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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

EDITORIAL 06.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 06, edition 000560 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjuly


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
















































































Monday's Opposition-sponsored 'Bharat Bandh' to protest the Congress-led UPA Government's abysmal failure in curbing inflation, especially the galloping prices of foodgrains, and callous indifference towards the plight of the masses, as demonstrated by the recent unwarranted hike in fuel prices, was a resounding success. It would be easy for the Congress and its allies to allege, as they have already done, that people stayed home out of fear of violence or even outrageously claim that the bandh did not evoke any response. But such propaganda, crassly highlighted by sections of the media happy to play the role of the Congress's drumbeaters, will persuade only, that too if at all, the party faithful. For, the fact remains that across the length and breadth of the country, barring Tamil Nadu where the DMK clearly used the official machinery to scuttle the bandh, people spontaneously responded to the call for a shutdown. This is what makes the bandh so unique. The Opposition parties, ranging from the BJP to the CPI(M), no doubt put aside their differences to speak up for the multitudes who are increasingly finding it difficult to keep home fires burning and making both ends meet on inelastic incomes with prices soaring from one high to another while an uncaring Prime Minister is busy writing out prescriptions to the G20 on how to nurse the global economy back to health. But if there had been no popular support for the bandh, it could not have been such a stunning success. In a sense, the bandh underscores two points. First, after many years the Opposition is moving towards forging a common platform against the Congress's misrule; the last time it did so was in the late-1980s. Second, the people are no longer willing to believe the Congress's claim that it represents their interests, nor are they willing to be fooled by the Government's bogus promise to curb inflation within six months. Having allowed prices of essential commodities to rise to alarming levels over six years, the Government cannot — indeed, should not — expect the people to believe that it has the intention to curb prices. The "trust deficit" that the Prime Minister is so fond of referring to in the context of India-Pakistan relations is equally, if not more, applicable at home: Neither he nor the Government he heads enjoys the trust of the majority of the people of India.

What the bandh has also succeeded in achieving is in isolating those parties which are not formally a part of the UPA regime and make a great pretence of being opposed to the Congress. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP stand thoroughly exposed for being what they are: Handmaidens of the Congress. They chose not to join Monday's bandh because they did not want to upset the Congress; that they have called a separate bandh, which is bound to be a damp squib, only proves the point. No less questionable is the BSP's role: The heavy-handedness with which Ms Mayawati's administration tried to foil Monday's protest tells its own shameful story.

The roar that was heard on Monday should now find an echo in Parliament when it meets for the Monsoon Session. The Opposition should use every possible parliamentary means to corner the Government. If that does not happen, the BJP, its allies and the Left will only have themselves to blame. The people have responded. The Opposition must now lead.







Sunday's gruesome attack on a college professor at Muvattupuzha in Kerala for preparing a controversial question paper that allegedly 'blasphemed' Prophet Mohammed is proof of the ominous growth of Islamist terror in God's Own Country. The police have confirmed that the perpetrators belong to the Popular Front of India, the Islamist resistance outfit formerly known as NDF, a source of ruthless operatives for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The assailants cut the right hand of the professor at the wrist and threw it into a nearby compound. The message is clear: They will chop off the hand or head of anyone who writes anything against Islam or is critical of Islamism and the terrorist violence it breeds. Such actions can emanate only from a criminal mindset comparable to the one behind the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the attacks on as well as murder of writers and film-makers. The attack was obviously well-planned and carried out in the presence of several people, which also demonstrates the demonic intent of the perpetrators of the crime. In brief, the Islamists' action was an open declaration that they have nothing but contempt for the law of the land and do not fear the state.

The Popular Front, while offering the expected customary denial of responsibility, has sought to justify the attack by claiming that a huge conspiracy has been hatched against Islam in Kerala. They cite the example of some church-affiliated schools banning the headscarf to bolster their bogus claim. What makes the situation particularly scary is that Islamist leaders have warned similar incidents cannot be ruled out in the future. The ruling CPI(M), the Opposition Congress, and their allies have all condemned the gruesome attack on the professor, but that does not exonerate them of encouraging outfits like the Popular Front, Jama'at-e-Islami and Abdul Nasser Madani's PDP to flourish in Kerala, known till some years ago for its peace and religious harmony. The CPI(M) has been in an electoral alliance with terror case-accused Madani and Jama'at-e-Islami while the Congress-led UDF is a recipient of the Popular Front's support. Tragically, despite the overwhelming evidence, the two main political fronts are in denial mode and unwilling to admit that Kerala is fast turning into a hub of Islamism in the country: For evidence, consider the fact that majority of the culprits behind several of the recent terror strikes in India are from Kerala. The police alone cannot bring the criminals to heel; what is required is consensus among political parties and the commitment to stamp out extremism of the sort witnessed on Sunday. Unless this is done immediately, Kerala is headed for troubled times. Surely nobody wants that to happen.








A possibly weak nuclear liability Bill is not the only threat facing citizens who are now alert to the apocalyptic potential of environmental disasters like the Bhopal gas tragedy. As an inadequate monsoon cannot be entirely ruled out, it may be appropriate to rethink the wisdom of opening domestic agriculture to the multinational genetically modified organisms industry, which is eagerly awaiting entry.

A section of our malleable bureaucratic-political elite is still committed to inducting GO seeds and foods into the country, regardless of the consequences to the soil, water, food cycle, and animals and humans who consume this controversial harvest. The recent attempt to push BTU brinjal failed due to intense public hostility, but no serious effort has been made at the official level to evaluate the reported experiences of other countries with GO seeds.

In November 2009, France's apex court ruled that a US agro-chemical giant lied about the safety of its top-selling weed-killer, Roundup, which it claimed was "bio-degradable" and "left the soil clean". In 2001, French environmental groups went to court as the European Union had labelled glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, as "dangerous for the environment". France's Supreme Court upheld two previous convictions against the firm by the Lyon criminal court in 2007, and the Lyon court of appeal in 2008.

According to environmental activist Dr Mercola, the GO industry will lead the world into an era of hazardous genetic modification of seeds. They will patent not merely their own GMO seeds but also large numbers of crop seeds, thus patenting life forms gifted by nature. Worse, they have produced two of the most toxic substances ever known — polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and dioxin, or Agent Orange (remember Vietnam?). Can we afford to let these firms infiltrate and dominate Indian agriculture?

Far from being biodegradable and environmentally friendly, glyphosate was found to cause pesticide illness among landscape maintenance workers in California. Further, the surfactant ingredient in Roundup is far more toxic than glyphosate itself, and the combination of the two is even more toxic. Glyphosate is suspected to cause genetic damage. It is acutely toxic to fish and birds and can kill beneficial insects and soil organisms that maintain ecological balance. Laboratory studies have identified adverse effects of glyphosate-containing products in all standard categories of toxicological testing.

In one animal study, rats given 1,000 mg/kg of glyphosate showed 50 per cent mortality rate; skeletal changes were noted in over 57 per cent of foetuses! This is worrying as millions of pounds of Roundup are used annually in US gardens, lawns and farms, especially on GO crops engineered to be Roundup resistant. Roundup works by inhibiting an enzyme called EPSP synthase, which is necessary for plants to grow. Without it, plants cannot produce essential proteins so they slowly yellow and die.

A line of genetically-modified 'Roundup Ready' crops, such as soyabean, cotton and corn have been developed, which are popular as farmers can spray Roundup herbicide directly onto their fields without harming the crops. Ordinarily, a glyphosate-based herbicide will kill a plant if sprayed directly. But Roundup Ready crops produce an enzyme that has the same function as EPSP synthase, but is not affected by Roundup. This has pushed up the use of Roundup herbicide and serious problems have been reported ever since.


The critical issue — which applies to all GO crops — is that they contain pesticide / herbicide residues, which are very toxic to health. One study found that residues of herbicide in GO food and feed can cause cell damage and death, even at very low levels. The study found that human cells died within 24 hours with formulations diluted up to 100,000 times or more! There was damage to cell membranes and DNA, along with an inhibition of cell respiration.

The researchers found that the mixture of components used as Roundup adjuvants intensified the action of glyphosate, making at least one of its metabolites even more toxic: "... The proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from Roundup formulation-treated crops."

The dirtiest trick from the GO industry is the 'terminator technology'. These are seeds genetically modified to 'self-destruct', so that the seeds (and forthcoming crops) are sterile, and farmers have to buy seeds again every year — a bonded consumer market!

The greater danger is that terminator seeds can affect the world's food supply by passing on the trait of seed sterility to other non-genetically-engineered crops, thus making most or all seeds in an entire region sterile. This could be the most serious threat to the human race since the invention of nuclear arms.

Mr Jeffrey Smith, a leading activist on the dangers of GO foods, who visited India last year for the release of his book Genetic Roulette, warns that GO foods are different from natural foods and could prompt unknown and unpredictable health problems. Another direct danger to animals comes from the genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH/rbST) which has been banned in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand because of cancer risks and other health concerns.

The only hope lies with natural (organic) farming. In quake-shattered Haiti, local farmers and communities have formed the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security, which rejects the multinational seed industry in totality, arguing that "seeds are the patrimony of humanity. No one can control them". It has begun a nation-wide movement against GMO and hybrid seeds, and in favour of native seeds.

In India, there is growing realisation that promotion of hybrid seeds in the Green Revolution pushed highly nutritious and sturdy arid zone seeds off the national menu, with adverse consequences for the national health profile. We could take a leaf from the Haitian peasant movement and commit ourselves to native food and seed sovereignty, which is also the way to preserve our staggering variety of seed and food. The global recession has taught us the ephemeral nature of wealth without growth in the real economy; it is time to get back to basics and sharply increase Government spending in agriculture. We must also recognise that there is no meaningful agriculture in disharmony with the environment.







This refers to the article "Dialogue of the deaf" (July 1). Reciprocity is a sine qua non for successful diplomacy but when it comes to Pakistan this principle is frequently forgotten.

The fidayeen attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 brought about a sea change in India's attitude towards Pakistan. As Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram is a stickler for procedure and, going by the book, has submitted several dossiers to the neighbour demonstrating how the attack was planned on Pakistani soil. Pakistan, of course, has rehected the corroborative evidence and continues to be in denial, especially on Hafiz Sayeed's role in 26/11.

Despite perennial hostility peppered with venomous outpourings and prevarications, India agreed to hold Foreign Secretary-level talks and, subsequently, Home Minister-level talks with Pakistan. This caused Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to remark: "India, which had broken off the composite dialogue process and spoken of severing contacts with Pakistan, has come to us and sought talks."

Contradictions persist between Pakistan's rhetoric and actions. Its conduct has been egregious. Only the naïve and ignorant expect results from an effort that is not sincere. Therefore, Ms Ganguly has rightly said that to hold talks with Pakistan is like having a dialogue with the deaf.

By virtue of being a terrorist state, Pakistan has earned pariah status in the global community. Pakistan's belligerence stems from the aid in terms of funds and arms and ammunition it receives from the US, ostensibly is to fight the Taliban. China's support to Pakistan to stockpile its arsenal is another source of encouragement for its anti-India activities. China's vested interest lies in keeping India on tenterhooks and putting a spike in India's rising global graph. Beijing's aggressive posturing today has become possible owing to the US's decline as a global superpower and the simultaneous economic gains made by China, writes Ms Ganguly. And due to these two factors in play, normalisation of relations between the two countries remains a pipe dream.







This Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet turns 75 today, July 6. He has spent exactly two-thirds of his present reincarnation in India.

What an incredible destiny for the boy born at Taktser, a small hamlet of Amdo province in north-eastern Tibet. At the age of four, he was recognised as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama who ruled over the Roof of the World between 1895 and 1933. For the Tibetans, the living incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, had again returned.

For the past 50 years, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has always shown the greatest consideration for the land which gave him refuge. Recently he explained, "I describe myself as a son of India, because my thoughts come from the Nalanda Buddhist tradition and this body has lived on Indian dal, rice and chapatis during the last 51 years. So, physically also, I am a son of India. Sometimes, it irritates the Chinese officials. What to do?"

It indeed deeply upsets the Chinese when he says, "All our concepts and way of thinking comes from the Nalanda masters. Therefore, we are the chelas and Indians are our gurus. I also often say that we are reliable chelas, because after the 8th century, the Nalanda tradition was established in Tibet. Over thousand years, we have kept intact the Nalanda tradition. It means that we are reliable chelas."

The Chinese have difficulty in accepting that some wisdom could have come from India, even if it is 1,200 years ago. Several articles in The People's Daily and other official publications have questioned the Dalai Lama's claim to be a 'son of India'. One Chinese commentator wrote, "The Dalai Lama pleases his Indian masters not only by showing his willingness to be a 'son of India', but also by effacing the originality of the Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama uses such words to dwarf the rich Tibetan culture with distinctive local characteristics. He could not be more subservient."

The Dalai Lama's 'Indian connection' seems to disturb Beijing so much that its arguments sometimes lose their Cartesianism. They can't understand how someone can at the same time be a 'son of India' and the representative of Tibetan culture. "The more absurd thing is that the Dalai Lama often considers himself a 'son of India' and India as cultural guru," wrote a commentator. The Chinese probably believe that only they can be the true spokespersons for Tibetan culture. As the Dalai Lama says, "What to do?"

The Chinese should grant one thing to the Dalai Lama: He never answers to insults by insults (perhaps because he is a true son of India!). Once, he told this writer about a former French President who had not been very nice to him. He said, "It is his problem, not mine. Why should I be upset about it?" He must have reacted likewise to Mr Zhang Qingli, the CCP boss in Tibet who accused him of being "a wolf in monk's robes, a monster with a human face but the heart of a beast."

I have a strong feeling that through these attacks on the Dalai Lama, it is India which is being targeted. Beijing has some difficulty in digesting the fact the Dalai Lama not only represents the deepest values of Indian culture, but has also always sided with India in times of difficulty.

The conclusion of the earlier-quoted Chinese article betrays the motivations of the Middle Kingdom's officials: "Furthermore, will a guy who betrayed southern Tibet to India really care about the well-being of the Tibetan people?" They refer to the Dalai Lama's support for the Indian stand in the border row with Beijing and his acceptance of the Indian position on the McMahon Line and Arunachal Pradesh (which the Chinese call 'southern Tibet').

Strangely, the Party bosses seem nervous. They can only repeat that they will never let their grip loosen on the Land of Snows. Last week, Mr Hao Peng, the Deputy Communist Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, targeted the "anti-Chinese" forces led by the Dalai Lama "and his clique" as the main threat to peace and stability in the region.

Just before the Olympic Games, Tibet party chief Zhang Qingli had been more explicit: "Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it… I will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai clique."

Mr Hao told visiting journalists: "We have the ability and confidence to maintain stability in Tibet forever, and we will ultimately achieve long-term order and stability." However, he had to admit, "What you see in the streets, including the police and other legal forces, are necessary measures to maintain stability."

Asked about his position on the unsuccessful talks between Dharamsala and Beijing, Mr Hao said: "The core of this policy is for the Dalai Lama to abandon Tibet's independence, stop separatist activities, and acknowledge that Tibet is an inalienable part of China. If he does this then the door to talks is always open."

But the Dalai Lama has long ago renounced Tibetan independence. In his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988, he explained that genuine autonomy for Tibet would be acceptable to him. From that day, he has dropped his claim to 'Free Tibet', just pleading for a solution within the Chinese constitutional provisions.

No doubt Beijing is today in a position of force: The leadership believes that time is on its side; it bets on the fact that the Dalai Lama is not here forever (though he is presently in perfect health). In Delhi, one often hears comments that India should drop the 'Dalai Lama card'; that this gesture from India would greatly help in improving India's relations with China. Nothing is further from the truth, morally and politically.

Morally, India and Tibet are linked by the fact that Tibetan Buddhism has, as mentioned by the Dalai Lama, its origin in the great viharas of north India and the teachings of Gautam Buddha. Politically, were India to drop the 'Tibet card', its stand on the border issue would be tremendously weakened. If China manages to bend the only other aspirant superpower in Asia, it would have a free hand to dictate more terms to India.

Some 25 years ago in a letter to the Government of India, the Dalai Lama gave two reasons why the Chinese Communist regime is so keen to destroy all trace of Buddhism in Tibet: "As the source of the Buddha dharma the Tibetan people have a very strong sense of affinity with India. The Chinese claim that the Buddhism which flourished in Tibet is a branch of Chinese Buddhism is ridiculous. Second, like in Poland, religion has become synonymous with nationalism."

The Tibetan leader continued, "If the Chinese pursue their true intentions effectively India may one day have across its Himalayan border a Tibetan population owing full allegiance to the Chinese. This will have serious consequences for India."

India has always believed in justice, peace and non-violence. Ultimately, to support the Dalai Lama in getting genuine autonomy would be good not only for India and Tibet, but also for China which needs deeper values for its society. Thirty years after Deng Xiaoping stated that "getting rich is glorious", economic differences have never been so huge between the rich and the poor in the Middle Kingdom and the tension never so high between the different 'minorities'.

The Dalai Lama is perhaps the only person who could help the Chinese leadership to fulfil its dream to build a harmonious society. As for India, the Tibetan leader has blessed the nation by his presence for more than 50 years. India should support his just cause.







In an interview to Karan Thapar, BJP president Nitin Gadkari elaborates on his party's position on a host of recent issues, ranging from the perceived delay in pulling out of the alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha after Mr Shibu Soren voted for the UPA during the NDA-sponsored cut motion on the Budget, to the return of Mr Jaswant Singh to the party. Confident of the BJP's revival and surge in the coming days, Mr Gadkari asserts during the interview that the party, and not its allies, will decide on its internal affairs, including who will campaign where for which election.

The following are excerpts from the interview aired during the CNN-IBN programme, Devil's Advocate:

Karan Thapar: Mr Gadkari, you have been the president of BJP for just over six months but already your colleagues are expressing concern and sometimes criticism of your leadership. Does that worry you?

Nitin Gadkari: There is no criticism from my colleagues. The only problem with me is the media — the perception of the media.

KT: Let's then talk about the major challenges that you have faced in the last six months. First, let us talk about Jharkhand. For 27 days after Shibu Soren voted with the Government over the Opposition cut motions, your party was flip-flopping between either wanting to break with the alliance or create a new understanding with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NG: First of all there is a difference between a strategy and conviction. For example, in Jharkhand the Congress wants to divide the smaller political parties by using their muscle and money-power. They want to create something different in Jharkhand.

KT: But you should not compare BJP with other political groups. You are a party with a difference. You are supposed to be better than the Congress?

NG: That's what we are.

KT: Then how do you account for this flip-flop and opportunism?

NG: I will tell you that Jharkhand episode will be beneficial for us. You wait for some days… Don't make the final analysis because the situation of Jharkhand has also changed politically.

KT: Let's come to Bihar. In handling the Nitish Kumar controversy the BJP was inept and perhaps mishandled it?

NG: Not at all. The people are in fact, appreciating us for the way we are handling the issue. This is not the problem which is being created by the BJP — now the case has been closed.

KT: In the Lok Sabha election of 2009, the NDA won an astonishing 32 out of 40 seats and Mr Narendra Modi didn't campaign in Bihar. He didn't even enter the State. Why then just five months before the State elections are you trying to build up his image through advertisements in Patna newspapers? It is unnecessary and it is uncalled for. Why you are doing this?

NG: That is a very negligible subject. It is not a big issue… Mr Narendra Modi is the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he is a party leader. As a National Executive member, he was also expected there… Already the problem has been closed. The BJP will decide who will campaign from where, not other political parties.

KT: Mr Gadkari, in the last one month eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh have been taken back by the party. It's said you may take back Uma Bharati too. Is this is a sign of desperation or is the party changing its core beliefs and principles?

NG: To add people to the party is going to strengthen it. It is a good thing for the party… As a person, Mr Jaswant Singh is a good man. He is a senior and experienced leader. At the time of foundation of the party, he was there. I respect him. Apart from his book, he is loyal to the party.


KT: What about his views?

NG: I respect him a lot. I'm not concerned about his book. These are old issues. The issue is closed. Apart from the views (on Jinnah), he is loyal to the party… He believes in the ideology of the BJP and we have faith in him as a senior leader… A big political party is a group of big political leaders. Everyone has some independent and different opinions. It never happens that 100 per cent opinions are same. There may be some opinions that Mr Jaswant Singh may have which I may not agree with. But I feel he is loyal to the party.

KT: Mr Gadkari, a pleasure talking to you.

NG: Thank you.






Ten alleged Russian agents have been arrested in the United States and charged with 'deep cover intelligence gathering' two days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev completed his tour of the country. Back in Moscow some top Russian officials already suspect the spy bust was timed deliberately to undermine US-Russian relations by opponents of the 'reset'.

Meanwhile in the US, the Republican Party will look to exploit the finding in campaigning against the Obama Administration. So how big a setback is this scandal for the recent phase of warmer US-Russian relations? Ten alleged Russian spies were arrested and charged on Sunday with 'long-term, deep cover' operations on US territory. An 11th person who had been on the run using a Canadian passport was detained in Cyprus. He is thought to be the final member of the spy ring.

The spies from the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service, were gathering intelligence on nuclear weapons, arms control positions, Iran, political changes in parties and leadership changes within the CIA, according to documents drawn up over the course of a 'multiyear' FBI investigation.

The SVR agents were working under false identities, often as couples, and had been living in the US since the 1990s. To minimise contact between members of the spy ring, handlers communicated with operatives via closed wireless networks. The US Department of Justice website details how one Russian agent, known as Anna Chapman, was seen "on multiple occasions" "in the vicinity" of "Russian Government official number one" — presumably the handler. Chapman was eventually caught on June 26 in an FBI sting operation, where an US agent known as "UC-1," posing as a Russian consulate employee, arranged a meeting with Chapman to help her with technical difficulties that she was experiencing with her laptop. One message directed to a field agent, but apparently intercepted by the FBI after it left "Moscow Centre" (the apparent alias for the SVR headquarters), reads: "You were sent to the US for a long-term service trip. Your education, your bank accounts, car, house, etc. — all these serve one goal: to fulfil your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policy making circles in the United States and send intelligence to C (centre)."


A retired SVR officer, who requested anonymity, told Russia Profile that 'deep cover' field agents usually never know each other, meaning that the FBI must have a mole working from Moscow to have made a bust of this scale. "If one deep undercover agent gets arrested, it's a failure, if 11 deep undercover agents get arrested, it's a betrayal here, at the Centre," he said.

Less than a week ago Mr Medvedev and President Obama were eating hamburgers in a Washington diner during Mr Medvedev's tour of the US. Russia's five-foot four president cut an impressive PR-savvy figure during the tour, as he won pledges from Mr Obama on Russia's speedy accession to the WTO, received the first ever new iPhone 4, opened a Twitter account, and delivered a surprisingly disarming "hasta la vista" impression of the Terminator-turned-Governor Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger on his trip to California.

Two days later Mr Medvedev's trip has certainly been overshadowed, but whether the scandal will actually undermine the recent warmer phase of Russian-US relations is still unclear, said Mr Anatol Lieven, a professor of international relations at King's College London. "It all depends on the impact that the Governments want it to have. These things happen fairly often and the question is the response," he said. If Washington responds with a series of diplomatic expulsions, and Moscow responds tit-for-tat, then it could escalate, he said. "If the Obama Administration does not expel Russian agents working under diplomatic cover — that will be a real sign that the Americans don't want to build this up into a big thing."

Meanwhile in Russia the timing of the spy scandal is being heavily scrutinised. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had not been kept in the loop and did so with a dose of trademark sarcasm. "They have not explained to us what is going on. I hope they will," Mr Lavrov told journalists during his Middle East tour. "The only thing I can say is that the timing was chosen with particular care."

The Deputy Head of the State Duma Security Committee, Mr Nikolai Kolesnikov, was even more explicit. Mr Kolesnikov said it was "no coincidence" that the bust occurred only two days after Mr Medvedev had completed his trip, RIA Novosti reported. "Unfortunately, in the US there are people who still have Cold War mentalities and double standards. That's why the warming, which has taken place since the coming to power of the young presidents, whose actions have led to the constructive development of all forms of relations…to put it mildly, is inadequate," he said.

But Mr Alexander Rahr, programme director of Russia and Eurasia at the German Council on Foreign Relations, played down the idea that it was in some way purposefully carried out to derail relations. "The reset is continuing. Relations between Russia and the US were never so good under President George Bush," he said.








Given the shocking number of India's children facing molestation over 53 per cent of the under-18 population, according to an estimate a strong law for tackling child sexual abuse has been long overdue.

Existing laws dealing with sexual offences do not specifically address sexual abuse of children. Legally, only rape and sodomy can lead to criminal conviction. Anything less than rape amounts to 'outraging the modesty' of the victim. The draft Protection of Children from Sexual Assault Bill, 2010, aims at recognising the broad range of sexual abuses which children may be subjected to.

The proposed legislation will introduce new categories such as aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment. The term 'aggravated' would also apply to cases where the perpetrator is in a position of authority, as in the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case.

To avoid the traumatic experience of children undergoing court trials, the legislation calls for setting up of special courts and special public prosecutors in child-friendly proceedings. It also takes into account child pornography and recommends stringent punishments.

All this is well and good, and deserves to be implemented to protect our children. But the proposal of shifting the onus of proving innocence on the accused is a dangerous one and needs to be dropped. Even Ajmal Kasab has received a fair trial that required his guilt to be proven through a transparent process, not assumed beforehand.

Not even the most heinous crimes can justify doing away with the due process of law. Otherwise one would not be doing children a favour, but rather multiplying the ways in which innocent people could be framed and ultimately discrediting the child







The nationwide shutdown forced by opposition parties to protest rising prices may have achieved its aim. Most parts of the country, especially states where the NDA or the Left parties run the government or have substantial presence, saw limited economic activity on Monday.

The hartal had marginal impact in the national capital, but life in the country's economic capital was crippled. Air, rail and road travel were affected in Mumbai. States like Kerala and West Bengal faced a total shutdown. The economic cost of the hartal has yet to be calculated, but is bound to be substantial. And, the aam aadmi will have to bear the brunt of the economic loss.

Hartals have outlived their purpose as expressions of protest. The public's attitude towards bandhs and hartals is a combination of resignation and cynicism. If people seem to stay at home during a hartal it's only because of the threat of physical violence. There is deep cynicism among people when political parties force a shutdown in the name of the aam aadmi. They have come to be seen as token gestures to oppose the party in power rather than as radical acts of protest or meaningful ways of facilitating corrective measures, as political parties delude themselves into believing.

Monday's hartal was called by a broad spectrum of political parties to protest high prices. The recent hike in petrol and diesel rates was the immediate provocation. But the NDA, which today opposes fuel price deregulation, was the first to propose it when it held office at the Centre.

Political parties as stakeholders in the parliamentary system have the responsibility to explain their turnarounds or suggest alternatives to what they are opposed to, if they don't want to lose credibility in the eyes of the public. The Left parties must explain what steps they have taken to curtail food inflation in states where they run the government.

Rising food prices as well as general inflation are certainly a matter of concern for the public. Political parties have not only the right, but the responsibility to take it up with the government. But they must introspect if people have a positive view of forcible disruption of economic activities.

Hartal may have become a powerful instrument of protest during the freedom struggle. Today, however, our politicians are an integral part of the system. If the system is faulty the responsibility to rectify it is theirs as well, instead of playing a puerile game of passing the buck. It's time our politicians think imaginatively and find new ways to highlight public causes.







A few days before his assassination, Kashmiri separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone told me it was time that the Kashmiri political forces regained control of the situation; otherwise, the consequences would be miserable. He alluded to the growing marginalisation of the political leadership among the youth and ascendancy of hopelessness. Ironically, after he was killed by Lashkar men, the youth participating in his funeral on May 22, 2002, raised pro-Lashkar slogans.

From north to south, blood is spilling on the streets of the Kashmir Valley. Lone's prophecy that the impotence or de-legitimisation of the political leadership would result in chaos seems true today. Over a period of few months, more than a dozen youth have died in protests, which can be termed as 'suicides'. No doubt the Kashmir Valley is not a stranger to protests. From 1931 to 2010, protests have marked every significant political event in the region though reasons differed in each case. This time around, the nature of the protests is remarkably different. The youth are attacking bunkers of security personnel, knowing fully well that this is suicidal.

The political leadership in the state and country are groping for answers to the vicious cycle of protests that have broken out in the Valley in recent times. Omar Abdullah, the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister, was certainly right when he described these protests as a battle of wits and a battle of ideas rather than a mere law and order problem. His minister, Ali Mohammad Sagar, was more direct in saying that the authorities cannot fight the people. Army chief General V K Singh has rightly underscored the need for political initiatives since militarily, the army has brought the overall internal security situation in J&K firmly under control.

Implicitly, the signs of desperation and chaos among the youth indicate the failure of the political leadership, mainstream or separatist. The ruling National Conference has 17 legislators from the Kashmir Valley out of 45 seats in the 87-member J&K assembly. Good intentions apart, Omar has inherited the structural problem that is rooted in the centralised polity of the state. A democratic structure is not merely about electing the people who man the top echelons of power. Holding elections to elect a chief minister and his cabinet is an essential element of a healthy working democratic system, but it is far from adequate. The people should feel part of a system which is accessible and accountable.

The entire system of governance in the state is concentrated in the hands of the chief minister and his overstretched cabinet. He holds public durbars to address the grievances of the people. The intent is noble but far from intelligent. Not everyone can reach the chief minister. Nor does the chief minister have the capacity to do a follow-up in every case. This job could have been effectively performed by the lower tiers of governance had they existed in the first place.

J&K is the only state in the country with no elected district and block bodies. The lower tiers of elected bodies act as a feedback mechanism of the state government. They go a long way in addressing the grievances of the people, including human rights violations. In the Kashmir Valley, there is a yawning gap between the government and the governed.

The separatist political leadership is in a shambles and has little political vision based on pragmatism. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference's leadership never had a grassroots engagement with the people. It remained an organisation whose main occupation was to issue timely press statements and call for strikes. None of the separatist leaders ever tried to prepare society for a non-violent struggle that is based on progressive and secular values. All separatist leaders have merely been on the bandwagon of the protests of the youth at various occasions. Yasin Malik in his later avatar as a believer in non-violence was an exception to the rule to some extent, given that he tried to politically engage with society at multiple levels.

The analysis that such sustained protests by the youth are simply the handiwork of anti-national elements is implausible. Statements like these undermine India's case and even demonstrate the lack of its ability to learn from past events in Kashmir. No outside involvement succeeded in the Kashmir Valley till the time a fertile ground for it was created in the region. In 1965, Pakistan sent raiders to occupy the Kashmir Valley by force. The misadventure backfired badly as Kashmiris didn't support the invaders.

The current vicious cycle of violence may be broken, for the time being, with the use of smart techniques of crowd dispersal. From a long-term perspective, establishment of empowered political institutions at various levels of governance is the best remedy to avoid a situation like this. Ushering in the required changes will enable the political machinery to acquire influence over Kashmiri youth and their parents. Mere dependence on security measures will only prove to be counterproductive.


The writer is a Fulbright fellow at New York University.







Inarguably, something needs to be done to disincentivise frivolous PILs that add to backlog of cases, apart from derailing important projects. In this context, the Centre's new national litigation policy (NLP) says a petitioner should pay the costs of stopping a project on environmental or other grounds should his case get dismissed.

At first glance, the idea seems well-intentioned. Interim orders often stall project work but, when PILs get rejected, losses incurred for the hold-up aren't compensated. Also, India needs faster industrialisation. PILs on flimsy grounds or with axes to grind slow the developmental pace at great economic cost to the nation.

Yet the policy can be questioned logically and morally. PILs are often resorted to due to lack of grievance redressal from politicians or bureaucrats. A lost legal battle doesn't automatically mean it was undertaken lightly or lacked merit. Society is made up of interest groups whose viewpoints may clash.

In a democracy, the judiciary is best placed to provide conflict resolution. Nor are all court verdicts flawless. Miscarriages of justice do occur. So, for every mischievous litigant rapped, many genuine petitioners may be unfairly penalised. PILs do sometimes serve good causes, forcing policy change in areas from health to ecology. Any move to curb non-serious or publicity-seeking activism mustn't end up stifling public-spirited action.

It's true that bogus PILs against projects are a serious problem. But a better way to tackle them may be to have a stringent vetting system within the judiciary itself for accepting or rejecting cases at the time of filing. Courts could study petitions and, to the extent possible at this stage, weed out the ones that appear flimsy. This mechanism needs to be transparent, so that would-be litigants know why their case didn't make the grade.







The stance taken by the government on frivolous PILs in the NLP is absolutely justified. Given that the majority of PILs filed in high courts and the Supreme Court are completely baseless and ultimately have to be dismissed, it is prudent to make the petitioners pay for the huge waste of time and resources, especially in case of public projects.

There are three main reasons why the NLP's proposal needs to be welcomed. First, the judiciary is already grappling with a massive backlog of cases. According to the Justice A P Shah report, the Delhi high court alone will take as many as 466 years to clear its pending cases. In such a scenario, the last thing that the judiciary needs is frivolous PILs clogging up the system further.

Unless a tough stand is taken on the issue, it could contribute to significant judicial delays. Second, there has been a tendency over recent years to file PILs at the drop of a hat. Many petitioners seek nothing more than publicity. This has severely dented the credibility of the legal recourse that PILs offer.

No doubt PILs are an important legal tool and have resulted in several landmark judgements. But in order to maintain their real purpose, there has to be a strong economic disincentive to deter frivolous petitions. Petitioners must know that filing a PIL is a serious matter and not a part-time hobby.


It has also come to light that companies with vested commercial interests often file PILs through a third party to obtain interim stays on ongoing projects. This is a classic example of business forces making a mockery of judicial processes. The situation can only be reversed with provisions for financial compensation as penalty. Frivolous PILs must be stamped out.







Not one to get caught in dilemmas, the bandh call on Monday had me trapped for once. Though, to be honest, the desire to bunk office had more to do with the perfect breezy monsoon morning than L K Advani coaxing me to stay put at home. And though the HR guys post 'thoughts for the day' to act as beacons for the frequent 'dharm-sankats' of corporate life, theirs is a beatific silence on matters like 'bandh-bunks'.

If i were to tell the HR guys only by watching television that said 'rail, road, metro stopped by protesters' that i'm stuck and can't get to work, would they mark me absent? I'm really dying to get to work, i can plead convincingly, but what to do, the autos won't ply, the buses coast and stop and, gosh, i'm told somewhere there's been some roughing up...circumstances are beyond my control, but that doesn't mean it's an off-day. Does HR have a policy on this? That you mark me absent, all right, but it doesn't get deducted from my leave? Alas, HR's iffy, and the labourer must trudge to work, and so i do, albeit armed with Plan B and Plan C.

Plan B is we tie up with colleagues, all try our best to get to work, when we can't note, when, not if we might as well meet up at the nearest coffee shop, what? Plan C is we make it to work come what may. Diligently do multiple transport, some waiting, some walking and make it to work, exhausted and smug, to spend the rest of the day just talking about how we managed to get to work.

But, reality has something else in store. The rains held, as did the traffic. There's riot police managing traffic at an east Delhi crossing so much efficiency has me foxed and there are several little groups of red-flag-waving lalas and their chintus walking the edges of the road. Traffic's definitely lean for a Monday morning and ITO the dreaded crossing that daily demonstrates traffic gnarl-snarl is a breeze at 9 a.m. There's police all over, there's media all over and traffic's moving smooth and easy. Ah, bandh dynamics. Both sides are going to grab credit.

"Total bandh, all success" and "Didn't let bandh affect life, managed protesters and traffic very well" are patent responses you can expect from either side. Fact is much of Delhi did stay indoors. But i'd hazard that's not so much in solidarity with any silly bandh call, but more because it has been a lovely day after a long time, and traffic is Delhi's worst nightmare. You simply don't want to take a 'riks', as it were.

To that end, the media really helps bandhs along. We're told traffic's going to be so bad, you'd best skip life. What nobody really spilled was the protesters' inside-plans. If Nehru Place-Gurgaon's choked at 9 in the morning, and ITO's blocked at 12 noon, how about letting us know? After all, there's Brinda Karat at ITO lady's no bandh gala, she's at it full throttle. Bahadurshah Zafar Marg stretches empty behind her, not because bandh's total but because traffic's been stopped for her speech-time. Police must know which leader gets which chowk at what time: they've prepared for it. Why not give us the lowdown too. Advertise next to the 'call for the bandh', 'don't fall for the bandh'.

But we're the innocents. All drained when traffic stops for about an hour we just head for the nearest coffee shop, "tried, couldn't make it". Because, you know, 'mehengai' hits hard. As for that little matter about the 'leave', we were on duty, you know, at least emotionally, mentally. One with the workplace and all. No dilemma then on clicking on that OD (outdoor duty) button, then, is there?








The nationwide shutdown called by various opposition parties against the UPA government raising fuel prices had only one agenda: for opposition parties to stand up and be counted. That's probably a cruel statement for us to make when there are enough critical issues — including containing fuel prices within the realm of common sense — for the Opposition to latch on to. But the fact of the matter is that by calling for a nationwide bandh, how can anyone make any constructive criticism worth the mention? The main opposition party and the temporary main opposition party (the BJP and the Left respectively) are aware of what's at stake here. And yet, they see it fit to engage in 80s-style agit-prop in an era when India is bothered by growth rates and the genuine additionals that come with it for all. This isn't a government that believes in the 'trickle down' effect, thus policy decisions that involve the uplift of the proverbial 'aam aadmi'. What the oppositional space engaged in yesterday was to take advantage of generalised disgruntlement and play it as action against a specific grouse.

Let's take the daily wage labourer, for starters. Without sounding like a theoretical Marxist, one can assume that many in the working class — the majority of which would be part of the unorganised sector — would be forced to forego a day's wages in states where the 'Bharat bandh' was enforced. The BJP, ostensibly the nation's 'trader's party', and the Left, similarly the self-styled flag-bearer of the worker, saw it fit to desire a clampdown on professional life. The disagreement over fuel price could have been thrashed out in Parliament — both parties having representation in that democratic forum. Instead, it chose the more disruptive, more voluble platform of street agitation. Coming from parties that know the 'system', this is nothing short of deplorable.

There will be number-crunchers who will work out how much money was lost because of the 'bandh'. But more than politics subsuming the 'polis' — the people who make up the nation — what is worrisome is the idea of a certain kind of political churlishness that sees it fit to put the people in a corner in the name of the people. If the BJP or the Left was in power, one wonders how either party or ideology would have acted. The politics of reaction, alas, is easier, and even more unfortunately turns the ruling establishment, with its many genuine faults, into a martyr with the people of India having to deal with being collateral damage.





We're sold on the idea. Put a few knick-knacks that we've tired of on the pavement to raise a few pennies to tide us over. Pity that old Silvio (Berlusconi) thought of it first when he took a moment off from dancing the samba with assorted pole dancers in Brazil. Italy may have lost out in the World Cup stakes but it will sale through the present fiscal crisis by putting a few palazzos, lakes and islands on the block.

Now we know our pasta primavera when it comes to sacking the family silver. We aren't sentimental about a few crumbling monuments. Show us the money and we might even hawk some of our treasured citizens, though some may be past their sell-by date. Mind you, it's not that we don't value them at home. But we feel that the world must see and be dazzled by the gems we have been hiding under our bushel all these years. We could sell you Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Rama Sene for a start. If you have problems with young people getting amorous in crowded places, be assured that he comes with a money-back guarantee if he doesn't eliminate such tendencies within a given festive season. Or take Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. If you're a bit short on food, he'll teach you that man can indeed live by breath alone.

If you are the sort who looks for problems to every solution, Arundhati Roy could be up for grabs. She will lead you into that Garden of Eden where people will make designer vases with gun metal. You are now spoilt for choice, but wait, we have one more 'for sale' trinket up our sleeve and this is the big-ticket item. We offer you, for a few smackers in our numbered Swiss account, our democracy. Take it while the going's good and you'll never be the same or sane again. No takers? Well, no one's going to top this one. So next time, you need some lung power to drown out your opponents or put your citizens through the wringer, don't come crying to us. Our prices have just gone up.






The American economy is sputtering and we are running out of options. Interest rates can't go any lower. Another burst of government spending — whether a good or bad idea — looks politically impossible. Can anything protect us from the dangers of stagnation or a double dip? Actually, there is a second stimulus that could have a dramatic effect on the economy — even more so than government spending. And it won't add to the deficit.

The Federal Reserve recently reported that America's 500 largest non-financial companies have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. By any calculation (for example, as a percentage of assets), this is higher than it has been in almost half a century. Yet most corporations are not spending this money on new plants, equipment or workers. Were they to loosen their purse strings, hundreds of billions of dollars would start pouring through the economy. These investments would probably have greater effect and staying power than a government stimulus.

To be clear: There is a strong case for a temporary and targeted government stimulus. Consumers and companies are being very cautious about spending. Right now, government spending is keeping the economy afloat. Without a second stimulus, State and local governments will have to slash spending and raise taxes, which will produce a downward spiral of higher unemployment, slower growth, lower tax revenue and a larger deficit. Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, told me that when the stimulus money runs out at the end of this year, he will be forced to lay off 5,000 teachers. Multiply that example a thousand times to get a sense of what 2011 could look like.

But government spending can only be a bridge to private-sector investment. The key to a sustainable recovery and robust economic growth is to get companies investing in America. So why are they reluctant, despite having mounds of cash? I put this question to a series of business leaders, all of whom were expansive on the topic yet did not want to be quoted by name, for fear of offending people in Washington.

Economic uncertainty was the primary cause of their caution. "We've just been through a tsunami and that produces caution," one told me. But in addition to economics, they kept talking about politics, about the uncertainty surrounding regulations and taxes. Some have even begun to speak out publicly. Jeffrey Immelt, Chief Executive of General Electric, complained that the government was not in sync with entrepreneurs. The Business Roundtable, which had supported the Obama administration, has begun to complain about the myriad laws and regulations being cooked up in Washington.

One CEO told me, "Almost every agency we deal with has announced some expansion of its authority, which naturally makes me concerned about what's in store for us for the future." Another pointed out that between the health-care bill, financial reform and possibly cap-and-trade, his company had lawyers working day and night to figure out the implications of all these new regulations. Lobbyists have been delighted by all this activity. "[Obama] exaggerates our power, but he increases demand for our services," superlobbyist Tony Podesta told the New York Times.

Most of the business leaders I spoke to had voted for Barack Obama. They still admire him. Those who had met him thought he was unusually smart. But all think he is, at his core, anti-business. When I asked for specifics, they pointed to the fact that Obama has no business executives in his Cabinet, that he rarely consults with CEOs (except for photo-ops), that he has almost no private-sector experience, that he's made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector. It all added up to a profound sense of distrust.

Some of this is a product of chance. The economic crisis forced the government to expand its authority in dozens of areas, from finance to automobiles. But precisely because of these circumstances, Obama needs to outline a growth and competitiveness agenda that is compelling to the business community. This might sound like psychology more than economics, and the populist left will surely scream that the last thing we need to do is pander to business. But the first thing we need is for these people to start spending their money — soon. As a leading New York businessman who publicly supported Obama during the campaign told me, "their perception is our reality."

Fareed Zakaria is the Editor of Newsweek and the author of The Post-American World

The views expressed by the author are personal 





One of the bitter experiences in life is being betrayed. Betrayal is serious because it destroys trust, and without trust there can be no relationships. Without trust, society, families, institutions and most certainly a marriage cannot function. Betrayal shakes a person to his core because it ruptures his ability to trust.

What causes people to betray the trust that has been placed in them? There could be three reasons.

The first is excessive ambition, greed, lust or passion. When a person cannot control is overcome with these vices, he's liable to betray. A drug addict will betray the trust placed on him because his addiction is overpowering. It is greater than any sense of loyalty, integrity or honesty he may have. A person's need to be wealthy and lead a luxurious life may cause him to steal, embezzle or misuse information given to him in confidence. Overpowering sexual attraction may also cause a person to betray his marriage.

The second reason could be a feeling that betrayal is necessary to achieve a greater good. Betrayal in this instance is not considered evil but a holy act. A person may feel that in order to save another person's life/soul it's ok to betray him.

The third reason could be because people like to prove how smart they are. Many people like to play with others' minds, manipulate lives just to stir up trouble.

Betrayal is terrible because it causes the person who has been betrayed to question his ability to trust again and it also causes them to question their own judgement. . It destroys their confidence in themselves.

Let no one of us over lose our confidence or our ability to trust others because of some people. Let's hope and pray that they will always be those because of whom we will be able to maintain our trust in mankind.






"Stretch. Push yourself harder. Feel the pain. Become one with it. Till you don't feel it anymore. And then, a feeling of bliss will come over you. Come on everyone, do it!" the instructor yelled.

We were attempting a 180-degree split in yoga class the other morning, most of us groaning and moaning, not daring to let our legs down completely, lest it hurt too much. And once we did, the pain was unbearable. Watching one person do it, the other got inspired. But ultimately, it was about doing it yourself. After a while the pain just vanished. We felt numb, and then, bliss. So much so that no one wanted to move from that position! We had transcended the very pain we feared. And soon enough, the class started radiating with triumphant smiles.

This simple instruction in exercise was so profound about life itself, I realised later.

Most times we are so content to be what we are, to stay in our comfort zones, not daring the selves to 'push ahead'... Why? Because we think this is it. Whether it's our bodies or mind, being comfortable/stagnant is not the same as being content. The ego tells us we are fine as we are, but once you drop the ego and come to a state of nothingness, you just flow.

You don't know how far you can go till you try to. And importantly, we are so scared of the pain that comes with pushing boundaries — whether physical or metaphorical — that we don't even attempt to stretch ourselves. Maybe it's a lack of awareness, which comes from not questioning enough, being too comfortable in a given state. Is this all that I am? Am I defined by my present dimensions or is there more and can I discover it? Life itself works in a flow, it's not static, then how can you be content to just be what you are?

Face the pain that life gives. It's one thing to be positive/optimistic, another to be an escapist. Running away or avoiding it will not make pain go away, simply because pain is an important milestone in achieving evolution. Once you face it squarely, it'll go, simply because you would have become one with it and moved ahead. And then, there will be bliss.

Just the way my yoga instructor said in class the other day.





Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's short-lived plan to end quotas in Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) for students nominated by MPs not only kicked off opposition from Parliamentarians in the House but also briefly denied HRD ministry officials railway benefits. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee was apparently livid that her nominees would no longer get admission. Within days of Sibal's announcement of the end of KV quotas, HRD ministry officials found all their requests for priority bookings on railways — which were earlier granted almost immediately — turned down. Some senior ministry officials had to seek the intervention of Minister of State for Railways E. Ahamed to resolve the dispute. Eventually, under pressure from MPs across party lines, Sibal had to reintroduce the quotas.

Too much to tea

Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Congress General Secretary V. Narayanasamy is a rare visitor to the party headquarters. But whenever he goes calling, he creates a buzz. An affable person, he mixes with the people easily and even shares a joke or two with them. During one such visit recently, he offered tea to those in his room. But was slightly taken aback when someone told him that he wanted to have badam (almond) milk. "Arre bhai, I am a poor man. I can offer only tea," he said before reluctantly placing the order.

No sleeping on it

It took Law Minister Veerappa Moily five years to write his version of the Ramayana in Kannada, which was preceded by five years of research. His cabinet colleagues are curious to know how Moily finds time to write given his busy schedule. The minister has a piece of advice for his colleagues: get up early in the morning and devote some time to writing. He says his mother used to wake him up at 4:30 a.m. since he was in Class 4. To this, one of his colleagues quipped, "There are better things to do than tamper with history!"

Back down to earth

On a flight from Madurai to Chennai last week, L.K. Advani and M.K. Alagiri discovered they were co-passengers. It was their first interaction. Alagiri seemed most impressed by the chance encounter. Advani asked Alagiri to sit next to him and the Union minister was surprised by the senior BJP leader's friendliness. Advani began by asking him about the health of his father, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. By the time they landed in Chennai, Advani asked Alagiri to stay in touch. However, DMK leaders were quick to warn him not to read too much political meaning into it as their central ministers are keen to find out about the UPA government's ratings following the fuel price hike.

Not in the driver's seat

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Water Resources P.K. Bansal took up the Ashok Road bungalow because it's spacious and close to Parliament House and Shram Shakti Bhavan, where his offices are located. But, clearly, he hadn't bargained for the traffic jams and the heavy vehicular parking on the road. This is because it's bang opposite the BJP office. Clearly, the man cannot escape the main Opposition party, which sometimes gives him trouble by going into a non-cooperation mode in Parliament.

His is an inquiring mind

All India Congress Committee Treasurer Motilal Vora is a man of few words. Getting out of tricky situations is easy for him. He answers questions with questions. So, if there are inquiries about Bhopal, IPL or even organisational affairs, his standard answers are: "what happened?" or "what do you think about it?" Many in the Congress believe that the veteran leader doesn't lay his cards on the table till he reads the other person's mind.

Transported to heights

In an unusual request, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has asked Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to allow rickshaw parking at Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel international airport. Upset with the AAI for not allowing the city's common transport mode, Modi told Patel, "The days are gone when only high-class people were using flight services. Nowadays, even a clerk wants his family to enjoy a plane journey. But a person who wants to take rickshaw has to walk two kilometres in search of one." The rickshaw is a symbol of the city and allowing rickshaws at Ahmedabad airport parking won't diminish the airport's image, Modi added.








Witness the important deliberation of the National Advisory Council as they mulled over universal entitlements to food — Harsh Mander, in khakis and sandals, puffs thoughtfully on a cigarette as his colleagues walk out of the meeting. His generation grew up in a time when cheery advert for a cigarette, unencumbered by public health warnings, said, "Relax! Have a Charminar!"


And they did, artists and intellectuals and brooding outsiders, all exhaled smoke and home-grown wisdom.


There was a time when the tobacco industry and the entertainment industry successfully persuaded the world about the empowerment, nonchalance and grown-up glamour of cigarettes. Now, thanks to a striking generational shift and entirely sensible legislation, people tend to look at you like you have the cooties when you light up. Nothing says "has-been" as effectively as someone who needs to punctuate their day by sucking on a roll of tobacco. Whether it is Rajnikant's famous pistol-fired cigarette flip or Jean Paul Belmondo's cigarette-hoarse voice or Dev Anand's jaunty way around a lighter, these images now only reveal how definitively we have left the cigarette century behind. France, once proud home of the Gauloise, now has a smoking museum to consecrate the tradition. Even Barack Obama's lingering habit is being presented as a picture of a man's bitter struggle to quit the cancer stick.


Mander's smoking in the open, of course, may keep him clear of the law. And surely one can forgive the sinless and sactimonious NAC intellectuals their little vices, as they craft grand welfare legislation for the rest of us. In the larger interests of the nation, of course.






After an arduous day spent shutting down the nation, there will be little respite for leaders of the Left. Not for them the bracing satisfaction that comes with a job done as best as could have been. No, this success of July 5, 2010, bears investigation, and you have to feel for them. Try explaining this. How did it come about that a call for a Bharat bandh to protest against the rise in prices of petroleum products resonated far beyond their pocketboroughs of West Bengal and Kerala? How was it, in fact, that Gujarat, hotbed of rapid and presumably neoliberal economic growth, stole the headlines by shutting down completely? How did such a similar fate befall the lands of Marx and Modi?


First, the story as they see it so far. Reeling under "another cruel blow", when the Congress-led UPA government abandoned the price of petroleum to the market forces, they resolved last week to have the people's protest heard. A bandh was announced for July 5. Mysteriously — because the Left certainly doesn't do business with the BJP — the BJP-led NDA too chose July 5 to force a nationwide shutdown. Soon enough, a JP-like opposition unity was coursing through India. And communist leaders were stuck with explaining to the party faithful how it came to pass that they were stuck on the same side of the barricades as the "communal forces", those same forces they would not let UPA-I do business with in Parliament for fear that NDA support for a bill would taint the Left by association. How then did their "separate" bandhs come fortuitously together? Calling it a coincidence is insufficient, because in the Left's avidly rational worldview coincidences too must be explained.


Here are the political parties that pulled off this demonstration of opposition unity: BJP, Shiv Sena, JD(S), AGP, Akali Dal, INLD, Samajwadi Party, JD(U), AIADMK, MDMK, TDP, BJD, CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP. That too, without a Left-dictated common minimum programme — because of course the Left parties do not blur ideological lines. Maybe there is no better explan-


ation than, as Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff says, "Coincidence is logical." Especially when it's the logic of political relevance.







After a protracted bicker about the exact canvas of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and who in the government would own and operate it, the minority affairs ministry seems to have taken the larger view.


It was conceived from the Sachar Committee's recommendations on addressing the deprivation of Indian Muslims, but the commission was intended as a "revolutionary step that would go beyond the realm of reservations" and "have the widest footprint", according to Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. The question of real import was whether it should remain restricted as a platform to redress minority disadvantage and be handled by that ministry, or be given greater amplitude to address disparities across religion, gender, caste and other axes. If the latter, there are logistical and philosophical hurdles as it cuts across the mandates of other panels for Scheduled Castes, women, children, etc, and several ministries had voiced their concerns. However, the minority affairs ministry has now ceded its claim to the EOC in the interests of a larger egalitarian mission. Driven with its own data and a deprivation index, it will inspect the diversity profile of institutions and incentivise them to better it.


Certainly, this could take the question beyond a competitive politics around reservations and try to front-and-centre equality and social mobility. The Sachar Committee revealed the extraordinary disadvantages of Indian Muslims. Other social groups, say, women, can also claim insidious disparities in their life chances. We know how economic disadvantage reinforces itself cumulatively, and across generations. So it is only fair that we broaden our sensitivities to difference, privilege and discrimination. This fits in with a global trend where separate legislations for race, sex, disability, etc have been merged into single equality-oriented bodies. So finally, anti-discrimination and diversity issues will be dovetailed into a single approach. However, it needs to ensure that its categories are open-ended and that its protective mechanisms are crystal clear, and that it not be prone to litigious procedure, etc. For instance, while employment and educational skews are easier to prove, there are all kinds of other hostilities in, say, the housing sector. What's more, public bodies must be required to mind the diversity gap, and government tenders, subsidies, grants, etc must factor in this inclusivity profile of other institutions. Meanwhile, the EOC's back-and-forth with commissions for SC/ STs, minorities, women and human rights should be clarified and worked out.









The pantomime of Indian politics produces yet another paradox. We think that some form of large social protest is necessary. But we also think it is undesirable. Some protest was necessary to wake government out of its unconscionable slumber on inflation. The pity is that the disquiet had to converge on the issue of fuel price rises. But we all swallowed one specious argument after another that inflation had to do with anonymous forces ranging from the weather to globalisation. We allowed the government to get away with mendaciousness to the point where there is no convincing diagnosis of the deep causes of inflation. In such a context we were left with no choice but to pick up some visible act of the state, to express a sense of general disquiet.


The government claims to be pro-poor. But it has been shockingly cavalier about the real hardships inflation imposes. It thinks a few state palliatives, and a promissory note that higher inflation now will allow us to correct structural defects of the economy, can compensate for the real hardships being currently inflicted. Perhaps the only way to get the government to be serious about inflation is not monetary policy. It is abolishing automatic DA increases for all government employees. You will then probably get a more effective lobby for managing inflation better.


But while we think protest is necessary, we are also uncomfortable with it. Political parties are often the main conduits of protest, but each has its vested interest and internal contradictions. Each of them has to play the role of both government and opposition. Trinamool and CPM are quite happy to beggar the poor in Kolkata, but suddenly the loss of wages by daily wage labourers elsewhere pricks their conscience. The BJP needed to embarrass the government to infuse life in its role as an opposition party, so it organised something. But it does not have a clear sense of what it stands for in economics. So the policy moorings of its protest seem half-hearted. But there is probably a deeper fear that unites all political parties. It is said that in China one reason why the party does not mobilise nationalist sentiment on the street is because there is no telling what these practices of mobilisation might unleash. The CPM learnt the hard way in Kolkata that its own techniques could be used to oust it.


Indian political parties have a similar interest in neutralising social protest or using it timidly and sparingly. First, there is a genuine fear of the state's capacity to handle even routine protest. The state of police and paramilitary forces makes the probability of some violent incident that could become a focal point relatively high.


Second, the credibility of any of the parties organising the protest is none too high. But most importantly, they are all implicated in the state in one way or the other. They share a common fear. What might start as a protest against a political party, may be a conduit for a more generalised expression of dissatisfaction against all of them. As smart politicians they know that anger is there; better to keep a lid on it. In short, politics, which should be an instrument of protest, is now a vast contrivance to tame and appropriate it, so politics as usual can go on.


The second big structural change is the changing configuration of classes. Here two important changes matter. As a result of growth, more people do have more assets and more complex economic interests. Even though, there is good reason to be dissatisfied with government performance, the uncertainties produced by social protest seem to put more at risk. Hence the argument that the economic consequences of social protest are not desirable has more traction.


But there might also be a deeper story to be told about class and protest. It is often said that the privileged influence public policy while the poor don't. There is much truth in this claim. But it can also be misleading in some sense. It disguises the fact that the ability of the privileged to collectively shape and reform the culture of the state in the direction of the public good is severely circumscribed. But the privileged have considerably more adaptive power. All their efforts are going towards private adaptation to the state's deficiencies rather than public goods (private security, private electricity, private education, and private health). For them social protest is essentially an imposition of costs with no gain, since they do not really believe the state can be made to serve public good.


But more importantly, effective social protest requires at least some possibility of linkage across classes. The most glaring way in which inequality is increasing is this. Till a decade or so ago all classes were defined by a common characteristic in relation to the state: they could all defy it with equal impunity. The poor could enter cities and occupy space, the rich could encroach land and the state let us get away with pretty much anything. What is changing is that the privileged can now still get away with a good deal, but it is getting harder for the poor to defy the state. So the privileged don't want the sensitive question opened up: who is bearing the costs of economic policies? They also often feel frustrated by the state. But they fear that protesting against the state will soon turn into a protest against them. Hence we go through the charade of indignation, at the same time as we fear protest.


In the old regime, the rich had less to fear from the poor because in an ironic sort of way both had the same relationship to the state. Now that social contract is changing. For the poor: stricter rule of law, sacrifice for national progress with a few sops thrown in. For the privileged: ability to manipulate or adapt to the law, bask in the glory of national development, but don't expect much from public goods. The whole notion of common problems, and therefore of protest structured around them, vanishes. The forms of democracy require that someone make noise from time to time, so protest has taken place. But that democracy also now requires that real problems best remain invisible, for once that Pandora's Box is opened who knows who will be held to account.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







As a country we seem to live in a state of nirvana. The discipline of strategic policies and planning was quietly given up almost two decades ago, so quietly that the logic of markets was never explained. Even as he brought in a Hayekian world with a vengeance, PM Narasimha Rao talked Nehru's socialism right up to his defeat in 1996. His successor, understandably, did not want to be the bearer of bad news either. People like me, looked upon as outsiders, wrote on the need to be real. But the minister who succeeded me dropped the requirement that CERC pricing be mandatory and the minimum agricultural tariff clause from the draft bill I introduced in Parliament in 1997. This later destroyed the Electricity Act. One could cite the story of fertilisers or grain, where modulated subsidies for equity or efficiency were thrown overboard. This means that the country still thinks that all prices are only costs and economists are dispensable.


Kaushik Basu is an outsider and started well by taking the position that a rise in prices will reduce the deficit and reduce prices. At one level this is a tautology that some sneer at. I was once asked why I support a truism which a tautology is (in the sense that it need not be scientifically tested since it is defind in a manner that it is true) — my answer was that I don't believe in falsisms. But at least someone is saying that in a political decision there is an economic bottomline. Otherwise, while you don't say so, prices must be fixed as in a plan which allowed a 5 per cent increase in prices over five years and all quantities were distributed accordingly. In this view all prices are only costs. That is not a truism, for while it's true that most prices are costs, they are not only costs and even Kaushik is not saying so.


In 1992, when we quietly signed an agreement with the Bretton Woods institutions to jettison a lot of controls, we needed to explain to our people that we will now, subject to some restrictions and regulations, follow free markets and that means that prices at home and abroad will not only be costs, but will also play a role in allocating resources. They will also determine incomes. I was a part of a gang which did it in the second half of the '80s but we would blow our trumpet on domestic reform first, global later, price decontrol and moving over from controls to financial instruments. I didn't do the reform of the early '90s, in fact I was a mild critic of the phasing and harmonisation behind it, but I do know enough economics to say that no one really explicated the basis of our policies. An increase in fuel prices will not only increase some costs. It will also encourage people to use energy more efficiently. Underlying almost all the climate change models which Jairam Ramesh inflicted on a largely uninterested population, was the assumption that we will follow sensible energy pricing policies. So it's not only efficiency now but equity between us and the future — are you going to be fair to your grandchildren or not? Of course prices are also purchasing power and incomes and for the life of me I don't understand why we can't put in more money into public transport, mini hydels, solar chullahs and the works, while raising the price of fossil fuels.


Of course we should not be efficient only in fuel. There is the price of fertiliser and grain — once you begin, it leads to the question, why not more? The cost of protecting some fertiliser factories is very high in terms of the fuel wasted per unit of urea produced. But the powerful market incentives placed in that report for energy efficient urea production remain in a government silo, to use a phrase Montek Ahluwalia invented.


We are talking here of saving about ten thousand crores in fuel cost. You went out of the way to reject the Alagh Committee on tariff policies for agriculture, although the logic of the situation brings you back to it in myriad ways.


When people are hurt they will be angry, but it is the dharma of an economist, who's not entering a popularity contest, to say that some prices have to rise for all of us to be better. I don't believe in free markets for a strategic vision is the heart of policy in a poor country, but living in western India I know that some things markets do better than economists and babus and we must use them, where they work.


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







Shekhar Gupta: My guest this week is the capitalist of the poor, the guru of trickle-up, Hernando de Soto.


de Soto: It's a great pleasure to see you.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us something about trickle-up, because everybody who is halfway non-socialist, talks of trickle-down, not trickle-up.


de Soto: Most of the wealth of developed countries is trickling up. In other words, countries like the United States were basically made of poor pioneers who migrated from Europe, because they were poor. So they all trickled up. Good growth generally comes from bottom up, for the simple reason that it has to do with the division of labour, and it has to do with poor people creating a solid, independent economy.


Shekhar Gupta: All of us heard the trickle-down mantra from Ronald Reagan: you create growth and wealth will get down. You are saying, create wealth at the bottom of the pyramid, and it will trickle up?


de Soto: The explanation (of the West) for their tax policies, why they are giving capital gains breaks or why they are helping the big banks is that it will all trickle down. But the way they got to where they are is, first of all, they emancipated their people, gave them rights, gave them the right to form entrepreneurship. And as a matter of fact, all their stories of wealth are not really trickle down. Like Bill Gates, who trickled up. He wasn't the big guy before he got to where he is. Steve Jobs was also working from a garage. In our countries, or at least in countries like mine, you start working in a garage, you stay in a garage.


Shekhar Gupta: Because the system doesn't give you a level playing-field.


de Soto: Well yes, the proof of it are the migrants. All those Africans who migrate to Europe, or the Latin Americans...


Shekhar Gupta: Or the Indians, who do so well abroad.


de Soto: They do so well abroad and sometimes not so well at home. And so that has to do obviously with the fact that there are legal opportunities to get organised in the north that we don't have in the south.


Shekhar Gupta: So the classical capitalists have got their discourse wrong.


de Soto: I don't think most of our Western friends realise how their wealth coincided with the industrial revolution, and the industrial revolution came about because there was a breakdown of the feudal system, and because essentially every guy got the property and the business right and a uniform rule of law was applicable to everybody.


Shekhar Gupta: And democracy.


de Soto: And democracy, oh yes, of course.


Shekhar Gupta: That's how your NGO got its name.


de Soto: Yes, we are called the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. So we believe both—that economic alternatives are important, and that democracy is crucial for making the right decisions.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us a little bit about your own evolution. You are a capitalist in the true sense—you ran a large corporation.


de Soto: I wasn't the owner, so I wasn't the capitalist. Yes, I ran it. I was the CEO of a large consulting engineering firm in Switzerland. Actually all that while, I was waiting to go back home to Peru, because my parents had been exiled when I was a child. I went constantly on holidays to Peru so I was always in touch with the country. And afterwards as a businessman, about five times a year. But I went back at the age of 39. And then, as I started learning to live in Peru as a Peruvian—I was in the gold business at that time—it became very clear every time I had to make a deal, whether it was to put up walls in the house or to make a deal regarding the mining business, I was always in the shadow economy.


Shekhar Gupta: So you had to pay a bribe?


de Soto: Pay bribe or to do things not contractually, because that's the way you had to do it. I said to myself: "Has anybody measured how many people actually live and work outside the law?" And after I got curious about it, I found out that slums had been measured, poverty had been measured, but nobody had measured what it means being within or without the law.


Shekhar Gupta: What does it mean to live outside the law?


de Soto: Living outside the law means your home is not represented in a document in such a clear way that you can buy and sell it easily, that you can appreciate it, that you can use it as a guarantee to get credit. It means that if you have a business, it might be recognised by the local authority, but it doesn't have limited liability, so basically, you cannot issue shares, you cannot get investment, and you cannot use the things that you have as collateral, because you are not properly within the legal system.


Shekhar Gupta: So you cannot monetise it in any way.


de Soto: You cannot, because in the end, business and prosperity are the results of cooperating on a large scale with everybody.


Shekhar Gupta: And that led to the thought process that you employed on the ground.


de Soto: That led, effectively, to the idea that certainly, legal institutions were important...


Shekhar Gupta: To demystify capital.


de Soto: That's right. Since you have talked about demystifying capital, capital, like the word energy, sums up something of value, something of power, but that is obviously not tangible. So the question is, how does it become tangible? If I ask somebody, "Where is your wealth", they will eventually bring out a piece of paper and say, "It's in my home", "It's in my car", "It's in the bank", "It's in stocks"...but it's always on a piece of property.


Shekhar Gupta: And the poor man in most developing countries has no such thing.


de Soto: The poor man does not have his value represented on paper, nor his identity. In other words, as developed countries have made a transition from poverty to wealth, they have not understood to what degree wealth is essentially the result of adequate documentation...even identity. For example, just by chance now, since I am in a country that is not my own, I am travelling with my passport. And if you ask me, "Are you the real Hernando de Soto", the way I am going to prove it is through my passport. In other words, capitalism works in the measure in which you are able to identify what you have and who you are in terms that are easy and identifiable.


Shekhar Gupta: And the poor don't have it.


de Soto: Most of the poor are informal or extra-legal and they don't have it and therefore, they cannot participate in the global economy. They participate in local neighbourhood economies and that's why they are relatively poor.


Shekhar Gupta: So tell us about how you employed some of this wisdom in Peru.


de Soto: Well, the first thing we did in Peru is do what we call the diagnostic. Which is, how many people have got all of these different symptoms that we call legality? How many people actually have fortunes, or have savings or have any form of accumulation or any form of possession, or anything that identifies them, nationally or internationally? And that's when you come to the conclusion that 10-12 per cent of enterprises, whether you are talking about Peru or Egypt, have that identity the rest don't have. That rest which doesn't have it is what's the extra-legal economy. And so, what we started doing in Peru is finding out how come they were not documented. We found out that there are very concrete and very simple reasons for it. Like, for example, in Peru, if you have a home that is built on a sand dune that is a result of a settlement, like Dharavi, or something like that, and if you want to go legal, it would have taken you 21 years working eight hours a day. If you did it in Egypt, it would have taken you 17 years. If you do it in Manila in the Philippines, it takes you 25 years. So as you begin documenting, you start finding out that the law is not that friendly to poor people.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us briefly the story of your success in Peru. What did you do and how much success did you get?


de Soto: Well, the first thing we did is, in areas that were the so-called slums and shanty towns, we started trying to find out why it was that they did not have a title and what were the consequences. So the first part, like I just told you, is that it took 21 years to get a title. The second thing we found out is that if you just title people, it's not enough. Because for many people, it's not only where they live, but where they work. So if you offer them a certificate of possession or a title, that titles their home but doesn't title their work; they still won't come in. So in the end, you have to focus on the whole spectrum. What is it that does not allow them to bring in a form of being identified within the law in the same way that my passport identifies me from India all the way to South Africa? And we started then finding out that once you did this identity, then things started changing radically. In as simple terms as this: we are now here in this hotel in Delhi, and let's pretend you own the hotel. And I happen to represent Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men, and I say, "Look I want to buy this hotel." And we agree it's worth a 100 million dollars. It's a perfect deal, we start signing, and I then say, "Mr Gupta, could you do me a favour? Could you pass me the title?" And you tell me, "I have no title, but all my neighbours know it's mine." Is it still worth a 100 million dollars? In other words, precision and certainty are worth many, many millions of dollars. The moment we started titling in Peru, the value of the wealth or the possessions of the poor went up.


Shekhar Gupta: You know something about the coca business in Peru. Tell me about the fight you led.


de Soto: One of the myths in the world is that if you get into the drug business, even if you are a poor Peruvian farmer or a poor Bolivian farmer or a poor Chinese farmer, or a poor Afghan are going to be much better off. But the fact is, life isn't that good. In the beginning, because your crop happens to be somewhat rarer, you fetch a higher price. But you will beget a lot of gangsters in the business and your family will be destroyed. So what we saw in Peru is that any farmer, if they are given secure titles to their homes and their businesses, preferred getting out of coca in spite of the fact that the economics were against it. The fact is, that his family and his real life are also part of the economy and you have to factor that in.


Shekhar Gupta: How would this apply to, say, tribal India, where we see the rise of Maoism now?


de Soto: I think the way to think about it is, who owns any land on which there are natural resources? The people who live on it or the people who have the papers for it? In Peru, we have tribal people who live next to the gold mines. So they should have one way or the other of participating. But they can't. And it's a very simple scheme. If a foreign company or a national company comes in to get the gold out, or to get petroleum out or gas out, you need to raise funds. No company has 3 billion or 6 billion hanging around. They take the piece of property paper—legal—that the government gave them and say, "I have a concession." Then they inscribe that concession in a bilateral investment treaty with the United States or with Europe. So it's not only now a local title; it's an international title. Then they go to an organisation within, say the United States or Europe, that gives them a guarantee on the title. So now they have got a super-duper title. Then they can go to the World Bank and get a guarantee from the multi-lateral investment guarantee association. It's against that title that they raise the money. So, having a property title doesn't only mean that you own something, it means that it's that with which you raise capital. So the question you must ask yourself, which I would do if I were Indian, is: How many of the people that are in these areas where you have natural resources actually have a piece of paper that you can take to Wall Street? And if they don't, they are in a situation of inferiority.


Shekhar Gupta: Under the Indian Constitutional system, mineral wealth belongs to the state. But what we are saying is that they are neighbours. So if you have a big MNC, for example, starting to mine iron ore in a large area, then the local tribal communities should have a shareholding in that concession.


de Soto: Yes, but for that, you would need formalisation.


Shekhar Gupta: So how will you give titles to these 10 of millions of tribals?


de Soto: Well, you have got to do various things. You have to, first of all, accept that the tribes exist. You can also tell them, here are the tools to get organised, business-wise. Secondly, you've got to be able to divide land, you've got to be able to divide shares of abstract value. How are you going to be able to participate with a mining company if you don't have shares and you don't have a corporation? How are you going to be able to take a risk in the market if you don't have limited liability? All of these are the legal creations that the informal economy or the extra-legal economy lacks.


Shekhar Gupta: Do you have any prescriptions for Indian slums?


de Soto: The first prescription is this—get the facts. Which is, find out about the slum in terms of its legal connections. Do they actually have the tools with which they can convert a piece of land into capital? Is there any way that they can use it to get credit? Is there any way that they can use it to be able to be identified, anywhere in the world, and therefore, fit in the division of labour? And according to that, you will find your own formula.


Shekhar Gupta: One solution that has been found in India is what is called the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, where you resettle slum-dwellers in-situ. You take the land, find a builder, he takes part of the land for commercial development, makes his money from that, and builds apartments for slum-dwellers on the same land and gives them titles. Is that a workable solution?


de Soto: Yes, but you are talking to me about housing, and I am talking to you about property. The question is, do they have a title that allows them to convert the bricks into money? Whether they can sell it, whether they can use it as a guarantee.


Shekhar Gupta: When you talk to Indian officials, do you find that they ask you the right questions, or you think they are looking for a quick fix?


de Soto: I wouldn't be here if they were looking for quick fixes. Our proposal to the Indian government is to get an inventory of what is the real legal status of these people. According to that, you can start getting an idea and use democracy to find out what kind of a legal structure you have to give them so that they can move ahead. And then create a rule of law. What it means is not that you should have many laws. The rule of law means that you should have one law. I mean, here we are, at this time, looking at international football. And we are all in it, and we are all getting excited by it.


Shekhar Gupta: Well if you focus on the slums, that's a good place to begin, Hernando. Keep coming back to India and stay engaged, because India is a big challenge, but also a big opportunity.


de Soto: I think so too, and I am delighted to be here.


Transcribed by Shatarupa Chakraborty








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.







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."








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.







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.








Political hypocrisy got top billing in the Opposition-sponsored nationwide bandh called against the government's decision to hike fuel prices. It was, after all, the BJP that initiated the process of oil price decontrol during its tenure in government. The UPA has only carried that policy to its logical conclusion. The Left parties may not be hypocritical about decontrol but what about allying with the 'untouchable' BJP in coordinating this bandh? The Left had, after all, prevented UPA-1 from reaching out to the opposition BJP on a whole range of issues between 2004 and 2009. So, it seems obvious enough that the bandh was motivated more by political opportunism than political principle. The larger question that must be answered by all the political parties that supported the bandh is about the choice of their method to protest against the government's decision. The nationwide bandh disrupted normal life in many states, particularly those ruled by the NDA and the Left, causing severe inconvenience to the aam aadmi, ostensibly the subject of the Opposition's empathy. Amongst other things, the bandh shut down truck traffic and manufacturing facilities, precisely the sort of disruptions that would lead to a spike in the prices of essential commodities, including food, and harm the aam aadmi.


More broadly, the bandh is also a reflection of the Opposition's complete detachment from policy and indeed political reality. It had become simply unsustainable for the government to continue to subsidise the consumption of petroleum products because of pressure on the fiscal deficit. A runaway fiscal deficit would only put more upward pressure on inflation, with a greater long-term impact than the temporary spike in the aftermath of decontrol. In any case, the major consumers of petroleum products, except kerosene, which has in any case seen only a very moderate rise in prices, are the middle class and not the poor aam aadmi. There is no economic logic and perhaps limited political logic in giving non-merit subsidies to the middle class. That money would clearly be better spent in targeting subsidies at the poorest. The Opposition should know only too well that the government has limited resources and must make choices. In the case of oil subsidies the choice is fairly clear to all. The combined Opposition has not done good governance any favours by calling and enforcing this bandh. It is no more than an opportunist political gimmick.







The ministry of corporate affairs is reportedly going to mandate the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to clear M&A proposals in 180 days rather than 210 days it takes at present. This will help to finalise deals faster and avoid unnecessary bureaucratic logjam. Anecdotal evidence suggests that globally 80-85% of M&As do not raise any competitive concerns and are generally approved by concerned authorities within a single month's time. Of course, some complex cross-border mergers do take more time, but a majority of cases can indeed be cleared much faster than even 180 days. In fact, the International Competition Network, an association of global competition authorities, had suggested that simple mergers should be cleared within six weeks and certain complex cases could take a maximum of six months' time. In order to boost shareholders' confidence, it is desirable to get clearance without much delay. In addition, the ministry of corporate affairs' decision to fix the turnover and assets threshold of the target enterprise at Rs 750 crore and Rs 250 crore, respectively, to get CCI clearance is welcome. This will ensure that only large M&As are placed before CCI for approval and smaller ones do not add to the regulator's workload. While most M&As bring about efficiency, which are beneficial to the shareholders and consumers at large, some may have anti-competitive effects that the CCI must look into. Globally, vertical mergers, which are between different stages of production cycle, and conglomerate mergers, which are between firms operating in unrelated markets, are rarely challenged on competition grounds. Those that are challenged are mostly horizontal mergers between firms producing the same product where there is a higher probability of creation of a monopoly.


After the global downturn, Indian companies are once again looking at both domestic and cross-border acquisitions with a new zeal. During the first half of this year, Indian companies were involved in 300 M&A deals, which was up almost 70% as compared with the same period last year. About 33% of the deals in the same period were outbound acquisitions as against 23% during the same period last year and domestic deals continued to be the major contributor with 53% of the total share. Going by the current trend, this year is likely to surpass the record high M&A deals seen in 2007. Acquisitions have now become an important area of capital market activity and are a favoured route for growth and consolidation. The regulatory regime must not delay processes unnecessarily.









Last Friday, RBI raised short-term interest rates by 25 basis points. Most bankers reported that this will not impact lending rates. HDFC Bank dropped interest rates on home loans the same day. While this may be unrelated to RBI's action, it is a reflection of the ineffectiveness of RBI's action. But, this does not reduce the importance of this move. The base-rate announcements by banks have been lower than expected. Fears that the base-rate regime would raise lending rates were put to rest. Banks seem to be geared up in order to compete and gain market share in an economy that seems poised to accelerate growth. This growing demand and competition amongst banks is likely to keep interest rates low in the near future.


RBI had made its position clear when it squeezed out liquidity on April 24, 2010, by raising CRR from 5.75% to 6%. Deputy governor Subir Gokarn has stated clearly that the direction has been set in terms of an intervention to control inflation. The question thus has been how much and when, not whether.


The increase in interest rates well ahead of the scheduled policy announcement possibly indicates a gradual step-by-step raising of interest rates, rather than raising them significantly at once. This step-by-step approach may cushion the impact of a one-time significant hike in interest rates on the equity markets. It should be noted that the equity markets do not indicate any inflation in asset prices in the recent past. This is, possibly, another indicator that the inflation we see around now is not the result of excess liquidity causing excessive demand.


A sharp hike in interest rates may not bring down inflation, because inflation is driven by shortages and by bad measurement such as the way we measure inflation in rent. A hike in interest rates could be effective in controlling inflation even if inflation is driven by supply-side problems, if such a hike leads to a dampening of consumption demand. For this to happen, the hike in short-term interest rates should lead to a hike in lending that is sufficiently high to dissuade borrowers from accessing loans at the same rate as they have been in the past. But HDFC Bank's announcement of a drop in its interest rates indicates that the dynamics of lending is driven by factors that are beyond RBI control. And, it would take a lot more on the part of RBI to actually rein in excessive demand.


But is there evidence of excessive demand? According to the Central Statistical Organisation, real private consumption expenditure had expanded by a meagre 4.3% in 2009-10. RBI statistics indicate that outstanding personal loans for consumer durables declined by 1.3% (YoY) and that for credit cards declined by 28.3%, while advances against fixed deposits grew only by 1.6% as of February 26, 2010. Housing loans grew by 9.1% and education loans by 31.2%. Overall personal consumer loans grew by a modest 4.7%.


While the most important lesson of the 2008 crisis is that leveraged consumption is dangerous and leverage beyond a point is calamitous, there is still some merit in increasing credit to households, if this can be done with responsibility. There is always also a genuine need for increasing personal loans.


Although there are no reliable official statistics to measure employment, it is very likely that employment in India is rising more than just modestly. The relentless growth in new capacities in the mining and manufacturing sectors is likely to have created substantial direct employment and also substantial indirect employment in support services such as trade and transport.


The increase in employment is bound to create new demand for credit. As young people settle into their new jobs, their need for housing and then consumer durable loans will rise. A lower and transparent interest rate regime will help in building confidence in this new class.


Wages have been rising, thanks to direct interventions by the government in employment (NREG) and also because of an increase in new job opportunities. Thus, the ability of households to service borrowings is also improving.


Banks must reach out to their potential new household customer. Perhaps, there is a need to build trust once again given that households have witnessed several financial upheavals in the past two years. It saw the global financial markets nearly collapse, local stock markets crash (although this impacted a minuscule proportion of the households); it saw serious questions being raised on the fees it paid to intermediaries for investments. Briefly it also feared job losses. Although most of this is behind us, the experience has brought in a degree of introspection.


Greater transparency and lower rates can help pull customers to banks. It is equally important that banks reach out to households in regions that are witnessing the greatest investments and therefore the greatest new jobs. A targeted effort will yield superior results.


Often, this phase of expansion soon turns boisterous—it brings in the infamous irrational exuberance. I see RBI's action as a signal of caution and its posture to act further as a subtle threat against that irrational exuberance. Inflation will fall independently.


—The author heads the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








Despite the universal bad rap for sloth and corruption that India's bureaucracy gets at every opportunity, the fact remains that it is understaffed at the all-important senior levels where leadership and innovation appear to be required. The steel framework of India, numbers comprehensively prove, has missing rivets and rods and is tottering rather alarmingly. Despite the fact that much of the reforms debate of the 1990s focused on the retreat of the government from several areas of economy and governance, the picture in 2010 proves that now good governance is required at all levels.


From regulatory work in fraught areas of private sector enterprise to combating the Naxal threat and specialised negotiations needed in India's diplomatic initiatives, these were the areas where the government found it had to make do with far fewer numbers for increasingly specialised jobs. The following statistics would illustrate the situation quite clearly. According to the ministry of personnel, the total sanctioned strength of posts requiring IAS personnel was 5,689, where only around 4,534 posts have been filled. The shortage of police personnel at the class-I officer level is an alarming 1,694 officers, while the shortage in the diplomatic service is legendary. Needless to say, the government is overstaffed at the lowest levels.


The government, in recent months, has applied its mind to the question of bridging this gap. A proposal by the home ministry of holding a mid-term exam for state police officers below the age of 35 to recruit them into the IPS was mooted and got political clearance from the highest levels. Although the entrenched hierarchy of the IPS has not taken well to this invasion of their bastion, it appears to be an idea whose time has come. The logic being forwarded for this upgrade of provincial services is that in a similar situation during the immediate post-Independence period, this is how shortages were bridged. While it could work as a short-term measure, its efficacy in the long run is questionable.


The government would be better served by first assessing where they need to deploy their people, even if recruitment is increased and whether a graduate or a post-graduate generalist, who would spend two to three years preparing for a fiercely competitive exam, is exactly the right kind of person required for some really specialised jobs. If the reforms process shrunk government, it also removed the aura of desirability around a government job. The question of whether the civil services is attracting the best of the best is moot, and whether an exam, which has such huge odds stacked against an individual, is the best way to find this talent is also a question mark.


How can specialists be attracted to the government? There has always been space at the top for specialists in some fields, like Sam Pitroda and Nandan Nilekani who were invited to head special projects. How can this process be democratised?


Will a short-service commission, like in the defence services, work in the civil bureaucracy? The temptation is to say a resounding yes, but the answer I am afraid is a no. Civil bureaucracy works on different principles, where continuity is important and generalist skills the norm. And frankly, income differentials between the private and public sector are a major deterrent. What is needed is a change in the way the bureaucracy is recruited. Instead of a common civil service exam that recruits diplomats, administrators, economic policy shapers and the police, each of these services should have a separate recruitment process—those interested in specific services would only study for particular exams, and the odds of competing against a diffused mass of lakhs of applicants is also ameliorated. The lessening of the odds, in fact, would attract a much larger cross section of young people, many of whom give up on the exam without having tried looking at the size of the competition.


This way the debate about the generalist versus the specialist would also be resolved, with both kinds of candidates being available to the government. The government, which works on the principle of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", will meet with resistance to any proposed change in this system, inherited from the British. The letters written by the IPS Association to the state chief ministers resisting the recruitment of state policemen into the IPS is a case in point. But it has been commonly acknowledged by people at the highest level of government that the biggest reform needed now is not of any sector in particular but specifically of governance. The behemoth of Indian bureaucracy is infirm, and needs to keep up with the winds of change.












The G-20 summit held in Toronto signals a new era for international economic cooperation. Countries have pledged to a full return to growth with quality jobs, to reform and strengthen financial systems, and to create strong, sustainable and balanced global growth as per the G-20 communiqué. In the emerging countries' context, the focus was on strengthening social safety nets, enhancing corporate governance reform, financial market development, infrastructure spending and greater exchange-rate flexibility. The deliverables of the G-20 summit largely focused on how to handle the economies in a post-crisis situation. They fall within the purview of financial sector reforms, IFIs and development, trade protectionism and investment and a broad framework for sustainable and balanced growth.


Within the financial sector, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and Financial Stability Board (FSB) will work towards a new global regime for bank capital, liquidity and accounting. This will be adopted at the forthcoming Seoul summit with an aim of implementation by end-2012. The proposal to levy a tax on banks was left to the individual countries. The FSB and IMF will work towards identifying risks and strengthening supervision. Within the IFI reforms, a $350-billion capital increase was granted for MDBs. This capital will be utilised to make the IFI's more transparent, accountable and effective. Although the voting power of developing countries will increase by 4.59% in the World Bank since 2008, the ratification of IMF quota and voice reforms has not yet materialised. WTO, OCED, UNCTAD and ILO have been requested to monitor the situation and publicly report on trade issues.


Although the Toronto meet was the first summit of G-20 in its new capacity as a forum for international economic cooperation, the deliverables as envisaged by the developing countries haven't fully materialised. The Seoul summit should address these gnawing issues. Even if the priorities are different for both developed and developing countries, key reforms, such as the IMF quota reform, financial sector reform and progress in Doha development round need to be looked into. If the developed countries are willing to make only piecemeal changes, it may suffer from not truly becoming a platform for international economic cooperation.


—The author is a researcher at Icrier








The creation of United Nations Women, an agency that will work for gender equality across the world, has come not a moment too soon. Over the last few years, there has been a growing feeling among women's rights organisations that gender-related issues had all but fallen off the crowded UN table. The decade that followed the high point of the International Year of the Woman in 1976 saw the UN spearheading some path-breaking developments, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. But the spirit and promise of those years had faltered. The UN appeared helpless to drive the required systemic changes for improvements in the lives of women and children, although this is one of its Millennium Development Goals. Earlier this year, the UN Commission on the Status of Women, reviewing the implementation of the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration, noted that progress was uneven or erratic at best. There are huge gaps between rhetoric and reality in key areas such as equal opportunities and access to education, health, and employment; ending violence against, and abuse of, women; and ensuring that women get paid equally with men for the work they do and that they have reproductive rights. A 2008 publication by the UN Development Fund for Women, Who Answers to Women?, brought out revealing statistics: women earn 17 per cent less than men; violence affects between 10 and 60 per cent of women and girls; worldwide, women are outnumbered two to one in political parties, and four to one in elected legislatures. Many member countries continue to have laws that openly discriminate against women. Across the world, when it comes to gender parity, governments are reluctant to put their money where their mouth is on issues. There is no system of accountability on commitments made.


The United Nations currently has four separate agencies, including UNIFEM, to work on women-related issues. This has resulted in fragmentation of its own work. Created through a unanimously adopted General Assembly resolution last week, UN Women will bring the four together, but is also expected to be stronger than the sum of its parts. This should enable the UN to track more effectively the resources being allocated worldwide for women's empowerment and determine the impact of these efforts. But it also has the hard job of persuading governments to commit more money to gender issues. Another challenge would be to enthuse the current generation of women to take up women's causes. It is with all this in mind that the UN must choose the Under Secretary General to head the new-born agency. As well as funding, the leadership of the new organisation will be the key to its success.








At the last 16 stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South American teams seemed set to dominate the tournament. All the five nations from South America were in, and four of them (with Chile losing out to fellow South American Brazil) qualified for the quarterfinals. But things changed dramatically at this stage. Perennial favourite Brazil was outplayed by the Netherlands and the Seleção's principal rival from the same continent, Argentina, was routed by Germany. With Paraguay edged out by David Villa and Spain, only Uruguay from among the four qualified for the semi-finals. Europeans have never done well outside Europe but Africa is neutral territory. Uruguay is a winner of two World Cups but its triumphs came in 1930 and 1950, far removed from the world of football as we know it. The lone surviving South American team, which is in its first semi-final since 1970, is not exactly the favourite to win the title. For the first time, the World Cup should see a European team win outside its own continent. Brazil is the only team to have done that — in Sweden in 1958 and in Korea/Japan in 2002. Africa's hopes ended with Ghana, which lost tragically in a shoot-out to Uruguay after failing to convert an extra-time penalty kick.


Spain, who started out as the co-favourite with Brazil, now meets Germany, whose youngsters, especially Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil, have combined magnificently with veterans from the previous World Cup, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, to produce a flood of goals. Spain's possession football with a slow build-up towards attacking positions could more than meet its match in Germany's counter-attacking football that overruns rival defences. For Spain, striker Fernando Torres seems hopelessly out of form, but so long as Villa compensates with his purposive strides and accurate finishing, the Spaniards have the firepower to live up to their top billing. Both Germany and Spain had to overcome group-stage hiccups but have been in control in the knock-out games, overwhelming opponents in contrasting styles. The Netherlands is the only team to have won all its matches, that too in regulation time. Wesley Seneijder, now in the form of his life, is, along with Klose and Villa, in contention for the Golden Boot. Uruguay must count itself fortunate to get into this charmed circle but there is no question that the other three teams have been head and feet above the rest of the competition. Germany, with its combination of precise, fluid attack, formidable defence, and flair, is deservedly the bookmakers' favourite. Everything is set for an intriguing last four — and a rousing finale that was not quite part of the script.










There was irony in the timing of the petrol price decontrol order. The decision, which also covered major hikes in diesel and kerosene prices, and affects hundreds of millions of people, came even as Manmohan Singh advised world leaders in Toronto on the need for "inclusive growth." And while we are still debating "food security" and how best that should be achieved in law. It came while food price inflation edges towards 17 per cent and general inflation is in double digits. Who are we trying to "include" in that growth?

No less tragic was the media's reaction to the price decontrol. Even as Cabinet Ministers sought to distance themselves from it, the editorials mostly reeked of triumphalism: "Free at Last," screamed one. "A bold, welcome move," shrilled another headline. With rare exceptions, the edits — in contrast to the response of millions to Monday's bandh — showed yet again how far the mass media are from mass reality.


Most of the time, as the late Murray Kempton used to say, the job editorial writers do, is to "come down from the hills after the battle is over and shoot the wounded." The media have done that definition proud. There's even been an editorial on Bhopal in the same month that didn't wait for that battle to be over. It finds the villains of Bhopal to be the "activist industry that continues to milk the tragedy." And mourns the real tragedy: that "any corporation, across the world, would be forced to think twice before proudly announcing to its shareholders that it has set up an ancillary unit in Bhopal." It does not once mention the words "Union Carbide." Roll over Kempton. The shooting's on.


The early protests against the price rise got short shrift in the media. In the largest English daily, it earned a couple of stories spanning a modest few inches across three or four columns. The same daily twice devoted a full page — without an ad — on successive days to the death by suicide of a fashion model in Mumbai. Also, passing off without much comment this week — the elevation of our Food and Agriculture Minister to the post of president of the International Cricket Council. At a time when the entire nation is focussed on the issue of food prices and food security.


Mr. Pawar is quoted as saying (AFP, New Delhi, July 2) that he would request the Prime Minister to lessen his ministerial workload. "I may suggest having more hands to help me. I had asked for three Ministers but they have given me only one," he told journalists. "... If I request to reduce some of my work, we may find some solution." However, he does promise us that "I won't allow my work in the government to suffer." That's reassuring. Maybe it's time for the Prime Minister to extend inclusive growth to bring the Food and Agriculture Minister into food and agriculture. (Or we could include cricket in that sector.) Four Ministers in the same field would be truly inclusive.


Yet the fuel price decontrol will profoundly affect the prices of just about everything. At a time of already spiralling food costs. Punctuated by periodic claims that "it should come down within a couple of months," from Ministers and UPA hacks.


Now comes the news that the food security bill may be set for a radical overhaul. I guess that is welcome — it can't be worse than the early attempts at drafting one. Take for instance the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers held in February. They were to "discuss the enactment of the proposed National Food Security Bill." The first thing the EGoM came up with was this gem. 2.1 (a) "The definition of Food Security should be limited to the specific issue of foodgrains (wheat and rice) and be delinked from the larger issue of nutritional security."


Food security delinked from nutritional security? Note that the same line concedes nutritional security is "the larger issue." Why then the need to delink the two?


