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Saturday, July 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 10.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 10, edition 564, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjuly


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











  1. BRILLIANT RED       







































  1. D-8 SUMMIT












The fragile peace that has been restored with the help of round-the-clock curfew in Srinagar and other southern Kashmir Valley towns, relaxed for the nightlong Shab-e-Mehraj prayers at Hazratbal on Friday, should not lull the Jammu & Kashmir Government and the Centre into believing that the worst is over and the latest crisis behind us. While it would be wise to continue with the strict vigil that has been mounted and take every possible measure to crack down on the trouble-makers who, at the behest of their masters in Pakistan, have been instigating violent street protests by way of deploying young men and teenaged boys to throw stones at security forces personnel and provoke retaliatory action, there is no gainsaying that ultimately the State administration has to play a more pro-active role in maintaining peace and enforcing law and order. Unlike in the past, when the Congress and the PDP ran a coalition Government which had to often deal with conflicting views and opinions — in retrospect, it did a fairly good job in spite of internal differences and contradictions — the National Conference has the advantage of a popular mandate in its favour. Therefore, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is far better placed than his immediate predecessors in managing the affairs of the State. Given the twin facts that he is young and the National Conference remains the largest mainstream political organisation in the Kashmir Valley, there was considerable — as well as justifiable — expectation from the incumbent State Government; that expectation still remains though it is yet to be fulfilled. While Mr Omar Abdullah has no doubt focussed on development-related issues, unfortunately an impression has gained ground that the civil administration, the backbone of any State Government, has at best been listless, if not callously indifferent, in fulfilling its responsibilities. This has strengthened real and imaginary grievances which, in turn, is being exploited by the separatists of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference with more than a little help from their sponsors in Pakistan.

Mr Omar Abdullah should have engaged himself more energetically on three fronts. First, he should have kept a political dialogue going between the National Conference and the other mainstream parties, namely the Congress, the PDP and the BJP. The ruling party in Jammu & Kashmir cannot afford an adversarial role with the Opposition; it must constantly seek to involve everybody in the decision-making process. Second, Mr Omar Abdullah was right in suggesting soon after he took charge that the State police must be given the task of maintaining law and order on a day-to-day basis, with the CRPF backing it up whenever the situation so demanded. Yet, the State police continues to play a secondary role, instead of being out there on the frontline. Third, while it is true that a dialogue with the separatists is unlikely to result in any acceptable resolution of the problem they pose, the State Government should persist with trying to engage them in talks for whatever they are worth. Simultaneously, the National Conference should be seen mobilising popular opinion. Sadly, neither happened. The UPA Government cannot be faulted for telling Mr Omar Abdullah to pull up his socks and get going without any delay. It is now up to him to respond with matching urgency. In the final analysis, it is the local administration, guided by the State's political leadership, which has to manage the affairs of Jammu & Kashmir, not the Army or the CRPF. And it is the Chief Minister who has to lead from the front. 







Whichever team wins Sunday's final FIFA World Cup match will be lifting the trophy for the first time, but the Spanish team and its fans have received one blessing denied to the Dutch — that of a British-born octopus, till recently simply known as Paul and now popularly (and reverentially) referred to as Paul the Oracle. Till the time he was predicting victory for the German team, and scoring it right, he was a hero at home and held in high esteem abroad. But ever since he correctly predicted Spain's victory over Germany in Wednesday's semifinal match, Paul — who has had a 100 per cent score in 2010 and is easily the top international celebrity fortune teller — has been at the receiving end of vitriolic German anger and dire threats by Germany's fans. Inconsolable over Germany getting squeezed out of the final match by Spain, Germans and those who were rooting for Germany in this World Cup have chosen to turn their ire on poor Paul, although he remains unruffled and calm in his aquarium, feasting on mussels and insisting that the Netherlands shall be trounced by Spain. That's the third time he has voted for the Spaniards: On the first occasion, he proved to be wrong when Germany defeated Spain in the 2008 European Championship; but since then he has redeemed his reputation as a soothsayer. Sadly, this does not seem to have scored him too many brownie points, especially since the disastrous semi-final match when Germany went down without scoring even a single goal.

As soon as that match was over, dark threats flew thick and fast — messages were posted on Facebook, tweets flooded Twitterdom and new blog posts were uploaded with remarkable speed. There was abuse for Paul — much of it unprintable in these columns and unmentionable in polite society — and, horror of horrors, those with whom he had fallen foul came up with multiple options on how to turn him into dinner. It would seem that he may yet escape the chopping block if the Netherlands were to lift the trophy, but nobody's willing to take any bets. Spain, of course, has been gracious in offering him protection — it would be delightful to see Paul seeking political exile and securing refugee status in the country he predicted would win this year's FIFA championship. That would, of course, leave the Germans looking sore losers. Spain, on the other hand, would have a trophy of a different kind: An octopus who can predict the outcome of football matches — and who knows what else!








On Sunday evening, the FIFA World Cup, arguably the planet's most watched, most dramatic sports event, comes to a close. This year, it will have a new winner in either Spain or the Netherlands. In some respects, however, the real winner will be South Africa. This is not just an emotive tribute to the host and the remarkable manner in which an apartheid-blighted nation has emerged, in two decades, as a workable rainbow society and the African continent's very own superpower. All that is there; yet, South Africa's real triumph lies in the manner in which it has reinvented itself as one of the world's leading sports destinations.

In the past seven years, it has hosted two cricket world cups (Fifty50 in 2003 and Twenty20 in 2007), the Indian Premier League of 2008 and now the football World Cup. It is a regular venue for big rugby tournaments ever since it hosted (and won) the rugby World Cup in 1995. Already there is talk of South Africa bidding for the 2020 Olympics. Thus far the FIFA World Cup has been the biggest sporting spectacle on South African soil. The most impressive, using other parameters, was the IPL of 2008, which was moved to the country at short notice and was up and running, from start-up idea to flawless execution, in a matter of weeks.S

Not too many countries can boast such a rich sporting infrastructure, expertise in putting together large-scale events, and ability to provide adequate hotels and tourism and leisure facilities for visitors. Till a few years ago, this was the monopoly — or duopoly — of just two traditional sports heavyweights: Britain and Australia. 

Even today, England is the venue of choice for offshore cricket series, such as the one between Australia and Pakistan being played currently, having migrated from Pakistan because of terrorism fears. Australia, specifically Melbourne, is the back-up venue for the Commonwealth Games. The capital of Victoria has world-class cricket, tennis, athletics and golf facilities. It hosts a Formula 1 event every year. Sydney is only marginally less equipped.

For both Britain and Australia, such infrastructural richness has been a reflection of more than just mass interest in sport. It has also been an economic decision. Hosting big-ticket sports events can be very lucrative. To optimise this, it is necessary to have compelling stadiums and adept sports management professionals, of course. Also crucial are value addition in terms of an inviting socio-cultural environment, built and natural heritage, and a sharp-focussed travel and tourism trade.

That final point needs elucidation. It is a myth that every sports event draws tens of thousands of tourists. The Athens Olympics of 2004 were not marked by huge tourist inflows. Whatever it may have been 2,000 years ago, the Greek capital is today a middling European city. Parts of it are very congested. Other than the Acropolis and a clutch of similar sites all of which can be visited in a single day, Athens has little to offer by way of a modern tourism experience. Its best hotels are nice without being luxurious. If Greece gets tourists, they are more likely to be lager louts visiting island properties far away from Athens. This is not the recipe for high-end tourism.

In 2004, upper-echelon tourist operators were offering visitors fly-in, fly-out visits to Athens, a quick tour of the city and a guided trip to a specific stadium for a specific event (the Opening Ceremony, the men's 100 metres final, the basketball final, whatever). Clients of such operators were not staying in Athens, though. They were based in Istanbul, the Turkish metropolis which is far bigger and more tourist-friendly. Billionaire Olympic fans preferred staying in Istanbul's hotels and taking the helicopter for a day trip to Athens.

On the other hand the Sydney Olympics of 2000 saw an impressive visitor influx. London expects likewise in 2012. Both these cities (and their countries) are tourist magnets anyway. In such a scenario, the staging of the Olympics only adds to the mix. South Africa has now joined this club of sports-plus service providers.

The only other recent contender for a position as an international sports and leisure/tourism destination was Dubai. Its plans, which include the creation of an awe-inspiring Sports City, have suffered a setback due to the global financial crisis. Sooner or later, Dubai will be back with its blueprint.

Britain and Australia are first world countries. South Africa is very much in the developing world. It has serious problems — public health and HIV/AIDS, poverty, widespread crime that makes venturing out in many urban neighbourhoods risky. Despite these handicaps, it has pushed and clawed its way to becoming a sports venue of choice, and has established a reputation as being receptive to tourism. In a sense, this is a greater achievement than winning the soccer World Cup.

With three months to go for the Commonwealth Games, residents of New Delhi must wonder if their city will match South Africa's World Cup experience. The tourists are clearly not coming. Other than back-packers and business visitors, few foreigners come to New Delhi. Well-heeled tourists spend a day here and drive down to Jaipur or fly straight to Kerala. The Commonwealth Games are not reason enough for any leisure-seeker to change his mind about New Delhi's charms or its overpriced hotels. No wonder the rooms allocated for Games visitors have, for the most part, not been booked and are likely to be 'de-frozen' in the coming days.

If South Africa could do it so efficiently and so quickly, despite genuine social problems and idiosyncratic politicians, why has India faltered? For a start, sports events there are organised by paid professionals and not out-of-work, rent-seeking politicians. A more telling assessment must wait till the Commonwealth Games and the inevitable comparisons with the FIFA World Cup. For the moment, let South Africa bask in its glory.






History remembers those who take challenges in their stride, conquer them and make a name for themselves. Eminent littérateur Jainender Kumar has written, "A man is born with his own destiny. He cannot change it. However, will he have a good future if he stopped working for it at all? If breathing stops, it is called death, if movement stops it is also called death, if the wind stops blowing, it is death: Stopping has always been death. Life is a continuous journey." Obstacles should not stop us from continuing on this journey.

If a person is brought up in poverty, takes that situation as a challenge and, inspite of odds, climbs the ladder of success, his life becomes a role model for others. Napolean (1769-1821) is an example. So is Chanakya (4th century BC). So what if Eklavya could not get his guru's blessings — he bowed to him in his imagination and acquired the art of archery. Who can take their places? The three of them did not think too much about what they did not have and took their troubles as a motivation for success in their lives.

Think for a moment of a person who has never faced problems in his life. There is no such person. One needs determination to face obstacles and rise above them to achieve one's goals. Scholar Joseph Parker writes that finding fault with others is mankind's natural tendency. Ruled by an inferiority complex, such people have a negative attitude and easily see defects in others. They cannot detect goodness. They have doubts even over god's blessings.

It is the nature of the world that a growing person gets all aid and support and a falling person suffers more setbacks. If a man has no faith in himself, the world does not show faith in him. A person with a strong determination and will power wins half the battle before it has begun. He is honourable and successful in whatever he does. This is because he never hesitates and never doubts his own capability. On the other hand, there are people who doubt their own success and become sad inspite of possessing intelligence and education. A coward is let down by his own vice and, even if exceptionally talented, can never succeed in life. 






What are we doing in Afghanistan — many Americans are wondering aloud now even as Barack Obama tries to stimulate adrenaline rush with change at the top

The ceremonious removal of General Stanley McChrystal from command in Afghanistan a fortnight ago was expected by some to instil new energy in the US campaign in Afghanistan. However, an assessment of the turn of events, and a review of the past, which warranted a change in Obama's AfPak (exit) policy following the escalation of human and financial loss, find the Americans in a desperate situation. 

Clearly, the Taliban are unconquerable. To deepen problems for President Obama, the American people's support for US involvement in Afghanistan — after 20 months of recession — no longer exists. Apart from the Washington elite, that small microcosm comprising politicians, columnists, bureaucrats and lobbyists, few Americans remember any of the original reasons for going there in the first place. 

There are concerns among NATO allies too. A protracted debate has started in Britain, whose death toll now stands at 312, and is likely to go beyond 400 before the war in Afghanistan is over, as per the estimates of former head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt. Prime Minister David Cameron wants troops back home as soon as possible. "2010 was the key year for the mission in Afghanistan," said Cameron. 

The Independent reported that as US forces take over the command of Sangin (Helmand), where 99 British soldiers were killed, almost a third of the total deployment; it increasingly becomes America's war. In the prevailing situation, the Obama administration finds itself in a tight corner for failing to resolve the Afghan problem, meanwhile Iran emerges as a festering sore. General McChrystal's replacement in Afghanistan, General Petraeus, a former US commander in Iraq, managed to calm things down in Iraq before his departure from the country, yet violence is escalating once again in Iraq. 

Petraeus' strategy in Iraq was to pay and arm the Sunnis to kill al-Qaeda operatives, while promising them jobs in the national army. But the Iraqi Government refused to pay these groups, known as the Awakening Councils and Sons of Iraq, thus ensuring General Petraeus' exit. Now he is in command in Afghanistan, but there is doubt if he can really fix the problem here as there is vast difference between the political, social and geographical characters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is a plain, while Afghanistan has vast mountains regions. Second, unlike Iraq, there never existed civil society in Afghanistan. Moreover, at no time in the history of Afghanistan has a foreign attacker (except the ruthless Genghis Khan) succeeded in smashing the will of the people. Unless Obama is about to clone Genghis' methods, there is little hope in America's prospects. The biggest joke today, albeit in retrospect, was the "July 2011 deadline" set by Obama for "withdrawal" of US troops from Afghanistan. At first, look it was nothing more than a political decision to ensure domestic support for the longest-ever war America fought. But now people are openly saying: "who is America to decide on withdrawal when the Taliban are calling the shots?"

However, it must be conceded that the 2011 exit plan was a popular decision. But, there were several adverse fallout. The Pakistan Army, which gave grudging assistance under coercion, resorted to a cynical plan to ensure that Uncle Sam did not leave the theatre. So, it launched a Janus-headed plan: weaken the American military in Afghanistan, but discourage it from returning because that would plug the flow of dollars. With an intention to make US stay longer in Afghanistan, Pakistan blackmailed Afghan President Karzai into negotiations with Taliban, coercively indicating that Karzai has no options but to submit to Pakistan Army's dictated solutions once the NATO forces are out. 

Obama's dependence on Pakistan has cost millions worth of ammunition and supplies apart from lives and the emasculation of the operation. It has shaken the US administration's confidence in Pakistan as the most-trusted, non-Nato ally in the war against terror. However, in desperation, US officials have launched a fresh charm offensive to pacify the "alienated" Pakistanis. A panicking and bankrupt Washington is also trying to arm-twist other neighbours of Afghanistan into doling out money to save its occupation in Afghanistan. Pakistan is capitalising on the situation, blackmailing the State Department into pressurising India to bow down and start bilateral negotiations unconditionally, while it continues sending mercenaries across its eastern border. 


Pakistan is on the lookout to leverage the US dependence to wage a low-grade, asymmetric, terrorism-backed war against India. The Americans have no option but look the other way because they fear that if Pakistan simply decides to withdraw from the Afghan front, the entire US campaign in that country would collapse. The implications are too scary. The breathing space thus conceded to Taliban and al-Qaeda would put Americans at home perpetually exposed to the possibility of another 9/11. 

Last December, when Obama announced the surge-and-exit plan, it led to a fresh drive by American forces. A day after, the then US commander, General McChrystal, who knew the ground situation better, had said that the exit deadline was "flexible". Sixth months later, General McChrystal was sidelined by Obama to uphold the principle of civilian supremacy. However, the explosive article in Rolling Stone, in which McChrystal criticised all by calling President Obama (unprepared), Vice-President Joe Biden (bite me), US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (betrayer), special envoy Richard Holbrooke (wounded animal) and White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones (clown), cannot cloud the reality that US Generals fighting in Afghanistan have different perceptions on war strategy than the civilian and military bureaucracy hierarchy in Washington. 

General McChrystal was successful in building personal relationships with the people he needed — from Hamid Karzai to a plethora of tribal elders and religious leaders. He believed he could wean Pashtun tribesmen from the Taliban, who promote a form of Islam that is historically alien to the area. Many believe that General McChrystal's removal at this juncture can only embolden Pakistan, Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The burning question is — what is the future of the US in Afghanistan, and what is to be the US role post-withdrawal? Obama's magic is probably over and if he entertains hopes of a second term beyond 2012, he desperately needs a rabbit out of the hat. The hopeless condition of the Afghan National Army and police forces constitute a deadweight on his plans for honourable exit. It is quite a challenge to make these forces ready to assume control once NATO forces leave the country. As warlords undermine the potential for progress on all other fronts in Afghanistan, success is impossible without competent Afghan security institutions. But the task seems Herculean, as according to December 2009 estimates, 9 out of 10 soldiers in the Afghan National Army cannot even read. Moreover, corruption, theft and betrayal are rampant. 

With problems mounting and support for US forces' longer stay in Afghanistan thinning, it seems Obama will only end up abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban. How many Americans recall the original Bushspeak — "We will smoke them out of their holes?" 

-- The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer 







General Petraeus' appointment this week as the new head of US forces in Afghanistan has been met with cynicism in America and jibes elsewhere. The parallels with Vietnam are unavoidable, especially the act of conflict escalation ahead of withdrawal

History, when it repeats, can be deadly. The American involvement in Afghanistan is gradually taking a trajectory that reminds one of Vietnam. Of course, nobody uses the V-word much these days, but the comparisons are striking. First of all, the United States happens to be the common external power that waged war in both these Asian countries. Secondly, it was Republican administrations in Washington that initiated the interventions — Dwight D Eisenhower in Vietnam and George W Bush in Afghanistan. 

Most importantly, it was Democratic administrations who escalated the operations; reluctantly at first, but with renewed gusto subsequently. Lyndon B Johnson in 1965 wrapped America's fate with Vietnam and the Obama administration with Afghanistan in 2009. If John F Kennedy had lived to complete his term, history would perhaps have taken a different turn, because Kennedy had actually set a phased withdrawal from Vietnam in motion. But the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964 gave Johnson the impetus to reverse the Kennedy order and he made Vietnam the greatest priority of his foreign policy. By the end of his term in 1968, more than 5,55,000 American soldiers were stationed in Vietnam. And they were dying too —at the rate of over 1,000 a month.

Cut to 2001. No doubt George W Bush ordered military strikes in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, but after initial success — the expulsion of Mullah Omar's Taliban regime — his focus soon shifted to Iraq. The Iraq chapter proved his undoing and Barack Obama used it as a touchstone on Bush's performance during the 2008 campaign. As President, Obama not only censured the Bush administration for lacklustre and half-hearted performance in Afghanistan, but also outlined an explicit troop removal from Iraq and zeroed in on Afghanistan. He authorised more Drone attacks on Afghan militants and insurgents in the first few months of his administration than President Bush during his entire presidency. 


Fourthly, successive US administrations fought in Vietnam in order to contain an ideological enemy in Communism. In the same way, the Republican Administration under George Bush and the Democratic Administration under Barrack Obama articulated the threat from Afghanistan in terms of Islamic extremism. So, in both places, American troops ended up fighting against an enemy which was ideologically committed against it and prepared to go to any length. 


Fifthly, the Vietnamese Communists were actively supported with weapons, men and material by a neighbouring country — China. Religious extremists fighting the American and allied forces in Afghanistan receive their political, material and to some extent cadre assistance, from Pakistan. The Nixon administration realised that the key to extricate itself from Vietnam quagmire was an appropriate understanding with Beijing. Now, Obama appears to be bargaining for an end to US military operations from Afghanistan with Pakistani support. 

In the 1960s, China faced US containment and in turn backed North Vietnam and Viet Cong insurgents. But after the Nixon-Mao talks, there was a Sino-US détente which enabled Washington to break the nexus between Chinese and Vietnamese communists and chart out a withdrawal strategy. In the early 1990s, Pakistan lost its strategic relevance to Washington after the fall of the Soviet empire. In fact, Pakistan became the object of US sanctions under the Pressler Amendment since 1990 and came under further heavy US sanctions in the wake of the Chagai Hill nuclear tests. When the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in response to 9/11, Pakistan was no longer a US ally. 

In a move analogous with Nixon's détente policy towards China, George W Bush renewed contacts with Islamabad before initiating attacks on Afghanistan. The major difference was that Pakistan was more vulnerable to American diktat than China ever was. But Chinese leader Mao Zedong responded positively to Nixon's overtures on account of the strategic gains he perceived from a friendship with America. Pakistani strongman General Pervez Musharraf also had such an illusion. 

Recent developments suggest that the US is developing war fatigue in Afghanistan. The Vietnam War, which began in 1965, was over in 1973, making an eight-year war. Two years later, South and North Vietnam got united under Communist rule. But America has been in Afghanistan for over nine years now. It is now becoming crystal clear to American policy makers that this war is unwinnable. There are indications that the Obama administration would, sooner rather than later, implement an exit strategy.

There is a context to this. The recent episode which marked General Stanley McCrystal's replacement by General David Patraeus reveals beyond doubt the existence of acute intra-agency differences in the Obama administration over the country's strategy and policy related to the Afghanistan war. McCrystal's replacement is the second of its kind in American history — the first being the dismissal of General Douglas McArthur by President Truman after the former's open quarrel with the White House over the strategy to be adopted for the Korean War. Both the generals were in favour of expanding the scope and intensity of military operations in opposition to the position taken by the Presidency. 

The appointment of General Patraeus as the Commander of US forces in Afghanistan is actually a clear sign of Obama's exit strategy. This general was the architect and executor of the "surge" in Iraq which succeeded to a certain extent in reducing violence in Iraq and paved the way for outlining a troop withdrawal strategy. In Vietnam, the US escalated the military strikes before finally departing from the war theatre. In Iraq, the surge preceded announcement of a time-table for troop reduction and final withdrawal. In Afghanistan too, the similar strategy is being tried. 

While rising unpopularity of US military operations in Afghanistan and persistent economic recession are additional causes factored into the calculation of an exit plan, it has to be recognised that no superpower ever likes to leave the impression of a military defeat. This explains the escalation of bombing in Vietnam, the surge in Iraq and identical application in Afghanistan. Negotiations with the Vietnamese Communists continued even as American bombers sprayed napalm over North Vietnam and bombed its cities. So too would negotiations with the Taliban take place in the midst of Drone attacks. There are enough indications of such a plan being unfurled in Afghanistan already.

China became an adversary of Vietnam after America's departure and even attacked Vietnam in 1979-four years after the unification of that country. Pakistan, which seems to be nurturing a section of the Taliban and negotiating for their installation as a future government in Kabul, has hopes for a friendly Afghan regime to enjoy so-called "strategic depth". Will it succeed or there may be a Pak-Afghan war in the foreseeable future? 

Of course, all would depend on the nature of the American exit. The US is not departing from Iraq lock, stock and barrel. It may not do so in Afghanistan either. But if it does, the Vietnam analogy may come true. 

-- The writer is Chairman, CCUS&LAS, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru







America's withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to be more complicated than Vietnam because the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba would remain a deadly threat to Americans for all time. Add to that Pakistan designs of becoming future kingmaker in Kabul

As the search for stability in Afghanistan intensifies, the threat of violence and a wider conflagration is growing. In an effort to secure a dominant position in Afghanistan and blunt India's rise, Pakistan has mobilised militants and terrorists on both sides of its borders. While the Afghan Taliban fighting US and NATO forces continue to enjoy Pakistan's support, Islamabad has exchanged its previous policy of supporting anti-Indian insurgencies with that of supporting terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), which mounted the deadly assault on Mumbai in 2008. 

Many Pakistanis today — academics, policy analysts, and even officials — concede that fomenting insurgencies within India has been a main component of Pakistan's national strategy. But that late admission comes long after Pakistan's military establishment moved to replace its failed strategy of encouraging insurgencies with the more lethal device of unleashing terrorism.

Flushed with confidence flowing from the success of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan during the 1980s, Pakistan sought to replicate in the east what it had managed in the west, namely, the defeat of a great power larger than itself. Using the same instruments as before — radical Islamist groups that had sprung up throughout Pakistan — Pakistan's ISI pushed into J&K for the first time in 1993 with combat-hardened aliens tasked to inflict large-scale murder and mayhem.

Through this act, Pakistan's traditional strategy of fomenting insurgencies finally gave way to a new approach, namely, fomenting terrorism (an instrument that most Pakistanis still refuse to acknowledge). No longer would Pakistan rely on dissatisfied indigenous populations to advance Islamabad's interests; rather, vicious bands of Islamic terrorists, most of whom had little or no connection to any existing grievances with India, would be unleashed indiscriminately to kill large numbers of civilians.

Of all the terrorist groups ISI has sponsored over the years, the LeT has been especially favored because its dominant Punjabi composition matched the primary ethnicity of the Pakistani Army and ISI; and its puritanical Salafism undergirded its willingness to engage in risky military operations throughout India. Many in ISI are deeply sympathetic to LeT's vision of recovering "lost Muslim lands" in Asia and Europe and resurrecting a universal Islamic Caliphate through the instrument of jihad.

Although Pakistani propaganda often asserts that LeT is a Kashmiri organisation moved by the Kashmiri cause, it is nothing of the kind. The 3,000-odd foot soldiers are drawn primarily from the Pakistani Punjab. Indian intelligence today estimates that LeT maintains some kind of presence in twenty-one countries worldwide with the intention of supporting or participating in what its leader Hafeez Saeed has called the perpetual "jihad against the infidels." Consequently, LeT's operations in and around India, which often receive the most attention, are only part of a large pastiche that has taken LeT operatives and soldiers as far afield as Australia, Canada, Chechnya, China, Eritrea, Kosovo, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and even the US.

Given the organisation's vast presence, its prolific capacity to raise funds worldwide, and its ability to conduct militant activities at great distances from its home base, LeT has become ISI's preferred instrument for its ongoing covert war with India. This includes the campaign that Pakistan is currently waging against the Indian presence in Afghanistan and against US counter-insurgency efforts in that country. Active LeT operations in Pakistan's northwestern border areas involve close collaboration with al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Jamiat al-Dawa al-Quran wal-Sunna. Thanks to these activities and others worldwide, Washington has now reached the conclusion that LeT represents a threat to America's national interests second only to al-Qaeda and in fact exceeds the latter by many measures.

Based on this judgment, President Barack Obama has told Pakistan's President Asif Zardari that targeting LeT would be one of his key conditions for a renewed US strategic partnership with Pakistan. Thus far, however, the Pakistani military, which still rules Pakistan even though it does not formally govern, has been non-responsive, preferring instead to emphasise the threat India supposedly poses to Pakistan — thereby implicitly justifying ISI's continued reliance on terrorism — while demanding further US assistance. Such a demand is intended to inveigle the US into Pakistan's relentless competition with India. The military's dismissal of Obama's injunctions regarding LeT are driven at least partly by its belief that all US warnings are little other than special pleading on the behalf of India.

Since assaulting India has become a quite satisfying end in itself, the Pakistani establishment has no incentive whatsoever to interdict this group. To the degree that ISI has attempted to control LeT, it is mainly to prevent excessive embarrassment to its sponsors or serious crises leading to war. But outside of these aims, the Pakistani military has no interest in dismantling any terrorist assets that it believes serve it well.

Military leaders in Rawalpindi have thus not only failed to understand that American concerns about LeT derive fundamentally from its own growing conviction that the group's activities worldwide make it a direct threat to the US, but they also continue to harbor the illusion that their current strategy of unleashing terrorism will enervate India, push it out of Afghanistan, and weaken US stabilisation efforts there. Such a strategy is designed to make Islamabad the kingmaker in determining Kabul's future. This too promises to become one more in the long line of cruel illusions that has gripped Pakistan since its founding.









IT IS not just the toxins in his daily glass of lauki ( bottle gourd) and karela ( bitter gourd) juice that killed Delhi based official of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR) Sushil Kumar Saxena. The ones who are really responsible for his death are those who propagate pop remedies on television based on alternate forms of medicine.


By presenting their remedies as a panacea for all kinds of illnesses, and an alternative to medication under professional supervision, proponents of pop- medication like Baba Ramdev are playing with the lives of people.


They violate the basic premise of all forms of medicine including Ayurveda, that remedies should be offered keeping in mind the particularities of each individual patient, and making clear their side effects.


Proclaiming that lauki and karela juice can cure diabetes, without acknowledging the medical history of individual patients, and without even knowing that these vegetables may contain toxins, is nothing but quackery.


The disclaimer issued following Mr Saxena's death that patients should check for bitterness before consuming lauki juice serves no purpose. It can't undo the loss it has caused the Saxena family. Nor does it address the issue of irresponsible counselling by the likes of Baba Ramdev on television.


This should not be construed as a case against alternative forms of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani, or the Chinese traditional medicine. These have been found to provide relief in a number of ailments provided they are applied in a professional manner.


But Baba Ramdev has faced criticism from even within yoga and Ayurveda circles for his unprofessional and commercialised approach.


The death of Mr Saxena should serve as a lesson to all those who replace proper medication with pop therapy.



PARTS of Punjab and Haryana are reeling with floods. Even though the monsoon has just about entered north- western India and there have been heavy rains in the catchment area for the rivers flowing from Himachal Pradesh, the primary reason for the disaster seems to be the breach in canals that service this rich agricultural region.


The floods have affected Ambala, Kurukshetra and Kaithal districts in Haryana and Patiala and Sangrur districts in Punjab. People have been displaced. Rail and road communications have been cut.


The Haryana floods seem to be the outcome of a 50 foot breach in the Sutlej- Yamuna Link canal which is yet to be plugged, though another breach upstream has been taken care of. Officials in Punjab are blaming their Haryana counterparts for constructing the Hansi- Butana canal on the state border which has prevented the natural flow of the Ghaggar river resulting in floods in the state.


Clearly, the states have been lax in maintaining their river and canal systems. Worse, their policies have ensured that one state's bounty becomes another's misery. Haryana and Punjab need to fight the floods now, but more important, they need to keep their river and canal systems in good order and coordinate their watershed management policies better in the future.



THURSDAY'S incident, in which a schoolboy jumped off the second floor of his school building in Preet Vihar after being beaten up by his teacher, should remind us that the evil of corporal punishment is very much amidst us.


Coming after the case in Kolkata where a boy committed suicide after being caned at school, it reiterates the need for the authorities to crack down against the menace.


It is not enough to have laws and court verdicts banning corporal punishment. The problem lies in their enforcement. The two extreme instances we have mentioned took place in private schools but beating up children is a regular affair in government schools.


There is also need for a change in the mindset of teachers and guardians where they begin treating children as individuals. This will beget the realisation in them that corporal punishment not just violates a child's dignity but can also leave a permanent scar on their psyche.









A NEW generation of youngsters is out in the streets of Kashmir shouting " Indians go home" and neither Delhi nor Srinagar has any counter response to them which could be called either credible or political.


The situation in the Kashmir valley is much worse than what it was in 1989 — at that time there were young men with guns in their hands, today we are witnessing an unprecedented popular uprising.


How did this come about and who is responsible for the current situation? The government has released some taped telephone conversations to show that separatist leaders want the confrontation to become violent. The suggestion is that forces inimical to India across the border are behind the present turmoil. But that is not an adequate explanation of what is happening in Kashmir.


The factors leading to the present situation are so complex that Pakistan and pro- Pakistan forces alone cannot be blamed.


About two years ago, Pakistan seems to have decided to shift its Kashmir strategy from sabotage to political subversion.


Fidayeen attacks on security forces and other symbols of the Indian state were stopped. Terrorism caused economic distress and did not find local support. Kashmiris were not willing to be casualties in Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Pakistan, therefore, decided to change tack and use every misdemeanour of the government to bring people out on the street. The strategy was orchestrated brilliantly.




Neither the government in Srinagar nor in New Delhi realised the change in the Pakistani game plan. They took the lack of terrorist incidents to mean that the situation was moving towards normalcy.


Kashmiris trace the beginning of the present unrest to the May 2008 administrative order transferring 40 acres of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.


The valley erupted and violence claimed an estimated 60 lives. The government revoked the order but this led to protests in Jammu and Udhampur, stoked in no small measure by the Hindutva brigade.


The Peoples Democratic Party which was an alliance partner of the Congress in the state withdrew support. And ultimately Ghulam Nabi Azad had to pay the political cost by becoming the first chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir to be hounded out because of public protests.


Once the effectiveness of public protests became apparent, there was no stopping the separatists and their handlers.


The Muzaffarabad march of August 2008 became a pro- Independence march and led to the killing of Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz. The protests that followed his killing saw the spread of stonepelting as a form of protest in the Valley.


Then a series of incidents occurred which kept fuelling the public protest. It began with the drowning of two young women in a rivulet in Shopian whose death was deliberately — and as it turned out, wrongly — played up as rape by the separatist elements.


These protests snowballed with protestors being killed by the security forces and took on a different dimension in June this year with several youngsters being shot down in incidents that underline the incomprehension of the security forces on how to deal with public protest.




The elections that ensued with the ouster of Ghulam Nabi Azad brought the National Conference to the fore as the leading contender to form the new government.


The popular vote that was cast in favour of Farooq Abdullah was virtually subverted under pressure from Delhi keen on transition to youth for its own reasons.


And so the younger Abdullah, Omar, who lacked his father's experience of mass politics, was installed as Chief Minister.


Omar Abdullah had no standing in the party or amongst the masses. He initiated changes in the party structure by sidelining his father's loyalists and did not spare even his uncle Mustafa Kamal.


There is no love lost between Omar Abdullah and senior National Conference leaders like Ali Muhammad Sagar or Abdul Rahim Rather. Senior leaders like Choudhary Ramzan, Mir Saifullah, Irfan Shah, Nazir Gurezi, Kafeel Ur Rehman and Sajad Kirchloo have been politically sidelined. The impression in Srinagar is that the chief minister is managed by a businessman from Jammu, his political advisor, who is derisively referred to as the ' Amar Singh of National Conference'. The younger MLAs that Omar Abdullah relies on have little following in the party.


A situation has, therefore, come about in which the Chief Minister has no following in his own party and his style of functioning is such that he is isolated from the masses. He can neither keep a tab on the pulse of the people through the party nor is he accessible to the public like his father. He has no way of being able to gauge the mood on the streets. He gets easily riled, as over a morphed picture showing Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq and Omar as " Three Idiots" — and has not earned a reputation for good governance or even for trying hard enough.


The government in Delhi gives the impression that it does not understand the situation in Kashmir. Those responsible for Kashmir affairs in the capital have not bothered to follow through Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's initiatives on Kashmir — especially the autonomy recommendations of Justice Sagheer Ahmad. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up five working groups on Jammu and Kashmir in March 2006. While four working groups had submitted their reports in April 2007, the fifth working group on Centre- State relations headed by Justice ( Retired) Sagheer Ahmed submitted its report in December 2009.




The report made several recommendations relating to the demand for autonomy and " self- rule" and what it could mean and how autonomy to the state could be restored. The report and its recommendations have neither been discussed nor pursued by the government in any way.

For reasons best known to it, New Delhi has also not pursued the dialogue it had started with the All Party Hurriyat Conference and other separatist leaders. The last time a formal dialogue was held with the Hurriyat was in 2004. Nothing happened further till 2006 when the government invited the Hurriyat to be a party to a roundtable conference on Kashmir along with other mainstream political parties. The Hurriyat leaders essentially wanted a separate dialogue and refused saying they did not want to be part of a crowd.

In September last year, Union home minister P Chidambaram apparently had some secret meetings with the Kashmiri separatist leaders — Hurriyat leaders such as Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Bilal Lone as well as independents like Yasin Malik. That the meetings happened at all was denied by all concerned. However, the suspicion that some secret talks were indeed going on riled the hardliners. This is believed to have led to the assassination bid on Hurriyat moderate Fazal Haq Qureshi in December 2009 which left him paralysed for life. The attack on Qureshi ended the quiet dialogue if indeed it was taking place and those who might have been amenable to talking were pushed towards laying down harder pre- conditions for a dialogue.


A combination of these factors — Pakistan's new Kashmir strategy of developing an Intifada like situation, incompetent political leadership in Srinagar, and a loss of nerve in New Delhi to follow up the Prime Minister's initiative, have resulted in the current crisis in the Valley.


So rattled is New Delhi with the developments in Kashmir that it has had to send in the army to Srinagar for the first time in 21 years. The timing could not have been worse — barely days before the Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna undertakes his maiden visit to Pakistan, the world is watching Indian troop carriers speeding through the deserted, curfew bound streets of Srinagar.




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MUCH has been written and said about the three show cause notices that the BCCI sent to Lalit Modi and the extraordinarily long replies of the suspended Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman. But there are still many interesting aspects of the embattled official's replies — Hotel Maurya Sheraton's- Bukhara restaurant is thrown in for good measure — that have still not entered the public domain. Here they are. Read on … One of the charges against Modi is that he tried to launch a "mirror image" of the IPL in the United Kingdom and that this plan was hatched in a secret meeting with representatives of the English counties and IMG.


While defending himself in his reply, Modi says that it was a casual lunch and not a sinister meeting or a diabolical plot. "I was informed by the IMG that some county representatives were in India and they were eager to meet me. I had very little time then since IPL Season- III was already underway. However, as they continued to request IMG, I agreed to briefly meet them," he writes.


"Originally, it was decided that I would meet them on 30th March, 2010, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. I, however, had to unfortunately cancel the meeting. The county representatives, via IMG, requested me to somehow to squeeze them for a brief meeting as they were leaving the same night. On 31st March, I had planned to meet some friends for lunch at Bukhara and this was the only time I had. So, out of courtesy, I asked them to join me for lunch with my friends and they agreed," he says.


The BCCI has alleged that Modi made a presentation to the guests as part of his "plot". Modi refutes this. "Anyone who is familiar with the Bukhara restaurant will know that it is hardly the place where a formal business meeting involving ' presentations' can be held.


The lunch was [ a] casual and informal affair with friends in which the county representatives and IMG officials joined in. There was no agenda for this meeting nor did I have any preconceived ideas on the lines on which this meeting would proceed," he explains. C LARIFYING his patriotism further, Modi discloses that he virtually thwarted the plans of organising an Arab league on the lines of the IPL. " In fact, when one of the Rajasthan Royals shareholders held a meeting with Sheikh Nahayan regarding a proposed Arab League, I severely reprimanded him," he claims. " I also sent a mail to the promoters of Rajasthan Royals with a copy marked to BCCIIPL lawyer John Loffhagen and Andrew Wildblood of IMG, saying that if the said shareholder directly or indirectly associates with any form of unauthorised cricket we would have to take action against him." Meanwhile, varying speculative figures have appeared in the media about the number of pages in the show cause notices and Modi's replies.


For the first time, here are the authentic figures, based on copies of all the notices and the replies.


The first notice, which was delivered on April 26, was 34 pages long and, interestingly, there was no date mentioned on it. The second one, dated May 6, was five pages long while the third one was of eight pages and was sent on May 31.


Modi's replies have evoked much interest among the media, especially the pictures of huge cartons containing annexures which were delivered to the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. For the record, the first reply actually was just 156 pages, besides the annexures, while the second and third replies were 24 and 51 pages long respectively.


There could be many, many more exchanges as some of the unrelenting top officials of the BCCI and Modi continue to sling mud on each other in the most public spat in the board's 78- year history.



MEERUT, the hub for the country's sports gear manufacturing companies, is a favourite destination for Indian cricketers from all levels. Quite often Delhi players like Virender Sehwag drive down to choose the best of willows and protective gear before an important tour or series.

On Wednesday, Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, along with their close friends, travelled to the city to pick

equipment before leaving for the Test series in Sri Lanka on Friday. But this time Sehwag did not pick many new bats; instead, he got some of his favourite willows repaired at the well- known Sansperils Greenlands ( SG) company.


" Sehwag brought a few bats with him and got them repaired as per the weight requirement, which is crucial for batsmen," a company source told M AIL T ODAY . " He got the handles and other parts of the bat mended. After all, being an opening batsman, he is very particular about the kinds of bats he uses." However, Gambhir will most probably use new bats during the two- Test series in Sri Lanka. " He did not get the bats repaired; he went there to buy new bats and picked up four of them," said the source. Gambhir had been batting — and making lots of runs — with a bat gifted by Sehwag in 2007. It is, however, not known if he is carrying that bat to Sri Lanka.



