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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month july 05 edition 000559 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjuly
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- NEW, BUT NOT ENOUGH
- DIVERSIONARY TACTICS
- CYNICAL POLITICS,WEAK STATE - BALBIR K PUNJ
- MOOKERJEE'S CONTRIBUTION - JL GANJOO
- ABSURDITY OF KHAP CLAIMS - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
- US REINVENTING SPIES OF THE COLD WAR ERA
- WILL EUROPEAN UNION GO THE BELGIAN WAY? - GWYNNE DYER
- STATE WILL REPENT UNLESS IT QUELLS CASTE FIRE FAST
- GOVT CAN'T LEAVE IT TO RBI
- ACT NOW OR FACE CONSEQUENCES IN FRONTIER INDIA - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- HONOUR THE BRAVE - PRABHU CHAWLA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- TWIN OBJECTIVES
- COOL HEADS NEEDED
- BE A SPORT! - ADITYA GUPTA
- THE FRIEDMAN SYMPHONY - SURENDRA MUNSHI
- IT'S A MODEL THAT WILL FLY
- OUR PULP FICTION
- FILL IN THE BLANKS
- BETWEEN US - IT'S THE NAME OF THE GAME
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- FORLAN'S CHALLENGE
- WHO ARE WE KIDDING?
- EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
- A CASE STUDY IN COALITION POLITICS - VIKRAM S MEHTA
- TUNNEL VISION
- DEALS ON WHEELS - SARITHA RAI
- LET'S, ER, TRY TO WORK TOGETHER
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- FOOD ADVISORY
- TAKING STOCK
- NO NUMBER PORTABILITY, AGAIN - ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
- WHERE NOW FOR THE GLOBAL ECONOMY - MEGHNAD DESAI
- POLITICS AND PETROLEUM PRICING - VIKRAM S MEHTA
- DELHI GETS A WORLD CLASS TERMINAL
- MANAGING LITIGATION SENSIBLY
- BRITISH MUSLIMS: COUNTERING NEGATIVE IMAGES - HASAN SUROOR
- COOL RECEPTION FOR HOT NEWS - JEFF JARVIS
- MEDIA: IS SARKOZY'S GRIP AS TIGHT AS BERLUSCONI'S? - KIM WILLSHER
- U.N. FORUM FOR WOMEN: PROBLEM WITH FINDING A GOOD NAME - NEIL MACFARQUHAR
- CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: GOVERNMENTS AND MEDIA MUST ACT RESOLUTELY
- OF BOSSMEN AND THEIR OTHER WOMEN - ABHAY VAIDYA
- VIP LAND GRABBERS
- STRAWS IN THE WIND
- KILLINGS AT LAHORE
- UNFAIR TO MILITARY PERSONNEL - BY LT-GEN VIJAY OBEROI (RETD)
- THE GAME OF LIFE - BY VIMAL SUMBLY
- NAXAL RESURGENCE - ABHINAV KUMAR
- NEED TO STRIKE AT THE ROOT CAUSE - MANJIT SINGH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- A WELCOME SHIFT
- RAISE A TOAST TO T3!
- ESPYING THE SPIES
- SHADOWING MINISTERS
- 'THE ONLY SOLUTION IS COMPETITION' - MRAJSHEKHAR
- PROTECTIONIST MYTHS - JAGDISH BHAGWATI
- EMPOWER YOUR WORLD TO BE BORN - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- LATINS FALL TO EURO POWER: WHAT NEXT?
- BURROWING THROUGH THE GAZA BLOCKADE - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- NURTURE WITH CARE - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
- WEIRD ACTIONS, REACTIONS & FACTIONS
- AMERICA, LET YOUR FANGED FLAG FLY
- SELF REMAINS IMMUTABLE
- BPL MENU-CARD
- POOR MAN'S PARTY
- IMAGE REINFORCED
- CRIME SANS PUNISHMENT~II
- HELD BACK
- OTHER GIFTS
- SMALL CHANGE, BIG MOVE - TAPAS MAJUMDAR
- TWISTED HISTORY - GWYNNE DYER
- FATALLY FLAWED
- TAMIL PARTICULARISM
- WAGON OF WORDS - M J AKBAR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE COURT'S AGGRESSIVE TERM
- MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT AVANDIA
- GAMBLING FEVER
- WATER AND GRASSES - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- THE PESSIMISM BUBBLE - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
- PUNISHING THE JOBLESS- BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- UNCERTAINTY AND CITIZENS
- IGNORED WARNINGS
- NOWHERE NEAR VICTORY - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
- ABSURDISTAN - SHAKIR HUSAIN
- DESPERATE SITUATION - DR A Q KHAN
- THE NEXT INTERVENTION - AHMED QURAISHI
- VICTORY FOR CIVIL SOCIETY AND PALESTINE - PRAFUL BIDWA
- ROUGH WEEK - CHRIS CORK
- MAKING CNG DEARER
- SAND QUARRY LAW
- THOUGHTS TO MULL OVER..!
- IS POLITICS FORCING REFORMS IN AL? - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- IN-CUSTODY DEATH SYNDROME IN BANGLADESH - GOPAL SENGUPTA
THE JAPAN TIMES
- FUNDING SOCIAL WELFARE
- BETTER VIEW OF BUSINESS
- CHINA NOW EXPORTS ITS CONVICTS - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
THE JAKARTA POST
- THE MORATORIUM AND PALM OIL
- UNDERSTANDING RI'S LOGISTICS COSTS - DANANG PARIKESIT
- INDONESIA'S LIBIDINAL FORCES - SASKIA WIERINGA, AMSTERDAM
NEW, BUT NOT ENOUGH
LIKE MUMBAI, DELHI NEEDS SECOND AIRPORT
This past weekend, New Delhi finally got a new airport. Long overdue before the current round, the last serious overhaul of the capital's airport had taken place in the early 1990s terminal three of Indira Gandhi International Airport will integrate international and domestic services. However, it would be sobering to see this so-called 'achievement' in context. Many other cities Hong Kong, Beijing, Detroit, Shanghai have got 21st century airports in the past decade or so and in a sense New Delhi is only trying to catch up. There is still space available in the Palam area, where New Delhi's aviation hub is located, to build additional terminals. Yet, typical of much of Indian enterprise, the promoters have settled for a minimalist approach. The promoters of the new airport have been unwilling to invest daringly and create huge capacities in anticipation of future growth. It is hoped the passenger projections for the immediate future are realistic and not grossly understated. As the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, which runs right outside the new airport terminal, makes apparent, Indian companies and regulators tend to underestimate the volume of traffic and usage while envisaging major infrastructure projects. This has left many with the lurking suspicion that, especially with the airline surge in India, even T3 at New Delhi airport may be overcrowded in a few short years. The parking capacity outside the terminal can accommodate 4,300 cars. In a city with a strong motoring culture, and one where 1,000 private vehicles are added to the roads each day, is this enough?
Arguably, despite its shortcomings, the new terminal will provide at least some relief to harried air travellers. Nevertheless, it should not be an end in itself. Most cities can manage perfectly with one decent airport. Given the business generated in New Delhi and Mumbai, the country's two largest cities must necessarily be immunised from this rule. In the western metropolis, the Navi Mumbai airport has been at the take-off stage for just too long. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai simply cannot grow beyond a point due to land scarcity. The Navi Mumbai airport makes eminent commercial and civic sense. Yet, an unfortunate battle between the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Environment Ministry has come in the way. Mr Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, has proved almost cussed in his opposition to the Navi Mumbai blueprint. He has objected to the destruction of some forest land. Rather than pose problems, Mr Ramesh would do well to seek solutions. An enhanced level of compensatory afforestation and an assessment of the environmental degradation suffered by Mumbai due to over-congestion at the current airport including fossil fuel wastage by planes having to hover overhead, waiting for landing clearance should appeal to his sense of reason. In any event, there is no reason why such spats should become public at all: Differences are expected to be resolved in the Cabinet. Another airport project that requires acceleration is the proposed Taj Airport and Aviation Hub in Jewar, just beyond Greater Noida. This will create a modern airport facility to the east of Delhi and provide a boost to both the National Capital Region and to the economy of western Uttar Pradesh. The State Government has been pushing the idea but the Centre has been going slow. Must crucial infrastructure be captive to politics?
CPM TAKES ON JUDGES IN KERALA
In 1972, the late Marxist theoretician EMS Namboodiripad had described the judiciary as an "instrument of repression in the hands of the bourgeois state". Some four decades later, India's Marxists still subscribe to that view although they have had no compunctions about using the 'bourgeois state' to further their own political and material interests. A raging row is currently being witnessed in Kerala, one of the two fast-crumbling Communist bastions in the country, between the Marxists and the judiciary. The row was sparked by CPI(M)'s Kerala State committee member MV Jayarajan, who crudely described the judges of a High Court division bench as "nincompoops" for issuing an order banning roadside public meetings. No organisation in Kerala, where agitprop and street activism form the staple of politics, would support the court order, but the Congress, with its characteristic hypocrisy and despite its scornful disregard of the need for the judiciary to be independent recall how Mrs Indira Gandhi had packed the Supreme Court with hand-picked judges has seized this opportunity to pillory the Marxists whom the part has accused of trying to stifle the courts. An unfazed and unrepentent CPI(M) has intensified its campaign against the High Court: Marxist leaders continue to pour scorn and worse on the judges, unmindful of the possible consequences of their slanderous behaviour. They have even threatened to lead protest marches to the judges' homes. Expectedly, the judges are worried. The Chief Justice of Kerala, in an effort to stave off further embarrassment, has called for an end to the controversy.
The division bench's order banning roadside meetings followed a petition seeking an end to such events at a specific town square. Some jurists think that the sweeping order is uncalled for as State-wide restrictions had not been sought. But the Marxist onslaught on the judiciary has nothing to do with the perceived infringement of what the CPI(M) describes as "the people's basic right to protest". The people, however, view the spat as diversionary tactics the CPI(M) is being accused of trying to divert attention from several burning issues. This view is not without merit: The Marxists have berated the courts whenever verdicts have gone against their interests. For instance, they went ballistic after the High Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the SNC Lavalin scandal in which party State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan is an accused. Such diversionary tactics are all the more necessary now with people demanding an explanation for the CPI(M)'s association with Islamist Abdul Nasser Madani and its proximity to a senior police officer, Mr Tomin J Thachankery, who has been accused of trying to help wanted terrorists. Old habits, it would seem, die hard!
CYNICAL POLITICS,WEAK STATE
BALBIR K PUNJ
A string of recent events, apparently unrelated, has exposed the soft underbelly of the Indian state and chinks in the nation's armour in the fight against the hydra-headed monster of terrorism. For even as 'Red terror' continues to claim its periodic toll on lives and properties of innocent people with the establishment divided on what should be the strategy to tackle the Maoist menace, the Kashmir Valley is once again on the boil. The violent protests in the Kashmir Valley, ostensibly against 'human rights violations' by security forces, are just a smokescreen for the latest effort by the separatists to revive their demand for 'azadi'.
Just how deep is the concern for 'human rights' in the Kashmir Valley can be gauged from the fact that Kashmiri Muslims did little to stop the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and have subsequently done nothing for their return to their ancestral land. For over two decades, nearly 4,00,000 Pandits continue to be refugees in their own country. The real target of the latest protests engineered by the separatists is the idea of a pluralistic India which has its origins in the Hindu ethos, which is an anathema to both Islamic zealots and Pakistan.
While Hindus, to the last man, woman and child, have been chased out of the Kashmir Valley, a virtual jaziya has been imposed on Hindus visiting the State for pilgrimage. In a shocking move, pilgrims to the holy shrines of Vaishno Devi and Amarnath will now have to pay a cess of Rs 2,000 per vehicle. Is it not ironical that the same 'secular establishment' happily subsidises Haj pilgrims to the extent of Rs 1,000 crore annually? The taxpayers of this country pick up the tab for that subsidy.
The recent scandal involving a senior police officer in Kerala is also typical of the way the so-called secularists are jeopardising the campaign there against jihadi terrorism and Islamic orthodoxy which is seminal to the mental make-up that nurtures, sustains and condones it.
One of the senior-most police officers from the State, Mr Tomin J Thachankary, was found visiting Gulf countries and meeting several fugitives from the law who are wanted for their links to the Indian Mujahideen. That he had travelled to the Gulf without seeking the Government's permission has now been confirmed. After the Indian Embassies in the Gulf countries reported to the Centre about his movements and meetings with persons having dubious records, the Kerala Government, more specifically Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, ordered his suspension from service.
Here's the twist to the tale: The police officer has found support from Kerala's Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Another aspect of the police officer's secret sojourn now lies exposed: His visit coincided with the tour of a Vijayan-led Marxist party team to the same area, ostensibly to seek donations for the party.
It is not difficult to put two and two together. According to the reports filed by the Indian Embassies in the Gulf region, one of the many absconders the police officer met was a close associate of Thadiyantavida Naseer, prime accused in the Bangalore serial combings case. The officer is even reported to have offered to help the Indian Mujahideen associates if they were to return to Kerala.
The running battle in the State between the Chief Minister, who is clearly isolated in his own party and his party boss who is all powerful and has a majority of his nominees in the State Cabinet, is a long one that has been played out in the open. The party boss's public statement that the police officer has violated no rules and his suspension from service on the specific orders of the Chief Minister was uncalled for is further evidence of this long-standing rift within the State's Marxist establishment. The credibility of the State security apparatus vis-à-vis anti-terrorist operations has been badly bruised by the Central security establishment when the Indian Mujahideen's striking roots in Kerala became public knowledge.
Naseer was caught but he managed to escape while being guarded by a large group of policemen. It is evident that he was allowed to go. It was only when the Central security agencies followed up on the matter and located him in Bangladesh that the State woke up to the reality. This predictably led to yet another can of worms being opened: The Kerala Police had been 'unaware' of a month-long terrorist training camp run by Naseer right next door to the busy commercial hub of Kottayam.
PDP leader Abdul Nasser Madani had been the Marxists' blue-eyed boy during the last Lok Sabha election. He has been again booked, this time by Karnataka Police, for his alleged involvement in the Bangalore serial bombings. The extent to which Kerala Police has been found to favour the Indian Mujahideen terror merchants is further exposed by another recent incident in which Shahbaz, a major accused in the Kozhikode bus stand explosion case, was allowed to meet the Press with his face uncovered, thereby jeopardising the identification parade of the accused which had to be cancelled after his photographs appeared in several newspapers.
While the Marxists soft-pedal the national struggle against jihadi terrorism sponsored and spawned by the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment in Pakistan in the States of Kerala and West Bengal, the Congress and other 'champions of secularism' do the same in the rest of the country. The likes of Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh rush to Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh to sympathise with the relatives of those who have been arrested for their active ties with specific terror plots and anti-national activities. Others like Mr Ram Vilas Paswan move around with Osama bin Laden lookalikes with the sole aim of garnering Muslim votes during elections.
Even in the case of Madani, once a key accused in the Coimbatore serial bombings case, the Congress in Kerala joined hands with the Marxists demanding his release from prison in Tamil Nadu. Following his release, the Congress and the Marxists competed with each other to give him a hero's welcome. Can we ever hope to win the war against terrorism with such a mindset and in the absence of any political conviction or commitment? Is this what secularism has come to mean in the secular republic of India? Must the people continue to suffer?
The report "SP Mookerjee's martyrdom day observed in Kashmir" (June 24) takes one back to 1952-53. Mookerjee died under mysterious circumstances while in custody at Srinagar's SMHS Hospital on June 23, 1953 when the sky was clear and the river Jhelum in full flow. Mookerjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, had earlier resigned from Jawaharlal Nehru's Cabinet.
Mookerjee was critical of Nehru's Kashmir policy. He stood for the abrogation of Article 370 that accords special status to the State of Jammu & Kashmir which, among other things, has its own flag and its own Constitution; earlier it also had a Prime Minister referred to as Sadar-e-Riyasat as its constitutional head.
The people in Jammu were unhappy with Sheikh Abdullah. They were also critical of Nehru's policy. In 1952-53, the people in Jammu launched a movement against Article 370 under the banner of the Praja Parishad. They took to the streets. Their slogan was, "Ek desh mein do vidhan, do nishan aur do pradhan nahin chalengey (In one country there can't be two Constitutions, two flags and two Prime Ministers)."
The State then had a law under which nobody could enter its precincts without a proper permit. This was ridiculous and repugnant to those who stood for the complete integration of the State with the Indian Union. Consequently, Mookerjee proceeded to Jammu to make common cause with the movement for integration but was arrested at Lakhanpur, near Madhopur, on May 11, 1953, and kept in custody in Srinagar.
This was the time when relations between Srinagar and New Delhi had begun to show signs of strain. Following Mookerjee's death there was a wave of anger against Sheikh Abdullah, necessitating intervention by leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Vijayalakshmi Pandit. The deliberations that followed failed to clear the mist and Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on August 9, 1953, from Gulmarg.
Subsequent events have brought the State closer to the Indian Union. The permit system stands abolished. Any attempt to dilute the ties that bind the State to India would be detrimental to the national cause.
ABSURDITY OF KHAP CLAIMS
The sudden spurt in so-called 'honour killings' which fetch nothing but dishonour to Hindu society at large has brought to the fore the untenability of what khap panchayats claim to be in the interest of society! The meaning of gotra changes from community to community and thus cannot be the deciding factor in who can marry whom
This seems to be a season of 'honour killings' in north India like high summer without respite. In a society that apparently hates love stories, the reasons could be as different as inter-caste marriages, inter-communal elopements and same gotra wedlock. Neither the perpetrators nor their societal cheerleaders show any remorse even when apprehended by the police and charged with murder. If the tragic denouement of Asha and Yogesh's affair in north-east Delhi's Swaroop Nagar was about highs and lows of caste hierarchy, a Brahmin fiancé killing his Baniya girlfriend due to the diktats of family raises doubts on if an individual can have a level playing field even in Hindu society in north India. Kayastha matrimonial sites (which means north Indians only) would even inquire about the mother's maiden surname to ensure that caste lineage is unalloyed.
The triple murders of Kuldeep, Monica and Shobha over Rajput-Gurjar marriage by their own kinsmen were most shocking. Monica, despite being given a Westernised name by her Gurjar parents, was made to realise that Wazirpur was no Warsaw. She paid with her life for committing the 'sin' of marrying a Rajput boy, equal to her in education and good looks. Those Gurjars should read from their own history that once they were considered co-equals of Rajputs. William Crooke, editor of Colonel James Tod's Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, claims that it was the Gurjara tribe that formed the main stock from which higher Rajput families sprang.
But what recurs as a leitmotif in 'honour killings' is the concept of same gotra marriages among Jats. Same gotra marriages have conventionally been an anathema to Hindu society. Ancient texts like Latyana Shrauta Sutras, Apastamba Dharmasutra, Vasistha Dharmasutra, Manu Smriti and Yagnavalka Smriti have explicitly forbidden same gotra marriages. The Bombay High Court in 1945 declared same gotra marriage as legal in the context of a Marathi Desastha Brahmin couple. The Hindu Marriage Act (1955) never prohibited intra-gotra marriages like it did not prohibit inter-caste marriages. But gotra for Jats has an altogether different connotation than the rest of Hindu society. Gotras in Hindu society are derived from names of rishis (gotra may literary mean fount of light or source of knowledge) like Vashistha, Vishwamitra, Vatsa, Maudgalya, Bharadwaj, etc. As in the case of Kayasthas, they might refer to disciples of disciples rather than descendants of descendants.
But Jat gotras are different. There are reportedly (hold your breath) more than 2,700 Jat gotras, 1,400 of them to be found in Rajasthan. Take for instance Abusaria, Ahlawat, Anaadi, Babal, Bains, Bana, Barham, Bansi, Bangoti, Basra, Cheema, Chahal, Chada, Dhanwar, Dhugga, Deol, Dhillion, Gill, Goraya, Jhangra, Mahawal and Moonga, to name a few. These are evidently clan names, incomparable with the rishi gotras. Jats being a martial race (martial races are divided into regiments or formations) these might refer to clans of a tribe. BS Nijjar (Origin of Jats and Other Allied Nomadic Tribes of India, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 2008) says that the Jats are descendants of Scythians, whose kingdom's capital was Scythia in present Ukraine. They are believed to have entered Punjab in the first century BC.
The Jat Mahasabha, however, feels the Jats are as old as the land. In fact, the word khap is traced to the Sanskrit-origin kashtrap or domain. Col Tod believes that Jats are one of the great Rajput tribes which migrated from central Asia while Alexander Cunningham believes that Jats are Scythians whereas Rajputs are Aryans. Indeed some gotras are common to Jats, Rajputs and Gurjars. It is an acknowledged fact of history that the Sakas, Kushanas and Huns entered India as invaders and later adopted Hindu culture and customs. On integrating into Hindu society, their clannish divisions were preserved under the nominal name of gotra. Later on, they valiantly fought against Islamic invasions. In contrast, the Greco-Macedonians who entered India with Alexander assimilated into Hindu society completely (as the Khatris of Punjab) and have rishi gotras.
The English-educated intelligentsia is dismissive of anything related to khap as medievalist. Novelist Chetan Bhagat wrote in a recent article that he does not know what his own gotra is, and only recently learnt what gotra is per se. But among political bigwigs like Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda or Congress MP Naveen Jindal, the khap's diktats still enjoy respectability. Justice DS Tewatia, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court, has also sought an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to outlaw same gotra marriages. But they will surely have to explain why the All-India Jat Mahapanchayat leaders are extending the definition of gotra to cover all residents of the same village. A hundred years ago, villages were small with 200 to 300 inhabitants, but now their populations have burgeoned to 2,000 to 3,000. How could every girl and boy in the same village be brother and sister?
Village self-governance in India, according to historian Radha Kumud Mookerji, was a key factor for Hindus to preserve their integrity during the cataclysmic Islamic rule. The Sarv Khap Panchayat is believed to have been a multi-caste body in the past. But today the khaps are purely Jat institutions. Even among Jats, they are prevalent among Deswali Jats and do not exist amongst Bagri Jats. Sociologists feel the weakness of panchayati raj institutions is one of the main causes of continued dominance of the khap panchayats (Ranbir Singh, The Need to Tame Khap Panchayats, Economic and Political Weekly, May 22, 2010).
What is the Jat system of conventional marriage? Whatever it is, its failure is showing even without the benefit of same gotra marriage. The Haryana-Rajasthan-Punjab belt is the 'red zone' in India in terms of gender ratio, which means that the female to male population ratio here is the worst due to the practice of female foeticide. There were 861 women per 1,000 men as per 2001 Census. Among Jats and Gurjars it is becoming difficult to find girls for marriage. A flourishing matrimonial industry is flourishing in Haryana whereby girls from far-off Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand and Bengal are brought into the State for the purpose of marriage. Not all of this is for pecuniary reasons by way avoiding dowry on the part of the brides' parents.
According to India Human Rights Report (2007) by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, Haryana has turned into a 'bride bazar' where women are trafficked from Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharashtra. The price of the women in the market usually ranges from Rs 4,000 to Rs 30,000 but depends on factors like virginity, skin colour, age, etc.
The demographic profile of Haryana is altering in slow motion. From the Jat point of view, this ever-increasing mixture of blood might sound the death knell for them as a martial race. Are the khap panchayats seized about the situation? If Jats want to avoid this situation they have to rethink their clannish honour code. The situation may not be as dire as in Kashmir where Hindus had to merge their caste divisions and adopt the nomenclature of Pandit (not to be confused with Brahmins) when faced with fullscale Islamisation, but alarm bells have begun to ring. When the Jat society is legitimising the killing of a thoroughbred Jat couple, it is also killing the Jat society in the long run. The law of demographic Karma is finally catching up.
US REINVENTING SPIES OF THE COLD WAR ERA
THE TIMING OF THE 'RUSSIAN ESPIONAGE SCANDAL' SUGGESTS A MOTIVE TO REVERSE RECENT DIPLOMATIC GAINS, SAYS SVETLANA BABAEVA
The recent spying story raises more questions than clarifications. The scandal that occurred this week involving 11 'Russian spies' seems to be the strangest espionage story in modern history. Here are three observations.
First the Russian intelligence agencies work so unprofessionally as to allow 'the enemy' to disclose a whole 'network of moles' planted deep into American soil. As former spymasters like Mr Oleg Kalugin say, even in the worst Soviet times there were no more than ten 'illegals' in the US.
Spymasters know that it takes years to prepare and embed a deep-cover professional who won't arouse suspicion particularly in this era of advanced technology and open communication among individuals and Government agencies. But even if in the recent round-up there were so many 'illegals' to be found, and all of them were promptly reported, that means that Russian intelligence agencies have simply forgotten how to function. This is doubtful. Even if their professionalism has degraded since the Soviet times, it is difficult to imagine that it has really become so awful.
The second explanation the FBI and other American law enforcement agencies are not revealing the whole story, preferring to give over to the public the most enticing parts. Although even these look odd and are more reminiscent of the colourful novels of Ian Fleming and his James Bond adventures than real life. For instance, it is hard to imagine a thirty-something guy who uses invisible ink instead of an iPhone or a laptop.
In fact, laptops also appear in the story, they were used to exchange some kind of private wireless messages, though some of them, adduced in the released pieces looked also strange. For instance, the network was tasked with reporting on US President Barack Obama's view toward Russia prior to his last-year visit to Moscow.
Perhaps, Russian intelligence officers are somehow unaware that all kinds of such information are openly available in the US through newspapers, online wires and State Department daily briefings, but it is hard to accept this. Another task from the 'C' ('Centre' Russian external intelligence headquarters, which also recalls old espionage movies) was to collect some data about 'the interim kitchen' of the White House. This sounds strangest considering that the White House is located in DC, not in New Jersey, where some 'spying couples' lived and subsequently were arrested.
It is also hard to admit that members of the group brought cash in suitcases from, as it was said, some Latin American country. One needn't be a distinguished expert in US affairs to know that for years with increased international vigilance toward money laundering, any person carrying unreasonably large amounts of cash will immediately come under suspicion. Russia, which is quite active in the international money-laundering fight, must know that.
The explanation about the timing of the arrest, just a day after President Dmitri Medvedev's first official visit to the US, seems a bit peculiar. It was announced that one of the 'illegals' was to leave the country, and that demanded prompter movement by the law enforcement agencies. This begs the question: It was exposed that almost all members of the 'cell' were living in the US for years, if not decades, with houses and children in school. What would be the reason for one of them to leave the country exactly a day after President Medvedev's visit to the US? As Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "The moment when this was done was chosen with a certain elegance."
The FBI apparently was justified in arresting all these people, but there are still more perplexing questions than answers. It is notable that the group is not accused of forwarding classified data to the Russian Government, but of unregistered lobbying, money laundering and using false IDs.
And there is a third conjecture that the truth is in fact somewhere in the middle, that the real story was slightly exaggerated. It is easy to presume, even without being a big conspiracy theorist that this is meant to spoil the bilateral relationship that has just slightly improved. Perhaps, there are still many in the US (as in Russia) who would be more content if the state of mind and affairs remained closer to that of Soviet times, marked by mutual suspicion, aggressiveness and additional budgets for preemptive military plans. These folks would adamantly oppose any drift never considering whether it is really dangerous to have a workable relationship between the US and Russia.
Prior to Mr Medvedev's visit, there were accusations that Mr Obama supposedly was conceding everything to Russians. However, no one could explain what precisely the US President was giving up. Were there billion dollar contracts or huge concessions given to Russian companies, or military and political favours to the detriment of the US? None of this. There is, however, a set of longstanding perceptions that Russia is still a threat or at least a rival.
Fortunately, either the White House or the Russian officials, accustomed to tougher responses in such past situations, are trying to avoid a flare-up and instead are expressing confidence that the scandal won't affect the recent bilateral goodwill. "They have committed no acts directed against US interests," said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman. Mr Phillip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State, affirmed that "we're beyond the Cold War."
If we may be allowed to kid around of it, perhaps, both sides should feel a certain appreciation: They are still interesting to each other, and when the scandal is over, they can put out a brilliant film that will eclipse all the Bond sequels.
WILL EUROPEAN UNION GO THE BELGIAN WAY?
IF BELGIUM WERE TO BREAK UP INTO DUTCH-SPEAKING FLANDERS AND FRENCH-SPEAKING WALLONIA, WOULD IT BE FOLLOWED BY A SIMILAR CRISIS IN THE 27-NATION UNION BRUSSELS IS CURRENTLY HEADING?
Flemish politician Bart De Wever, who promises the "evolutionary evaporation" of Belgium, is now the political king-maker in Brussels. The bureaucrats and the politicians of the European Union, who also hang out in Brussels, will therefore have a ringside seat for the dismantling of the Belgian state. They should pay close attention, for their own turn may be coming.
Mr Wever's New Flemish Alliance won 28 percent of the vote in Dutch-speaking Flanders, the northern half of Belgium, in the national election on June 14. Elsewhere that would not be an impressive result, but in the highly fragmented Belgian political system it counts as an avalanche.
A long struggle will now ensue while the many Flemish and Walloon parties struggle to form a coalition with a parliamentary majority. It's always a struggle, because there is very little by way of shared identity between the Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons. (After the 2007 election, it took 200 days to negotiate a coalition, and then there were three Governments in three years.) Belgian politics has reached a state of semi-permanent paralysis.
The project for an independent Flanders is no longer a political pipe-dream, but the reaction elsewhere is likely to be a loud Who Cares? So we end up with a separate Flanders and a (reluctantly) independent Wallonia. We can live with that. However, the very thing that is destroying Belgium may also destroy the European Union, or at least drive it back to a much earlier version of itself.
It is customary, when discussing what's wrong with Belgium, to recite a history lesson about how the French-speaking part, Wallonia, was one of the first industrialised areas in Europe and dominated the Belgian state for over a century. The Flemish always resented their lower status, and after the Second World War the shoe moved to the other foot.
Wallonia's smokestack industries were dying, while Flanders got all the new high-tech industry and grew rich. By the 1980s the Flemish were powerful and confident enough to demand and get an extravagantly federal system, but in two key areas they failed. The Walloon political leaders ceded all sorts of powers to the various federal entities, but they managed to keep both taxation and social spending under the control of the Central Government.
So long as the Flemish politicians must negotiate with them about how money is collected and spent, the Walloons can ensure that a big chunk of federal spending is actually transfers of wealth from rich Flanders to poorer Wallonia (where unemployment is twice as high). After a few decades of subsidising the Walloons, many of the Flemish have concluded that the problem is the central Government itself, and that the solution is its abolition.
Now consider the present difficulties of the European Union: Most urgently the crisis of the euro currency, but more broadly the growing popular resistance to any further attempts to "broaden" or "deepen" the EU.
Might this be connected to the fact that the richer countries of northern Europe are getting fed up with the huge transfer of resources to southern Europe, and in particular with the way that their common currency has been undermined by the fiscal irresponsibility of the southern members? Of course it is, and it does not bode well for the future of the EU as currently constituted.
The architects of the euro half-understood that rich countries like Germany and France and relatively poor countries like Greece and Portugal need to run their currencies in different ways. The euro, as a one-size-fits-all straitjacket, was therefore a problematic currency from the start, but the elite policy-makers who wanted to "deepen" European unity were determined to have it anyway.
They tried to erase the north-south disparity by large transfers of resources from the rich to the poor countries, but that didn't really change the economic structures and political habits of the poorer, mostly Mediterranean countries and it awakened a powerful sense of grievance among the rich. Like the Flemish in Belgium, the northern European countries that use the euro are running out of patience.
The "European" identity that has emerged with the growth of the EU in the past half-century is not a mere fantasy, but it is not a deeply rooted, instinctive identity for most people either. The sheer foot-dragging reluctance of the German Government to finance the bail-out of Greece, even though the euro itself was at risk, is a measure of how deep the rot has gone.
The euro, it turns out, was probably a step too far. Devised as a means of uniting Europe, it instead threatens to divide it fatally, and all the good that the previous, more modest version of the EU did could be lost.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist
STATE WILL REPENT UNLESS IT QUELLS CASTE FIRE FAST
THE PERILS of not nipping obscurantism and backward thinking in the bud are evident from the All India Jat Mahasabha's demand that the marriageable age of boys and girls be lowered to 17 and 15, respectively, so that youngsters don't marry against the wishes of their families. That marrying girls before the age of 18 can be physically harmful for them, besides its affecting their education, is obviously none of the Jat Mahasabha's concerns.
The leader of the Jat Mahasabha also wants the government to ensure that no film is made showing caste panchayats in a poor light, saying any such production would be opposed tooth and nail.
Earlier, the caste panchayats had sought that the Hindu Marriage Act be amended to ban same- gotra marriages.
What is common in these demands is the utter disregard on the part of the caste panchayats for the law of the land and their complete faith in the righteousness of their position.
These twin aspects must be kept in mind while dealing with the issue of ' honour' killings which has acquired the proportions of a social evil of late and the persecution of youth who defy caste and gotra norms.
The panchayats' disregard for the law has to be handled with far more determination than our governments have shown so far. Failure to do so will only see them hardening their stance, as is evident from the demand put forth by the Jat Mahasabha. For this, the central government needs to act fast and bring in specific legal provisions against ' honour killings'. Also, state governments must direct their law enforcement agencies to ensure adequate protection is offered to victim couples and families, and caste panchayats that issue kangaroo diktats are not spared.
As for the panchayats' misplaced belief in the righteousness of their position, this will need a sustained campaign for awareness on the matter.
They need to be convinced that gotra and caste boundaries are man- made and there is no scientific justification against youngsters breaking traditions on this count. In this, the political class which wields influence with rural communities has to play the leadership role.
Unfortunately, politicians such as Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and MP Naveen Jindal who think same- gotra marriages are against Haryana's customs have only ended up legitimising the position adopted by the caste panchayats. It is now for the UPA government to shoulder the responsibility and send out the right message.
GOVT CAN'T LEAVE IT TO RBI
INFLATION is expected to hit 14 per cent this month, a 40 per cent increase in the inflation rate since wholesale prices- based inflation hit double digits in May. Far from taking concrete action on prices, the government has instead stoked the fires of price rise, by effecting a steep increase in the prices of diesel and petrol and decontrolling petrol prices to boot. The Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) can, therefore, hardly be blamed for firing off whatever weapon it has in its armoury in a bid to tackle inflation.
By hiking key short- term rates almost a month ahead of schedule, the RBI has clearly indicated that inflation will be its key policy priority.
Whether the quarter per cent hike in repo and reverse repo rates at which RBI lends or borrows from banks will have the intended effect, however, remains a moot point.
Inflation has slipped away from a purely supply- driven issue to a generalised and widespread increase in overall prices. Even if the monsoons currently giving worrying indications of being delayed during the key sowing month of July do eventually end up being normal, as the Meteorological department has predicted, it may not be enough to offset the rise in non- food prices.
Liquidity, on the other hand, continues to be tight. The government's own borrowing programme it is schedule to borrow Rs 1,70,000 crore in the second half of the current fiscal will only add to the pressure and perhaps crowd out the legitimate requirements of industry and consumers.
Industry rightly fears that any further tightening of money supply will impact both the availability and cost of credit. A sharp rise in interest rates does hold the possibility of hitting demand and impacting growth.
Once again, the man in the street will end up paying a heavy price for the government's dithering on the inflation front.
ACT NOW OR FACE CONSEQUENCES IN FRONTIER INDIA
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
THE RECENT tragic events in the Valley have come at a most unpropitious time for New Delhi. It was only after considerable political footwork on the domestic front, not the least of all within the ruling party, that the government embarked on a fresh dialogue with Pakistan.
While no one expects miracles given the unstable, even explosive situation in Lahore and Karachi, no less than Peshawar, a dialogue was judged to be better than the absence of one.
Yet, the concomitant efforts for peace with Pakistan are unlikely to make headway without serious progress towards a better political situation in Jammu and Kashmir. This means the state as a whole, Doda and Kupwara as much as Srinagar.
It is unfortunate that the high turnout in the 2008 state assembly polls and the second ever peaceful transfer of power from one ruling coalition to another led to a mood of complacency. The dialogue with the various political groups went nowhere.
More seriously, the idea that a new set of institutional political arrangements such as the pre- 1953 status be taken up, has been around for a long time. The Congress today faces a considerably weakened and divided opposition.
Hindutva forces in north India are at their lowest ebb in the last two decades.
Regional parties who generally look to autonomy with favour remain a strong force in the country. But by not acting to break the impasse, New Delhi has missed a window of opportunity.
It was said of the Israelis and the Arabs that they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But this can be said with equal force of the Congress- led coalition on the issue of Kashmir. The Chief of Army staff has explicitly stated that the military has accomplished much of what it can vis- à- vis militancy.
The rest is up to the political leadership.
The tragic spectacle of stone- throwing students in their teens and pre- teens clashing with central paramilitaries who resort to firing leading to the loss of life of youngsters is the sign of a vacuum in politics. Union home minister P. Chidambaram may well have asserted that militant groups are manipulating young minds. But this begs the question of why things have gone so far.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah the most loyalist head of government in the last six decades has not minced words. There has to be a parallel track for a political dialogue within the Union simultaneous with the discussions with Pakistan. The former is not about the border and where it lies. It is not about foreign policy, the South Asian region or super powers.
Quite simply, it is about how India's leadership will re- engage people in the state. The Congress knows better than anyone else. The ailing Jawaharlal Nehru set Sheikh Abdullah free from jail not just to carry a message of peace to Karachi but to once again find his place among the people of the Valley where he always belonged.
One of Indira Gandhi's lasting contributions to Indian public life was the Srinagar Accord of 1975. It lasted less than a decade, the truce between the Nehrus and the Abdullahs, but as even her detractors would concede, she showed magnanimity in the Accord itself. The Sheikh became chief minister though his party lacked a majority in the state assembly. The Congress put the country before the party at least in this one case.