Is 35 kg of rice at Rs. 3 a kilo (for a section of the population) food security? Are there no other determinants of food security? Like health, nutrition, livelihoods, jobs, food prices? Can we even delink the fuel price hike from discussions on food security? Or from the wilful gutting of the public distribution system? Or from the havoc wrought by the ever-growing futures trade in wheat, pulses, edible oils and more?


The truth is the government seeks ways to spend less and less on the very food security it talks about. Hunger is defined not by how many people suffer it, but by how many the government is willing to pay for. Hence the endless search for a lower BPL figure. To the government's great dismay, all three officially-constituted committees have turned up estimates of poverty higher than its own. Even the Tendulkar committee, closest to the ruling elite's worldview, raises the estimate of rural poverty to 42 per cent. (On a weak and fragile basis, it is true. But still higher than the government's count.)


The BPL Expert group headed by N.C. Saxena raises that to around 50 per cent. While the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector states on its first page that 836 million Indians (77 per cent of our people) live on Rs. 20 a day or less. Accepting that, for instance, would mean a few thousand crores more in spending on the hungry. The official line is simple. Since we cannot afford to feed all the hungry, there must only be as many hungry as we can afford to feed.


Most dishonest of all is the "there-is-no-money" line. The country spends Rs. 10,000 crore on a new airport. There's Rs. 40,000 crore or more for the Commonwealth Games. There's Rs. 60,000 crore happily lost in the spectrum scam. There's Rs. 500,000 crore in write-offs under just three heads for the super-rich and the corporate sector in the current Union budget. But funds for the hungry are hard to come by. What would it cost to universalise the PDS? Pravin Jha and Nilachal Acharya estimate that if rice/wheat were made available to all Indians at Rs. 3 a kilo, it would add Rs.84,399 crore to the food subsidy in coming budgets. That's about one-sixth of the tax write-offs for the wealthy in this year's budget. (Other estimates place the added expenditure each year at no more than Rs. 45,000 crore).


What will be the costs of not finding the money — in a country which ranks at 66 among 88 in the Global Hunger Index? In a nation whose child malnourishment record is worse than that of sub-Saharan Africa? A country now ranking 134 in the United Nations Human Development Index below Bhutan and Laos?


The same country that has 49 dollar billionaires in the Forbes list. (Many of whom receive government freebies in diverse forms. Some for their IPL involvements). If a government will not even try to ensure that no citizen goes hungry, should it remain in power? Or should it, at the very least, state honestly that the food security of every Indian is neither its aim nor its intent? Why tag 'food security' to a bill that will legitimise the opposite? How can we call something a 'right' if everyone does not have it?


A disclosure: I was a member of the BPL Expert Group. In a note annexed to that report, I argued that in four sectors — food, healthcare, education and decent work — access had to be universal. That flows from the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution. The rights of our people are based on their being citizens. Not on their ability to pay. Not on their being BPL or APL (or even IPL). Rights, by definition, are universal and indivisible.


Will the features of the government's proposed food security bill take the Directive Principles forward? Or will it weaken them? Diluting constitutional rights and presenting the watered down mix as progressive legislation is fraud. The only PDS that will work is a universal one. It is only in those States that have the closest thing to a universal system — Kerala and Tamil Nadu — where the PDS has functioned best.


Now there's talk of an "experiment" making access to food (that is, mainly wheat and rice) "universal" in about 150 districts. While this might be a step forward in thinking, it could prove a misstep in practice. This is "targeting" in other clothes. It could collapse as foodgrain from districts that are "universal" migrate to districts that are not. Better to go that final mile. Universalise.











Fali S. Nariman, one of India's finest contemporary lawyers and jurists, made many points with a bearing on the Bhopal case in his autobiography, When Memory Fades (2010), and he did it with grace and power. He has since said in an instructive and educative interview (Op-Ed page, The Hindu, June 28, 2010) that had all the facts relating to the Bhopal tragedy that are now known were with him then, he would not have accepted the brief for those who were responsible for it.


One poignant issue, one that is to my mind rather important, was however found to have been omitted in the interview. In the case relating to the tragedy, apparently accepting Mr. Nariman's submission, the settlement provided that no more cases of civil brutality or criminal culpability would be entertained by any Indian court against Union Carbide India Limited.


The company thus received an extraordinary absolution from all the cases. This divinely universal exoneration, that virtually stifled the voices of the mass of victims, was not social justice but carnage jurisprudence.


That proposition is void. The Union Carbide facility to produce a lethal gas was installed in India without due safety tests or experimental checks. It was a U.S. corporation and a multinational that was involved, and it could walk through to India as if the country was a mere dollar colony. The catastrophic leakage was the biggest industrial disaster in history. A Bhopal tragedy of Hiroshima magnitude — I call it a 'Bhoposhima' calamity caused by 'gasassination.' According to some estimates, around 20,000 people died in the tragedy.


In the first place, the government was grossly negligent in permitting the installation of the unit. A mega-criminal case came up, involving charges under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. But a pachydermic court, at the level of the Supreme Court, without care or conscience reduced the gravity of the offences to those involving Section 304A of the IPC. The accused corporate, UCIL, and Warren Anderson, its Chairman, were not prosecuted. When the Chairman came on a visit soon after the tragedy, he was promptly given bail and he went home.


O, the pity of it. How frivolous was the prosecution that ended in lesser officials of the company being sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment. A Himalayan offence ended in a molehill sentence. The state — which is also a suspect in the bargain — settled the case under its unknown unlimited power of patria potestas — no more future cases, no more cases from the same catastrophe. The shocking settlement made a mockery of the Indian Penal Code. No real compensation has been paid yet. The law is not merely an ass, but verily a barbarian in this instance. Social justice and economic justice in the Constitution would seem to have become frivolous phrases in this context.


Thinking of the massacre in Bhopal and the heartless authorities, I wept. In a Muslim minority population that was too poor and pathetic even to cry, and that was innocent of any crime, breathed the air not knowing that it was poisonous. The effects of the corporate crime trespassed even into the countryside, where guiltless people slept. By neglect lethal gas leaked out into space where humble humans were fast asleep. Also hit were animals and plants.


Then followed a sinister scene the like of which no eye had seen, no heart had conceived, no human tongue could adequately tell, no great painter in gory horror could paint. Bhopal was too poor to adequately project the pathetic scene to attract compassion. After all, the dead ones were Indians and the killers were rich, white corporates. Yankee air is innocent of grave crime!


The police laid charges of homicide, for Indian khaki sometimes has a heart. Anderson was charged. But the Supreme Court seemed to be above sensitivity.


The Indian Republic has a bosom of rock-and-brick, and so it settled for compensation for cadavers whose actual count nobody had. The thousands of brown corpses did not seem to matter, and some measly compensation received from Union Carbide was used to build a five-star hospital for the rich.


This is a crime. Parliament should awake and arise for the women, men and children who died in their sleep and continue to bear the effects of the gas. Twenty-six years later, an Indian court has handed out a soft sentence. Is this social justice? Have the judicative system and the robed brethren forgotten to keep their heart in the face of the 'Bhopalicide'? This is the outrageous obituary of Indian justice. It is not swaraj justice, it is jocose. This is Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. For Anderson remains free.


Union Carbide and its successor-entities, we greet you. We are but a dollar colony. Our justice is dilatory vis-a-vis your system. So we came to the United States. A great lawyer and a great judge told your court unblushingly how our Gandhian court is weak and you are powerful. That is a chapter of shame. When the poor die and the rich corporation has no accountability, the judiciary's vision missed murder and thought it was some simple crime.


Where is the patriotic mission and national passion when the accused is from the U.S? You are nuclear and we need your aid. Let the northern and southern blocs call you by any name. A de novo case needs to be initiated against the corporate culprits of Bhopal. What is at stake is India's honour, independence, humanism and judicial integrity. It should be a do-or-die battle for truth and justice. You accused, be you ever so high, our law is above you. Indian law is no longer British common law but Indian constitutional law made by 'We, the People of India' and spelt out in the Preamble. India is a democratic republic. It is socialist, secular and democratic, and governed by constitutional preambular principles. The Preamble to the Constitution speaks of social and economic justice and human rights, which prevail over the Common Law of the Law Lords, or corporate domination.


India's paramount public law has its basic principles founded in the Preamble — justice, social, economic and political. Then there are Part III, IV and V A. Judges of the highest court seemed to have missed this vision and mission. Do they forget at times the grand tryst with destiny that India made as it became free? The swaraj pledge was to "wipe every tear from every eye." The high bench sitting in a grand edifice on the national capital's Curzon Road with egalitarian jurisdiction governs the rule of law. But this fundamental principle and doctrine seemed to have been missed in deciding the Bhopal case. Let us win back the independence of Indian jurisprudence.


I hold the judges of the higher and subordinate courts in high esteem and as some of the finest citizens of the country. They are brethren of integrity, from munsiff to magistrate to the supremo, able, independent, persons of character. And some of them are sublime. But there are some who are not so at all — although they are few and far between. As a class, the judiciary constitutes a noble elite sector of public servants.


My critical observations are limited to those scarce nocents. I salute the judiciary generally and am proud to belong to the judicature. But the noxious and nocent elements must be isolated and censured to preserve the fair name of the judicature. This sort of criticism is correctional and dignified and meant to cleanse the class as a whole eliminating the vicious section. There is a caste system, a sacrilege that spoils the divinity, the dignity and integrity of the judicative fraternity.


In the Union Carbide case, a strong Bench headed by Chief Justice R.S. Pathak and including Justice A.M. Ahmadi gave a gaffe of a decision. It was a fundamental contradiction of Indian law but based on an undisputed principle of Victorian vintage common law. It seemed to ignore the fate of the thousands killed. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah quoted Charlsworth and Percy on Negligence (1990, Eighth Edition, Para 443) in his judgment thus: "Indeed, that this is the position in common law cannot be disputed. In an action for negligence, damages must be and are assessed once and for all at the trial of such an issue. Even if it is found later that the damage suffered was much greater than was originally supposed, no further action could be brought. It is well settled rule of law that damages resulting from one and the same cause of action must be assessed and recovered once and for all. Two actions, therefore, will not lie against the same defendant for personal injury sustained in the same accident."


That proposition is valid in Westminster, but is contrary to India's constitutional Preamble and the interest of the poor Indian.


The dangerous legal precedent that would seem to have validated massive injustice without remedy, deserves demise. A larger Bench of the Supreme Court should act on this.










Whatever be its other failings, Britain's new government cannot be faulted for the way it has played to Indian ego. The charm offensive started with that famous reference to India in the Queen's speech and shows no sign of abating.


Last week, in what was seen as a special gesture Prime Minister David Cameron dropped by to say hello to the Commerce and Industry Minister, Anand Sharma, when he discovered that the latter was in Downing Street for a meeting with Business Secretary Vince Cable and other British officials. And these days, his Foreign Secretary William Hague seldom says anything on Britain's external relations without a hyperbolic mention of India.


In his first major speech a few days ago, Mr. Hague pointedly referred to India as a place where the "real economic action" was taking place and said Britain needed to "connect much more strongly" with this new power-house than it had done under the previous Labour government.


The "big" news, of course, is that Mr. Cameron is all set to visit India (the first Asian country after the NATO-occupied Afghanistan to be blessed with a prime ministerial visit so early in his innings) as part of his desire to seek an "enhanced" relationship with New Delhi.


Indians are, no doubt, mightily pleased with all the attention they are getting. Some of the self-congratulatory rhetoric in Indian diplomatic and business circles has to be heard to be believed. One prominent NRI businessman breathlessly hailed India as the "future" that had "arrived." There is a new unmistakable swagger among visiting Indian ministers and officials.


And, well, why not? After being ignored for so long (remember the days when India House struggled to set up meetings for visiting Indian VIPs?) the idea of "empire striking back" can be rather seductive. But has the equation really changed much beyond rhetoric?


Just so that we don't get too carried away, Brits make it a point to remind us from time to time that India remains the single largest recipient of U.K. overseas aid and was given an estimated £1 billion between 2003 and 2008. The entry on India on the Department for International Development (DFID)'s website is headed with a photo of a "family group in a slum" in Patna and highlights the "scale" of the country's need for assistance noting: "The country has accomplished a great deal since independence in 1947, making slow but steady progress. However, despite its strong economic growth, the scale of its need is huge. Today 456 million Indians — 42 per cent of the population — live in poverty, comprising one-third of the world's poor."


The truth is that for all the talk about the "new global India" ultimately the country is still largely defined by its poverty, illiteracy and corruption. The tone in London remains patronising.


For flavour, here's the opening paragraph of a newspaper article by International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell: "Today I want to deliver a message from the new Coalition Government of Britain directly to the millions of Indians who are battling against poverty and disease. Our message is this: the people and Government of Britain are on your side, and we will use every tool in our policy armoury — aid, trade, climate policy, diplomacy, business investment, and more — to champion fairness and prosperity for you. It is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of the challenge that confronts us. Globally, over eight million children die before the age of five each year. More than 70 million children are missing out on primary education. A fifth of global child and maternal deaths, and cases of TB occur in India. Over 40 per cent of children in India are underweight and a child dies every 15 minutes from easily-preventable diseases.''


So this is how India is still perceived: "millions of Indians…battling against poverty and disease" and the former colonial power coming to their rescue!


What is new?


And now a reality check on the new government's supposed love-in with India and the hype over the proposed "enhanced relationship," a term that since it first appeared in the Queen's speech two months ago is being repeated as a new mantra by both sides. But what does it really mean? Some excited commentators have even suggested that it is a code for a "special relationship" that, in the long run, could supplant Britain's historic and often controversial "special relationship" with America.


The fact is that nobody has a clue to what it means — either in Whitehall or South Block. The standard line in Indian circles is: let's see how it pans out. Mr. Sharma, speaking to reporters after his "focused" talks with Mr. Cameron, struggled to explain how this "enhanced relationship" would actually translate on the ground beyond saying that there would be greater focus on areas such as technology, education and trade, etc.


But wasn't that always the foreign policy goal of the two countries? Every ministerial visit in the past decade has invariably ended with both sides expressing their "resolve" to "further strengthen" existing relations and "expand" cooperation. What's new then?


Meanwhile, the suggestion that Labour "neglected" India as Mr. Hague alleged in his big foreign policy speech last week is simply misleading and Tory propaganda. It was Labour that did much of the heavy-lifting in raising the level of India-U.K. engagement by establishing what the two countries grandly hailed as a "strategic relationship." And, occasional difficulties notwithstanding, even cynics acknowledge that New Delhi and London are closer today than they were in 1997.


Remind yourself who was in power before that and reach your own conclusions.








It is hard to find anyone in this country who is not seriously concerned about the spiralling prices of essential items. Prices have been unconscionably high for two years, from the days of the first UPA government, and all but the top five per cent of the population are affected. However, prices were shooting up even when petroleum products were selling at a lower rate than at present. There is, therefore, no direct and unique correlation between what the consumer pays for kitchen goods and the government's decision to cut subsidies on petrol, diesel and LPG. Much of that subsidy wasn't benefiting the poorer sections anyway. It can be argued that reducing those subsidies has the potential to raise prices to some extent. It can equally be said that the money saved by the government from the subsidy cuts now becomes available to alleviate the living conditions of the neediest in other ways. By overlooking the basic causes that caused the price rise, by disregarding issues pertaining to economic management that might have helped to rein in prices, and by highlighting petroleum prices as the villain of the piece, the Opposition forums that orchestrated Monday's "Bharat bandh" — which has the unpleasant meaning of "shutting down India" — have shown their penchant for dramatic effect but not for the hard political work it takes to bring public grievances to the fore.

There is also some hypocrisy in the posturing of the parties that did their utmost to bring daily life to a halt on Monday. Each of them — during the rule of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Front — was a party to earlier decisions by the Centre to deregulate petroleum prices and cut subsidies, the Left not excluded. It should also be said of the Left that they did not withdraw support from the UF on this count. Later, when they partnered UPA-1, they pulled out of their pro-Congress arrangement over the nuclear deal with the United States, and not over pressing economic issues that matter to the working class and the poor. Therefore, the unbridled zeal of Opposition parties of the Left and Right, acting in tandem, to shut down India, no less, is inexplicable, not to say inconsistent with their previous actions. Add to this the question of ends and means, and the "Bharat bandh" call becomes hard to defend. Dozens of trains cancelled across the country, nearly a hundred flights grounded, and the spectacle of menacing party workers of all shades forcing economic activity to cease in cities and towns across India is not exactly the currency of democratic protest, even if it had not meant the loss of several thousand crore rupees in potential earnings for the national economy. It is hard to think of another democracy where flagrant coercion substitutes for constitutional mass action. There is a possible explanation for this: the bandh enforcers might be incapable of organising people by persuasion, and therefore prefer to make do with shortcuts involving threatening daily life and income opportunities of the poorest sections of society — the daily wage-earner and the push-cart operator. No country that wishes to move ahead can afford to go that way.

The Left has struck together with the BJP and it will have to stand on its head to explain the rationale to its cadre. Both sides will claim "victory" for their cohabitation approach, and offer expedient justifications. In due course, this might even lead them to join forces in Parliament and possibly in the state legislatures as well. The ball was set rolling with the visit of CPI(M) and CPI parliamentary leaders to the offices of the BJP recently. Are we revisiting the era of opportunism that had brought Mandal and "Kamandal" together, midwifed by the Communist Manifesto?








Why did the government choose to hike the prices of all petroleum products — including the most politically-sensitive and highly-subsidised kerosene and cooking gas — at this juncture? It must have anticipated that this decision would unite the Right and the Left, that its opponents would disrupt normal life and that sections within the ruling coalition would be unhappy. Further, the powers-that-be surely knew that the hike in petro-product prices would literally add fuel to inflationary fires that are raging, shrinking the real incomes of the poor.

So why did the government decide on such an unpopular step even as the Prime Minister flew to Toronto to attend the G-20 meeting on how to improve the "fragile" state of the planet's economy? When Dr Manmohan Singh returned home, he said that after petrol, diesel prices would soon be freed from administrative control.
Here's what the Prime Minister said: "People are wise enough to understand that excessive populism should not be allowed to derail the progress our country is making… The subsidies on petroleum have reached a level which is not connected to sound financial management of our economy. So, this decision has been taken to put some burden on the common people, but it is manageable".

Petroleum minister Murli Deora has calculated that for an average consumer the burden would be less than Re 1 a day for using cooking gas while kerosene users would shell out 26-27 paise extra each day, that is, assuming they get kerosene at the proper price — which is now around Rs 12.50 a litre, still Rs 15 a litre lower than what the price would have been had it been "market determined". The price of kerosene was last hiked in March 2002 to around Rs 9.30 a litre from Rs 2.50 a litre fixed in January 1998. Without any subsidy, each cylinder of cooking gas would cost Rs 225 more than what it is at present (after the price hike).

Mr Deora has acknowledged that roughly 40 per cent of the kerosene that is distributed in the country goes for adulterating petrol and diesel and is also smuggled out to neighbouring countries. For decades, kerosene distributed by state governments has not reached the needy, nor has the fuel been used for cooking and lighting. Even after the latest price hike, the gap between kerosene and petrol/diesel prices is wide enough to ensure rampant adulteration.

The government has tried colouring kerosene blue and putting chemical markers in the liquid, but these have not been effective in curbing misuse. Remember Shanmughan Manjunath, the IIM Lucknow graduate who worked with the Indian Oil Corporation? He had ordered that two petrol pumps at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh be sealed for three months for selling adulterated fuel. On November 22, 2005, three days after he conducted a surprise raid on the pumps, his bullet-ridden body was found. The owner of the two petrol pumps and his employees and accomplices were later arrested.

Targeting subsidies is easier said than done. Oil companies have tried to ensure that commercial users of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) use cylinders that are not red in colour — with some success. The 14 million petrol-consuming passenger cars in the country may be mostly used by the well-off, but not the 80 million two-wheelers that also run on petrol. An estimated four million trucks and buses and the Indian Railways together use up nearly two-thirds of the total diesel consumed. Close to a fifth is used in agricultural pump sets and tractors. But the remaining 15-20 per cent of the total diesel consumed in the country is by owners of fancy passenger cars and for generating electricity — for instance, to run air conditioners in fancy shopping malls.
Few believe the government when it says the increase in petroleum product prices will increase inflation by less than one per cent. Yes, transport accounts for around five per cent of the total cost of most products and the cost of diesel is one-third of the total transportation costs. The fact is that a higher diesel price has a cascading impact on the prices of a wide range of products, particularly food items, since retailers tend to disproportionately increase the prices of goods transported. Simply put, if transport expenses go up by, say, five per cent, the price of tomatoes that are transported to shops by truck could go up by seven-eight per cent.
What the government does not publicise is that total taxes on petrol are more than half its selling price and around 30 per cent of the price paid by a consumer of diesel is in the form of taxes. Roughly 37 per cent of the selling price of petrol comprises excise and customs duties, which accrue to the Union government. By way of contrast, total taxes on petrol are 37 per cent in Sri Lanka , 30 per cent in Pakistan and 24 per cent in Thailand, while taxes on diesel are less than 20 per cent. Excise duties from petroleum products contribute 45 per cent of the Indian government's total excise collections. Are you then surprised that the country's rulers are keen on protecting the health of the fisc, not the health of the aam aadmi?

Another point inadequately publicised is that the recent price hike will enable private retailers like Reliance to reopen franchised petrol pumps, which had been lying closed since 2008.

In April 2002, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had decided to dismantle the administered pricing mechanism for petroleum products to let oil companies decide what prices to charge consumers. The then petroleum minister Ram Naik did not wish to give up his power to disallow oil companies from increasing prices. He had his way and the National Democratic Alliance government did not hike petroleum product prices for a year before the 2004 elections.

That India cannot be completely insulated from volatility in world oil markets is a no-brainer since the country will be importing close to 80 per cent of its total requirement of crude oil this year — even as Reliance merrily exports refined petroleum products. The point is that international crude prices have fluctuated between $70 and $80 a barrel for the better part of the last 12 months. So what was the urgency to hike petroleum product prices and free petrol prices from administrative control?

Answer: The political opposition to the ruling Congress party is in disarray, the next general elections are four years away and sections of India's upper middle classes just don't care about inflation hurting the underprivileged.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








Migration and sex have one thing in common. The politician's response to both is riddled with hypocrisy. It is not good policy but typically makes for good politics to appear to be "tough" on migration, as on matters related to sex. Which brings me to the latest spat between India and the United Kingdom over the latter's decision to slap a temporary cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into UK from outside the European Union (EU).
Indians are predictably miffed. Interestingly, so are many Britons though their new coalition government has promised consultations with businesses and other interested parties on how new limits on Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system of issuance of visa should work in practice. The consultations are expected to set a permanent limit that would come into force on April 1, 2011.

Ever since the announcement, Leicester's restaurant owners have been wailing that the immigration cap will hit their curry houses. The City of London, the Square Mile and leading hub of global finance, is equally worried. "Of course politicians need to respond to broader public worries about immigration, but expert workers are a special case. A cap on numbers may seem simple, but it fails to deal with the importance of certain categories of immigrants who are of substantial benefit to our economy. International businesses located in London and competing globally need at short notice to recruit staff or bring in people from other branches to develop or expand their operations. And they need the best staff, irrespective of their passports, and in a hurry," argued Stuart Fraser, chairman of policy, City of London Corporation, in a letter to the Financial Times, London. Britain's Federation of Small Businesses has been scathing, calling the latest curbs on skilled non-European workers as "economics of the sixth form".

The bald truth is that though migrant workers can put a heavy burden on public services, on balance, they contribute far more to the British economy than they take. Figures from Britain's own Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that a fall in immigration could reduce the UK's gross domestic product growth by as much as one per cent a year by the end of this Parliament.

To put things in perspective, however, while Britain's new coalition government has been under fire from diverse quarters for its cap on skilled migrants, it is not the only one guilty of sending out a mixed message on a critical issue.


INDIA, WHICH has been quick to protest loudly about Britain's latest curbs on skilled workers from outside the EU, does not have a national migration policy nor authenticated category-wise statistics on outgoing or incoming skilled workers.

Last year, thousands of Chinese workers engaged in engineering projects in India were forced to leave following a revised visa policy. The clampdown affected contracted projects worth more than $10 billion.
Is such a measure justified? It is difficult to tell. "We don't have detailed information on industries and trades where we need foreign expertise or the numbers in which we need it. The Statistical Pocketbook of India does not have data on the number of foreign professionals who are working in India in specific industries", says Binod Khadria, professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Director of International Migration and Diaspora Studies Project. Looking for available Indian data sources on emigration and immigration of skilled workers for the forthcoming India Migration Report 2010 that his research team is preparing, he seems to have drawn a blank. Ready availability of such data would help India negotiate more intelligently and strategically on migration issues in bilateral and multilateral agreements, he asserts.  
Prof Khadria, who rues the lack of coordination in understanding the dynamics of migration within India's officialdom across various ministries, argues that it is in every country's interest to have its emigrants face "stability" rather than frequent changes in the immigration policy of their destination countries. "We don't have a long-term strategic vision towards migration to press for such stability in immigration policies. We only try to do short-term cost-benefit analysis," he adds.

Countries have every right to decide who they would let in and who they want to keep out. But at a time when there is a global war for talent and organisations  are under pressure to focus on talent acquisition and to prioritise longer-term workforce planning, national policies which are rooted in pragmatism are more likely to yield dividends than those tethered to pure politics. 

The moot point: there is a sharp distinction between legal and illegal migrants. Countries need to have a clear vision of their economic future and decide if importing talent would help or hinder actualise that vision.
Migrants, skilled or otherwise, are not inducted because employers are filled with the milk of human kindness but because there is an underlying economic logic in doing so. Anti-migrant lobbies who chant incessantly about "uncontrolled migration" conveniently overlook these distinctions and the fact that today when much of the developed world is still grappling with recession and protectionist forces are ascendant, those who get in have to clear stringent regulations and are experts in their own field.

China's recent move to attract foreign talent is a telling example of the ascending power's strategic vision. Chinese workers demanding fatter pay cheques have been in the news in recent times. Less known is China's new policy to woo top-notch foreign talent to help promote economic and social development and global competitiveness of their country. China's  National Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020) promises favourable policies in terms of taxation, insurance, housing, children and spouse settlement, career development, research projects and government awards for high-calibre overseas talents who are willing to work in China. The Chinese government is also talking about improving the system for giving permanent residence rights to foreigners.

The national plan, a blueprint for creating a highly skilled national work force over the next decade, aims to transform the country from being "labour-rich to talent-intensive", according to a news item put out by the Chinese government's official web site last month.

Why is China, the world's most populous country, rolling out the red carpet to skilled workers from overseas? It is because China realises all too well that tapping others' brains is often critical to forging ahead — a lesson other countries can ignore at their own peril.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at








There was justifiable jubilation — backslapping — at the opening of the eighth largest terminal —T3 — at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi last week.


The swanky, spacious terminal with its record number of aerobridges and the volume of passengers it would handle marked many firsts for the country, including the successful public-private partnership. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has indicated the potential investment in the civil aviation sector to be around $20 billion in the next 10 years.


Another expanded terminal at Ahmedabad's Vallabbhai Patel Airport was opened on Sunday by civil aviation minister Praful Patel. Civil aviation is a key sector that could leverage Indian economy in more ways than one.


While improving and innovating our airports, it is not a bad idea to look at improving with equal zest the other modes of transport like the railways, where there is as much a need for ultra-modern and expanded railways stations, improved coaches and on-train facilities.


Without faulting the Singh government for focusing on those aspects of the economy which would attract international attention — be it civil aviation, civil nuclear power, retail sector, university education — it has to be pointed out that the same attention is not being paid to those aspects which pertain to the domestic economy that has a bearing on the quality of life of the urban citizens.


Can we have cities with world class airports as well as sprawling slums? What are the plans that will have to be set out and implemented to improve urban civic conditions?


No one, including the media, pay much attention to these crucial aspects. There is need for better connectivity inside the cities, better places to stay in to make landing in a city with a good airport worth the while.


It is futile and even stupid to argue that it is not necessary to construct these steel-and-glass marvels of airport terminals. It would be a good idea to think more broadly about the cities and their development as well. Infrastructure has to include the last mile road and rail connectivity to the nooks and corners of the country because it constitutes a veritable market.


It is understandable that Singh and his aides cannot, on their own, conceive of the multifarious challenges. It is for the others, mainly the burgeoning private sector and the professional middle class, to talk and create cities to match our airport terminals.






Should the fact that India was virtually shut down for 12 hours on July 5 be a sign of a victory or defeat?


The Opposition which called for the bandh to protest rising inflation and the recent hike in prices of petroleum products could well — and most probably will — declare the bandh a success. After all, almost nothing worked on Monday and whatever did was with help from the police and other government agencies.


However, the shutdown of a growing economy where the entire IT sector in Bangalore doesn't work or the country's financial capital takes an enforced long weekend leading to estimated losses of Rs300 crore can also be called a strange way of defining success.


Add to that the violence, the damage to public property, the fear created in people's minds, the inconvenience to stranded passengers, the suffering of those who had medical emergencies and the loss of income in the unorganised sector where most of India works and you can add up a large tally of disasters.


There is no doubt that rising inflation affects the common man and that a political opposition would be failing in its duty if it didn't take the ruling government to task for its shortcomings. It is also true that cutting subsidies on petroleum products always leads to dissatisfaction — as the BJP-led NDA discovered a few years ago when it tried to decontrol pricing.


But the question must be asked whether Monday's events were a voluntary uprising of an angry electorate or a politically orchestrated protest. Did the general public stay away out of fear of getting caught in the crossfire or because it felt that a bandh was the best way to bring down prices?


Bandhs have already been made illegal by several courts because of the hardship they bring to the common man.Political parties who want to show a bit of electoral muscle however like to use bandhs as a means. The common man does not really matter so much as the political rival at whom the bandh is aimed.


As India picks up the pieces on Tuesday morning, those forced to take a holiday will now pay the price for this political extravagance. Someone will have to pay for the damaged trains, buses and so on and it will not be the political parties responsible. It will, one way or another, be the common man. The government may be in the wrong with its policies, but the Opposition is not in the right with this bandh either.








The perils of fandom came home to many sports lovers last week.


Soon after Tomas Berdych defeated Roger Federer at the quarterfinals of Wimbledon it was Germany who stomped all over Argentina at the World Cup quarterfinals. So Federer, who has been in every Wimbledon final since 2003 and won six of those seven, did not make to a semi-final of the grandest of all Grand Slams for the first time in eight years.


Argentina, seen by many as the favourite especially under the guidance of the legendary Diego Maradona, could not combat the strength of Germany.


It's an easy battle to get into — beauty and beast as it were.


Federer, like Argentina, is all about beauty, grace, elegance. Germany, like for instance Rafael Nadal, is all about efficiency and brute force. But this is a one-stop argument which runs out of steam as soon as you run out of adjectives.


In any sport winning is the objective, whether you look good while you do it is at best an added bonus.


Besides, Federer is one man who will grow older and will lose his supremacy over the world of tennis though not his talent or his touch.


Argentina is a team which will change but as long as it keeps to its traditions it will keep its magic. The comparison between them can be limited to the fact that they both use much more than brute force to win and when they are playing at their best, the effect is divine.


The upshot however is that their losses lead to worldwide depression. If that's an exaggeration, it's not much of one. Fans want favourites to win and the better you are, the more favourite you become. Only 32 countries qualify to send teams to the World Cup so millions will support the big teams. Federer's fans worldwide surely number more than his following in his native Switzerland. The extent of pain after a loss therefore immediately multiplies.


Even worse, it's a public pain. Because for a fan who loves the big favourite, there are those who want to see favourites defeated in some kind of schadenfreude — and the world is full of bitter and twisted people who delight in the sorrow of others — and others who are fans of other teams who are also favourites or favoured in their own right. But still, if someone lost then someone else won and to the victor belongs the spoils.


At Wimbledon this year, Berdych went on from his defeat of the greatest tennis player of all time to demolish Novak Djokovic who has consistently been ranked better (and has performed better) than him. But when he reached the finals, he failed to put up a fight against Nadal, who went on to win his second Wimbledon title. The tragedy is that while there may well be another chance for Federer to win another Wimbledon, there is very little chance that Berdych will get to repeat this feat.


When it comes to Argentina and Germany, though, the situation is a little different. This week will show how far Germany's form will take them. But Germany has won the FIFA World Cup before and so has Argentina. If Germany has a chance of taking the cup this year, Argentina is still not a team to be trifled with.

That leaves the desolation felt at this year's Wimbledon for the Federer fan. It's almost like how Wimbledon felt when Bjorn Borg retired or when Sampras retired. A final without Federer was not like a final at all. Nadal has winning ways and his own special qualities but he is not a consummate tennis player who embodies the elegance of the game — he does not have the mastery, the wizardry, the superiority, the style, the beauty, the grace, the magic of Federer.


All that in one package is a rare blessing and the fan can only hope that the benediction continues for a little more time.
Meanwhile, I suppose it is best to take solace in the fact that sport is always the winner and that Maradona will with any luck shave off that horrible beard.








I am both impressed and amused by reactions to Karnataka's Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde's resignation — later withdrawn, reportedly at the request of LK Advani.


Here is a man, a former judge of the Supreme Court, who is willing to forgo the perquisites of office on principle. This, at a time, when most people hanker after positions, using means that are questionable and even despicable.


I am gratified that many from the community at large have risen in support of the cause that justice Hegde sought to uphold. Those at the helm of affairs in the state, which ranks high among many others that are perceived to be hugely corrupt, may not be stirred by Hegde's action. After all, corruption is not a factor that decides the outcome of our general elections.


I am amused because some who endorsed the former Supreme Court judge's stand are themselves known for their shady past and gross misdemeanours while in office. Their motives are, therefore, suspect. They are just fishing in troubled waters. The point, however, is that dealing with corruption in India is a highly politicised exercise. No single party comes out looking saintly in the matter. Corruption cuts across party lines and is all pervasive.


No government is serious about either the CBI or the state vigilance directorates succeeding in their endeavours. The constant attempt is how to rein in anti-corruption agencies, so that they don't embarrass the ruling party. Their allies in this unholy operation are senior bureaucrats, who themselves have skeletons in their cupboards.


I have just finished reading a report which says that an officer, who faces serious corruption charges in one state, has been made the head of the administration in another, carved out of the original state. I know of another state where a lady became the chief secretary even while facing a CBI case, all because she belonged to the same caste as the then-chief minister. This explains why we have the single directive in New Delhi and the embargo on state anti-corruption units from proceeding, suo motu, even with a preliminary enquiry, what to speak of a regular case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, against an all-India service officer, without obtaining government permission.


I am not at all surprised that Hegde felt frustrated.  He does not possibly subscribe to what that universal scripture, the Bhagavad Gita — a thought which cuts across all religions — preaches to every human being: that one should do one's duty without attachment and without expectations of any reward therefrom.


The question is what impact justice Hegde's decision — subsequently reversed — will have on a government that is alleged to be protecting the corrupt and penalising the honest. It will leave a zero impression on those who have the gumption to flout even the apex court and hail electoral victories as an endorsement of their uprightness.


Fundamentally, the system we have given ourselves is flawed and not those running it. Unless we can build enough political support and citizen backing, more and more Hegdes will fall by the wayside.


I can recall the case of one PS Appu, director of the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, who, more than two decades ago, dared to throw out an influential IAS probationer for misconduct. When the decision was reversed by New Delhi on extremely dubious grounds and under immense pressure, the director put in his papers. Hailed as a hero for a few days, he was quickly forgotten and has not been heard of since.
I am almost certain that Hegde's action will provide the occasion for a few feeble voices to demand that the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, be given more teeth.


The view that corruption laws in the country are lax is facile. What is required is greater realism from the lower courts, who are unfortunately constantly on the lookout for loopholes in the prosecution story so that the accused could be given the benefit of the doubt. This lopsidedness is particularly evident in the so-called disproportionate assets (DA) cases, where the evidence is essentially arithmetic, and the accused cannot get away all that easily.


Still some courts, including high courts, are brazen enough to let off a few well entrenched corrupt politicians and civil servants. In my estimate, it is only the apex court that has refused to countenance corruption.


This, however, is of no avail, because only very few cases get escalated to that eminent court. This is the tragedy of the hour.









A hefty rise in the prices of essential commodities is a source of worry for all but a "Bharat bandh" is not the solution. It only adds to the woes of harried citizens, particularly the poor, whose cause the opposition parties supposedly champion. The RBI has done its bit to rein in inflation, but commodity prices now follow global trends. Food inflation will moderate if the monsoon proceeds as predicted. As for nailing hoarders, the opposition-ruled states' performance is as unremarkable as that of states run by the Congress and other UPA partners.


But price rise is not at the core of the protest, which has brought together parties as disparate ideologically as the BJP and the Left. They want to squeeze maximum political mileage out of public sentiment against the oil price rise. It is here that opposition hypocrisy stands out. It was the United Front government enjoying outside support of the Left parties which first notified the deregulation of petrol and diesel prices in 1997. But there was a change of government before the oil deregulation process could be completed. Then it was the BJP-led NDA government that freed up petrol and diesel prices in April 2002. It was an agenda hard to implement. How do these parties now justify their opposition to the UPA's partial decontrol of oil prices?


Experts across the economic spectrum have favoured oil price decontrol since the oil subsidy is a big drain on

the exchequer. The latest backing comes from the Kirit Parikh committee, which has studied the issue in detail. The government petroleum marketing firms lose Rs 203 crore daily by selling oil below its imported cost. The UPA too could have continued with a populist approach, disregarding the conventional economic wisdom. But it has chosen to reform the system of oil pricing at the cost of losing support of misinformed sections of the public. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has ruled out a rollback of the oil price hike. It is commendable that the government has not succumbed to pressure.








THE airport in the capital city presents the first glimpse of a country to a visitor. Let's face it, the international airport of Delhi was a disgrace. Some compared it with the bus stand of a mofussil town. At long last, it has got a Rs 10,000-crore modern terminal which is the eighth largest in the world. The spanking marvel with 78 aerobridges and 168 check-in counters is a mandatory infrastructure which the country should have got a long time back. But it is never too late. The ninth largest aviation market in the world was languishing because the airport that it had had ranked a shocking 101 in terms of air service quality right up to 2007. The half-baked modernisation upgraded it to the 21st spot which was still a far cry from what was needed. The new terminal, which has come just in time for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, would hopefully address numerous complaints about inordinate delays, baggage handing and even basic facilities.


Much will depend on how well it is maintained in the days to come. The authorities must ensure that the services available at the airport are as good as at all other international airports. That will be possible only if public-private partnership that undertook the construction of the terminal, continues to function seamlessly in the operational matters also.


But this is only the beginning. India needs many such airports, especially in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. India is ideally situated to be a hub for travel to other countries in this part of Asia. But smaller countries like Malaysia and Singapore have stolen a march over us. We have not only to gain the lost ground but also to make sure that air travel within the country stops being an ordeal. It is time it was realised that flying from one place to another is no longer a luxury but a necessity. At the same time, it must be also ensured that the financial burden of constructing the new terminal is not passed on to the traveller too much in the form of taxes.









Karnataka Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde's decision to withdraw his resignation following appeals from BJP leader L.K. Advani and others is welcome. While resigning from his post on June 23, he had accused the B.S. Yeddyurappa government of being indifferent about corruption. The resignation caused great embarrassment for the BJP government which was celebrating its completion of two years in office. Justice Hegde, known for his crusade against corruption, was particularly disturbed over the disappearance of iron ore worth crores of rupees from Karwar and Belakeri ports. He took the government to task for having suspended Mr R. Gokul, an honest and upright Indian Forest Service officer, who is Karwar's Deputy Conservator of Forests. On Justice Hegde's directive, Mr Gokul had unearthed the illegal transportation of iron ore in February this year. However, as he refused to buckle under pressure from the mining lobby, he was suspended on a vague charge that he had failed to attend a minister's meeting at Karwar.


The Chief Minister has assured Justice Hegde that the government will support the Lok Ayukta in his fight against corruption. However, given the influence that the mining lobby seems to exercise over the state government, Mr Yeddyurappa's assurance will be keenly watched in the days to come. On his part, Justice Hegde should avail himself of this opportunity to intensify his battle against corruption. He would be rendering a great social service if he brings to the limelight the transgressions of the government, if any, in this regard.


To give a fillip to Justice Hegde's anti-corruption movement, the state government should appoint an Upa Lok Ayukta expeditiously. More important, it needs to grant suo motu powers to the Lok Ayukta. If the State Assembly can alone grant this power, nothing prevents the government from convincing the House and pursuing the matter to its logical conclusion. Suo motu powers, if granted, will help the Lok Ayukta take up anonymous complaints against suspected officials, probe MPs and MLAs, initiate prosecution besides conducting raids on public servants after getting prior information about their disproportionate assets. Clearly, if the government is keen on checking corruption, it must empower the institution of Lok Ayukta in all respects.

















Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strategy of re-engagement with Pakistan is largely based on his belief that Pakistan under the circumstances may come around for a resolution of the long-pending and seemingly intractable issues. He has obviously realised that the US cannot be expected to go beyond a point in pushing Pakistan in the light of its own strategic compulsions in the region. However, the Prime Minister still managed to raise the issue with President Obama during the G-20 bilateral talks on the need to rein in Pakistan.


Re-engagement in Dr Manmohan Singh's mind, perhaps, remains the only option for any forward movement with Pakistan. Even at the cost of some dissension within the party, he went ahead and took the initiative as it came his way at Thimphu in May this year.


The process began with the Foreign Secretary visiting Pakistan on June 23 for the first time after the 26/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the Home Minister visiting Islamabad on June 26. The External Affairs Minister will visit Pakistan on July 15 for comprehensive dialogue with his counterpart there. This reflected a fundamental shift in India's stand for the last 18 months since 26/11 and rightly viewed by some with reservation and even deep pessimism. Obviously, the Prime Minister feels that the dialogue, notwithstanding the rancorous nature of mutual relations, is the only way to move forward and remove the so-called trust deficit.


Each side feels that the other is not playing the game in all fairness and looks for alibis to bypass genuine engagement on perceived core issues. From India's point of view, Pakistan has done little despite the promises to dismantle the terrorist training camps on their soil, stop infiltration of militants from across the LoC, rein in jihadi leaders and take adequate action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. Pakistan's proclivity to raise hitherto unknown issues now and then also adds to the rancour.


On the other hand, Pakistan feels that India is not serious about resolving the Kashmir problem and views India's continued interest in Afghanistan as inimical to its long-term security concerns.


Despite these things, there are indications that Pakistan is willing to proceed forward in all seriousness. It may be mentioned here that the present Pakistan Army Chief, General Kyani, who was a close ally of General Musharraf and a party to all the major decisions taken by him during the Indo-Pak dialogue going on then, particularly in respect of Kashmir, may now be on board with his civilian government. The Pakistan Army and the ISI, which were invariably opposed to any rapprochement with India in the past, may have realised the futility of their policy, independent of their government's line of thinking, now that the 18th constitutional amendment has been passed by their National Assembly. The Pakistan Prime Minister now stands significantly more empowered. Despite this, to what extent the army is on board will remain a doubtful proposition.


However, no progress can be made in India-Pakistan relations, however much they may think out of the box or display cordiality or a facade of cohesion and cooperation as was evident during the current engagement. There is need for a change of the mindset on both sides. Pakistan has to overcome its passion for parity with India. The post-Independence generation now managing the affairs in Pakistan is not quite favourably disposed towards India. They have no such attachment as their forefathers had. Besides, there are hardliners on both sides who are ever ready to pull their governments down.


With a democratic dispensation in one country and military primacy in the other, it is not easy for the governments to find quick solutions. Neither can afford to be seen giving space to the other on the so-called core issues. In spite of good intentions, they have to per force tread with great caution.


The only way to go ahead is to set aside more intractable issues for the time being and concentrate on the less contentious ones that are more amenable to solution. India and China have been following this model despite the intractable nature of their border dispute. They are even cooperating diplomatically on major international issues. The more sensitive issues can best be handled first through back channel diplomacy and brought into public domain only when it is appropriate.


However, the way the current engagement is taking place has given the impression that less contentious issues were taken up by the Foreign Secretaries, leaving aside more complex ones for the Home and Foreign Ministers to tackle later on. If that be so, this division of agenda has at least resulted in laying down the priorities.


Pakistan, it seems, has now begun to feel that its intransigence towards India is proving counterproductive. The fact is that Pakistan has now realised the futility of the match with India in the light of the latter's current politico- economic and military standing in the global milieu.


The economic disparity between the two countries is also growing fast. India's GDP is nearly 10 times higher than that of Pakistan. But for the US doles, the Pakistan economy would have collapsed long ago, considering the way it spends on its defence. Pakistan is one of the highest spenders on defence. It would have never become a challenge for India but for the US succour. Despite Pakistan's intransigence and consequent impediments in India's rise, it still stands way ahead of Pakistan if we look at all socio-economic indicators. Pakistan is almost at the lower end of the spectrum of human development index.


Besides, the Pakistan Army, forced to fight its own people on the western border by the US since May last year, is in no position to manage a two-front war. It stands weakened with heavy casualties and low morale. "Pakistan needs to improve its relations with India so that it can focus on the situation along its western border with Afghanistan, where more troops have been deployed than any time in the past", said Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi the other day.


Does this then mean that Pakistan is looking for an interim relief in the current dialogue, and as far as the army is concerned, there is no change of the heart or the mindset? Was the bonhomie displayed by the Pakistan leadership recently a mere façade?


Peace and war are the two sides of the same coin. To ensure peace, one has to have the means to win the war because that alone strengthens the negotiating position. If India could get Pakistan to stop state-sponsored cross-border terrorism, it would open the floodgates for enduring bonhomie between the two countries. The trust deficit will also narrow down then. The question is whether the Pakistan Army has also realised the need for the requisite change of the adversarial mindset. However, Dr Manmohan Singh has offered an opportunity to Pakistan to extricate itself from the decades of military adventurism and parity syndrome. It is for Pakistan now to use the opportunity in its own interest.


The writer is a former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff.







Her neat persona and dignified aura would not allow you to dismiss her as just another kaamwaali. So you end up addressing her as Mrs Peter. This mother of three grown up children can have a decent conversation on any subject under the sun.