A PROMINENT Pakistani was in the forefront in congratulating Sharad Pawar on becomi- ICC president last week. Ehsan Mani, who was ICC president from 2003 to 2006, said he was " delighted" to see an Indian take charge of the ICC again.


Mani has a special reason to be grateful to Pawar for what he did as BCCI president. In 2007, when the BCCI opposed the Twenty20 World Cup and was on the verge of pulling out of the tournament, Pawar saved the ICC — and Mani — the blushes. And Mani candidly shows his gratitude.


" One of the challenges I had, soon after Mr Pawar became president of BCCI, was to convince India to agree to adopt T20 as an international form of the game. BCCI's position was that India had little or no exposure to this form and it was reluctant to participate in the first T20 World Cup held in South Africa," the Londonbased Mani told M AIL T ODAY . " BCCI also wanted to cut down the number of ICC events in which it took part. I explained to Mr Pawar that BCCI was contractually bound to participate in all ICC events, including T20s. After Mr Pawar had had an opportunity to consider the matter further he agreed that BCCI had to fulfil its commitments to the ICC, even though a number of his colleagues in the BCCI had serious reservations about T20. India took part in the inaugural T20 in South Africa, won it, and the seeds of IPL were born," he points out.


Another challenge that Mani faced as ICC president pertains to the resumption of Indo- Pak bilateral series. In 2004, India played their first Test series in Pakistan after 15 years following initiatives by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, providing relief to Mani.


Now, says the Pakistani, Pawar would as be probably as eager he was to see the bilateral series, discontinued after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, resume soon. " Mr Pawar, better than most, will understand the goodwill that cricket can promote among nations," he said.







Tut tut. We aam janata have a very wrong idea of our netas. We disparage them for taking the PPP (portfolios-perks-privileges) route when on coalition course. Competitive berth pangs, we say, drive political careerists. And yet we've seen dramatic displays of tyaag, such as the one that catapulted the Congress boss to political sainthood. Well, renunciation's still in fashion. In a humbler display, the agriculture minister wishes to farm out some of the amassed spoils of his multifaceted office: NCP's chiefdom, ministries of agriculture, food & civil supplies and consumer affairs, plus an ICC presidency. As he suggests, after "44 years in Parliament" and "25-26 years in government", why not off-load the Pawar and the glory? 

True. What better time to shed the burden of managing food and civil supplies? Hasn't inflation become a runaway bride, with onions, potatoes, milk and sugar chasing after? Aren't opposition nosey-parkers raising hell about bhookh and mehengai? And won't the ministerial load get heavier when the Congress chief's new pet project takes off? If food security's to be the poor's entitlement, food insecurity can't surely be staple for the man-in-charge. Food for thought and a quick exit, eh? 

Besides, all work and no play makes Jack a dull mantri. Ex-cricketer Craig McDermott said sometime ago that fast bowlers should be used in short bursts during matches so they don't burn out. This logic of recovery time applies to ministers as well. It's unfair, then, to say the new but overloaded ICC prez will only work part-time. Especially since its politics he'd rather do in short bursts in order to be a full-time international khiladi. Luckily, UPA-II's indulgent. The NCP chief's not the only one to get a respite (from worrying about the price of spuds at sabzi mandis). Take the chemicals and fertilisers minister. He does long bursts Maldives, here he comes! of gallivanting. For, he's overworked as well. What can be more back-breaking than organising resistance to reforms? 

Or take Mamata, multitasking between the city of hoped-for electoral joy and the national capital. Is it surprising that the lady some call the "Union minister of Bengal" has no fascination for berths (unless they're in trains) herself? When newly elected UPA-II had offered her a choice of ministries in 2009 as a valued ally, it's said she'd grandly refused it all save the Railways. Today, she could bequeath even that sole gaddi to a nominee. Provided the Congress is game for a quit pro quo. 

Isn't there anyone who sings, my sweet load? Sure there is. Bring it on, these rare role-jugglers say. Like Pranab-da, once foreign minister, acting finance minister and even de facto prime minister when the PM was briefly indisposed. Nor does he lack a self-sacrificing spirit. Asked why the top job eludes him despite his CV and stamina, he was quoted saying PMs need fluency in Hindi! They don't make diplomats like that anymore. 

To conclude: our netas are noble. They don't fear Pawar shortage or even short-change. Especially when it's for a good pause...sorry, cause. 








We are entering a new era when nuclear energy is seen as part of the solution to growing energy needs, a solution required to bring about development in a climate-friendly manner. 


More than 60 countries have written to the International Atomic Energy Agency expressing their desire to develop nuclear power. In the US, the $8 billion provided for loan guarantees for new nuclear builds by the Bush administration have been augmented by the present administration by an additional $50 billion. The Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD projects a growth of nuclear generation capacity from the present 370 GWe to between 600 and 1,400 GWe by the year 2050. (1 GWe=1,000 MWe). The World Nuclear Association has projected a nuclear capacity between 2,050 GWe and 11,000 GWe by the end of this century; 16-17 per cent of this is expected in countries that do not have any nuclear power programme at present. 


 Major nuclear power technology holders as well as uraniumrich countries are aggressively moving forward to encash the emerging opportunity. New partnerships in nuclear business that transcend geographical boundaries are emerging to synergise capabilities for expanding rapidly and capturing as much market share as possible. These partnerships cover not only nuclear reactors but also a range of fuel cycle activities that include uranium production, enrichment and fuel fabrication. Canada, China, France, Kazakhstan and Russia appear to be especially active in this regard. 

A look at our long-term energy needs vis-à-vis indigenous energy resources would reveal that we are and will remain dependent on significant energy imports if we continue in business as usual mode. Since use of fossil energy is fast becoming a sustainability and climate stability concern, access to nuclear energy resources and engagement in global nuclear trade is crucial. Our advanced technological capability in threestage nuclear programme development coupled with our integration in the global nuclear trade should enable us to bridge our energy deficit through growth in generation capacity with breeder reactors that do not need further energy imports. This would make us truly energy independent. 


 It is, however, important that we do not get sidetracked while evolving global nuclear business partnerships. Such partnerships, given our technological capability, would not only eventually position us as a major global player, but also add a further degree of immunity against disruptions and vulnerabilities that are associated with this politically sensitive trade domain. We have already witnessed the doublespeak at the G8 as well as the NPT review conference when, after NSG exemption for India, we are being asked to join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state. Fortunately, at a time when several nuclear power projects are under negotiation, we have the advantage in working out nuclear business partnerships in our best interests. 
    There is, however, another side to nuclear energy. We need to clearly understand the perception of risk in the public mind. While we can objectively say that with any evolving technology – for example, the shift to air travel – risks have actually decreased, the perception of risk has perhaps grown. This, to my mind, is related to the catastrophe syndrome that comes into play with the arrival of a new technology that is more intense. Beyond a particular level of consequence, we find it hard to accept a technology no matter how low the risk in objective terms. The evolution of new technologies has always faced such hurdles. Public acceptance eventually comes about as a result of enhanced familiarity and recognition of the far better benefit to risk ratio. 


With nuclear energy, the issue is even more complex. Mankind came to know of nuclear energy through the horrors of the nuclear bomb. The quantitative risk with nuclear electricity has always been shown to be significantly lower than other electricity production alternatives. Hopefully, negative impressions are slowly giving way to positive ones as a result of contributions made by safe and economically competitive nuclear power. Through the activities of the World Association of Nuclear Operators formed after Chernobyl, the nuclear industry has learnt its lesson and taken nuclear energy to a much higher safety level. Today, we not only talk of far lower maximum consequence in the public domain but are also evolving approaches to reduce risks arising out of safety, security and proliferation threats. 


We are currently witnessing an intense debate on the level of and responsibility for third-party nuclear liability coverage. While the legal framework must enable adequate protection of the public, we must also be aware of the importance of greater Indian involvement in international nuclear business partnerships. Today, the safety level of nuclear power technology is significantly enhanced. Trying to match in the early stage of a modest Indian programme the risk coverage that a large pool of nuclear power plants, such as in the US, can manage would only mean raising the barrier to growth of nuclear power and denying ourselves the opportunity to be a dominant player in the global nuclear energy market. It is important that, while we safeguard our interests, we do not miss out on opportunities that are available as a result of emotional illogic. 


The writer is former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.








The midlife crisis has become part of our pop-culture lexicon, dissected and lampooned in everything from books to movies to television shows. And now, we are seeing the same process repeat itself with the quarter-life crisis. People in their 20s and 30s are suffering from the same self-doubt and crisis of identity that earlier afflicted people well into their forties or older. And just like the midlife crisis, it is being taken lightly in many quarters, dismissed as the self-indulgence of a pampered generation. But that is exactly the opposite of the truth. 


If people today are being afflicted earlier by this problem, it is because they have achieved so much so fast. By the time they reach their third decade today, many people have already professionally and financially achieved all that their parents could only by the end of their careers. The corollary to this, of course, is that unlike their parents, they have devoted their lives from their late teens onwards to getting ahead professionally, leaving little time for anything else. 


 Little wonder that by the time they hit their 30s, they feel a sense of dislocation. They find that they are running out of goals professionally but have nothing to fall back on in a personal context. Add to that the mental and physical stress caused by punishing work schedules through their 20s. Cue the burnouts and breakdowns. And that is why what this generation needs is to rediscover the art of taking it easy. In the end, those adopting such a career trajectory may, perhaps, take a year or two longer to peak. But the individual who finds the time to develop other facets as a support system is better off than the one engaged in a frantic scramble for money and promotion through the 20s, leading to mental and even physical breakdown. 


Pointless psycho-babble Rudroneel Ghosh 

Psychiatric theories are usually ambiguous and exaggerated. That certainly holds true for the quarterlife crisis theory. That the youth these days are able to make far greater strides in their careers as compared to their parents when they were the same age is a positive sign of a young, vibrant society. 


To say that the former should slow down to avoid being burnt out by the time they reach their 30s is completely unwarranted. 


The fact is that youth today have far more choices and opportunities than before. Thus, it is only natural they reach the top echelons of their professions by the time they are in the latter half of their 20s. This is also the most productive period in a person's life. Various scientific studies have revealed that strength, energy and cognitive prowess peak between the ages of 18 and 30. Hence, it makes good sense to harness the full potential that lies in the exuberance of youth – a perishable commodity. Also, it is because the youth – 50 per cent of our population is below 25 – have emerged as a major driving force of India's economy that the world is so excited about our growth story. 

Burning oneself out or feeling empty after having achieved one's professionalgoals is something that is highly subjective. The issue is essentially one of imagination. If on turning 30 one feels that he has hit a dead end and that there aren't enough challenges in life, he can always switch to another vocation, something that will be a lot more difficult at 40.s Therefore, it is prudent to go all out in pursuit of one's career objectives when one is young. This will ensure that there is plenty of time and resources to plan the road ahead when the monotony of life really catches up







A spectre is haunting Europe, not of communism as Marx had once written, but of the capitalist pink slip. Growing unemployment in the entire Eurozone since the 2007 crisis has skyrocketed following the recent debt debacle. The job situation is equally grim in the US. What is beginning to worry economists is that double-digit unemployment resulting from structural changes might become the "new normal". This is bad news for the rest of the world. 


In its latest report, the OECD estimates that if the numbers of those who have given up looking for jobs were added to that of those seeking full-time work, the unemployed population of the European Union would be double the official figure of 47 million. Similarly, the slight drop in the US jobless number masks the reality of the large numbers of jobless who have stopped looking for work. 


Until recently, economists in Europe and the US maintained that unemployment, though high, is cyclical. As hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus funds kickstart the economy and the recession ends, they claim, employment will return. Now that joblessness rates are sticking stubbornly close to double digits well after the recession is officially over, there is dawning realisation that the jobless recovery may be due to something fundamental that has changed in the economy. A large and low-cost labour pool in emerging economies and outsourcing have changed the nature of business worldwide. In industry itself moving to higher value knowledge-based production in which traditional blue-collar workers have no place. 


The most significant structural change has been the rise of green technology and bioscience companies, which require mathematics, engineering and science graduates and hard-to-come-by skilled workers. High-school educated factory employees once earning good wages in automobile and other manufacturing cannot find similar jobs to which they can return. Unemployment numbers stay high while new technology companies limp along without adequately skilled staff.


The US government has been talking of expanding workers' training and ramping up education to innovate for the future. But with government deficits reaching record levels, individual states are considering laying off thousands of teachers rather than building the foundations for future growth. 

Factory positions that were eliminated as a result of the downturn are not being revived, but replaced by automation and outsourcing to lower-cost countries. While capital and goods have been moving freely across borders, labour has not. Capital has therefore shifted increasingly to countries like China, for instance, to take advantage of cheap labour. Corporations have improved their bottom lines, but jobs have disappeared and wages stagnated. It is no surprise therefore that the European and US middle classes tend to see China, India, South Korea and other emerging economies as culprits. I was recently in Paris for the French release of my book on globalisation and was asked repeatedly by liberal and well-meaning interviewers how Europe could stop Chinese and Indians from taking their jobs. "Isn't it unfair?" they asked, conveniently forgetting that export-driven economic growth was what the western doctor had prescribed for Asia. Structural change means they are exporting their labour in the form of assembled western goods. 


Events surrounding the recent launch of Apple's iPad tablet computer provides a nice example of this new kind of labour export. While Apple enthusiasts in Paris mobbed stores to grab the latest gizmo, news reports from China talked of workers' unrest and a string of suicides in the military-style Foxconn factory that assembled the iPad. Long hours, sleeping in barracks within the factory with little pay, the workers who produced the technological wonder were driven to desperate action. 
    A recent New York Times analysis of what goes into producing an Apple bestseller is the economics of outsourcing. For assembling a $600 iPhone 4, the Chinese factory gets 7 per cent of the proft margin, and some 30 per cent goes to pay the suppliers of components in South Korea, Germany, France, Japan and others. Apple's profit margin is over 60 per cent. Consumers worldwide enjoy Apple products, profits go to the parent company in California and crumbs fall on the plates of the Chinese workers who toiled to assemble them. American workers are out of this supply chain. This is a structural change that may not have many fans among the growing ranks of the unemployed.







 It's a whiff of the future, a dream come true – more momentous than Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic. Aircraft are heavy polluters, yet we can't do without them. On Thursday, a zero-emissions solar-powered plane completed a 24-hour test flight in Switzerland, showing they can stay aloft even when the sun isn't shining. Any bets on when loaded passenger airliners powered solely by the sun will take off?



Jagan Reddy had the crowd toasting him at the launch of the second phase of his road show. The Congress high command is upset at his refusal to play ball and call off the yatra, but doesn't want to force the issue. If Jagan continues to attract crowds, he would have proved a point to the party. If the show fizzles out, he'll have a tough time. Andhra politics is interestingly poised.



Cleopatra to Draupadi, Angelina Jolie might play them all. What's her own idea of a dream role? Bond, secret agent codenamed 007. Jolie once reportedly refused a Bond girl part, wanting the lead instead. Who says a lady can't save the world with as much panache as a ladies' man? Unlike Bond's martinis, male preserves are being both shaken and stirred. So, give a gal the licence to thrill.







Our funny bone seems to have become something of a bone of contention going by the reaction of residents of Indian origin in Edison, New Jersey. Writing forTime magazine, Joel Stein expressed his candid sentiments on returning to his hometown after a considerable period to find it overrun by Indians. His amusing remarks about how the town could not even coin an insult beyond dot heads to describe Indians and references to spicy food seem to stick in the gullet of our brethren in the US. Living for so long in a country where making fun of people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds does wonders for television ratings, it's surprising that our compatriots should be so anal about a few jokes on them.

Why do we feel so insecure if people talk about our eight-armed goddesses or elephant gods? Let's be honest, it is a bit outré in other cultures. If at all we must react when others take the mickey out of us, we should do so in kind instead of getting our loincloths in such a righteous twist. The inability to see things funny side up seems ingrained in our psyche. It is wonder that after so many years of being ruled by the Brits, some of their ability to see humour in all people and situations has not rubbed off on us though other less desirable traits have. The Queen may have said 'we are not amused' but the Brits spare no one in their savage satire and wit. The Queen mother's fondness for a drop or two of gin and racehorses kept stand-up comedians in business for years.

Can't quite see jokes about, say, President Pratibha Patil's fondness for communing with spirits see people rolling the aisles here unless they want a few days in the cooler under some obscure act on insulting the nation. Now many may accuse Stein of prejudice and rightly so. But when it comes to biases, we have them in all shapes, sizes and colours. Scratch any of us and you'll find a healthy disdain for people who are not 'like us'. The Bongs don't like the Marwaris, the Mallus don't like the Tamils, the Oriyas don't like Biharis and the Kashmiris hate everyone. It would be a good idea to vent your spleen through some acerbic humour than sitting around simmering with resentment. Indians should welcome these attacks on them in the US, at least we count enough to merit a bit of healthy prejudice. Let's lighten up a bit. Have you heard this one? An Indian walks into a bar in Jackson Heights with a penguin… Maybe another time when we feel a little more like letting our hair down.






There is an ominous stillness in Srinagar that has nothing to do with the curfew.  On the empty, lifeless streets, the sound of silence might actually be the sound of stasis — the motionless that erupts when political initiatives collapse in conflict zones. Yes, under the watchful gaze of the army, the unrest may appear to have settled down for now. But it's like trying to cover a boiling cauldron of water —sooner or later, it will spill over. And then it will be right back to the drawing board.

How did the narrative of the Kashmir story change so suddenly and so dramatically? If an extraordinarily vigilant Election Commission delivered a largely free and fair election in 2002, the polls in 2008 promised real hope for change. It was no one's case — not even that of India's youngest chief minister — that these were elections that were going to resolve the Kashmir dispute. There were enough signs that mainstream politics now had the capacity to accommodate at least a few separatist agendas. Extraordinarily, this was despite the fact that the elections had taken place in the shadow of 26/11.

But here is the irony. While relations between New Delhi and Islamabad had nose-dived after the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir was no longer the 'core' thorn in the Indian side. It was terrorism, not disagreements over Kashmir that had demolished the composite dialogue. And while the present Pakistani establishment may debunk the theory that India and Pakistan were a heartbeat away from a formal resolution on Kashmir, there is a general, if unspoken, agreement that Musharraf's formula may continue to map the journey ahead. Pragmatists on both side of the border are aware that the broad framework for any such resolution would be the old staples — greater autonomy; soft borders and eventual demilitarisation.

In other words, if terrorists hadn't declared war against India with the Mumbai attacks, 'resolving' Kashmir suddenly seemed possible in our lifetime.  Nor were there any necessary direct links between the acts of terror across India and the Kashmir issue. Between the jihadi terrorism that was threatening to destroy Pakistan and the changing situation within the Kashmir valley in India, the old, classic, understanding of the Kashmir dispute was beginning to look anachronistic. Ironically, just last month, I made the same argument at a Pugwash track-II conference in Islamabad. The script, I said, had changed in India; and Pakistan also needed to understand some of these dramatic shifts in the Valley.

How, then, did we get to the stage where the army was called out on the streets of Srinagar after a gap of 15 years? A decade ago it was grenades and explosive devices that would set the city on fire. Now militant violence is clearly on the decline. In fact last year, attacks by militants were the lowest they have been in years. But today, a new generation of angry, restless young men have picked up stones as their weapons of choice and created an intractable and, frankly, much tougher challenge for the security forces.

Deriving their self-image from the intifada in Palestine, these young men claim an effective victimhood by pitching the battles as one between stones and bullets. The killing of 16 civilians as a result of these clashes between protestors and security forces has only underscored their campaign. Take the case of 17-year-old Tufail Ahmed Mattoo who was killed while walking back home from a tuition class. Initial medical reports indicate that the death was the result of a tear gas shell. Hugging a picture of his son, Tufail's father asked me in a stoic, understated voice, "Won't such killings just bring out more stone-pelters on the streets?" Of course, the much vilified paramilitary forces suffer as well, stacking up more than 200 stone pelting injuries in the past month, while continuing to operate under enormous hostility. It is this hostility that is slowly filling the vacuum created by the failure of a political dialogue and it is this hostility that will eventually have to be engaged with.

The home minister has gone on record to argue that in some separatist pockets it is the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba that has stoked the flames. And while, as recently released phone intercepts show, at least some of the violence may be deliberate and fuelled by external groups, it is equally true that popular anger on the ground cannot be wished away.

What has gone unnoticed is that Kashmir is throwing up a new generation of increasingly radicalised young men who are beginning to see the dispute through a religious prism, instead of a political one.  Moderate voices in the city —  both civilian and political — are often too scared of countering them, and New Delhi hasn't helped by giving them precious little to play with. The recent assault on Fazal Haq Qureshi, who brokered the first dialogue between the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Centre 10 years ago, was a reminder of how high the cost of peace can be.

But that makes it even more imperative for Delhi to see the writing on the wall. Stop measuring Kashmir only by indices of tourist influx or financial plans. Every time, the government has failed to arm the moderates with political weapons, the extremists have prevailed in Kashmir. The PM's working committees and task force reports are buried under dusty cobwebs. The Cabinet Committee on Security hasn't even begun debating a three-month-old proposal to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. And the National Conference's autonomy plans, which have been ready for a decade, have been ignored altogether.

It's time for the prime minister to step in. His last visit to the Valley ended up being a missed opportunity. If he can bravely gamble for peace with Pakistan, shouldn't he start the process at home first?

 *Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

  ( The views expressed by the author are personal )






I am dumbstruck by the sheer size and scale of Delhi's new airport Terminal 3. The capital's latest edifice heralds "a new India, committed to join the ranks of modern, industrialised nations," says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Press reports have bordered on gush: a world class hub, the capital's pride, an ultra-modern edifice to a country's aspirations.

I don't want to rain on this party, yet, I can't help feeling: great about the airport, too bad about the city.

New Delhi, host to the Commonwealth Games, dreams of becoming a world-class city, a chimera of steel and glass buildings and a network of flyovers that intersect over eight-lane highways where zippy new cars and smart green buses carry people to homes with names like Malibu Towne and Wisteria.

But a city has to be more than the sum total of its monuments. A great city must go beyond physical structures to answer fundamental questions: can we really live here, and if we live here then what is the quality of our life? Can we walk on the streets? Do we breathe clean air? Are we safe in our homes and outside them? Can we access affordable public health? Do we breed tolerance for our neighbours? Most important, is there equity for all citizens?   

"There is zero vision for this city," says Pradeep Sachdev, an architect who specialises in the design of public spaces like Dilli Haat. "You're lucky if you can manage to cross the street safely."

New New Delhi is a composite of privately-run nation states, an island city of tightly closed enclaves where the wealthy employ guards at their gates, install generators and hire water tankers for their landscaped gardens. Those who can't afford to do so, well, take to the streets raging against a system that doesn't work. Less than a week after the inauguration of T3, there were water riots at Kondli in East Delhi where residents had had no water for the past ten days. Windscreens were smashed and a lathi-charge followed.

If T3 is the capital's new showcase, then how does Kondli fit into the map? Or are we to believe that we live in a schizoid city — one that's all broad boulevard and gleaming facade and the other that is chronic deprivation: of water, power, security, open spaces and mobility.

Every year The Economist makes a list of the world's most liveable cities. The parameters are based on common sense: safety, hygiene, clean environment, the availability of recreational facilities, health care, public transportation and cultural activities. Cities that top include Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver, Auckland, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Bern, and Sydney. Mumbai and Delhi can be found towards the bottom at 117 and 113 respectively.

Part of Delhi's problem (and Mumbai's too) is a population boom. An estimated 380 million live in our cities, up from 290 million in 2001. A McKinsey Global Institute report published in April warns that if our cities continue to grow at this rate, we will be staring at an endemic water shortage, mountains of untreated sewage and daily urban gridlock.

Delhi's problems — air quality, sanitation, sewage disposal, public transport, traffic — are big, but not insurmountable. Air quality, in fact, has improved vastly after the introduction of CNG buses. Delhi's Metro continues to function efficiently and increasingly active resident welfare associations are ensuring more citizen participation.

Ironically, Delhi has the potential to make the cut to that coveted list of most liveable cities. We have history, beautiful monuments, open spaces, seasons, a vibrant cultural life, great street food, the exuberance of our citizens (yes, I know, south of the Vindhyas they think we're a bunch of uncouth bullies who jump queues and shout, 'Don't you know who I am?').

But more than grand buildings, T3 included, this city needs to just get the basics right: water, not waterfalls; power, not glitzy neon; pavements, not freeways.

The fact that we can build a Metro, that we can build a world-class airport terminal is proof that we can do it. The point is: will we?

*Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer

Namita Bhandare's Another Day and Pratik Kanjilal's Speakeasy will appear every alternate week

(The views expressed by the author are personal)



Poonam Saxen




The only time you were likely to see an octopus on your TV screen was if you were watching a channel like National Geographic or Animal Planet. And you'd probably be seeing a film on the breeding habits of octopuses or, if you were luckier, the sex life of octopuses (full of animal passion?).

But did you ever think you'd be watching hours and hours of octopus stories on news channels? Of course not — but that's before good old Paul came along. I don't think there's anyone left who doesn't know about Paul or why he has become more famous than all the football players put together. The number of stories I've seen on TV about Paul in the last few days is more than the combined tentacles of a dozen octopuses — the amazing accuracy of Paul's choices, how Spanish chefs have taken octopus off their menus, how everyone in Germany wants to fry Paul and eat him up (Germany lost to Spain only because Paul predicted it, silly) and so on and so forth.

Currently, Breaking News on TV channels is on the lines of: 'Paul says Spain will win the World Cup and Germany will be victorious in the match for the third place.' Even as I'm writing this, I'm half watching a riveting story on 'Baba Paul, samundar ka chamatkari jyotishi' on Aaj Tak. I can barely look away from the screen.

But why just our own TV news channels? The entire planet seems consumed by Paul. I feel like tugging at the world's sleeve and saying: "Hey, get a grip. It's just an octopus." But psychic octopuses don't just pop up ever day, and psychic octopuses that predict FIFA World Cup victories? Heads of State could get kidnapped, no one would care, so long as there was (a) a football match (b) a result to be predicted and (c) Paul — alive and well.

But naturally, all things connected with football rule the airwaves at the moment — those of us who only have a vague notion of who's playing in which team strive to look intensely animated when football-related stories come on TV, otherwise we wouldn't survive.

But even in the midst of FIFA frenzy, MS Dhoni's wedding was Big News. When he returned home after getting married, we saw jaw-dropping footage of enormous crowds that had gathered outside his house, all waiting for a glimpse of the newly weds. Dhoni and bride had to appear on the balcony of their house and give darshan to his fans. Celebrity footballers are fine, but celebrity cricketers are next to God.

And finally. It's official. Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) is returning to the small screen, but this time on a different channel (Sony). The host however will be the original — Amitabh Bachchan (and he promises to use all the 'typical' KBC phrases once again — 'Lock kar diya jaye' et al).

Will the show work? Well, Amitabh as KBC host was always a class act. Shah Rukh Khan brought his own high energy charm and wit to the show. The programme itself always made for great viewing. But since the novelty has long worn off, will audiences have a been-there-done-that attitude? (After the first season — which was a blockbuster — none of the other seasons really matched up in terms of viewership.

To be fair, the TV landscape itself changed dramatically, so it would have been impossible for the show to replicate its initial success). Even so, most of us will wonder whether the latest season on a still struggling-to-reach-the-top channel will work.

Can we borrow Paul?







For those who haven't followed Spanish club and national football closely for the last 15 years or so, Spain's progress to their first-ever World Cup final match has been a revelation. For those who have, it's a revelation still, but without the accompaniment of surprise. Spain should have been here World Cups ago. The best players in the world choose to play in the Spanish league; yet, Spain's national side have been world football's biggest underachievers. (The Dutch, here after a 32-year wait, of course, had the best single team ever to not win the cup in 1974.)


The final, should the two teams unleash their best, will be vintage in a World Cup of many firsts (a first-time winner, a first European triumph outside Europe, the first hosts eliminated at the group stage). But the Spanish school of football that everybody's suddenly talking about is a model based on continuity and stability, with large institutions and long-term coaching contracts. That's also the hallmark of their style — keeping the ball to the point of monopolising possession; quick, intricate passing without stopping the ball; dominating the midfield. The key to possession football is forcing your opponents to play your game, which they, obviously, can't. That wore out the young Germans, who couldn't run with the ball and make the counter-attacks that devastated England and Argentina. Ironically, this wasn't Spanish football till Barcelona "took over" the national side at the expense of Real Madrid, offering Catalans, always loathe to be called "Spanish", a double celebration.


Finesse and finish, however, are not the same, and Spain didn't get all their goals. Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, backing Spain for Sunday, learnt that the hard way in 1974. Playing "too much" and not scoring, as Spanish defender Gerard Pique fears, may be just what the Dutch strike force needs to snatch the ball once and tear through Carles Puyol's Wall — although the Netherlands have no spellbinding player of the 1974-'78-Euro '88 class and "total football" now wears red.







The home ministry proposes, and now a group of ministers may dispose. P. Chidambaram's suggestion that the IPC, the CrPC, the Evidence Act, and marriage laws be adapted to deal with the spurt of honour killings that have recently shamed the nation, is now being pulled apart by his more cautious colleagues.


Honour killings are a complicated stew of sexual and social anxieties — as we know only too well by now, khaps are medieval community structures that believe intra-gotra marriage is a crime punishable with death, and their verdicts are enforced through intimidation, degradation and other forms of control, and often actual violence. The home ministry's proposed amendments were an acknowledgement of this special nature of honour killings, and an attempt to extend protection to individuals against the collective might of these community guardians. It suggested that khap panchayat members would now have to prove their innocence in case of a death, and that enforcement agencies would have the power to arrest and act against community leaders who may be spurring social boycotts. It also suggested amending the Indian Evidence Act and doing away with the 30-day notice requirement and amending the Special Marriage Act, typically the critical window period when couples are harassed by their families. However, others in the cabinet have objected to the proposal's expansive provisions, saying these could be used for "witch-hunts" and vindictive agendas, and place unwarranted stress on all khap panchayat members irrespective of whether they were complicit in the killing. Some ministers pointed to the fragile sensitivities of the community, saying that blunt legal tools shouldn't roll over social customs.


However, the vexing question is not whether honour killings need a dedicated legal instrument or not. Police and administration tend to be reluctant to take on this system of rough justice because politics thrives on these community solidarities. If this delay is about refining the legal changes to ensure that there is no collateral damage or misuse, that's entirely sensible. However, electoral inconvenience shouldn't be an excuse to let the issue slide.







India's legal inheritance from Britain is not an unmixed blessing. The common-law system, as the tradition shared by the Commonwealth and the US is known, has long been considered superior, in terms of economic outcomes, to other competing systems — the Napoleonic code, for example. One of the core reasons why is that it respects property rights more. But, paradoxically, bundled in with our common-law heritage is a complex system of proving ownership of land that betrays the system's origins in medieval England: to show a plot as your own, you needed a "chain of title", documents that confirmed each change-of-ownership all the way back to when the land was first awarded by the sovereign. The remnants of this system are still with us, with words once bandied about by Mughal courtiers — jamabandi, khasra girdawari, intqal, fard badar — yet potent; and, even once you buy land, you are always vulnerable to legal challenges if one link in that entire chain of title is a little weak.


Which is why the Land Titling Bill that the rural development ministry has put out for comment is a truly extraordinary leap. An enormous amount of energy goes into contesting land title, always "presumptive" under the current system. A third of all lower-court civil cases are land-related; McKinsey has estimated in the past that barriers to free and conclusive exchange of land held back economic growth by 1.3 per cent each year. In the new system, a comprehensive, high-tech survey of land holding will go towards building a big new land register, a reformists' Domesday Book, if you like. And then, if you buy some land, the old owners' name is scrubbed out of the register, and replaced with yours — and the government backs your right to the land.


This does many things. It frees you up to play with the capital that your land represents. It will spur people to investing in improvements to their rural holdings, now that they are no longer susceptible to capricious legal challenge. And we can finally expect that a free and fair market for land will develop in India, one that will speed up land acquisition, help spread the Green Revolution, and empower millions of poorer Indians. Not, of course, that even a reformist bill is without problems. Why, for example, should a bill for the ages include continual references to "stamp duty", the problematic transaction tax which is due to be subsumed into the GST? The goal is quick, easy transfers. Nothing should stand in the way of the transformative power of that idea.








Four recent developments deserve close attention. These could add up to a very disturbing picture: of our higher judiciary being under siege, or on the defensive, or becoming a victim to a wider conspiracy it can't read, or falling to a weakness it does not accept. But any which way you see it, the picture that emerges is worrying.


Here are the four instances I pick. They are entirely unconnected but, when seen together, should make not just our highest judiciary and jurists but also all the rest of us, who value our democracy and total judicial freedom and respect a system of democratic checks and balances, sit up in some alarm.


* Just last week, at a short and dignified function in a central Delhi auditorium, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily's book on the Ramayana was released. No problem with that. It was released by Justice S.H. Kapadia, who recently took over as the 38th Chief Justice of India. No problem with that also, or maybe. In his very short speech, Justice Kapadia complimented the law minister not just for his scholarship, but also for the fact that this minister takes all his decisions based on "honesty and integrity". Of course, he went on to clarify that he did not mean that other ministers did not do so. It is just that he knew more about this one. Any problem with that? None, maybe, for now. Except that such public praise can come back to haunt you given the history of healthy, and sometimes not quite healthy, tension between the two institutions, judiciary and executive.


* Another week prior to that, Moily himself had launched a remarkably sharp attack on one of Kapadia's predecessors, Justice Ahmadi, accusing him of diluting the case against Union Carbide and thereby letting Warren Anderson get away. To some of us, it seemed odd that a serving law minister should be attacking a former CJI in public on a judgment delivered by him as the head of a Supreme Court bench. Even more so when the Bhopal case had been deliberated upon by two benches that included, among their distinguished members, four judges who eventually served as Chief Justices of India — Ranganath Misra, M.N. Venkatachaliah, K.N. Singh and A.H. Ahmadi. Moily was sharply criticised by this newspaper editorially for what some of us saw as an attack on the highest judiciary in an Emergency-like tone (even though Moily is essentially a democrat, not the H.R. Gokhale of the Emergency). But of course no one in the large community of eminent jurists rose to Ahmadi's or the Supreme Court's defence. In fact, since then, it has become common for NGOs and the media to unhesitatingly describe Bhopal as an outcome of "collusion between politicians, bureaucracy and the judiciary". In an unconnected, but very relevant development earlier, the government, in response to an RTI application, had stated that Justice Y.K. Sabharwal could not be appointed as National Human Rights Commission chairman (who has to be a former CJI) because of adverse media reports against him, even if that meant keeping it vacant for a year and a half. When was the last time, except during the Emergency and the unstable but dictatorial period leading up to it, that the executive, and the thinking classes, made a habit of ridiculing the Supreme Court and former CJIs like this? And could the executive have ever got away with it?


* The Supreme Court still does not seem to know what to do with Justice Shylendra Kumar of the Karnataka high court, who has emerged as a whistle-blower of sorts. Internal democracy being one thing, how seriously would the executive take an institution which can neither protect itself from its own nor satisfy the dissenting voices from within? Could it just be that the Supreme Court's own flip-flops over Dinakaran, Shylendra Kumar's Chief Justice in Bangalore, have so weakened it morally as not to be able to keep dissent within itself? And if it cannot keep dissent within itself, can it be confident of always keeping its powers, particularly of appointing judges and managing the entire judiciary, within itself and unchallenged by the executive?


* The fourth point is where, in some ways, it all — decline of moral authority, if I may dare to call it, pushing my freedom of speech and maybe also luck — began. This was the weak, unconvincing and ill-advised manner in which the Supreme Court responded to the issue of making judges' assets public. Having themselves forced the elected political class to declare their assets, the judges needed to find more convincing arguments to counter the growing public opinion that they were shy of subjecting themselves to what they mandated for others. This was further complicated by the way they handled the issue of whether the Chief Justice's office should come under the ambit of RTI.


Read together, these instances underline a disturbing phenomenon: where higher judiciary could be losing, or at least begin to be seen to be losing, some moral authority and, more importantly, popular adulation and support. Issues like judges' assets, Dinakaran, many of the other appointments, unchallenged attacks by the executive on former CJIs, have all created an impression that the top judiciary today is either too weak to defend itself, or cannot, because it is no different from other institutions, particularly the executive. This is dangerous.


I had argued in National Interest ('Noose Media', IE, April 3) that the media had to be careful now as it was running the risk of breaking the social contract which emerged post-Emergency and which guaranteed its freedoms that were not clearly codified either in the Constitution or any legislation. It would be doubly distressing if the judiciary were to also head that way. The truth, however, is that judicial autonomy, and the deep-seated national belief that nobody should be allowed to mess with it, has also been earned through decades of democratic debate and evolution, and has been steeled through challenges and crises, particularly before and during the Emergency. Smarting under the rebuff of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, Indira Gandhi had floated the idea of "committed judiciary" which peaked during the Emergency, but did not survive it. Just like the media, therefore, the judiciary woke up to a new dawn of moral authority, respect and freedom with the lifting of the Emergency. It has not looked back, at least not yet, and the people of India have only applauded it, at least so far. And if the judiciary's highest stature among all our democratic institutions is again a reward of that post-Emergency social contract — as a guarantee against majoritarian excess — most of its autonomy has been scripted by itself. The judges' appointment procedure, for example, is entirely self-created, and so far the executive has not challenged it. Judges, public opinion would say, may not be perfect and may make mistakes, but the executive can always be trusted to be vile as well as venal. So stay with the judges.


That notion is now under challenge. Indian democracy is now more mature, and therefore also more questioning. Issues of judicial accountability can no longer remain within, like family secrets. Surely none of our eminent jurists would like the higher judiciary to be seen as some kind of an exalted khap panchayat which takes all decisions about itself and about its own within closed confines of its own hallowed biradari. The judges' conduct, whether professional or personal, cannot remain away from public scrutiny. And public opinion is now cleverer, and unforgiving. You can no longer, for example, get away with the argument that while the judiciary may be rotten at lower levels, it gives a glowing account of itself at the top. People now know that the judiciary is a self-managed and self-governed institution, that higher courts have administrative responsibility over the lower ones and therefore cannot escape accountability for the rot there. And as popular doubts and dissonance grow, people begin to ask, is the judiciary the same as the others? Like bureaucrats, politicians, even the media? That is the danger. Because the executive, or rather the political class, is watching this, and sharpening the knives.








 Tentacles splashing and pulsating downwards, Paul follows the two lidded jars — both containing mussels and a national flag — to the bottom of the glass cube. He broods for a while, before toppling over one of the lids covering his afternoon meal. Lumbering at the bottom of a glass tank in Oberhausen, Germany, a two-year old octopus is currently one of the hottest topics on the Internet, as the World Cup reaches its crescendo. Paul, as he is known, had correctly "predicted" the outcome of every single match Germany had played in, including the semi-final loss to Spain.


But it is unlikely that either "Oracle" Paul — as some believe it to be — or all those gazing into his aquarium like a crystal ball, would have guessed before the start of the tournament that the jars of mussels for the final match would contain the flags of Spain and the Netherlands.


Just when one thought the tournament couldn't possibly throw up any more surprises, the perennial underachievers did just that, by booking their place in the last match of the first edition on African shores. In a tournament where both the previous edition's finalists, Italy and France, with five World Cup trophies between them, were knocked out in the first round without winning a single game, two teams to have never won the most-prized trophy have ensured that South Africa 2010


will be remembered for a long time to come.


Not too many people — critics and fans alike — gave Spain much of a chance after they lost their opening game to Switzerland. If Spain go on to win the tournament on Sunday, they will also become the first team to do so after suffering a defeat in the opening game. Following many firsts, the current European champions cemented their spot after successfully reaching (and winning) the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time.


The Dutch have twice reached the final before — in 1974 and 1978 — and lost twice. Despite being a Dutch fan, football critic Brian Phillips wants to see the Netherlands lose because they gave up their tradition. So committed were the erratic soccer artists to Total Football in the '70s, writes Phillips, that the Netherlands preferred losing beautifully than pulling off a boring win. The current Oranje side gave up style for substance and remain the only unbeaten team of the tournament, other than minnows New Zealand (who pulled off three remarkable draws against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, but yet failed to make it to the round of 16).