Similarly, it was P. V. Narasimha Rao who handled the aftermath of the uprising of 1990. Few now acknowledge how the situation stabilised enough to hold the admittedly flawed elections in 1996. It was Rao who spelt out the Lakshman rekha , ' anything short of azaadi ' would be negotiable. Even his critics in the Congress will not doubt the scholarship and insight that underlay that statement.
The situation today is a piquant one.
Pakistan grappling with internal home grown terror and insurgency. Jammu and Kashmir has not one but two strong regional parties, even if the one in opposition seems to be playing with fire. There is no purchase to the kind of minority- baiting politics that took over the middle class mind in the Nineties.
There is another pressing factor that ought to see South Block act. This is the vexed question of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the AFSPA. Enacted in the wake of the first armed Naga insurgency led by the late ZA Phizo, it is not simply an issue for human rights activists.
The Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by one of the Congress' last litterateur politicians, Veerappa Moily, has spoken out against the Act. So has the Jeevan Reddy Committee.
The Act provides a linkage, even if a negative one, to the turmoil in the other troubled regions of frontier India, Manipur and Nagaland. In fact, in his first stint as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had promised action on this front when handing over the historic fort back to the city of Imphal. The issue continues to simmer with the fast of Irom Sharmila the longest in India's history continuing into its ninth year in the Capital's premier medical institute.
But by dragging its feet on the repeal or the rewriting of the Act, the government is missing a window and not just in Kashmir. The incoming Army Chief of Staff's criticisms notwithstanding, the Act has to stand the scrutiny of public opinion and even more so the civil political leadership.
Of course, it could be argued that the Naga- Manipur impasse has received even less attention than Kashmir. The Centre erred by allowing the Congress chief minister of Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh, to prevent T. Muivah's visit to his home village after nearly four decades. One does not have to accept the claims of a Greater Nagalim to allow a peaceful home visit.
The retaliatory blockade by Naga activists imposed hardships on the valley of Manipur and its inhabitants. But
the Union government did little to break the impasse. Neither the Nagas nor the Meiteis or a larger vision of
India gains from such a shortsighted divideand- rule game.
Whether Kashmir, Nagaland or Manipur, frontier India requires a fresh new look. It needs no less than a break from buying peace with handouts and punishing even legitimate popular protest with force. There cannot be surrender to the threat of gun- wielding militants, but their spectre cannot hold up the much needed process of dialogue and refashioning of policy that is long overdue.
It is here as much as in its good neighbour policy that the second Manmohan Singh government must search if it wants to make a tryst with history.
Success is not guaranteed to the one who acts but it is impossible for those who prevaricate.
POWER & POLITICS
HONOUR THE BRAVE
ON JULY 15, foreign minister S. M. Krishna will leave for Islamabad for bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart.
Krishna says he is going for talks that will " bring our two countries closer together. Let us hope that our efforts will be fruitful". Back in Islamabad, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Krishna's host, says Pakistan will raise the issue of " human rights violations and army excesses" in Kashmir. If ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. But leave that aside for a moment. On an average, about 50 security personnel die every month fighting enemies who draw their inspiration from abroad and within.
And this figure does not include the alarming recent rise in deaths of the paramilitary personnel at the hands of the Maoists and other insurgents. In the last 15 years, more than 10,300 security personnel have been killed by terrorists, but their martyrdom is soon forgotten.
On the other hand, a single case of human rights violation by the army is " breaking news" for days together on TV and fodder for writers. The situation is so shameful that a couple of months ago, the Supreme Court chided the government for treating armymen like " beggars". The apex court was referring to the pitiable emoluments and pensions of the brave men in uniform who routinely lay down their lives so that we can live, but the honourable judges may well have been talking about their morale.
The armed might of any nation is meant to defend the country against threats, both internal and external. Our services personnel have time and again showed their power and responsibility while dealing with enemies within or outside and, barring a few aberrations, have never exceeded the briefs given to them and have always accepted the supremacy of civil authority. There are inbuilt systems like the courtmartial to deal with the errant. Unfortunately, a section of the civil society and the political leadership is now beginning to question its mission and doubt its integrity, leading to demoralisation.
Cases are sought to be reopened and decorated officers dread the ignominy of facing trial years after retirement and being stripped of gallantry medals in front of their grandchildren.
There seems to be a motivated and preposterous vilification campaign against the army as a congenital violator of human rights and not fit to settle civilian problems.
Worse is the hypocrisy. Nobody A. K. Antony seems to bat an eyelid when troops are rushed to quell violence in Gujarat but they all baulk when it comes to sending the same men to Kashmir or to the Maoist- infested areas.
What all this leads to is confusion at the political level which percolates down to the services.
Home minister P. Chidambaram wants the army's help to flush out and, if necessary, liquidate the Maoists. But votebank watchers in the ruling dispensation have nightmares of impending human rights violations but overlook the fact that there is a Human Rights Commission and similar outfits in every state for redressal.
The cabinet is divided on the question of sending in the army to trouble spots. Chidambaram wants to rope in the army to take on the Maoists alongside the police and central paramilitary forces, but defence minister A. K. Antony has reservations and says his men should be used as the last resort. The home minister wants army help to demine forested areas infested by the Maoists to carry out surgical strikes and wants Indian Air Force helicopters to be deployed for logistical purposes. Antony says nothing doing and the majority view is with him.
I am therefore not surprised that after a recent fiery and heated cabinet meeting, Chidambaram came out and told the media that he had only a " limited mandate" from the cabinet to fight Left- wing extremism.
Admittedly, the use of the army should be a last resort but as far as Kashmir and the Maoists go, we crossed that point a long time ago. The army's role shouldn't be a subject of controversy.
It is accountable to the system and its intervention should be based on need and not on politics.
The brave soldiers fight in some of the most dangerous theatres of war and the political establishment must take its eyes off the votebank and let the boys do their job. Those who attack the soldiers do no more than shame themselves.
Politicians' race to the Big Apple
THERE is something about New York that fires the traveller's instinct among our MPs and once again it is that time of the year when our honourable representatives get the itch to travel to the Big Apple for the annual sojourn at the United Nations. The UN General Assembly meets only in September but the Prime Minister's Office is already under immense political pressure from Congressmen as well as UPA allies to have their members included in the delegation. A bureaucrat friend said in jest that the lobbying was somewhat like what is witnessed on the eve of a cabinet session.
It's easy to see why they are all clamouring to fly to New York. The Indian delegation normally consists of of 30 to 35 people. Sixteen of them are MPs who join the delegation in two batches of eight each and the rest are ministers and diplomats. For 45 days, all of them get to hole up in one of the best Manhattan hotels at the taxpayers' expense. The stay is long enough for those afflicted with minor and major health problems to hold consultations with some of the best physicians in the world.
In normal circumstances, the selection is entirely the prerogative of the Prime Minister, but in a coalition like the UPA, as we have so often seen, the unusual is the rule rather than the exception.
So the final choice may not be Manmohan Singh's alone. In a few days, we will know who have made the grade, but there is a record that will be hard to beat and it belongs to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He first attended the UNGA in 1977 as foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government when he famously addressed the assembly in Hindi.
Between 1988 and 1994, India had four prime ministers.
That all of them chose the BJP veteran is perhaps a measure of the deep admiration they shared for a political adversary.
ABSENTEE MINISTERS MAKE CABINET MEETINGS A NO- SHOW
CONSIDERING all the praise that heads of states and governments lavish upon him, it's easy to see why Manmohan Singh needs only the slightest of excuses to take to the skies. " When the prime minister of India speaks, the world listens" or something to that effect, US President Barack Obama said in Toronto last week.
How Manmohan would wish his own ministers also listen to him with similar earnestness. Kashmir was in flames even as Manmohan was rubbing shoulders with the G- 20 leaders, so it was understandable that as soon as he returned, he wanted to take stock. So he decided to hold an emergency meeting of his cabinet on his return to the Capital on Thursday, which coincided with the day of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Incidentally, during the Vajpayee days, the cabinet used to meet on Tuesdays but this was shifted in the UPA era to Thursday, following requests from some of the powerful alliance ministers from the South. They said they wished to be home with their families during the weekend.
A five- item agenda paper was drawn up for circulation among all cabinet ministers and, as is procedure, the deputy secretary in the cabinet secretariat in charge of cabinet meetings rang up the private secretaries of all ministers to find out the " availability" of their masters.
Only 15 of the 33 full fledged ministers were available in the Capital.
Among the notable absentees were the three DMK ministers, who were enjoying a wellearned rest after the exertion at the highly publicised World Tamil Congress in Coimbatore.
Sharad Pawar was in Singapore getting himself embroiled in yet another cricket- related controversy, while other worthies cited prior commitments to excuse themselves from the emergency meeting.
Finally, the scheduled cabinet meeting was converted into a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, with the PM chairing the session attended by four of his senior- most colleagues the ministers of defence, home, finance and external affairs.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
INFLATION AND GROWTH MUST BOTH BE UNDER WATCH
The RBI has raised the repo and reverse repo rates at which it lends to and borrows from banks by 25 basis points. Though anticipated, this is still a surprise move coming ahead of the July 27 credit policy review. There are, to be sure, some valid concerns about generalised inflationary pressures on the economy. While food price inflation dipped sharply to 12.92 per cent for the week ending June 19 from the previous week, that was thanks to the base effect. On its part, petrol price decontrol is expected to have a spillover effect on freight rates and, consequently, cost of food and manufactured goods. With talk of a possible freeing up of diesel prices as well, RBI's step can be considered forward-looking. Fuel price increase, it's estimated, could push up monthly price inflation by 0.9 percentage points.
Another concern on the price front is the monsoon: it hasn't played to script so far. Should the situation persist, it would have a bearing on already high food bills. Nonetheless, let's keep in mind that food inflation has been broadly supply-side driven while fuel price rise will have a cost-driven inflationary impact. In neither case would monetary policy be the most effective counter. Nonfood items are contributing to inflation as found in May's figures, but this alone isn't conclusive evidence of excess demand pushing up prices.
While healthy factory output creates a leeway for monetary policy tightening, there's worry on the external front. The RBI itself feels persisting global uncertainties could impact the economy. Manufacturing output and jobs in the labour-intensive export sector remain vulnerable to demand shocks overseas. Industry is self-confessedly regaining the ability to absorb incremental interest rate increases. But, by all indications, private demand isn't in the kind of comfort zone warranting radical action to squeeze credit flow. Banks' use of the base rate in place of the benchmark prime lending rate is likely to moderate demand here in any case thanks to rise in the corporate borrowing rate.
On no account should cramped availability or steep cost of funds put speedbreakers in the process of economic revival. Well aware of this, the central bank has okayed liquidity support measures to ensure banks don't face a resource crunch. It's welcome that banks, on their part, have resolved not to raise interest rates as a knee-jerk response to RBI rate hikes. The latter signal that inflation is under close watch. But given the necessarily calibrated nature of RBI action so far, it's clearly not the only thing under watch. Keeping growth targets remains as much of a priority.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
COOL HEADS NEEDED
STOP THE ICC VICE-PRESIDENCY ROW FROM TURNING UGLIER
Allegations and counter-allegations have been flying thick and fast ever since John Howard, former Australian prime minister and the Australian and New Zealand cricket boards' candidate for the International Cricket Council (ICC) vice-presidency, was rejected by the majority of cricket boards. The problem is that the ayes and nays have been neatly split along racial lines: Australia, New Zealand and England in the former group and everyone else in the latter. This has created an ugly confrontation. It is time for all parties to step back and reflect. Cricket has a small enough constituency internationally; it cannot afford such a rift.
Neither faction has covered itself with glory. Howard's supporters have been graceless about accepting the fact he's not wanted as future ICC president by the majority of the nations on the council. The accusations of racism are overwrought. Also, those claiming Howard was rejected because he would bring accountability to the organisation will find few takers in countries that recall the ICC's domination by the England-Australia axis until not very long ago. It may be said that it was no more transparent then than it is now. Not that those opposing Howard's nomination have acted with openness. If they have overturned a long-standing convention, they must give reasons for doing so. Australia, New Zealand and England have every right to demand as much. What is needed now is some pragmatism. This entire affair is less about racism and more about confirming the shift of cricket's economic centre of gravity to South Asia. Cricket-playing nations spent decades in the old order; now they must learn to cooperate in the new.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BE A SPORT!
BEING A BAD ATHLETE CAN BE ALMOST AS MUCH FUN AS BEING A GOOD ONE
I'm not good at sports. There, i said it.
I know that in India, which takes its sports very seriously (except hockey which just happens to be the national sport), such an announcement will be greeted by gasps of horror. One is not expected to discuss one's infirmities in public after all. It just isn't done. Nevertheless it's true. Don't get me wrong, i love playing and would be the first to rush out every evening to collect the neighbourhood kids. Then we would play football, cricket or whatever we could in one of those huge empty plots of land which colonies used to abound in a few years ago. But i never really excelled in anything.
Football would always be hectic, as I would pant after the ball which used to rush away from me as if it were a coy, giggly bride. When at long last i would manage to corner the ball i would be so exhausted that i would end up unfailingly kicking it towards my own goal. No wonder the opposing team used to be so fond of me. If i had their vote i would be playing in the World Cup today. And the one time i did manage to score a goal for my own side, there was a clap of thunder the next second and the match was cancelled due to a rainstorm.
When i grew older, and taller, i decided to try out basketball. I reasoned that since there were fewer players involved i'd have a better chance of making contact with the ball. I wish i'd known that i was destined to end up facing the team with the tallest boys in the school (they used to bend down to pat giraffes on the head). Oh yes, i'd get the ball occasionally but mostly it was trying to weave through a forest of legs keeping a sharp lookout for anybody who might mistake me for the ball and put me through the hoop.
But if i had to single out one sport which gave me truly unforgettable memories, cricket would win hands down.
I've always held that there just isn't something natural about a game where players spent 90 per cent of the time standing and squinting in the sun. But since it was practically a religion among virile youths of my age, i had no choice but to join in the festivities every evening. In time i developed such a unique style of playing that it was all my playmates could do to stop themselves from erecting viewing stands and charging 20 bucks admission for daily shows of 'Watch Adi Play Cricket' (Warning: Not Suitable for Minors). When it came to fielding, balls would either sail through my fingers as if they were made of thin air or deviously ricochet off my feet and bounce along over the boundary line.
As for bowling, let's not even talk about that because the mere suggestion of me bowling would cause my captain to fall to the ground, howling with laughter. It was batting, however, which i loved, even though i spent an incredibly brief time doing it. Every time the bowler scowled in my direction, ready to deliver a sizzler, i would shout out, "You throw me a fast one and you can forget about borrowing my English homework today!" or, "Remember the time i helped you pass the maths exam? You owe me!" Hey, it was worth a try.
However, there was one wonderful upside to being bad in sports. In the rare few instances when i did 'catch out' a person or manage to score a goal or a basket there would be a minute of stunned silence and then both teams yes, both would burst into hearty applause.
And that, my friends, was one moment i wouldn't have traded for anything in the world.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE FRIEDMAN SYMPHONY
THE POPULARISED CONCEPT OF THE FLAT WORLD DOESN'T FULLY REFLECT PRESENT-DAY REALITY
For knowing what is happening to the world at present, Thomas L Friedman, a reputed American journalist, has proved to be a popular author. A regular contributor to The New York Times, he has written a number of books on the world today. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century turned out to be a bestseller all over the world, including India.
It is easy to understand the reason for his popularity. He deals with important trends in a readable manner. Thus, in The World is Flat, Friedman has provided an overview of some of the most important trends shaping the world. For writing the book, he travelled extensively and held conversations with a number of key players to whom he had an easy access.
His access to Nandan Nilekani, then CEO of Infosys, made all the difference. He met him in Bangalore when collecting material for the book. In the course of his interview Nilekani explained that, due to the convergence of several technological changes taking place, it was possible to address an intellectual task in a manner that delivery could be made from any part of the world. Nilekani said: "Tom, the playing field is being levelled." Friedman kept chewing on this comment. "What Nandan is saying, i thought", he tells us, "is that the playing field is being flattened...Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!"
This is presented as the take-off point for his argument about the present era of globalisation. What gives this era its unique character is that individuals can collaborate and compete globally. This is made possible by developments in software and the creation of a fibre-optic network that connects the world. This era is driven by diverse groups of individuals, representing every colour of the human rainbow. The world has been flattened by the convergence of what Friedman calls "flatteners", starting his enumeration with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming up of the Windows operating system.
All this makes much sense. But we should not overlook the flip side of the kind of writing Friedman represents. He has travelled much and talked to important persons, but there is not much evidence of his having talked to the people on the receiving end. Thus, when he says regarding his country that low-skilled workers will be faced with problems, there is no single voice from these workers. Instead, we hear Marc Andreessen, Netscape co-founder, tell us that human wants and needs are infinite. This practice of what may be called statement stringing does not allow for a critical assessment of their positions. If Andreessen says that human wants and needs are infinite, so they are.
A basic problem, thus, is the concept of the flat world. Going by the comment that launched Friedman's ship, a level playing field is a field on which rivals compete without either side having an unfair advantage. How does a flat world enter into the picture? It enters through the word "flattening". Friedman has a physical vision here. With the dismantling of the Berlin Wall a horizontal surface without structures was created. To the idea of the absence of unfair advantage to any side is added the idea of the flat surface.
Another idea is added to it as in his advice to get flat under the threat of being flattened by China. This refers
presumably to the most basic sense of being flattened, knocked down. One more sense of flattening is involved here: the fall of the Berlin Wall meant not just that the Wall was dismantled but also that any alternative to capitalism was flattened. The idea of the flat surface is, moreover, conflated to include the flattening of hierarchy. Physical and ideological flattening move together. These difficult tasks are accomplished without any serious consideration of their implications.
Friedman pays a price for his conceptual looseness. He is forced to introduce terms such as flat, unflat and half-flat worlds. What are these worlds? How are they to be identified? In the end we are back to developing and developed worlds. Consider: "children in the developing world the unflat world are ten times more likely to die of vaccine-preventable diseases than are children in the developed flat world".
Concerned as he is with important trends, Friedman does not raise important issues. He has a single point to make. Whatever promotes global markets is good and needs to be supported. He observes with fascination what he calls "the Wal-Mart Symphony". As he sees thousands of boxes move on conveyor belts forming long conveyor streams, he thinks of the river of boxed products. There is hardly any thought about what these boxed products are doing to our environment, nor about whether that is our collective future and that future is desirable or sustainable. What kind of symphony is this that goes on round the year with monotonous regularity? This does not bother him; all he is concerned with is the consumer with infinite needs.
If Friedman had cared he would have found that in India, his land of discovery, there was a time when Mahatma Gandhi differentiated between need and greed and taught us that greed, not need, was unending.
IT'S A MODEL THAT WILL FLY
DELHI'S TERMINAL 3 IS A TRIUMPH OF PUBLIC- PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP. BUT AIRPOCKETS REMAIN
Last week, Delhi took another tep towards becoming a world-class city when a consortium of GMR Infrastructure, Fraport and the Airports Authority of India unveiled a giant hall through which 34 million people will fly into and out of the city every a year. In another 16 years, Delhi International Airport Pvt Ltd plans to upgrade the capital's airport to be able to carry 100 million passengers annually. At Rs 12,700 crore, the Delhi airport's Terminal 3 has not come cheap, but it is not horribly over budget either. And with a tolerable three-month delay in commissioning, the megastructure stands out as a beacon for infrastructure projects in the country where time over-runs are endemic and, sometimes, soul-destroying. Even more edifying is the fact that the design and engineering prowess needed to build these modern-day cathedrals is available at home: Larsen & Toubro is the contractor for both the Mumbai and Delhi airport upgrades. Finally, public-private partnership has delivered one of India's largest and incredibly complex infrastructure projects -the road ahead is pretty clear.
The learning process hasn't been smooth though.
Unlike the giant foreign airports that draw the bulk of their income from non-aeronautical services like retailing and hospitality, the Indian ones depend overly on navigation and landing charges, which the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates are a fifth higher than the international norm. The tepid response of the subsidiary businesses that spring up when aviation hubs of this size are created has forced Indian developers to ask fliers to pay for upgrades even before they use the enhanced airport services. The government and the courts have weighed in for the concessionaires when they sought to frontload airport development fees, a practice frowned upon by the IATA.
Inimical global credit market conditions could be touted as a reason in this case, but it should not set a precedent.
Idiosyncrasies of the Indian market apart, some lessons emerge for the regulation of aviation in the country as well. Capacity use projections ought not to be in dispute three years after they were first made. Calls for a new airport near Delhi have surfaced using projections of passenger traffic growth at the existing one that are dramatically higher than those made by the GMR-led consortium.
Although the airports upgrade policy incorporates a right of refusal for the concessionaire, any perceived need for a new airport less than a decade after the first one has been expanded shows up regulatory due diligence in poor light.
OUR PULP FICTION
THE FRUITS ARE RIPE FOR THE PICKING THIS SUMMER. BUT IN OUR BANANA REPUBLIC, THE MANGO IS KING.
The fruits are ripe for the picking this summer.
But in our banana republic, the mango is king
It's that season again when our minds turn to rounded objects. Before you get a vuvuzela in your bonnet, we are not referring to the World Cup but that eternal battle of the aam aadmi that is on full swing at the moment. To those who take pride in the fruits of their labour, the vexing question that will remain unresolved for all time to come is which type of mango is the fairest in all the land. If you have the courage and a large life insurance, do venture an opinion at the next party you go to. The response is electrifying to witness. The chausa, no the langda, don't be silly it is the alphonso, perish the thought it is the unnamed artisanal variety grown only on full moon nights. Yes, a right royal fruit fight is on your hands.
The more discerning will let on that they have savoured the forbidden fruit from across the border on account of sharing the same Swiss bank as Asif Zardari. The carefully cultivated philistine will say he prefers mango pulp and to hell with well-known varieties. But nothing, not even Cristiano Ronaldo's bedroom eyes, evokes such passion, such gnashing of teeth as mango mania. It really is, I think, therefore, I aam. The cut and thrust of debate focuses on how best to slice the fruit, at an angle to the kernel, straight down the middle.
These maniacs refuse to let the subject go. Now we like this regal fruit as much as Akbar did when he set up shop in these parts. We admire the lyrical outbursts on the qualities of the mango. But do we think it is the nectar of the gods? Let's aam and haw over that a bit, shall we?
FILL IN THE BLANKS
Foot-dragging by the Centre and a short public memory have meant a long wait for justice for Bhopal's victims, says KARUNA NUNDY ONE WOULD THINK A GOV- ERNMENT THAT PIONEERED THE NREGA AND THE RTI WOULD BE SUSCEPTIBLE TO MORAL, TECHNICAL AND LEGAL ARGUMENTS ABOUT THE LIVES OF LAKHS OF PEOPLE WHO'VE SUFFERED THE WORST KIND OF HARM
Fali Nariman reportedly said last week, that public expectations of justice in the Bhopal gas tragedy would not be dashed if the cases against the corporate officials responsible are not reopened, because "public memory is short". The eminent jurist is right. Public memory is short, if `public' excludes the families of the 25,000 people who died and the 1,50,000 who were diseased and disabled by the gas leak of 1984.
Safreen Khan, 17, suffered her first tragedy long before she was born. The gas leak partially blinded her mother, gave her father chronic heart disease, and her brother -two years old at the time -developed lung problems. After a brief spurt of shock and anger, the gas and its effects were forgotten by the rest of the public.
Safreen's second tragedy began when her family moved to a new house in Gupta Nagar. They soon discovered that their water was laced with the same poisons that caused the 1984 tragedy. They had been leaking into the groundwater since 1977. The water Safreen drinks today is a chemical cocktail of dichlorobenzene, mercury and lindane. She knows it can damage her lungs, brain and reproductive system but she has no option. The 20,000 people who have been drinking this toxic water for 30 years have been forgotten too.
Safreen's third tragedy is the tragedy of hope. The judgement of June 7, which sentenced seven people to a light two years in prison for the death of 25,000, ignited spontaneous national outrage. During the week that followed, there was hope that the blaze would bring what justice was still possible to Gupta Nagar.
The central government acted quickly. Within two weeks, a Group of Ministers (GoM) put together a package of relief, rehabilitation and compensation for the survivors. The central government has, commendably, committed itself to filing a curative petition against the 1996 judgement that reduced criminal charges against company officials responsible for the leak. The Attorney General will also examine if a curative petition can be filed against the insufficient compensation paid by Union Carbide.
But many of the essentials of justice are still missing. The package directs that 350 metric tonnes of toxic waste at the Union Carbide factory site be disposed of in an incinerator in Pithampur, Madhya Pradesh. Safreen's group, Children against Dow and Carbide, has pointed out that the toxic waste should not be sent to Pithampur, as the incinerator is seriously faulty (as the government's own reports acknowledge), and in clear violation of the Hazardous Waste Management Rules -being located less than 200 metres from the neighbouring Tarpura village. But the GoM did not listen.
On Friday, six workers at the Pithampur incinerator began vomiting and complaining of vision loss. They were taken to the Getwell Hospital in Mhow, but as soon as the doctor on call said he would have to register a medico-legal case, they were whisked away to another location. The order to incinerate in Pithampur still stands.
The package also proposes to transfer Rs 720 crore to the MP government for human and environmental rehabilitation, placing more funds in the hands of agencies that have frittered away such money in the past. There is very little to show for the Rs 530 crore that has been routed through the state government for the rehabilitation of the gas victims in the past. Through a Right To Information application, survivor groups have recently acquired a list of equipment that the state government `bought' using these funds. The list includes ridiculous fabrications. `Automatic micro-organism detection instruments' and `identification & sensitivity of micro-organism' are among the more amusing; costing over Rs 35 lakh alone. The corruption that's riddled in the allotment of funds set aside for the survivors is well-documented. So is Carbide's Houdini-like escape from serious liability, facilitated by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, which was subsequently fired en-masse for corruption, its chairman arrested.
In June 2008, the Centre agreed to set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal to address these problems. The GoM package, quite inexplicably, goes back on that commitment. As things stand, the Indian taxpayer will pay for the pollution of the multinationals. The GoM has said that it will pursue Union Carbide and Dow's liability in court; it is, in effect, keeping open the possibility of their being absolved of their responsibility to clean up the toxic waste. So far the only move by the Centre to make the polluters pay is a single three-page application, filed in May 2005, asking that Dow deposit Rs 100 crore as a preliminary contribution towards the cleanup. Survivor groups have repeatedly met with government lawyers asking them to pursue that application, but it remains buried under a dusty file in the MP High Court.
It's interesting how our democracy has worked in these last 26 years. One would think that the outlook of a government that pioneered the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the RTI would be susceptible to moral, technical and legal arguments concerning the lives of lakhs of people who have suffered the worst kind of harm. But the partial shift in the government's perspective after June 7 is not attributable to such arguments. Two-and-a-half decades of struggle by a small but committed band of activists and a smattering of professionals -which included endless representations to the prime minister, other ministers, meetings with bureaucrats, dharnas, and interminable hunger strikes at Jantar Mantar -have largely been ignored. This change has been powered, instead, by the threat of a possible shift in the votebank and by responsible media coverage. Most importantly, it has been powered by public outrage.
But the memory of public outrage is indeed short.
There are so many tragedies to be outraged about -the honour killing of two girls in Haryana, a special force jawan being killed by Maoists in West Bengal, and CRPF excesses in Kashmir. The reading, writing and TV-watching citizens learn to insulate themselves so as to reap the rewards of not being the impoverished ones who face everyday injustice. Besides, the World Cup is so much more fun.
Safreen likes football too. But she will turn 18 this September and is wondering whether or when the lindane she has been drinking all her life will turn into cancer. And she is also wondering whether the companies that caused this will ever be made to pay.
Karuna Nundy represents Bhopal's survivor groups, before the Supreme Court of India The views expressed by the author are personal
BETWEEN US - IT'S THE NAME OF THE GAME
PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
YAWATI HAS BEEN CRITICAL OF RAHUL FOR WHAT SHE TERMS HIS `COSMETIC' SYMPATHY FOR THE DALITS... IT IS A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE SHE CHANGES THE NAME OF RAE BARELI TOO
The decision of the Uttar Pradesh government to rename Amethi as Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj Nagar is aimed at sending out a signal that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its leader Mayawati are the future. The UP chief minister, over a period of time, has been trying to assert the Dalit identity of her party.
According to many political analysts, the BSP enjoys the support of what was once the Congress vote base.
Whether it means celebrating her own birthday or the birthday of her mentor Kanshi Ram, Mayawati realises the importance of symbolic value and is keen that various Dalit icons get their due both historically and geographically. She has been making every effort to also inherit the legacy of the towering Dalit leader Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Mayawati's latest action has, at its core, the objective of symbolically attacking the citadel of power within the Congress. For the last 30 years, members of the Gandhi family have represented Amethi. After Sanjay's death, his older brother won a byelection from there in 1981 and went on to represent it in 1984 and 1989. His death in 1991 led to his close friend Satish Sharma contesting from there. Sharma won from there in 1996 too, but lost to Sanjay Singh, the erstwhile Raja of Amethi, in 1998.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi reclaimed it for the family in 1999 and since 2004 Rahul Gandhi has represented the constituency.
Many people in UP and outside consider the two constituencies of Rae Bareli (represented by Sonia Gandhi) and Amethi Congress citadels, as the party has always won in these places in recent years.
Mayawati wants to change this. She has been critical of Rahul for what she terms his `cosmetic' sympathy for the Dalits. It is her way of telling BSP supporters that her writ runs across the state. It is a matter of time before she changes the name of Rae Bareli too.
The changing of symbols has been a method used by rulers or conquerors down the ages to send out a message as to who was in control. Kings have done it and this is true everywhere in the world. In the US, places where native Indians live have a church and a cross in the middle to drive home the point that this was their new religion.
In India, the Mughals and the Muslim conquerors used the method effectively to overrun the Hindu kingdoms. Even in places like the Qutab Minar, where some adjoining structures carry images of Indian deities, the presence of the towering monument dwarfs everything else.
In democratic India, the Congress has used the symbol supremacy to change the names of streets and places. Other parties have followed suit. If the Congress renamed Curzon Road in Delhi as Kasturba Gandhi Marg, the Janata Party changed the name of Willingdon Hospital and Irwin Hospital to Ram Manohar Lohia and Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospitals respectively.
The rise of regional outfits have led to the change in the names of several cities -Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata and Madras to Chennai and so on.
Mayawati is following the precedent set by leaders before her. Her desire is to psychologically wrest control of her support base and simultaneously demoralise the Congress, the largest political party in the country, by showing that she can change the name of the small town after which the constituency of their future leader is named.
The only question one has to ask our rulers is whether changing names is enough to sustain their control or whether they need to do something more to bring relief to the poor people of this country.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Curiously Uruguay's neighbours have once again stolen its thunder. By crashing out unexpectedly in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil and Argentina have kept the spotlight away from Uruguay's fairytale run. The lone South American team left in the fray, they are now the main carriers of that romantic dream that underwrites great tournaments: that anything can now happen.
The Uruguayan defender, Diego Godin, said as much before the start of the tournament. They just needed to get out of the league stage, he claimed, as "things can start happening in the knockout rounds." Yet, it is so often forgotten that the Uruguay squad, representing this country of 3,5 million, have a rich footballing history to reach back to. Their manager in the 1966 World Cup, the last time they reached the quarter-finals, said: "Other countries have their history. Uruguay has its football." On the strength of back-to-back Olympic golds (Paris 1924, Amsterdam 1928), Uruguay won its bid to host the first World Cup in 1930, and expectedly won it. Twenty years later when the World Cup was revived after a 12-year gap on account of the war, they inflicted a defeat on Brazil, hosts and favourites, to take the title in a way that still haunts football's superpower and its historians. Subsequent years saw a decline Uruguay would sometimes qualify, they would have their stars, but the overall reputation of the team was dominated by aggressiveness.
Now as Uruguay, under Diego Forlan, revive an attractive game, they could look back to that 1924 Olympics for inspiration. Then, they took the game away from Holland in the semi-finals. Uruguayan football has been well-served by new beginnings. But, who knows, this time it may well come full circle for them.
WHO ARE WE KIDDING?
For the first time after the Emergency, practically every major political party that isn't under the UPA umbrella has decided to mount a mass challenge to the government's economic management, notably the announcement of fuel price deregulation. Castigating the government's "cruel blow" to the people of India, the Left parties have thrown their combined weight behind an India-wide bandh. All the regional powers, from TDP, AIADMK, BJD, JD-S, AGP and Samajwadi Party have joined their protest. Hours after, the BJP chimed in with the same boilerplate rhetoric on a "major betrayal of trust," and the UPA's siding with "hoarders and racketeers" rather than common citizens, announcing its own Bharat bandh. While the Left was also quick to dissociate itself from any icky association with the BJP, it also appealed to the BJP's base of trading communities, saying that they were especially aware of how fuel decontrol led to soaring transport costs and made commodities that much more expensive. In short, today we witness a remarkably choreographed uprising, as ideologically divided parties come together to announce their revulsion and rage at the rise in prices.
Of course utterly unlike parties like the BJP and the Left can make common cause even when their larger agendas are incompatible, when there is a compelling provocation. But this unanimous display of outrage at the government's cold-blooded economic policy would be more believable if these parties had not all participated in the same rationale when they were actually making policy. What was the Left doing when the United Front government that they held up made the decision to deregulate fuel, a plan that the NDA later put into action, dramatically raising kerosene prices? Needless to add, that's just the kind of hypocrisy that exposes naked opportunism: when parties refuse to endorse in opposition policies that they saw to be sensible while in government.
But this is of a piece with the Left's perfectly internalised hypocrisy, their calm acceptance of the need to speak in forked tongues. Perhaps much of our political class feels the need to finesse their talk and their action, but the Left leaves them in the dust when it comes to the distance between their politics of expediency and their rhetoric of ideological purity.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
It was widely expected that the RBI would move to hike interest rates in its monetary policy review for the first quarter of 2010-11 on July 27. Instead, the central bank decided to hike both the repo and reverse repo rates by 25 basis points each almost four weeks before that review on Friday last week. Clearly, the RBI remains seriously concerned about inflation which continues to persist in double digits. The core of the inflation problem continues to be in food items, even though the rate of food inflation, measured year-on-year, dropped to 12.92 per cent for the week ended June 19, down from 16.9 per cent in the pervious week. That fall, however, is primarily on account of a base effect and the RBI is worried about some spill over inflation beyond food into other areas that would require it to initiate demand management.
There is still little evidence of the economy overheating in the sense of excess demand, and the RBI's relatively moderate hike in interest rates is probably an attempt to send a signal to anchor inflationary expectations, rather than an attempt to squeeze demand straight away. Growth has recovered smartly in the most recent quarters, as has performance of manufacturing, and that gives the central bank some leeway to tighten rates. Interestingly though, the RBI has left the cash reserve ratio (CRR) unchanged. The system is a little tight on liquidity, one of the reasons for which is the large outgo on payments for the 3G auctions.
Moving forward, there seems little alternative for the RBI but to raise rates in a gradual manner as recovery in growth gets even stronger. There is one important caveat though, a potential external shock. There is much discussion in the West over the prospects of a double dip recession, given the continuing debt problems in Europe. The EU and IMF may have arranged a temporary rescue package for Europe's most stricken economies but the kind of cuts required to curb deficits and debt in much of Europe will extract a heavy price on European growth. That will have a spillover effect. That, however, may be a better outcome for the world as whole than a sovereign debt default in even one single country that could potentially debilitate prominent banks and the entire financial system all over again, causing a double dip recession. We know from experience that India is not decoupled from what happens elsewhere so the RBI must keep a close watch on external events before it decides to further tighten the screws at home.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A CASE STUDY IN COALITION POLITICS
VIKRAM S MEHTA
One day someone should write an academic case study on petroleum products' pricing. The objective should not be to detail the technicalities of the subject. That would be of interest only to the aficionados of the petroleum industry. The purpose should be to throw light on the ability of a multi-party, federal and bureaucratically inflexible government to meet the ever-changing demands of our young, aspirational society. It should be to use the peg of the twists and turns of policy in petroleum pricing to better understand the dynamics of decision making; the new structures and systems that are required to navigate the ambiguities of coalition politics and the role of professionals in the corridors of authority. Ultimately it should be to help define the appropriate balance between the market and the state in a connected, global world and to thereby narrow the gap between statesmanship and populism.
The subject of petroleum pricing provides a solid peg for three reasons. One it is a subject over which there is no ideological debate. It does not excite, for instance, the sort of divergent positions that the financial crisis has triggered in the West. The UK government has, for instance, just produced a budget that imposes swinging public sector expenditure cutbacks and higher taxes. The chancellor's position is that fiscal austerity is the most effective means of returning the UK economy to the path of sustainable growth. The US administration on the other hand, does not believe the time is right to dilute the stimulus that was injected in 2009 and which undoubtedly pulled the US economy back from the edge of financial collapse. There is no such substantive difference over petroleum pricing. All political parties have at one time or the other accepted that given that India imports 70 per cent of its crude oil, it has to move domestic prices in line with international trends. It was the NDA government, for instance, that gazetted a cabinet decision to dismantle the Administered Price Mechanism (APM) in April 2002. And it is the current governing coalition that has in effect taken a similar decision last week.
The twists and turns of policy have thus not to do with ideology but with raw "tit for tat" politics. A fly on the walls of the offices in which this subject has been discussed would have a wealth of information on the compromises, unpredictabilities and fuzzy logic that define discussions based on political self-interest and personal perceptions rather than objective reality. It could in particular provide insight into the determinants of the boundaries between good economics and good politics.
