent octroi. One, therefore, pays 34.5 per cent as taxes on the basic price. The increase is Rs 3.50 per litre of petrol following deregulation plus Rs 1.25 in taxes, adding up to Rs 4.75 per litre. Custom duties are also paid on imported crude oil. Luckily, fuel sale is still not in the service tax net.

The Union Government wants all fuels to sell at international prices so that oil PSUs can post better balance sheets. So far so good. The taxes must be brought at par with the US rates which are 12 to 15 per cent of the basic price (average retail price at $ 2.8 per gallon with taxes at 35-50 cents depending on the State).

The 34.5 per cent tax on petrol and diesel can be best thought of as a remnant of our old-style socialist economy. The idea must not be to drastically reduce fuel prices with tax cuts but cushion the rise with reductions and freezes on taxes. The present increase of Rs 1.25 in taxes must be waived totally and efforts made to cushion the rise in petrol and diesel prices with reduced taxes.

The domestically produced crude oil by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Oil India Ltd and other companies can well be supplied to refineries at below international rates as our production costs are much less than those in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries from where our imports come. The fuel price hike will result in uncontrollable inflation rates. There are no elections looming large in the near future much to the delight of the UPA2 Government. Hence the timing of the decision to hike prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene could not have been more convenient for them.








The G20 caravan, having started from Washington, DC, in November 2008 and traversing through London and Pittsburgh, stopped at Toronto last week, on its way to Seoul.

The first two summits were held as darkness loomed large and economists competed to depict the international monetary and economic crisis as the worst since the Great Depression of 1929. But crisis generated unity and leadership. By the time leaders met in Pittsburgh, clouds had begun to clear a little, generating hope. In the backdrop of Greece and Eurozone crisis, however, worries surfaced about 'deep rifts' and 'fissures' among key members. This mood was hardly helped by protesters in Toronto as one of them shouted: "Down with everything G20 stands for!" Mr Michael Ignatieff, Canada's Opposition leader, called the G20 meeting "the world's most expensive photo-op."

Unmindful of criticism and divisive debate before Toronto, G20 managed to retain its broad solidarity. It addressed a number of critical issues purposefully, while postponing decisions on a few others to the next summit. Understanding their work will be useful as it affects India's economy and our daily decisions on whether to buy, sell, save or invest.

Conclusions of the summit were reflected in the 49-para declaration, a product of several weeks of work by the Sherpas. The central task was to assess the global economic recovery and its prospects in immediate future. G20 came out with a clear answer: "While growth is returning, the recovery is uneven and fragile." Hence, it chose to accord the highest priority "to safeguard and sustain the recovery." It welcomed measures by a number of its member countries to boost demand and re-balance growth, strengthen public finances, and make financial systems stronger and more transparent. At the same time, it took cognisance of ballooning Government deficits in parts of G20. Accordingly, advanced economies (except Japan) agreed to halve their deficits by 2013 and to reduce debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.

Careful calibration was also noticeable in the summit's reform agenda. Of its four pillars, much stress was laid on crafting a strong regulatory framework. It was agreed that more work was needed to strengthen the banking systems so that, in the event of a major crisis in future, they are able to face it without begging for Government's support. The need for effective supervision, the second pillar, was mentioned in rather general terms. On the third pillar, resolution of issues pertaining to systemic institutions, a balancing of opposite views was crafted masterfully by recognising that there were "a range of policy approaches", including a financial levy, an issue that failed to win consensus. Transparent internal assessment and peer review was put forward as the fourth pillar of reform agenda.

Of considerable significance to the developing world is the gradually changing role of international financial institutions and multilateral development banks. It is noteworthy that IMF and World Bank were enabled to contribute close to a trillion dollars as part of global response to tackle the recent crisis. The World Bank has witnessed an increase in the voting power of developing and transition countries by 4.59 per cent since 2008. Reforms in IMF have also been underway. G20 reiterated its earlier commitment "to open, transparent and merit-based selection processes" for heads and senior officials of financial institutions. The question is how far are we from the day when IMF and/or World Bank may be headed by a person from emerging economies? South African President Jacob Zuma aptly questioned the hold of Americans and Europeans on the top positions, arguing that change was essential for establishing "the credibility and legitimacy of G20." World leaders reiterated their commitment to fighting protectionism in trade, expressing support for bringing the Doha Development Round to "a balanced and ambitious conclusion as soon as possible." But, they failed to stipulate a deadline.

Two other issues merit brief mention. On corruption which "threatens integrity of markets and undermines fair competition", G20 called for early ratification of United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The second issue was development, with 2010 marking the end of two-thirds of the period (from 2000) for securing Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Leaders supported narrowing of development gap and reducing poverty as part of their growth strategy. Critics, however, have noted that the rich countries' club, G8, was running $18 billion short on its 2005 aid pledge of $50 billon by 2010.

Projection of G20 as "the premier forum of international cooperation" needs to be examined critically. The fact that its inner core, G8, held its summit just before Toronto, where sharp differences between the US and Europe were resolved, is relevant. Besides, there seems to be a case for improving representation in G20. Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck called for bigger representation for Africa. Perhaps Asia, too, could do with more seats on the top table in order to balance the tilt favouring Europe. These are still early days for G20 to be considered as the motor of the world economy, although it should be appreciated that it represents 85 per cent of global GNP, 80 per cent of world trade and 65 per cent of world population. The run-up to Seoul will be interesting. If recovery falters, there would be trouble. If it gains momentum, the sense of urgency, solidarity and pressure to take major decisions might end. G20 is set to shift from its six-monthly summits to an annual summit from 2011.

As regards India, clearly our participation was important and Prime Minister's contribution valuable. As an astute observer pointed out, he was the only economist in the conference room full of politicians. His plea for "a much more calibrated exit" from global stimulus and "a carefully differentiated approach" helped in consensus-building. US President Barack Obama said "when the Prime Minister speaks, people listen." Mr Manmohan Singh returned the compliment by calling Mr Obama "a role model to millions of people all over the world". How this public exchange is viewed by critics of the Government remains to be seen.

The writer is a former Ambassador.








Good news: Only 10 per cent Pakistanis recently surveyed by a leading US research group have any liking for the Taliban. What's more, a mere nine per cent exhibited sympathy for Al Qaeda. So, does this mean that we are finally moving towards being a more rational, humanist, tolerant and moderate society?

Hold your horses. Or shall I say camels. Because the same survey finds broad support for harsh punishments: 78 per cent favour death for those who leave Islam; 80 per cent favour whippings and cutting off hands for crimes like theft and robbery; and 83 per cent favour stoning adulterers to death.

Now, if such overwhelming numbers of Pakistanis have such brutal ideas about crime and punishment, one wonders exactly what is it about beasts like the Taliban and Al Qaeda that Pakistanis don't like. Why would a Pakistani support death (by stoning) of an adulterer and similar punishment for apostates, but dislike the Taliban?

After all, it is the Taliban (and their many hoarse apologists in the media and the religious parties) who are our best bet to implement the brutality based on ancient Bedouin tribal customs that were later added by jurists to Islamic law. Isn't this what a whooping 70 to 80 per cent Pakistanis want? The truth is, Pakistanis don't know what they want. Either we are one of the most hypocritical nations or certainly the most confused.

We find the violent and coercive ways of the Taliban distasteful, but want the law to chop heads and hands, and order men and women (preferably the latter) to be stoned to death. Of course, we have no clue as to who decides who is an adulterer or an apostate, or what Islamic school of thought (among the many present in this country) to implement while enforcing these pleasant punishments.

According to the said survey 89 per cent Pakistanis say they think of themselves first as Pakistanis, rather than as members of their ethnic groups; yet the country is always standing on the edge of ethnic, sectarian and inter-sectarian strife. We like to call ourselves moderate Muslims, yet our thinking is clouded by fantasies of a violent religious order emerging from artificially induced memories of some glorious mythical past of a Utopia.

Years of misrule by military dictators and civilians and early erosion of the hope and glory that was attached to the creation of Pakistan have for long left Pakistanis in a deadly ideological quagmire. A collective neurotic state of mind has emerged in which feelings of disappointment and scepticism about Pakistan's religious and political raison d'être are severely (and at times instinctively) repressed.

The resultant psychological anguish of this self-repression is then attempted to be set off by loud (but empty) proclamations of patriotism and a belief in meta-myths and superfluous 'historical' and religious narratives that feed the manufacturing process of a superiority complex found in the majority Muslim citizens. This is symptomatic of the prevailing myopia in society.

Alternative experiences, narratives and arguments that are not part of the state-sponsored, conservative or ulema-sanctioned cannon (regarding history, ideology and religion) are ignored or shunned as attacks on rationally discredited theories of nationhood and belief.

A figurative ideological and spiritual island is thus created, and its shores willingly cut off from what is seen as 'dangerous knowledge' and harmful people. Aren't these the ones that so many Pakistanis want to banish and put to death for apostasy, blasphemy and what not? Put to death anything or anyone that can't be understood from the narrow lens of patriotism and a certain brand of religion propagated to us for many decades.

In 1988, while reading about a stoning to death incident (of an adulteress) in the former NWFP, Dr Makri — a forgotten, broken intellectual — once told me that Pakistan was abandoned by god. I was in college in those days and going through a Marxist phase. So I asked him how god could abandon a people who pray so regularly and talk so often about his religion.

"They don't pray to the compassionate, benevolent and merciful god of Islam," Dr Makri replied. "They pray to a violent deity preached to them by the mullahs, generals and inflexible ulema."

The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.







Jaw-dropping court testimony by Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, singlehandedly undermines the Obama Administra- tion's efforts to ignore the dangers of Islamism and jihad.

Shahzad's forthright statement of purpose stands out because jihadis, when facing legal charges, typically save their skin by pleading not guilty or plea bargaining. Consider a few examples:


  n Naveed Haq, who assaulted the Jewish Federation building in Seattle, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.


  n 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.


  n Hasan Akbar killed two fellow American soldiers as they slept in a military compound, then told the court "I want to apologise 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."


  n 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 United States, later experienced a change of heart, announced himself "very sorry" for the crimes he committed, and asked for release so that he can "re-establish 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, one fine day, 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 inquisitive 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 answered about 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 ten 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 for long years in jail. He replied: I want to plead guilty and I'm going to plead guilty a hundred times forward because — until the hour the US pulls its 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 the 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 terrorising [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. 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 innocents. However abhorrent, this tirade does have the virtue of truthfulness. Shahzad's willingness to name 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. Ignoring this fact will not make it disappear.

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in consultation with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, picked up 14 members for the National Advisory Council. It has been stated that these 14 'wise men' of Ms Gandhi will act as the UPA2 Government's 'Planning Commission for Social Agenda'.

Under the chairmanship of Ms Gandhi, these 14 experts will 'steer the welfare policies of the Government'. Many questions have arisen about the very idea of non-political individuals acting as friend, philosopher and guide to the political executive in a parliamentary democracy. It is the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister which is accountable to the Parliament for all its policies, programmes and overall functioning of the Government.

Ms Gandhi was elected the Congress president on April 6, 1998. It was she who singlehandedly brought about a turnaround in the party's fortunes. Successive electoral victories in 2004 and 2009 and formation of two Congress-led coalition Governments at the Centre have made Ms Gandhi a centre of power. The party has accepted her as its supreme leader.

Like any other party, the Congress has every right to elect Ms Gandhi as president. The Congress-led UPA Governments of 2004 and 2009 could have elected her as Prime Minister. The only point of contention is that Ms Gandhi is not the Prime Minister but, as president of the Congress, exercises full authority over the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers.

Does Ms Gandhi's status as overseer diminish the Prime Minister's authority? Does the NAC limit the political authority of the Prime Minister and his Council? It is a known fact that the Government brought a Bill for 33 per cent of reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats only on Ms Gandhi's initiative. Ms Gandhi was given full credit for the Bill and the Prime Minister and other members of the UPA Government were merely asked to pilot the Bill in Parliament. Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, an important partner in the coalition Government, revolted against the Bill. It had to be kept on the back burner because a shaky Congress could not stand against the opposition. The authorship of the Bill and the decision to keep it pending were solely attributed to Ms Gandhi. The UPA Government did not receive any credit for such a socially progressive step. Second, the Congress party manifesto of 2009 Lok Sabha elections had made a commitment to make a law for food security of the poor. The Government and its experts including Mr Montek Ahluwalia's Planning Commission of India worked out a Bill on national food security. All hell broke loose when Ms Gandhi's NAC consisting of the 14 'wise men' rejected the Planning Commission's estimates of the BPL population in the country. Ms Gandhi pulled up the Government for messing up on such an important Bill. She instructed it to rework the food security Bill by re-estimating the number of poor in India. The Government revised its earlier estimate and the Bill given its assent by the Cabinet. Third, the Prevention of Communal Riot Bill has been pending from 2005 and had to be recast in 2009 because Ms Gandhi was not satisfied with the tone and tenor of the Bill.

The issue is not only about the existence of dual centres of power that have emerged during the rule of UPA. What is of concern here is that completely non-political individuals have been picked up for the NAC as conscience keepers of society. The Government of India and the State Governments have a highly evolved system of advisory bodies which suggest policies that are filtered by the Governments on the basis of political feasibility. In case of NAC there is no such filter. It is Ms Gandhi's wise men who are calling the shots and undermining democracy.








MAIL TODAY ' S report about the mental condition of five of the 17 prisoners released by Pakistan on June 23, as also 19 others released three years ago, deals with an issue that must be taken up at the highest level between the two countries. The former prisoners, at present lodged at the Institute of Mental Health in Amritsar, have mental ailments that prevent them from even recalling their antecedents in India, leave alone recognising their families.


So many men could not have lost their bearings in the natural course of events. There has to be a direct causal link between their spending time in Pakistani custody and the condition they are in today.


Whether they were tortured badly or were exposed to inhuman conditions over a long period of time is something only the Pakistani authorities can tell, but what it does is to take the lustre off the otherwise positive step on part of Pakistan to release Indian prisoners.


In any case it points to a serious violation of contemporary international law and practice on humane treatment of people in custody.


At the same time, the Indian authorities have done little better. It is quite likely that at least some of the prisoners undergoing medical treatment in Amritsar were sent across by Indian intelligence agencies for espionage. It is one thing to publicly disown them at the time of their arrest, but quite another to refuse to acknowledge them after they have returned as broken men. The government must do all it can to help them and reunite them with their families and pay them their dues.


A nation can hardly command the loyalty of its citizens when it treats personnel it sent out for hazardous duty with such disdain.



IT now transpires that " ketchup colonel" Colonel HS Kohli's act of making his own troops pose spattered with ketchup as terrorists killed in an encounter, was to prevent a more serious crime— the shooting of captured militants at the behest of his superiors.


That Colonel Kohli was sacked, and his superiors who had suggested that he murder the militants were not punished, speaks volumes for the culture of impunity that seems to have gripped sections of the Indian Army.


The Army has denied that it encourages such body- counts and fake encounters. But a secret report of the Ministry of Defence, which cites Col. Kohli's case, has indicted the Army's policy of encouraging " kills" in counter- insurgency.


Early last month, this newspaper had carried a report on military personnel carrying out fake encounters in Kashmir to win promotions and cash rewards. The Army cannot insist that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is sacrosanct when it has done little to assure the people that it will act harshly against those who misuse the provisions of the Act to commit murder.


Long exposure to counter- insurgency seems to have played havoc with the Army's moral compass. The time has come for its leadership to tighten discipline and ensure that its personnel operate within the bounds of the law of the land.



BY now it should be obvious to all that the Central Reserve Police Force is unable to fight the Maoists with its present level of training, equipment and organisation. Tuesday's incident that led to the deaths of 26 CRPF personnel and two local cops was more a massacre than a Maoist ambush.


Simply dumping paramilitary forces in the jungles of Chattisgarh is not going to achieve much and will lead to more needless casualties.


There are observers who say that besides the issue of training and equipment, the CRPF suffers from poor morale. It is an overused force and in contrast to, say, the Indian Army, its personnel get little rest, recreation and training between operational assignments.


Besides this, there is need to provide proper wherewithal to a force being asked to operate in the jungles— field kitchens, medical assistance, better weapons, camps and transport support.


It may be a good idea for the Union Home Ministry to hit the pause button on their deployment and allow reality to catch up with their ambition.







ON 25th June this year, the California based non profit body, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN), which looks after internet domain names, finally gave the Board approval for the next steps for the registration of domain names in . xxx which will contain sexually explicit content. ICM Registry, a Delaware based company, which applied for that domain system way back in April 2004, finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel when after years of rejection, in a majority verdict from the three judge Independent Review Process ( IRP) panel in February this year ICANN was directed to consider the application in the next Board meeting which took place in March this year.


Finally in the recent Board meeting, the approval to proceed was granted and an expedited review of the ICM application will be carried out now to ensure that it is current and there have been no changes that could have altered the validity of the application.


The step is a huge one as apart from political and social issues, there is also the matter of management that will need to be effectively dealt with in relation to such specialised content. Adult pornographic content is today seen as the most important driver in the whole of the internet medium globally and will continue to be so.




All along this content has been widely dispersed across various websites. Now the presence of the dedicated . xxx domains will allow the content to be easily available on the World Wide Web, of course with measures specified in the ICM application process. However the fact that more than one lakh websites are already waiting to be registered under the category sends a message that the content management will have to be very well devised and implemented. Otherwise we will have a social nightmare on our hands.


Content regulation on the internet has been varied and mostly undertaken by the websites themselves under the prevailing social and cultural ethos of the country in question. A few countries have also been able to bring in cyber regulations to guide content. In any case, many countries have been censoring all forms of internet content and the example of China is very well known. However all along adult internet content has been mostly guided by the prevailing legal norms and social mores in various countries. The standards applied have been restricted to having only adults view those sites after signing in and also in many cases through regular verification.


However the internet has freely available pornographic content in standalone websites or even hidden in general websites.


The ICM application was submitted on three broad areas— technical, business and sponsorship clauses. The submission was found satisfactory for the first two clauses; however for the sponsorship clause there were some concerns as to whether ICM and its supporting sponsor International Foundation for Online Responsibility ( IFFOR) actually represented the whole closed knit community of the pornographic industry. The primary reason for this clause was to ensure that there was a homogenous body so that the conditions of the licence, in this case meaning regulation of the content, could be implemented effectively. This was addressed by ICM to ICANN. However important rights groups opposed the grant of permission and the ICANN Board refused permission for setting up of the domain system for several years till the IRP gave the judgment.



From the point of view of the general public, the question is whether this is a good move. In these six years since the ICM application was first filed, the internet has matured and changes in technology have set in both for online content monitoring and on the front of parental or societal controls. So there are better methods of ensuring that the young are protected from sexually explicit content.


However the fact remains that societies across the world have different cultural parameters and it is not a simple task to determine the degree of content that would constitute illegal adult pornographic content. There is also the issue of child pornography which should be criminal in all circumstances.


In the face of varying legislation to handle online content and also, for that matter, the concomitant internet crime, there could be issues for law enforcement that have to be understood and applied. With the separate domain name system, will there be a migration of all adult pornographic content to the . xxx domains and the existing top level domain and the country code domains will shed all the existing adult content? This would be impossible to do considering the huge amount of the existing content available on those sites. Moreover the might of the $ 20 billion online pornographic content industry will not allow for such migration.


So the question is: what will be the advantage of this new and dedicated domain system? While the ICM application process has already worked out strong penalty provisions and dealt with most of the areas that will reasonably ensure that the internet is safe from pornographic content floating around, much more needs to be done to supervise the content actually posted. The content will be labeled so that individuals and search engines know that . xxx websites contain adult content and hence appropriate levels of filtering technology can be used.




There is also a proposal for a credible self regulated forum for the affected stakeholders to discuss and develop policies relating to online adult entertainment.


Further ICM has proposed a novel responsibility measure by announcing that $ 10 out of every $ 60 earned for each domain registration will be spent for online responsibility for keeping children safe through IFFOR. As the registration process proceeds many more actions will be seen from the various registrants and the actual scenario will unfold.


Despite all this, many advocacy groups, particularly religious ones in the US, have already begun attacking the move to have . xxx domains. If such protests get shriller, there may be intervention from the US Department of Commerce under whose licence ICANN still operates, although it is much independent now.


Further the Government Advisory Council ( GAC) of ICANN could also see some more debates on the issue and this might have an impact on the due diligence process as well as the decision taken as the Board has asked for a discussion of the decision with GAC. Internet diplomacy is still at its infancy and it is very difficult to forecast the stand that various nations of the GAC will take on the issue. So the next few months are going to be important and the expectation is that . xxx domains will emerge before the next ICANN meeting is held in Colombia in December this year. Meanwhile the one lakh plus prospective registrants will be waiting in the wings for the final decision of the due diligence process.


The writer heads a global defence firm in India and writes on IT policy issues ( subimalb@ gmail. com)








MONSOON gives Bangaloreans excuses to get away with a lot of things. Generally we wake up late, report late for work and go home early. "It was cold, it rained, the road was blocked, parts of it got washed away, trees might fall…"


The government also used the rain to try and pull a fast one on the people, saying that some three lakh tonnes of iron ore that was seized and stocked at a west coast port just got washed away due to the heavy rains. Before researchers started theorising on the physics of this bizarre phenomenon, the media broke the story— it was illegally shipped to China. The government's second anniversary celebrations last week at the Palace Ground became a damp squib.


Just before the celebrations, the multi-crore 'iron-gate' scandal led to the resignation of one of the most visible symbols of good governance in the state— the Lokayukta. Justice Santosh Hegde, who has been facing rough weather for a long time in his efforts to root out corruption, quit in a huff— publicly listing out several omissions and commissions by the government.


One of them was the suspension of an official who had helped him expose the illegal iron transport scandal.


The Lokayukta had called the Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa to complain about the suspension but he was asked to mind his own business— that too in a manner that wasn't polite, as it was reported.


Jusitice Hegde said in his bare- all press conference: " If I cannot protect an officer who was obeying me... then I should not be in a position where I give them directives." He added that the government had reinstated officials who were suspended on corruption charges after the raids ordered by the Lokayukta.


He said that he was following his father's advice, not to overstay one's welcome.


SOME observers say that the resignation was a planned move from Justice Hegde, who has gone on record

about his dissatisfaction with the government, especially after his report on illegal mining and deforestation was ignored. After the CM's patchup with the powerful Reddy brothers— who had once threatened to topple the government— there has been no serious move on the many allegations about their questionable mining and related activities in Bellary and elsewhere.


A detailed Lokayukta report on this issue has not led to much. As it happens, cutting across party lines, several leaders have mining interests. The iron- gate involves moving some 25,000 truckloads from north to south. So it obviously cannot be a secret.


As the political storm unleashed by the scandal gathers strength, the CM is losing his credibility. The usually quiet opposition is vociferous. Their slogan —" Reddy, Yeddy, Go!"— is uncharacteristically harsh. At the second anniversary meet, the CM complained that the opposition was being disruptive and unsupportive and that he felt hounded. Then he wept.


( Last year he cried before the media in Delhi when his chair was shaky due to the Reddys and earlier in a village, where the police had fired at protesting farmers.) The Reddy brothers looked nonchalant on the dais. BJP leader Sushama Swaraj, who has been acknowledged as their ' amma' ( mother), was all smiles.

Seeing the media report, a patriarch quoted a rather sexist old adage in Kannada: " Never trust weeping men and smiling women." While such stereotypes should be dismissed, the fact remains that there is a trust deficit in the state.



BANGALORE'S school and college authorities seem to have contrasting views about blue denim. Several new schools have introduced blue denim trousers and skirts as part of the school uniform.


At the same time, several college authorities are discouraging or even banning blue denim jeans in colleges.


Prudish principals tend to see jeans as a symbol of defiance— a hangover of the politically hot 1960s.


Besides, they find certain cuts that make certain body parts exposed or appear prominent offensive.


In fact, in campuses blue denim offers a lot of scope for research. Some fashion historians say it has an Indian connection.


Apparently, sailors from Dungar, Gujarat, wore trousers made of thick calico cloth dyed in indigo that later came to be known as dungarees.


As it happens, calico was exported from Kozhikode in Kerala, also known as Calicut.


The word " jeans" has its roots in Genoa, Italy, where working men wore denim trousers— possibly in a parallel development. Levi Strauss, a failed miner in the Californian gold rush made durable denim trousers for his more successful counterparts.


Strauss and his tailor Jacob Davis procured a patent for riveted pants in 1873.


That was the beginning of the brand " Levis"— cut 501, to be precise. A century later, it became a fashion statement.


If denim is proven to be of Indian origin and has a link with the indigo farmers of Champaran in Bihar, to whom Gandhiji taught the Satyagraha, it should be part of our national attire. Just like white khadi. As such white khadi shirt and blue jeans make a good fashion statement.



THE QUEEN'S baton for the Commonwealth Games that is on a 20,000 km relay across India is a product of military technology from Bangalore. It is Bharat Electronics Ltd ( BEL) that led a consortium that developed the technology.


Designed by Foley Designs and fabricated by Titan, the 60 cm golden baton can capture images and sounds and transmit the signals to the games website which is www. cwgdelhi2010. org.


Its embedded arrays of Light Emitting Diode ( LED) display the local country flag colours. You can send text messages to the baton at + 91 9818924545, to be shared through the website.


It has an embedded Geographical Positioning System ( GPS).


At its top part, the baton contains a 10 carat gold leaf with a message from Queen Elizabeth II etched in laser, a secret, to be read on the opening day of the games.


The baton includes its signal processors, camera sensor, miniature microphone, a wireless signal module and a battery.


" The baton fell in the water once. But there was no problem, it is rugged," says AT Kalghatgi, chief scientist at the BEL Central Research Lab.


BEL develops such technological equipment for tanks, ships, aircrafts as well as for defence personnel at a larger scale.






WILL Nitish Kumar come to Uma Bharti's rescue? The sadhvi's possible re- entry in the BJP, her former party, seems to have hit a bump. But her well- wishers within the party and the RSS are lobbying for her return, claiming that her presence will be an asset in the coming Bihar assembly polls.

Uma- baiters, though, are said to have lobbed the ball in chief minister Nitish Kumar's court wondering whether BJP's ally JD( U) wants her presence at all.


Their contention is that Nitish, who already has reservations about the presence of Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi in Bihar, is unlikely to welcome another hardliner in Uma.



WHY is Anil Shastri restless and speaking out of turn in the Congress? The buzz is that former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's son wants to become the lieutenant governor of Delhi.


Since there are no takers for his demand, Shastri is busy opposing the hike in fuel prices.


Shastri is a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee and the editor of Congress- Sandesh , an in- house magazine of the party.



RASHTRIYA Lok Dal ( RLD) chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudury reportedly flew to the US and the UK to stitch their alliance with the Congress.


AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh was in the US while Rahul Gandhi was in London when the father- son duo was said to have called on them separately.


However, there is a hitch or two over some preconditions popped by the RLD leadership for merging with the Congress. The RLD wants ministerial berths for father and son. If Jayant can't be fitted in the ministry, he wants to be part of Team Rahul in the Congress organisation.


Creation of a separate ' Harit Pradesh' and Bharat Ratna for Ajit's father late Chaudhury Charan Singh are also part of the wish list.



DURING his recent visit to London, Rahul Gandhi is said to have met Bollywood superstar and friend Shah Rukh Khan and his family. The Bachchans were there, too, but there was no interaction between them and Rahul. SRK was, however, invited by the Bachchans to the premier of Raavan where the crowd kept cheering for Shah Rukh instead of the film's lead player Abhishek!





IF THE Bharatiya Janata Party has its way, the ghost of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy will continue to haunt the Congress.


The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is planning to set up a one- member commission of inquiry and rehabilitation to look into issues concerning the gas leak that killed thousands of people. The commission's findings could turn the heat on Congress leaders for their role in letting Union Carbide get away after the gas leak.


" The issues to be placed before the commission will be decided soon," Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan told newspersons in Bhopal on Wednesday.


The commission, which will provide expeditious relief to the gas victims, will be headed by a retired judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Chauhan said. The judge's name will be announced later, he said, adding that a timeframe for submitting the report would be finalised soon. The state secretariat had started preparing the terms and conditions governing the commission on Tuesday itself.


The BJP government's decision is based on the outcome of a meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh ( RSS) and the BJP leadership held in Delhi on Tuesday. Sources said the gas tragedy figured during discussions.


" The Bhopal gas tragedy was discussed. It needs to be wellattended," said a source.


The RSS was reportedly happy with the way Chauhan attacked the Congress leadership for mishandling the case.


Now, the BJP feels the commission's inquiry will help them nail the Congress leaders, a source said.


The bureaucrats, who were sceptical about setting up the commission, Shivraj Chauhan's a one- member had come around to the idea.


The Madhya Pradesh government set an example for the line they were planning to toe after the verdict on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case was announced on June 7. Expressing displeasure over the verdict, Chauhan blamed the Centre for doing little for the gas victims. He also made a scathing attack on the Congress, especially under Rajiv Gandhi's leadership. While Rajiv was the PM, Arjun Singh was the CM of Madhya Pradesh at the time of the gas leak in 1984.


Chauhan sought an explanation from Singh about the circumstances under which he helped former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson escape the country.


Chauhan has been assisting the central BJP leadership to question the politicians- Anderson nexus.


The Chauhan government has also filed a plea in the court contending that the two years' imprisonment awarded to the convicts in the case was insignificant as compared to the magnitude of the tragedy.




THE Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) is taking steps to plead afresh for the extradition of former Union Carbide Corporation ( UCC) chief Warren Anderson in connection with the Bhopal gas tragedy.


The agency will cite court depositions of a dozen witnesses, furnish government documents and raise the role of two US employees of the UCC. The CBI plans to use evidence from the recently concluded trial to prove Anderson had full knowledge of the defective design of the UCC plant in Bhopal before the gas leak.


The plea will accuse Anderson of exercising direct control over the plant's maintenance and ignoring safety measures.


Witnesses have deposed that the entire plant was set up under UCC's control and supervision.


" Safety procedures were minimal and neither the American owners nor the local management seemed to regard them as necessary," a CBI official said.


The CBI will cite court depositions of the eight convicts in the Bhopal case who deposed that they could not be held guilty as the factory was designed by the UCC in the US. The CBI will also use government documents to prove that UCIL was allowed to collaborate with UCC in 1973 only after being assured of the best standard of the quality of design and safety. This deal was renewed in 1978 by the Centre upon the same undertaking.


The group of ministers had last week asked the CBI to put together " additional material" in support for Anderson's extradition with help from the home and law ministries as well as the attorney general.








After a fortnight of public embarrassment and discord among the highest echelons of US civilian and military authorities, General David Petraeus's confirmation as commander of the US campaign in Afghanistan signals that normal service can resume. But if there is one thing the entire sorry episode has done -- the interview given by General Petraeus's predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, in which the latter's aides were openly contemptuous of senior government officials -- it is to highlight just how vexed the Afghanistan situation remains. More so, in light of the fast-approaching July 2011 deadline for the beginning of US troop drawdown.

The present counter-insurgency strategy (COIN) is an improvement over the ad hoc efforts spanning the previous decade that have resulted in the Afghan situation being the quagmire it is today. That is not in question. But neither has COIN proved to be the success Washington had hoped for. The problems are many, from poor governance and the Taliban being emboldened by the July 2011 deadline -- even as the latter simultaneously leads Afghan President Hamid Karzai to look elsewhere for allies -- to the general attitude of the Afghan people. A recent survey of insurgency-hit districts revealed that far more Afghans were sympathetic to the insurgents than to the government.

That is not to say that the situation is irreversible. An increasing number of Afghan police and military personnel are being trained; having the Afghans themselves take on an increasing share of the security burden is essential. And the July 2011 deadline is more likely to prove a sop to President Barack Obama's domestic constituency than a real pullout date. Troop reduction may indeed begin then, but US presence in Afghanistan is likely to continue for a good while, as it must.

However, if the autumn offensive to take the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, crucial to inspire confidence in COIN's efficacy, is to succeed, the international consensus on Afghanistan must evolve beyond just the US and its NATO allies. One of the primary issues remains support from elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence to the Taliban. And with Karzai increasingly turning to them to secure his position, the potential problems are manifestly clear. As long as Pakistan remains wary of the intentions of other regional players, including India, this will not change. That is why a regional Afghanistan forum involving Pakistan, India, Russia, Iran and China is increasingly becoming a necessity. If it can bring about even a measure of trust and cooperation in reconstruction efforts and political dealings, that can potentially be a vital boost to the US-NATO campaign.






Even though India has emerged as a knowledge hub and a prime destination for research and development, it is baffling that the same colleges and universities that produce some of the best brains in the world hardly find any place in international academic rankings. It is in this backdrop that the University Grants Commission's new regulations to enhance the quality of teaching in our varsities need to be welcomed. From now on teachers will be subjected to a performance-based assessment system that will determine their career advancement and rise in academic circles.

It is unfortunate that teaching in universities has come to be assessed by the number of classes conducted or lectures given rather than what is being taught and how. It is here that the new grading mechanism is different. It not only takes into account a teacher's performance inside the classroom in terms of lectures, practicals and tutorials, but also emphasises research and academic contribution. This is particularly important in view of Indian universities' lacklustre research record. However, given that the teachers will assess themselves, care must be taken to ensure that the assessment system does not degenerate into one based on patronage. One of the main problems with education today is that teachers are often part of a fraternity where connections matter and performance and accountability mean little. It is only when we have an objective, qualitative assessment system for teachers that we can incentivise the teaching process in a manner that would lead to an overall increase in education standards. It is high time that our universities make the transition from student factories to quality learning institutions.






I met Foranti at her sisters' wedding sometime ago. Nanha and Moti were getting married in a modest function around a few ramshackle tents Foranti called her parental home near Roshanpura village, about 20 km from Sawai Madhopur and possibly a few hundred yards inside Ranthambhore tiger reserve. Unlike other encroachers there, Foranti's six brothers did not decimate the dry forest vegetation. A hunting tribe, Moghiyas do not believe in farming. So amid bushes of thorny juliflora separating the makeshift kitchen from the 'reception area', the celebration was a riot of colours. Foranti posed for photographs with her husband Chotmal. She was proud he had come upon a windfall.


More recently, i met Foranti again. The proud eyes were hollow. She said her husband got a compensation package -- Rs 10 lakh -- for leaving Hindwar, one of many Ranthambhore villages being evacuated. He had demolished their Hindwar hutment and now wanted to marry his brother's widow who had also got the package. He beat Foranti because she refused to be dumped. Her last resort was to move court to stave off destitution. Foranti's is not the only case and gender not the only issue that threatens to backfire on the Centre's milestone initiative to free core tiger forests across the country from human disturbance through a voluntary relocation scheme.

The initiative is ambitious even on paper. Out of an estimated 65,000 families, so far, 40,000 have been identified for the scheme. At Rs 10 lakh per family, the budget has already touched Rs 4,000 crore; Rs 267 crore has been released to nine states.

Uprooting people is not easy, resettling them even more difficult. Little wonder only 3,000 families could be relocated since the inception of Project Tiger in 1973. So the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has enhanced the compensation package 10 times from Rs 1 lakh but it has no role in ground implementation. The success of this mega-initiative depends, to quote an NTCA guideline, "on performance by states".

But the early lessons are worrying. Under the Tenth Plan, beneficiaries could take Rs 10 lakh each and move out on their own, or take up to 30 per cent of the amount while the forest department used the rest for their rehabilitation. But some states offer only the cash option of Rs 10 lakh, which does not appeal to big landholders. In most revenue villages, the 70-80 per cent families moving out are mostly marginal landholders and together own just 30-40 per cent of the fields. So a lot of money is being spent to actually free very little land.

Even this may not be of any use to wildlife because the freed plots fall between the fields of those staying back. It is a matter of time before these plots are encroached by the latter.

A policy of equitable, rather than equal, compensation could avoid such traps. For example, the Madhya Pradesh forest department is using the central compensation funds as a common pool to settle the rights of families as per the actual value of their property. If there is any money left, it is distributed equally among beneficiaries or used for developing infrastructure at relocation sites. If there is a shortfall, the state finance department chips in.

Again, authorities are confused if unmarried girls above 18 are eligible for compensation, like their brothers. In Ranthambhore, only boys above 18 are getting the package in Sawai Man Singh sanctuary. In the same reserve's Kela Devi sanctuary, officials maintain the cut-off age is 21, and that both boys and girls are eligible.

Technically, the package is modelled on the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007, which does not recognise the right of unmarried daughters for benefits. But the policy meant for project-affected people may not be appropriate for those relocating voluntarily. The latter are forfeiting their right over property through a deal. Since sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights, the consent of only the men in the family may not be legally tenable.

NTCA guidelines talk of 'handholding' after relocation through different agencies, but such assistance has been sought in few places so far. Forget skill development for alternative livelihood, families shifted from one village are unwittingly settling down in another that is also due for relocation.

Lack of transparency, however, is the most crucial factor dogging this scheme. In Ranthambhore, villagers have no access to the list of beneficiaries. In some villages, there are 25-40 per cent more beneficiaries than the tally on electoral rolls. While many allege outsiders are buying their way into the list, others complain bona fide claims are ignored.

I recently visited Hindwar, 25 km from Sawai Madhopur, a seemingly war-torn village where people neither discuss missing neighbours nor notice the demolished houses they left behind. But one abandoned structure was drawing a lot of attention. Madho Lal's three sons were rebuilding the house their two brothers tore down. After Hanuman and Rameshar took the compensation and left Hindwar, their brothers who were denied compensation because they had moved to Sawai Madhopur a few years ago, returned to stake claim to their ancestral property. Last heard, suspension of a forest guard who apparently failed to report the reconstruction has been revoked.

The writer is a journalist.






Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar reportedly feels the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee has an "obsession with Bollywood". The CWG's 2006 Melbourne edition, he claims, had offered too much money to Bollywood biggies to shake a leg at the event. In his view, even IPL cheerleaders are eyesores. So, it may be safe to assume he'd have equally frowned when movie stars regaled IPL-3 crowds with song and dance gigs. Only, it's rather uncharitable to reduce mega-sports events to "tamasha" simply because they bring in tinsel town celebrities to add spark to the proceedings.

Sport and Bollywood have a lot of positive things in common. Both qualify as top-class entertainment. Both make stars of talented hopefuls, no matter where they come from. Both as glamour professions grab big money and eyeballs. Above all, both unify people across the social board. They transcend even national boundaries: consider that IPL teams are made up of sportspersons from across the planet or that Bollywood's appeal keeps growing overseas. It's only natural that sport and Bollywood will come together at sporting extravaganzas, with filmy magic enthralling spectators before or after the players get them roaring.


True, countries hosting games use them to present their culture and even economic might to the world. China's hosting of the Olympics was one such coming-out party. Aiyar suggests India's "5,000-year-old civilisation" too needs showcasing. That's a valid argument, but it doesn't preclude our projecting Bollywood -- one of the world's largest film industries -- as part of India's cultural richness and vitality. And why view big-ticket sports spectacles as somehow antithetical to our social conscience? Surely that's to remain behind the curve in a world where sport and cinema not only spread joy but have come to reflect the aspirations of millions of people.







Former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has made disparaging remarks against the Commonwealth Games, and all of them can't be endorsed. But he's right in saying that the Organising Committee is "obsessed with Bollywood". Suresh Kalmadi, committee chairman, has said the Games will be "a huge event involving Bollywood celebrities". Given our penchant for roping in Bollywood in everything related to sport -- even football ads show actors like John Abraham instead of the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia -- Aiyar isn't off the mark. While not denying the utility of big-screen celebrities in promoting mega-events, their presence should not come at the cost of neglecting India's cultural heritage.

It is after a long time that an international sporting event of this magnitude is being held in India, the last being the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi. These Games will serve as an image-building exercise for the country. Such an exercise should produce tangible results in the tourism sector, and an enhanced engagement with the world. But that can happen only when our distinct cultural mosaic is presented to an international audience in full media glare.

Indian culture is more than just Bollywood and to spend taxpayers' money in promoting "tamasha" is nothing but profligacy. Instead of paying crores of rupees to film stars, they should be asked to volunteer to be part of sports events. In fact, the CWG Organising Committee should read the International Olympic Committee charter. This recognises culture as one of the three pillars of the Olympics along with sport and environment, and requires the host committee to showcase the culture and traditions of the country concerned in true international spirit.








This column is not going to be kind, much less pretty. No disrespect is meant to the lovely, late and loudly lamented Viveka Babaji. But in all our bingeing on every  detail about her lonely life and tragic suicide, we need to stop and think of the collateral damage. Relationships can't be sustained, much less demanded, at emotional gunpoint. One way or the other, both sides have ended up shattered.


'Who killed Viveka Babaji?' is going to keep us in conversation, suspense and TRPs till the next scandal surfaces to pander yet again to our insatiable voyeurism. But we should be equally exercised over another question: 'Who could get killed by Viveka Babaji?'  The fall-out of a rejected woman's desperate, almost unhinged, scribbling is as worthy of attention as her own descent into a personal hell.


Gautam Vora, the latest ' alleged' boyfriend most of all, but also the earlier  Kartik Jobanputra and Rohit Jugraj, will have to put aside all else and perforce embark on a prolonged  tour of police stations, lawyers' chambers and courts because their names figure in Viveka's hysterical suicide notes and/or and sms-es. Is it fair? Relationships disintegrate all the time, more so in commitment-deficit scenarios. The beautiful model had been long enough in the brittle, self-serving world of glam sham to know this. Her problem was that mocking impostor, hope. But surely, that can't be held against a man (or woman) who has made it very clear that the feeling is no longer reciprocated- or never was. Cruel, but then so is life.


Who knows who else will be hit by Babaji's phantom shrapnel? Anyone who may have had a random link could have a summons or at least a microphone thrust at him. Admittedly, generalisations are only half true. But with this disclaimer out of the way, we can say that the tangled and tentacled entertainment conglomerate survives on a mesh of networks, many of them incestuous and promiscuous. These are of both the sexual and the business kind, often with fluid boundaries. And the younger players have the stamina and resilience to change bedsheets and partners simultaneously.


Only the terminally naïve will shake their heads and/or their fists over the perceived sexploitation. In this jugar of high-gloss ambition, predator and prey are indistinguishable. Everyone's on the make and on the take. It's an accepted mantra. Morality has nothing to do with it; indeed, in this brand of MoUs, it is completely irrelevant to the negotiations.


As glamtainment becomes the only hard currency for buying into any field - from sports to spirituality -- the opportunities for attractive and ambitious women grow by the event. The babe has come a long way from the trolley-lollies, the airhostesses who used their coveted grooming to land a wealthy groom. In a liberalized economy and society, models are now the chief merchandise of the arm-candy store, and the top ones are paid an arm and a leg simply to sashay in on their own two stilettos to glitz up the show. The leggiest and skimpiest of them rake in the kind of money that could be mistaken for their cell-phone numbers. Nothing totemized this as much as the IPL after-party a la Modi.


But glamour's vertiginous stakes have increased the competition, and shortened the turnover time. It often leads to a desperation which, in extreme cases, can turn into the kind of paranoia that so unnervingly oozes out of the diaries, sms-es and suicide note of  the unfortunate Viveka Babaji . As Gautam Vora  and others are  learning to their cost,  it could prove equally lethal for those in the vicinity.









Reports that Afghanistan has $3 trillion worth of mineral wealth have caused a minor ripple in the resources world -- but not much more than that. Indian companies are among the world's many corporations that have Rexpressed a guarded interest in the findings of a Pentagon report on Afghanistan's buried treasures. However, no one should expect an Afghan resources boom anytime soon. This mineral wealth is not a surprise. Much of the geological data cited comes from surveys done by Soviet occupiers in the 1970s. Few firms are prepared to sink billions of dollars in decades-long mining investments when it is unclear who will be ruling Kabul even a year from now. And that doesn't even factor in the security risks involved.


What the mineral deposits do signal -- and presum- ably this is what inspired the Pentagon to commission the report in the first place -- is that this landlocked country has the potential to become a normal State if it can only get past its present era of violence. There has been a school of thought that has portrayed Afghanistan as incapable of inde- pendent nationhood because of its semi-tribalised population and its lack of sources of economic wealth other than opium cultivation. This has buttressed the case for a rapid rollback of the United States military presence in Afghanistan. This country can't stand on its own, goes the argument, and the US can't support it forever. Therefore, it's better for the US to cut its losses and get out. The mineral survey helps tip the balance in favour of the counter-school. Namely, that Afghanistan has the economic wherewithal to be something other than a terrorist haven and a militant recruiting ground. But it needs to be given a chance.