It has been a World Cup of surprises, to say the least. Apart from losing the European powerhouses of football in the group stages, an Asian team beat an African team for the first time in the game's history. As Japan's Keisuke Honda celebrated the only goal of the match, Cameroon's (three games, three losses) only consolation was an entry into the record books.


Much was expected from the six African nations participating on home soil, especially Ivory Coast, studded with players who ply their trade in major European clubs. After carefully considering the situation, Michel Platini, former France captain and current president of UEFA, had even gone on to predict an African winner. But just like Cameroon, all but one fell at the group stages itself. Ghana, one of the lower ranked African teams, kept the African dream alive by reaching the quarter-final and missing out on the semis by an inch after the Hand of Suarez. Uruguay striker Luis Suarez's 122nd-minute intentional handball to save the Jabulani from going into the net caused a huge uproar, but saved his side from suffering the same fate as the other South American sides.

Four South American teams reached the quarter-finals, and just when the tournament was turning into a version of the Copa America, the lacklustre Europeans stood up to stake their claim. The Dutch knocked out the Brazilians (who too had given up their fluid Joga Bonito), an edgy Spain just about got past Paraguay and the Germans ended Diego Maradona and Argentina's dream.


Right from the World Cup qualifications to their exit, coach Maradona was the face of the Argentina side. Despite outrageous comments to comical on-field behaviour, the Argentine legend looked well on his way to winning the trophy as both player and coach, but for the fact that his strikers were playing as defenders, midfielders and forwards.


Screaming louder than Maradona's actions, and much to everyone's annoyance, were the vuvuzelas. While the erring refs were sent home halfway through the Cup, the noise machines stayed on. The vuvuzela will always be symbolic with the South Africa edition, but in the years to come, the 2010 World Cup will be remembered for the surprises it threw up at every turn, far more than Paul the octopus can ever predict.








 The NGO landscape in India is getting pretty crowded. According to the findings of a recent government survey there are an estimated 3.3 million registered NGOs working in the country — one for every 400 Indians. Not only has the number of NGOs in India risen dramatically but so has their influence. In some of India's flagship development efforts — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the National Rural Health Mission, the Right to Education or even the draft Right to Food Act — NGOs have been at the forefront both in formulating these laws and policies and in implementing them. NGOs have helped voice the concerns of some of India's most vulnerable groups and focus the attention of the government on critical social and development issues. They have also spearheaded efforts to expose corruption and maladmistration in government bringing in much needed transparency.


But despite the growing influence of NGOs in India today, we know very little about them: their structure, activities, sources of funding and, more importantly, how accountable they are to the people they represent. This is alarming given the crores of rupees in development aid that NGOs receive from the government and from donors every year. Ironically, though NGOs have been watchdogs of the government for many years, there has been little regulation or monitoring of their own activities. Leading many to ask a very fundamental question: who watches the watchers?


Interestingly, although India has probably the world's highest NGO population, the debate on NGO accountability is still in its nascent stages. Across the world, NGOs have been experimenting with different ways of addressing the issue of accountability; Indian NGOs would do well by learning from these efforts. For example, NGOs in Kenya are legally required to comply with the Code of Conduct for NGOs developed by the National Council of NGOs, a self-regulatory body set up under the NGO Coordination Act in 1990. The code ensures that NGOs comply with basic ethical and governance standards. Similarly, in Uganda, the NGO Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM) certifies NGOs against a set of quality standards designed to ensure NGO credibility. In Chile, Chile Transparente has developed transparency standards for NGOs which require organisations to publish online information about their mission, vision, activities, staff, details of funding etc.


Indian NGOs are slowly beginning to experiment with similar self-assessment tools and certification schemes, but the real problem is that information disclosure by NGOs continues to be a rare and uncommon practice. This is ironic given that NGOs that were at the forefront of the RTI movement.


Interestingly, the RTI places a legal obligation on NGOs to be transparent and offers one important mechanism through which NGO accountability could be enforced. Under Section 2(h) (ii) of the RTI Act, NGOs that receive substantial funds, grants or loans from the government are considered public authorities and are required to disclose information as per the law. While the term "substantially financed" has not been defined clearly in the act, arguably NGOs accountable to the government for the funds they receive from it are automatically accountable to the public under the RTI. The Delhi High Court has expanded this interpretation to argue that NGOs that perform "public functions" or provide services similar to those provided by the government, are subject to the RTI Act. Thus for example, private bodies such as Sanskriti School, New Delhi, the Indian Olympic Association and the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee have been brought under the purview of the RTI.


Over and above these legal provisions, the RTI Act also serves as a useful model for NGO disclosure. Section 4 of the RTI Act outlines 17 categories of basic information that public authorities have to disclosure proactively through websites, manuals and other means. This includes basic information about the organisation, its structure and activities, the rules and norms that guide its functioning, a staff directory and so on. NGOs can very easily, and at low cost, adapt the proactive disclosure provisions of the RTI Act and develop their own guidelines for information disclosure.


There is little doubt that NGOs are here to stay and with good reason. Many NGOs have been at the forefront of efforts to fundamentally reshape the development and accountability debate in India. Given this role that NGOs have begun to play, it is all the more critical that questions of NGO accountability be debated and resolved. In the absence of a clear guidelines or an official code of conduct, NGOs have a moral and ethical obligation to be transparent and answerable to the public for their activities. The RTI Act, the very tool that NGOs have used to hold government accountable, can help to initiate this process of setting norms and standards for NGO accountability.


The writer works at the Accountability Initiative, New Delhi







Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.


Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students' test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the "summer slide" — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.


This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.


Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.


This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.


These two studies feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr's book, "The Shallows." Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people's abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation.


Carr's argument has been challenged. His critics point to evidence that suggests that playing computer games and performing Internet searches actually improves a person's ability to process information and focus attention. The Internet, they say, is a boon to schooling, not a threat.


But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It's not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It's the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.


The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.


A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.


These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what's going on, as Epstein writes, "in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream."


But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer's world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.


Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.


It's better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.


Perhaps that will change. Already, more "old-fashioned" outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.








 Last week's terror attack on one of Pakistan's most popular Sufi shrines, Lahore's Data Darbar, resulted not only in pain and anger but also action on part of the people and the government alike.


Dawn reported on July 5: "The Ulema said suicide attacks were against the teachings of Islam and vowed to foil any plot to fan sectarian violence in the country. The resolution was passed at a meeting of the Ulema with Interior Minister Rehman Malik." The Punjab government was, expectedly, at the receiving end, reported Daily Times: "Senior religious scholars have accused the Punjab government of harbouring terrorists in Sindh as such elements are freely conducting their activities in the urban areas..." Another report in the paper stated that minutes before Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif was supposed to visit the attack site, "panic gripped the Data Darbar area as two religious groups scuffled and started aerial firing while one of them tried to forcibly enter the other one's mosque located in a street near the shrine."


Inadequate proscription


Shahbaz Sharif's government proscribed terror outfits allegedly based in his province, reported Daily Times on July 5: "The Punjab Home Department has decided to launch a crackdown on 17 banned organisations in the province and formed task forces at the district level to oversee the operations... Each task force will consist of CID, Special Branch and Anti-Terrorist Squad officials, while the district police officer would supervise the force and report to the Punjab Home Department..." Outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Jafariya Pakistan, Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan, Khudamul Islam, Islami Tehreek Pakistan, Hizabut Tehreer, Jamiatul Insar, Jamiatul Furqan, Kherun Nas International Trust, Islamic Student Movement, Balochistan Liberation Army and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa are have been brought under the scanner.


However, in this long list, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is conspicuous by its absence, The News pointed out on July 5: "according to Rehman Malik, TTP and al-Qaeda, in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, were active in other parts of the country, especially in the Punjab. A cold war is underway between the federal Interior Ministry and the Punjab government... According to an official of the Punjab Home Department, the departments working under the Interior Ministry don't give specific information about the possible extremist acts... the ministries usually provided general information about a possible extremist act in a city and specific information was very rarely imparted." Dawn added on July 6: "Jamaat-ud-Dawa of Hafiz Saeed has not been restricted like the others, but Saeed and his two associates have been barred from travelling abroad. Their accounts have been frozen and they will not be able to get arms licences."


Conference on terror


PM Yousaf Raza Gilani held a meeting with all CMs on the deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan. Daily Times reported on July 6 that "the government offered to hold talks with militant groups provided they lay down arms and accept the writ of state..." The News added: "The federal and provincial governments resolved to stop banned outfits from operating under any other name with rigorous monitoring of activities of all such organisations."


The idea to hold such a moot at the national level was Nawaz Sharif's, when he spoke to the PM soon after the Data Darbar attack. But in his follow-up on the idea, as reported by Dawn on July 9, his words failed to match action: "Within a week of having proposed a national conference on security, Nawaz Sharif has written a letter to PM Yousuf Raza Gilani suggesting ways to make the proposed conference more meaningful. And after having the letter faxed over to the PM, the PML-N leader, who, along with his party is under fire for their ambivalent stand on terrorism, flew out of the country without making public a date of return. The incident does not offer much reassurance to those hoping for more commitment from the country's second largest party."


Nikah redefined


The Punjab government sent out a notification, reported Daily Times on July 9, to the effect that: "the government has made it compulsory for brides and grooms to provide identity cards of their parents and witnesses of their marriage, along with a blood test report declaring both partners free from any disease. It has also made it compulsory for the parents of the bride and groom to sign the nikah form. Similarly, passport-size photographs of the couple would be attached to the form along with the exact dates of birth of the bride and groom."








After two quarters of robust growth, the corporate results for the quarter ended June this year are expected to show a slight moderation because of the sharp rise in the input cost of companies. Net profit growth during the quarter would be under pressure because of the steep rise in commodity prices in particular. Sector-wise, banks, IT and capital goods are expected to report stellar performance because of strong volume growth. The banking sector is expected to outperform with increasing core earnings growth from credit and fee income. Also, in a rising interest rate environment, large banks with strong current accounts and savings accounts are better placed. In auto, while most companies continued healthy traction in volume growth albeit on a low base, fears of price increase due to the increase in raw material costs and change in emission norms resulted in advance buying, which perked up volume growth in the quarter. Similarly, higher raw material cost is expected to exert pressure on auto ancillaries and would result in higher margin contraction. While the ongoing economic recovery bodes well for the sector, it has to be seen how long the demand will sustain once the low base evens out. The capital goods sector is showing strong visibility in the past three quarters, especially in the power sector, and companies are finalising their capex plans.


Going ahead, the recent 25-basis-point hike in repo and reverse repo is not likely to act as a major dampener of growth and the hike will likely be seen by market players as the central bank's growing confidence in the economic recovery, which is evident from the higher industrial growth and increasing credit outflow from banks. Markets will continue to take cues from global factors and the progress of the southwest monsoon. The India Meteorological Department has revised the forecast for rainfall to 102% of the Long Period Average (LPA) from 98% of the LPA projected in April. If this happens, it might cool down the prices of agri-commodities, benefiting FMCG companies and driving up both rural and urban demand. The cement sector, which has reported stellar results in the past three quarters, has seen major price correction in the quarter ended June because of excess capacity and tepid demand. The demand is expected to further slow down because of the monsoon and prices are expected to remain weak. Overall though, it is reasonable to expect a good quarter from corporate India.






On this World Population Day, the state of India has some cause for celebration and some cause for concern. Against the backdrop of demographic deficits looming dark over other important economies, it has cause to celebrate the demographic dividend coming its way. On the other hand, all available data suggest that our labour ecosystems need much fixing before this dividend can be fully reaped. On the celebration front, compare India's situation with that of the European Union. Lower birth rates and an ageing population have left that beleaguered Union in a situation where there are currently four people of working age for each person over 65. Unless pensions systems are drastically overhauled, this ratio will come down to just two people of working age for each pensioner by 2060. The situation is worse in some parts of the Union. In the UK there are already more pensioners than young people aged under 16, as the number of people aged 85 and over has more than doubled since 1981. Public finances are beginning to feel overburdened by the demands of an ageing population across the Atlantic as well. National budgets on both sides of the ocean will be looking at bigger and bigger shares being swallowed up by health care. Pull-backs on this front will draw political resistance. France is a test case. Nicolas Sarkozy has singled out pensions as the most important area of reform before his term ends in 2012, but his government's plans for raising the retirement age have attracted a huge furore. Opponents are decrying the end of a way of living, the end of happy days. India has no such worries. Our labour force is young and growing, a sizeable section of which is proficient in English and the remaining masses are eager for employment opportunities.


But this is where there is cause for concern. Sure, India is looking at an expanding labour supply. But is it doing enough to make sure that job seekers get the requisite skills and knowledge? Is it creating conditions for a dynamic job market? These challenges have a significant geographic aspect. After all, fertility trends suggest that labour supply will bulge in the poorest states while employment opportunities will multiply elsewhere. Unless government programmes effectively address this gap, we will be looking at a lot of wastage. These challenges also have an environmental aspect, as the demand on natural resources will keep growing alongside India's population. The long and short of the matter is that demographics is not destiny. How we address changing demographics will determine whether it proves a boon or a curse.









Food Bazaar, Reliance Fresh and commodity futures trading are sign-posts on the basis of which the story on FDI in multi-brand retail trading should be built. The issue is not really about how much FDI should be permitted or what the clauses that have to be adhered to should be, but whether or not we are prepared to write the script.


The Food Bazaar experience is a very good example of how organised retail can make a difference. This model has brought goods at the best possible price to the customer and also added the backward linkages that are required in the supply chain to deliver a superior product.


Organised retailing necessarily involves the creation of these linkages, where the requisite infrastructure is built and the value-chain truncated to lower intermediation costs. These costs could range between 20% and 65% depending on the product, with horticulture providing just a third of the final price to the farmer. The retail model involves direct procurement from farmers either through contract farming or the mandi, transporting the same to the collection centres where storage facilities are available for grading and processing, (cold storages would be created, if need be), transportation to stores across the region with the requisite packaging, thus reducing wastage. Wastage is currently around 30% of production for fruits and vegetables. In this process, intermediation costs are reduced as the multiple layers of adathiyas are lowered, thus bringing down the consumer price.


Getting FDI into this sector will certainly mean a sea change in the way food is retailed, as it would bring in these backward linkages as part of the business model. Thereby eliminating several points in Section 7 of the Discussion Paper put out by the government. More importantly, they have the financial wherewithal and are prepared for the gestation lags involved in breaking even.


The problem is in our mindset. This is where the stories of Reliance Fresh and the chequered history of futures trading come in. Reliance has been through choppy waters to expand its reach as there is opposition to organised retailing in some states. Any organised form of retailing will affect the 'mom-and-pop stores', which cannot compete with the price advantage of organised retailers. There will be displacement of this gentry wherever there is organised retail—Indian or foreign. This fact is inescapable once a market solution, i.e., organised retailing (or FDI in retail at a broader level) is introduced. The existence of foreign investment will only speed up the pace of growth of organised retailing. Integration of these players is a challenge that has to be tackled before a decision is taken.


Now, if one looks at futures trading in farm products, it is an example of how an important part of the derivative market has been stifled with a series of bans being imposed when futures trading were linked with inflation. The problem is really that the primary markets (mandis) are not integrated and futures trading came before mandi reforms, consequently creating a schism. This is unlike the securities market, where the futures market came after the cash market was established. The analogy here is that we need to have strong organised retail before we have FDI or else we will have to be prepared to face contradictions along the way. There is a catch here since organised retailing has not really taken off (3-4% of total retail) because of the absence of finance and sustainability that can only be brought about with FDI. But bringing FDI before we have organised retail will only invoke the strong xenophobic elements in the majority with undesirable consequences.


This is where policy comes in. Are we prepared to have FDI in a sector that will help the consumer but ruffle other constituencies along the way to the extent that the issue becomes politically and socially sensitive? One may recollect that when futures trading was banned in pulses, cereals and sugar, the motivating factor was less economic and more appeasement.


FDI in retail certainly makes eminent sense and has to be pursued in order to provide quality goods to the consumer while simultaneously building infrastructure. Going by the history of organised retail in India, the financial constraints in running such a business make it difficult to conceive of this exercise being completed without the help of FDI. But our psyche needs to change.


Therefore, any policy move should be taken only after considering these issues and when we do go ahead, there should really be no looking back. The creation of a new regulator (one more?) can be considered.


The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views








Is Kolkata, once dubbed a 'dying city', on the path to renewal? One may find railway minister Mamata Banerjee's desire to make a London out of the city a bit too far-fetched, considering the fact that its quality of life is dwindling, but people are still willing to give her the benefit of doubt. She may be an absentee minister in Delhi, but Kolkata is clearly rooting for her. They overwhelmingly voted her party in the municipal elections held recently, the last before the assembly polls next year, giving her no room for excuses to let the city down. Over the past week, Mamata has seized the initiative, announcing a host of steps, involving her party's ministries at the Centre to beautify the city. Not surprisingly, she has started with the river Hooghly, overseeing an MoU signing between the Kolkata Port Trust, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the railway ministry to spruce up the riverfront. In a masterstroke, she also got finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to the signing, saying she looked forward to his 'guidance' for the city's reinvention.


Mukherjee may have got the cynical press sniggering over his comment that only Venice needn't have river-centric tourism, but the very fact that he was sharing the dias with Mamata and her party's minister of state for shipping Mukul Roy sent a signal that there's truce—for now—between the two key players that are looking to topple three decades of Left rule. Bengal is in the mood for change, and it happens that the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine offers that alternative. It's definitely not the best-case scenario—everybody knows Kolkata won't become a London—and what's worrying long-suffering 'Calcuttans' is whether Mamata's team has the vision to draw up the blueprint for change, beyond the river. Her Lok Sabha poll manifesto was chillingly similar to the Left's; and her cadres are largely made up of exiting Left Party members, especially in rural Bengal.


Already, there are murmurs that instead of chasing big-ticket projects like Singur, which anyway failed to take off, the state must play on its strengths. After the industry exodus in the 1970s, manufacturing is clearly not a strength of the state anymore, but agriculture is. Only 1% of the land in Bengal is fallow, so why isn't the state doing more to increase productivity, go for agri-based industries on a large scale? If a Bengal, Bihar, Orissa farmer gets 1,200 kg of grain from one hectare, a Punjab farmer gets 4,000 kg, according to experts and that means there's a lot of potential. Singur is the potato basket of the state, Bengal is the largest producer of rice and vegetables—so there's no reason to be a laggard.


There's another huge potential waiting to be tapped—the knowledge capital of the state. This week PwC announced that it would serve the global network from Kolkata—the new service entity has been launched with 600 people and will be ramped up to 2,000 in two years. At least 20,000 engineering and 3 lakh humanities, science and commerce graduates are churned out by Bengal's universities every year. It's a fact, and IT minister Debesh Das keeps reminding everyone, that 50% of the workforce in the IT capital of India, Bangalore, is from Bengal. But is Mamata up to capitalising on this strength by stemming the brain drain? As it turns out, most students in city colleges can't wait to go outside the state and work, many leave right after school to pursue better prospects. Is there a lesson to be learnt from Bangalore, which became the IT capital of India from a sleepy, pensioner's town? Of late, Mamata has been saying on every platform that she is against bandhs—if she can implement this one little change in the state, if she can exhort people not to shut down the state at every given opportunity and on every lame excuse, it will be a monumental effort towards shifting a mindset. During the last Left Front bandh against petrol prices, the state lost Rs 900 crore and more, and people weren't really too happy about the shutdown. Many despaired that they had lost their day's earnings, with the bandh unlikely to bring down prices.


What's important to remember is that despite the Singur exit, and that did immense damage to the already-low image of the state, and against all odds (the poor work ethic being the worst offender), the state government got proposals of Rs 13,000 crore in investments for 2009. Now, it's up to Mamata to seize the day—she has the mandate for change.












The IMF's latest global forecasts present a mixed bag. Clouds of European uncertainty hang over the otherwise bright forecast for growth across the rest of the world. The world average growth of 4.5%, however, masks the large differences across the globe. Asia is pegged to lead the upturn-wagon—surprise, surprise—with growth for the region projected at 7.5% (India and China are forecast to grow at 9.5% and 10.5%, respectively) for 2010-11. This is a revised estimate of the April projection of 7%. Asia's strong outlook is counter-balanced by the West's relatively slower rate of growth, with the US pegged at 3% and Europe at 1%.


Asia's economic activity has been sustained by exports and private domestic demand. In addition, private fixed investment has strengthened due to the still relatively low costs of capital and higher capacity utilisation. The overall GDP growth starting 2011 is expected to settle at a more sustainable rate of about 6.75%, once the stimulus is rolled back and stock cycle has run its course.


However, beneath the seemingly tranquil surface, the IMF sees several risks. These 'downside risks' mainly arise from anxiety about the ability of Greece and other European nations to service their sovereign debt. This anxiety has a series of knock-on effects that include tighter lending conditions imposed by banks exposed to impaired government debt; declining consumer confidence resulting in lower spending; dampened growth caused by governments' attempts at cutting deficit; and volatile exchange rates. Exchange rate jitters have already been witnessed—the euro fell sharply after the Greek debacle and is currently down nearly 12% against the dollar since the start of the year.


This skewed set of risks poses a dilemma for policymakers. The IMF proposes 'rapid', 'concerted' and 'credible' efforts, particularly on fiscal policy. While economists argue that actively cutting deficits at this stage would only serve to choke growth (the IMF agrees), it is important that countries not add further stimulus. However, the medium to long-term targets, at a global level, should be to lower deficits, while "maintaining supportive monetary conditions and rebalancing global demand". However, this is easier said than done in an environment of constrained fiscal policy, with most central banks already having cut interest rates to close to zero, leaving the dagger of contagion hanging over the cautious optimism about the pace of recovery.










Given the sensitivity surrounding the atomic issue in Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan's decision to begin negotiations on a nuclear cooperation agreement with India is especially bold and forward-looking. Until recently, the working group on energy was considered the sole vehicle for exploring nuclear trade. Mindful of Japanese public sentiment, the Indian side has been careful not to be impatient. In October 2008, while on a visit to Tokyo, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India would move at "a pace at which the Japanese people and government are comfortable," when asked about the prospect of a bilateral nuclear agreement. Since then, Japan has had two changes of government. Taro Aso made way for Yukio Hatoyama after this year's landmark electoral victory of the Democratic Party of Japan, and he, in turn, has been replaced by Mr. Kan. If the question of bilateral nuclear trade has acquired a new urgency, it is because American and French companies, which hope to conclude major deals for the construction of reactors in India, need to source key components from Japanese firms like Mitsubishi Heavy. The commercial pressure from these companies apart, South Korea's decision to negotiate an agreement with India for the supply of reactors seems to have nudged Tokyo in the direction of relaxing its 'no nuclear trade with Delhi' stance.


Apart from ironing out the technical aspects of any bilateral nuclear agreement, it is natural that Japan will want India to reiterate its non-proliferation commitments. Already, the Japanese pacifist lobbies have stepped up to the plate to caution the Kan government about providing nuclear equipment to a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or even the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. India's position on both these treaties is clear enough: NPT membership is an impossibility; and though its attitude to the CTBT will depend on U.S. and Chinese accession, its test moratorium will remain firmly in place. Beyond these two issues, however, there is much that India and Japan share on the question of nuclear disarmament. India recently put forward an updated version of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, many of whose proposals can serve as intermediate steps towards the ultimate goal of a nuclear free world. While the discussions on nuclear commerce will necessarily be handled by the atomic establishments from both sides, the 2+2 secretary-level dialogue provides a useful platform for India and Japan to evolve common positions on the wider question of nuclear disarmament.









The opportunity to recreate the regulatory council for the education of health professionals is historic in its possibilities and potential to address the crisis facing health care in India. The lack of access to basic health care due to inadequate numbers and the skewed distribution of health care providers mandate urgent action. The new council should address these issues, in addition to ensuring propriety, increasing efficiency, and providing greater synergy among professionals.


The new National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill seeks to include medical education within the purview of the proposed council. The regulations suggested include facilitation, coordination and setting of policy by the NCHER, a health council to consider syllabi, curricula and exit examinations and local universities to regulate academic institutions. It is not clear how the NCHER Bill will address the specific requirements of education of professionals. Concurrently, the government has also proposed the formation of a National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) as a single apex body to oversee all education and practice related to health. It is apparent that there will be an overlap of functions between the two authorities.


Separate authority


Many issues mandate the need for a separate regulatory authority for health education and practice.


Links to health care delivery: The need to provide health services for a society demands the setting up of a system, which will sequentially address the following issues: selection of students from local areas, sufficient training in primary and secondary care hospitals, generalist postgraduate training opportunities (example family medicine), career opportunities in areas of need and continuing educational support. Such a system will mandate close linkage between educational institutions and the health care delivery systems.


Apprenticeship model of training: The education of health professionals requires that they achieve a high level of expertise at the end of the training. This requires that students acquire considerable clinical skills by taking care of patients under the supervision of teachers in an appropriate service environment. Such a model allows for narrowing the divide among teaching, research and practice. It facilitates a holistic approach to learning in health sciences and captures the essence of the Yash Pal Committee report.


Regulating health professionals: Overseeing the health profession and its professionals is an important task of any regulatory authority set up for this purpose. As medical education and eventual practice are a continuum, the regulation of education must be coupled with the regulation of practice. Across the world, experience with dual regulation has shown that it leads to a lack of coordination in training. For example, the United Kingdom established dual control of higher education and professional regulation by separate authorities (the General Medical Council and the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board) only to disband the model and revert to a single body for the oversight of both functions.


Some concerns

The problems of the past demand a re-examination of regulatory issues. The enabling Act, which constitutes the NCHRH, should clearly specify the model, framework and process in order to promote ideal functioning. Some important issues are highlighted.


Relationship between health disciplines: The proposed regulatory council includes medical, nursing, dental, pharmacy, paramedical, public health and rehabilitation services. A single regulatory authority will result in greater coordination and collaboration among these disciplines.


Composition of the authority: The new authority should be composed of diverse stakeholders, including patient advocacy groups and social scientists, in addition to distinguished medical and health professionals so that the overall health care needs of the country, rather than narrow professional interests, are the focus. The council should not be too small as that can lead to the concentration of authority in a few hands. Nor should it be so large as to be divisive and inefficient.


Independent accreditation and regulatory functions: The Medical Council of India handled accreditation and regulatory functions; this diluted and weakened both processes. The new authority should consist of two independent divisions: one accrediting education and the other overseeing professional practice. The complete lack of self-regulation of the past argues for a watchdog with sufficient teeth to ensure and enforce adequate technical and ethical standards in medical practice.


Model of accreditation: The new model of accreditation should move away from reliance on detailed

prescriptive rules on structure and processes to that which describes broad principles and standards, focussing on outcomes. This will allow for flexibility and innovation while maintaining basic standards. A credible and transparent system of assessment, which balances routine self-report and review with monitoring and on-site inspections, needs to be designed.


Relationship with the government: The need for autonomy and independence of the regulatory body is crucial. Subjecting its decision to Health Ministry approval limits its role and delays decision-making. However, the government should have the power to provide overall policy direction to the body. In turn, it should also serve as the consultative body for the Ministry.


Relationship with hospitals, universities and specialist associations: Currently, basic medical and health degrees are within the purview of local universities. The vastness of the country and the large numbers of students mandate decentralisation of the educational process with local autonomy for universities and medical institutions. However, the need for uniformity mandates defining competencies required for basic medical and health personnel.


Now, all postgraduate qualifications are university degrees. While these degrees are supposedly academic credentials, in practice they focus only on clinical issues and skills. The academic component of the training that requires evaluation of competencies to carry out research is missing. To meet this requirement, a separation of medical and health care personnel into clinical and academic streams, as practised in many countries including the U.K., is a useful concept to consider. Specialist associations should conduct standardised exit examinations for clinical fellowships and oversee clinical streams. The academic stream should be upgraded to a research degree and should remain within universities. This separation will avoid the kind of conflict, which was common between the MCI and the National Board, increase the number of centres for training clinicians and raise the standard of research.


Single window: Previous regulatory procedures involved separate and independent inspections by the MCI, the university and the State government. This resulted in a many-tiered system that led to huge delays in obtaining approval. A single window for accreditation and approval of education is necessary.


Standardised exams and validation: A common licensing examination for undergraduate and postgraduate courses is necessary to maintain uniformity of defined technical standards. All health professionals should be required to maintain standards of professional knowledge and skill through regular re-validation. A system of continued education and credits and regular re-appraisals is also mandatory.


Transparency and accountability: The system should be transparent, accountable and open to public scrutiny. A record of excellence in one's field should be the basis of selection to the proposed council. The Nolan Principles — selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership by example — should form the standards for holding public office and in public service.


Need for reform


The Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal Committee, which examined higher education, identified major lacunae and suggested an overhaul of the system. Many issues raised in their reports are very relevant to medicine and to education related to health care. There is need for broad-based holistic education and for dialogue among the diverse disciplines and centres of learning. The regulatory council should act as a facilitator and catalyst for the creation of knowledge for society.


While there is need to reform the entire higher education, the inclusion of education related to health within the NCHER may not be the ideal framework. The NCHER can foster an interdisciplinary research and identify national priorities. It can empower institutions with a proven record to enhance their autonomy as institutes of national importance. However, a new, separate and reformed regulatory authority, the NCHRH, best serves the goal of improving education in health sciences. It must ensure that education in health disciplines fulfils its social mandate. It should not only regulate education but also provide a vision to improve health care delivery.


(Professors Zachariah, Mathew, Seshadri, Bhattacharji and Jacob are on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. This document was prepared in discussion with faculty from the institution and from other national and international medical schools and health networks.)


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Four weeks ago, a tear-gas shell arced over a crowded street in Srinagar's Rajouri Kadal area. It landed, with surreal precision, on Tufail Mattoo, ripping apart the 17-year-old's skull.


Mattoo wasn't seeking martyrdom; he was just trying to make his way home from school. Ever since, though, Kashmir's cities have seen a wave of murderous clashes between the police and the protesters — fuelled by a radical Islamism that has acquired ideological influence among the young. For the young men who have been battling police, Mattoo was a martyr. His loved ones don't seem to see it quite the same way.


Muhammad Husain Mattoo, the accidental martyr's father, gently argued with the protesters who wanted to march with his son's body to Srinagar's Mazhar-e-Shauhda, a graveyard where hundreds of those killed in the anti-India movement are buried. Later, he gave in — but on national television, he made clear that he disapproved of the rioting that broke out after his son's death.


The parents of at least some of the men who have died since seem to feel the same way. Muhammad Rafiq Bangroo, shot dead by police on June 12, was buried at the Dana Mazhar in Safakadal, as his family's tradition mandates. Even though Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat's parents were furious at the police who chased their son into the stream where he drowned on July 5, they rejected pleas from secessionist leader Shakeel Bakshi to have their child buried at the Mazhar-e-Shauhda. So did the family of Fayyaz Ahmad Wani, who was killed a few hours later.


In these stories lie important clues about the violence that has torn Kashmir apart this summer.


Mapping the violence


Mapping the violence in Kashmir helps us understand who the protesters are, as well as the reach of the urban Islamism that has manifested itself in repeated clashes since 2006.


Parts of Srinagar, data gathered from police stations by The Hindu make clear, have accounted for a disproportionate share of the violence. More than half of the 21 civilians killed in police action between January 1 and July 7, 2010 were Srinagar residents. Thirty-two of the 72 civilians injured in the clashes also belonged to the city. Police say 141 officers and 62 CRPF personnel were injured in the clashes — a third of the 623 injured across Kashmir.


Between these dates, police recorded 269 clashes involving violent mobs across Kashmir. Just under 45 per cent of the clashes took place in Srinagar, and most were concentrated in the limits of five police stations — Rainawari, Nowhatta, Maharajgunj, Khanyar and Safakadal.


Low-turnout urban pockets in northern Kashmir have accounted for the bulk of violence outside of Srinagar. The north Kashmir trading town of Baramulla, like Srinagar's shahr-e-khaas a major trading centre before Independence, accounted for 46 clashes. Nearby Sopore, a major apple-trading centre which has been a stronghold of the Jamaat-e-Islami, saw 21. Put together, the three towns accounted for 69.5 per cent of all violent protests in Kashmir this summer.


Last year, too, the pattern was similar. Jammu and Kashmir saw 290 incidents involving clashes between protesters and police; only 64 took place outside of Srinagar, Baramulla and Sopore, and most of these were concentrated around Shopian, where the alleged rape-murder of two women caused widespread rage.


Islamists and urban despair


The violence seems driven by despair, not coherent political design. Much of the rioting has taken place in Srinagar's shahr-e-khaas, neighbourhoods which made up the city's traditional trading and artisanal hubs. The protesters consist in the main of what might be described as a lumpen bourgeoisie. The rioters are children of a once-powerful social class that has been in decline for decades.


In the years after Independence, the shahr-e-khaas saw intense contestation between the traditionalist cleric, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, and the National Conference. The struggle represented the conflict between the old bourgeoisie and an emerging new élite of contractors and businessmen. In 1986, though, the two parties allied. Mirwaiz Farooq refused to support secessionism after jihadist violence broke out three years later, and was assassinated in May, 1990. Both Mirwaiz Farooq and his assassin, Abdullah Bangroo, were, ironically enough, buried in the Mazhar-e-Shauhda.


His son and successor, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, reversed course — and emerged as the principal leader of the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The younger Mirwaiz's decision to boycott successive elections created a peculiar political situation in the shahr-e-khaas. Mirwaiz Farooq, focussed on securing a dialogue with India he hoped would lead to power, made little effort to address the concerns of his constituency. For their part, National Conference legislators elected from Srinagar won in low-turnout elections that gave them little legitimacy.


Frustrated by the failure of traditional politicians to deliver, young people began lashing out at a political order that had no space for their concerns. Their anger expressed itself in hostility to India and, increasingly, in slogans supportive of the Islamist movement and jihadist organisations like the Lashkar. Kashmir has a long Islamist politician tradition, and the Jamaat-e-Islami was adroit in leveraging ethnic and religious anxieties to secure electoral power. The sustained street clashes that began in 2006, though, were characterised not just by their remarkable intensity but their complete dissociation from organised political life. Put simply, the rioting marked the death-throes of an old political order.


Kashmir's Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, stepped in to fill the gap. There is evidence that leaders of Mr. Geelani's Tehreek-i-Hurriyat have paid local activists to initiate clashes with police. The Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, though, simply doesn't have the political networks needed to sustain a large-scale, coordinated movement. Instead, young Islamists appear to have acted locally in response to its calls, using everything from mosque public address systems to mobile phone text messaging to prepare for marches through their neighbourhoods.


Last year, religious traditionalists began to understand the threat these mobilisations posed to their own influence. Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith president Shaukat Ahmad Shah declared that Prophet Mohammad himself had held stone-throwing to be un-Islamic. Mirwaiz Farooq backed Shah. So, too, did Kashmir's Grand Mufti, Mufti Mohammad Bashiruddin.


But Islamist leaders hit back. Mr. Geelani said it was "natural for youth to show anger by pelting stones." Islamic Students League leader Shakeel Bakshi, in turn, described the protests as "a Kashmiri version of the Palestinian intifada." In an effort to legitimise his position, Bakshi held a seminar where he displayed images purporting to show the eminent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories.


Older people — schooled, unlike their children, in a system of institutional politics — have been deeply uncomfortable with the violent clashes. Politicians elected with substantial mandates have, moreover, succeeded in resisting Islamist radicalisation across large swathes of Kashmir. Langate, perched between volatile Srinagar and Baramulla, has seen no violence. Neither has Kupwara. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's home district, Ganderbal, saw just six clashes in which only one civilian was injured. In Kulgam, the Jamaat-e-Islami has, despite the backing of elements of the People's Democratic Party, failed to spark off significant unrest.


But on Srinagar's streets, there's little doubt that the hurled stone — and the bullet fired back in anger — are likely to form part of the vocabulary of political life for some time to come. Kashmir's politicians are struggling to find a language with which to address the problem. "These young people," said the State's former Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Husain Beigh, last week, "they listen to no-one." Large-scale urban reconstruction efforts, more effective methods of non-lethal crowd control and, perhaps most important of all, more local democracy are all needed — but no one in power seems clear just how the first step forward might be taken.











A four-star Marine General known equally for blunt speech, combat prowess and understanding counterinsurgency warfare will be nominated to command American forces across West Asia, officials said Thursday.


Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates described the nominee, General James N. Mattis, as "one of our military's outstanding combat leaders and strategic thinkers, bringing an essential mix of experience, judgment and perspective to this important post."


If confirmed by the Senate as the top officer of the military's Central Command, General Mattis would be in charge of American military forces in a strategic area from Egypt through Pakistan, and from Central Asia past the Persian Gulf.


General Mattis would replace General David H. Petraeus, whose tour at Central Command was cut short when President Barack Obama asked him to take over the allied mission in Afghanistan after General Stanley A. McChrystal was relieved for comments he made to Rolling Stone magazine.


For his part, General Mattis has gotten in trouble for past observations on a life of combat. In 2005, he received an official rebuke for comments that included "it's a lot of fun to fight."


"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn't wear a veil," he said while speaking at a forum in San Diego. "You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."


 New York Times News Service











  1. More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent
  2. Finance companies are alternately pleading with distressed homeowners not to be bad citizens and brandishing a stick at them


The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.


Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.


More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.


By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lenders. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.


Although it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.


"The rich are different: They are more ruthless," said Sam Khater, CoreLogic's senior economist.


Five properties here in Los Altos were scheduled for foreclosure auctions in a recent issue of The Los Altos Town Crier, the weekly newspaper where local legal notices are posted. Four have unpaid mortgage debt of more than $1 million, with the highest amount $2.8 million.


Not so long ago, said Chris Redden, the paper's advertising services director, "it was a surprise if we had one foreclosure a month."


The sheriff in Cook County, Illinois, is increasingly in demand to evict foreclosed owners in the upscale suburbs to the north and west of Chicago — like Wilmette, La Grange and Glencoe. The occupants are always gone by the time a deputy gets there, a spokesman said, but just barely.


In Las Vegas, Ken Lowman, a long-time agent for luxury properties, said four of the 11 sales he brokered in June were distressed properties.


"I've never seen the wealthy hit like this before," said Mr. Lowman. "They made their plans based on the best of all possible scenarios — that their incomes would continue to grow, that real estate would never drop. Not many had a plan B." The defaulting owners, he said, often remained as long as they could. "They're in denial," he said.


Here in Los Altos, where the median home price of $1.5 million makes it one of the most exclusive towns in the country, several houses scheduled for auction were still occupied this week. The people who answered the door were reluctant to explain their circumstances in any detail.


At one house, where the lender was owed $1.3 million, there was a couch out front wrapped in plastic. A woman said she and her husband had lost their jobs and were moving in with relatives. At another house, the family described itself as renters. A third family, whose mortgage is $1.6 million, said it would be moving this weekend.


At a vacant house with a pool, where the lender was seeking $1.27 million, a raft and a water gun lay abandoned on the entryway floor.


Walking away

Lenders are fearful that many of the 11 million or so homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth will walk away from them, especially if the real estate market begins to weaken again. The so-called strategic defaults have become a matter of intense debate in recent months.


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two quasi-governmental mortgage finance companies that own most of the mortgages in America with a value of less than $500,000, are alternately pleading with distressed homeowners not to be bad citizens and brandishing a stick at them.


In a recent column on Freddie Mac's website, the company's executive vice-president, Don Bisenius, acknowledged that walking away "might well be a good decision for certain borrowers" but argued that those who did it were trashing their communities.


The CoreLogic data suggest that the rich do not seem to have concerns about the civic good uppermost in mind, especially when it comes to investment and second homes. Nor do they appear to be particularly worried about being sued by their lenders or frozen out of future loans by Fannie Mae, possible consequences of default.


The delinquency rate on investment homes where the original mortgage was more than $1 million is now 23 per cent. For cheaper investment homes, it is about 10 per cent.


With second homes, the delinquency rate for both types of owners was rising in concert until the stock market crashed in September 2008. That sent the percentage of troubled million-dollar loans spiralling up much faster than the smaller loans.


"Those with high net worth have other resources to lean on if they get in trouble," said Mr. Khater, the analyst. "If they're going delinquent faster than anyone else, that tells me they are doing so willingly."


Willingly, but not necessarily publicly. The rapper Chamillionaire is a plain-talking exception. He recently walked away from a $2-million house he bought in Houston in 2006.