The second reason is in a sense an elaboration of the first. Petroleum pricing is a subject over which the professionals have also spoken with one voice. Other than perhaps the most hardened of left wing ideologues, every economist or political scientist who has been asked to comment has agreed that the cost of administrative regulation far outweighs any conceivable economic benefit. Four major studies led by individuals of considerable renown Vijay Kelkar, C. Rangarajan, B.K. Chaturvedi and Kirit Parikh have separately urged price deregulation. Their recommendations have not been rejected but nor have they been fully implemented. There is a grey area thus in governance between the form of soliciting professional counsel and the contents of the eventual decision. This is an area that this study could better define. It could help explain the reasons for the colouration. Why, for instance, did the colour darken palpably in 2004 (vide re-regulation) or whiten last week. No one should expect governments to define policies in unambiguous whites and blacks. The world is too complex for such clarity. But by examining the degree to which the advice of professionals determines the shading, one could offer further insight into the strains of the Cabinet (or should I say EGoM) in a coalition.
The third and final reason flows from the international dimension of petroleum pricing. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear the government missed an opportunity to deregulate in February 2009 when international prices were below $ 50 / bbl. Today it is hovering around $ 70 / bbl. Why did they not deregulate? Was it only because of the forthcoming general elections? Or did they expect that prices might fall even further?
(There were analysts who argued that the fundamentals of demand and supply pointed to an inexorable decline). Whatever the reason the case study might help better appreciate the extent to which international issues get factored into the formulation of public policy.
The 2007-08 financial crisis offers many lessons not least of which has to be the cliched refrain "there is no free lunch". Whatever the reason whether greed, regulatory incompetence, corruption, the weakening underpinnings of markets; the unintended consequence of technological overreach there is no escaping one fundamental truth. Economies across the Western world are reeling because for years, they spent more than they earned. The questions that this crisis has posed are: how did the governments ignore the early warning signals of impending collapse? What was it in their system of governance that allowed leaders to continue down the path of market fundamentalism (i.e. the conviction that financial markets were efficient and rational) when at least with the benefit of hindsight it was clear the signposts had shifted direction, and as Alan Greenspan admitted to Congress in August 2009, the system of self interest (i.e., private companies promoting the public good) was "flawed". We, of course, did not face the financial traumas of the West but these questions should not be ignored by us. For the saga of petroleum pricing does reveal the pressures in our system towards financial profligacy.
A case study could help answer these questions and possibly suggest safeguards against the deeper pitfalls of coalition politics.
The writer is chairman, Shell Group in India; views are personal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
One useful place to mull Israel's siege of Gaza is from inside an 800-foot-long smugglers' tunnel burrowing under the Egyptian border. The tunnel, well ventilated and well lit, is big enough to walk along with a wheelbarrow full of contraband. A crew on the Egyptian side loads a large gurney with bags of cement, and then an electric winch tows the gurney through the tunnel to the outlet on the Gaza side. This tunnel operates around the clock, and all around me I saw other tunnel entrances some big enough to drive cars through so that they end up in dealerships in Gaza. "I'd say there are 800 to 900 of these tunnels," one tunnel owner told me. "They employ an average of maybe 30 people each."
The tunnel owners are aghast that Israel is talking about easing the siege and grumbled that they are already facing a huge drop in orders as a result. A significant number of tunnels have had to suspend work for the time being.
I wish Israeli and American officials could see these tunnels, too. They might realize how counterproductive the siege of Gaza has been, arguably empowering Hamas rather than undercutting it. And while it's not clear how far Israel's relaxation will go, my reporting here leaves me convinced that Israel should lift the siege altogether.
Visiting Gaza persuaded me, to my surprise, that Israel is correct when it denies that there is any full-fledged humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The tunnels have so undermined the Israeli blockade that shops are filled and daily life is considerably easier than when I last visited here two years ago.
That makes it especially silly of Israel's leadership to have squandered nine lives and its global reputation by seizing ships on the high seas when the freight on that flotilla was probably less than what passes through the tunnels in a single hour.
Then there's another cost of the siege. It has eviscerated one of the greatest potential counterweights to Hamas: the traditional business community in Gaza.
"There is no influence for businessmen anymore," lamented Fouad Oada, a garment manufacturer. He has laid off 39 of the 40 employees he had when the siege began three years ago.
That's a common story. Some 4,000 businesses have closed in Gaza, according to Omar Shaban, an economist here. He warns that the business community, which preached moderation and peace and had close ties to Israel, has been nearly destroyed. Its place in society has been taken over, he said, by tunnel operators who benefit from instability and may be tempted to lob missiles at Israel if peace threatens to break out.
One of Gaza's most successful capitalists is Mohammed Telbani, who employed 350 people full time in a sprawling factory making biscuits, pretzels and ice cream for Gaza, the West Bank and parts of Israel. Now most of his factory floor is dark, and he has his employees work only about a week a month.
"I'm not Hamas," Telbani said. "I want to live with everybody. I want to make money. And I have 350 employees who just want a chance to work."
The problem for factory owners is that Israel doesn't allow in most raw materials and doesn't permit exports. Smuggling all imports by tunnels is prohibitively expensive. Exporting by tunnel isn't feasible so factories close. "When people lose their jobs, they hate Israel all the more," Telbani said.
"They don't blame Hamas. They blame Israel."
Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation that monitors Gaza, says that the siege has probably strengthened Hamas. Partly that's because Hamas taxes goods smuggled in tunnels and partly because it has become a more important source of jobs and welfare with the collapse of private businesses. It's crucial, Bashi said, that the relaxation of the siege empower businesses by allowing them to bring in raw materials and then export finished goods. Otherwise, she warned, the blockade will simply continue "killing the moderates."
Gaza is an enormously difficult problem, complicated by the kidnapping and detention of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit (and the unconscionable refusal of Hamas to allow him Red Cross visits). But the siege seems to have so embittered many Gazans that they welcome any chance to inflict woe on Israelis, including Sergeant Shalit.
So if the present policy has failed utterly even backfired by possibly bolstering Hamas let's start over. It's time not just to ease the siege of Gaza, but to end it once and for all.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
DEALS ON WHEELS
Bangalore's roads are villainously potholed and traffic-choked. The unfinished metro railway system, the semi-built traffic overpasses dotting the city, and the ongoing tree cutting-cum-road expansion makes Bangalore look less like a city and more like a "Work in Progress".
During rush hour, buses, cars, auto rickshaws and two-wheelers cram into an impossible amount of road space in India's own tech hub, slowing traffic to a crawl that outrivals the traffic pile-ups in Silicon Valley's Sand Hill Road during the good old days of the tech boom.
Now, an employee-driven dynamic carpooling initiative is about to be launched by the Bangalore-headquartered technology firm, Wipro. The idea appears to be born as much out of Wipro employees' commuting frustrations as out of the loftier goal of trying to make a difference.
Of course, the employee effort ties in very nicely into the philosophy of Wipro chairman Azim Premji, corporate India's own Mr. Green. Premji prefers to trek the wilderness in his spare time, walks to work (though it must be said that he lives right next door to the huge Wipro headquarters in Bangalore's Sarjapur Road and has a conveniently-built private entrance), and will not serve guests bottled water.
So, it is quite befitting that Wipro add yet another advance in traffic management in a city where buses are tracked by GPS, police use Blackberry handsets to book offenders, lane discipline is enforced by surveillance cameras and traffic lights are controlled by a remote, automated system. Wipro's new dynamic carpooling scheme, called eShareRide, is an advance on the earlier, more conventional carpooling system. "As a tech company, we felt compelled to use technology to come up with something sophisticated and active," says Ram Ramakrishnan, Wipro's vice president for facilities management.
The new system has gone through a pilot phase and will launch next month. In its new avatar, the system works like this: car owners (the system calls them champions) and riders companywide in Bangalore register on the system. Neither is bound by geography, schedule or route. When the rider decides to travel, he queries the system, providing location, destination and time. The pick-up points are well-known city landmarks.
The system matches his request with car owners who are willing to offer a ride at that particular time, calibrates the location, route and distance, and matches it with the most suitable one. Both parties are intimated ahead of the ride, by a text message or through a simple application downloadable on any smart phone. Employees show their company IDs at the pick-up location.
The pilot, that involved a 100 employees, demonstrated that the dynamic carpooling system works seamlessly even when employees look for a ride at an odd hour, or even between the various Wipro offices. "This will not be a static community," says Sachin Mulay, head of Eco-Energy Marketing and Brand Communications at Wipro.
The system frees users from a rigorous carpooling routine. It will suit those who travel out-of-town frequently and can only be occasional users. It will also work for those who log into the system several times a week, as they flit between offices. "The system has an element of spontaneity as well as trust all those offering and getting rides will belong to the Wipro community," explains Mulay.
Wipro has 30,000 employees in Bangalore, and one of the early users of the new carpooling system is Arvindan Raghavan, who heads a mission quality team for telecom. Raghavan signed on as a champion. "I'm passionate about a green world and that's my biggest motivation," he says. What better than using technology to help reduce the number of vehicles on Bangalore's roads, he asks.
As an incentive, carpooling champions will be eligible for a rare bonus car stickers that will entitle them to exclusive parking space within the crowded parking lots of the company campuses.
Wipro's carpooling initiative highlights the changing mindset among technology workers. In Bangalore, Wipro staffers are cycling to work from the city to the suburban campus. In Pune, employees are trying to bring the disappearing sparrow back to the campus. In Hyderabad, employees are saving a lake. As the green motto trickles down, Premji will be a happy man.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LET'S, ER, TRY TO WORK TOGETHER
While the uproar set off by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's imprudent comments in Rolling Stone magazine has focused on the larger-than-life personalities involved, there is an important subtext: What the does all this drama suggest about how the Pentagon and the State Department are sharing responsibility for the war in Afghanistan?
Perhaps a clue came during a video conference call between Washington and Kabul last Saturday. General McChrystal's replacement, Gen. David H. Petraeus, called up the two top American civilian officials in the war Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy; and Karl W. Eikenberry, the ambassador in Kabul.
The general raised a touchy issue: whether to buy generators to supply electricity to Kandahar. For months, the ambassador and many civilian development experts had opposed doing so now, because it didn't fit long-term national plans for power generation. But Kandahar is the Taliban stronghold that is the American military's next target. And General Petraeus, according to an official familiar with the conference call, said the basic services were so badly needed there that it justified going ahead. The ambassador fell into line, the official said. In the perennial tug-of-war between civilian aspirations and military imperatives, score one for the Pentagon.
That, at least, is one way to read the conversation, especially in light of the harsh comments about civilian officials that General McChrystal had allowed members of his staff to make in front of a reporter. But another is that the McChrystal episode and rumours that Ambassador Eikenberry might be replaced have chastened officials on both sides, and that both now want to avoid a zero-sum game between State and Defence in Afghanistan. There, more even than in Iraq, the military and civilian sides need each other.
The State Department grew used to a bitter separation in the early years of the Iraq war. Back then, civilian-military collaboration meant sidelining the diplomats, starving the State Department of funds, and marginalising the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
But by 2007, when the American troop surge was in full swing, the State Department then under Condoleezza Rice had managed to achieve a respectable supporting role on the ground, deploying some 700 civilians in provincial reconstruction teams that helped fix sewage systems and train Iraqi judges.
No one was more responsible for that change than General Petraeus. As overseer of the team that wrote the Army's field manual on counterinsurgency strategy, he stressed the necessity of civilian participation. And as the commander in Iraq, he made the American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, his Sancho Panza, bringing him along on tours of Iraq and testifying with him on Capitol Hill.
With the change in administrations in 2009, the State Department's role seemed destined to expand further. President Obama chose a political star, Hillary
Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state, and Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates called on Congress to increase her department's funding, so it could do more to help the Pentagon. During the White House policy debate on Afghanistan, Clinton went toe-to-toe with the Defence Department, producing colour-coded maps that showed how a "civilian surge" would unfurl across Afghanistan.
Holbrooke built a high-powered shop inside the State Department, drawing experts from nine other agencies, from the agriculture department to the Central Intelligence Agency. As a young diplomat, Holbrooke had seen firsthand a failed strategy, dominated by the military, in Vietnam. Still, the interwoven nature of military and civilian goals in Afghanistan was plain. Ambassador Eikenberry was given oversight of more than 1,000 civilians on the ground, triple the number in January 2009. But he came to the job as a retired lieutenant general, who himself was once the commander in Afghanistan.
Yet critical problems remained: Military officials expressed frustration at how long it was taking civilians to move aid into the field, and some critics blamed the civilian leadership for mishandling Afghanistan's elections last year, which President Hamid Karzai is widely believed to have rigged.
"It's very ironic that two military commanders have already been fired when the military has performed relatively well, while no one has been fired on the civilian side, when its major achievement so far has been the fiasco of the Afghan election," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and who helped the administration devise its initial war strategy.
It is tempting to conclude that the arrival of General Petraeus will consolidate the supremacy of the Pentagon in the war effort. He certainly starts out with great prestige in Washington, drawn from his performance in Iraq, and his status as the intellectual father of the strategy.
But there are reasons to believe that the State Department will continue to play a substantial role, if only because that is what
General Petraeus wants. He has pledged a "unity of effort" between the civilian and military operations, and he met with Ambassador Eikenberry at a NATO meeting in Brussels so the two of them could fly into Kabul together on Friday.
For all the parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq, there are key differences that will require robust diplomacy. In Iraq, General Petraeus was able to turn the tide by peeling away Sunni leaders who were willing to work with American forces against jihadi extremists. But in Afghanistan, any similar process requires Pakistan's cooperation. Afghanistan's neighbour has influence over powerful players like the Haqqani network, which is closely allied with the Taliban, and it is a sanctuary for leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
Officials say that General Petraeus plans to shuttle between Kabul and Islamabad, conferring on issues like reintegrating Taliban fighters into Afghan society. But it easy to imagine that in the negotiations for a broader political settlement between Karzai and the Taliban, the general could turn to Holbrooke, whom he described last week as his "wingman." Holbrooke, after all, played a central role in the Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.
"One of the reasons the selection of General Petraeus was such a masterstroke was that he understands the importance of a civilian-military effort," said John A. Nagl, president of the Centre for a New American Security, who helped write the counterinsurgency handbook under General Petraeus. "He'll bend over backwards to make it work."
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
One of the more immediate motives for setting up the National Advisory Council was to give a new vigour to the long-pending food security legislation. Unsurprisingly, this is the single issue that has dominated the initial meetings of the NAC. But as reported in The Indian Express on Friday, the NAC was unable to reach a final consensus on the proposed law because of a potential conflict between extending food security as a 'universal entitlement', like the NREG is, on the one hand, and the limited availability of foodgrains that constrain it, on the other. The principle of universal entitlement, of course, goes well beyond what the UPA had promisedsubsidised food grains to below poverty line families. The NREG worked well as a universal entitlement because only those in real need of a minimum wage for 100 days a year identified themselves as poor and signed up the programme. Similarly, efficient self-selection may, however, elude a universal food security entitlement. The government can, of course, find ways to disincentivise above poverty line families from accessing subsidised foodgrains by, for example, distributing grain that is not of superior quality. So those who want the best quality, and can afford it, will buy from the market place. But the probability of leakages, hoarding and black marketing is high under a universal entitlement regime, given the weakness of institutions in India.
The NAC's solution to the limited size of the government's food stocks is to raise the buffer stock significantly. That will, however, divert more foodgrain away from the open market and create a spillover effect on food inflation, which is already a big headache for the government. The NAC would be better advised to opt for a more targeted food security scheme. There is the obvious problem of which estimate of poverty and hunger to choose among the many floating around. Depending on the estimate you believe, poverty ranges from 25% of the population to over 70%. We have consistently supported the lower end of the estimates range, which puts those below the poverty line at close to 25% of the population. This is the section that ought to be targeted by any food security legislation. The most efficient way to do so would be to provide direct cash transfers, perhaps to those already enrolled in NREG, which can then be used to buy foodgrains at market prices. That takes care of the needs of the poor while not distorting agricultural markets. But, for the moment, the NAC seems to be thinking in a different, less efficient direction.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Indian stock markets have witnessed much volatility in recent times on account of global factors that directly affect the inward and outward flow of foreign institutional investment. In such an environment, strong domestic institutional investors (DII) can act as a good counterweight. As reported in FE on Friday, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) has made a significant (Rs 61,436 crore) investment in Indian equities in the last financial year, which is almost 50% more than what it had put in Indian equities in 2008-09. In contrast, net investment by FIIs in India equity markets was Rs 1,10,744 crore in 2009-10. Strong participation by LIC in the equity markets will send out a positive signal and encourage other domestic institutional investors to invest in the Indian equity markets. In fact, when FIIs pulled out about Rs 1,12,500 crore from the Indian markets after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, DIIs, namely banks and insurance companies, pumped in about Rs 81,000 crore to rescue the markets. Although DIIs cannot yet match the overall strength of foreign institutional investors, their gradual rise bodes well for retail investors in the future, as stronger inflows from domestic institutions will make the markets better placed to absorb any shock of FIIs selling in the future. Besides, better quality flows from domestic institutions will signal a more long-term investment approach towards Indian equities. Moreover, improving trade volumes of both DIIs and FIIs will also help to bring down the cost of transactions in the Indian markets and help better price discovery of stocks in the future.
The Indian markets have been absorbing huge inflows from FIIs since the middle of last year as they have given one of the best returns amongst all emerging markets because of strong domestic factors and the earnings momentum of corporate India. Numbers show that foreign investors have preferred either registering with the capital market regulator or routing their investments through registered sub-accounts. From 1,200 registered FIIs and 3,644 sub-accounts at the end of December 2007, the number, as on May 2010, has increased to over 1,706 FIIs and 5,377 sub-accounts. However, there has been a perceptible change in the quality of these flowsfrom an average of 45% in 2007, participatory notes now account for only about 16% of the total assets managed by FIIs by end-2009. This suggests that even FIIs are looking longer term. Domestic institutional investors must play a significant role in supporting this long termism.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
NO NUMBER PORTABILITY, AGAIN
ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
It has become almost a routine affair for the department of telecommunications to announce the postponement of the implementation of mobile number portability (MNP). It's a serious issue for anxious consumers waiting to change their network operators without having to change their mobile numbers, but the government seems unmoved.
It has been almost two years since the communications & IT minister A Raja announced that MNP would be implemented soon. MNP was supposed to be a tool to empower mobile users who could penalise their telephone service provider for poor services by switching over to another telephone service provider while retaining their phone numbers.
Last December, Trai recommended the porting charges and cleared the path to implementing this service. However, the government has, ever since, cited security issues and lack of preparedness on the part of telecom operators for not meeting the implementation deadline.
While security issues may have some limited relevance, what beats logic is to postpone the entire thing on the pretext of unpreparedness on the part of one or two operators, which happen to be state-owned BSNL and MTNL. If, for instance, the state-run BSNL and MTNL aren't ready with their equipment then why not let the other operators go ahead with the service? What the government can do is to allow all the other operators to participate in MNP, while levying a penalty on the the telecom operators who aren't ready to participate in this facility.
The solution is indeed very simple, but the problem was never the result of a lack of solutions but rather the lack of an incentive for the government to implement the simple solution. Unlike the multi-billion dollar procurement tenders or spectrum auction where the government earns windfall gains, MNP does look a bit drab since the government doesn't earn anything. But the department of telecommunications needs to understand this because its lackadaisical attitude is a very poor reflection of governance.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHERE NOW FOR THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
The 'real world', as we economists call it, is very schizophrenic about economics and its practitioners. It tells us
we are not a science and should not presume omniscience. Yet it expects us to deliver precise judgements about the state of the economy and the likely consequences of a policy. I have always thought of economics as more like medicine where there is some science and lot of technical equipment. Yet every patient is a different case, and diagnosis and cure are very much a matter of personal judgement of the doctor in charge.
The Prime Minister being a seasoned economist as well as a political leader knows very well how to be the 'good doctor'. At the G-20 while there was a clash between the American view of a need for continuing stimulus and the European view of an urgency for restraint, he proposed a formula that squared the circle. He could well see that while in April 2009 the world was united in perceiving an abyss staring it in the face with financial meltdown, one year on that unity was gone. Different regions in the world had arrived at different distances from the same starting point. The unity of 2009 hid some important differences and they are coming out now.
The appropriate policy is no longer a single co-ordinated one because the world, despite globalisation, is not a single economy. Asia has had a growth recession at best and no financial meltdown. It does not need banking reform since its banks were not allowed to do foolish things with other people's money. Along with Canada and Australia, they can quit the coalition of 2009 and go their own way. The US is recovering at a decent paceabout 3%but since unemployment always lags behind growth, the political imperative for continuing reflation is strong. Yet, the US has a drastic fiscal situation thanks to the profligacy of George Bush in all his eight years. President Obama's Budget director, Peter Orszag, resigned since he believes the time for reflation is over. Keynesians in the Obama administration want to continue the stimulus. They do not want to get serious about deficits and debts. It is a delicate matter of judgement. The economy is recovering but the Keynesians think it is not yet robust enough to start dieting, while Orszag thinks the need to get fit is urgent.
This is not the case in Europe. In the UK, elections have yielded a coalition government, which has made the reduction of the deficit a top priority. The UK arrived at the recession with an already fragile public finance situation, with debt to GDP ratio rising even in full employment and it now needs to tackle the structural deficit. The argument is about the pace of cutting, not its necessity. Labour would have cut it more gently than the new Chancellor wants to but the difference is small. There is a recovery that is running at around 1.5% of GDP growth. The argument is about the likely effects of the cuts but each side pretends that it knows the effect on employment and personal incomes to the last decimal place. The certainty is political since I don't know of any model that accurately predicts such things four to eight quarters in advance. If we are uncertain as to what has already occurred in the recent pastthe pace of recoverythen how can we be so assertive about the future?
Eurozone countries have fallen back from their early recovery. Germany and France were ahead with their reflationary packages, but in the last six months the Eurozone economy has slowed down and raised concerns about the sovereign debts of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. A committed Keynesian would, say, reflate until growth recovers and then start the payback. But that is a risky alternative, especially for a group of unevenly developed economies (who should never have got into a monetary union). Eurozone has no mechanism for fiscal transfers and even the recent creation of a stabilisation fund has raised fear among the German tax payers that they would end up paying for Greek indiscipline.
For the time being the situation will remain cloudy. We are back to reading tea leaves. China's manufacturing growth may be slowing but the inflationary pressures there may also be easing. The US is slowing down but not too rapidly. The UK may yet have a growth bounce, although unemployment may go up. Nothing in economics offers a clear answer to the question as to whether we will have a double-dip recession. If anyone purports to know, he is not an economist but most likely an astrologer.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
POLITICS AND PETROLEUM PRICING
VIKRAM S MEHTA
One day someone should write an academic case study on petroleum products pricing. The objective should not be to detail the technicalities of the subject. That would be of interest only to the aficionados of the petroleum industry. The purpose should be to throw light on the ability of a multiparty, federal and bureaucratically inflexible government to meet the ever-changing demands of our young, aspirational society. It should be to use the peg of the twists and turns of policy in petroleum pricing to better understand the dynamics of decision making; the new structures and systems that are required to navigate the ambiguities of coalition politics and the role of professionals in the corridors of authority. Ultimately, it should be to help define the appropriate balance between the market and the state in a connected, global world and to narrow the gap between statesmanship and populism.
The subject of petroleum pricing provides a solid peg for three reasons. One, it is a subject on which there is no ideological debate. It does not excite the sort of divergent positions that the financial crisis has triggered in the West. The UK government, for instance, has just produced a Budget that imposes swingeing public sector expenditure cutbacks and higher taxes. The Chancellor's position is that fiscal austerity is the most effective means of returning the UK economy to the path of sustainable growth. The US administration, on the other hand, does not believe the time is right to dilute the stimulus that was injected in 2009 and pulled the US economy back from the edge of financial collapse. There is no such substantive difference over petroleum pricing. All political parties accept that as India imports 70% of its crude oil, it has to move domestic prices in line with international trends. It was the NDA government that gazetted a Cabinet decision to dismantle the APM in April 2002. And it is the current governing coalition that took a similar decision last week. Thus, the twists and turns of policy have not to do with ideology but with raw 'tit for tat' politics. A fly on the walls of the offices in which this subject has been discussed would have a wealth of information on the compromises, unpredictabilities and fuzzy logic that define discussions based on political self-interest and personal perceptions rather than objective reality. It could provide insight into the determinants of the boundaries between good economics and good politics.
The second reason is, in a sense, an elaboration of the first. Petroleum pricing is a subject on which the professionals have also spoken with one voice. Other than perhaps the most hardened of Left wing ideologues, every economist has agreed that the cost of administrative regulation far outweighs any conceivable economic benefit. Four major studies led by individuals of considerable renownVijay Kelkar, C Rangarajan, BK Chaturvedi and Kirit Parikhhave separately urged price deregulation. Their recommendations have not been rejected but nor have they been fully implemented. Thus, there is a grey area in governance between the form of soliciting professional counsel and the contents of the eventual decision. This is an area that the study could better define. No one should expect governments to define policies in unambiguous whites and blacks. The world is too complex for such clarity.
But by examining the degree to which the advice of professionals determines the shading, one could offer further insight into the strains of Cabinet (or should I say EGoM) government in a coalition.
The third reason flows from the international dimension of petroleum pricing. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear the government missed an opportunity to deregulate in February 2009 when international prices were below $50/bbl. Today they are hovering around $70/bbl. Why did they not deregulate? Was it only because of the forthcoming general elections? Or did they expect that prices might fall even further? Whatever the reason, the case study might help better appreciate the extent to which international issues get factored into the formulation of public policy.
The 2007-08 crisis offers many lessonsnot least of which has to be the cliched refrain 'there is no free lunch'. Whatever the reasongreed, regulatory incompetence, corruption, the weakening underpinnings of markets; the unintended consequence of technological overreachthere is no escaping one fundamental truth. Economies across the western world are reeling because for years they spent more than they earned. The questions that this crisis has posed is, how did the governments ignore the early warning signals of impending collapse? What was it in their system of governance that allowed leaders to continue down the path of market fundamentalism, when at least with the benefit of hindsight it was clear the signposts had shifted direction and as Alan Greenspan admitted to Congress in August 2009, the system of self interest (i.e., private companies promoting the public good) was 'flawed'? We did not face the financial traumas of the West but these questions should not be ignored. For the saga of petroleum pricing does reveal the pressures in our system towards financial profligacy. A case study could help answer these questions and possibly suggest safeguards against the deeper pitfalls of coalition politics.
The author is chairman of the Shell Group in India. These are his personal views
DELHI GETS A WORLD CLASS TERMINAL
In a country where infrastructure projects take inordinately long to complete, it is rare, if not unheard of, for the politician who lays the foundation stone to preside over its completion. The inauguration of New Delhi's new, gigantic airport terminal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday a record 37 months after he laid the foundation stone is a singular achievement in speed. But more than that, it has given the country an airport that is by many an assessment as good as any in the world. It had been a matter of great irony that the capital of a country with the ninth largest aviation market in the world should have an airport ranked a dismal 101 in terms of Air Service Quality performance. That was in 2007. With a vibrant private-public partnership taking over the modernisation of the airport, New Delhi has since improved that ranking to 21. The new Rs.12,700 crore Terminal-3 (T-3) should let it break into the world's top ten. The terminal has what it takes: 78 aerobridges and 168 check-in counters, automated baggage handling facilities, and security systems. And these promise to deliver passengers a service equal to the best in the world. From a strategic standpoint, T-3 will let New Delhi stake a claim to being a major international hub, with Air India planning to fully capitalise on this asset. Given the 35 million international passengers it generates, India and its airlines have let slip the opportunity to make this country the hub for international travel allowing cities in west Asia and south-east Asia instead to thrive on India's travellers. This was due as much to a lack of good transit facilities at the country's airports as it was to the frailty of country's airlines. At least one of the issues now stands resolved.
It is to be hoped that the high standards of service quality the new terminal has set will be adopted by other airports round the country. Prime Minister Singh referred to the setting up of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority to deal with matters relating to the new and modernised airports, including the levy of user charges. That holds the key. When airport developers invest so heavily in building such a facility, they will seek a viable return on that investment. That demand must be balanced with the need to keep air travel affordable and the sensitivities about passengers being asked to pay stiff airport charges. The Authority needs to engage both the developers and user agencies while fixing the levies. At airports elsewhere, non-aeronautical revenues come to shore up the balance sheet; Indian airports may need to turn to them as well.
MANAGING LITIGATION SENSIBLY
Given the staggering number of pending cases in courts (estimated at over 30 million), any attempt to reduce the backlog deserves to be applauded. Since governments at the Centre and in the States are litigants in more than two-thirds of these cases, any official strategy to tackle judicial arrears must look inwards. The National Litigation Policy (NLP), unveiled recently by Law Minister Veerappa Moily, does exactly this by seeking to change governmental attitude towards litigation. Its central thrust is to transform government from being a compulsive litigant to a responsible, even reluctant, one. To achieve this aim, the NLP contains a series of guidelines for the filing of appeals, the availing of adjournments, and the seeking of arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in certain kinds of financial cases. The policy envisages the appointment of nodal officers in government departments to proactively manage litigation and the setting up of empowered committees to monitor the implementation of the policy.
An interesting aspect of the NLP is that it addresses the issue of judicial backlog or delay not through the usual methods of structural reform (for example, by introducing amendments to existing acts to speed up cases) or raising additional resources (for example, having more courts or more judges). It does so entirely operationally by attempting to change mindsets. But the goal of avoiding "litigation for the sake of litigation" is not easy in an environment where government officials are apprehensive about the consequences of making the right decision. Rather than risk criticism or come under some kind of scrutiny later, officials prefer to take the safe course approach the court and let it decide. A climate of far greater security needs to be created in order to encourage them to take firm, independent decisions about which cases need to be pursued, which need to be dropped, and which are better suited to arbitration. It is important to stress here that such discretion is worthwhile only if it promotes rational and objective decision-making. Such discretion also carries a risk. If, for example, nodal officers are corrupt and choose not to file cases or not to go on appeal for wholly extraneous reasons, then justice will be subverted. The NLP cannot be faulted on paper but, as with any broad policy document, the key lies in the implementation. In this case, the challenge will be to ensure that the whole process of managing litigation, with the stated objective of reducing the number of pending cases involving government by half, is not allowed to be marred by corruption and bias.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
BRITISH MUSLIMS: COUNTERING NEGATIVE IMAGES
58 PER CENT OF THOSE QUESTIONED IN BRITAIN SAW A LINK BETWEEN ISLAM AND EXTREMISM OR TERRORISM WHILE 68 PER CENT SAID IT WAS ANTI-WOMEN.
Even the most blasé seen-it-all British Muslim must have been jolted by a recent poll, according to which an overwhelming majority of Britons associate Islam with extremism, repression of women and lack of equity and justice. Few believe that Britain's 1.6 million Muslims have a positive impact on British society.
The figures were staggering: 58 per cent of those questioned saw a link between Islam and extremism or terrorism while 68 per cent said it was anti-women. Only 13 per cent associated the world's fastest growing religion with peace, and a mere six per cent with justice. Asked whether British Muslims did any good to British society four out of ten said: no.
To a casual observer, it might seem like just another poll that merely confirms a trend that, in the past decade, has seen an unremittingly negative focus on Islam and Muslims around the world. Yet there's something deeply worrying about discovering that Muslims are held in such deep contempt at a time when, on the face of, there appears to be a lull in overt anti-Muslim prejudice. Indeed, for the first time in many years, British Muslims feel they are able to breathe a little more freely and say they feel under less pressure compared to what is happening in many other European countries, including France and Belgium next door.
"We are lucky to be living in Britain. It is heaven compared to other countries," one Muslim activist said. But, clearly, the surface calm is deceptive and the sponsors of the poll admit that they have been surprised by the findings.
"Yes, we were surprised and it is a cause of deep concern," a spokesperson for the Exploring Islam Foundation which commissioned the poll said.
The Foundation has been set up by a group of young educated British Muslim professionals (mostly of Asian origin) concerned about the perceptions of their community. Its stated aim is to "challenge" misconceptions surrounding Islam and Muslims; raise awareness about religious and cultural practices relating to Islam and highlight the contribution of Muslims to "civilisation." The idea, according to its mission statement, is to "dispel the common stereotypes and myths about Islam and Muslims by using strategic media campaigns."
"We appreciate that the relationship between Islam and various aspects of modern life are continually under intense scrutiny. We want to play an active part in that debate and discuss the place of Islam in 21st century Britain. Our ambition is to engage in stimulating and thoughtful discussions on a spectrum of issues from economics, politics and social customs to history, art and spirituality," it says.
The Foundation responded to the poll by launching an "Inspired by Muhammad" project starting with a slick poster campaign based on texts of Prophet Muhammad's teachings on a range of issues such as women's empowerment, social justice, environment, tolerance and human rights. Eye-catching posters, each with a tagline "inspired by Muhammad" and displayed on the London Underground, buses and taxis, feature young practising Muslims who are also campaigners for gender equality, environment and social justice. They proclaim that that their lifestyles and beliefs are "inspired" by the Prophet.
The faces featured in the posters are not professional models but drawn from real life to illustrate how the British Muslim youth balance their modern day life-choices in a western country with the traditions of Islam.
One poster features a hijab-wearing woman barrister, Sultana Tafadar, with the caption "I believe in women's rights. So did Muhammed." Another has former MTV presenter Kristiane Backer, a convert to Islam, declare: "I believe in protecting the environment. So did Muhammad." Then there is a young male Muslim charity worker Rupon Miah who says "I believe in social justice. So did Muhammad."
A website "www.inspiredbymuhammad.com" elaborates on the claims of the men and women featured in the posters with actual quotations from Muhammed. On social justice, he is quoted as saying: "The best people are those who are most useful to others." And he described women as "twin halves of men" whose rights were as sacred as those of men. Emphasising the importance of protecting the environment, the Prophet said: "All of the earth has been made to me as a mosque". He encouraged his companions to conserve water instructing them not to be wasteful even if they were next to a flowing river, and stipulated the importance of keeping public places tidy declaring: 'One of the branches of faith is to remove litter from the street.' Campaigners say they were prompted by their own daily experience of widespread ignorance about Islam and the notion that it is a regressive religion whose practices are not in sync with the modern world. By putting their faces on public hoardings and telling their own life stories they wanted to show that there was such a thing as a modern 21st century Muslim.
Ms Tafadar, who wears a hijab to work, says: "Working as a barrister at a leading human rights firm, I often get asked the question: how are you able to reconcile your choice of profession with Islam's views regarding the role of women? The question usually stems from the false presumption that Islam sees women as unequal to men. This could not be further from the truth. My answer is that there is no conflict to reconcile. Rather my choice of profession is entirely in sync with, and indeed promoted, by Islam."
Romana Aly, who was born and brought up in Britain (her parents came from India) and is campaigns director of the Foundation, says young independent Muslims like her are deeply worried about the way their community is perceived. She holds the media largely responsible for perpetuating the idea of Muslim separatism by reducing the debate to what Muslim wear and suggesting that somehow being a practising Muslim is not compatible with being proud and patriotic British. It is an artificial construct rooted partly in ignorance but mostly in prejudice.
"I am just as proud to be British as I am proud to be a Muslim and have pride in my Indian heritage and that's true of most Muslims of my generation," she says.
Young Muslims also believe that the whole "identity crisis business," the view that confusion among second and third generation Muslims about their cultural identity tends to push them towards extremism, has been exaggerated to fit a stereotype image of Muslims. They think that much of it is part of a political agenda, helped by the media, to perpetuate a certain idea of Muslims. They also object to any one group of Muslims being portrayed as representatives of the entire community. The Muslim Council of Britain, once patronised by the British Government, is no more representative of British Muslims than is the Exploring Islam Foundation, its officials say.
Up to a point these are all valid arguments. There is no doubt that both the media and the political class not just in Britain but everywhere have contributed to the prevailing Islamophobia and, often, as part of an insidious agenda. But what about Muslims themselves? Have they ever asked themselves why the whole world appears to be against them? It is a bit like the Americans who never tire of moaning how everyone is against them but seldom pause to ask: why? There is an appalling lack of introspection which is compounded with a deep-seated sense of "victimhood" the idea that there is a grand global conspiracy to do them in.
Ms Aly gently sidesteps questions about the Muslim community's own role in contributing to some of the negative images and whether it has ever pondered why it is perceived the way it is. Rather than finger-pointing what is more important, she argues, is to focus on countering these negative perceptions and "fostering" a better understanding of Muslims and Islam.
"We want to foster a greater understanding of what British Muslims are about and our contribution to British society which is not often acknowledged," she says.
Contrary to the popular view and, to a degree, my own scepticism I should like to believe that women like Ms Tarafdar and Ms Aly are more typical of the new generation of British Muslims than the caricature of the angry, alienated Muslim routinely fed to us. Despite their own deeply-held religious beliefs, they do not spout anti-westernism, do not appear to nurse imaginary grievances and do not believe that anyone who is not a Muslim is an enemy of Islam. Indeed, in many ways, they are more culturally integrated than some of the apparently more "secular" immigrant groups.
If this is the new face of British Muslims and, of course, it is a big "if" let's embrace it. So what if it comes in a hijab?
COOL RECEPTION FOR HOT NEWS
LONG-DORMANT LEGAL NOTION USED IN COURT CASE INVOLVING WEBSITE.
Struggling news companies from the U.S. to Europe have been floating a variety of creative ideas for government protection: direct subsidies, new tax status, restrictions on public-media competitors, antitrust exemptions enabling consolidation or price fixing, extensions of copyright, and restrictions on fair use.