India should not be overly concerned as to who par- takes of Afghanistan's mineral wealth or how. As long as a portion of the earnings from their extraction accrues to Afghanistan, India's desire for a stable and independent Afghan nation comes closer to reality. Pakistani and Chinese territory stands between India and Afghanistan. There should be no illusions that India will ever directly benefit from this mineral wealth. Only a few items, like gold, are profitable enough to be carried by air. This does not mean Indian mineral companies should not consider investing in Afghanistan for purely commercial rather than strategic rea- sons. At this point, all this is moot. The real game for India is to push for a continued US presence in Afghanistan. Doubts over this are already leading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ask Pakistan to help him broker a political settle- ment with segments of the Taliban. Afghanistan is now at a major fork in its future in which every little







Famous Luddite and Fifa president Sepp Blatter has come around to the position that technology can be used on the World Cup football field in the future to settle difficult decisions. So can the rest of his kind be far behind? Take the issue of conducting polygraph tests while investigating people accused of being criminals. Unlike camera technology already prevalent in cricket and tennis, 'truth-finding' tests may not be admissible in courts, but surely they can help in pursuing leads? The DNA test would have sounded like bunkum and deeply invasive once upon a time. After all, determining a child's paternity is much more of a technological intervention than using slo-mo to make a call in a game of football.

And if you push the ball further into the technology vs 'let human errors prevail' debate, the brouhaha about genetically modified (GM) food being Frankenfood is not too unlike Blatter's initial fear about a mechanical eye demeaning the job of human officials. If GM food is seen as being harmful per se because it is 'unnatural', cross-fertilisation and other standard farming procedures practised down the ages could also be deemed as horribly 'against nature'.

Which doesn't mean that goals/non-goals will stop being controversial once Fifa presses the green button to technology. We, cricket-watching folks with third umpires playing gods, certainly know that.







A weepy BJP chief minister frustrates an anti-corruption judge into quitting. Every political party has displayed similar hypocrisy in the pillage of India's global city.

As I write this, legislators in Karnataka are rushing to declare their bank statement and property to Justice Nitte Santosh Hegde, the state's ombudsman against corruption. By Tuesday, more than 80 of 224 members of the legislative assembly, including the chief minister, had filed statements of their wealth. The rest were scrambling to do so. If they didn't, warned the 70-year-old Justice Hegde, a former hockey player, he would not hesitate to recommend a six-month jail term for defaulters.

Don't get too excited. Justice Hegde resigned last week, partly because the government won't let him do anymore than recommend. With less than 60 days to go till the end of his tenure, politicians and bureaucrats in India's global metropolis are waiting to get back to business as usual.

When I visit Bangalore, my hometown, I learn of new ideas, new technology and endlessly innovative ways of merging into the global economy. This can-do spirit is also used in less honourable ways. Everything and anything is for sale: building permits, official postings, garbage contracts, even parking spaces.

When he was appointed as a watchdog against official corruption nearly four years ago, Hegde appeared to have impeccable credentials in a state where one coalition partner was the right-wing BJP, which now runs Karnataka with its old slogan, a 'party with a difference'. As a Kannadiga, previously a judge of the Supreme Court — as was his father, who made an unusual journey from India's highest court to Speaker of the sixth Lok Sabha — and a family history tied to the Sangh parivar, Hegde could have made that difference.

Instead, Hegde plunged Bangalore and Karnataka into shock last week as he made a vocal and highly publicised exit as Lokayukta, a quasi-judicial appointment. In a country widely perceived to be corrupt (ranking 84 of 180 surveyed globally by Transparency International), where anti-corruption officials don't usually rock the boat, Hegde led a high-voltage campaign against bribery in public administration.

The immediate provocation for Hegde's resignation was a fiddle brazen even by Karnataka's grand standards: the clandestine shipping of half a million tonnes of impounded iron ore from Belekeri port, 520 km northwest of Bangalore. On Hegde's orders, Deputy Conservator of Forests R. Gokul had captured the ore in June, along with 40 sacks of forged documents, indicating official connivance and a revenue loss of about Rs 250 crore. Hegde quit when, instead of supporting Gokul, the government tried to stop him. "If I had not resigned, Gokul would have been suspended," said Hegde. Larger issues frustrated Hegde. None of the officials he charged with corruption ever stood trial. Some are back on the job. No government, state or central, allows Lokayuktas the freedom to go beyond investigation. Permission to prosecute officials and politicians caught with their hand in the till must come from the government. It rarely does.

The concept of a watchdog against official corruption was born 44 years ago in the report, 'Problems of redressal of citizens' grievances', submitted to Parliament by the Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by a future prime minister, Morarji Desai.

In authorising and publicising more than 200 inquiries against corrupt officials since 2006, Hegde was actually a calmer version of his swashbuckling predecessor, Justice Nanje Gowda Venkatachala (also formerly of the Supreme Court), who personally led raids into offices and homes in the course of investigating more than 50,000 public complaints of corruption.

Over nine years, the two former justices ran a movement that could have transformed Karnataka and set an example for a cleaner, more honest India, whose official motto, inscribed below the national coat of arms, is 'Satyameva jayate' (Truth alone prevails).

For years, successive Congress chief ministers, and the Janata Dal (S) of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, ran administrations that ensured only deceit and dishonesty prevailed in Karnataka. Given its pledges of delivering a righteous Ram Rajya, the BJP was the great political hope against corruption. That hope even led Justice Venkatachala to the BJP in February 2009. "You need political will to fight corruption," Venkatachala had said then. "Such political will is there in the BJP."

Instead, the BJP has joined in the plunder of what was once India's metropolis of the future. Crooked politicians and bureaucrats drive SUVs and own multiple mansions and businesses, as corruption worsens, the city crumbles, and the revelry begins over Justice Hegde's impending departure.

"On behalf of the state government, I thank him for his services," said chief minister and farmer's son B.S. Yeddyurappa, his voice laced with sarcasm when asked if he would bow to public sentiment and ask Justice Hegde to stay on. The next day, at a jamboree to celebrate two years in office, Yeddyurappa wept as he spoke of "low-level corruption" bedevilling a state scheme to give poor girls Rs 1 lakh when they turn 18. Nearly a million beneficiaries have been identified, but the money hasn't reached most girls, thanks to slack or corrupt officials, or both.

"There are many who talk of corruption at the high level," said Yeddyurappa, sobbing into his handkerchief. "But if somebody at the lower level demands

Rs 2,000 as bribe, where will the poor parents get the money? They will be left with no choice but to beg." Apart from this strange admission of incapacity, the tears were not unusual. In 24 months, Yeddyurappa has wept at least seven times over various issues. Justice Hegde's eclipse may give him some reason to smile.








When Jaswant Singh's book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence was published last year, among other things, it brought the question of Partition and the role of Mohammad Ali Jinnah into focus again. But the image of Jinnah is changing in India and in Pakistan for different reasons. Post-Partition, the history of the freedom movement in both countries was written from the Congress or the Muslim League perspective. In India, the image of Jinnah was that of a communalist leader responsible for the vivisection of the subcontinent. He was  accused of being a stubborn leader who refused to re-adjust his demands and insisted on the acceptance of his terms. On the contrary,

Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru emerged as leaders who negotiated and made attempts to compromise with him.

This image of Jinnah persisted in traditional Indian historiography until the  1980s. However,  some historians have raised their voices against it and presented Jinnah differently. One important study is that of Delhi University's Ajeet Jawed, whose book Jinnah: Secular and Nationalist made an attempt to rehabilitate him as a staunch Indian nationalist. The Australian historian Jan Byrant Wells, in his Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity: Jinnah's Early Politics, argues that throughout his political career, Jinnah remained a nationalist and anti-imperialist and there is no difference between his early or later periods of political life.

In Pakistan, too, the image of Jinnah is changing with political changes in the country. In the traditional portrayal, his secular and nationalist image isn't highlighted. He has been reduced to being only a Muslim leader who struggled for the rights of Indian Muslims and created a new country for them to follow their religious teachings freely in. As the character of Pakistan became Islamic, it needed not a secular founding father but a staunchly religious man. So, stories of his religious devotion are fabricated and circulated. Stray references to religion are taken out from his speeches to prove that he wanted a welfare state based on Islamic principles. His official portrait shows him in a sherwani and cap, not in western attire, smoking a cigar.

This picture was challenged by some scholars and politicians who argued that he was against theocracy and in favour of a modern secular state. There are some circles that reject Jinnah as a competent leader and accuse  him of committing political mistakes — such as his authoritarian role as governor general to dissolve the North West Frontier Provincial assembly, his act of presiding over the cabinet meetings and keeping aside the prime minister, and his dismissal of the chief minister of Sindh. As the political situation in Pakistan deteriorates, Jinnah's image is also undergoing a distortion in which he's blamed for leaving the country in the hands of incompetent leaders. The result is that in Pakistan, there are now two portraits of Jinnah: one, of the founder of the State based on the two-nation theory and an anti-India policy; two, of a secular Jinnah, not generally welcomed except in small circles of liberal Pakistanis.

As for Partition, while a majority of scholars have no doubt written about its legitimacy, there are only a few voices determined to question it. Rubina Saigol in Knowledge and Identity challenges the concept of two nations, the very basis of the creation of Pakistan. Jaswant Singh's book is important in this context. In India, with this change of image, Jinnah is no longer exclusively blamed for the Partition; Nehru and Patel share the responsibility. A secular Jinnah suits Pakistan, now  under the grip of religious extremism, trying to get out of it through a new system based on pluralism.

Mubarak Ali is the author of Pakistan: In Search of Identity, and former Professor of History, Sindh University.
The views expressed by the author are personal





Robert Downey Jr, welcome to India. So will you tell me what sequence you'll be shooting today for the sequel of Guy Ritchie's hit film Sherlock Holmes?

Today, we'll be enacting the scene from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Final Solution where Holmes and his arch enemy Prof Moriarty supposedly plunge down the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland to their deaths.

My god! That's fantastic. So, you've chosen this spot here in Karnataka, the Hoggenakkal Falls, for the scene. After Iron Man, you must be doing your own stunts?

You must be crazy! Why should I risk my neck to do such a dangerous stunt? I'm an actor, not a professional stuntman. Guy Ritchie's hired a local stunt artiste.

Oh, is it B.S. Balram, the Bangalore-based diving champion who was first  thought to have been the stuntman for an 80-feet diving scene in Mani Ratnam's Raavan?

Haven't heard of him. No, my stunt double is this professional from Mumbai named Abhishek Bachchan. Apparently, he's very good.

Um, yes. But didn't you want to do your own stunt? Or [weak laugh] at least want the world to know that you did your own stunt?

Why on earth would I do that? I'm an actor and I want to focus on my acting. That's why stuntmen exist. I would have put myself at physical risk only if I didn't have hit films going for me.

Do say: I bet you can't stab yourself in the stomach.

Don't say: Can B.S. Balram act?






A 'nobody', in a democratic set up, has the power to create 'somebody'. When elections come, the voters hitherto taken for a ride as 'nobodies' are wooed by everybody intending to become 'somebody.' The commoners suddenly become worthy heroes.

'Nobodies' are reminded time and again of their power to make or mar the system of governance. They are thus advised to exercise their franchise carefully.

A nobody is reminded that it is he who caused and brought about many a revolution, making history.

He is reminded that it is he who was the part of that crowd that walked behind Mahatma Gandhi, and Pandit Jawahar Lal

Nehru, and fought all the battles of the freedom movement.

He is reminded that the powerful legislatures like the Lok Sabha and the House of Commons are named after him.

He is made to realize his importance in a democracy.  He is reminded that it is he who accords privileges and status.

But all this is temporary. Once elections are over, a nobody, who harboured illusions of being a big man, is shown his place. Those elected by him, just dump him.

The common man is like the river, like the sea, always fluid, always moving and always changing. And yet, he is pushed around by those steering the ship of realpolitik.

The system makes him a hollow man, a man without personality thus rendering him vulnerable.

It is time for 'nobodies' to realize that they too can become 'somebodies'. There is a need for those common men, whom the spoils of office cannot buy, who have will, who love honour and who cannot lie, to become 'somebodies'.






Benigno Aquino III was sworn in on Wednesday as the Philippines' 15th president, leading a Southeast Asian nation his late parents helped liberate from dictatorship and which he promises to deliver from poverty and pervasive corruption.


Hundreds of thousands of people, many clad in his yellow campaign color, applauded and yelled Aquino's nickname, "Noynoy," as he took his oath before a Supreme Court justice at Manila's seaside Rizal Park.


Vice President Jejomar Binay was sworn in before Aquino in the nationally televised ceremonies that resembled a music concert, with celebrity singers and an orchestra belting out nationalist and folk songs. Yellow confetti rained from two helicopters.

Diplomats from more than 80 countries and two former Philippine presidents, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada attended. East Timor President Jose Ramos Jorta, a longtime supporter of the Aquino family, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, sent as head of the American delegation by President Barack Obama, were among the foreign dignitaries.


Aquino, wearing a native formal shirt and speaking in Tagalog, promised to fight corruption, particularly in the notoriously graft-ridden bureaus of customs and internal revenue.


He pledged to bring a new era of good governance, reforms and a bureaucracy that will be sensitive to the plight of the common folk.


"Today our dreams start to become a reality," Aquino said. "It's the end of a leadership that has long been insensitive to the suffering of the people."


In a widely applauded portion of his speech, Aquino said he also suffered in the past like ordinary Filipinos by being stuck in heavy traffic as siren-blaring convoys carrying powerful people breezed by. "No more wang-wang," he said, using the local term for blaring sirens.


Addressing his new justice secretary, Leila de Lima, Aquino ordered her to deliver "true and complete justice for all." "He signifies change and hope," said businesswoman Marivic Roy, who came with her husband and two sons. "That's why people gravitate toward him. We feel there is hope for this country."


The rise of Aquino, a low-key legislator and son of democracy icons, reflects the Filipinos' longing for moral and political renewal. Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's stormy 9-year rule saw four failed power grabs and opposition impeachment bids against her over allegations of vote-rigging, corruption and rights abuses.


The new Cabinet unveiled on Tuesday has mostly Aquino allies and defectors from Arroyo's government. Aquino said he would immediately form an independent commission to investigate corruption allegations against Arroyo and other scandals during her presidency.


"They will as necessary prepare and prosecute the cases to make sure those who committed crimes against the people will be made to pay," Aquino said, adding that the commission will be headed by a respected retired chief justice, Hilario Davide.


"I can forgive those who did me wrong, but I have no right to forgive those who abused our people," Aquino said. Arroyo has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. Aquino's campaign promise to investigate Arroyo has been seen as a potential political flash point early in his six-year term.


In a brief but awkward moment, Aquino and Arroyo shared a traditional limousine ride from the presidential palace to his oath-taking ceremony. Arroyo was given military honors then left to take her oath as a member of the House of Representatives, where she won a seat in the May 10 elections.


Many in the crowd booed Arroyo loudly as she drove away, some chanting "Go home!"
The new president and his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, had called on Arroyo to resign and joined street protests against her.


Aquino's parents are revered for their opposition to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a 1986 "people power" revolt. Considered a political lightweight, the 50-year-old bachelor won a landslide election victory that analysts attributed to his family name and anti-corruption platform.


Aquino has also anchored his campaign on restoring the credibility of the judiciary and Congress, which he says have been seriously eroded under Arroyo's rule.


The Philippines has been grappling with poverty, corruption, armed conflicts and deep divisions for decades. On the eve of his rise to the presidency, Aquino said he felt anxious but confident the millions who voted for him will back him to confront those problems.


A third of the 90 million population lives on a dollar a day, and about 3,000 Filipinos leave daily for jobs abroad. Aquino has also expressed alarm at the ballooning national budget deficit, which he said could surpass $8.7 billion (400 billion pesos) this year.








It was a sign that his bid to be part of cricket's global administration was floundering when John Howard visited Zimbabwe last month. The former Australian prime minister was there to solicit support to become ICC vice president, a post that virtually guarantees eventual promotion to the top job. Latitude to nominate candidates is given to regional blocs, on a rotational basis, and Howard's candidature was endorsed by Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket. But on Wednesday, a vote on his bid did not take place, with six African and Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and South Africa, reported to be disinclined. In a statement brimming with the obfuscation that routinely defines cricket management, the ICC executive board said the Australian and New Zealand boards had been requested to nominate somebody else.


Howard, a keen follower of the game, may or may not have the credentials to open his career in cricket administration at such a senior level. But in the absence of detailed discussions of his candidature, the veto appears to be more a case of announcing clout. It's been years since the Asian and African blocs democratised the ICC to correctly reflect its geographical spread. But the manner in which these countries have banded together to keep Howard out sends out disturbing impressions of a cabal that will use its numbers to keep out anybody who may be in disagreement with them.


The campaign against Howard, more through rumours than official statements, centred on his decision when he was PM to put sanctions on cricket officials of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. His comments on Muttiah Muralitharan's technique are also cited as proof of his insularity. In effect, the dissenting cricket boards are sending out the message that given their numbers they can keep out anybody who may have ever disagreed with one of them, that too in a personal or political capacity, with no reasons given. That's dangerous for the sport.








the archaic "benchmark prime lending rate" system in a shift that promises to make bank lending not just more transparent but also more favourable to retail borrowers and small and medium enterprises. SBI, India's largest bank by some distance, was the first to announce a new base rate of 7.5 per cent, which is now directly linked to the deposit rate. In comparison, SBI's benchmark prime lending rate, before the changeover, was 11.5 per cent. Perversely, and this was the problem with the older system, bluechip borrowers, mainly large corporate entities, got loans at rates well below the prime lending rate while smaller enterprises and retail borrowers got loans at rates much higher than the prime lending rate.


Now, prime borrowers who will be charged a percentage point or two above the base rate may end up paying more for a loan than they did under the old prime lending rate system. That is not necessarily as bad as it sounds. That is because large firms have other options to borrow cheaply, by issuing commercial paper or by accessing money markets abroad. Quite to the contrary, smaller enterprises and individual retail borrowers can neither issue commercial paper nor borrow overseas. So, this significant group of "aam borrowers"


depends heavily on the commercial banking system, which gave them a raw deal until now.


Under the new base rate system, however, banks will not be able to charge exorbitant rates many percentage points above the needlessly high prime lending rate. With the base rate as the new benchmark, costs of borrowing for this group will come down while becoming more transparent. The base rate system will also trigger competition between banks to offer cheaper rates. The ability to offer cheaper rates will depend on the ability to mop up more deposits — remember the base rate is linked to cost of deposits which falls as scale increases. That should help the cause of financial inclusion as well.







The BJP, having detected in the freeing of petrol prices a conspiracy to "finish the common man" that "plays into the hands of racketeers" has called, through its president, Nitin Gadkari, for a nationwide bandh on July 5. The Left has gathered together the usual suspects — the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal, Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and reportedly the two Yadavs — for a nationwide "dawn to dusk hartal", not so coincidentally on July 5. Their claim: that the government is putting forward "deceptive arguments to justify the hike and refuses to listen to people's protests." Clearly, this protest, too, should not be listened to. But the arguments that are being made, and that have been made over and over again without reasonable answer for some time, are hardly deceptive.


Here they are again. First, our oil subsidies are unsustainable. The hole that they make in the government's budget will only postpone and intensify inflationary pressure. In addition, no government can afford to run deficits for ever — that vastly destabilises the economy, and would unambiguously cause every Indian harm. In addition, the subsidies retard our innovation of and adaptation to technologies that minimise or eliminate the use of fossil fuels — something we will need to do, not only for reasons of climate change, but in order to be ahead of the technological curve. Finally, they cause massive mis allocation of resources across industries, and build unacceptable inefficiencies into industrial and economic processes. Far from being deceptive, these arguments are almost universally accepted by all those who are concerned about the Indian economy, regardless of political perspective or affiliation.


Their unanswerability was only underlined by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora when he pointed out that it was the United Front government of the '90s — in which the Communist Party of India was a constituent, to which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and others on the left provided crucial outside support — that first notified the deregulation of petrol and diesel prices in 1997. Indeed, that notification had added LPG and kerosene to the list, and said that the process would be complete by 2002. In the interim, of course, the government changed — but the BJP-led NDA was no different, which in April 2002 freed the pricing of petrol and diesel. To now attack the belated adoption of that very progressive policy by the UPA is beyond hypocritical. It reflects a lack of responsible engagement.








The University Grants Commission has recently issued a regulation detailing the metrics that should be used for hiring and assessment of performance of academic staff members in Indian universities. This is indeed an impressive document. It covers many disciplines and almost all designations encountered in a university.


Unlike a manufacturing organisation, a university is a knowledge organisation. A university deals with creation of knowledge as well as dissemination of knowledge. Besides these two activities, a university is also expected to develop a roadmap of the process of conversion of knowledge into wealth for a society. The creation of intellectual property from the knowledge created in a university is also an important activity. Developing a metric for recruitment and assessment of the academic activities indeed is a difficult task. Academicians all over the world are engaged in developing better models. No one has found the final solution — not even the UGC regulation.


Let us start our discussion regarding the process of recruiting of academic staff. It is well known in India that there is a huge shortage of faculty in higher education. Many institutions, hence, try to compromise on qualifications and try to recruit the academic staff so as to ensure that there are an adequate number of teachers to teach the courses being offered by the organisation. Obviously, the UGC norms get violated. There is a big hue and cry about not confirming to the UGC regulations. In short, the question of setting up the metrics of recruitment for an ideal world is a good exercise. However, it may not work in the real world. Many professional courses in architecture, medicine, law and engineering do not get enough faculty members with doctoral or even masters qualifications. How does one reconcile this with such a situation? UGC will have to consider and address these ground realities.


There are some procedural variations not covered by the regulation. For instance, many institutions would like to advertise the posts on their website and recruit the faculty against a web advertisement. Such a situation is not covered in the regulation. In some cases, a department wishes to search in a specific area and indicate the posts available. In short, there is a search and not a reactive process of selection from those responding to an advertisement. In fact, due to an acute shortage of faculty, an organisation would like to pursue various options of recruitment with enormous flexibility. Unfortunately, the regulatory criteria reduce the flexibility rather providing it.


Developing numerical points for a variety of factors is a good scheme. However, it should be clear that the final evaluation should consider both the numerical score as well as quality potential of a candidate. In many cases the numerical weight of an applicant is proportional to the years spent as a post-doctoral researcher in a big group. However, the intrinsic scholastic level of the same person may be average. In such cases, the candidate looks good at the time of recruitment. However, the candidate does not blossom well as a faculty member who can impress students as well. In short, over-quantification of parameters in academic decision-making should be carefully tracked.


The process of assessment is even more dangerous. Scientists and academicians have developed several numerical schemes for measuring the productivity of their research. Once again, the perspectives vary from basic science areas to professional fields. In case of theoretical sciences, the productivity numbers are low as compared to applied areas. In case of professional fields, the activities related to technology development may not result in publications. In such cases, the same measure of productivity may not be applicable. In case of university teaching, student advising, research publications, research contracts, academic support activities, professional activities matter a lot besides the research work alone. In that sense, an approach of one metric fits all may not be successful.


In India, the academic world has been grappling with the issue of development of suitable metrics for performance evaluation of academic staff. In that sense, the UGC regulation is a step in the right direction. At least, a very comprehensive document covering all aspects has been put forward. It is hoped that the academic councils as well as the executive councils of different universities will study these regulations. The Association of Indian Universities should call upon the vice chancellors to review this regulation. Universities should discuss this regulation and try to see how it can be implemented for improving the quality of faculty and effectiveness of the process of recruitment and promotion of faculty members.


Transparency is a key element for successful implementation of the regulation. Academic administrators will have to develop a transparent process of recruitment and assessment based on the regulation guidelines. Communication with the academic staff is another key element. The details of the regulation need to be communicated effectively. It may be necessary to hold some workshops or seminars for explaining different parameters and numerical weights attached to these parameters. Finally, the academic community will have to become aware of the importance of this methodology and contribute towards its improvement.


UGC should also remain open for taking feedback from the academic world. In fact, the norms outlined in the regulation should be improved upon based on this feedback. If any flexibility is required to be introduced at a later stage, it should be possible for making the regulation more flexible. Assessment or performance evaluation process is something similar to a medical check-up. Both these activities are considered to be psychologically stressful. However, once the individual as well as the system gets acclimatised, the system becomes an effective tool for quality improvement. In short, the implementation of the regulation is indeed going to be stressful in the beginning. However, eventually it will be helpful to all.


The writer is director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. The views expressed are personal and do not represent policy statements of any organisation








The Planning Commission has correctly set its sights on food security. According to newspaper reports, its submission to the EGOM on food security is that the subsidy has to be targeted to need — which in this case will be malnutrition — and dual-pricing schemes may be necessary.


If your vision is clear, the technical work exists to push you ahead. Some adjustments will be needed — but those can be made as you go, based on experience. But if your sights are wrong there is no end to the morass you will get sucked into, and a great idea will also get sunk. To give an example from the mid-'80s, when industry was being decontrolled: the Bureau of Industrial Costs and Pricing was going to take a fully-controlled industry, give a quarter of the output in ration shops to the deserving needy, or the government's favourites, and leave the rest to the market. Given the ration need-based price we worked out the free-market price, which would give a sufficient incentive to produce more. The econometrics was new but the idea came from Samuelson's foundational economics textbook, and its discussion of rationing. I was asked then how I could be so sure of the econometrics, to the level of naya paise per kg. I said that, on the contrary, I was sure I was wrong at least within a range — but the market will tell me how wrong. I am and we will correct the quantities, in the next round. We went ahead and in 18 months, shortages in that "core" commodity were history.


The Tendulkar Committee which, thank God, has been accepted by the Planning Commission and provides the base for a nuanced approach, has one powerful plus point and one weak one. The powerful one builds on the weak one, so start with that: the argument that the national poverty line should "for the sake of continuity" be the old urban poverty line — which worked out the average calorie needs of the then-urban population — does not hold water at all and so gets knocked by all and sundry. But the plus point of the Tendulkar poverty report is that on the old "official" (or "Alagh") urban poverty line they have mapped the distribution of nutrition.


The first thing to note is that we are not talking of a single number or a unique poverty line. If all malnourished persons are the target you get one number; if only women are, you get another. If you are bothered as you should be about severely malnourished women you get another. The Tendulkar Committee has given us a powerful tool to work with.


We will of course make mistakes. To begin with, about all such estimates, only charlatans and some politicians are always sure. But, corresponding to market signals, India's vibrant democracy will tell us where we are wrong. Everybody will want free food; who doesn't? But once it is known it's not given, our people are realistic enough to accept that. Then those who are entitled under the nourishment — no, malnutrition — rules, will demand it, and NGOs will press the matter. Groups like Akshaya Patra and social leaders like Gopal in AP who have been working with a bag of grain employment scheme for rural development will lead the way. Areas and population cohorts of severe malnutrition or what is called chronic deprivation will need a special focus.


The really deserving must get food free. Here the Planning Commission seems to suggest some market elements and that is wrong. It will frighten away the really deserving and market logic can be carried too far. The commission talks of need. It must operationalise that.


Beyond that they are right. Though the idea that the above-poverty line population is entitled to grain from the PDS at minimum support price-plus is a googly, if there ever was one. The average Indian housewife is clever enough to stay away from the ration shop at an MSP-plus price. The local fellow is all right, thank you, why pay the FCI cost also?


But if the demands are unreasonable it is legitimate to give a non-operative solution as an answer to a non-problem. The upper-caste Indian philosophical mind strikes again: a double negative as a solution. One can conjure an adverse global situation where the APL population may have to buy from the ration shop at an "economic price" or MSP-plus-handling costs. But that will be seldom. An extra public policy rule using market principles which nobody ever uses never hurt anybody. It's not Occam's razor — but public policy is not an exercise in causal chain logic but in getting the best option practically possible.

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand








Let's grant even the venom-spewing their freedoms. Agreed, freedom of speech is meaningless if there is no space for the offending word. No democracy can survive in the absence of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, agreed. But should there be no Laxman Rekha that even in a democracy none must cross? If not instigation to hatred, could incitement to violence perhaps mark the boundaries of individual freedom?


So, let's grant our home-grown televangelist, Dr Zakir Naik his freedoms. His freedom to hurt national sentiments: "If you (Americans) eat pigs you behave (wife-swap) like pigs". His freedom to hurt religious sentiments: "Jews and pagans are the worst eternal enemies of Islam". His freedom to outrage those who care about gender justice: "women who get raped are asking for it" (dumb woman, didn't Islam tell you to expose nothing more than your face and wrists?). His freedom to condemn sexual minorities: "death for homosexuals" . His freedom to send fellow Muslims to the gallows: "apostasy is a one-way street". His freedom to grant special privilege to the male gender: "Man is more polygamous by nature as compared to a woman ".


What about his statements on terrorism? "Every Muslim should be a terrorist... to selective people, i.e., anti-social elements;" "If he (Osama bin Laden) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him... If he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, he's following Islam."


How does one "read" such statements? It all depends on who is reading them. In his self-defence after the visa ban, Dr Naik offers two clarifications: one, "Due to the fact that he (Osama Bin Laden) has not been convicted in respect of 9/11 and as Dr Zakir Naik cannot verify the claims against him, he neither considers him a saint nor a terrorist"; two, "the quote is from a lecture he delivered in 1996, almost five years before 9/11".


But the clarifications only raise further questions:


Dr Naik cannot decide about Osama because the latter has not been convicted for 9/11 and because he (Naik) cannot independently verify the claims against Osama since, "I'm not in touch with him. I don't know him personally. I (only) read the newspaper." Interesting. On what basis then did he arrive at his "America-the-greatest-terrorist" conclusion: newspaper reports, personal acquaintance with ex-President Bush, or a non-existent verdict of the International Criminal Court?


If the relevant quote is from a 1996 lecture, what stopped Dr Naik from coming clean a few months ago when in an NDTV programme, anchor Barkha Dutt threw that very statement at him? Why did his response so agitate Maulana Mehmood Madni of the Jamiat-ul-ulema-e-Hind?


Is lip service enough to condemn terrorism in the name of Islam? In these terror-torn times, would Dr Naik care to inform us how much time and attention was paid to this malady of current-day Islam during his 10-day long "Islam Peace Conference-2009" in Mumbai? How frequently does the terror scourge figure in discussions or debates on his Peace TV channel?


Above all, as a devout Wahhabi, Dr Naik insists on a literal reading of the Quranic verses torn out of the socio-cultural realities of a primitive Arab society over 1,400 years ago. Which is why, like all literalist readers of Holy Scriptures, he is incapable of extracting the normative, universal ethico-moral principles embedded in the context-specific passages of the text. Which is why, what he peddles as Islam is nothing but out-of-date, petro-dollar sponsored Wahhabism that is repugnant to modern sensibilities. The digression apart, where is the guarantee that some Muslims with fevered imaginations would not "read" Dr Naik's utterances selectively and literally just as he himself reads the Quran and the Hadith?


Consider this: Dr Naik is reportedly a big hero for Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American arrested last year for plotting to bomb the New York subway, Dr Kafeel Ahmed of Bangalore origin who tried to storm Glasgow airport in an explosives-packed car and Mumbai's Rahil Sheikh accused in the 7/11 train blasts.


No one accuses Dr Naik of being part of any terror network. But should a self-proclaimed champion of peace be so reckless in his use/misuse of inflammable words? Or are we dealing here with calculated ambiguity, a deliberate playing with fire? Until the televangelist learns to mind his language, I go with the British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) and the British Muslims Forum (BMF) in supporting the visa ban.


P.S.: On second thoughts, the ban should perhaps be revoked on condition that while in the UK, Dr Naik agrees to a discussion with Dr Taj Hargey on 'The Status of Women in Islam' and with Inayat Banglawala on 'Rights of Gay Muslims'. A trustee of BMSD, Dr Hargey is also chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and an imam at its mosque. Dr Hargey has an open invitation to women scholars to his mosque to lead mixed-gender Friday congregational prayers. But he might not shock our own doctor so much as Banglawala, media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a large nationwide, mainstream Muslim organisation that even today is considered by many to be a hybrid of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. Horror of horrors, through a recent article in the Guardian , UK, Banglawala has appealed to MCB to include a gay Muslim support group as an affiliate!


Imagine the 150 million viewers of Peace TV being treated to such a rich discourse on diversity in Islam.


The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy and co-editor, 'Communalism Combat'








Once, two passengers on a train got talking. "I'm from Andhra Pradesh", said one, to which the other said, "I'm from Bandha Pradesh." He explained — "Assam. We call it Bandha Pradesh because most of the time there is a bandh!" Going by that norm, Manipur should by now be known or referred to Blockade-pur, especially after it went through a 66-day highway blockade, the effects of which are far from over.


For those still not familiar with the issue: two blockades affected Manipur in the past months. While the All Naga Students' Association of Manipur (ANSAM), United Naga Council (UNC) and some other Naga organisations of the state on April 11 launched a blockade of the two crucial national highways within the state — NH-39 and NH-53, their demand was to put on hold an election to the autonomous district councils in the five hill districts. The other was a blockade by the Naga Students' Federation (NSF) on NH-39 in Nagaland, which links Manipur to rest of India through Nagaland, and began on May 3. The NSF problem was that that a student delegation was refused permission to enter Manipur to attend a meeting of Naga student bodies at Ukhrul.


A landlocked state, Manipur is almost entirely dependent on the two national highways for its supplies as well as travel to the outside world. And, for any outfit, underground or overground, the best available mode of protest is to block the highways, more particularly NH-39. On any given day, at least 100 trucks and oil and LPG tankers drive up 115 kms of NH-39 through Nagaland into Manipur, which also happens to be a highway where militant groups almost freely collect "taxes" as the authorities pretend not to have seen them run their writ.


But, though on the surface the two blockades were for two specific reasons, there is no denying the fact that they were also connected to the much-hyped visit of NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to his native village Somdal in Ukhrul district of Manipur. Though the Union home ministry had specifically instructed the Manipur government to ensure Muivah's visit to his native village, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh refused, contending that there were numerous cases against Muivah in the state, and the moment he enters, Manipur Police would arrest him. Muivah, also "ato kilonser" (prime minister) of the underground "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim", also gets Z+ protection from the government!


Muivah, in ceasefire with the government since 1997, is free to move about inside Nagaland. But he wants to also tour the Naga-inhabited districts — Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong — because the NSCN(IM) wants a "Greater Nagalim" that includes "Naga-inhabited areas" of not just Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh but also Myanmar!


Thanks to the Centre's intervention, Muivah temporarily put off his visit to Somdal. And thanks to civil society pressure, the student bodies also finally withdrew their blockades. But, by then, Manipur had already undergone a 66-day ordeal, with stocks drying up and prices — of whatever little was left — skyrocketing. The state government did move a few hundred trucks under heavy security through NH-53, a route that is not just longer than NH-39, but also nothing more than a dirt track in large portions. But, even as the blockades have been called off, truckers continue not to ply on NH-39 till the authorities ensured that extortions were stopped.


The NH-39 story, incidentally, also applies to several other national highways in the Northeast. Extortion, collection of illegal taxes, harassment over donations, blockades, damage to vehicles — these are common to highways especially in Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. An inquiry instituted by the government of Assam a couple of years ago had revealed how a nexus of corrupt officers, politicians and militants squeezed huge sums of money from truckers entering Assam from West Bengal. Three years after that inquiry report, trucks continue to be fleeced on the inter-state check gates.


Extortions apart, the condition of most of the so-called national highways in the Northeastern region is also highly deplorable. Take for instance NH-53 and NH-150, of which the former connects Manipur through the Barak Valley in southern Assam, and the latter through Mizoram further south via Barak Valley. While most of the 220-km stretch of the 320-km NH-53 between Jiribam (on the border) and Imphal is nothing but a dirt track, then 220 kms into the state, the 523-km stretch of the 700-km NH-150 that passes through Manipur is even worse, making it impossible to predict how long it would to take to cover those distances. (Leave aside the landslides that play havoc with roads: the Dibang Valley district in Arunachal Pradesh has been cut off since March 31, and nobody seems to be bothered.)


People in the region are now talking about who gained what out of the 66-day blockade. But the basic question is yet to be addressed — how long will highway blockades continue to be used to hold people to ransom?







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 FBI and the KGB's successor, the SVR — 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 FBI'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 FBI this week is the hi-tech methods they used to communicate with Yasenevo, the supersecret SVR 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 websites. The messages could be read only by SVR 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 FBI, 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 CIA could a Russian spy living in Yonkers or Montclair, NJ, acquire? Unless some future bombshells are disclosed, it sounds as though the SVR 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 FBI trying to sandbag détente?


Most likely neither. The criminal complaint reveals that on Saturday, a Russian-speaking FBI 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 FBI, fearing the game was up, moved in and arrested her and nine others. The bureau, like the SVR, 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.








It may be that Sreeram has had a haircut because of Sanjay Dutt and this has not impaired his ability to sing on Indian Idol 5 (Sony); it is also possible that Abeer and Leher will begin to annoy their parents less (although this is by no means for certain since thus far his and hers are behaving as if they are dishonoured khap panchayats) on Yeh Pyaar Na Hoga Kam(Colors); and the chances are Lali will finally be reunited with her own child and the villainous Loha will be exposed for exchanging babies. It's also possible... but why continue — does anybody care what happens anywhere else but in South Africa?


It's time for soccer. Still. Nobody is watching much else, leastways nobody but Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara who were seen at Wimbledon. It's been that kind of fortnight. Those looking for the elegance of Federer and the ripple of Nadal's muscles, will not find them easily because the tennis is tucked away on Star Cricket — and only diehard fans will choose them ahead of Arjen Robben helping the football into Slovakia's net.


Chances are you did not remember to look out for the smashing Saina Nehwal on Sunday as she won her third consecutive badminton title. You may not have known where to even look. Think there were highlights on DD Sports, Monday.


If Nehwal was overshadowed by soccer spare a thought for the Asia Cup cricket tournament and the Natwest one-day series between England and Australia. India won the former and Australia lost the latter — momentous events in the world of cricket — but who cares when there's the prospect of England being Klosed out, or Mexico coming to a Messi end (sorry, could not resist the puns!)?


And if you caught fleeting glances of Sebastian Vettel winning the European GP it was not only because he was racing by but also because you were impatiently switching channels for the football World Cup.


Such a lot of sports on the air but eyes for only one. So, okay, Wimbledon is sacrosanct, the dates cannot be changed, but the Natwest Trophy and the Asia Cup could have been rescheduled so that we watched them. Since these tournaments live off the telecast rights, it makes no sense to pit them against the biggest sporting tournament in the world, every four years, in the battle for eyeballs.


Now a word about Mayanti Langer. Who? You know, the lady who appears before, during the interval and after the World Cup matches on Star Sports and ESPN. She's a winner. And we're not speaking about her looks. Those are fine but her charm lies elsewhere. Close your eyes and listen to her voice: it's unexpected. It's more soothing than sunburn cream. It oozes, it snoozes, it makes you feel so comforted, you want to sit back in the armchair and nap. Langer is the opposite of the action on the field: unhurried, unruffled. And she knows enough about the game to keep the ball (read conversation) in play.


The commentators aren't half bad either. They keep track of the ball, the names of all the players and referees, efficiently and still find time for eloquence and humour. During the Brazil-Portugal match, the commentator remarked: this was meant to be a football feast but we haven't got past the bread-sticks so far, or words to that effect!


Those who watch the midnight matches and find it difficult to stay up for the second half can switch to entertainment channels for a spot of teleshopping. Channels like Imagine, Zee, and even the news channel India TV play games with you: they ask you to guess who is smiling back at you and win lakhs in gold. Now, that should shake you awake.







Was Nitish Kumar eyeing a bigger role in national politics by taking on Narendra Modi? The RSS, at least, seems to think so. An article in the latest issue of its mouthpiece Organiser says Nitish watchers believe the hype he created has something to do with his national ambitions.


"The chief minister seems to have convinced himself that the NDA would have no option but to project him as the prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 polls as he was the only secular face in the NDA with a mass following," it says. It sarcastically adds. "No one can prevent him from day dreaming like Lalu Prasad Yadav who thinks he would be the PM sooner or later. A seasoned politician like Nitish Kumar shouldn't even dream of becoming PM after offending the leading party in the alliance and large sections of Hindus by overplaying his hand."


Modi and Muslims


ANOTHER article in the edition lavishes praise on Narendra Modi's style of governance in Gujarat. It talks about the interlinking of rivers, power generation, initiatives in the health and education sector and the law and order situation. Surprising, since it is known that the RSS and Modi have no love lost for each other. The article notes that the per capita income of Muslims in Gujarat is the highest in the country. In fact, the state of Muslims in Gujarat was the theme of one of advertisements the state government had put out in Patna dailies in the run up to the BJP national executive last month. "Unfortunately, malicious lies about Gujarat have been spread throughout India and the world that Muslims are severely discriminated against and persecuted in Gujarat. It is an attempt by anti-Gujarat elements motivated by political enmity, to break the fast pace of good governance led by Modi," the article says.


Imports trap

The UPA government is pushing India into an imports trap under pressure from foreign lobbyists and NGOs, an article in the Organiser says, arguing that the shift from self-reliance towards imports was discernible be it agriculture, minerals, coal-based power generation, atomic power, engineering, fertilisers or pharmaceuticals. It says that while the Chief Ministers' Working Group on Agriculture Production has recommended long-term arrangement for import of pulses and oilseeds, the Ministry of Environment and Forests recently turned down Department of Atomic Energy's plea to explore uranium in the south Garo hills of Meghalaya. "Several coal-based power projects have been either deferred or rejected on different grounds such as concern for wildlife and environment and absence of coal linkage for the project," it says. Instead of producing export surpluses in agriculture, metallurgy and other sectors to generate foreign exchange to finance oil and gas imports, the UPA, it says, is opting for soft, short-sighted and easy option of imports in others sectors too.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.








It would have been an unimaginable scenario, even 10 years ago, to watch developed countries argue in favour of levies on bank profits and a Tobin tax on capital flows with developing/emerging economies leading the arguments to the contrary. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, attending the G-20 summit in Toronto, hardly warmed up to the idea of a global levy on bank profits. Indian banks, like many others across emerging economies, survived the crisis well and unlike their western counterparts certainly played no part in precipitating the crisis. So it seems absurd for these banks to be forced to pay an additional levy for the sins committed by others. The Prime Minister also reiterated India's admirably liberal position on capital flows, ruling out the imposition of any Tobin tax. India sensibly desisted from any drastic measures during the crisis—remember Sebi did not impose a ban on short selling like many of its counterparts in the developed world—and that policy stability will pay dividends now that the worst of the crisis is over. Never mind what the conventional wisdom in the West is now, India largely took the right policy calls once the crisis broke, intervening where it mattered and staying away from unnecessary intervention.


The larger international political economy now is a reflection of both the balance of economic power in the aftermath of the crisis and the difference in popular opinion across different countries. The emerging economies have recovered smartly from the crisis while the US, Europe and Japan continue to remain in the doldrums. It is the latter set of countries that are, therefore, trying to turn things around with ambitious policy changes. What is driving some of the more populist policy options, like the special levy on bank profits, is the strong public opinion against the role banks played in bringing the crisis upon the rest of the economy. As we have argued in these columns earlier, such populism is ill-advised and may take a further toll on banks, which still need to fuel the recovery of the real economy. The ability of governments to refrain from implementing populist demands will be severely tested in the West. Fortunately, it seems that for once we don't need to worry about the dangers of such populism against the financial system at home in India and across most of the emerging world.







With the country's largest bank, SBI, setting its base rate at 7.5%, and others set to follow suit, the move to a less opaque and more transparent lending system has finally begun. Under the base rate regime, small borrowers (retail and SMEs) will no longer have to subsidise the bluechip prime borrowers. And the range between the best and the highest rates charged by a bank is likely to narrow down. Structurally, the base rate regime will be positive for the banking industry as it will reduce the wide diversity in the prime lending rates of public sector and private sector banks. To stay competitive, most banks are expected to keep their base rate close to that of SBI and this will help in bringing about a uniformity in the lending rates across all banks in the country. Banks may witness a shift in business from top-rated corporates. These corporates may find it cheaper to opt for commercial paper to meet their fund requirements. But even though there is no prudential limit set by RBI for banks' investment in commercial paper, corporates may not be able to meet all their short-term funding needs through this route alone—the rates of commercial paper over the past one month have picked up and are currently hovering between 6.5% and 7%. Moreover, the commercial paper market is not very deep and mid-sized companies will continue to depend on the banking system. So, banks are unlikely to lose all their bluechip customers. On the unambiguously positive side, the new base rate will be beneficial for borrowers of small and medium enterprises and for home and automobile loan borrowers at the retail level.


As we have argued in the past, with the base rate regime, skilled negotiation for favourable interest rates will take centrestage. Banks will have to ensure that the new rate is conveyed to customers and they will have to provide information on the actual minimum and maximum lending rates charged to major categories of borrowers. They will also have to transparently announce their credit premiums, tenure premiums and other allocatable costs to the base rate while fixing the exact lending rate to the borrower. Banks will be allowed to review the lending rate every quarter based on liquidity and credit offtake. That will give the system the flexibility it needs.








India has gone through its busiest ever summer, where every industry you could name has figured in at least one substantive development. Following such a summer, we could be justified in expecting the agenda for the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament to be choke-full with assessing the impact of these developments.