"I just decided to let it go, give it back to the bank," he told the celebrity gossip TV show TMZ. "I just didn't feel like it was a good investment."

(Carol Pogash contributed reporting.)


— New York Times News Service








The rain god's bounty could turn catastrophic in states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal which are the nation's granaries. We have seen earlier how even in good weather tonnes of foodgrain lying in the open have been destroyed by natural elements, as well as rats and insects; thus one need not be surprised at the devastation


caused by a few days of heavy monsoon showers. Statistics about the extent of crops destroyed vary, but some months ago, according to one estimate obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage and negligence had led to 14,000 tonnes of rice, wheat and paddy becoming totally unfit for the distribution system. It is also evident that the government had failed to take any action to fix responsibility for such largescale destruction — despite an assurance given to Parliament by the agriculture minister in August last year. The minister had then told Parliament that a team would be constituted to probe the matter and corrective action taken. But nothing was done, and there was not even a hint of an apology from the minister for not delivering on a promise made to Parliament. According to another estimate, foodgrain stocks worth a mind-boggling Rs 50,000 crores have been destroyed over the past few years due to negligence and the absence of proper storage facilities.

It is nothing less than a shame that in spite of its impressive technological and scientific advancement, India has still not been able to devise a scientific way to store foodgrain or to handle its distribution in all kinds of weather. There is talk now of sending a delegation to China to examine how that country, which too is plagued by the problem of floods and overflowing rivers, handles this problem. The Food Corporation of India is mandated to maintain "a satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of foodgrain to ensure national food security." Should it not be held responsible for such wanton destruction of the country's food wealth? How can any democracy, or any country which considers itself civilised, condone destruction of Rs 50,000 crores of food in a few years? And what kind of food security are we talking about when India ranks 66th out of 88 countries in global hunger index: a country where one child in four goes to bed hungry? The FCI's efforts, such as they are, appear grossly inadequate, even in the much-heralded public-private partnership initiative to build storage capacity — for which the government, inexplicably, reduced funds in the 11th Five-Year Plan.
There is talk of a Food Security Bill being introduced in the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament. This will work only if the implementing authority is made accountable for ensuring that food reaches every Indian at a reasonable price. It is disheartening that till now both the Government of India as well as its agriculture minister have shown a dog-in-the-manger attitude when it comes to providing the poor with food. Do they really prefer to see the grain rot rather than give it away to starving people in their own country? Punjab's agriculture minister had requested the Centre, specifically agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, to distribute the rotting grain lying in the open free to the poor, but he was totally ignored. There is a lot that the government can do if it is really interested in not letting the grain that cannot be stored for want of capacity simply rot in the open — for one, it can still introduce a food-for-work programme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.








These are testing times in Afghanistan: Both for the United States and for India, although for entirely different reasons. The war, as every Afghan watcher knows, is going badly for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces. June was the worst month for foreign troops in that country with 102 combat deaths, which is the


highest level of monthly casualties since the beginning of the war. Also, the Afghan war by end June had officially become America's longest war in history, longer than even Vietnam.
General Petraeus takes charge at a bad time. His predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, was sacked unceremoniously at a time when it is believed that Washington bigwigs are looking to political solutions that would exclude Afghan President Hamid Karzai and make dodgy deals with the enemy to forge peace.
If anybody is exulting, it is Pakistan's military establishment. The Afghanistan endgame is going their way and the hope is that the summer of 2010 will demonstrate this conclusively. If that happens, they would have effected a remarkable turnaround. For, nine years ago, the Pakistani military establishment was in the dog house. It had been threatened with extinction, humiliated and told to get lost from Afghanistan.
Today, the jihadi protégés of the Pakistan Army, the Taliban as well as fighters led by the elusive Jalaluddin Haqqani, are calling the shots. The Pathan tribes of Pakistan's frontier agencies are also back in action. Fighters from Waziristan in the south to Bajaur and Swat in the north regularly cross over to give battle to Nato troops in Afghanistan. This is like the old times of the Soviet jihad. Today, Pakistani security experts and retired military officers are openly saying that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan. One commentator on a Pakistani television programme gleefully proclaimed: "We will bury India and the US in Afghanistan".
American intelligence agencies and its military are fully aware of the Pakistan Army's close links with the Afghan Taliban and fighters like Jalaluddin Haqqani. New York Times correspondent David Sanger, in his book The Inheritance, has written how US military intelligence overheard General Ashfaq Kayani referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as "a strategic asset". Two weeks later, India's embassy in Kabul was bombed by Haqqani's men acting in collusion with the Inter-Services Intelligence. All this is old hat by now. Yet, Gen. Kayani refuses to attack north Waziristan where Haqqani and his men are based. The US with all its cash incentives and drone disincentives can do little about it.
The problem is that with Gen. McChrystal's exit and the entry of Gen. Petraeus, the US might be on the verge of making a deal with Pakistan's generals on Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus is somewhat of a "political" general and had turned the military tide in Iraq not through any new war fighting strategy but through political manipulations. Gen. Petraeus is fully aware of the Pakistan Army's links with the Taliban and people like Haqqani. Only, thus far he has chosen to be diplomatic about the whole thing. Gen. Petraeus knows that today, it is Gen. Kayani who has them in a meat grinder and only he can stop the fighters shooting at US soldiers in Afghanistan. A deal with the enemy would have many supporters in Washington, who believe the Afghan war is a lost cause.
This leaves India in a difficult position. For, any such deal would have to address the Pakistan Army's main demand of being allowed to dominate Afghanistan. Gen. Kayani was the first Pakistan Army Chief to openly declare that their legitimate aim was to secure "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. "We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it", he had declared at a press conference in February this year.
He was clearly addressing the Americans and had added that Pakistan's "strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised", meaning that India had to be kept out or restrained in Afghanistan. He had warned that an environment hostile to Pakistan could strain its battle against militancy and extremism. In other words, Kayani wants to regain what his Army had lost in 2001: dominance in Afghanistan.
Such a denouement is completely unacceptable to India. India's new ambassador to Kabul, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who must have had an inkling of what is brewing in Af-Pak, had warned of preciselt such a scenario in a recent paper published by the Washington thinktank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. India, he wrote, "does not see the Afghan problem as a derivative of India-Pakistan problems that has to be addressed from that angle (as Pakistan tries to project it). It considers it a serious violation of the norms of inter-state conduct that Afghanistan should be made to pay the price for Pakistan's bilateral problems with India in the form of destabilisation and a desire for 'strategic depth', or that Pakistani state institutions should use terrorism to fight a proxy war against India in India or a third country. Nor does it believe that the Pakistani military will sever its links with or fully cooperate with the coalition over the Afghan Taliban, even if India were to reduce troops across Pakistan's eastern border, and views any cooperation by Pakistan in this regard as selective and aimed only at securing concessions from India. India also does not accept that Pakistan should be rewarded for its cooperation with the coalition by political concessions from India, when it is, in fact, the Taliban's prime backer. Given these almost diametrically opposed impulses, interests, strategies, and positions, it is difficult to see how Indian and Pakistani positions on Afghanistan can be reconciled".
Now that Mr Mukhopadhaya is in Kabul, he will have to face considerable pressure to reconcile the very contradictions he has written about. His success or failure will not only determine the history of India's relations with Afghanistan but also that of the Afghan people, who have experienced the Pakistani scourge once before.


Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi








Okay. I have the answer to all your problems. We can deal with everything from terrorism to fiscal deficit if only we make a small lifestyle change. All we need is an octopus.

Octopus Paul in Oberhausen, Germany, has picked Spain as the winner of the World Cup. His 100 per cent success rate in predicting winners for all six matches till now has almost landed him in hot water — with salt and seasoning on the side — especially after he foresaw, correctly, the defeat of his home country in the semi-finals. Devastated at their defeat, enraged German football fans are rearing to eat the messenger.

But Spain, the winners of the semi-finals as predicted by Paul, have rushed to his defence. "I am concerned for the octopus", said Prime Minister Zapatero, "I am thinking of sending him a protective team!" The protective spirit may evaporate, of course, after Paul's forecast for the final game, where Spain takes on the Netherlands for the World Cup, goes wrong.

Like most oracles worth their salt, er… worth their name, Paul too has a unique style of functioning. The Octopus Orakel is offered mussels in two boxes marked with the flags of the competing teams, and the team whose box he chooses to eat from wins the match. It's a perfectly respectable mode of telling the future — some pick cards, some pick pages from ancient documents, some pick yummy mussels.

I propose that we have our own Octopus Oracle to help us navigate these difficult times. A little peek into the future can't hurt. Besides, we are experts at it — we have been doing it for centuries. But since we failed to train the future generations in this scintillating science — university courses in Vedic Astrology were so rudely shelved, in spite of the valiant efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a few years ago — we need the next best alternative. We need an Ashtabhuj Baba — the Eight-armed Seer.

At moments of uncertainty, we need oracles. And right now we are busy bobbing up and down in a whirlpool of insecurity. Food prices are spiralling out of reach. Everyday expenses have shot up dramatically. Cross-border terrorism keeps us in a permanent state of alarm. Naxalites wage their self-styled war against the state. Various extremist groups keep the Northeast on the boil. Separatists are reasserting themselves in Kashmir. Telangana is back with a vengeance. We face sectarian violence, caste violence, violence from our own kin for believing in our constitutional rights and freedoms. Beleaguered by corruption, bad governance, a labyrinthine justice system, inept administrators and wily politicians, we are dearly in need of a saviour. We need Ashtabhuj Baba.
Who will instantly be appropriated by every political party, no doubt. The BJP will tell us how they have always been worshipping the octopus, a divine creature venerated in the Vedas, and an important architect of the Ram Setu. It will also demand that the octopus be immediately declared a sacred species and banned from being eaten. Restaurants offering octopus will be vandalised, their owners lynched, their customers beaten up and molested. Neighbourhood ashtabhuj-shaalaas will spring up, presenting elaborate water-tanks choking with decaying flowers where baby octopuses are smothered in turmeric and vermilion. And meetings will start with a sombre "Om Ashtabhujaya Namah!"

Naturally, the Congress will smirk at all this. And tell us that the BJP's sudden interest in the octopus is a dangerous ploy to polarise the nation on sectarian lines. We will learn how the Gandhi family has always been particularly fond of the octopus — no, of course not at the dinner table, what a thought! We will be told how Rahul Gandhi's favourite song is the Beatles' number Octopus' Garden. There will be a demand to make the octopus our National Mollusk.

Meanwhile Mayawati will build huge octopus statues, with some firmly clasping handbags in a few curly arms. J. Jayalalithaa will offer an octopus cape to Sonia Gandhi the next time the Karunanidhi clan fights with itself. Lalu Prasad Yadav will claim, only half in jest, that the Yadavs have an inherent understanding of the octopus because of its closeness to cows — and quote poetry to prove it. Mamata Banerjee will call a Bengal bandh to highlight the plight of the octopus under the Communist Party of India (Marxist) state government, and start a special train — named Ati Duranta — to register her support for the express wiggler.

Fuming at the stupidity of the other political parties, the Left parties will cut off all ties with their remaining allies, and implore the people of India to see through the eight limbed creature. They will quote from Mao and Marx to prove that the octopus is a vile American design to destroy India. They will demand that we rise in rage and crush the wicked arm of US imperialism — all eight of them.

The Eight-armed Seer will dominate our lives and politics. In fact, soon we may see baby octopuses contesting elections — if the squirmy baba-log are related to the Ashtabhuj Baba they are fit to govern us, of course. And I have no doubt that they will make brilliant politicians.

For one, an octopus has no spine — it can mould itself any which way. Then, it is a master of camouflage. It can rapidly change colour, even its skin-texture, to fit its surroundings. Besides, it has excellent eyesight and a shrewd brain. Many believe the octopus has nine brains, because each of its arms genuinely has a mind of its own. It would be a great help in a system where one arm doesn't know what another is doing. When in a tight spot, the octopus can squeeze itself into any loophole and escape. And most importantly, it specialises in spraying ink to cloud your vision. Yes, the octopus would make an excellent Indian politician.
So I am rooting for Ashtabhuj Baba. I need some security in my life. I am tired of our netas, our failed governance, our inescapable uncertainty. I'd like to be/ under the sea/ in an octopus' garden. Wouldn't you?


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted








"Cool as a cucumber and not half as green."

From Characterisations by Bachchoo 


It is, one must admit, unusual to begin a column with an allusion to bum showers. I have written about this innovative bathroom furnishing or gadget which I first came acr


oss perhaps 20 years ago and which has replaced the universal earthenware or metal lota or the tin mug one finds in railway compartment lavatories chained to the wall like a potentially fugitive pet. On the occasion of that first written observation I simply praised the innovation and noted that my grandmother, in the most delicate prose she could muster, told me that Europeans don't use water but paper to clean themselves and that must leave something to be desired. Apart from appreciative emails, I received one from a Japanese correspondent who insisted that the bum shower had been invented by his fellow countryman.
I didn't bother at the time to settle the matter, important though it is to ascertain who really invented this hygienic device. The question has been revived by a friend who insists that the bum shower is a Pakistani invention. The placing of a small bet led to a cursory investigation on the Internet which, I'm afraid, yielded no conclusive result.

I had no recourse but to fall back on philosophical and historical arguments. My contention was and is that the bum shower didn't exist before 1947, the date of the Partition of India. It is nevertheless, though it has been adopted by small proportions of the population in many countries, a sub-continental fixture or luxury. That doesn't help us conclude as to where it was invented, by whom and why it spread so rapidly to those homes and institutions which adopted it as a replacement for the mug or plastic jug, a transition of the magnitude of the replacement of the typewriter by the computer.

The late great Bengali sage Nirad Chaudhuri argued in his (overlong) book The Continent of Circe that the climate of India had challenged and enervated all the armies, races, breeds, conquerors and colonialists which sojourned or settled here. He included the earliest known invasion which was supposedly that of Aryans from the Caucasus or Central Asia who arrived on the Indo-Gangetic plains at some period in pre-history. They interacted with the races already inhabiting the land and the amalgam of "Hinduism" came about.
This religion, or as some classifiers insist, "way of life" is steeped in prescribed rituals of purification. These include personal hygiene and part of the inheritance of this ritual is strict adherence to the rule that one washes one's posterior with the left hand and eats with the right, keeping the polluted left one firmly in one's lap or even, it has been known, behind one's back.

Rudyard Kipling certainly picked up on the idea that the climate of India, the heat, the monsoon, the pests, the potential for infection and festering afflictions was a prime danger faced by the British colonisers. His century saw, as any old church graveyard's worn and time-ravaged tombstones will testify, the death of thousands of young adventurers who had succumbed to the vagaries of the Indian climate and the diseases that Indian flesh was heir to (or may have developed an immunity against). He advised the Wolf Pack, his allegorical representatives for the colonial British, to obey the law of the jungle: Keep together and observe certain strict rituals.

"Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.Wash daily from nose tip to tail tip; drink deeply, but never too deep; And remember the night is for hunting and forget not the day is for sleep."


The "wash daily" is the telling detail about the battle with the climate and it is Rudyard's ritual prescription for the new rulers and inhabitants of India.

In my travels in Muslim countries, Iran in particular, I did note the plastic jugs, pastel-coloured pink, green and purple replicas of the sort of wine-dispenser that the characters of Omar Khayyam's quatrains are sometimes pictured with on carpets under trees, standing on the toilet floors. No historical link exists to tell us whether the water-wash travelled West from Hindu India or whether it was a simultaneous habit of the Zoroastrian Empire that preceded the invasion by Arabs. I presume that desert Arabs treated their scarce water resources with great respect and consequently limited the use of water to very specific ablutions.

Being a devotee of the inductive and deductive methods of scientific conclusion, I didn't even pretend that these, my philosophical arguments, had settled the question of the origins of the bum shower. My opponent began then to deploy the counter arguments.

How was it, if Indians invented the bum shower giving them some claim to being personally clean creatures, they throw garbage everywhere so it piles up in rotting heaps? How is it that only in the subcontinent and especially India the canals, creeks and streams that run through cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru have been reduced to diseased gutters with noxious, pervasive stinks? It doesn't happen in China, which is more densely populated in parts.


Comparing the relative stinkiness of Shanghai and Mumbai is what the Americans call a no-brainer, in other words, obvious and easy. Shanghai's relative cleanliness is brought about by ordered entry of the rural population into the city and an imposed sense of communal responsibility once they are there.
In the absence of the diktat of state that keeps Shanghai clean, other states and nations have evolved a sense of communal responsibility which comes from their culture. Is it then true to say that monotheistic societies, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim engender a sense of society in their very acts of worship? Does the individual pursuit of dharma or karma, the absence of a congregational relationship with a single God promote a tendency to seek individual salvation through personal, self-contained bhakti and leave society to come together — or not?








The really funny bit about the Time magazine article written by the much-maligned Joe Stein is that we all have a secret Joe Stein lurking inside us. The first generation immigrants may have wanted the comfort of a shared language, clothes and food, but not anymore! None of us, when we come away from India, want to be associated


with the desis at all. Oh no — we are far too urbane for that. No one wants to do the desi stuff and, believe me, we are downright snooty about it. Look at that sequin studded sari, we squirm. And omigod that peculiar accent! But it's alright so long as we (the non-desi desis) are being critical about ourselves; when an "outsider" points out the despair of desi-fication we go ballistic. Yet, we love being parochial about our own community because under our own skins we are all coconuts, to borrow a popular racist term. That is, we are brown outside and white inside. Wouldn't it have been lovely if a coconut were white outside and inside as well? Oh! well…
So on behalf of the non-desi desis in the UK, I would like to issue a health and safety warning for all the summer migrants who appear in London when the mercury rises in India and imagine we are thrilled to see them. Please remember that we, the London non-desi desis, groan collectively when June arrives. But why do they have to come here? we grumble, Delhi and Mumbai have all the shops now. When malls in Delhi sprung up with Marks & Spencer and Armani, the non-desi desi community in the UK felt a huge sense of relief. Perhaps now, we thought, those Indian hordes won't descend on London. But alas, they did. And when they do, we have to cut a wide swathe around Hyde Park, Oxford Street and St. James Court, the desi dens. Most of us are forced to leave London altogether for the summer months. Others are reduced to mumbling excuses about "emergency health operations" and "excruciating work loads" so that we do not bump into each other for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, why do we live in London, if it is not to enable us to put thousands of miles between us?

Fortunately, we may be soon be rescued by sympathetic friends in India who are equally worried about desis hanging out with each other all the time. I have been authoritatively told that experienced seasonal migratory experts like my friend Suhel Seth are setting up Joe Stein consultancies in India on how to avoid going desi in London. Lectures are being delivered on stepping out of the comfort zone and actually trying out completely non-desi attractions in London. That's going to be the best thing since Thornton's chocolate! But I would urge him, on behalf of all my NRI friends, to dissuade all Indians from coming to London altogether… how about encouraging them to wander around Kazakhistan or Turkmenistan… those countries probably need desi-fication. Like Joe Stein, I agree that the character of London has been changed beyond recognition by the outrageous number of Indians who think London is their second home. Even if they bring a spike in high street sales, let us agree that the time has come for all desis to explore new destinations (Alaska? Timbuktu?) or just stay at home and eat their paranthas and pickle in peace.

My sympathies, therefore, are with Joe Stein who spoke of his own wonderfully manic childhood in New Jersey which has now been wrecked with the arrival by what he not-so-fondly refers to as the dotheads. No more kleptomania, shop lifting or watching R-rated films — i.e., the end of the all-American lifestyle and the influx of us pure-ghee darkies with gold chains and open shirts and gelled hair. What could be worse? How come he did not notice the nylon saris tied six inches above the ankle and the long shapeless sweaters? How come when Jhumpa Lahiri writes breathless tomes about the Bengali diaspora stereotype (academic, bespectacled, eats loochis and lives on Harvard square etc...) she gets the Pulitzer Prize, but when someone phoren notices our non-intellectual idiosyncrasies we pulverise them?


My own experience of New Jersey was very Steinlike, I am afraid. I had gone to leave my daughter at Princeton, and we decided to stroll around the neighbourhood park. It was a peaceful, sunny day and we were admiring the thick dense trees and lovely lakes — when all hell broke loose. Suddenly sirens were screaming and rangers on motorcycles arrived. They quickly surrounded a bunch of startled Gujaratis, caught in mid-bhajan just ahead of us. It made an astonishing sight. This lot, complete with gold chains and gelled hair and nylon saris, had decided to bathe a sculpture of Ganesh in milk and then dunk it in the park pond. This was being done with the same normality as they would back home, invoke the gods and chuck plaster of paris moortis into an already polluted Ganga. Now — I am not sure whether this is a cultural clash or that the dotheads had forgotten they were in a different country — will they ever, with their plastic chappals and Bollywood dance, ever understand that public spaces are not theirs to misuse, and that it may be time to try to integrate into the host country?

Every where in the world, even in Southall, or East End, it is inexplicable why Asians chose to live like they are still in Bhindi Bazaar. Perhaps if someone like Stein holds a mirror to us, we should at least acknowledge that we are like that only... and Suhel, we really have too many Indians in the UK, please keep your friends outta here.


MEANWHILE, A word in defence of desi-fication! I went for a BBC Asia network studio interview with the vergreen and wonderfully erudite Dev Anand. It was a totally sentimental morning with grown men in the audience shedding tears at the sight of their childhood hero. Many of them had dreamt of meeting him for decades — one even confessed that when Dev Saheb lost a tooth in his youthful hero days, he too had his tooth pulled out, in empathy.

We were given an exclusive glimpse of Chargesheet, Dev Saheb's new film. It has all the oomph and vitality we associate with Dev Saheb — yet another example of his unique ability to combine screenplay writing, acting, directing, producing… and make it look like a cakewalk. Now if all desis coming to the UK were like him, debonair, excellent raconteurs and truly sophisticated — none of us would ever mind. And yet, he was once a simple boy from Gurdaspur who dreamt big. Navketan is now 60 years old, but Dev Saheb is as young as ever!  


The writer can be contacted at









The United States which went into an overdrive and arrested 10 Russians, including spouses and children for engaging in espionage, laundering of money et al were swapped with four Russians, who were caught by an equally zealous Russian government for being American spies.


It was given out that it was decided to swap the 10 Russians caught in the US for the four Russians caught in Moscow. It was decided to deport them simultaneously, and their first transit point was Vienna.


There are many dirty secrets on both sides and the two governments are only trying to hush it up in rather undignified haste.


The lame and tame excuse that was given out for the so-called amicable solution was the warming of US-Russia relations.


The reason that the story has not rocked both sides is that no one is any more excited by cold war shenanigans. There are no passionate anti-communists in the US and no passionate anti-capitalists in Russia. So, the wild and loud accusations and denunciations are not ringing in the air. It has turned out to be a tepid spy tale, which fell off the headlines much too fast, leaving no trace behind.


It is not surprising then that there are no great debates about ideological loyalty being superior to the loyalty to the country — the argument that was given by British double-agent Kim Philby, who defected to the 'enemy' without any compunction and remained unrepentant till his death — and vice versa.


The defector then was treated as a traitor and writers like Graham Greene displayed perverse pleasure in expressing the view that Philby is a fascinating character.


A little before the Philby episode in the late 1960s, there was the case of the Burgess et al, products of Cambridge University and from the ranks of propa' British middle class, who were embedded in communism and the 'enemy', and that caused much hand-wringing and soul-searching among the left-leaning intelligentsia, and the right-wingers used it as the perfect pretext to demonise anyone who showed traces of left sympathies.


In the 1950s US, there seemed to be a communist behind every door, especially in liberal Hollywood, and this came to a head under Joseph McCarthy's infamous witch-hunt through the House Un-American Activities Committee.


There was a theological underpinning to the battle, and those involved in it thought that this was a veritable war between God and Satan. Compared to the high drama of half-a-century ago, the quiet settlement of the spies' case in Washington and Moscow is like a bilateral agreement on exchange of illegal immigrants.







Suad Amry, 59, is the author of two funny books, rather two books of black humour, which can only be written by people who live in a state of political siege and there is no hope. The titles tell all. The title of the first books is Sharon And My Mother-in-Law, and the second, Menopausal Palestine Women At the Edge. Her third book is Murad, Murad. Suad is lively, graceful and lives on in Ramallah without abandoning the hope that there will be a Palestinian state. She is beautiful and stately, which she attributes to her Syrian mother but she is extremely attached to her father's inheritance of the land of Palestine. She was in Delhi recently for the launch of her book, Menopausal Palestine (Kali for Women/Women Unlimited), which is an elegy for the decline of the secular, democratic values of the PLO and the rise of religious fanaticism of the Hamas. In an interview with DNA, she spoke of about the politics of her life. 

Is English the lingua franca among the Palestinians?   


No. It is Arabic. The majority use only Arabic. The younger generation may inject English words into their Arabic. But Arabic remains the language of communication.

If you have to write your books in Arabic, can you do it?    

Yes. I can. But then I will have to translate them into English again. If the book is to reach people of different nationalities, then it has to be in English. My first book, Sharon And My Mother-in-Law was in the form of emails. The emails are all in English. My Italian publisher wanted me to write the book in English. It has now been translated into 20 languages. 

You stay in Ramallah?    

 Yes. I live in Ramallah. I work as an architect for 70% of the time. 

I work for an NGO, Riwaq, which is for the preservation of old monuments. We create jobs. Because of the tense political situation, it is difficult for people to get jobs. This is one of way of doing it.  When I have to write I go away to Italy for three months, where I do my first draft. Then I come back and work at it on the weekends.

You are really writing non-fiction but you are doing through the fiction mode. 

Yes. In Arabic we call it 'hakawati', story-telling. Right from my childhood I always liked to narrate jokes, tell a story. I did not realise that this could be transformed into writing. I was surprised when my books became a success. My friends tell me that I am lucky. I do not agonise over the writing. If I know a story I just write it. I do not ever rewrite it, revise it. My husband is a sociologist. He is also a writer. But he writes more of the academic stuff.


I wrote my first book, Sharon And My Mother-In-Law at the time of the occupation by Israel. At that time I was sick and tired of politics. Writing created an outlet for me. First, I was politically active but I never wanted to be a public figure. I never cared for public life.  

How were you drawn into politics?

I was always politically close to the Democratic Front, a faction of the PLO. I was never a political activist. I was involved in the Palestine-Israeli dialogue. This was during the first intifada, which was from 1987 to 1991. There was a lot of talk at the time between Israelis and Palestinians. I was part of a Palestinian-Israeli women's group called Network. We wanted to understand each other and how to get to peace. There were also informal negotiations under the supervision of Arafat.


Arafat wanted to send people from Palestine who could sit and talk to the Israelis and not be intimidated by them. He also wanted someone who would understand what the Israelis were thinking. I was also a woman and it helped. 

Were the Americans neutral in the negotiations between Israel and Palestine?

Dennis Ross, who represented the US State Department, did his PhD thesis which was an advice to the American government not to talk to the PLO. All the State Department officials involved in the negotiations were Jewish. How would you feel as a Palestinian if all of them were Jews even if they are neutral?

Ross was very unhappy when Arafat came to Washington to sign the Oslo Accords. Arafat sent us to talk directly to the Israelis at Oslo. On the Israeli side, there were Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres. On the Palestinian side, there were Mahmoud Abbas, and Abu Ala. It was in Oslo that the Israelis first recognised there is a Palestinian state. Americans resented these direct talks. Rabin was killed in 1994. He should have moved quickly to implement the accords. But he did not.

What happened then? Was Benjamin Netanyahu the problem?

I will tell you. Ehud Barak, who was in the Labour Party, the party of Peres and Rabin, was the problem. He was the only one to have voted against the Oslo Accords. Netanyahu was in the Likud and it was natural that he was opposed to the accords. It was Barak who has messed up things. According to the Oslo Accords, there is the transitional period of five years after which West Bank was to be handed over to the Palestinians. Barak told Rabin, "If we give away West Bank, what do we have to negotiate with? 

Is it the case that the PLO lost out to Hamas because of corruption or because the peace accords did not move forward?

Exactly. PLO lost out to Hamas because the Oslo Accords were not implemented. What will weaken Hamas is a peaceful solution.  Arafat, at the personal level, was not corrupt. After he died and they opened his cup board, there were just two costumes he wore. He slept in his office. He was not like Mrs Marcos.







Sixty five people across twelve compartments, on a journey that almost didn't happen. The only thing between them and their Jammu-Kashmir-Amritsar trip now were the great plains of North India.


As one of the 65, even as I gaped at the realisation that there are hillocks in the country that look exactly the way kids draw them, my mind was furiously at work trying to drive out any pre-conceived notions about the valley.


The Roja soundtrack playing on repeat in my head didn't help matters much, but, well, at least I tried. 


We got out at Jammu station five layers heavier, glaring suspiciously at the flimsy-looking thermal inners that were supposed to be our saviours, and into which we had changed with quite a superhero flourish.


Trudging up the slopes to the bus depot in a beat-up bus wannabe, we took a quick look around at Jammu. Quite an interesting sight revealed itself; women, not only as bus conductors and at shops, but even driving buses and other heavy vehicles.


A sight that didn't seem very unusual at that time, though it later turned heart-warming, when we observed the limited mobility women enjoy in the Valley. 


After a quick stop-over at Patni-top, we made our way to the Jawaharlal Nehru tunnel, and finally saw the sight which has turned kings into poets, singing paens to the valley: dawn breaking across the mountains, with the sun-kissed peaks blushing deeply at the sight of the morning sun.


We spent the actual journey across the pitch-dark tunnel, where even headlights are not allowed, holding our collective breaths, and the eventual exit into the light seemed like a rebirth.


The sight of snow, which at night-time had seemed rather menacing, had us itching for a snow-fight now. A quick kawah stop at Qazikund later, we were ready to cover the last few kilometres into Srinagar.


We made our way across town to the dying Dal lake, where we were to a stay in a houseboat on the outer edges of the lake. The famed shikara rides to and from our houseboat were quite frightening, the humpty-dumpty nature of the shikara not lending itself much to our confidence.


We soon understood the reason behind the continuing entreaties of the shikara-wallahs to take us around the lake: floating markets! From jewellery to saffron to even a veritable chip-and-cola paradise, the boats had it all! 


The best moment on the shikara, though, was one that was the most unexpected. On our way across the lake late one evening, the city was suddenly plunged into darkness.


With just starlight leading our way, and a darker night sky than any of us city-dwellers had seen in our lives, all we wanted to do was to take in the soft ripples of the water against the oar, with the Himalayan range somewhere at the periphery of our consciousness. As the strains of the azaan rang out from the distance, Mumbai seeped out of our systems. Temporarily, at least.


While in Kashmir, we met the tourism minister and his team at the newly-restored Nigeen club, the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), and also the Hurriyat (Moderate) chief, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. Talking to the journalists who report in one of the toughest zones in the country was also another heartening experience. I spent most of my time talking to the common public, whose stories we always hear about, but whose opinions never reach our ears.


But the most enduring memories from this trip will definitely feature the mountains. Our trip through Baramullah and Uri to the Kaman Aman setu, one of our borders with Pakistan and the site of the bus exchange, had us meandering across valleys, navigating straggly mountain sides, with the faint roar of the river far below us providing the background score. Our short stopover at Jammu had us comparing college buildings with chief minister Omar Abdullah, who answered even the most bristly of our questions with remarkable alacrity. 


We soon left the mountains behind and travelled to Amritsar, our last stop before Mumbai. The bullet-ridden reality at the Jallianwallah bagh chilled us more than any textbook had ever been able to. Down the road, in the wee hours of a foggy January morning, the Golden temple seemed to float high above the peaceful crowds that had gathered there; elevated, perhaps, by the collective kar seva offered by the high and low alike. 


After taking in the sights, sounds, and mouthwatering smells of Amritsar, we made our way to the Wagah border, in process setting what must have been a national record — visiting two state borders with Pakistan in under 10 days. But this had been that kind of a trip: one crazy old man and sixty five crazier students, fighting the odds to complete the trip they had dreamed about for months.









PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh's decision to set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) for enacting legislation to root out honour killings is apt and timely. This has become necessary following sharp divisions among ministers at the Union Cabinet meeting on Thursday. While Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram wanted the existing laws to be amended with more stringent powers, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal proposed a stand-alone law to check the menace. Mr Chidambaram proposed amending the Indian Evidence Act to put the onus of proving innocence on the khap panchayats whose extra-legal verdicts result in honour killings. He also suggested that Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code be amended to make all khap panchayat members liable to be sentenced to death or life if their verdicts result in honour killings. However, Mr Sibal opposed the proposal to redefine murder to include death "caused by persons acting in concert with or at the behest of a member of a family, group, clan or caste panchayat" when murder in all forms and manner was considered murder.


Whatever may be the differences among the Union Ministers, the GoM should help thrash out these and evolve a broad consensus on the draft legislation to be tabled in the ensuing Parliament session. More important, under Article 246 of the Constitution, the Centre will have to seek the states' views before amending any provision of the Indian Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code. As the issue in question is sensitive involving deep social and religious sentiments, it would be legitimate on the part of the Centre to have wider consultations with the state governments, especially those of Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where honour killings are an endemic issue.


While there is nothing wrong with the new GoM, the Centre needs to allay apprehensions among some sections that it was the government's way of dithering and prevarication on an issue of vital importance. Though this process involves wider consultations with all the states, the Centre should keep its word of bringing in new legislation in the monsoon session of Parliament with a sense of urgency. Khap panchayats, with their verdicts on honour killings through kangaroo courts, have torn apart the social fabric and the Centre cannot abdicate its responsibility of reining in these illegal institutions through an appropriate and comprehensive piece of legislation.








THE successful 26-hour test flight of a solar-powered aircraft has shown that in principle the plane can theoretically stay in the air indefinitely by recharging its batteries using the rays of the sun during the day. Solar Impulse has a wingspan of 262.5 feet and its successful landing at Payerne airfield in Switzerland, marked the onset of an era that will show man using renewable energy in more and more areas. In its flight, the plane used only energy collected from the sun by its 12,000 solar cells. The single-seat plane with a top speed of 120 km ph is a technology demonstrator.


Man's yearning to fly is as old as human presence on Earth, and in Greek mythology Icarus flew too close to the sun, and fell to his death. On the other hand, the aircraft reached an altitude of 28,543 feet during the day, and descended to 4,921 feet at night, when it ran on batteries. Solar Impulse is by no means the first aircraft to fly on solar energy—unmanned solar planes have been around since the 1970s and manned flights followed, but no one had been able to keep such a craft afloat all night till the Solar Impulse flight.


Solar energy is abundant, and only a minuscule amount has been harnessed. With the recent improvements in photovoltaic batteries, more and more ingenious ways are being found to use this renewable source. Efficiency of products like solar panels has increased to an extent where they are widely used commercially. Electric cars are now a reality, albeit, an esoteric one. The Solar Impulse's long flight, fire up man's imagination and prepare the ground for more tangible achievements in using sunlight, which counts as the most plentiful source of renewable energy on earth. The visionaries who conceived and executed this project deserve kudos for showing this energy-efficient use of technology. 









THE clerics and culture controllers who think Iranian men and women should have hairstyles they approve of must be a very boring and authoritarian lot unable to appreciate nature's variety and human desire for freedom. The religious bigots do not seem to understand that prescribing hairstyles could provoke resistance. Already, Opposition activists have started wearing a clean-shaven look as an affront to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's heavy facial stubble, which is supposed to be a sign of religious piety and an indication of loyalty to the all-powerful clerics. They are stretching the justifiable Muslim battle against the Western cultural invasion a bit too far.


Individuals anywhere please themselves and their loving partners by sporting the hairstyle or the dress they like. Women are known to adore their hair and generate a huge business for hair oil and shampoo makers worldwide. Troubles arise when, like the Iranian clerics, women tend to enforce a dress code and a haircut for their husbands. Cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, intoxicated with love and in a mood of "your wish, my command" on the eve of his marriage, may have fulfilled his bride's desire for shorter hair, but he better watch out. Romantic men usually rave about women's long hair. Poets go passionate about it. "I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it", wrote one such soul, love-struck and ready to surrender control of his senses.


But the unromantic, dry ones debunk poetic obsession with hair. This is how a character in an American TV show "Civil Wars" rebukes his associates on such behaviour: "What's the matter with you guys? The sight of blonde hair knocks you three rungs down on the evolutionary ladder?" Boys laugh on losing virginity, but cry when the first time their hair is cut. A baldie would say: "I'd rather be bald on top than bald inside". 









AFTER the 69-day battle for Bangkok between the government and Red Shirts, Thailand is not the same any more. While few are wearing Yellow, (the colour of the monarchy, the elite and the Army-supported coalition government led by the Democratic Party) or Red (symbol of the rural base of supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) Shirts, uncertainty and tension are palpable over the surface.


Three processes are underway in Bangkok: investigation over the alleged Army crackdown which broke the barricades killing 90 and wounding 2000 persons; political reforms; and reconciliation. Visiting Thailand one month after the street battles, one can still detect scars of Red rage and Army-police riposte despite the forgive-and-forgive teeshirts bearing We Love Thailand, We Love Central World, Together We Can, and We Love Ratchaprasong.


To recap, Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of Bangkok's commercial centre has been immortalised as the fulcrum of the Red Shirts' protest rallies, their occupation stretching on one side to Siam Square, on the other, CentralWorld and on the third, leaning on to a group of five-star hotels, including the Four Seasons. Above Ratchaprasong is Bangkok's famous Sky Train providing overhead cover for the protestors. The two other protest sites were the barricades at Lumphini Park and Wat Pathun Wanaran. The military made two attempts to disperse Red Shirts, first on April 10 and then between May 14 and 19.


Two other events reverberated across Bangkok on June 22. The cremation of renegade Maj-Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, the military mastermind behind the barricades who was shot in the head by a sniper on May 13 outside the Red Shirt defences while being interviewed by a foreign reporter near Rama IV Road. His daughter, ironically a Yellow Shirt supporter, became the rallying point to what people called "farewell to a fighter". Soon after his death, military action was launched by the Army at Ratchaprasong intersection.


The first explosion to shatter the uneasy calm after May 19 occurred on June 22 near the headquarters of the Bhoom Jai Thai party, an ally of the government. A 15-kg TNT bomb blew up just hours before the General's funeral, triggering off conspiracy theories, the most popular being the government was behind it to justify the continuation of the emergency decree.


Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democratic Party and the Yellow Shirts People's Alliance for Democracy, has constituted the Reform Thailand and Reconciliation panel, led by former Prime Minister Ananda Panyarachun which the firebrand Red Shirt leader and MP Jatuporn Prompan has described as a sham and sarcastically suggested that the proposed panel leader should first reform himself.


The opposition United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) has said that the reform panel is to obfuscate the enquiry into the massacre of Red Shirts by the Army. Red Shirt leaders have called for an independent investigation into the incidents from March 12 to May 19, appointed a team of UDD lawyers to bring court cases against the government and are reported to be planning new strategies to oust the government.


The reforms process could take up to three years though the government's term is till December 23, 2011, when fresh elections are to be held. Mr Prompan believes that it is not possible for Red Shirts to regroup in the next few months as the government has fanned out troops into the province for plucking out Red Shirts. The priority, therefore, must be to seek justice for those killed and learn lessons from the battle for Bangkok, Prompan added. The leadership during the protest campaign was diffused and it lacked negotiating skills. At one stage, Prime Minister Vejjajiva had offered to hold elections in November 2010 but Red Shirts demanded the government step down and immediate elections be held. Had they accepted the government's offer, it would have been a different ballgame. Once Maj-Gen Sawasdipol was killed, the protest strategy dissipated.


The Army is said to be at the peak of its strength after its decisive role in security operations to crack down on anti-government protestors in May. Its triumph has boosted the chances of the ruling Democratic Party-led coalition remaining in power longer and even winning the next elections. There are reports that Army operations were a foul up and led to excessive use of force, a charge made by the Opposition. Prime Minister Vejjajiva is unlikely to apologise for the Army action. Army Chief Anupong Paojunda has dismissed reports of Army high-handedness and has said violence was instigated from within Red Shirts and terrorists mingling with them. "Thai Army never shoots its own people", he added.


Another Red Shirt rally in Bangkok is not likely anytime soon. Rather they will go underground and could start a low-level insurgency, complimenting the ongoing southern uprising.