After all, one has to acquire a certain degree of sophistication if one has to live with a daughter, who was educated in Loreto Convent, Bangalore, and is now working for a prestigious company in the same city, and two sons working in BPOs in Delhi. Though only a matriculate, she is so self-respecting that she has tried to keep pace with the mental growth of her children and has achieved that. Well, almost.


Mrs Peter wears a Cartier wristwatch about which she had no clue till someone educated her about the European brand and showed its mind-boggling price on the Internet. It has been dear to her all right, but for a reason remotely connected to either the price tag or the make of the watch.


It was a gift from a person whom she had nursed to health when he was all alone in a foreign country. The watch was a validation of her dedicated service and she didn't have the heart to say no. Besides, how much could a watch cost?


With her knowledge limited to Titans and Fast Tracks, she could not imagine that a watch would cost more than Rs 5,000. And the Italian man, who was working in Delhi, looked as if he could afford to part with such a gadget!


Now that she is aware of its true value, the watch brings a sense of responsibility. It's not safe to leave such an expensive piece at home, in the custody of her husband with failing eyesight, nor is it done to wear it to her workplace, considering the kind of chores she has to do.  


Though she is only too happy to untie it from her wrist and show the prized possession to anyone who shows interest, the thought of keeping it protected is always weighing down her mind. Her carefree days are over. In fact, the watch has become the metaphor for the life she has always been leading – doing a job she loves, raising a family she is proud of, but living in the continuous fear of being exposed to her jealous relatives in Agra, who knows her an employee of some embassy.


And when she admits her fear with an apologetic smile, I know it's not easy being Mrs Peter. Despite all her achievements, her hard work, her self-respect, it needs a single blow to break her down. But nevertheless, if anyone wants to re-work the campaign 'India Shining', I cannot think of a better person than Mrs Peter to be the face of it. Only if someone would give her relatives a booster dose on 'dignity of labour' before they sign her up for the purpose.










Terming Indian military judicial system as cumbersome, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), while setting aside the conviction of an army major 22 years after his dismissal, has called for a serious consideration for overhauling the procedure of military justice.


That military law in India is archaic and requires a serious rethink is a debate going on in military and legal circles for a long time – with little outcome. Apart from cosmetic changes and a few modifications, the basic framework has remained unchanged since inception.


The law has its origins in the military law of England and its colonial character laying emphasis on the power of executive command rather than principles of natural justice continues. Statutory provisions were first made for the discipline of East India Company troops by an Act passed in 1754.


The need for revision was felt after independence but the Army Act 1950 was largely a replication of the existing Indian Army Act 1911,conceived by the British by amending its earlier Articles of War and other military codes. Interestingly, the British have completely revamped their own system and they now have a compulsory review of its Service Discipline Acts every five years.


Military justice in India is characterised by a system where the Army Act is the guiding instrument for laying down rules and regulations governing military personnel. Offences attracting penal action can be dealt with administratively, as in departmental action in civilian set-up or be tried by a court martial, which is akin to a criminal trial by a sessions court.


The Tribunal observed that the four-tier process from preliminary inquiry through hearing of charge and summary of evidence to the actual trial, was cumbersome, time consuming and totally unwarranted. Therefore this exercise be shortened like a criminal trial to expedite court martial proceedings. The bench also held that elementary mistakes were committed in conduct of military trials due to lack of training of court officials.


Courts martial, the bed-rock for enforcing discipline, are ad-hoc courts comprising of officers picked at random to hear a single case. Court members and the prosecutor, are not law qualified and are advised legal procedures by a judge advocate, the only legally qualified person on the bench.


The Tribunal recommended that a court martial's presiding officer be a legally trained person who can regulate its proceedings and such presiding officers, prosecutors and judge-advocates should be sent for training to criminal courts where regular trials are conducted.


It in 1982 that the Supreme Court had pointed out serious anomalies in the military law. Using the words "archaic" and "antiquated" to describe it, the apex court had called for an overhaul of the system and had also strongly advocated setting up a separate tribunal to adjudicate appeals in military cases. Except for a few changes in the Army Act, overhauling the system was relegated to the back burner.


At the inauguration of the Army Institute of Law in 2003, then President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had, in the light of a number of decisions taken by courts martial being revised by High Courts, stressed for making a systematic study of the military judicial system and appropriately modifying service Acts.


As military law is meant for enforcing discipline, he opined that soldiers had gradually become knowledge workers with growth in education levels and technological progress, and the management of knowledge workers was different from the conventional system of managing soldiers. An educated, well-informed individual would be more aware of his rights or acts perceived to be disadvantageous to him than the brawny soldier of yore.


The society, of which soldiers form an integral part, has witnessed drastic changes in its socio-economic and cultural profile, leading to shifs in their perception of life, desires, family demands and social obligations. These have a direct correlation with service careers and related competition. Military law in India has not kept pace with transformation in a dynamic society.


Till recently over 10,000 cases pertaining to court martial appeals, promotions, postings and allied service matters were pending in High Courts. This is a reflection on the system. The AFT, to which these are being transferred, would no doubt help in speedier disposal of these matters, but except for relieving pressure on the high courts, its establishment after hanging fire for over 25 years, does not go into the root of the problem. Unless fundamental changes are brought about to make military law more effective and amiable to today's environment, of course without compromising professional standards and discipline, dissatisfaction and litigation will continue and probably increase.


The defence minister recently announced a common law being conceived for the three Services, which are governed by different Army, Navy and Air Force Acts.


It is now, while forming the new Act that the government should take a deliberate and holistic approach and give a serious thought to the maladies affecting the Indian military law and bringing appropriate changes. There is also a need to go in for wider debate on the issue, involving members of the judiciary, bar, the service community and academia. .


One issue that needs serious consideration is separating the Judge Advocate General's branch at various levels from the command hierarchy and making it an independent entity to prevent being influenced by commanders, as the JAG officers, the court and the accused report to the same overall commander.


Summary Court Martial, a feature unique to the Army where a unit's commanding officer solely constitutes the court with powers to dismiss or imprison an individual, has also been an issue of considerable debate and there have calls to make this mechanism more transparent with greater checks and balances. Military Law Need to go beyond piecemeal changes

For a century, military law in India has remained stagnant in its colonial character. Unless fundamental changes are brought about to make it more effective and amiable to today's socio-economic environment, dissatisfaction and litigation could increase.

Vijay Mohan


Terming Indian military judicial system as cumbersome, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), while setting aside the conviction of an army major 22 years after his dismissal, has called for a serious consideration for overhauling the procedure of military justice.

That military law in India is archaic and requires a serious rethink is a debate going on in military and legal circles for a long time – with little outcome. Apart from cosmetic changes and a few modifications, the basic framework has remained unchanged since inception.


The law has its origins in the military law of England and its colonial character laying emphasis on the power of executive command rather than principles of natural justice continues. Statutory provisions were first made for the discipline of East India Company troops by an Act passed in 1754.


The need for revision was felt after independence but the Army Act 1950 was largely a replication of the existing Indian Army Act 1911,conceived by the British by amending its earlier Articles of War and other military codes. Interestingly, the British have completely revamped their own system and they now have a compulsory review of its Service Discipline Acts every five years.


Military justice in India is characterised by a system where the Army Act is the guiding instrument for laying down rules and regulations governing military personnel. Offences attracting penal action can be dealt with administratively, as in departmental action in civilian set-up or be tried by a court martial, which is akin to a criminal trial by a sessions court.


The Tribunal observed that the four-tier process from preliminary inquiry through hearing of charge and summary of evidence to the actual trial, was cumbersome, time consuming and totally unwarranted. Therefore this exercise be shortened like a criminal trial to expedite court martial proceedings. The bench also held that elementary mistakes were committed in conduct of military trials due to lack of training of court officials.


Courts martial, the bed-rock for enforcing discipline, are ad-hoc courts comprising of officers picked at random to hear a single case. Court members and the prosecutor, are not law qualified and are advised legal procedures by a judge advocate, the only legally qualified person on the bench.


The Tribunal recommended that a court martial's presiding officer be a legally trained person who can regulate its proceedings and such presiding officers, prosecutors and judge-advocates should be sent for training to criminal courts where regular trials are conducted.


It in 1982 that the Supreme Court had pointed out serious anomalies in the military law. Using the words "archaic" and "antiquated" to describe it, the apex court had called for an overhaul of the system and had also strongly advocated setting up a separate tribunal to adjudicate appeals in military cases. Except for a few changes in the Army Act, overhauling the system was relegated to the back burner.


At the inauguration of the Army Institute of Law in 2003, then President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had, in the light of a number of decisions taken by courts martial being revised by High Courts, stressed for making a systematic study of the military judicial system and appropriately modifying service Acts.


As military law is meant for enforcing discipline, he opined that soldiers had gradually become knowledge workers with growth in education levels and technological progress, and the management of knowledge workers was different from the conventional system of managing soldiers. An educated, well-informed individual would be more aware of his rights or acts perceived to be disadvantageous to him than the brawny soldier of yore.


The society, of which soldiers form an integral part, has witnessed drastic changes in its socio-economic and cultural profile, leading to shifs in their perception of life, desires, family demands and social obligations. These have a direct correlation with service careers and related competition. Military law in India has not kept pace with transformation in a dynamic society.


Till recently over 10,000 cases pertaining to court martial appeals, promotions, postings and allied service matters were pending in High Courts. This is a reflection on the system. The AFT, to which these are being transferred, would no doubt help in speedier disposal of these matters, but except for relieving pressure on the high courts, its establishment after hanging fire for over 25 years, does not go into the root of the problem. Unless fundamental changes are brought about to make military law more effective and amiable to today's environment, of course without compromising professional standards and discipline, dissatisfaction and litigation will continue and probably increase.


The defence minister recently announced a common law being conceived for the three Services, which are governed by different Army, Navy and Air Force Acts.


It is now, while forming the new Act that the government should take a deliberate and holistic approach and give a serious thought to the maladies affecting the Indian military law and bringing appropriate changes. There is also a need to go in for wider debate on the issue, involving members of the judiciary, bar, the service community and academia. .


One issue that needs serious consideration is separating the Judge Advocate General's branch at various levels from the command hierarchy and making it an independent entity to prevent being influenced by commanders, as the JAG officers, the court and the accused report to the same overall commander.


Summary Court Martial, a feature unique to the Army where a unit's commanding officer solely constitutes the court with powers to dismiss or imprison an individual, has also been an issue of considerable debate and there have calls to make this mechanism more transparent with greater checks and balances.


The shortcomings


How to remove them n Pre-trial procedures be shortened. Repetitive steps like court of inquiry, hearing of charge and summary of evidence be rationalised.


Revision of findings and sentences by the convening authority as well as pre and post confirmation petitions be dispensed with.


Introduction of provision of bail for persons placed under close arrest during pre-trial and trial period.


Summary court martial is viewed as the most abused tool of power by the commanding officer where an accused does not have right to a counsel. There have been calls to introduce eater checks and balances.








THE new National Litigation Policy has special significance for the defence services, particularly disabled veterans. The policy ordains that frivolous appeals would not be filed by government departments and that appeals on orders of Tribunals shall be an exception rather than the rule. Further, false and misleading pleas or technicalities shall not be espoused.


For long veterans have been at the receiving end of paper violence perpetrated by the government's legal pundits, who, guided by a strange spirit of sadism, exhaust every single game in the book to ensure benefits do not reach the beneficiaries even when directed by higher judiciary.


To begin with, medical authorities indulge in "literal" rather than "liberal' interpretation of rules, thereby denying benefits to disabled soldiers. They forget the "spirit" while clinging to the "letter". When there is a court order granting disability pension, appeals and reviews are filed as a matter of routine even in cases fully covered by earlier judicial rulings.


It is not the higher echelons of governance or the services headquarters that are to blame, but the swarm of section officers, under secretaries and deputy secretaries who rule the roost. The lower-level bureaucracy with its caustic file-notings, unfortunately, runs the government.


That the new policy specially mentions "false" and "misleading" pleas shows the powers that be are aware of the malaise. Appeals are filed not out of legal necessity but because of administrative egotism – How could a petty employee win a case against the mighty officialdom?


Then comes the stage where dubious pleas are presented before the courts, which if not rebutted by a well acquainted legal brain, end in pronouncements which can hardly be termed well-rounded.


This reminds me of some cases with special reference to disabled soldiers. In Secretary MoD Vs Ajit Singh, the defence ministry is on record, stating that disability pension was not released to him since he did not have the minimum required service of 10 years. In reality, there is no minimum service requirement for disability pension and even a recruit is entitled to the same.


In the recent case of Karan Singh Vs UOI, the government espoused that the Army alone provides disability pension to its employees. The truth is that civilian employees are also entitled to exactly the same benefits. In P.K. Kapur Vs UoI the government went hammer and tongs proclaiming it had the right to fix a cut-off date for grant of certain disability benefits that had been refused to pre-1996 retirees. The case went in favour of the government since the Court was never informed that the said benefits through the same master notification had already been extended to similarly placed pre-1996 civilian retirees. The petitioner could not rebut the falsehood since he could not afford a lawyer.


It is not that mischievous elements are playing around only with the judiciary. The higher strata of governance is also not left untouched. In a speech last month, apparently prepared by a similarly inclined officer, the Defence Minster was made to "announce" with pride that the government had introduced an additional amount of Rs 3,000 as constant attendance allowance for disabled soldiers keeping in view their sacrifices. So far so good, but the humble Minister was not in the knowledge that firstly, this allowance is applicable to civilian employees too and hence has nothing to do with valour or sacrifices. Second, the concept is in force since times immemorial and even its enhancement is old news which was announced in March 2008 by the Sixth Pay Commission. Third, it is not applicable to all disabled personnel but only to 100 per cent disabled retirees.


In the past two years there have been other instances where the political executive and the top brass have been misled into announcing beneficial "policy decisions" by hiding from them the fact that the same had actually been necessitated due to Supreme Court decisions.


(Maj Navdeep Singh is a lawyer practicing in the Punjab and Haryana High Court)







There is an awakening to see that military law is made purposeful and pragmatic not only to answer the needs of the defence personnel but also to ensure it is in consonance with the rule of law. The grievance mechanisms within the services also need a re-look. For example, the Complaints Advisory Board (CAB), through which all complaints are routed, is staffed by officers with no exposure to law whereas many complaints have legal ramifications. Law qualified people in CAB can render appropriate advice at the initial stages itself, thereby cutting down the possibility of litigation.


— Brig (Dr) S.D. Dutta (Retd), Ex-JAG Deptt and practicing lawyer


Law cannot be static but ought to be dynamic and military law can be no exception. With the Armed Forces Tribunal, more and more court martial trials are bound to come under intense scrutiny and we need legal cover at the grassroots. There is therefore, an urgent need to revisit the system of military justice to minimise if not altogether eliminate adverse fallouts. Then there is the issue of the summary court martial, an important mechanism of instilling discipline, where the CO is the judge as well as the prosecutor and all elements of the court function within his command. Since military law and justice are two sides of the same coin, it is important to review this.


— Col R. Balasubramanian (Retd). Ex-JAG Deptt and practicing lawyer


WHEN the Army Act 1950 was introduced, it was just old wine in a new bottle and since then we have paid lip service to changes required in military law. Even with the Tribunal coming up, a large number of service personnel cannot approach it because the it lacks jurisdiction in several areas like transfers and in certain cases of summary courts martial. Also with the Tribunal now functional, several provisions in the Army Act pertaining to court martial like review of sentences by high authorities or pre and post confirmations petitions need to be done away with.


— Col S.K. Aggarwal (Retd), Ex-JAG Deptt and practicing lawyer


Indian Military Law is comprises Army Act, Navy Act and Air Force Act and most Acts for paramilitary force have drawn their inspiration from the Army Act. These special enactments provide for a sound system of administration of justice in the defence forces and at the same time provisions that ensure the maintenance of, as is also the need for, high standard of discipline among the personnel. Now with the setting up of the Armed Forces Tribunal, there is more confidence among litigants as the scope of judicial intervention and review has increased, besides speedier disposal of cases.


— Rajeev Anand, High Court lawyer


Military Law is one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation and it provides for efficacious and speedy justice. It is required to be humane but firm to maintain the discipline and morale of the armed forces. There is erroneous impression that military law in India is archaic, harsh and arbitrary. The law itself is humane but its manner of implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The inherent checks and balances ensure smooth dispensation of justice and some of its provisions need to be emulated by the civilian courts.


— Arvind Moudgil, High Court lawyer

WE must apply the basic concepts of justice and humar rights to the armed forces, while maintaining discipline and operational efficiency. Many countries have amended their military laws regarding the rights of the accused and the human rights standards. We have also made a beginning by setting up Armed Forces Tribunal at various places across the country. 


— Capt Sandeep Bansal, High Court lawyer









 When his grandson was named after him, old Rafael Nadal, the conductor of the municipal band of Manacor, wanted the boy to some day join the town orchestra. But young Rafa never came close to fulfilling that ambition, his taste in music while growing up as suspect as it is these days. At last check, his iPod was teeming with Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams – not a pretty sight for anybody, let alone an eight-time Grand Slam champion from a family known for its love for a good melody.


 We know there are many things about Nadal that aren't pretty: his nowpassé pirate pants, his habit of reaching back to yank them out before every point, his often-desperate two-handed backhand, and his huffing-puffing brand of tennis which - unlike Roger Federer's – is more about outrunning the opponent than out-gunning him.
   With his bulging biceps and his man-cub hair, Nadal seems far removed from the metrosexual revolution that is sweeping across our shrinking world. It's as if he has been created to bring balance to the universe by being the polar opposite of Federer in all things – the rugged, muscle-T-shirt Yang to Federer's dandy, gold-monogram-blazer Yin.


Ask a player who they'd rather get beaten by, and opponents will always pick Federer. Against him you know you'll see incredible winners that will make your head swim. But facing Nadal is like slow death at the hands of a tyrant who wants to suck out every drop of blood while it's still warm. He's well capable of hitting the clean winner when he wants to – like the whipping down-the-line forehand against an already-broken Thomas Berdych in the third set of Sunday's Wimbledon final – but Nadal prefers inflicting prolonged agony instead.
   With his second title at the all-England, to go with five at Roland Garros and one at Melbourne Park, he is now statistically good enough to qualify as one of the best of all time. But despite his 14-7 head-to-head advantage over Roger Federer, he is likely to always be remembered the second best of this era, and almost cruelly, as a man with no lasting legacy of his own.


Sport is made up of great rivals and great champions. While there must be a great rivalry in almost every generation, great champions are not only few and far between, they're also remembered in isolation - their head-to-head battles only a subtext to their legacy.


When you talk of Mohammad Ali, for example, you speak about his ropea-dope, his aura as the best-known sportsman of all time, his decision to embrace Islam, his fight for social change. When you think of George Forman or Joe Frazier, however, you instantly think about their rivalry with Ali. Though they were worthy champions in their own right, no allusion to them can ever be made without a reference to Ali.

It's the same for Steve Ovett in relation with Sebastian Coe, Roy Emerson with Rod Laver, Alain Prost with Ayrton Senna, Gary Hall Jr with Alexander Popov, and, to take an example from the world of cricket, John Snow with Dennis Lillee. In each of those cases, it's easy to isolate the latter. But the first half of the pairing, notwithstanding his own achievement, is always riding piggy-back – a parasitic memory, as it were, in the ever-expanding cosmos called sport.


Nadal's case is only slightly different. Until a few months ago, despite five dream seasons on the circuit, it was clear that history would not remember him as a challenger to the throne but as the one who routinely, inexplicably, beat the king in private skirmishes. Now, with two back-to-back titles almost the moment he's fully recovered from a year-long injury, he is starting to make the impossible happen.


Even if he goes on a winning spree that eclipses Federer's statistical superiority, he'll never be so elegant, definitely not so mesmerising that he can overtake him as the greatest ever. Nadal's best shot is to tangle himself with the legacy of Federer so inextricably that it becomes his as well. Over the last two months, it seems he's making his play.


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Monday's call for an all-India bandh by the Left Front and the National Democratic Alliance symbolises the desperate attempt of the Left and the Right to join forces against the Centre. The communists are worried about their political survival in Kerala and West Bengal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to end its "untouchability", what it perceives as a "secular apartheid". That is why, for instance, the BJP leadership is trying to pick secular issues — price rise, nuclear liability Bill, women's reservation Bill, oil sector decontrol, etc. — so that it can offer the Left an opportunity to come closer. Monday's "Bharat Bandh" has to be seen in this light, more than in any other way. The Congress party, for its part, will hope to be able to rake up some communal issue and hope that its secularism-in-danger call will ensure the BJP remains isolated. The behaviour of other parties also makes interesting reading in this context — Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, for instance, has made it clear that she plans to use all means at her disposal to foil the bandh. Which means that despite some second thoughts by sections of the ruling coalition on amnesty for her on income tax cases, Ms Mayawati is not willing to take a chance on her erstwhile allies.


Beyond the political, however, the case against bandhs seems quite open and shut. There is the issue of subsidies for instance. As the government has been at pains to emphasise, even after the price hike, a subsidy of a whopping Rs 53,000 crore will still be borne by the government and the oil sector PSUs. This includes around Rs 18 per litre on kerosene (kerosene costs around Rs 30 per litre to produce at current crude oil prices) and another Rs 180-190 per cylinder of domestic cooking gas (at current oil prices, each cylinder should be priced at Rs 535). More important, as the Kirit Parikh report points out, this subsidy will go up significantly as crude oil prices keep rising. At $100 a barrel, Parikh estimates diesel prices should be around Rs 7-8 more per litre than they are right now. Assuming the government were to prevent oil PSUs from raising prices, the 52 million tonnes of diesel we consume at the moment would require an additional subsidy of Rs 39,000 crore. In the case of petrol, a similar price hike would be required, so at 11.3 million tonnes of petrol consumption, that's an additional Rs 8,500 crore or so. Whether you add this to the fiscal deficit or to the losses of the oil sector PSUs, the impact is a serious one — in the case of the oil sector PSUs, it even seriously affects their ability to invest in order to remain competitive. This apart, there is the invariable high cost associated with disturbing business activity and the uncertainty that ensures India remains low on the global scale of being a reliable supply base. Ironically, courts in the country have declared bandhs illegal, yet few governments are willing to use adequate force to prevent bandhs from being successful.








The spectacular success of the new Terminal 3 (T3) at the Capital's Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport says volumes for the distance India's infrastructure story has travelled. From a time when the IGI Airport was among the worst in the world, T3 is now among the biggest — it's too early to say, but from what you see of it, the airport's functioning promises to be world class. With 48 boarding gates, 78 aerobridges and 168 check-in counters, it's difficult to see how it won't be. It is already there in terms of size. T3 is much bigger than Singapore's Changi Terminal 3 and 2 put together, and it is also bigger than Seoul's Incheon. With a capacity to handle 34 million passengers, it is, though, smaller than Dubai's Terminal 3, which can handle 60 million passengers, and Beijing's Terminal 3, which handles 43 million. All of this, keep in mind, has been accomplished in the space of around four years and was done without disrupting existing operations in the airport in any major way (building a greenfield airport, as in Bangalore and Hyderabad, is obviously a much easier task) — more important, this is when there weren't even proper drawings of the old airport's wiring and other facilities, leaving the GMR-led consortium to come across new surprises virtually every day. What this also means is that, within a space of a few years, the bulk of India's air traffic is being serviced from modern state-of-the-art airports. The fact that consortiums such as the GMR one are now building overseas airports also shows just how far India's infrastructure firms have come. The speed at which the Delhi Metro was executed, similarly, is a sign of the achievements being made.


The transformation of the airport, of course, shows the existing public sector Airports Authority of India in very poor light, considering how little it did at a time when it had a complete monopoly over airport infrastructure in the country. The T3 project also raises some important, if disturbing, issues. For one, the controversy over favouritism in the marking of bidders showed just how easy it was to game the system — it was after the dogged opposition by the planning commission that the marking system was set aside as unfair and it was then that the GMR consortium came into the reckoning. Similarly, there was the controversy over how the deposits GMR got from the 250 acres of land it got for commercial development were to be treated. The aviation ministry believed the contract specified the money had to be shared with it; this led to a stand-off and by the time GMR was given a diluted go-ahead which allowed it to take interest-free deposits for half the period initially proposed by it, the real estate market had tanked. It is unfortunate that things were allowed to reach a stage where the entire project almost got derailed. Similarly, the sharp escalation in airport costs also cast a shadow over how infrastructure projects are to be financed. Now that we've got the fruits of a well-executed public-private partnership (PPP) project, and that too executed in record time, we need to draw appropriate lessons to ensure that the avoidable aspects of the project don't get repeated.








The revised paper on Direct Taxes Code (DTC) put out by the finance ministry has been a subject of discussion in the media. The revisions have been made on the basis of the representations received from various stakeholders on the draft released in August 2009. Importantly, even as the new version accedes to the demand to continue concessions in many areas that were originally proposed to be withdrawn, it does not propose to expand the personal income tax brackets to Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, and, thus, avoids losing a substantial tax base.

The revised draft makes a number of changes in the draft Code and in the process will have lesser scope for expanding the base. On personal income tax, it continues the EEE regime for permitted savings on the grounds that there is no universal social security and the change would entail many administrative, logistical and technological challenges. The proposal to tax perquisites has been substantially pruned and, in particular, the proposal to include the market value of rent-free accommodation given by the employer has been given up. Inclusion of notional income from the owner-occupied house has also been abandoned. The revised draft proposes to include long-term capital gains from financial securities, but take only a portion of the gains. For non-profit organisations, it allows carry over of up to 15 per cent of their surpluses or 10 per cent of gross receipts, whichever is higher, to be used within three years. The Code proposes to grandfather area-based exemptions, but allows profit-linked exemptions to the developers in SEZs only up to the unexpired period. On corporate taxation, the proposal to levy MAT based on the gross assets has been given up and the tax will continue to be levied on the basis of book profits. The revised Code follows the international practice of considering companies as residents if their "place of effective management" is in India. It clarifies that in case of differential interpretations between the Code and the double-taxation agreement, the one which is more beneficial to taxpayers will hold, unless the anti-avoidance rule is invoked. On wealth tax, the proposal to levy the tax on the value of unproductive assets has been abandoned and the tax will be confined to the value of productive assets. It also clarifies that the General Anti-Avoidance Rule whenever invoked will be within the scope of the Forum of Disputes Redressal Panel.

 The government must be commended for adopting the consultative approach to finalising the Code. Besides making the reforms acceptable, the approach will make politically difficult reforms feasible over time. As the finance minister mentioned in his 2009 Budget speech, tax reform is a process and not an event. Therefore, even after the adoption of DTC, further simplification and rationalisation will be needed suiting to the requirement of the times. Furthermore, DTC is only a part of the reforms in the tax system. Reforms in tax administration and information system, including induction of technology, are equally, if not more, important.

There is a larger issue of how far the government should reduce the effective tax rates. In the Laffer curve formulation, revenue increases with the tax rate up to a point, but thereafter, increases in the rate will cause decline in revenues. There is an implicit belief in all those who argue for further reducing the rates that we continue to be on the declining part of the curve. Thus, Surjit Bhalla, in a recent article (June 30, 2010), has argued that reduction in the effective rates of tax due to widening of the brackets proposed in DTC is very desirable, but alas, the finance minister does not intend to expand the brackets in the revised Code!

Bhalla's contention is that the sharp increase in revenues since 1997-98 was due to the Laffer effect and stagnation in revenues in the last few years was due to steady increase in the "effective rate" of tax. Therefore, the government's decision to reduce the "effective rate" of tax by 6 percentage points in 2008-09 and a further 2.6 percentage points in 2010-11 is sensible and this is rewarded by Mumbai TDS yielding 18 per cent higher revenue this year! First of all, between 2002-03 and 2007-08, contrary to his contention that the revenues were stagnant, the personal income tax revenue recorded an unprecedented annual average growth of 30 per cent. It is only due to this that the so-called "effective rate" in his calculations showed an increase. In other words, his "effective rate" can increase or decline simply due to revenue increases, which may or may not be due to changes in nominal rate. Second, the decline in the "effective rate" in 2008-09 was not due to any decision of the government, but simply due to lower tax payment by small businesses. It must be noted that the personal income tax category includes individuals, Hindu undivided family, association of persons and small businesses. In fact, the population that paid the tax in 2008-09, the last year for which audited figures are available, was 32.7 million which was lower than the previous year by 3 per cent.

Tax compliance is a function of tax rates, probability of detection and penalty rate. Surely, reduction in the marginal tax rate in 1997-98 could have had a favourable impact on tax compliance. However, it must be noted that reduction in the rates was accompanied by administrative measures to expand the scope of TDS. The revenue from TDS, which constituted just about 20 per cent in 1996-97, increased to almost 67 per cent in 2000-01. Since 2003-04, the single-most important factor that increased revenue productivity (and thereby Bhalla's "effective rate") was the institution of the Tax Information Network (TIN). In 2002-03, less than 25 per cent of those who were supposed to deduct the tax at source actually submitted the returns and this increased sharply since TIN was put in place. Consequently, revenue from income tax increased by about 30 per cent per year from 2003-04 to 2007-08. Of course, tax rates matter, and so is tax administration. Reducing the rates without improving administration and information system to increase the probability of detection is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, tax brackets and rates are not a part of DTC in the revised Code.

The author is director, NIPFP. The views expressed are personal. Comments at:







Till a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to have seven councils and committees attached to his office. They continue to function even now, but not all of them are well known or even heard of. Yet, the nature and composition of these bodies should provide a clear indication of the prime minister's main areas of concern and preoccupation.

Let us start with those, which are not well known. There is the Prime Minister's Council on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). It is a 10-member body, which has representation from the ministries in charge of the small-scale industries, think tanks and expert bodies associated with the development of the sector. It meets only once a year. No one, though, can remember when the Council met last and what its key recommendations were.

 However, there can be no doubt about the justification of the PM's Council for MSMEs, as the sector indeed accounts for about 40 per cent of the national gross domestic product and is more labour-intensive than large-scale industries. Thus, if the government has to achieve inclusive growth with the help of the manufacturing sector, it has to recognise and promote the role of MSMEs. For that, the PM's Council for MSMEs should serve as a useful instrument. Whether the government is using the Council and its advice effectively or not, of course, is a different matter.

The second body, of which one hears very little, is the Delivery Monitoring Unit. Granted, this is a body that was set up only last year in fulfilment of the announcement made by President Pratibha Patil in her address to Parliament in June 2009, just after the start of the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government. The Delivery Monitoring Unit's task is to monitor the performance of the flagship programmes of the government and prepare reports on how well the outcome of these schemes matches with the financial outlay made for, each of them.

We are yet to see any of these reports in the public domain. It is likely that the reports the Unit is preparing are for internal consumption of the government and for introducing checks and balances. Undoubtedly, the effectiveness of any such monitoring unit will improve if its findings become public, which can then exert pressure on the ministries and departments concerned to pull up their socks wherever needed.

The PM's National Council on Skill Development is the third body about which little is known. The Council has seventeen members, including the prime minister as its chairman and his principal secretary serving as the member-secretary. A national skills development board, chaired by the planning commission deputy chairman, assists the Council in its functioning and C K Prahalad used to be one of its members and existing members, include Nandan Nilekani, formerly of Infosys, and Rajendra Pawar of NIIT. The Council has already taken some action. The finance ministry has proposed the setting up of a skills development corporation. But does anybody know anything more on what the Council is up to?

There is also the Trade and Economic Relations Committee under the Prime Minister, which advises Dr Singh on the various trade agreements India has with different countries. It is an important body and has representation from all the key economic ministries. With the World Trade Organisation talks for the Doha round not making much progress, the Committee has of late been busy making suggestions on the various bilateral free trade agreements India has been signing with different countries.

That leaves three councils, which maintain a relatively high profile. These are the PM's Council on Trade and Industry, the PM's Council on Climate Change and the PM's Economic Advisory Council. The Council on Trade and Industry has 23 members, including the prime minister and his principal secretary. The remaining 21 members are all leading names from the Indian industry. It has no regular schedule for its meetings. However, the high level of publicity the Council gets whenever it holds a meeting more than compensates the absence of a regular schedule for consultations.

The PM's Council on Climate Change has 26 members from different ministries, including the minister for environment and forest. It is engaged in the task of assessment, adaptation and mitigation of climate change. With climate change issues gaining in importance, the Council too has begun playing a crucial role in the formulation of the government's stance at international forums.

Overtaking even the Climate Change Council in importance is the PM's Economic Advisory Council, which is now headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan. It has five members and prepares a monthly report on the state of the economy, wielding considerable influence over policy-making by the government.

Last month, yet another council was attached to the Prime Minister's Office. This is the National Advisory Council, headed by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Going by all available indications, the National Advisory Council will be the most powerful of all the PM's councils or committees. Whatever else you may accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of, after the creation of the eighth council to advise the government, nobody can say that he is not well-advised.






The story of media regulation is India would be funny if it was not so pathetic. Eighteen years after private television took off in India, the state is debating whether it should spend taxpayers' money on audience measurement. Reasons: the sampling is poor and rural areas are not being covered by TAM, the firm that generates the ratings that form the currency for buying and selling of advertising time. As a result, Doordarshan (DD) is not doing well.

 This argument has several holes, the biggest one being that sampling is a function of cost. If the industry was willing to pay more, then TAM, which was appointed by a joint industry body of advertisers, media owners, buyers et al, would have had a bigger sample. TAM currently has the world's largest TV audience sample with 35,000 respondents in a market with 134-million TV sets.

If the government really wants to ensure good sampling of TV audiences, then the best way to do that would be to incentivise competition in the business of audience measurement. The fact is that aMap, a rival firm, hasn't made a dent in the market because marketers, broadcasters and buyers are not willing to pay the price for a robust sample.

That, however, is besides the point. It is an industry issue and if the industry is fine with an inadequate sample, then it is their problem. As for DD, unlike private broadcasters, it gets mandatory sports feeds, mandatory placement on the prime band on cable and over Rs 1,000 crore of taxpayers' money as subsidies every year. If it still can't make money, then maybe it is time to get in a private partner or let DD become completely autonomous a la BBC.

This is not about good or bad regulation. Every regulation tends to raise someone's hackles. So, that is fine. It is about a consistent lack of vision and a sense of priorities. Irrespective of whose government is in power, media policy in India vacillates madly between the state's desire to control on the one hand and its appalling neglect of key issues on the other. There is no sense of the big picture, forget grappling with it.

For years, when there was need for parity in FDI across various modes of TV distribution — IPTV, DTH and cable — disparities continued and created structural flaws. A perfectly good Communications Convergence Bill was junked to come up with a half-baked Broadcast Bill that has still not seen the light of day.

Radio operators have been crying hoarse about increasing FDI in radio, allowing news and the ownership of more than one station in a city. But the government continues to protect All India Radio, which, like DD, is propped up by taxpayers' money. Some of the most sensible consultation papers from the broadcast regulator, Trai, are either ignored or watered down. Either there is too much micromanagement, for instance, by regulating TV channel prices or there is none.

About 50 years after the first of several committees recommended it, the film business got industry status. Even now, its biggest problem, the one that could sort out several others — an entertainment tax that varies from 15 per cent to 60 per cent across states — has not been tackled. Instead, some strange amendments to the Copyright Act are being considered.

Then there are some issues that are simply not touched — like the paid news scandal or politicians owning cable operations or news channels.

Many decades ago, the government decided that it would get into the hotel business. It soon became apparent that it did not have the skill or mindset needed to run a hotel. The result is the sad debris of Juhu Centaur in Mumbai among several other properties. Getting into audience measurement is the equivalent of trying to run a hotel or an airline — it is not the government's job to do it, no matter how badly the private sector is doing it.

The issue, however, is not just about audience measurement. The question the minster for information and broadcasting and her team need to ask is, how can they facilitate the growth of this sector — not how can they regulate it.






There is no real way of measuring the books we love the most. It's like measuring the love one has for family and friends: there will be different choices for every stage of your life, and different degrees of attachment. As every reader knows, reading is intensely personal, and the books you love change you and stay with you in ways that even a lover will not. But if there's one book that comes up every time we talk about the books we love, that would be To Kill A Mockingbird, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The American classic is one of those rare books that is both for children and for adults, and I am an unrepentant Mockingbird fan, resistant to the revisionist views that see an underlying current of racism or moral superiority in Harper Lee's story. Reading it as a child, I was beguiled by how well Harper Lee understood the way children think and feel; as an adult, as many of us are, I was drawn into her vivid analysis of racism, prejudice and moral courage.

 "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow… . When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out."

That's Scout's voice, the sure voice of a child recollected by an adult, that will guide us through the intricacies of the politics of Maycomb County, the morality and blindness of the law, growing up, and the competing forces of prejudice and justice. The moral compass of the book is Scout and Jem's father, the lawyer Atticus Finch: "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." The case at the centre of the book concerns the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man, Tom Robbins, and as Atticus takes up his defence, we see the reactions of Maycomb County from the point of view of Scout, who has a child's instinctive sense of unfairness.

It's not the content, however, that drives the continuing popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee based her account of the Tom Robbins case on a real event, and her reportage is in that sense an accurate snapshot of the way prejudice worked in the South. Nor is it the mystique that surrounds Lee herself; she never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, and in her most recent "interview" with The Daily Mail, all she said was that she had to go and feed the ducks on the lake. Lee turned her back on a certain kind of writing life; the woman who once helped Truman Capote research his riveting, path-breaking book In Cold Blood, and was an amused observer of the New York literary world, retreated into a normal, if very private, life back home.

None of this can explain the hold that this book has on so many readers across the world. It's not the easy appeal of the Coelho-esque bestseller, with its ready-to-digest, unthreatening wisdom, or the purely cerebral joys of the Borgesian or Nabokovian bestseller at the other end of the scale. In its 50th year, Mockingbird has been attacked for reflecting a kind of hidden conservatism, for not being subversive enough; or been excoriated by critics who see Lee's great novel as a superior work of pulp fiction rather than true literature, whatever that may be.

For readers like me, it is easier to understand Mockingbird's appeal than to explain it. I go back to this book, along with a handful of classics, not just to admire its craft and precision, but as a kind of touchstone: the way I respond to Lee's story of childhood, injustice and inner strength with the passing years shifts and changes, reflecting shifts in my own personal values over the years.

The person who understood the pull of To Kill a Mockingbird best may be Charles J Shields, who spent years researching the book and the author for his unauthorised biography of Harper Lee, Mockingbird.

"I have come to believe," he writes, "that Harper Lee was inspired by love to create her great novel — love for the world of the South, for her little town, for her father and her family, and for the values she found among the people she most admired." And perhaps, unfashionable as this analysis is, it is the best explanation for why we love To Kill a Mockingbird as much as we did 50 years ago.








 INDIA'S Opposition parties want world oil prices to behave or, at least, the government of India to create a make-believe world in which oil prices are stable and low. To make the point, they disrupted normal life in many parts of the country on Monday, leading to loss of production, incomes and, in some cases, public property. They want to pass this off as democratic politics, articulation of popular anger over the government's decision to hike petro-fuel prices. This is grossly irresponsible. To subsidise energy at a time of rising energy costs is to cripple the economy in the medium term. The pretence that the government can, somehow, make the effects of rising crude prices disappear into thin air is not acceptable from any party that hopes to be a ruling party at the Centre. The regime of repressed retail prices is underwritten by foregone revenue and profits by the oil companies, subsidy from the exchequer and, most insidiously, sacrificed economic growth. That oil subsidies depress economic growth might not be obvious to many, but that does not make it any less real. If the subsidy is borne by the government, it jacks up the fiscal deficit, making the government borrow more. If the oil companies bear the subsidy, they borrow to make good the deficit. In either case, resources are diverted from investment to consumption. The added demand for loans from the government and the oil companies put upward pressure on interest rates, depressing investment. Subsidised energy prices act against conserving energy. In contrast, higher energy prices put a premium on energy efficiency and raise the entire economy to a higher level of productivity, raising international competitiveness.


Sure, the poor need protection from inflation. They need not just direct subsidies — which the government provides — but macroeconomic balance as well. Higher petro-fuel prices at the retail level ease the subsidy burden and reduce the fiscal deficit, leading to better macroeconomic balance and reduced inflation. For political parties to pretend that all this is incidental is to declare that they are not fit to govern.








THE Reserve Bank of India's draft guidelines on compensation of wholetime directors, CEOs and other key functionaries are in line with initiatives of banking sector regulators elsewhere in the world. 'Flawed incentive compensation practices' contributed majorly to the recent global financial crisis. Employees were rewarded for excessive risk-taking, even at the cost of long-term stability. By the time the chickens came home to roost, it was usually too late to penalise the guilty: they had either ring-fenced their benefits against being clawed back, or had moved to greener pastures. Inevitably, this caused widespread public anger in the West against 'fatcat bankers', leading the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to frame a set of principles and implementation standards on sound compensation practices and structures, designed to disincentivise excessive risk-taking. These have been endorsed by the G-20 and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. The rationale is to align compensation with performance from a long-term perspective and reward prudent rather then risky conduct.

The RBI's draft guidelines have been framed keeping in mind this long-term perspective. Thus, where variable pay constitutes a substantial portion of the total pay, it has to be deferred for a minimum period of three years and a substantial proportion should be given as shares or share-linked instruments (Esops, etc), so that incentives are aligned with long-term value creation and the time horizon of risk. This is at it should be. Defaults and bad loans seldom occur immediately. Securitisation, for instance, went on for years before it ran aground when those engaged in it forgot the first principles and began to securitise all kinds of revenue flows, regardless of the quality of the underlying assets. Hence, any compensation structure must have not only a long-term perspective but also a provision for claw-back. In India, the guidelines have limited relevance; mainly to private sector banks since compensation packages of foreign banks are governed by the policies framed by their head-offices. However, that does not take away from their merit.








 EVERYBODY loves a good bandh. Except perhaps those lost souls trying to make it to home or work. But then, those are the expendable lot. For the rest, a bandh, a shutdown, is usually an extra holiday. And it is also an opportunity to display our inclusive capacity. Consider the way we are able to make something like a bandh encompass the lives of utter strangers. Thus, the chaps who landed up at several Metro stations in the Capital, for instance, and most kindly told the people that they couldn't use the train as there was a bandh were performing an important civic and social duty. The lack of an apparent dissent demonstrates conclusively that the aam janta most cheerfully and readily complied with the request. The same, surely, would be the case with all those people only nominally stranded in Mumbai, or other parts of the country. A bandh truly unites us, working hard for national integration.


Indeed, in a state like Kerala with a longish history of bandhs, mutual help and political bonhomie come to the fore. Thus, when a bandh or strike is announced by any faction or party, everyone heads to the nearest chicken and booze shops. Reports aver long, snaking lines can be seen outside such shops in anticipation and preparation of a day of political protest. Also, factionalism disappears. The Congress might call a bandh but the comrades keep solidarity by also not coming in to work or venturing out. And vice versa. A holiday is thus ensured, generally contributing to the health and leisure of the wider population. It is, therefore, futile and pointless to criticise the tradition of strikes and shutdowns in India. Just as those dolts have got it all wrong when they ask why people who want to protest don't go on a hunger strike instead. How does that benefit the people? But on a good bandh day, one can put one's feet up, eat, drink, and thank the Opposition. It's a no brainer of a choice.








MUCH has been written and spoken following the recent court judgement in the case related to the Bhopal gas tragedy. For over a week, it was the flavour of the day or TV channels and in the print media.

Now that the media frenzy is over, the time may be appropriate to look at some of the more basic issues, including corporate responsibility; the role of the business community; the governance system, at local, state and central level; and, finally, the judicial system.


 In an industrial accident, even those caused by natural disasters, the company or organisation concerned must be held responsible. The organisation is expected to have in place fail-safe measures for all foreseeable contingencies, so the only exceptions should be for completely unexpected natural disasters and for selfcaused accidents to oneself, consequent to a clear violation of prescribed safety norms or procedures. The liability is for courts to determine, but must not be capped ab initio, as in the proposed law on liability in the case of accidents in nuclear power plants. Also, no entity — owner, operator or equipment supplier — should be exempt.


On such organisational liability, there would probably be broad consensus. The more difficult issue is about the responsibility of the board including, particularly, the independent, non-executive directors (INEDs). While the board has overall responsibility for the company, to what extent should it be held liable for an operational lapse which is unrelated to policy and not a direct consequence of a specific decision made by the board?

Though full-time directors are expected to have knowledge about operational aspects too, what about INEDs? Holding directors responsible for a lapse that is not due to policies or matters for which they do not have direct responsibility would be akin to making the Police Commissioner liable for an accident caused by reckless driving.


It is, of course, the commissioner's responsibility to enforce laws that prevent reckless driving and work with experts to design road and traffic management systems that ensure safety. Also, to investigate accidents so as to bring to book the guilty, and to take steps to minimise future accidents. This analogy could usefully be applied to board directors.


 However, where accidents result from board decisions — e.g., compromising safety while cutting costs or introducing unproven and unsafe processes, as seems to have been done in Bhopal — there is clearly a direct responsibility of those in the board who knew of this. INEDs may not be aware of the compromises and, in such circumstances, it does not seem correct to equate the responsibility of the INEDs with that of full-time directors. The recent tendency to do so, and pin liability on INEDs for any malfeasance by the company, will only lead to an exodus and a paucity of good INEDs.


The business community as a whole has a role here. Through industry associations, they need to stimulate an informed debate on the role and responsibility of different categories of directors on the board, as also of the company. Following the fraud in Satyam, efforts have been made to articulate guidelines for corporate governance. CII, Nasscom and others have brought out reports on governance and ethics. The ministry of corporate affairs too has enunciated guidelines. However, none of them have specifically outlined the moral and legal responsibilities of INEDs. Such a task needs to be undertaken by industry associations, with sufficient public debate and inputs, so as to evolve a joint government-industry document.


ANOTHER area in which associations need to take the initiative is on aspects related to safety and industrial accidents. A code of ethics needs to be formulated for this, going beyond the purely legal or regulatory, and including best practices from around the world. Clearly, this must address the interests of all stakeholders, particularly the local community. One of the tragic aspects of Bhopal is the apparent callousness with which the company treated the community living around the plant. In this regard, the reaction of associations, post-Bhopal — whether on the issue of board and INED responsibility, or a safety code for industry — has been disappointing.