The agenda is not public yet. But it is for sure that none of the following developments will figure anywhere. A major vestige of the socialist raj mindset blocks the Indian political class from conducting any dialogue with the industry at a public forum. So, even as we see the top BP officials getting it in their beak at open Congress hearings because of the US oil spill, no such accountability lessons will be on display in India. But this lack of dialogue occurs not only in cases of corporate malfeasance, but even on issues where industry or sections of it may justifiably need the support of the political establishment. This is not just tragic, but a massive oversight that needs to be fixed. Just as you can't have a high grade football match without a good referee, strong competition among companies cannot take place without good political umpiring.


From April, Indian industry has seen enough ruckus—over the pricing of telecom spectrum, the disquiet over Chinese imports, a furious back and forth on inflation and rate rise between the finance ministry and RBI, the IPL saga and the mining war. We are not even including the renewed ruckus over the pricing of natural gas, the timing of the disinvestment deals, or the DTC and GST.


For Indian democracy to take deeper root, it is essential for the political establishment to understand the complexity of the industrial complex we have built up. This can only develop if we write in rules for public hearing and debate on major economic issues. Without this avenue, the asymmetry of information between the executive and the legislature will deepen further. This hurts both as no serious pressure mounts on the government to offer help to a sector or fix corporate responsibility, even as the corporate industrial complex has become the driving force of the economy.


Also, without such an understanding, we will witness the spectacle of sections of the government trying to push through Bills that get blocked or inordinately delayed at some stage.


The plan to reduce government ownership in public sector banks to less than 51% will be more successful if the bankers and politicians get to understand each other better. Entrenched positions on this or the pension and insurance Bills will be far less once the politicians get to hear voices from outside their community. This would be possible when public hearings are beamed across the media, as constituents will immediately have information and question their representatives more closely. Given the underlying support for key reform measures, these representatives will then become more attuned to the ground reality. Sure, political opposition will still remain, but the chances of building support across the parties will be stronger based on such awareness. It is conceivable then to come across situations where the parties will drop their whip for members to vote en masse, making the government more comfortable about bringing in major changes.


At present, the only forum where parliamentarians get up close with the industry is in a standing committee, when there is a concerned bill. Here too, it is the bureaucrats who occupy the pride of place, reducing evidence by industry to tepid responses from chambers—we hardly ever hear from industry captains in their individual capacities. One can easily check this out in the records of the standing committees of key ministries like finance, industry or petroleum and power. Moreover, the evidence is cocooned in secrecy (except snatches gleaned by reporters as exclusives), which adds nothing to the debate.


This has created a perverse system where corporate accountability is actually reduced. On malfeasance, instead of putting a company on the mat publicly, ministers end up sort of defending them on the floor of the house. How does this happen? Whenever a company creates trouble, the rumbling in Parliament closely follows media reports, but with few additional inputs from those most affected. Companies in the affected sector get no organised platform to educate the politicians, except the ministers, or those outside the government to call for evidence.


If there is a calling attention motion, it is the minister for the concerned sector who makes a reply. It is a peculiar aspect of our governance system that the reply means the minister will now take up the responsibility of bringing the company to heel or lead the charge with his respective ministry. This happened in the case of Satyam. Instead of broad-basing the subject, Parliament members have to rely only on information supplied by the ministry concerned. If there is a debate, members have to use their individual proximity to the corporate world to secure information to embarrass the government. This immediately creates opportunity for leaks and backroom deals. By contrast, public hearings would create an opportunity for all the concerned parties to participate, making the content of the debate and the resulting government action far superior. If that happens, we would probably have learnt the right lessons from the Bhopal disaster, even if 26 years later.







We don't need to wait for the finals to know who will win the 2010 World Cup: it's South Africa. It may not necessarily be the football World Cup but rather the tournament of competitiveness and global respect. Barely two decades ago the country was an international pariah, but today it is competing with some of the most successful nations in the world and, as it has shown by securing and then organising the World Cup, it is winning.


Nelson Mandela, the world's most widely-respected leader, has helped the country build its reputation for freedom, tolerance and hope. However, the battle to convince the rest of the world that it has changed completely is yet to be won. There is little doubt, for example, that criminality, poverty and the shadow of AIDS are still very real problems while some people argue that much more needs to be done to improve social justice. Despite these challenges, the country has shown truly impressive growth over the past 18 years.


South Africa's impressive economic resilience has meant that its competitiveness has improved over the past two years, despite the global downturn. It has moved up to the 44th place in IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook, which rates 58 industrialised and emerging economies according to their economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure. Only two years ago it was 53rd. It made particularly strong progress in improving government efficiency, which reflects the extent to which government policies support economic competitiveness, and is now ranked 21st on this criterion, up from 26th in 2009.


Its business efficiency ranking, which expresses the extent to which enterprises are performing in an innovative, profitable and responsible manner, is 31—one position lower than last year, but still indicative of strong performance. The infrastructure category, which measures the extent to which basic, technological, scientific and human resources meet the needs of business, highlights some of South Africa's biggest challenges. However, it has still made significant progress, climbing from 56th in 2009 to 51st in 2010. A macroeconomic evaluation of its domestic economy did not show any progress over the past year in comparison to these competitive 57 nations, so it remained at 56th position on the economic performance criterion. These rankings provide a convenient way to understand the country's challenges and map its progress, but the reality underneath these figures is complex, shaped by years of internal struggles and a search for identity...


and belonging.


The country has high unemployment—it is at the bottom of IMD's list on this criterion—and is one of the worst-placed with respect to employment growth. It faces major challenges in providing basic infrastructure, such as access to clean water (ranked 55th) and health services (52nd).


These are some of the challenges, many of which are well-known both to South Africans and outsiders; so, where are the strengths? Well, in these difficult economic circumstances, the country's government debt as a percentage of GDP is low, and is placed at the 16th position, behind top-ranked Hong Kong but well ahead of Switzerland (28th), Denmark (29th) and Sweden (30th). It also has very good real growth of GDP per capita, coming in 22nd—one place ahead of Hong Kong, this time.


It comes in fourth place on implementing shareholder rights, and makes it to the top-10 in the business efficiency and management practice category, which assesses whether auditing and accounting processes are implemented adequately. It's in the top half, at 27th, when countries are ranked according to their companies' ethical practices.


These are just a few examples of achievements. While it doesn't resolve all of South Africa's immediate problems, these successes do create a platform to shape a better future. South Africa has achieved great transformations in a relatively short time by dealing with the roots of problems while simultaneously building on strengths—strengths that may not always be immediately obvious to anyone who looks only at the overall ranking.


South Africans seem to have an innately entrepreneurial attitude to business and a willingness to invest, both locally and internationally. This is paying off. In BusinessWeek's recent list of the world's top-40 companies, three South African companies were recognised: MTN, Sasol and Bidvest. MTN, a company that was founded only in 1994, was seventh on the list behind the likes of Nintendo, Apple and Google, which were placed first, second and third, respectively.


The author is an executive director at IMD. He leads IMD's corporate development in South Africa...










The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) seeks to create the largest biometric database in the world, with information about over 1.1 billion people. A draft of the National Identity Authority of India Bill, 2010, outlining UIDAI's objectives and methodology has been posted on its Web site for public comment and debate. The 19-page draft legislation, of which only one page is devoted to discussing the 'protection of information', has become the newest issue of contention. While the chapter lists the rights of the card holders on access to and altering the information provided, on protection it says only that "the authority shall ensure the security and confidentiality of the identity information of individuals", except in instances of national security and the data collated will be secured "against any loss or unauthorised access". Furthermore, the Bill mandates punishments ranging from a fine of Rs 10,000 and up to three years in prison for individual misdemeanour to a Rs 1 crore fine in addition to three years' imprisonment for unauthorised access to the central database. That seems reasonable deterrence against misuse.


But the larger issue of privacy—the collection, storage and management of the vast amounts of private data and their usage—is the one issue that stirs a debate about Aadhaar. The biggest fear, in the minds of individuals and civil rights organisations opposing the project, is the data protection effort by UIDAI, given the vulnerability of the system to attacks by miners. The fear about information theft in this instance is that while stolen phone numbers and credit cards can be changed, biometric data is unique and, thus, irreplaceable.


Detractors argue that technology is not infallible and there is much room for misuse. To allay fears and exclusively address the issue of privacy, the project requires a piece of over-arching data protection legislation that will safeguard individual rights, already under consideration by the Union government. The UID project must receive all the necessary legislative support, given its gamechanging potential in the quest for inclusive growth.








Not just flair and flamboyance but also power and precision contribute to success in football. Over the last three weeks, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa saw the top teams find winning ways through a combination of possession football and counter-attack. As the tournament enters the quarter-final stage, last World Cup's finalists, Italy and France, are back home but the pre-tournament favourites, Brazil and Spain, are still in line for a summit clash. Uruguay, Paraguay, and Ghana, the only African team in the last eight, have outperformed themselves. But other than Italy's exit in the first round, this World Cup has served up no shockers thus far. A group stage draw with Portugal aside, Brazil won all its games comfortably. With an unusually solid defence led by fullback Maicon, and a variety of attacking options with Robinho as the spearhead, the five-time champion revealed no flaws in its four matches. But while two unfancied teams, Uruguay and Ghana, will fight it out for the other semi-final slot from the same half of the draw, Brazil finds the Netherlands standing in its path. Argentina and the Netherlands are the only two teams with an all-win record thus far. Argentina, with 10 goals in four matches, tops in both goals per game (2.5) and shots on goal per game (9). Lionel Messi may be scoreless but he holds the record for the highest number of shots on target (13) among all players. Spain, which is taking possession football to new heights, tops in total passes completed (2,265) and pass completion rate (81 per cent). Youthful Germany is a strong contender for the crown: it has shown impressive speed and precision in counter-attacks that have demolished the opposition.


This World Cup could turn out to be the tournament that set football officialdom thinking seriously about the use of technology in refereeing. Several teams have suffered from faulty application of the offside rule but what will rankle fans and administrators the longest is the refereeing blunder in the Germany-England match, when Frank Lampard's shot landed in and bounced back and was not ruled a goal. While apologising to the English and Mexican federations for the refereeing errors, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has put the topic in sound context. Only goal-line technology, which can help determine whether the ball crossed the goal-line or not, will be on the discussion board. The irrefutable argument against bringing in video replays to settle questionable refereeing decisions is that they will ruin the free flow of the game. Fortunately, the two most talked about refereeing errors turned out to be of little consequence: Germany thrashed England 4-1, and in the match where Carlos Tevez scored from an off-side position, Argentina blocked out Mexico 3-1. By refusing to follow the cricket example of flirting with technology-supervised umpiring, football can remain a game of glorious uncertainties.







On the face of it, the G20 meeting at Toronto managed to reach a consensus on the two key issues of coordinating fiscal policies and framing global regulatory rules for the financial sector. The summit declaration was so worded that all sides could claim victory. On reining in fiscal deficits and reducing government indebtedness, it merely committed all countries to follow "growth-friendly fiscal consolidation plans," halving their deficits by 2013 and stabilising the ratio of debt to gross domestic product by 2016. However, there would be no sanctions on countries not adhering to this guideline. No major policy changes are likely to follow either: almost all G20 countries are on course to hit the target by the stipulated time. The public message was that all countries, while shoring up domestic demand in the short run, would move towards fiscal consolidation, but at a pace to be decided by the country itself. The declaration reflected the dilemma faced by policy makers: synchronised fiscal adjustment across major economies would adversely impact the recovery but failure to consolidate where necessary would undermine confidence and growth. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's point that global recovery was still fragile and hence needed to be nurtured through continued public spending in the advanced countries was endorsed by other big emerging economies and the United States.


Some strange economic logic was apparently behind the papering over of differences related to fiscal policies. Countries with the lowest growth rates are the strongest advocates of fiscal cutbacks, while those with robust growth rates, such as India, are more relaxed about public spending. Dr. Singh's point that deflation was a greater risk than inflation is particularly valid for a country like Japan, while for India inflation has become a serious threat to growth. As for the United Kingdom, its new government has unveiled one of the toughest budgets in decades aimed specifically at correcting the structure of public finance. With so much of divergence over the issue, the G20 was hardly in a position to agree on anything tangible to guide the global economy. On the financial sector reform front also, it is unlikely that the world's biggest banks will come under new regulations anytime soon. The onus is on the Seoul summit scheduled for November to carry forward some of these key items on the agenda.










If Israel and its powerful lobbyists in Washington and New York are to be believed, Turkey in recent months committed two unpardonable crimes. First, it dared to support the people of Gaza, who, in the eyes of the Israeli establishment, deserve collective punishment for supporting Hamas "terrorists," who are running the affairs of the impoverished coastal strip.


Tel Aviv's problems with Ankara came to a head on May 31 when Israeli commandos attacked a Gaza-bound aid flotilla led by the Turkish charity, IHH. Despite the international outcry against the raid, Israel has been persistent in calling Turkey's Gaza mission a fig leaf to cover its larger political goal of bolstering the Hamas, already an ally of Iran. Israel, in other words, has been making a bizarre assertion that by leading the flotilla, Turkey has joined the ranks of international terror groups.


In the propaganda war that the raid unleashed, Israel has ignored the more widely accepted counterview, echoed across the globe, that by leading the aid flotilla, Ankara jolted the world into recognising the urgency of tackling Israel's illegal siege of Gaza and the miserable human conditions that prevail there. Israel fell far short of countering the accusation that came thick and fast from various parts of the globe that it had committed a glaring act of piracy by storming Mavi Marmara, Turkish lead ship of the flotilla, in international waters.


Turkey committed the second blunder, in Israel's perception, when it along with Brazil reached out to Israel's visceral enemy, Iran, to help it peacefully resolve its nuclear standoff with the West. In the eyes of Israel's right-wing establishment, Turkey does not deserve forgiveness. By supporting the Hamas and dealing with Iran's theocrats, Turkey, in its view, has ended up supporting two main forces which have one common hateful objective — the destruction of Israel. Consequently, Tel Aviv concluded that Turkey rightly deserves severe punishment. Many Israeli mainstream supporters have since been insisting that the West, especially the United States, now ensure that Turkey is expelled from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, lynchpin of Ankara's status as a key western ally.


Unsurprisingly, the call for retribution is making a dent in the corridors of power in Israel and the U.S. Ironically, in view of the West's core long-term interests, nothing could be more short-sighted and counterproductive than the political attack Israel and its supporters in the U.S. are mounting against the Turkish government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By allowing the campaign to gather steam, the West is jeopardising the success of the Turkish model, which seeks to blend Islamic personal values with the core western ideals of democracy, human rights and market economy.


The emergence of Mr. Erdogan on the political stage is a reflection of an intense century-old tussle, between the forces of political Islam and laicism, represented by "Kemalists" or followers of the legacy of Mustapha Kemal Attaturk, founder of modern Turkey. After assuming power in 1923 —following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire — Attaturk embarked on a "cultural revolution," based on western principles that sought to modernise his country pervasively. Consequently, he subordinated religion to the state. This was complemented by abolition of the caliphate and closure of all religious schools, orders and institutions. Swiss-based civil law replaced Islamic law, and the Italian criminal law and the German trade and commercial law were adopted. Latin replaced the Arabic script, education became compulsory and religious symbols in public institutions were banned.


However, these measures imposed from above found their antithesis, resulting in the 1930 Sufi rebellion, which the army forcefully suppressed. Twenty years later, the Democratic Party of Adnan Menderes won the elections on the promise of bringing Islamic principles back into public life, including legalisation of the Arabic script and lifting the ban on a call to prayer. However, a decade later, the army staged a coup, arrested Menderes and proclaimed itself the upholder of Kemalist secularism. The contradiction between Turkish laicism and political Islam surfaced again in 1997, when the army ousted the government of Necmettin Erbakan because of his Islamic leanings. Mr. Erbakan's Welfare Party (RP) was banned the following year. Elected in 2002 under the banner of the Justice and Democratic Party (AKP), Mr. Erdogan in a way represents the evolution of his country's Islamist legacy. Yet he is far removed from the stereotyped image of an Islamist engaged in the mindless pursuit of a medieval agenda.


Over the years, Mr. Erdogan has emerged a reformer and pragmatist, fixated in his belief that modern Turkey's future lies in the European Union. His highly regarded Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, summed up in an interview on Al Jazeera television the place the leadership has assigned to religion, as Turkey doggedly pursues its path towards progress. "We are proud of our religion and identity but, at the same time, we are part of European culture and European history and we are proud of that identity as well," he said. For the Turkish dispensation, there is no contradiction among secularism and democracy — which, in any case, remain the cardinal principles of the republic — and a strong personal Islamic identity.


In a May 20 article in the Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Davutoglu shared his vision of Turkey for the next decade and a half. He pointed out that Turkey hoped to fulfil all EU membership conditions and become an influential member-state of the grouping by 2023. Turkish leaders are optimistic that this commitment to EU membership should allay the fear that their country is pursuing a hidden Islamic agenda under the AK party's watch. They argue that the induction into the EU's ranks would be possible only if Turkey remained firmly committed to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, and a functioning market economy.


Mr. Davutoglu has openly declared Turkey's aspiration to emerge as a regional heavyweight. Besides, Turkey has an ambitious economic agenda as it hopes to break into the league of the world's 10 most developed economies. Its aspiration to become a member of the United Nations Security Council is also obvious as Mr. Davutoglu has declared that Ankara wishes to play a "determining role" as a participant in international organisations.


The West has a major stake in Turkey's success. If it triumphs, the Turkish model, which aims to successfully harmonise Islamic, secular and democratic principles with good governance, would become a potent antidote to the virulence of jihadi extremism. Mr. Erdogan's Turkey, which has already caught the imagination of the region's youth, can play an effective part in denting the appeal of nihilistic Islam by providing a viable, functional and inclusive alternative that does not rely on suicide bombers to achieve its objectives.


Given Turkey's promising message of hope and success to the Islamic world, the West will commit a serious blunder if it does not stem the hate campaign that the Israeli lobby, in league with the Bush-era neoconservatives, has launched with full virulence in the U.S. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, military historian and long-time Bush supporter Victor Davis Hanson described the Turkish charity IHH as "a terrorist organisation with ties to the al-Qaeda."


Daniel Pipes, director of the Likudist Middle East Forum, has exhorted Washington to support the Turkish opposition parties directly. On its part, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) has called for Turkey's suspension from NATO. "If Turkey finds its best friends to be Iran, Hamas, Syria and Brazil (look for Venezuela in the future) the security of that information (and Western technology in weapons in Turkey's arsenal) is suspect. The United States should seriously consider suspending military cooperation with Turkey as a prelude to removing it from the organisation," it said.


While the neoconservatives bay for Turkey's blood, it is vital that saner voices in the West step in and continue their harmonious engagement with Ankara. Notwithstanding the jaundiced perceptions of terrorism, it is evident that Turkey has a lot to offer to remove political turbulence from West Asia. Unlike Iran under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Palestinian Hamas, Turkey has not in any way challenged Israel's existential rights or questioned its aspirations to scale new technological heights. In fact, before Israel's winter invasion of Gaza in 2009, Turkey was actively mediating between Israel and Syria to resolve their row over the Golan Heights. Turkey's military relationship with Israel has also been thriving, and is worth billions of dollars in military hardware trade.


Turkey's problem with Israel is, therefore, not fundamental but confined to the terrible human rights situation in Gaza. If this is resolved through sustained international activism, Turkey's ability to mediate among Israel, Palestine and its Arab neighbours, to achieve a two-state solution, would remain uniquely intact. In the long-run, the West may be the biggest loser if right-wing hostility abroad and internal resistance within succeed in defeating Turkey's courageous political experiment with democracy and Islam.









Less than a week ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was visiting factories in California's Silicon Valley, eager to enlist U.S. firms in Russia's own technological revolution. All the talk was of the relative success of the "re-setting of ties'' between Washington and Moscow undertaken by the Obama administration.


But now the headlines are harking back to a very different, older, more adversarial relationship following the arrest of a network of alleged Russian agents by the FBI. Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, believes this episode "has come at a very awkward moment" — just as Moscow and Washington are in the midst of pursuing rapprochement and deepening strategic cooperation. "Nonetheless, espionage — for better or worse — remains a fixture of international politics," Prof. Kupchan said.


"The revelation of the alleged Russian spy ring thus represents primarily a public relations challenge to the policy of re-setting relations, not a discovery that promises to scuttle improving ties between the U.S. and Russia."


'Unfortunate timing'


Jeffrey Mankoff, a fellow for Russian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees the wider impact of this affair will in all likelihood be limited. "There are friendly countries, there are no friendly intelligence agencies," Mr. Mankoff explained.


"The fact of widespread espionage and counter-espionage between the U.S. and Russia is a legacy of the Cold War and has little to do with the state of bilateral relations at any given moment," he said.


Mr Mankoff accepts that the timing of this case is "unfortunate." It threatened to take some of the glow off President Medvedev's successful U.S. visit last week, he said. He argued there would probably be a brief period of muted recriminations, but that then this episode would fade.


His colleague, Stephen Sestanovich, one of Washington's leading commentators on Russian affairs, also believes the fall-out from this affair will be limited. "In both countries espionage and counter espionage efforts are only very loosely tied to diplomacy. Both governments will want to keep the affair from taking on too much significance."


Cold war infrastructure


For a Russian take on the affair, I turned to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.


His hope was that its impact would be short-lived. But in Mr. Trenin's view "both Russia and the United States still keep much more of the Cold War infrastructure than is needed by either."


He had an intriguing point of view on the specific timing of this announcement. While most U.S. commentators have been speculating about Russian motives, Dmitri Trenin believes the timing of the announcement of these arrests is telling. Mr. Trenin sees two groups of interest in this matter. The first he says are "those in the U.S. who are unhappy about the re-set in relations, who argue that Russia is getting much more out of it and want it to slow down."


Mr. Trenin says the second group is the "FBI, which wants to burnish its reputation after the Times Square bomb incident and the Chicago Christmas airline bomb-plot."


Of course there are clearly different constituencies at work in Moscow, too.


As Charles Kupchan said: "When it comes to re-setting relations with the United States and with NATO, Russia's security, defence and foreign policy bureaucracy tend to drag their feet. President Medvedev seems to be in the lead on this front, pulling a reluctant bureaucracy behind him."


Legacy of the past


Earlier this month, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates described Russia's foreign policy as "schizophrenic." He was referring to Moscow's ambivalent approach towards Iran's nuclear activities.


But when asked whether this might be an appropriate label to describe Russia's whole approach to the Obama administration as well, Dmitri Trenin said: "I think the U.S.-Russian relationship as a whole is somewhat schizophrenic."


But what really worried him was the way in which the legacy of the past intruded into the present. Should we really be so surprised by these espionage allegations?


"I trust there are U.S. spies in Russia and will be for a long time, never mind the re-set," Mr. Trenin said.


He added: "But I am even more troubled that 20 years after the end of the Cold War, Moscow and Washington are still targeted by very real nuclear missiles of the 'other side.'The nukes may have had a real deterrence mission in the Cold War, but now it's like the light of a star that is long dead — dead but dangerous.''


Charles Kupchan too believes that Russian foreign policy has a "schizophrenic" quality to it. He said: "On the one hand, Moscow seems sincerely intent on pursuing rapprochement with the West and finding its place within the Euro-Atlantic order."


But Prof. Kupchan said that, on the other hand, "its policies toward Georgia and missile defence and its use of its energy supplies to coerce its neighbours indicate otherwise."


Everyone I spoke to in both Washington and Moscow wondered if the U.S. might in due course throw out the Russian handlers of these alleged agents if, that is, these diplomats are still on U.S. soil. That would be playing pretty much to form — you are found out and you walk.


If this happens maybe Moscow might reciprocate with expulsions of its own. But after that things would in all probability calm down. All of the commentators and analysts were pretty much of one mind: Both the re-set and the diplomatic "schizophrenia" in relations between Russia and the U.S. look set to continue. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate










If the media covered America the way we cover Africa, here's what we would know of the United States over the last decade. That in 2000 there were fiercely disputed elections in which the presidency was seized by the candidate who won fewer votes than his rival. That a year later, one of the country's major cities was rocked by a devastating terror attack, costing thousands of lives. And that in 2005 another key city was submerged in record floods, destroying homes and leaving a thousand dead after the dominant tribe left the minority tribe to their fate. Surely we would speak of America as the dark continent, cursed to face constant suffering.


Much as I would like to, I can't claim credit for that riff, which belongs to my colleague at the London—based Guardian newspaper, Joseph Harker, who aired it first in an essay on race and the media. But I have been thinking of it, not least because I was a judge for the One World Media awards which were handed out last week. That meant watching and listening to the work of a dozen broadcast journalists and nearly as many in print, all of whom had reported on the developing world. It was a punishingly hard task and not just for the usual reason, cited by all awards judges, that the standard was exceptionally high. It was hard because no matter how good the journalism — and much of it was exceptionally good — it was almost unwatchable. By which I mean it was unbearable to watch.


Of course that was partly my fault for consuming these reports the way no punter ever would — back—to—back, one after another. But after an hour or two spent seeing children in Kenya speaking of the hunger that drives them to sell their bodies to European sex tourists, paedophiles who pay £5 to violate a 10- or 11-year-old girl on a beach — or watching footage of mass graves filled with the corpses of civilians murdered in Sri Lanka — there is only so much you can take. When confronted with the sight of men in Papua New Guinea proudly telling how they tortured and killed those they suspected of witchcraft, or with the image of entire Haitian villages submerged by hurricane-caused floods — even before disaster struck again in this year's earthquake — the urge to look away can be almost overwhelming.


The temptation, especially among journalists, is to imagine this is their fault, that if only they made their stories more appealing then they would capture the viewer's or listener's attention. So they try their best to humanise their tale of woe, to replace statistics with an individual. The result can sometimes be achingly powerful: witness the BBC radio interview with a 14-year-old Zimbabwean boy forced to be sole carer for his dying, AIDS-stricken mother. Too often, though, this becomes a mere technique in a numbingly repetitive formula: the TV despatch that begins with the crying African baby before cutting to the (usually white) U.N. expert. Such reports turn all too quickly into cliche, the stuff of parody, and once again the finger is twitching over the television remote.


Others say the problem is not one of form but of substance, that the western media depict the people of the developing world as victims — whether of poverty, natural disaster, corruption or all three. This casts the people of those countries as perennially, even innately, passive — those to whom life happens. It also accentuates the negative in a way that, for all the press's attraction to bad news, does not happen when the west discusses itself: as Harker pointed out, we know more about America than Florida 2000, 9/11 and Katrina.


The temptation then is to head in the other direction, to highlight the positive. This was the thrust of Jonathan Dimbleby's recent TV series on Africa, showcasing entrepreneurial and creative success stories — replacing the starving child with the cement billionaire. That's welcome. I confess my heart leapt when I came across one entry to last week's award, a TV report on the effort to build in Timbuktu, Mali, a library of great, pre-colonial manuscripts. An item that was not only upbeat, but also emphasised Africa's intellectual heritage, provided a rare contrast.


Yet that cannot be the template for coverage of the developing world. That too would be condescending and would never pass muster for Europe or the U.S. If we cover scandal, disaster and disease in Germany and France, surely we must do the same in Somalia and Congo. The challenge, of course, is to provide the whole picture — good, bad and ugly.


But this challenge cannot fall on journalists alone. The best of the award submissions were about as good as they could be, and still I know the vast bulk of the audience would prefer to read or watch something else.


This is partly a problem of all foreign news. Our curiosity about those far away is finite. As one old-time U.S. hack used to say, "Americans will do anything for Latin America except read about it." But, more deeply, there seems to be a limit to our capacity to absorb human suffering. We know terrible, heartbreaking things are going on all over the world; but to face them, for more than a fleeting glimpse, is more than we can take. This is true of both ends of the market: sure, readers of mass-market papers would prefer to read 10 pages on the World Cup than a single story about TB in Africa, but the Guardian's traffic figures suggest our own online readers are much the same.


What might make a difference? Of course, the objective reality could change, and coverage with it. Reporting of

the developing world was different in the immediate post—colonial era, when the likes of Julius Nyerere or Kenneth Kaunda were making the weather on their continent. They were active, not passive; actors in their own drama. Too few of the developing world's leaders today meet that standard, whether compromised by corruption or client relationships with the west. Even so, the media do best when they see the developing world the way they see its own societies: not as a crude battle of victims against villains but as a subtle mix of conflicting, shifting political interests.


A second change might be too much to ask for, especially in these straitened times. It would help if the media's coverage of, say, Africa were more sustained: a steady supply of small, inside-page stories rather than the occasional special, produced by journalists who parachute in and then leave. Audiences can follow quite nuanced reporting on Israel-Palestine, for instance, because they have already had so much of it: they know the characters, can follow the twists and turns. It's a virtuous circle: the more coverage there is, the more interesting it becomes.


Perhaps more realistic is to insist these foreign stories are not so foreign. The eventual winner last week was Dan McDougall, who wrote three blistering reports for Britain's Mail on Sunday, all focusing on the world's extractive industries. One showed the consequences of our ravenous appetite for lithium, the mineral used to power our iPods and BlackBerrys: those living around Chile's largest lithium mine are parched, as their water is either poisoned or diverted.


McDougall produced similarly eye-popping pieces on the Madagascan mines where the nickel for our coins comes from, and on the badlands of eastern Zimbabwe, where virtual slaves dig for diamonds, jewels that will eventually find their way here.


All these reports made the connection between apparently remote suffering and our own lives. This surely is the way to make the unwatchable watchable, to force us to look when we'd rather look away. The burden on the media, and everyone else, is to realise that all this pain is not only going on over there, in the developing world. We're involved — even here, in our world. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








  1. The academy's battle plan is one long rear-guard action against natural language change
  2. Anything that focused our attention on the validity of the rules themselves would be a great thing for English.


You may have missed this news, but The Queen's English Society, self-appointed defenders of proper speech and writing since 1972, recently announced plans to set up an Academy of English.


The goal is to guard against "impurities" and "bastardisations" by ruling on what in English is correct, and what is simply unacceptable. The academy would be modelled after the Acadimie Frangaise, which for nearly 400 years has rigorously policed which words are allowed into official French, as well as similar bodies in Spain and Italy.


The idea of an Academy of English isn't a new one — Jonathan Swift suggested one in 1712, with one of his goals being to prevent people from pronouncing words like rebuked with two syllables instead of three (he preferred re-buke-ed). But it's not one that has ever made much progress towards reality.


As a lexicographer, I used to be strongly against the idea of an Academy of English. English is too widespread and dynamic, and English speakers too creative, to be reined in by some stodgy committee debating whether or not toughicult (tough + difficult) or oneitis (the condition of concentrating romantic attention on one person) can be considered "standard English."


But this recent attempt by the Queen's English Society has me thinking, cynically, that perhaps this time an Academy of English is a good idea. Not because English needs a standards body — or could ever possibly obey one — but because I think that, by showing just how ludicrous and unworkable a standards-setting body would be, we can get people to think more kindly of English as it is, and stop lamenting that everyone else's language isn't up to snuff.


The founder of this current incarnation of the "Save English" movement is Martin Estinel, a 71-year-old retired translator and interpreter who lives in Switzerland. Part of his motivation for founding the academy lies in his discomfort with people who use the word gay to mean anything other than "happy," and his desire to keep any other words from going down the same path.


It's hard to find anyone under the age of 71 who feels as strongly about gay as Mr. Estinel, and the other bugbears of the Queen's English Society seem just as wrongheaded. The society has taken a stand against gender-neutral language (such as chairperson) and the use of the title Ms; it is strongly opposed to txtspeak (though the overwhelming evidence shows that txtspeak is not overtaking standard English), and deplores Americanisms. Its battle plan, in other words, is one long rear-guard action against natural language change.


A new academy would (in its own words) "have a body to sit in judgment," but hasn't yet nominated anyone to do the actual judging. This is where things could get interesting. From my point of view, anything that focused our attention on the validity of the rules themselves, rather than on someone supposedly breaking the rules, would be a great thing for English.


We would want, of course, a process that unfolded as publicly as possible, starting with written statements of what the nominees believe to be standard and nonstandard English. There could be Oxford Union-style debates between candidates. Which writers, linguists, and general-purpose pundits would qualify? Who would be comfortable even allowing their work to be scrutinised to the extent necessary for their confirmation? Since it's impossible for even the most devout prescriptivist to follow all the rules that he or she espouses (as the linguist Geoffrey Pullum has pointed out, even E.B. White, coauthor of The Elements of Style, broke his own rules), we could imagine the nominees having to defend first their rules, and then their infractions — much to the edification of those watching.


And, of course, we would want the potential academicians to take a public stand on real words — which they thought were useful additions to English, and which were pointless fads. They'd have to explain why some verbings of nouns were okay (campaign) while others were unacceptable (impact, gift), and exactly who is insulted by gender-neutral use of the word dude. There would be hours of discussion about what distinguishes a useful new word from vulgar slang or unacceptable jargon. (Bling and top kill alone could occupy entire news cycles.)


The U.K.-based academy is seeking a royal charter, which would imply some degree, however small, of

governmental authority — and create other delicious questions, like whether it could blackball words from government publications, or sell licenses or seals of approval. Considering that they don't just hand out royal charters, however, it's fair to consider that something of a long shot.


There's obviously something appealing in the idea of a set of rules for English: Just follow these few precepts and no one can criticize you, or so the thinking goes. It works for playing board games. But English is (thankfully) messier, wider-ranging, and much too alive to be hemmed in by a set of checklists and "don'ts." So bring on the academy, I say: Let the arguments begin! — New York Times News Service








The notoriously gas-guzzling sport of Formula One is on track to curb its carbon footprint.


The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) is unveiling an analysis that projects emissions cut of 15 per cent in three years. Fota says the sport is the first to have a comprehensive and externally audited carbon reduction programme. Further ambitions may include a doubling of energy efficiency in engines, which manufacturers hope would feed through into road cars. Sources say one of the drivers behind the programme is pressure from sponsors, who are increasingly keen to be associated with a "greener" product.


The audit has been carried out by the consultancy Trucost, whose chief operating officer Richard Mattison told BBC News: "We've been able to analyse all drivers of carbon emissions, from logistics right down to the engines themselves. There's a lot of data in teams — more so than in most businesses — and we were able to analyse it and see how and where they were going to make reductions."


Running cars' engines in races and testing accounts for less than 1 per cent of the sport's emissions, even though the cars run at less than five miles per gallon. About half of the emissions are associated with items the teams buy in; other major sources are the transport that takes teams and equipment from race to race, and electricity, large slices of which are consumed by wind tunnels. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate









The last thing that world football's governing body, Fifa, would have wanted was to have controversies shroud its maiden foray into Africa. Instead of the football, the focus increasingly has fallen on the refereeing — and some truly abominable decisions that have been handed out in the runup to the quarter-finals of the 19th World Cup currently under way in South Africa. Such has been the fallout of this poor showing that much of the football itself — which too has not really risen above the ordinary, barring shining exceptions such as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Holland — has all but been consigned to the sidelines and a raging debate over the greater use of technology now occupies centrestage the world over. The trigger, of course, was Uruguayan Jorge Larroinda's negating of what clearly was a valid goal struck by England's Frank Lampard in the pre-quarter-final against Germany at Bloemfontein, where the ball rocketed into the crossbar and dropped inside the goal before bouncing back out, and the referee waving for play to continue. Lampard's anguished reaction will remain one of the iconic moments of this World Cup. Adding fuel to the fire was another baffling decision the same night, when the first of three Argentinean strikes against Mexico came from a clearly offside position and referee Roberto Rosetti upheld Carlos Tevez's claim for the goal. And as if that was not bad enough, Fifa president Sepp Blatter went on record the following morning to say that there was no need for technology to play a larger role, and that mistakes were part and parcel of the game. The indignant howl that followed this forced Blatter to backtrack within 24 hours and admit that mistakes had been made, and that technology would indeed be selectively used in determining some close calls, an issue which would be taken up by the International Football Association Rules Board next month.

In a sense, much of this was unnecessary. Football is governed by 10 fairly straightforward laws, but referees at every level of the game know of an unwritten 11th law, called "common sense". This is something which the gentlemen in black at the World Cup appear to have forgotten, and have consequently come in for an undue share of attention, both from the media and the administration, and three of them have indeed been sent back home. The best referee is the anonymous one — like Hector Baldassi, in charge of Tuesday's needle Spain-Portugal Round of 16 match — who keeps the flow of a game going as smoothly as possible and intervening only as and when most necessary. That, sadly, has been more the exception rather than the rule at this World Cup, and the result is the growing clamour for change. Yet Blatter is also right in calling for caution in the use of technology. Static instances like goal-line calls are obvious candidates for referral to a qualified official who has access to television replays. This could either take the form of fixed cameras or micro-chip embedded balls, both of which are tried and successfully implemented technologies. Yet, to extend it to every aspect of the game would not only break the rhythm of a match but could also lead to cynical exploitation to interrupt threatening moves. It is a fine line, but other sports have walked it and come up with solutions unique to their respective situations. With its vast resources and access to the best money can buy, there is no reason to suppose that Fifa cannot do so as well.








In 2010, Operation Enduring Freedom — the American expeditionary commitment in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) — enters its ninth and seventh years respectively. The running total as on date of the "butchers bill", as World War I British generals rather inelegantly put it, is 1,125 American soldiers dead in Afghanistan and 4,407 in Iraq, in a war that is on its way to catching up with Vietnam (1964-1975) as America's longest conflict in history to date (though Vietnam at 58,193 remains far ahead in casualties).

The United States sees itself at war and the parable of Vietnam on the perils of war-time presidency is always a warning beacon for US President Barack Obama and the political machine of the Democratic Party. They are also aware of a Vietnam psychosis slowly gathering amongst the American public, a fretfulness about the prolonged war in Afghanistan and the slow but steady backflow of soldiers' coffins. Afghanistan is being increasingly perceived as a tiresome commitment, now seemingly pointless with the main quarry Osama bin Laden safely ensconced in sanctuary in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Coupled with this is the US House and Senate elections in November 2010, followed by elections in November 2012 to the hallowed precincts of the White House itself. It can, therefore, be reasonably assumed that given the increasing war-weariness and a national mood swinging towards closure, the compulsions of American politics will undoubtedly be a reckonable factor in shaping the future of America's involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama's action soon after assuming office in January 2009 seem to conform to this pattern. He ordered a thorough review of the US strategy in Afghanistan, followed within a month by announcing August 2010 as the timeline for commencing withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Also, in December 2009, Mr Obama mandated July 2011 for a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan. While Mr Obama might have arrived at each decision after intensive reviews and consultations, both the decisions were, ultimately, as much the outcome of strategic and geopolitical factors as of the demands of political mood management. Nevertheless, there are definite straws in the wind indicating that whatever the public facade be, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a policy of gradually drawing down America's active military commitments on painful wars in strange faraway lands.

America has to wrestle with its own demons, but its departure from Afghanistan will undoubtedly impact India's interests in that country, where India has established itself as a substantial "soft power" — the fourth-largest foreign aid donor contributing $1.2 billion. Extensive Indian programmes of construction, social welfare and administrative training have all been remarkably successful and well received.

Nevertheless, Afghanistan is a cause for concern for India as it is the "overseas" theatre of the Pakistan-India proxy conflict, with Pakistan determined to incorporate Afghanistan into its own sphere of influence as a strategic cushion, part of which involves the elimination of any Indian presence or influence in Afghanistan.
"Military advisers" from the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence are present in the inner councils of the Taliban shura located in sanctuaries within Pakistan, which constitute the primary instruments for furthering Pakistan's strategic plans as quid pro quo for favours granted. The proxy offensives with car bombings and suicide attacks have systematically targeted the Indian embassy, Indian projects and workers in Afghanistan.

America's own strategy for Afghanistan has developed around the Af-Pak concept, visualised as a tandem alliance between the US and Pakistan aiming to "defeat, destroy and dismantle" the Al Qaeda network and their Taliban support structure inside Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. It is an intrinsically flawed perception that attempts to yoke together two countries with totally divergent policies and end interests, in an arrangement where it is Pakistan, more than the US, which holds the high cards. The US has, as its primary objective, the defeat of the Al Qaeda and the neutralisation of their Taliban supporters while the objective of Pakistan is the preservation of these very same entities as strategic resources against India, and for progressing Pakistani interests in Afghanistan after the US' departure. It therefore comes as no surprise that the US war in Afghanistan is stumbling badly with an uncertain endgame.

Within the US itself, there are barely concealed dissensions between the military and civilian leadership which recently exploded in public with the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, a beleaguered President Hamid Karzai is seriously seeking accommodation with the Taliban shuras to preserve his own position and perhaps even his life. But there are also rumblings amongst the large non-Pashtun minorities of Tajiks, Uzbegs, Hazaras and others who have suffered grievously under earlier Taliban dispensations and are uneasy at the prospect of their return. They are prepared to defend themselves if another rerun takes place, making resumption of civil war a distinct possibility.

Under the circumstances, India now needs its own Af-Pak strategy if it is indeed serious about maintaining its presence and interests in Afghanistan. Security and protection of Indian project sites, assets and workers in a hostile environment will obviously constitute a major plank, whether provided by adequate paramilitary and Central police forces, or by armed civilian contract security personnel. The substantial asset of goodwill for India across the entire spectrum of Afghan society, Pashtun and non-Pashtun, needs to be tapped and utilised to best advantage. Alternate power centres and leadership figures like Abdullah Abdullah and Yunus Qanuni are emerging particularly in the Northern Alliance community of Tajiks, Uzbegs and Hazaras with whom India's relations have traditionally been supportive and cordial. Indian negotiators have to bring all these into play.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament








The rejection of former Australian prime minister John Howard's candidature as vice-president of the International Cricket Council marks another symbolic turning point in the balance of power in cricket today.


Howard's name was put forward by Australia and New Zealand, with support from England. But opposition came from Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe for his incipient racism.


The veto then rested with India and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. As it happens, at a meeting in Singapore, six nations — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and South Africa — opposed Howard's nomination.


Howard may have been a cricket fan without cricket administration experience, but it was his politics which did him in. Sri Lanka has not forgotten his support for those who called their ace bowler Muttiah Muralitharan a "chucker", nor has Zimbabwe forgotten his call for sanctions against Robert Mugabe and their country. South Africa, too, was against him.


But some of the biggest opposition came from Australia itself, where groups representing aboriginal land rights started a movement against him.


Howard had a very stormy and unhappy relationship with aboriginal people in Australia — some of which the world witnessed during the Sydney Olympics when he had a run-in with Australia's Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman.


Howard refused to apologise to the aborigines for policies that resulted in what is known as the "stolen generation", when aboriginal children were plucked out of their homes to be raised by the state as an experiment.


The human rights groups had petitioned the UN and asked Sharad Pawar — who now takes over as head of the ICC — how he could support a man like Howard. This sustained pressure obviously put paid to Howard's chances.


What this decision demonstrates once more is that cricket can no longer be controlled by England and Australia or by the "white" cricket-playing nations.


Politics and sport — and indeed racism and sport — have had a long relationship. It is in sport that racism has had to take the biggest beating and the iconic image of Jesse Owens smashing Nazi "Aryan" superiority in Berlin in 1936 right under Hitler's nose still resonates.


Perhaps, Howard and his supporters got some taste of that last week.







What does it mean when seats marked out for the scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs) in the IITs are not filled because not enough students from these socially and economically backward categories qualify for it?


The latest figures from the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) show that there is a clear shortfall.


For example, of the 721 seats reserved for STs, 212 remained vacant, and only 2,023 out of 2,492 seats for OBCs could be filled. In 2009, about 1,000 seats meant for SCs and STs remained vacant and they had to be transferred to the preparatory course — special courses meant for those admitted after a 50% relaxation in the qualifying marks.


This, however, is not something for the merit-mongers to gloat over. The facts and figures do not clinch the argument either in favour of affirmative action or following a pure meritocracy. It can be argued that the only way to implement the equal opportunity principle is to give a leg up to the socially disadvantaged groups. Whatever the deficiencies in implementation, there is a need to persist with the policy.


There are too many flaws in this view and a detailed refutation is not the answer. However, uncompromising advocates of pure merit are not convincing either. While merit should be the prime criterion for admission into any educational institution, there are good reasons for broadening the base of merit students.


Diversity is a plus in any academic institution. Perhaps the inefficient quota system is working in broadening the merit base.


Broadly speaking, there is not only a need for more IITs but also for students from all sections of society to get into these and other institutions of higher learning. This is not just a socialist goal but one that is needed to achieve faster rates of economic growth.


Perhaps the question we need to debate is not quota versus merit, but how to create a broader base of skilled and educated workers at different levels. This requires a radically different and utilitarian approach to the issue.


Expanding opportunities does not necessarily mean a dilution of standards, as some hard liners on merit tend to believe. Nor does it mean that this can be achieved only through reservations of some kind or the other.