In the U.S., the most creative and perhaps dangerous defence yet is an attempt to resurrect the doctrine of "hot news" to prevent rivals from repeating news until it has cooled. It began in 1918: after reporting on British war losses, Hearst's International News Service was barred from using Allied telegraph lines. So INS rewrote Associated Press news for west coast newspapers. AP sued and won. Now the long-dormant legal notion is resurrected in the case of four Wall Street firms v theflyonthewall.com, a website that published ratings from the brokers' analysts. The brokers argue the ratings belong to them, at least for a few hours; the site argues it is merely reporting news of them. The site lost and on appeal, friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on one side by Google and Twitter and on the other by 14 news giants, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP, and Agence France-Presse. The news companies are latching on to hot news in the hope of restricting aggregators.
But the idea of hot news is laughably antiquated. Tom Glocer, the head of Thomson Reuters, has said his news is hot for "milliseconds." The Google/Twitter brief says: "In a world of modern communications technology, where anyone with a cell phone may disseminate news throughout the world even as it is occurring, the notion that a single media outlet should have a monopoly on time-sensitive facts is not only contrary to law, it is, as a practical matter, futile." In their brief, the legacy companies argue hot news is "necessary to protect the news industry's incentive to gather and report news ... " They protest that "free riders" may repeat their news at lower cost. "One of the greatest concerns among news originators," they say, "is inexpensive technology that allows easy aggregation of news." The legacy companies nowhere acknowledge the economic value of links to their content.
The news companies complain of papers going bankrupt, not acknowledging that that was largely a result of debt and mismanagement. They say they are not objecting to use of each other's facts in occasional stories as they all do it but instead the "systematic" (read: Googley) gathering of their news. They do not make reference to the tools that enable them to block search engines and aggregators, as News Corp has done at the Times.
On the other side, Google and Twitter cite a 1991 case, Feist Publications v Rural Telephone, in which the court said: "The first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its existence." The internet companies say the Feist court rejected "the notion that 'sweat of the brow' can itself create intellectual property rights. They add: "The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labour of authors but to 'promote the progress of science and useful arts.'" Facts have never been subject to copyright; they cannot be owned. "Facts," Google and Twitter say, "must remain in the public domain, free from any restraint or encumbrance." And: "Allowing the first publisher to prevent others from copying such information would defeat the objectives of copyright by impeding rather than advancing the progress of knowledge." Isn't the progress of knowledge the business of news? On a practical level, Google and Twitter argue that the fear of litigation would "chill the lawful dissemination of important news by fostering uncertainty among news outlets as to how long they must 'sit' on a story before they are free of a potential 'hot news' claim."
It is nothing short of shocking that news organisations are endorsing a form of court-supervised prior restraint and that they would restrict fair use yet they all depend upon it. Google and Twitter say "the modern ubiquity of multiple news platforms renders 'hot news' misappropriation an anachronism, aimed at muzzling all but the most powerful media companies. In a world of citizen journalists and commentators, online news organisations, and broadcasters who compete 24 hours a day, news can no longer be contained for any meaningful amount of time." That is what we mean when we say news wants to be free: Facts must remain free to comment on, build upon, and pass along. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
MEDIA: IS SARKOZY'S GRIP AS TIGHT AS BERLUSCONI'S?
SARKOZY OWNS NO MEDIA OUTLETS HIMSELF BUT HE HAS FRIENDS WHO GIVE HIM A DIRECT OR INDIRECT POWER, LIKE BERLUSCONI'S, OVER FRANCE'S MEDIA.
Even for a president known for meddling in matters that do not and should not concern him, Nicolas Sarkozy's alleged interference in the sale of Le Monde was shocking. Not because it was so unusual but because it was so blatant.
Hauling in the director of the country's most influential and respected daily newspaper to pull strings over its future played straight into the hands of those who criticise Sarkozy for being an omni-president. Shocking, but not an isolated example of alleged presidential interference. A few days later, two radio satirists, Stephane Guillon and Didier Porte, described by Sarkozy as "insulting, vulgar and nasty," were sacked.
France is still waiting for the president to announce the new head of France Televisions the three state channels after he changed the law to give him the power to choose who he wants. Agence France-Presse, the world's third-largest news agency, has announced plans to turn into a public firm with state capital, leading to fears over its independence.
Add the events together and a pattern emerges prompting concern about the political pressures on France's Fourth Estate and fears of the "Berlusconisation" of the media, as one politician put it. It is a good soundbite, even if there are fundamental differences.
Silvio Berlusconi owns three of the largest private television networks in Italy, covering around half of the country's viewing audience. As prime minister he has control over the public service broadcasters too. Analysts reckon he has 90 per cent influence over Italy's TV output.
Sarkozy owns no media outlets himself, but some of his closest friends do: friends he is not afraid to call when he needs them. Friends who give him a direct or indirect power, like Berlusconi's, over France's media.
In April, the magazine Telerama ran a picture of Sarkozy on its cover and the caption: "Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France Televisions". The state-run TV company had long been subject to the president's interventions: among them, suppressing unwelcome publicity, and naming the directors. At the start of his five-year term in office, one of his advisers at the Elysee, the former journalist Georges-Marc Benamou, suggested he envisaged at least a "co-directing of the TV channels with the Elysee."
The president has often been accused of political interference in France's media, even before his election in 2007. In 2005, when he was interior minister, the editor of Paris Match was fired after running front-page pictures of Sarkozy's then wife Cecilia with her lover. It was said he was "absolutely furious" over the humiliation, and demanded the sacking of the editor-in-chief, Alain Genestar, by the magazine's owner, Arnaud Lagardere, whom he sees as a "brother." A few months later, when Cecilia returned briefly to her husband, he stopped the publication of a book about her written by a celebrity magazine journalist with Cecilia's cooperation. Just before his election in May 2007, an incandescent Sarkozy could not restrain himself after not being shown what he saw as appropriate respect before an interview with France Televisions. "Nobody was there to greet me. The whole direction needs sacking. I can't do it now, but just you wait. It'll happen soon enough," he raged.
Since his election, Sarkozy has reportedly been involved in the hiring, firing and blocking of journalists on a number of occasions. The president's hand is also seen to be behind the prosecution of a French journalist now facing prison for using a leaked video of Sarkozy sounding off at a France Televisions studio engineer for not saying "hello".
The pressure is not always direct: Sarkozy's closest personal friends are the five biggest owners of the French press. Lagardere not only owns Paris Match, but also Elle, the Journal du Dimanche, Tele 7 Jours, Premiere magazine and France-Dimanche, as well as several news and radio stations and cable TV networks.
Martin Bouygues, described as the president's "best friend", was a witness at his second marriage and is godfather to his youngest son, Louis. He owns France's most popular TV channel, TF1, as well as Eurosport and several other cable channels. The two men are said to speak daily.
Another witness was Bernard Arnault, who runs the luxury group LVMH, which also owns the economic magazine La Tribune, Investir and Radio Classique.
Serge Dassault is a client of the legal firm where Sarkozy was a partner, a great friend and owner of the group Socpresse, whose crown jewel is the rightwing daily newspaper Le Figaro.
The band of loyal musketeers is completed by Francois Pinault, who owns the weekly news magazine Le Point.
Finding themselves sidelined, some have turned to blogs. The successful Rue89 was set up by former journalists from Liberation, while another, liberte-dinformer.info, calls for more freedom of information. The Socialist MP Arnaud Montebourg says the mainstream media are becoming "markedly concentrated in favour of rightwing interests". He adds: "France is in the process of seeing its media become Berlusconi-ised. We're seeing only one way of looking at things." Marc Baudriller, media correspondent for the economic magazine Challenges, is not convinced by the Berlusconi comparison:
"President Sarkozy is an absolute political animal and yes he meddles, he likes to get involved in this area as in many others, but he doesn't have the entire French media in his hands. He cannot stop himself interfering in the media, but his powers are limited."
In spite of his urge to influence France's media, things do not always go Sarkozy's way. As soon as journalists at Le Monde heard he was opposed to one of the business groups vying to take over the title, they swung behind the bid.
And amid a succession of scandals, the president woke up on Friday to find his friends were powerless to stop the attacks on his government. Admittedly much of the information had emerged from new media but Thomas Legrand, political commentator on France-Inter radio, said the traditional press had been stirred from its slumber: "There's a mechanical and healthy effect here. It shows that the more there are efforts to concentrate power and to control the written press and broadcasting, the more the press plays its role as an outside counterbalance."
For the past 30 years, Berlusconi's family has controlled Italy's top three national TV channels: the Mediaset empire. As prime minister, Berlusconi also has a tight grip on the public service national broadcaster Radiotelevisione Italiana (Rai).
Together, Mediaset and Rai control about 90 per cent of the national audience and advertising revenue. The conflict of interest between Berlusconi's media holdings and his government position remains unresolved. Italy's constitutional court has ruled such a media concentration is illegal but its decisions have not been enforced.
Sarkozy does not own any print outlets or broadcasters. He does not have to. His friends do. Two thirds of all French newspapers and magazines are owned by the president's close friends Serge Dassault and Arnaud Lagardere, France's two main arms manufacturers.
Lagardere's affiliated company, Hachette, also owns most of France's publishing houses and a large part of the book and magazine distribution network.
As head of state, Sarkozy can appoint the directors of public service television and radio. He has been accused of suppressing unwelcome publicity at state-run France Televisions. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
U.N. FORUM FOR WOMEN: PROBLEM WITH FINDING A GOOD NAME
THE NEW UMBRELLA ORGANISATION FOR WOMEN SEEMED OFF TO A ROCKY START, GIVEN THAT ITS ACRONYM WOULD BE UNEGEEW.
A certain hallowed ritual around the United Nations holds that to ensure a truly auspicious beginning, any new branch of the world body needs a really first-rate acronym.
So the new umbrella organisation for women, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly on Friday after years of haggling, seemed off to a rocky start, given that its acronym would be Unegeew.
That shorthand stands for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. It borders on being unpronounceable, and as some indigenous wags pointed out, ends with a rather unfortunate "eew" sound.
The General Assembly's resolution actually christened the fledgling organisation U.N. Women, which nobody likes either. (The basic complaint is that it smacks of a social club, rather than an organisation designed to lead the transformation of women's lot globally.) A proposed name discarded as not quite catchy enough was Nations United for Women. In the end, diplomats have resorted to calling it the "Gender Entity," often groaning or laughing as they say the words.
Of course, there is nothing like a language issue to get the French exercised. French is one of the two official languages of the United Nations, but very little work around headquarters unrolls en francais.
(To make the point, a few months ago the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, who speaks mellifluous English, refused to start speaking at a news conference until the often elusive interpreters were in place to translate from French to English.)
With the new women's organisation, the French managed to get the official translation included in a footnote: ONU Femmes. Now they are pushing for that name to be used over the English version.
"ONU Femmes just sounds so much better than 'unwomen,'" said Stephane Crouzat, the spokesman for the French Mission.
The basic idea behind U.N. Women is to pull together four small, fragmented agencies that worked on women's issues, with much duplication. By reconstituting the agencies into a single entity, member nations are hoping the organisation will provide the United Nations with more clout in addressing women's problems. U.N. Women is supposed to undertake a variety of tasks, from supervising projects around the world to lobbying for better laws for women to ensuring that United Nations agencies promote women's equality.
Its director will be a senior post, an under secretary general. The basic criterion for the job, which is expected to be filled in September, is for someone seen as an international star from "the south," so as not to give the impression that the western world is thrusting its concept of women's rights on the rest. The favourite so far is Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile.
The negotiations dragged on because of resistance among some member states to the very idea that women needed their own United Nations organisation. It took four years to negotiate the final text. The problem with finding a good name, diplomats said, is that they ran out of time. New York Times News Service
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: GOVERNMENTS AND MEDIA MUST ACT RESOLUTELY
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) recently announced that it would initiate steps to get the Indian Penal Code amended if any section of the code stood in the way of punishing those accused of practising corporal punishment in schools. This announcement and the self-imposed ban on this horrifying practice euphemistically termed "disciplinary action" against "erring" students, in a Kolkata school that has been facing legal action following the suicide of a 12-year-old student in February 2010 a couple of days after he was caned and flogged by the principal have led to another round of informative and intensive media coverage of this social malaise.
Reacting strongly to the practice of corporal punishment in schools, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government had framed a set of rules to ensure that the cruel punishment was not given. He told the State Assembly, in a written statement, that fear was an impediment to a student's mental growth and that the authorities should ensure that the atmosphere in schools did not induce such anxieties.
In the opinion of the NCPCR, which has taken up the case of the 12-year-old in light of his father's complaints against the principal and four teachers, Sections 88 and 89 of the IPC enable teachers to inflict corporal punishment on their students and get away with it. The two sections say that nothing should be considered an offence if it is done "in good faith for the benefit of a person under 12 years of age." Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has reportedly asked NCPCR Chairperson Shanta Sinha "to frame and issue tough guidelines to get rid of corporal punishment in schools" on the grounds that the Right to Education Act bans such offences.
What, however, is beyond one's comprehension, is the persistence of this medieval practice in the face of court orders banning this practice; ratification of international conventions relating to protection of children's rights, including the right to live and the right to dignity; the National Charter for Children of the Government of India 2003, and so on. But then, it is not a problem only of India.
Developed countries such as the United States and Canada are no exceptions. New York banned corporal punishment in public schools but the practice remains legally protected in 20 States. In Britain and some other European countries, the laws have been changed and corporal punishment has been banned.
Most incidents in government schools
In India, the practice is prevalent in most States, without any change in the applicable laws and rules. According to a study conducted by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development with samples from 13 States, 65 per cent of school-going children are reportedly subjected to corporal punishment. Also, 62 per cent of the incidents of corporal punishment take place in government and municipal schools. Only extreme cases such as death and suicide tend to draw public attention and only a handful of cases are taken to courts.
Post-Independence, one could notice a progressive improvement in the response of courts to the issue. The early approach was based mainly on English law, which recognised that a schoolmaster might inflict corporal punishment on a pupil for purposes of 'correction' or for enforcing school 'discipline.' Justice R.N. Dutt of the High Court at Calcutta stated this while passing an order in respect of a case relating to corporal punishment (Ganesh Chandra Saha vs Jiw Raj Somani, 1964) on April 10, 1964: "The English law also recognised that while the child is at School, the school master is in the position of a parent, that parental authority is delegated to the School master and the School master represents the parent for the purposes of correction."
The judge was disposing of an appeal petition against an order of conviction and sentence under Section 323 of the IPC (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt). The case of the complainant, a student, was that he was caned and flogged by the petitioner, the headmaster, on the grounds that he had stolen a book from a fellow-student. The magistrate convicted the headmaster and sentenced him to pay a fine of Rs. 15 in default to suffer simple imprisonment for three days. In the appeal court, however, the practice of corporal punishment by a "school master" with "the delegated parental authority" and "for the purpose of correction" was examined to decide whether it was an offence under Section 323 of the IPC. The matter was considered together with, and in the light of, Section 88, IPC (an act not intended to cause death, done by consent in good faith for person's benefit) and Section 89, IPC (an act done in good faith for the benefit of a child or an insane person, by or by consent of guardian).
The High Court Judge came to the conclusion that the headmaster had "committed no offence under Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code" in view of the provisions of Section 88 of the Code, "which finds support in these authorities."
The appeal was allowed, the conviction and sentence set aside, and the headmaster acquitted. The judgment was delivered at a time when the influence of English law over the judiciary was still strong. Seen against this background, the NCPCR opinion about Sections 88 and 89 of the IPC gains significance. Instead of protecting children, the sections, in fact, were only being used to protect teachers from getting punished for committing violence against children. It also needs to be understood against the backdrop of some recent progressive judgments.
On this issue, which affects the physical and mental well-being of millions of boys and girls across the country, the judiciary has certainly come a long way since 1964. Interpreting old laws from new angles, several recent judgments relating to women, children, industrial labour, domestic workers, and people belonging to religious minorities and oppressed castes indicate a more healthy rights-based approach.
Take, for instance, the December 1, 2000 judgment of the Delhi High Court ordering a ban on the practice of corporal punishment in schools. Allowing a writ petition filed by the Parents Forum for Meaningful Education (PEFMA) and another, the Bench comprising Justice Anil Dev Singh and Dr. Mukundam Sharma struck down Rule 37 (1) (ii) and (4) of the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973, holding it violative of Articles 14 (Equality before Law) and 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution.
They also directed the State "to ensure that children are not subjected to corporal punishment in schools and they receive education in an environment of freedom and dignity, free from fear."
Before striking down the rule, the judges took the high ground, quoting extensively from the Constitution of India, the Universal Human Rights, and the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Stating that "subjecting the child to corporal punishment for reforming him cannot be part of education," the judges called attention to the long-term consequences of the punishment such as disdain and hatred for teachers, development of a fear psychosis, irregular attendance at school, and an increase in the dropout rate.
They dismissed as untenable the concept of a school discipline based on physical punishment.
It is a pity that a decade later, there has been no follow-up from governments and the reactionary practice continues to the detriment of school education, particularly in rural areas, where a large number of innocent children, especially girls from deprived families, are hapless victims.
With education being in the Concurrent List of the Constitution and several High Courts banning corporal punishment, the Centre is in a position to take the initiative to ban the practice across the land.
Role of the media
Here the news media, particularly the Indian language press and television, can play an influential role. By uncovering facts on the ground, by setting up a communication network that encourages victims and their parents to safely report incidents of corporal punishment, and by providing more space and time to coverage of this issue, they can increase public pressure on schools and governments to act firmly and in accordance with the law, as humanely interpreted. Journalists should also probe the connection between the toleration of corporal punishment and school dropout rates, especially among girls from poor families in rural India. Covering such major issues affecting millions of children of school-going age must be taken up in a big way as part of the social responsibility of journalism and, in particular, its agenda-building function.
OF BOSSMEN AND THEIR OTHER WOMEN
The US president's office in the White House or a national daily's parking lot in Pune may not be the best of places for an adulterous romp. Because, when discovered, the consequences can be unpleasant, if not, damaging for men of merit, power and influence.
Literally overnight, men with sparkling reputations in responsible positions fall from grace. Their past achievements stand tainted and diminished substantially because what is found fundamentally lacking is a sense of integrity.
Given the fact that today men and women spend far more time at their workplaces than ever before, and the fact that there's greater freedom and acceptability in relationships, office romances are bound to bloom. They are cute, when the protagonists are young couples on the threshold of life; but ugly when the boss has his favourites for reasons other than meritorious performance.
Many organisations around the world are not inimical to office romances and in fact encourage colleagues-turned-spouses to continue as before because it helps retain talent. When a boss's affair goes horribly wrong all the more complicated by allegations of sexual misconduct as in the case of Penguin's ex-president David Davidar and earlier that of Infosys's ex-board member Phaneesh Murthy there's hell to face in the personal, professional and public life thereafter.
Coveting another woman, if not another's wife, comes somewhat naturally to man. The problem arises when men with fine reputations don't mind being hypocrites and want their family life to remain undisturbed while gallivanting on the sly.
What Bill Clinton, Davidar, Murthy and others who got embroiled insordid office affairs forgot was that the boss in the office even if he's a single is expected to function within a laxman-rekha which is visible and invisible at the same time.
The boss with his intra-office affair may think it's his personal business. Actually it's not because it falls in the private-public domain as it affects other employees, and by implication the organisation's productivity. It may also affect an organisation's or a nation's image, because what direction an affair may take in the future is unpredictable.
Bill Clinton, with the "cigar story" that did the gossip circuits of Washington DC before Monica Lewinsky burst out through newspapers and television, was not as lucky as John F Kennedy whose affairs did not affect his presidency.
Golfing legend Tiger Woods was no boss but he too came under unfavourable public gaze after he was hammered by his wife and the details of his escapades made front-page news.
Howsoever liberal a society may become, universally, a married man trying to hide his extra-marital affair is seen as no different from a thief. What he's done is robbed his wife of her trust. He may be the president of the world's most powerful nation, but then, he's also a cheat. The fact that he's trying to hide his illicit relationship from his own family, if not others is not publicly accepted because he's being dishonest.
There's greater honesty of purpose in men who've divorced their wives to marry their newfound love, willingly paying the price of an emotional and possibly, financial upheaval.
There's, in fact, admiration for men who stand by their second woman publicly a mistress or a second "wife" who lives honourably alongside the first one. Such men may be the subject of occasional jokes, but they are also admired for being bold and courageous.
In the stratosphere of power and influence, the rules of the game are not the same as for the common man. Powerful men believe that they make their own rules, which in many instances is true. But then, some rules, apply equally to all.
VIP LAND GRABBERS
CHANDIGARH HAS BEEN CHOKED
WHEN Le Corbusier planned Chandigarh, he had ordained that no other city should come up anywhere in its vicinity. He would have never imagined that Panchkula and Mohali would be developed within metres of the dream city. As if that was not bad enough, much of the open space in its periphery has been grabbed by land sharks. Agricultural land has already been converted into lavish farmhouses and illegal colonies. Those who are supposed to stop such illegal activity have turned a blind eye because the land grabbers stand far higher than them in the hierarchy. Whether it is Punjab politicians, including Cabinet ministers and MLAs, or IAS and PCS officers, almost everybody who is somebody indulged in the land loot.
Thanks to the media focus, this systematic robbery is being looked into by the judiciary. Many uncomfortable truths are tumbling out. Some 145 IAS officers and 180 PCS officers are among those who grabbed land on the periphery. An ordinary person doing so is bad enough. When those who form the steel frame of the administration do so, the crime is far more serious. What makes it even worse is the fact that many of them have not even been able to explain where they got the money to make these acquisitions. One hopes that the inquiry by Punjab DGP (Railways) Chander Shekhar will reach its logical conclusion.
Besides the VIP land grabbers, the periphery was also ruined by nearly 350 illegal colonisers from 1984 to 2010. They floated societies at Zirakpur, Kansal, Karoran, Mohali, Dera Bassi, Lalru, Dhakoli, Bishanpura, Baltana, Himmatgarh and Sohana, etc, as if they had no fear of the law. Apparently, they were certain that the police would not "interfere". Such lawlessness could not take place without the tacit approval of higher-ups. Only if all wrongdoers are deprived of their illegal properties and are also fined heavily would the future land grabbers think twice before emulating them.
STRAWS IN THE WIND
STRAY STATEMENTS, BUT DISTURBING TREND
Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwa Ranjan's acerbic quip, "...cannot teach the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to walk " has rightly provoked widespread criticism. The statement, coming as it did immediately after 27 CRPF men were killed by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh recently, was not only in poor taste but also demoralising for the force. It reflected poorly on the DGP's own ability to coordinate any future operation with the CRPF. The public statement, quoted out of context according to the DGP, served to highlight, however, the lack of cohesion and coordination between the state police and the Central forces placed at their disposal. It also indicated their mutual lack of confidence in each other and even a certain degree of contempt. The CRPF is not only better equipped and arguably better trained but it is also better paid and, even more importantly, compensated better in the case of loss of life. Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why the relatively poor state police is bitter over criticism that somehow it is responsible for the mistakes made by the CRPF and the deviations made by its men from the standard operating procedures.
The statement, however, is symptomatic of a deeper malaise and indicates a disturbing trend. Different arms of the government appear increasingly out of sync with each other, and mutual acrimony and distrust seem to have clouded the process of due deliberation within the government. The governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have seemingly lost their ability to work together and take collective action. That is why one finds the Union Minister of State for Health, Dinesh Trivedi, fulminating against the bureaucracy and blaming the babus of his own department for being a hindrance rather than help. A Punjab police officer of the rank of DGP, Chander Shekhar, similarly is reported to have submitted before the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the district police officials, notably the SSPs, are not only slow in acting against the land and building mafia but that they are simply not doing enough.
These stray statements unfortunately reflect poorly on governance and leadership. Ministers and senior officers are expected to exercise their authority and come up with solutions. But when they themselves start complaining, blaming others and come up with alibis, something somewhere is not quite right.
KILLINGS AT LAHORE
SUICIDE BOMBINGS TAKE A DANGEROUS TURN
Suicide bombings by terrorist outfits in Pakistan are now threatening to destroy the social fabric in Pakistan. This is clear from Thursday night's attack at the Data Gunj Bakhsh shrine in Lahore, resulting in the death of at least 44 persons. One of the most popular Islamic shrines, the complex that has come up in memory of a ninth century sufi saint, Syed Abul Hasan Ali Hajvery, popularly called Data Gunj Bakhsh, attracts a large number of devotees from different parts of South Asia. It is a mela-like scene every Thursday with qawwali sessions and the devout paying homage to the sufi saint, who lies buried there. The Muslims who visit such shrines are Sunnis owing allegiance to the Barelvi school of Islamic thought. But all this is considered un-Islamic ("shirk" and "biddat") by the Wahabi school to which Al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and many other extremist movements belong. The denial of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has nothing to do with the dance of death at the Lahore shrine is unbelievable. If the TTP is not involved directly, the gruesome killings can be the handiwork of one of its associates like the Punjabi Taliban.
This is not for the first time that a sufi saint's shrine has been targeted by the extremists in Pakistan. Suicide bombers have earlier attacked two such places of worship the shrines of Rehman Baba and Mian Umar Baba in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (earlier the NWFP). Besides this, Sunni groups have been killing the devout in Shia and Ahmedi mosques, and Shias killing people in Sunni mosques. The sectarian conflict is not new to Pakistan. Such killings have, however, increased for a few years with suicide bombings replacing the Kalashnikov culture.
Those spreading sectarian hatred find it easier to lure youngsters to join their destructive projects. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the three suicide bombers who hit the Lahore shrine was an 18-year-old young man. This is a new face of terrorism in Pakistan. The culture of religious intolerance provides an ideal atmosphere to terrorist movements to strengthen themselves. The infection can spread to other parts of South Asia if it is not stopped at this stage.
UNFAIR TO MILITARY PERSONNEL
THEY MUST GET THEIR DUE
BY LT-GEN VIJAY OBEROI (RETD)
Governments, they say, are impersonal and yet a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We take pride in saying that we are the world's largest democracy. Yet, the people's voice is largely not heard because the political leadership and the bureaucrats who advise them are so bound by rules and regulations (of their own making unfortunately) that unless they are nudged, nay shoved violently, it is difficult to change their somnambulant state.
Unfortunately, the military fraternity of both serving and retired categories seems to be experiencing the brunt of it, especially since early 2008, when the continuing and tragic saga of the Sixth Pay Commission commenced. While the commission has been hogging the headlines, there are many other important issues that also need to be highlighted so that the people, who after all are supposedly the real rulers of the country, are aware of them.
This piece is about a few inter-linked yet vastly different issues that are making military personnel very angry and justifiably so. The first is the case of the "rank pay", where despite an elaborate and clear ruling by the Supreme Court, the authorities, ill advised by the bureaucracy, have filed another appeal! This is a farce of monumental proportions being played against a large number of affected military officers. As a case of bureaucratic pusillanimity and procrastination, this does take the cake. Let me briefly narrate the essentials.
In 1986, the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission included the grant of "rank pay" to all defence officers of the rank up to brigadier and equivalent. However, while implementing the same, equivalent amounts were reduced from the pay, by an omission or by design (both perceptions exist)! No military person noticed this at that time. This may be hard to believe but the prevailing culture at that time was that most military personnel were fairly blasé about their pay and allowances.
It was in fact considered infra dig to get in to mundane issues like entitlements, as it was a firm belief that the authorities will always look after one's interests. It is now clear that we were really naive. The authorities in the corridors of South and North Blocks, however, had little time for such niceties! Having learnt bitter lessons after the Sixth Pay Commission, the military has now become wiser, but at the huge cost of losing confidence, trust and fair play in the government (read bureaucracy).
Reverting to the "rank pay" case, the issue came to light only when retired Major Dhannapalan discovered it, approached the Kerala High Court for redress and fought it with the unrelenting Ministry of Defence (MoD) in both the High Court and the Supreme Court, till he won the case in 2005, after nine years. However, while implementing the judgment, the MoD gave benefits only to the officer. The representations of a large number of similarly affected officers were ignored. This resulted in a flood of writ petitions, as the affected officers had no other option but to seek justice from the courts. Finally, despite the vehement opposition by the MoD, the Supreme Court ruled on March 8, 2010, that the benefit of the judgment must be extended to all eligible military officers and also awarded 6 per cent interest on the amount due to the officers.
While the affected officers were still doing their calculations, the empire struck back with an appeal against the ruling. Why is the MoD deliberately trying to deny justice to a large number of military officers? Is it a delaying tactic designed to cheat the military personnel and stall the implementation of the judgment, or a case of losing face or the fear of being penalised for a deliberate act of commission, or a combination of all three? Whatever be the motivation, the military personnel are livid on being denied their legitimate emoluments.
This also begs the larger question of the government being the single biggest litigant, keeping the courts busy and in the process preventing them from dispensing justice to more needy persons. I fail to understand the logic of the government contesting every order the Supreme Court has passed in favour of defence forces. It did so for umpteen years in the case of fixation of pension of Major-Generals. In the case of a disabled officer, Capt CS Sidhu, the Supreme Court was constrained to remark that the government treated its soldiers worse than beggars!
Dr V. Moily, Minister of Law and Justice, has recently announced the National Litigation Policy, which aims to reduce average pendency time from 15 years to three years. The policy emphasises that the government must cease to be a compulsive litigant. The Law Minister may keep making announcements and publishing policies, but will the stalwarts in the MoD as well as other ministries listen? In the meantime, the large numbers of affected military personnel continue to be deprived of their legitimate emoluments.
Let me now highlight the second and a more recent issue, relating to jobs for military personnel after their retirement. In 2004, the Directorate-General of Resettlement, as part of its drive for securing jobs for retired officers and soldiers, had persuaded the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to accept retired military personnel for running toll plazas on highways. Being disciplined and honest, they are doing a superb job and have already increased collections at the ex-servicemen-run toll plazas from the earlier 15 to 80 per cent. There are over 25,000 military veterans running NHAI-owned toll plazas, while another 10,000 provide logistical support.
Now, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has decided to auction all the toll plazas to the highest bidder. The motive is undoubtedly monetary, while efficient running or jobs for the needy veterans do not seem to have any place in the thinking of the government! As a sop, the NHAI has stated that the toll plazas in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states or other disturbed areas would continue to be kept for the military veterans sponsored by the Director-General of Resettlement. How nice, but no toll plaza exists in these areas!
While the government is keen to employ military veterans to do all the difficult fighting against the Maoists, including the highly dangerous clearance of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), when it comes to giving them their dues in terms of their legitimate emoluments or jobs as part of their rehabilitation, it baulks at and panders to power and money brokers. Is this our version of democracy?
The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Army.
THE GAME OF LIFE
BY VIMAL SUMBLY
LIFE is so much like the game of football where merely reaching the goal is not enough, but scoring the goal matters at the end. Like in a game of football, in real life we keep on making moves. We look for space to move ahead with least resistance. We get good support from friends and associates and keep on moving ahead.
We come across so much resistance from the opponents. They keep on countering our moves at every step. They try to snatch our initiative. Yet we try to dodge and dribble past them.
The game has to be fair lest we commit a foul to the advantage of opponents. For scoring the goal we need to be at the right place at the right time and make the right kick into the net. Yet again it is not necessary that playing the game well will guarantee us a goal. It only brightens our prospects of a score.
Sometimes it so happens that a team playing the game so well does not score a winning goal while an ordinary one manages to do so. Like in football, there are self goals in real life also.
The game of football teaches us that in any case we have to work hard and struggle and we can't wait for the ball to reach us on its own. We have to struggle hard like the passionate football player who tries to overcome all the resistance to reach the goalpost with the hope that he will kick the ball into the net. Reaching the goal is certainly in our hands and scoring the goal is certainly a matter of chance.
Reaching the goalpost has no shortcuts. Long passes usually don't work. We have to move ahead along with the ball or with the short passes and the support of others against so much resistance at every step.
We have to play hard with dedication to reach our goal. Like in football, many of us are remembered more for the missed goals and missed opportunities.
LACK OF POLITICAL CONSENSUS DEEPLY DISTURBING
Across India the police and paramilitary forces of the country, despite many obvious differences, share one thing in common. Every time a policeman in uniform steps out of the parade ground after finishing his training, he takes an oath to serve the country till his death. Not all of us abide by this oath faithfully, but enough of us do. And, of late, far too many of us have been called upon to fulfil this oath. The spectacle of mutilated bodies of the 26 personnel killed in the ambush at Narayanpur on June 29 is a grim reminder both of this sacred oath and of the ruthless intentions of our Maoist adversary.
By any standards, the massacre of 76 security personnel at Chintalnag, Dantewada on April 6 was a disaster. The IED blast on May 16, also in Dantewada, that killed 31 civilians and security personnel was another setback. This has been followed now by the ambush in Narayanpur. As a serving policeman, one mourns and salutes their sacrifice. But these successive blows have led to a serious loss of perspective. How easily we forget that it is this very same CRPF that has successfully fought and contained various insurgencies across the country fighting side by side with the state police and the Indian Army. The bottom line is, this is a war, and there will be casualties. Don't fight a war if you are not prepared to take casualties.
Eloquent and charismatic advocates of Maoists' aims and tactics such as Arundhati Roy would do well to remember that a Maoist utopia would have no space even for them to express their vitriol in the manner they do against our admittedly flawed democracy. Our citizen activists feel that they are on the side of the underdog, the poor, the exploited and the dispossessed villagers, mostly tribals, inhabiting the vast chunks of the red corridor, who are daring to face up to the greed of corporates and the might of the Indian state. This is a simplistic narrative successfully and seductively advanced by the propaganda machinery of the Maoists. It simply ignores the vast amounts of human suffering that Marxist movements have inflicted on mankind in the 20th century alone. It is a measure of the shallowness of our intellectual class that so many of them have fallen hook, line, and sinker for an ideology that has been so recently and so repeatedly discredited by history.
There is no question that our state and Central security forces have the wherewithal to take on the Maoists. First of all, the intellectual respectability given to Maoist ideology in our universities and in our media needs to be painstakingly exposed. This is after all a battle to be fought with hearts and minds as much as it is to be fought with guns and bullets. Those who are covert activists of the Maoists need to face the long arm of the law and their misguided sympathizers in different parts of our civil society need to be carefully identified and confronted with the truth. The idea that social or economic inequality justifies violence against the state and civil society is morally and intellectually indefensible and those who advance it must be held accountable for aiding and abetting violence.
While in the aftermath of Dantewada much has been talked about tactics at the platoon and company level, but very little discussion has taken place about cutting off the financial wellspring that sustains this insurgency. Each year the Maoists are known to collect hundreds of crores as extortion money (some estimates place it at thousands of crores each year) and use it to fund their armed struggle as well as their well-publicized efforts to supplant the institutions of the Indian state. This money trail needs to be identified and choked off to ensure that the financial power that is the life blood of this insurgency is drained away.
We must take heart from our success stories in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. The two common factors in all these experiences were first that the state police played a crucial role in fighting insurgencies. For all its glaring deficiencies we must not forget that a police station is a basic unit of grassroots governance and internal security. A counter insurgency strategy that overlooks this basic reality and relies mainly on massive induction of central forces, without strengthening the state police forces, not just for fighting militancy, but for better delivery of the essential governance objectives of maintaining law and order and prevention and detection of crime, is unlikely to deliver the required results. The second common factor was that effective systems were put in place for effective co-ordination between the state and Central agencies. The Indian Army, the para-military and the state police fought shoulder to shoulder in Punjab and continue to do so in J & K and there is no reason why the systems in place there cannot be adapted for combating the Maoist menace.
With due respect to the wisdom of our Air Chief, given the difficult terrain, some thought will have to be given to the sustained use of aerial assets at least in a surveillance and support role. It is ironical that while thousands of crores can be earmarked for developmental schemes for the Maoist-affected areas - knowing full well that in the absence of credible law and order, the delivery systems in these areas have collapsed and much of this money would flow into Maoist coffers anyway - we are still not prepared to make serious and sustained investment into improving our grassroots police infrastructure.
Along with strengthening the physical infrastructure, we need legal protection for our forces that are deployed in these areas so that one does not see a spate of suicides by frustrated and abandoned policemen once the back of the insurgency is broken. The Indian Army has the protection of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and although it may be politically incorrect to defend it, the fact remains that it provides legal basis to bona fide use of force by our Armed Forces. Why shouldn't our Central para-military Forces (CPMFs) and State Police forces be provided a similar protection when they operate in an environment that is just as hostile and deadly? We need more reassurance and legal backing to support the difficult choices we have to make.
Despite the media hype, this is not Home Minister P Chidambaram's war. This is the nation's war. Lack of a policy consensus on this critical issue amongst our elected representatives and civil society along with the reluctance to publicly support and inspire our brave jawans, are deeply disturbing. Ultimately, civil society must realize that the freedom they cherish is ultimately guaranteed by the oath taken by our 1.4 million military and 2.4 million police and para-military forces across this country. The Maoists understand this well and, hence, they target us ruthlessly. This oath is sacred to us but it does not represent a blank cheque so that civil society can demonize and vilify us while the Maoists murder and mutilate us at will.
The author is SSP Dehradun. These are his personal views.
THE recent alarm sounded by the Punjab Police that Naxalism is extending its wings to south Punjab raises several questions. Why marginalised peasants, particularly tribes, are in a mood of rebellion? Are they simply expressing their disenchantment with the system or are they designing to pose a threat to the Indian state? How Indian state proposes to handle Naxalite menace? How far imposing ban on CPI (Maoist) has helped to curtail 'terrorist' threat? These questions beg response from across different sections of society.
The Naxalite movement is more than four decades old but the political challenge it poses now was never witnessed in the past. According to the figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) there is a steep rise in the number of violence related deaths from sheer 50 in the year 2000 to 1,134 by 2009, a rise of more than 22 times. According to another estimate the death toll has crossed 6,000 during the last two decades. Nearly 35% of the districts of India are affected by the Naxalite movement, some of them so severely that even administration fears to tread deeper into those areas. The epicentre of the armed resistance has shifted from Andhra Pradesh to Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal.