The Bangkok Post on June 21 published the results of a poll one month after the protests. The findings revealed that the majority of those who participated in the poll felt that the political situation had not improved and the chances of reconciliation were from low to moderate. The economy is shaky with a decline in hotel occupancy ranging from 20 to 40 per cent, the worst in 40 years. The government is bailing out the tourism industry, which is expected to pick up by December provided Bangkok remains on an even keel.


A by-election is due later this month — July 25 (one was held on June 6 and won by the ruling party). The UDD is fielding its revolutionary leader, Natthawut Saikua, who was caught on video allegedly calling on his supporters to burn Bangkok. The shadow of the enigmatic Thaksin Shinawatra does not seem to fade away as his popularity is deep-rooted among the rural masses who swarmed the streets of Bangkok. The government is believed to have the names of most people who took part in the protest campaign: it is in three categories: hardcore Red Shirt members, UDD members and those who joined the rallies for financial reasons and to see Bangkok.


The Shinawatra supporters who financed the protests are being investigated for their role in the civil unrest. At least 83 individuals and firms suspected of having links with Red Shirts are being questioned by "the Department of Special Investigations'. Another 422 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, including a Briton and an Australian who were accused of violating the emergency laws.


The King in Thailand is a divine and revered figure who has historically brokered reconciliation. This time around, the ailing King was silent though everyone knows his loyalists wear yellow shirts. Before dispersing from Ratchaprosang on May 19, Red Shirts torched the entire CentralWorld complex, the commercial heart of Thailand. Reforms may be on the way but reconciliation is a far cry. The economic anchor of South-East Asia has come unstuck. Near the debris of Central World, Thais can be seen praying to Lord Ganesh for prosperity and peace.








IT is not easy being a teetotaller in today's 'wine and dine' world. Having never even tasted alcohol (except once), one really feels like an oddball at parties these days, especially those organised anywhere in North India.


Liquor often flows with such effulgence at these social dos that one is left wondering later as to how one remains sober despite having inhaled the aroma of the stuff, all evening. Spending an evening holding a glass of water or juice (and waiting for dinner to be served) is the only option for one not given to accepting anything more potent.


The host and hostess tend to look askance at one when the bolder option is refused. Whisky is the first tantalising item that one is offered, followed by beer, and then rounded off with an astounded look accompanied by the incredulous query: 'Not even a glass of wine??'


Given the fact that even the female of the species has taken to wine with aplomb these days, one feels even more isolated in mentioning that one is a teetotaler. The saving grace is that there is sometimes a sprinkling of fellow-teetotalers around at such parties and one can always quote their example in order to avoid being badgered for having 'at least one drink'.


The only time that one did partake of a few drops of alcohol was when a classmate in college threatened to do something drastic to himself out of guilt at being a drunkard, if I didn't have a sip. I figured that breaking a personal vow just once and doing the needful for his life's sake was probably the correct option at the time, and it was exercised accordingly.


At a large gathering once, after the host had asked me the usual preliminary questions on my choice of drink he looked suitably disappointed at my response. A little later he offered me a cigarette which I also declined. When dinner was finally served, he asked me with some hope, 'You do eat non-vegetarian food?'


Not wanting to respond in the negative yet again, I just smiled at him, but he caught on.


'What do you live for, my friend?' was his exasperated question, as I filled up my plate with salads, legumes and veggies.


'I have my reasons!' was my defensive response, at which we both burst out laughing.


What nearly made me re-think my 'dry' policy, however, was another incident when my boss, my father-in-law and my dearest friend got together one evening. They were so determined to make me commence my alcoholic career that day that I almost succumbed to the incessant pressure.


Fortunately for me, my mother-in-law arrived on the scene at that very moment and the above mentioned gentlemen retreated hastily into their shells. My status as a teetotaller thus secure, I sipped my apple juice and smiled at no one in particular.








IT'S convenient to push ugly truths under the carpet and pretend everything is fine with the world. That has precisely been the case with women's empowerment in India. Few flashy vignettes of successful women here and there and we consider ourselves "redeemed" for good. But we do so at our own risk.


Consider this 50 per cent of the complaints the National Commission for Women (NCW) receives annually relate to instances of wife battering and desertions on account of dowry or adultery at the hands of local and NRI men. The rest of the lot comprises cases of crimes against women sexual assault leading the list followed by acid attacks. In most such instances, perpetrators have unleashed violence to get even with women who ignored their overtures.


These of course are extreme scenarios, where appropriate laws feels the NCW can undo some damage. That explains Chairperson Girija Vyas's clamour for the law to prevent sexual assault at workplace and another to alter the definition of assault to include child rape.


But inherent in the demand for a scheme to rehabilitate rape victims is the admission that rapes will happen. This admission is the starkest reflection of gender imbalances which still pervade our society.


Now for the first time, scientific evidence show how, after 63 years of freedom, gender inequalities continue to define man-woman relationships even in mundane spheres of life where divides are least expected.


Who would, for instance, believe that 50 per cent of young Indian women continue to get married before 18 years and four of every 10 girls don't know what the legal marriageable age is.. By contrast, just seven per cent young boys marry before 18. If that was less, while one in 10 boys consent to marrying the partner their parents choose for them, just one in four women do that.


This is happening in 21st century India, where young girls, a quarter of them, recently told researchers from the Indian Institute of Population Studies, Mumbai and Population Council, Delhi that their first sexual encounter within the marriage was forced. Over 33 per cent women in the age group 15 to 24 years admitted to have been forced to engage in sex by their husbands. Over half of young men and women (54 and 58 per cent respectively) justified wife beating when asked if the practice was acceptable.


These truths cut across urban and rural divides.


Even the Census 2011 results may not be encouraging on the gender equality front, with the first sub-national study on the aspirations and needs of young Indian men and women painting a gloomy picture. Evidence reiterates the reigning Indian obsession for sons, with a quarter of young men and women still preferring sons over daughters; just 3 to 5 per cent want daughters over sons.


So where have the policies from the National Population Policy 2000, the National Youth Policy 2003, the National Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Strategy and the National Rural Health Mission 2005 led us ?


"Not far," says Usha Ram, a lead author of the study, conducted on 50, 848 male and female respondents (15 to 24 years) across six socially and geographically representative states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The objective of the study was to determine key transitions experienced by the youth pertaining to sexual and reproductive activity, marriage and freedom and highlight gaps in this knowledge.


"Findings highlight young women's limited powers to negotiate. Only 27 per cent of them reported independent decision-making on issues like decision on choosing friends, spending money or purchasing clothes. Just a quarter of rural women reported the freedom to visit at least one place outside the village," says Shireen Jejeebhoy of the PCI.


From access and control of finances (only two in five young women own bank accounts and one in 10 operate it) to freedom of movement, women continue to report lack of equality. "More than two thirds of young men acknowledged they had more freedom to move out than their sisters," the findings suggest.


Most striking however is the lack of sexual and reproductive choices with young women. The majority said they never wanted their first pregnancy but had no access to information on how to end it or even the choice to end it. "This shows lack of women's power to engage on sexual matters. Use of contraceptives is acutely limited, with just 49 per cent young Indian women reporting accurate knowledge of non-terminal contraceptive methods such as a condom, an intrauterine device, oral or emergency contraceptives," researcher Ranjib Acharya points out.


Findings of considerable gender differences in comprehensive awareness about contraception and HIV/AIDS raise deep concerns about the vulnerability of girls, half of who have never had information on sexual matters all their lives. Dangers of this ignorance are particularly grave considering norms prohibiting pre-marital and opposite-sex mixing opportunities in India. Researchers have documented experiences of youngsters who have had sex before marriage without having any knowledge of sexual safety.


The challenge is to offer family life and sex education to youngsters and enable them to make informed choices.


As of now, youngsters are entering into relationships and marriages with minds full of misconceptions about sex, pregnancy and contraception. In 2007 when the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and the NCERT created a life-skills module for school educators, most state governments, primarily BJP-ruled, refused to offer it, saying it was "embarrassing".


The NACO revised the content to make it "decent". Yet, 11 states haven't cared to roll it. If embarrassment continues to be cited as an excuse to stifle knowledge, India can hardly expect to capitalise on its demographic dividend or stabilise its population by pinning the fertility rate down at 2.1.



Sexual/Reproductive Rights

 Only 45 per cent girls know they can get pregnant at first sexual encounter; 28 per cent know about HIV

 Contraceptive knowledge and use reported by just 46 per cent girls

 Male vasectomy accounts for only 4 per cent of all sterilisation cases in India


 69 per cent young men but 84 per cent young women expect parental disapproval if they bring opposite sex friends home


 A quarter of girls and boys have seen their fathers beating up mothers


 Over 50 per cent girls, boys say wife-beating is fineGender attitudes

 Women have lesser freedom of movement than men

 Even the least educated and poorest boys have more decision making powers than the most educated and wealthiest girls


 Four in 10 women don't know that the legal marriageable age is 18 years

— Based on the findings of a study by the Indian Institute of Population Studies, Mumbai, and the Population Council, Delhi 









CHILDHOOD and adolescence are usually the greatest years of one's life. This period is cut short, however, when marriage and adult responsibilities come too early. Although most nations have declared 18 as the legal minimum age to enter into marriage, in many developing countries the practice of early marriage for girls is widespread. The Population Council estimates that more than 100 million girls worldwide marry before their 18th birthday. Some of these girls marry as young as eight or nine, and many will marry against their will.


According to the UNICEF report on "State of World's Children" (2009), 40 per cent of world's child marriage takes place in India. It also reported that 47 per cent of Indian women are married before the legal age of 18, with 56 per cent in rural areas. While in many societies, adolescence means an opening up of opportunities, for girls especially in rural India, it often means goodbye to opportunities and personal freedom even today. Early marriages prevent their access to various opportunities in life the most common are education, health, economic, or social opportunities. Historically, early marriages have been used to secure critical social, economic and political alliances for families or clans. Today, poverty, malnutrition, poor educational and economic options, concerns regarding violence and safeguarding virginity, as well as traditions and cultural norms, are cited as contextual factors that lead to child marriage.


India is heterogeneous country, both socially and culturally. The north western and central states of India namely Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhy Pradesh and Maharashtra witness same kind of gender biases. The similarity is that here patriarchy works in a dangerous way to undermine women's right to dignified lives. There are similarities in women's lived experiences due to these gendering existences. These are in the form of adverse sex ratio, low education and health status and violence and crime against them. Early marriage is also one such phenomenon. It is seen as a way to provide male guardianship for daughters, protect them from sexual assault, ensure obedience to the husband's household. But it is a gross violation of human rights.


In the conventional sense, adolescence is understood to be a period relatively free from morbidity. The insularity of adolescence from morbidity is getting undermined owing to risks associated with early marriages. The practice of early marriage has adverse consequences on young girls' reproductive health and many of the meaningful life experiences of adolescence are lost forever. Other than this, it becomes an obstacle in attaining developmental goal of a civilized society. It is a well-known fact that early marriages lead to many women specific diseases. Girls in this age group are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20's. It results in low birth weight babies, under nutrition, anaemia, low body mass index (BMI) etc.


When mothers themselves are immature and do not have full physical development, one can imagine the fate of the next generation. Further maternal mortality in India is the second highest in the world and 55 per cent women in the age group of 15 to 49 years were found to be suffering from anaemia. The proportion of anaemia is much higher when only expectant mothers are considered.


It is estimated that 14 million adolescents between 15 and 19 years give birth each year. The median age of marriage for girls in India is only 16.4 years. In case of rural Haryana, it is 16.9 years (Census, 2001). It is disheartening to note that a state like Haryana is bracketed with those poor countries of the world where early marriages take place due to economic compulsions. Only the north and eastern districts namely Ambala, Panchkula, Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar and Karnal have come up to the expectations where median age of marriage is 18 years. It hovers around 16.3 to 16.9 in rest of the districts in state. The districts of Bhiwani, Hisar, Mahendragarh, Rewari, Gurgaon, Rohtak, Jhajjar and Jind fair poorly in this regard. In southern districts there is not much gap in rural and urban areas. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS, III, 2006) reveals that while at all-India level 55 per cent women are anaemic, in case of Haryana it is 56 per cent. Further in the 15 to 19 age group around 58 per cent suffer from anaemia, meaning thereby that the economic prosperity has little to do with women's health and well-being. It should be noted that women's nutrition assumes greater significance due to its crucial association with other aspects of their well-being and human development in general. And this is intrinsically linked with age at marriage.


Studies have also revealed that delay by just two years of marriage has significant bearing on birth rate and health of women. Marriage age shows a correspondence with birth rate in Haryana too where all the northern districts have high age at marriage and low total fertility rate (TFR). TFR is high in case of Mewat, Bhiwani, rural Gurgaon, Faridabad, Panipat, Jind and in these districts, median age of girls marriage is also low. When the number of living sons rather than living children matters, then the situation becomes even more alarming. An unchanging and obsessive preference for sons has reinforced gender bias, led to female foeticide and taken a toll on women's existence.


The role of the government and civil institutions should strive to develop and implement systems to prevent and discourage this practice. There is a need to adopt a life cycle approach to women's life. The process of empowerment is long term and an isolated event like participation in literacy campaign does not really make a significant change in women's lives unless accompanied by more challenging levels of social participation. Addressing attitudinal change is crucial. The government should be committed to provide a congenial atmosphere to reduce violence against women. To foster behavioural change within community, human rights should be emphasised. Human rights based development and education programmes can create dynamics leading to change in customs, hierarchies and prejudices linked to the tradition of early marriages.


(The writer is an Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra.)








Mumbai produces six thousand tonnes of solid waste every day. This is the smelly stuff. There's also debris from the frenetic construction which generates another two thousand tonnes. 


The garbage is carted to four major dumping sites, at Gorai (near Borivali), Mulund, Kanjurmarg and Deonar. In those sites it is either buried or burnt or both. Some years ago, strange fumes started coming out of one of the landfill sites near Gorai, in Malad, spreading panic among the office towers which had sprung up on that site. In Deonar, garbage was being burnt all these years, causing smoke in surrounding areas of Chembur, Ghatkopar and Govandi. 


The smoke led to many respiratory ailments for most residents living in houses surrounding Deonar dumping grounds, causing residents to form the Smoke Affected Residents' Forum (SARF) in 1996. This forum filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against the BMC in the high court asking for relief. Mumbai's garbage has long since exceeded the city's capacity to burn and bury it. Now the emphasis is on waste treatment. 
    By 2000, there was a national policy on urban waste management for all India which reiterated the need to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Is it possible to think of zero garbage localities? Rather than carting away waste, it is best to reduce it at the origin itself. By separating wet and dry garbage, by composting all biodegradable waste, it is possible to reduce waste to a minimum. 


Many Advanced Locality Management (ALM) committees were formed across the city to address the problem of reducing waste. But unfortunately the ALM movement which was formed in 1997 has almost died, save for a few sparse ALM's. This was mostly due to a lack of support from the Municipal government, which increasingly showed allergy to involving NGO's in city administration. (Remember the failed attempt at letting private sector or NGO's run 100 unused municipal schools?) 


The BMC approach has been to expend ever increasing resources to hire modern trucks and cart garbage to distant suburbs. On average the city spends more than 20 lakh rupees every day, just getting rid of the garbage. Imagine the lucrative business of trucking away the waste. Since the payment to truck contractors is based on tonnage there is an inbuilt incentive to not even leave a scrap around. 


This incentive needs to be turned on its head. We need to reward localities which produce zero garbage, through composting, or other means. 


A relatively new idea, especially in power starved cities is to turn garbage into electricity. This is still done by burning the waste, but the use of scrubbers ensures that there is zero emission. One such power plant has recently come up in Delhi. 


The approach still is to incentivise a contractor to take the stuff away to the waste dump site, which is where the power plant is located. Here's the strange economic logic: you pay contractor to take the waste, thus his raw material has negative cost. 

 Then he produces electricity which he sells back to the city. And since he has produced power from garbage, he gets carbon credit rupees (which legitimately should belong to the city's citizens). 


With such inbuilt profits you would expect contractors vying with each other to bid for such projects. No such luck, Mumbai. 


The BMC is actually paying a generous "tipping fee" (seems like a giant tip!) to a lucky contractor for taking waste to power plant in Deonar. This has recently been challenged in court by activist citizens, who cite the example of Delhi and other places, where the "tipping fee" has been zero. Something really seems rotten in this approach of rewarding the waste carters. 

 When he landed in Bombay in the late 1950's, Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian author said, "I had the sensation that a wet, smelly diaper was being wrapped around my head." Sixty years later we can still smell a rat in the city's waste management. 



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For a somewhat dysfunctional family, we get by, sometimes only in part, true, but mostly all right nevertheless. In the  summers, this usually means three things — taking a long trip to be with my parents in Bikaner for the shortest time possible (since there's nothing more unpleasant than June in the desert); arguing (and fighting and sulking) for weeks on end till we somehow agree on a destination (mostly out of exhaustion) for our annual holiday; and celebrating my wife's birthday (after the appropriate and hypocritical "Let's not do anything this year, guys!"). The calendar has a place for all these things, and, in due course, after the usual brooding and moping, everyone is somewhat happy or, at least, not unhappy.


This year though, things seem to have backfired. For starters, both the children had extensive internship schedules that made them claim a short break each for themselves (not, alas, at the same time) before addressing the issue of the grand family summer plan. By the time we were ready to hop into the family jalopy for the long drive home, other family members had beaten us to claim the air-conditioned bedrooms there. Aunts, cousins, nieces and siblings came and went, and we found ourselves outside the queue or at its very end. One weekend expired because my daughter had to attend a party hosted by an international DJ; another because my wife didn't want to meet a sister-in-law who would be transiting there at the same time; and then my son's university brought forward its opening date ("attendance: mandatory"); my daughter complained about my being lenient and letting him off the hook while "punishing" her; my wife looked smug, and so it's been left to me to fend off calls from my mother who instead of saying "Hello" begins with an uncomfortable "Who?" these days.


Because the family visit didn't happen, I struck a negative note on the family holiday which, in previous years, had taken a beating anyway, with everyone more or less opting for their own vacations. Since I prefer short breaks (my wife loves month-long ones), the arguments (involving the neighbours, who then had to take sides and cast votes, at which point they became scarce) were the stuff of fire-and-brimstone. "You can stay at home then," my wife shouted, "while I'm off." "That's what you did last summer anyway," I reminded her, "and the one before." So did the children, I might have added, only it would have made me look like a loser, so I spent time checking on the options available to us: Summer packages in tourist cities close by, or a flight to Goa in the rains (my wife shuddered her disapproval); escaping to the hills ("that's for People Like Them", my son rebuked me); or, okay, I conceded after reviewing the savings account, I'd spring for a week in Malaysia. "Greece?" perked up my wife. "You promised us a cruise," complained my son, remembering some long-ago pledge rashly made. "For this," my daughter griped, "you made me miss my course at the London School of Economics."


"So, OK," I conceded to the children, "let's splurge on a grand holiday for your mother's 50th," cautioning them to keep it secret. Plans were hatched, destinations chosen and approved, airline fares checked, even holiday clothes selected. My son said he'd take a break from college, my daughter splurged her internship stipend on a new wardrobe, we whispered about how much fun it would be and talked furtively till it came to springing for the holiday dates. "This time, next year," I told the children, "when your mum turns 50." Strange that neither they, nor their mother, have talked to me for over a week now about the surprise.






Those peaches don't look real!" I commented, as we passed the ubiquitous fruit stands along the roads around Sattal and Naukuchiatal. Bursting with juice and as plump as apples, they were a strikingly unreal shade of orange. We stopped to take a closer look, for we just couldn't believe that their colour was natural. "Of course it is," said the fruit seller, polishing a downy peach, "all we do is clean them up to enhance their lovely colour!" In front of our eyes, he polished a dull fruit until its dullness gave way to vivid shades of orange and red. This, he said, was a different variety of peach; not the small, sweet desi ones we'd always eaten in the hills. I asked whether he had any of those to sell. He smiled ruefully and said, "We hardly grow those any more; most people find these so attractive that their desi cousins suffer in comparison….


We bought a couple of these new peaches to try, making a mental note to look for their good old desi cousins a

well. But we crossed Bhimtal to find its market brimming with the same gaudy upstarts. They were all over the market at Sattal too. Then we went hiking in the hills, traipsing past orchards after orchards. Here too, we found trees laden with the same large peaches, tiny pears, few green apples — but no apricots, plums or cherries.


"A lot of this has to do with the fact that it has become considerably hotter here than ever before," said Devinder Singh, a Sattal farmer who had some peach trees that yielded a fantastic harvest this year. "I used to grow plums as well, but the summer temperatures here have gone up so high that the trees have stopped fruiting," said he. Until about a decade ago, he said, it used to snow in Sattal during winter, even though it is on an altitude of about 4,500 feet above sea level, relatively low by Himalayan standards. "The temperatures then were low enough for apples and apricots to flourish here," he reminisced, "but now, their production has significantly declined here — you'll have to travel to higher altitudes now to find them!"


In contrast, he said, many farmers like him discovered that the one fruit that did really well in relatively warmer weather was this new variety of peach. "Its showy red-orange skin appeals to passing tourists," said Singh. Further, its peak fruiting season coincides with the peak tourist season in the hills, i.e., from the end of May until the end of June. "The problem with these summer fruit is that they have a low shelf life. To sell fruit in a wholesale market, we have to take them down to Haldwani, where we get paid a pittance for them (and a lot of them perish en route anyway)," he said. Peaches with their showy skins stand a better chance of selling at about Rs 40-50 per kg in stands just outside the orchards. "That is why you'll find that most people who own land in these parts are now choosing to plant nectarine trees…."


Walking through Sattal that evening, we noted with relief that the air was finally cooler. Yet we could see ceiling fans whirring from the open windows of local homes. Switching on the fan in my own room that evening, I bit into one of the peaches we'd bought earlier that day. Its juice spurted out on my chin, and I reflected moodily that even though this seemed to be the fruit of climate change, it was quite sweet….








In 2005, Reliance Capital acquired a small film processing and multiplex firm. It paid a record Rs 360 crore for a majority stake in Adlabs, the firm that Manmohan Shetty, who recently co-producedRajneeti, had built from scratch. Then it went on to change everything that the firm did from its name to the businesses it was in. Reliance MediaWorks (RMW), as Adlabs is now called, has grown from a Rs 87-crore firm in March 2005 to a (consolidated) Rs 754-crore company in topline in March 2010. It is now the largest part of Reliance ADAG's somewhat confusing foray into the $17-billion Indian media and entertainment space. The others are gaming, film production, radio and OOH media. 


Even though everything changed, it is the kernel of what Shetty had built that has been used to create RMW. Almost all Hindi films, about 140 of them, used to go through Adlabs. "We leveraged the same client base," says CEO Anil Arjun.


RMW offers a bouquet of services that hovers around the creation and release of film-making promos/trailors, image correction, restoration, subtitling, digital imaging, post-production, special effects, equipment rental and so on. And it is still adding — there is a 200,000 square feet studio (for shooting) being built next to its office in Filmcity, Mumbai. It will take the total area over which RMW offers services to 340,000 square feet.


Each of these services is a fragmented, easy-to-enter, difficult-to-scale-up-in business. And each is different — in the capital needed, skills, people and time-intensity. That changes the level at which economies of scale operate in each business. For instance, digital imaging needs skilled people and the metric is man-hours of work and what it is priced at. Obviously, the margins are better. In film processing, the number of feet of film you process is what matters — it is a volume game.


So, there are thousands of one-man outfits in Mumbai offering either equipment rental or digital imaging. Then there are large firms such as Century Communication or Prime Focus that offer many of these services — post-production, rental and special effects. But it is rare that the whole bouquet is combined. That, says Arjun, is what RMW is trying with a bulk of its facilities on one campus — the 290,000 square feet one at Filmcity (the other being in Airoli on the outskirts of Mumbai). Except for Ramoji Film City on the outskirts of Hyderabad, the world's largest such facility in the world, there aren't many firms offering what the IT guys would call end-to-end solutions.


Interestingly, just like film processing, most of these services are fee-based and completely delinked from the fate of the film. It's in exhibition that the risk comes in.


When Reliance took over, Adlabs had about 32 screens only in Maharashtra. This has now gone to over 530 screens in India, Malaysia, the US, the Netherlands and Nepal. So, while the topline contribution is huge — over 60 per cent of RMW's revenues now come from exhibition — it is also the one that keeps the company at a net loss (Rs 148 crore), as it goes through its growth phase. The film services part, however, is pretty profitable (Rs 32 crore). The third part of RMW's business, film distribution and TV content (where it acquired Siddarth Basu's Synergy), is also profitable.


With a large capacity in its kitty, the next step is the international markets for these services, in both film and TV. Arjun reckons that three big trends will drive this business. One is the whole area of image correction as people try to fit content into different screens. Two, the shift from standard definition to high definition. This creates a lot of work for companies such as RMW. Three is the whole shift from standard 2D to 3D. You can already see that in the pace of digitisation in the exhibition business globally. In 2009, there was an over 300 per cent jump in 3D digitisation of theatres as against 2008.


To catch the demand these three trends will create, RMW recently acquired iLab, one of the two film-processing firms in the UK. This is in addition to its 2008 acquisition of Lowry Digital, a Burbank (USA)-based firm. The idea is to have these front the marketing for RMW's services which are then done through an optic fibre link between India and Burbank. RMW also signed an MoU with Japan's largest lab and post-production company, Imagica. It will use RMW's back-end and sell its services to Japanese broadcasters and studios.








The drama began on Friday, June 11, in Patna. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sent invitation cards to 250-odd members of the BJP National Executive (their meeting was to be held over the weekend) for dinner at the chief minister's official residence. The cards were dispatched via BJP MP Sanjay Jha to be distributed among the BJP leaders.


But when residents of Patna read newspapers in the morning on June 12, they found a somewhat puzzling advertisement informing them that Muslims in Gujarat were not only more prosperous but had a better standard of living. Issued by the Gujarat Public Relations Department, the headline of the advertisement read: Muslims in Gujarat enjoy better education, employment opportunities, financial stability, health facilities and infrastructure. It said 73.5 per cent of the Muslims in Gujarat were literate; much higher than the national average (59.1 per cent) and higher than the overall average in Gujarat (69.1 per cent). The Gujarat government claimed that 5.4 per cent of the state government jobs were held by Muslims compared to just 2.1 per cent in West Bengal and 3.2 per cent in Delhi. The ad did not provide any data about Bihar. Muslims in Gujarat, the ad said, did better than their brethren in other states when it came to bank deposits, access to education, medical facilities and infant mortality rate.


 It is clear that the ad could not have appeared without Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's approval. But Nitish Kumar was furious. He sent a message that it was OK for the rest of the BJP National Executive members to come to dinner but they should not bring either Varun Gandhi or Narendra Modi with them.


When the National Executive meeting started, Bihar BJP chief C P Thakur took up the matter. "Should we go (for the dinner)? I don't think so. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable." Around this time, the Bihar CM's office got an SMS message from a BJP member that said: "The Executive not in a mood to attend dinner." The decision finally was to convey to Kumar that as there were quite a few pending issues for the BJP to discuss, it would extend the meeting and have a working dinner — and maybe a handful of members could go to the CM's residence to register token presence.


The way Nitish Kumar reacted is not surprising. But why did Narendra Modi do it? Why did he purposely rile Kumar?


Maybe the target was not Kumar at all but others in the BJP.


The whole episode illustrates much more than the tension between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP: the tensions in the current multi-polar leadership of the BJP itself.


As the BJP has begun singing the "we are all together, all united" tune of the Opposition (the parliamentary Opposition, it might be added) which is addressed to the Left parties, many in the party have staked their career on this. Whether it is Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley, it is imperative now to ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not strained. With a semblance of unity in the NDA, you can reach tactical unity with a non-BJP Opposition. But what if the NDA itself is divided?


Venkaiah Naidu and Jaitley said it was important to placate the Bihar chief minister, otherwise the government in the state could fall. Now it was the turn of Modi supporters in the National Executive to raise their voice.


Two parallel strands of thinking were at work here.


It was not just the United States that denied a visa to Modi. It was also the state of Bihar that made it plain that he was not welcome in the state.


This was perfectly acceptable to some members in the BJP who are committed to the Opposition unity concept and don't want the NDA to collapse. While ostensibly supporting Modi, they were silently applauding Nitish Kumar.


This is largely a function of the leaderlessness of the BJP and the quiet race to grab something, anything while the leadership looked the other way.


The leadership vacuum is visible in many events. Ram Jethmalani's nomination to the Rajya Sabha, for instance, is an initiative by Modi who thinks he might need the help of a criminal lawyer in the near future.


The noose is tightening around Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah who authorised the Sohrabuddin encounters. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has a taped conversation between a witness and the home minister. So, it could arrest Shah on that basis. It, however, won't stop at Shah.


Interestingly, last week's Opposition bandh was not only against the hike in fuel prices. In Gujarat, it was also against the CBI.


Watch the headlines. The CBI is going to move fast in Gujarat. And then hopes of Opposition unity "for the first time in India's history" are going to be dashed because on communalism, the Left will allow no one to influence its line. The government knows this and is watching the moves of the Opposition indulgently, because unity can be broken with a flick of the finger. Meanwhile, the hunt is on in the BJP for an NDA-acceptable leader.







In my soul

In/ my soul/ there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church/ where I kneel/ Prayer should bring us to an altar, where no walls or names exist.

Is there not a region of love where the sovereignty is/ illumined nothing/ where ecstasy gets poured into itself/ and becomes/ lost/ where the wing is fully alive/ but has no mind or/ body?


In/ my soul/ there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque/ a church/ that dissolve, that/ dissolve in/ God.

— Rabia Basri (d.AD 801; AH 185)


One of the reasons why the Pakistani Taliban has targeted Sufi mosques could be explained by the poet Rabia Basri, who first introduced the idea that God should be loved for His own sake and not out of fear or expectations of favours. In fact, the great appeal of Sufism that is generally understood to be "the inner mystical dimension of Islam" is a powerful blast against bigotry and fundamentalism as it is an antidote against pessimistic tendencies evoked by the daily consumption of misery and pain. For us in India and Pakistan, the living tradition of Sufism is expressed through the qawalli, devotional music accompanying the poems in Urdu and Punjabi, that are sung in get-togethers with full audience participation in them. Mahmood Jamal (editor), who was born in Lucknow and is now settled in London, brings together Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi (Penguin Classics, Special Indian Price, Rs 599), which includes, in translation, Arabic, Persian and Turkish along with Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi versions to provide a comprehensive survey of Sufi verses that complements earlier contributions by western scholars.


 The anthology opens with an epigraph of Mohyuddin Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), who is universally acknowledged as the greatest mystic of Islam, often referred to as the Greatest Sheikh and credited with the doctrine of Unity of Being:


My heart has become capable of every form: it is aPasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks.And a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaaba and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.I follow the religion of Love; whatever way Love'scamels take, that is my religion and my faith.


While Mohyuddin gets pride of place, Jamal has concentrated more on the most popular and revered Sufi poets of Islam whose verses have become part and parcel of everyday speech: Hafiz and Sa'adi Shirazi (1184-1291). Jallaluddin Rumi (1207-73), Amir Khusrow Dehlavi (1253-1325) as well as the vernacular of Kabir (1398-1447), Sultan Bahu (c.1628-91) and Baba Bulleh Shah (1680-1757). There are many others which is as representative of Sufi poetry as you can possibly get because as Jamal says in his introduction, "it is in the poetry of the Muslim world that the soul and heart of Islamic civilisation lie". So, here is a sampling taken at random; you can check out the rest if you are interested in qawalli:


Who am I?

What can I do my friends, if I do not know?/ I am neither Christian nor Jew, nor Muslim nor Hindu/ What can I? What can I do?

Not of the East, nor of the West/ Not of the land, nor of the sea/ Not of nature's essence, nor of circling heavens/ What could I be?

Not of earth, nor of water/ Nor of fire, not of air/ Not of the land, nor of the sky/ Not of Being, nor of existence/ Neither Indian nor Chinese, nor Bulgar am I/ Nor do I come from Iraq or Saqsin/ Nor from Khurasan's earth am I!

I am not of this world or the next/ Nor of paradise or hell am I...

— Jalaluddin Rumi


Better to be a beggar than a king

It's better to be a beggar than to be king; It's better to be a troublemaker than to be chaste!/ To be king is one big headache; for me/ I prefer to be a pauper free/ Friendship with a dog is preferable for man/ Than with one who's arrogant and vain!/ Union in love leaves no further desire!/ For the Lover, separation fuels the fire!/ O Khusrow, leave treacherous humanity/ Fall in love with God's mystery.

— Amir Khusrow Dehlavi


Look into yourself

You have learnt so much/ And read a thousand books/ Have you really read Self?/ You have gone to mosque and temple/ Have you visited your soul?/ You are busy fighting Satan/ Have you ever fought your/ Ill intentions? You have reached into the skies/ But you have failed to reach/ What's in your heart

— Baba Bulleh Shah


There are two questions that you would ask when you read this anthology. First, how good are the translations? Second, would poetry of this kind help diminish Islamic fundamentalist violence?


The translations are a mixed bag, specially when you bear in mind that the poetry has to be turned into song which is a different genre and a lot depends on the singer, not the song. But, as an Italian adage has it, a translation is like a woman who cannot be both beautiful and faithful.








Three cheers for Nelson Mandela's South Africa. Prominent individuals, including Pele, had doubted South Africa's ability to make a success of the World Cup. They have now nowhere to hide. South Africa has done the game of football proud. Their nine stadiums were an architectural triumph. The grass on each ground was manicured and it must have involved thousands of dedicated groundsmen to keep each field in near-perfect condition.


Now to the games and the teams, some of the over-pampered players, football stars performed poorly, e.g. Ronaldo, Rooney and others. The prospective do-well teams like France, Italy and England performed dismally. Their coaches too took a beating. The French team was in a shambles and displayed disunity. Millions in England, France and Italy felt let down and rightly so. Smaller countries like Slovenia, Uruguay and Ghana performed brilliantly. Germany licked England and Argentina; other teams were made to look like amateurs.]


 On Sunday, the world will have a new champion to applaud. Both Holland and Spain are outstanding teams. Both have raised the level of the game. Both play to their plans. Their astute coaches have worked out. With unsurpassed brilliance, Spain eased out the favourites — the Germans. Sunday's final will offer the world something special and spectacular.


Asia, except for Japan, did not fare well. China and India were missing. Nearly two-and-half billion people could not send teams to participate in the World Cup. Did nothing go wrong? Yes, it did. Some referees did not rise to the occasion. Noise pollution was quite a novelty. The unpronounceable, unspellable instruments used in every stadium by old and young must have made it impossible for players to hear each other. But who cared — at each stadium, at each game, the atmosphere was electrifying. South African organisers are triumphant because they are flying on the wings of faith.


Some interesting statistics. Goals scored: 139; yellow cards: 236; red cards: 16. Highest goal scorers — David Vila of Spain and Wesley Sneijder of Holland, both scored five each. Five players scored four each — Muller and Miroslav Klose of Germany, Gonzalu Higuain, Robert Vittek and Diego Forlan of Argentina, Slovakia and Uruguay, respectively. These are the numbers to date. Let's see who scores in the final.


While the drama-loving, ebullient Maradona was an entertaining presence, Nelson Mandela was conspicuous by his enforced absence. The icon's 13-year young granddaughter was killed in a car accident the night before the opening ceremony which Mr Mandela was to attend. He was inconsolable. Everyone hopes the world's most respected man will come to the closing ceremony on Sunday. "There is no shortcut to the country of our dreams."


The World Cup caught the imagination of the world. The Rainbow country proved the sceptics wrong. Football is the least expensive game. All you need is one ball which 22 players knock around. To make it to a World Cup team, a player must train for hours every day, possess skill, intuitive understanding of his colleagues, stamina and must have the wind at his back, i.e. luck. On Sunday, may the best side win.


From South Africa to Afghanistan is a long way. Our American friends in Afghanistan find themselves between a rock and a hard place. This is the longest war America has fought in its history. Victory is not in sight. Afghanistan is full of ferocious Scarlet Pimpernels. You look for them here and they are already elsewhere. The greatest and the most technologically advanced country has yet to find Osama bin Laden. With the exception of Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) and Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), no outside power has been successful in subduing the Afghans. Even Akbar and Ranjit Singh could do so for short periods. The British got a beating which they still remember. The USSR's Afghan folly is too well known. Now, America-led Nato is finding the going very rough. The history of Afghanistan is written in blood. The Afghans are fearless, stubborn and endowed with a very gruesome brand of Schadenfreude. They have long memories. Revenge is a creed. Vengeance a deed. They are not afraid of death, never have been.


Afghanistan is important for several reasons. The Indian prime minister is on friendly terms with US President Barack Obama. He might gently give a few helpful tips to Mr Obama. We should tell the US president that he and his great country should have learnt some lessons from Vietnam. America has, it seems, put all its eggs in the leaky Pakistani basket. Pakistan's aim is to keep India out of Afghanistan. This is not only unwise, but short-sighted and counterproductive also. The Americans, in my humble judgment, should consult India. India too should take a little more interest in Afghanistan. We have done a lot for the Afghan people. We should do more. It will be a long haul, but our vital national security interests must get sustained priority.


A young Indian priest went to the Vatican for a month's religious course. He was desperately keen to meet the Pope. One minute only, the chief cardinal told the nervous young man. The second raced, he was tongue-tied. Finally he asked, "Holy Father, how many people work in the Vatican?" The Pope replied, "About half".








Nairobi: About an hour's drive northwest of Kenya's capital is Lake Naivasha, a 120 sq km water body, the country's largest freshwater lake and the only one in Africa's Rift Valley. It is host to a variety of fauna, from a population of hippos bobbing up in one corner to a colony of the speedy and spectacular African fish eagle that builds its nest along the shoreline. Naivasha is also notable for having been the home of naturalists like Joy and George Adamson, famous for raising Elsa the lioness in the bestselling book (and later film) Born Free, who lived at Elsamere. Both the Adamsons came to a sticky end — Joy was killed by a servant in 1980 and George by poachers in 1989. But their lakeside home is preserved as a modest non-profit lodge to fund a field research centre for conservationists.


 Last week, I spent a day at Elsamere in the company of a young Kenyan of Indian origin, 24-year-old Shiv Kapila, who is making the study of raptors (birds of prey such as vultures and fish eagles) his life's work. Bearded and of stocky build, Kapila has a quite pugnacious manner; coming from one of Nairobi's leading legal families, he should, by rights, have been a lawyer. Instead he took a postgraduate degree in conservation science from University College, London, and spends his days marking and monitoring Naivasha's families of fish eagles.


Kapila took me out on the lake to demonstrate his daily job. It was exciting, dramatic and seemingly dangerous work under a clear blue sky. On the small motorboat, he was equipped with a camera and a small cargo of dead fish stuffed with papyrus to keep them afloat. Fish eagles are large, vivid birds (brown, white and yellow-feathered and measuring 2.2 metres in flight) blessed with sight eight to 16 times sharper than human vision. Spotting distant birds in high trees, Kapila flung a fish out and made whistling sounds. The raptors swooped down from heights of up to 300 metres to take the fish, wheeling in graceful arcs, making sharp sorties and sometimes locking talons in territorial fights. He photographed their every turn and appeared to recognise most eagles and their individual nests by sight. By hooding their eyes in moments of careful capture, he has managed to ring three of them with lightweight solar radio transmitters. Kapila estimated there were about 114 fish eagles in current residence. "Establishing a detailed record of an apex predator like the African fish eagle is a very good indicator of the health of an ecosystem," he explained.


By such a yardstick, his recent experience of observing Indian raptors was deeply unsettling. On a field trip with specialists from the international Peregrine Fund to observe vultures in the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur region, the team was forced to confirm that a population of eight million birds recorded in the early 1990s had dwindled to a few thousand. This was primarily due, Kapila said, to the widespread use of an anti-inflammatory drug in cattle. It attacked the digestive system of vultures feeding on carcasses and, as a result, they were perishing in vast numbers from renal failure.


My thrilling morning on Lake Naivasha with Kapila ended on a depressing note as he described what would happen if Indian vultures were wiped out. "Vultures are the most incredibly underrated of raptors. The Indian long-billed vulture, the white-backed vulture and the Egyptian vulture are critically endangered. They could be extinct in five years." A disappearance of vultures, according to Kapila, means an explosion in the population of stray dogs feeding on carcass dumps and the spread of rabies. "Haven't you read reports of dogs attacking children in India?"