Governments — in the states and at the Centre — have an obviously crucial role: one that they played badly and even abdicated from, at times, in the Bhopal disaster. First, inefficiency or corruption seems to have paralysed the government machinery for monitoring and inspection — which, in the early 1980s, were a routine part of the industrial landscape as part of the licence-permit-quota raj. Second, no serious action is known to have been taken against these safety and other inspectors. Third, environmental monitoring by a government agency should have been a necessary part of permitting such a plant to operate.


Fourth, how was such a potentiallydangerous chemical plant allowed in a city, and who in the civic agencies allowed more settlements to come up right around it? In addition, the laxity in prosecuting the case, the ridiculously-low settlement agreed upon, the lethargic progress in paying compensation and taking care of the health issues, and the fact that the plant site has not been sanitised after a quarter-century: all these point to dismal governance by successive governments at the state and central level.


The judicial system has once again proven that it has ceased to live by its name: for, justice delayed is justice denied. It is used by the powerful only to delay — even thwart — justice.


For the tens of thousands of innocent victims of Bhopal, the political-administrative-judicial combine is as much in the dock as the company itself. One wonders whether powerful political leaders, learned judges and highly-paid lawyers are unable or unwilling to repair an obviously-broken system.


The patience of the people of India — often dubbed apathy — is legendary; but even that has limits.
 The epic tragedy of Bhopal would find some solace if it serves as a wake-up call, before it is too late, to carry out the most crying reform of all: a drastic overhaul of the whole justice system.


(The author is an independent strategy    and policy analyst)







THE easiest way for an investor to overcome vulnerability is simply to build a natural scepticism to natural instincts. You don't have to become a dogmatic contrarian — you just have to question your first impulse. Take a typical scene at a cocktail party. Someone brags about their fantastic investment. The natural reaction is to ask yourself if you are missing out on a great opportunity. The more sceptical and informed reaction should be to ask if the great past performance will continue into the future.


The cocktail party analogy holds a deeper truth about why investors may have suffered from impaired decision-making and poor self-control during the years before the crash. This was more than a simple case of minor intuitive errors in reasoning. Instead, according to MIT finance professor Andrew Lo, the real problem is traders literally were drunk on money. The metaphor to financial markets and the crisis is clear.


There was an inadequate 'financial infrastructure' in terms of strong bank regulation and adequate bank reserves in place to protect the financial system in case of a catastrophe. Banks, left to their own devices, discounted this likelihood. They pursued aggressive trading strategies that seemed safe at the time, only to create conditions that led to a collapse in prices and an eventual fire sale of assets. Errors in judgment, therefore, aren't just ruinous to individuals: they can be damaging to society on the whole.







TALK of the group of ministers (GoM) quickly clearing a caste-based census ended with the idea coming up against inhouse roadblocks. Some in the Congress always felt it wouldn't be an easy ride for the GoM on the contentious issue that saw Pranab Mukherjee (for) and P Chidambaram (against) differing right from the word go. What also alerted some Congress members was the opposition expressed by even usually safe-playing loyalists such as Anand Sharma, Pavan Bansal, Kapil Sibal and Ajay Maken. So, these Congress circles now wonder whether there is a link between this vocal opposition and Rahul Gandhi's oftenrepeated sound bytes that he did not believe in a caste system and that being 'Indian is his only social identity'. With trusted 10, Janpath, player A K Antony too airing his scepticism in the last GoM meet about rushing in with the caste-based census, murmurs about a sub-plot have thickened.

Home truths

AS THE Centre and the Congress high command laboured hard to stabilise a tottering Omar Abdullah and make him look more chief ministerial, a tricky detail added to the dismay. Even as the Valley saw daily protests, none of the zonal presidents of the NC was seen rallying behind the CM. Barring the law minister who had to act as the CM's spokesman, no one came out in solidarity with Omar till the Centre coaxed a couple of ministers to visit the affected areas. The other pointer was the silence Farooq Abdullah chose to maintain while on holiday abroad even as his son was reduced to a general without an army. Can a smart sound byte fix the home-front disconnect?

Hobson's choice

THE CPI-M polit bureau meeting made it clear the party feels there is no point in ignoring the truth any more. So, it agreed, after the civic poll rout and pro-Mamata rejig in the Bengal PCC, there is now no scope to divide the Congress and Trinamul. The PB also felt the leadership's political resistance to the Indo-US N-deal was faulty. A bigger political mess-up was the failure to topple UPA-I even after the noisy Left pullout. This, it was felt, further damaged the Left's image and hastened its isolation in the LS poll. In short, L K Advani — who blogged a tongue-in-cheek 'welcome back' message for the comrades on their coy visit to the BJP Parliamentary party office proposing a floor-tango — may have to lend his 'iron shoulder' to the jittery visitors as the countdown for the Bengal-Kerala ground battle advances.

Quizzical questions

A cellular major, cashing in on football mania, set up a multiple answer SMS quiz contest. But an enthusiast was foxed by "Which year did Hungary score the maximum goals in a single match?" The options were 1954 and 1920. But the world cup did not exist in 1920, the other choice was also wrong as Hungary's highest score in a single match was in 1982, when it drubbed El Salvador 10-1. When he asked the company, the PR agency got into the act and claimed the mistake had been quickly realised and a revised question sent out. But our man never got one. Then it said the question was sent to only a small group of people, so the damage wasn't 'that much' and also went on to say that since this contest was free — which it isn't, every answer is charged Rs 3 — it wasn't much of an issue. Meanwhile, our man SMSed 1954 as the answer, and the automated system congratulated him for having answered correctly, and sent him the next question! Facts, too, get substitutes, it seems!







THE country's teledensity is 54%, using April 2010 subscriber base of 638.05 million telephones and the country's current population estimated at 1,174 million. The same indicator would look much more impressive at 90%, if we were to take the denominator as 714 million, which is the population above 18 years of age and is 'eligible' to have a phone connection.


 But that would only take us away from 'reality'. Every adult in the country does not have a telephone. In fact, a large number of multiple connections in the name of well-todo adults are being used by minors and a much larger number of SIM cards are usedup and are lying discarded or inactive, misleading us to a healthy teledensity.


Trai's quarterly reports on performance of the country's telecom sector clearly bring out the digital divide between rural and urban areas. As per the latest report available for quarter ended December 2009, rural teledensity was a meagre 21% against urban teledensity of 111%. Further, even after accounting for tariff wars, GSM average revenue per user (Arpu) dropping from Rs 316 in the quarter ended December 2006 to Rs 144 in quarter ended December 2009 and CDMA Arpu falling from Rs 196 to Rs 82 in the same period, substantiate the existence of a large number of inactive SIM cards. And the two indicators, when interpreted together, point to a very low telecom penetration at the bottom of the pyramid.


 Besides the statistical indicators, telephone ownership is indeed unaffordable for the poor. First of all, acquiring a mobile phone and its subsequent repairs and replacements cost at least Rs 800 per annum. Second is the condition of minimum Rs 200 recharge every six months. Thus, along with the handset, it amounts to Rs 100 per month at the least. And there are two other problems associated with use of mobiles in remote areas. One is the availability of power for daily recharging of phone battery and the second is reliability of network coverage in such areas. Therefore, even if one is able to afford the expense for telephone ownership, there is no assurance that she becomes contactable anytime, anywhere.


Therefore, alongside the mobile TV and video streaming for 3G elites, there is an urgent need to explore options for reaching out the benefits of communication revolution to the underprivileged sections of the society. It is perhaps time to deploy the windfall earnings from 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) auctions and utilise the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) accumulations for improving telecom inclusion. Here is an alternative that could be examined for ringing up the bottom of the pyramid.


It is proposed that a regular application or enrolment form is obtained from every new customer along with the required proof of identity (PoI) and proof of address (PoA) documents and subscribers not wanting to spend on a handset are allotted a 10-digit, mobile-like number of a voice mailbox (VMB). Initial personal identification number (PIN) could then be mailed to subscribers for accessing their VMBs, very much like the banks sending ATM PINs and delivery of PIN by post or courier to the address given in the form, could be taken as subscriber verification. On receipt of PIN, subscribers may circulate their VMB numbers, just like mobile numbers, and the service could be operated like an email account.


If a subscriber calls up his own VMB number, he could be routed through an authorisation routine and allowed to listen to voice mails meant for him. And for anyone else calling up the VMB number, caller could be guided by a voice prompt to leave a message for the called person.

Length of each voice mail could be limited to, say, three minutes and VMB storage space could be provided to hold up to 30 minutes of voice messages, so that subscribers do not miss out any communication even if they access their accounts infrequently.


In terms of financials, all calls to VMBs would generate revenue for the originating network and VMB provider would earn from call termination charges. Duration of ring-back tone (RBT) on VMB numbers could be fixed at 10-15 seconds and VMB providers could be allowed commercial use of that property, for additional revenue generation. And, government could pitch in with appropriate subsidies, if and when necessary, to ensure that VMB service always remains free of charge for its subscribers.


VMB service as outlined here would obviate the need for subscribers to spend on handsets. It will also eliminate their need for and dependence on availability of power and network to remain contactable. It would allow the VMB subscribers a flexibility to reach their accounts from anywhere and at a time when they have access to a telephone.


Finally, VMB could also become an important medium of communication for government to reach out health and education awareness messages to poorer sections of the society.


(The author is an alumnus of IIM-B.    Views are personal.)


Despite the flattering statistics, most poor people still don't have access to telecom because of the high cost of ownership
With the windfall gains from BWA and 3G auctions and USOF, a free voice mailbox can be provided to these people
Such calls would generate revenue from originating network and service provider would earn from termination charges









ONE of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century, H L Mencken once wrote, "Imagine the Creator as a stand up comedian — and at once the world becomes understandable." The question is: is this funny, ironic or cynical?


Taking it backwards, a lot of the faithful could easily consider it an unnecessarily pessimistic and even mocking view of life considering that they think living and believing in its consequences is a seriously unfunny business with grim and often dire repercussions. And in any case, to equate our maker with the likes of a late night live comic show is not only blasphemous but pathetic.


Ironic is more difficult to dissect. Yes, there's often a sense of incongruity to existence that is marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning. Which is why when there's a close death in the family and our faith in whatever we were faithful to is critically compromised and threatened with extinction, a pastor figure has to explain how He works in 'mysterious ways'.


In order to bring a semblance of meaning back from the instantly meaningless, to reintroduce significance into what appears to be utterly grotesque is, of course, ultimate irony, but fortunately for those who continue living for the time being, it's usually lost.


But Mencken, satirist and ever the acerbic critic of life and culture had no intention of being whimsical or amusing. Similar in temperament to the absurdists who began flourishing around the same period as his lifetime, he too thought the only way life could be reasonably tolerated would be by thinking of it as a ridiculous exercise in theatre production. In other words, humans exist in a pointless irrational universe and any search for order brings us into direct conflict with existence.


Which brings us to funny. Unfortunately, people like Mencken tend to think that funny cannot possibly have a significance because only the deadly serious can be associated with worth. So, obviously, if a god exists, he, she or it ought to be a dour and dismal entity. Nothing even remotely droll. The fact that laughter is not the sole province of sapient humans and a god too could possess a stand-up comedian's demeanour is anathema. Instead, if like a few enlightened souls do, we could laugh along with a creator and not at the creativity, life would immediately lighten up considerably.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



It is hard to find anyone in this country who is not seriously concerned about the spiralling prices of essential items. Prices have been unconscionably high for two years, from the days of the first UPA government, and all but the top five per cent of the population are affected. However, prices were shooting up even when petroleum products were selling at a lower rate than at present. There is, therefore, no direct and unique correlation between what the consumer pays for kitchen goods and the government's decision to cut subsidies on petrol, diesel and LPG. Much of that subsidy wasn't benefiting the poorer sections anyway. It can be argued that reducing those subsidies has the potential to raise prices to some extent. It can equally be said that the money saved by the government from the subsidy cuts now becomes available to alleviate the living conditions of the neediest in other ways. By overlooking the basic causes that caused the price rise, by disregarding issues pertaining to economic management that might have helped to rein in prices, and by highlighting petroleum prices as the villain of the piece, the Opposition forums that orchestrated Monday's "Bharat bandh" — which has the unpleasant meaning of "shutting down India" — have shown their penchant for dramatic effect but not for the hard political work it takes to bring public grievances to the fore. There is also some hypocrisy in the posturing of the parties that did their utmost to bring daily life to a halt on Monday. Each of them — during the rule of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Front — was a party to earlier decisions by the Centre to deregulate petroleum prices and cut subsidies, the Left not excluded. It should also be said of the Left that they did not withdraw support from the UF on this count. Later, when they partnered UPA-1, they pulled out of their pro-Congress arrangement over the nuclear deal with the United States, and not over pressing economic issues that matter to the working class and the poor. Therefore, the unbridled zeal of Opposition parties of the Left and Right, acting in tandem, to shut down India, no less, is inexplicable, not to say inconsistent with their previous actions. Add to this the question of ends and means, and the "Bharat bandh" call becomes hard to defend. Dozens of trains cancelled across the country, nearly a hundred flights grounded, and the spectacle of menacing party workers of all shades forcing economic activity to cease in cities and towns across India is not exactly the currency of democratic protest, even if it had not meant the loss of several thousand crore rupees in potential earnings for the national economy. It is hard to think of another democracy where flagrant coercion substitutes for constitutional mass action. There is a possible explanation for this: the bandh enforcers might be incapable of organising people by persuasion, and therefore prefer to make do with shortcuts involving threatening daily life and income opportunities of the poorest sections of society — the daily wage-earner and the push-cart operator. No country that wishes to move ahead can afford to go that way.
The Left has struck together with the BJP and it will have to stand on its head to explain the rationale to its cadre. Both sides will claim "victory" for their cohabitation approach, and offer expedient justifications. In due course, this might even lead them to join forces in Parliament and possibly in the state legislatures as well. The ball was set rolling with the visit of CPI(M) and CPI parliamentary leaders to the offices of the BJP recently. Are we revisiting the era of opportunism that had brought Mandal and "Kamandal" together, midwifed by the Communist Manifesto?






Why did the government choose to hike the prices of all petroleum products — including the most politically-sensitive and highly-subsidised kerosene and cooking gas — at this juncture? It must have anticipated that this decision would unite the Right and the Left, that its opponents would disrupt normal life and that sections within the ruling coalition would be unhappy. Further, the powers-that-be surely knew that the hike in petro-product prices would literally add fuel to inflationary fires that are raging, shrinking the real incomes of the poor.

So why did the government decide on such an unpopular step even as the Prime Minister flew to Toronto to attend the G-20 meeting on how to improve the "fragile" state of the planet's economy? When Dr Manmohan Singh returned home, he said that after petrol, diesel prices would soon be freed from administrative control.

Here's what the Prime Minister said: "People are wise enough to understand that excessive populism should not be allowed to derail the progress our country is making… The subsidies on petroleum have reached a level which is not connected to sound financial management of our economy. So, this decision has been taken to put some burden on the common people, but it is manageable".

Petroleum minister Murli Deora has calculated that for an average consumer the burden would be less than Re 1 a day for using cooking gas while kerosene users would shell out 26-27 paise extra each day, that is, assuming they get kerosene at the proper price — which is now around Rs 12.50 a litre, still Rs 15 a litre lower than what the price would have been had it been "market determined". The price of kerosene was last hiked in March 2002 to around Rs 9.30 a litre from Rs 2.50 a litre fixed in January 1998. Without any subsidy, each cylinder of cooking gas would cost Rs 225 more than what it is at present (after the price hike).

Mr Deora has acknowledged that roughly 40 per cent of the kerosene that is distributed in the country goes for adulterating petrol and diesel and is also smuggled out to neighbouring countries. For decades, kerosene distributed by state governments has not reached the needy, nor has the fuel been used for cooking and lighting. Even after the latest price hike, the gap between kerosene and petrol/diesel prices is wide enough to ensure rampant adulteration.

The government has tried colouring kerosene blue and putting chemical markers in the liquid, but these have not been effective in curbing misuse. Remember Shanmughan Manjunath, the IIM Lucknow graduate who worked with the Indian Oil Corporation? He had ordered that two petrol pumps at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh be sealed for three months for selling adulterated fuel. On November 22, 2005, three days after he conducted a surprise raid on the pumps, his bullet-ridden body was found. The owner of the two petrol pumps and his employees and accomplices were later arrested.

Targeting subsidies is easier said than done. Oil companies have tried to ensure that commercial users of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) use cylinders that are not red in colour — with some success. The 14 million petrol-consuming passenger cars in the country may be mostly used by the well-off, but not the 80 million two-wheelers that also run on petrol. An estimated four million trucks and buses and the Indian Railways together use up nearly two-thirds of the total diesel consumed. Close to a fifth is used in agricultural pump sets and tractors. But the remaining 15-20 per cent of the total diesel consumed in the country is by owners of fancy passenger cars and for generating electricity — for instance, to run air conditioners in fancy shopping malls.

Few believe the government when it says the increase in petroleum product prices will increase inflation by less than one per cent. Yes, transport accounts for around five per cent of the total cost of most products and the cost of diesel is one-third of the total transportation costs. The fact is that a higher diesel price has a cascading impact on the prices of a wide range of products, particularly food items, since retailers tend to disproportionately increase the prices of goods transported. Simply put, if transport expenses go up by, say, five per cent, the price of tomatoes that are transported to shops by truck could go up by seven-eight per cent.

What the government does not publicise is that total taxes on petrol are more than half its selling price and around 30 per cent of the price paid by a consumer of diesel is in the form of taxes. Roughly 37 per cent of the selling price of petrol comprises excise and customs duties, which accrue to the Union government. By way of contrast, total taxes on petrol are 37 per cent in Sri Lanka , 30 per cent in Pakistan and 24 per cent in Thailand, while taxes on diesel are less than 20 per cent. Excise duties from petroleum products contribute 45 per cent of the Indian government's total excise collections. Are you then surprised that the country's rulers are keen on protecting the health of the fisc, not the health of the aam aadmi?

Another point inadequately publicised is that the recent price hike will enable private retailers like Reliance to reopen franchised petrol pumps, which had been lying closed since 2008.

In April 2002, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had decided to dismantle the administered pricing mechanism for petroleum products to let oil companies decide what prices to charge consumers. The then petroleum minister Ram Naik did not wish to give up his power to disallow oil companies from increasing prices. He had his way and the National Democratic Alliance government did not hike petroleum product prices for a year before the 2004 elections.

That India cannot be completely insulated from volatility in world oil markets is a no-brainer since the country will be importing close to 80 per cent of its total requirement of crude oil this year — even as Reliance merrily exports refined petroleum products. The point is that international crude prices have fluctuated between $70 and $80 a barrel for the better part of the last 12 months. So what was the urgency to hike petroleum product prices and free petrol prices from administrative control?

Answer: The political opposition to the ruling Congress party is in disarray, the next general elections are four years away and sections of India's upper middle classes just don't care about inflation hurting the underprivileged.

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator







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 US President Barack 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 GOP 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 behaviour 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, realise that they have been misled — and do the right thing by passing extended benefits.







Migration and sex have one thing in common. The politician's response to both is riddled with hypocrisy. It is not good policy but typically makes for good politics to appear to be "tough" on migration, as on matters related to sex. Which brings me to the latest spat between India and the United Kingdom over the latter's decision to slap a temporary cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into UK from outside the European Union (EU).

Indians are predictably miffed. Interestingly, so are many Britons though their new coalition government has promised consultations with businesses and other interested parties on how new limits on Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system of issuance of visa should work in practice. The consultations are expected to set a permanent limit that would come into force on April 1, 2011.

Ever since the announcement, Leicester's restaurant owners have been wailing that the immigration cap will hit their curry houses. The City of London, the Square Mile and leading hub of global finance, is equally worried. "Of course politicians need to respond to broader public worries about immigration, but expert workers are a special case. A cap on numbers may seem simple, but it fails to deal with the importance of certain categories of immigrants who are of substantial benefit to our economy. International businesses located in London and competing globally need at short notice to recruit staff or bring in people from other branches to develop or expand their operations. And they need the best staff, irrespective of their passports, and in a hurry," argued Stuart Fraser, chairman of policy, City of London Corporation, in a letter to the Financial Times, London. Britain's Federation of Small Businesses has been scathing, calling the latest curbs on skilled non-European workers as "economics of the sixth form".

The bald truth is that though migrant workers can put a heavy burden on public services, on balance, they contribute far more to the British economy than they take. Figures from Britain's own Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that a fall in immigration could reduce the UK's gross domestic product growth by as much as one per cent a year by the end of this Parliament.

To put things in perspective, however, while Britain's new coalition government has been under fire from diverse quarters for its cap on skilled migrants, it is not the only one guilty of sending out a mixed message on a critical issue.

INDIA, WHICH has been quick to protest loudly about Britain's latest curbs on skilled workers from outside the EU, does not have a national migration policy nor authenticated category-wise statistics on outgoing or incoming skilled workers.

Last year, thousands of Chinese workers engaged in engineering projects in India were forced to leave following a revised visa policy. The clampdown affected contracted projects worth more than $10 billion.

Is such a measure justified? It is difficult to tell. "We don't have detailed information on industries and trades where we need foreign expertise or the numbers in which we need it. The Statistical Pocketbook of India does not have data on the number of foreign professionals who are working in India in specific industries", says Binod Khadria, professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Director of International Migration and Diaspora Studies Project. Looking for available Indian data sources on emigration and immigration of skilled workers for the forthcoming India Migration Report 2010 that his research team is preparing, he seems to have drawn a blank. Ready availability of such data would help India negotiate more intelligently and strategically on migration issues in bilateral and multilateral agreements, he asserts.  

Prof Khadria, who rues the lack of coordination in understanding the dynamics of migration within India's officialdom across various ministries, argues that it is in every country's interest to have its emigrants face "stability" rather than frequent changes in the immigration policy of their destination countries. "We don't have a long-term strategic vision towards migration to press for such stability in immigration policies. We only try to do short-term cost-benefit analysis," he adds.

Countries have every right to decide who they would let in and who they want to keep out. But at a time when there is a global war for talent and organisations  are under pressure to focus on talent acquisition and to prioritise longer-term workforce planning, national policies which are rooted in pragmatism are more likely to yield dividends than those tethered to pure politics. 

The moot point: there is a sharp distinction between legal and illegal migrants. Countries need to have a clear vision of their economic future and decide if importing talent would help or hinder actualise that vision.

Migrants, skilled or otherwise, are not inducted because employers are filled with the milk of human kindness but because there is an underlying economic logic in doing so. Anti-migrant lobbies who chant incessantly about "uncontrolled migration" conveniently overlook these distinctions and the fact that today when much of the developed world is still grappling with recession and protectionist forces are ascendant, those who get in have to clear stringent regulations and are experts in their own field.

China's recent move to attract foreign talent is a telling example of the ascending power's strategic vision. Chinese workers demanding fatter pay cheques have been in the news in recent times. Less known is China's new policy to woo top-notch foreign talent to help promote economic and social development and global competitiveness of their country. China's  National Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020) promises favourable policies in terms of taxation, insurance, housing, children and spouse settlement, career development, research projects and government awards for high-calibre overseas talents who are willing to work in China. The Chinese government is also talking about improving the system for giving permanent residence rights to foreigners.

The national plan, a blueprint for creating a highly skilled national work force over the next decade, aims to transform the country from being "labour-rich to talent-intensive", according to a news item put out by the Chinese government's official web site last month.

Why is China, the world's most populous country, rolling out the red carpet to skilled workers from overseas? It is because China realises all too well that tapping others' brains is often critical to forging ahead — a lesson other countries can ignore at their own peril.

- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at [1]






There's this fable about Jesus going to a football match between the "Catholic Conquerors" and "Protestant Punchers". Both teams were excellent and the match was exciting. The Conquerors scored a goal first. Jesus jumped up, whistled wildly and applauded appreciatively. Then, the Punchers scored. Again, Jesus jumped up, whistled and clapped riotously. This puzzled a man behind him who tapped him and queried: "Which side are you shouting for?" "Me?" asked Jesus, and replied, "I'm not shouting for any side. I'm here to enjoy the game!" At this, the questioner turned to his neighbour and sneered, "Hmmm, look at that atheist!"

I love football, though I'm undecided which country I am supporting in the present Fifa world cup since my incredible India features nowhere among the best of footballing nations. But, favourite teams and football apart, if Jesus, Ram, Buddha, Mahavir, Guru Nanak or any devas, devis, tirthankars or jivanmuktas were asked which group they were for, and which they were against, would they choose a few and condemn all others? I think not. Yet, that's what many of us, believers, believe.

The word "religion" is derived from the Latin religare meaning "to bind". More than any other realm of human life, religion is the numero uno "binder" since it gives cohesion and meaning to all other spheres of human activity, and, by its very nature, deals with Ultimate Truth. But, much as religion binds, it also blinds. And God help you if you don't use labels and take sides — like Jesus at the football match you'll be branded an "atheist".

Competition is the stuff of world cup and Commonwealth Games. No competition, no fun. Agreed. But when competition spills over into the field of religion and quite literally becomes "cut-throat", then something's wrong somewhere. Religious rivalry can be seen at the communitarian and individual levels. At the corporate level, one religious group could feel that it is superior to the others and boast: "My God is bigger than yours!" At the individual level, Jesus narrated a parable of two people who went to the temple to pray: a Pharisee (i.e., one who meticulously observed religious laws) and a tax-collector. The Pharisee prayed loudly: "God, I thank you that I'm not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector". By contrast, the tax-collector bowed his head and said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:9-14). God loved the latter.

What we urgently require is not mere tolerance but recognition of the beauty of religions other than our own. In a round-table discussion, when the Dalai Lama was asked by theologian Leonardo Boff: "Your holiness, which is the best religion?" he answered, "The best religion is the one that brings you closer to God and makes you a better person".

Ultimately, God is always bigger and better than anything we can ever imagine. Sant Kabir succinctly said, "My Lord hides Himself, and my Lord wonderfully reveals Himself". So, let me not think that I know God fully, and believe God's only in my team and against all others.

The Rig Veda asserts: "Ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti" (Though it is One, the wise call Him diversely). That One has woven a beautiful principle of diversity into the universe. Events like the Fifa World Cup and the Commonwealth Games make us aware of our dazzling diversity. Let's delight in diversity. And, of course, applaud and shout for all those who respect differences. Long live differences! Vive la différence!

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be
contacted at [1]






It is rather startling to note how the powerful "Women's Lib" movement in the 1970s was manhandled by certain sections of society in the West. They scrapped the intellectual aspects of the concept and used the fruits of the movement by simply exhibiting it as a way to justify nudity.

The above was what most frontline women activists of the movement bemoaned, alluding that their movement's many positive social outcomes had been misused. In fact, such is also the view of a majority of conservative Muslim thinkers — especially those who have been at the forefront of encouraging the usage of veil among Muslim women.

Interestingly, a lot of young Muslim women who adorn the hijab/burqa suggest that veiling demonstrates their liberation from becoming an object of the pitfalls of the Women's Lib movement. But just as one is correct to point out that these pitfalls involve emancipated women who shroud their obvious objectification by describing it as liberation, one isn't too far off the mark to also question the other side of the divide.

For example, can a woman who adorns a hijab and explains it as a liberating act, may as well be submitting to the historical male-driven tradition of claiming control over women? The immediate history of the misinterpreted aspects of the Women's Lib movement suggests that its negative pitfalls, such as the commercial objectification of the female body was/is largely the handiwork of men. On the other end, various Muslim women authors and thinkers believe that the practice of adorning the veil by Muslim women remains a diktat of men.

They say that the practice of observing purdah or wearing the hijab is an outcome of laws and social mores constructed over the last many centuries by judges, ulema and lawmakers who were all male.

The holy book addresses the faithful women, who are told to shield their private parts and not to display their adornment "except what is apparent of it". Scholarly disputes in the Muslim world revolve around what this last phrase means.

To modern Muslim thinkers like Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Iranian woman activist and art historian, Dr Faegheh Shirazi, and renowned Algerian scholar Muhammad Arkoun, much of the holy book must be understood allegorically. This means its message is largely in the abstract domain that when comprehended and related in a literal manner creates confusion and misinterpretation.

Such scholars believe that Muslim women enjoyed great autonomy in public and private life during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) — an autonomy that later Muslim kings and ulema took away. According to Prof Omid Safi and Muslim women activists such as Assra Q. Nomani and Amina Wadud, the issue of hijab is often used by conservative Muslims as a weapon against the struggle of Muslim women who want to understand the autonomy enjoyed by women during the Holy Prophet's time. These struggling women want to undo what came afterwards in the shape of various gender-biased laws and social practices aimed at subduing and controlling women.

Reacting to the forced veiling practised in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and in some parts of Pakistan, Prof Ziauddin Sardar says that modesty should not be reduced to a piece of cloth, rather it should be a total package of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook.

Most progressive Muslim scholars have accused traditional and literalist interpretations of Islamic customs that deal with the issue. They believe these interpretations propagate that unveiled women alone are responsible for a lack of moral modesty, not to say sexual obsession of men.

They say that Islam clearly talks about how men too should behave in front of women, so how come, over the centuries, it is only women who were asked to dress properly?

There have been cases in various Muslim countries where men, after assaulting or raping a woman, said that they did so because "she was asking for it"; meaning that not adorning the veil amounted to an invitation to assault.

Such thinking unfortunately is not all that uncommon amongst many men. While we busy ourselves in discussing the ubiquitous veil issue in countries like France and in secular Muslim republics like Turkey, bemoaning the discrimination faced by Muslim women who use the veil, we conveniently forget that in most Muslim countries women who believe that modest dressing prescribed by the faith can also be demonstrated without the use of a veil come under pressure.

Much of this pressure is from men — most of whom blame an unveiled woman for all the sinful thoughts that emerge in them. But these women are also facing a telling pressure from the ever-increasing number of veiled women.

This begs the question: is it really liberation that a woman feels behind a veil, or is this liberation only about freeing oneself from the thought of ever daring to challenge male-dominated interpretations of exactly how a Muslim woman should dress and behave?









THE extraordinary haste with which the Left Front is trying to include "backward Muslims'' in the OBC category must now be viewed against an order of Calcutta High Court that religion cannot be a basis for reservation. The government has made every effort to cover its tracks with procedures that it believes cannot be challenged. But the grey areas survive after the reservation of flats for minorities on the basis of religion under a project started by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority has been ruled unconstitutional. This must set the Left thinking on whether the programme it has adopted to woo back a vote-bank that it has substantially lost is on the right track. The court order not only amounts to an embarrassment but is also a signal that belated gestures can become counter-productive. The order also throws into sharp focus the roles of the minister and bureaucrats responsible ~ were they so unaware of the Constitution, or so arrogant as to believe they could get away with the reservation? The Chief Minister's announcement of 10 per cent reservation in government jobs must be subjected to legal scrutiny ~ and not by a bunch of yes-men ~ before it is implemented.

The primary questions on non-performance, identification of these sections and extent to which placements can be offered were left unanswered by the West Bengal minister of state for minority affairs during the assembly debate on the department's budget. Abdus Sattar had little to say on what his department had delivered during the last 33 years. All he could declare with an obvious sense of delight ~ a day before the court order ~ was that one crore Muslims out of a population of just over two crores have been included in the OBC category. Why such a staggering number has remained backward while the department has claimed budgets year after year to bring them into the mainstream must rank as a monumental scandal. On the evidence of its non-performance, the Left must consider itself an enemy of the minorities. There is little time left for planning before the assembly election. But the ambitious targets it has set ~ among these, ten lakh jobs for one crore backward Muslims ~ may only serve to stress that it has always put political compulsions above social responsibilities. 



DESPERATE situations provoke desperate action. Despair is palpable in the head of the CWG Organising Committee seeking the backing of an arch-adversary, the Sports Minister, in a move that must bring disrepute to all the disciplines on offer in October ~ an attempt to divert funding away from cricket. Ostensibly the bid to pressure the BCCI to re-schedule the home Test series against Australia is to prevent TV viewership looking the beyond the Games (which in itself is a despicable denial of the right of choice), but only the naïve will fall for that low blow. The reality is that pragmatic advertisers and sponsors would "invest" in cricket, aware that even the least populist version of the sport enjoys nationwide following: possibly more than what the Games can collectively attract. That the overly-ambitious, profligate CWG organisers have flopped on the fund-raising front is evident from their seeking another Rs 720 crore (earlier they had squeezed Rs 1600 crore) from the central government. Given the sad fact that false prestige "drives" the Games, that amount could well be sanctioned ~ and the taxpayer further burdened in these days of runaway prices. Just evaluate that Rs 2,300 crore bonanza (the actual expenditure would be very much more) against a Bhopal "package" of Rs 1,500 crore. Shamefully skewed priorities.

What is quite sickening is the way almost all sporting bodies keep blaming cricket for their own incompetence and failure ~ can Bollywood hopefuls complain if the Big B and SRK stay at the top, or Mayawati flay Sonia's greater appeal? What is forgotten is the "basic" that cricket commands mass support, hence financial backing, because Indian teams/players have over the last 25 years or so proved they are among the world's best, so many individuals ~ Gavaskar, Kapil, Azhar, Sachin, Kumble etc ~ enjoy international status. Yes, the fans' passion has been effectively commercially exploited: but that passion was ignited at Lord's in 1983. It was little evident previously. Has any other sport consistently produced such champions, the stress being on "consistently"? A stray Saina or Sania, PT Usha, Anand, Bindra or Vijender is simply not in the same league. Fans are not fools. Many would join Suresh Kalmadi in envying cricket's resource-generation which renders it free of government doles/control. Much of that is just jealousy. Indian sport may be an "unequal" world, but does not mean it is "unfair".



Iran's nuclear programme comes further under a cloud and its continuing spat with the International Atomic Energy Agency has intensified. The recent ban on the entry of two UN nuclear inspectors is a conscious expression of opaqueness, one that is bound to reinforce the suspicions of the West. The statement by the head of Iran's nuclear department, Ali Akbar Salehi, doesn't name the UN officials, let alone spell out the reasons for the out-of-bounds message to the envoys of the world body. The statement has emphasised that the IAEA has been notified; this is the least that President's Ahmedinejad's government could have done in terms of diplomatic courtesy. Nor for that matter has Salehi spelt out the reason why he has trashed the latest IAEA report as "false". Indeed, Iran's stand has on occasion been contradictory. In January, it had admitted to the conduct of what are called "pyroprocessing experiments". But when the agency sought more data, it backtracked and then issued a formal denial in March. Iran is now desperately trying to wriggle out of the mess of its own creation, indeed a tangled skein of inconsistencies. For, as recently as May, the IAEA team that visited the site in Teheran found that the electrochemical cell had been "removed" from the unit used in the experiments. 

The country, smarting in the wake of the fourth package of UN sanctions, has lent a new twist to the tussle both with the IAEA and the US. The ban on the UN inspectors is indubitably Teheran's response to the tightening of the screw by the Security Council early in June. However stridently Iran denies the charge that its nuclear programme is geared to the production of weapons, the West remains far from convinced. That programme has now been placed under wraps with the ban on inspections. Well may the UN conclude that the latest bout of sanctions ~ imposed in the face of Teheran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment ~ are justified.










THE world recognizes Pakistan as potentially a failed state. The ruling establishment in Pakistan is infiltrated by pro-terrorist elements. Civil society is struggling to establish democracy. Pakistan has become the hub of global terrorism. Pakistan itself has become the victim of deadly terrorist strikes. Pakistan's economy is faltering. There are separatist movements in parts of Pakistan. Pakistan's civilian government lacks authority over its army. Therefore, the world believes that if Pakistan does not get its act together it could break.
The world hails India as a potential economic giant next to China. Despite the global economic meltdown India has maintained a respectable economic growth rate. It has a growing class of global tycoons buying assets worldwide. India has soft power through a flourishing Bollywood industry, through its fashion industry, through an expanding class of technocrats, and through a world class information technology industry. The Indian middle class relishes world acclaim. And yet, it is conceivable that India is as vulnerable as Pakistan. Does this sound unbelievable? To recognize this truth step back and take a dispassionate overall view of the Indian situation.

India is recognized as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. The politicians are corrupt, the bureaucracy is corrupt, the judiciary, according to seniormost judges, is corrupt, the media is corrupt, openly selling news space to anyone willing to pay, the police is corrupt unwilling to convict the most brazenly corrupt politicians, and astronomical amounts of money earned from corruption are stashed illegally in foreign banks which the government has failed to recover.

Bottom third

INDIA is among the nations of the world with the widest disparity of wealth. India belongs to the bottom third of the global wealth distribution, comprising about 27 per cent of this group. By the World Bank definition of poverty that each individual should access at least 1 USD per day, an estimated 75 per cent of India's population lives below the internationally accepted poverty line. The current fuel price hike that will create a general inflationary spiral in the existing situation of unbearable economic hardship for most Indians has ignited calls for nationwide protests. The results of these impending protests might surprise the government and the TV-watching elite.
India continues to have foreign-backed insurgencies in Kashmir and in the North-East that have lasted for decades. India has devised no policy to defuse these movements or to resolve disputes. Right now, protest in Kashmir has escalated as daily there are police firings and deaths. Almost one-third of the districts in India are in control of the Maoists. There are recurring killings of innocents and police personnel by the Maoists. Maoists run a parallel system. They extort resources, dispense justice. Insurgents from the North-East and from among the Maoists are known to have sought and obtained sanctuary in China. Our government continues to enhance trade with China. The insurgents in Kashmir are known to be coming from Pakistan. The Home ministry accuses Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Although the Hurriyat welcomes Amarnath pilgrims it is irrelevant. It has no influence over LeT. Neither can half of Pakistan's government influence LeT. Yet our government continues to pursue a peace dialogue with Pakistan along an arid beaten path without attempting any innovation or meaningful change in approach.

 Our Home minister can only articulate nice phrases to the media. He is helpless. He has to operate by remote control. Law and order is a state subject. The central paramilitary forces and the state police very often do not cooperate effectively. The Home minister can only proffer advice and encouragement to the state governments. Why is he helpless? He is helpless because the central government has no authority to conduct operations against nationwide insurgency. The country has no federal authority with unified command to fight foreign-backed insurgency. The states disallowed the creation of such a federal agency because from experience the states knew that if established it would be misused to serve the partisan ends of the ruling party at the Centre. The Prime Minister has no support from half the states in the country. He cannot intervene in the affairs of the states. Why is this so?

Constitution distorted

THIS has come about because our written Constitution has been distorted beyond recognition by denying our President, who is the only office-holder with an elective mandate from Parliament and all the State Assemblies, to exercise the due responsibilities explicitly assigned to him by our written Constitution. By rendering the President into a rubber stamp the nation has paralysed the only constitutional office empowered to enforce the rule of law and proper governance throughout the nation. By distorting the Constitution our nation practically has no effective executive to govern our multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic federal polity with requisite authority. The President's nominees should become Governors to represent the Centre in all the states. In fact they are pawns in the hands of the central cabinet that consists of politicians with vested interests but no mandate to interfere in the affairs of the states.

Judge for yourself, does India appear substantially more stable than Pakistan? Or is it so fragile that one major jolt and its system could collapse? India is surrounded by dangers. But the biggest danger is that India seems unaware that it is in danger. It is a common human mistake to imagine that accidents happen only to others. Until one day one is hit by an accident. By then of course it is too late to realize one's mistake. Is India waiting for an accident? Or will it reform the working of the Constitution? Will it initiate change in Kashmir? Will it start retracing its relentless march towards an abyss before it becomes too late? Only closure of the Kashmir dispute would facilitate Indo-Pak peace. It would enable India and Pakistan to eliminate terrorism. That is the starting point which India must recognize. Terrorists kill scores of innocents in Lahore's Sufi shrine. Maoists kill scores of policemen in a Chhattisgarh ambush. Are things really so different in Pakistan and India?
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







For understanding the intricate problems of Jammu and Kashmir, one has to start with the geographical peculiarities of this state. This state is strategically located in the heart of Asia where three or four prominent regions of Asia meet. The whole of Kashmir valley (districts of Kupwara, Baramula, Budgam, Srinagar, Pulwama and Anantnag constitute the Kashmir valley), the Muzaffarabad areas of Pak-administered Kashmir, the northern areas comprising Gilgit, Baltistan etc constitute the first region of J&K which geographically is a part of Central Asia or Middle East ~ being a continuation of Iran and Afghanistan.

The second region of Jammu and Kashmir are the Pak-administered areas of Mirpur, Bhimbar, some tehsils of Poonch and Rajouri districts as well as the entire Jammu province of Indian administered J&K. This part of J&K is a part of South Asia. The third part of J&K is Ladakh which is an area falling in the Mongolian Himalayan region of Asia and geographically it appears to be a continuation of Tibet. A small part of this region is under Chinese occupation and another part is under Pakistan's occupation and the rest is a part of India.
The state of J&K is thus at the crossroads of three important geographical regions as well as civilisations of Asia. Pakistan and India, the two mighty South Asian nations, have the lion's share in this and China has a small share. There is one district of J&K which registers the presence of all the three civilisations/regions. This district is called Doda and it is in this mountainous inaccessible district that the three mighty civilisations and three distinct regions of Asia meet. In this district, Dogri, Pahari, Gujri, Kashmiri and Ladakhi are spoken ~ and quite correctly this district is often referred to as mini-Jammu and Kashmir. Hindus and Muslims are almost equal in number in this district. This district is the home district of Union health minister and former J&K chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad.

People in India often have a mistaken notion that Jammu and Kashmir is "Kashmir" and it is a land of Kashmiri Muslims. In reality, it is not so. True, almost 65 per cent of the people of the state are Muslims and Kashmiri is their mother tongue. But we should not forget that 35 per cent of the people of J&K are neither Muslims nor are they Kashmiris. There are Dogras, Gujjars, Paharis and Ladakhis who do not speak Kashmiri. The Kashmiri language is derived from Sanskrit through Prakrit. Since Persian and Sanskrit are twin sisters and Kashmir had remained a part of Persia for long, the Kashmiri language is also full of Persian words ~ in addition to Sanskrit. Pahari, Dogri and Gujri languages are, however, variations of Punjabi and therefore these are purely Sanskritic languages ~ although heavily influenced by Persian. The culinary habits of the people of Jammu province as well as their dresses resemble those of Punjab and Himachal.

On the other side, the food habits f Kashmiris resemble Iranian culinary habits. The most popular meat preparations of Kashmir, called wazwan, are actually Iranian dishes.

Vegetarianism is unknown in Kashmir and even Hindu brahmins are voracious meat-eaters. For Shivratri, special meat preparations are made. On the other hand, many Hindus of Jammu province are vegetarians and meat eating is only by choice.

Another common misconception which people have is that Srinagar is the capital of J&K. Srinagar is the summer capital of J&K from May to October and from November to April, the capital of J&K is Jammu city which is also the ancient capital of the Dogra Kings. Leh is the district headquarters of Ladakh and it is not a state capital.

Thus Jammu and Kashmir is not a uniform state like Gujarat or Orissa or Punjab where only one language is spoken and where only one religious group dominates. The social fabric of J&K is, in fact, a complex mosaic or a colourful bouquet where many flowers exist harmoniously. That is why many people say J&K is mini-India and Doda is mini-J & K. A political solution in J & K is bound to be a very complicated exercise. For that both Pakistan and India must hold vigorous parleys with at least a dozen linguistic, religious and ethnic groups so that a solution is acceptable to all. Only appeasing the secessionist mindset of Kashmiri Muslims will not be enough.

The author is a former member of the Indian Administrative Servive

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When Larry King finally announced his retirement, it was fitting that one of the people who rang in to say goodbye was Nancy Reagan. "You didn't call to ask my permission!" joked the former first lady, who had made her share of appearances on the show. "Lots of love Larry – and I'll miss you!"

And so will millions of her countrymen – though, it must honestly be noted, somewhat fewer of them than if Larry had hung up his famous coloured braces a decade earlier. When Larry King Live went out on CNN for the first time in June 1985, Nancy's Ronnie was just starting his second term in the White House and the cable network itself was barely out of its infancy. Since then, the world, not to mention the American media industry, has been transformed. But not Larry King.

His place in the Guinness Book of Records is likely to remain as unchallenged as the marathon tennis match at Wimbledon the other day: a quarter of a century as host of the same show, in the same hour-long prime-time slot of 9pm, seven nights a week, every week, year round.

Like the seasons, presidents and celebrities came and went, wars and empires waxed and waned, but not Larry King. Over this career, he racked up over 40,000 interviews – not bad for a kid born into a modest Jewish family in Brooklyn as Lawrence Harvey Zieger the best part of 77 years ago.

His first guest was the then governor of New York state, Mario Cuomo, and during the next quarter century anyone who was making news for whatever reason sooner or later (usually sooner) would end up on the other side of the Larry King microphone. You never knew who you'd get. It could be Bill Clinton or Monica Lewinsky. It could be Frank Sinatra, growling and intimidating but oddly vulnerable as well. Or Mikhail Gorbachev – or a Marlon Brando run to seed, who presented King with the greatest conceivable test of an interviewer's aplomb by planting a big, fat kiss on his lips, during a show in 1994. Last week was as typical as any, with a guest list that included President Barack Obama, the basketball superstar LeBron James, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and the flamboyant pop diva and gay icon Lady Gaga, more than half a century King's junior.
Basically whoever King wanted as a "get" he got – with one very notable exception. "If we had God booked and OJ. (Simpson) was available, we'd move God," he told his viewers as the case of the former American football star accused of murdering his wife turned into an all-consuming US news event. But Larry never did manage to book OJ.

In early 1992, the Texas billionaire Ross Perot went to Larry King Live to announce his candidacy for the White House. It was anything but a cheap promotional stunt: Perot went on to win 19 per cent of the vote in the election that autumn – the most by a third-party candidate in 80 years. It could also be said that Larry King was responsible for the creation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. A few months after the election, Perot was back on the show for a joint interview-cum-debate with Al Gore, the then Vice-president, about the controversial trade deal which was strenuously opposed by Perot. Gore, representing the Clinton administration as it strove to push the bill through Congress, was deemed to have won the debate hands down. A few months later, NAFTA was duly voted into law.