Most of the tribal dominated parts of India are undergoing a phase of severe social, economic and political turbulence, thanks to the high tide of globalisation. The figures gathered from the MHA shows that there are 36 'insurgent' or 'terrorist' groups/ 'parties' in Assam, 41 in Manipur, 30 in Tripura and 13 in Mizoram. That is why the entire North East, dominated by tribes, remains a hot spot for militancy. These resistance groups perceive themselves as revolutionary, socialist or nationalist and prefer to be called as Army, Force or Front.
Displacement of tribal population for mining purposes, restrictions on access to forest resources and poor governance are the reasons often quoted for the armed uprising. While these reasons are valid and quite important, they are also excuses to divert attention from the larger and more fundamental issue of framework of development.
India has failed to honour the idea of Swaraj (self rule) of Gandhiji that is a complete alternative philosophy of development sans destruction. Gandhiji provided an eco-friendly radical alternative to the western civilisation by advocating restricted mechanisation of the labour process and a peasant centric development far removed from the excesses of the liberal market. He also suggested the means of achieving the above Nature-centric model of development by taking recourse to Satyagraha and Non-violence, and not guns. Though there does not seem to be stark differences between Gandhiji and Naxalites on the people-friendly approach to development, the political and strategic means followed by Naxalites are largely drawn from the experience of China, particularly the victory of 'Long March' over the strong one million Kuomintang soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek. It is worth remembering here that the striking power of Indian state is many folds more than of Chinese Kuomintang of 1940s. The failure of the Indian state to follow the people friendly path of development as advocated by Gandhiji is the source of all the political troubles that has now taken a violent turn.
There is no easy and simple answer to the question that why the tribal people have picked up guns against their 'own' government. Suffice to say that tribals are forced to pay the cost of Indian liberal economic development disproportionately whereby the displacement from their home and hearth is not sufficiently compensated. Indian state is still reluctant to take tribes into confidence before their mineral rich lands are acquired to pass on to the multinational companies (MNCs) for pittance. Moreover, it is not simply the question of compensation in economic terms, the cost of social and cultural capital is far more than the economic loss. There is no justification in evictioning tribes from their age old lands and forbidding them to avail 'fruits' of forest. And all this is being done in the name of pulling up tribes into the whirlpool of civilisation. If the greed of MNCs for natural mineral resources continues at the present pace, to a great anguish of Ganghiji, tribal culture would soon be found locked behind the show cases of museums.
The world is paying cost of 'civilisation' by losing forests, fresh air and water, diversity of flora and fauna, and above all a humane touch. People are emptied out of their essential being only to be stuffed with ever increasing lust for consumer goods. Tribals, under the leadership of Naxalites, are fighting last leg battle against the onslaught of globalisation whereby they are being forced to be faceless 'wage slaves'. The challenge of sustainability of high growth rate apart, why we wish to uproot tribes when we are not sure to provide them any better life in the unruly urban settings. The way the world is passing through the pangs of development and concomitant boomeranging effects nobody can guarantee that the quality of life after displacement of tribal people would be better than what they have today.
There is an urgent need to strike a balance between man, nature and development. Tribal uprising, under the leadership of Naxalites, is a clear expression of malaise in the model of development and governance. It is not the brute statistics of economic growth that matters, the quality of life of men in the street is the real index of prosperity and happiness. This cannot be achieved through gun battles.
The resurgence of Naxalite politics during the last two decades is a source of serious concern, not because it is posing a threat to the Indian state, rather because it exposes the exclusionary practices of Indian state that is making it hollow from within. It is time to introspect why 70 per cent Indians are still reeling below global poverty standards. Muffling voice by imposing ban on armed resistance is only going to aggravate the alienation of people at the margin. The ideal response of the state to violence should be to encourage dialogue, work out inclusive growth and sustainable development.
The author is Director, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion Arts Block VII, Panjab University, Chandigarh
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A WELCOME SHIFT
OPEN ACREAGE IN OIL EXPLORATION
INDIA is moving towards an open acreage licensing policy for prospecting hydrocarbons, departing from the practice of putting up specific blocks for bidding periodically. The mature oil-and-gas licensing regimes abroad do practise open acreage: the flexibility on offer has a way of shoring up investor comfort in the high-risk exploration and production sector. However, operationalising open acreage would require building and maintaining a national data repository of sedimentary basins, which we currently lack. And setting up such a data bank, after seeking bids from global oilfield services companies, would take months, perhaps one-and-a-half years. So, the actual policy change in the upstream oil-and-gas sector is likely to happen in the latter part of 2011. The petroleum ministry is planning a ninth and, hopefully, final round of bidding under the post-1999 new exploration licensing policy later this year.
The eight rounds of bidding under the extant policy have led to investment intentions of over $10 billion, with half the amount already spent so far, with quite promising results, such as the multiple gas finds in the Krishna-Godavari basin. However, global majors such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP have stayed away from India, a failing policy hopes to remedy by moving to an open exploration policy soon. In open acreage, there are no deadlines for bidding and potential investors do not necessarily have to bid aggressively to operate in the more promising blocks. Also important is the freedom it offers upstream oil companies to choose blocks, and decide when and where to invest. The idea is to shift the choice of bidding blocks from the government to investors. The latter can offer to operate any block, which would then be awarded to the party offering the best bid. Hence, the critical need for quality data and regular updating, for taking calculated geological risks. Raw data do suggest an estimated 30 billion tonnes of hydrocarbons in situ in Indian waters, enough to meet our needs for decades. Which is why we need a world-class licensing regime for hydrocarbons, so as to coagulate resources for finds.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RAISE A TOAST TO T3!
LEARN ITS LESSONS FOR PPP SUCCESS
DEDICATING the Delhi international airport's spanking new third terminal, T3, to the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held it up as testimony to three vital capabilities: to wipe out India's infrastructure deficit, to make public-private partnerships work, and for a plethora of government agencies, departments and private sector actors to work together to a common end. This is the truth and nothing but the truth. However, it is not the whole truth. T3 does indeed set new global benchmarks, starting with the speed of execution, leaving project developer GMR justifiably proud. At the same time, the developer and the government need to put their heads together to identify relevant lessons from the experience of having modernised the Delhi international airport under aPPP model. T3 has undergone significant cost escalations over original estimates, leading to an airport development levy on passengers. And some of the cost-containment measures adopted by the airport developer, such as accepting deposits from would-be tenants of commercial development, left the government feeling shortchanged, even if these violated no specific term of the PPP contract. Then again, the government has shown willingness to flout, thanks to political considerations, some contract terms, by considering another airport within the vicinity of Delhi, which could undermine the viability of the one at Delhi. Further, Delhi's ability to grow into an aviation hub for the region is hostage to the government's stringent visa norms, which would preclude people flying into Delhi, hopping across to Nepal or Sri Lanka, and then coming back again for a leg of Indian tourism.
The bid criteria for selection of the project developer focused on revenue alone, whereas cost determines the level of user charges. The challenge for a PPP contract is to align the incentives for the private developer, the government and the users of the infrastructure being built. There is no point in pointing fingers, for sub-optimal contracts. Some things are learnt only by doing. The problem would only be if the system refuses to learn.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ESPYING THE SPIES
THE LACK OF INTEL IN INTELLIGENCE
MILITARY intelligence," opined that wise sage called Groucho Marx, "is a contradiction in terms". Recent events seem to suggest Marx got it quite right. The whole point to this spying stuff is that it is supposed to make us feel more secure. The logic goes that since we spy on them and they spy on us, we all understand each other a tad better, and we all feel secure. Pretty idiotic as a line of thinking, it would seem. Why not, one can suggest, just use Google instead? The saving grace is that there's some fun in all this. Take a look at some of the intelligence characters who've been caught out recently. Some among this gang of almost a dozen Russian spies who were nabbed in the US, far from being secretive, apparently put up racy photos on social networking sites. So farcical is the episode that Russians aver this was some sort of US intelligence cover up. Perhaps the massive oil spill. Even agencies with a great, or infamous, reputation seem to be bungling. Witness the Mossad hit on the Hamas character in Dubai, some 25 of these operatives managing to be captured on something like a hundred CCTV cameras. And the way the Dubai police quickly unravelled the whole plot actually seemed to suggest that real intelligence seems to have shifted Arabwards. And, in case you think this was a oneoff incident, the Lebanese police, which critics often refer to as being better at hummus competitions than policing, seems to be busting one Mossad spy ring after another. Around 120 spies have reportedly been arrested till now. So much for the hush-hush stuff!
Then, take our very own female spy in the embassy in Pakistan. The modus operandi was to just walk into rooms one wasn't suppose to enter and try and chat with higher officials about things one wasn't supposed to be concerned about. Some cleverness, that! US defence secretary Robert Gates was once asked about the last time there was good intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, "I think it's been years," he replied. Figures.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE UK CHANCELLOR'S BOLD MOVES DEMONSTRATE THE SUCCESS OF A REMARKABLE BRITISH INSTITUTION THE SHADOW CABINET THAT, UNFORTUNATELY, HAS FAILED TO TAKE ROOT IN INDIA, SAYS MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
IN JULY 2009, UK Shadow Chancellor George Osborne called for abolition of UK's umbrella financial sector watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA). At that time, no one took him seriously. The Labour government under Gordon Brown was still in power and though it had become increasingly unpopular, a Tory victory in the May 2010 elections was a distant possibility.
In June 2010, Osborne, now Chancellor in the Tory-led government of David Cameron, suited action to words and abolished the FSA. With this, the curtain came down on a 13-year experiment the FSA was established by Labour government under former Prime Minister Tony Blair that in the words of the new Chancellor was responsible for the most 'spectacular regulatory failure'.
In its vastly-diminished role, the FSA will now function as Consumer Protection and Markets Authority while the powers of the Bank of England have been vastly enhanced. In effect, the Chancellor turned the clock back on the once-favoured single, all-powerful financial regulator model that held sway in most of the advanced world in the 'nice' non-inflationary continuous expansion days before the Lehman Bros collapse.
He did not stop at that. In a rare show of courage for a first-time finance minister, he unveiled an emergency budget that aimed to cut the UK's highest peacetime budget deficit from 11% of GDP in 2009-10 to 6.3% in 2014-15, slashing public expenditure and raising the Vat rate from 17.5% to 20% effective January 2011.
arkets cheered his resolve to restore discipline to government finances while his boldness won him grudging respect No one can deny that George Osborne has bottle from The Economist.
But why should Osborne's actions be of relevance to us in India; after all, it's been more than 60 years since the sun set on the British Raj? One reason is that both financial sector regulation and fiscal deficits are in the spotlight. But the other no-less-important reason is because Osborne's actions demonstrate the spectacular success of a remarkable British institution: the shadow cabinet.
As the name suggests, the shadow cabinet is made of up of senior members of the opposition who keep close tabs on their corresponding ministers, develop alternative policies and hold the government to account for its actions. And though it does not necessarily follow that a 'shadow' will automatically step into the shoes of the minister if and when his party is voted to power, a person who has been tracking his predecessor and critiquing policies while in opposition is obviously a better choice as minister than someone with no domain knowledge.
It is no surprise then that many countries have adopted the system of shadow cabinets. As a former British colony, we have inherited a lot of our institutions from the British including, god help us, the bureaucracy! But somehow, the shadow cabinet system has eluded us. The result, inevitably, has been ministerial lethargy and poor decision-making.
Admittedly, the jury is still out on the wisdom of Osborne's actions. The single vs multiple regulators debate is one that has not yet been settled. But no one can fault Osborne for not knowing what he was about; nor did he have to rely on bureaucrats to make up his mind for him! As shadow chancellor, he had announced his intention to create twin peaks of regulation, with the Bank of England in charge of macro and micro-prudential supervision and a consumer protection agency to promote consumer interests.
'If we win the election, I fully expect to be chancellor,' he said in July 2009, adding, 'I will have to take some difficult decisions because I think they're right for the British people.' As a result, when the moment came, he was prepared to dole out tough love.
Compare this with the position in India where most politicians, even the few well-meaning ones, have little or no domain knowledge of their portfolios when they take charge as ministers. This has two disadvantages. First, they can be easily stonewalled (manipulated?) by their bureaucrats; recall Sir Humphrey's laconic, 'Ministers should never know more than they need to know' in the BBC's evergreen Yes MinisterTV series.
Second, it takes a long time for them to settle in and get a hang of their ministries. But it is in the early days of any democratically-elected government when blame can be readily passed to the previous government! and the love affair with the electorate is not over that they can dole out some tough love.
Contrast, for instance, the boldness with which Osborne set about reducing the deficit despite an inclement macroeconomic environment with the laxity shown by the UPA in 2004 when it defeated the NDA and came to power. Government's finances were in relatively good shape and the macroeconomic climate, robust. But instead of building on that advantage, then-finance minister P Chidambaram gave a go-by to fiscal discipline and deferred the deadline under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act by a year.
It is possible he was driven by political compulsions. But had he shadowed his BJP predecessors, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh, he might, arguably, have had a better understanding of our macroeconomic compulsions and not allowed the fiscal deficit to balloon as it did during the boom years of 2004-09.
Mr Chidambaram is not the only minister who might have acted differently. Mani Shankar Aiyar and Murli Deora, petroleum ministers under the UPA-I government, could perhaps have taken a cue from predecessor Ram Naik's botched attempt to deregulate oil prices. Had they done so, they might have recognised the window of opportunity that opened up in the period when oil prices ruled relatively easy and deregulated petrol prices earlier when inflation was not a problem. There is no dearth of similar instances where ministers might have acted more wisely had they tracked their predecessors' years in office.
Cynics might argue that at a time when most of us would be happy to see some probity among our ministers, it is expecting too much if we want them to be competent as well. But since when has that stopped ordinary citizens from dreaming?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ET I N T E R A CT I V E
'THE ONLY SOLUTION IS COMPETITION'
THREE decades after Independence, most poor Indians still lack institutionalised access to insurance, savings, remittances and loans. The outcomes are predictable. Migrant labour, carrying hard cash when they head back home, run the risk of being robbed. The poor rely excessively on loans to cope with a crisis accidents, unpredictable weather, sick cattle though insurance would be more appropriate. K C Chakrabarty, deputy governor of Reserve Bank of India, is concerned over the state of affairs, and rightly so. He talks about regulation of the microfinance sector, under the scanner for its lending practices and corporate misgovernance and on universalising financial services in the next 10 years.
The Andhra Pradesh government recently put microfinance institutions (MFI) on notice, saying it would ask the RBI to derecognise some of them operating in the state. The state is home to many well-known MFIs. However, ad-hoc demands like these, or suggestions that the RBI clamp down on these institutions by extending its priority sector lending benefits only to non-profit MFIs, or by imposing interest rate caps have not found favour with him. Some MFIs have done a good job, he says, let them continue. And "do not say MFIs should not lend to the poor. The women will have to borrow from moneylenders that will be much worse."
The larger question here is about financial inclusion, he says. We have to tackle this issue systemically. Many of these ills have prevailed because people lack alternatives. The only long-term solution is to create competition for the MFIs. If greater competition is the key, why aren't places with multiple MFIs seeing better customer service? Competition between multiple MFIs is fine, he says, but the cost remains the same. According to him, competition has to be from someone who can provide a product or service of equal quality at a cheaper rate. And that can be done only by the mainstream financial institutions.
"Our approach is that those who borrow today from MFIs must borrow from banks. And those who borrow from moneylenders must borrow from MFIs, and the reliance on moneylenders should go. That is when we say that financial inclusion is complete," he says. "MFIs giving loans is not financial inclusion." Nor is it enough to open a no-frills account. At the very least, four banking products need to be provided: a savings-cumoverdraft account, a pure savings product (ideally, a recurring or variable recurring deposit), a remittance product and entrepreneurial credit like Kisan credit card.
How is the RBI planning to nudge banks into offering these services? By increasing competition in urban areas so that banks are forced to look at rural areas more closely. "My basic philosophy is that commerce with the poor is more viable, more profitable, provided you have the ability to do business with them. That is what we are asking the banks in the financial inclusion plans: develop the ability to do business with the poor. Not as a social obligation, but as pure banking."
The central bank has removed the impediments that bar banks from entering rural areas. "We have made pricing free, we have done away with restrictions governing the opening of bank branches." Over time, he says, wherever the banks go, they will find competition is already present, and the next bank will go another 5 km down the road. That is how financial inclusion will spread.
Cooperatives should also do the same thing and have to be an integral part of the financial inclusion drive. "Cooperatives know the people better. But, at this time, their abilities are minimal. They have to bring in technology and professional people. And, the central bank has to license them so that it can monitor them. This emphasis on financial inclusion has come about only over the last oneand-a-half years or so. It will take 3-4 years to be able to say there is an improvement. To reach everyone in each and every village may take 10 years.
And then, we will get to a point where we have an MFI, a government bank, a private bank and maybe a cooperative in the same village? "See, private bank, government bank, cooperative bank, I do not differentiate. They are all banks. Just ownership is different. Banks, MFIs, moneylenders. These are the three of them." That said, MFIs and NBFCs will continue to be relevant. Those who are not creditworthy, whose know-your-customer details cannot be established or are too risky for mainstream financial institution, will continue to borrow money from them.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GU EST COLU M N
AT A debate in New York last year entitled Buy American/Hire American policies will backfire, with hundreds of people in attendance, my team of three freetrade proponents took on a trio of protectionists who are often in the public eye.
We expected that we would lose the final audience vote by 55% to 45%. As it happened, we wiped the floor with them, winning by an unprecedented margin of 80% to 20%. The feedback from several voters was that we had won handily because we had the 'arguments and the evidence', whereas our opponents had 'assertions and invective'. Evidently, the pessimism that often overwhelms free traders today is unwarranted.
The arguments of protectionists, new and old, are just so many myths that can be successfully challenged.
Myth 1: The cost of protection and its flip side, gains from trade, are negligible.
This means that if protectionism is politically convenient, you need not shed tears over harming the country by surrendering to it, an attitude that many Democrats in the US find convenient to adopt.
Ironically, this myth was a product of inappropriate methodology and resulted from the research of my eminent Cambridge teacher Harry Johnson; and it has inexplicably been a favourite thesis since 1990 of my celebrated MIT student Paul Krugman.
But, while this theme continues to play well in Washington, no serious scholar buys into it, owing to the compelling refutations published in 1992 by Robert Feenstra, the most accomplished trade policy empiricist today, and in 1994 by Stanford's Paul Romer.
Myth 2: Free trade may increase economic prosperity, but it is bad for the working class.
This one has great credibility with labour unions that believe that trade with poor countries produces paupers in rich countries. They, therefore, argue for raising the costs for their rivals in poor countries by imposing the same labour standards that exist in rich countries.
Orwellian use of terms like 'fair trade' masks the fact that this is nothing but an insidious form of protectionism that seeks to reduce import competition.
However, continual and deep labour-saving technological change, not trade with poor countries, is a principal culprit in the stagnation seen in rich-country wages nowadays. Moreover, workers profit from lower prices for imported goods like clothing and electronics.
Myth 3:Free trade requires that other countries also open their markets.
This is a refrain that recurs each time a new US administration takes office. But the facts are often fiction, and the logic is not compelling. US automakers were convinced during the years of Japan-bashing in the 1980s that Japan was closed and the US was open. But it was the US that had a quota of 2.2 million units for Japanese cars, while the Japanese market was open but difficult to penetrate. The refrain is recurring with China today.
Even if other economies are closed, open economies still profit from their own free trade. There was scepticism about this long-standing wisdom when it was argued that, if Japan was closed and the US was open, Japanese firms would have two markets and US firms would have one. The former, it was claimed, would have lower unit costs than the latter. But the problem here, as always, is with the assumption that Japanese firms would continue to be as efficient as US firms, despite protectionism. Myth 4:Paul Samuelson abandoned free trade, and he was the greatest economist of his time.
The latter is indeed true; but the former, asserted by many protectionists, is not. Even Hillary Clinton, in her campaign for the US presidency, mistakenly embraced this fallacy.
All that Samuelson showed was that any exogenous change could harm a trading economy; he did not argue that an appropriate response to that unfortunate situation was to abandon free trade.
Consider an analogy. If Florida is devastated by a hurricane, its governor would only make matters worse if he responded by abandoning trade with other states.
Myth 5: Offshoring of jobs will devastate rich countries.
This scare arose during Senator John Kerry's failed presidential campaign in 2004, when digitised x-rays were sent from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to be read in India. But no radiologists have lost jobs in the US since then, nor have their earnings fallen. Indeed, it is clear that the increased tradability of services has not unleashed an economic tsunami on rich countries.
Often, jobs that would have disappeared anyway, owing to high costs in the US and other rich countries, have resurfaced where costs are lower, thus providing services that would have been lost otherwise.
So, noted offshoring worriers like the economist Alan Blinder have now shifted to arguing merely that increased tradability of services means that we should extend long-standing Adjustment Assistance Programs for trade-distressed activities to include services. To which the free trader responds: no problem there!
(The author is University Professor at Columbia University) ©Project Syndicate, 2010
It is politically expedient to accept the thesis that free trade harms domestic interests, particularly during crises
However, protectionism only serves to hurt the interests of the economy that takes recourse to it
It is not difficult to expose the common protectionist myths that politicians use and voters easily fall for
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
EMPOWER YOUR WORLD TO BE BORN
AMONG those who wander "between two worlds, one dead and another powerless to be born" to use the immortal concept of Matthew Arnold there, indeed, would be many who are willing to make sacrifices to emerge into worthwhile living. It is this earnestness that would obtain the needed power for themselves and that would also go to make that vital difference, that would differentiate them from those who had finally chosen to conform. This verily also is empowering their cherished and adored world to be truly born, whereby leaving their decadent world of absurdities and shallow relationships, which they had thus far inhabited, they could come to live in this natural and fulfilling world.
But then, how does one who is fired by this wish power (icchaashakthi) within, go about this task? The first stage is the realisation that his former world, he had never been comfortable with, is one that is behind him forever (a poorvashram, in Indian parlance). He would also know that even if he were to try to fit himself, making the needed compromises, he would still feel miserable, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, pictured by Richard Bach, who, at one time, in a moment of desperation, 'decides' to go back to his flock.
The spark within, however, ensures that the clock is never put back. Bach sums up, "Jonathan discovered that boredom, fear and anger are the reasons that a gull's life is short and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long, fine life indeed."
Clarity and firmness in resolve would ensure that 'narrow domestic walls' or the 'dreary desert sand of dead habit' (to quote Tagore) do not ever retard this true seeker's pursuit or blur his vision. He would practically translate Horace Walpole's concept, "This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." Late G V Iyer's great Kannada film Hamsageetheillustrates these sublime concepts through Venkanna, who forsaking all he had once longed for, dedicates his swan song to the divine.
Somerset Maugham's portrayal of the life of Paul Gauguin in his Moon and Sixpence, is also a beacon, which could be looked up to by the fence-sitter and the discouraged for guidance.
What awaits the true seeker is not just a new way of life, but a fulfilling world that continually beckons and is waiting and only too willing to be empowered for it to be truly born!
LATINS FALL TO EURO POWER: WHAT NEXT?
From being a stroll in the park for South America's teams at the ongoing 19th Fifa World Cup in South Africa as many as four of them having qualified for the quarterfinals it has all gone horribly wrong. While not many will shed tears for Paraguay's elimination, the defeats handed out to Brazil and Argentina by Holland and Germany respectively have come like a kick in the stomach to the Latin style and flair that these two teams in particular espouse. That leaves Uruguay as the only side to keep the flag flying from a continent that has produced nine champions from the previous 18 editions of the World Cup, and is in itself a comment on how much and how quickly the game is evolving and changing. Argentina's loss is particularly painful simply because of the ease with which Joachim Loew's men dismantled their challenge. Four goals in a quarterfinal encounter is a scoreline expected when two completely mismatched teams meet, but that was not the case here. On the day, the Germans were the far fitter, far better prepared side on the park, representing the value of meticulous planning and focused attention to detail going into every match. After the first phase of the tournament, there were signs to suggest that teams from Europe were up against it. Defending champions Italy and 2006 runners-up France never even made it out of the group league stage of the tournament and in the round of 16, England followed them home. Between them, the three have won the World Cup six times and it seemed that the colour, riotous noise and fervour of the South African fans even the outrageously loud drone of the vuvuzela was proving too much for them to handle. In contrast, the teams from Latin America had thrived, having sent six teams into the round of 16. In the quarterfinals, four of them were left standing, but in the blink of an eye that has changed completely. Holland pulled the trigger first, subduing Brazil's hard-charging style with a display that negated coach Carlos Dunga's attempt to impose European efficiency on a team that believes in style first and last. Diego Maradona's Argentina fared even worse, meticulously picked apart by a German side that had an answer to every question that Lionel Messi and Company could pose for them while Spain outduelled plucky little Paraguay in a game dominated by shredded nerves. The Europeans thus look poised to add to the nine titles they have won at the World Cup so far. This will also level the score between Europe and South America on neutral soil. Eight years ago, Brazil won the first World Cup to be played outside of Europe or the Americas co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. This time, between them, Spain, Germany and Holland look set to repay the compliment as they have emerged as the three most dangerous teams. But this has been a tournament of massive upsets with so many teams that had looked untouchable already having taken the flight home England and Portugal to name just two that still more seismic shocks may very well lie ahead in the four matches that remain, the two semifinals, the third-place playoff and the final next Sunday.
BURROWING THROUGH THE GAZA BLOCKADE
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
One useful place to mull Israel's siege of Gaza is from inside an 800-foot-long smugglers' tunnel burrowing under the Egyptian border.
The tunnel, well ventilated and well lit with wooden supports, is big enough to walk along with a wheelbarrow full of contraband. But it's more mechanised than that. A crew on the Egyptian side loads a large gurney with bags of cement, totalling one ton, and then an electric winch tows the gurney by cable through the tunnel to the outlet on the Gaza side. Another crew then loads the sacks onto a truck for delivery around Gaza.
This tunnel operates around the clock, and all around me I saw other tunnel entrances some big enough to drive cars through so that they end up in dealerships in Gaza. They were covered but weren't seriously hidden, and nobody objected to an American journalist scrambling around even though tunnels were everywhere.
"I'd say there are 800 to 900 of these tunnels", one tunnel owner told me. "They employ an average of maybe 30 people each".
The tunnel owners are aghast that Israel is talking about easing the siege and grumbled that they are already facing a huge drop in orders as a result. A significant number of tunnels have had to suspend work for the time being.
I wish Israeli and American officials could see these tunnels, too. They might realise how counterproductive the siege of Gaza has been, arguably empowering Hamas rather than undercutting it. And while it's not clear how far Israel's relaxation will go, my reporting here leaves me convinced that Israel should lift the siege altogether.
Visiting Gaza persuaded me, to my surprise, that Israel is correct when it denies that there is any full-fledged humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The tunnels have so undermined the Israeli blockade that shops are filled and daily life is considerably easier than when I last visited here two years ago.
That makes it especially silly of Israel's leadership to have squandered nine lives and its global reputation by seizing ships on the high seas when the freight on that flotilla was probably less than what passes through the tunnels in a single hour.
Then there's another cost of the siege. It has eviscerated one of the greatest potential counterweights to Hamas: the traditional business community in Gaza.
"There is no influence for businessmen anymore", lamented Fouad Oada, a garment manufacturer. He has laid off 39 of the 40 employees he had when the siege began three years ago.
That's a common story. Some 4,000 businesses have closed in Gaza, according to Omar Shaban, an economist here. He warns that the business community, which preached moderation and peace and had close ties to Israel, has been nearly destroyed. Its place in society has been taken over, he said, by tunnel operators who benefit from instability and may be tempted to lob missiles at Israel if peace threatens to break out.
One of Gaza's most successful capitalists is Mohammed Telbani, who employed 350 people full time in a sprawling factory making biscuits, pretzels and ice-cream for Gaza, the West Bank and parts of Israel. Now most of his factory floor is dark, and he has his employees work only about a week a month.
"I'm not Hamas", Mr Telbani said. "I want to live with everybody. I want to make money. And I have 350 employees who just want a chance to work".
The problem for factory owners is that Israel doesn't allow in most raw materials and doesn't permit exports. Smuggling all imports by tunnels is prohibitively expensive. Exporting by tunnel isn't feasible so factories close.
"When people lose their jobs, they hate Israel all the more", Mr Telbani said. "They don't blame Hamas. They blame Israel".
Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation that monitors Gaza, says that the siege has probably strengthened Hamas. Partly that's because Hamas taxes goods smuggled in tunnels and partly because it has become a more important source of jobs and welfare with the collapse of private businesses.
It's crucial, Ms Bashi said, that the relaxation of the siege empower businesses by allowing them to bring in raw materials and then export finished goods. Otherwise, she warned, the blockade will simply continue "killing the moderates".
Gaza is an enormously difficult problem, complicated by the kidnapping and detention of Staff Sgt Gilad Shalit (and the unconscionable refusal of Hamas to allow him Red Cross visits).
But the siege seems to have so embittered many Gazans that they welcome any chance to inflict woe on Israelis, including Sergeant Shalit.
So if the present policy has failed utterly even backfired by possibly bolstering Hamas let's start over. It's time not just to ease the siege of Gaza, but to end it once and for all.
NURTURE WITH CARE
BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
In this season of high emotion and revisiting of very painful experiences such as the collective trauma over the Bhopal gas tragedy, one particularly poignant and painful articulation was that of Ajay Rawla, the father of Rouvanjit Rawla, who committed suicide after being caned by his principal at La Martiniere School, Kolkata. Ajay Rawla wrote in a recent article in this newspaper, " the heaviest burden on earth is the weight of the coffin of a child on his father's shoulders " Simple words, but it is difficult to imagine more heart-rending emotion.
The dread of tragedy befalling children is a spectre that is the worst nightmare of any parent. Children fall ill, get hurt, run away, die in accidents and each event is intensely painful. But it is difficult to imagine the trauma of parents whose lovely healthy happy cheerful baby commits suicide, after being repeatedly caned, punished and humiliated by his teachers. As a parent, a human being and a citizen I find it impossible to believe that teachers can possibly bring themselves to humiliate and harass a 13-year-old boy no matter what offence he might have committed. After all, we are talking not about a home for delinquent boys or a correction centre but a high-end, even historic, school for privileged children. In Rouvanjit's case, it is nobody's case that the child was any kind of major offender or that he had committed any serious offence. In those circumstances, what could have possessed the teachers and the principal to cane the child? Was it some perverted sense of power or was it something far more sinister? It is very important for the truth to come out.
In the flurry of reports and debate that immediately followed upon the incident I read some remarks made by a Delhi teacher. She talked about children who urinate repeatedly upon other children's school bags, and children who torment physically challenged classmates. She felt that in such incorrigible cases it would be useful to administer corporal punishment. However, a moment's reflection will convince any reasonable person that even in such cases of extreme bad behaviour on the part of children, corporal punishment will only aggravate the situation and is unlikely to improve any part of the problem. The offender is likely to get more resentful and behave worse, and the victim is only likely to suffer more. The only person likely to benefit is the impatient teacher who has vented his temper upon the student in his charge.
Of course, the Delhi teacher was talking about extreme examples and schools that cater to particularly disturbed children, something which is as remote to La Martiniere as the moon. In a school like La Martiniere, it might reasonably be expected that children who study there come from affluent and well-adjusted homes, as indeed did Rouvanjit, and the whole concept of discipline would only relate to educational or other minor misdemeanours. It is for this reason that the incident at La Martiniere has shocked the conscience of the nation.
The attitude of the principal of La Martiniere was cynical and arrogant. When he came on television shows, sporting a fake sounding public school accent and talked in clipped tones about how he had caned Rouvanjit, "but without intent to hurt", I wanted to slap him for his complacency. He showed absolutely no remorse or regret and certainly no compassion for the child and his family. The management of the school, too, came out very badly taking a technical stand and sounding not just callous but also completely insensitive to the trauma the child must have undergone at the hands of three heroic teachers who jointly tortured him, as well as the eternal suffering of his family. Possibly, the most cruel blow of all came from the chief minister of West Bengal who simply brushed aside the entire issue as if it were of no consequence whatsoever. It is not politics, but my anguish, which prompts me to add that Rouvanjit and children his age are not a votebank and cannot vote and it was perhaps for this reason that the chief minister did not feel it necessary to take this issue seriously.
The Supreme Court of India, and at least two high courts, have handed down judgments declaring corporal punishment unlawful. Various states in our country have enacted laws to this effect. Internationally, most civilised countries have banned corporal punishment in their schools. We in India have the pernicious provision Sections 88 and 89 of the IPC, which say that any act done in good faith for the benefit of the child, by his or her guardian and not intended to cause death is permissible. These are the provisions that allow teachers, guardians, and sometimes even parents to literally get away with murder. The time has now come to take a serious look at these provisions and amend them suitably.
Several articles and news reports have appeared where eminent people have talked almost nostalgically about having been "mildly caned" or pinched or knocked on the head by a strict teacher and some have even felt that such disciplining might have helped them become better persons. But that was in a gentler time when perhaps the teacher had an almost organic connect with his students and enjoyed a different relationship. Those days cannot possibly be compared with modern times, in this age of information, where children have not only become far more aware and sensitive but are also far more exposed to great pressures and demands making them emotionally fragile, while being informed and driven to succeed.
Today's children need to be handled with far greater care and sensitivity and perhaps it is time we recognised that teachers first need to be sensitised to the emotional needs of their charges before they accept the responsibility of imparting education to them. Unless there is zero tolerance for harassment and exploitation of children by misguided or frustrated schools and teachers, our schools will cease to be institutions where quality education is imparted to our children and become killing fields where children are harassed and their future destroyed.
- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.
WEIRD ACTIONS, REACTIONS & FACTIONS
Rajnath, the factionalist
THE former BJP president, Mr Rajnath Singh, is in a foul mood these days and is sending several wrong signals to party workers.
First, he stayed away from a function held in Lucknow to celebrate the appointment of the new UP BJP president, Mr Surya Pratap Shahi. Then he was conspicuous by his absence at the "tilak" ceremony of Mr Shahi's son, held in Deoria, even though he was in the nearby district.
More recently, Mr Singh attended a party rally in Ambedkar but his rival, Mr Vinay Katiyar, eclipsed him by hogging headlines with his call to strip the late Rajiv Gandhi of the Bharat Ratna on the Bhopal issue.
To steal his thunder, Mr Singh called in the journalists and clarified that the Mr Katiyar made the statement in his personal capacity and the BJP did not subscribe to this.
Through all this, Mr Singh has made it clear that after holding the august post of national president, he is now neck deep in local factionalism.
BJP's own Chandraswami
It seems as if the controversial godman Chandraswami is now moving closer to the BJP, which has a yen for self-styled saints.
Though Chandraswami hails from Rajasthan, there have been few takers for him in his home state. The ruling Congress always keeps a distance from Nemichand Jain, aka Chandraswami, and the Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot, does not like him.
Recently, however, the prodigal godman was warmly received by the BJP MLA, Mr Jaswant Yadav, and his supporters when he visited his native place Behror, in Alwar district.
Last time, Chandraswami came to Jaipur before the Assembly elections and called on BJP leaders. He also performed some rituals to ensure BJP's victory, though they did not work.
But the saffron party apparently recalls his "timely help".
"He also claimed to have helped the former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, but Rao went downhill and lost power", said a Congress leader. "It is better that the BJP keeps him".
Gowda's pot of luck
Has the self-proclaimed son of the soil, former Prime Minister, Mr H.D. Deve Gowda, hit a pot of luck? That's the question a lot of people in Karnataka who know him are asking. Mr Gowda who still owes the Indian Air Force Rs 54 lakh for using its helicopters while he was PM 13 years ago held a farmers' meeting at a hotel.
The man has never been known to do that, especially when it involves farmers. After all, he has an image to maintain. But when it comes to repaying the IAF's dues, Mr Gowda is waiting for a court order to tell him that he indeed needs to pay up.
Mars against Maoists
The growing Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh has provoked weird reactions from the ministers of the Raman Singh government.
When the CRPF jawans were laying down their lives in a bloody battle against the rebels in the forests of Narayanpur district, the state home minister, Mr Nankiram Kanwar confined himself in his puja room to invoke the "Mars god" (symbolising might) to defeat the marauding Maoists.
When journalists desperately contacted his house to get details on the incident, a terse reply came: "The minister is busy in performing a special puja to propitiate Mars".
Mr Kanwar even preferred to skip an emergency meeting convened by Mr Raman Singh in the evening so that there were no breaks in his puja. When he was finally some reporters asked him, he replied coolly: "The special puja is essential to combat left-wing extremists". A few weeks ago, the state urban administration minister, Mr Rajesh Munat, exhorted eunuchs to help the government in their battle against the red guerrillas. It seems the ministers can come up with anything but a commonsense strategy to combat the Maoists.
A sprinting minister
At first sight, it looked as if the Goa home minister, Mr Ravi Naik had been bitten by the fitness bug. Last week, he was seen scampering down the stairs at Raj Bhavan after the swearing-in of new minister, Mr Vishwajeet Rane.
It soon became evident that Mr Naik was trying to evade the media rather than improve his health. Undaunted, the media gave chase. The hapless minister was almost sprinting by the time he reached his waiting car.
Unfortunately for him, the media was more agile and managed to reach him just as he was about to get into his car. Predictably, he was asked why the government was not doing anything about the alleged police-drug mafia nexus and handing over the case to the CBI as had been been suggested by the high court.
Mr Naik fumbled for an answer before he saw the director-general of police, Mr Bhimsain Bassi, and called him over to wrangle with the media. Then he promptly slipped away.