Such a ghoulish prospect is being fended off by remarkable naturalists like Mumbai-based Rishad Naoroji in his fight to save the Indian vulture. Still, if the battle is to be enjoined by younger researchers, you could bring Kenya's Shiv Kapila home.








The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) seems to have decided, somewhat belatedly, to fight for its own autonomy. Well, it's better late than never, and there is much to recommend in the suggestion by RBI to the finance ministry that it allow an ordinance issued last month to lapse at the end of the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament. The ordinance gave statutory powers to a new committee of financial sector regulators and ministry officials, chaired by the finance minister. The government issued the ordinance over a week-end, and (it would now seem) without prior consultation. In doing so, it set up a system that erodes the autonomy of RBI, which, other than being the regulator of the banking system, is also the country's monetary authority. Chipping away at RBI autonomy may not have been the intention, but if a law on this is enacted to take the place of the ordinance, that will become the fact.


 The provocation for the ordinance was the turf war that erupted between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) over unit-linked insurance plans (or Ulips). But in trying to find a solution to one problem, the government has taken a bite into RBI autonomy, and downgraded the governor to the same level as the heads of the other regulators. Oddly, this has been done when there was no dispute of any kind involving RBI on futures trading in currencies and the like, which are now within the purview of the committee.


The government would argue that the new committee's role is limited to currency futures, interest rate derivatives and the like, areas in which other regulators have a role to play. While this is of course true, any member of the committee can bring any issue before it, and the scope of the law could be increased through the slow creep that often marks the government's acquisition of additional powers.


The technical downgrading of RBI shows up in the ordinance in different ways. The inter-regulator coordination was so far done through a high-level coordination committee (HLCC); whereas the governor chaired that committee, he is now an ordinary member of the new committee, on the same footing as the other regulators. In the case of the other regulators, there are government nominees on their boards; in the case of RBI, the government nominee is a non-voting member. Though there is usually no voting on any issue, the difference underlines the difference in autonomy levels. The RBI Act does give the government the power to issue directives to RBI, but even this has to be done "in consultation with the governor".


In the recent past, there has been tension between the ministry and RBI over interest rate policy, when Mr Chidambaram was the finance minister and Dr Reddy the governor, but that is now history. In an earlier age, the then governor (Manmohan Singh, as it happens) had submitted his resignation in protest at government pressure to give a controversy-ridden foreign bank the licence to open a branch in India; Dr Singh withdrew his resignation only when the government threatened to take away bank licensing from RBI's purview. In practice, almost all RBI governors have given substantial weight to the views of the government/finance ministry on most policy issues, and RBI decisions are usually arrived at only after substantive discussions with the ministry. But in law as well as in the manner in which RBI governors have been allowed to function, there has been a degree of real autonomy which the new ordinance takes away, by placing key issues in the hands of a committee chaired by the finance minister








THE government's reported move to end some of the immediate and more pressing uncertainty over the pedigree of two of our largest private sector banks — ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank — is welcome. The uncertainty had arisen following the introduction of new norms on FDI by the department of industrial policy and promotion (Dipp) in February 2009. In terms of these norms, ICICI and HDFC Bank, together with three other banks, IndusInd Bank, ING Vysya and Yes Bank, had technically ceased to be Indian banks. Such an interpretation would not only have jeopardised the outlook for many of their joint ventures with foreign partners, it would also have put paid to ambitious plans of branch expansion since they would then be subject to the annual cap on opening of foreign bank branches in India. This absurd interpretation is now to be set right, but only to a limited extent. According to news reports, these banks have been told they will be treated as foreign-owned Indian banks as they are registered in India but their equity is owned by foreigners. Hence, they will have the right to open branches (unlike foreign banks) but will be subject to all the strictures on downstream investment that apply to foreign companies. The only exception is as far as investment in insurance subsidiaries is concerned. The reprieve is limited only to insurance. If they invest in a subsidiary, other than their insurance businesses, that investment would be treated as FDI. So, ICICI Bank-promoted ICICI Prudential Life and ICICI Lombard General Insurance — where foreign investors already hold 26% in both joint ventures and treating ICICI Bank's holding as foreign investment would have breached the sectoral cap in insurance — are in the clear. 


 Dipp is expected to come out with a detailed clarification shortly. And while it might put at rest the worst fears of these banks that their branch expansion, and growth, will be crimped as a result of the new norms, it is not enough. What if the banks wish to put money in joint ventures with foreign partners in other areas where their indirect holding together with the overseas partners' holding crosses the sectoral FDI cap? These sectors would then become out of bounds for them and put them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other Indian banks. Unfairly!







THE Delhi government needs to be commended on its recent directive to doctors in state-owned hospitals to prescribe generic and not branded medicines. Its fiat to these hospitals to open more generic drug stores under the Centre's Jan Aushadhi programme is also welcome. These initiatives will make medicines more affordable, lower the cost of healthcare and break the nexus between doctors and pharma companies. Unlike consumer products, patients cannot choose from different brands and often do not know their generic equivalent. So, they are compelled to buy the brand prescribed by the doctor. Doctors have a vested interest in pushing branded versions as they are rewarded by pharma companies that spend huge amounts of money to promote their brands. The unethical practice has gone on for years. This is unacceptable. Last month, the Union health ministry showed the way, asking central government hospitals to mandatorily mention the generic name of a drug when they prescribe a medicine. The Rajasthan government and then the Delhi government took the cue. Other states should follow. They must also ensure the consumer reaps the benefit of lower prices. This can happen only if the commission structure becomes transparent. Today, many small companies make generic drugs. However, the trail of commission from the producer downwards isn't clear. That must change if the goal is to give the best deal to consumers. 


Systems should also be in place for quality checks on generic drugs. That means tighter regulation. In the US, drugs are sold only by their generic names. The regulatory system there ensures drugmakers comply with the stringent norms on quality. India should move in the same direction, strengthen regulation and crack down on unethical marketing practices. Stiff penalties on errant companies are a must. Insurers can certainly play a role. They should be empowered to question doctors or hospitals found to be indulging in malpractices. Ultimately, doctors must be made accountable.








AFTER a month of staying up late to watch World Cup action in South Africa, millions of sports fans in India and further east can now go to bed at normal times instead of burning the midnight oil to watch frenzied football action to the background buzzing of vuvuzelas. The World Cup has kept everyone up, from dynamic captains of industry in Mumbai and harried software professionals in Bengaluru to brusque bureaucrats in New Delhi and agitated trade union leaders in Kolkata. There are, of course, exceptions like Shahrukh Khan who has reportedly taken his family to South Africa so that the kids can watch not live but real action in Joburg where the 64th and most important match of the World Cup will be played. The advantage of being a crorepati many times over is that the badshah of Bollywood can now once again leave it to the Shahenshah to anchor and shoot and reshoot episodes for the fourth edition of KBC in which questions on the World Cup could feature. 


One can even imagine the Big B in his TV-genic voice asking the wannabe crorepati in the hot seat, "How many Englishmen were on the field during the 2010 World Cup finals on July 11?" and giving her the choice of four options: "(a) eleven, (b) zero, (c) one, (d) three". For those who came in late, the correct answer would be (d) since England's Howard Webb will be refereeing the finals along with compatriots Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey. Questions like "Who was voted as the ugliest player in the World Cup 2010?" could, of course, be considered uncharitable since Wayne Rooney of the tough-guy looks would have been rated as the heart-throb of England if he had scored even one goal in either of the group games against the US and Algeria and, thereby, enabled his team to avoid the second-round clash against Germany who knocked them out 4-1. As that good-old English saying goes, "Handsome is as handsome does!"





ARECENT McKinsey report prescribes investment in the built environment and half-step changes in zoning regulations to confront India's urban challenges. The underlying motivation of the report, rooted in the modernistic tradition, is to create more efficient cities. During the 1940s, the notion of efficiency was made operable in Paris by Baron Haussmann through 'regularising', that is, by demolishing congested properties in the inner city and creating long, regular streets lined with imposing apartment buildings, with stores and offices located on the first floor. Called Haussmannization, the process became the cornerstone of the urban renewal programme in the US. 


During the 1950s and the 1960s, the urban renewal programme was implemented in the US to decongest inner cities and involved demolishing existing structures and moving residents out. Backed by several billions of federal dollars, the urban renewal programme cleared and redeveloped about 1,000 square miles of urban land and, during the process, demolished 6,00,000 housing units that housed nearly two million people. Combined with Euclidean zoning, urban renewal contributed to sprawling development, resulting in huge public costs and the present environmental stress associated with having to provide services to residential and commercial developments in far-flung areas. 


The McKinsey report has identified appropriate challenges — utilities provision, reliable public transport and affordable housing — but the solutions suggested are based on conventional urban-planning principles. More appropriate is to retrofit and expand on the sustainable, post-modern spatial templates found in urban areas of India: mixed land use — markets located at walkable distances, smaller lots clustered together, houses close to lot lines — neighbourliness, and greater functional, socioeconomic and lifecycle integration. 


Empirical support of the positive, sustainable elements in the built environment is available in the recent Greendex 2010 survey: that Indians walk more, travel by public transport frequently and have smaller ecological footprint. 

Accordingly, an urban development model that is uniquely Indian — founded on urban development concepts based on post-modernism (e.g., New Urbanism), optimised decentralisation based on Stohr's notion of subsidiarity, and designing sustainable zoning codes — is required. 


Andreas Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Peter Calthrope, Kevin Lynch and Ted Bressi are the main contributors to postmodern trends in urban planning. For example, Duany and others have suggested to build more and strengthen corner stores is likely to lead to greater retail development that is also well-connected to the rest of the neighbourhood. 


dditionally, they have recommended constructing neighbourhoods that are connected to one another by relying on grid roads, rather than collector roads, building houses close to the lot line so that people can easily interact with individuals walking on the footpaths, and designing narrower streets to slow traffic and create more neighbourly interaction across the street. 


Another notion is to increase walkability, as opposed to auto-dependence and pedestrian sheds, where all elements of a neighbourhood are located within a five-minute walk. Pedestrian sheds require smaller lot sizes, clustered together and an extension is transit-oriented development (TOD) surrounding a transit stop. In TOD, transport is subordinated to development and the strategy is to create mixed-use development around transit stops, so that offices and shops are within walking distance of commuters. 


 DECENTRALISATION in India has oscillated between two extreme models: as a central/state government function (development from above) during the 1950 and 1960s, and as a local agenda (development from below) starting from 1980s. Often, the decentralised form is a variant of the top-down approach: functions that the higher levels are unable to perform or have little interest in were offloaded. Additionally, local authorities are often left to fend for themselves without giving them the required support and resources. 


Accordingly, a real bottoms-up process of development in which decision-making starts from the neighbourhood or local level upward is required, what Friedman calls 'local empowerment' and Walter Stohr's notion of 'subsidiarity' (also recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission) has the potential to lead to 'real' decentralisation. 


Subsidiarity is a multi-level process that mandates that processes and decisions that can be best performed at local levels should be executed there. Only those that cannot be satisfactorily done at local levels should be delegated to higher levels of government, the private sector or non-governmental organisations. This is a paradigm shift from the earlier practice in which delegation was done from above. Two pragmatic considerations drive the subsidiarity approach: each social level should take care of what it can do best, and lower levels should look after themselves. 


Ordinarily, four types of zoning codes are followed: Euclidean, form-based, performance and hybrid. Euclidean zoning can protect neighbourhoods by keeping out incompatible uses; however, it stifles mixeduse development and contributes to sprawl by forcing uses apart and limiting density. On the other hand, form-based regulation promotes mixed-use development and pedestrian mobility, but often ignores natural resource issues or favours design over the environment. In India, we require development codes that directly address sustainability issues like energy conservation and production, climate change, food security, and health and an eclectic mix of Euclidean, form-based, performance, hybrid codes is most likely to achieve sustainability objectives. 
    Steeped in modernism, developers fear that people will not buy houses built on smaller lots or are built near the lot line. Traffic engineers and regulators do not endorse narrower streets. Ideas such as cluster-zoning instill fear in citizens that they will lose their exclusive surroundings. Urban planners are reluctant to remove obstacles, create incentives or enact sustainable codes. Entrapped by modernism, the McKinsey report also has lost an opportunity to design an India-centric, urban development paradigm, based on post-modern notions of urban planning, decentralisation from below and sustainable zoning regulations. 


 (The author is an IAS officer.     Views are personal.)







AFRIEND of mine, who has a far greener thumb than I, recently took me on a tour of her backyard in the desert southwest of the US. She pointed out all the varieties of trees, shrubs and grasses she has planted, but one plant in particular caught my attention. She pointed to a shrub with small dark red blossoms on it, and told me that if you give the plant too much water, it doesn't bloom. It thrives and blossoms under just the right amount of environmental stress. 


It reminded me of another story of a butterfly, perched on a window sill, struggling to escape its cocoon. A helpful observer, watching its struggle, decided to gently cut the creature's cocoon open and free it. When the wet butterfly finally emerged, it was unable to fly because what was intended to be helpful had actually prevented the butterfly from strengthening its wings to prepare it for flight. 


 Perhaps the stress we experience can be the predictor of beautiful flowers or elegant flight in our own lives. Perhaps if we are patient and stop to be grateful for our experiences, we too, like the plant or the butterfly, will blossom or fly in unexpected ways as a result of the stress, rather than being defeated by it. I'm not saying that stress is always a good thing. I am saying, from first-hand experience, that it's not always a bad thing either. We need the right amount of tension to keep us 'blossoming'. 


And while we humans are more complex than a plant, we can learn valuable lessons by observing nature.








AFTER making inroads into south-east Asia, foreign low-cost airlines are now eyeing the growing Indian market. Air Asia, a dominant player with one of the largest fleets, entered the Indian skies in 2009. The airline is now expanding its operations here and, starting August 4, it plans to connect Delhi to its 132-route network. The idea is to grab a slice of the market, dominated by full-service airlines. More rate wars could be in the offing as Air Asia plans to start offering a few hundred free seats. Azran Osman Rani, CEO of Air Asia X, who was instrumental in starting the south-east Asia operations, now has the task of evolving the right model that would help the airline grow and make operations viable. 


"There is a market for everyone here, but we create new models to grow wherever we venture. And going by the fast-bulging Indian middle class, our fares would be an instant attraction," says Azran Osman Rani, a postgraduate from Stanford University. 


Its inaugural flight from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur will take off on August 4 at a special fare of Rs 1,862, which includes only airport taxes and surcharge for early birds. Its average regular fare is expected to range between Rs 5,000 and Rs 9,000, roughly half of fullservice carriers such as Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Jet Airways. 


Foreign budget airlines such as AirAsia, Tiger Airways and Jet Blue have managed to trim operational costs in south-east Asia as they pay lower aeronautical charges in their respective countries. However, their Indian peers are charged for using airports like any full-service carrier: Air India or Jet Airways. So, there is no incentive to operate a low-cost carrier in India as there is not even one low-cost terminal here, unlike other parts of Asia, where every major airport houses a budget terminal. 


Over the last two years, the aviation industry has faced turbulent times, with revenues and profits shrinking after the global economic downturn. "Air Asia has controlled its costs well and its per-passenger cost comes to 2.7 cents per available seat per km, the lowest in all budget carriers and almost half of other full-service airlines. Air Asia X's cost-efficiencies have been derived from maintaining a simple and new aircraft fleet allowing high fuel efficiency and a route network based on low-cost airports, without complex code-sharing and other legacy overheads that weigh down traditional airlines," he says. 


According to him, the à la cartemodel of offering optional services comes handy for those wanting to pay. The model is to keep the services that add cost to the bare minimum, and this has helped the airlines pare costs. It hopes to carry 27 million passengers this year compared to 23 million in 2009. 

The low-fare market has also vastly remained untapped in India. Budget carriers such as Indigo and SpiceJet do not fly to international destinations and their operations restricted to domestic circuit only. But south Asian carriers that provide point-to-point connectivity manage to keep fares at the lowest level and higher aircraft utilisation from their domestic and international operations. 


Air Asia X also caters to Mumbai, while the southern sectors such as Chennai, Tiruchirapalli and Bangalore are fed by its short-haul affiliate Air Asia. The airline also plans to provide holiday packages and hotel stay in various destinations in south-east Asia like Singapore, Penag, Ho Chi Minh, Langkawi and Bangkok as added benefits from its portal to woo the Indian middle class. 



Established in 2001, Air Asia has a vast route network covering over 20 countries in Asia. "The daily service between Kuala Lumpur and Delhi will add significant thrust to the existing traffic between the two cities and provide great options for travellers looking for that quick weekend getaway, he said. It is also offering Indian passengers connections to the Australian continent via Kuala Lumpur. 


Air Asia is looking at synergies with Spice-Jet that is looking at flying to neighbouring countries in the next few months. Like the Indian carrier, it achieved an on-time performance (OTP) of 80%. "The low-cost airlines are very flexible and there is always room for improvement. Given the way the Indian airports are modernising, our OTP should go up," he said. Most of the traffic now is restricted to Delhi and Mumbai only, but in the coming months, new passengers from Amritsar, Ahmedabad and Jaipur would also be connected to south-east Asia.








PRIMARY capital market movements reflect long-term perceptions of investors and their concern for instability and volatility in the secondary market. Thus, as expected, the primary resources mobilised by the companies through listing and IPOs shot up from Rs 33,508 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 87,029 crore in 2007-08, a year of boom in the secondary market. The market then crashed to Rs 16,220 crore following the meltdown of stock prices under the pressure of external forces despite the continued financial stability in the domestic financial market. In fact, during 2008-09, new companies did not resort to IPOs for raising capital. This fact is visible from the declining share of IPOs in total capital raised to 12.8% from 48.9% in 2007-08, which has been a trend pattern in the market. 


This decline in IPOs in 2008-09 was caused by high volatility in stock market. The conclusion is that volatility frightened the investors as well as the issuers. It may be noted that stock market is in dire need of stability and low volatility if we want to attract investors and new companies to enter the primary market. Though the regulator has been introducing several reforms to strengthen the role of investors, the issuing companies, particularly the small and medium companies, have not been bestowed enough courtesies by the Sebi in terms of high cost of issue of capital. 


The issue of small and medium companies is pertinent and warrants some actions on the part of government and Sebi. The small and medium companies rarely enter the primary market — the issuers who mobilise Rs 1-5 crore are rarely seen. Reasons for that include weak accounting standards and poor brand recognition. 


The government has to create an institutional structure to enable the small companies to mobilise resources. The company affairs ministry will have to introduce some reforms in their financial reporting, auditing and corporate governance so that they can meet the disclosure norms of Sebi. 


Another significant development in the primary market is the capital mobilisation through qualified institutions placement. Institutions are reported to have invested as much as Rs 77,605 crore during April-January 2010 as compared to Rs 50,204 crore in 2007-08. During 2006-07 to 2009-10, Rs 1,37,566 crore have been extended to 224 companies. Such a large amount has the potential to damage the financial stability of the system if the companies come under stress and liquidity crunch. 


Similarly, preferential allotment to qualified institutional buyers can bring undue financial stress in unfavourable conditions like meltdown in real sector. The regulator has to take care of the financial stability while permitting the companies to access such facilities, and financial institutions should not invest bulk amount only in a few companies to avoid financial insolvencies. 


Book building is another issue that is causing stress to investors. Allotment based on floor price and upper price band finally functions as a fixed price determined by its issuer and merchant banker to issue without offering absolute market-determined price. Since price so fixed is only institution-friendly, retail investors are at loss, as they have to buy shares at a high price because share price will surely come down if it is determined based on bids of retail investors. We do not know how price band is calculated. Moreover, allotment should be extended by the merchant bankers on Dutch auction basis. 


The allotment of public undertakings' equity shares has raised the issue of fair treatment to retail investors. The government has followed French auction method where institutional buyers were given freedom to bid shares above a fixed floor price. There is no upper limit for bidding and the highest bidder can get preference in the allotment exercise. This method generates high value for the stocks, as the company can get higher price than that in book-building. The retail investors get some discounts on market price. Thus, there is no price discovery determined by the market forces for retail investors. 

Now one can understand that French route is quite unfriendly to institutional as well as to retail investors. If the government is proposing to garner higher valuations from the QIBs, which are institutional investors like Indian banks, mutual funds and life insurance companies, they are custodians of individual's savings with them. They should not compromise the interest of investors who invest their savings with them. This is not the traders' money or brokers' money.


The PSUs should follow pure Dutch auction method for the entire public issue. A government pressure on public sector financial institutions to invest in their equity issue is not ethical in market-determined economy. It does not fulfil the condition of disinvestment also. After all, most of the financial institutions are under the ownership of public sector. Finally, the financial institutions should not be allowed to cross the limits of investment as prescribed for them by the respective regulatory authority. 

(The author is former economic adviser, Sebi)


The decline in initial public offerings during 2008-09 was caused by high volatility in stock market 
Small and medium companies rarely enter primary market — the issuers who mobilise Rs 1-5 crore are rarely seen The allotment of public undertakings' equity shares has raised the issue of fair treatment to retail investors








 IF 'GOD is love', then 'I love you' is a statement of self-contradiction. Here word 'love' is interposed between 'I' and 'you'. Love cannot be a separator of 'I' and 'you'. Love is not a derivative of 'I' for 'you'. Love cannot be fractionalised or fictionalised. 


 Love that is bartered as 'give and take' or that 'comes and goes' like a cloud or is measured as 'more or less' negates 'Law of love'. God is eternal and infinite. That which changes cannot be Divine. 


In Punjab's folk love lore of Heer-Ranjha, Heer proclaims she is lost (in thoughts of) Ranjha; Heer has ceased to exist. Only Ranjha, the beloved, exists. Another Punjabi/ Sindhi legend of Sohni-Mahiwal mentions that Sohni dies in a stormy river while swimming across to another embankment to 'be' with her beloved Mahiwal. Both stories suggest man's persistent quest for God. In the game of love, you lose all to win, and if you win, you are no more. A perpetual loser can only be a lover. 

Sufis and mystics raise divine love to a new dimension. Lover and beloved are neither apart, nor do they meet. It is oneness all the time in oblivion of time and space. They stand in denial to their own existence. Love, for them, is not an experienced effort but a cosmic phenomenon. An ancient legend of the 9th century, mystic Mansur of Persia, records Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, the Sufi, in a trance of divine intoxication, wandered into the central market of aPersian city surrounded by his followers and shouted words that were deepest in his heart ana'lhaqq(I am the Truth, I am God)! 'I am Reality', or as Vedas and Upanishads say, Aham Brhamasmi(I am the Braham). Sufis say Mansur spoke in state of Fana Fillah (Arabic words) where a Sufi's ego-self is annihilated and is attuned with God. 


Sometimes He spoke 'his only self was (God), to the point that he could not even remember his own name'. His statement was, of course, considered blasphemous by the then-king, though he was preaching that God could be discovered within one's own heart. He was imprisoned as his utterings contravened Islamic law of Sharia. According to the legend, Mansur's disciples were allowed to speak to him in prison cell and begged him for his last words. He advised, "The only thing that is important is love." They asked him, "What is love?" He answered, "You will see it today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow." And that day, his hands and feet were cut off, and the next day they put him on the gallows and burnt, and the third day they gave his ashes to the wind. 


The pinnacle of love is total unawareness of ego-self while living, when 'I' and 'you' of body and mind cease to exist and vanish in cosmic consciousness. That Love is God. Jesus spoke of 'Love thy Lord' and went the same way. Many other mystics may have dissolved likewise as historical records are rare.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The rain god's bounty could turn catastrophic in states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal which are the nation's granaries. We have seen earlier how even in good weather tonnes of foodgrain lying in the open have been destroyed by natural elements, as well as rats and insects; thus one need not be surprised at the devastation caused by a few days of heavy monsoon showers. Statistics about the extent of crops destroyed vary, but some months ago, according to one estimate obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage and negligence had led to 14,000 tonnes of rice, wheat and paddy becoming totally unfit for the distribution system. It is also evident that the government had failed to take any action to fix responsibility for such largescale destruction — despite an assurance given to Parliament by the agriculture minister in August last year. The minister had then told Parliament that a team would be constituted to probe the matter. But nothing was done, and there was not even a hint of an apology from the minister for not delivering on the promise. According to another estimate, foodgrain stocks worth a mind-boggling Rs 50,000 crores have been destroyed over the past few years due to negligence and the absence of proper storage facilities. It is nothing less than a shame that in spite of its impressive technological and scientific advancement, India has still not been able to devise a scientific way to store foodgrain or to handle its distribution in all kinds of weather. There is talk now of sending a delegation to China to examine how that country, which too is plagued by the problem of floods and overflowing rivers, handles this problem. The Food Corporation of India is mandated to maintain "a satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of foodgrain to ensure national food security." Should it not be held responsible for such destruction of the country's food wealth? How can any country which considers itself civilised, condone destruction of Rs 50,000 crores of food in a few years? And what kind of food security are we talking about when India ranks 66th out of 88 countries in global hunger index. The FCI's efforts appear grossly inadequate, even in the much-heralded public-private partnership initiative to build storage capacity — for which the government, inexplicably, reduced funds in the 11th Five-Year Plan. There is talk of a Food Security Bill being introduced in the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament. This will work only if the implementing authority is made accountable for ensuring that food reaches every Indian at a reasonable price. It is disheartening that till now both the Indian government as well as its agriculture minister have shown a dog-in-the-manger attitude when it comes to providing the poor with food. Do they really prefer to see the grain rot rather than give it away to starving people in their own country? There is a lot that the government can do if it is really interested in not letting the grain simply rot in the open — for one, it can still introduce a food-for-work programme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.






These are testing times in Afghanistan: Both for the United States and for India, although for entirely different reasons. The war, as every Afghan watcher knows, is going badly for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces. June was the worst month for foreign troops in that country with 102 combat deaths, which is the highest level of monthly casualties since the beginning of the war. Also, the Afghan war by end June had officially become America's longest war in history, longer than even Vietnam.

General Petraeus takes charge at a bad time. His predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, was sacked unceremoniously at a time when it is believed that Washington bigwigs are looking to political solutions that would exclude Afghan President Hamid Karzai and make dodgy deals with the enemy to forge peace.

If anybody is exulting, it is Pakistan's military establishment. The Afghanistan endgame is going their way and the hope is that the summer of 2010 will demonstrate this conclusively. If that happens, they would have effected a remarkable turnaround. For, nine years ago, the Pakistani military establishment was in the dog house. It had been threatened with extinction, humiliated and told to get lost from Afghanistan.

Today, the jihadi protégés of the Pakistan Army, the Taliban as well as fighters led by the elusive Jalaluddin Haqqani, are calling the shots. The Pathan tribes of Pakistan's frontier agencies are also back in action. Fighters from Waziristan in the south to Bajaur and Swat in the north regularly cross over to give battle to Nato troops in Afghanistan. This is like the old times of the Soviet jihad. Today, Pakistani security experts and retired military officers are openly saying that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan. One commentator on a Pakistani television programme gleefully proclaimed: "We will bury India and the US in Afghanistan".

American intelligence agencies and its military are fully aware of the Pakistan Army's close links with the Afghan Taliban and fighters like Jalaluddin Haqqani. New York Times correspondent David Sanger, in his book The Inheritance, has written how US military intelligence overheard General Ashfaq Kayani referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as "a strategic asset". Two weeks later, India's embassy in Kabul was bombed by Haqqani's men acting in collusion with the Inter-Services Intelligence. All this is old hat by now. Yet, Gen. Kayani refuses to attack north Waziristan where Haqqani and his men are based. The US with all its cash incentives and drone disincentives can do little about it.

The problem is that with Gen. McChrystal's exit and the entry of Gen. Petraeus, the US might be on the verge of making a deal with Pakistan's generals on Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus is somewhat of a "political" general and had turned the military tide in Iraq not through any new war fighting strategy but through political manipulations. Gen. Petraeus is fully aware of the Pakistan Army's links with the Taliban and people like Haqqani. Only, thus far he has chosen to be diplomatic about the whole thing. Gen. Petraeus knows that today, it is Gen. Kayani who has them in a meat grinder and only he can stop the fighters shooting at US soldiers in Afghanistan. A deal with the enemy would have many supporters in Washington, who believe the Afghan war is a lost cause.

This leaves India in a difficult position. For, any such deal would have to address the Pakistan Army's main demand of being allowed to dominate Afghanistan. Gen. Kayani was the first Pakistan Army Chief to openly declare that their legitimate aim was to secure "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. "We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it", he had declared at a press conference in February this year.

He was clearly addressing the Americans and had added that Pakistan's "strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised", meaning that India had to be kept out or restrained in Afghanistan. He had warned that an environment hostile to Pakistan could strain its battle against militancy and extremism. In other words, Kayani wants to regain what his Army had lost in 2001: dominance in Afghanistan.

Such a denouement is completely unacceptable to India. India's new ambassador to Kabul, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who must have had an inkling of what is brewing in Af-Pak, had warned of preciselt such a scenario in a recent paper published by the Washington thinktank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. India, he wrote, "does not see the Afghan problem as a derivative of India-Pakistan problems that has to be addressed from that angle (as Pakistan tries to project it). It considers it a serious violation of the norms of inter-state conduct that Afghanistan should be made to pay the price for Pakistan's bilateral problems with India in the form of destabilisation and a desire for 'strategic depth', or that Pakistani state institutions should use terrorism to fight a proxy war against India in India or a third country. Nor does it believe that the Pakistani military will sever its links with or fully cooperate with the coalition over the Afghan Taliban, even if India were to reduce troops across Pakistan's eastern border, and views any cooperation by Pakistan in this regard as selective and aimed only at securing concessions from India. India also does not accept that Pakistan should be rewarded for its cooperation with the coalition by political concessions from India, when it is, in fact, the Taliban's prime backer. Given these almost diametrically opposed impulses, interests, strategies, and positions, it is difficult to see how Indian and Pakistani positions on Afghanistan can be reconciled".

Now that Mr Mukhopadhaya is in Kabul, he will have to face considerable pressure to reconcile the very contradictions he has written about. His success or failure will not only determine the history of India's relations with Afghanistan but also that of the Afghan people, who have experienced the Pakistani scourge once before.

- Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi






The Indian custom of eating sweetmeats on every auspicious occasion is the bane of the Chief Minister, Mr Rosaiah's, life. A diabetic, the CM keeps his distance from mithais, cakes and pastries, but is forced to partake of them in order to be polite. On completing six months in office, he was offered a cake and had to suffer a stomach-ache for two days. On his birthday a few days later, on July 4, well-wishers trooped in throughout the day bearing sweets. That night he hosted a dinner for the visiting President of India. And what does she bring with her but a big cake! The CM admitted that he had a stomach ache all night and had to take antacids to control it. There was more sweet pain in store for the CM when the YSR jayanti celebrations rolled in on July 8 and that meant more sweets and more pain for the unfortunate Mr Rosaiah.


The IAS lobby is rather amused at former Chief Minister Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu objecting to the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah's, proposal to appoint the senior bureaucrat, Mr Jannat Hussain, as the next Chief Information Commissioner. Mr Naidu said that an officer working in the Chief Minister peshi for the last six years cannot be expected to be impartial when it comes to revealing information that might reflect adversely on the government.

But, strangely, when the selection process was taken up in the Chief Minister's chambers, the Chief Secretary, Mr S.V. Prasad, was present. Mr Prasad was the most trusted key bureaucrat heading the Chief Minister's peshi when Mr Naidu was at the helm of affairs, for not just six years, but nine years. The same man heads the administration as Chief Secretary now under Congress rule. Can anyone say he is partial since he had a long stint under Chandrababu?


When the Telugu news channel Sakshi was unable to telecast on the day its owner and Kadapa MP Jagan Mohan Reddy was on his Odarpu yatra, sinister motives were attributed to the blackout. Specially since it was also the late YSR's first jayanthi celebrations. Some Jagan supporters blamed Chief Minister Rosaiah for deliberately blocking the channel on an important day. But then realised that other channels like HMTV, I news and some Doordarshan channels were also unable to telecast. Turns out it was due to a technical snag developed in the new satellite from where these channels had an uplinking facility. Almost 70 channels were blocked across the country due to this problem.
The Sakshi management swung into action immediately and temporarily hired the Vanitha channel of the NTV group to air it's programmes for the day. That ensured full live coverage of Jagan's tour in Srikakulam district throughout the day.






Okay. I have the answer to all your problems. We can deal with everything from terrorism to fiscal deficit if only we make a small lifestyle change. All we need is an octopus.

Octopus Paul in Oberhausen, Germany, has picked Spain as the winner of the World Cup. His 100 per cent success rate in predicting winners for all six matches till now has almost landed him in hot water — with salt and seasoning on the side — especially after he foresaw, correctly, the defeat of his home country in the semi-finals. Devastated at their defeat, enraged German football fans are rearing to eat the messenger.

But Spain, the winners of the semi-finals as predicted by Paul, have rushed to his defence. "I am concerned for the octopus", said Prime Minister Zapatero, "I am thinking of sending him a protective team!" The protective spirit may evaporate, of course, after Paul's forecast for the final game, where Spain takes on the Netherlands for the World Cup, goes wrong.

Like most oracles worth their salt, er… worth their name, Paul too has a unique style of functioning. The Octopus Orakel is offered mussels in two boxes marked with the flags of the competing teams, and the team whose box he chooses to eat from wins the match. It's a perfectly respectable mode of telling the future — some pick cards, some pick pages from ancient documents, some pick yummy mussels.

I propose that we have our own Octopus Oracle to help us navigate these difficult times. A little peek into the future can't hurt. Besides, we are experts at it — we have been doing it for centuries. But since we failed to train the future generations in this scintillating science — university courses in Vedic Astrology were so rudely shelved, in spite of the valiant efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a few years ago — we need the next best alternative. We need an Ashtabhuj Baba — the Eight-armed Seer.

At moments of uncertainty, we need oracles. And right now we are busy bobbing up and down in a whirlpool of insecurity. Food prices are spiralling out of reach. Everyday expenses have shot up dramatically. Cross-border terrorism keeps us in a permanent state of alarm. Naxalites wage their self-styled war against the state. Various extremist groups keep the Northeast on the boil. Separatists are reasserting themselves in Kashmir. Telangana is back with a vengeance. We face sectarian violence, caste violence, violence from our own kin for believing in our constitutional rights and freedoms. Beleaguered by corruption, bad governance, a labyrinthine justice system, inept administrators and wily politicians, we are dearly in need of a saviour. We need Ashtabhuj Baba.

Who will instantly be appropriated by every political party, no doubt. The BJP will tell us how they have always been worshipping the octopus, a divine creature venerated in the Vedas, and an important architect of the Ram Setu. It will also demand that the octopus be immediately declared a sacred species and banned from being eaten.

Restaurants offering octopus will be vandalised, their owners lynched, their customers beaten up and molested. Neighbourhood ashtabhuj-shaalaas will spring up, presenting elaborate water-tanks choking with decaying flowers where baby octopuses are smothered in turmeric and vermilion. And meetings will start with a sombre "Om Ashtabhujaya Namah!"

Naturally, the Congress will smirk at all this. And tell us that the BJP's sudden interest in the octopus is a dangerous ploy to polarise the nation on sectarian lines. We will learn how the Gandhi family has always been particularly fond of the octopus — no, of course not at the dinner table, what a thought! We will be told how Rahul Gandhi's favourite song is the Beatles' number Octopus' Garden. There will be a demand to make the octopus our National Mollusk.

Meanwhile Mayawati will build huge octopus statues, with some firmly clasping handbags in a few curly arms. J. Jayalalithaa will offer an octopus cape to Sonia Gandhi the next time the Karunanidhi clan fights with itself. Lalu Prasad Yadav will claim, only half in jest, that the Yadavs have an inherent understanding of the octopus because of its closeness to cows — and quote poetry to prove it. Mamata Banerjee will call a Bengal bandh to highlight the plight of the octopus under the Communist Party of India (Marxist) state government, and start a special train — named Ati Duranta — to register her support for the express wiggler.

Fuming at the stupidity of the other political parties, the Left parties will cut off all ties with their remaining allies, and implore the people of India to see through the eight limbed creature. They will quote from Mao and Marx to prove that the octopus is a vile American design to destroy India. They will demand that we rise in rage and crush the wicked arm of US imperialism — all eight of them.

The Eight-armed Seer will dominate our lives and politics. In fact, soon we may see baby octopuses contesting elections — if the squirmy baba-log are related to the Ashtabhuj Baba they are fit to govern us, of course. And I have no doubt that they will make brilliant politicians.

For one, an octopus has no spine — it can mould itself any which way. Then, it is a master of camouflage. It can rapidly change colour, even its skin-texture, to fit its surroundings. Besides, it has excellent eyesight and a shrewd brain. Many believe the octopus has nine brains, because each of its arms genuinely has a mind of its own.

It would be a great help in a system where one arm doesn't know what another is doing. When in a tight spot, the octopus can squeeze itself into any loophole and escape. And most importantly, it specialises in spraying ink to cloud your vision. Yes, the octopus would make an excellent Indian politician.

So I am rooting for Ashtabhuj Baba. I need some security in my life. I am tired of our netas, our failed governance, our inescapable uncertainty. I'd like to be/ under the sea/ in an octopus' garden. Wouldn't you?

- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at [1]






 "Cool as a cucumberand not half as green."From Characterisations by Bachchoo 

It is, one must admit, unusual to begin a column with an allusion to bum showers. I have written about this innovative bathroom furnishing or gadget which I first came across perhaps 20 years ago and which has replaced the universal earthenware or metal lota or the tin mug one finds in railway compartment lavatories chained to the wall like a potentially fugitive pet.

On the occasion of that first written observation I simply praised the innovation and noted that my grandmother, in the most delicate prose she could muster, told me that Europeans don't use water but paper to clean themselves and that must leave something to be desired. Apart from appreciative emails, I received one from a Japanese correspondent who insisted that the bum shower had been invented by his fellow countryman.

I didn't bother at the time to settle the matter, important though it is to ascertain who really invented this hygienic device. The question has been revived by a friend who insists that the bum shower is a Pakistani invention. The placing of a small bet led to a cursory investigation on the Internet which, I'm afraid, yielded no conclusive result.

I had no recourse but to fall back on philosophical and historical arguments. My contention was and is that the bum shower didn't exist before 1947, the date of the Partition of India. It is nevertheless, though it has been adopted by small proportions of the population in many countries, a sub-continental fixture or luxury. That doesn't help us conclude as to where it was invented, by whom and why it spread so rapidly to those homes and institutions which adopted it as a replacement for the mug or plastic jug, a transition of the magnitude of the replacement of the typewriter by the computer.

The late great Bengali sage Nirad Chaudhuri argued in his (overlong) book The Continent of Circe that the climate of India had challenged and enervated all the armies, races, breeds, conquerors and colonialists which sojourned or settled here.

He included the earliest known invasion which was supposedly that of Aryans from the Caucasus or Central Asia who arrived on the Indo-Gangetic plains at some period in pre-history. They interacted with the races already inhabiting the land and the amalgam of "Hinduism" came about.

This religion, or as some classifiers insist, "way of life" is steeped in prescribed rituals of purification. These include personal hygiene, purity and part of the inheritance of this ritual is strict adherence to the rule that one washes one's posterior with the left hand and eats with the right, keeping the polluted left one firmly in one's lap or even, it has been known, behind one's back.

Rudyard Kipling certainly picked up on the idea that the climate of India, the heat, the weather, the monsoon, the pests, the potential for infection and festering afflictions was a prime danger faced by the British colonisers.

His century saw, as any old church graveyard's worn and time-ravaged tombstones will testify, the death of thousands of young adventurers who had succumbed to the vagaries of the Indian climate and the diseases that Indian flesh was heir to (or may have developed an immunity against). He advised the Wolf Pack, his allegorical representatives for the colonial British, to obey the law of the jungle: Keep together and observe certain strict rituals.

"Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,

And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

Wash daily from nose tip to tail tip; drink deeply, but never too deep; And remember the night is for hunting and forget not the day is for sleep."

The "wash daily" is the telling detail about the battle with the climate and it is Rudyard's ritual prescription for the new rulers and inhabitants of India.

In my travels in Muslim countries, Iran in particular, I did note the plastic jugs, pastel-coloured pink, green and purple replicas of the sort of wine-dispenser that the characters of Omar Khayyam's quatrains are sometimes pictured with on carpets under trees, standing on the toilet floors.