With advancing age came gravitas as well – even though his personal life seemed to be a mixture of heart problems and broken marriages. He collected wives (eight at the last count) at the same rate as he did national media awards.

Never did he indulge in Paxman-esque grillings, and many complained that his questions were softballs. King was also known for not doing much homework beforehand on his interviewees, and sometimes it showed. But his seeming innocuity could prompt a guest to open up as he never would have to a more aggressive interviewer. Often, indeed, King seemed as thrilled as an ordinary viewer, at the fame or notoriety of the person he was talking to. That too was part of his charm.

Gradually however, the charm faded. For years the format has been showing its age, and for both King and CNN the competition has been growing ever fiercer. Doggedly CNN tried to present itself as a lone voice of objectivity amid the cacophonous, partisan babble. But Americans, it would seem, prefer the partisanship. CNN's recent ratings slide has been alarming, and Larry King, for so long the pillar of its evening schedule, has not been spared.

The Independent







Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced an advocacy group of eminent persons to try to galvanize support worldwide to eradicate poverty by 2015. He said "a real collection of superheroes in defeating poverty" has been chosen to serve on the MDG Advocacy Group, co-chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

The group will help Mr Ban to build political will and mobilize global action on the eight Goals ahead of the high-level summit on the issue that will take place in New York in September. Mr Zapatero will host the first meeting of the advocacy group this month in Madrid.

"We need to emerge from the September MDGs summit with concrete national action plans for realizing the Goals. These advocates can help us get there," Mr. Ban stressed. Each member will have to focus their advocacy efforts on specific goals. The members include the Bangladeshi pioneer of microcredit Muhammad Yunus and the Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai and the former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

The businessmen and philanthropists Bill Gates and Ted Turner, Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser on the MDGs, and Ray Chambers, the Special Envoy for Malaria, will take part.

Mr Ban said distinguished personalities from China, India and the UK will also join the group.

Drug addiction: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime agency released a new report stating that Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of opium and hashish, is seeing an increasing number of its own citizens taking drugs and found that one million people eight per cent of the population suffer from addiction.

"The human face of Afghanistan's drug problem is not only seen on the streets of Moscow, London or Paris. It is in the eyes of its own citizens, dependent on a daily dose of opium and heroin above all but also cannabis, painkillers and tranquilizers," said Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UNODC.
Mr Costa noted that many Afghans are taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life, with a large number have begun the habit as migrants or refugees in camps in Iran and Pakistan. "After three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan," he said.

The number of regular opium users has risen 53 per cent, from 150,000 to 230,000. The number of heroin users rose from 50,000 to 120,000, an increase of 140 per cent, during the same period, the report said as compared to five years ago when a similar survey was conducted.

Drug abuse is leading to a number of other problems such as social and health issues, crime, accidents and loss of productivity in the workplace, noted the report entitled "Drug Use in Afghanistan".

Cocoa trade pact: The UN has gathered major cocoa exporting and importing countries in Geneva to finalize the details of a new agreement designed to make trade in the commodity fairer and sustainable. The new agreement to be concluded during the meeting to provide a mechanism to reconcile the sometimes conflicting interests of cocoa farmers, exporters, importing countries and the multinational firms that process the cocoa beans.
UN Cocoa Conference 2010 is held under the auspices of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and is expected to put the final touches on an agreement that emphasizes the importance of developing a "sustainable cocoa economy" that will encompass environmental, social, and economic dimensions of the trade.
The International Cocoa Agreement, which came into force in 2005, is set to expire on 30 September 2012. It is the sixth in a series of such agreements, and differs from its predecessors in that it recommends, on the basis of the negotiations conducted to date, the exclusion of market regulatory mechanisms, such as production quotas, buffer stocks, and other price-support measures.

The new agreement will come into effect upon ratification by five exporting countries, whose combined production capacity is at least 80 per cent of the world cocoa crop, and five importing countries with a total consumption of at least 60 per cent of the commodity.

The export value of world cocoa bean production during the 2009-2010 cocoa year is estimated at some $10 billion. Cocoa is grown mainly by smallholder farmers in West Africa, Central and South America and Asia, but mostly consumed in industrialized countries.

Gaza: Mr Filippo Grandi, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, told the agency's advisory committee in Cairo that after four years of the blockade of Gaza, every Gazan is affected by poverty, unemployment and crippled public services, causing human misery on a massive scale.
He expressed the hope that world leaders will now match their words with the political determination required to end the blockade of Gaza. Mr Grandi added that it will be crucial that we closely follow the measures recently announced by the Israeli Government. He said that UNRWA believes that nothing short of the free two-way flow of people, commercial and humanitarian goods, and currency, will generate a significant reversal of Gaza's economy.

He urged the international community to bridge a $103 million budget deficit, said any further funding shortfall would continue to undermine its ability to provide services to those in need. "Without more generous funding, UNRWA will be limited in its capacity to adequately pay its existing staff, the teachers, doctors, sanitation laborers, relief workers and others," he said.

Nepal: Unesco reported that Nepal has ratified UN convention designed to safeguard intangible cultural heritage, such as folklore, oral traditions, social rituals and the performing arts. The agency said in a statement praising Nepal for become the 125th state party to the Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, that by ratifying the convention, the Nepalese government commits itself, at the international level, to safeguard the rich and diverse living heritage. "This is a great step as it demonstrates the government's commitment to preserve and promote the diverse living heritage of the people of Nepal, where cultural heritage is largely cultural practice, and where cultural practice means cultural identity," said Axel Plathe, Unesco's representative in Nepal. The main purposes of the convention, adopted by Unesco member states in 2003, are to safeguard intangible cultural heritage, to ensure respect for it, to raise awareness about its importance and of mutual appreciation, and to provide for international cooperation and assistance in those fields.

Meanwhile, according to a UNDP report, a million people in rural Nepal have access to energy due to development programmes which showed that early investment by national governments and communities can attract private financing and extend access to utilities.

"High public investment in early years of capacity development is crucial to get communities to the point where a market can take shape and where you can interest the commercial sector," Olav Kjorven, UNDP Director of Policy and Assistant Secretary-General, told journalists in New York.

Anjali Sharma







The film industry of Mumbai, popularly known as Bollywood, has never had it so bad. The principal reason for this is that when every single industry across the world was going through unprecedented bad times because of the depression, Bollywood decided that it did not need to tighten its belt in the manner of other industries. This decision may have been related to the fact that Bollywood makes its profits by peddling in illusion. The price of that is empty studios and idle post-production laboratories. The knock-on effect of this plight can be easily imagined because Bollywood provides employment and livelihood to not just the stars who grab the limelight but also to thousands of anonymous men and women. It is ironic that such people will have to face hardship at a time when people in other industries, globally, are seeing the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. The makers of illusion are being hit by reality because they refused to face reality at the appropriate time and in the fitting manner by cutting costs and increasing productivity.


It would be simplistic to see these adverse conditions as a function of the failure of films like Kites and Raavan, which were complete flops. The fact of the matter is that the corporate houses that had been acquiring films in 2006-7 stopped making acquisitions in 2008-9. But there was no cutback on the extravagant fees that the stars commanded and the producers were willing to pay. The result of this was predictable. The production companies, pampered by the acquisitions of the corporate houses and now facing high expenses, are unwilling to make films at their own costs. Big budget films have thus become a thing of the past. The sellers of dreams have suddenly discovered that their dreams have turned sour. The small films with low investments are making more money than the so-called blockbusters. The stars have not disappeared but, if Bollywood has to survive and flourish as business, they may have to prune their demands according to the needs of the time. The economics of movie-making in Mumbai has undergone a transformation. This transformation has been forced upon the industry by circumstances that are by no means special to India. Awareness has come late to Bollywood, and this will probably lead to a change in the order of priorities for all those who are involved in the business of making films.







It is one thing to ask for democracy and quite another to know what to do with it. In Nepal, democracy has long come to mean unstable and short-lived governments. The resignation of the prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, thus came as no surprise to either the politicians or the people of the country. The Maoists made it a condition for agreeing to the extension of the term of the constituent assembly by a year. Even other parties accepted that there was no hope for an end to the political stalemate with Mr Nepal continuing in office. But Mr Nepal's exit has not made it any easier for the parties to choose the next prime minister. The Maoists, who threatened to stall the passage of the annual budget in the constituent assembly unless Mr Nepal quit, are not trusted by other parties. These parties cannot, however, do without the former rebels who form the largest group in the interim parliament. The Maoists have used their strength not to bring stability to Nepal's politics but to try and impose their will on governments led by other parties.


At the heart of Nepal's current crisis is the Maoists' lack of commitment to democratic politics. They seem to be using parliamentary politics — and the instability that it has brought about — only to expand their own political space. This has been evident in their persistent refusal to disarm the Young Communist League and to come clean on the issue of the integration of their former militants into the Nepal Army. Even when they work within a democratic system, some communist parties never quite give up a half-partisan approach. It is understandable why other parties in Nepal remain deeply suspicious of the Maoists and their ways. However, the important question in Nepal is not who leads the next government but who can best protect the peace process. Whether a national unity government can take office within the deadline set by the president, Ram Baran Yadav, depends primarily on the Maoists. But their numbers alone do not make them the rightful claimant to the next prime minister's job. They have to convince other parties that their commitment to peace and democracy is beyond doubt. For that to happen, the Maoists have to delink their politics completely from arms. International actors involved in Nepal's peace process cannot afford to let the former rebels hijack the fledgling democracy.








It's best to begin by explaining what the rejection of John Howard's nomination to the ICC isn't about. It isn't about John Howard's competence: every ICC administrator for a decade has ranged from bad to terrible. The ICC's role in creating match referees, in botching the chucking rule, in inventing the Super Test, and looking on as Twenty/20 destroyed cricket's calendar, is so appalling that to argue that Howard is disqualified because of his lack of experience in cricket administration is laughable. Apart from having run a country, Howard actually likes cricket, which is more than you can say for Pawar. That must count for something.


Anyone who loves Test cricket and realizes that cricket needs a calendar with reliable highlights that fans can look forward to, will acknowledge that Cricket Australia is the best administered board in world cricket. The Boxing Day Test, the splendid stadiums, the happy spectators, the first rate Channel 9 coverage, the sports science that Australian universities have pioneered, make Australia a cricketing nation to be admired and emulated, not reviled. So despite the wretched record of the two Malcolms (Speed and Gray), an Australian in charge of world cricket seems, in the abstract, slightly more reassuring than the prospect of an Indian or an Englishman or a Pakistani.


That said, I couldn't believe my eyes when I first read that Australia and New Zealand had nominated Australia's former prime minister for the vice-presidency of the ICC. There had been talk of him being interested in the job, but I hadn't taken the gossip seriously. Then it became bona fide news and I thought,  what were they thinking?


Did the cricket boards of Australia and New Zealand imagine that John Howard's candidature would fly? A politician whose policies towards immigrants and Aboriginal Australians felt like White Australia warmed over, a charter member of the Anglophone empire that led the coalition of the willing into Iraq and Afghanistan, George Bush's go-to-guy Down Under, the embodiment of everything that thin-skinned post-colonial elites love to hate, and Cricket Australia's strategists thought they could shoe-horn him into the vice-presidency and subsequently the presidency of the ICC?


The more you think about it, the odder it seems. Think of the timing of this, both in terms of cricket's history and the recent past. At a time when cricket's centre of gravity, for better or worse, has shifted to South Asia some Antipodean genius decides that a retired reactionary best known in South Asia for using his prime ministerial pulpit to trash Muralitharan on the eve of a Sri Lankan tour of Australia, was the best man available for Australia's turn at the helm. Incidentally, Howard was one of those cartoon neanderthals who actually opposed the one great political cause in the game's history, the cricketing boycott of South Africa. This man, who through a long career has embodied reaction, was meant to show the corrupt elites of world cricket the way forward.


There were times during George W. Bush's presidency when America made appointments designed to rub the world's face in the dirt. One such appointment was Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank, the other was John Bolton as America's representative to the United Nations. Apart from that comfortable club of nations that constitute the Anglophone empire (who believed that these were just the men to cleanse corrupt international institutions), most other countries were appalled that men as intemperately ideological as these were being foisted on a riven world system that needed intelligence and collegiality.


If Cricket Australia was concerned about reforming the ICC, it ought to have supported New Zealand's John Anderson. It would have been impossible for BCCI's bosses to oppose his candidature and it would have put an honest man on top of world cricket. By nominating John Howard they gave the BCCI a gift: an opportunity to put Cricket Australia in its place. To reject a bogeyman like John Howard is cost-free: no opinion maker, no constituency that's valuable or important to India's gang of 'honorary' administrators, will oppose that decision. Nor should they: George Bush and his hangers-on have had their day—having half-wrecked the world, they shouldn't be allowed to rampage around cricket in their retirement.


Howard's most plausible supporter has been the Australian writer, Gideon Haigh, who has written a three-part defence in Cricinfo in which he first examined the case against Howard and found it wanting, then reconstructed the timeline of Howard's nomination and found the response to it inconsistent and self-serving and finally showed his readers how undemocratic and void of process the ICC and its constituent boards are. For Indians committed to cricket, specially Test cricket, the rotten-ness of cricket administration in general and India's cricket administration in particular, isn't news. What is news is the spectacle of someone like Gideon Haigh, a liberal critic, quick-stepping around Howard's record on race and then coming up with absolution.


Howard, according to Haigh, is just a modern populist pol who tries to be all things to all men and people who call him racist are telling us more about themselves than they are about Howard. Also, Howard couldn't have been so bad because Australia became more diverse on his watch than it was before. (This is a little like arguing that Aurangzeb was more tolerant of religious difference than Akbar was because there were more non-Muslim mansabdars in his administration than there were in Akbar's. Nice try, won't fly.)


Gideon Haigh knows Australia's politics more intimately than any Indian and perhaps within the political spectrum of that country, Howard's positions are seen as venerably conservative instead of racist. Democratic nations construct their own political common sense as they're entitled to do. But when they try to export their politicians on to an international stage, they must expect to be judged by political opinion shaped by histories other than their own.


For Gideon Haigh, John Howard is a senior conservative politician, a former prime minister, ambushed by thuggish Asian and African elites; for most Indian cricket fans, BCCI officials, time-servers though they are, did us all a favour by nixing a racist, neo-conservative thug who helped aid and abet more death and destruction in the world than any office-bearer of the ICC. They did it for their own, time-serving reasons, but they did the right thing.


In the Australian imagination, neo-imperialist wars might seem distant games played by armed touring sides, but for most countries that make up the ICC, they are reminders of a past that they want to see conclusively buried. In trying to set cricket's world to rights using Bush's playbook for re-ordering the world system, Cricket Australia over-reached. It forgot that for John 'Bolton' Howard's nomination to succeed, Australia needed to be cricket's solitary hyperpower which it isn't and this is an odd oversight given how much time Australians spend complaining about the Indian ascendancy.


If the Australians want to rein in the BCCI, they might want to confer with the Kiwis and come up with an alternative candidate, someone with a resumé more collegial than Genghis Khan's. To first nominate Howard and then claim that his rejection threatens to divide cricket's world along racial lines, is to deal in a low form of passive aggression. If Australia and New Zealand stand by this nomination and England backs them, cricket's historians will write that Howard's candidature was the gambit in the "Old" Commonwealth's secession from international cricket.








The recently released annual report by the under-secretary-general of the United Nations, special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has run into trouble with the Indian government. The latter has taken exception that Coomaraswamy has clubbed India with countries in Asia and Africa facing protracted armed conflict. The argument runs along predictable lines: India is not just another Asian or African country embroiled in ethnic conflict, but a mature democracy.


India reiterated its stand that there was no armed-conflict-like situation within its borders, implying that international standards applicable to other countries have no bearing on it. Since the report condemns the alleged recruitment and use of children by Maoist armed groups, India's position is intriguing.


In Naxalite-affected areas, complex interactions between caste, class and religion have produced patterns of social and economic inequality. Given the extent of the marginalization of these communities, it is inevitable that deprivation and iniquitous development would find pre-eminence in debates on the Naxal issue. Nonetheless, a civil and political rights prism should not be totally dispensed with. It is here that the report assumes significance.


Salient national and international principles of civil and political rights and the rule of law must be adhered to in the fight against the Naxals. Operation Green Hunt should not ignore jus cogens norms regarding the use of military force against a civilian population. The Geneva Conventions prescribe minimum standards applicable not only to international conflicts but also to situations of non-international armed conflicts.


Nations are obligated to apply either their own domestic laws or rules that are part of international treaties or covenants to which they are signatories. However, principles, such as those enshrined in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, have attained the status of international law — all countries are bound by these principles even if they have not enacted domestic legislation protecting these rights.


Common Article 3 provides that persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion, faith, sex, birth, wealth or other similar criteria. Equally important is the norm against the recruitment and use of children in combat either by State or non-State actors.


Therefore, it is misleading to contend that the report attempts to equate the Naxalite issue with other instances of armed conflict. Rather, it aims to draw attention to egregious violations of civil and political rights committed in countries that do not consider themselves in traditional situations of armed conflict. According to Coomaraswamy, there is no one or uniform definition of what constitutes an armed conflict. Moreover, the protection of children in any context is fundamental. So forced recruitment of children by Maoists would fall within her mandate.


Much of India's opposition to the term "armed conflict" stems from the fact that if conceded, it would then be required to respect the regime of international law in Naxalite areas. While this may be partly true, India should be mindful that post-Cold War, developments in international human-rights regime have meant that a State could be held accountable for crimes committed within its borders even though they do not fall within the formal definition of an armed conflict. Under the Rome Statute, it is sufficient to prove that a widespread or systematic attack is perpetrated against a civilian population. So, armed conflict or not, India remains bound by certain peremptory norms just like everyone else.









The view from the open tourist jeep was one that seasoned wildlife enthusiasts in India hope and pray for, but seldom find. A tigress emerged from the shadows of the undergrowth and walked along the trail, three young cubs gambolling in her wake.


The next day, she was spotted limping along the Tala range of the panoramic Bandhavgarh tiger reserve. Hours later, the 10-year-old tigress was dead. The autopsy confirmed liver rupture after a hit by a tourist vehicle.


The probability of sighting the big cat is so high in this Madhya Pradesh sanctuary that hordes of visitors are drawn to the core areas. Last summer, another tiger had fallen prey to a tourist vehicle there, setting a trend that is alarming conservationists. The hot season is popular because visibility of endangered fauna increases manifold, the heat prompting animals to gather in open spaces and at waterholes more frequently than during the rest of the year.


After the post mortem of the dead tigress, the field director, C.K. Patil, said, "We are of the view that a tourist vehicle hit her." On the heels of this incident, the National Tiger Conservation Authority announced that it plans to phase out tourism in all 39 tiger reserves since crowding them (over 1,000 tourists enter each sanctuary daily) was having a negative impact on conservation efforts.


When Project Tiger was launched in 1973, there were 1,800 of the species. By 2002, the number had risen to 3,600. Today, the official census data claims that the population has dwindled to a little over 1,400, leading proponents of the total ban on tiger tourism to claim that without a ban the animal will be extinct in five years.


While experts debate whether tiger tourism should be banned, the need of the hour is to regulate entry into core areas. Revenue from tourism is channelled into conservation efforts. So putting an end to tourist inflow could, as in the case of Zimbabwe, expedite the extinction of wildlife, leaving poachers and corrupt staff to have a field day. This is evident because China's greed for tiger parts — the single factor that has made poaching such a lucrative occupation — is unlikely to abate overnight.


It would be simplistic to suggest that blocking tourists will help wildlife thrive. With the publicity blitz on 'responsible tourism' adding to the accountability of forest officials, tigers are possibly 'safer' in sanctuaries, although poachers continue to thrive hand-in-glove with corrupt guards and villagers.


In Kaziranga National Park, which has just overtaken Corbett as the sanctuary with the highest density of tigers (32.64 per 100 square kilometres to Corbett's 19.6) forest guards have been known to help poachers kill rhinos for their horns. Despite the high density, sighting the big cat at Kaziranga is rare and the chief attraction is the one-horned rhinoceros.


Those opposed to a ban on tiger tourism argue that the move will reduce the income of those living in fringe areas. Their livelihood is inextricably linked to forest activity, which makes them easy associates in the poaching network. Neither will the dwindling income of sanctuary authorities, once the tourist flow dries up and the mushrooming of resorts is arrested, prompt them to jump on to the conservation wagon with alacrity.


The minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, admits that "revenues from tourism can flow back directly into the management of each tiger reserve so that local communities can benefit". It is encouraging that Ramesh has directed his ministry to limit the number of visits and make them more expensive, as well as to impose environmental clearance certificates for all projects in these zones.


Even Sasan Gir in Gujarat's Junagadh district, the last-known habitat of the Asiatic lion, that has been tomtoming its success story (the latest census shows a rise in leonine pride from 52 to 411, 77 being less than a year old) has reported stray poaching incidents. The eight tourist trails in this magnificent sanctuary are criss-crossed by train tracks. Campaigns over the years have failed to have these relocated, just as the Maldhari families continue to reside in core areas, in spite of their cattle falling prey to lions and leopards.


It is shameful that tourist traffic poses a threat to Gir's inhabitants, since the animals here, unlike in most other sanctuaries, exhibit a blind trust in humans and do not scamper into the undergrowth at the sight of the tourist jeeps. It is fairly common to find nilgai and sambars grazing alongside tourist trails even when a vehicle with raucous tourists rattles past. Wildlife lovers can actually venture within 100 yards of resting lions with only a stick for company. As long as they know where to draw the line.


At Ranthambore, another popular tiger reserve in Rajasthan, new resorts along the forest fringes have led to a surge in tourist traffic, besides the significant rise in settlements around the fort at its entrance. Sometimes, these villagers in the buffer zones choke tiger corridors and negate conservation efforts. Experts monitoring wildlife population dynamics and ecology warn that the tiger is a territorial species and may venture out of core areas in search of new pastures, posing a threat to settlers in encroached areas, thereby intensifying the man-animal conflict.


Once that happens, the impact on the broader ecosystem will worsen, with the fringe area tussle assuming supremacy over conservation concerns. Official data claims nearly 50,000 families live in critical tiger zones in the country, covering 34,000 sq km. Efforts to relocate them, often at immense cost, have not proved viable. Although the Maldharis at Sasan Gir need to be compensated for every head of cattle they lose to preying lions, they are quite content to continue living in the core forest areas.


Our wildlife, unfortunately, does not comprise a votebank in the world's largest democracy, so its interests are trampled upon to appease the encroachers. We live in a system that is a slave to the numbers game and an inviolate habitat will only be seen as a breeding ground for escalation in the unending man-animal conflict.







Even after all these years, I still cannot forget that morning in Jaldapara. A white mist had floated in through the window of the jungle lodge, gently brushing the sleep away from my eyes. Awakened, I stood watching the early light flood the forest that was alive with bird-song. As the mist slowly lifted, I saw a herd of elephants silhouetted against the rising sun on the edge of the forest. A little later, I found myself atop Radha, a kunki (trained) elephant, and heading out towards the gleaming jungle on my first ever safari.

Every jungle has its own fragrance, wrote Corbett. Jaldapara's air smelt of wet earth, flowers and decaying vegetation. The mahout, an experienced man, whispered the secrets the forest held even as Radha ambled past a pack of foraging boars, a frightened hog deer and a muddy rhinoceros.


Then, I saw a strange species, one of the 50,000 that apparently visit India's national parks every year. He came riding an elephant like Radha, and was adorned in a red hat and track pants. A walkman dangled from his ears; its thumping beat forced the rhino to leave the mud-pool in disgust. Then, in a tone that momentarily drowned the chirping avians and the screeching monkeys, he demanded, "Akta bagh dekhio dao bhai, bari jai (Show me a tiger and I will go home)."


Tourists, as was evident from my experience in Jaldapara, can be a nuisance. Ignorant but curious, they are guilty of disturbing animals, littering the jungle, and damaging the fragile environment. The proposal by the National Tiger Conservation Authority to phase out 'tiger tourism' in India's tiger reserves, therefore, has its merits. It is important to reduce the pressure that tourism brings with it on India's national parks. To cite just one example, in 2008-09, more than two lakh people, included 8,757 foreigners, visited the Corbett national park in Uttarakhand. But the revenue earned through eco-tourism is crucial to conservation efforts in a nation as impoverished as ours. (In the same period, visitors to the Corbett national park generated a revenue of Rs 306.38 lakh.) The death of tourism would also threaten the survival of local populations that cater to the needs of the visitors.


Liberating the jungles from any form of human presence is a complicated issue. India's indigenous peoples have co-existed peacefully with the forest and its animals. Their rights to the forest and its produce are now recognized by law. But the State continues with its devious efforts to displace local populations in the name of conservation. On some occasions, such measures have been justified because villagers living inside forests have been known to be involved in poaching. Human habitation inside national parks has also intensified man-animal conflicts and denuded the forests of its natural wealth. But in India, like elsewhere in the world, conservation efforts can only succeed if they are based on an inclusive model. The experiments in Periyar and Kaziranga have shown that India's forests can be protected and managed successfully by utilizing the skills and traditional knowledge of the local people.


Perhaps, the government should now think of including tourism as a tool in its conservation plans. The African nations have shown that tourism and conservation need not be mutually exclusive. To ease the tensions underlying the apparently contradictory directions in which tourism and conservation are being pulled, the State must pay serious attention to conservationists. It must limit its role to that of a facilitator and leave the framing of policies to experts.


Three things could be looked into. Dividing national parks into separate zones on the basis of ecological importance and then regulating tourist inflow into them. For instance, tourists like the one I had met in Jaldapara can be kept out of the core areas but not the peripheries. Eager, but inconsiderate, visitors may find this harsh, and revenue collections may also drop. Yet, an effective communication mechanism is necessary to change tourists' perceptions about environment and nature tourism. More so because the State is capable of neutralizing the monetary loss. It only has to raise the budgetary allocation of Rs 2,129 crore — 2 per cent of the total outlay— towards India's environment and forests. Otherwise, the issue of environmental depredation will continue to remain absent from political dialogue and policy. But even a paltry sum has to be spent carefully, and in a transparent manner. And it is not always a good idea to involve global financial institutions in conservation projects. Nagarhole, where the India Ecodevelopment Project, sponsored by the State and the World Bank, failed miserably, is a case in point.


But given our muddled policies, and poverty— both literal and in terms of ideas — it is possible that populist concerns will be prioritized over those of the environment. I will not be surprised if I get to see that man again, and far fewer rhinos, when I visit Jaldapara next.




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





The sponsors of Monday's all-India bundh would reasonably be happy. It had its desired effect in so far as the fact that it was near-total in many parts of the country. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that the bundh would yield the results that the common man would have expected from it. This might be just another instance of political parties cynically exploiting a compelling issue of public concern to suit their narrow ends. Much as the issue in question this time might be one that concerns the 'aam aadmi', he is unlikely to gain from the bundh. Actually, it imposes a cost on him by way of disruption of normal life. That is why in states like Kerala and West Bengal, where political parties take recourse to bundhs at the drop of a hat, courts have intervened to declare them as unlawful activity. Bundhs have ceased to provide solutions to the problem for which they are organised. The ends, therefore, cannot justify the means as the purpose is seldom served by the means adopted.

It is not that we should accept the Congress-led UPA government's decision to decontrol petrol price or its intended move to do the same with diesel pricing or even last week's hikes in kerosene and LPG price hikes. The upward price revision, as the government argues with some justification, might have been inevitable. The public may have to pay more when international crude prices sky-rocket.

The problem with the decision, however, is that the government still retains the power to intervene to reverse the price decontrol regime and return to the administered price mechanism. Do not be surprised if the Centre invokes this provision just before a major election with the sole objective of improving its prospects of winning. That is what the erstwhile BJP-led NDA did ahead of the 2004 parliamentary election. Every political party, at different points in time over the last 15 years, has been party to effecting hikes in fuel prices. So what are they opposing? However, there are things that political parties of all hues can do, provided they are sincere and honest about their commitment to the 'aam aadmi'. All of them together and individually can initiate consultations to agree to forego a part of the huge taxes the governments collect from the sale of petroleum products. This will certainly help bring down fuel prices without taking recourse to bundhs.








The new norms and regulations issued by the University Grants Commission to improve the standards of teaching and research in colleges and universities have not come a day too soon. It is well-known that academic standards have precipitously fallen in the country over the years. The numerical explosion of colleges and universities is one reason. Numbers work against quality when they are not supported by physical and human infrastructure. Higher education has been badly commercialised and many teachers do not have the aptitude and the right qualifications to teach and guide students. The inability of the teachers to cope with their responsibilities and the expectations from them harms students and there is a progressive deterioration of standards over a period. It is necessary to arrest the slide and improve the quality of teaching. Indian universities are poor in both teaching and research. Colleges fare worse in teaching.

The new regulations envisage a new performance assessment system for teachers and make their career advancement conditional on verifiable results in academic and research performance. Apart from the number of classes to be conducted by teachers at different levels, research output will count in remuneration and promotions. The assessment will be based on academic performance indicators (API) related to teaching, research and "co-curricular, extension and professional development activities". It is not that there are no norms now but they are not being followed effectively. State governments have been asked to amend their relevant laws within six months so that the stricter and improved norms are implemented properly. For this the culture of favouritism, patronage and political interference in the working of universities will have to change. Teaching becomes the last refuge for many who are otherwise unemployable. It is no surprise that their students also become equally unemployable.

Teachers and students from India do very well in universities abroad. It should be possible to keep them within the country so that their talents raise the overall standards in universities. The human material should also be supported by infrastructural facilities by way of libraries and laboratories. Once the basic facilities and a better and more productive work culture is available and teachers are made accountable for their performance, standards will certainly improve.







Right or wrong, the impression in Srinagar is that Rahul's support to Omar provides him with a sense of security.


The unfolding tragedy in Kashmir could well be an opportunity for Rahul Gandhi to make an intervention that may bring him, nationally, into positive light. His friends probably do not know that keeping him focused on UP circumscribes his political turf.

The reason why Rahul Gandhi inserting himself into the proceedings may be useful for Kashmir, and him politically, is because an absence of interest on his part will show him in poor light for a reason most people do not realise. Omar Abdullah being fielded in the J&K arena is being attributed to him and Omar Abdullah is playing a poor knock.

Remember his gyrations on Shopian in 2009 and now his ineffectiveness in Sopor. Is it politically discreet to flourish the Queen's Baton on the Dal when the mood in the Valley is a lethal mixture of mourning and anger? Also, hiding behind the CRPF's misdemeanor is not very clever. The CRPF may have acted, or reacted, wrongly, but it was so palpable to anyone who visited the valley that anger, indeed rage, was simmering below the surface. The peace  was deceptive and I wrote so in this space months ago.

The election results of 2009 gave the Congress a signal. The unexpectedly good performance in UP, where Rahul Gandhi had pitched tents, caused the party to coax a principle from the new situation. Rahul was emerging as the new, youthful, mass leader for the nation. All the young Congress MPs were accommodated in the Cabinet.

A roar went up that Rahul too should be given a handsome slot in the Cabinet. The prime minister and a handful of others may have sincerely considered the Cabinet route as the most suitable one for Rahul's eventual ascension.

There was another group which thought he was, being young, most suitable to rejuvenate the party.

It is a in the nature of power politics, in any society, that centres of power generate around them, in concentric circles, lobbies and coteries. That New Delhi's power structure, already bifurcated, was about to have a third power centre in Rahul Gandhi (and this one would be blessed with longevity), would not be in the interest of existing coteries. Not the principals, mind you, only the coteries.

That was one fear which caused some to insist for Rahul Gandhi's induction in the Union Cabinet. He would be on a leash in the Cabinet system. Since he eluded the Cabinet 'lasso' and set himself up as the third power point to revive the Congress, particularly in UP, it is elementary that there should be some around the other two power points who would not lose sleep if Rahul or anyone from his circle, fails.

Young blood

Let me link this convoluted argument to Omar Abdullah. After the 2009 election results, it was more or less clear that, in the National Conference — Congress alliance, Farooq Abdullah would be Jammu and Kashmir chief minister. He had himself announced it. By this time the lesson of the UP result had been interpreted by the Youth Brigade as a vote of confidence in the younger generation.

Just as Rajesh Pilot was Farooq's political 'buddy', so is his son Sachin, Omar's political support. In this general youth wave, Farooq, under all manner of pressure, made way for the son to ascend the gaddi.

Farooq was not God's gift to governance. Who knows, the son, bright, articulate, good looking, secular, anchored to New Delhi where his children go to school, may turn out to be the leader Kashmir had waited for. At the outset, he had all the goodwill he required. If he succeeded, the Youth Brigade identified with Rahul would be vindicated.

Right or wrong, the impression in Srinagar is that Rahul's support to Omar provides him with a sense of security. "It may have gone to his head", said a professor in Kashmir University.

Lack of access annoys journalists and, in an age of burgeoning media, does not help inaccessible 'leaders' either. Omar has acquired the image of being inaccessible among Kashmiris.

As it is the Valley feels neglected when the state's administration shifts to Jammu for six months. This sense of neglect is further accentuated when the chief minister spends extended weekends in New Delhi with his family.

Mind you, this Sopor violence is not going to dissolve into thin air by some magic. Sopor happens to be the epicentre of Kashmir politics. And on July 1 began the Amarnath Yatra which was the focus of the storm in 2009.

Before Sopor and Amarnath amalgamate lethally, for heaven's sake pick up those reports of the five Working Groups on Jammu and Kashmir formed by the prime minister in 2006-07. According to M Rasgotra, former foreign secretary, head of the working group on strengthening relations across the Line of Control, "90 per cent of the recommendations can be unilaterally implemented." The head of one such working group was Hamid Ansari, currently vice president of India. Also, please engage Omar in a dialogue on a feasible devolution package.

This is one of the many ways to soften the atmosphere. The other suggestion is that Omar, young and inexperienced, needs an advisory group. Omar will listen if Rahul, in no official capacity, just as a friend in the same peer group, were to suggest an advisory council for Kashmir.

Remember, Omar's failure will reflect on Rahul and the youth surge associated with him.








Mere political action is not enough, whether it is a product of elections or of revolution.



World Social Form, which turned 10 in January, is holding a series of forums throughout the year inspired by its well-known motto, 'Another World is Possible'. In its creation of a series of 'open spaces' and civil society networks from the grassroots to the planetary level, the WSF process is working at three levels.

The first is the implementation of a new way of doing politics by uniting those fighting for 'another, possible world'.

The second is an attempt to overcome the fragmentation of civil society in a way that allows it to act in an articulate manner and yet autonomously in relation to parties and governments, as a new political actor.

The third level consists of the organisation of political actions to reach the final objective of the forums: to replace the current insatiable search for money that now dominates the planet with a new way of thinking that is concerned with the satisfaction of basic human needs.

The first two levels involve the building of principles that will shape a new political culture and are indispensable in making the 'other world' possible. The new political culture contradicts and inverts the previous certainty that the only way to build another world is to take power, and questions the assertion that to do so, every means is justified. The WSF holds that it is essential to build beforehand the foundation of a society made up of conscious, free, active, solitary citizens who acknowledge their responsibility for what happens around them and for the entire planet.

Transformative mode

The effort to build this culture is the great contribution of the 10-year WSF process of bringing to light a transformative mode of political action.

The debate on the character of the WSF will go on for many years, and it is clear that this new culture is still far from being present in today's political actors. The first level of action is based on the near unanimous certainty that it is always necessary to try to unify those who are a part of the same struggle. This is simply the adoption of the old proverb that "strength comes from unity".

The path set in the first level to generate unity consisted of organising the forums with a methodology that would free us from the culture of competition by creating its antidote, which is a basic component of a non-capitalist system — cooperation.

The second level is grounded in a more directly political conviction: the belief that to profoundly change the world in a lasting manner, all society must be involved. Political and governmental action is not enough, whether they are the product of elections of revolution.

Parties and governments have both the occasion and the structures to organise their political power at every level. This is not the case with sectors of society that organise themselves, and even less so at the global scale. Thus, in its charter of principles the WSF established a space reserved for the development of civil society.

This policy is not criticised by those who do not share the opinion that there can be no transformation without the participation of the whole society and argue that political parties should be able to participate with full rights and that we should jump from the first to the third level and the debate over the fight for a new economic and social logic.

In last January's seminar, it was not deemed necessary to evaluate in detail initiatives that would lead to the first two levels and debate moved right to the issues connected with the content of the struggle, or the third level: which political actions could lead to the final objective of the forums: how to satisfy the basic needs of all humans.

The third level of the WSF process lies in the movement of otherworldism and a focus on change at the global level. The characteristics of otherworldism include the multiplicity and diversity of its components, mass participation of civil society, the use of networks to create an organisation. Unlike the WSF, however, it could include political parties in its ranks and the support of governments.

Encountering otherworldism in the third level of the process, the WSF can neither take its place nor compete with it. The WSF should therefore strengthen otherworldism with new networks, movements, and ideas that are generated by the forums, and continue its instrumental role in supporting the organisations that comprise it, which are interlinked by their concrete actions to change the world. Otherworldism can tap the experience gained in the first two levels, just as it can and should apply its reflections on political action from the third level, in the service of 'thinking' before, during, and after an action. Nothing prevents the WSF process from serving this same function for political parties via otherworldism







The dark, rain-bearing nimbus clouds were decidedly plumper.


I am sitting on my bed, fingers wrapped around a hot mug of coffee and watching the unfolding drama happening right outside my bedroom window. I am referring to 'the great cloud migration' and the soul invigorating first rains. For the past couple of days wispy white clouds had been blazing a constant trail across the otherwise cerulean blue sky. The breeze scattered clouds, form strange shapes. I could see in them images of lambs, an angelic face, waves and many other delightful objects, even though the clouds appeared nebulous to others.

Soon the flimsy, white clouds were replaced by dark, rain-bearing nimbus clouds. These clouds were decidedly plumper and had a menacing air to them. The nimbus clouds raced across the firmament, to join their parent clouds. These were huge, rolling cloud stacks in the distant horizon.

Several hundred feet high, these monstrous behemoths rumbled ominously and threw shards of blinding lightning around them with abandon. With their arrival a sudden hush descended on the countryside. Except for the haunting cry of a lone koel there was a palpable stillness in the air. The hush was punctuated only by a distant growl.

After being in the grip of a severe heat wave for three long months, the land and its people were patiently waiting for some succor in the form of rain. And it came with a soft whoosh; raced down the hills and shrouded the land in a soft gossamer veil. It blotted out the thin evening light, which till then had fused together the darkening landscape.

As the rain slowly percolated into the sun parched earth, a moist fragrance and a soft satisfied hiss emanated from the earths underbelly. The unsure pitter-patter of the initial rain soon turned into a thunderous downpour. Slivers of sky were reflected in the sparkling pools which filled the pockmarked ground.

The gravel road slowly petered out under the sudden torrential onslaught. The jacaranda trees bordering the road swayed violently. Their massive branches snapped like matchsticks. The roll of the distant thunder grew louder by the minute, even as the jagged lightning illuminated the evening sky. The rain died away soon after. The countryside was sluiced clean by the downpour. The air was filled with the rapturous song of birds. Those first rains seemed to inject a steroidal dose of infectious enthusiasm in both man and animal.








Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting Tuesday with US President Barack Obama will give the two leaders a chance to mend strained relations.

Netanyahu will undoubtedly seek to be reassured of US backing for Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity, no longer taken for granted in Jerusalem. In May, at the conclusion of the review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Obama administration yielded to Arab pressure and signed a 40-page document that failed to mention Iran but singled out Israel as a treaty violator.

On the other hand, a UN Security Council vote for stiffer sanctions on Iran, followed up last month with additional, more stringent sanctions passed by Congress, helped allay Israeli misgivings about the intentions of the Obama administration. And as November 2's mid-term elections for Senate and House seats approach, the US president – with an eye to the pro-Israel vote – has a political interest in warming relations, which hit a new low in March after the Ramat Shlomo fiasco.

Netanyahu's meeting with Obama also presents a welcome opportunity to push for progress in talks with the Palestinians – progress that the prime minister has made clear Israel needs, as it seeks to guarantee its Jewish, democratic future alongside what it must be certain would be a peaceful, stable Palestinian state.

Arguably more than any other politician, Netanyahu is capable, either by juggling the disparate elements of the present coalition or by leading an alternative coalition with Kadima, of maintaining consensual Israeli support for substantive advances toward an accord with the Palestinian Authority – if, that is, the PA proves genuinely committed to reconciliation with the Jewish state. The prime minister has neutralized hard-line elements of the Likud's Central Committee unwilling to acquiesce to territorial compromise, and managed on the eve of his departure to torpedo a bill that would have stripped him of the power to impose a further building moratorium in the West Bank should he so choose.

Meanwhile, security conditions in the West Bank are more encouraging than they have been for many years, if still fragile. Israel has removed numerous roadblocks and checkpoints, gradually giving more scope to the PA security forces and enabling freer movement of goods and people. Under PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the West Bank economy is thriving and a more transparent government bureaucracy is taking shape.

All that said, Israel, which would have to make wrenching territorial compromises in support of any accord, is still uncertain of the peacemaking credentials of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad. Fayyad is constructing the institutions of a Palestinian state, but would that state be committed to permanent peaceful relations with Israel? Abbas has reached out to American Jewish leaders and Israeli journalists recently, declaring Palestinian recognition of the historic Jewish link to this land, but his populace is still bombarded with PA TV reports claiming Palestinian rights throughout today's Israel.

The recent flurry of reports concerning Abbas's position regarding the status of the Western Wall is emblematic of Israeli concerns. The London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat reported Saturday that Abbas had accepted, in "written ideas" presented to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Israeli control at the Wall, a remnant of the destroyed Temple.

This was hardly a stellar concession, but that same day, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, rushed to deny it had been made, and an ideal opportunity for the PA to reach out to the Israeli mainstream – and recognize the Jewish people's unique religious, cultural and historical ties to Jerusalem – was missed.

FOR ALL the obstacles to progress between Israel and the Abbas-led PA, however, the elephant in the room remains Hamas-controlled Gaza. Even if Israel and the PA managed to overcome their differences, and Abbas and Fayyad began publicly urging their people toward reconciliation with Israel – instead of encouraging boycotts and disseminating incitement against it – the Gaza conundrum, and the constant threat of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, would remain.

Netanyahu could, perhaps, manage to convince his coalition partners to agree to keep in place a partial building freeze outside the large settlement blocs when the present moratorium expires, provided the PA agreed to direct talks and the US reiterated the Bush administration's recognition that Israel would retain those blocs under any future agreement. But in parallel, with the blockade designed to weaken Hamas in Gaza now largely removed, new strategies must be developed toward ending Hamas's rule. Otherwise, even if reaching an accord becomes possible, implementing it will not be.








History has shown us Israelis and Palestinians that we have good reason not to trust each other, so why should we now? Because we should see this as a challenge and not a doomed fate.

Talkbacks (1)

The entire world knows what an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement looks like. Our leaders know, most of the Israeli and Palestinian people know, US President Barack Obama, special envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon – they all know it. There are no secrets. This is the most researched conflict in the history of conflicts and there are more detailed plans on how to resolve even the minutest of details in this conflict than any other.

Collectively, those of us working for peace over the past 20 years have conducted thousands of hours of meetings between Israeli and Palestinian experts on every aspect of the conflict. The best universities in the world have convened Israeli-Palestinian peace projects and presented their findings to the international community and to the local leaders.


Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have explored every possible issue in depth and have identified all of the red lines of each side.

Time is running out. Options for resolving the conflict that exist today may not be there tomorrow. Our main problem is that until now this has been a failed peace process.

One of the ironies is that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians say that they want peace. They say they are ready to make painful compromises. But they also both say there is no partner on the other side.

History, thus far has proven them right.

Objectively speaking, Israelis and Palestinians have no good reason to trust each other. Both sides have proven to be terrible partners. Both sides have breached, substantively, all of the agreements that they signed. Sure, each side will place more responsibility on the other side than take responsibility for its own breaches. So why should we trust each other? We shouldn't – is the answer, but that is our challenge and not a curse of a doomed fate.

We have no choice but to make peace.

Any other option is catastrophic. Our very survival and existence as a nation – both nations – depends on our ability to make peace. The survival of the Jewish people in our land, of the Zionist enterprise in its entirety is based on our ability to extricate ourselves from the occupation of the Palestinian people and to make peace on the basis of two states for two peoples. The fate of the Palestinian people and their survival as a nation is based entirely on their ability to demonstrate that they are responsible members of the community of nations and that they are committed to living in peace with their Jewish neighbors on the basis of two states for two peoples.

There is no other solution to the conflict.

Whoever says he has another solution is fooling himself and others. Yes, there may be federative or confederative possibilities in the future for varying degrees of cooperation and open borders, but all of those options grow from the two-state solution and not before it or instead of it.

SO WHAT must we do now? We must enter this process with the working assumption that we don't trust each other. We don't expect each other to fulfill our most basic obligations. That is simply the reality. If this is the case, developing a peace agreement cannot be based on a bilateral process which is predicated on mutual trust, and no amount of artificial confidence-building measures will create that trust. After years of failure, violence and suffering, new trust can only be based on the actual fulfillment of obligations and commitments agreed to in the context of treaties. But if we don't trust them and they don't trust us, how can we possibility proceed? We must insist that there be a reliable third party who will monitor implementation and verify that all aspects of all agreements are being fully implemented.

We must insist that the reliable third party be able to act immediately when there are breaches. It must be able to call the parties to task, to demand explanations and to insist on implementation. It must act with full transparency so that the public on both sides knows what their governments are fulfilling and what they are not doing. We must insist that the reliable third party has the capacity and the authority to resolve disputes in real time, before they blow out of proportion.

Not every single dispute needs to rise to the level of a cabinet decision, as it did in past situations.

We need to insist that Obama get directly involved and that direct negotiations mediated by Mitchell take place immediately and intensively. We need to insist that the mediator put bridging proposals on the table because we know each other's red lines, but we will both wait until the last minute before we expose our own. We need the mediator to conduct cooperation based negotiations, not competition based negotiations where the emphasis is on problem solving and not "your losses are my gains." We need a good agreement, we need an agreement that both sides can live with, we need an agreement that the leaders of both sides will support enthusiastically and not present as a bad deal to their people.