Standards will have to be maintained and numbers will have to grow. It is not any more the question of either this or that. It is both.








One of god almighty's greatest gifts to India is that we don't have an oil bounty. True, we have discovered lots of gas offshore, but nothing to make us feel on the top of the world.


Excess oil wealth is a curse. It destroys character, makes people lazy and encourages despotic rulers to sedate their citizens by bribing them with freebies.


Just look around you. Wherever you find countries sitting on oil (Gulf, Venezuela), you find the rulers undemocratic and the people backward, as Tom Friedman observes in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded.


The exceptions to the rule are those countries that became wealthy and modern before they discovered oil wealth (Norway, etc). Japan, which has no oil whatsoever, built it wealth by sheer hard work and a dedication to excellence.


From all angles — ecology, economy and commonsense — oil should be priced high. It must be high enough to encourage the development of more sustainable sources of energy.


It is against this backdrop one should welcome last Friday's bold decision to free petrol pricing. It is a signal that the UPA plans to correct the damage done to the country's energy sector over the last six years by refusing to raise prices adequately.


It forced the profitable ones (ONGC and Gail among them) to subsidise the loss-making oil marketing companies.


But doing things by halves is not good enough. Deregulating petrol was the easy thing to do. It can be explained as soaking the rich carwallahs.


The tougher decisions relate to diesel, kerosene and cooking gas (LPG) — and here the government may be guilty of bad political judgment. If this is the right time to free petrol pricing, why not diesel? Why give the opposition, already uniting to create mayhem on the streets, two chances to destabilise the situation when one is bad enough? What if the political situation deteriorates later in the year, and the diesel reform does not happen at all?


There are two explanations why diesel deregulation may have been kept for later. Diesel has a much larger impact on the economy since trucks, buses and trains run on it. Freeing prices may have had a multiplier effect on inflation, already in double-digits.


The second argument is that the government is testing the waters, to see if the political storm is really unbearable. If the movement fizzles, it can take the next step of freeing diesel prices.


Both the reasons are weak. The inflation argument is fine, but misplaced. Raising diesel prices will nudge the wholesale prices index upwards immediately, but the medium-term effects of subsidising fuel by resorting to deficit financing is equally inflationary.


What the government will be doing is exchanging short-term cost-push for a longer-term, excess money-driven inflation.


The second argument is even more specious: if the opposition sputters and fails, deregulation will only give them a second opportunity to build a movement. If, on the other hand, the opposition manages to drum up a lot of public anger over prices this time, postponing the move means it may never happen.


In the short run, other options could also have been explored. Even if diesel is a holy cow, diesel cars are not. Thanks to gross underpricing of diesel relative to petrol, consumers have been steadily switching to diesel cars. The dieselisation of personal transport is bad because it makes people believe that cars are still the solution to urban transport problems.


Moreover, the price differential makes adulteration of petrol a lucrative business. At the very least, the government could have raised the taxes on diesel cars to keep demand in check.


The changes on kerosene and cooking gas could also have been more nuanced. Sooner or later governments have to realise that only the poor deserve subsidies.


A first step could have been taken by enabling the rich to opt out of subsidies steadily. For example, gas connections for those willing to pay market prices could have been liberalised. Existing gas consumers could also have been limited to, say, one subsidised cylinder a month, with consumption above this level being charged market prices.


As a fast-growing economy, the demand for fossil fuels is going to grow in India no matter how aggressively we price them. It is a crime against the environment to not do so. The fundamental flaw in our energy policy is that it has not differentiated between those who need subsidies and those who don't.


Even when it comes to subsidising the poor, there is a need for more innovation. Why give them cheap kerosene when they can be paid the difference between market and subsidised prices in cash? Even the poor will not object to being given options.


When they get the subsidy in cash, they can buy other things with it. Who knows, they may use less fuel and spend the money elsewhere, perhaps by sending more children to school. Giving them subsidised fuel encourages waste. Underpricing always leads to waste.








Quite often these days, chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, has been frequently asking a rhetorical question in his public speeches — "What wrong have we done?"  And quite surprisingly for someone with a long political innings, he has not just shed a tear but cried copiously on more than one occasion; the last one being the convention to celebrate two years of his government.

Two years, one may argue, is too short a tenure for anyone to be really celebrating but then, if one genuinely believes that it is worth celebrating, it is fine. Except, in this case, it was government money that was being spent — not BJP's money — and such funds could have been deployed better; much better than providing a platform for the chief minister to cry and then deliver a sermon to the Opposition.

Whatever may be the cynical view about the outpouring of the chief minister, the fact is that it appears emotional and, therefore, it is unfair to find fault with him on that score even if leaders at that level are expected to carry themselves with fortitude in public; show emotion but not breakdown.

What is even more astonishing is his grouse against the Opposition. Any chief minister would be happy to have an Opposition that is fully cooperative. That is rarely the case. It is worse when the Congress is in Opposition because that party believes that it has the natural right to rule. Even if it fails to work as a good and solid opposition party, as is the case now in Karnataka, it simply does not kiss and make up with the ruling party. And why should it? 

After all, it is the business of the Opposition to oppose. Not take part in a rally to praise the chief minister. To term its absence as yet another instance of not supporting the government's developmental efforts is clearly a case of trying to find a scapegoat for one's own failures.

Political myopia of this sort is a condition that most governments begin to develop a year or two after they are elected to office. The initial euphoria and gratitude to the voters would have dissipated by then and by the time one steps into the second year, the trappings of power and dependence on a politico-bureaucratic apparatus creates a feeling of comfort of living in a cocoon. It is a make-believe world that compels those in power to dismiss anything said against them as hogwash.

It has happened to several — probably most — chief ministers in the past and the current one is no exception. The servitude and kow-towing by all and sundry, gives one a high and a sense of doing no wrong. A leader thus begins to depend on a coterie as much as a coterie depends on him. The inability to see reason or see beyond the inner circle is what causes political myopia. It would be worthwhile to draw lessons from the past to understand how this works.

Comparison is always odious; particularly when it is with one of the worst regimes. R Gundu Rao as chief minister was considered a spectacular failure. Yet, during the three years he headed the government, everyone who created the cocoon around him gave him the impression that he was one of the best and even he had no difficulty in believing it. S Bangarappa never thought he was a failure and would have blamed inner party politics for being shown the door. The present dispensation is caught exactly in the same bind.

While it believes that everything it is doing is for the development of the state regardless of the short-term pain it may cause to some, the perception is that it cares very little for pubic opinion. Whether it is pulling down trees in a park or whether it is breaking up private property for widening roads, public belief is that it is a government that brings the bulldozer first. It may not be true but that is the perception and perception is more real than truth.

Gundu Rao's dispensation believed it was invincible. It appeared

to be so because, using political clout, it had decimated the Opposition. Although the Congress, during his rule, won every by-election, the last one a few months before the Assembly election, it was routed when it mattered. People simply stamped against it on the ballot when they got an opportunity.

It is not a lesson that should be forgotten, particularly by Yeddyurappa who benefited  from that perception in 1983. He entered the portals of the Assembly then because Gundu Rao was myopic. The current dispensation is in danger of falling in the same rut so much so, even its development mantra seems completely against the interest of ordinary citizens; whether it is poor farmers who have to part with their lands for a pittance or whether it is the more affluent urban citizens whose house or shop will be cut into half for more vehicles to ply on roads.


If the perception that the government is impervious to public opinion and, therefore, anti-people gathers momentum, the current dispensation runs a serious risk three years down the line.








Tariq Ahmad, 9, was shot dead by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on June 28. So was Tajamul Ahmad, 17. In the last two weeks, the CRPF has killed eight boys in Kashmir. And wounded scores.


Among the dead were Shakeel Ahmad Ganai, 14, Firdous Ahmad,17, Javaid Ahmad Malla, 17, Tufail Ahmad, 17, Mohammed Rafiq Bangroo, also in his teens, and Bilal Ahmad Wani, 21. The elite force insists that it fired in self-defence. After all it's happening in Kashmir, the land of impunity.


The anger against CRPF troops that has seen riots in Kashmir this week is not entirely unfounded. But more than these callous killings, the rage is perhaps about the culture of impunity in the state.


Shooting at protestors is part of the state's ham-fisted effort at countering terror in this once blissful land now maimed by militancy. It goes with custodial deaths and fake 'encounter' killings that the Kashmiris live in perpetual fear of. But it's not just the police and paramilitary forces that they need to fear. The culture of impunity was nurtured largely by the army.


This week 20 years ago, the army dug its heels into Kashmir, fortified by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Cross-border terrorism was spinning out of control, the administration had failed in large parts of the state, agriculture and the economy had faltered, and terrorism had killed tourism.


Even if there was some justification for clamping the AFSPA in Kashmir then, there is no excuse for retaining this inhuman Act even now, when Kashmir has returned almost to normalcy.


After largely free and fair elections, a popular government is in place, militancy is at its lowest ebb in decades, farmers are prospering, tourism is flourishing. Amidst all this is the grotesque face of state terror — in the garb of the AFSPA, which allows armed forces to get away with murder.


That is a contagious habit. It seeps out from under the cover of the AFSPA to infect other state agents. And the police and paramilitary forces are most susceptible to this sickness. They are aided by the political system which uses them and the judicial mechanism where justice gets lost in the labyrinth of time and corrupt investigation. Meanwhile, the people of Kashmir are abused and killed, their human rights routinely violated, and their vulnerability exploited by separatists.


Clamping down more forcefully is not the way out. Armed repression may have worked at one time but it cannot be the chosen method now. And amending the AFSPA to make it more 'human' could be a disaster. The army believes it would demoralise soldiers and lay them open to fake complaints.


Demoralising the armed forces, the final protectors of the nation, may certainly cause damage, but so does allowing them to run riot.


But I fear that if the AFSPA is 'humanised' it would become acceptable. And then we would clamp it everywhere. Our army is not supposed to be fighting us.


The AFSPA has been in force forever in the north-east and Kashmir, where army atrocities are legendary. The state may be pining to implement the Act in hundreds of districts affected by Maoist violence.


And armed with cosmetic changes they may very well do so. If not repealed, the AFSPA should at least be lifted from Kashmir and the north-east. The army must be deployed against the enemy, not ourselves. Certainly not for long periods of time. It must not stand in for the police.


The way out of this mess is to bring in real accountability through police reforms, improving the justice system and the investigative process, and concentrating on governance. We are in a democracy, in peacetime, not in a battlefield. And the state must not believe that power flows from the barrel of the gun.










THE award of seven years' rigorous imprisonment to Orissa's BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan by a fast track court for his role in the 2008 Kandhamal communal riots is timely, though opinions may differ on the quantum of punishment for the kind of crime he had committed. He, perhaps, deserved exemplary punishment like life imprisonment. The communal riots had broken out following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four of his associates on August 23, 2008 in Kandhamal. Pradhan, who got elected from jail where he was an undertrial, was Saraswati's disciple. The Kandhamal district had witnessed unprecedented violence that left many people (mostly Christians) dead, while houses and places of worship were damaged in the carnage. Over 25,000 riot victims had fled from their homes out of fear and stayed in relief camps. The violence had caused international concern. Mr Naveen Patnaik's BJD-led government came under attack from many sections for its poor handling of the violence because of its alliance with the BJP.


Tuesday's verdict notwithstanding, the last word is yet to be said on Pradhan. He has already said that he will challenge his conviction in the Orissa High Court. Of the 14 cases filed against him, he has been acquitted in seven. Of the remaining, three relate to murder and four to torching of churches and houses. His conviction for seven years' imprisonment can lead to his disqualification from the State Assembly, but not before the three-month period of appeal. Of course, politicians contend that disqualification should not apply till all legal options, including an appeal before the Supreme Court, are exhausted.


Pradhan's conviction once again brings to the fore the increasing menace of criminalisation of politics and its consequent threat to the democratic institutions and the quality of governance. The BJP, which claims to be a "party with a difference", should not have given ticket to him in the last Assembly elections. Playing on the people's emotions and the communal lines clearly drawn at the hustings, the BJP may have succeeded in getting Pradhan elected to the legislature, but it inflicted incalculable damage on the system. Subsequently, it lost power in the state after the Biju Janata Dal dumped it and went alone in the elections. This menace can be checked only if political parties deny tickets to criminals like Pradhan.








THE University Grants Commission has set norms linking teachers' promotions and increments to performance. This is how it should be in today's globalised world where competition is stiff and inefficiency penalised. Few will dispute that excellence should be rewarded and mediocrity discouraged. Promotions in the academic world used to be automatic, granted as a matter of right to every college or university teacher after he/she has completed a certain number of years. There was a fast-track route for merit-based promotion, but was misused at times by those well connected. However, a blind enforcement of the set criteria may not produce the desired results.


It is commendable that teachers will be judged on the basis of their teaching, research and published work. But quantity should not outweigh quality. The undue focus on research at the college level earlier had led to the proliferation of substandard research work. Every college teacher struggled to get a Ph.D. to become a Principal. A good teacher need not be equally good at research and a good researcher may not make an effective teacher. The overall suitability of a candidate for a post should be judiciously judged. The maximum tenure of a college Principal has been fixed at 10 years. This will open up the Principal's office to more teachers. In addition, to end stagnation among college teachers, the UGC has created the post of Professor in colleges. What is more, the controversial proposal to let college students evaluate teachers has been dropped after teachers' opposition.


Since the salaries of the college and university teachers have been raised to respectable levels, it is certainly reasonable and desirable for the UGC to expect better standards from those engaged in teaching. The profession will, hopefully, attract fresh talent and minimise, if not eradicate, the shortage of teachers, especially in professional colleges. The UGC norms will doubtless help in raising the quality of higher education in general and of teaching in particular.









FIFA World Cup 2010 is still young and there may be many memorable events in the days to come, but two things are already etched in public memory. One is the never-ending drone of vuvuzelas, which reminds one of a million bees descending on the stadia, and the other is the unbelievably inept refereeing decisions. Two of the howlers came on Sunday. England's Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed although it was clearly over the line in its clash with Germany. Then Mexico suffered when Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez was not given offside when he scored its first goal. These errors appeared even more jarring when shown on the big screen. Unfortunately, FIFA rules do not allow taking into account such "evidence".


What was all the more shocking was that the world body initially tried to gloss over the blunders, with FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot saying the next day that "errors should be part of the game". What he perhaps ignored was the worldwide furore over such inexcusable mistakes. After all, they affected the very course of the tournament, with some of the teams getting knocked out undeservedly. With the debate raging, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was forced to apologise and even agree to re-consider goal-line technology. But he was still patronising, saying: "it is not the end of a competition or the end of football; this can happen".


It should not. It is essential that mistakes are reduced to the minimum. Whether this foolproof system comes through goal-line technology or video replays should be immaterial. Cricket, hockey, tennis and basketball etc have already started putting technology to good use, but FIFA has been stubborn. It wants to experiment with two more refereeing assistants but is hesitant to using videos. The consequences have been disastrous. The bloopers have cost FIFA dear. It should no longer keep its head in the sand. At the same time, there is need for improving refereeing standards. 

















IT is a thousand pities that 62 years after Independence, India is still talking of and suffering from caste obsessions. Read "gotra" as an extension of caste and we have "honour killings", acts of medieval barbarism at the behest of khap panchayats, being defended and debated. The motive for the most part is no longer religion or ritual even in some degree, as it once may have been, but crudely political, through vote-banking, a scramble for preferment by reservation in an economy of shortages, and a claim to superior social status in an upwardly mobile society that has traditionally been based on hierarchy, not merit.


The current debate has been triggered by the suggestion that caste enumeration be made part of the 2011 census after it was discontinued post-1931. The proffered rationale is that an accurate caste enumeration will enable the government better to target affirmative action programmes in its social welfare and other efforts to ensure inclusive growth. This is a fallacy. Such numbers and classifications are and can be made available— and perhaps more accurately — through the National Social Sample and similar data collection exercises.


The Constitution abolishes untouchability and only mentions caste in the specific context of the Scheduled Castes. Contrary to popular belief, it does not refer to "backward castes" but only to "socially and economically backward classes" (and to "weaker sections") in respect of whom a commission may be appointed from time to time to investigate and make recommendations for ameliorating their condition. Hence the Backward Classes Commissions under Kaka Kalelkar and B.P. Mandal.


Nor does the Constitution refer to a casteless society per se but speaks of "equality of status and opportunity", "fraternity" and a uniform civil code, all of which obviously rule out caste as a defining societal principle. We are not there by any means. So, why reverse gear half way through the journey and give a fillip to caste through the Census?


All parties have elaborate caste and community breakdowns of the electorate for every constituency and woo them assiduously, the Left as much as any other. Policies and appointments are made with an eye on winning the support of these groups for electoral advantage. The talk of targeting welfare schemes through more nuanced caste enumeration is just so much humbug. Indeed reservation, and reservations within reservations, have become a crutch. There has been strong resistance to any exit policy, and creamy layers have become a new privileged and exploiting class, determined to prevent the less fortunate among their community to rise and proper.


Everybody, it seem, wants to be declared "backward" in order to move forward" on crutches. The process of sanskritisation or movement up the caste ladder is being reversed and retribalisation is taking place. This spells ill for the nation and can only breed mediocrity. One antidote would be to declare the entire populace backward so that none is more equal than others! The real answer, however, lies in affirmative action in favour of the poor and the disadvantaged and to waste out the constitutional provision for SC/ST reservation over the next decade or so on the basis of a rational exit policy, universalisation of education and other rights-based measures.


Caste must be seen not in isolation but holistically as part of other behavioural attitudes such as gender or minority status. Majority and minority in terms of social behaviour are not numerical as much as attitudinal categories. Parsees do not behave as "minorities"; Hindutvadis do. Likewise, the majority Sinhala in Sri Lanka suffer from a minority complex. Gender relations (including dowry) are to a large extent guided deep down by property and property-derived status considerations. Hence the ugly and murderous phenomenon of female foeticide. One supreme example of attitudinal resistance to social reform is the blindly perverse opposition to legislating a uniform civil code on the totally false premise that this can only be done by abrogating personal codes. With reference to the UCC, many perfervid secularists are truly diehard communists, allied in a common conspiracy to protect male property rights and slot people into castes, sub-castes and communities. They are truly enemies of equality and fraternity.


Those who oppose caste enumeration must, therefore, take up the cudgels against "minorityism" and gender discrimination as part of broadbased social reform. The goal must be to strive for equal opportunity (not more and more reservation), a fundamental constitutional promise. Equal opportunity legislation has been pending for a year but is being opposed. Why is no one agitated? It is because we have been so busy tilting at windmills that the true enemy is often not discerned. It is the battle for equal opportunity that must be fought and won.


Social reform too must be pursued not just by the state but by communities and individuals. There is so much social rot around that we tolerate in the belief that it will just go away. Where are the contemporary versions of latter day social reformers? The Church seeks the scheduling of scheduled caste converts, indirectly perpetuating caste and mocking its own faith. Others are no better. Jagmohan, the former civil servant and minister, has written of reforming and reawakening Hinduism in a new book just published. Maybe, one of the reforms we should consider is the restoration of religious instruction in schools so that children know about the country's many faiths and can imbibe their high moral values. This would be perfectly in keeping with true secularism and attune young minds to essential values of equality and brotherhood.








Recently I read an article about the water woes of the famous Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur. Apparently, UNESCO was planning to revoke its World Heritage status and it was all because of some petty wrangle over the waters of the Gambhir river.


The article took me down memory lane to the year 1979 when as an impressionable child I happened to meet Salim Ali, the great ornithologist, in this very national park. In those days my father was posted at Bharatpur and we had hordes of relatives and friends descending on us in the winters, ostensibly to renew old bonds but with the not-so-hidden agenda of a visit to the Ghana Bird Sanctuary (as it was then called). So we dutifully took the relatives for the mandatory boat-ride and introduced them to the sanctuary's avian residents.


On one such sojourn, aboard a boat aptly named 'Painted Stork', I spotted a stationary boat with a camera on a tripod and also what looked like a telescope. An old, bearded, bespectacled man with a peaked cap sat patiently watching the antics of what I later learnt were Siberian cranes.


Intrigued, I turned to the boatman seeking to know the identity of the old gentleman. With a how-can-you-not-know-him look the boatman told me it was 'Salim Sahib' himself. Apparently the 'Birdman', as he was affectionately called, came to Bharatpur every winter and spent hours observing birds in their natural habitat.


Soon after our boat ride, we saw Salim Ali's boat gliding in to the landing area. As soon as he alighted, we rushed towards him excitedly and clamoured for his autograph which he gave with an indulgent smile. With innocent arrogance we asked him why he visited the bird sanctuary to which he simply and sincerely replied: "I am working on long-term conservation measures for the bird sanctuary."


He was more than eighty and yet there was a determined glint in his eye and a suppressed passion in his bearing. He had the quick gait of a man in a hurry to reach his goal. Later I learnt that Salim Ali's efforts were largely instrumental in getting the sanctuary its deemed national park status.


This chance meeting with the 'Birdman' was the start of my life-long passion for birds. Salim Ali's books adorn

my bookshelf and I never get tired of narrating the episode of my chance meeting with Salim Ali to anyone who cares to listen. But it saddens me to think that a petty water dispute will forever destroy the monumental conservation efforts of this grand old man. I guess conservation of avian habitats is not a priority in a country with a huge homeless human population.









IN November 2005 while reaching a 12-point agreement in New Delhi, the then seven-party alliance and former Maoist rebels had pledged to restore lasting peace and democracy in Nepal by ending the decade-long armed insurgency.


Then with the support of the national and international community, the political parties made the April 2006 movement a success with the aim of attaining mainly two things. One, making the Himalayan nation have lasting peace and democracy by drafting a new constitution through the Constituent Assembly and establish a "new" Nepal with inclusive and accountable governance structures. Two, the people of Nepal must have economic prosperity and social progress.


Four years have passed since then. But neither the country has witnessed lasting peace with a new constitution nor has it moved towards economic progress. Rather the ongoing political deadlock among the big three parties — the Unified CPN-Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML — has put the peace and the constitution-drafting process on the backburner. All the major political actors are responsible for not only prolonging the transition period along with political uncertainty but also for pushing the country's economy towards a serious crisis.


Even after the identification and diagnosis of the economic growth constraints Nepal's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate has been one of the lowest in South Asia for a long time. Records show that Nepal is the only country in the region whose real GDP growth rate declined during the period 2003-2008 (3 per cent) in comparison to that in 1997-2003 (4 per cent).


According to the World Bank's latest report, the GDP growth rate in Nepal for the fiscal 2009-10 is estimated at 3.5 per cent. The growth rate was 5.3 per cent in 2007-08. The government expects agricultural growth at 1.1 per cent against the earlier projection of 3.3 per cent, whereas non-agricultural growth is expected to come down drastically to 3.6 per cent from the 6.6 per cent as projected earlier. Though the Nepalese economy is largely based on agriculture, which contributes 33 per cent to the GDP, it has been badly affected by drought and non-seasonal rain in recent years. Even the investment in agriculture and irrigation remained at as low as 0.55 per cent of the GDP in the fiscal year 2009. Taking this into consideration, the World Food Organization has warned Nepal that it is likely to face a hefty shortage of foodgrains — 400,000 tonnes — in the current fiscal year.


The fragile economy was largely buoyed up by remittances from the Nepalis working abroad —- they contributed 22 per cent of the GDP. But the remittance is not sufficient to adjust the trade deficit and cope up with the balance of payment problem and the liquidity crisis. Despite all this, the government and major political parties are least bothered about taking urgent remedial measures.


The International Labour Orgaisation's latest report says, Nepal produced around 400,000 new unemployed workers every year. Despite the growing number of Nepalese going abroad to work, the number of the unemployed has not declined because there are little employment opportunities in the country.


According to the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, over 600 different types of companies which were closed during the Maoist insurgency are yet to resume their operations. Political uncertainty, frequent bandhs, unnecessary hassles created by labour organisations, scarcity of fuel and increasing hours of load-shedding (more than 12 hours a day) have adversely eroded the competitiveness of Nepali industrial sector. By looking at the cost incurred by each sector, on an average, a one-day bandh would cost Rs 1.96 billion — the industrial sector alone would suffer a loss of over Rs 346 million.


The deteriorating law and order situation, the lack of an investment-friendly environment and the rampant culture of extortion, intimidation threats and abduction of industrialists mainly by Maoist cadres have been discouraging investors to come to Nepal.


Due to lack of faith in the system and poor credibility of the government Nepalese investors and common people have started to deposit their fix assets and sending their money abroad, mainly to India. As a result, the country has been faced with a serious liquidity crisis since last October. A source in Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank of Nepal, claims that over Rs 10 billion has already flown to India for different investment purposes in the first quarter of this fiscal year. 









With the Pakistan Supreme Court last week ordering the country's Election Commission to launch proceedings against the lawmakers believed to be having fake graduation and other degrees, Pakistan appears to be heading for a fresh political crisis. According to a Dawn report, the Higher Education Commission has dispatched the degrees of at least 934 members of the National and Provincial Assemblies to the universities concerned for proper verification. Whose degree is fake may be known by July 13, the deadline fixed by the Election Commission. Yet the matter is not as simple as it appears.


As Dawn says, "it would require references from the speakers of the various assemblies and the chairman of the Senate." The paper has quoted a former Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan to point out that "perhaps 140 members of various assemblies" filed their nomination papers to contest the February 2008 elections with "fake degrees".


In an article in The News (June 30) Ameer Bhutto, Vice-Chairman of the Sindh National Front, points out that the degrees of about 1100 lawmakers will be "subjected to closer scrutiny". Which means "almost the entire apple orchard is possibly under infestation" as the total number of the elected representatives at the national and provincial levels is 1163.


It was Gen Pervez Musharraf who as President got the law enacted that anyone aspiring to enter any of the legislatures in Pakistan must have at least a graduation degree from a recognised institution. He wanted to prevent some of his political opponents from contesting the elections in February 2008. One of the then ruling General's targets was the present President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari.


The matter went to the apex court, which struck down the controversial legislation. But this came about after the 2008 elections had already taken place. So, no one has to bother about his or her educational qualification for contesting polls in the future. Yet the issue remains: who are the lawmakers holding fake degrees?


Embarrassment for PML (N)


The revival of the degree controversy has put Mr Nawaz Sharif's party, the PML (N), in the most embarrassing position. There are reports that most of the lawmakers with fake degrees belong to the PML (N), which has been talking of "principled politics" ever since the revival of democracy in Pakistan.


It is feared that Pakistan will have to go in for a "mini mid-term election" if a large number of its lawmakers are disqualified. They may also have to be punished for having lied to get elected to a legislature.


But will they really be punished? They may not, as Ameer Bhutto says, "…an effort is now reportedly afoot to enact a new law, with retrospective effect, to pardon all fake degree-bearing parliamentarians."


The Sindh National Front Leader, who has degrees from the University of Backingham and Cambridge University, adds: "Is there no end to this rampage over all norms of ethical conduct? Practically everyone is terrified of the consequences that might be unleashed by invoking Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, leading perhaps to an empty Parliament. But there can be no disagreement on the principle that without a modicum of honesty and sincerity in the forums of power, the process of putting the country on the right track cannot even begin.


"Now that the scandal has hit the fan, stories are emerging about some responsible officials and even the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Education receiving threats from people in high positions of authority not to pursue the matter further. Such are the ways of Pakistani 'democracy'."


The ultimate comment came from Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani on Tuesday on the fake degree controversy. According to a Quetta-datelined report in The Daily Times of June 30, Mr Raisani said, "A degree is a degree, and it does not matter if it is fake or original."


In the opinion of Dawn, "… perhaps, a political-cum-legislative solution is the best way ahead. Legislation with retrospective effect is not something that should be encouraged, especially where it benefits assembly members themselves, but in the present instance it would be a small price to pay for righting a wrong of Gen Musharraf's doing." Those who advocate this line of action to defuse the crisis believe that Pakistan cannot afford a mid-term election at this stage.









Sri Lanka President  Mahinda  Rajapaksa  is treading a fine line courting both China and India at the same time, trying to strike a  balance in keeping the two Asian giants happy, but the task is not proving to be an easy one.


Both countries proved to be near indispensable allies during the nearly three-year-old war the government waged against the Tamil Tigers with China being one of the country's main arms supplier while India assisted with military intelligence and also kept under control the anti-Sri Lankan sentiment that erupted in Tamil Nadu from time to time during the military operations.


After the end of the 30-year-old war more than a year ago, now it seems to be the payback time for Sri Lanka with both China and India wanting their pound of flesh. Both are eager to get a foothold in development activities, particularly in the north and east of the country.


It was as a part of this balancing act that President Rajapaksa undertook a three-day official visit to New Delhi recently where he signed seven agreements, including the ones to provide for the opening of Indian consulates in northern Jaffna district as well as one in  the southern town of Hambantota, where the Chinese are developing what will become the country's largest port.


The Independent Sunday Times in a recent editorial said the Indian move to open a consulate in Hambantota, which also happens to be the home town of the President, was "because of Indian fears of the growing Chinese influence in Hambantota district, particularly in view of China's involvement in the harbour development project."


The fears may not be confined  to one side. As President Rajapaksa was away in India, the Vice-Premier of China, Zhang Dejiang, arrived in Sri Lanka on a three-day official visit to further cement the increasing economic cooperation between the two countries.


In addition to the port in Hambantota, China has offered financial assistance of US$200 million to build an airport there and is already working on a coal power project in the north-western town of Norochcholai and has won government approval to develop the railway line and the main highway to Jaffna.


While he has been giving with one hand to China, President Rajapaksa has not allowed the  Indians go bare-handed either. During his visit, he signed  agreements to allow the Indians to  develop the Palay air base in Jaffna  as well as a cement factory in Kansasanturai in the north which had been abandoned for many years due to the war.


While these developments are taking place, Rajapaksa also has to comprehend with  his political opponents back home  who are turning the heat on him, particularly with regard to the moves to sign a  Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India.


While the UNP, the main position party, has been guarded in its comments regarding the agreement only stating that it should be made public before being signed, left-inclined Democratic National Alliance (DNA) has been ringing the alarm bells that CEPA would mean Sri Lanka would end up being a protectorate of India with locals having to compete for jobs in their own country. 


Newspapers, too, have joined in with warnings  about  going ahead with such an agreement which would allow Indians  to live and work in Sri Lanka without any reciprocity for Sri Lankans in this connection.


"Even Indian barbers can come and work here," said a news item in the Lakbima News, sounding alarmist at the possible outcome of such an agreement.


The  Sunday Times wrote in an editorial — as the Buddha warned his disciple Ananda with regard to the

temptations that are on offer in life— "all we can say is, 'Beware, Mahinda' when you go to India and they throw these laddus, boondi, jelabis and gulab jamuns at you."


Overall, Sri Lankans seem to be more India-phobic than China-phobic,  but irrespective of the fears they may entertain, the island-nation seems set to be the new battleground between the two Asian giants.









The thoughtful making of spaces. That is how American architect Louis Kahn (who designed IIM, Ahmedabad) described architecture. Gautam Bhatia, who quotes him in one of his columns says that "the old definition of architecture as a place for rest and comfort doesn't hold anymore". Bhatia is best known, perhaps, for his book Punjabi Baroque (Penguin 1994), which pokes despairing fun at the monstrosities that pass for building styles (Sindhi Hacienda, Middle Plastic, Bania Gothic). It's as if our idea of individuality has gone seriously askew – build in a style your fantasies dictate, and damn fitting in with the neighbourhood. One could say this about almost every sphere of Indian life.


 Bhatia (b 1952) has practiced architecture in India and the USA, won awards for his work on housing in West Africa, and for other projects. He is a painter and a sculptor, and he has written several books, mainly on architecture. His latest book, Lie (Tranquebar 2010), created in collaboration with Rajasthani miniature painters is a satire told in pictures and words, rather like a comic. It's an interesting text, even if the subjects of a rather broad satire are familiar – corrupt politicians and the like. And it's the product of an interesting experiment, "Desh ki Awaaz", in which traditional artists and craftsmen worked with their urban counterparts. The project was initiated by Bhatia and Orijit Sen. The artists are Shankar Lal Bhopa, Birju Lal Bhopa and Ghansham.
   The book is sub-titled A Traditional Tale of Modern India. This approach to the material is not unknown. Endless moons ago, either in the 70s or 80s, I saw an exhibition at the Jehangir I found interesting for precisely this reason. A painter from Jaipur (I'm afraid I cannot remember his name) displayed canvases that showed, for instance, Radha in a grove confronted, not by Krishna, but a rather gross businessman. And Rushdie doesn't use drawings, but Midnight's Children reads rather like an extended cartoon strip, with its flat characters who fall from the sky, zip across continents, and the like.


Some of the frames in Lie are quite striking. For instance, there's the famous McDonald's sign on top of Parliament. A hamburger and a packet of French fries are part of the decoration on the lawns. In the narrative sequence, ministers gather in the Parliament building McDonald's restaurant. "Arrey bhai," says one, "there's some talk of famine in your state?" The other replies, "Yes. But that's in Darbanga. I'm from Patna." In another corner, a minister says, "Last year people died because of the floods." The other replies, "So what does it matter if a few are knocked off by a different technique."


Here are some of the election posters: "Biren Choudhury – convicted rapist. Independent candidate from Shantiniketan – home to Nobel Laureate Tagore. Laxmikant Mathur – full-time murderer and arsonist CPI candidate from Allahabad – family home of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. The election symbols include "Greased Palm – Congress", "Seema Ahuja – Brothel Madam and Income Tax Consultant, BJP Candidate from Jammu – hometown of Vijaylakshmi Pandit."


   Among the election symbols is a dead donkey, a felled tree, and a greased palm – a hand held out with a bundle of currency on it. Then there are the conferences about development issues: says the chairman, "The conference threw up a heady debate centred on the contextual contradictions between the cheap toilet for villages and the low-cost rural latrine for the rural areas."

 Everyone knows "the plot". Luckily, it's not the plot that matters but the pictures, the sometimes witty and even wicked exaggeration – a minister practices abstinence by lying next to a glass of whisky. And yes, the resemblance of any character living or dead to actual people is not a coincidence.



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





This month, banks move to a new, more transparent regime of loan pricing. They will jettison the Benchmark Prime Lending Rate (BPLR) and price loans off a "base rate". Unlike the BPLR that was set somewhat arbitrarily by banks, the base rate will follow an explicit formula that factors in a bank's cost of deposits, operating costs (expenses of running its branches, for instance), the cost of statutory drafts on bank funds imposed by RBI (the Cash Reserve Ratio and Statutory Liquidity Ratio) and the profit margin. RBI has stipulated that banks cannot charge below the base rate for most loans. (There are a couple of exceptions like agricultural loans and export credit.) While the new model will ensure greater transparency, it need not mean lower lending rates for borrowers. In fact, banks' blue-chip corporate borrowers could see some increase in their cost of borrowing. The reason is somewhat simple. RBI allowed banks to lend below their prime lending rates and the majority of banks did the bulk of their corporate lending at "sub-PLR rates". The best "credits" for a bank could drive the hardest bargains. This led to peculiar situations in which a bank whose official BPLR was in the range of 14-16 per cent was found lending to its best customers way below its costs at 5-6 per cent. The incentive for this "irrational" pricing was to keep the ratio of non-performing assets low, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis when banks' risk appetite waned and safety got precedence over margins. The base rate regime does away with this.


If the blue-chips stand to lose in the new regime, who stands to gain? Some would argue that banks "subsidised" the low-cost loans to their prime borrowers by charging hefty rates from smaller, riskier borrowers — small and medium enterprises and households, for example. Those who argue this claim that once banks are forced to price loans in line with their costs, these "subsidies" are likely to disappear and the segments that arguably need the money the most are likely to get fairer rates. The other thing that the base rate could prevent to a degree is what regulators term "predation" — the phenomenon of large banks dropping loan rates way below costs to grab market share. There have been recent instances of predation in retail credit markets breeding the risk of credit bubbles building up on the back of these exceptionally cheap loans. From a monetary policy perspective, a transparent basis for credit pricing should make the transmission of policy impulses to actual lending rates more efficient. It would at least provide a better gauge of whether monetary policy changes are making a difference to borrowing and lending rates on the ground. There is a case to be made for some structural changes in the policy rates as well. As the current liquidity crunch in the banking system has shown, the wide gap of one-and-half percentage points between the reverse repo and the repo rates drives large swings in short-term interest rates as the banking system goes from surplus to deficit and vice versa. This volatility is perhaps undesirable and can be ironed out by reducing this gap. A hike in the reverse repo rate, keeping the repo rate unchanged in the July 27 monetary policy could do the trick.







Undeterred by the lacklustre performance of the monsoon so far, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has revised upwards its long-range rainfall forecast for this year to 102 per cent of normal from 98 per cent projected earlier in April. By contrast, the rainfall till now is 12 per cent below normal and its distribution over space and time is highly skewed. Besides, its advance towards the central and northern parts is behind schedule by one-to-two weeks. If, despite such aberrations, the IMD has chosen to elevate its rainfall projection — and that too with a narrower error margin of ±4 per cent, instead of ±5 per cent previously — it does reflect the forecaster's confidence that the monsoon will manage to make up the deficiencies in the remaining three months of the rainy season (June to September). No doubt, there are some valid reasons behind the IMD's sanguinity. But there are reasons to doubt it as well, especially considering the IMD's dismal past record of monsoon prediction. The IMD had failed to foresee last year's drought despite repeated revisions in its rainfall predictions. The six parameters-based ensemble monsoon forecasting model, which was way off the mark last year, has again been used for generating this year's prediction.

Interestingly, the government, especially the food and agriculture ministry, itself seems to be an IMD sceptic, given that it has not yet drawn down the mountains of unsustainable grain stocks that it has built up. The present stock-holding of grains is more than sufficient to feed the public distribution system (PDS) for an entire year without further inventory replenishment. Yet, the ministry is wary of off-loading the stocks in the domestic market or exporting them till a clearer picture of the actual rainfall and kharif sowing emerges. As a result, huge quantities of grains are facing decay for want of proper storage.

 That said, it cannot be denied that there have been some positive developments on the weather front which bode well for the monsoon. For one, the dreaded El Nino factor, which had peaked in December, has not only dissipated but has yielded way to the emergence of La Nina (opposite of El Nino) which invariably has a positive bearing on the monsoon. Furthermore, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which generally portends anomalous rainfall patterns, is expected to enter a harmless phase by moving away from the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the estimates of the likely rainfall made by several other national and international organisations using statistical and dynamic models also suggest normal to above normal monsoon rainfall this year. Finally, past rainfall trends indicate that a widespread drought is most often followed by an year of bountiful rainfall. This happened after the last century's worst drought in 1987 and in recent years after the drought years of 2002 and 2004. For this, farmers expect copious rainfall this year, after last year's severe drought. If the rain God smiles, a good harvest in the current kharif should help cool down food inflation that has persistently remained in the high teens. This should also help recharge groundwater aquifers and refill reservoirs, both of which have been drawn down heavily in the year gone by. But, what finally happens is all up in the sky..








When it comes to broadband, India is "notably lagging its peers", to quote Booz & Co, an international consulting firm.* Its report recounts our pathetic coverage — less than half the anticipated 20 million — and recommends that both industry and government must act in concert. Spelling out the roles for both, it concludes that we need a national policy to improve fixed-line infrastructure more rapidly than the current market-based approach does, as well as satellite-based communications.

 The report recommends this because advanced economies have broadband on widespread fixed-line networks, and many are pursuing strategies to further empower their citizens through state action, as before. The effects are many, but let's start with examining costs. Figure 1 shows the relative cost of broadband in a sample of countries.

India seems favourably placed with its low purchasing power parity (PPP) cost. However, relative to costs in India, this is about 6 per cent of average monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita, ranked 78th, as shown in Figure 2. In comparison, the first 23 countries — Macao, Israel, Hong Kong, the US, Singapore, etc., Greece and Spain included — have costs below or close to 1 per cent; the next 16 have costs below 2 per cent. As the 39 countries have PPP costs of only 0.25 per cent to twice India's cost, India's cost as a percentage of its GNI is six times theirs, i.e. Indian users have to pay relatively more. Increasing GNI, while desirable, is harder, more complex, and will take much longer. By contrast, costs can be reduced quickly by sharing network resources and limiting government collections to a reasonable percentage of revenues, instead of auctions and arbitrary levies.

Broadband leaders

Wired Asian countries like Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea already offer broadband on the next generation of high-speed networks. Singapore's approach especially should be of interest to India, with policies supporting a blend of public subsidies and private investment, while separating three activities: infrastructure, network operations (wholesale), and user services (retail).**

Two years ago, Singapore set out to create an environment with more open access to downstream operators by separating the building of infrastructure from the running of the network. It drew on the experience of local community networks in countries like Britain, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Three Singapore companies partnered with Axia Netmedia, a Canadian broadband company, to form a consortium called OpenNet, the infrastructure operator. OpenNet uses one partner's existing network (SingTel's) as a base. With a government grant of 750 million Singapore dollars, OpenNet is building an extensive fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) grid to be completed by 2012. The second partner is a subsidiary of Singapore Power, SP Telecommunications, which leverages Singapore Power's experience in developing infrastructure. The third, Singapore Press Holdings, is a leading media services company.

The network operator, a subsidiary of StarHub (a cable and phone operator), is Nucleus Connect. Residential services at 100 mbps have been announced, to be provided by over 10 retail service operators. While some analysts opine that increased competition may not lead to appreciable cost reduction, Singapore is already ranked fifth-lowest in cost as a percentage of average monthly GNI per capita.

Can India do some catching up?

a) Can India do something similar? Don't we need to? How?

The answer to the first question is: only if the government decides on a concerted drive.

To the second: yes, to be competitive.

To the third: with a comprehensive, integrated systems approach. It is insufficient if only one or a few ministries and agencies are involved, because the development and execution of solutions require cutting across turf boundaries. The conventional approach of the ongoing Trai consultation followed by recommendations addressed by the DoT is simply inadequate, because their charter is too limited. Many issues concerning commercial and user decisions, particularly of government agencies and the Department of Defence, and radical changes in approach need active participation from these players as well as the private sector for resolution. Examples are Booz & Co's recommendations of a better fixed-wire network, and satellite communications in the Ka band, or the possibility of exploiting the cable and satellite TV network of around 110 million households. The entire communications network, or at least the backbone, needs to be shared for efficiency, unlike the existing limited tower-sharing. Also, state governments need to be closely involved in issues like Rights of Way and user needs.

b) Governments at the Centre and all states need to facilitate the productivity of their citizens, instead of hamstringing them with taxes, levies, auctions and dysfunctional policies. This is more easily said than done, with our predatory history, fractious coalitions at the Centre and states, and freewheeling, combative state governments. Governments at all levels have to coordinate this problem-solving initiative for all stakeholders, adapting the experience of leading broadband countries, instead of predatory behaviour seeking personal gains. The consultative process needs to agree on goals, and then figure out practical ways to achieve them.

c) With inspired leadership and a constructive approach, half of the over Rs 1,00,000 crore from the 3G and BWA auctions could support a broadband gambit drawing on concepts like Singapore's public-private partnership, instead of being just a damaging revenue-collection exercise. Again, easier said than done, but with result-oriented, strong leadership to elicit enlightened employee engagement, even MTNL and BSNL could be partners in a core network in a role like SingTel's. A public-private network-builder can draw on the combined strengths of its participants to provide a platform for a number of private operators. Separating the infrastructure building and operations from wholesale network services and end-user services could make this feasible and practicable.

* "Bringing mass broadband to India: Roles for government and industry", Booz & Co, June 7, 2010:


** "Singapore gets wired for speed", Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, NYT:








At the start of the current Fifa World Cup, a leading investment bank had come out with a quantitative guide to the World Cup 2010 wherein, using a sophisticated quant model, England was the predicted winner, followed by Spain and the Netherlands. While England has already made an inglorious exit, fate of the other two shall be known in the coming days. Of course, this effort should be appreciated more as a light-hearted application of otherwise rigorous mathematical and analytical tools used more to provide real-world decisions support. However, this again brings up the debate between using "intuition and street-smart sense" and "data-based analytics" for taking strategic and operational decisions and what may be more appropriate for Indian entrepreneurs and managers at present and in near future.

 India has a very diverse set of hitherto very successful businesses straddling the extremes of promoters' intuition-based decision-taking styles (e.g. Future Group, Alok Industries, SKNL and Bharti among others) to rigorous research and analysis-based decision-taking (e.g. HUL, Aditya Birla Group, and Shoppers Stop among others). Then there are some in-betweens which start with a very strong entrepreneurial vision, which is then refined by appropriate analysis (e.g. Reliance Industries, Godrej, Hero, and even some MNCs like LG and PepsiCo).

However, India in the coming decade will probably deliver more premium to a combination of intuitive plus analytical decision-taking entrepreneurial styles and organisational culture than those that may operate on one end of the spectrum or the other. There are several factors to support this hypothesis.