No historical link exists to tell us whether the water-wash travelled West from Hindu India or whether it was a simultaneous habit of the Zoroastrian Empire that preceded the invasion by Arabs.

I presume that desert Arabs treated their scarce water resources with great respect and consequently limited the use of water to very specific ablutions.

Being a devotee of the inductive and deductive methods of scientific conclusion, I didn't even pretend that these, my philosophical arguments, had settled the question and doubt of the origins of the bum shower. My opponent began then to deploy the counter arguments.

How was it, if Indians invented the bum shower giving them some claim to being personally clean creatures, they throw garbage everywhere so it piles up in rotting heaps? How is it that only in the subcontinent and especially India the canals, creeks and streams that run through cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru have been reduced to diseased gutters with dirty, noxious, pervasive stinks?

It does not happen in China, which is more densely populated in parts.

Comparing the relative stinkiness of Shanghai and Mumbai is what the Americans call a no-brainer, in other words, obvious and easy. Shanghai's relative cleanliness is brought about by ordered entry of the rural population into the city and an imposed sense of communal responsibility once they are there.

In the absence of the diktat of state that keeps Shanghai clean, other states and nations have evolved a sense of communal responsibility which comes from their culture.

Is it then true to say that monotheistic societies, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim engender a sense of society in their very acts of worship?

Does the individual pursuit of dharma (religion) or karma (responsibilities), the absence of a congregational relationship with a single God or diety promote a tendency to seek individual salvation through personal, self-contained bhakti and leave society to come together — or not?






The Indian electronic and print media, while concentrating on the terrible Bhopal gas tragedy has also been studiously following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Given the impact of marine pollution disasters it is imperative to examine India's continuing lack of preparedness and its implications.

All aspects of marine pollution (Marpol) are governed by the London-based the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a UN body whose Marpol conventions and protocols are applicable to all signatory nations, including India. On April 20, 2010, while capping a newly-discovered oil well (at 5,000-feet sea depth, and drilled to another 18,000 feet) for future use in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum's (BP) semi-submersible rig Deepwater Horizon encountered an explosion emanating from the oil well. It killed 11 of its 126 workers and sank the burning rig on April 22, resulting in the ongoing massive oil spill, currently estimated at between 200,000 to 400,000 tonnes.

By June 17, BP had managed to commence a complex operation of retrieving some oil and burning it at sea. Two relief wells are also being drilled to link up with the "incident well" so as to pump cement into it and plug the spill by August this year. The US government is considering increasing the present $75 million cap on spills to $10 billion, while BP has put aside $20 billion in an "escrow account" to pay compensation. This article is about India's willingness to learn from the Gulf of Mexico spill and prepare for a major marine disaster involving hazardous and noxious substances (HNS), i.e. ammunition, chemicals, liquified natural gas etc, that are often transported by ships.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the US government and BP have deployed over 38,900 personnel, 6,800 vessels and 400 skimmers (to remove oil-water mix), laid out about 200 km of boom barriers at sea (to prevent the oil-seawater from reaching the beaches). On June 30, the US accepted equipment and expertise from a dozen nations (including the world's largest, 20,000-ton capacity, skimmer from Taiwan). India, which has numerous ships operating in its vicinity and has large-scale oil-cum-gas drilling at sea, has less than 15 per cent of the counter-pollution effort deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.

In India, vide the Coast Guard Act of 1978, and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 (amended in 1990 for oil pollution, and later amended in 2003 for HNS pollution), the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) is mandated as the single window agency for countering marine pollution, and the ICG director-general is the chairman of the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP). Indeed, NOS-DCP needs to be amended to include HNS protocol of the IMO, which was ratified by 15 nations and came into force on June 14, 2007).

The HNS protocol covers the following:

* Cargo which is dangerous when packed for shipping, eg acids, cyanides, pesticides, ammunition etc.

* Liquified natural gas shipped in bulk.

* Liquids shipped in bulk which have a flash point below 60 degrees centigrade, like acetone, ethyl alcohol etc.

Depending on the type of oil polluting the sea, different oil dispersants can be sprayed as antidotes by most ICG ships, helicopters and Dornier aircraft. Oil dispersants mix with the oil to form small heavy "balls" which sink to the seabed. For best results, oil dispersants should be used within 24 to 72 hours of the oil spill. Since oil dispersants are toxic and can destroy marine life, they must be used only when absolutely necessary. Fortunately for India, in warmer waters natural biodegradation takes place faster, i.e. for every 10 degrees Celsius, its rate of biodegradation is double. This means we would have to use less oil dispersant.

As per IMO norms, Marpol oil spills are categorised as follows:

* Tier 1: Below 700 tonnes of oil. At present all the 13 major Indian ports and coastal oil refineries have Tier 1 capability to deal with oil spills.

* Tier 2: Between 700 to 10,000 tonnes. The ICG is supposed to have the capability to neutralise this threat.

* Tier 3: 10,000 to 100,000 tonnes. No capability exists in India to counter this spill (or spills over 100,000 tonnes). The ICG urgently needs to acquire this capability, or, as an interim measure, tie up with some international private firms in Singapore and the Gulf for quick response.

Another major worry is that at present the ICG has no capability to detect, monitor and neutralise HNS type of marine pollution. This capability needs to be created urgently.

The ICG, which is expecting to receive the first of three indigenously-built 2,000-ton dedicated pollution control vessels this year and has another 100 patrol vessels on order, will need to further increase its strength. Countering Marpol is a specialised task and the ICG regularly sends a few officers for training abroad. Hence, unlike coastal security, which was handed over to the Indian Navy by the government post-26/11, countering Marpol will continue to be ICG's responsibility.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and also the 50-year-old ongoing Nigerian oil spill which has polluted its land and rivers. A recent New York Times article mentions that oil-rich Nigeria has, for the last 50 years, had five times the estimated daily oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico due to rusting pipes and leaking valves owned by Western oil companies.

The Indian government needs to revisit our existing environmental laws and also look closely at the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill. In the short term, India should legislate that all ships visiting Indian ports must have a comprehensive oil-cum-HNS pollution insurance with a reputed international counter-Marpol company so that clean-up operations are not paid for by the Indian taxpayer, as is happening in the Bhopal gas tragedy 26 years later. In the long term, the ICG will need to expand and master complex new technologies.

n Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam









CONFUSION, the Male Chauvinist Pig would aver, is inevitable over any woman-centric issue: but the charge of being MCPs would be vehemently denied by all elements of the defence establishment. So what explanation can there be for the defence ministry filing a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against a High Court directive to grant permanent commissions to select women officers in the Air Force and Army ~ it was no blanket ruling as some "activists" project ~ and then have the minister of state wax eloquent about expanding the scope and role of women in the forces, with permanent commissions to boot? Was MM Pallam Raju being "politically correct" when speaking on the sidelines of a seminar (when will ministers deal with serious defence issues on the "mainline"?), while the affidavit in the apex court took a more "pragmatic" posture? The court will rule on the issue, but that will not erase the impression of MoD/Service Headquarters having failed to get their act together. Even the response to the High Court ruling lacked consistency: the Air Force accepted it, the Army dithered and the SLP was filed only after the High Court set about questioning non-implementation. Since the Navy's women officers were not party to the High Court action it was able to maintain its "silent service" posture.  

It is, however, a lot more than confusion that prevails in the defence establishment. Since on various occasions different manifestations of the "women issue' crop up it is apparent that little or no "strategic thought" or "battle planning" (two of the military's USPs) had gone into the induction of women into the non-medical officer cadres ~ essentially populist decisions had been taken. Nobody had "thought the matter through", and neither administrative nor attitudinal changes were effected. In reality the women's induction was mere tokenism ~ the greatest of insults since it translates into women hardly being accepted as professional equals. That is history, the present dictates comprehensive preparation for the future: an expert panel (not yet another GOM, please) must examine all angles, and the forces can spell out their misgivings so that the issue can be squarely addressed. Women can help reduce the officer shortage, maybe free up men for the combat duties they claim is their preserve ~ but only after equality and professionalism becomes the benchmark.





After SY Quarishi's categorical rejection of any proposal to advance dates for the assembly election in West Bengal, the Left would be justified in accusing Mamata Banerjee of whipping up misplaced sentiments. It would have the right to question her motives in claiming during the municipal campaign that there was a possibility of the Assembly poll being held in the next three or four months. The constitutional position, clarified by the election commissioner, is that a proposal to advance polls has to come from the state government. Since Alimuddin Street has shot down the idea at the threshold, the Trinamul think-tank can at best say that the Left Front "has lost the moral right'' to govern after signals from successive elections. It can also keep up its campaign that "governance has come to a halt'' and that law and order in pockets like Nanoor and Hooghly is a matter of grave concern. But that is as far as the opposition can go. Any hopes of a change in the administration must, it would seem, have to wait for at least another ten months and any suggestion to the contrary would be a wilful distortion of the truth.  

Mr Quarishi deserves credit for demonstrating that the commission is capable of resisting pressure. Miss Banerjee's posturing in Kolkata and the contacts she claims to have made in Delhi may suggest that there is no stopping Trinamul after its famous victories. The election commissioner's clarification should have a sobering effect. But, having said that, there is room for speculation on why Biman Bose chose to shift the Left's position to say it was ready for elections should President's Rule be declared. He has been known for a foot-in-the mouth ailment and yet there is no reason to take him at face value when he claims that the shift was "only in response to persistent questions''. The Left Front chairman would know that allegations of a collapse of governance hardly justify Central intervention. Indeed, in the present circumstances, a dismissal of the government would only give the Left a campaign issue. Now that dismissal fears have been set aside, the Left has no reason to be delighted. It has merely got a reprieve.





AS Bharat seemingly gets back on the rails, it would be useful to reflect on the raging food inflation that had lent the spark to Monday's bandh. True, the stoppage is unlikely to bring down the rate, let alone a fuel price rollback, by a single percentage point. True that the method was antediluvian, one that brought the Left and the Right on the same wavelength for 12 hours. True again that the disruption in the Congress-NCP's Maharashtra was quite as extensive as in the CPI-M's Bengal. Indubitably, there is a message for the Centre amidst the fairly overwhelming halt. For all the trumpeting over the GDP growth, it is the populace that is at the receiving end. The wholesale price index in May this year ~ the latest data ~ registered a 10.2 per cent rise over May 2009.  And the impact must be close to the bone in the retail market; the consumer price index is invariably higher than the WPI. More the pity, therefore, that at a juncture when an all-party initiative is imperative to cope with burgeoning expenditure on the basics of life, the political class should be engaged in a bout of shadow boxing with the establishment over the issue. The negativism inherent in a bandh hobbles the Opposition as much as the Centre's inactivity on the food front. Finance ministry projections, studiously coinciding with the bandh, that the inflation rate might dip by October are saccharine assurances at best, at worst an attempt to duck and dive immediate action.  

The National Advisory Council and that latest embroidery called the Group of Ministers are yet to reach a consensus on the Food Security Bill, specifically over what and how much the poor shall eat. Apparently of lesser moment in the government's reckoning is the FAO's finding that India is one of the few countries plagued with double-digit food inflation. The outlook has been dismal over the past couple of years; it now threatens to be overwhelming. The discord over the food legislation suggests that the poor may even be expected to sacrifice nutrients, if not reduce consumption just yet. The orchestrated political success of a bandh must translate to affordable food and the right kind of consumption. That responsibility must rest on the political class as a whole.










THE forced departure of General McChrystal has stirred up much debate in the USA and raised many hitherto unvoiced anxieties. The General himself, until his indiscreet conversations with the correspondent of Rolling Stone ~ how often this happens; when will leaders learn ~ was the final hope, it seemed, for a successful operation and an honourable exit. With his fall, questions have risen not about him alone, or about the proper relationship between civil and military authority, but also about the effectiveness of the General's strategy for the Afghan war. That he had to be replaced was inescapable, and President Obama has earned good notices for the way he did it. However, while replacing the man he affirmed that there would be no change of strategy. And therein lies the rub. 


The US purpose, as widely explained by the top echelons of the Administration, is to confront the Taliban and its sympathizers more actively in the field, and deliver powerful blows to dislodge them from their strongholds. For this, substantial short-term reinforcement of the US troops in Afghanistan has been deemed necessary and is currently in progress, with US troop strength now in the 100,000 range. Simultaneously, Afghan forces are being built up so as to take over the principal share of the security operation as the foreign troops gradually begin to reduce their presence from around the middle of next year. And at the same time, the task of reconstruction and development is to be accelerated, for which purpose the Kabul government is to be suitably supported. 

Resurgent Taliban

There is much else besides, including progressive establishment of democratic norms, but the first and most essential step is to hit back at the resurgent Taliban and have them on the run. This is what the operation at Marja in the lower Helmand valley was supposed to achieve, and this is precisely where the greatest anxieties have surfaced. 

It is not that the Marja operation is to be written off as a failure. The insurgents have indeed been pushed out from some of the sections they once dominated and the local people have been glad of it. But after the initial setbacks the Taliban have crept back in and have resumed their confrontation, so that the locals are squeezed between the opposing forces. In purely military terms, the operation proved more difficult than was anticipated, for there are numerous hiding places in the canals and gullies and isolated homesteads. US-led security forces have not been able to breeze through with their overwhelming firepower and establish unchallenged dominance. Marja was intended to be the precursor to a much larger operation in the principal Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, and the mixed results achieved hitherto may compel rethinking about what comes next. There are questions as to whether the new commander, the much admired Gen. Petraeus whose appointment has been very well received, may find it necessary to make adjustments to the plan. Already he has indicated that in order to protect US lives he would authorize stronger measures against insurgent sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. 

The McChrystal affair has revealed wide differences between senior advisers responsible for the Afghan campaign. Some of these differences may be unavoidable when such a highly charged group of experienced and ambitious officials are required to work closely with each other. But it is not in Washington alone that there is disarray at the top; more damaging could be the gap between the Afghan and the US leadership. Thus at a time when there was a chorus of senior voices in Washington calling for General McChrystal's head, the Afghan President came out strongly in his support. President Karzai could not prevail but he was clearly not inclined to make things easier for Washington by suppressing his own views. Removing the differences between Washington and Kabul is bound to be a priority concern of the new commander. 

The differences among top advisers on how best to deal with the situation are substantive and not just personal. A certain amount of rethinking became evident at the conferences on Afghanistan held earlier this year in Istanbul and London. At these meetings, Kabul, with close support from Islamabad and others, promoted the view that it was now appropriate to work for some sort of political accommodation with non-hardcore Taliban groups. Proponents of this approach consider that some of the insurgents are driven by Al Qaida or are close to it, and there should be no letup in attempts to eliminate them. But there are also others, less ideologically motivated, drawn into the insurgency through kin or tribal allegiance, or the weakness of the central authority, or even by the hope of employment ~ the so-called 'ten-dollar-a-day Taliban'. Such loosely attached elements, it is believed, can be lured away by suitable encouragement and rewards, and persuaded to resume a peaceful way of life. Though many demur at this initiative, President Karzai has already begun taking steps to try to bring them back to the fold. 

Power-sharing deal

AS Kabul reaches out to the 'good' Taliban, Pakistan is reported to have tried to broker a deal that would entail power-sharing as part of internal reconciliation between government and insurgents. As is well known, through all the changing fortunes of battle, Pakistan has maintained its links with some of the significant Taliban groups that it itself had initially sponsored, even though they are locked in combat with the USA, which happens to be Pakistan's principal ally. It is a complicated and murky story. In Washington, skepticism has been expressed about Pakistan's ability to deliver on a power-sharing arrangement that would in effect split the Taliban. Yet Pakistani strategists are believed to be pushing hard for such an outcome, not least because they see emerging a compliant Afghanistan that offers 'strategic depth' in Pakistan's eternal search for advantage over India. 
Having suffered from the fanaticism of the Taliban and its allied groups in the past, India cannot be indifferent to this turn of events. Especially unwelcome are the signs suggesting that overtures to the Taliban could serve to revive the group and sectarian passions that fuelled Afghanistan's devastating civil war. It is not many years since the entire region was ineluctably affected by and drawn into Afghanistan's civil strife, and India would certainly wish to ward off any risk of recrudescence of the disorders of the past. Nor can it fail to maintain its real interests in the region, for which it has made a large investment of effort and treasure. To steer a course that avoids unnecessary entanglement while promoting stability and progress is India's goal in Afghanistan. It is the most challenging of its current diplomatic tasks. 

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







There is a method in the unpredictability of the monsoon in India. This year, the monsoon arrived late in Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but the director of the Indian Meteorological Department, Brahm Parkash Yadav, feels there is no need to be alarmed by fluctuations in the patterns. The monsoons have been like that for centuries and will remain so in future, he said. In an interview with DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, he says the IMD is working towards providing more accurate short, medium and long-term predictions. 

What do you have to say about fluctuations in monsoon patterns? Is there any way of stabilising this? 
The monsoon has its own inherent character.  Sometimes it is weak and sometimes it is strong in some areas. The cycle keeps reversing. There are intra-seasonal breaks and fluctuations in the monsoon patterns. During such breaks, there is a period of 10 days when the monsoon is sometimes weak and sometimes subdued. Within the country, the rainfall zones also shift from one area to another. Under weak conditions, the rainfall shifts to the foothills of the Himalayas. There is no scope for human or any other kind of interference in effecting any change in monsoon patterns or cycles. The monsoon has been very much like this for the last few centuries, even before that. 

Is there any major change in monsoon patterns or volume in the offing in view of global warming patterns? 
  There has not been any drastic change in the nature of rainfall in the country this monsoon. It remains nearly the same. There have, however, been some studies that point to the likelihood of decreasing light rainfall days and increasing heavy rainfall days. But is still very difficult to pinpoint this phenomenon. This is not applicable across the board. We don't have adequate data to conclude that there will  be increased rainfall with a proportionate increase in global warming. But there are suggestions that in the coming decades there might be a quantum increase in rainfall. 

How do you keep tabs on the impact of global weather conditions given India's weather conditions, particularly the monsoon? 

The IMD has entered into collaborations with various meteorological institutes. It is part of the World Meteorological Organisation comprising 200 countries. We have a regular exchange of data and technologies among member countries. This helps us make weather predictions to the maximum possible accuracy. We make medium range predictions (comprising a period of one week). 

Does the violent Kal Baisakhi or pre-monsoon storms of Bengal impact the progress of the monsoon in the country in any way? 


Kal Baisakhi are pre-monsoon showers. It happens mainly in Bengal and adjoining parts of the country. It is more violent in nature. It does not affect weather patterns or the monsoon in any part of the country. In scientific terminology, it is known as convective phenomenon, pointing to excess heat and moisture in the environment. It is this phenomenon that makes Kal Baisakhi more violent in nature. We have a similar pre-monsoon phenomenon in the northwestern part of the country called Andhi. Unlike Kal Baisakhi, Andhi is dry and hot. 

Why did the monsoon arrive late in the national capital this year? 

Yes, the monsoon arrived a bit late this year. It generally hits the capital by 29 June. But this time the monsoon could keep its date with Delhi only on 5 July. However, average data indicates that this has been the pattern of the monsoon in the capital for the last half century. Statistically speaking, this time the monsoon has been late in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Bihar. 


Can the state-of-the-art Doppler system make accurate predictions on the monsoon? 


Doppler helps in precise predictions. With the help of thunder cells, it measures the moisture content in the weather and makes predictions. The Doppler system is already in place in the capital. We plan to install a total of 55 Doppler systems across the country. By the end of 2010, we are going to have 12 fully functional Dopplers in the country. The rest of these devices would be installed subsequently depending on the development of infrastructure and land clearance for setting up the system. 


Can seeding of clouds be a solution to the delayed monsoon in India? 


Seeding is no pucca solution to delayed or scanty rainfall. It is still at an experimental stage. Some state governments in India like Andhra Pradesh do often resort to seeding of clouds. The Indian Meteorological Department has the technical expertise for seeding. But essential to seeding is the presence of clouds. There have to be supportive conditions for seeding like adequate moisture, humidity and wind conditions. The seeding is done with the help of silver chloride, which hastens the process of cloud formation. This year Maharashtra has also done cloud seeding. The Pune-based Institute of Tropical Meteorology conducts experiments with cloud seeding. But experiments so far have not been very successful. 

How correctly can the IMD predict the arrival of the monsoon? 


The IMD can make a week's prediction correctly. Beyond that it is statistically a difficult task. 

Delhi has no climatic system of its own. How does the monsoon process get under way here in the given conditions? 


The monsoon is an easterly system with its origin in the Bay of Bengal. The monsoon in Delhi is the result of Westerly Disturbances. The rainfall in Delhi is due to interaction of WD and monsoon (easterly systems). Under these conditions, monsoon showers lash in surges. There is no constant rainfall.







Running with the hare and hunting with the hound is a strategic route to success. But there are pitfalls which might ultimately end up offending the hare and irritating the hound. This one is about a chamber overlord, who has been humouring many on both sides by heaping fulsome praise at any given opportunity. He believes you will get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

 But he made a flaw recently, thankfully not fatal. Come the fuel price hike  and the chambers were prompted to welcome the move (do they have a  choice?). This one did so, without realising that his current jockey, the fiery  Didi, didn't exactly favour the move. She conveyed her annoyance to him in no uncertain terms. He must have felt sheepish, having being caught on the wrong foot. He is now busy trying to make amends.
However, he is still sure that he would be a member of her cabinet when she storms Writers' Building after the next Assembly poll. Poor Didi! While she is biding her time to take over the reins of the state, she has to contend with people of all shades fawning over her. One is a telecom czar who has impressed her so much that her party leaders are in awe of him. And he too has his hand in almost every pie. Another instance of the chamber overlord's over-enthusiasm was in estimating the loss to the exchequer as a result of the bandh. To please political masters, he put the loss at a whopping Rs 13,000 crore, while a rival chamber put it at  a conservative Rs 3,000 crore. The higher the figure, the greater the pat?


The bandh was all sound and fury. Now that everything is over, bar the shouting, it  is good to examine who benefits the most out of the deregulation of oil prices. For one, the most hit will be the public sector oil marketing companies who have traditionally controlled the high volume business segment of the retail market. Now private fuel retailers like Essar and Reliance are planning to expand their presence in this segment, and they are at liberty in the new regime to sell the fuel at any price  of their choice. Also, the refining costs of the private players in view of their newer  technology will have an edge over PSUs which have older refineries. Does one still need to answer the question about the undue haste in deregulating the oil price mechanism ?
Lighter task 

The capital is agog with reports of an impending cabinet reshuffle. What sparked it all was a meeting the new ICC chief, Sharad Pawar, had with Dr Manmohan Singh. It was put out that  Pawar, who is also India's food  and agriculture minister, had asked for a lighter assignment. 

 But what was not purveyed was the fact that a major part of the discussion  centred on the need to decontrol the sugar industry. The leopard can never  change its spots or focus. All the sugar barons have been clamouring for it for quite some time. And to further their cause, he pleaded with the PM to impose a tax on sugar imports. Last year, the government allowed tax free import of sugar to douse soaring prices, which didn't please the sugar barons.     

 This is not to deny the prospect of a cabinet reshuffle. It gives enough fodder for debates, dialogues and discussion till it actually happens. But as it always turns out to be, it may be a dampener with just the vacant slots being filled and a few  portfolios being shuffled or a few shifted out. However, the future of the person at the centre of the storm at Sanchar Bhawan will depend on how much the Chennai  patriarch gives in. It is his sleight of hand that counts, not what is sought to be conveyed.

Venting spleen

Hemmed in from all sides, feeling stifled and choked, cribbed and confined, Kamal Nath finally gave vent to his frustration which was bottled up after he was shown his place at Transport Bhawan. His dismal position has been such that junior ministers like Jairam Ramesh have dared to cross swords with him.
In UPA-I he was riding the high horse, only to be told at the advent of UPA II to alight  and give way. But the coincidence is striking. His tirade against the Planning  Commission headed by a protege of the PM happened when the memory of Rajiv  Gandhi's outburst against the same body when it was presided over by Montek's  mentor was rekindled in memoirs by a distinguished civil servant, CG Somiah. 

The book referred to the ""hurtful, derogatory remarks" made about Dr Manmohan  Singh's presentation as Deputy Chairman of the Commission by the then PM who  referred to the top functionaries in Yojana Bhawan as "a bunch of jokers". If Rajiv saw reason in saying it, who not Kamal Nath? 

Was he taking a pot shot at the PM by hitting out at his protege and deriving vicarious pleasure? Or was he accepting the inevitable -- of his current plight. Or is the worst yet to come in the impending Cabinet reshuffle? Will he be shown the door under the new version of the Kamaraj Plan? The answer lies not in Race Course Road but in how far his powerful sponsors, the steel and oil barons, will go to shield and shelter him from any onslaught.
Tilting at windmills

Is Jairam Ramesh biting off more than he can chew? He has with exemplary courage uttered a loud no to some of the biggest business tycoons in response to their request for  private helipads since they will violate permissible noise levels. They are a virtual who's who in the world of business and include the likes of Mukesh and Anil Ambani,  the Ruias, Gautam SInghania and Vickey Oberoi. 

And is he tilting at windmills when he is taking on the might of Vedanta? He knows fully well who Anil Agarwal's backers are. And he has been systematically moving to  scuttle the multi-billion project, perhaps with solid reasons. Or is he playing hard to get? 

He has the reputation of being a loose cannon. But at the same time, he has stuck to his  stand, without yielding to his detractors. Let's see what the future unfolds!

Remembering the dead

Like ancient Romans, we remember the dead. And commemorate their memory by building statues and naming streets, roads and avenues after them. A good number  of districts in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are named after their eminent sons. And  the airports too. It is another matter that Mayawati has stolen a march over the two states by spending crores of rupees on her statues and her mentor's.  Recently, Pranab Mukherjee took time off to unveil a statue of Karuppiah Moopanar, an associate of Kamaraj Nadar, in an outback  in Kumbakonam. His son, GK Vasan is a minister in the Union Cabinet. 

In the Rajdhani, statues are not in fashion. The tendency has always been to retain the bungalows as a memorial. Soon, more than half of Lutyen's Delhi will be memorials. 

Therefore, remembering the known and the unknown is not optional, it is compulsory.  

Heard on the street

The Prime Minister of India puts off his visit to Andhra Pradesh scheduled for 9 July fearing a reprisal for the killing of Maoist leader Azad. And Andhra Pradesh is by and large free of Maoist activity. And now the Union home minister of India, while referring to thelawlessness in Srinagar, advises parents to ensure that young boys stay indoors. A good commentary on the law and order situation in the country and the role of the custodians of law. 








The people are not going to be confused by the talk of a Left-BJP combination. They are going to judge each political party by how sincerely they protect their interests during the onslaught of a price rise. As far as the CPI-M and the Left parties are concerned, such politically motivated propaganda will not deter them. The struggle against price rise and the government's harmful petroleum pricing policies will have to be further intensified. 

CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat in the party mouthpiece People's Democracy. 

It is for the first time in India's history that all political parties outside government have come together against the ruling dispensation. The opposition unity is a people's wish. 

NDA convener and JD-U president Sharad Yadav. 

In cases where political members are identifiable, the damages will be taken from them individually, otherwise political parties will have to pay up. 

Maharashtra home minister RR Patil when BJP and Shiv Sena activists damaged 175 state-run buses during the Bharat Bandh. 

You (the Opposition) are talking of coming to power and ushering in a new age. You are talking of turning Kolkata into London. We will wait to see how you manage to do that without acquiring an inch of land. 
West Bengal housing minister Gautam Deb in the state assembly. 

If the civic bodies do not want to collect 100 per cent of the cost through taxes then the central government would stop disbursing funds for the projects and everything will be stalled. The projects that have started will not be complete. 

West Bengal urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya. 

The Left Front committees should closely monitor the functioning of respective district administrations and help carry out the state government's policies on the ground. 

All India Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas. 

It is all very well when you are an armchair adviser. 

Kamal Nath on the Planning Commission. 

I am yet to follow many people but I will start doing it slowly ... even Shah Rukh. Actor Aamir Khan on Twitter. 
He (Jyoti Basu) could maintain excellent personal relations even with Opposition leaders. 
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, delivering the first Jyoti Basu Memorial Lecture in the state assembly. 







Some situations turn celebrations into warnings. July 11, World Population Day, celebrated first in 1987 when the world's population touched five billion, cannot cheer any Indian who knows that he belongs to a population of 116.1 crore. By 2026, at the present rate of population growth, 371 million more Indians will be sharing the resources India has at present. This is one area in which India can overtake China — in becoming the most populous country in the world. It is a sad irony, for the Indian government has been evolving one policy after another to check population growth since Independence. After its efforts hit a bad spot with the controversial sterilization programme in the 1970s, the efforts picked up again in the following decades, shifting the focus from just family planning to a national population policy. There has been a decline in the rate of increase since, although the addition each year in absolute numbers is still staggering. Only half the states are expected to meet the millennium goal of two children for one mother by 2015.


India's situation is distinctly peculiar. In developed countries where the population growth rate has stabilized, such as Japan, the population is greying rapidly while fertility rates are low. In comparison, India seems happier. A country poised to become an economic power can rejoice in its huge young workforce. But that large workforce would need to sustain itself on rapidly depleting resources. Even though fertility rates have declined to an average of 2.68 — that is, three children to one mother (in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that number is still four) — older people are living longer, exactly as in the rest of the world. It is as if India stands between two opposing forces, one pulling it back while the other pushes it into the league of developed nations.


That the efforts of so many years have not had the desired effect suggests that the policymakers have been missing certain things. To look at one of these, it is only recently that there has been acknowledgment of the fact that women's empowerment may have something to do with birth rates. It is not just that population growth has been checked in areas where women are literate or educated — although that is the first big step. Two related hurdles are minor marriage and dowry. Girls should mature mentally and physically before they become mothers, and they must feel empowered enough to decide how many children they want. They must also be more confident in their gender, and not feel worthless till they produce a son. This cannot happen unless dowry is completely eliminated, as the preference for sons is both economic and social. The woman's empowerment would also mean, of course, her access to healthcare and nutrition, which would bring down mother and child mortality rates — still one of the worst in the world. New policies are slowly taking these into account, but nothing can happen by magic. And nothing would work unless the men are educated too.










While more than one Indian journalist has suggested that New Delhi should consider withdrawing from Jammu and Kashmir, it is inconceivable that any Chinese writer should recommend that Beijing relinquish its claim to Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang. That difference could not but occur to me during last week's India-China Dialogue in Singapore whose subtitle was "Image and Perceptions: The Role of the Media in India-China Relations".

Organized by the Nalanda Sriwijaya Centre at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the two-day conference was planned to highlight the media aspect of what a leading Singapore diplomatist, Kishore Mahbubani, calls the most important relationship in the world. Given the extent of ignorance (a senior Indian administrative service officer once told me he wasn't going to Shanghai because "who wants to see Bombay again?") and prejudice, it was an admirable objective. The media have a key function (when they aren't playing politics or pretending to be dabbling in diplomacy) to inform, advise and instruct.


Geopolitically as well as historically, no forum for the conference could have been more appropriate than Chinese-majority Singapore with its Sanskrit name that Jawaharlal Nehru saw as the crucible where India and China would meet again to forge a new Concert of Asia. South-east Asia, the Suvarnabhumi where India and China mingled in ancient times to create Indochina, is strategically as crucial today as the McMahon Line. The United States of America, with nearly 100,000 troops in South Korea and Japan as well as offshore, now holds the balance but the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are keenly aware of the lessons of Vietnam and Afghanistan. Nowhere is the US military presence ever permanent; the region must establish its own eventual equation between Asia's leading powers. It is as much in ASEAN's interest, as in the interest of India and China, that they should cooperate with, and not confront, each other


Unfortunately, this regional aspect of the Sino-Indian relationship was outside the conference remit. But the media part somewhat disappointingly reminded me of a television programme I once took part in during a Commonwealth summit conference in London. As we were rehearsing, the show's top man's voice boomed through on the intercom: "Stop behaving like prime ministers and get back to being journalists!" In China's system (as in the old Soviet Union's) the two functions are not always separate, and Hsinhua news agency employees in British Hong Kong acted as the accredited representatives of the People's Republic of China. The danger of such high falutin overlapping is that the media's true task is neglected. Reporters who see themselves as diplomats don't report. Or, rather, they only report what suits the diplomatic purpose of their masters. That makes journalism even more vulnerable to pressure and persuasion, which could perhaps explain an extraordinary series of uninvited articles on China that appeared in these columns some seven years ago.


Only a media with no strings attached (borrowing the famous phrase about aid) can take the informed and intelligent interest in Chinese affairs that is necessary for understanding. After closely scrutinizing five or six of our dailies over a period of months, I would safely say that they remain true to C.P. Scott's dictum about news being sacred while comment is free. Special writers might urge New Delhi to ban imports from China, prevent closer Chinese links with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, warn against Chinese militarism and China's ties with Pakistan. But news reports faithfully reflected China's spectacular economic development and the achievement of the Beijing Olympics. There was no deviation from journalistic propriety even over Jairam Ramesh's blatant deviation from ministerial propriety.


India has only four correspondents in Beijing, while China has no fewer than 15 ("Fourteen of them are spies anyway!" a breezy European sinologist said to me) in New Delhi. Yet, by all accounts, China figures much more prominently in India's media than India does in China's. In addition to the reports these four send back, Indian papers regularly reproduce ("lift" we call it) feature articles from British or American publications. Some subscribe to the Asia News Network, which shares material among a number of Asian papers. Others publish columns like The Telegraph's very readable China Diary. Quantity may not always be quality, but there is little evidence of Chinese reciprocity. The explanation that one of the Chinese speakers gave for the imbalance confirmed what I had suspected. News is not a neutral commodity in China; it is an instrument of high policy.


The delegate in question said with disarming candour that Japan looms large on China's media radar because it is a rival. So does the US because it is seen as a threat. She didn't quite say that India, being neither rival nor threat, is ignored. Therein lies the clue to a relationship whose nature was also indicated by another speaker who disclosed that while 400,000 Indians visit China every year, only 100,000 Chinese come to India. But, sadly, Indian delegates did not take up and explore these imbalances. Everyone was too busy extolling China, and that, to my mind, was the weakness not of the organizers but of the delegates, especially those from India who missed the chance to suggest how the media can help to cement ties with a burgeoning power while also safeguarding India's vital interests.


It was perfectly legitimate for the Chinese diplomatists, academics and think-tank leaders to remind listeners of China's impressive growth and increasing international clout, the $60 billion trade between our two countries, and the significance of the dawning Asian Century. They dwelt on the benefits of globalization, the common cause India and China made at Copenhagen and on the two countries being in the same boat financially vis-à-vis the West. They spoke of 2,000 years of friendship with India and the need for a rapprochement to restore that peaceful harmony. They were too sophisticated to apportion blame but also mentioned China's extended hand of friendship and that India is the only neighbour with whom China has not yet been able to settle its border.


No one explicitly blamed India for the unresolved dispute. Though Neville Maxwell was mentioned in passing, no one said he was justified in holding Nehru's "forward policy" responsible for the 1962 war. But it was left to Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi foreign minister, to talk of the calculated swings of Chinese diplomacy and say that China now had two "all-weather" friends on India's two flanks. The gasps and murmurs in the hall told me the comment was not politically correct. It seems to me from such occasions that political correctness is something Indians make heavy weather of; also in Singapore, but many years ago I watched the Indian and Pakistani representatives hug extravagantly before calling each other cheats and liars in far from diplomatic language.


But, at least, the words each uttered indicated to the other his true feelings. Here, judging by what was said in private when only other desis were around, the Indian delegates were like Talleyrand, the French diplomat who said famously that speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts. My fear is that if Indians continue to be so mealy-mouthed in public about their true intentions, the reputation gained at international forums for duplicity will be strengthened and extended. And the Chinese will never get even a glimpse of India's deep-seated resentment not only about the border but over a range of matters like trade, riparian rights, neighbourhood diplomacy and being upstaged in Asia. There was talk of repeat dialogues in India and China. Next time round, the organizers must insist on Indian delegates being honest even if politically incorrect. Trust cannot be built on sweet nothings. The demon within us must be confronted to be destroyed.


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





The spate of killings, blasts and abductions by Maoists during their two-day bundh to protest the killing of their politburo member Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad by Andhra police marks a sharp escalation in violence. That they are angry with Azad's killing is understandable. He was a senior leader and that too, one who was reportedly engaging in quiet efforts to get negotiations with the government going. Swami Agnivesh, who is mediating between the Centre and the Maoists, has revealed that Azad was in touch with him regarding a ceasefire and talks, and was to give him dates for negotiations with the government. The Maoists have claimed that Azad was killed not in an encounter as claimed by the government but arrested in Nagpur and then shot dead in cold blood in the jungles of Adilabad. While their sense of outrage is reasonable, the methods they are using to articulate it are not. The killing and abduction of innocent civilians is reprehensible and unacceptable, however deep their sense of anger and betrayal.

It is possible that the police were not kept in the loop on the role Azad was playing in the peace process. Still, this does not excuse a fake encounter. If Azad was arrested, it is for the courts to decide his fate, not for police to execute him. The government must come clean if a fake encounter did indeed take place. An honest judicial probe is essential to clear the air.

Azad's death, which has been hailed in some circles as a significant blow to the Maoists, might in fact be a severe setback to the quest for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. His killing could nip in the bud an attempt to de-escalate the ongoing violence and to resolve the conflict. Azad is believed to have been a proponent of talks with the government. His exit will strengthen the hand of hardliners among the Maoists. Talk of revenge and retaliation is growing. This is a pity as talks hold out the promise of waging the conflict non-violently. The death of Azad, while a loss to the Maoist movement, must not stand in their way of taking their grievances to the government via talks. If the Maoists are indeed committed to seeking justice for the tribals, on whose behalf they claim to speak, they must give the political option a shot, just as Azad had.








The opening of the new international airport terminal in New Delhi last week symbolically marks the coming of age of India in the civil aviation sector. Though the country had, by last year's estimates, over 35 million passengers passing through its airports, it had not offered world class facilities and comfort to them. It was a shame that the ninth biggest aviation market in the world had an airport ranked at 101 in terms of air service quality. The new airport terminal which is the eighth largest in the world, has pushed the ranking up dramatically, with 78 aerobridges, 168 check-in counters and a host of other facilities. It was also completed in a record time of just over three years with an investment of over Rs 12,000 crore. It is also the result of a successful public-private partnership model which can be replicated in aviation and other areas.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh who inaugurated the terminal said that an investment of over $ 120 billion may be needed in the country's aviation sector in the next 10 years. Domestic passenger traffic can grow to about 180 million and international traffic to over 50 million. Catering to such exponential growth calls for modernisation and upgradation of all airports. Ahmedabad's new airport terminal was also opened to traffic last week. Projections of passenger traffic often turn out to be underestimates and therefore planning should leave room for additional capacity. The relationship between the economy and infrastructural facilities like airports and roads is one of mutual promotion. 

Once the virtuous cycle is established it acquires a momentum of its own. The task of the government is to ensure that the growth is regulated in public interest. The prime minister's reference to the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority should be seen in this light. It must be ensured that the best services are offered to the passengers. Developers of airports should also not be allowed to fleece passengers through imposition of high levies.

India is geographically and economically well poised to become a major hub of international air traffic. It has failed to capitalise on this advantage till now. The new Delhi airport can help the country move in that direction, though it will have to face stiff competition even from small neighbouring countries. The Commonwealth Games will give the country an early opportunity to showcase itself to the world.







The Lokayukta can now probe cases against top bureaucrats, but ministers and legislators still remain out of his purview.



After surviving the October 2009 coup to unseat him, by none other than his own cabinet colleagues from Bellary — the Reddy brothers of mining stealth and wealth defame — the chief minister pulled yet another stunt recently and survived the scathing indictment of his government by Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde. The ombudsman openly censured the government for failure to stop illegal iron ore exports from the state's ports and for abetting corruption as a whole.]

The state government then came under intense fire from opposition Congress and other parties, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the mining scam. The chief minister once again skirted round the demand and went on the defensive. He admitted that illegal mining flourished since the days of his Congress-JD(S) predecessors but denied backing the mining lobby.