Phukan, Assam's Lalu
The BJP MLA from Dibrugarh, Mr Prashanta Phukan, thinks out-of-the-box. While his fellow MLAs stick to marches and dharnas while conducting protests, Mr Phukan likes to do his own thing.
His eccentricities have earned him the nickname "Lalu Prasad Yadav of Assam" but he does not mind it one least bit.
The other day, Mr Phukan pulled out one more surprise when he joined the protest march of party workers against petroleum price hike on a bullock-cart carrying a gas cylinder and placards showing the prices of essential commodities.
Recently, the BJP MLA, who usually travels in his car, also entered the Assam Assembly premises on a bicycle. Though securitymen were initially baffled, they soon recognised that it was a protest. Mr Phukan went on to add that he could not afford to drive a car in the context of the increasing prices of essential commodities. Wonder what he will come up with next.
AMERICA, LET YOUR FANGED FLAG FLY
Sometimes the thing that's weird about you is the thing that's cool about you.
When you're young, and even at times when you're older, it's hard to fathom this: What needs to be nurtured is the stuff that's different, that sets you apart from the pack, rather than the stuff that helps you blend in.
On July 4, Independence Day of the United States, if you're passionate about it even (or especially) if no one else is let your freak flag fly.
Al Gore would probably have gotten to be President if he hadn't let his campaign mercenaries talk him out of a full-throated zeal on the subject he was most passionate about, the one topic that snapped him out of his wooden mien: the environment. His hired guns in the 2,000 race advised him that if he droned on about the environment, he would come across as a tedious tree-hugger. It wasn't considered a sexy issue at that point.
Later, when An Inconvenient Truth, his slide show that left jaded Washingtonians bored, became a hit the movie won two Oscars and Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize he no doubt realised he should have stuck with his passion when he campaigned.
From the time I was small, I had a passion that many others found strange.
While my friends put up posters of Mick Jagger and John Lennon in their rooms, I had a royal heartthrob who appealed to no one but me.
He had a funny accent, odd eating habits and bizarre sleep patterns. He was vain but wouldn't look in the mirror. Like me, he didn't like the beach or baking in the sun. All through my teens, I nurtured a yen for him, though at that time he was the epitome of uncool. Even his clothes were old-fashioned and dandyish.
He wasn't nice. He was a parasite, constantly changing the face he showed to the world to suit his selfish needs. And he was really old, which made it creepy when he seduced young women on his travels. He wouldn't even have a glass of wine with them, much less pop for some pasta and garlic.
But growing up, I was a sucker for the guy. I read everything I could about him and his family and his hometown in the impassable mountains far away.
My girlfriends found my obsession creepy, so I suppressed my ardour. I tried to get the gloomy goth out of my bloodstream and move on to more mainstream sex symbols like Steve McQueen.
It wasn't until I was in high school that fangs started to seem alluring with the arrival of the campy daytime soap Dark Shadows, set in Maine and featuring the vampire Barnabas Collins. (Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have discussed an adaptation.) A decade later, Anne Rice of New Orleans exploded onto the literary scene with the vampire Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, which years later led to Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in a memorable homoerotic tango. Then Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit big on TV.
I realised I could have made a living, even gotten rich, on my old boyfriend Dracula. All I needed to do was update his look, sign him up at the gym and send him back to high school.
I figured I had missed the moment, but a decade later, the vamps are vamping it up more than ever. How could I ever have doubted their immortality?
Bella and Edward are scaring up box office for Hollywood, after a phlegmatic cinematic spring, with the latest instalment of the Twilight battle between vampires and werewolves, between the bidden and the forbidden. Sookie Stackhouse and her undead pals on the steamy summer hit True Blood have pumped new ratings blood into HBO bereft after losing The Sopranos.
What I kept on the down-low is now dominating American pop culture. Once vampires were mere monsters. Now they're gorgeous monsters, serving as sultry metaphors for everything from alienation to loneliness to AIDS to thorny gender identification to thwarted teen lust.
CW has The Vampire Diaries and ABC has a new vampire soap opera called The Gates dubbed "Desperate Weirdwives" by USA Today.
Tim Stack wrote in an Entertainment Weekly cover story on True Blood that the two words that send the cast into "utter giddiness" are Goo Drop: "It means that not only will a vampire be staked, but said vamp will dissolve into a puddle of red, sticky, slimy... goo".
The moral of my story is simple: To thine own goo be true.
SELF REMAINS IMMUTABLE
We saw in earlier columns that the body, mind and intellect, the sense organs and the organs of action exist in the plane of relative reality only, as a part of the ever-changing ephemeral world. We have stated that they do not exist in the absolute reality, and we superimpose a sense of doership. The one who thinks s/he is the doer (that s/he will kill, or that s/he will be killed by anyone) is ignorant. The Self is neither born, nor does It perish. It is neither a doer nor does It cause any action. Therefore, the next verse:
"This Self, Atman, is not born nor does It ever die; there never was a time that It was not; It is unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient. Atman is not killed when the body is killed" (II:20).
The Self, or Atman is that which has never undergone change. In order to understand that Atman is unborn and imperishable let us examine the words "birth" and "death". Birth, as we understand it, is something that was not there earlier and which has now come into existence. It implies that something has been created. A child is born. A pot is created. And when we speak of death we refer to something that was there but has been destroyed or has ceased to exist.
We understand that Atman is Consciousness. Now just for a moment think about this: Suppose we say that Consciousness is born, then where has it come from, and from what? Can it be born from non-existence? Can it be born from an inert thing? How was it created? The very fact that something was created implies that it is not permanent. Therefore, it cannot be called Consciousness. In fact, everything is born in Consciousness, arises from Consciousness, and merges back into It. That is the nature of the Self. When we speak of celebrating our birthday, it is the birth of this body that we celebrate. Actually, up until now we have had many bodies, but we are not the body. Therefore, learn to look at life from the standpoint of the Absolute. "If one knows that the Self is imperishable and unborn, how can s/he kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed? How can s/he be a doer of any action, a prompter of any action, or the enjoyer of any action?" (II:21).
In this verse Lord Krishna points out that all our suffering is a result of the illusion that we are the doer. He confirms that as the immutable Self we are not the doer of any action. Untouched, this same Self may go through many bodies (incarnations) but it ever remains the same.
We need to perceive ourselves from two standpoints: One is that of the absolute Truth, and the other is from the relative standpoint of empirical existence. If we understand ourselves to be the imperishable Atman, there is no birth or death. But if we view ourselves from a relative standpoint all this appears to be.
I am unborn, but I feel that I am born. I am deathless, but I feel that I am dying. I am not the doer, but I feel that I am doing. All this is due to our identification with the body only. The Self remains immutable.
Swami Tejomayananda, head of
Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com .
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
DISCORDANT VOICES AT NAC MEETING
With the food inflation graph spiralling at regular intervals, a more substantive discussion was in order at last Thursday's meeting of the National Advisory Council. The only message that it was able to convey is that the Food Security Bill is unlikely to be finalised before the monsoon session of Parliament. As the NAC chairperson, Sonia Gandhi is said to be displeased with the trend of the discussions, which verged on a mild discord between two groups over the fundamentals ~ the quantity and content of the entitlement for the BPL segment. What occasions surprise is that despite Mrs Gandhi's support, the NAC's social rights activists ~ pre-eminently Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander ~ didn't quite have their way. Chiefly, this group had focussed on the parameters that a food security legislation is expected to provide. Notably, an almost universal PDS that will exclude only the affluent, cheap cereals along with nutrients for nursing mothers, children, the old and the sick. Clearly, that new embroidery called the Group of Ministers, comprising P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata Banerjee and AK Antony, has had its way. For, even a discussion on the three other suggestions that were advanced with Mrs Gandhi's backing have been kept in abeyance. These relate to a revised classification of the target groups that transcends the BPL definition; measures to prevent starvation, and entitlements for out-of-school children without access to midday meals. Given the differences between the ministers and the rights activists, it is improbable that the contents of the Bill will be firmed up at the NAC's next meeting on 14 July ~ a momentous date. Mercifully for the government, the poor and the malnourished have no agenda for a siege of the establishment that day... unlike the Bastille in 1789.
Indeed, they must live on hope for sometime yet. The Bill has been on the anvil since UPA II assumed office. Not that the GoM doesn't have a point; but the nitty-gritty ought long ago to have been settled. After more than a year, the only point on which there now appears to be a consensus is that a BPL family will be entitled to 35 kg of cereals every month at Rs 3 a kg. This is an improvement on the Planning Commission's recommendation of 25 kg. Universal PDS may not materialise for two reasons ~ the uncertainty over the availability of foodgrain and the expenditure on subsidy. It devolves on Mrs Gandhi to strike a balance between the GoM and those recently inducted by her into the NAC. The target group deserves better than discordant voices over what and how much to eat.
POOR MAN'S PARTY
MARXISTS IN A LAST-DITCH BATTLE
Those puzzled by the Left's anxiety to fix a time-frame for identifying backward communities in West Bengal should realise this will be among the West Bengal government's priorities over the next few months. The chief minister may have declared with amazing self-confidence at a rally held to celebrate the Left Front's 34th anniversary that he was determined to proceed with his industrialisation programme with "a few changes'' in the method of land acquisition. Within a few days, he was compelled to acknowledge that the real challenge was how to woo back the millions who were suffering a painful disconnect with the Left. In other words, while he is reluctant to make a public display of embarrassment in announcing that investors can wait till the assembly elections, his real task is to demonstrate, however ironically, that it is still a poor man's party that is prepared to make amends. While those likely to benefit from being included in the OBC lists and from land rights are not likely to complain ~ if the elaborate process can be completed by the time elections are announced ~ there will be millions who will be asking what the state backward classes welfare department had been doing all these years. All this must be related to the finance minister's announcement of 17,000 new posts in the government ~ perhaps as a prelude to more jobs being put on offer. That the Left is inclined to reserve a bulk of these for backward Muslims is evident from the chief secretary's instructions to district magistrates to clear applications for SC, ST and OBC certificates pending in Malda, Murshidabad, North and South 24-Parganas within three months. A politicised administration may help Alimuddin Street in a last-ditch battle for survival. But a key question remains ~ how can sample studies logically determine "relative backwardness'' of various OBC communities? Also, the state must overcome the legal hurdles that are implicit in including a community that makes up more than a fourth of the electorate in the OBC categories. Whether after all this the poor will be benefited depends on whether the current drive can yield results within the time available. More important, those neglected for years need to be convinced that the Marxists are still with them in order to produce a change of heart in coming months.
DELHI COPS FOR VIPS ONLY
PROFESSIONAL competence has certainly been displayed by the police in quickly recovering a cellphone "flicked" during a hand-baggage check at Delhi airport and a luxury car stolen from the heart of the city. The common man would be least impressed, indeed it would reconfirm the widespread opinion that Delhi Police exists for VIPs only ~ the cellphone belonged to heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi, while the Honda car was owned by AB Bardhan, the supremo of the pro-proletariat Communist Party of India ~ any link with one of the party's stalwarts having kicked up an awful row at a Honda motorcycle plant on the fringe of the Capital? Would the cops care to disclose the overall recovery rate of stolen cars or cellphones? On second thoughts the statistics might not prove too damning, such complaints are seldom registered as "cases". Manpower shortage would be the standard alibi: valid perhaps, except that a local court recently slammed the police for using it when it had deployed a squad to trace the "missing" dog of a senior official. Just a day or two ago chief minister Sheila Dikshit had blamed the police for failing to create a sense of security. How could they achieve that? The NHRC is probing a case of a poor woman being stripped in a local police station after being "directed" to have sex with her teenage son who had been picked up for theft. Not that the cops' repeated assertion that the majority of rape victims "knew" their violators helps. A couple of hours spent at a Reporting Room in a police station beyond the city's VIP enclave will yield horror stories galore. To some extent the police are not entirely to blame. The Capital is over-populated with people wielding political or official clout ~ and there are countless pretenders to the same ~ who insist on preferential treatment. The cops know it doesn't pay to treat all alike, one of them recently rushed to an official's house to apologise for asking that venerable to join aam aadmi in standing away from the kerb when a VIP motorcade was passing. The home minister made much of personally rejecting "security", but that impacted on none of his colleagues, or other netas too who demand escort cars, flasher-lights, and a posse of bodyguards. In such circumstances an overworked force takes the easy way out. In Delhi the value of a stolen item matters little, what "registers" is from whom it was stolen.
CRIME SANS PUNISHMENT~II
NOT TO STAND TRIAL, BUT TO GAPE AT THE SORES
IN the district court in Bhopal, India suggested Union Carbide pay $ 500 million as civil liability. Carbide offered $ 350 million. Carbide took the case to the Supreme Court in 1989 which fixed the compensation at $ 470 million in full and final settlement. Leaving out Anderson from any liability, the order says: "Under the settlement, Union Carbide agreed to pay $ 470 million to the Indian government on behalf of all the Bhopal victims in full and final settlement of all past, present and future claims arising from the Bhopal disaster. The entire amount has to be paid before 31 May 1989."
In addition, to facilitate the settlement, the Supreme Court exercised its extraordinary jurisdiction and terminated all the civil, criminal and contempt of court proceedings that had arisen out of the Bhopal disaster and were pending in subordinate Indian courts. All this while the government did nothing to go to the aid of the victims or cleaning up the toxic mess left behind by Union Carbide.
Criminal charge diluted
Justice MN Venkatachaliah, who wrote the judgment for the majority, held that if $470 million was inadequate to compensate the victims the Government of India should make good the deficiency. A discordant note was struck by Justice AM Ahmedi who questioned why the Indian tax-payer should be burdened with this liability. It was the same Justice Ahmedi who diluted the criminal charge against Union Carbide from Section 304 Part II to Section 300 A of the IPC, bringing the penalty down from 10 years to two years' jail if convicted. Waxing eloquent, he held that "even assuming that it was a defective plant and it was dealing with a very toxic and hazardous substance like MIC, the mere act of storing such a material by the accused could not even prima facie suggest that the concerned accused thereby had knowledge that they were likely to cause the death of human beings." The parens patriae accepted this judgment and did not think it fit to ask for its review or for a larger Bench to hear the case.
That the Union Cabinet would accept all the 22 recommendations of the reconstituted Group of Ministers on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy is not surprising for it has done an excellent job in whitewashing any trace of involvement of the ruling dynasty. The Rs. 12,656-crore package for relief and rehabilitation would exclude more than 90 per cent of the victims because only 44,208 would be eligible for the enhanced compensation according to the recommendations of the GoM. They account for less than 10 per cent of the total of 572,241 victims.
The curative petition to be filed in the Supreme Court, if admitted, is unlikely to produce a verdict other than its 1996 order passed by Chief Justice AM Ahmedi and Justice S. Mazumdar. It was based on the claim that there was no knowledge on the part of the accused to cause death of human beings and, therefore, could not be held liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Their wilful refusal to act upon known defects in Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal meant they were criminally negligent. The government has no fresh information to suggest that the disaster was premeditated. The law is clear that intention to kill must be established to impose criminal liability. A rejection of the petition by the Supreme Court would only aggravate the people's anger against the apex judicial body. As long as it does not cast any aspersions on the First Family, the Congress is happy.
The governments, whether led by the Congress or the BJP, have much to answer for the total mishandling of the Bhopal disaster. It shows that our ruling class has got used to treating the poor as a set of worthless beings. Among the 12 chargesheeted by the CBI, Anderson, the first accused, charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, has not been tried so far because the CBI was given written instruction to go slow on his extradition. Union Carbide Corporation, Danbury, Connecticut, USA, accused No. 10, was acquired by Dow Chemicals of America in February 2001, and issued a statement saying: "Union Carbide and its officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts as they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant which was owned by UCIL." It was not challenged by India.
In 1994, Union Carbide Corporation sold its entire stake in UCIL and the company was renamed Eveready Industries. Union Carbide (Eastern) Inc., Hongkong, accused No. 11, by virtue of the takeover of its parent company, has become a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals which has absolved itself of any responsibility for the Bhopal mishap. According to Manish Tiwari, questioning Rajiv Gandhi's handling of the Bhopal disaster is "anti-national." Congress sycophants should realise that the young, inexperienced leader's handling of Bhopal and many more blunders committed during his premiership like the crude manner in which he sacked AP Venkateshwaran, his able Foreign Secretary, to please Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardene, had cost the party its hegemonic position of being able to provide single-party government and it is unlikely to recover from the blow in the foreseeable future.
Legally speaking, there is no bar on bringing Anderson to stand trial as the Supreme Court in its order dated 13 September 1996, segregated the case against him because he was absconding. A non-bailable arrest warrant against him issued by the Bhopal CJM could not be executed. It involves his extradition from the USA. The CJM's order to attach Anderson's property could not be carried out because there is no provision in US laws for such attachment of property. The CBI's request to extradite Anderson was turned down on 7 June 2004, as it did not meet the requirements of Articles 2(1) and 9(3)(c) of India's extradition treaty with the USA. Besides, there was no intent on the part of Anderson which was necessary under the US law.
The US law has not been changed since and it is unrealistic to believe the Manmohan Singh government is going to bring the 89-year-old Anderson to Bhopal to stand trial. If at all Anderson visits Bhopal, it would not be to stand trial in the CJM's court but to gape at the sores the Carbide plant had left behind. Martin Cohen, author of a number of popular books ranging from philosophy to politics and social science, has listed Bhopal among 80 places for the bored five-star holiday makers to visit not for the sites but for the sores as well. Bhopal was chosen by Cohen for its "poison factory". Toxins released by Union Carbide's abandoned pesticide plant in December 1984, "even after 25 years continue to leak and pollute the groundwater in the region," says the book, No Holiday: 80 Places You Don't Want to Visit.
Stock market valuations of Indian banks are distorted. Most of them are owned by the government. That gives them a veneer of solidity; the quality of their assets has little impact on market value. The government does not sell or buy; so market transactions are only between private shareholders, who hold a small share of the equity. The big private investors are institutions; many of them follow mechanical rules for asset allocation. So a certain proportion of private capital goes into bank shares regardless, and share prices reflect its inflows.
This, however, is an exceptional situation if we look around the world. Whilst many governments run 'development' finance institutions institutions that give long-term capital to companies the governments approve of or want to promote government ownership of banks is not common; it was even less common before the upheavals of past two years. Private investors dominate, and their risk perception and performance expectations are reflected in the market valuation of banks. The changes in valuation give us telling evidence of where investors think global banking is headed. Just over a year ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland was the world's most valued bank, with a market value of $3.8 trillion; it has shrunk to $20 billion. The Deutsche Bank was next, with a market value of $3 trillion, now reduced to $26 billion. The third most valuable bank was BNP Paribas at $2.5 trillion, which has come down to $43 billion. The fourth bank was Citigroup worth $2.1 trillion, now down to $21 billion; the fifth was the Union Bank of Switzerland worth $2 trillion, now valued at $34 billion.
As can be seen from the recent valuations, the relative value of banks has changed considerably. Now, the three most valuable banks of the world are Chinese the ICBC at $178 billion, the China Construction Bank Corporation at $134 billion, and the Bank of China at $112 billion. It shows what a difference China's export-led, government-driven growth has made. It is not just the way banks are managed and funded that makes a difference to market valuation; it is mostly the banks' prospects, which are obviously better for Chinese banks. None of the Indian banks compares with the big Chinese banks, but a number of them now do with global banks. The ICICI Bank is currently the most valuable at $20 billion, but the HDFC, the HDFC Bank and the State Bank of India are not far behind at $12-16 billion. The way the Indian government has managed the economy is no doubt a factor in their advance. But the way it has controlled the banking industry is a factor in their not having advanced to the peaks as Chinese banks have done. Two of the controls are on the opening of new bank branches and extending business abroad. Whilst controls on forays abroad make sense, it is time the government decontrolled branch opening and new bank entry.
The word 'sin' strikes the ear as peculiarly old-fashioned, so out of use as to be almost absurd. Yet it has been rather aptly used, conjuring up distant Hippocratic shadows, by a senior physician at a panel discussion on medical ethics in Delhi. The issue was the growing tendency among doctors to accept cash, gifts, travel or hospitality expenses from pharmaceutical companies, which was banned by the government last year. The sin lies in enjoying "family jaunts", accepting "exorbitant gifts" or funds to "travel to exotic locations", and, ultimately, "incentives to influence research". Patients need to be protected from the biased medical practices that follow from these "sins". Yet many senior doctors feel that a ban that insists on penalties for any doctor accepting an incentive worth more than Rs 1,000 is impossible to implement. The medical regulator should at least frame "rational and easy-to-follow" rules that can be enforced.
The other matter for real concern regarding the ban is that drug companies also fund trips for conferences and training. Some doctors feel that an overall ban would harm the funding for continuing medical education and research that may come from drug companies. Learning new medical technologies is essential for doctors and sponsors, whoever they are, are always welcome. The resources from these companies can actually be used to improve patient care. The head of the new governing board of the Medical Council of India has acknowledged that this search for the middle way poses a challenge. Actually, the challenge is simple and fundamental: it lies in ethical conduct, something that no transparent or rational guideline can enforce. Rules can help, perhaps, but in the end, everything will depend, as the senior physician said at the panel meeting, on doctors regulating themselves. Sin has to do with the soul.
SMALL CHANGE, BIG MOVE
REPEATING TRUISMS WILL NOT MAKE EDUCATION WORLD-CLASS
Recently we have had some excellent common-sense suggestions on education emanating from within the academia. I hope these are not voices in the wilderness, though there is also a surrounding cacophony that may drown these voices. The noise comes from experts who seem to think it is necessary to go on reiterating a few indisputable (and undisputed) propositions as parts of education policy.
Nobody can have a dispute with truisms. What may be disputable, however, lies around the question of their relevance for deciding what needs to be done now and in the immediate future, and how feasible the projected outcomes are within the promised time span. The usually allowed truisms of the kind 'two plus two make four' by themselves will not take us far: factual projections have to go a little further and examine the feasibility of what is being targeted within a projected time frame. To give an example, what I call only a truism is currently in vogue. It has caught the attention of the policymakers mainly because it is simple to remember and easy to repeat without any fear of contradiction. It goes as follows: a large number of richly endowed national universities (all world-class) will serve India's needs in the higher education sector better than a small number of meagrely endowed universities that we have now got.
Who has ever disputed that? If a very large number of new world-class universities (say 30 the suggested number goes on swinging around it) have to be set up in India most of them from scratch covering every state of our republic, as has been promised, then that would be an excellent thing. If, moreover, these could be run from places (like Noida, for example) hitherto unsuspected of the capability of running institutions of postgraduate teaching (not to speak of postdoctoral research), the new world-class universities would be nonpareil in the whole world. If these could be fully functioning even in five decades and also be given credible world-class leadership (with vice-chancellors of the standing that one associates with world-class universities and professors, some of whom would be their academic equals or even better, as it happens in Oxford, Cambridge or London), then that indeed would be wonderful and beyond all praise. But how wise would it be to chase wild geese with the kind of human resources we have? Let me tell you a funny little story I had once heard to embellish this.
The president (the American version of the vice-chancellor) of a well-known American university was being taken round a famous Oxbridge college. The president was particularly impressed by the beautiful college lawns that appeared to be laid out regularly in two tints of green apparently out of the same grass. How was this done? The president was eager to know. Only the head gardener knew, he was told. So the head gardener was called. He came and explained how easy it was. You just had to mow the grass in one direction from one side and in the opposite direction from the other side and go on mowing like this. The president was amazed. He wanted to buy off the gardener and hire him on the spot. "And how long will this take?" he asked. "About a hundred years, I reckon," replied the head gardener.
Going by my own past experience, the only example I have been fortunate enough to witness in my lifetime was one conglomeration of vice-chancellor/director and nearly a dozen 'world-class' professors engaged in building a truly world-class institution. The latter assembled at the Delhi School of Economics at the University of Delhi. Many of them had been persuaded to join the DSE mainly by V.K.R.V. Rao. Even this effort had to fail after a period of what may be called the DSE's golden age. The reasons for that failure will have to be completely sorted out one day.
The only other venture of this kind that I have heard of was at Calcutta University much earlier around the 1920s. This one had covered a much larger canvas over a number of disciplines in the arts and sciences. The most illustrious of the Calcutta University professors then were hand-picked from all over India (and in the case of Arabic and fine arts from outside India). Moreover, the induction of C.V. Raman from the Indian finance service itself was another courageous venture without which the world probably would have gone without at least one other Nobel laureate. Those moves had been made under the leadership of Ashutosh Mookerjee. I still remember Hiren Mukerji (no relation) once gently exhorting some of his comrades at the Jawaharlal Nehru University to follow this example of building a truly national university. This was at one of the earliest sessions of the JNU academic council (or perhaps the court) about 40 years ago. Some of the listeners looked startled, for they had possibly been expecting a harangue from Hiren Mukerji decrying the rightist elitism of our great universities. But Calcutta University's glorious years too began to fade away soon after the death of Sir Ashutosh. The dream finally had to end. Even the glimmer has now gone.
Let me move away from grand national policies. Far less spectacular than the grandiose plans, there are some genuinely useful ideas, though somewhat less breathtaking. We owe these to some of our better-known academics (like Sukanta Chaudhuri, April 1, 2010, Dipankar Dasgupta, April 13, 2010 and André Béteille, April 22, 2010 in this column and many others elsewhere).
To one's relief, our thinkers are ready to think 'out of the box' and are obviously not prepared to go by the normally unquestioned and predetermined official agenda. The contents of that box in official hands are, of course, routinely rehashed, but seldom re-examined or changed with change of government or of important ministers. We are always in such great hurry for big things that we are left with little time for small ones.
I will now end with another of my stories. And this is a true one. I wanted to sell a cost-saving idea to the then minister of human resource development. I failed. I had already sent my idea to an even higher authority who had responded kindly and sent me a long, gracious. and friendly reply. But again, as the English put it, "No joy."
What was my idea? It was a childishly simple one. I pleaded and am still pleading for a small change. This was to reintroduce a practice that was not only prevalent in India in our schooldays but is also seen today in many schools, colleges and universities in many countries. This was pleading for 'fast track' routes. Everybody should join the education system down at the bottom. But anybody (a) found working significantly harder to join the workforce ahead of others or (b) found to be of extraordinary talent should be given the opportunity of short cuts like double promotion (even treble promotion) to reach the top earlier than the rest. Instead of being allowed to go faster, even our best students are forced now to wait for at least three or four years and earn a couple of extra degrees to be allowed to start being 'world-class'. Those like Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakravarty now are losing those vital years. Nobody is gaining anything by this. India, in fact, the world, is losing out. To my mind fast-tracking was a real cost-saving device in education. However, it promised no five-yearly dividend to any political party for advocating it.
The Georgians took down the last statue of Stalin recently. There used to be thousands of such statues all across the old Soviet Union, but the communists themselves tore almost all of them down after the great dictator and mass murderer died in 1953. They left the one in Gori, in northern Georgia, because that's where he was born and the locals were proud of him.
Even after Georgia got its independence, the six-metre-high statue of Stalin continued to stand in Gori. But now, just when you might think that the Georgians would be starting to approve of Stalin (after all, he was responsible for the deaths of more Russians than any other Georgian, or indeed anybody else), they go and tear his statue down. They're planning to replace it with a monument for the "victims of the Russian aggression" in the 2008 war, so the history they're peddling in Gori will still be based on lies. (It was Georgia that started the war with Russia in 2008.) But the bigger lies will be told in Russia, and they will be told mainly about Stalin.
Two weeks ago, a group of politicians and academics met in Moscow's main library to discuss how to make Russians proud of their history. The answer? Get an upbeat history book into the schools. The politicians were from Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party, and they wanted the academics to come up with a single history textbook for use in all Russian schools. It should downplay the crimes and failures of 74 years of communist rule and concentrate on the glorious epic of the Soviet victory in the Second World War. Which means it must rehabilitate Stalin.
Start with the proposition that the Soviet Union played a key role in defeating Hitler (true), and that the war was a heroic victory against great odds (false). This is the first place where you wind up having to give Stalin some credit, because he was the man in command throughout the war. Then, to justify the terrible cost of the Bolshevik revolution and the subsequent civil war, and to slide past the purges and famines of the 1930s, you have to argue that those horrors were what allowed the miracle of high-speed industrialization that laid the groundwork for a Soviet victory in the war. Once again, Stalin gets the credit, for the industrialization happened on his watch.
It's all lies and distortion. The Soviet Union's population was twice that of Nazi Germany, and its industrial power and technology were not significantly inferior. If Stalin had not murdered most of the Red Army's senior officers in the purges of the late 1930s, and if he had not stupidly let himself be surprised by the German invasion, the war would not have lasted so long and killed so many Russians.
As for the alleged miracle of rapid industrialization, it was only needed because most existing Russian industries were destroyed by the revolution and the civil war: industrial output in 1922 was only 13 per cent of that in 1914. If there had been no revolution and no Stalin, and Russia had just started growing again after the First World War at the same rate as other capitalist countries, it would have been far too strong by 1941 for Hitler to dream of attacking it.
Russia's history in the 20th century was an unmitigated and unnecessary disaster. Even today, Russia has not regained the rank among the developed countries that it held a century ago. What can one do with such a history but deny and rewrite it? One can tell the truth. Germany's 20th-century history was also terrible, and Germans had to bear a burden of historical guilt far heavier than anything Russians should feel for the crimes of their own imperial past. If today's Germans can see their past with clear eyes and still feel pride in their present and hope for their future, why can't the Russians? But the omens are not good. If Georgians no longer need that Stalin statue, maybe there's a market for it in Russia.
'THERE IS A NEED FOR BETTER LOCAL INTELLIGENCE.'
The gunning down of 26 CRPF personnel by Maoists in Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh, so soon after similar killings in Dantewada and elsewhere, shows that the lessons from previous encounters have been hardly learnt by the security forces. They cannot be called even encounters; in all the cases the personnel became sitting ducks for well-informed and well-prepared Maoists. Reports suggest that the most elementary tactical preparations were not undertaken by the CRPF unit which moved in a single group below hills controlled by the Maoists after completing a road opening operation.
Even the need to secure the road opened by them was forgotten. The fact that the Maoists had given a bundh call was also ignored. Normally such calls are followed by an action to enforce the bundh.
The forces will take time to recover from the psychological damage caused by such setbacks. The government has decided to make a retreat which it calls tactical and redeploy Central forces to their pre-October 2009 positions. Pending finalisation of new operational tactics, this will mean leaving the field open to the Maoists for some months.
This might avert any big encounters for a while but will also help the maoists to consolidate their strength in the region. The very advisability of using the Central security forces and their efficacy in countering the Maoist challenge are coming into question. The idea of deployment of the Army, which the government has been toying with, is therefore still more questionable. The need for better local intelligence and for a greater role for state police have been emphasised. The involvement of common people in the fight against the Maoists is still more important.
But this is not easy when the people see the government as hostile and exploitative and the security forces as instruments of oppression. In spite of all the talk about bringing development to the country's most backward regions and social and economic justice to the people, it is not translated into results on the ground. The mining wealth is sold off to outsiders, the use of forest produce is denied and basic health and educational facilities do not exist. Admittedly, it takes time to reverse the entrenched policies of neglect and oppression, but the claimed initiatives do not go beyond words even now. The home minister claimed that development is possible only after defeating the Maoists. If the government strategy is based on this idea it is bound to only fail.
'THE DEMANDS OF KARUNANIDHI ARE UNREALISTIC.'
The five-day World Classical Tamil Conference which was held in Coimbatore last week was intended to promote Tamil and highlight its place in the comity of languages. But language took a back seat and it was politics that came to the fore in the speeches and proceedings of the conference. The DMK government wanted to promote its politics more than the language through the Rs 300 crore extravaganza. Languages do not grow with state patronage and sponsorship. They develop organically from the people who use them and from those who study them for their love for them. The history of Tamil, which is a great language spoken by millions of people within the country and outside, is itself proof of that. Some of the claims and demands made at the conference make sense only in the context of the approaching state Assembly elections and as part of an agenda of language politics that goes even beyond.
Many speakers went overboard even with claims that Tamil is the mother of all languages and that it pre-dated the Ramayana. Some exaggeration that rises from pride in the language is natural in such conferences and even scholars, known for objective and rigorous studies, may make debatable propositions. But the demands made by chief minister M Karunanidhi are of a different order and point to an unacceptable kind of language politics. He demanded the status of an official language for Tamil at the Centre, reservation in jobs for speakers of the language and use of Tamil as the language of the Madras high court.
These are unrealistic and can only lead to similar demands from other states where people are equally proud of their own languages and culture. Governance will be reduced to the state of Babel with too many official languages. The constitutional mandate for English as the language of the high courts is in the interest of all people of a state and to protect the national nature of the higher judiciary. There is no case for reservation on the basis of language as there is no constitutional sanction for it. Nor is it a worthwhile idea to be pursued.
States were formed on a linguistic basis mainly for administrative convenience. The dominance of a language in a state should not be used to promote divisive politics and bigotry. Identity politics, based on language, race or religion, can only hurt national unity, especially in a competitive electoral environment.
WAGON OF WORDS
M J AKBAR
'We customers of democracy buy words without enquiry about their value.'
News is the subtlest form of advertising. Perhaps we should be generous to journalism and qualify that: news can become the most subtle form of advertising, particularly when it comes dressed in quotation marks. The subtlety becomes more oblique when the quotation is used for collateral advantage, through a coy positioning adjacent to the Big Story.
There was a classic instance on the day the Union government decided to decontrol fuel prices. The news appeared in print on Saturday, June 26. (It coincided, incidentally, with the 35th anniversary of a long-forgotten event called the Emergency. In those foolish old days governments needed mass censorship; in these more sophisticated times a careful, selective feed is more productive.) On the same morning appeared a story sourced to the meteorological office that the monsoons were in splendid health, that Delhi would be drenched by July 1, and by September we would in fact have rains in excess of normal, climbing to 102 per cent, four points higher than the earlier forecast of 98 per cent.
On July 1, with the Delhi sun still baked in Sahara, we read another story from the same Met saying that, er, the monsoons had stalled, on June 18, along a flat line that began in south Gujarat and did not show any upward mobility till east Bihar. The agricultural heartland of north India, from west Bihar through UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, north Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab, was still as dry as a throat in a desert, and if rains did not appear by July 4 crop damage would begin. For all I know, you might be sitting in Noah's ark within a week's time, but that is not the point. The point is that on June 25, when the Met planted the lie, it knew for a week that the monsoons had weakened. But it fabricated a projection only so that ministers, spokesmen and government economists, and those in queue to join the group, could go on television to reassure Indians that the inflationary effect of the fuel float would be offset by a good monsoon.
Does this work? After all, claims cannot change facts. Amul will not stop a rise in the price of milk to help out a government at the cost of its balance sheet. And yet there is some purchase in cushioning the blow at the point of impact, since it deflects memory at least partially towards a positive hope.
A second blow might still ache, but it does not startle. Examine the media and public reaction to the massacre of 72 CRPF men at Dantewada and the recent killing of 27 jawans from the same force by the same Maoists in the same area. The first time, Home Minister P Chidambaram was forced to offer a mock-resignation. The second, there was not even a half-resignation on offer, nor was one demanded, although, in terms of strict accountability, the second was a far greater lapse. Surprise was no longer an excuse. Instead, the home minister escaped on a rope of words.
He told state governments that the CRPF should, in future, be sent only on specific objectives rather than 'routine' jobs like road-clearing, which could be done by the state police. Is there anything more specific than clearing a road in a conflict where IEDs and mines are potent Maoist weapons? What Chidambaram was suggesting was that the state police should be sent where the potential of casualties was higher. Why? Is the life of a Chhattisgarh policeman less valuable than that of a CRPF jawan?
The real answer is politics. If state policemen die, the responsibility ends up with the local chief minister. If Central forces die, Chidambaram has to take the blame. On his visit to Bengal Chidambaram was happy to taunt Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya with the thought that the buck stopped at the latter's desk. That is the sort of equation he prefers. Let the buck stop in the states, and the applause, whenever it rises, ring through his office in Delhi. This is perfectly normal in democracy, by the way.
We customers of democracy buy words without enquiry about their value. This encourages those in power to embroider words with whatever we will be fooled by: sometimes pepper to enhance the taste, sometimes frippery to brighten the look, sometimes nothing more substantial than packaging. When you reach home, tear up the glittering paper, and open the box you find lots of straw under which is hidden a shrivelled raw mango instead of the array of Alfonsos you were promised in the marketplace of politics. Since there is no one else to blame for the transaction, you make pickle out of that mango and console yourself with the illusion that it is sustenance.
Lay out the sequence, measure the consequence, and then check whether you have been taken for a short ride or a long journey on this wagon of words. A station will eventually turn up. It is called a polling booth.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE COURT'S AGGRESSIVE TERM
John Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States, did not write the most important opinion of his court's just concluded term, the one that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending in election campaigns. But his concurring opinion in that case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is the best guide to the court's most unsettling tendency.
In the most recent term, even more than in earlier years, the Roberts court demonstrated its determination to act aggressively to undo aspects of law it found wanting, no matter the cost.
Explaining why the court's five-vote majority in Citizens United had toppled precedent to reach its decision, Justice Roberts wrote that the court must be willing to depart from a previous decision if it thinks it does damage to a constitutional ideal, and particularly if the precedent was an aberration. A decision can become an aberration, it turns out, if the court's conservatives never agreed with it in the first place. If not quite legislating from the bench, this is not a formula for stability.
It was not a thoroughly disappointing term. But the tone and posture of the court's conservative majority made clear that it is not done asserting itself in redefining campaign finance laws, the rights of corporations, national security powers and the ownership of guns.