To start with, India's growth trajectory in the coming years is going to be fundamentally very different from what it has been even in the last decade. The impact of a compound average growth rate of 8 per cent or more will be much more pronounced on an economy which is now almost $1,400 billion compared to less than $500 billion in 2000, creating new multi-billion dollar industries and new billion- and multi-billion dollar business opportunities. Many will emerge in hitherto relatively uncharted territories such as education, health care, food and agriculture, retail, energy, transportation, defence, and construction to list a few.

The Indian demographic profile is very different already, and that it will further change is known to all marketers. The Indian consumer behaviour and lifestyle are also undergoing rapid and sometimes fundamental change is also known to most marketers. What is less clear is how the consumers will take purchase decisions in the coming years, and what price/premium or discount they will be willing to offer to different categories of consumer products and services. Current qualitative and quantitative consumer and market research techniques are likely to fall woefully short in giving any reliable insight into the consumers' minds as they may be even two-three years down the road.

And finally, India will see an unprecedented wave of entrepreneurial activity to add to an unprecedented quantum of competition from global players who will give even more attention to the Indian market as the Indian economy reaches a scale and composition comparable in absolute numbers to leading developed economies (even if India has decades to go before the economic indicators on per-capita basis become comparable to developed countries). Many of these entrepreneurs and some of the global competitors will have total irreverence for history and disdain for "reputation, best practices and experience" of the current market leaders and will try to change the game through sheer audacity if the market opportunity is perceived to be large enough. This has already been seen across many sectors, such as telecom and aviation, in the last 10 years. The same is expected to happen very shortly in sectors such as the retail, with some of the Indian and international giants ready to slug it out (though a real game-changer would be the entry of someone successfully launching ultra-deep discount retail formats), and health care (again, with the likely entry of some more entrepreneurs with McDonald's equivalent of health care delivery models).

The message, therefore, is that under such a unique business environment in India, strategic initiatives should be taken based more on a vision and entrepreneurial "gut-based" decision process, while some day to day, more tactical interventions may be based more on data-based analytics, but even there, street-smartness should finally prevail.  







Although companies have been able to tap bond markets, the recovery of global financial markets is shaky

After initially falling more sharply than in the first 12 months of the Great Depression of 1929, global output, industrial production, equity markets and trade have picked up smartly. While the recovery in advanced countries is anaemic compared to that in previous recessions, and is relatively jobless, dynamic emerging market economies seem to be firing on all cylinders once more.

 Though extraordinary fiscal and monetary policies adopted by G20 countries are widely credited with having averted a second Great Depression, the global economy appears to be at an inflexion point. It is teetering between recovery in the real economy and renewed strains in financial markets, induced by a crisis brewing in the Eurozone that is threatening to boil over into the global economy. This disconnect between the real economy and financial markets is eerily familiar — it is a throwback to the confounding debate in the early stages of the global financial crisis. It was forgotten then —and is perhaps overlooked now — that the real economy lags behind developments in the financial sector. Financial markets eventually caught up with the real economy — and how! They could well do so again.

While large brick and mortar companies have been able to tap bond markets, the extent of recovery in financial markets is shallow. The banking sector started making profits through quantitative easing and taxpayer bailouts, but nevertheless it continues to deleverage, parking growing amounts of its own funds with the Federal Reserve; toxic mortgage-backed securities, which are a significant source of financial intermediation in recent years, never showed real signs of recovering their "fair market value"; interbank borrowing spreads and US housing prices, after initial signs of recovery, are under renewed distress; delinquency rates for US residential and consumer loans have continued to rise and are at levels never seen since the US Fed started maintaining records from the mid-eighties, indicating that household balance sheets are still to recover.

The flip side of the unprecedented macroeconomic response to the global crisis is the unprecedented rise in fiscal deficits and public debt in advanced countries which has not been seen since the Second World War. The over-leveraging that lay at the heart of the global financial crisis is not going away, as public overleveraging is simply replacing private deleveraging.

In the past few weeks, fears regarding sustainability of sovereign debt have once again started to roil financial markets. Sovereign borrowing spreads are rising sharply in southern Europe; corporate borrowing costs are going up; capital flows to emerging markets are falling back and safe haven flows are rising. The rescue package of ¤110 billion for Greece and the ¤750 billion financial backstop for the wider Eurozone have not quelled market fears about the health of the European banks and speculation that the crisis could spread, especially since deficits in some advanced countries outside the Eurozone are even higher.

As the German Chancellor Angela Merkel sagely observed, large deficits make governments cede control to markets since deficits need to be funded. If sovereign borrowing costs were to rise, servicing even the current debt levels would become more difficult. Markets also fear that this might constrain central banks to keep policy rates unnaturally low for an extended period of time, fuelling asset bubbles.

While an increase in public debt is the usual aftershock of deep recession and financial crises, structural deficits in several advanced countries were already rising even before the crisis on account of age-related expenditures. Moreover, the failure of transmission channels of monetary policy, the first line of macroeconomic response to downturns, placed a disproportionate burden on fiscal policy. There are now fears that cyclical deficits and anaemic growth could push countries into a debt trap unless longstanding social compacts are re-negotiated and structural reforms to raise growth are started quickly.

Governments can either grow their way out of high levels of public debt, as in the aftermath of the Second World War in advanced countries when the overall growth environment was good, and as India is currently doing, or inflate their way out, as in the 1970s following successive oil price shocks. Since long-term growth prospects in most advanced countries look shaky, market fears regarding future inflationary outcomes will not dissipate easily.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects policy makers to navigate a narrow Goldilocks policy zone that is neither too early as to derail the recovery, nor too late as to provoke a market revolt. Emerging markets facing inflationary pressures should start exiting, which they are mostly doing, and advanced countries should "stagger in" exit depending on fiscal and market pressures on individual countries. The US, the issuer of the global reserve currency with few market pressures on its borrowing programme, seems to echo the IMF view. Major European countries at the epicentre of the potential crisis are in favour of front-loading fiscal exit.

Yet while long-term fears are real, and some advanced economies may indeed be in a debt trap, some of the short-term fears are overblown. Even as sovereign borrowing spreads have risen in southern Europe, they have fallen in major advanced countries during the same period. Paradoxically, despite being insolvent, a number of advanced sovereigns do not have a liquidity problem. Collectively, sovereign borrowing costs and liquidity problems can worsen only if private demand is on track. Market fears regarding future inflation and sovereign default are countervailed by the current need to seek refuge in safe havens. Indeed, in such circumstances, rising sovereign borrowing costs is something to look forward to, akin to a canary in the goldmine signalling the revival of private demand and the time for fiscal exit.

This is where lies a second paradox, what Keynes described as the "paradox of thrift". Historical experience indicates that it is indeed possible to combine fiscal consolidation with growth, especially where there is greater reliance on expenditure control than on tax increases. Implementing structural reforms could also raise growth potential, making debt levels more sustainable and exercising a calming influence on markets. These medium-term issues are being addressed by the G20 through its ambitious Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth.

However, it is highly unlikely that it would be possible to have fiscal consolidation during a severe, synchronised economic downturn, more so since monetary policy transmission channels are still clogged. It is difficult to compress expenditure commensurate with the compression in revenue, especially since this has to partly substitute for the steep contraction in private consumption and investment. Even so, past experiences indicate that most of the fiscal deterioration in a downturn is through decline in revenue rather than through increase in automatic stabilisers or discretionary stimulus.

If there are cautionary lessons to be learnt from Greece, which has recently been penalised by markets for lack of fiscal credibility, there are also lessons to be learnt from Japan in the 1990s, and the US in 1937, where premature fiscal tightening resulted in both a deflationary spiral and an explosion of public debt. An undeniable virtue in normal times, fiscal chastity is of dubious value in deep recessions. Advanced countries could perhaps seek solace from the ancient Christian scholar, St. Augustine of Hippo, who famously beseeched the Lord to make him chaste, but not yet 

The author is a joint secretary, Ministry of Finance Views are personal






When the world's first commercial magnetic levitation railway — maglev, for short — went into service in Shanghai in January 2004, connecting its downtown district with the international airport in Pudong, even many Chinese doubted the wisdom of such extravagance. The authorities had spent $1.2 billion to build the 30-km, 431-km-per-hour connection so that passengers could commute to and from the airport in 7 minutes and 20 seconds to be precise. People wondered: Is this kind of time saving really necessary?.

 Six years on, maglev isn't a debate anymore. It's a trend that's clearly catching. Last month, South Korea tested a driverless maglev train at the Incheon International Airport and hopes to have a 6.1-km track ready there by 2013. The government is seriously looking to use the technology in other places as well to improve mass transit services.

Also last month, the US transportation secretary Ray LaHood went to Japan to ride a test maglev train operated by the Central Japan Railway on an 18-km track in Tsuru, west of Tokyo. Japan has developed its own maglev technology that it wants to sell to other countries and also employ at home to build an extensive domestic maglev network. The plan is for a Tokyo-Nagoya service by 2027 and Tokyo-Osaka by 2045.

China itself has bigger maglev plans. This September, preliminary work starts on a proposed 22-km maglev subway line in Beijing, to be fully operational by 2014. Shanghai is keen to extend the Pudong maglev to its other airport, Hongqiao, and then all the way to Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, more than 100 km to the southwest.

The main attraction of the maglev train is its technology. The fact that trains don't run on wheels and float in air over guideways using the basic principles of magnets means there is virtually no friction and journeys are smoother, quieter, safer, and speedier. Its only disadvantage is its higher cost relative to conventional high-speed railways. That's why, like the Japanese, the Chinese are currently engaged in developing their own maglev technology and are aiming to manufacture the trains themselves for the Beijing line. They expect to bring down the cost to $35.7 million per km, against $40 million per km incurred on the Shanghai line. If further cuts can be achieved, we are going to see more cities falling for maglev to build up or upgrade their mass transit systems.

Since speed is the name of the game, a cost-competitive maglev is a better future alternative to wheel-based bullets. It's more than likely that Hong Kong will look at maglev for its proposed $8.6 billion hook-up with the Chinese high-speed railway network. Even Indonesia is talking maglev for a 350-km high-speed connection between Jakarta and Bandung. A whole new market for high-speed conveyance is thus opening up, and Japan and China are cranking up to compete with the Germans and the French for a share of it. The US, for example, has 13 regional high-speed rail projects in mind, including possible maglev links between Washington and Baltimore and between Tampa and Miami in Florida.

For China, in particular, speed is everything and time saved means opportunities gained. A key high-speed (380 km-per-hour) railway between Beijing and Shanghai is due to open in 2011, bringing the two cities within four hours of each other, against ten hours now. By end-2012, more than 9,000 km of new high-speed lines are supposed to be in place, supporting speeds between 200 kph and 350 kph. Slower services are being phased out, even though they are cheaper and people don't mind having them. By 2020, China's total high-speed mileage is to go up to 30,000 km. With that kind of a goal, it's not difficult to understand why China is so interested in having a maglev technology of its own.

What's next? Speeds of 600 to 1,000 kph? Or more? At a seminar in December 2004, academic members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering discussed an idea that seems straight out of science fiction. It's called the Evacuated Tube Transport, or ETT, and works like this: Instead of in the open, maglev tracks are enclosed in parallel tubes (one for each direction) from which all air is permanently pumped out (evacuated). Pressurised passenger capsules, comparable to cabins of private business jets, hurtle through the tubes without any resistance, as if through space, at a minimum speed of 4,000 kph and using less than a tenth of the energy consumed by an aeroplane.

Crazy? Maybe to us, who think an 85 kph train is a duranto. But the fact that ETT has already infiltrated the Chinese mind leaves no doubt about the direction they want to take and how far into the future they are prepared to look.  







Enactment of the new Direct Taxes Code and implementation of GST are two most important reforms that are expected to significantly minimise economic distortions and reduce the compliance cost. As regards the former, the Ministry of Finance is revising the draft of the Code based on the comments received from various stakeholders and is expected to place it in the monsoon session of Parliament. One can reasonably expect that the Code will come into force from April 2011 as scheduled. However, GST implementation has not proceeded smoothly and considering the enormity of the tasks that remain, it is unlikely to be implemented in April 2011.

 The most important issue to be resolved in the introduction of GST is the finalisation of the structures of central and state GSTs, operational modalities, a mechanism for compensating losses, a machinery to ensure effective compliance by both the Centre and the states, a system to ensure seamless credit for the tax paid throughout the country, including electronic processing of inter-state transactions and changes in the administration. The process is stuck as the structure of GST and operational modalities are yet to be finalised before other components of the reform are brought in. In fact, the report of the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC), rather than accelerating, has actually reversed the process and it will take some time before the threads are picked up again.

The problem with the Finance Commission was that it considered GST reform not as a process but an event in itself. It should be noted that it was the introduction of VAT in 2005-06 which was the "game-changer" and introduction of GST is only the next step in the process. While it is important and necessary to target the "model GST", mandating it as a ground rule leaves very little room for the "grand bargain". Furthermore, stipulating a corner solution — that if any state does not adhere to the design, operational modalities and binding agreements of the "model GST", it will not receive the compensation — has led the states to adopt a defiant posture. You cannot have a choice between the "model GST" and none at all in matters relating to the reform of consumption tax in the country involving both the Centre and the states.

The most contentious issue in the design is the revenue neutral rate estimated by the task force of the Commission. Surely, everyone would like to have the tax rate low, but it is important that the estimate should be realistic. To begin with, taking the average values of the base arrived at by employing five different methods defies logic and shows the lack of confidence by the task force in its own estimates. In fact, one of the methods is the so-called "Shome Index": which is not a method at all; it is broad generalisation that the revenue-GDP ratio from the tax would vary from a third to half of the nominal rate of tax and one should try to be close to half! Other methods used for estimation suffer from significant overestimation due to the assumption on unorganised sector purchases and the value of real estate transactions. An NCAER study estimates the productivity gains to the economy and revenue neutral rate of GST using the 2003-04 input-output table. Given that the base table used was even prior to the adoption of VAT, it overestimates both productivity gains and the base of GST. As far as the Centre is concerned, at a time when it has to augment revenues to restart the fiscal consolidation process, it cannot risk losing revenues and providing compensation to the states.

In his otherwise erudite article, Satya Poddar (BS, May 25) asserts that successful models of GST feature single and low rate of tax and cites the examples of Japan, Singapore and New Zealand. Based on this, he argues that the GST rate for the Centre and the states in India need not be more than 10 per cent. He also states that in case the rate is inadequate, it could be increased later! While it is certainly desirable to have a low rate of tax, it is important to ensure that it does not result in loss of revenue. Similarly, while there is much to be said in favour of having a single rate, the decision to have one or two rates is guided by socio-political considerations and if most states feel comfortable having two rates, we will have to live with that.

Incidentally, the tax rate in New Zealand is 12.5 per cent (and not 10 per cent as stated by Poddar) and the Budget presented on May 20 proposes to increase it to 15 per cent from October 1, 2010. This is despite New Zealand having virtually no exemptions. As regards Singapore and Japan, they did not face the type of fiscal compulsions that India faces today. One can also cite several successful cases of GST with high rates and the average GST/VAT rate in the European Union itself works out to 19.5 per cent, and the average for OECD countries works out to 17.7 per cent. The average tax rate in Latin American countries is 14.4 per cent and it is much lower at 10.8 per cent in the Asia-Pacific. The argument that if found inadequate we can increase the rate will not hold water; it is easier to bring the rate down than to increase it.

Fortunately, the action taken report on the TFC report presented by the Ministry of Finance to Parliament has only accepted the recommendations "in principle" and, therefore, there is room for "grand bargain". By and large, it seems that the states are comfortable with the idea of having two rates — a lower rate of 5 per cent on essential items and a general rate of 10 per cent on goods and services would perhaps be acceptable. Agreement on the rates and compensation for any loss of revenue for a reasonable period of time could restart the reform process. Given the trade-off between fiscal autonomy and tax harmonisation, we should settle for what is feasible rather than throwing the baby with the bathwater.

The author is Director, NIPFP. The views expressed are personal








For the last seven months, an Italian company, Selex Sistemi Integrati, had blocked a crucial aspect of India's defence readiness in Indian courts, until an irate Supreme Court threw out a Selex petition on May 24. Since November 2009, the upgrading of 30 operationally vital military airfields had been effectively suspended by India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) after Selex filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the MoD's award of that contract to a consortium led by Tata Power's Strategic Electronics Division (SED).

Selex pleaded that, in awarding the Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) contract to the Tatas, the MoD had erred since the Tata consortium had neither the experience, nor the technical capability to execute such a contract. Selex also alleged that the Tatas had squeaked ahead in close bidding (the Tata bid: Rs 1,094 crore, or $234 million; the Selex bid: Rs 1,141 crore, or $244 million) by leaving out expenses like transfer of technology within the country.

 In rejecting Selex's petition, a two-judge Supreme Court bench acidly wondered whether an Italian court would have heard an Indian company on a matter so vital. The bench noted, "This court is not a Robin Hood… do you want us to stop the modernisation of the airfields?"

Selex has effectively lost its case, and perhaps a great deal more in future business since the MoD will not easily forgive the slur of being labelled incompetent. But Selex's ill-advised foray into the Indian judicial system has spun off what will be a landmark judicial exercise: a careful legal examination of the rights of foreign companies in Indian tenders. At stake here is an issue that will reverberate beyond national security: Can a foreign company allege a violation of its fundamental rights in contesting the award of an Indian contract?

This issue, which will now be examined by a bench of the Delhi High Court, rests on three articles of the Constitution of India. The first, Article 226, under which Selex went to court, empowers the high court to consider writ petitions from those who believe their rights, including fundamental rights, have been violated. The second, Article 14, provides equality before the law to all people within the territory of India. And the third, Article 19, provides citizens of India (Note: not foreign nationals) a number of freedoms, such as those of movement, speech, assembly, formation of unions, etc. Article 19(1)(g), which has been critical in this case, allows citizens of India "to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business".

Selex pleaded to the Delhi High Court for the award of the contract, initially invoking all three articles before backing off from Article 19(1)(g). It approached the Delhi High Court under Article 226, claiming its right to equality under Article 14, read in conjunction with Article 19(1)(g). Now what will be examined afresh by a Delhi High Court bench is whether a foreign company, without Indian shareholders, can claim constitutional protection under Article 14 without it being read through the window of Article 19(1)(g).

Recognising the importance of clarity on this issue, the two-judge Delhi High Court bench that referred this question to a higher bench, noted: "Almost all large tenders today are being challenged in writ proceedings before the court and are coming up for judicial scrutiny. It is thus necessary to settle the legal issue in question. The question which thus arises for consideration is whether in the matter of scrutiny and award of tender, the fairness of procedure under Article 14 of the Constitution of India can be examined dehors the rights under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India to carry on the business and trade at the behest of a foreign company invoking the jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, especially keeping in view the fact that the issue of fairness in treatment and absence of arbitrariness when involved on the basis of Article 14 in tender matters is relatable to the doctrine that the state has to be fair in distribution of state largesse to its citizens." If the high court bench rules that protection under Article 14 necessarily flows through the guarantees of Article 19, this will effectively deny foreign companies a remedy under the Constitution of India, i.e. the writ petition route, to challenge the award of contracts. Left with only the time-consuming recourse of a civil legal challenge, foreign disruptions to the contracting process will be minimised.

Besides the fine legal issues that have emerged from this confrontation, the national security dimensions of defence contracting merit a comment. It says as much about globalisation as about Indian defence procurement rules that a foreign company, which has built most of China's airfield network, and which has continuing interests in China and Pakistan, can challenge in court the MoD's right to award a crucial airfield turnkey project to an Indian company.

Indian companies entering defence production are sinking tens of crores of their own money, largely unsupported by government, into creating indigenous capabilities. If the MoD is serious about indigenisation, it must create the legal and regulatory framework required for supporting Indian companies with security-sensitive projects, even when their bids are marginally more expensive than those of foreign bidders.  







Why is the production of pulses stagnant while that of other food crops is growing, even if at a slow pace? The reasons are several, though the blame is most often put on lack of new technology to enhance productivity of pulse crops. The truth is that the cultivation of pulses has gradually been pushed to non-irrigated, marginal lands that are not ideally suited for growing other relatively more lucrative crops.

 Besides, unlike wheat and rice, where production, price and marketing are assured, pulses enjoy none of these prerequisites for boosting output. Pulses are highly risk-prone crops, vulnerable to pest attack and sensitive to weather. A High as well as a low rainfall affects them adversely. Farmers are seldom sure of getting good returns even when the consumer prices of pulses rule sky-high. There is, therefore, hardly any incentive for them to invest in yield-enhancing inputs like good seeds, irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides.

According to H S Gupta, director of the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), or Pusa Institute, pulses, being protein-rich crops, are fundamentally different from other food crops. They need nutrition and energy for synthesising both carbohydrates and proteins, while most other crops need energy largely for producing only carbohydrates.

Though pulses have not received the same kind of attention as has been paid to the development of new technology for wheat, rice and some other crops, such attention has not been totally lacking either. New technology for pulses has to be developed wholly indigenously because, unlike other food crops, pulses are of little interest to other countries. For Indians, these are the most important sources of protein.

"We have the technology, new varieties as well as strategies that can help bridge the annual gap of around 3 million tonnes in the indigenous production and demand of pulses. But these need to be adopted and implemented to show results," Gupta asserts.

Crops like chickpea (chana) and mung bean can play a significant role in offsetting the pulses deficit. New varieties of these crops can help expand the acreage under pulses as they can fit into the cropping cycles even in areas where pulses are generally not grown. Chickpea protein is deemed relatively superior. For, besides being a complete protein, it has more total digestible nitrogen. Chana also has beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

The new varieties of desi as well as kabuly chana developed by IARI have extra-large seeds which fetch relatively higher prices and can, thus, improve the profitability of chickpea cultivation. These chanas are ideally suited for parching to make roasted chanas as also preparing other Indian chana-based culinary delights. This apart, these chanas are in demand because of their higher recovery of besan (refined gram flour), which is an essential ingredient in most Indian kitchens. Varieties like BGD 72, DG 2024 and DG 2028 belong to this category of bold-seeded chickpeas.

Most new varieties of chickpea can withstand high temperature and drought besides being resistant to dreaded plant disease called wilt. These can be grown in Bundelkhand and the rice lands left unplanted for want of adequate water (commonly called rice fallows) in states like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar.

In the case of mung bean, on the other hand, IARI has managed to reduce the growing period of the crop to just around 60 days, from more than 70 days earlier, to enable it to fit into the cropping cycles in the country's key irrigated farm belt in the north-western states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The short-duration mung varieties, such as Pusa Vishal and Pusa 9531, can be grown in these states either after harvesting mustard or potato around March 15 to 25 or after harvesting wheat in April. In both cases, this 60-day crop of summer mung will vacate the fields well in time for planting paddy, the main kharif crop, in June and July.

Cultivation of mung, a leguminous crop that imbibes nitrogen from atmosphere and fixes it in the soil, will help improve the soil fertility, which is currently under stress because of growing of exhaustive crops like what and rice year after year in this region. "If even half of the land under wheat-rice rotation is used to grow summer mung, much of the country's deficit of pulses can be made up," says Gupta. His sane advice needs to be acted upon.






The fantasy of any Indian reader who's travelled to countries with bigger and better bookstores is simple: we want to be able to buy the books we love when they come out.

 Many great books, especially histories, biographies, science writing and world literature/poetry/drama in translation will never be stocked in Indian bookshops. Many will come in after six-eight months, or will be prohibitively expensive, or will be stocked in limited copies. For readers, one way around this is to order online or invest in an e-reader, but that's still restrictive — you lose out on the serendipity of browsing, the accidental happiness of stumbling across books you didn't know you wanted.

From that perspective, the amendments proposed to the Indian Copyright Act might seem like a great idea. The core principle underlying the amendments applies equally to the Internet, digital media, film and broadcasting, and print publishing. Open up the markets, allow books, films and other media to move freely across countries, and give the Indian consumer and reader a much wider choice. So, why is Indian publishing unhappy about this, and how is the Indian Copyright Act set to change the way you read?

The publishing perspective: Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India, is blunt: "This will change the face of Indian publishing completely. The worst hit will be the publishers." His logic, echoed by HarperCollins' P N Sukumar and Krishan Chopra, is simple. The Act would do away, in effect, with the idea of an Indian "territory" — allowing books to be freely imported, and in the worst case, dumped, in the Indian market. For publishers, the incentive to promote an author or invest in his work in India disappears — if you know that anyone can print and sell copies of the book your publishing house has worked to produce.

Most glaringly, the "open market" is not reciprocal: while US and UK printers could, theoretically, flood the Indian markets with reprints of popular books, copyright agreements in those territories still hold, and Indian publishing cannot do the same. In the long run, this could kill or seriously cripple Indian publishing.

The author's perspective: While the initial response from authors on the easing of markets is bound to be positive, will they get paid? As happened with the music industry, authors might find that their sales and audiences rise — but they're not getting royalties on those editions. In a worst-case scenario, if the Act goes through in its present form and the doomsayers are right, the apparent freedoms authors might gain from the easing of copyright restrictions would be offset by the loss of local publishing support. And again, as with the music industry, for authors to gain, they would have to be willing to create book groups, nurture audiences and do much of their spadework. None of this infrastructure exists in India at present.

The reader's perspective: Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO of Westland, offers a balanced take. "This is terrible for publishers," he says. "But readers and retail want more choice and this could offer them more freedom — even at the basic level of being able to buy different editions of the same book."

The biggest question — unanswered because the Copyright Act is geared far more strongly to the needs of the digital and film worlds, than to the complex and competing needs of print — is how this will work in practice. This could be like the Chinese toy revolution: the insidious replacement of local Indian products with cheaper, more disposable alternatives. Many readers couldn't care less, so long as they have more and better books to read.

But the other argument is blunt, if protectionist: if you want a thriving Indian publishing industry, flooding the market with cheaper editions of books will kill off the publisher's incentive to support and nurture authors. This could work if markets were open in the other direction as well — if a reciprocal arrangement allowed Indian publishers to ship their editions of US and UK-produced books into those markets — but there is no way the US and the UK would allow that kind of competition.

Like most Indian readers, I want more choice, and better books; and I don't want to have to wait months to buy my favourite authors. But however well-intentioned, if the practical implications of the Copyright Act would be to cripple local publishing, that's bad for readers — and terrible for authors. What works for digital industries and films might have entirely the opposite effect on the publishing world, and it's not a gamble Indian publishing can afford to lose.

Tailpiece: As this column went to press, we were waiting for news of bestselling Swedish author Henning Mankell. The author, best known for his Inspector Wallander crime fiction series, is one of the observers on the "Gaza flotilla" — a peaceful aid convoy carrying Palestinian activists and supplies in protest against the Israeli blockade. On Monday, Israeli troops stormed several boats; 19 casualties have been reported from the boat Mankell is on, but at this point, there is no word about the writer's status. Thousands of fans across the world hope he's safe.











 FOR all the brouhaha, the change from the benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) to the base rate will leave the lives of most borrowers pretty much unchanged. On paper, there will be greater transparency, at least for those who have the time and inclination to go through the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) complex formula for determining the base rate; though it is unlikely banks will disclose how they have arrived at their own rates. So, banks will announce their base rate where they once announced their BPLR. The actual lending rate depends on the risk premium, based on the borrower's credit-worthiness and the riskiness of the venture being financed. So, though the base rates announced by a number of banks led by Big Daddy, State Bank of India (SBI), are lower than the BPLRs, that does not necessarily mean the cost of funds will decline for borrowers. Over the long run, however, other things remaining unchanged — the famous ceteris paribus clause that only economists naively believe in! — interest rates should come down. Not because of the base rate but because the shift to the new regime comes along with another less publicised move to scrap the BPLR cap for loans of up to Rs 2 lakh. Thus, barring loans for agriculture, exports and a few other specified areas, small loans will not be subsidised. Cross-subsidy in loans extended to large blue-chip corporates will also come down since subbase rate lending is no longer permissible — under the BPLR regime, it was possible to lend below the BPLR.


 Ideally, the RBI should have steered clear of telling banks how to price their loans and insisted only on transparency. Competition and good regulation would have done the rest. Having said that, we do live in a second-best world — with all kinds of non-market strictures on banks. However, we hope this restriction on banks' pricing freedom is purely temporary. Just as no one tells car manufactures how to price their cars, the RBI should not tell banks how to price their loans. It should limit itself to the larger mandate of financial stability and ensure the safety of public deposits is not jeopardised by banks. Nothing more, nothing less!







THE latest attack on the CRPF in Chhattisgarh, killing 26 jawans, is another reminder of murderous Maoist violence, but also of the need to recruit, train, equip and use the local police in operations. Clearly, the CRPF, unfamiliar with the terrain, local conditions and culture, is out of sorts in the area. New Delhi should learn from the Andhra Pradesh example in that context. The AP government was able to dislodge and push out the Maoists based on a twin-track, integrated approach. First, the local police was provided with more personnel, better training and resources, and given their knowledge of the area of operations, they were better able to take on the Maoists. Aligned to that, a developmental aspect, such as building a large network of roads that facilitated setting up governmental services such as schools and health clinics plus welfare schemes, along with police stations, ensured that the local people were gradually weaned away from the Maoists. The political will and coordination between the Centre, the Chhattisgarh and AP governments must be established in order to replicate the success of the latter state in the former. For, force must be controlled by an attendant political programme and practice that takes into account the complexity of the problem. A purely security-based approach, an all-out assault that does not distinguish between Maoists and the local people, the tribals, will be counter-productive, yielding exactly what the Maoists want. Portraying the operation against them as the state's war against the dispossessed, impoverished people in order to grab their natural resources is central to Maoist ideology and strategy.

The Maoist problem needs to be seen not only as a crisis of sovereignty of the state but also as a crisis and failure of Indian democracy in the affected regions. Now that everyone agrees that both development and force are needed to tackle the Maoists, there must be clarity that letting loose paramilitary forces who cannot distinguish between militant and mere villager cannot yield inclusive growth. Andhra Pradesh waged war against the Maoists, and won. Let's learn from their experience.








THE Delhi government has finally seen the writing on the wall — or in this case, the blackboard. And it is in English. It took the Commonwealth Games to extricate the city's government from the clutches of the language mafia that insisted that all road signs must be in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi; now spanking new metal signboards carry just the first two. If anything, they show the Capital's two linguisitic preferences even if they are no guarantee of proficiency, as the spelling betrays. The blinding realisation that English is in — even if England is out of the Fifa World Cup — has also now struck the powers that run Delhi's municipal schools as well. So, another 249 MCD primary schools will become English medium in addition to the 272 who changed over last year. Though that still means less than a third of the city's MCD schools will now 'go English', the general direction is clear. The real battle has already been won in any case, judging by how much of our former colonial master's argot has leached into everyday conversations in regional languages. More people in former British colonies worldwide speak adopted and adapted versions of English than purists in Old Blighty, so there is no question of the Empire striking back.


Sadly, it is unlikely that children will be subjected to the kind of rigorous training that the hapless Eliza Doolittle was subjected to by Professor Higgins. Indeed, since the MCD plans to merely reassign its existing teaching staff even with a new lingua franca, how true (grammatically and otherwise) the incumbents will be to the medium is quite uncertain. If not the language of Shakespeare and Dickens, at least the lingo of Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl will help more of India's next generation to communicate and compete with their peers globally.







PA-I launched the ambitious Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) with great fanfare in April 2005 to fulfil its commitment to electrify every household in rural areas. In a radical departure from practice, it decided to finance the programme to the extent of 90% with grants from the central government to the states. It even went further in providing the services of the central public sector undertakings, like the Power Grid Corp, to the states for the implementation of the programme.


 The RGGVY became a central pillar of Bharat Nirman and inclusive growth. It is reported that by May 31, 2010, over 80,000 villages had been electrified and about 1.2 crore households had been given electricity connections under the programme with an expenditure of Rs 21,000 crore. Project implementation and provision of the physical hardware of substations, transformers and conductors has been truly impressive.


But if one asks the question whether the India-Bharat divide is being bridged as far as supply of electricity is concerned, few observers would answer unambiguously in the affirmative. But bridging the urban-rural divide in provision of electricity is the key to providing rural India with the opportunity to engage with and benefit from the dynamism and vitality of the urban Indian economy. Urban India is now achieving double-digit growth rates with increasingly productive engagement and integration with the global economy. In the absence of electricity in our villages, economic activity has to be necessarily confined to the pre-industrial era.


One sees this clearly in the phenomenon of industrial jobwork and outsourcing taking place in urban slums but not the villages. Even in agriculture, the underlying presumption is the somewhat quaint and outdated one that electricity is required only for pumping water for irrigation, and with this, we can get the increases in productivity and growth rates that are needed. The second green revolution encompassing horticulture and animal husbandry with the cold chain is, however, not feasible without electricity.


 To understand the difficulties and challenges involved, the issues of political economy come to the forefront. When RGGVY was initiated, it was a conditionality-based programme with the central government providing 90% capital grants for the physical infrastructure subject to the state governments agreeing to and then implementing the institutional changes stipulated. The most critical conditionality was that the states would not discriminate in the hours of supply of electricity between urban and rural areas. This is unexceptionable on grounds of equity. Unfortunately, this was never taken seriously by the political and administrative elites across the states. This would have involved sharing shortages equitably and, by implication, a marginal increase in power cuts in the urban areas.


Notwithstanding the right to information, most people in rural areas would not have been aware of such a conditionality. At the grassroot level, this never became a real political issue about the right to equal treatment for people living in our villages. When the RGGVY was extended in the 11th Plan, pragmatism prevailed and this conditionality was watered down by the central government to the innocuous stipulation that 6-8 hours of supply would be ensured for rural areas, which was the reality on the ground in most states. If evening supply does not take place for lighting as a matter of routine, there would be little point in taking an electricity connection from the point of view of a village household and being willing to pay for actual consumption.


THE massive investment in the infrastructure for supply would remain underutilised. With assured equitable evening supply of electricity for lighting, the rationale for kerosene subsidy for lighting in rural households also ceases to exist. With 6-8 hours of supply, economic activity would remain more or less at the preindustrial stage with all the adverse implications for growth, employment generation and poverty alleviation. This experience highlights the difficulties in making the goal of inclusive growth a reality.


The quality of electricity supply in rural areas has again reflected the India-Bharat divide. Getting a burnt transformer serving a rural feeder line attended to has tended to be a daunting experience in most parts of the country. The commercial management of giving new connections and collecting payments has been so weak that the census had become the most reliable source of data about the number of rural households with access to electricity. It is only with a well-defined segregation of the rural retail supply business with proper metering arrangements can the true picture relating to the magnitude and burden of subsidies emerge.


To illustrate, Delhi not having a large rural area was reporting transmission and distribution losses of 45-50% before the induction of the private sector with public-private partnership in distribution. In the neighbouring states, these losses would be routinely reported at around the normative figure. Urban losses would be reflected as rising rural consumption for irrigation with a rising burden of subsidy for the state governments without either the irrigated area or farm production increasing in a commensurate manner.


Accordingly, the other crucial conditionality of RGGVY related to putting in place a viable and sustainable system of decentralised management of electricity distribution through a franchisee arrangement. The states had full flexibility as a franchisee could be an entrepreneur, an NGO, a cooperative or the village panchayat itself. Centralised line bureaucracies of the state electricity boards or distribution companies could not be expected to provide quality service to the villages.


Transparency regarding actual subsidies would emerge along with better governance through the franchisee system. Further, decentralised solar and biomass generation can be more easily mainstreamed through franchisees. The change envisaged is radical and disruptive. It holds great promise and needs commitment. The requisite political motivation for change across the states is still to be seen. This again highlights the political challenge of actually delivering on the promise of inclusive growth.


 (The author is a former secretary to   the Government of India and was    actively involved with the power sector)







 THE deans we interviewed from higher-ranking schools were clear on the value that they believed accrued to those armed with an MBA: it ensured access to these (as well as other) attractive, otherwise-inaccessible careers. In their eyes — as well as those of many students — the fulltime MBA is increasingly aimed at 'career switchers'.

For those wishing to change fields — to enter investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, or strategy consulting from a prior position in industry, government, or the non-profit world — the MBA has long been viewed as absolutely essential. One dean, for example, noted that nearly 80% of students at his prior institution had switched careers upon graduation. The problem for the higher-ranking business schools is that there are a number of forces at work that threaten to undermine or reduce the opportunities for employment in financial services and consulting.


 Post-crisis, many lucrative jobs in financial services, and to a lesser extent in consulting, have simply disappeared. Each day brings new reports of hedge fund closings and the scaling back of private equity investments. Not surprisingly, the enormously-high compensation packages in these fields are shrinking as well, making jobs in these sectors far less attractive… At the same time, financial services and consulting firms are substituting non-MBAs for MBAs. The numbers are small but growing. Enrolments are under pressure, and questions are being raised about the value-added of the degree.








 IN THE Great Leap Forward, a countrywide programme was launched to rid China of four pests: sparrows, rats, flies and mosquitoes. This assault, Judith Shapiro writes in Mao's War Against Nature, enlisted the entire country. Nests were knocked down. At night, millions of Chinese would disperse into the countryside, beating gongs to ensure the birds could not alight in a quieter area but kept flying around in alarm till, exhausted, they fell to their deaths. Only later did the leaders realise sparrows help control insects. Other diktats, like building dams, reclaiming marshes for agriculture, etc, also had to be obeyed unhesitatingly.

This narrative comes up whenever China's environment is discussed. That its authoritarian government has steamrolled environmental concerns while chasing growth. Curiously, in an article, China's environment in a globalising world, published in the June 2005 issue of Nature, Jianguo Liu and Jared Diamond rate 15 of the world's most populous countries on a scale of 1 to 142, on environmental sustainability. The higher the score, the less sustainable is the country. China is the second worst with a score of 129. Curiously, India stands at No. 4 with 116.


How did a democratic India get into this mess? A colleague points to the resource-intensive economic model both countries followed. Population too is a factor. As is the use of old technology — though we escaped the backyard smelters Mao promoted. Additionally, looking at the environmental violations around us, like the Jindals starting to build their thermal power plant in Chhattisgarh without an environmental clearance, or the central government asking the Supreme Court to allow Lafarge to resume mining in Meghalaya even though the latter had been mining without a forest clearance for years,itseemssafetoarguethatthecollapsing rule of law in India also has a role to play.


This raises several questions. One, is India accumulating nearly equal — as the Nature article suggests — environmental damage as China without commensurate economic benefits? Take the Bellary brothers. They have felled forests, appropriated lakhs of tonnes of ore. But the gains have been split between them, and some politicians and bureaucrats. All the country got were the deleterious externalities of mining. Two, given these differences in how the two countries function, if and when they decide to get their natural environment shipshape again — to the extent possible — who will fare better?


Given that it is better at translating intention to outcome, will that be China? In 1997, for instance, the lower reaches of the oncemighty Yangtze dried up for 267 days. This was followed by massive floods the next year in the Yellow, Yangtze, Shanghuajiang and Nenjiang rivers. Three years later, severe sandstormscoveredBeijing,reinforcingfears of deforestation and desertification.


 In response to such calamities, write Runsheng Yin and others in a paper, China's ecological rehabilitation, China launched two big programmes to protect forests and grasslands: the Slope Land Conversion Programme and Natural Forest Protection Programme. In the latter, among other things, logging from natural forests was slashed by two-thirds in just six years: from 32 million cu min 1997 to 12 million cu m by 2003. Those targets, say the authors, have been mostly met. (Of course, an improvement in China's environment need not be also good news for the earth. The country now meets its demand for timber through imports.)
   Or will it be India? China's Achilles' heel is that a group of wise men decide what is best for the country. Their ideas, good or bad, do not face the contestation public policy should go through. During The Great Leap Forward, the environment was sacrificed at the altar of economic growth. This time, something else might be sacrificed at the altar of the environment. India has the option of finding a middle path. It certainly has the mechanism. For, what is democracy if not a marketplace where ideas compete with each other?
   But that is not how we think. In India, the default response to such comparisons is that Indiahasasurfeitofdemocracy.Thatweneed an autocratic government. This is ridiculous. The problem with India is a system where the vested interest all too easily overrides the public interest. Fix that, or be prepared to overtake China on population and pollution.









 PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh's address at the Toronto meet of the leaders of the group of 20 most significant economies (G20) was well received and several of his ideas find reflection in the final communiqué. Being taken as a responsible member of the international community has many practical advantages, but you will not be taken seriously if you do not implement at home the prescriptions that you recommend for others. That is an added reason why we have to get political on India's missing infrastructure.

   Dr Manmohan Singh recommended that developing countries should invest heavily in their infrastructure, so as to boost domestic growth and global demand. Is India investing enough in its infrastructure? We are not. Is the problem that we don't have the money to invest in infrastructure? Not at all — there is too much money sloshing through the world's financial veins for anyone to complain of monetary anaemia. Attractive, reasonably certain returns are the motive force that drives money through the financial circulatory system. We in India have a political culture that makes it very unlikely that any money that goes into certain types of infrastructure would ever make a return. Naturally, no one in their right senses would voluntarily invest their funds in such areas.

   A tourniquet is normally tied to staunch the flow of blood from a wound on an arm or a leg. If, on a perfectly normal leg, we put a tourniquet and twist it tight and then blood stops flowing down the limb beyond the restriction, why blame the blood or the heart that pumps it?

   The political culture that prevents investment in some infrastructure sectors fetching any reasonable return is like a tourniquet on a healthy limb. If the limb then goes numb or, worse, begins to rot, the solution is simple and obvious: set up a GoM!

So far, we have set up Cabinet committees and expert committees on infrastructure. These comprise civil servants and technocrats. They rarely muster the courage to tell their political bosses the raw truth: what the politicians do is the problem.

 All new infrastructure needs land. India has very little of unutilised, free land. Some people would have to be displaced to acquire the land for a new infrastructure project. Displacement offers a gold mine of opportunity for the politician. You could oppose it, demand higher compensation, a better rehabilitation package, a slice of the package in used notes of small denominations that would pass off as gifts and contributions from numerous well-wishers.

 In the absence of institutional funding of politics, all politicians mobilise funds for their political activity in non-institutional ways that the simple-minded call corruption. This normally involves colluding with the bureaucracy, to sell patronage, to extort money from the well-heeled or to loot the exchequer. Once compromised, bureaucrats make money for themselves, as well. Large infrastructure projects are ideal targets for wielding all three prongs of such fund mobilisation. You collect money to grant clearances or to award a contract, you force the project to employ your goons for transport and labour contracts, and, if the project is publicly-funded, corner a slice of the funding, routed through the contractors, of course, who would dutifully inflate every bill and invoice and generate enough money to pay you off and keep some for themselves.
   In the process, they overcapitalise the project. This jacks up the cost of the infrastructure service, to be recovered as user charges. As it is, the political culture says that it is a sin to demand user charges. Electricity must be given away free. Or, at least, you must turn a blind eye when some poor electric arc furnace owner steals power. Dams and irrigation canals may be expensive to build and maintain, but please do not ask the farmer to pay for irrigation.


 Expert committees are too suave and refined to deign to see such crudity. They'd much rather pretend that the problem is with the fund flow: maturity mismatch between source of funds and investment yield, the need for take-out financing, special purpose vehicles, credit enhancement, etc, grip their imagination. They behave a bit like the man in the fable who looks for a lost ring under a lamp although he knows it had been lost quite some distance away — it was too dark there, if you noticed.


The politician, however, can spot the tourniquet — after all, he's the one who tied it in the first place. And he alone can remove it. And the problems holding up infrastructure are diverse and integrated, not amenable to departmental handling by civil servants. One way to get political on infrastructure is to set up a group of ministers on the subject. They are all politicians, at least their offspring or spouses.
   If the political leadership gets serious on infrastructure, we'll get infrastructure. But that calls for courage. No expert committee can deliver that.


Infrastructure investment has been identified as the route to sustained economic recovery and growth
What constrains infrastructure building is bad politics, not any paucity of finance
Expert committees will fail to say this, and the only way India will get the infrastructure it needs is for politicians to lead the charge against bad politics








KABIR, the 15th-century mystic master, would surely have chuckled at the irony. A chair is going to be set up in his name in a Haryana university. There will also be a Kabir chowk in Rohtak to mark the 613th anniversary of his birth about which the Master, as usual, had something piquant to say:


 "When I was born, I cried and the world laughed. But when I go, I want to laugh and the world to moan (such ought to be my legacy of peace between sects and to lasting enlightenment)."


 The dates of his birth and death remain shrouded in mystery.


What endures is the legend that the revolutionary mystic left behind: just flowers for his Hindu and Muslim followers to share; otherwise, they might have fought over burial or cremation rights of the Master's body which was never found. Commenting on Kabir's dohaon death, Osho says the one thing that separates man from animals is conscious awareness of laughter and death. This can lead to a new synthesis, when one joins consciousness of death to our capacity to laugh.


 If you can die laughing, only then will you have given valid proof of your having lived by laughter, Osho adds. If, on the other hand, you die crying and clinging to your supports, then you are not a grown-up but an immature caught in denial of death and pain.