GETTING TO the agreement will be hard work. We need both leaders to look directly into the eyes of their people and to tell them the truth.

Netanyahu must state clearly that the Palestinian state will be established in about 96 percent of the West Bank. We will give the Palestinians land inside of Israel to account for the 4% of the West Bank that we will annex as part of the agreement.

Some 80% of the settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem will remain where they are and will be part of the sovereign State of Israel, but some 20% will have to relocate – either to the annexed lands in Judea and Samaria or to Israel.

Netanyahu must say to the Israeli people that Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries. We will have sovereignty over the Western Wall and they will have sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but they will agree not to dig or to build there, nor will we tunnel underneath. We will trust God to change the arrangement, if need be, when He decides to send us the messiah. Until then we will recognize that the Muslims have control there and we do not.

Abbas must look in the eyes of his people and say we will not return to our lost homes inside Israel. Our return will be to our state. Our mission is to build our state and to create the first real democracy in the Arab world. Palestine will be a model state using the latest technologies and have the best school system in the Middle East.

Palestine will be prosperous and all Palestinians will be invited to share the dream and to build the state. We will share Jerusalem with our Jewish cousins, our Israeli neighbors and we will resolve all disputes through diplomacy not violence.

And both states will dwell in peace.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.







It's not the compromising position he put himself in with that masseuse that constitutes his most important failing as a public figure – it's the environment.

To Al Gore's detractors he is many things.

An annoying gasbag. A self-righteous know-it-all. A braggart who invented the Internet. A fraud who promoted global warming as an international hoax. Such exaggerated criticism would explain why many believe the as-yet unsubstantiated account of a masseuse who claims that he forced himself on her sexually in a Portland hotel room.

But this demonization of Gore by his ideological enemies is not only ethically unsound but serves to confuse his true moral failing.First, the masseuse.

All a person really has in this life is his or her reputation. Once you destroy their name they will never again walk in the streets with their heads held as high. There are many questions revolving around the woman who is accusing Gore, including the fact that she missed three interviews with the Portland police about the alleged incident and the fact that she reportedly asked the National Enquirer for $1 million to tell her story. But amid these serious concerns about her credibility, right-wing news organizations are pouncing on the story because they relish how the high priest of environmentalism and proud family man (the alleged incident took place three years before the announcement of his separation from Tipper) is now exposed (no pun intended) as a pious fraud.

But accepting unsubstantiated gossip – a currency too easily traded in our culture – is a serious abrogation of moral values. Last week I heard some of my fellow radio hosts condemning CNN's decision to give Elliot Spitzer a TV show, repeatedly referring to him as "Client Number 9."

Really? Is that all he is? Does America no longer believe in repentance, so that a man who makes one mistake is finished forever, no matter how much he has suffered for that mistake and what repentance he may have undertaken? Is that the kind of society we want to live in? A country where a hero like Stanley McChrystal can speak too candidly in front of a journalist who publishes his private conversations and then 30 years of service to his country under the most dangerous conditions are immediately forgotten? AL GORE retains the presumption of innocence and those of us who believe in values dare not be complicit in character assassination.

What is certainly true, however, is that Gore is a fool for being closeted alone with a woman at 11 p.m. in his hotel room, and every husband in America should learn from his mistake. That a public figure did not understand this is deeply troubling. In Judaism, a man and woman who are not married are not supposed to be in a locked room together. You might think this extreme, but just imagine how much heartache could have been avoided by many innocent people on whom aspersions were cast had they abided by this simple rule.

More importantly, I know of few wives who would feel comfortable with their husbands being secluded in their hotel rooms for something as intimate as a massage late at night.

The first rule of marriage is that you don't do things that hurt your spouse, and Gore's actions betray a deep insensitivity.

Too often our society, in an effort to appear progressive, dismisses as repressive and Victorian basic rules of sexual propriety that once prevailed between the genders. But have we benefited from the erasure of nearly all sexual boundaries with weekly scandals of the hesaid- she-said variety? IT IS not the cavalier attitude toward his wife or the incredible stupidity of a public figure putting himself into a morally compromising position that constitutes Gore's most important moral failing. Rather, it has to do with the environment.

Let me explain. I love nature and I believe with all my heart in protecting the environment.

I am never more alive as when I get away from bricks and mortar out into open fields, forests, rivers, and mountains. Every year I take my kids way off the beaten track and as deep into nature as I can immerse them for our summer vacation. I want to teach them reverence for the beauty of creation and how it is a sin to pollute God's green Earth.

So why aren't I grateful to Al Gore for highlighting the environment? Simply put, he overdid it. Saving a tree, however important, is never as significant as saving a human life.

Stopping a rain forest from being decimated is still subordinate to stopping genocide

What Al Gore did was create a level of hysteria that elevated the environment to the foremost moral cause of our time, even as Africans continue to die in Darfur, Zimbabweans continue to be brutalized by Robert Mugabe, Iranians continue to be cut down by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez's reign of terror intensifies by the day in a once-free Venezuela.

So many people of goodwill who might have worked to bring clean water to Africa, to stop the scourge of AIDS or to battle the oppression of women in the Arab world contented themselves with climbing up trees and ensuring they weren't cut down. I love the Earth but I refuse to deify it. Human life is still the crown jewel of creation.

Some will say that my argument is specious.

How can you have human life without a healthy Earth to sustain it? My response is that respecting the Earth and reducing pollution is an urgent priority, not to mention a godly endeavor. Even those who reject global warming as a hoax would have to agree that all that black, belching smoke coming from exhaust pipes and factories can't be good for our air quality or world. But when the hysteria over the environment pushes to the backburner the ending of famine, stopping the spread of AIDS, fighting terrorist regimes and giving orphans loving homes, our world is thrown into moral confusion.

Al Gore convinced the world that the environment was more urgent than even removing Saddam Hussein from power – an act he condemned and opposed – even as The New York Times reported that the tyrant killed 800,000 Arabs and 300,000 Kurds. A true leader is one who teaches his people moral priorities.

Yes, the Earth has a certain sacredness. But it is still the means to the even higher end of the infinite value of human life.

The writer is host of 'The Shmuley Show' on WABC 770 AM in NYC, and is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published Renewal: A Guide to the Values- Filled Life.







The academic community here is showing signs of growing intolerance and attempts to deny the free and open debate which is such an integral part of the university milieu.

Forty scholars of geopolitics from around the world will land here today to take part in a weeklong seminar, accompanied by professional field trips, to discuss and analyze the changing nature of borders, territory and conflict in a globalizing world.

The conference will take place at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. Following this meeting, many of the participants will remain in Israel to take part in an even larger academic event, the regional biannual meeting of the International Geographical Union (IGU) which will take place in Tel Aviv next week.


It is not easy, these days, holding large international scientific events here. While hundreds of participants are expected next week, the number would have been even larger if there was not a reticence to come here on the part of many scholars. For many, they have a false sense of their safety and insecurity, convinced that this is a dangerous place to come to, while for a few, they will not come as part of a protest against Israel's policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians, part of a small, but silent, boycott of the country and its academic institutions.

Notwithstanding, the decision by the IGU to hold its meeting here is itself indicative of the fact that most academic institutions make a necessary distinction between political critique and scientific scholarship.

There will be many participants who are critical of Israel's policies and will, no doubt, make these positions known to their Israeli colleagues during the course of their stay, but who understand that collective boycotting is not only unethical but, at the end of the day, it achieves absolutely nothing other than creating an even greater degree of intransigence (especially among those who pathologically believe that the "whole world is automatically against us") as well as preventing Israeli-Palestinian dialogue from taking place in one of the few remaining places where it exists – inside the walls of the academic community.

FOR ITS part, the academic community here is showing signs of growing intolerance and attempts to deny the free and open debate which is such an integral part of the university milieu. The inboxes of hundreds of university faculty, especially in the social sciences, have been filled – ad nauseam – recently with discussions and confrontations concerning the limits of academic freedom. The right-wing attacks on those who would be critical of government policy have become stronger than ever before, and many left-wing academics and research NGOs have been targeted by those – such as Isracampus, Im Tirtzu and NGO Monitor – who have taken on a self-appointed role of superpatriots, defenders of the national cause and the sole interpreters of what it is to be a Zionist.

This has not been helped by the fact that even the minister of education has, without checking the facts of a largely erroneous report, given support to these critics, or that the Foreign Ministry has actively promoted the harmful NGO report in meetings with members of the European Parliament in Brussels – severely damaging the country's image as a free and open society in the eyes of many European lawmakers. The discussion of these "facts" in Knesset committees, without any attempt to verify the information, reflects poorly on the professionalism of our legislative bodies. A letter protesting this blatant politicization of the freedom of speech has been signed by more than 500 faculty from all of the country's academic institutes, with views ranging across the political spectrum from Right to Left, and is to be presented to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar later this week.

And the letter signed yesterday by such senior public figures as former education and justice minister Amnon Rubinstein, former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, former education minister Yossi Sarid protesting the onesided actions of the police against demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah, not because of any illegal actions on their part but because of the political views expressed at the legally held demonstrations, is yet another alarm bell which is being sounded in this respect.

Even more disturbing is the fact that some university managements have failed to adequately protect their own faculty members when they are faced with threats and abuse, some of them by their own Board of Governors members, many of whom live abroad and think that they can dictate university policy from afar based on their personal likes and dislikes of the views of faculty members. These same people would never dare to utter such comments or send such e-mails to university faculty in their country of residence, if only because they would be accused of being antidemocratic, closing down on free speech and, in some cases, could face criminal prosecution for the issuing of hate and even death threats through their actions.

It is this sort of action on the part of our "friends" which causes our universities much greater damage than all of the failed attempts to implement mass boycotts and undertake collective action, most of which can be measured in terms of hot air rather than any form of significant implementation. The freedom to debate, to state one's opinions – however obnoxious they may seem to others – is paramount to any free and open society, and all the attempts to clamp down on this and to close down the debate, be it through the attempt to deny tenure or promotion to academic faculty, or the prevention of research organizations to raise funding from bona fide international agencies because of their suspected political leanings, places us among the group of countries with which we would never wish to be associated.

ONE OF the few university heads to have had the courage to make a statement to this effect is the rector of the University of Haifa, Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi. One of the founding activists of Peace Now in its formative years, he has equally come out strongly against the post-Zionist critique of Israel and roundly condemned those Israeli academics who promote an anti-Israel boycott. But he has come to their defense, not because of their views, but because of the clear dangers he sees in allowing this form of brute verbal force, aimed at disengaging them from the debate, to continue unchallenged.

Ben-Artzi will also be hosting many of our professional colleagues from the international geographical community, who are arriving for the IGU meetings, over the next two weeks. It is important for our guests, regardless of whatever criticisms that some of them may have concerning Israeli and Palestinian national politics, to see the vibrancy, openness and diversity of opinion on the campus and in the street. And for this continue to be the case, we must stand up against all those who would wish to impose their own narrow, unquestioning, world view on the rest of us, and who would pretend that they are more loyal citizens of the state than those with whom they disagree. It is a challenge for democracy and we cannot remain silent.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.






Despite the differing views, the one constant which has always defined US-Israel ties was that of shared values; And this message must be restated at the upcoming Netanyahu-Obama meeting.


Even the most casual observer of American- Israeli relations can tell you that this week's events will serve as a pivotal moment in our 63-year-old relationship.

Having personally witnessed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu interact with the current American president, I would agree there is no overestimating the importance of the next several days – but perhaps for different reasons than most would assume.


There can be no disputing that we have two national leaders with very different visions for how to accomplish peace in our region. On the one hand is a prime minister motivated to find a resolution to a conflict that has personally cost him, the way it has cost all too many Israelis. And on the American side, we have a president who does not seem to recognize that both sides must act responsibly to achieve real peace. Nevertheless, all Israelis should realize one basic truth – when we stands firm and clearly articulate our vital security needs and interests, the American people have proven time and again that they will be here at our side.

Netanyahu has proven over the past 15 months his willingness to take extraordinary steps to return the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Beginning with his address at Bar-Ilan University and repeated numerous times since, he has established the government's desire to see the implementation of a two-state solution. In recent months, we have witnessed unprecedented Israeli actions – the removal of hundreds of roadblocks intended to ease Palestinian movement, numerous joint Israeli-Palestinian economic initiatives and the freeze of all new construction in Judea and Samaria.

These steps were designed to display our sense of goodwill and commitment toward forward progress.

While the White House has publicly endorsed all these initiatives, the US administration has demonstrated a lack of clear vision when it comes to how best to treat the conflict. All the moves that the prime minister willingly implemented as trust-building gestures have only inspired increasing calls for additional concessions.

To date, the US administration has largely given the Palestinian leadership a free pass, conveying that the onus of real responsibility falls on Israel alone.

DESPITE ANY differing viewpoints even on these most fundamental of issues, perhaps the one constant which has always defined the American-Israeli relationship has been that of shared values. America's history is a saga of protecting the rights of its citizens against all threats while preserving their right to lives defined by freedom and the pursuit of personal well-being. The American people appreciate that Israel shares those same values in ways that are very unique in today's world.

Protecting these common ideals has taken on greater meaning in recent years.

Today, more than ever, both our nations must substantially and resolutely invest in fighting the increasing wave of terror directly intended on destroying our ways of life and our very existence.

This common battle against Islamic fundamentalism has further strengthened our common bond.

The enduring lesson of this special relationship is that when Israel stands strong in demanding real security for our citizens, the US, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, has been willing and ready to support us.

Recent months have proven this as fact in the case of Israel's unrelenting calls for stricter sanctions against Iran. Teheran's nuclear program represents a clear existential danger to the State of Israel. Due to the actions of the Netanyahu government in keeping Iran at the forefront of its international efforts, stricter sanctions have now been adopted both at the UN and separately in the US.

As the prime minister prepares for his meeting with President Barack Obama, the message must be made clearer than ever.

The relationship between the US and Israel remains strong; but determining our national destiny first and foremost requires our commitment to the principles which have always allowed us to prosper.

If we are strong, our friends will recognize that strength, salute that resolve and give us the necessary tools to defend and preserve our nation and its citizens.

The writer served as director of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's bureau and is a public affairs and international business strategic consultant.








The all-important first trip to Israel with Birthright or various youth movements is the down payment, but without adequate follow through there are no dividends.


The Jewish Agency is to be congratulated on its decision, at last month's annual meeting, to prioritize Israel Experience programs solidifying the connection between young Jews in the Diaspora and the Jewish state.

Taglit, the Birthright free 10-day mission for the 20- 30-year-olds (especially geared to those who hitherto have never visited), has proved an outstanding success.


Participants return home with a reinforced Jewish identity culminating with many graduates choosing to marry Jewish partners. The Jewish Agency wishes to expand schemes such as this as well as the MASA project which enables young people to spend an entire year here.

There are some critics who believe that the prioritizing of this initiative is a turning away from the agency's traditional role of fund-raising – namely to encourage aliya and absorb new immigrants. However unless Jews abroad feel connected to Israel they will neither wish to contribute financially nor come on aliya.

An off-loading of Jewish identity is a major factor in the increasing rate of assimilation. Without an historic understanding of the Jewish state, together with a sense of pride in who we are, there is little to keep us within the fold. This coupled with an Israel that is at the receiving end of worldwide bashing, results in the misinformed tenuous Jew turning away from the country.

Unfortunately this has also aggravated the already negative situation for the Jewish student on campus.

It has been proven that seeing is believing – the very reason the Jewish Agency has decided to make it possible for many more young people to come and discover for themselves how it feels to be part of a majority rather than a minority in a country retaining democratic values.

THE QUESTION is whether coming here is enough.

While many have benefited initially from these programs, there appear to be two weak areas. The first is the "follow through" (or rather lack of it). Thousands of 16-year-olds visit during the summer for a three- or four-week program via a youth movement, but what happens when they return home full of their meaningful experience? A London-based granddaughter of ours participated in a summer program last year – she was very enthusiastic – there was talk of initiating leadership courses for the participants on their return home, but it simply did not materialize nor was there any further contact.

Sadly this is not unusual. What happens to all the Birthright participants who return home – do they become involved in their local community? Or are they left alone with the impact of the 10-day visit swiftly dissipating? The all-important first trip is the down payment, but without adequate follow through there are no dividends.

The second area, the more important one in my view, is the need for the Diaspora youngster to connect with his Israeli counterpart and vice-versa.

Unfortunately many programs do not allow for this engagement. Surely if we want to connect, we must ensure that there is time to meet – to share experiences, to talk to each other and learn about "the other." This is the way to recognize that priorities are different for the 18-year-old here and his or her counterpart in the Diaspora.

Here a youngster has to enter the army – be prepared to lay down his life for the Jewish state, while his counterpart in the Diaspora is thinking about which university he might enter or some future career. These quite diverse worlds do not easily lend themselves to a comprehension of the other. This was highlighted when I addressed a group in the UK of 20-plus year olds whose perception of their Israeli counterpart was negative – citing the aggressive front typified by the name sabra. Sabra is also a fruit with a prickly outside but with a sweet inside. Through an opportunity to dialogue the sweet inside of the Israeli will – we hope – be revealed.

World WIZO organizes Israeli-based annual seminars for its younger members. An invaluable component has been the composition of these groups, which always include a high proportion of Israeli WIZO members – of similar age – who participate side by side with their Diaspora counterparts for the full duration of the seminar.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you (as the song goes from The King and I) is an important tool in bringing us together. There can there be no better place than Israel for this to happen.

The relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is of enormous importance with much having been achieved in the past. However, if we wish this partnership to be strengthened in the future then the foundations have to be laid today. Bringing young people here is not enough in itself. It is vital to ensure that the programs contain Israeli peer participation, an opportunity for dialogue which finally culminates with a follow through contact on the return to their home country.

Let us hope that the Jewish Agency will succeed in bringing many more young people to Israel, intensifying their Jewish commitment, inhaling the Zionist dream and one day perhaps making it their own reality.

The writer is public relations chair of World WIZO and cochair of Europeans for Israel.











1. Before you are warmly welcomed to the White House today as part of a pre-planned gathering, I hope you remembered to hide the boastful headline "I won" that appeared in big letters on the front page of the daily Maariv a month ago. Walk into the Oval Office with the goal of opening a new page in your relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama. No bragging of how "I won" or "I subdued him," but rather with the respect the president deserves - the man who received the Nobel Peace Prize before making peace and the leader we will almost certainly depend on for the next seven years.


2. Obama is a cold, rational figure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other important leaders have come to learn that he is not a president prone to giving pats on the back (save for the excessive genuflecting before the king of Saudi Arabia ). He is also not a president who hands out free meals and engages in pointless chatter. In face-to-face meetings, he will directly bring up the concrete issues. Be prepared for the fact that you will be expected to give straightforward answers and, for a change, to tell the truth.


3. Don't be impressed by the moving images of Rahm Emanuel's visit here, which included a picture of the White House chief of staff shedding a tear while leaning against the Western Wall. One can cry at the Wall and still favor a withdrawal from the territories while advising Obama how best to bring Israel to heel. The president and his adviser are on the same page. Don't even dream of trying to drive a wedge between them.


4. It still is not too late to resolve the crisis of confidence with Obama. Do not bluff when speaking about what you are willing to do for a peace agreement. Put all your cards on the table in a manner that fosters trust. Speak the truth and nothing but the truth, like in court. There is no other way to talk to Obama. He doesn't seem to be the type who forgives and forgets.


5. Do not summon the power of "the Jewish lobby" behind Obama's back. No one is more sensitive to such attempts to undermine him. If he takes a hit during the midterm elections in November, he will neither forgive nor forget your act of subversion. As long as Obama has not overtly declared his opposition to Israel or harmed its security, there is no need to call in the Jewish cavalry against him.


6. When he asks the tough questions, do not reply with cliches and slogans, but with truth, even if it is unpleasant, even if it is the answer he does not want to hear. Do not back down from your insistence on direct talks with the Palestinians in exchange for a freeze on settlement construction. Be forthright in revealing to him what it is you are ready to do to prevent a rift with the United States.


7. Try to persuade Obama that you are the only leader capable of taking historic and painful steps for peace. Convince him that you have an alternative coalition that backs a diplomatic settlement and, more importantly, the support of a majority of the people. Much the way Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin won approval for the Oslo Accords, the way Menachem Begin won resounding support for the peace treaty with Egypt in exchange for all of Sinai, and the way Ariel Sharon evacuated the Gaza Strip, the moment Israeli society sees a credible leader, it starts to be led.


Even though Ehud Barak pretends he is a key figure, in practice he has no political backing except the comfortable defense minister's chair which he guards religiously. You must sway the president to the view that you are the only one capable of cobbling together a coalition for a peace deal.


8. It's important that you speak with the president openly on issues ranging from the settlement freeze to our expectation that American support for our policy of nuclear ambiguity will remain in place, a policy that is still vital for Israel's security. While Obama is working toward social change in America, he is also seeking a change in global priorities. It is important that he gets the sense we stand with him in his quest for a sane Middle East. Nonetheless, you must explain to him that our problem is not the Holocaust that was, but rather the intentions of Islamic states to liquidate Israel. Thus you must let him know that his efforts to pacify the region are important.


9. Humbly remind him how vital it is for America to view us as a strategic asset. Remind him how willing we are to answer the call for a peace agreement not just with the Palestinians but also with Syria on condition that we can start with direct negotiations and that a solution for Gaza - a territory we withdrew from yet continues to be a security threat - can be found. Most importantly, you must create a mechanism of direct dialogue between Jerusalem and Washington that would nip in the bud any misunderstanding between the two countries.


10. At the end of your talks with Obama, as the two of you walk to meet with reporters and photographers, whisper into the president's ear: "Give me a hug."









The expropriation of Druze lands in the Jezreel Valley keeps coming up. The state is planning to lay a gas pipeline, Route 6 and a railway track on these lands. All the lands will be expropriated in effect because whatever remains is not fit for use. The expropriation worsens the Druze community's distress, which is apparent in every town and village - Peki'in, Yarka, Beit Jann, the Carmel and the Tefen area.


In the landowners' demonstrations people threatened a "Druze intifada," but I don't believe this could happen. Much of the income in the Druze community is based on serving in the defense establishment. Their sense of complete identity with the state has not faded, and many of them, too many, still believe in negotiations and persuasion, despite the disappointments they have suffered in recent years.


Despite this, everything could explode. This is not a threat. It's an expression of pain and insult. It is not a threat that we want to separate, but an argument over "the partnership."


In the 1950s the Druze lands in the Yokne'am region were expropriated for public and defense purposes, and military camps were set up on them. Two years ago the camps were dismantled, but the lands have not been returned to the Druze. High-tech plants have been built on them, plants that pay taxes to Yokne'am. Nobody gave a thought to the terrible grievance done here.


It was on these very lands that the first Jewish settlers came from Yagur to Isfiya and began the relationship between the Jews and the Druze. The Druze leaders came down from the Muhraka mountain on sand paths to Ramat Yohanan to persuade the commanders of the Druze brigade, which came from Syria to fight the Jews, to disarm. These lands have been robbed from the Druze - a demonstration of the sovereign's degrading treatment of its subjects.


The prime minister and his ministers are excited and dazzled by the expressions of sympathy, the cheerleaders' cries and the groveling every time they visit a Druze community. They are filled with self-satisfaction to hear the speeches of "mediators" and public figures who do not represent the community's real sentiments.


We do not doubt the importance of the national projects and abiding by the law, but we want to address the way we are treated and the way promises and agreements are kept. This is a difficult time for relations between the Druze and the state's representatives, affecting the individual's trust in his government and even in his state.


The Israel Lands Administration officials and the Prime Minister's Office director-general treat the Druze with scorn and arrogance, trying to "subdue" or "educate" them. I am certain the "mediators" maintain that a handful of Druze outlaws or "rogue elements" are causing the trouble, but the opposite is true. The feeling is that my state is giving up on me. It is a terrible feeling and it is prevalent in the Druze community.


The master plans and the process of legitimizing illegal construction are stuck, no industrial areas have been built, and no affirmative action is being taken. The ILA isn't willing even to allocate a plot for a Druze cemetery in the Carmel, or to rezone private lands for setting up a sports center. The long list of shortcomings tells a tale of neglect and a lack of desire to improve the situation. It will be disastrous if the state gives up on its Druze citizens because of its erroneous policy.

We don't need perks, promises or slogans like "blood pact" and "brothers in arms." Yitzhak Rabin told thousands of Druze in Daliat al-Carmel: "You don't have to prove loyalty, you've done your share ... now it's our turn to repay you, to do and give; we owe you." The ministers repeat these empty slogans and get excited by their polite hosts' applause.


Failing to solve the lands issue in a way that respects our citizenship and rights may create a situation that no one wants.


The writer is a journalist who lives in Daliat al-Carmel.









Little noticed in the brouhaha that surrounded the Israeli interception of the "peace flotilla" that tried to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's remarks to the Egyptian parliament last week. Trying to distance Egypt from the problem of allowing supplies to enter Gaza, even though Egypt shares a border with the Strip and could supply the population there with all its needs, he said: "Israel is trying to shirk its responsibility to Gaza and throw it at Egypt." He studiously ignored the fact that if Egypt had been prepared to allow supplies for Gaza to enter through the Rafah crossing, there would have been no excuse for attempting to bring supplies in by sea.


But Egypt is afraid of the Palestinians on its border. The Egyptians will not allow Palestinian refugees to enter Egypt, nor do they want to assist the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip in any way. Continually voicing their concern for the plight of the Palestinians, Egyptian rulers over the years have done little to help the Palestinians in Gaza, out of fear that they may be reinforcing Hamas, which is an ally of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.


Putting the burden on Israel is Egyptian policy. Their attitude to the Palestinians is not that different from that of King Farouk 62 years ago when he sent his army, navy and air force to squash the newly born Jewish state. Trying to gain control of as much as possible of the territory that British forces had evacuated in Palestine, he had no intention of establishing a Palestinian state in these areas. Soundly beaten by the Israel Defense Forces forces under the command of Yigal Alon, his army saved from total destruction only by the pressure applied on the Ben-Gurion government by the United States and Britain, he was finally left with a toehold in the Gaza Strip. And it remained under Egyptian military control for 19 years, until the Six-Day War. Establishing a Palestinian state was not seen as a priority for Egyptian governments.


The Jordanian government's policy, as well, seems to be based on the principle of keeping one's distance from the Palestinians. Jordan, the majority of whose population is Palestinian, desires no more of them. King Abdullah II sounds pathetic alarm bells every few weeks that a war in the area is inevitable unless a Palestinian state is established, but will not entertain the thought that the areas in Judea and Samaria populated by Palestinians be incorporated into Jordan as part of a negotiated settlement with Israel.


It was many years before he was born - May 15, 1948 - that his great-grandfather King Abdullah sent his British-officered and British equipped Arab Legion across the Jordan aiming to gain as much territory as possible for his kingdom. After months of fighting, his army on the verge of defeat by the IDF, he managed to retain control of Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel. He had no intention of establishing a Palestinian state in the areas that came under his control. Instead, he annexed the areas to Jordan, granting Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinian population living there.


That was the situation until the Six-Day War. Seven years later, in 1974, King Hussein, Abdullah II's father, effectively renounced Jordan's claim to Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem by recognizing Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. At that point, with the memory still fresh in his mind of Black September in 1970, when the PLO attempted to take over Jordan, Hussein decided that he already had enough Palestinians on his hands. Better that they become Israel's problem.


There are many reasons why Egypt and Jordan have come to fear the Palestinians. Part of the responsibility rests on the Palestinian leadership, which on almost all occasions chose the path of violence - first the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who during World War II allied himself with Hitler, and later Yasser Arafat, who headed an international campaign of terror to be followed by a wave of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel's cities. And more recently, the Hamas leadership in Gaza that has made rocket terror attacks against Israeli civilians its specialty.


It remains to be seen whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, who advocates a policy that forswears violence, can establish sufficient authority among the Palestinians so as to allay Egyptian and Jordanian fears of the Palestinians.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama today for the fifth time. Few leaders are privileged with such frequent opportunities to state their positions to the leader of the world's strongest power. With his invitation, Obama is demonstrating his dedication to commitments made in his Cairo address, during which he pledged to end the Middle East conflict. Reports emerging from Washington suggest the White House is trying to calm the ill wind that has polluted the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, and is going out of its way to show the guest from Jerusalem a warm welcome.


While the prime minister has said he intends to tell Obama that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians must be resumed as soon as possible, his words and deeds suggest that he plans to continue passing the buck for the stagnant peace process onto the Palestinians. For his part, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Netanyahu has yet to respond to the position paper the PA presented to U.S. mediator George Mitchell on its stance concerning borders and security arrangements.


Recent remarks from Defense Minister Ehud Barak also confirm that Netanyahu has yet to outline his plan for reaching a two-state solution. Barak called on the premier to present Obama with a "clear initiative" that would create an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state while leaving the major settlement blocs near the Green Line in Israel's hands.


On the eve of Netanyahu's U.S. visit, he and Barak have proven that they do in fact have the ability to weaken the influence of rightist factions within the coalition, and beyond, and to take a more moderate diplomatic line. Last month the cabinet authorized an easing of the Gaza blockade, and this week a key ministerial committee rejected a bill aimed at transferring authority over renewing the settlement construction freeze from the cabinet to the Knesset. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has even thrown out a plan to build 60 additional housing units beyond the Green Line in Pisgat Ze'ev.


Having declared that the creation of a Palestinian state is a foremost Israeli interest, Netanyahu is now obligated to seize any opportunity to reach that goal. The prime minister must not squander the occasion presented by his meeting with Obama by haggling over a settlement freeze; he must present objectives that are both courageous and realistic.









Under cover of the Economic Arrangements Bill, the Finance Ministry is laying the groundwork for turning the IDF into a volunteer army. The ministry is proposing to lower the military exemption age for ultra-Orthodox men from 35 to 24 and to shorten compulsory service for men by half a year. Combat soldiers will continue to serve three years, but with a full salary for the additional months of service.


Both these demands are based on economic logic: encouraging ultra-Orthodox men to enter the job market by extricating them from the "Torah study as profession" bind, and bringing other young men into the job market earlier, thus reducing the loss to local production.


These moves have an unintended consequence, or at least one the policy makers are not talking about openly, which could gradually lead to the establishment of an all-volunteer or professional army: The moves will increase competition in the job market between army veterans and those who do not serve but have high potential.


As long as those exempt from army service were poor ultra-Orthodox men, other poor people, Arabs and religious women, army veterans, mainly those from the middle class, did not face any real competition. That is why military service did not constitute a major disadvantage. Turning the ultra-Orthodox (and Arabs ) into more productive citizens, which also involves increasing their access to education in marketable skills, combined with widening the circle of army exemption, means that army veterans will meet real competitors in the job market.


Those who can take their 2-3 years educating themselves and entering the job market instead of in the army will have an advantage over the veterans. Army service will thus have a tangible disadvantage, which will lead to many things, including the decline of the army's symbolic status.


As competition grows, the army must increase the financial rewards for recruits. The army is already trying to stem the erosion in the reserves by rewarding, not merely compensating, soldiers, and has declared a need to develop similar reward systems in the standing army.


The army is also trying to block draft exemptions among secular men with high potential through its campaign against draft dodgers and trying with limited success to deal with a similar process among women.


Over time the name of the game is money. Shortening compulsory service will contribute to increasing the need for financial reward. Young people beginning their military service will have to choose whether to be combatants - committing to full compulsory service, in addition to reserve duty, and compete in the job market with those exempted from the draft - or choose another role and enjoy a shortened compulsory service and a higher chance of exemption from reserve duty.


It is wrong to think that in order to encourage young people to enlist for combat roles it will be enough to promise them a higher minimum wage, which the Finance Ministry appears to be seeking. Gradually a much higher financial reward will be required. But as the fiscal incentive increases, the army, with the same budget, will have to reduce the draft's scope, fill the ranks with "cheap" soldiers from the social periphery and increase the length of career service.


This process is propelling the IDF toward a professional army. It has political, not just economic, implications. In the democratic world, draft reforms are decided through political debate, not in the Economic Arrangements Law.


 The writer is a faculty member of the Open University.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




The White House has announced that it wants to move ahead with a long-ignored trade pact with South Korea. The deal was reached by former President George W. Bush, but with President Obama planning to visit South Korea for a summit meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in November, he has now committed to resolving the outstanding issues and submitting the treaty for ratification after the fall elections.


This is good news, to be sure. But it is hardly enough at a time when protectionism is rising around the world.


Until now, the Obama administration's trade strategy has been limited to hoping that a world economic rebound and a rising Chinese currency would double American exports in five years. Beyond this new enthusiasm, Mr. Obama's approach to trade still appears to be hamstrung by strong opposition from his party's union base.


The United States must become a leading voice for open international trade. It must press harder for the completion of the stalled round of global trade talks started nine years ago in Doha, Qatar, and to undo the myriad protectionist measures that governments around the globe — including our own — have adopted since the financial crash.


The United States and China both put buy-at-home provisions in their stimulus programs. Russia introduced incentives to develop products to substitute for imports. According to the Global Trade Alert from the Center for Economic Policy Research, a European economic research forum, countries around the world have imposed at least 443 discriminatory measures against imports since November 2008.


Things are about to get worse. At a recent meeting in Toronto, the Group of 20 biggest economies agreed to cut their budget deficits in half by 2013. Without that crucial support for internal demand, most of these countries will have to rely on exports to try to achieve economic growth. Not everybody can do that at the same time. Fiercer competition for international markets is likely to lead to new domestic barriers, unfair dumping and tit-for-tat punishments that could disrupt trade flows and further hamper the global recovery.


Politicians aren't even giving lip service to free trade. In Toronto, the G-20 leaders dropped their 2009 pledge to finalize the Doha round of trade negotiations this year. A day before, the meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations agreed that countries should instead pursue their own bilateral and regional trade deals.


Those may be better than no trade deals. But without a strong set of agreed international rules — the sort that come with a global accord — there is a real danger that these side deals could create more mistrust and unfair competition. The sudden hurry for a South Korean deal is being driven in good part by the fact that the United States is losing South Korean market share and both the European Union and Canada are looking to sign their own agreements with Seoul.


South Korea is an important ally in a dangerous neighborhood, and the White House should push hard to get this deal finished and through the Senate. It should push just as hard for ratification of pending agreements with Colombia and Peru. But it can't stop there. It must also push for more open global trade bound by multilateral rules and obligations. The world's economy, and the American economy, are too fragile to risk a trade war.






The labor strife spreading through China's factory cities has clearly frazzled the government. Last month, it deployed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a k a "Grandpa Wen," who told laborers at a Beijing subway station that the government and society "should treat migrant workers as they would their own children."


China's exploited workers don't need an extra parent. They need higher wages, better working conditions and a chance to form independent unions. They need China to stop being sweatshop to the world.


Worker unrest has spread after reports of suicides at two campuses in southern China owned by Foxconn Technology, an electronics maker that employs 800,000 people in China who assemble products and parts for Western companies, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Since May 17, workers struck at three Chinese plants that make transmissions, exhausts and locks for Honda, the Japanese carmaker. There also have been reports of labor action in dozens of other factories.


Working conditions in too many of these factories are dismal, and the pay is, too. At the Pingdingshan Cotton Textile Company, The Toronto Star reported, workers make 65 cents an hour, working grueling two-day shifts, often in 100-plus degree heat. Workers at Honda Lock demanded a 70 percent raise from their $132-a-month wage. There are no independent unions allowed.


China, over all, has done well with its export-dependent strategy based on cheap labor and a cheap currency. Gross domestic product per person trebled over the last 10 years, to $7,200. The share of the population living on less than a dollar a day fell to 16 percent in 2005, from 36 percent in 1999. But China needs to move on.


Too much of the country's prosperity has been absorbed by companies' profits. Too little has gone to workers. Partly as a result, consumer spending in China amounts to merely 36 percent of its gross domestic product. In the United States, that percentage is more than 70 percent. In Europe and Japan, it is almost 60 percent.


China's manufacturing sector can afford to pay higher wages. After the suicides, Foxconn suggested moving production of some Apple products to newer facilities in North and Central China where pay is cheaper than around the manufacturing hubs along the coast. But it also doubled wages at its Shenzen campus — to about $290 a month.


Rising wages and better working conditions are essential for China to become a more self-reliant economy, powered by domestic consumption. Until it treats its workers better, it has no chance of becoming a just and stable society.







President Obama has rightly threatened to veto the House version of a spending bill that includes damaging and unnecessary cuts to his signature education grant program, known as the Race to the Top.


The $500 million in cuts, which come courtesy of the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Representative David Obey, a Democrat of Wisconsin, would help finance a $10 billion state aid package aimed at forestalling teacher layoffs. That's a good aim. But the White House and its Democratic allies in the Senate are right when they say that the offset must be found elsewhere and that cutting this vital program would dampen a thriving school reform effort.


The $4.3 billion Race to the Top program has focused the country's attention on the school reform effort as never before. By finally making federal grants contingent on policy changes, the government has pushed states to develop strategies for turning around chronically failing schools, establish data-driven systems for training and evaluating teachers and adopt the new, more-rigorous standards released earlier this year by the National Governors Association.


Only two of 40 states — Delaware and Tennessee — won first-round grants under the program. But the competition encouraged second-round applicants to do a better job of building statewide consensus around their applications. It also spotlighted innovative teacher and training programs like the one in Delaware, which holds teachers responsible for improving student performance while also giving struggling teachers the coaching and feedback they need to master a difficult job.


Thirty-six states have applied for the second-round grants, which will be announced later this month. To cut financing now would discourage governors to gather support for new reforms. It would also send the message that the federal government was never really serious about this effort in the first place.


Fortunately, the cuts that passed the House have little chance of passing the Senate, where a dozen Democrats have issued a letter labeling them "unacceptable." The senators recognize the need to pay for a bill that would prevent as many teacher layoffs as possible, but they also know it is possible to protect this important program as well.











Gov. David Paterson is being urged to veto a bill that would prohibit the New York City Police Department from adding any more innocent individuals to its vast computerized database of personal information on the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers stopped, questioned and often frisked by police officers.


This should be an easy call for the governor. He should ignore this awful advice, which is coming from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, and others. Allowing the police to continue accumulating these permanent files on the innocent, an abomination in and of itself, would also encourage the cops to continue their Jim Crow stop-and-frisk policy, which has led to the systematic harassment and humiliation of young black and Latino residents who have done absolutely nothing wrong.


This racist policy needs to stop — and stop now. As Al Baker reported in The Times two months ago, black and Latino New Yorkers were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in 2009. But once stopped, they were no more likely than whites to actually be arrested.


An overwhelming majority of the people stopped, questioned and searched by the police are innocent of any wrongdoing and are sent on their way after the encounter. This illegal and inhumane policy has gotten completely out of control. From 2004 through 2009, police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, an astounding figure. Nearly 90 percent were completely innocent, minding their own business.


These wholly unnecessary interactions with police officers are frequently traumatic and degrading. Men and women, boys and girls — in a vast majority of cases, black or Hispanic — are routinely ordered to sprawl face down on the sidewalk or in the street, or to spread-eagle themselves against a wall. They are frisked and often verbally humiliated. And I have been told time and again by people who have been through these encounters that police officers have threatened to charge them with disorderly conduct if they dared to raise any objections.


The Police Department has compounded this outrage by loading information on these innocent New Yorkers into its permanent database of stop-and-frisk encounters. The database is one of the first stops for cops investigating actual crimes. Thus, these innocent individuals become a permanent focus of the police, not because of anything they've done wrong but primarily because of their ethnic background.


The legislation Governor Paterson is being urged to veto would prevent police officers from putting personally identifiable information into the database on people who are stopped but who are not given a summons or arrested. The Police Department would be able to keep the data it has already compiled but would have to stop putting information into its files that would identify people who have done nothing wrong.


The bill has been passed by both the Senate and Assembly and awaits the governor's signature. He should sign it with dispatch.


The bill would not curb the department's stop-and-frisk policy. But as Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, noted on Monday, it would stop the continued expansion of the database, which is one of the policy's objectives. She also said, "It would send the message, loud and clear, that whatever pass the Police Department has gotten from city government on these policies, the state is being much more attentive."


That most New Yorkers do not seem to care about the way young black and Latino New Yorkers are treated by the police does not make that treatment any less noxious or vile. And it doesn't make it legal. Stopping and searching people without good reason is unconstitutional.


The stops and searches are an affront to the dignity of the people who are unfairly targeted. If these individuals are not violating any laws, they have the same right as anyone on Park Avenue in Manhattan to be left alone by the authorities. When you listen to the people who have been subjected to this relentless harassment, you get a sense of the awful personal consequences. People are made to feel low, intimidated, worthless, helpless. They dread the very sight of the police.


As one young man told me, "You can't do nothing when they roll up on you. If you say something, they tell you, 'Shut up.' "


The range of emotions of people who are stopped include anger, rage, sorrow and feelings of depression. A teenaged girl who was humiliated by officers as she walked to a subway stop in Brooklyn told me she was so mortified by the encounter that she hates to leave her apartment building — even to go to school.


Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and the city's police officers should not be allowed to impose that kind of toxic burden on innocent New Yorkers.









Let's say you're the leader of the free world. The economy is stuck in the doldrums. Naturally, you want to do something.


Many economists say we need another stimulus bill. They debate about whether the stimulus should take the form of tax cuts or spending increases, but the ones in your party are committed to spending increases. They trot out a plausible theory with computer models to go with it. If the federal government borrows X amount of dollars and pumps it into the economy, that would produce Y amount of growth and Z amount of jobs. In a $14 trillion economy, you'd probably have to borrow hundreds of billions more to have any noticeable effect, but at least you'd be doing something to help the jobless.


These Demand Side theorists are giving you a plan of action. But you're not a theorist. You're a practical executive, and you have some concerns.


These Demand Siders have very high I.Q.'s, but they seem to be strangers to doubt and modesty. They have total faith in their models. But all schools of economic thought have taken their lumps over the past few years. Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?


Moreover, the Demand Siders write as if everybody who disagrees with them is immoral or a moron. But, in fact, many prize-festooned economists do not support another stimulus. Most European leaders and central bankers think it's time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it — as do many economists at the international economic institutions. Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?


The Demand Siders don't have a good explanation for the past two years. There is no way to know for sure how well the last stimulus worked because we don't know what would have happened without it. But it is certainly true that the fiscal spigots have been wide open. The U.S. and most other countries have run up huge, historic deficits. And while this has helped save public-sector jobs, we certainly haven't seen much private-sector job growth. It could be that government spending is a weak lever to counter economic cycles. Maybe monetary policy is the only strong tool we have.


The theorists have high I.Q.'s but don't seem to know much psychology. Lord Keynes, though a lesser mathematician, wrote that the state of confidence "is a matter to which practical men pay the closest and most anxious attention."


These days, debt-fueled government spending doesn't increase confidence. It destroys it. Only 6 percent of Americans believe the last stimulus created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey. Consumers are recovering from a debt-fueled bubble and have a moral aversion to more debt.


You can't read models, but you do talk to entrepreneurs in Racine and Yakima. Higher deficits will make them more insecure and more risk-averse, not less. They're afraid of a fiscal crisis. They're afraid of future tax increases. They don't believe government-stimulated growth is real and lasting. Maybe they are wrong to feel this way, but they do. And they are the ones who invest and hire, not the theorists.


The Demand Siders are brilliant, but they write as if changing fiscal policy were as easy as adjusting the knob

on your stove. In fact, it's very hard to get money out the door and impossible to do it quickly. It's hard to find worthwhile programs to pour money into. Once programs exist, it's nearly impossible to kill them. Spending now creates debt forever and ever.


Moreover, public spending seems to have odd knock-off effects. Professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval and Christopher Malloy of Harvard surveyed 42 years of government spending increases in certain Congressional districts. They found that federal spending increases dampened corporate hiring and investment in those districts. You wish somebody could explain that one to you before you pass on more debt burdens to your grandchildren.


So you have your doubts, but you are practical. You want to do something. Too much debt could lead to national catastrophe. Too much austerity could lead to stagnation.


Well, there's a few short-term things you can do. First, extend unemployment insurance; that's a foolish place to begin budget-balancing. Second, you need to mitigate the pain caused by the state governments that are slashing spending. You need a program modeled on Race to the Top. You will provide federal money now to states that pass responsible long-term budget plans that will reduce spending and pension commitments. That would save public-sector jobs and ease contractionary pressures without throwing the country into a fiscal-debt spiral.


But the overall message is: Don't be arrogant. This year, don't engage in reckless new borrowing or reckless new cutting. Focus on the fundamentals. Cut programs that don't enhance productivity. Spend more on those that do.


You don't have the ability to play the economy like a fiddle. You do have the ability to lay some foundations for long-term growth and stability.








Here's one reason 74% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Lawmakers can't even pass a good-government measure designed to shed light on special interests' political activity without caving in to — you guessed it — special interests.


Under current laws, it can be tough to figure out who's behind the TV, radio and print ads for or against candidates. Advocacy groups often hide behind innocuous names that give no hint of their true interests.


Who could figure out that Citizens for Better Medicare is underwritten by drug companies? Or that the Center for Consumer Freedom is funded by restaurants and food companies? Or that Emily's List is a pro-abortion rights group whose biggest contributors have included liberal financier George Soros and the editor of The Nation, a liberal magazine?


Even advocacy groups with identifiable names can hide who finances their ads. Since the Supreme Court ruled in January that corporations, unions and non-profit groups for the first time can spend freely to back or attack individual candidates, it has become even more important for the public to know who pays for those ads.


So a measure sponsored by Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Mike Castle, R-Del., sounded like just the right remedy to force these special interests to come clean. But that was before some of the nation's most powerful interest groups made clear they didn't want to reveal this information. The National Rifle Association barked loudest. And a number of lawmakers jumped.


Conservative Democrats in districts where the NRA has its greatest clout threatened to vote "no." With that, the measure's supporters insisted that they had to amend it or watch it die. So what was dubbed the Disclose Act turned into the Disclose-by-some Act. First, sponsors exempted the NRA along with a few other huge groups, such as the AARP. After some liberal groups whined, the bill was rewritten again to exempt the Sierra Club, an environmental powerhouse, before it passed the House.


What a travesty. Not only are some advocacy groups treated differently from others, the exemptions might make the measure, if it becomes law, more vulnerable to expected legal challenges.