We do not argue that precedent must be worshiped and upheld at all costs. If that were the case, as Justice Roberts noted, segregation would still be legal and minimum-wage laws unconstitutional. But when the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 overturned Plessy v. Ferguson from 1896 and outlawed segregation, it came after many years of relentless legal efforts against Jim Crow by Thurgood Marshall and many others. It was clear that the legal landscape was changing.
When the Roberts court overruled precedent in the Citizens United case, it did so far more abruptly. The dissenters, led by Justice John Paul Stevens, said the majority "blazes through our precedents" in a "dramatic break from our past." It was nothing other than judicial activism when the court five months later stepped directly into the gubernatorial race in Arizona, cutting off matching funds to candidates participating in the state's campaign finance system. The message to other states and cities with similar systems was clear: Watch out. When the Roberts court has a goal in mind, niceties like an actual political campaign cannot be allowed to get in the way.
The deference to corporate rights found in Citizens United could also be seen last month. The court made it harder for consumers and workers to challenge the mandatory arbitration clauses found in so many contracts, all designed to keep the fate of corporations out of the hands of judges and juries. When that mindset is combined with the court's willingness to defy precedent and Congress, it could spell trouble for the national health care law when legal challenges reach the court.
But the court's shifting majorities and Justice Roberts's own preferences were unpredictable this year, leading to many welcome decisions. Life sentences for juvenile criminals who do not commit murder were banned. The vague "honest services" statutes, a favorite of prosecutors, were struck down.
Still, the problematic decisions continue to leave us worried about upcoming terms, where more decisions about fundamental rights await. In the last month alone, majorities on the court said gun ownership was a fundamental Second Amendment right that applies to states and cities, while reducing the First Amendment rights of those who try to pacify terrorist groups. If Elena Kagan is confirmed, her first task will be to keep her pledge and help the court realize that judicial modesty actually means something.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT AVANDIA
The safety of the diabetes drug Avandia looked increasingly suspect late last month after two major studies found that it raises the risk of cardiovascular ailments. Then a third study seemed to exonerate Avandia, sowing more confusion. Expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will soon deliver a more definitive judgment, but at this point patients should probably be asking their doctors about alternatives.
Avandia was approved in 1999 to help diabetics control their blood sugar levels. For the past three years a debate has raged over whether it increases the risk of cardiovascular problems. The evidence has been mixed, and the F.D.A. has left it on the market while beefing up the warning labels.
Now a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that elderly patients given the drug had higher risks of stroke, heart failure and death than those given Actos, another drug in the same class. This study warrants particular attention because of its huge size: it analyzed records for more than 227,000 Medicare patients who took either Avandia or Actos. A second study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, also published by the A.M.A. found that Avandia increased the risk of heart attack by 28 to 39 percent.
Meanwhile, a third analysis unveiled at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association suggested that Avandia might, in fact, lower some cardiovascular risks. It is hard to know how much weight to give this new analysis because it has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Avandia, insists that several studies published in recent years show that Avandia does not increase the risk of heart attack, stroke or death. The F.D.A. will need to probe hard.
The F.D.A. has compelled Glaxo to sponsor a large randomized clinical trial, the gold standard, that will test the cardiovascular effects of both Avandia and Actos. It won't be completed until 2015, and some critics believe it should be abandoned as too risky for the Avandia-takers.
The long struggle over Avandia has also raised serious questions over the degree of certainty that should be required before the F.D.A. removes a drug from the market as too risky. And it has raised the issue of which officials should have the power to make that decision those who approved the drug as safe and effective in the first place and might be reluctant to reverse themselves or safety specialists focused solely on risks that emerge after the drug is in use. We side with the safety experts.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gamblers aren't the only ones prone to jackpot delusions. Politicians all over see casinos as magic revenue chests that will help them avoid painful spending cuts, escape the trap of no-tax pledges and make budget gaps vanish. New York is no exception.
Gov. David Paterson wants to bring slot machines to Aqueduct, the crumbling racetrack in Queens. (Three previous attempts to strike a deal collapsed.) The new Nassau County executive, Edward Mangano, wants the Shinnecock Indians to build a full casino in the center of his county. A Suffolk County legislator, Wayne Horsley, wants the tribe's casino out in his neck of Long Island but not, of course, in the posh Hamptons, where the Shinnecocks actually live.
The federal government has finally granted the Shinnecocks recognition as an Indian tribe, more than 30 years after they applied. That is great news for the Shinnecocks, whose reservation is a pocket of poverty in a zone of immense wealth. As an official tribe they will have access to benefits like federal funds for housing, education, food programs and health care.
Unfortunately, what they prize most is the right to run a casino, and the host of suitors it has already attracted. Casinos are a magnet for tainted money and promote addiction, crime and other ills. The tribe should be finding other ways to use its valuable real estate and its long-denied recognition.
The state's politicians should also stop chasing gamblers. At a time when casino revenue is slumping across the country, it doesn't even make economic sense. They need to make hard decisions on taxes and spending, and focus on developing stable industries, improving education and working their way to growth. If they keep holding out for a false jackpot, everyone will lose.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WATER AND GRASSES
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
I am just home from a solo drive across country, accompanied by my thoughts and the lovely, implacable songs of Lori McKenna. I didn't solve any problems, for all my thinking, but I did a lot of looking. And, to use the wonderful old phrase, I will tell you what. In America the rivers are full the Yellowstone, the Cheyenne, the Missouri, the Rock, the Mississippi. They reach up into the boughs of the trees that overarch them and sweep their shadows away downstream.
And everywhere I looked, all across the mountains and the plains, I saw grass of a kind you see only perhaps once in a generation, so thick and lustrous that it looks as though it had the texture of a beaver pelt. The high-pressure dome above me scattered the winds, sending the sunlight skittering over the grasses as though they were ripples on the waves at sea.
The cattle and horses were sleek and almost fatigued with good feeding. In western South Dakota, cows stood belly deep in a ranch pond, doing their impersonation of the kine in Constable's paintings. In the eastern part of the state, I came across an old barn sinking, prow high, in the ocean of grass.
I wanted to pull over and lie down in the thick of those pastures, watching the seeded heads of the grasses bending deeply in the wind above me. But I drove on, and noticed that northern Iowa, where silos were once the only tall landmarks on the horizon, has now given itself a certain grandeur by building towering windmills, mostly in pods of six.
On a trip this long, the driving does sometimes grow weary. And yet rather than listening to books as I've done in the past, I found myself making up stories about characters based on the names listed on the exit signs I passed. My favorite, in eastern Iowa, is Galva Atkinson, who in my mind is tough as a pump handle but has cornflower eyes. In Illinois, I came across the well-born but feckless Niles Plymouth. In Ohio, I contemplated the lovely Lorain Ferry, and in New York, at last, the sterling Frankfort Ilion, who was once a classicist but has since become a banker. And so, finally, all the way home again. VERLYN KLINKENBORG
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE PESSIMISM BUBBLE
BY ROSS DOUTHAT
This is a day for hangovers and sunburns, discarded sparklers and spent rockets smoking weakly on brown lawns. Yesterday was all euphoria and patriotism a chance to forget about the unemployment rate, the deficit, the oil spill and whichever political party you hold responsible for the country's sorry state. But now it's time to sit around in your undershirt, put off cleaning the backyard grill and contemplate all the things you spent the Fourth of July trying not to think about.
Enough of the star-spangled American dream. Back to the grim American reality.
How grim? Well, after the United States limped through five months of anemic "recovery," last Friday brought news that our economy actually shed jobs in June, thanks to the expiration of more than 200,000 Census positions. It's now been 30 months since the beginning of the recession, and it looks as if it could take another 30 or so to regain the level of employment we enjoyed in the autumn of 2007.
If we regain it at all. The public seems doubtful: in a recent survey, conducted before the latest wave of dismal economic news, the Pew Research Center found that less than half of Americans expect that their children will enjoy a higher standard of living than their own. Economists are throwing around phrases like "lost decade" and "double-dip recession," and drawing analogies to the Great Depression. And those aren't even the real doomsayers. On Sunday, The Times profiled the market forecaster Robert Prechter, who's convinced that the stock market is headed for a sell-off that will send the Dow Jones average below not 10,000, but 1,000.
This gloom is understandable, up to a point. The crash of 2008 exposed systemic problems with our way of life that no legislation can resolve: a reckless financial elite, an overextended public sector, and a culture of irresponsibility that's visible everywhere from our debt-to-income ratios to our out-of-wedlock birth rate.
But just as healthy optimism can turn into irrational exuberance, a clear-eyed realism about the challenges facing the United States can gradually inflate a pessimism bubble.
Since the financial crisis hit, there's been a lot of talk about the bubble mentality how a run of growth and good news persuades people that what goes up need never come back down. "This time is different," the enthusiasts always say, in a refrain that provided the title for Carmen Reinhart's and Kenneth Rogoff's recent history of financial panics. But it never, ever is.
A similar mentality, though, can take hold during downturns. The "this time is different" mistake applies to busts as well as booms: when things get dark enough, people start believing that dawn will never come.
Pessimism bubbles formed during America's last two economic crises the stagflation era in the late 1970s and the post-cold war recession that ushered Bill Clinton into the White House. Go back and read Jimmy Carter's famous "malaise speech," which liberals have lately been rehabilitating. With its warnings about retrenchment, rationing and a permanent energy crisis, it feels like a contemporary document. But it isn't, and Carter's prophecies were wrong: the grimmest speech any modern president has given was delivered just a few years before America kicked off a long era of impressive economic growth.
The same goes for many of the dire predictions ventured in the early 1990s, when America was supposedly entering a period of debt-driven decline, while Japan rose inexorably to dominance. Swap in a rising China for Japan, and Tea Party chants for Ross Perot's charts, and the fears of that era map neatly onto the anxieties of our own. But the Clinton-era boom pricked that bubble of pessimism soon enough.
Maybe this time is different. The recession is deeper. Our debts are piled higher. The gloom is more pervasive.
But even now, there isn't a major power in the world that wouldn't happily change places with the United States. Our weaknesses are real, but so is our potential for resilience. While our rivals (in Asia as well as the West) face a slow demographic decline, our population is steadily increasing. The European Union's recent follies make our creaking 200-year-old institutions look flexible by comparison. And China can throw up all the high-speed rails and solar panels it wants, but it won't change the fact that most of the country is still sunk in rural poverty.
All of this is cold comfort if you can't find a job, or can't afford your mortgage payments. But historical
perspective is important. The more we remember the pessimism bubbles of the past, the better our chances of bursting out of this one.
Here endeth the pep talk. Happy Fifth of July.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PUNISHING THE JOBLESS
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
There was a time when everyone took it for granted that unemployment insurance, which normally terminates after 26 weeks, would be extended in times of persistent joblessness. It was, most people agreed, the decent thing to do.
But that was then. Today, American workers face the worst job market since the Great Depression, with five job seekers for every job opening, with the average spell of unemployment now at 35 weeks. Yet the Senate went home for the holiday weekend without extending benefits. How was that possible?
The answer is that we're facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused. Nothing can be done about the first group, and probably not much about the second. But maybe it's possible to clear up some of the confusion.
By the heartless, I mean Republicans who have made the cynical calculation that blocking anything President Obama tries to do including, or perhaps especially, anything that might alleviate the nation's economic pain improves their chances in the midterm elections. Don't pretend to be shocked: you know they're out there, and make up a large share of the G.O.P. caucus.
By the clueless I mean people like Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for senator from Nevada, who has repeatedly insisted that the unemployed are deliberately choosing to stay jobless, so that they can keep collecting benefits. A sample remark: "You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn't pay as much. We've put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry."
Now, I don't have the impression that unemployed Americans are spoiled; desperate seems more like it. One doubts, however, that any amount of evidence could change Ms. Angle's view of the world and there are, unfortunately, a lot of people in our political class just like her.
But there are also, one hopes, at least a few political players who are honestly misinformed about what unemployment benefits do who believe, for example, that Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, was making sense when he declared that extending benefits would make unemployment worse, because "continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work." So let's talk about why that belief is dead wrong.
Do unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work? Yes: workers receiving unemployment benefits aren't quite as desperate as workers without benefits, and are likely to be slightly more choosy about accepting new jobs. The operative word here is "slightly": recent economic research suggests that the effect of unemployment benefits on worker behavior is much weaker than was previously believed. Still, it's a real effect when the economy is doing well.
But it's an effect that is completely irrelevant to our current situation. When the economy is booming, and lack of sufficient willing workers is limiting growth, generous unemployment benefits may keep employment lower than it would have been otherwise. But as you may have noticed, right now the economy isn't booming again, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work but they can't take jobs that aren't there.
Wait: there's more. One main reason there aren't enough jobs right now is weak consumer demand. Helping the unemployed, by putting money in the pockets of people who badly need it, helps support consumer spending. That's why the Congressional Budget Office rates aid to the unemployed as a highly cost-effective form of economic stimulus. And unlike, say, large infrastructure projects, aid to the unemployed creates jobs quickly while allowing that aid to lapse, which is what is happening right now, is a recipe for even weaker job growth, not in the distant future but over the next few months.
But won't extending unemployment benefits worsen the budget deficit? Yes, slightly but as I and others have been arguing at length, penny-pinching in the midst of a severely depressed economy is no way to deal with our long-run budget problems. And penny-pinching at the expense of the unemployed is cruel as well as misguided.
So, is there any chance that these arguments will get through? Not, I fear, to Republicans: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something," said Upton Sinclair, "when his salary" or, in this case, his hope of retaking Congress "depends upon his not understanding it." But there are also centrist Democrats who have bought into the arguments against helping the unemployed. It's up to them to step back, realize that they have been misled and do the right thing by passing extended benefits.
I. THE NEWS
UNCERTAINTY AND CITIZENS
The sense of people that we stand on quivering ground continues. Each day brings with it news that adds to the growing disquiet. We hear of politicians engaged in all kinds of misdeeds, of attempts to undermine institutions and of conspiracies worked out in the highest quarters of State. Occasionally, a wave that is larger than the ripples caused by such items of news washes over us, leaving us gasping for breath. The latest bombings in Lahore are an example of this. Other acts of terrorism of course continue to be reported regularly. Target killings occur almost daily. Death appears to lurk virtually around every corner. What does this constant uncertainty mean for citizens? It is true they have become partially immune to all that happens. It is only when terrorist attacks are especially deadly in terms of the lives claimed that they bring reaction. The series of reports about people killing themselves, of leaders looting money or of Pakistan ranking among the countries of the world least able to meet the needs of people barely moves us. But there is little doubt that the constant sense of a swirling world and of the inability of government to hold things down in a steady grasp has an impact on many aspects of life. The desperate search for stability continues over two years after the last general election. There is no sign that it is likely to be found in the near future.
As a consequence self-preservation, as the most basic of human instincts, kicks in constantly. Many who had the means to do so have left the country and others endeavour to follow them. Their exit means we have at home fewer people to tackle our own massive problems; students from our best institutions of learning increasingly choose to emigrate as soon as they can. Despondency and a lack of trust in State is one factor in the reluctance to invest or even to pay taxes. Few believe the money they pay into the exchequer will be used for the right purposes. And in a vicious cycle this attitude of course means few resources are available to spend on development or even the upkeep of civic amenities. Increasingly, people have begun to question if a solution is even possible. We seem to stand at the foot of a mountain which adds a few extra feet to its mass with every passing hour, placing the summit increasingly out of reach. The surreal smiles on the faces of leaders, their insistence that all is well and a great deal is being done to tackle problems brings no reassurance. It only persuades people that the government has little real interest in tackling matters and is instead eager only to weave a web of lies to entrap people and prevent on their part any effort to flee the tremors that could signal an approaching earthquake of enormous magnitude.
I. THE NEWS
Perceptions of the way in which the Attabad lake incident has evolved may need to be adjusted in the light of a documentary made by a local community filmmaker. The landslide that blocked the river valley, cut the Karakorum Highway and led to the creation of a lake over 20-kms long was neither sudden nor unexpected. As long ago as 2002 local people had noticed extensive cracking in the area around Attabad. They spend their lives in a geologically active area and are used to 'reading the ground' as it moves around them. An earthquake in Astore in 2002 had triggered activity on a fault line that led into the Hunza valley. The cracks were reported at the time to the administration in Gilgit and the relevant authorities including the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The NDMA and others monitored the cracking and in August 2009 declared the area a 'red zone'. This was no surprise event a lot of people were waiting for this to happen.
Post to the event on January 4, 2010, the weather was cold. Inflow to the small lake that was beginning to form behind the dam was slow as most of the water was locked as ice by the cold of winter. It was known to all concerned that once the weather began to warm the inflow to the lake would increase quickly, flooding would be extensive as would damage to property and livelihoods. Therefore the time to make a maximum effort to create spillways was in the immediate aftermath of the slide. The Chinese, in the area with heavy equipment anyway as they work on the upgrading of the KKH, offered help. It was rebuffed. Local people were told that everything was under control, and they believed what they were told and there followed a period of activity by government agencies but not at the level of 'maximum effort' that would have prevented a drama turning into a crisis. With more effort and resources a deeper wider spillway could have been created and the lake need never have grown to the size it has. Nobody could have prevented the Attabad slide as it was a natural event, but much more could have been done both in preparation and contingency planning that would have mitigated its effects. An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost, and small wonder that the people of Hunza feel short-changed by the local and national administrations.
I. THE NEWS
NOWHERE NEAR VICTORY
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
There's something surreal about the rise and fall of General Stanley McChrystal. The dramatic departure of the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan has drawn inevitable parallels with General Douglas MacArthur, arguably World War II's most brilliant commander and America's top commander in yet another forgotten war on a forgotten front.
Like General MacArthur, who defied President Harry S Truman to expand the Korean war into China bringing on his own fall, McChrystal has been brought down by his own hubris. He grew too big for his shoes taking the legends of his own brilliance as a commander and military strategist seriously.
If the success in World War II and the Korean war went to General MacArthur's head, the brutal 'success' in Iraq and the subsequent lionisation in Afghanistan seem to have affected General McChrystal excessively.
In a fleeting moment of weakness, the general lost sight of the fact that the real boss and commander-in-chief is the president a costly mistake first made by the other Mac in the Korean war and paid for it dearly. If Obama had chosen not to act, he would have been seen as a wimp, even a sissy by the gun-toting Americans who love their wars and take their commander-in-chief and his job to rule the world rather seriously.
Besides, those tearful tributes in the western media and even in the Middle East to General McChrystal are exaggerated and far from justified. Some Afghan and Pakistani officials have waxed eloquent about McChrystal's 'humanitarian concerns' recounting how the general helped bring down civilian casualties. They would do well to visit Kim Sengupta's shocking revelations in the UK's Independent this week detailing how the 'hero' of the Afghan war played a killer in Iraq.
For five years, the two-star general and his trigger-happy boys sat in a secret command centre and used the banks of television screens and controls to kill at will, blindly and remotely targeting densely populated civilian areas. No wonder they called it the Death Star or Kill TV because you could "just reach out with a finger and eliminate" somebody. This is how the Special Forces eliminated tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and 'usual suspects'. This is how the toll of civilian casualties crossed over a million in Iraq. And this is precisely why McChrystal was picked up by General David Petraeus and his bosses in Washington for the top job in Afghanistan. So much for the general's celebrated approach of 'courageous restraint' and peacemaking in the badlands of Afghanistan!
If McChrystal had asked his boys to go easy, as some claim he did, in raining death on unsuspecting people on the ground, it beats me why innocents still continue to get killed in Afghanistan. Just Google and see how many civilians have paid with their lives in the west's directionless, disastrous war.
Between 5,000 and 8,000 civilian deaths have taken place this year alone as a direct result of coalition strikes, as against 4,000-6,000 victims of insurgent attacks. This June has been equally disastrous, and the deadliest month, for the coalition since the invasion.
So no matter who leads the western coalition in Afghanistan, little is going to change on the ground. Let's face it: this is a lost cause, if ever there was one. This war was lost even before it was launched. A mission impossible, if ever there was one. McChrystal knew this.
In fact, as Ray McGovern has argued in a scathing piece, McChrystal might actually have wanted to be fired and rescued from the current March of Folly in Afghanistan, by shooting off his mouth about "the wimps in the White House."
The sooner Obama confronts this reality the better for him and for everyone concerned. Especially when this mess is not of his making. It beats me why someone who stuck out his neck to courageously oppose the attack on Iraq and even voted against it as a senator should stick to his guns on Afghanistan and is determined to fight a lost war.
In the face of unprecedented euphoria around the world over his historic election, the Nobel Peace laureate president has chosen to go along with the fiction that this is a good war'. A war variously promoted as the war on terror to a mission to promote democracy and freedom, depending on who is spinning the Goebbelsian wheel.
However, nearly a decade on, the coalition is still fighting in the dark and is nowhere near victory or at least a face-saving mission-accomplished kind of withdrawal.
A new Newsweek opinion poll survey warns that Afghanistan is fast eating into Obama's popularity ratings. A huge and disturbing majority 53 per cent now disapproves of the way Obama has handled almost every major challenge confronting his administration a complete reversal from only four months ago.
More important, while a full 50 per cent of Americans approve of his handling of the McChrystal disaster, the controversy and general's views on the Afghan mission have raised serious doubts about the war in American minds.
What was once a 'good and right war' for much of the US establishment as against the disaster of Iraq is now being increasingly questioned at home and around the world. Even worse, no one, including the Americans, seems to have a clue what this war is all about anymore and what the goalposts are, if any, of the western coalition.
As the Rolling Stone story has reminded the Americans, Afghanistan has now beaten Vietnam to become the longest running US war. Even after pouring trillions of dollars into this bottomless pit, victory eludes the mightiest army on the planet and its powerful allies.
And the longer the US and other western powers refuse to face this reality and the imminent outcome of this war, the greater the cost for both sides. If Obama doesn't act now, Afghanistan is sure to end up as his Vietnam. Perhaps even worse. It's nearly there already. Why's it so hard to see that General David Petraeus cannot possibly succeed at something the much-decorated General McChyrstal failed? Especially when McChrystal is preceded by a long line of failed foreign commanders. Not for nothing Afghanistan is called the Graveyard of Empires.
Obama would do himself and America a great favour by getting the coalition out of Afghanistan sooner than later. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but the west has no option but to reach out to Afghans and engage their real leaders, if it wants to get out without egg on its face. Just a change of command is not going to end America's woes in Afghanistan. It's time to cut and run from Vietnamistan, Mr President. Now!
The writer is opinion editor of Khaleej Times. Email:aijaz@ khaleejtimes.com
I. THE NEWS
We live in strange times in a strange country. Don't get me wrong, I love Pakistan and have chosen to live here, pay my taxes here and raise my children here. But as a student of political science and history, and an interested observer, I have seen fewer countries more bizarre than us. Approximately 30,000 Pakistanis, civilian and military, have lost their lives to terrorism in the last decade; yet most Pakistanis cannot agree on who killed them. Are you kidding me? Far more have lost their lives over the past six decades to the incompetence, greed and corruption of the ruling elite of this country. Don't buy it? Consider this. Thousands die every year because of spurious medicines which are sold right under the nose of the state. Pollution caused by non-compliant industries cause thousands to fall sick and/or die every year. Shaukat "Golden Sheets" Aziz had promised clean drinking water to all Pakistanis when his term was done. He's sipping Perrier and grinning like a Cheshire Cat while millions of Pakistanis die of water-borne diseases. Yet, 180 million of us go about our days having completely forgotten who the hell Shaukat Aziz is.
The late Saneeya Hussain coined the term Absurdistan during her days at the now defunct Star. A year after she died in 2005, Gary Shteyngart wrote a fantastic novel called Absurdistan which I highly recommend because it'll remind you of home. I agree with Saneeya's classification of Pakistan as absurd because even simple problems are left to snowball into big problems. And big problems well, they just get bigger. To bastardise Winston Churchill's quote, "Never was so little owed by so many to so few" epitomises the state of affairs in the motherland. The incompetence is staggering and coupled with a complete breakdown of any sort of moral values, we have been in a state of decline for a while. Individuals and/or groups of excellence are keeping things afloat but at the state level we need to reboot.
The electricity (or lack of it) problem is a great example. For a decade the Planning Commission didn't recommend that a single megawatt of power be added to the grid. What did these chimps think would happen? Or did anyone even think of the implications of it? The current government and its energy czar promised two years ago an end to all forms of loadshedding, and we all know where they got to with that one. While the entire world embraces alternative energy, the state of Pakistan has been twiddling its thumbs and commissioning consultants to write report upon report so they can 'study' them. Nothing a simple Google search couldn't accomplish.
The lack of vision is truly staggering. Recently a cousin installed solar panels at his house in Lahore and was shocked to see that GST applied to the solar array. No incentives of any kind for a consumer to go this route. Smart grids where consumers can actually sell electricity back into the grid from their solar panels are light years away. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and his cohorts are only interested in rental plants which use furnace oil. Its not difficult to figure out why. All at the cost of industries closing and moving, and Pakistani exports becoming more uncompetitive than ever. Does anyone even bother to work the numbers out? It doesn't require a genius to figure out what needs to be done for the country but then again which one of these goons cares.
Pakistan has a population of 180 million and growing faster than anyone can say contraception. Is anyone figuring out how we're going to provide jobs for this massive number of young people? I don't think so. The HEC has seen its budgets slashed because of higher defence expenditures so there goes higher education. Look at any developing country and you can see the emphasis on information technology and transforming the economy into a knowledge-based one. Usually a technocrat with dynamism and a solid background is put into this slot. Luckily for us our leaders like the fact we are an agrarian economy and see no need for any of the optical niceties.
Pakistan is lucky to have a lawyer by the name of Sardar Latif Khosa heading up this pivotal ministry. The only criteria for him heading the Ministry of Technology is because he can use his mobile phone to call the prime minister, and being the blue-eyed "boy" of the PM is good enough.
The impact this lawyer-turned "techie" has had on the ministry is a big fat nothing. The only exception being that he is trying to destroy model institutions like the USF (Universal Service Fund) by placing his acolytes on its board and booting professional stakeholders out. Other than that his performance scorecard gives him a big fat zero.
And so it goes on. Sometimes the scale of the stupidity is mind-numbing and I just want to cry out "Why". I've always maintained that all you have to do is follow the money. Every time there's an immensely ridiculous decision ask yourself who would directly benefit from this and you'll find the answers. Take the PIA CEO who was asked by the Senate Committee about 1100 trolleys which were stolen, to which the response was, "Sir only 800 were stolen". Only 800? How do 800 trolleys just disappear? I mean some milk from the pantry is one thing, but 800 trolleys? Absurd as it is, Pakistan is an exciting country to live in never a dull moment for sure.
The writer lives is Karachi. Email: shakir. firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
DR A Q KHAN
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a great poet and a very sensitive one too. We can well imagine his feelings when he wrote:
Bedam hue beemar, dawa kyon nahin detey? / Tum kaisey masiha ho, shifa kyon nahin detey?
He was not a poet obsessed with sad stories about loved ones, but was sensitive to the pains of the common man. He must have seen, and felt, their agony, but was helpless to do anything about it. We all, in one way or another, suffer some kind of grief.
Dareen dunya kasey begham na bashad / Agar bashad, bani adam na bashad(Nobody in this world is without grief; and if there is one, then he is not a human being.)Our famous poet Ghalib expressed the difficulty of being human in the following words:Bas ke dushwar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona / Aadmi ko bhi muyassar nahin insaan hona.
In Faiz's time people were probably not subjected to the same problems faced by the public today. Those clever enough and dishonest enough don't face such worries, as they prosper at the cost of the poor. They are the powerful ones who rule the nation. The only option left to the masses is to protest and demonstrate. Faiz did not limit himself to the lifeless and sick but demanded to know of the rulers why they were behaving like spectators rather than helping the masses to alleviate their sufferings.
At this time the poor are facing many problemsunemployment, spiralling prices, load-shedding and scarcity of items of daily necessity, to name but a few. Only the rich and corrupt can afford to live comfortably, while the poor struggle to make ends meet and find essential commodities. Load-shedding has forced factories, mills, shops, etc., to close for many hours, causing enormous losses to the national economy and high unemployment. The poor do not have generators and have no option but to sit out in the open to catch some fresh air (if there is a breeze) and to feed the mosquitoes with their meagre blood.
The prices of items of everyday use like gas, petrol, diesel, electricity, sugar, flour, are continuously being raised while those in power care naught about the agonies of the poor. How can they even imagine what it is like to be poor when the daily expenditures of the Presidency and Prime Minister's House are almost Rs1.5 million and Rs1 billion has been reserved for foreign trips for the current fiscal year.
The only means by which the people can vent their anger is by blocking roads and burning tyres. Instead of initiating projects for producing electricity on a war footing, we are told to limit the use of electricity or not to use it at all. Non-essential projects like motorways, highways, flyovers and bridges are continued because these offer about 50 per cent of the budgeted cost as kickbacks. These kickbacks do not benefit the needy. When those who could afford to do so bought generators, the price of diesel was immediately raised; when they switched their cars to LNG, this immediately became scarce. While the poor run from pillar to post seeking relief, the elected representatives do nothing. Furthermore, the people are blamed for the woes of the nation.
Help is nowhere to be found.
The public should demand that the residences of the elected representatives should not be allowed to use electricity from normal lines or from generators until the people too get electricity. The public at large is least interested in lectures and discussions by so-called experts, analysts and intellectuals or in reports about "successful trips abroad" of the ruling elite. They want to see action to relieve their problemsi.e., reduction in prices of essential commodities and their easy availability. When they don't get relief they may keep quiet, but the dissatisfaction festers like a sore.
Nature has its own rules and laws. There are those who support good and honest people and there are those who are opportunists and support the dishonest ones. The rich and well-to-do are not ignorant of the laws and religious injunctions, but they find it more attractive/profitable to follow the practice of Qarun who, though belonging to the tribe of Hazrat Musa (AS), was obsessed with accumulating wealth by any means. He did not pay any heed to Hazrat Musa's advice and was eventually buried alive, together with all his wealth, by Almighty Allah. The laws of Allah never change. Even today we have examples of wealthy hoarders coming to an unexplained painful end. But people don't learn from examples. They always assume nothing will happen to them.
The problem with wrongdoers is they have selective and short memories. They choose to forget what happened to the powerful and extremely rich Shah of Iran and Marcos of the Philippines in the relatively recent past. At the time of their deaths, neither of them could find even two metres of land for burial in their own homelands and all their billions could do nothing for them. Individuals die and their wealth is fought over and squandered by their heirs. Honest and pious (God-fearing) people spend their wealth on the poor during their lifetimes, which benefits the public for many generations.
As an example we have Queen Zubaida, wife of Khalifa Harun-al-Rashid, who had a freshwater canal built from Baghdad to Mecca. After more than a thousand years, people are still benefiting from it. Look at the various educational institutes and hospitals built by philanthropists on the subcontinent, which have been providing excellent services for the benefit of the people for decades. These are factual examples. The Holy Quran and the Hadiths are full of such relevant advice. However, the poor remain mere spectators. They know that it makes little difference to them who their rulers arethey are all of a kind.
About 30 years ago, the president of a famous German multinational visited us regularly and we had excellent business relations with them. They visited Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Murree and other places. One day he asked me why it was that so many Pakistan rulers and senior bureaucrats were always travelling to the West, saw the development and excellent management practices there, yet did not manage to make any difference in the backwardness and underdevelopment of the country. I told him his remark reminded me of a saying by the famous Persian saint Shaikh Saadi (RA) of Iran, which would aptly answer his query:
Khar-e-Isa agar ba Makka rawadChun bi aayad hunuz khar bashad(Even if Hazrat Isa's donkey went to Makka many times, on its return it would still be the same donkey.)
The situation in Pakistan is desperate and there is not much hope for improvement.
I. THE NEWS
THE NEXT INTERVENTION
This time it won't just be the takeover at the President's House and the Prime Minister's. There could also be the jamming of cellular telephone network and the temporary blocking of Internet. PTV could reign over the broadcast signals once again after a long time, at least for a few hours if not more. Unlike the past, this time some of the politicians will not take it lying down. The Pakistani state is at its weakest and a weak state invites trouble. Power-grabbers are many, and this time around they have direct contacts and deals with outside powers. These powers are already sitting in and around Pakistan.
Things should not come to this but the steady march toward a national failure is fast eroding the optimism that marked the election of February 2008. To be sure even the Pakistani military is not ready for this kind of an intervention. Not now at least. The military is content that Washington has seemingly ended its double game of using the politicians to undermine the military's influence. America is now talking directly to the army and is no longer solely dependent on Mr Zardari and Mr Haqqani [nor has it ditched them yet but that's a story for another day].
This situation might suit the Pakistani military, for good reasons. There is no question that Mr Pervez Musharraf left behind a sordid strategic situation where Pakistan was relegated from confronting a worthy adversary like India to fighting insurgencies that popped up from nowhere, and the PakMil, as the Americans like to call it, was demoted to cleaning up the American mess. Since Mr Musharraf's escape, the Pakistani military leadership did a tremendous job of juggling many balls in the air and gradually improving Pakistan's geostrategic position over the past two years. This transformation is a credit to the Pakistani military leadership.
But getting Washington to stop conniving with the politicians and deal directly with the military looks like a temporary reprieve and a shortsighted solution to extracting Pakistan from the mess of the past eight years. Pakistani people want a change in strategy, not tactics. They want their military to opt out of the Musharraf-designed and foreign-guaranteed political arrangements of 2007. They want their military to stop accepting small bribes, like the sale of the F-16s that come with humiliating conditions. The national mood can be gauged from the fact there was little jubilation over that news.
We have no enmity with the United States at all. It's just that our alliance with Washington in Afghanistan has come at the expense of Pakistan's national interests and the list of damages is too long. Granted that the Obama administration is doing damage control. But it's too little too late. Our so-called allies in Afghanistan continue to harm our strategic position and yet we let them off the hook with a strategic dialogue and some coins and PR stints.
Supreme Court's many interventions to help people get justice from overbearing and incompetent government departments [the details of these interventions, especially in smaller cases that don't make headlines, are truly breathtaking] shows two things. One, how bad things are and, two, that Pakistanis can bring a turnaround.
We need a government and a military that won't sell Pakistani citizens to foreign governments, won't be complicit in drone attacks that kill more innocent Pakistanis than any valuable 'targets', won't allow criminal syndicates make billions out of the ISAF and US Afghan-bound containers, and won't jump up and down in glee over weapons we bought with our own money yet can't choose where and how to use them.
Pakistan also needs to shed the apologetic attitude over our nuclear capability. Stop saying we only built them because India did it. We have our legitimate space of economic and strategic interests and we will protect it by all means necessary. Some assertiveness won't hurt.
None of the above requires a military intervention. There are options short of that. But a change of mindset is imperative. Someone will have to take charge in Pakistan. And it's better if we do it than let outsiders and reactionaries occupy the space.
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
VICTORY FOR CIVIL SOCIETY AND PALESTINE
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi
When Israel's leaders ordered their commandos to attack the Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza in international waters, they couldn't have imagined they would have to relax the three years-long blockade in less than three weeks. Yet, the global public revulsion at the murderous assault on the Mavi Marmaraeven among Israel's allies and supportersforced them to do so.
Two-thirds of Israelis disapproved of the attackmore because it disgraced their country, than out of moral outrage at its illegality and brutality. Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disowns the three-year-old blockade as an inheritance from the past. This is a clear confession by a macho Right-wing leader that Israel's Gaza strategy has politically failed.
This is a major victory for the international civil society mobilisation against Palestine's occupation by Israel. The fact that 600 activists from over 50 countries organised the flotilla impressed many people. Says Phyllis Bennis, a West Asia expert and an organiser of the US Palestinian solidarity movement: "The fact that so many non-Palestinians were killed highlighted the willingness of global activists to take risks on behalf of human rights that governments and the UN were unwilling to defend. It provided a powerful image of an increasingly empowered civil society with the capacity to transform events directly."
What gave the peaceful mobilisation special moral legitimacy was its basically non-violent character and its advocacy of international law. Bennis says: "Israel was not condemned because its commandoes were mean and brutal, [but] because the attack on a civilian ship carrying certifiably humanitarian goods in international waters, was a violation of international law. [T]he flotilla held Israel's entire blockade of Gaza up to the scrutiny of international lawand found it wanting ."
Also on the winning side is Turkey. Unlike the Arab states, it translated its tough anti-blockade stand into active solidarity with civil society organisations. Nineteen Turks (including a Turkish-American) were killed in the attack. Turkey acted firmly and convincingly. It recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, cancelled military exercises with Israel, and demandedand obtainedthe immediate release of all those captured.
Turkey has emerged from the crisis as a self-confident Middle Power with the courage to confront the US. Turkey's stock has risen politically. It is looking to a more ambitious role in regional affairs. Turkey and Brazil recently agreed with Iran to give it medium-enriched material for its research reactor in return for low-enriched uranium. This will promote accountable behaviour on Iran's part. Until recently, Turkey had good economic and military relations with Israel both within and outside NATO. Turkey even voted for Israel's entry into the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Now, Israel has lost Turkey, its only friend in the Muslim world.
Turkey's changed posture may motivate other countries to play a less pro-US role. As will the raid's condemnation even by the conservative UK and French governments, which declared it "indefensible". The UN Security Council chair statement also unequivocally criticised the attack. Malaysia and Ireland have stepped up humanitarian efforts for Gaza. The first ship to carry aid to Gaza after the flotilla was received peacefully. It was named the Rachel Corrie, after the young woman mowed down by Israeli bulldozers in 2003 for peacefully protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes.
By not condemning Israel's flotilla attack, the US lost an opportunity to earn goodwill in the Islamic world. If the US persists with its present policy, including a $30 billion 10-year aid package to Israel, the political costs of apologising for and cleaning up after Israel could become exorbitant. This may hopefully drum some sense into Washington's policy-makers.