Growing up involves facing up to reality and isness of things whatever they may be. In Osho's formulation, as inspired by Sant Kabir's searing insight, pain, or dukkha, is simply that. There is no suffering in it. Suffering comes from your desire for absence of pain, Osho explains: watch, witness, and you will be surprised. You have a headache: the pain is therebutsufferingis not there. Suffering is a secondary phenomenon, pain is primary.

The headache is there, the pain is there; they are simply facts. There's no judgment about them — you don't call them good or bad or give them values. The rose is a fact, so is the thorn. The day is a fact, so is the night. The head is a fact, so is the headache. You simply take note of it.


The Buddha taught his disciples that when you have a headache,simplysaytwice,'headache, headache'. Take note, but don't evaluate. Don't say "Why? Why has this headache happened to me? It should not happen to me." The moment you say 'It should not', you bring suffering in. Now suffering is created by you, not by the headache. Suffering is your antagonistic interpretation; suffering is your denial of the fact.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The last thing that world football's governing body, Fifa, would have wanted was to have controversies shroud its maiden foray into Africa. Instead of the football, the focus increasingly has fallen on the refereeing — and some truly abominable decisions that have been handed out in the runup to the quarter-finals of the 19th World Cup currently under way in South Africa. Such has been the fallout of this poor showing that much of the football itself — which too has not really risen above the ordinary, barring shining exceptions such as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Holland — has all but been consigned to the sidelines and a raging debate over the greater use of technology now occupies centrestage the world over. The trigger, of course, was Uruguayan Jorge Larroinda's negating of what clearly was a valid goal struck by England's Frank Lampard in the pre-quarter-final against Germany at Bloemfontein, where the ball rocketed into the crossbar and dropped inside the goal before bouncing back out, and the referee waving for play to continue. Lampard's anguished reaction will remain one of the iconic moments of this World Cup. Adding fuel to the fire was another baffling decision the same night, when the first of three Argentinean strikes against Mexico came from a clearly offside position and referee Roberto Rosetti upheld Carlos Tevez's claim for the goal. And as if that was not bad enough, Fifa president Sepp Blatter went on record the following morning to say that there was no need for technology to play a larger role, and that mistakes were part and parcel of the game. The indignant howl that followed this forced Blatter to backtrack within 24 hours and admit that mistakes had been made, and that technology would indeed be selectively used in determining some close calls, an issue which would be taken up by the International Football Association Rules Board next month. In a sense, much of this was unnecessary. Football is governed by 10 fairly straightforward laws, but referees at every level of the game know of an unwritten 11th law, called "common sense". This is something which the gentlemen in black at the World Cup appear to have forgotten, and have consequently come in for an undue share of attention, both from the media and the administration, and three of them have indeed been sent back home. The best referee is the anonymous one — like Hector Baldassi, in charge of Tuesday's needle Spain-Portugal Round of 16 match — who keeps the flow of a game going as smoothly as possible and intervening only as and when most necessary. That, sadly, has been more the exception rather than the rule at this World Cup, and the result is the growing clamour for change. Yet Blatter is also right in calling for caution in the use of technology. Static instances like goal-line calls are obvious candidates for referral to a qualified official who has access to television replays. This could either take the form of fixed cameras or micro-chip embedded balls, both of which are tried and successfully implemented technologies.






In 2010, Operation Enduring Freedom — the American expeditionary commitment in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) — enters its ninth and seventh years respectively. The running total as on date of the "butchers bill", as World War I British generals rather inelegantly put it, is 1,125 American soldiers dead in Afghanistan and 4,407 in Iraq, in a war that is on its way to catching up with Vietnam (1964-1975) as America's longest conflict in history to date (though Vietnam at 58,193 remains far ahead in casualties).

The United States sees itself at war and the parable of Vietnam on the perils of war-time presidency is always a warning beacon for US President Barack Obama and the political machine of the Democratic Party. They are also aware of a Vietnam psychosis slowly gathering amongst the American public, a fretfulness about the prolonged war in Afghanistan and the slow but steady backflow of soldiers' coffins. Afghanistan is being increasingly perceived as a tiresome commitment, now seemingly pointless with the main quarry Osama bin Laden safely ensconced in sanctuary in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Coupled with this is the US House and Senate elections in November 2010, followed by elections in November 2012 to the hallowed precincts of the White House itself. It can, therefore, be reasonably assumed that given the increasing war-weariness and a national mood swinging towards closure, the compulsions of American politics will undoubtedly be a reckonable factor in shaping the future of America's involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama's action soon after assuming office in January 2009 seem to conform to this pattern. He ordered a thorough review of the US strategy in Afghanistan, followed within a month by announcing August 2010 as the timeline for commencing withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Also, in December 2009, Mr Obama mandated July 2011 for a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan. While Mr Obama might have arrived at each decision after intensive reviews and consultations, both the decisions were, ultimately, as much the outcome of strategic and geopolitical factors as of the demands of political mood management. Nevertheless, there are definite straws in the wind indicating that whatever the public facade be, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a policy of gradually drawing down America's active military commitments on painful wars in strange faraway lands.

America has to wrestle with its own demons, but its departure from Afghanistan will undoubtedly impact India's interests in that country, where India has established itself as a substantial "soft power" — the fourth-largest foreign aid donor contributing $1.2 billion. Extensive Indian programmes of construction, social welfare and administrative training have all been remarkably successful and well received.

Nevertheless, Afghanistan is a cause for concern for India as it is the "overseas" theatre of the Pakistan-India proxy conflict, with Pakistan determined to incorporate Afghanistan into its own sphere of influence as a strategic cushion, part of which involves the elimination of any Indian presence or influence in Afghanistan.

"Military advisers" from the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence are present in the inner councils of the Taliban shura located in sanctuaries within Pakistan, which constitute the primary instruments for furthering Pakistan's strategic plans as quid pro quo for favours granted. The proxy offensives with car bombings and suicide attacks have systematically targeted the Indian embassy, Indian projects and workers in Afghanistan.

America's own strategy for Afghanistan has developed around the Af-Pak concept, visualised as a tandem alliance between the US and Pakistan aiming to "defeat, destroy and dismantle" the Al Qaeda network and their Taliban support structure inside Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. It is an intrinsically flawed perception that attempts to yoke together two countries with totally divergent policies and end interests, in an arrangement where it is Pakistan, more than the US, which holds the high cards. The US has, as its primary objective, the defeat of the Al Qaeda and the neutralisation of their Taliban supporters while the objective of Pakistan is the preservation of these very same entities as strategic resources against India, and for progressing Pakistani interests in Afghanistan after the US' departure. It therefore comes as no surprise that the US war in Afghanistan is stumbling badly with an uncertain endgame.

Within the US itself, there are barely concealed dissensions between the military and civilian leadership which recently exploded in public with the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, a beleaguered President Hamid Karzai is seriously seeking accommodation with the Taliban shuras to preserve his own position and perhaps even his life. But there are also rumblings amongst the large non-Pashtun minorities of Tajiks, Uzbegs, Hazaras and others who have suffered grievously under earlier Taliban dispensations and are uneasy at the prospect of their return. They are prepared to defend themselves if another rerun takes place, making resumption of civil war a distinct possibility.

Under the circumstances, India now needs its own Af-Pak strategy if it is indeed serious about maintaining its presence and interests in Afghanistan. Security and protection of Indian project sites, assets and workers in a hostile environment will obviously constitute a major plank, whether provided by adequate paramilitary and Central police forces, or by armed civilian contract security personnel. The substantial asset of goodwill for India across the entire spectrum of Afghan society, Pashtun and non-Pashtun, needs to be tapped and utilised to best advantage. Alternate power centres and leadership figures like Abdullah Abdullah and Yunus Qanuni are emerging particularly in the Northern Alliance community of Tajiks, Uzbegs and Hazaras with whom India's relations have traditionally been supportive and cordial. Indian negotiators have to bring all these into play.

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament







Pssssst. I've got a stock tip. Ready? The Al-Quds Index.

What's that? It's the PSE, 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 CEO of Palestine Development and Investment, which owns the exchange. The PSE was established in 1996 with 19 companies and now has 41 — and eight more will join this year. The companies listed there include the Commercial Bank of Palestine, Nablus Surgical Centre, 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 ETF — 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 neighbourhoods 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 US President Barack 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'".








The recent partial decontrol of prices of oil products is a welcome move and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) supports it completely. While the government has decontrolled petrol prices, it has indicated that the same would follow in due course for diesel prices.

The freeing up of prices in the oil economy has been long overdue. Artificially depressed prices lead to inefficient use of oil products. People tend to consume more fuel than necessary if prices do not reflect their inherent scarcity value. By linking domestic fuel prices with international crude price, the government can bring in greater efficiency in fuel use.

Further, if the idea is to subsidise the economically weaker sections of the society then the present dispensation in any case needs a relook. In the present situation, the benefit of the subsidy offered is going more to the non-target groups than the intended beneficiaries. It is widely known that kerosene, given its controlled price, is heavily used for adulteration of other fuels. This is a great environment hazard and the government must look into how it can alter this situation. In our view, granting direct cash subsidy or offering cash coupons to the target group may be a better alternative for providing support.

In the case of LPG, it is largely the middle and upper income class which gets the benefit of the government subsidy. While compulsions of political economy may prevent a complete phase-out of this subsidy, government can at least consider extending the network of piped natural gas across cities, urban centres and even semi-urban areas. To the extent piped natural gas — which is a cleaner fuel — is available, government can reduce its subsidy burden on cooking fuel. Ficci feels that capital investment in extending the piped gas network will prove to be a prudent decision in the long run.

Another point to consider in this context is rationalisation of the tax structure on oil products. And here we urge the Central government to engage with the state governments to evolve an integrated tax structure for the fuel sector. It is imperative that we move away from the ad valorem tax structure to a specific taxation structure as such a move will cushion the impact on consumers of any increase in prices. With an ad valorem tax structure, any upward movement in oil prices amplifies the impact on consumers.

Finally, Ficci would urge the government to come out with a clear roadmap for diesel price decontrol as this would enable industry to prepare well in time for such a change.

— Dr Amit Mitra, secretary-general, Ficci

UPA insensitive to aam aadmi

Sidharth Nath Singh

The Prime Minister's justification for deregulation of petrol prices and hike in diesel, petrol, kerosene and cooking gas prices reflects a flawed economic thinking and insensitivity to the sufferings of the common man. Since 2004, the nation is witnessing an unbridled food inflation which has spiralled today into double digits. The 2009 election results have been misunderstood by the Congress and driven their leadership to an electoral arrogance that's resulting in indifferent to the pains of the aam aadmi. The excise and custom duty increase in Budget 2010 is a reflection of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's mindset. Never before could one assign a singular action of any government that unleashed an unparallel affliction on the people of India.

To argue that for long-term gains a bitter pill needs to be taken is in itself a callous justification when the aam aadmi is already suffering under double-digit inflation. The government's first priority should be to correct the faulty fiscal and monetary policies to control high inflation and give relief to the common man. Once economic conditions are more stable with low inflation and high growth, deregulation could be a welcome step. It is important to compare the status of economy today with 2002 when the Vajpayee government had deregulated petrol and diesel prices. The economy then was stable with low inflation and high gross domestic product growth but the current economic condition is of high inflation with high growth prompting policy actions by the government to ease pressure on prices in the form of increase in interest rates. Under these circumstances deregulation of petrol and diesel prices will come as a double whammy to the aam aadmi.

The government's argument for deregulation is to help state-run marketing companies to cut losses and reduce fiscal deficit. However, deregulation is not the only tool to cut losses. The focus should be how to improve the efficiencies of these companies by setting out higher benchmark to be achieved. Secondly, the government could have thought of issuing oil bonds to state oil marketing companies and, thirdly, adopting revenue neutral measures so as to pass the benefits to the oil companies and consumers. Failing to act and considering aam aadmi as UPA-2's milking cow to fund lopsided social welfare schemes is being insensible to their sufferings.

Continuing with deregulation in current economic conditions is nothing but loosing the mandate given to UPA by the aam aadmi.

— Sidharth Nath Singh, national executive member, BJP






Happiness, like wine, matures with old age. If a research report published in the New York Times recently is to be believed, people beyond 50 are found to be much more happier than those between 18 and 50.

The results, published online on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website, are good news for old people, and for those who are getting old. On the global measure, people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, apparently, life begins to throw curve balls. They feel worse and worse until they hit 50. At that point there is a sharp reversal and people keep getting happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

And this phenomenon is not driven by things that happen in life. Predominantly, something very deep and human seems to be driving this. Several psychology researchers wonder why at age 50 do things seem to start to change.

Eastern wisdom has answered this question. The ancient sages have divided life in four stages based on the physical and psychological state of the human mind. They call it four ashramas or stages of life, namely the state of celibacy, the householder, the vanaprastha and the sannyas. The sannyasi devotes his life to attain to peace and bliss, so his life is much more fulfilled than the younger people. The sages have looked at life vertically, not horizontally. And they have done this with the knowledge that the body is merely a vehicle that inhabits the consciousness.

Osho has talked about a seven-year cycle of change. Every seven years the body and mind take a new turn. If we say life moves in a cycle of seven years, the age 42 is the turning point when a person changes from being materialistic to being spiritual. His need for meditation becomes stronger and if he finds the right doorway he starts growing up instead of growing old. He spends time in meditation and the spiritual search.

Osho explains the enigma of Western psychologists, about why old age seems to be happier than youth: "Youth cannot have depth, and youth cannot have calm understanding. Youth is feverish, it is a tumultuous time. You have to pass through many experiences, sweet and bitter. You have to pass through many stages of feverishness, of ecstasy, of excitement; only then a moment comes when you start understanding. Those experiences prepare you, they cleanse you. A really old man is wise, he has some light in him. He has lived his life, he has become ripe. He knows what life is: he knows its joys, its sorrows, its hells and its heavens. A great understanding has arisen in him, and a compassion and a love".

When you are becoming old joyously, old age has a beauty of its own, a grandeur of its own, a ripeness, a maturity, a centering.

The moment a person comes to the point where life seems to be just a game, his old age is so beautiful, so graceful; no young person can comprehend or experience this. An old person's white hair looks like white snow on the highest peak of mountains. He will die with joy. He has lived his life and now he is entering into a new phase — death. He will not be reluctant. If he accepted old age joyously, he will accept death also dancingly. He will go with death dancing.

— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.







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 favourite 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."

Signalling that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (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 crystallised some wrenching questions: Does US President Barack 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 Afghan President 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 US-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 counter-insurgency.

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, anti-military 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?"







MONUMENTAL incompetence is the charge the CRPF has invited after 26 men, possibly more, were gunned down by Maoists in Narayanpur district of Chattisgarh. It is painfully evident that few lessons have been learnt from Dantewada. The similarities in the two massacres expose utter lack of tactical appreciation of the "ground", absence of an effective drill when under attack, and possibly morale so low (lack of minimal human requirements have contributed) that serious queries arise if that all-purpose paramilitary outfit finds itself completely out of its depth in the anti-Maoist role. Once again the attack came when a fairly large body of men (over 60) was moving in one bunch, took little precaution when passing below hills well within firing range, and possibly relaxing since their task for the day had been completed ~ homeward bound to a camp just a few kilometres from what proved their death-trap. Road-opening had been their specific assignment but clearly securing what they had "opened" was not a priority. To use some highly-descriptive slang, they simply did not "cover their ass". That the CPI (Maoist) had called a bandh did not heighten their alert ~ it is customary for the insurgents to strike hard in the run-up to such protest action, it scares the populace into compliance. Even if some of the personnel involved had undergone training in jungle warfare the benefit was precious little. To raise the issue above unquestionable tactical failure, coordination with the local police remains nominal, intelligence gathering is rudimentary, and a comprehensive multi-state strategy hardly discernible. The Maoists call the shots. There can be no making light of the "supreme sacrifice in the national cause", trouble is that martyrs don't necessarily win wars.

What next? To continue such ineffective operations only adds to the clout the Maoists wield, so temporarily re-deploying units of the Assam Rifles or BSF that have jungle-experience must be considered. In the long term culling out a dedicated anti-Naxal squad from the CRPF would be desirable but time is of the essence. An upgraded role for the Army ~ not direct combat ~ in the development of low-level ground-specific tactics, supervising operations, maybe even the "loan" of infantry-combat-vehicles and selected other equipment seems an immediate inevitable. The material and human assets the Army holds are "national property", can they remain unutilised when the authority of the Indian state is being so daringly challenged?








IT is a curious feature of subcontinental politics that the Opposition increasingly tends to adopt a non-cooperation movement against the party in power. The strategy, if it can be so-called, runs counter to the established certitudes of a persuasive democracy. In India, it has been finetuned notably by the Left in its tirades at the Trinamul, the Congress and the BJP, by the two main national parties in their discourses targeting each other and by Mamata Banerjee as a form of statecraft against the Left. Across the border in Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda's anti-Awami League bombast is geared essentially to step up the drumbeat against India. As much was the subtext of the BNP-sponsored strike ~ or do they call it hartal? ~ that crippled the country last Sunday. Domestic issues such as gas, electricity and water are of lesser moment to the predominant underpinning. Khaleda may or may not have a point when she carps over manipulated tenders and politicisation of the administration and judiciary. Nor for that matter was her dispensation marked by its commitment to honesty. The BNP leader has been remarkably calculating in making India the object of her simulated ire, and not China and Russia. Prime Minister Hasina has signed agreements with all three countries recently. Khaleda's attitude itself is a giveaway that she has taken umbrage at the agreements that chiefly provide for the exchange of criminals and data on militants. This is the crux of the issue that had soured India's relations with Bangladesh during the BNP dispensation. At one stage, the eastern flank was a decidedly more forbidding challenge than Pakistan, and in part because of Delhi's pussyfooting with Dhaka. There has doubtless been progress since Sheikh Hasina took over. To an extent, the five agreements  testify to a forward movement, however difficult this may be for the other Begum's BNP to digest.

The agreement to rein in the Islamist militants is essential if the two countries are to check trans-border movement, either to be active in eastern India or venture the long haul to J&K and beyond to Pakistan. It may be almost impossible to crack this network, but one must give it to Dr Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina for having initiated the effort. Khaleda's strident opposition to this crucial pact ~ a provocation for the recent strike ~ confirms the tacit approval of Islamist militant activity during the BNP dispensation. It isn't concordant with her agenda or that of other parties of her ilk. It is South Asia's misfortune that the reality overshadows the jaw-jaw at the high table of Saarc foreign secretaries and Home ministers. Geo-politics has reduced regional cooperation to a misnomer.








WHEN Citu called a transport strike last Saturday, the smaller Left partners were up in arms that the CPI-M's labour wing was trying to grab the limelight as the sole champion of a society in distress. The same Left parties in Delhi have reason to be seriously embarrassed by the NDA's decision to join their call for a nationwide shutdown on 5 July to demand a rollback of the fuel price hike. While the compulsions of the Bengal and Kerala elections next year are evident, the last thing that Sitaram Yechury may have wanted is a show of the sort of unity that came a cropper during voting on the cut motions in April. The overlapping of what is now being described as "separate'' protests by the Left and the NDA has served to divert attention from the real issue. The focus now will be on a curious debate ~ on who's in and who's out. For example, Mr Yechury would perhaps like to persist with the myth that he sups only with "secular'' forces such as Telugu Desam and Biju Janata Dal which have snapped links with the BJP. But the Left must be far from certain if the impact of the strike in Orissa and Andhra will be the same as in Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. On the other hand, Left leaders may not feel too comfortable having Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav by their side in an organised effort to mount pressure on the UPA after their stunning betrayal on the cut motions.

There are more unresolved questions that will make the strike more of a political drama than an expression of people's despair. Would Prakash Karat like to see himself in the company of JD-U's Sharad Yadav who has gone on record as saying this is a chance to revisit the post-Emergency euphoria of Opposition unity? Is there a likelihood of Mayawati jumping on a bandwagon that accommodates Mulayam? What if the Left and NDA protest rallies converge at one point? The Congress cannot be unaware of the contradictions and may be assured that Mamata Banerjee won't press her dissent too far. That could partly explain why the Prime Minister confirms with an uncharacteristic display of authority that populism must give way to economic realities. The UPA may ultimately derive its confidence from people who are convinced that hollow sabre-rattling has never yielded results. These shabby political games make it worse.








THE  misery of landless farm labourers has  been a common theme in Bengali plays, short stories, novels, poems, songs, cinema and folk paeans (panchali and brata katha) to gods and goddesses. The subject has figured in Bharat Chandra's Annada Mangal, in Chandi Mangal, Satyapirer Panchali and Shivayana by an 18th century village poet, Akinchan Chakraborti. The other works are Reverend Lal Behari Dey's Govinda Samanta (1874, later named Bengal Peasant Life), and Bijan Bhattacharya's, Nabanno.  The theme has been reflected in Rabindranath Tagore's poem, Dui Bigha Zami (1895) and in his letters to his niece, Indira, from East Bengal; in the novels and stories of Manik and Tarashankar Bandyopadhya, and in Bimal Roy's film, Do Bigha Zameen (1955).

Both in literature and the performing arts, the common themes were poverty, starvation, indebtedness to usurers (mahajans) and zamindars. This led to the seizure of their houses and eviction from their land.  They were driven to cities, there to live in slums or on the pavements. Eventually, they died in utter penury. And if they returned home to repay the debt, they found themselves dispossessed. The devastating effect of the two "great Bengal famines" of 1869 and 1943 has been described in Ananda Math and Ashani Sanket. 

Problem persists

IN 2003, the country's households, owning up to one acre, had an outstanding debt of Rs 76,767 each. The problem persists despite the pro-poor welfare programmes in rural Bengal. Many of the 4.8 lakh families, who were not certain about one major meal a day in 2005-06, were landless labourers.

Neither the British nor the Swadeshi governments could protect this class. As Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote, the much-vaunted progress of the country eludes them. In pre-historic, Hindu and Mughal Bengal, they did not exist as a separate class. They stayed with the landowners as part of their families, cultivated the land and did errand jobs but not the like serfs in Europe.  There was an element of bonhomie, as Tagore had noted. Most of them belonged to lower castes, but were not looked down upon by the families they lived with. This bonhomie ended during the Raj. A separate class emerged in the wake of the agricultural policies of the British.
As it turned out, this class was overlooked in the special decree of 1828, declaring all wasteland as state property, the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1859, the 1885 law, enumerating the rights of landholders and the 1928 report of the Royal Commission on agriculture. The civil servants and agricultural experts like Allan Octavian Hume, Augustus Voelckar, Albert Howard, Frank Parker and Sam Higginbottom ignored them. Their number rose from one-seventh of the total agrarian class at the end of the 19th century to a little over one-third in 1931. Before 1947, more than one-third of the land under cultivation in West Bengal was under share-cropping.
In the 1950s, the Congress government in West Bengal, led by Dr BC Roy, passed two momentous laws ~ the Estate Acquisition Act, 1953 (implemented with effect from 14 April 1955) and the Land Reforms Act, 1955.  The first fixed the ceiling of holding arable and non-arable land; the second fixed the ceiling of non-arable land separately for the owner, his spouse, children and dependents up to nine. It was stipulated that the tract would not exceed 25 acres. The land in excess would be vested in the state. Big landowners voluntarily surrendered about three lakh acres. By an amendment of the LR Act in 1971, the then Congress government, headed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray got 4.5 lakh acres of benami ("clandestinely transferred") land vested in the state.
When the Left Front came to power in 1977, it took advantage of the three pieces of legislation passed by the Congress to expand and consolidate its power with labourers and share-croppers (barga). They were registered for the first time.

Till September 2001, some 10.58 lakh hectares, i.e., over 26.14 lakh acres had vested in the state. In 1995-96, the number of landless farmers' families was 42.32 lakh, 39.26 per cent of the state's total farming families (107.79 lakh). In 2001, the number rose to 49 lakh and that of labourers to 73.62 lakh. In 2010, the number of families might have exceeded 60 lakh and of labourers to over 90 lakh.

Land-related data can differ, based as they are on sample surveys. But it can be safely presumed that 13.24 per cent of the rural population has no arable land. Which indicates that one in eight persons in rural Bengal is a landless farm labourer. The much-hyped land reforms of the Left Front largely benefited the bargadars (share-croppers) and only a fraction of the landless and marginal farmers. In real terms, this covers only 15 per cent of the state's arable land, despite the CPI-M's claims.


Among the major rice-growing states, West Bengal was the first to distribute the "ceiling-surplus land". The state distributed 47.14 per cent of the total vested land, followed by 9.83 per cent by Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (5.40 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (two per cent). According to its finance minister, up to 28 February this year, some 11.3 lakh acres of vested land had been given to over 30 lakh landless and marginal farmers, of whom 55 per cent belonged to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The credit goes largely to the visionary minister, the late Harekrishna Konar and his IAS secretary, Mr Debabrata Bandyopadhyaya. The latter  attributed the state's bumper harvest in the Eighties to these reforms. In the next decade, however, the productivity declined "after the initial spurt".

According to Mr Bandyopadhyaya, this was the first attempt to break the century-old agricultural stagnation from 1881 to 1981. Although in the rest of India, the so-called Green Revolution was effective since 1968, it made an impact in West Bengal only after a decade and only after agrarian relations underwent a major change through two phases of land reform. However, the pace of recording bargadars was slow since the mid-Eighties after that additional registration has been negligible. On 28 June 2006, the newly-elected seventh Left Front government decided to distribute 90,000 acres of khas land among five lakh "landless labour families". No such massive distribution was made thereafter. A West Bengal Human Development Report noted that many pattadars of vested land and bargadars have been alienated and over 14 per cent of the latter were subsequently evicted. This added to the number of landless labourers. According to an agricultural census report, prepared jointly by the Central and state governments ~ covering 20 years from 1981 to 2001 ~ land owned by small and middle-level farmers, by Scheduled Castes and Tribes has been declining. But the land owned by big farmers has expanded. The former have been forced to part with some 7.58 lakh acres of arable land in two decades. Reckless acquisition of arable land for industries has also deprived the owners, cultivators, bargadars and landless labourers of their arable and homestead land in Haldia, Kalyani, Dankuni and Singur. If the people of Nandigram hadn't opposed the move, thousands of acres of fertile land would have gone their way.

(To be concluded)The writer is a retired Indian Information Service officer








India, strictly speaking, has no national language. For central official purpose, the Constitution recognizes two official languages, Hindi and English. Hindi is the main official language, English is the associate official language. The Indian Constitution also approves India's 22 recognized regional languages for official purposes. After six decades of Independence, should not India have evolved a national language? The absence of a national language can imperil the unity of multi-lingual India. This was brought home recently by a finding related to union cabinet meetings.

It transpires that Mr Alagiri heads the list of ministers who have played truant in cabinet meetings. Out of every ten cabinet meetings he has missed seven. His attendance in other ministerial meetings is equally poor. This is understandable. Alagiri speaks neither English nor Hindi. Business is conducted in these two languages in the cabinet. Recently in a ministerial meeting, Alagiri took along his colleague A Raja to interpret the discussion. Pranab Mukherjee, who chaired the meeting, ordered Raja to leave because he had not been invited.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi, at the end of the recently concluded international Tamil conference held in Chennai, demanded that Tamil be recognized as an official language at the Centre. Tamil is a rich classical language. It has the oldest recorded literature of any language in the world. But it is spoken for the most part in Tamil Nadu and in parts of Sri Lanka. If it is accorded recognition as an official language at the central level, inevitably there will be 21 other claimants making the same demand.

Matters discussed in cabinet meetings are privileged information. Officials concerned with the subjects on the agenda accompany their ministers and are privy to cabinet proceedings. But if 22 additional languages are to be used for cabinet meetings, there would be required arrangements for interpreting all these languages by a permanent cadre of interpreters cleared to attend cabinet meetings. Is this practical? In Parliament, if a member desires to speak in any regional language, he or she is required to obtain prior written permission from the Speaker so that adequate arrangements for interpreting are put in place.

Clearly a national language is desirable. But it must evolve voluntarily. Fissiparous tendencies are reaching a dangerous level in different parts of the country. Can one help a national language to evolve? One can. If proper steps are taken, a national language spoken and understood all over the country could naturally evolve within the next few decades.

This is how it could be attempted. The HRD ministry should introduce the Roman script in the Devnagari alphabet as an alternate script for all 22 recognized Indian languages. While the script would be Roman, the alphabet would remain ka, kha, ga. The Devnagari alphabet has been successfully converted into the Roman script in Heidelberg University in Germany which is the world's premier university for studying Sanskrit. The base for the attempted national language should be Hindustani that is derived from Sanskrit. Words in common usage from all regional languages as well as from English should be incorporated as the language continues to spread. Growth must be natural. The nationwide spread of Bollywood Hindi is a pointer.

Each year a committee of experts should expand the vocabulary of the proposed language by including new words from all languages that are in common use. For example, ask any illiterate labourer: "Time kya hai?" He would understand. If the English dictionary can incorporate thousands of Hindustani words to enrich English, there is no reason why the proposed national language cannot replicate the formula. Along with samay and waqt, taim could be Hindustani.

The Roman script would facilitate the spread of the language worldwide. It would enable many more Indians to access English. English is not British or American, it is global. And only the Roman script has a global keyboard. The proposed language would be understood in neighbouring countries. It could conceivably become a recognized language in the United Nations within some decades. And it would evolve without coercion by the state. Access to the alternate Roman script would be left to the choice of students. Which parent would not prefer opening the doors of English, Hindustani and the respective regional language for children at one go? If this plan does not work, nothing will be lost. If it succeeds a major step towards consolidating both India and South Asia would have been taken. Language is the people's most powerful unifier. Already much time has been lost. If this idea is to be explored the time to act is now. Will Kapil Sibal pay heed?


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







As our car drove into the long wide driveway, I got my first goggle-eyed look at our new "home" in Madras (Chennai today). I was half-pint in size then, and the enormous looming two-storey structure with massive pillars supporting the majestic portico seemed right out of a story book The house number I forget, understandably so since it's been decades, but the location was Sterling Road.
A few houses down was Sterling Club (does it still exist, I wonder) where we would spend many joyful weekends, either watching the "open air" movie being screened on the lawns or participating in the club games, the most popular was "housie" or Bingo as it is better known today.

Members were like family and the bonhomie percolated from the elders right down to the kids. The children would play around with friends either on the lawns or inside the building which also housed two badminton courts and table tennis arrangements. Being the youngest in the family, I fitted into the group of the smallest kids who would randomly chase each other around in the parking lot.

Our family quickly became regulars at the club's entertaining soirees, inevitably walking away with several of the prizes given at "housie". Soon, there was an endless source of jam, jelly and sauce bottles at home, these being the major bounties doled out.

At this point, I must mention another family with three teenage sons, who were equally "lucky at housie". It came to such a point that whenever members of either family would enter during the game, a loud unmasked groan rippled its way through the assembled crowd, for we were sure to snatch their spoils at the crucial moment from right under their noses! But it was all in good honest fun, no deep resentments.
I remember the two brothers: tall, lanky dark complexioned boys dressed in immaculate white shorts and sweat shirt, playing tennis under the watchful eyes of their dad-cum-coach. Madras is known for its sweltering weather (it goes hot, hotter, hottest instead of summer, autumn and winter). They would perspire furiously. At the end of their session, the two would immediately don heavy woollen sweaters over their drenched clothes. In those days, conventional theory perhaps dictated that one could catch a chill if perspiration was not stemmed immediately. No matter what the reason, this ritual was religiously followed by them and which raised endless curiosity in me.

A few months later, we moved to a more manageable house (according to Ma), it was modern and single storey on Kodambakkam High Road, though we still remained members of Sterling Club, and attended club nights occasionally.

Then Dad was transferred to Bombay (now Mumbai) and our tryst with Sterling Club came to an end. The last I know is that the huge house we lived in is now an engineering college. As for the two boys who played tennis with such vigour and dedication, they turned pros and played for the country on the international circuit. One is a famliar face as commentator at Wimbledon. Still clueless? But of course, I refer to the Amritaj brothers:Vijay and Anand








We recently referred to the demand for jute bags which had sprung up for the purposes of the soya bean industry in Manchuria. In his report on the trade of Newchwang, Mr Consul Wilkinson, writing on this subject, says that the number of bags received at that port in 1909 was 2,499,072 valued at 37,240 pound. This is a new trade for Newchwang, as in the published returns of the Imperial Maritime Customs for 1908, bags do not appear as a separate item. The bags are gunny bags imported and Shanghai from India and are used for the conveyance of beans on the railways or to Europe. No distinction is made in the returns between old and new bags, but it is probable that the majority were new as the South Manchurian Railway Company will not now accept beans for conveyance by their line if packed in old bags, owing to the losses they have suffered through leakage. As the beans exported from Newchwang to Japan and South China are shipped in bulk very few of these bags, says the Consul, can have found their way abroad again from Newchwang, but many of them were, no doubt, used to pack beans exported to Europe from Dairen, which are always shipped in bags. The number of similar bags imported into Dairen in 1909 was 8,488,600, making a total for the two ports of close upon 11,000,000 bags.


The reason for the action recently taken by the Indian Post Office in reducing the amount of gold bullion that may be sent by inland post is to meet a difficulty, which has been found to arise, owing to the largeness of sums often insufficiently insured, which are being despatched by this means of conveyance. This practice offers an unfair temptation to subordinate government employees on low grades of pay. A similar trouble arose some years ago in connection with the foreign post, when a similar measure was taken.









Nobody seems to know what exactly a general strike achieves. Everyone agrees, though, that such a strike or bandh means a colossal economic loss and massive disruptions in normal public life. But all that does not seem to bother the leftist parties in India, the original sinners, and other champions of the culture of strikes. The nationwide strike that the Left and other opposition groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, have called next Monday can only mean another wasted day wherever it succeeds. And the success of a bandh is no measure of the organizers' popularity or the people's response to the issues on which it is called. If anything, such political actions run contrary to the democratic process because the political parties simply force their agenda with no regard for the popular will. It is the business of opposition parties to protest against a government's policies or decisions that they find unfair. But parliamentary democracy offers several options and platforms for such opposition. Several court rulings have pointed out the "illegal" nature of bandhs, especially when public institutions and the government machinery are used, as in West Bengal, to force a strike.

The planned bandh over the Centre's decision to deregulate fuel prices also brings into focus the conflict between old politics and the new economy. Only diehard practitioners of old politics refuse to see the larger economic sense that deregulation makes. No government in today's world can afford to stick to the discredited ideas of a regulated economy. And given the pressure on every government to reduce fiscal deficits, it is suicidal for an economy to keep on subsidizing prices. A subsidy-laden economy not only distorts the reality in the energy sector, it also stunts the growth of the free market as a whole. But those who are driven by short-term political agendas only try to delay the inevitable. With the Left in India, however, the failure to see the economic reason is compounded by a strange obsession with an outdated ideology. The Left's problem with the free market makes its politics anachronistic. Its own governments, in West Bengal and Kerala, have sought to take advantage of the free market. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee knows the battle against the free market is a losing one. Strikes against deregulation of prices or economic reforms in general increasingly look like desperate acts of losers.








It is no surprise that the global economic recovery was the main subject of concern in the G20 summit that just finished in Toronto. There was a general consensus among the leaders that the initiatives taken to sustain private demand needed to be continued. The problem, however, was the handling of the fiscal deficit faced by some of the countries. Here no rigid guidelines were laid down. Each country was left to address the issue in the manner it deems fit. This was described as "differentiated and tailored" approach. Another key area was global demand. It appeared necessary to boost savings in certain countries, and to boost domestic growth in others. One implication of this, the pundits say, is that the Chinese should spend more and the Americans less. This could well make China the pace setter for growth in the near future. This would entail a shift in the balance of economic power. It is important for India that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, were in agreement on most of the important economic issues affecting the world. Mr Obama's words of respect for Mr Singh must be read in this context.


In Toronto, in many cases it was Mr Singh's wise counsel that was listened to and followed. It was Mr Singh's suggestion that state fiscal stimuli to counter the global economic meltdown and how and when such policies should be wound down should be left to the countries themselves. It was agreed that a general coordinated winding down of expansionary fiscal policies could hamper the recovery process. The G20 countries committed nearly $2 trillion to stimulus measures. The downside of this is the enormous rise in public debt in the G20. A balance needs to be struck between the stimulus measures and the servicing of the debt. The latter could easily derail the recovery process. The timing and the extent of the rollback of the expansionary policies were left to individual countries and their own assessment of the turnaround. Another area of concern was the pace and the extent of the financial sector reforms. There was a discomfort about the US financial sector reform bill. The worse days of the global economic slowdown — the worst in a hundred years — may be in the past. But their shadow remains and is unlikely to disappear when the rich and the powerful nations meet again in November in Seoul.









The Union budget estimates the nominal rate of growth for the Indian economy to be 12.5 per cent during the current fiscal. While it is impossible to figure out the manner in which this number was arrived at, the government has predicted further that the inflation-adjusted real growth rate for the same year will be eight per cent. Simple arithmetic requires that the difference between the nominal and real growth rates equals the rate of inflation. Thus, for the government's claims to be realized, the rate of inflation for 2010-11 should be 12.5 – 8 = 4.5 per cent. This raises a serious dilemma, needless to say, since the economy is tottering right now under a two digit rate of inflation.


How do the policymakers explain the raging inflation? According to the finance minister himself, the fault lies with the monsoon, or Lord Indra, as he had dramatically suggested. If it does not fail us once again, the rate of inflation will fall he assures, reaching down to five per cent or so around December. If his hopes are fulfilled, the arithmetic we began with will not be totally compromised.


This simplistic explanation of inflation can hardly count as news for our hapless populace. India's policymakers have always identified the monsoon as the ultimate determinant of the state of our economy. The viewpoint does not lack a basis altogether, but it also reveals a fatalistic component in our point of view. We have failed, in other words, to build the necessary infrastructure, harness the appropriate technology or even formulate workable economic policies to deal with the vagaries of nature.


In the annual policy statement for the fiscal year, 2010-11, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, D. Subbarao, has presented a somewhat more sophisticated explanation of the inflation we are currently witnessing. He believes that the phenomenon owes its origin partly to the situation prevailing in industry as well. His perception is driven by the recent escalation in the prices of non-food manufactured items. Despite earlier increases in the repo rate and the reverse repo rate, the real policy rates (that is, the difference between the nominal rates and the rate of inflation) are still negative. A negative borrowing rate in real terms leads to greater demand for loans by industry and consumers, to finance working capital and purchase durable consumer goods respectively. This has helped industry grow and the governor finds increasing evidence that pressures on production capacity have worsened the price scenario. Producers, given inadequate capacity relative to demand, are charging more.


The RBI has therefore held industry as well as agriculture responsible for our inflation. The perception is shared by C. Rangarajan too. He chairs the prime minister's economic advisory committee.


Rangarajan as well as Subbarao recommend a possible tightening of monetary policy, which translates into a rise in the price of credit, that is, the rates of interest. The matter is still under discussion, of course, and, unless the monsoon decides to oblige in the meantime, the public is likely to witness a rise in borrowing rates. The return on savings too should move up, thereby tempting risk-averse members of the public to divert their investments to term deposits in banks.

Higher interest rates could rein in demand for industrial products, thereby lowering the non-food part of inflation. Of course, it could also affect industrial growth negatively, but political compulsions will probably force the government to assign greater weight to inflation control than growth enhancement, at least in the short run.

In this context, Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to the government of India, has come out with a truly imaginative suggestion for inflation control. It might appear to run counter to common economic logic, since he recommends freeing up petro-markets much in the spirit of the Parikh committee recommendation. Basu believes that this will ultimately lower inflation, even if there is an immediate increase in prices.


Quite clearly, the Parikh argument by itself is based on sound economic principles. Distorting prices away from market-determined values leads to the inefficient allocation of resources, since an artificial lowering of the price of a vitally important but scarce input invariably leads to its incorrect economic use. Basu cites the example of low-priced kerosene being smuggled across to Nepal and Bangladesh to be sold at a higher price. Adulteration of diesel is yet another of his examples. Quite apart from resource misallocation, the public sector oil companies are incurring losses on account of kerosene, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas subsidization. To compensate them for their losses, the government's deficit has been rising to unsustainable levels.

Both the opposition as well as the government's allies are up in arms against the implementation of the Parikh recommendations, since they fear that a removal of subsidies will affect the most vulnerable sections of the population, thus jeopardizing their vote-bank calculations.


As noted above, Basu argues that far from intensifying inflationary forces, the Parikh committee recommendations will reduce the rate of inflation, not immediately perhaps, but eventually. Allowing the oil companies to sell at market prices will diminish the government's subsidy bill and this, according to him, should have a salutary effect on inflation control.


The logic underlying the Basu view calls for elaboration. A fall in the government's deficit will lead either to a lower borrowing by the government from the public or reduced creation of new money by the RBI to meet the government's needs. In the first case, the rate of interest on government bonds will fall, bringing in its wake a general fall in the rate of interest. With borrowing costs reduced, industry could charge less for its produce. In the second case, the government's money demand from the Central Bank would fall without an accompanying rise in the rate of interest that an RBI-led tight monetary policy demands.


Needless to say, with private industry benefiting from the fall in the rate of interest, capacity pressures could build up as the RBI governor has warned, but the consequent rise in price could partly be mitigated by the fall in borrowing costs. And this should ultimately lower the rate of inflation, especially so if supported by a favourable monsoon.


Quite obviously, the poor man's fuel will still need to be subsidized. This is best done by identifying the poor, allowing him to purchase fuel at lower than market prices and compensating the seller for the shortfall. There will be an associated subsidy bill, but there will be no price distortion accompanying it. The resources the government saves by deregulating the oil sector would go a long way towards financing the new subsidy.


Tying up petroleum prices with the world market, replacing cross subsidization and offering direct subsidies to vulnerable sections of the population will not only lead to better resource management but also leave more money in the hands of the government for building infrastructure, a sine qua non for growth. And, to the extent that a part of the growth in infrastructure will hopefully make agriculture less vulnerable to the whims of nature, in the medium run at least, productive capacities will improve, thereby taming the rate of inflation over time.


The government has moved now in the direction of market-linked prices. However, for the Basu suggestion to have the intended effect, the government must make a determined effort to remove the corruption associated with the identification of the poor as well. A true challenge lies here, since the success of the Parikh-Basu line of thought depends crucially on locating the poor. So long as the poorer sections of the population are protected through direct subsidies, the pains associated with the short-term inflation will be far less than what politicians appear to be suggesting.










On the eve of the assembly elections, the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is jittery. He will certainly deny this, but nothing else can explain his unseemly reaction to a newspaper advertisement showing him along with his Gujarat counterpart, Narendra Modi. So nervous was Kumar about how Muslims would react to the advertisement that he even cancelled a dinner he was to host for delegates to the national executive meeting of his coalition partner. This was a new Nitish Kumar who is otherwise known to be a suave person. The developments in Bihar will not wreck the alliance but they will expose its tottering nature, much to the glee of Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan. Kumar could have avoided such a situation but his nerves got the better of him.


Is the much talked of administration then not enough to make the electorate stand by Kumar? He himself is not communal, Muslims should know this, so why worry about an advertisement? The obvious answer is that he is not too sure of the extent to which the fruits of his government's performance have reached the people. That being the case, he cannot afford to have a fair portion of the Muslims sticking to his rival, Lalu Prasad. He knew it would need a lot of coaxing to convince the minorities that his partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party was just to keep Prasad out, that he had not compromised with secularism. For the last five years, he had kept the BJP under control, and it goes to the credit of that party that it appreciated his compulsions and went along with him. Then came the advertisement which he should have ignored by pointing out that neither he nor his party had ever approved of Modi.


A question may be raised as to how could Nitish Kumar have spent so many years with the BJP, one of the leading lights of which is Narendra Modi? If communalism is anathema to Kumar, then he should have severed links with the saffron brigade immediately after Godhra. If he had wanted to make a distinction between the BJP and Modi, he should have seen how leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani had hailed Modi on his electoral success in Gujarat after Godhra.



Did he and his party colleagues keep their eyes shut because the National Democratic Alliance was then in power in New Delhi? Life with the BJP means life with it as a whole and not just a part of it. Does Kumar not know that if development is a component of the BJP's agenda, so is Hindutva, and Modi is its poster boy on both counts?


In the midst of this, Kumar has emerged as a nervous and arrogant man. He threw common courtesy to the winds and asked the BJP to keep Modi out of Patna or at least out of the public meeting. The BJP did not oblige; no self-respecting party could have. Boorish also was the return of the money his government had received from Gujarat for flood-affected people. What extreme steps to take to keep the Muslims happy! Can the BJP be blamed if it points out that this also amounts to communalism?