The sad fact is that the measure's original intent — making sure the public knows who's behind special-interest spending — is still worthwhile. So is barring foreign corporations, and companies with large government contracts, from running ads for or against candidates. These provisions are designed to prevent interests abroad from influencing U.S. elections and contractors from engaging in pay-to-play schemes.


What's not acceptable is playing favorites by exempting some groups or tilting the measure to treat unions, usually friendly to Democrats, differently from corporations, usually friendly to Republicans.


Foes of the measure have opposed it for all the wrong reasons, claiming that it would chill free speech. What's so chilling about saying where your ad money comes from? Unless, of course, the whole point is to hide the truth.


When senators return from their Fourth of July break, they'll have a shot at closing the loopholes and pushing the measure back to its original intent. We hope they do. The best way for voters to be informed is to put a spotlight on all spending for campaign ads.









Last month, the House passed the Disclose Act, a bipartisan bill that I sponsored with Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware. It takes three major steps to ensure that the voices of American voters are not drowned out by a flood of secret special interest money that threatens our democracy:


•It would prohibit foreign-controlled corporations from spending money to elect or defeat candidates. Do we really want a Chinese sovereign fund, BP, Hugo Chavez's Citgo or shadowy subsidiaries to finance TV ads to elect their favorite candidates?


•It would bar big federal contractors and bailout recipients, such as AIG, from recycling taxpayer money into campaign expenditures. They should not use taxpayer money on ads to reward politicians who favor them with federal contracts.


•It would require unprecedented disclosure from the special interests that spend money to influence voters.


Any group has the right to say whatever it wants about a candidate, but voters have the right to know who is paying for these ads, whether they're on television or radio or in print. Voters should know whether an ad attacking a candidate for supporting reform of Wall Street is being funded by a big bank, or that an attack on a candidate's clean energy policy is financed by a big oil company.


Under this bill, no longer would special interests be able to hide behind sham organizations with nice sounding names, such as "Campaign for a Better America," while refusing to disclose who is bankrolling their ads. Give voters that information, and let them judge.


To pass the bill, limited adjustments were made for large, citizen-based organizations, such as AARP, the NRA and the Sierra Club. Whether you love or hate them, such groups are known to voters and are not trying to conceal their identities. Even so, the bill subjects them to more disclosure than is now required. Their CEOs will have to "stand by their ads," and they cannot use corporate contributions for political expenditures.


The Disclose Act will shine a bright light on groups that seek to influence elections while lurking in the shadows. It's simple: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. That is why organizations that fight for fair elections, such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, strongly endorse this measure.


Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is assistant to the speaker of the House.









There has been a lot of news in the last week or so: the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, the oil spill off the Gulf Coast, the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings, the cratering economy and stock market, even the World Cup. But for a few days at the end of June, Beltway pundits were consumed with the ballad of David Weigel, a blogger for The Washington Post, briefly assigned to cover the "conservative beat."


And just what is the conservative beat?


Well, according to many of the nation's leading editors, it's that shadowy, often-sinister world where carbon based-life forms of a generally humanoid appearance say and do things relating to, and supportive of, conservative causes and the Republican Party. These strange creatures have been observed using complex tools, caring and nurturing their young and even participating in complex social rituals. Most worship an unseen sky god that traces its roots back to the ancient Middle East. Even more astounding, these creatures are having a noticeable impact on American politics.


And that is why many of our leading journalistic enterprises have found it worthwhile to assign full-time reporters to the task of spelunking through the dark caves of conservatism to better understand these fascinating, if vaguely worrisome, beings.


The 'party of Mordor'


As for Weigel, though he officially resigned from the Post, theories still abound about whether he really jumped from his perch there or was pushed. Either way, the reason he had to go stemmed from comments he made in an off-the-record online chat group for liberal journalists. He said he hoped that Internet phenom Matt Drudge would "set himself on fire" and that Rush Limbaugh should drop dead.


Conservatives, according to Weigel, are obsessed with protecting "white privilege" and are bigots for opposing gay marriage. The GOP is the "party of Mordor" and, if left unchecked, will one day deliver the West into the hands of Sauron. (Not really, but if you read between the lines, it's in there.) Note: Weigel's actual work product was far more balanced and seemingly open-minded than what you'd expect knowing his private views.


The incident has sparked a lot of discussion over how mainstream journalistic institutions such as The Washington Post and The New York Times should cover conservatives. Even if you leave aside the ancient arguments about media bias, this is still an old debate. In 2004, the Times assigned a reporter to cover conservatives full-time in order to better inform their readers and staff how the conservative movement works.


"We wanted to understand them," explained editor Bill Keller. The Times' ombudsman later observed that the "decision not to create a liberal beat, it seems to me, reflected the reality that the Times' coverage of liberals had no gaps similar to those in its reporting on the conservative movement." Translation: The Times is staffed almost entirely by liberals and their news judgment flows directly from that fact.


Many mainstream news outlets have been caught flat-footed on some major stories in recent years precisely because of this attitude.


For instance, Van Jones, the White House "green jobs czar," was brought down by controversies that went

ignored by most leading news outlets but were widely covered by (the hugely successful) Fox News and the thriving conservative press. It seems at times that if conservatives consider something big news, the editors at such places as the Times and the Post must first conduct an anthropological analysis: Why are these right-wing natives so upset?


It's difficult to exaggerate how bizarre this predicament is. In America, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by 2 to 1. And yet many of our leading journalistic bastions have found themselves stuck in something akin to media monasteries with a Fort Apache complex.


Now The Washington Post is scrambling to figure out how to cover conservatives. Part of the reason the Post looks so lost is that it seems apparent that it thought it was hiring a conservative to cover conservatives when Weigel was more like a libertarian-leaning liberal with a good conservative phrase book and a dashing right-wing pith helmet. A registered Republican, Weigel nonetheless voted for Barack Obama, John Kerry and Ralph Nader for president. Meanwhile, left-wing groups who find the news media insufficiently liberal are now clamoring for their own reporters to cover the "liberal beat."


Lefty, meet righty


What a strange hot mess the press has gotten itself into. And there are no easy answers about how to clean it up. One solution, offered by The Washington Examiner's Byron York: Hire a lot more openly ideologically committed — and fair-minded — reporters, but with one caveat: Have the conservatives cover the liberal beat and the liberals cover the conservatives. York rightly notes that a little ideological distance tends to temper the cheerleading. It's a good idea.


But here's some even simpler advice for liberal editors unwilling to break out of the bunker: Just try to keep in mind that these strange alien creatures are also potential customers.


Jonah Goldberg, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. (David Weigel was a USA TODAY editorial page intern in 2004-05.)








Why bother? It's a question many are asking since BP's debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. Is it worth the daily sacrifices we make — separating paper from plastic, standing ready with reusable totes, supplying kids with recycled crayons and paper — when our minuscule efforts can be washed away by one sloppily unsecured oil well? Perhaps it depends on what's really behind our drive to go green.


At least some of our motivation rests on the mistaken belief that the earth's survival depends solely on us. Do-it-yourself has long been America's default mantra. Fend for yourself and your loved ones or suffer the consequences of an empty retirement account, an ailment caught too late, or test scores too low to get your offspring into a reputable college. But can we do it ourselves when it comes to the environment?


The skeptic in me remains doubtful. "Saving our planet" is arguably too monumental a charge for a neoliberal response. Maybe the efforts of a single citizen, school, or community don't matter in the grand scheme of things. Could our eager acceptance of the burden to sustain our world have something to do with how others see us?


While many might deny the draw, we enjoy the drama that accompanies the rhetoric of self-reliance. We've embraced the notion that going green is about returning to a simpler lifestyle, yet who can resist the urge to display their efforts through materialistic means? The result is a capitalist's dream: bumper stickers, T-shirts, and an array of energy-saving technologies ranging from costly solar panels to hybrid vehicles. Just what is it that we're trying to save — the environment, or our image?


As we craft our identities as soldiers in the green revolution, there is also a nagging temptation to call out the less green among us.


They're the neighbors who blatantly neglect to recycle or the colleagues who leave behind a trail of plastic water bottles. Smugly confirming the ethical divide distinguishing our benevolent acts from their less conscientious behaviors lends credibility to every little ecofriendly gesture. A credit at tax time for maintaining an energy-efficient abode further validates the selfless efforts put forth by those of us who care .


But isn't holding one person at a time responsible for causing or curing extensive, systematic social problems a tad naive? Surely, the winner of this global fight won't be determined by pitting BP "bad boy" Tony Hayward against a slate of "good citizen" environmentalists.


We need only look to our history to recognize that while Americans pride themselves on the individual freedoms that enable grass roots efforts to end destructive habits such as smoking, create equality in the workplace, or make health care accessible to all, it often takes federal regulations and widespread institutional changes to produce a noticeable, long-lasting difference.


Even then, solutions require substantial, ongoing retooling — both of the goals that we aspire to and the means to accomplish them.


Perhaps beneath our badges of green, we have begun to realize that it will take more than just shaming some or vainly displaying our personal green pedigree to end our environmental woes. The growing impulse to buy symbols of allegiance to the movement could be an indication that we are inching toward a collective response to improve our treatment of the planet and promote changes to fuel our good intentions. But in the meantime, these tokens of individualistic altruism come at a price.


While we busily clean up our own backyards and cheer on one another's conspicuous green-mindfulness, we risk recycling the same self-absorbed behaviors that led us here.


Cynthia Ryan is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.










Mention the University of Tennessee and the Top 25 in the same breath and just about everyone -- in the state and outside it -- naturally assumes that you're talking about the school's football or basketball teams, or another of its highly rated athletic programs. UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek hopes to change that.


While UT's name is routinely heard in almost any discussion of top-tier collegiate athletic programs, it rarely is associated with a far more important listing -- the ranking of the nation's top public research institutions. That latter designation depends on criteria such as undergraduate retention and graduation rates, research grants and awards and the number and quality of graduate education programs. Rightly or wrongly, UT rarely receives positive mention when those topics are discussed.


That is unfortunate. The Knoxville campus deserves more credit than it receives for its academic accomplishments. It does not rank in the Top 25, or even the Top 50, public research institutions. It is, however, ranked at 52 among 600 research institutions. That ranking certainly is respectable, but complacency is not acceptable. The goal should be to rank among the very best in the nation. The university wants that. State residents should demand it.


Positive response


Gov. Phil Bredesen gave form to those expectations. Earlier this year, he challenged the UT administrative staff to become a Top 25 research university. Dr. Cheek and a task force have responded positively to the governor's timely call for improvement. Over the past few months, university personnel have drafted a comprehensive plan to improve UT's ranking and to propel it into the Top 25. It is a plan worthy of implementation by the state's educational and political leaders and by its residents.


The proposal addresses the gaps in graduation and retention rates, in doctoral degrees awarded, in spending per student and in average faculty salary that separate UT from Top 25 institutions. The disparities are telling.


The current graduation rate at UT is 60 percent, 15 points below the average rate of 75 percent at top 25 schools. The percentage of students at UT who return as sophomores after their freshman year is 84 percent, below the average retention rate of 90 percent at top tier universities. UT awarded 277 doctoral degrees and 1,845 master's and professional degrees in the 2008-2009 academic year. Top 25 schools awarded an average of 486 and 2,130, respectively, in the same period.







Last year alone, the federal government spent $1.4 trillion more than it took in from various sources of revenue -- mainly taxes. This year's deficit is expected to widen to an appalling $1.5 trillion.


Most Americans are troubled and some are downright frightened about the threat that Washington's constant deficit spending poses to our economic future. We simply cannot keep living beyond our means as a nation without expecting severe negative consequences.


But instead of addressing Americans' concerns about annual deficit spending -- not to mention our total $13 trillion national debt -- Democrats in Congress are pushing a budget-cutting "gimmick."


House Democrats are boasting that they have voted to trim $7 billion from President Barack Obama's budget for next year. Now, in most contexts, $7 billion is a lot of money. But the president has proposed a $3.8 trillion budget for the next fiscal year. So eliminating $7 billion is the equivalent of cutting only about $1 of every $543 in that enormous budget.


That is not a serious plan to reduce the size of the federal government. It is a "feel-good" measure to try to convince the American people that Congress is actually doing something to cut deficits.

If current members of Congress will not slash spending, voters in November should elect lawmakers who will.







One of the most obvious, unjustified giveaways of taxpayer dollars has been the subsidizing of corn-based ethanol, a fuel that is blended with gasoline.


The subsidy plays well in states that have a big farm presence, because it forces taxpayers across the nation to pay ethanol manufacturers 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol that they produce. Lawmakers in those states essentially buy votes and support by continuing the flow of tax dollars.


But it's a terrible deal for the rest of us. Ethanol damages small engines, such as the ones on lawnmowers. It also reduces mileage in vehicles, and it increases the price of many foods by diverting lots of corn from food production into fuel production. Ethanol can worsen air pollution, too, so it is hardly an "environmentally friendly" fuel.


Despite all those negatives, the Environmental Protection Agency has been studying whether to increase the percentage of ethanol that may be blended into our nation's gasoline supply -- from 10 percent up to 15 percent. That would be nothing but another huge giveaway to ethanol producers, at the expense of the nation as a whole.


The EPA had planned to issue its decision this month, but now it says it will delay a final ruling for a few months, until sometime this fall.


That is a slight relief, but the Obama administration has unfortunately supported greater use of taxpayer-funded

ethanol. And Congress has mandated that refiners blend 12 billion gallons of ethanol into the fuel supply this year. That requirement is scheduled to jump to nearly 36 billion gallons by 2022.


Remember: Taxpayers are on the hook for a subsidy for every single gallon! Worse still, if 10 percent ethanol reduces mileage, imagine how much your mileage may suffer when your gasoline has 15 percent ethanol.

It is long past time to end -- rather than expand -- this ridiculous subsidy.







The new president of the United Auto Workers union had some harsh words for automakers recently on his first day in office.


UAW head Bob King demanded protests against Toyota manufacturing facilities in the United States. He said Toyotas would be safer and of higher quality if they were built at a recently shut-down unionized plant in California rather than at a non-union plant in Mississippi.


He said he would try to unionize the U.S. facilities of Toyota and other "foreign" car companies that have lots of American workers on U.S. soil. (Volkswagen is building such a plant in Chattanooga, with the promise of thousands of jobs.)


And he even bizarrely suggested that management at some auto plants engages in "terrorism" to prevent unionization, The Detroit News reported.


Unionizing the manufacturers would "give us the power to win back the concessions and sacrifices we made and win more than that," Mr. King said during an angry speech to UAW members.


But why did the union have to accept "concessions and sacrifices" in wages and benefits? It's because union officials had negotiated unsustainable compensation packages with the car companies to begin with. Over time, facing efficient foreign companies, the Big Three U.S. automakers became less able to compete. Union contracts added hundreds of dollars to the price of their cars, and many American opted for foreign cars -- many of them made at non-union U.S. plants.


Those contracts were not the only thing that led the federal government to bail out General Motors and Chrysler with billions of dollars. (Ford made do without a bailout.) Styling of U.S. vehicles had grown drab over a period of years, and management had not been as engaged as it should have been.


The combination of those factors plus pricey union contracts led to serious difficulties in our domestic auto industry.


It is strange indeed that some want to return to the very policies that created the difficulties. Workers at "foreign" car manufacturers with plants in the United States might want to think long and hard about whether they wish to follow the path that got our Big Three in so much trouble.


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Back in 2008, the United States unwisely removed Communist North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. That decision was based on wishful thinking that North Korea might abandon its nuclear weapons program.


But trying to butter up Communist North Korea obviously didn't work. Not only has it not dismantled its

nuclear weapons program but it is expanding it, menacing its neighbors and creating the danger that it could sell a nuclear weapon on the black market.


Now the Obama administration is continuing the bad policy that the Bush administration started by leaving Communist North Korea off America's list of state sponsors of terrorism.


The issue came up after North Korea's recent, unprovoked torpedo attack on a South Korean naval vessel. The South Korean ship sank, and 46 innocent South Korean sailors were killed.


But the U.S. State Department says the unjustified attack by a North Korean submarine does not count as terrorism.


It was only a "provocative action," the department said, because it was one nation acting against another. "That in our view does not constitute an act of international terrorism," a spokesman told reporters.


That would be news to grieving, "terrorized" South Koreans, who have had to watch as the U.N. and the "international community" have at most lightly criticized Communist North Korea over the brutal attack.


We certainly hope the U.S. government would call such an attack terrorism if it were perpetrated against an American ship and American sailors.








Without question, the world in general and Turkey specifically deserve at minimum an apology from Israel for the poorly conceived, amateurishly executed and deadly assault on the Gaza flotilla last month that killed seven of our citizens.


Without question, Turkey is right to insist upon this and we support not only this demand but also those seeking a real end to the blockade on Gaza. Without question, this needs to be followed up with sincere effort by Israel to abandon its destructive settlement policy and proceed toward concrete realization of a real state for Palestine. And without question, key to this will be a U.S. president who can focus not just on the aspirations of Palestinians, but on those of a probable majority of Israelis as well who are weary of fragile coalitions, irresponsible politicians and the outsized clout of an "Israel lobby" in Washington that often does not have Israel's best interests at heart.


But we do question the politics of ultimatum. Such language serves the domestic political interests of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. And we are not without sympathy to the imperatives that drive this. But ultimatums are the weapons of mass destruction in any institutional dialogue and they should rarely if ever be in the lexicon of diplomats. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is no doubt intentionally ambiguous when he says Turkey will "cut" ties with Israel in the absence of an apology. Cut ties at the ambassadorial level? Cut military collaboration? Cut use of intelligence from Israel on the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Cut exchanges between graduate students involving the technoparks at Israeli and Turkish universities? There are, in fact, a lot of ties that could be "cut," reduced or limited.


But the language of ultimatum, all too often sets in place and reinforces trajectories toward ends that may be undesirable. U.S. policy in the prelude to the Iraq war is certainly evidence of this. So is its three-decade-old standoff toward Iran or its five-decade-old standoff toward Cuba. We doubt very much, for example, that the Castro brothers would still be running Cuba had American companies continued to invest, American tourists continued to visit and American films continued to screen on the island since 1964.


It was an ultimatum that led Turkey to close its borders with Armenia in 1994 in an effort to end the illegal occupation of Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh. The need for solidarity with the 1 million Azeris made refugees by Armenia was – and is – at least as compelling as the case to support the Palestinians of Gaza. But might a nominally open border have provided Turkey more leverage on behalf of Azerbaijan? Perhaps.


A steady ratcheting up of pressure on Israel is good policy. Bold ultimatums are not.









The Data Darbar bombings, greeted with shock across Pakistani society, appear to have galvanized the federal and provincial governments into action. The Punjab chief minister has said there will soon be a campaign against over a dozen banned outfits in the province. The central government is planning to plug loopholes in laws which allow such groups to continue to function. There may also be other steps to step up security and go after such forces. The arrest of several persons thought to be involved in the Data Darbar bombings could lead to the groups which planned and executed the attack with terrifying precision. More important than all this, however, is the evidence of determination to go after militants with greater force. Till now, the degree of commitment to this had been under some doubt. The nature of the attacks and the dismay they have generated appears finally to have forced the government to go beyond statements and take concrete steps. The question of how much they can achieve, however, remains open. The bans imposed under former president Musharraf on organizations thought to be involved in militancy, following the events of 9/11, did not achieve very much at all. Indeed these groups have, in some cases at least, continued to grow and establish new alliances even during the 'ban'. New institutions run by them have cropped up in the southern Punjab.

We will need to see what measures the Punjab government now takes to deal with the situation. In meetings conducted by the chief minister in the wake of the Darbar bombings there have been accusations that the Punjab law minister is himself involved with extremist forces. This is hardly a reassuring thought. The Punjab government needs to address concerns in this regard. What is vital, however, is for the centre and Punjab to work together against terrorism. The exchange of barbs and jibes must stop. The monster of terrorism is too mighty to be defeated easily. A rift within the ranks of government can only strengthen it. We need to accept that militancy has now developed gnarled roots that dig deep into society and its structures. It will not be easy to pull them out. Indeed the issue needs to be addressed as a complex one with many facets. There are no single-step solutions. We hope this will be reflected in the discussions scheduled to discuss the aftermath of Data Darbar. We certainly need to go after banned groups. But we need also to look into the factors behind the rapid growth of militancy and find ways to prevent it from spreading still further and scattering poisonous spores through the soil of our land.







The issuing of appointment letters to 3,974 people in Balochistan who will be given jobs in various government departments under the government's package for the province is a step intended to calm sentiment in the province, where things seem to be bubbling out of control. The creation of jobs is obviously a good step, but on its own it is not enough. Indeed, the nature of events in Balochistan, where new targeted killings are reported almost each day, leads us to ask if far more drastic measures are not required to calm the growing turmoil in our country's largest province. Nationalist feelings have increasingly translated into anger directed against other ethnic groups in Balochistan – and the violence this has led to augurs ill for the future. There can be no justification behind the killings or other acts of violence such as the abduction of aid workers. But the fact also is that some means need to be found to restore equilibrium. The piece-meal implementation of the Balochistan package is insufficient.

So far key groups involved in Balochistan's long struggle for autonomy have refused to enter into negotiations. Charges from the federal government, notably the interior minister, that India is fermenting discord in the province have been dismissed by New Delhi. We need a concrete plan of action for Balochistan. Senior politicians from the province need to put forward their proposals. Tackling unemployment and under development is just one element in this. Other means must also be found to settle growing disquiet and persuade people in Balochistan of the need to find ways to end the dispute with the centre.













xThe drowning of three teenagers at Sandspit and the recovery of the body of a man drowned previously at Paradise Point add to the list of tragedies that occur each year during the monsoon season on the beaches of Karachi. It is true that to some degree at least the people venturing into the ocean at a time of year when doing so is prohibited are themselves to blame for the accidents that take place. But it is also true there is inadequate patrolling of beaches and insufficient warnings to people to stay out of the water.

One reason for this is a division in the jurisdiction of Karachi's most popular beaches between two police stations. This divide means neither takes responsibility for manning beaches or controlling the exuberant crowds who gather there. The issue of jurisdiction, which has existed since 2005, needs to be resolved. It is true this may not lead to an end to drowning at sea. But it could help control the number of such deaths and also educate people about the need to take sensible precautions when setting off on outings.







A term that was first used by Pakhtun tribal people to describe Punjabi militants in their midst in Waziristan has become a matter of dispute between the leaders of the PPP and the PML-N. Interestingly, mostly Punjabis from the two major political parties of Pakistan are involved in this controversy at a time when unity is needed to tackle terrorism. There is no doubt that this is an ideal outcome for the terrorists and whoever is sponsoring them because terrorist acts are committed not only to cause death and destruction but also chaos and uncertainty.

The PML-N leaders object to the use of the term Punjabi Taliban. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has accused Interior Minister Rahman Malik, a lateral entrant in the PPP, of using it to create rift between the provinces. He argued that the statement by Rahman Malik, who is a Punjabi from Sialkot, using the word Punjabi Taliban and Punjabi terrorists amounted to a condemnation of the people of Punjab. Shahbaz Sharif also stressed that he has never used the term Pakhtun Taliban or Pakhtun terrorists.

Nawaz Sharif also took exception to the use of the term Punjabi Taliban by remarking that terrorists are just terrorists as they had no boundaries and territories. Indeed this is the line now being taken by most politicians, but political point-scoring and backstabbing is prompting some of them to paint the terrorists and militants in ethnic and sectarian colours.

Not long ago Pakhtuns were the villains as almost all Taliban were Pakhtun. Common Pakhtuns earning their livelihood in Punjab, Sindh, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad were increasingly being viewed with suspicion and the police in some places rounded up innocent Pashto-speakers after accusing them of being militants or their facilitators. It would be a while before these poor souls are able to prove their innocence. Many wealthy Karachi and Lahore families stopped hiring Pakhtuns, known for their loyalty and for doing tough menial jobs, or fired those already in their pay. One wonders if those denied an opportunity to earn an honest livelihood wouldn't consider returning to their wretched villages and joining the militants.

Isn't it a fact that the record unemployment, which is highest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa compared to other provinces, has already pushed many jobless young men into the ranks of the militants? It is also difficult to forget how attempts were made to prevent Pakhtuns displaced by militancy and military operations from seeking refuge and work in Sindh and Punjab and Sindhi nationalists and MQM, following a wink by the Qaim Ali Shah-led PPP government, staged strikes to keep out the largely poor Pakistanis of Pakhtun origin from a part of their own country. At the time, one felt all this talk about nationhood and national solidarity was rather artificial.

Returning to the debate on Punjabi Taliban, Rahman Malik denied using this term and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said he was satisfied with his explanation. The Interior Minister is obsessed with media coverage and often he lands himself in trouble by talking too much and about matters, like military operations and strategies, that aren't part of his job. Despite being proved wrong on a number of occasions, he didn't stop claiming the death of top Taliban commanders in tribal areas that are beyond his mandate and where intelligence networks have usually been found wanting.

The discourse about Punjabi Taliban is taking place at a time when a recent IMF report put Pakistan's losses in the past five years due to the 'war on terror' at Rs2.08 trillion and when the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is attempting a comeback in South Waziristan, Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions by launching fresh attacks against the security forces and target-killing government supporters. Its jihadi allies are aiding these efforts by striking in the cities, particularly in Lahore, and in the process sowing the seeds of discord in the country's political, religious and ethnic fabric. The faultlines in our society are being exposed and cleverly exploited. There is talk of the Deobandi-Barelvi divide as numerous organizations claiming to speak for the majority Sunnis clamour to grab attention and gain ascendance in the wake of the suicide bombings at the Data Darbar of Lahore's patron saint Syed Ali Hajvairi. The Ahle Hadith sect and others that don't like visits to shrines and condemn certain rituals that go on around the graves of the saints are attracting flak. There are fresh demands for more and tougher military operations against the militants not only in the tribal borderlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also in southern Punjab.

The same politicians fighting over the Punjabi Taliban terminology are loudly welcoming the holding of a national conference on the issue of terrorism. Those unable to agree on simple things due to politics cannot be expected to take major decisions. If the past conferences are a guide, one could say beforehand that this effort too would be an exercise in futility. The conference would make feel-good recommendations, which the PPP-led federal government would be unwilling and unable to implement considering its past refusal to take seriously the now forgotten unanimous parliamentary resolution on the subject. The politicians, ruling or otherwise, would have to keep in mind the reaction of the powerful military and the interfering Americans, who despite their failure to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan still believe that they are qualified to advise Islamabad on how to tackle the Pakistani Taliban. On a previous occasion, all these politicians almost absolved themselves of responsibility and gave a free hand to the military to carry out action against the militants.

There is renewed demand by certain politicians for negotiating peace with the Pakistani Taliban to end their devastating bombings in the cities. This demand is unlikely to be accepted by the powers that be even though two peace accords, one with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led Taliban faction in North Waziristan and another with Maulvi Nazeer's tribal fighters in Wana and Shakai in South Waziristan, are still in place and accepted by both the militants and the military. Besides, the other insurmountable hurdle is the TTP's main demand that Pakistan should end its alliance with the US and stop being part of the 'war on terror.' Is it possible for our leading politicians and generals to accept this demand in view of the international situation and on account of the tendency of our ruling elite to cling to the US in the hope of advancing their personal interest? In fact, Pakistan would be better off if it wasn't such a close ally of the US but it is a relationship that cannot be given up easily due to the ground realities and for want of better options.

Even if the Sharif brothers are justified in objecting to the use of the term Punjabi Taliban, the fact remains that the militants themselves prefer its usage. Mohammad Omar proudly introduces himself as spokesman for Punjabi Taliban when he phones journalists from somewhere in North Waziristan and speaks in his Punjabi-accented Urdu. For him, all Punjabi militants presently aligned to the TTP are part of the network of Punjabi Taliban. Government officials have also being using the term Punjabi Taliban. When South Waziristan's political agent Shahab Ali Shah convened a jirga of Ahmadzai Wazir tribal elders in Wana on July 4 to warn them about military operation in their area if they didn't expel foreign militants, he specifically mentioned Punjabi Taliban.

It is interesting though that the original Taliban in Afghanistan have curtailed the use of Taliban and prefer calling their movement the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan while those inspired by them insist on being identified as Pakistani, Punjabi or Swati Taliban.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email:








Pakistan entered a new fiscal year a week ago. Will 2010-11 be a year of stability or bankruptcy? That will depend entirely on the political leadership, in particular the federal and provincial governments. If they behave collectively in a fiscally responsible manner, Pakistan may achieve relative stability by the end of the fiscal year. If they continue to behave in a fiscally irresponsible manner, bankruptcy by the end of December is a sure outcome. The consequences of this would be horrendous for the country.

The federal government has set the overall fiscal deficit (OFD) target for 2010-11 at 4.0 per cent of GDP, or Rs685 billion. In setting this target, the federal government assumed that the provincial governments would generate a surplus cash balance to the tune of Rs167 billion, or 1.0 per cent of GDP, because they are expected to receive over Rs500 billion additional resources under the new NFC Award.

To the dismay of the ministry of finance, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan presented a deficit budget, while Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa presented a balanced one. A deficit budget means that the provinces have decided to spend more than their revenues. This simply suggests that the provinces will be spending over Rs500 billion more compared to last year. This is the height of financial indiscipline.

With the presentation of deficit budgets by three provinces and a balanced budget by one, the fiscal year has begun with a deficit target of 5.4 per cent, of GDP, or Rs923 billion. The anticipated slippages on revenue and expenditure sides are projected to further widen the deficit in the range of 6.5–7.0 per cent of GDP, or Rs1,100-1,500 billion.

Fiscal 2009-10 ended with a deficit of close to six per cent of GDP against the target of 4.9 and 5.3 per cent in 2008-09. What is surprising is that Pakistan's budget deficit is rising in the midst of the IMF programme. What a benign IMF programme this is.

In 2010-11 the fiscal deficit is projected to be Rs1,100-1,500 billion. How would Pakistan finance such a large fiscal deficit when there are risks associated with inflows from external sources (the Tokyo Pledges, Eurobond and the Kerry-Lugar Act)? Pakistan is expected to finance the budget deficit from external sources to the tune of Rs186 billion, of which Rs177 billion is at stake. Even if we assume that Pakistan will receive Rs186 billion from external sources, it will still need close to Rs1,000 billion from domestic sources.

Can the finance team mobilise Rs1,000 billion from domestic sources? Will commercial banks participate in T-bills and PIB auctions at the current interest rate? The answer is obviously no. The State Bank will have to provide a sweetener to commercial banks to entice them into participating in these auctions. In other words, the State Bank will be forced to raise the discount rate. The overall lending rates will rise, thus increasing the cost of borrowing. Such a large borrowing by the government would leave very little credit available to the private sector (the crowding-out phenomenon). Investment would fall, growth would decelerate and unemployment and poverty would rise further. Inflationary pressure would continue to intensify. A high discount rate may give rise to non-performing loans by commercial banks. The exchange rate would depreciate, thus adding more to public debt and further contributing to inflationary pressure.

Do we want to see Pakistan in such a pathetic state of affairs? Two factors have contributed, or are contributing, to such a serious development: the irresponsible financial management of the provincial government, and the politicisation of VAT. The financial indiscipline of the provincial governments has already created serious difficulties. If VAT is not levied from Oct 1, Pakistan will face serious consequences by December. There will be no money from the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Kerry-Lugar Act if VAT is not implemented. This is no time for politics. The political leadership must realise the gravity of the situation and not oppose the VAT.

What needs to be done? The prime minister must call an immediate meeting of the political leadership, including the chief ministers and governors of the provinces and the heads of the political parties represented in parliament. The finance team must brief the political leadership about the state of finances and the consequences of not adhering to the principle of sound fiscal management, a briefing similar to the one given by the COAS to the political leadership on security issues.

The chief ministers must commit to delivering a surplus budget of at least 1.5 per cent of GDP by cutting their massive spending. The prime minister must commit to downsizing the cabinet to 20-25 ministers, take the allocation to the Benazir Income Support Programme back to the actual spending of 2009-10, rationalise allocation for the IDPs, reduce subsidies to bare necessities and rationalise other current expenditures. Countries like the UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Iceland are, on the one hand, taking massive austerity programmes, and taking revenue measures, on the other.

We need to do the same. If we do not undertake austerity measures, the IMF will force Pakistan to take them in the next programme. Pakistan is passing through the most difficult time of its history. The political leadership must realise the gravity of the situation and act fast.

The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:







On July 3, 1776, one day before the United States came into being, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail: "Yesterday, the greatest question ever debated in America was decided, and a greater one, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A Resolution was passed without one Colony's dissent 'that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce and do all other acts and things which other states may rightfully do'". On July 4, 1776, the Congress at Philadelphia adopted the historic Declaration of Independence, drafted mainly by Jefferson. It was the expression of the "American mind". The time to separate from the mother country had arrived. The umbilical cord had to be cut. The die was cast.

When America was engaged in the most just of struggles, that of a people escaping from another people's yoke, and when it was a question of creating a new nation in the world, outstanding men came forward to lead the country. Three Americans, George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – all conservative members of the colonial elite turned revolutionaries, set the world ablaze and changed the course of history. These three men, more than any other, helped end British rule. They transformed His Majesty's American colonies into a Sovereign, independent country.

The preamble of the Declaration asserts that under certain circumstances, revolution is justified. Governments must rest upon "the consent of the governed", for they are set up to protect certain rights – "Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness". It was a revolutionary document in the sense that it justified a revolution which had already begun. Years after the colonies had won their independence, John Adams noted that "the revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people". The loyalty of Americans had been undermined by years of struggle and agitation before the first shot was fired at Lexington.

"All men are created equal", the Declaration asserts but Jefferson and the others were not thinking of those who owned no property or slaves – those who were themselves owned property. They were not thinking of women either. It took American democracy – the greatest democracy in the world – 86 years to abolish slavery, 144 years to enfranchise women and 189 years to assure the black people the vote! "What to the slave is the Fourth of July"? The black orator Frederick Douglass would ask in 1852 in an Independence Day oration and would answer that "your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us… You may rejoice. I must mourn". At the time of Independence African – Americans accounted for 20 per cent of the entire population of 2.5 million colonists, rising in Virginia to as much as 40 per cent. Jefferson's attempt to incorporate a paragraph attacking slavery in the Declaration of Independence was struck out by Congress! Today, Obama, an African-American, is the President of the United States of America! A black family occupies the White House. A new dawn had arrived or so we thought. How wrong one can be?

Independent America, it was hoped, would become an "Asylum for mankind", and offer refuge to the world's oppressed. Like a shining beacon, America, it was hoped, would herald the "birth of a new world", the beginning of an epoch in which humankind across the earth could "begin the world over again". Alas! This was not to be. The American dream has turned sour. Two hundred years ago, America caught the imagination of the world because of the ideals it stood for. Today its example is tarnished with military adventurism and conflicts abroad. Today America is symbolized not in the Statue of Liberty but the naked black hooded Iraqi man connected with wires setup on a box by his American perpetrators. The photo of this naked, hooded, wired, Iraqi prisoner, standing on a box after having been told he would be electrocuted if he stepped or fell off, may well become the lasting emblem of this cruel, unjust war, much as the photo of a naked, fleeing, napalmed little girl became the emblem of the Vietnam war. In the past, some envied America, some liked America, some hated America but almost all respected her. Very few respect America today. They all fear America. Today Muslims perceive America as the greatest threat to the World of Islam since the 13th century.

"One of the great lessons", British historian Paul Johnston wrote, "is that no civilization can be taken for granted. Its permanency can never be assured. There is always a dark age waiting for you around the corner if you play your cards badly and you make sufficient mistakes". Today America seems to be experiencing what Toynbee called "the dark night of the soul". Today America has lost the high moral ground it once occupied. It stands alone in the comity of nations, forsaken by most of its erstwhile friends and allies. There was a time when great causes pushed America to great heights that would not otherwise be achieved. That is no longer the case. Before there were three faces of America in the world – the face of Peace Corps, the face of multi-nationals and the face of US military power. The balance has gone wrong lately. And the only face of America the world sees now is the one of military power. Today free people are not looking to America for guidance in constructing another world order. Today their greatest fear is not America's withdrawal from the world but its overweening involvement in it. This is certainly not America's finest hour.

Today American troops are scattered around the world from the plains of Northern Europe to the mountains of Afghanistan and the plains of Iraq in search of a phantom enemy, bombing and killing innocent Afghan and Iraqi men, women and children. Though it rejects imperial pretensions, it is for all its protestations, perceived in the world as peremptory, domineering and Imperial. Its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are perceived as part of an open-ended empire-building plan with geo-strategic goals. Under this plan, the United States would acquire a permanent military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq for projecting its power in central Asia, South Asia, Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

The farewell address of George Washington will ever remain an important legacy for small nations like Pakistan. He cautioned that "an attachment of a small or weak toward a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter". The strong might have interests and objectives that could be of little real importance to the weak; but once the latter submitted to acting the role of a satellite, it would find it no easy task to avoid being used as a tool by the strong". It is folly in one nation, George Washington observed, to look for disinterested favours from another…it must pay with a portion of its independence and its sovereignty for whatever it may accept under that character. No truer words have been spoken on the subject. If you want to know what happens to a small country which allows itself to be attached to a powerful country like America, well, visit Pakistan.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,







For the West, the Holocaust is an extremely sensitive issue. Denial of the Holocaust has been criminalised In 12 Western countries. For Israel, the Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew) is an "industry." Back in 1965 Gamal Abdel Nasser noted: "Over the past ten years, Israel has received 3,700 million dollars from Germany; that is, more than a million a day." That is the potential of the "Holocaust industry." For the Arab world, the Holocaust has become, in the words of the late Edward Said, "an obfuscatory confection created by the Elders of Zion."

The Zionist propaganda machine happily advertises the outbursts of Holocaust deniers to paint Arabs and their supporters as barbarians lacking humanism. To further discredit Arabs, they swamp the West with literature on the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Amin, who was a supporter of Hitler.

The London-based Arab intellectual Gilbert Achcar has come out with a brilliant book on the subject. His book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, debunks all clichés about Arab attitude towards the Holocaust. Arab attitudes vary on the Holocaust. As they do on Zionism, which even had Arab allies like Jordan's King Abdullah, the great-grandfather of the present king, and the Maronites of Lebanon.

During the Nazi era, when the Holocaust was in progress in Germany and German-occupied Europe and Israel was in the making in Palestine, the Arab world was convulsed by groups following four competing currents: westernised liberals, Marxists, nationalists and Pan-Islamists. Inspired by Enlightenment, the liberals staunchly opposed Nazism. For instance, the weekly Al-Risala, with a circulation of 40,000 and with contributors like Taha Hussein and Muhammad Husayn Haykal, was running scathing condemnation of Nazism and its actions. But these liberals did not hold mass appeal, given the contradiction between western values and the western occupation of the Arab world. Similarly, Arab Marxists, with many Jews in their ranks, were fighting back Nazi ideas in the Arab world. During the Hitler-Stalin pact (1931-41), they briefly toned down their criticism of Germany.

Likewise, mainstream Arab nationalists refused to sympathise with Nazism. However, ultra-nationalists (including Young Egypt and the Lebanese SSNP) emulated Nazism but did not necessarily collaborate with Hitler's Germany. It was the Grand Mufti of Palestine who openly supported Hitler and Mussolini, following the dictum that "the enemy's enemy is your friend." The pan-Islamist Mufti ignored Italy's brutal treatment of Libya and overlooked Hitler's classification of Arabs as a race inferior even to Jews. It is this Hitler-Mufti relationship that often translates into titles of anti-Arab books adorned with picture of the Mufti shaking hands with Hitler. This is why Zionism has catapulted the Mufti to the status of sole leader of the Palestinians.

Without Zionist propaganda, the Mufti's memory would have disappeared from Palestinian consciousness. A Google search conducted in 2008 turned up ten times more results for the Mufti in the English pages of the search engine than on its Arabic pages. In the hullabaloo about the Mufti's collaboration, Zionism deliberately goes schizophrenic. It ignores that only 6,300 Arabs served in the German military while hundreds of thousands of them (including 9,000 Palestinians) fought in Allied ranks.

Of the 97,000 French causalities from the Tunisian campaign leading up to the German surrender, 52 percent were Muslims. Similarly, Muslim Albania was the only country in Europe to come out of the Second World War with a larger Jewish population than it had at the beginning of the war. (Albanians have been honoured even in Israel as "righteous Gentiles.") What the Zionists also ignore is that Zionism had dealings with Nazism in the 1930s, with its Maximalist faction having affiliations with Mussolini's Italy.

Denial of the Holocaust was not in fashion in the immediate post-Holocaust/post-Israel period, especially with the rise of Nasserism. Even the Mufti refrained from Holocaust denial. Yasser Arafat called for the restoration of "a progressive, democratic and non-sectarian Palestine in which Christians, Muslims and Jews will worship, work and live peacefully and enjoy equal rights."

Denial of the Holocaust gained currency only in the past three decades. This denial is caused by several factors. It is a way to vent anger against Israel's monopoly on victimhood, for which it unfailingly invokes the Shoah. Two cases of Holocaust denial in the last 15 years have attracted worldwide attention. In his 1995 book on Holocaust, French convert to Islam Roger Garaudy contested the validity of Holocaust accounts and had to face trial in France. In 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran issued a statement in Mecca (also to embarrass his hosts) which denied the Holocaust. He thus handed the Zionists a new whip to lash the Arabs with. In 2001, a conference of Holocaust deniers was planned in Beirut. The event was cancelled because of opposition by intellectual like Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwaish and Elias Khouri. Such intellectual giants have always opposed Holocaust denials.

Regardless of the attitudes of varying ideological currents, Arabs of all political orientations opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine in the period leading up to Israel's creation. They talk about the Nakba (Catastrophe), as Arabs refer to the event of May 15, 1948, in relation to the Shoah. Gilbert says: "The Holocaust was incomparably crueler and bloodier than the Nakba. This consideration, however, in no way diminishes the tragedy of the Palestinians, particularly since they did not, as a people, bear any blame for the destruction of European Jewry." How true!

(All facts have been cited from Gilbert Achacar's book 'Arabs and the Holocaust').

The writer is a freelance contributor.









The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

As India was signing its eighth civilian nuclear deal with Canada on the sidelines of last month's G20 meeting, its officials were voicing concerns about China's sale of two power reactors to Pakistan. India's deal with Canada follows similar agreements with a number of other countries including France and Russia since the exemption it received from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the wake of the US-India nuclear accord that entered into force in 2008.

There cannot be a more telling example of nuclear doublespeak than the objections to Sino-Pakistan cooperation raised by India and a cast of familiar characters in the western media and think-tank community. These ostensible concerns are devoid of either moral or legal basis because Pakistan-China civilian nuclear cooperation is of longstanding nature and the supply of reactors was 'grandfathered' under the agreement dating back to the 1980s that provided for an understanding in 2003 for further long-term collaboration. This predates China joining the NSG in 2004.

So why all the fuss over nuclear power reactors being provided under full international safeguards? The answer might lie in the timing of the orchestrated campaign. Although plans for the third and fourth reactors at Chashma were publicly known years before, opposition to them surfaced at the time of the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May. This seemed a rather transparent bid to distract attention from the US-India nuclear deal, a fundamental violation of the Treaty and for that reason the source of continuing misgivings among many NPT members.

Different lobbies with a mix of motives seemed to lie behind the efforts to ignite a controversy. The aims may have included the following: pre-empt and deflect criticism of the US-India nuclear accord, mount pressure on Pakistan to modify its position in the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty talks at Geneva, and put pressure on China in other contexts as well ( for example tougher sanctions against Iran). Feeding into this campaign were right-wing critics of President Barack Obama who sought to use the issue to depict his administration as being soft on China and Pakistan.

A spate of analyses emanated from think tanks in Washington calling attention to Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation. Some 'experts' even urged the US to use its assistance to Pakistan as leverage to block the 'deal'. One analyst made this case in an article on the basis of the farcical claim that US aid would be subsidising the "dangerous deal"!

Much of this comment aimed at building a momentum of opinion to urge the US to take a tougher position on the issue. While Washington said it would seek "clarification" from Beijing about the two new reactors, it has – thus far – avoided pressing the issue. American officials did not raise the issue with Pakistan in last month's unpublicised talks on nuclear safety and security. Nor has the issue figured in the strategic dialogue underway in Islamabad which has a specific track dedicated to nuclear issues.

The reason the US has taken this stance is not hard to fathom. Having concluded a sweeping civilian nuclear deal with India, which was finalised this March, the US is hardly in a position to make a big deal out of this and actively oppose such cooperation between China and Pakistan. In fact the more Washington protests the more its own double standards are exposed to the non-nuclear weapons states. Moreover as some in the nuclear non-proliferation lobby in Washington have acknowledged the US may object but it "cannot prevent China from exporting these reactors".

A section of the American media highlighted Washington's "uncomfortable" position by asking how it could oppose China's plan "while dodging charges of nuclear hypocrisy, given that the administration only last year sealed a US deal to supply India with civilian nuclear equipment.

So while the Obama administration continued to be accused by its detractors of allowing the need for vital cooperation from Pakistan and China (on a range of issues including currency revaluation ) trump its non-proliferation commitment, it desisted from going beyond seeking "clarifications" from China.

The sense of disappointment this produced in Indian official circles as reflected in their media has been palpable. Delhi has made no secret of its opposition to the deal. Its behind-the-scenes lobbying has also been evident from a spate of leaked stories. Mimicking the US stance, Indian officials have been publicly saying they are calling for "clarifications" from Beijing. This provoked a rebuke last week from the spokesman of Pakistan's Foreign Office in which he said Indian demands for clarifications are unwarranted and invalid, considering India has signed civilian nuclear deals with the US and many other countries.

According to Indian press reports Delhi has questioned Pakistan-China cooperation on several recent occasions. During the May visit of Indian President Pratibha Patil to Beijing Indian officials are reported to have conveyed their objections to China's foreign minister during a formal banquet, only to be tersely told that the cooperation was for peaceful purposes.

Attempts in the Indian media to depict China-Pakistan civilian nuclear cooperation as a "counter" to the Indo-US pact and equate the two are deliberately misleading and spurious. The latter deal has global scope and enables India to gain global access to nuclear material and technology as well as as