The relaxation of the Gaza blockade won't change ground realitiesbarring a minor improvement in food availability and living conditions. Israel will still control Gaza's borders and airspace, and movement of people and goods. But as a Gazan puts it: "We don't need food or clothing; we don't want money. We need to be free to come and go. We need to feel human. People in Gaza are like younot from another planet."
The real impact of the relaxation of the blockade will be political. Israel will increasingly be seen as a state with roguish proclivities. This will accelerate worldwide recognition that Israel's occupation of Palestine is unjust, illegal and cruel, and reinforce its isolation.
Israel has long behaved like a lawless state. It has ignored the highest number of Security Council resolutions among all countries. It has invaded its neighbours and occupied territories in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It assassinates political opponents and massacres refugees. Israel has at least 200 nuclear weapons. It had nuclear-weapons collaboration with apartheid South Africa. Israel wrecked the Oslo peace process and continues to expand its illegal settlements in Palestine, including East Jerusalem.
The process of Israel's international isolation began with the bestial Sabra-Chatilla massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in 1982. A turning point was the first Intifadah of the late 1980s, during which Palestinian children fought Israeli tanks with stones. Those images transformed the world's perception of Israel: from a tiny nation threatened by hostile Arab states, to a ruthless aggressor. The 2008 Gaza invasion further confirmed Israel's criminality. After the flotilla episode, Israel will be increasingly regarded as a pariah or outlaw state, which must be reined injust as apartheid South Africa was.
UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk, an eminent US jurist, whom Israel has barred from visiting Palestine, puts the issue in perspective: "In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel's behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called 'the second war'the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results.
"The US won every battle in the Vietnam War and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war." Adds Falk: "It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions" (BDS).
The BDS campaign is gathering strength in many countriesbut regrettably, not in South Asia. India in particular is building close relations with Israel. It is allowing its arms purchase relationship to guide its foreign policy. This is a historic blunder. New Delhi must correct courseradically and quickly. To start with, India, along with other South Asian states, must demand an independent external inquiry into the flotilla attack. As argued earlier, Pakistan must cease and desist from making clandestine contacts with Israel. However, none of this will happen unless political parties and civil society organisations build a BDS campaign in South Asia, which educates the public and mobilises strong, principled support.
I. THE NEWS
Plan A was to write about why, though the F16 is a very fine aeroplane, and the Block52 version of it is state-of-the-art; it is not actually a terribly good aeroplane for the kind of war we are fighting in the tribal areas. I'd done all the research and made the argument that the A10 Warthog is by far the better machine for counter-insurgency and then a couple of things changed. I heard in some detail from a friend who has recently taken up a post in Nepal, and the Data Darbar massacre happened. The two are not directly connected but have a relevance to one another.
I came late to knowing about the bombing at Data Darbar because we had a three-hour power cut and the cable channels were off, so though the generator was hammering away I was getting no news input and it was not until the Friday morning that the horror was revealed - and this time the horror truly was revealed. Rightly, in my opinion, we do not televise or print pictures of dismembered limbs and shattered bodies, the immediate aftermath of all such incidents. But there are photographers and cameramen on the scene within minutes in these fast-news days, and they are rolling and snapping before the rescue workers get to pick up the body parts and decently cover human remains - and they were rolling and snapping at Data Darbar and some of their uncensored pictures quickly appeared on the internet.
Me and messy death have bumped into one-another a few times over the years. What you never get with pictures is the smell. Blown up bodies smell different to the bodies of people who have died by other means, and dismembered bodies have a smell unique to them. Olfactory memory clicked in as I looked at the pictures which had been posted on a social networking site. I could smell those photographs. A few details struck me. The rescue workers were wearing boots. The people who were picking up the bits of their friends and relatives were barefoot on the blood-slicked marble floor. A pair of legs connected by the spinal column. There was comment about the wisdom or otherwise of posting this kind of material, with one of the comments from my friend in Nepal. Which brings us to a connection.
She had seen a dress she liked in Thamel, a Kathmandu bazaar. She hoped she got paid before somebody else bought it and she wondered at the freedom she had so suddenly found. That she could buy and wear a dress without any sense of fear, fear of being abused by men in the street or receiving disparaging looks in the office. That she can live alone as a single woman and not be the subject of gossip or innuendo. Nepal is not an especially liberal country, but it is a tolerant one. A part of that tolerance comes from exposure to the 'other' - it has a huge international tourism industry and caters to a diversity of tastes and wallets. Poor travellers probably outnumber the rich. And nobody is even going to notice a young woman in a frock walking on her way to work - or, as she plans for the future, going by bicycle.
The dreadful events at Data Darbar, the killing of over a hundred Ahmedis are all about intolerance. A refusal to acknowledge the right of the 'other' to be different, to have an opposing view. The juxtaposition of a pretty dress and a picture of carnage may seem incongruous, but to me it speaks volumes about where Pakistan is at.
MAKING CNG DEARER
At a conference titled 'Investment in Power Sector of Bangladesh: Opportunities and Challenges', Finance Minister AMA Muhith gives a specific timeframe for resolving the country's power crisis. According to him, by mid-2012 there will be no shortage of electricity in the country. His open admission of the government's inability to come up with a quick-fix before that time should put this important issue in right perspective. At least people will no longer be required to guess about the cut-off point from where they can get rid of the travail owing to frequent load-shedding. Such information with no attempt to mislead people helps and they become more willing to bear with the administration even though there is no immediate remission from sufferings.
The finance minister certainly deserves praise for calling the spade a spade, but then his recommendation for doubling the price of compressed natural gas (CNG) will hardly earn him many friends. True, rationalising energy prices is necessary, but an assessment of its overall impact on the country's economy is also due well ahead of time. It has been quite a long time since vehicles of almost all varieties have been going for a conversion from the gasoline engine to CNG version on the insistence of the government. Both the economic and environmental considerations made a strong argument in its favour. But now the economic advantage will decrease, if the price is doubled. Its environmental impact is likely to be particularly telling. The impetus behind going for CNG-conversion, considered green technology, will simply disappear.
When so much is at stake, raising price either of CNG or power will be resented by people at large. Government departments have a very bad track record in paying utility bills and this increases the cost of production and supply of utilities. So far as the subscribers or consumers are concerned, they should not be penalized, since they make regular payment. Subsidy should also be encouraged and in every welfare society it is used as a means to avoid social frictions and economic breakdowns. Keeping CNG price lower will certainly prove more economical than importing costly fuel.
SAND QUARRY LAW
In a belated move the land ministry likes to get a law on sand quarrying enacted in parliament. Better late than never, let the law be passed soon. Currently, river morphology is being badly damaged due to absence of a sound policy adopted by relevant authorities. It has affected the river course, environment and ecology and also accentuated erosion causing misery for millions of people across the country. Measures should be good enough for minimizing, if not totally stopping the damage. For a riverine and small country with a large population like Bangladesh, rational river management and utilisation of riverine resources must be given top priority.
The 280 sand quarry permit holders now extracting sands have obtained permits from the land ministry and the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA). This shows that diarchy of authority exists in quarry administration and management which should persist no more. The proposed law is known to have taken care of it. If and when parliament approves it, only the land ministry and deputy commissioners (DCs) will have the authority to grant permits and manage quarry zones. Provisions barring extraction of sand from one kilometre on each side of a bridge, allowing no one to disturb different kinds of BIWTA establishments and to disrupt agriculture, forest, tree plantation, gas line etc have real merits.
Experts favour sand lifting from the mid river where current is sharp, but extractors mostly collect it from river sides accelerating the pace of erosion. This should be banned immediately. Easy and normal flow of current contributing to undisturbed river morphology is ideal. Before the draft of the proposed law is finalised such issues should be thoroughly studied for making the law viable for the purpose.
THOUGHTS TO MULL OVER..!
I really didn't want to go to the wedding yesterday, because I wanted to finish a book, and when I come to the last few pages of an interesting book, wild horses can't pull me away from finding out what the ending is like, but yesterday with the wife insisting I go, I left the book and went and sat at the wedding reception looking bored a bother and pest to all concerned when suddenly I looked across the marriage hall and saw people who had been my friends decades ago.
I strolled across and met them and soon found there was such a sense of joy when you hugged an old friend who'd gone through a bypass, such laughter when you noticed someone coming towards you, her once black hair now totally grey and soon the evening turned into a fun evening, which made me think as I drove back that it was fun to be with old friends, "Old Friends are Gold! New Friends are Diamonds! If you get a Diamond, don't forget the Gold! Because to hold a Diamond, you always need a Base of Gold!"
True isn't it, we quite often forget old friends as we make new ones, but new friendships are based on old experiences!
I find other such thoughts fill my mind and I'm going to share them with you today: That God is not a spare wheel you pull out when in trouble, but a steering wheel who directs the right path always!
And do you know why a car's windshield is so large and rearview mirror so small? Because our past is not as important as our future: Look ahead and move on!
Here's one again on friendship again: Friendship is like a book. It takes few seconds to burn, but it takes years to write!
And for those who are going through problems, remember all things in life are temporary; if going well enjoy it, they will not last forever. If going wrong, don't worry, they can't last long either.
Often when we lose hope and think this is the end, God smiles from above and says, "Relax, it's just a bend, not the end!
Remember when God solves your problems you have faith in HIS abilities; when He doesn't solve your problems He has faith in your abilities.
A blind person asked Swami Vivekananda: "Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?" He replied: "Yes, losing your vision!"
When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them, so when you are safe and happy, remember someone is praying for you.
And my dear reader, worrying does not take away tomorrows' troubles, but it sure takes away today's peace.
If you like some of what I've put down today, thank my wife who insisted I go for the wedding and not get stuck with my nose in a book last night.
IS POLITICS FORCING REFORMS IN AL?
M. SERAJUL ISLAM
An article on Bangladesh in The Economist's June 12-18 issue has not been complimentary. It said that politics has again become "personal, vindictive and confrontational" as if the 2 years of the emergency never took place. In the critical piece, there was not even the proverbial silver lining in the cloud. There is of course no reason to take the article as authoritative. Its confident prediction that the incumbent would win the Chittagong mayoral election easily was utterly incorrect and he lost it by a humiliating margin.
Politics in the country nevertheless is back to its old form. The Awami League is competing hard to prove that it can do better on all counts for which it had criticized the BNP during its last term in power. The way the daily Amar Desh has been stopped from its work and its Editor incarcerated has done little to give Bangladesh the democratic image it so badly needs for attracting foreign direct investment for its economic development. Hartal, the mortal enemy of the economy, has returned and although the public sentiment has largely crystallized against it, there was a quiet acceptance among the people that there is little they can do to stop its resurgence so long as the Government fails to deliver on the promises it has made for winning the elections.
There are a few long-term dangers looming very prominently in the political horizon of Bangladesh. The failure of the Awami League to control the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL) has embedded in it many issues that need serious consideration to determine the direction in which the country is going. The BCL started showing its ugly fangs very early in this term of the AL leading the Prime Minister to severe her connections with it as its chief patron. Her anger and action had no effect and instead the BCL increased its evil activities with more vigour to show that they are not ready to pay heed to her anger. Thereafter some AL leaders claimed that the BCL's evil activities were being carried out by elements belonging to the Jatiyatabadi Chatra Dal, the student wing of the BNP and the Chatra Shibir, the student wing of the Jamat who they claimed have "infiltrated" to take over top positions in the BCL that no one believed.
In very recent times, the BCL leaders have beaten up authorities in the government colleges to force them to give a percentage of seats for admission to them that they could trade for money to students who would otherwise not be admitted on merit. In one instance, they beat up the principal of a government college who was unwilling to accept their atrocious demand. The BCL also beat up pro-hartal activists belonging to the BNP that led the AL General Secretary to announce in the media that the AL had no connections with the BCL! The BCL has been a student wing of the AL till this dramatic statement of the General Secretary. The AL leaders, including the Prime Minister and the General Secretary of the Party have themselves come from the BCL to the AL as a matter of intra-party mobility and they have, including the rest of the AL leadership, all taken pride of their membership in the BCL. In fact, as an unwritten norm, leadership in the BCL has always been considered a major credential for a major position in the AL.
The General Secretary's statement has thus come as a major surprise to everybody, including many in the party itself. Questions are being raised whether the AL has formally abandoned student politics and has severed the umbilical cord between it and the BCL. The Joint Secretary of the party has publicly questioned the General Secretary over the statement and said that the AL cannot absolve itself of its responsibilities for the illegal activities of the BCL.
The publicly aired difference of opinion over the illegal activities of the BCL is unusual in Bangladesh's politics. The fact that the BCL has not ceased its illegal activities even after the Prime Minister's repeated warnings is also strange. The concerns expressed by some AL leaders over the actions of the law enforcing agencies at the residence of the BNP leader Mirza Abbas is also equally unusual. It is not the first time that law enforcing agencies have shown over enthusiasm for their political masters. It is however for first time that a senior party leader not in Government has openly criticized such over-enthusiasm and that too in the Parliament. It is also for the first time that the candidate that the Prime Minister backed in Chittagong election did not receive the wholehearted support from the party that was one of the major reasons for his humiliating defeat.
Looking at these developments, one could however argue that politics is forcing the AL to change for the better where dissent expressed openly is not yet causing any reprisal. If the decision not to acknowledge the BCL as a part of the AL is correct, then the logical conclusion is that the AL is giving up using students for their political objectives. This could be the answer to prayers of many people in the country to end the criminalization of the public educational institutions and save the future of the nation. If the difference of opinion between the General Secretary and the Joint Secretary over the BCL is indeed one expressed in pursuance of a key democratic principle that dissent is inherent in democratic behaviour,
then this could signal a paradigm shift in AL's style of politics.
On reality check, however, it would be naïve to conclude that the unusual developments are positive signs for Bangladesh's politics. In fact, history and nature of our politics points in an ominous direction. The link between the BCL and the AL is too deep to be severed by a curt statement in the media by the party's General Secretary. The BCL leaders who are not listening to the demands of the Prime Minister have no reason to accept the decision of the General Secretary either because they could be drawing strength and inspiration from within the party that the top leadership is trying to ignore and push under the table. In forming the cabinet, the AL has sidetracked senior leaders because during the emergency they are alleged to have worked for change in the top position in the party. These leaders have their own following in the party that they have painstakingly built over many decades and their links with the BCL are the strongest because in their younger days, they have been top leaders of the BCL themselves.
The recent unusual developments could mean that dissent is growing in the AL or besides those that have been demonstrated publicly, there are strong murmurs of dissent in private; something so long considered impossible in any of the two mainstream parties but necessary for democracy. However, if this is indeed dissent; the way it is happening and the reason behind it could lead to more conflicts within the party and hinder democracy instead of strengthening it.
(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt and can be reached on his blog www.ambassadorseraj.blogspot.com)
IN-CUSTODY DEATH SYNDROME IN BANGLADESH
Countrywide deaths in law enforcers custody are causing public disquiet. The latest incident of 'encounter' death at Gulshan in Dhaka on July 1, 2010 took to 199 the total number of death in extrajudicial incidents called 'crossfire', 'encounter' or 'gunfight' since the Awami League-led government assumed office on January 6, 2009. The law enforcers continue killing people in extrajudicial incidents such as 'crossfire' in defiance of the ban the High Court imposed on December 14, 2009 as the hearing in a number of HC rules issued regarding such killing is still not in sight. Forty-four people have so far been killed in such incidents of extrajudicial killing since December 14, 2009, when the High Court asked the authorities not to kill any more people in 'crossfire' or 'encounter' until it hears the rule it issued suo moto on the government in this regard on November 17, 2009.
Reports of three deaths of people in police custody only within a span of 5 days are simply unacceptable. If police are the public face of the government then it is a very scary face indeed that the citizens are watching recently. Rights defenders on Saturday condemned the recent incidents of alleged killing in police custody and demanded independent investigations, rather than departmental inquiries, of the incidents. They expressed their reservations about the institution of the police committee to investigate the death of Mizanur Rahman, who the police claimed was killed in a 'gunfight' on Thursday but his family said was picked up by the police on Tuesday.
The rights activists said such an investigation would not be impartial and acceptable. They made the statements after three incidents of killing allegedly in the custody of the Darussalam, Gulshan and Ramna police had taken place.
Torture has at least three new developments in contemporary Bangladesh. In the name of security and fight against terrorism, there is increasing use of torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trial, suppression of political dissent. However, torture does not stop terror.
Torture is terror. Second, some of the tools of the torturer's trade seem almost medieval - shackles, leg irons, thumbscrews, handcuffs and whips. However, in recent years there has been a marked expansion in the manufacture, trade and use of other kinds of technology used by security and police forces, especially coercive techniques like narco-analysis, truth serum, brain fingerprinting and others. There is a need to put pressure on government and on companies to stop this new torture trade.
Thirdly, torture is feeding more and more on discrimination and inequality. Discrimination is creating a climate in which torture of the 'other' group subjected to intolerance and discriminatory treatment are taken as accepted. Specific standards and safeguards for the protection against torture of minorities, women, children and others are needed. Ultimately, our security will not be best protected by torturing and ill-treating detainees but by respecting everyone's human rights.
What follow acts of terror are death, injuries, wailing relatives, red alerts, promises from higher officials that something will be done, heated discussions, political blame games, candlelight vigils, and what not. Why are we not prepared to prevent such unfortunate incidents? Names of fundamentalist and extremist organizations, religious and political, are repeated every time there is a terror attack. Citizens cling to the faint hope that something will be done. True, the progress of an investigation cannot be revealed but the result of inquiries can be. Is there no end to the investigations?
After every attack, there is a hue and cry, some political mudslinging, and grant of monetary relief to victims. In a short time, we move on as though nothing happened. There will be no arrests as our system waits for culprits to fall in the net by themselves. Do we accept terrorism/barbarism as a part of our lives? Are we satisfied with some compensation and comforting words? In the ground reality in Bangladesh today, fighting terrorism is not unlike fighting a deadly cancer. It can't be treated just where it's visible - every diseased cell in the body must be destroyed.
Under no circumstance we accept deaths in law enforcers' custody. In such killing case police investigation is not acceptable, a judicial probe is required to ensure justice to the families of the victims. National Human Rights Commission may look into the matter and inform the people about it.
The incidents of death in law enforcer's custody must stop now if the government is serious about establishing a society on the basis of law and justice. The rule of law must be given priority over everything else. Government must check properly to stop the in-custody death syndrome which is well known as extrajudicial killings in our country.
(The writer is a Canada-based contributor to The Independent)
THE JAPAN TIMES
FUNDING SOCIAL WELFARE
Social welfare such as pensions, medical and nursing care as well as support measures for families rearing children is an important issue. A fiscal 2009 Cabinet Office survey shows that the largest portion of those polled 69 percent want the government's priority to be on establishing a pension system that is equitable and reliable.
Japan's political parties have proposed various social welfare measures that voters will take into consideration in deciding which party to support in the July 11 Upper House election.
The Democratic Party of Japan, which proposed giving a monthly child allowance of ¥26,000 from fiscal 2011 in its manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, now says local governments can use funds meant to raise the current ¥13,000 monthly allowance for public services like nursery schools.
Meanwhile, the No. 1 opposition Liberal Democratic Party calls for a complete review of the child-allowance program and proposes making nursery schools, kindergartens, school lunches and children's medical services free of charge.
As for pensions, the DPJ proposes unifying various pension schemes to establish a system that guarantees at least ¥70,000 a month. The system would be funded with revenues generated by the consumption tax. Both the LDP and Komeito propose allowing people to become eligible to receive a basic pension if they pay premiums for at least 10 years, instead of for 25 years as required at present. The actual amount of the basic pension would depend on premiums paid into the system.
The Japan Communist Party proposes starting a ¥50,000 monthly pension soon with government funding. An additional amount would be based on premiums paid.
Pension payment totals have been on the rise. Health and welfare ministry data show that, in fiscal 2008, some 36 million people received a total of ¥49 trillion. Yet, the average pension amount has been in decline, meaning that an increasing number of elderly people are having to make do with a smaller pension.
Some social welfare-related proposals may seem too sweet for voters. The problem is that the parties are not giving detailed explanation about the funds needed. They must make clear how much people will have to pay to receive promised benefits.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BETTER VIEW OF BUSINESS
Business confidence gauged by the diffusion index (DI) among major manufacturers climbed for the fifth straight quarter in June to plus 1, up 15 points from March the first positive figure since June 2008 the Bank of Japan said Thursday. The DI has now reached the level it was at before the global financial crisis started in the fall of 2008. Brisk exports to emerging economies like China and India have helped.
The DI is the percentage of firms reporting favorable business conditions minus the percentage reporting an unfavorable view. In fiscal 2010, major manufacturers and nonmanufacturers plan to increase capital investment 4.4 percent over that in 2009. This trend is helping some companies that depend on domestic demand. For example, the DI for major nonmanufacturers has improved for five straight months to minus 5.
There is little reason for excessive optimism, as the DI for medium-size and small firms remains low minus 18 for manufacturers and minus 26 for nonmanufacturers. Although the DI for major manufacturers three months from now is plus 3 and that for major nonmanufacturers is minus 4, pitfalls lie ahead.
Among major nonmanufacturers, prospects for the tourism, entertainment, retailing and construction sectors are not good due to deflation. The consumer price index fell 1.2 percent in May from the year before for the 15th straight monthly fall. Consumer spending per household dropped 0.7 percent in May from the year before for the second consecutive monthly drop. The unemployment rate rose for the third straight month in May to 5.2 percent. Discussions by political parties on the merits of raising the consumption tax could dampen consumer spending.
Subsidies for eco-friendly car purchases will terminate at the end of September. Thus the DI for carmakers three months from now is 15 points worse than at present. Financial reconstruction efforts in Europe in the wake of Greece's debt crisis may cool down the European economy and raise the yen's value against the euro. China is also tightening its monetary policy. The government and the BOJ must take steps that will help increase capital investment, wages and employment.
THE JAPAN TIMES
CHINA NOW EXPORTS ITS CONVICTS
Relieving pressure on overcrowded national prisons by employing convicts as laborers at Chinese-run projects in the developing world is a novel strategy China has adopted an approach that is certain to create new backlashes against Chinese businesses overseas, besides highlighting the country's egregious human-rights record.
In addition to being the world's biggest executioner, China has one of the largest prison populations in the world. The 2009 "World Prison Population List" compiled by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College, London, put the total number of inmates in Chinese jails at 1.57 million.
China has evolved in important ways as a result of its economic "opening," with the new social pluralism prompting the state to cut back on totalitarian practices. Yet, with its Soviet-style autocratic structure intact, there is little space for political pluralism. Those who challenge government policies or practices or stage demonstrations against official highhandedness risk long imprisonment.
The forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects raises new issues regarding China's human-rights record.
Thousands of Chinese convicts, for example, have been pressed into service in projects by state-run Chinese companies in Sri Lanka, a strategically important country for China, which is seeking a role in the Indian Ocean. Such is Sri Lanka's vantage location that it sits astride vital sea lanes of communication. China in return for being allowed to make strategic inroads provided Sri Lanka offensive weapon systems that helped end its long civil war. Now, Beijing is being rewarded with port-building, railroad and other infrastructure projects.
Chinese convicts also have been taken to a microstate in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives, where the Chinese government is building 4,000 houses on several different islands as a government-to- government "gift" to win influence there. So far, however, Beijing has failed to persuade the Maldivian president to lease it one of the 700 uninhabited Maldivian islands for setting up a small base for its navy.
The Chinese practice in overseas projects, including in Africa, is to keep the number of local workers to the minimum and to bring in much of the workforce from China. The novel twist is that some batches of laborers now being brought in are made up of convicts "freed" on parole for project-related overseas work.
The convict laborers, like the rest of the Chinese workforce, are housed near the project site. The Chinese logic is that if any convict worker escaped, it would be easy to find the runaway in an alien setting.
Chinese firms actually bring in more than just convict laborers and other workers at overseas projects. To help boost Chinese exports, they get all equipment, steel, cement and other construction material from China.
Such practices run counter to the Chinese commerce ministry's August 2006 regulations promulgated in response to the backlash against Chinese businesses in Zambia following the death of 51 Zambian workers in an explosion at a Chinese-owned copper mine that called for "localization," including hiring local workers, respecting local customs and adhering to safety norms.
Chinese domestic regulations, however, are sometimes promulgated to blunt external criticism. They are thus seldom enforced, except when a case attracts international attention.
Despite the State Council's 2006 nine good-conduct directives to Chinese companies engaged in overseas operations, the government and corporate priority still is to aggressively boost exports, even if such a push engenders environmental and social costs for local communities abroad. Indeed, as part of the government's "going global" policy, Chinese companies are offered major incentives and rewards for bagging overseas contracts and boosting exports.
The use of convict laborers adds a disturbing new dimension to the "going global" strategy, which was first unveiled in 2001.
As it is, some Chinese projects, especially dam-building schemes, have been embroiled in several countries in disputes with local communities. The pressing of Chinese prisoners into service will create new rifts.
Chinese dam-building projects, for example, have been controversial with local communities in Botswana, Burma, Ghana, Pakistan and Sudan, among others. In Sudan, security forces killed three people and wounded several others in April 2006 to scatter demonstrators protesting the 9.2-km-long Merowe High Dam, while a similar protest against another Chinese dam-building project in that impoverished country, at Kajbar, left four people dead in June 2007.
Last April, several small bombs went off at the site of Burma's Myitsone Dam, whose construction by a Chinese company in the insurgency-torn, northernmost Kachin state is displacing thousands of subsistence farmers and fishermen by flooding a wide swath of land. Located at the confluence of the N'Mai and Mali rivers, the Myitsone Dam is China's project for China, with the local communities saddled with social and environmental costs as the scheme's entire generation of 3,200 megawatts of hydropower is earmarked for export.
Chinese companies also have been erecting dams in an internationally disputed area like the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir, drawing protests from India as well as from local communities that view the projects, including the mammoth 7,000-megawatt Bunji Dam, as potentially benefiting only the dominant Pakistani province of Punjab, located downstream.
China is not only the world leader in building dams at home, but also the top dam exporter. In fact, it has no qualms about building dams in contested territories, or in areas torn by ethnic separatism, or in other human rights-abusing countries.
China's declaratory policy of "noninterference in domestic affairs" serves as a virtual license to pursue projects that benefit governments known to repress their citizens. For example, in Sudan, where China has emerged as the principal backer of a regime accused of committing genocide in the arid western region of Darfur, 13 of the 15 largest foreign companies operating are Chinese, with Beijing making huge investments in the Sudanese economy from hydropower to oil. It also has sold hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of weapons, including tanks and fighter-jets, to help prop up President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.
Chinese companies on their own cannot get prisoners released in the thousands, let alone secure passports and exit permits for them. It is obvious that the controversial practice of making use of convicts overseas has been initiated at the instance of the Chinese government.
Until Beijing's treatment of its own citizens and those of other countries is guided by respect for basic human rights and the rule of law, it is doubtful that China will command respect on the world stage.
Brahma Chellaney is the author of the international best-seller, "Asian Juggernaut" (HarperCollins, New York, 2010).
THE JAKARTA POST
THE MORATORIUM AND PALM OIL
More than five weeks since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono committed to a two-year moratorium on the conversion of primary forests and peatlands into oil palm plantations, related ministries and palm oil companies have remained confused about how the program will be implemented.
True, the moratorium Yudhoyono agreed on with the Norwegian government in Oslo late in May hit the roots of the problem that has prompted international environmentalists to label Indonesia the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Reckless and uncontrolled deforestation and peatlands conversion for oil palm plantations have indeed been the primary cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, and the US$1 billion pledged by Norway in compensation for the moratorium could do a lot of good things for this country.
But the commitment seems to lack credibility in the absence of support of palm oil companies, the party that will be affected directly by it. Last week, the palm oil industry association reiterated its opposition to the Indonesia-Norway agreement, complaining that it would have adverse impacts on investment plans in oil palm development.
Confusion and apprehension have persisted even though Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa assured palm oil companies at an international conference in Yogyakarta last month that the Oslo agreement would not affect plantation investment projects that had already been approved by government. But the lack of details made his assurances less credible.
And to the contrary, the President seemed clear cut on how he would go about implementing the moratorium. He even announced plans for a special authority, modeled on the Aceh Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency, to oversee its implementation by regional governments.
We reckon part of the problem has been caused by a lack of coordination between policy makers. Even the ministries of forestry, agriculture and the environment, which are directly related to the moratorium, seemed to have been caught off-guard by the Oslo deal.
Indonesia, already the world's largest producer of palm oil, with an annual output of almost 20 million tons, plans to steadily expand its oil palm plantations so as to double production within 10 years, and investors have obtained licenses to immediately open an additional 2 million hectares of plantations.
The blunt fact, however, is that the President has made an international commitment as part of Indonesia's participation in the global campaign to reduce carbon emissions and to fight climate change.
It is urgent and most imperative, therefore, that all related ministries and regional administrations work together and coordinate to implement the moratorium properly, not only to defend our credibility in the international community. Preventing deforestation is primarily for our own good because Indonesia, as the world's largest archipelago country, will be among the hardest hit by the devastating impacts of climate change.
However, most important is that the President show strong leadership to ensure that all sectors in government and the public take part in the program.
We think the remaining six months before the Oslo agreement is due to take effect are still adequate to make all necessary technical preparations and formulated regulatory frameworks. After all, the government is still finalizing regulations for the enforcement of the 2009 Environment Law.
THE JAKARTA POST
UNDERSTANDING RI'S LOGISTICS COSTS
Indonesian top politicians and policy makers are all talking about our competitiveness in the world market. Some are quoting the results of World Bank's Logistics Performance Index (LPI) 2007 and 2010, which basically demonstrates the lack of competitiveness in the Indonesian logistics system.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his remarks when inaugurating the recently established National Economic Committee stressed that economic connectivity is one of the top priorities for the government. Several government and private sector organizations have already rushed to propose project initiatives.
All the major initiatives involving mega investments are aimed at among others, reducing transportation costs. But are we addressing the heart of our physical distribution problems? Most reports say that the logistics costs are enormous and reduce the capability of our goods and services to compete in the international market.
What drives the high logistics costs? Are we putting too much faith in our economy to infrastructure development? Is it a transportation infrastructure bottleneck or is it the economic behavior of the transporters that creates the high cost of transportation?
While it is apparent that our infrastructure and progress lags behind our neighbors, and new emerging economies such as India and China, the problem lays not only in the cost of transport infrastructure and services. While it is true that we need to heavily invest in providing an adequate transport infrastructure, leading us to believe if we fix our infrastructure we will solve the suppressed economic development, it may lead us into disappointment.
The Indonesia logistics blue print has several methodological issues and the most obvious one is its inability to clearly identify the factors affecting the high logistics' costs. The study did not indicate the actual production and transaction costs of transporting goods so we do not know the cause of inefficiency. Several in-depth studies undertaken by various public and private organizations have pinpointed a direction for cost reduction strategies, which we should proceed with, but generalizing it into a wider geographical area will be problematic.
An interesting finding comes from the combined analysis of the input output table of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) and the original destination survey of the Transportation Ministry. Added with various transport statistics, we have additional information for refining the Indonesian future logistic policies. Here are several lessons that can be learned.
First, it is true that the cost of transporting goods and services has increased overtime. Not only the absolute amount of transport costs components escalated, but the rate of change across commodities rose as well. The biggest hike was on basic commodities and the lowest was on service sectors.
It means that transporters for agriculture, forestry and mining commodities should be the main target of intervention when dealing with reducing the cost of transport. The mining sector suffers most from this cost increase with around 20 percent annual costs increase in the last five years.
Share of transport costs to the final cost of delivering trade and service sector, which is an urban sector, is relatively higher than other sectors but its rate of increase is relatively lower. Pushing for a more efficient urban transport system will be a good strategy for maintaining competitiveness of our cities.
Second, most goods delivered within the distance of less than 1,000 kilometers. Local delivery and a local distribution system is still dominating the value and volume of final transport costs. Combining this data with the first lesson above, we know that the key to a cost-reducing strategy should start from the production site to the closest transport hub.
Third, it is important to recognize that final transport costs basically consist of a cost of production and profit margin enjoyed by transporters. A careful look at the statistics will reveal an interesting feature of the Indonesian transporters. The basic production costs are not as high as we all thought. It is actually very low compared with the final costs charged to the commodity owners.
It demonstrates that the Indonesian transporters if they are hired or in business, enjoy the lucrative differential between final costs and basic costs of production. It has only two meanings. We are dealing with an oligopolistic behavior of transporters or the transporters are charging a high risk premium for working under a non-secure business environment.
The third possibility is perhaps a combination of both. Many bulk commodities are transported by few companies able to set the tariff above market. Past studies on the distribution of rice also confirmed this phenomenon. The Indonesian Business Supervisory Commission (KPPU) processed several cases of oligopoly in the agriculture commodities, which show a sign that oligopolistic behavior does exist in the Indonesian commodity market. And it is ruining our competitiveness.
What about the business risk? The reason why transporters are charging a high premium to their customers is due to the risk of doing business. Unnecessary transactions occur along the supply chain, creating a chain of rents and transfers that charges into the final commodity price.
With an artificially high price of commodities, and the difficulties for our competition authority to deal with the issue, the government should try to eliminate such a business practice by promoting a parallel supply chain, for example using the ICT to shorten the business process and eliminate unnecessary transactions.
What we still do not know is if transporters' profits are suppressed and if they are willing to voluntarily participate in such a cost-reduction effort, or they are actually surfing nicely in this business climate and even profit from it.
Targeting at improving the supply chain in agriculture commodities by creating a network of local transportation, warehouses and regulatory systems enable farmers to enjoy higher farm-gate prices.
In all of the basic sectors, for example agriculture, forestry and mining sectors, the government should eliminate oligopolistic behavior of the transporters before rushing into mega projects.
The writer is a professor of transportation at Gadjah Mada University, and the chairman of the Indonesia Transportation Society. He is also with the Institution of Engineers Indonesia.
THE JAKARTA POST
INDONESIA'S LIBIDINAL FORCES
SASKIA WIERINGA, AMSTERDAM
If the drives for power, money and sex can be considered the motivating forces of society, Indonesia's history is replete with examples of how this triad acts in concordance. Of these three, the workings of a society's libidinal forces are usually the most mysterious, as B. Herry Priyono argues in The Jakarta Poston June 21.
Only when sexual battles are fought in the open, as is increasingly the case in present-day Indonesia, do we become aware of their vast power to sway people's minds.
Herry Priyono realized this when he analyzed the dying days of the Marcos regime, when street demonstrations somehow coincided with the public showing of pornographic movies.
However, we don't have to look to Indonesia's neighboring archipelago to understand the ways the "vast continent of libidinal forces" can be exploited to achieve political power, and to grab stunning amounts of money in its wake.
In fact, in Indonesia, one of the most telling examples of the success of the manipulation of a people's sexual subconscious in modern history took place. Its triumph can best be demonstrated by the collective amnesia of this dark period in its history.
I refer to the genocide that occurred between 1965-66, triggered by the spread of slanderous rumors that young girls belonging to the socialist movement had seduced, castrated and murdered the generals who were abducted by the junior officers of the Sept. 30 Movement.
The autopsy, the confessions of those involved and subsequent research has proven without any doubt that these rumors were blatant lies, fabricated by the military under Gen. Soeharto to blame the communist party for the murders and to remove president Sukarno.
Although a very small number of top leaders of the party were involved in the planning of the abduction, they were not involved in the subsequent murders, which was an internal army affair.
The party as a whole was caught totally by surprise. The frenzy created by these slanderous lies triggered a genocide of possibly 1 million people.
It is the only mass murder in the world after the WWI, which is not officially recognized, and in which the killers are walking free, while victims are still being blamed.
To this day, the sexual poison injected at that moment into Indonesian society works. I regularly
read articles that accuse the communist party of organizing the army putsch.
Recently, even a meeting on free health care in Banyuwangi was disrupted by a mob that claimed they were entitled to do so as they considered it an event organized by "communist supporters".
And to this day, murderers can be heard bragging that they are proud to have helped "cleanse society" from the progressive forces in those times.
The lurid sexual slander spread by the army helped install the brutal and greedy New Order society. It worked so well precisely because it touched the society's underbelly, mobilizing fear of women's uncontrolled sexuality, associating it with a political agency.
At present, we witness another wave of the mobilization of sexual passion in society. The media engage in lurid portrayals of an intersex person thrown into jail for marrying his wife, and a private video of a popular singer and some actresses.
And again mob violence is deployed. It is amazing that the FPI was allowed to attack and ban an international conference on gay and lesbian rights in March, interrupt human rights training of transgender people in April and remove a statue in June. How, by the way, was it the statue's fault?
The three women of which it composed, each looking at the direction of the three streets leading to the housing complex for which it was made, and covered by a lengthy slendang, were considered "obscene" and reminded the PKI leaders of the Christian trinity.
By the way, this would be the first time the trinity would be represented by three women, but more to the point this association was far from the sculptor's mind.
So what can we learn from Indonesia's own modern history? When sexual politics play a role in the foreground, we may be sure that forces backstage are aligning the other two aspects of the triad, money and power.
At this moment, we must ask ourselves the usual "whodunit" questions. Who stands to profit from this situation? And who are behind the mobs?
The profit question has a stunning number of possible answers, ranging from business icons unhappy to pay their regular taxes to corrupt officials in the police and elsewhere. It is less clear who control the FPI and other thugs.
Yet it is critically important to find that out. For if left free, they may threaten the very values of the reformation.
Already they have tarnished Indonesia's reputation as being the largest Muslim democracy in the world in which social justice and pluralism were secured by its founding fathers.
The writer is a professor at the University of Amsterdam, and secretary of the Kartini Asia Network board.
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