The entire episode smacked of hypocrisy. Kumar knew he was playing to the minority gallery, he needed the BJP and its upper-caste voters to keep the Lalu-Paswan group at bay. Unfortunately, he has never acknowledged this. Neither has he admitted that if his ministry has delivered the goods, then the coalition partner also has a role to play in it. The partner did not always like this, but the quiet nature of the deputy chief minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, saw to it that the alliance was not disrupted. But now Kumar may have created conditions under which the sailing may become that much rougher, particularly if he insists that Modi should not campaign in the state. In the national context, the BJP is a much larger force. How long will it agree to being lorded over?





The social bias against 'menial' women who sweep the floor has seeped into the making of the law, writes Adheesha Sarkar


The ordeal suffered by a modern, urban woman when her maid quits the job is nerve-wracking. And if this woman happens to be a professional with a family to look after — which means being on time with her husband's breakfast, getting her two children ready for school, operating the washing machine and cooking lunch at the same time while getting ready for work herself, all within an hour-and-a-half — the tragedy of losing the maid assumes epic proportions. Behind every successful woman there is always another woman, indispensable in daily life but quite invisible. Without these 'other' women, the engine of a household would grind to a halt. Yet, the value accorded to domestic workers and their labour is extremely low in Indian society — this includes the educated, the erudite and the intellectual, who take pride in being all for human rights and the empowerment of the underprivileged.


So far, the government and polite society have conveniently ignored the fact that domestic workers are professionals too, and they deserve workers' rights. Only recently has the Centre woken up to the domestic labourers' plight, nudged repeatedly by non-governmental organizations and activists, and has introduced a draft policy that attempts to provide domestic workers with basic rights such as a weekly day off, minimum wages, fixed working hours and employment contracts.


While the Centre basks in the glory of its achievement, perhaps it should also reflect a bit on what is still left to be done. At present, it does not have a clear idea about the number of domestic workers and the conditions they work in. The draft policy recommends a safe working environment, but to make that happen one must first find out what the current environment is like. An NGO working for the welfare of domestic workers says that 70 per cent of the workers are women, and many of them children, who are often victims of trafficking. The draft policy intends to give these women their basic rights as workers, but what about their rights as women and as human beings? Even as professionals, the law against sexual harassment at the workplace should protect them.


Sexual abuse of domestic workers is keenly discussed and debated, but it is an area that still remains in considerable darkness. All we have are speculations, but no consolidated effort on the part of the government to find out the exact facts and figures. The little research that has been conducted independently on this subject suggests that domestic workers are among the most vulnerable sections of the country's workforce. The 'civilized' elite often exploits them not just monetarily but also sexually. The incidents are generally hushed up. In most cases, not even a formal complaint is lodged, and so, the question of justice or punishment does not arise.


Tantalizing accounts of sexual exploitation of 'maid servants' have so far made up the material of short stories,

sometimes novels, sometimes television soaps, and, mostly, erotic jokes and pornographic narratives. Once in a while, cases such as the Shiney Ahuja debacle give us a peek into this dark corridor of muffled cries. But in general it is all hearsay, nothing that is taken beyond a coffee-table conversation.


According to a member of the task force that is helping the government set up policies for domestic workers, there have been thousands of cases of physical and sexual abuse against women who work in households for pay. The government has failed to do anything about it as there is "no mechanism to track and monitor".


Before one sighs and dismisses the inaction of the government as another example of its usual callous and complaisant nature, it may be worthwhile to wonder if there are other reasons behind its reluctance to go deeper into this issue. In 2007, a law had been proposed to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace, and it had included domestic labourers. In May this year, there has been a last-minute change to this proposed legislation which is soon to be placed before the cabinet. The women and child development ministry has withdrawn protection from sexual harassment to domestic workers from the ambit of this long-pending proposal, citing a really curious reason — reportedly, the law ministry has argued that implementing the law "inside people's homes" may prove too hard. It would have been truly enlightening if the law ministry had cared to explain what the difficulty exactly is. Does it mean to say that sexual crimes are not committed inside people's homes? Or is it suggesting that sexual abuse which takes place inside people's homes should not come under the scope of the law?


To neglect or forget is one thing, but to consciously deny is quite something else. And when the logic behind the denial borders on absurdity, it is time to wonder what the unsaid realities are. The home, the sacred seat of the institution called family, must always remain unscathed, immune to any accusation. Even when questioning its integrity becomes absolutely unavoidable, such questioning must be for a reason far more weighty than just the abuse of those 'menial' women who sweep the floor. Men will be men, once in a while they will ogle at the maid; some naughty teenage boy will grab the maid's breasts when he wants to taste a female body without too much fuss. These women need the jobs, they will not open their mouths too easily. After all, they are 'lowly' beings, coming mostly from the backward sections of society. They will find it hard to accuse, harder to prove, and even harder to get another job. And, above all, the home (I repeat) is sacred. What happens there, stays there.


Honour is a funny word. It is amazing how its meaning changes with the identities of individuals or groups, both in the eyes of society and the law. The honour of the Indian family often lies in covering up the exploitations perpetrated by it. The difficulty of implementing sexual harassment laws inside a home has its roots in an age-old mindset that strives to protect the image of 'the home' more than its inhabitants. What this mindset disregards, deliberately, is the fact that this 'home' is the workplace for a domestic worker. She is vulnerable there, as a female employee is vulnerable to sexual advances from employers or male colleagues. While the law protects the employees in an office, the domestic worker is protected neither by the law nor by society. Her vulnerability is intensified by the fact that she is poor; she may not be able to afford to protest and lose her job.


If it is to be believed that our country is indeed democratic, there is no reason why the law should hesitate to enter people's households. Then again, it is selective in its hesitation. It does not show any reluctance to invade households when it comes to domestic violence or dowry deaths. But while dealing with the abuse of 'maids', it stops and reconsiders whether it is worth wasting its time on those expendable creatures.







To protect domestic workers from sexual harassment, the law must take into account the specific insecurities they suffer from


Poverty develops its own culture. As a phenomenon, poverty in India is not merely about lack of money, it is also about the lack of education, even literacy, the lack of jobs, the lack of exposure and of confidence, and an overwhelming fear of both the known and the unknown. This culture is like a carapace hard to penetrate, although India's many laws do try to enter and correct the injustices that lie beneath. Knowledge of some of these laws, say, that against dowry or minor marriage, reaches this world like news from a distant planet. People know all about them; it is just that such laws have no place in the reality they inhabit.


If the law were ever to seek to protect women domestic workers from sexual harassment in the workplace, what would it be dealing with? At first, probably a blank wall. In spite of the slowly growing data about WDWs, there is an astonishing lack of information about sexual exploitation of these women in middle-class households. It would be nice to believe in the extraordinary sexual virtue of the employers; that they beat and sock and pummel their domestic workers, sometimes tie them to grills or gates, lock them up without food and without lights, especially if they are minors (there is a law against child labour, by the way), they starve them, refuse them use of the bathroom — and here I am talking about adult women too — refuse to pay them, sack them without notice, but stop short of sexual harassment.


If that is not so, why are WDWs willing to talk about every injustice and insult except that one? They would have to lose their job anyway if they object to anything from extra work to a beating; what stops them from talking about sexual harassment if that actually happens?


It is a peculiarly painful irony that these women, who are often the only regular earners in their own families, are doubly oppressed. The husband may have to starve if the wife does not bring home her pay, but that does not take away his god-given right to be suspicious. A large section of WDWs are regularly beaten up at home and the main reason, at least the professed reason, is suspicion.


To understand the strange silence about the presence or absence of sexual harassment at the WDWs' workplace, it is first necessary to examine the specific nature of these women's insecurity. A WDW's job situation is always insecure; she loses jobs and gets them too, because she is even willing to opt for lower wages. But she cannot afford to lose her married existence, her consequent respectability (never mind that her drunken husband makes a habit of breaking her nose or cracking her head once in a while), her children that she is struggling to keep in school, or her fragile sense of security in what she feels is a 'normal' life. Any hint of sexual harassment in the workplace will be turned against her; she will be forbidden to work, she will be beaten black and blue, and she will be labelled 'loose' within her own society. This is one thing she can never mention; her fear is impenetrable.


For the law to reach her, for it to help her, it will have to penetrate this carapace of fear.





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





The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, which is proposed to be introduced in parliament in the monsoon session, is expected to help the governments at the Centre and in states to deal with communal violence more effectively. It is a revised version of a draft which was prepared in 2005 and introduced in parliament in 2006. The bill was withdrawn then as it was considered too soft and lacking in teeth. Major communal conflagrations have occurred in various parts of the country at regular intervals. An incident with communal overtones happens in some area or the other almost every day. Apart from the loss of lives and property, mostly of the poor, such violence leaves deep wounds in society and weakens national unity and integrity. A climate of violence also holds back progress and development.

It is for the first time that a law is proposed to deal with communal violence as a specific category of offence. Since it is more than other crimes like murder, violence and destruction of property that are part of it, it needs to be treated as a separate category. One important provision of the bill mandates the Centre to create a unified command to deal with communal violence. States are likely to have reservations about giving special powers to the Centre to intervene in some situations and to declare some regions as disturbed areas. It is expected that the bill will make it difficult for the authorities to shift responsibility for failure to prevent a communal incident or to contain it. It also makes public servants accountable for their actions. An officer can be punished with imprisonment and other penalties for mala fide action or wilful negligence in dealing with communal violence.

Communal violence is not just a law and order issue and legislation is not the best means to deal with it. But the law has failed wherever communal violence has erupted. There is a need to strengthen the laws so that the authorities are legally better equipped. But implementation of the law is more important than its formulation. Experience shows that politics and powerful interests can undermine implementation, as in the case of the anti-Sikh violence of 1984 and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The government, which has held wide consultations on the draft provisions, should be open to more suggestions which are being made to improve the legislation.








China's decision to give greater flexibility to its currency has been widely welcomed by the world. Stock and commodity markets have risen and governments have seen in the Chinese decision a softening of its persistent stand against revaluation of its currency. The US has especially demanded the doing away of the Chinese currency's artificial dollar peg. For the last two years the yuan was pegged at 6.83 yuan for the dollar but now it is possible that it will move in value. Since the announcement was made by China the yuan has risen 0.4 per cent against the dollar. China has been cautious. There will not be a clear revaluation or free floating of the currency. The Chinese central bank would only manage the exchange rate through timely interventions.

The announcement could have had a political angle also because it helped to shift the focus of the Toronto G-20 summit from the yuan. The Chinese could afford to be flexible with the currency because it recovered fastest from the world recession. Its huge export engine is roaring again, registering a 45 per cent increase in May. A slight fall in exports will not hurt and might actually help it to deal with a situation of rising oil prices. China's growth is export-dependent and the leadership wants to reduce the risk by increasing domestic demand. The flexibility on yuan may be a part of the strategy and might also be a sign of the confidence of the Chinese leadership. But if exports dip and domestic demand does not rise there is also the possibility of a slowdown in China sending negative impulses around the world. But this is unlikely and the chances are that the impact will be positive.

For the developed countries, a flexible yuan can spur exports to China and thus give a fillip to manufacturing and create more jobs. This can lead to faster recovery from recession, especially for Europe which is hit by fiscal problems in some countries. Here also the caveat is that these economies will be in difficulty if China goes slow on the use of its foreign exchange reserves in extending credit to them as a result of its exchange rate flexibility. India and other Asian countries might stand to gain because their exports might become more competitive in developed markets. Indian exporters should take advantage of the opportunity.







Haqqani's rehabilitation will be a bitter pill for Delhi to swallow, as it was his network that attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul.


The acknowledgement by the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Leon Panetta in a media interview that Washington has been aware of the Pakistani efforts to help negotiate a deal between the Afghan government and the so-called Haqqani network marks a turning point in the process leading towards the reconciliation with the insurgent groups.

The narrative so far projected as if Washington was taken aback by the goings-on between the Pakistani military and Afghan President Hamid Karzai — implying that Islamabad and Kabul were diabolically undercutting the AfPak strategy. The dissimulation has ended.

Panetta's candid admission came even as the Pakistani army chief Pervez Kayani headed for Kabul on Monday on yet another mission to flesh out the deal on Haqqani network with Karzai. A nod of open diplomatic approval from Washington for Kayani's mission also came in the weekend when the state department spokesman Phillip Crowley said the US wanted to see Pakistan play a supportive role in the broader process of direct talks involving the Kabul government and the Taliban insurgents.

The tantalising question is: has Kayani's two-month mission shifted gear from an explanatory nature to substantive negotiations on 'reintegrating' the hardline groups? It seems so. Panetta remains sceptical about the prospects of reconciliation between Karzai and the hardcore insurgent groups.

"Very frankly, my view is that with regard to reconciliation, unless they're (Haqqani) convinced that US 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," he said. But then, tough negotiations lie ahead and Panetta has only opened his hand.

The US position can be summarised as follows: One, there are no more distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban; all are to be engaged. Two, the US has no objection to engaging even the most virulently hardline Haqqani group whose affiliation with the al-Qaeda is an established fact.

Three, the US not only acquiesces with but actually welcomes Pakistan's mediatory role in reconciling the Haqqani network; in essence, the US recognises Pakistan's clout with dreaded terrorist groups that are in the UN watchlist and actually finds an expedient use for it. Four, it follows that Washington has finally given up the demand that the Pakistani military should crack down on the Haqqani group based in North Waziristan.

The only remaining sticking point is that the US lacks the requisite confidence that the ISI can get the hardline Taliban to disengage from al-Qaeda. Quite obviously, anyone who knows the ethos of the Pakistani military would estimate that its army chief wouldn't stake his personal prestige unless the ISI possesses one hundred per cent confidence regarding its capacity to manipulate the hardline groups at the negotiating table.


Panetta's scepticism must be understood for what it is — a negotiating tactic. It is well-known for quite a while that some key figures within the US' AfPak team rooted for engaging the ilk of Haqqani and Mullah Omar as the most sensible thing to do in any meaningful reconciliation process.

The 'al-Qaeda factor' that keeps popping up is also not such a formidable obstacle as Panetta would have us believe. If Washington allows Pakistan to have an Afghan settlement on its terms, ISI will deliver at Panetta's doorstep the (residual) al-Qaeda leadership at some point — probably, close to the US presidential election. Indeed, Panetta is already on record that Osama bin Laden is hiding inside Pakistan.

So, it transpires that Karzai and Kayani haven't after all been the backbiters and double-dealers that they were painted to be by the American media. Things are indeed proceeding according to a script. Evidently, Karzai isn't the self-centred maverick that he was supposed to be, either. He calibrated his decision to get rid of the staunchly anti-Taliban intelligence minister Amarullah Saleh at the appropriate moment as a 'confidence-building measure' with the ISI and the Haqqani network.

The Indian foreign and security policy establishment must be feeling embarrassed. It seems improbable that the US took the Indians into confidence about its profound dealings with the ISI to end the war. That leaves a bad feeling in the mouth: what was the recent US-India 'strategic dialogue' in Washington all about?

Haqqani's rehabilitation in mainstream political life will be a bitter pill for New Delhi to swallow. It was the Haqqani network, which staged the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul. On the contrary, Jalaluddin Haqqani and the organisation that Panetta heads have an old history of close association. The ISI has brilliantly tapped into the contradiction.

India has zero options left today except, arguably, to engineer civil war conditions by instigating any whichever anti-Taliban element it can get hold of, and confronting the US' regional strategy, which of course, the Indian elites won't feel like doing.

As for regional allies, Iran has no time — or respect — left for us. The Central Asian countries pursue their own interests. Russia is brooding over the import of its 'reset' of ties with the US. China has its 'all-weather friend' to bank on. India overlooked that Pakistan will remain the indispensable ally in the US regional strategy to transform the war so that while western casualties are avoided, the long term western military presence in the region becomes possible.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








For Syria, the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict is an existential issue.


Officially ostracised and boycotted by the US, Syria is increasingly asserting itself as both a regional and global player. Although last month the US once again accused Syria of supporting 'terrorist groups' and renewed sanctions, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the French and German foreign ministers, and Washington's ally, King Abdullah of Jordan took the road to Damascus with the aim of strengthening ties with Syria.

Furthermore, in spite of Washington's official negativism, a delegation from major US high-tech firms went to Damascus to examine the prospects of participation in Syria's rapidly growing free market economy. Leading the delegation were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief technology adviser and a member of her policy planning staff.

German firms have also sent high-profile executives to Damascus to discuss business deals while western financial newspapers and journals have teams in Syria to investigate investment prospects.

The road to Damascus is not one way. President Bashar al-Assad is also reaching out with the aim of expanding Syria's circle of friends and extending its influence beyond West Asia. Last weekend he, his British-born wife Asma and a large group of ministers began a visit to Latin America, his most ambitious overseas tour since taking office in 2000.

The journey takes him to Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, where there are large and influential Syrian emigrant communities, and to Cuba, an old comrade. Many of the Syrian emigrants in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are businessmen, engineers, and doctors. Argentina's former President Carlos Menem is of Syrian origin.

In Venezuela, Dr Assad cemented relations with President Hugo Chavez, who shares Syria's antipathy toward US policies. Dr Assad called on Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to launch a joint effort with Turkey to broker a deal between Syria and Israel over the occupied Golan. Dr Assad has also been signing trade and travel deals with his counterparts and urging them and emigrants to invest in Syria's transformatory 2011-15 development plan.

In West Asia, Syria has built strong economic and trade ties with Turkey, achieved rapprochement with Lebanon, and restored relations with Saudi Arabia. To the east, Syria has retained traditional ties to India and cultivated connections with Malaysia and China. Syria has reached out to Europe and is in the process of drafting amendments to the EU association agreement.

But Syria has not been able to engage the Obama administration in dialogue because Washington conditions normalisation on Syrian disengagement from Iran, Lebanon's Hizbollah movement, and dissident Palestinians and Iraqis. Syria welcomed President Barack Obama's call a year ago for reconciliation with the Arab and Muslim worlds but accuses him of not addressing Arab and Muslim grievances.

Syria focuses on Obama's failure to persuade congress to accept the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria or lift embargoes on some items on the US sanctions list. The US decision to drop its objection to Syrian observer status at the World Trade Organisation is seen as a positive move although Damascus seeks full membership.
To demonstrate that it can be useful to the West, Syria helped free 15 British sailors seized by Iran in 2007 and BBC journalist Alan Johnston held by Hamas-affiliates in Gaza in 2008. Syria has persuaded Hamas' Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Mishaal to accept the idea of a Palestinian government not led by Hamas, go along with the 2002 Arab land-for-peace plan, and agree to a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Nevertheless, the US has not respond to his overture by opening a tentative conversation.

For Syria, the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict is an existential issue. Suleiman Haddad, head of the foreign relations committee of the Syrian parliament, pointed out to Deccan Herald, "We are a rich country, we have oil, agriculture, tourism, and an ancient culture but we must spend a large percentage of our budget on defence". Israel is 45 kilometres from Damascus.

"Syrians want, real comprehensive peace. We expect more from Obama. The Americans must know that there will be no peace in the world if there is no peace in West Asia".

Any deal must be based on "an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and control over its borders, airspace, and coast. There must be a solution to the refugee problem and Israeli withdrawal from the Syrian Golan to the line of June 4, 1967.

If Israel gives these things, there will be no problem between the Arabs and Israel. But if this does not happen, the majority of the Arab people will take an extreme line and move close to al-Qaeda. We don't want to reach this point."






I was dead scared to declare a patient dead, on the first day of my internship!


It was the first day of my duty as a house surgeon or an intern at K R Hospital, Mysore. Not knowing in which unit of medicine I might be posted, I was feeling quite nervous. Contrary to my biased approach, the assistant professor of medicine 'C' unit introduced me to the post graduate doctors and I felt quite confident during the ward rounds, only to feel extremely confused again by post-noon session when I was told to declare a patient 'dead!' In fact, dead scared I was to declare a patient as dead by writing the death note that too on the first day of my internship.

During my surgery postings, I had to attend a five-day duration short postings of urology. I was taken aback when I got to see so many patients of different age groups, almost all of them catheterised to empty their bladders! As an intern, it was mandatory for me to give all of them a 'bladder wash and put dressings on alternate days, with the help of a senior ward sister.

One newly wedded man had undergone a minor surgery for an urological complaint and was lamenting 'instead of going on a honeymoon, I have landed up in the hospital for a surgery!' Little had he realised that without that urological intervention, his honeymoon could have been quite disastrous and he would have ended up with many moans!

Dorjee, a Tibetan aged about 65 years was admitted to the surgical ward with a massive tubercular ascites. Despite his deteriorating health, his eyes would lit up the moment I went to enquire about him. His son used to translate his father's miseries to me in Hindi and I would assure Dorjee, that his condition would be discussed with the professor. The day Dorjee died, after a bout of blood vomiting, the entire ward was in mourning. The anti-tubercular medicine samples that I had collected for Dorjee, planning to give him at the time of his discharge, seemed to mock at me, for he had got discharged from this world itself.

This year happens to be the silver jubilee year after I graduated in MBBS. Till today I have remained a medical intern since every patient and his/her case history has been a lesson worth analysing at every step of my career and I do believe that each doc has his/her day. Happy doctor's day to my colleagues!







If those who wield inordinate clout don't control themselves, they will find themselves controlled externally.

We are told, especially by the banks, that bashing banks is populist and unjustified. True to that approach, the banks are now raising the alarm against legislation in the works that would abolish all the fees they levy on all current account activity.

Remarkably, the banks have managed to enlist to their cause Rony Hizkiyahu, the Bank of Israel's supervisor of banks. In a 180-degree reversal from his predecessor, Yoav Lehman, Hizkiyahu told the Knesset Economics Committee earlier this week that abolishing the most common, most annoying and cumulatively most costly bank fees was unwarranted. He further asserted that, contrary to the persistent impressions of the clientele, such fees are actually going down.

Hizkiyahu went on to maintain that "significant differences" exist between the various banks and that the "competition between them to attract new clients is stimulated by special promotions which promise fee exemptions and/or discounts, especially to specific target-groups" like soldiers, students and pensioners. These, he insisted, encourage folks to switch to rival banks.

Not unexpectedly, the Israel Consumers Council has firmly disputed Hizkiyahu's Pollyanna-portrayals. First, it noted that, not long ago, Lehman warned that "bank fees are going up significantly." And it went on to debunk Hizkiyahu's competition claims: "Regretfully, in direct contradiction to the supervisor's superciliousness, there is no genuine competition between banks, which continue to impose undue multiple fees." Hizkiyahu, the council went so far as to charge, "possesses other figures which he conceals from public view."

IN FACT, during the first quarter of 2010 alone, the banks accrued a staggering NIS 3.6 billion in profits from fees alone. Concomitantly they raised the usurious interest they charge for overdrafts while paying nil for our deposits. The situation is so grave that Economics Committee Chairman Ophir Akunis (Likud) has been crowing about having reached a special agreement with Bank Hapoalim whereby current accounts in the black would actually be graced with some interest. This, Akunis estimates, will constitute "an enormous boost to competition." The fact that elementary progress on current account interest required high-level political intervention constitutes some sobering perspective on the banks' excesses.

The unfortunate truth, as the council noted, is that competition between the banks is negligible. They charge fees in the sort of conjunction which can only be expected of cartels. Thus far, insufficient improvement has been achieved by the Bank of Israel's much-touted modifications, which were designed to inhibit the creativity with which fees for the most mundane of transactions are inflicted. Dozens of astounding excuses for charging households and small businesses have been scrapped, but we still pay such surcharges as the "teller fee."

Any time clients show up in their branch, stand on line and seek to involve the bank's personnel in the most routine of tasks, they are essentially fined for not resorting to automated alternatives or computer services. Such fines/fees range from NIS 5.50 to NIS 7 per transaction. We likewise fork out to have a salary or pension deposited in our account, to deposit or cash a check, withdraw money or use credit cards.

Some banks may charge a fraction less for some fees, but are costlier on others. Predictably, the expense is borne chiefly by the less affluent or older population, leery of impersonal banking or unable to do its banking online. Moreover, even automated procedures, such as at ATMs, are pricey.


Some years ago, the Israel Antitrust Authority launched an extensive open investigation amid suspicions that banks coordinate their terms, making it impossible for their clientele to behave as wise consumers. It expired with a whimper. What remains is the popular perception that we pay exorbitant interest when borrowing but get laughable rates on savings.

THE BANKS are wrong to challenge the new attempt at a crackdown. It is their gross insensitivity and inflated charges that have prompted what they denigrate as populist legislation and stringent regulation, both ostensibly detrimental to a free-market economy.

Free enterprise isn't synonymous with laissez-faire. If those who wield inordinate clout don't control themselves, they will find themselves controlled externally. Excessive control may be unhealthy, but so are monopolies. In the end, they sap initiative and obstruct the market's life-blood







Avi Pazner retires from Keren Hayesod, a Righteous Wehrmacht officer is honored and a woman who brought 100 war orphans here is remembered.


THIS MAY come as a surprise to most people, but South Korean Ambassador Young-Sam Ma was rooting for North Korea in the World Cup soccer championships. "These are our brothers," he told a group of Korean War veterans and members of the diplomatic community at a gathering at his residence to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

The occasion was also used to present medals to veterans of the US forces who fought in Korea and who are today living here. Speaking of the North Korean soccer team and North Koreans in general, Ma said: "We love our brothers in North Korea.

We do not love their leaders and their regime." He expressed the hope that reconciliation and reunification would come about in his lifetime, but noted that the North Koreans have not done anything to indicate a change of policy as evidenced by the recent attack on a South Korean naval ship in which 46 people were killed.

As to the Korean War, Ma said that no words can adequately express the appreciation that South Koreans feel for the sacrifice made by soldiers from so many countries – but America in particular – "who shed blood in our land" and fought for the freedom "of a country they never knew and people they never met." Many of those countries, as well as others like Israel, which did not actively participate in the war, also sent humanitarian aid. Ma noted the "spectacular contribution" to the UN resolution on ending the war by Israeli representatives Moshe Sharett and Gideon Raphael.

Last year was the first time that Ma presented medals to Korean War veterans. This year, there were four recipients, and next year there will be 10. The latter were also in attendance and were invited to mount the podium. The four recipients this year were Sani Blaisbalg of Kiryat Motzkin, who was attached to the US Marine forces and who spent a year in Korea, working mainly in intelligence; Joshua Scherer of Jerusalem, who was a radar operator; Benedict Robbins of Kfar Saba, who was a naval officer; and Joseph Savisky of Tel Aviv, who was an officer in the engineering corps.

In presenting the medal to Blaisbalg, Ma hailed him as "an ambassador of peace." Blaisbalg said he hadn't come for the medal, but had brought his grandchildren Eden, Amit and Ido to witness a unique ceremony. "No other country gives appreciation to veterans like Korea does. It's more than an expression of gratitude," he said. He noted that all American service personnel had been entitled to benefit from the GI Bill of Rights, which had enabled him to study civil engineering.

Scherer said that he too had benefitted from the GI Bill. He recalled that when he was sent to Korea at 19, it was his first time out of America. Korea was then a very primitive looking country, he said. "It's an amazing miracle to see what they've accomplished in 60 years.

We went to Korea to stop the spread of communism.

It was an experience that helped to shape my life."

Robbins, who continued his military career here, serving in the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, said that being in Korea had changed his life. "I went from being a kid to being an adult. I learned what responsibility meant, and I helped to train people in the Korean navy." He had brought his children and grandchildren to share the honor conferred on him, he said.


Savisky was unable to attend. His brother-in- law Naftali Chitim, who accepted the medal on his behalf, apologized that he personally had not participated in the Korean War... because he was only two years old at the time.

Philippines Ambassador Petronila Pena Garcia, speaking on behalf of the countries that had come to South Korea's assistance, said that more than 7,000 men from the Philippines had fought valiantly alongside the South Koreans and other troops over five years.

Ruth Kahanoff, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry, said that although Israel did not participate actively in the war, it supported the Koreans in the UN coalition led by the US and sent medical supplies and equipment. It was the first time that there had been any contact between Israel and South Korea, she said, but it led to a warm friendship and the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations.

■ AMONG THE other guests at the Korean ceremony was former MK and government minister Ran Cohen, who these days teaches public policy at three universities and a college and also teaches law students how to formulate bills to be voted into law.

■ JUST A few days prior to the recognition given to veterans of the Korean War, outgoing British Ambassador and knight designate Tom Phillips awarded medals to members of the Jewish Brigade who fought with the British forces against the Nazis during World War II. Phillips hosted a similar ceremony at his Ramat Gan residence almost three years ago, when he presented the UK Armed Forces Veterans badge and the Israel Medal for Combatants Against the Nazis to a relatively large number of veterans who had volunteered to fight with the British.

This time the awards ceremony was conducted under the auspices of the Disabled Veterans Association and was held at Beit Halochem in Tel Aviv's Afeka neighborhood.

Phillips presented medals to 32 men and women who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps, infantry, artillery, fusiliers, Auxiliary Territorial Service, commandos, ordinance, Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, Royal Air Force and other units.

Most of the recipients had been wounded during the war. Some had recovered sufficiently to serve later in the IDF.

For several of the nonagenarians and octogenarians who had put their differences with the British on hold to help get rid of the Nazi scourge, this represented the closing of a circle, in that it was an official acknowledgement of their contribution to the war effort. For them, it was a truly festive occasion and together with their children, grandchildren and in some cases great grandchildren, they filled the hall.

The emotion was almost tangible, and each of the recipients was happy not only for himself or herself, but also for their comrades in arms. They came proudly bearing their war medals and ribbons. They could no longer get into their uniforms, but some had kept their caps and wore them with equal pride. Among the 32 recipients were Moshe Dotan, Moshe Kahalani, Bezalel Gilboa, Batya Ravid, Shraga Tenenbaum, Esther Lam, Ahuva Mashat, Johnny Sternberg, Gideon Gilboa and Zvi Avidror. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i joined Phillips in paying tribute to the veterans.

■ "I'LL STILL be around," says former world chairman of Keren Hayesod Avi Pazner, who recently resigned after 12 years at the helm, the longest period of service by any world chairman of the organization. Pazner, who at 70 plus is now embarking on a new career, is about to open an international consultancy firm in Tel Aviv, with a view to bringing foreign investors here to help finance the cost of alternative energy. A Foreign Ministry employee for 33 years before joining Keren Hayesod, Pazner is also a frequent electronic media spokesman for Israel. Quintessential public servant that he is, he says that he will continue to serve national interests through both the Foreign Ministry and Keren Hayesod.

■ MOST MEDIA outlets are careful to protect the images of their stars, even or especially when those luminaries are subjects of controversy elsewhere. Channel 2, in an attempt at objectivity, has featured the Yair Lapid story without going overboard to defend him, though studio commentators have joined other media in saying that he must decide whether he wants to remain in journalism or enter politics. He can't apparently have both.

Veteran news anchor Dan Shilon said that he will be very happy if Lapid remains in journalism, but he will be equally happy if he goes into politics – "but he must decide one way or the other."

While many people both on Channel 2 and elsewhere say that given his role as a news anchor and newspaper columnist, Lapid needs a cooling off period before going into politics, family friend and former Ma'ariv editor Amnon Dankner disagrees, and says that the whole concept of a cooling off period is detrimental.

In an interview on Israel Radio, Dankner said that political parties need the best people possible, and that if they've come straight out of another field, they have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on in that field. He also saw nothing wrong with journalists expressing political views and noted that Shelly Yacimovich never made a secret of her support for Amir Peretz.

Yacimovich is one of several former journalists or media personalities who are not strictly journalists in the current Knesset. Among the others are Tzipi Hotovely, Daniel Ben-Simon, Uri Orbach, Nitzan Horowitz and Nachman Shai. Orly Levy and Anastasia Michaeli were television personalities, Miri Regev was the IDF spokeswoman and Ophir Akunis was a reporter for the Ma'ariv youth magazine, a military journalist in the department of the IDF's chief educational officer and more recently a media adviser to Binyamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile Lapid has announced that he has no immediate intentions of entering politics and that he will take a cooling off period if he should decide otherwise. There are rumors floating around that he's not the only journalist contemplating a seat in the Knesset. Other potential MKs from the fourth estate are Orly Vilna'i and Guy Meroz.

 IT WAS recently a week of reunions for at least two groups of Holocaust survivors. Some 30 survivors from Israel, Germany, the US, France and Canada who owe their lives to Righteous Among the Nations Wehrmacht Maj. Karl Plagge congregated at Yad Vashem, toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony and gave videotaped group testimony.

Plagge served in Vilna (Vilnius) from June 1941 to June 1944 and was in charge of a repair facility for military vehicles, where hundreds of Jews worked. Under the brutal decimation policy adopted by the SS in occupied Lithuania, "unproductive" Jews were the first to be slated for extermination.

Employment at Plagge's unit thus offered a chance for survival. Plagge treated his workers well, and took on many people who were not qualified mechanics to work there to save them from deportation.

Toward the end of June 1944, on the eve of the German evacuation of Vilnius, Plagge warned his Jewish workers that they were going to be handed over to the SS. Some managed to escape and/or hide and some 200 survived. Plagge died in 1957 and was posthumously recognized by the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous on July 22, 2004.

Plagge not only saved Jews, said survivor Michael Shimeyervitz, but "he treated all his workers humanely. This was extremely rare, and for this, justifiably, he received the greatest recognition that the Jewish people can give."

Dr. Michael Good, the son of a Holocaust survivor who was rescued by Plagge, noted that while Plagge was exonerated after the war due to the intervention of the Jews he rescued, he always felt that he was guilty.

German Ambassador Harald Kindermann spoke emotionally about his personal family history and said that there are two obligations – to understand what happened and to honor the Righteous Among the Nations.

"Only through understanding, knowing the facts, can we build a firewall to ensure it won't happen again. That is why the Yad Vashem research institute is so important," he said. He also emphasized the importance of recalling the Righteous Among the Nations. "They are so important for education. They show us that there is an alternative. Because too many people say, I had to do it. And when young people ask, is that true, the Righteous show us it was not. They show us there is always an alternative."

■ AT KIBBUTZ Lohamei Hagetaot in the same week, some 50 of the 100 children of Lena Kuchler-Silberman gathered to honor the memory of the heroic Polish Jewish woman on the 100th anniversary of her birth. Kuchler-Silberman, who died here 23 years ago, eluded the Nazis by posing as a Catholic. At the end of the war, she went to the Jewish community center in Krakow where survivors could obtain food and clothing and could try to locate relatives and friends. It was in Krakow that she found numerous destitute child survivors who had no one to care for them. She began to gather them and opened a children's home in Zakopane. But there was a lot of hostility from Polish neighbors, some of whom tried to kill the children. The dangerous situation spurred a decision to relocate to Israel. Together with the children, she embarked on a long and dangerous journey to the Promised Land, eventually bringing the children home in 1949.

In her book My 100 Children, Kuchler-Silberman detailed some of their heroic deeds during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The youngsters had been couriers, had smuggled food into ghettos, had fought together with partisans, had laid mine traps for Nazi soldiers and had embarked on numerous mind-boggling missions. The story has been made into feature and documentary films in the US and Israel.

Oshra Schwartz, who co-directed the Israeli documentary seven years ago, was on hand to meet with the "children" yet again. Some of them were accompanied by children and grandchildren, and most retold their individual stories of life in Poland under the Nazis, the amazing journey to Israel and their lives since.

■ LATVIAN AMBASSADOR Martins Perts is very excited by the fact that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be visiting Latvia on July 14. The reason for the excitement is that this will be the first visit to Latvia by a foreign minister of Israel, although Latvian and Israeli presidents have visited each other's countries.

■ WHAT GOES around comes around. It will be interesting to see whether the powers at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue present newly engaged Estee Tatyana Goldschmidt and Yosef Gillers with a mezuza as a wedding gift. The bride-to-be is the daughter of Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt and his wife Dara Lynn. It is customary to give a mezuza as a wedding gift, since a Jewish home is denoted by the mezuzot on the door posts, but in this case more so, as far as the Great Synagogue is concerned, because the magnificent collection of mezuzot displayed in the entrance hall was donated by the bride's great grandparents Dr. Belle Rosenbaum and her late husband Cantor Jacob Rosenbaum.








Moshe Sneh, one of the leaders of the Haganah, Israel's pre-independency underground army , was once sent to explain to the Palmach, its strike force, why the pre-state leadership was following a policy of restraint in the face of incessant terror attacks. The authorities' usual explanation - undefined "diplomatic considerations" - seemed weak even to him. "Unconvincing excuses," he wrote in a memo to himself. "I'll have to raise my voice!"


That is exactly what Ehud Barak did this week on the stage of the Institute for National Security Studies. In a long, apologetic and at times embarrassing talk, the defense minister tried to rationalize each and every military failure attributed to him. These include beating a hasty exit from Lebanon, failing to respond to the subsequent killing of three soldiers and the abduction of their bodies to Lebanon (after pledging that no restraint would be shown against such attacks following the pullout ), a limp-wristed response to the terror war ignited by Yasser Arafat ("It's ludicrous," Barak loudly asserted, "to link the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon with the outbreak of the second intifada" ), and even mistakes in the handling of May's flotilla raid.


Only when speaking of the first Lebanon war did Barak lower his voice. He glossed over his own command failings on the eastern front and focused on criticizing the war's strategic goal (as he defined it: the war's architects, prime minister Menachem Begin and defense minister Ariel Sharon, never defined it in this way to either the cabinet or the Israel Defense Forces ). This goal, he said, was effecting geopolitical change by banishing Fatah to Jordan, where it would unseat the Hashemite regime and create a Palestinian state. In that way, he continued (echoing a widespread but unfounded conspiracy theory ), Sharon hoped to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.


The war's secondary aim (again, as Barak defined it ) also served the defense minister as a basis for his military doctrine: We must not intervene in a neighboring country's internal affairs. Fact: We failed in our attempt to put our Christian allies into power in Lebanon.


The view Barak espoused - that Israel must not wage war to bring about geostrategic changes - is fundamentally flawed. Yet many influential politicians and intellectuals, as well as military chiefs both past and present, have been beholden to this same error. This view has turned into official policy because many of its proponents were personally burned in the first Lebanon war.


Since the dawn of time, countries have waged wars of choice to effect geopolitical change. And even the enlightened among them do so to this day. Right now, there are soldiers fighting in Afghanistan from the United States, Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and dozens of other countries, even Jordan and Turkey. Are these countries - particularly those who deride our existential battle as illegitimate - fighting to protect their very existence, or to protect their citizens from rockets fired at their population centers? No, they are sacrificing their soldiers' lives thousands of miles from home to deprive one Afghani regime of power and grant it to another.


Iraq and Afghanistan are thus two of the clearest wars of choice imaginable. The hypocrisy of those countries that criticize us for taking elementary measures of self-defense - like stopping the flotilla to Gaza - even as they regularly kill innocent civilians is clear for all to see.


Israel's doctrine of renouncing, a priori, any initiated war - in part because those who established this doctrine, like Barak, suffered traumatic military and personal failures in the first Lebanon war (when six Israeli divisions, an air force in unchallenged control of the skies and an unopposed navy were unable to defeat numerically inferior Palestinian militias with inferior equipment ) is also mistaken in that it deprives the country of the ability to effect a strategic surprise.


Whoever declares in advance that he is abandoning Israel's traditional combat doctrine - one founded on preemptive counterattack - is actually inviting the enemy to launch its own first strikes, with all the attendant hardships they create. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan chose to absorb the first blow instead of being the first to strike, lest they be perceived as having launched a war of choice. The cost of the war price rose accordingly.


Do we now intend to absorb the first blow from Iran? Because this time the price is liable to be so terrible that it seems doubtful that Israeli society - given the stunning lack of fortitude it has displayed in recent days over a single captive soldier - would be able to bear it.








When I started basic training I thought the kitchen supervisor at Camp 80 was a real doll. At every meal the tables were laid with different colored dishes. My friends opened their eyes wide when I commented on it and told me that the blue dishes were for dairy and the red dishes were for meat, in keeping with the laws of kashrut.


Up to that point I had never heard of this dietary color-coding - despite the fact that I could easily read Rashi script, Talmud was part of my school's curriculum, my father taught Bible and Talmud, my mother taught literature and biology, and my grandmother asked me every year to accompany her to Kol Nidre.


My ignorance was possible despite my exposure to Jewish studies at home and at school. I learned to love the Bible and the Passover Haggadah and I read biblical exegesis, but no one forced me to pray or to master the intricacies of kashrut in the home or out of it.


In principle, there is no reason to be alarmed by the idea of making Jewish studies a part of the core curriculum - including the weekly Torah portion, prayers, Ethics of the Fathers and the basics of liberal Zionist thought as reflected in "Altneuland." Such topics are not the exclusive domain of religious or right-wing people, and are not likely to change the worldview of secular Israelis. It can be used to broaden students' minds, especially if the Jewish studies curriculum incorporates critical reading skills that would clarify the relationship between Hebrew and Israeli law and between Western national and humanistic ideas and the Zionist idea.


But the painful truth is that throughout Israeli history, the officials in charge of the education system have chosen to impose their ideas on it without examining the social and cultural significance of such coercion. Jewish studies were part of the core curriculum for the grandparents of the students at today's secular public schools. But they were part of a secular majority that did not feel threatened or robbed by the religious minority. Today, when half the children in the lower grades attend religious schools, some of them generously funded by the state even though they ignore the core curriculum, the feelings are different.


Studying Jewish cultural tradition and Zionist history is extremely important, but not because of the right-wing, politically oriented reasons motivating the Education Ministry today. Jewish studies belong to everyone, not just to religious Zionists. It is important to know our roots and background, but at the same time, it is imperative to free ourselves from religious extremism and from cultural and ideological separatism.


The ultra-Orthodox keep themselves apart from anything to do with universal humanism or studies that could facilitate young people's integration into the work force. The Education Ministry is guilty of aggressive indoctrination in its push for Jewish studies even as it ignores humanistic secular culture. Together, they are turning the Jewish studies curriculum into a bone of contention.


The secular public, whose positions are usually more liberal than those of the ultra-Orthodox, should take up the challenge. But it is time the other side also learns something about the secular public's worldview - about democracy and legal authorities, universal culture, foreign languages and scientific thought. If the Education Ministry wants to be effective, it must introduce courses in all these subjects. Imposing obligations on one side and making endless concessions to the other could lead to two scenarios, both bad - it could either deepen the rift or turn Israel into a theocracy, just like the neighbors we criticize so much.








With the coming of summer, the public discourse has awoken from its torpor. The hot topic: Gilad Shalit. But even when it shows signs of life and breathes on its own, even when there is finally a collective topic not related to a vacation package or a jeep trip, the discourse is frighteningly sentimental.


The struggle to secure the release of the captive soldier has turned into a soap opera. There is his brother falling in love with a young woman in the protest tent, there is Tami Arad in a sweet photograph with her daughter on the cover of the newspaper, there are the noble parents and the impressive grandfather marching together, and there is the question posed to the prime minister: What would have happened had it been your son? With such opening credits, it is easy to mobilize support - as though if Shalit had had grumbling parents and a screeching grandfather, from Mitzpeh Ramon rather than Mitzpeh Hila, their fate would be less cruel.


Participants in the protest are careful to claim that it is "not political," as though a "political struggle" were a dirty word for forbidden and degrading activity, of the kind that would mar and stain the picture. That is an extremely childish kind of discourse. Shalit's fate arouses understandable emotions: Every parent thinks of his own son. But when the discourse is confined to the emotional realm, the real questions are blurred and swept under the rug beneath which we love to hide everything.


It is not only a question of the price we are being asked to pay for Shalit's release - and permit us to guess that some of the marchers will protest against it when the time comes. It is also a question of the next Gilad Shalits. If very few people are speaking honestly about the prisoner exchange, nobody at all is speaking about the more important question, of what Israel is doing to prevent more unnecessary victims like Gilad. That is political. But the answer can only be found in the political arena. There is no other option.


After Shalit was captured, Israel embarked on an unnecessary war, which received sweeping support, without any public discussion of its means and objectives. Even if, God forbid, other soldiers had fallen captive during this war, support would have remained strong. We are deeply moved by the fate of one soldier, but the question of whether it was right to embark on a war in which 13 Israelis were killed and dozens more wounded never came up.


And the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who have been killed because of the occupation arouse almost no protest. The future casualties and the hostages of tomorrow, all the victims that are still to come because of the occupation, do not bring out any mass marches. After all, that is "political," so we won't talk about it.


Life as a soap opera, and the sentimental discourse that surrounds it, are evident in other arenas as well. Take, for instance, Haim Ramon, who was back in the headlines this week. Shortly after the forbidden and infuriating kiss - at the height of the Second Lebanon War, which he strongly supported - the then-justice minister said: "We are permitted another Kafr Kana, we are permitted to destroy everything." Only Eli Yishai, with his "We will turn Lebanon into a sandbox," could compete with him in explicitly urging the commission of war crimes.


But Ramon was not convicted for that, of course, nor does anyone remember it as a crime. A kiss is in; war is out.


Officers who allow their sons and wives to drive their military vehicles are a scandal. When those same officers are tainted by suspicions of war crimes, there is silence. A pilot, the son of an astronaut, being killed in an accident is a mega-story; an anonymous soldier being killed in vain during another unnecessary nighttime raid in Nablus is a non-story. The son of a former Supreme Court justice who was killed in a traffic accident gets major headlines; a battle to improve our transportation infrastructure is boring. Even the blows endured by our naval commandos affected us far more than the diplomatic blows we endured as a result of having hijacked the ships.


On social issues, too, everything is gooey and sentimental. Donations to a soup kitchen: touching. Economic edicts that destroy the poor: boring. Charity not only saves us from death, it also brings us to tears. But a battle for a more just and egalitarian economy is boring. That's how it is when everything is sentimental.


The time has come to move up a grade. The time has come to grow up and understand that everything is

political - that the real solution to our problems is political, and thus the battle can only be political. Perhaps, borne on the waves of the pseudo-protest over Shalit, with blue and white shirts and yellow ribbons, we will finally wake up enough to raise other questions, less emotional but far more serious.


Maybe even something political, for a change?








While decades overdue, the realization is starting to sink in for some on the right that in the modern world - mostly democratic, but non-democratic too - it is not possible to exert permanent control over a territory without granting its residents citizenship.


It has been clear since 1967 that Israel does not have the option of annexing the territories and naturalizing its inhabitants. Such a scenario would spell the end of Israel. Recently, figures like Reuven Rivlin and Moshe Arens have embraced the option of annexation and citizenship. Arens is proposing a Greater Land of Israel Lite, without Gaza. In his view, a Jewish majority will remain even after annexation. This is a delusion. Any arrangement whereby Israel annexes the West Bank and leaves out Gaza is inconceivable.


Moreover, it is not just Gazans who will have to be given Israeli citizenship, but the descendants of Palestinian refugees. From there it is obvious that any final arrangement would need to include a Palestinian right of return.


Any two-state deal would have to stipulate that a right of return applies solely to the future Palestinian state. However, if there is just one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, there will be no alternative but to grant a right of return to this country. Such a situation would create an Arab-Muslim majority, which would only grow bigger.


Contrary to the fantasies of the right, it is obvious to all that such a state will not be Israel. On the other hand, the state will not be binational either, to the dismay of those on the left. It will be an Arab-Muslim state through and through, even if it officially calls itself binational upon its founding.


Is it possible to assume that the Palestinian people will, over time, agree to be the only Arab nation whose state is devoid of a clear-cut Arab character and whose entity thus cannot be considered a part of the Arab world? Is it logical to presume that this concession, which no Arab people has agreed to undertake for the benefit of a non-Arab minority population that is indigenous to the land, will be granted to the Zionist "alien presence"?


The champions of the "one-state solution" pledge that all the legal arrangements that will safeguard the binational character of the state and protect the rights of all ethnic groups in the country will be spelled out in advance. The problem is that written guarantees cannot determine what will happen in practice. Does the world - especially the Middle East - not have enough examples of the discrepancy between the content of state constitutions and the true nature of those states' governments?


In an op-ed piece that appeared on these pages last month, Carlo Strenger argues that Arens' proposal is tantamount to supporting a binational state, and that the idea is worthy of consideration. According to Strenger, the state that emerges from such an arrangement must be completely secular. After the founding of such a state, Strenger wrote, "Arab rejection of a fully liberal Israel-Palestine would no longer have a case." Well, that makes perfect sense, since the root of the conflict, of course, is that none of the multitude of secular and liberal players in the region can stomach agreeing to a non-secular, illiberal state in their midst.


How does one realize this idea of creating a secular and liberal binational state? It's simple, really. We just bring together the secular liberals of Israeli Jewish society, the secular liberals of Israeli Arab society, the secular liberals of the West Bank, the secular liberals of Gaza, and the secular and liberal masses of the refugee camps in the neighboring countries. Then we establish a "fully liberal" secular state.

When faced with this coalition of the delusional, one must say clearly: This land is home to two nations, both of which have the right to national independence. A binational state is an extreme rarity that is nonexistent in our region. This land will either be home to two nation-states for two peoples, or one nation-state - a Palestinian Arab state. The concept of a nation-state is not going to disappear from here; it would behoove us to make sure that Israel doesn't disappear altogether.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Congress passed legislation last year banning many of the worst practices of credit card companies and ordered the Federal Reserve to issue new rules to ensure that late charges and all other penalties — a major source of abuse — are "reasonable and proportional."


The final version of those rules were issued last month, and there is a lot to like about them. Gone, for instance, are the days when banks can charge a late fee larger than the payment due. But the Fed dropped the ball completely when it refused to regulate penalty interest charges. Card issuers will still be able to double or even triple the interest rate if the cardholder falls two months behind in payments.


The Credit Card Act of 2009 has provided consumers with a great deal of necessary relief. It requires companies to give a 45-day notice before raising interest rates, so that customers have time to cancel the card. In most cases, it forbids companies from raising interest rates on existing balances and prevents them from juggling due dates to trigger penalty fees. It also bars companies from issuing cards to minors without establishing their ability to pay or securing the co-signature of an adult.


The Fed's new rules build on these protections. Late fees can no longer exceed the amount of the payment due and can go no higher than $25 in any month, unless one of the previous six payments was late or the company can prove that the lateness cost them more than this amount. The new rules also do away with "inactivity fees," and bar companies from hitting customers with multiple penalty fees for a single violation of account terms.


Congress clearly intended the Fed to regulate penalty interest charges, too, as they can quickly get people in over their heads. Falling back into its old habit of putting credit card companies first, it declined to, arguing that the "reasonable and proportional" provision of the statute does not expressly mention these rates.


That dubious reading is especially troubling given a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Safe Credit Card Project that found that some companies fail to disclose the penalty interest charges in their contracts — a clear violation of banking law.


The Fed should quickly order the credit card companies to cut out these shenanigans. Congress should amend the credit card law so that it specifically requires regulation of penalty interest rates. That may be the only way to get the holders of credit cards the full protections Congress intended and they so clearly need.







Elena Kagan delivered an impressive performance at her Senate confirmation hearing. Assuming the commitments she made were authentic and not simply designed to tranquilize the members of the Judiciary Committee, she could act as an important brake on the current Supreme Court's alarming tendency to bulldoze through decades of settled precedents. She deserves confirmation as an associate justice.


The hearing was far from illuminating, but it did allow Ms. Kagan to show her fortitude, good humor and, most important, judicial modesty. She said, in dozens of different ways, that she has the highest respect for the legal principle that precedents are to be upheld except in very unusual circumstances. She said precedents should be overturned only if they have proved unworkable over time or have been eroded by other decisions or if important factual circumstances change.


A "doctrine of humility" also entails a respect for Congressional lawmaking, she said, and keeping decisions as narrow as possible in order to enable a wider consensus. "I think results-oriented judging is pretty much the worst kind of judging there is," she told Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware, one of many Democrats who blasted the direction of the Roberts court and were seeking assurances that she would not join that march.


Ms. Kagan made it clear that justices need not always bow to the intentions of the Constitution's authors. She said many of their ideas need to be reinterpreted in light of later advancements, citing search and seizure procedures and whether the First Amendment has anything to do with libel. She rejected the notion that constitutional interpretation is merely a robotic task of calling balls and strikes.


Ms. Kagan stood up firmly to a three-day tantrum thrown by the ranking Republican on the panel, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He churned considerable political grist out of the nondiscrimination policy at Harvard. That policy, which she defended as law school dean and again this week, barred official campus recruiting by the military because it discriminates against gay men and lesbians. Her defense of Justice Thurgood Marshall from bizarre attacks by Republican senators was heartening.


There is much that we still do not know about Ms. Kagan and her philosophy. It still is not clear where she stands on critical issues of national security, executive power and the growing rights of corporations, and we will not find out until we read her opinions. Democratic senators would have better spent time boring in on those questions than tossing her softballs.


The frustrating lack of enlightenment was hardly surprising given how this process has deteriorated in meaning since the Robert Bork hearings in 1987. Not only are nominees reduced to platitudes about upholding precedents, but even the platitudes are porous. John Roberts Jr. blandly told the Senate that he would respect precedent and act as a passive umpire, then began over-reaching as chief justice to uproot decisions he disliked. Sonia Sotomayor said last year that she understood the individual right to bear arms had been determined by the Supreme Court in 2008, but this week she joined a blistering dissent that said the 2008 decision was wrong. (We agree with her, but her turnaround was striking.)


We hope Ms. Kagan was being candid. Frankly, we had expected somewhat more from her, considering her 1995 article disparaging the hearings process as a "vapid and hollow charade." She did firmly reassert her position against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and did not shy away from her opposition as solicitor general to the court's tragic decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections. Her legal scholarship has been impressive, as was her work as dean of Harvard Law School and adviser in the Clinton White House. After the hearing, we have increased confidence she will be a good addition to the Supreme Court.







Advocates have been fighting to end female genital mutilation across Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, marking progress one village at a time. The battleground extends to immigrant communities in the developed world, which still value this horrifying ritual.


Female genital mutilation has been banned in the United States since 1996. Representatives Joseph Crowley of New York and Mary Bono Mack of California are now sponsoring legislation that would make it a felony to take a girl out of the country to have the procedure, punishing violators with fines and a five-year prison term. Supporters hope the law will be a deterrent and embolden more young women or their mothers to resist family or community pressure and defend themselves.


The need for strong resistance was underscored after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that a milder version of mutilation — a nick of a girl's genitals done in a doctor's office — should be made legal in the United States as a way to prevent families from taking children abroad for the full brutal procedure. Advocates rightly argued that medicalizing this violence against women would only legitimize it and undermine the force of the ban. The academy has since withdrawn the statement.


Congress should move quickly to pass the Girls Protection Act. More needs to be done. State health authorities should step up education campaigns in immigrant communities. Pediatricians could make it their business to recognize and report the signs of abuse.


Federal officials could ensure that ports of entry like Kennedy International Airport in New York City have informational signs, hot lines and a shelter. An international departure terminal may provide the last chance to save a girl from a lifetime of suffering and early death.










School reform advocates are rightly excited about a persuasive new study showing that New York City's small, specialized high schools are outperforming larger, more traditional schools, significantly narrowing the graduation-rate gap that currently exists between white and minority students across the city.


The study validates the small school policies of the Bloomberg administration, which has shut down 20 large, failing high schools and replaced them with more than 200 small schools, about half of which were the focus of this study.


Some of the large, factory-style high schools that were closed had enrollments of 3,000 or more and graduation rates under 40 percent. The new small schools, overwhelmingly in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, typically serve a little more than 400 students each. These schools have several other things in common. They have a rigorous curriculum. They offer a personalized approach to education, with teachers responsible for keeping close tabs on the performance of their students.


They are organized around themes — law, science, social justice. They get valuable support from community partners — colleges, cultural organizations or social service groups — that give the students extensive experience with a world of adults outside their families.


The study, done by MDRC, a nonpartisan research group and paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on about 21,000 students. Nearly half attended the small schools focused on in the study, and the rest attended schools that were mainly larger and older.


It found that the average graduation rate for students in the small schools was nearly 69 percent, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the rate for students in the traditional schools. That means that the small schools erased about a third of the 20-point graduation-rate gap that currently exists between white students and students of color in New York City.


These findings are especially encouraging given that most of the students studied entered the small high schools reading below grade level. The researchers plan to follow them through college into the world of work. The findings have breathed new life into the small-school movement. It should encourage Mayor Michael Bloomberg to replace more large failing schools and districts elsewhere to follow New York City's example.







THE oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should make us reconsider how we regulate industries like drilling and mining that pose risks to people and the environment.


To that end, many argue that we need tougher safety standards, as well as higher liability caps and more severe civil and criminal penalties for polluters. Others believe that we need to reform our regulatory system: the Minerals Management Service is being restructured, and Congress may give the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard more robust regulatory power over offshore drilling. All agree that lax enforcement of regulations must stop.


Overlooked in this debate is the fact that regulators need carrots, not just sticks. That's why we should start rewarding companies that have exemplary safety records, exceed pollution standards and produce exceptional disaster response plans. Such incentives should never replace fines and penalties, which can often take years to work their way through the courts, but they could be a helpful complement.


Here's an example of how we might provide incentives for good behavior. Right now, royalty rates for offshore leases end up promoting dangerous deep-water drilling — the deeper you drill, the less you have to pay the government in royalties. Under the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995, Congress even waived royalties on millions of barrels of oil for certain deepwater leases from 1996 to 2000. This and other royalty relief programs have deprived the Treasury of billions of dollars in revenue, while rewarding the riskiest drilling in the deepest waters. Instead, royalty rates should be pegged to performance: those firms with excellent safety records should pay fewer royalties for offshore leases, and those with a history of accidents, safety lapses and penalties should pay more.


Likewise, we should speed up the permit process as an incentive for companies that go beyond the legal minimum requirements, pay for backup safety systems and provide superior worker training for spill response. Providing such rewards would encourage continuous improvement in technology and disaster planning. Industry leaders would be recognized for outpacing their competitors.


The Environmental Protection Agency tried this kind of approach during the Clinton administration, back when Carol Browner, now the White House energy and climate adviser, was the administrator. Companies that found innovative ways of going above and beyond baseline air and water pollution limits got rewarded with faster permitting. The program, called Project XL, was largely viewed as a success, but it ended in 2002.


In addition to devising new incentives, the government should make better use of information already at its disposal. After Union Carbide's release of toxic gases in 1984 killed thousands in Bhopal, India, Congress passed a law requiring a wide variety of industrial companies that produce significant volumes of toxic chemicals to publish an annual inventory of the dangerous substances they emit. This database, which is maintained by the E.P.A., is easily available to the public.


But we should consider taking this a step further. Why not warn consumers, when they fill up at a BP station, of the company's annual safety record, in terms of lives lost and penalties paid? A little shaming might go a long way for a company that cares about its public image.


We will be dependent on oil and coal for our energy use for some time, even if we begin now, as President Obama has urged, to move aggressively to cleaner energy. But as long as we continue to drill for oil and mine for coal, we must do everything we can to make those industries safer. That includes not just tough, well-enforced regulations, economic liabilities and criminal penalties for companies that prove too dangerous, but also positive incentives and public rewards for those that put safety first.


Jody Freeman, a professor at Harvard Law School, was the counselor for energy and climate change in the White House from January 2009 to this past March.








WHEN corporations like Exxon, State Farm and Phillip Morris lose tort cases, juries occasionally award, in addition to compensation for the plaintiff's injuries, extensive punitive damages.


But jurors are often unaware that companies are able to deduct those punitive damages in calculating their federal income taxes, saving them millions of dollars and undermining the original goal of the damages: to punish reprehensible corporate behavior.


BP might soon be added to the list of payers of punitive damages for its role in the Gulf oil spill. Perhaps with that in mind, the Senate recently approved a measure to repeal deductibility for punitive damages.


The measure is well intentioned. But because most cases are settled before they reach a jury, it won't work. Fortunately, there's a better approach.


When plaintiffs and defendants reach a settlement before a trial, which happens in most cases, they aren't required to specify which parts of the settlement are punitive and which are compensatory; there is typically just one number. That allows defendants to disguise the amounts that they would have paid as punitive damages as additional compensatory damages.


And because the measure maintains the deductible status of compensatory damages, nearly all punitive damages will remain, as a practical matter, deductible. This easy circumvention surely explains the meager revenue projections from the measure: $315 million over 10 years.


While the Internal Revenue Service might try to dissect settlements and classify portions of them as punitive damages, to do so it needs help from both parties to the negotiation. The problem here is that plaintiffs have no incentive to characterize the settlement correctly. Indeed, in cases involving personal physical injury, plaintiffs are better off tax-wise by characterizing the settlement as entirely non-punitive because, while the punitive damages they receive are subject to tax, the compensatory damages are not.


Put a different way, the root of the problem is that jurors tend to believe that punitive damages are not deductible, even though they are. So why not have plaintiffs' lawyers make jurors aware of the tax deductibility of punitive damages, and teach them how to adjust their awards to offset the deduction's effect? While plaintiffs' lawyers don't do this now, there is no precedent or persuasive legal argument that prevents them from doing so.


Such "tax-aware" juries would probably award higher punitive damages to offset the fact that punitive damages were tax-deductible. But more important, the prospect of tax-aware jurors would also raise the amounts of settlements before trial — when, again, most cases are actually resolved. This is because the amount of a settlement depends on the amount that a jury is expected to award after a trial. If tax-aware juries became the norm, plaintiffs would push for higher settlements, and thus both settling and non-settling defendants would bear the correct amount of punishment. Under the Senate's approach, in contrast, only the very few non-settling defendants would bear that punishment.


The tax-awareness approach is by no means perfect. It requires juries to determine yet another fact during punitive-damages proceedings, namely the defendant's marginal tax rate. It also increases the sizes of recoveries to punitive-damage plaintiffs and their lawyers, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Nevertheless, given the practical futility of the Senate measure, tax-awareness is a far better approach to solving the problem of under-punishment.


There is a good chance that the Senate measure will become law, if only because the public is exasperated by the BP fiasco and Congress desperately needs revenue, even a relatively small amount. But if it does, it will be yet another example of expedient politics trumping sound policy.


Gregg Polsky and Dan Markel are, respectively, law professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Florida State University.








KARMEL, West Bank


The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country's image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.


On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren't allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won't permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.


On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.


Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: "Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here."


It's fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco's robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.


None of that changes the ugly truth that our ally, Israel, is using American military support to maintain an occupation that is both oppressive and unjust. Israel has eased checkpoints this year — a real improvement in quality of life — but the system is intrinsically malignant.


B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that I've long admired, took me to the southern Hebron hills to see the particularly serious inequities Palestinians face here. Apparently because it covets this area for settlement expansion, Israel has concocted a series of feeble excuses to drive out Palestinians from villages here or make their lives so wretched that they leave on their own.

"It's an ongoing attempt by the authorities to push people out," said Sarit Michaeli, a B'Tselem spokeswoman.


In the village of Tuba, some Palestinian farmers live in caves off the grid because permanent structures are destroyed for want of building permits that are never granted. The farmers seethe as they struggle to collect rainwater while a nearby settlement, Maon, luxuriates in water piped in by the Israeli authorities.


"They plant trees and gardens and have plenty of water," complained Ibrahim Jundiya, who raises sheep and camels in Tuba. "And we don't even have enough to drink. Even though we were here before them."


Mr. Jundiya said that when rainwater runs out, his family must buy tankers of water at a price of $11 per cubic meter. That's at least four times what many Israelis and settlers pay.


Violent clashes with Israeli settlers add to the burden. In Tuba, Palestinian children walking to elementary school have sometimes been attacked by Israeli settlers. To protect the children, foreign volunteers from Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove began escorting the children in the 2004-05 school year — and then settlers beat the volunteers with chains and clubs, according to human rights reports and a news account from the time.


Attacks on foreign volunteers get more attention than attacks on Palestinians, so the Israeli Army then began to escort the Palestinian children of Tuba to and from elementary school. But the soldiers don't always show up, the children say, and then the kids take an hour and a half roundabout path to school to avoid going near the settlers.


For their part, settlers complain about violence by Palestinians, and it's true that there were several incidents in this area between 1998 and 2002 in which settlers were killed. Partly because of rock-throwing clashes between Arabs and Israelis, the Israeli Army often keeps Palestinians well away from Israeli settlements — even if Palestinian farmers then cannot farm their own land.


Meanwhile, the settlements continue to grow, seemingly inexorably — and that may be the most odious aspect of the occupation.


In other respects, some progress is evident. Mr. Orian's Israeli aid group — Community, Energy and Technology in the Middle East — has installed windmills and solar panels to provide a bit of electricity for Palestinians kept off the grid. And attacks from settlers have dropped significantly, in part because B'Tselem has equipped many Palestinian families with video cameras to document and deter assaults.


Still, a pregnant 19-year-old Palestinian woman in the village of At-Tuwani was hospitalized this month after an attack by settlers.


Israel has a point when it argues that relinquishing the West Bank would raise real security concerns. But we must not lose sight of the most basic fact about the occupation: It's wrong.








Our Independence Day weekend winner of the title of Most Unhappy Person in Washington is: John Boehner, the House minority leader.


I know this is a bit of a surprise since the award almost always goes to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, whose job is frequently compared to herding cats. Although cats are much more sympathetic than senators.


I'd go for squirrels. Rabid squirrels. Rabid squirrels that are running for re-election.


Even this week, Reid's life looked pretty miserable because he is trying to get a commitment on finance reform from the newest Republican senator, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.


Brown ran as a sort of populist man of the people, but in April, he told The Boston Globe that he couldn't support the then-current version of the bill. When asked what he wanted changed, Brown said: "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed? I mean, you know, tell me. And then I'll get a team and go fix it."


It was at this point that we began to suspect that Massachusetts's junior senator is not a deep thinker.


Brown came around and voted for the bill when it passed the Senate. Then he backed away when it came out of conference committee because the conferees had added a tax on big banks.


Which Brown claimed he could not support. This was at the same time that he was refusing to give the Democrats a final critical vote on extending unemployment benefits. We have here a populist man of the people playing the role of friend to the big banks while not being particularly helpful to the long-term unemployed. What can I tell you? The guy is extremely popular in Massachusetts. Maybe it's because he drives a truck.


The Democrats dove back into conference and got rid of a $19 billion tax just to make Brown happy. Now he says he's going to spend the upcoming holiday recess pondering the bill's implications.


This must be very frustrating for Reid, but it's the sort of thing that happens so often that he must think of it as normal life. Boehner, the House Republican leader, seems to be in a more pathetic state, which began with an interview he did with The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. This is the paper owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, the wealthy patron of right-wing causes, but all I can say is, you go, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


Boehner dismissed the financial reform package as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." Once again, Democrats did the happy dance.


"That's right," said President Obama at his town-hall meeting on the economy in Wisconsin. "He compared the financial crisis to an ant. The same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs."


It really was a ridiculous metaphor. The financial reform package is actually more like killing a mastodon with a small spear. Could work, but not the sort of weapon you'd want to count on for every occasion.


Boehner also called for means-testing Social Security so that retirees with "substantial non-Social Security income" don't get payments. This should be popular with upper-middle-class Republican voters, whose great complaint has always been that the government insists on giving them too much money.


Perhaps most interesting was his attack on the Obama administration's attempts to impose a moratorium on deep-sea drilling. "The deep-water drilling — maybe there's a reason there to pause till we know what happened and we can make sure we can prevent it from happening again," Boehner said. "But all of this other drilling that's going on down there in the more shallow waters — there's no reason to have a moratorium."


This is actually a perfect description of the Obama policy. It was as if Boehner had denounced the health care reform law by saying that it would probably be a good idea to require people to have insurance and subsidize it for the poor, but that there was absolutely no reason to nationalize all the hospitals and have them run by the Army. Boehner looked burned-out in the interview, like a sullen college student sitting through a boring seminar. A very tanned, puffy-eyed, 60-year-old college student.


What was his problem? Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC talk-show host and former Republican congressman, volunteered an answer: Boehner had the work ethic of a sullen college student as well.

"Every Republican I talk to says John Boehner, by 5 or 6 o'clock at night, you can see him at bars. He is not a hard worker," said Scarborough.


Defending his boss to, a Boehner spokesman said that the Republican leader has spent all his spare time raising money for the party. "Thus far this year, he's headlined more than 230 events and raised about $27 million. And that's just the beginning."


Think about that. The year is only half over, so that means Boehner is averaging about 1.25 fund-raising events per day. No wonder he looks tired. No wonder he doesn't know that the deep-water drilling moratorium only involves deep-water drilling.








During the Bush administration, European leaders felt a fair amount of lecturing and condescension coming their way from Washington, particularly over their qualms about invading Iraq.

Now, it seems, the Obama administration is doing the lecturing, this time over economic policy. President Obama and other top officials have admonished heavily indebted European nations not to move too quickly in cutting deficits, for fear of killing a fragile global recovery.


To be sure, no one knows precisely the right time to pivot toward austerity from the extreme stimulus that was needed to counter the Great Recession. Fears of a double-dip recession sent the stock market tumbling Tuesday. But if Europeans are suddenly willing to address their staggering liabilities, the U.S. should not try to stop them. In fact, U.S. leaders should thank them for leading the way.


A case can be made for not cutting too much too fast, but the recession also is a convenient excuse for avoiding long-term decisions — particularly about health care costs — that will only get tougher. Ideally, the stimulus spending now in the pipeline should be coupled with action to lock in long-term fiscal responsibility, as is happening in Europe.


Recent proposals, particularly in England and Germany, have been impressive.


In England, the newly elected coalition government of David Cameron advocates a freeze in government pay, cuts in most departments of roughly 25%, and a reduction in some benefits, all while hiking the nation's value-added tax from 17.5% to 20%.


In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed equally austere measures, even though her right-of-center party, the Christian Democratic Union, took a drubbing in recent elections and is suffering from low approval ratings. Even the French are getting into the act by cutting government spending and raising the formerly sacrosanct retirement age — albeit only from 60 to 62.


Europe, suddenly in the grip of a debt crisis, is beginning to confront economic reality, and it is doing so by taking on multiple sacred cows with cuts in benefits and hikes in taxes.


Compare this to what is happening — or, more accurately, not happening — in the United States. Congress could not even muster a majority to create a bipartisan commission to recommend ways to reduce the deficit. Obama created one himself by executive order. But it's unclear whether the panel will be able to muster the required supermajority to make formal proposals. Ideologues and political opportunists on the right are preparing to vilify any proposal to raise taxes. Those on the left are resisting any attempt to cut benefit programs. Compromise for the sake of the nation's future? Missing.


Or compare the actions of European leaders to those of Obama, who promises to take America's ballooning deficits seriously — at some indefinite point in the future. The Europeans are not waiting for a commission, or the next election, or some kind of alignment of stars. They don't believe they have any time to waste and are pushing forward now.


Many European countries, particularly Germany, learned painfully in the years following World War I of how government debt can unleash inflation and wreck economies. So when bond markets signaled their unease with European debt, they spooked governments into acting. If present trends continue, the same threat will emerge here.


So a little lecturing may be in order. But it is the USA that should be on the receiving end.







President Obama is clearly right — slashing budget deficits now would strangle a fragile economic recovery and do nothing to address the actual budget challenges facing us.

OUR VIEW: European nations show way toward fiscal responsibility


When the recession hit in December 2007, revenues cratered and safety-net spending rose, increasing the deficit. To avoid a downward spiral into depression, Congress passed explicitly temporary policy initiatives such as the Recovery Act.


And they worked; the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the law has created or saved 3.5 million full-time jobs so far. In other words, today's deficits are overwhelmingly a temporary result of, and response to, the Great Recession, and they will fade as the economy recovers.


If a healthy recovery takes hold, the CBO projects that revenues will rise, spending will fall and the need for temporary stimulus will fade, so that by 2014 the deficit will be 60% lower than it is now, even if two-thirds of the Bush tax cuts are preserved.


Pretty much all serious budget wonks know that the real budget challenge facing the U.S. is that runaway health costs make deficits in 2025 and beyond start to look genuinely troubling even during economic expansions. So why should we reverse economic stimulus today when the real budget challenge is decades away and all about health care?


The standard answer is that imposing this pain today will convince a jittery bond market that tomorrow's budget crunch will be addressed. Maybe. But today's historically low long-term interest rates don't really signal a bond market that's all that jittery. I'd rather take my chance with potential rather than guaranteed pain. Who wouldn't?


Germany and England, for two. But even if they're wrong, is it America's place to lecture them? Actually, yes. If the United States pursues growth in the short-term while major global peers do not, this means that we go right back to the destructive pattern of global behavior that laid the groundwork for the Great Recession: The United States becomes the globe's consumer of last resort and large economic imbalances reappear, setting up the global economy for another fall. Destructive deficit phobia is absolutely our business, wherever it's being practiced.


Josh Bivens is an economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.








Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at USA TODAY's YouTube channel at


Today: The war in Afghanistan.


Cal: Before we get to the politics surrounding the McChrystal affair, I think we can both stipulate that the war in Afghanistan is one we can't afford to lose. Would you agree?


Bob: Certainly, but we also can't afford to stay for another decade. This war is now the longest this country has fought. At some point, patience will run out in Congress and among the American people. Let's hope success comes first.


Cal: Let's do more than hope. This is not a war of choice, but of necessity. I think we can surely agree that Gen. McChrystal was insubordinate according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and that the president had the authority as commander in chief to replace him as commander.


Bob: Yes, but it couldn't have come at a worse time, which is why I wish the president had not sacked him. A counterinsurgency strategy requires strong relationships in Afghanistan between the U.S. military and the various tribal chiefs. McChrystal had those relationships, and no matter how effective a general David Petraeus may be, he will have to establish those relationships on his own, which will be critical when we ultimately tackle Kandahar.


Cal: You and I remember the divisive Vietnam War. We didn't learn until long after the names had been carved on "the wall" memorializing the dead that some of the generals and civilian leadership had strong doubts about the policies of President Johnson and later President Nixon. The late Kennedy-Johnson secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, wrote a book in which he confessed he was wrong about the war. Some think it better to speak out before the fact and not after the last coffin has come home. But President Obama has now, perhaps belatedly, called for unity.


Bob: There was plenty of opportunity for disagreement about strategy in the three-month review ordered by Obama. The counterinsurgency policy and increase in troops was agreed to by all parties, including McChrystal. The president has every reason to expect unity behind this policy.


Cal: Well, there was a consensus among those who mattered, not necessarily agreement. As we've learned in the backbiting months since, those such as Vice President Biden and others who had reservations have allowed their reticence to seep into the public consciousness. That's cowardly and subversive.


Bob: He's always been for counterterrorism, just not counterinsurgency. My point is that such dissent should be aired before the policy decisions are made. Then, either leave the team or get on board.


Cal: Agreed. No wartime president should have to fight enemies without and within. The question now is about strategy. In his Rose Garden appearance announcing the change in command, the president seemed to double down on the counterinsurgency approach. But the combination of rules of engagement that limit our ability to kill the enemy (because they often use civilians as human shields) and an announced deadline of July 2011 for the beginning of troop withdrawals can only encourage the enemy to hang on. This isn't the way you fight a war. It's the way you lose a war.


Bob: I would remind you that the military was pressed hard on the withdrawal deadline by Obama, and the Pentagon brass didn't seem to have a problem with a timetable.


Cal: Not quite, Bob. There was some careful parsing of words about what that "deadline" meant. In fact, it's still unclear.


Bob: A lot is unclear. Can counterinsurgency even work? After all, it largely depends on the Afghan people. Besides, corruption is so rampant that the U.S. military now has to pay warlords and perhaps some members of the Taliban to escort convoys across the country. Are you kidding me?


Cal: I like what former secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote last week in The Washington Post. He said Afghan strategy should be modified as such: "The military effort should be conducted substantially on a provincial basis rather than in pursuit of Western-style central 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."


Bob: Let's remember that it was Kissinger who announced in 1972 that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. He pushed for quick negotiations in Paris with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, giving the South Vietnamese no option but to go along. We quickly withdrew our forces, and in a matter of three years, Vietnam was lost. You mean that guy?


Cal: But Afghanistan isn't Vietnam.


Bob: It sure feels like it.


Cal: Vietnamese leaders weren't plotting to attack America. And just because Kissinger may have been wrong on Vietnam doesn't mean he is wrong about Afghanistan.


Bob: It doesn't mean he's right, either. Afghanistan has had a long history of being a death trap for foreign powers, going back to Genghis Khan. But you make an important point about the enemy wanting to attack the U.S. We have to keep in mind that the Taliban doesn't want to attack the U.S.; al-Qaeda does. By most reckonings, al-Qaeda has been severely diminished as a force in Afghanistan.


Cal: Yes, but a cancer not extinguished is a cancer that can come back.


Bob: What about the politics of this?


Cal: Republicans have unified behind Obama — even praised him — for his prosecution of this war. I wish Democrats had done the same during a Republican administration instead of using even war for political advantage.


Bob: Democrats did unite behind President Bush in his invasion of Afghanistan. Where they disagreed was in his invasion of Iraq. But you're right: It's much more difficult to sustain momentum for war in the current political climate. Most Americans think they don't have a stake in Afghanistan, which makes their support fluid.


Cal: I am amused at how quickly people forget things. As a senator, Biden took a very skeptical view of Petraeus and the Iraq surge that the general was orchestrating. Biden appeared on Meet the Press and said the Bush administration surge in Iraq was doomed to fail. He said this over and over again until progress was undeniable. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the war was " lost." How truly inspiring.


Bob: The jury is still out as to whether the surge has ultimately worked in Iraq.


Cal: The surge worked. What has happened since then is something else entirely.


Bob: Even so, Biden stood virtually alone in his opposition to the current Afghan strategy, believing we should concentrate our efforts along the Afghan border with Pakistan where al-Qaeda poses the greatest threat. If Kandahar proves unsuccessful, Biden may well be vindicated.


Cal: And he'd have finally been right about a foreign policy decision. This, the man who wanted to divide Iraq into three countries. I suppose if one throws enough darts, he eventually hits the target.


Bob: But I hope Biden is not vindicated because an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban would allow al-Qaeda free reign on the border with Pakistan and that, as the president has said, would pose a direct national security threat to the U.S.


Cal: So let's agree that though success right now looks dubious, it is not the time to pull up stakes in Afghanistan. Remember, when the Iraq surge was just getting underway, skeptics such as Biden were all too eager to declare defeat and come home. Will we ever learn?


Bob: Based on the lessons of Vietnam, perhaps not. But yes, we need to give Petraeus and company time to make this work. If in a year the trajectory has not changed, we need to have a very public debate about what to do next. It's the least we can do for our soldiers being sent to fight a war with no clear ending. My God that sounds familiar.








The political rhetoric and popular media coverage of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings has been filled with significant debate over matters of constitutional law. We've heard questions and answers (or non-answers) about the freedom of speech, about executive power, about balancing national security against constitutional rights, about guns, about religion, and about abortion. No doubt this form of inquiry is appropriate; senators are entitled to get some handle on Kagan's constitutional vision, even if President Obama's nominating her tells them most of what they need to know. Many of the Supreme Court's most controversial decisions involve questions of constitutional law, and they are the types of judicial opinions that are most salient to the public. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been appropriately doing due diligence for the people, whose interests they represent.


But what the people and the senators doing the questioning should know — but seem not to — is that the Supreme Court's docket is chock full of very consequential cases for Americans' lives that do not involve constitutional interpretation at all. A quick look at the annual statistics published annually by the Harvard Law Review for the last three terms reveals that more than half of Justice Kagan's work on the Court would be filled with questions of statutory interpretation, or the way in which judges derive meaning from the text of statutes. And yet we spend very little time pressing justices-to-be on how they would interpret the primary set of legal rules that govern life in America.


Difficult questions


In the abstract, statutory interpretation sounds simple enough: just apply the written statute to the facts in the same way that the proverbial umpire calls balls and strikes. In reality, however, most of the statutes that make it all the way to the Supreme Court provide no easy answers. And the "interpretation wars" surrounding statutes are no less vituperative than the wars about constitutional interpretation, even if they are hidden from view from the average American. Yet the average American's life is touched at least as much by issues of statutory interpretation — statutes control our paychecks, our working conditions, our criminal justice system, our social services programs, our healthcare, our pensions, the health of our economy – as it is touched by constitutional issues.


Who can you sue and for what when your pension manager mismanages your funds? That's a statutory question. How does federal education money get distributed to the states? Statutory question, again. What constitutes "discrimination" that allows minorities and women to sue employers under our civil rights protections? Recent statutory interpretation cases before the Supreme Court have controlled the answers to these questions, not constitutional law.


Although you are unlikely to ever hear conservative or liberal pundits discuss methods of statutory interpretation, countless pages in judicial opinions, law reviews and hours in the law school classroom have been dedicated to heated debate over the appropriate ways in which judges derive meaning from statutes. As a general matter, there are three main schools of thought. One approach, known as "textualism," emphasizes the words of the statute alone, while another, known as "intentionalism," emphasizes Congress's intent in passing the statute as evidenced in its legislative history (the recorded record of congressional debates). A third approach, known as "purposivism," emphasizes a statute's overriding purpose as the benchmark for hard cases, which seeks historical context and an assessment of the mischief a statute is targeted to ameliorate. There are strong arguments for and against each of these three approaches (and permutations thereof), and the approach chosen is often — though not always — outcome-determinative when it comes to the cases before the Supreme Court.


Divining meaning


Finally, there are also "rules of thumb" that judges often use to divine meaning — but that don't quite qualify as "law," so routinely fall below the radar in our assessment of judicial nominees. For example, some judges (like Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia) take what is called the "Rule of Lenity" very seriously and think criminal defendants should get the benefit of any textual ambiguity that arises in a criminal statue. Others (like Justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens) think that if congressional intent in a statutory context is reasonably clear, defendants must suffer the consequences unless a "grievous ambiguity" arises in the application of a law. These conflicting positions on statutory approaches not only lead to more interesting alliances than the often-discussed 5-4 constitutional decisions that neatly track conservative/liberal positions, but they too are often outcome-determinative.


Thus, statutory interpretation matters a lot and has significant consequences for the everyday lives of Americans — and we can't know Kagan's approach without asking. Although the now infamous Robert Bork debacle makes it seem less and less likely that nominees will provide their actual views on substantive matters of law, we can and should demand to know how they reason through statutory texts to find meaning. Instead of focusing on the constitutional debates surrounding abortion and guns — domains for which Kagan surely has ready-to-go scripted answers — it is time to shine a spotlight on the unsung but equally consequential territory of our republic of statutes.


Ethan J. Leib is a Visiting Associate Professor of Law at UC-Berkeley and is a Professor of Law at UC-Hastings College of the Law; Michael Serota, a recent graduate of UC-Berkeley Law, will be clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces this fall.








The City Council's difficult search for a fair budget and its agonizing debate over whether, and how much, to increase the property tax rate finally ended Tuesday evening as it had to: with a majority vote for a tax increase. At 37 cents, it is far less than the 64-cents Mayor Ron Littlefield originally requested, yet still more than most council members would have preferred. The council's 6-3 vote reflects the majority's correct judgment that it would be irresponsible to have an operating budget continue in the red for a fourth year, or to allow further shrinkage in public services, especially for the police and fire departments.


It took some backbone for the council to come to this decision. With the economic recovery still hobbled by troubling joblessness, wages still frozen for many, and a backlash against government spending still leading national newscasts, council members have been visibly concerned about the burden of a tax increase -- regardless of the fact that it's the first hike in eight years.


Indeed, dozens of anti-tax protesters -- a tiny fraction relative to the city's population but still a potent symbol of public opposition -- turned out for the council's Tuesday night meeting, as they have for previous meetings. Council members nevertheless assumed their responsibility to fix both a balanced budget, and one that is in the city's larger long-term interest.


The $185 million budget is not generous. For the second consecutive year, for example, it does not provide for general employee pay increases. The only increases it allows are for limited structural reasons in certain police department job categories. It provides for only one police academy, not the two that would be necessary to add sufficient officers to offset expected retirements and to raise the base level of officers substantively above the current minimal number.


It does not continue city health-insurance coverage for retirees beyond the age of 65, and it eliminates coverage for early retirement for new hires. It no longer allows police officers who live outside the city to take city vehicles home. It also cuts, to $1 million, city contributions to funded social service agencies.


The budget does, however, allow the city to quit making up its annual operating budget by drawing down the city's contingency reserves. That's crucial: It helps the city keep its double-A credit rating, which allows it lower interest rates on the city's bond funding for capital investments in infrastructure. The city's reserves, rebuilt by former Mayor Bob Corker from $24 million to around $50 million, had fallen in recent years from $41 million to $24 million, which is about as low as the city can go without risking a downgrade on its credit rating for new bond issues.


The new balanced budget will also allow the city's parks and recreation centers and swimming pools to quit reduced-hour workdays and return to full days and regular programs. In some urban neighborhoods that's a particularly important service to give adolescents constructive activities.


In fact, the new budget, which still must be approved on second and final readings next week, could be classified mainly as a placeholder. It keeps public works and agencies from sliding off the budget chart. But with no raises and little flexibility for improving services, it remains stingy and cramped.


If city residents want something better, they must accept, and help promote, a more regular pattern of smaller, periodic tax adjustments to keep the city's budget commensurate with rising prices in goods and services, and capable of retaining quality employees and necessary city investments in infrastructure. As it stands now, the city is still falling behind in each of these areas, even as city residents are paying double to county government for services that the county does not provide in the city.


Until the Hamilton County Commission fixes the unfair tax problem it has created, city taxpayers will continue to be scammed by county government. That is where the protest over unfair property taxes should begin -- not at city hall.







The arrest of 11 alleged Russian spies by the Federal Bureau of Investigation this week is a strong indication that the Cold War, generally thought to be over, is not. The arrests and the 55-page indictment that prompted them strongly suggest that there is still a lot of chill in the publicly proclaimed warm relationship between the United States and the successor to the Soviet Union. The hunt for secrets apparently never ends.


To be sure, the alleged spy ring does not appear to be the kind that operated during the heyday of the Cold War. Then the cat-and-mouse game between operatives of the United States and the Soviet Union -- a staple of authors and filmmakers for half century -- could and did have deadly consequences for both the individuals and nations involved. The contemporary spy ring seems far less successful and resourceful than its predecessors.


Indeed, those arrested are charged with conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government rather than espionage. The latter requires that those charged deal in classified information. In the more than a decade that those jailed were under surveillance by federal agents, they apparently did not do so. Exactly what they did and how they did it undoubtedly will be revealed as the case progresses.


What is known is that the operatives openly assumed American identities as they attempted to establish relationships with individuals in and outside government that might provide advantageous information on U.S. policies and plans. The operation was a failure.


The FBI quickly became wise to the group, learned its codes and passwords and monitored its activities. There was, it seems, little chance the group would glean useful intelligence or, if it did, transmit it to the spy chiefs in Moscow.


Nevertheless, the incident is highly instructive. It is reminder that espionage, especially cyber-snooping, remains a staple on the world stage. Russia obviously uses it. China, it is widely acknowledged, is one of the foremost practitioners of the art, particularly in the area of industrial secrets. The United States is hardly innocent. It surely has agents promoting and protecting its interests in strategic locales.


The break-up of the spy ring and arrests of its alleged members are a reminder that old habits -- espionage, in this case -- die hard; that U.S. counter-espionage efforts should not be abandoned; and that while the relationship between the United States and Russia is far, far better than it was during the Cold War, it is still far from normal.






Not many people "like" any taxes. Most people certainly do not want any tax increase. We all realize, however, that taxes are necessary to finance government services. Few taxpayers want public services reduced. But when taxes are raised, there is general discomfort.


That is a current subject of great interest as the Chattanooga City Council has approved a $185 million budget in this time of economic crisis.


The council members decided, by a 6-3 vote, to increase the city property tax rate 37 cents.


Pending approval on a second reading, that means Chattanooga's property tax rate will rise from $1.939 to $2.309 per $100 of assessed value.


Raising taxes is surely public officials' most unpleasant duty. But they must balance the cost of providing public services with the tax rate necessary to cover budgeted costs.


Mayor Ron Littlefield recently proposed raising Chattanooga's tax rate 64 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Surely, our city government could use the full amount such a big tax rate increase could produce. But the proposal came as a shock to many property owners.


City Council members had little enthusiasm for such a figure. So they worked to cover vital city budget needs, but whittle that big tax proposal down substantially.


Voting for the 37-cent tax increase were Councilmen Jack Benson, Carol Berz, Pam Ladd, Andrae McGary, Sally Robinson and Manny Rico.


Voting against it were Russell Gilbert, Peter Murphy and Deborah Scott.


While there may be a feeling of some relief that a 64-cent tax rise has been avoided, there will be little celebration over the 37-cent tax increase that a majority of the City Council felt was necessary to provide a desired level of city services.


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





Our police officers unfortunately often face danger in their important service in promoting our safety and enforcing our laws. An example this week tragically reminded us.


Chattanooga police officers and a local man were engaged in an armed confrontation.


Unfortunately, in the tense situation, gunfire resulted. A man who reportedly had pointed a revolver at police officers was shot and killed. That was terrible. But it could have been much worse.


We are thankful that such cases are relatively rare as police officers go about their necessary duties. Every fatal event is regrettable.


We appreciate the efforts of our police officers in protecting us, and deeply regret danger and casualties on either side of frightening armed confrontations.







With the end of the Cold War nearly two decades ago, we don't hear so much anymore about spies and espionage. That topic is mainly the province of novels and movies nowadays.


But it would be a dangerous mistake to assume that spies are no longer on U.S. soil, testing our nation for weaknesses which the nations that hired the spies might exploit to harm us.


We were reminded of that with the recent arrests of 10 people in the Northeastern United States on charges of acting as undercover agents of a foreign government -- Russia. Some appear to be Russian citizens. The citizenship of some others seems unclear. An 11th suspect, a Canadian citizen, was arrested on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus while trying to board a plane for Hungary.