Much before the public indictment, the Lokayukta had conducted a detailed study of the illegal mining business not only in Bellary but also other mineral-rich districts like Chitradurga and Tumkur, and submitted a 1,600-page confidential report to the state government in December 2008. The government neither acted on the report nor made the findings public. When the Central government sought an Action Taken Report almost a year and a half later, it sent a cursory reply, which too the Lokayukta has dubbed as an action 'to be' taken report.

Prior to seeking the ATR, the Centre offered the services of CBI to investigate the illegal mining scam. It cited the example of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh government, which had sought and facilitated a CBI investigation into illegal mining menace in its jurisdiction. The Centre suggested to the Karnataka government to take similar action. But the Yeddyurappa government rejected every help and opportunity that came its way to clear its name.

On the one hand, the BJP-led government claimed it has full faith in the Lokayukta and even forced him to withdraw his protest resignation, on the other, it is showing no inclination to act on his findings. Perhaps, the BJP was worried that the Lokayukta is privy to too much information and it would be risky to let go of him.

So, it hurriedly took a decision to confer certain extra powers to probe cases against top bureaucrats as well. But politicians, ministers and legislators continue to remain untouchable!

The state government, meanwhile, has ordered a parallel investigation into the Belekeri port iron ore heist by the uninitiated Criminal Investigation Department of the police while the Lokayukta police are already probing the matter.

Blanket ban

After virtually looking a gift horse in the mouth and shutting its eyes to illegal mining, the state government now wants a blanket ban on export of iron ore. Indeed, the state government has decided to allow mining of iron ore and other minerals only for value addition to curb the export of iron ore in the form of raw material. 

Karnataka is the first state in the country to introduce the value added policy in December 2008 for granting mining leases. Accordingly, new mining leases will only be for value addition within Karnataka by processing the iron ore through a manufacturing facility. In pursuance of this policy, the government recently signed a dozen agreements with firms like ArcelorMittal, Posco, Essar and Tata Metaliks for setting up steel plants in the rich iron belt of Bellary district in north Karnataka.

It could be a step in the right direction and better late than never, but more needs to be done to prevent the rape of our mineral-rich land. The temporary ban on iron ore export from the state's ports should help the government put its house in order. Beyond that, the mechanisms to allow scientific extraction and stop unscientific exploitation need to be activated.

After all, iron ore is not a replenishable commodity like vegetables or flowers. It has to be conserved. Besides, it is a state property and royalty is due to the exchequer for sale of every tonne. And for that to happen, its quantification is a must. In place of bulk permits, which were being misused by miners, specific permits should be issued for each load and trip. Such permits should die after each transaction. The onus of tracking ore in excess of domestic demand and destined for export should rest on the customs department.

These and other checks and balances such as bar coding and hologram based trip-sheets to improve tracking of consignments and avoid fake permits, composite checkposts at key locations across the state for better coordination of various departments such as mining, forest, commercial taxes, transport and PWD and the proposed introduction of e-permits to ensure transparency and accountability, should help the state government rein in illegal mining. Instead, the government is trying to shift its responsibility on the Centre. Given all his survival skills, the chief minister cannot get away forever. The ball is in his court. He has to act now and clear his and his government's name.








Losing a friend often saddens one more than losing a relation — particularly if the friend happens to have been someone you admired...


This happened to me when I read of the death of Manohar Malgonkar at the age of 97 in his estate in Jagalpet in north Karnataka. We had known each other for almost half a century.

The first time we met remains fresh in my memory. I was working in the external services of All India Radio. He told me of his past. He had been in the Army during the Second World War. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Maratha Light Infantry. After retirement he became an avid Shikari. Having slain eight tigers, he became a professional conducting eminent foreigners to hunt big game. Then, a sudden change came over him. He swore not to kill anything anymore.

He became a passionate preserver of wildlife. He told me of a handsome young tiger who used to display himself sitting in the middle of a forest road in broad daylight. He was a sitting duck for my tiger killer. Malgonkar would drive me to him and fire a few shots to frighten him off. The tiger learnt not to trust humans and lived a full life. When Malgonkar finished his story, I asked him to put it on paper. He did. I broadcast his story and had it published. That is how his career as a writer began. He graciously acknowledged it by always referring to me as 'Guruji.' Then came a series of novels: 'Distant Drum', 'A Bend in the Ganges', 'The Combat of Shadows', The Devil's Wind, many short stories and film scripts. His style of writing reminded me of John Master's 'Bhowani Junction'. It was racy and highly readable.

Malgonkar was highly conscious of his Maharashtrian heritage. He wrote the biography 'Kanhoji Angroy', 'Puars of Dewas Senior' and 'Chatrapatis of Kolhapur'.


Malgonkar's writing career ended when manganese was found in his estate. He became a rich man and got involved in mining manganese business. He lived in princely style in a palatial mansion, with many acres of garden. He often invited me to stay with him. But I was never able to accept his offer of hospitality. My son spent some days with him and told me what wonderful time he had spent with Malgonkar's small family.

Indian voice from abroad

Tabish Khair is a Bihari, settled in Denmark. He is professor of English literature at Aarhus University. He keeps in close touch with his motherland and visits it once a year to see his parents, writes regularly for Indian papers like 'The Hindu' and 'Outlook' and many others in England and America. He has also published many novels like 'Where Parallel Lines Meet', 'Babu Fictions', 'The Bus Stopped', 'Filming: A Love Story', all of which I reviewed favourably because I found them lucid and absorbing. Now I have his latest 'Man of Glass' (Harper Collins) and find myself like one lost at sea. It has Kalidas, Mirza Ghalib and H C Andersen, all mixed up. Kalidas he read in the Sanskrit original at school. Ghalib was always with him because his mother tongue is Urdu. Anderson's fairy stories for children which he must have read as a child acquired special significance after he became a Danish national.

I do not know Sanskrit. All I have read of Kalidas is in English translation. Whatever I read by Andersen I forgot long ago. Only Ghalib remains with me. However, Tabish's transcreations do not tally with my reading of Ghalib's couplets. To start with take the first few couplets of his Diwan:

Naksh fariyaadi hai kis ki shokhi e tahreer kaKaaghzai hai pairhan har paikre-tasveer kaTabish Khair renders the lines as under:Such richness fills the aspects of this earth,Each man's a beggar seeking alms of worth.

I don't think any student of Ghalib will agree with Tabish Khair. My own reading is: it means that every picture speaks for itself; it does not need learned explanation.

Likewise, the second couplet;Kavikave sakht jaani haai tanhai na puunchSubah karna shaam ka laana hai juve-sheer kaTabish renders it as follows:

Don't claim to tell the lonely back of work,To turn night into day, replenish dearth.This is far-fetched a transcreation as I have ever seen. The couplet reminds us of the romance of Shireen and Farhad and the condition of her father to let him have access to his daughter. The same obscurity is found in all his transcriptions. I repeat that the primary object of writing is communication. In his 'Man of Glass' Tabish Khair fails to communicate.

The great difference Sign outside a pathology lab: "For you it may be your urine and stool. But for us it is our bread and butter."

No smoking hereCustomer: It is strange you sell cigarettes in this store, but you don't allow the customers to smoke here.Sales girl: Don't talk about what I sell. I also sell condoms but I don't permit anyone using them here.

(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)







I believe Paul played a part in Germany's lacklustre play and the defeat.


Fame, it is said, has its own perils. Paul, the Germany-based octopus with psychic powers, is no exception. Apparently many Germans, frustrated over the semifinal defeat of their team in the World Cup, want the oracle-turned-villain in the Berlin's Sea Life aquarium, grilled and served.

That of course is not fair. After all, you don't shoot the messenger or the astrologer; certainly not after the results. It doesn't make sense. It would have made sense if someone had thought of tying up the tentacles of the upstart before he embraced the Spanish flag to indicate his choice. Was Paul only a messenger or did he play a role in shaping the result? I for one believe he did play a part in the defeat.

As one watched all the matches, I felt that the German team didn't run as fast or play as well as they did in the earlier matches. And that made me wonder if the doom prediction was weighing on their minds. With the octopus' famed record of being '100% right' working on their minds, had the German players conceded defeat, even before they entered the field?

I recall the child psychology lessons learnt in the BEd class. Call a child 'useless,' and s/he will turn out to be useless. Pat him/her on the back and say 'you are improving' and he/she would surprise you with remarkable improvement. These are termed as a self-fulfiling prophesies. Sow the idea into a person's mind and the person sub-consciously works towards making it true. Was the German team psyched to lose?

There is a legend in our family concerning a forefather. Astrology was apparently a passion with this competent civil engineer. But would he have given up his life for the hobby? That is the question that gets debated, even today, at the family gatherings.

For, the not-so-old man, in apparent good health, suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Later, rummaging through his books, the family found a highlighted entry in his diary. The note gave the date of his death; which of course was the date on which he died. So the question is, did the ardent student of astrology make such an uncanny prediction, or did he so completely believe in his own prediction that his mind ordered the body to shut down on that day?

I hope the octopus is wrong in picking the ultimate winner. It would be a shame if a mollusk, caged in an aquarium, ends up eroding the self-confidence of millions of thinking men (and women), across the globe.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




For 14 years, as states, courts and many Americans began to change their minds on the subject, the federal government has clung to its official definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman. On Thursday, a federal judge in Massachusetts finally stood up and said there was never a rational basis for that definition. Though we are a little wary of one path Judge Joseph L. Tauro took to declare the definition unconstitutional, the outcome he reached is long overdue.


The definition is contained in the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. At the time, there was no legal same-sex marriage in the United States, but now five states and the District of Columbia issue licenses to all couples. Because of the federal law, thousands of couples in those states cannot receive the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples, including Social Security survivor payments and spousal burials in national military cemeteries.


There were two cases that came before Judge Tauro on this subject, allowing him to arrive at the same conclusion in two different ways. In one case, brought by Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, the judge said the marriage act exceeded Congress's powers and infringed on the state's right to regulate marriage. This does not appear to be a legitimate basis for overturning the act. Many of the biggest federal social programs — including the new health care law — deal with marriages and families, as the Yale law professor Jack Balkin notedon Thursday, and states should not be given the right to supersede them.


The judge made a better argument in the other case, brought by a gay rights group, that the marriage definition violates the equal-protection provisions of the Constitution. There is no rational basis for discriminating against same-sex couples, he ruled, discrediting the reasons stated by lawmakers in 1996, including the encouragement of "responsible procreation" and traditional notions of marriage and morality. In this argument, he was helped by the Obama administration's obligatory but half-hearted defense of the law, which since last year no longer supports Congress's stated reasons.


Courts should generally give Congress wide deference in writing laws, but should not be afraid to examine them when challenged, to make sure they serve a legitimate purpose. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed and signed as an election-year wedge issue, and the brief debate leading up to it was full of bigoted attacks against homosexuality as "depraved" and "immoral." One congressman said gay marriage would "devalue the love between a man and a woman." Laws passed on this kind of basis deserve to be upended, and we hope Judge Tauro's equal-protection opinion, which, for now, applies only to Massachusetts, is upheld on appeal.


Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court actually predicted this moment would arrive when he dissented from the court's 2003 decision to strike down antisodomy laws. That decision left laws prohibiting same-sex marriage "on pretty shaky grounds," he warned, since it undercut the traditional moral basis for opposing homosexuality. The Justice Department cited those words when it abandoned its defense of the law as related to procreation, which, in turn, helped lead to Thursday's decision. The process of justice can take years, but in this case it seems to be moving in the right direction.







Nearly six weeks later, Turkey and Israel are still stoking anger over the disastrous Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship. Their posturing and threats are playing into the hands of extremists. Both countries need to find ways to cool things down.


Turkey is furious about the death of eight Turks and one Turkish-American in the raid. Israel claims that its soldiers acted in self-defense and that the flotilla was organized by radical activists, supported by Turkey, who were bent on provoking an incident. Israel's government has opened its own review, with outside observers, but has resisted calls for an international investigation — the only chance of getting Turkey to answer questions.


Since the raid, Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Jerusalem, halted military exercises with Israel and banned Israeli military planes from its airspace. It is now threatening to sever all diplomatic ties if Israel does not apologize, compensate the victims' families and accept an international investigation.


Israel has withdrawn its defense advisers from Turkey, warned Israelis against visiting their once solid Muslim ally and impounded the seized ships. It is refusing to pay compensation or apologize.


Some members of Congress are adding to the tensions with anti-Turkey rants and threats to punish the Turkish government. "There will be a cost if Turkey stays on its present heading," said Representative Mike Pence, a Republican of Indiana.


Israel, Turkey and the United States all have a lot to lose if this continues. Turkey was the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel. Bilateral trade reached $2.5 billion in 2009. As a secular, thriving, free-market democracy and NATO member, Turkey has a strong interest in a stable Middle East — and in strong ties to the West.


The Obama administration has been trying to help. When President Obama met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Canada in late June, he urged him to cool the anti-Israel rhetoric. We hope he sent the same message when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel this week. Washington also helped set up a secret meeting between Turkish and Israeli officials last week in Zurich.


Mr. Obama and his aides will have to keep pressing. Eight days after that meeting, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that if Israel did not quickly make amends, Turkey would "take any option" (he did not elaborate) to protect the rights of its citizens. Two days after the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu told a TV interviewer that Israelis "regret the loss of life" but the country cannot apologize "because its soldiers had to defend themselves to avoid being lynched by a crowd."


We still believe that an impartial, international investigation is the best chance of finding out what really happened. The United States should press Israel to accept an international investigation — and press Turkey to fully participate as well. Mr. Obama should also let members of Congress know that fanning these flames is not in this country's strategic interest or Israel's.








For too long, scores of thousands of veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder have been denied proper treatment and much-needed help. While routinely hailed as heroes in home-front salutes, only about half of the more than 150,000 men and women diagnosed with P.T.S.D. — suffering flashbacks, emotional numbness and other debilitating symptoms — have been approved for disability claims by the veterans department.


The Obama administration has announced new regulations that will eliminate one of the main bureaucratic roadblocks to adequate treatment: the requirement that they document in painstaking, often impossible searches such events as a specific bomb blast or firefight to prove their disability. Claimants will now have to just show that they served in a war zone in a job consistent with the events underlying their symptoms.


Veterans' groups point out that these rules have been particularly unfair to veterans, many of them women, who did not serve in official combat roles but still saw traumatic duty.


By some estimates, of the more than two million service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, one out of five veterans suffer P.T.S.D. The changes would also apply to Vietnam veterans.


Concerns have been expressed about the cost — an estimated $5 billion over seven years, with heightened health care and monthly support ranging from a few hundred dollars to $2,000. The plight of damaged veterans is a debt that must be paid in full.


The veterans department will review all cases, promising vigilance to discourage fraudulent claims. The new approach will be no simple task for an agency struggling with backlogs of veterans' claims. Final determinations will be made by the department's own psychological experts. They will have to be mindful that the ultimate goal is to treat symptoms and guide veterans closer to normal life, not sidetrack them into permanent dependency.









The Web sites show happy young travelers bunking within a few blocks of Broadway. And they offer a place to stay in such a glamorous, expensive city for only $15 a night. The problem is that a growing number of these "hotels" are unsafe, unsanitary and illegal.


Rogue hotels offer a quick buck for the landlords and a problem for almost everybody else — other residents who need affordable housing, the neighborhood that needs stability, the city that loses on hotel taxes and often even the visitor who goes home grumbling.


The Legislature passed a bill this month that finally makes it possible for the city to shut down these hotels permanently. Gov. David Paterson should quickly sign the bill, which was sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, both Democrats from Manhattan. The measure makes it clear that residential buildings are not for transients. Lending your apartment for a month or so while you go away — or swapping with somebody in Rome — will continue to be legal. But an empty apartment or group of apartments cannot be turned into makeshift hostels.


A report several years ago by the Illegal Hotels Working Group gave examples of how these conversions especially hurt rent-stabilized tenants in lower-income housing. At one uptown apartment building with 120 residential units, the landlord gradually pushed out permanent tenants and replaced them with tourists. The tenants paid about $200-$500 a month. By adding bunk beds, the building owner could get $400 a day.


For such illegal conversions, the city can do little but slap a $500 fine on the landlord. If there are fire hazards, the place could be closed but can reopen quickly if the problem is remedied. Instead of these temporary solutions, this bill would make such conversions clearly illegal. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has urged the governor to sign the bill, as do we. But as he affirms a much-needed change in city law, the governor should also encourage the mayor and his government to make sure young people can find an inexpensive way to bunk in the city. Not everybody can afford a hotel room for $300 a night.








LeBron James is moving! Lindsay Lohan is crying! Paul the Octopus says Spain will win the World Cup!


There are certain points in the year — like summer — when the country does not seem to be in the mood to think about politics or public policy. Nevertheless, we know where our duty lies, and it is not in celebrity name-dropping.


So let's talk about something serious, like the rapidly escalating trend of extremely rich people running for high office. In Connecticut, it looks as if both parties are going to nominate candidates for governor and senator who live in the superupscale town of Greenwich.


Which is, of course, the place where LeBron James made his big basketball announcement. What was that all about, anyway? He lives in Akron, Ohio. He played in Cleveland. He's moving to Miami. But ESPN said that James wanted to reveal his life plans in Greenwich.


Apparently, the site selection had something to do with James's desire to attend the wedding of the Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony to the television personality LaLa Vazquez. They're getting married in New York City, and Greenwich is the place where very rich people go when they want to be in New York City but not actually.


"Greenwich amenities include great schools, country clubs, parks, beaches, shopping, restaurant, convenient access to airports and only 40 minutes to the center of the universe ... Manhattan," says a Web site for a local realtor, who promises that you can be neighbors with "Ron Howard, Mary Tyler Moore, Mel Gibson, Diana Ross ..."


Not sure how many people are dying to hang with Mel Gibson right now. But if the primaries work out as most polls project, the next governor and junior senator from Connecticut will be neighbors, too.


For the United States Senate, the Republicans seem bent on nominating Linda McMahon, the Greenwich-based wrestling czarina who has promised to spend $30 million of her own money on the campaign. For governor, it's probably going to be Tom Foley, the former ambassador to Ireland whose name can never be mentioned without pointing out that he owns a mansion in Greenwich and a 100-foot yacht.


The current leader in the Democratic primary for governor is Greenwich resident Ned Lamont. When we last saw Ned, he was spending $17 million of his own money in an unsuccessful attempt to win a Senate seat. The Democratic Senate nominee, Richard Blumenthal, is the poorest of the bunch, having spent virtually his entire adult life being the state attorney general, which pays $110,000 a year. However, his wife's family owns the Empire State Building.


We hear a lot about how elected officials are afraid of being primaried by someone from the extreme right or left. But, lately, there's been just as much danger of a superrich challenger dropping down from nowhere, like Paul the Octopus grabbing for the box of mussels covered with the Spanish flag.


In California, Democrats are in despair over how their gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, is going to compete against Meg Whitman, a billionaire who spent $91 million just to win her primary. Brown is not personally wealthy, although he did once date Linda Ronstadt.


Florida, where LeBron James is going to be playing, is Rich Candidate Central. The presumed Democratic candidate for the Senate, Representative Kendrick Meek, now appears to be in danger of losing the nomination to a hitherto unknown billionaire named Jeff Greene.


Greene is moving up in the polls even though he made most of his money betting that the housing market would tank and suck hundreds of thousands Floridians into the maw of foreclosure. And Mike Tyson was best man at his wedding. And, we learned this week, he hadLindsay Lohan on his 145-foot yacht last New Year's Eve.


"This is not what's important," Greene said about the Lohan connection. "Floridians are worried about jobs, getting results."


This is an extremely common rejoinder these days. Try it in your own life. If your neighbor points out that your car is wrapped around her front porch, tell her that a lot of Americans don't even have porches anymore. Because what they care about is not trivial traffic mishaps but jobs, jobs, jobs.


Meanwhile, in the Florida governor's race, Bill McCollum, a Republican, is having a tough time dealing with his extremely rich guy, Rick Scott. Scott is the former chief of Columbia/HCA, a chain of for-profit hospitals. He has spent more than $20 million on campaign ads so far while McCollum has managed to come up with only about $6 million.


Scott's argument is that the state needs a good businessman to run things. While he was C.E.O. of Columbia/HCA, the company paid fines, penalties and damages of more than $1.7 billion for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. But maybe Florida voters won't notice, what with all the excitement over LeBron James.


Charles M. Blow is off today.








"We're going to show that there is a different day in America — that working people are sick and tired of the bosses getting million-dollar bonuses and the workers getting the short end of the stick."

— Bob King

In April 1968, the same month that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers, the president of the powerful auto workers' union, Walter Reuther, traveled to Memphis to give the strikers critically needed financial support.


The sanitation workers were black. In his biography of Reuther, Nelson Lichtenstein noted that the check he handed over to the strikers was the largest outside contribution that they would receive. Some officials at the United Automobile Workers headquarters in Detroit were taken aback. "But Reuther forged ahead," Lichtenstein wrote, "offering an impassioned defense of interracial solidarity."


Three-thousand delegates to the U.A.W. convention later that year heard Reuther say: "We laid $50,000 on the line to demonstrate we meant business. Who helped us back in 1936 and 1937 when we were being beaten up and shot at, when our offices and our cars were being blown up by the gangsters hired by the corporations?


"Who helped us? The coal miners ... the clothing workers ... as long as I am identified with the leadership of this great union, we are going to extend a hand of solidarity to every group of workers who are struggling for justice."


Reuther believed that solidarity and a commitment to social and economic justice was the very essence of the union movement. If you want to hear a heartfelt restatement of those beliefs for the early 21st century, a period in which the union movement is in great distress and the living standards of working people have seriously declined, listen to the soft-spoken new president of the U.A.W., Bob King.


"My view of the labor movement today," he said in an interview, "is that we got too focused on our contracts and our own membership and forgot that the only way, ultimately, that we protect our members and workers in general is by fighting for justice for everybody."


The fundamental issue is that "every human being deserves dignity and a decent standard of living," he said, "and the whole point of the labor movement is to help make that happen."


In Mr. King's view, the fight to organize workers and improve their wages and benefits is important, but it's part of a much broader effort to improve the lives of individuals and families throughout the country and beyond. He is a believer in cooperative efforts and shared sacrifice, and is unabashedly idealistic as he outlines what can only be described as a new activism on labor's part.


He promised his members last month that the U.A.W. would be marching and campaigning and organizing — for jobs, for a moratorium on home foreclosures, for civil and human rights and against the mistreatment of immigrants, and for peace.


"The Tea Party has been more vocal than we've been," he said. "There is something wrong with that picture."


This is not the way that prominent leaders in any segment of our society have spoken for a long time. The pragmatists and cynics, who have gotten a stranglehold on the culture, will scoff. But the pragmatists and cynics, with their hubris and half-baked ideologies, have handed all the wealth of the nation to a favored few and left the rest of the society a ragged mess.


It's no accident that the great progressive successes of the labor movement, the civil rights movement, a variety of other social justice movements, and the emergence of a vast and thriving middle class all converged in the early post-World War II decades.


But the counterattack from the right, with its assaults on labor, its outlandishly regressive tax policies, its slavish devotion to corporate power and its divide-and-conquer strategies on racial and ethnic issues all combined to halt the remarkable advances of ordinary working people.


All you have to do now is look around at what the right has wrought.


Bob King has a vision that draws upon the lessons of that postwar period, starting with the basic right of workers to organize if they wish without being terrorized by employers. It was the fact that workers were organized in the auto and other manufacturing industries that sparked the creation of a large middle class in America. Those well-paying union jobs allowed working families to buy a home, to put their children through school, to build better lives.


The wages from those jobs fueled the consumer demand that powered America's economic success.


Even as he looks toward the future, Mr. King is trying to remind us of what went right in the past.









WITH the economy once again showing signs of weakness, many of the nation's leading economists and politicians have been calling for another round of stimulus spending. This week President Obama himself said repeatedly that more action is necessary to spur job creation and to help people looking for work.


The problem is, few voters trust Washington to pay back their big outlays; even fewer are confident that the same groups who benefit from today's stimulus will bear the costs of tomorrow's austerity.


Fortunately, there is a powerful fiscal tool that could address both problems: Congress could grant workers a temporary holiday from the forced savings program known as Social Security.


Under Social Security, nearly all workers pay for their own retirement benefits. The amounts withheld from a worker's paycheck, and paid by his employer, are effectively credited to an account established just for that worker.


The account is strictly on paper, of course; no actual investment is separately maintained. Even so, the tax payments essentially earn the equivalent of a small amount of interest. They are later converted, through a complex formula that emulates the workings of an individual retirement account, into a stream of retirement benefits.


As a result, the more you work and the more you earn in any year (up to an annual limit), the more retirement benefits you accumulate. If you take off four months without pay — say for maternity leave — you not only lose your salary for that period, you also reduce the growth of your Social Security pension.


To stimulate the economy now with no long-term increase in government debt, Congress should therefore temporarily exempt a portion of wages from the Social Security taxes imposed on workers; at the same time, those exempted wages would not be credited in computing that worker's future retirement benefits.


For example, a 40-year-old earning $50,000 and paying annual Social Security taxes of about $3,000 could see those taxes cut to about $2,000. The added $1,000 in his paycheck, along with similar amounts for other workers, could be a huge stimulus to the economy.


In the future, of course, there would be a price to pay: the growth in that worker's retirement benefits would be slightly reduced — much as if he had taken off four months without pay.


But the emphasis should be on "slightly." Because benefits are typically paid over decades, the cost of a temporary $1,000 tax cut would be spread over many years; it could amount to a reduction in annual pension benefits of less than $100. The holiday could even be limited to workers under the age of 55, to allow plenty of time for them to salt away a few extra dollars for retirement once the economy improves.


Best of all, the costs and benefits would be matched to each worker. Those who get a pickup today would pay it back later on. This way, the Keynesians would get their stimulus, and the deficit hawks could sleep better at night.


Social Security has been an astounding success in preparing American workers for retirement. But if we need workers to temporarily increase their spending, a holiday from that forced saving can get cash into the economy — without draining it from the government's coffers.


Donald B. Susswein is a tax lawyer and former adviser on Social Security for the Senate Finance Committee.








Athens, Ga.


ONE of the saddest lessons of this recession is that the United States has no adequate response for rising long-term unemployment. Contrast this with our policy for combating inflation: the Federal Reserve can always reduce the money supply, no Congressional approval required. There isn't a comparable mechanism to create jobs or to protect the long unemployed, no contingency plan that kicks in whenever job losses continue to mount.


During this recession, the Fed has tried to fight unemployment by cutting interest rates, but cheap money that no one wants to borrow is not an employment policy. After all, few businesses want to expand and hire new employees, given weak consumer demand. And though priming the pump with government money is the best way to increase demand, Congress has been reluctant to spend enough to set the economy on the right course.


Then there's the problem of unemployment benefits: Congress must vote on every extension and, with the latest impasse between Senate Republicans and Democrats, more than three million out-of-work Americans could lose their benefit payments by the end of the month. In the worst job market in decades, families won't have money to buy food and maintain health coverage, to keep up with mortgage payments and credit card bills.

It wasn't always this way. In 1970, Congress passed the Federal-State Unemployment Compensation Act, which established an automatic trigger: whenever unemployment increased to a certain point at a national or a state level, benefits were extended by 13 weeks.


The costs of these benefits were shared by the states, which paid them out of their regular unemployment insurance accounts, and the federal government, which increased taxes by about $8 per worker.


In the '80s and '90s, however, Congress diminished the effectiveness of the program by eliminating the national trigger, raising the state triggers and altering the trigger calculations in such a way that they hardly ever took effect. As a result, unemployed Americans now have to wait and worry as lawmakers debate each extension.


Fortunately, there is a simple solution: set up a new trigger. Heather Boushey from the Center for American Progress and I have proposed that whenever a state's total unemployment rate rises above 6.5 percent or jobless claims increase by more than 20 percent, benefits should be offered for an additional 20 or more weeks. This program should be fully financed by the federal government, thereby alleviating states' burden during the recession.


An automatic trigger would provide a tailored response to those states with the worst labor markets and eliminate the need for Congress to revisit this issue every few months. Most important, we could reduce some of the uncertainty for the jobless.


Jeffrey B. Wenger is an associate professor of public policy analysis at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.








THE slowdown among small businesses may well be the most worrisome problem in our ailing economy. Small businesses generate the majority of new jobs; if they falter, the rest of the private sector will, too.


Fortunately, there's an easy way to get them moving again: allow them to speed up the rate at which they can write off depreciating assets. Doing so would save employers money and spur entrepreneurial risk-taking, without increasing the national debt.


As any businessman can tell you, depreciation is a fact of life. All assets lose value, whether because of wear and tear or technological obsolescence. Recognizing this, accounting standards and the federal tax code allow businesses to write off a portion of their assets' decline in value according to preset schedules. These schedules vary from asset class to asset class, though most cover about 10 years.


For many companies, the rate at which they can depreciate assets is critical; it often determines whether or not they can make an investment. Accelerating the depreciation schedule — say, allowing a company to depreciate an asset over two years instead of ten — would put more money in entrepreneurs' pockets, and thus increase capital investments.


True, in the short term the government would lose tax revenue. But it is the same amount the government would lose by allowing the write-off anyway, just over a shorter period of time.


And there could be a fee for anyone using the accelerated schedule, equal to the interest the government would pay on the money it needed to borrow to cover its temporarily lost revenue.


Of course, Congress would want to make sure companies put their savings into new investments. To that end, it could devise a system for rewarding entrepreneurs based on the number of jobs per dollar depreciation created or the environmental worthiness of the project. And the accelerated write-off could be adjusted for specific assets across numerous industries, spurring development in areas where the public can most benefit, from new power plants to hospitals and nursing homes.


The tough part would be devising regulations and administering such a program. Politics is bound to intrude, though an independent review panel could help keep undue influence at bay.


Nevertheless, the reward for getting this policy right would be great — for government, investors, creditors and taxpayers — and it would encourage entrepreneurial enthusiasm throughout the economy.


Barnet Liberman is a real estate developer.











THE slowdown among small businesses may well be the most worrisome problem in our ailing economy. Small businesses generate the majority of new jobs; if they falter, the rest of the private sector will, too.


Fortunately, there's an easy way to get them moving again: allow them to speed up the rate at which they can write off depreciating assets. Doing so would save employers money and spur entrepreneurial risk-taking, without increasing the national debt.


As any businessman can tell you, depreciation is a fact of life. All assets lose value, whether because of wear and tear or technological obsolescence. Recognizing this, accounting standards and the federal tax code allow businesses to write off a portion of their assets' decline in value according to preset schedules. These schedules vary from asset class to asset class, though most cover about 10 years.


For many companies, the rate at which they can depreciate assets is critical; it often determines whether or not they can make an investment. Accelerating the depreciation schedule — say, allowing a company to depreciate an asset over two years instead of ten — would put more money in entrepreneurs' pockets, and thus increase capital investments.


True, in the short term the government would lose tax revenue. But it is the same amount the government would lose by allowing the write-off anyway, just over a shorter period of time.


And there could be a fee for anyone using the accelerated schedule, equal to the interest the government would pay on the money it needed to borrow to cover its temporarily lost revenue.


Of course, Congress would want to make sure companies put their savings into new investments. To that end, it could devise a system for rewarding entrepreneurs based on the number of jobs per dollar depreciation created or the environmental worthiness of the project. And the accelerated write-off could be adjusted for specific assets across numerous industries, spurring development in areas where the public can most benefit, from new power plants to hospitals and nursing homes.


The tough part would be devising regulations and administering such a program. Politics is bound to intrude, though an independent review panel could help keep undue influence at bay.


Nevertheless, the reward for getting this policy right would be great — for government, investors, creditors and taxpayers — and it would encourage entrepreneurial enthusiasm throughout the economy.


Barnet Liberman is a real estate developer.







It's not every day that 2,000 bicycle riders, many from other parts of the country, converge here to participate in a 22-year-old event. That happens just one day a year, the spring day on which the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge bicycle ride is held on the 100-mile route over Walden's Ridge, Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain. It would be a needless shame to alter or jeopardize that event by closing the last and most challenging mountain climb up steep Burkhalter Gap, which many participants hold as the legend which lures them here.

Right now, further use of that road for the race is clouded, and that is clouding the future of the increasingly

popular event. The Dade County Commission decided in May after this year's ride that use of the road for the recreation ride has become too dangerous and should be barred. Since its a local road, and not a state highway, that's the county's prerogative.


Still, that doesn't make it a good decision, or one which shouldn't be reconsidered. Fortunately, controversy and dismay over the decision and the impact on the event has prompted the ride's sponsors and the Dade County Commission to talk, and to sponsor a public forum to hear peoples' sentiment on the issue.


The forum, to be scheduled in August, is a welcome step toward finding common ground on use of the road. There are obvious options to explore to keep the Burkhalter Gap route an integral part of the popular ride, which is typically held on a Saturday.


One option would be too close the road to traffic for the critical hours for that portion of the ride. It comes 80 miles into the 100-mile ride, and it need not be closed before the fastest riders could be expected to reach it, nor would have to be closed the entire day. Closure could be limited to a specified time.


Alternatively, vehicle traffic could be limited to one lane, and traffic flow up and down the gap could be alternated every 30 minutes. Sponsors of the event could find volunteers to manage such arrangements by providing flaggers and communication devices at the top and bottom, and the county could advise residents in advance of the race.


With good will on all sides, the ride easily could continue on its traditional route. The varied benefits of the event are evident: it gives our region more exposure, boosts the economy, builds tourism and promotes a healthy lifestyle and respect for bicycling. It would also make a lot of people happy at little cost or effort. And it would further build a broad sense of community. That would be the best outcome.


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During the Cold War era after World War II, there were many "spy stories" concerning the Soviet Union's extensive espionage against the United States. Most notable -- and most alarming -- were the Communist efforts to gain U.S. nuclear bomb secrets before the Soviet Union was able to make nuclear weapons.


But while international spying surely goes on, there had been few recent spy stories until news came this week that the United States had accepted guilty pleas from 10 Russian spies who had embedded themselves in this country.


The Russians were loaded on a plane to Russia -- in a swap for four Americans who had been convicted in Russia of spying for the West. (An "11th" Russian spy was "missing," having fled authorities in Cyprus while on bail.)


The big question that inquisitive ordinary Americans were asking was this: What U.S. secrets were the Russian spies seeking to discover?


There was no answer.

The Russians living in the United States were said to have operated with false passports, phony names, secret codes, invisible ink and encrypted radio. But we know little else. Because of the nature of the spy business, we may never know much more.







The city of Chicago has had a notoriously strict "gun ban" for nearly three decades. But that has failed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Violent crime has been tragically high in Chicago in recent years despite the city government's efforts to prevent private gun ownership.


And yet, in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms and striking down Chicago's ban, the city has defiantly "doubled down" and imposed stringent gun control through other means.


"As long as I'm mayor, we will never give up or give in to gun violence that continues to threaten every part of our nation, including Chicago," the city's mayor, Richard Daley, said in announcing a new ordinance, which was later approved by the City Council.


Here are some of the new gun-control rules in Chicago:


* Residents may never have more than one handgun in operating order.


* Residents in houses where children live must keep their guns under lock and key. (That would make a gun useless for defense if a violent criminal broke in, because the owner would not be able to get to the gun rapidly.)


* Before buying a gun, a Chicago resident must undergo hours of classes and training, but he must take the training outside the city because gun-range use is forbidden inside Chicago to anyone except a police officer.


* Even prospective gun owners with no criminal record must be fingerprinted -- as if they were presumed to be criminals.


* Every gun owner in Chicago must register his gun with police.


Ironically, one Chicago resident sharply criticized the new ordinance, pointing out that her daughter was gunned down 10 years after the city's original gun ban took effect. And The Chicago Tribune noted that 11 people in "gun-controlled" Chicago were killed by gunmen in just the two weekends prior to the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Second Amendment. (Sixty-five more were shot but survived.)


Gun control hasn't worked in Chicago. It seems silly to keep trying to push a failed policy.


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





Who might be in the best position to understand how dire the problems of illegal aliens, drugs and crime have become along the United States' border with Mexico? Border Patrol agents? Ranchers with families, land and cattle in the region?




But one of the groups of people with the greatest understanding of how bad things are on our border with Mexico would be the sheriffs who handle law enforcement in or near those areas. And the tale that one of those sheriffs tells is harrowing.


In a recent press conference, Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, in southern Arizona, candidly acknowledged that his department is badly under-equipped to fight the massive influx of violent drug smugglers coming up from Mexico. A vast swath of Arizona from the Mexican border almost as far north as Phoenix is simply under the rule of Mexican drug cartels, he said.


"We do not have control of this area," Sheriff Babeu said, according to Human Events magazine.


He lacks the manpower and his deputies lack the firepower to contend with the drug runners, he said. The criminals use military weapons and tactics, and they have even started using bulldozers to smooth border-area dirt roads for drug runs.


Human Events pointed out that the federal government now posts warning signs along an interstate in southern Arizona urging people not to camp or hike in the region.


"Active Drug and Human Smuggling Area," the signs say. "Visitors May Encounter Armed Criminals and Smuggling Vehicles Traveling at High Rates of Speed. ... If You See Suspicious Activity, Do Not Confront!"


The magazine adds, "Think about it. A part of America is off limits to U.S. citizens because it is now controlled by an army of foreigners." That "part of America" even includes an official U.S. wildlife refuge.


Is it any wonder, under such circumstances, that the state of Arizona has enacted a law to fight illegal immigration? Is it not disgusting that the U.S. government has sued Arizona to prevent Arizona from defending itself?








There can be few instances even in the chequered history of our assemblies as disgraceful as the passing of a resolution in the Punjab Assembly on Friday afternoon condemning the media for "irresponsibility that is damaging democracy." Have the 'honourable' members taken complete leave of their collective senses? We live in a country that is tinder dry, the slightest spark can set a blaze that runs from end to end in hours. Passing resolutions such as the Punjab Assembly has just passed is very close to giving their 'followers' on the street a licence to target the media – which our political workers already do with disturbing frequency anyway. Did the MPAs give any thought to that as they passed their hot-headed resolution, a resolution that has its genesis in the fact that some of them have been exposed as cheats and fraudsters who submitted fake degrees to get themselves into the assembly in the first place?

Within hours of the passing of the resolution the Higher Education Commission (HEC) declared invalid the degrees of two federal ministers who had received their degrees from 'non-chartered universities'. Has it escaped the notice of the 'honourable' members that it is not the media that is exposing the fake-degree holders, it is the HEC and the courts, and the media is merely reporting on the matter and commenting on the reports? If the media in general makes fun of those who cheat, or publicise their lies, then they have no one to blame but themselves. It is they who committed the dirty deeds – and what they now find they do not like is having their dirty deeds held up in front of the people. Does this damage democracy? No, because those who used fake degrees to get their seats were the ones who damaged democracy, and democracy will be a lot better off and more credible without these fakers. We want honest parliamentarians and assembly members, who will do an honest job for us, who we can trust and respect, not a bunch of political quacks who purvey snake-oil remedies and then set up a chorus of phony self-righteous indignation when they are found out. 







Our country is enwrapped in a war that is being fought on many fronts. Even as we look in one direction and attempt to find means to address the problem there, the militants strike elsewhere reminding us we must consider this an all-out war – one that is not restricted to a particular region but has spread out across the country. The strike by a suicide bomber in Mohmand Agency is one of the deadliest in months in the tribal areas. The bomber targeted people gathered near the office of the political agent, and the dreadful irony is that people were there for the distribution of wheelchairs for the disabled. Reports from Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar say that there is a high number of women and children among the wounded. Other reports at mid-afternoon on Friday speak of 65 dead and at least 112 wounded – with the figure for the dead almost certain to rise in the coming days and hours.

The pattern has become a familiar one. Just as attention had drifted further south, to Punjab, the militants have shown that they retain the capacity to strike in the north as well. Somewhere, even now, after the fierce military operation across the tribal belt, suicide bombers are being trained, equipped and sent out to create maximum havoc. This is obviously ominous. But worse still there is no way of knowing when the horrors we see again will end. It is hard too to say whether the militants have been genuinely wounded, and if so how badly. For now they seem quite capable of continuing their war and have a remarkable capacity to reappear in places from where they had supposedly been eliminated. It is not known either how they are linked to forces elsewhere in the country, and whether the spate of attacks we have seen across provinces are linked by a common thread of evil that holds together all the militant groups that have set up base in various places. We fight this war in every province of the land, in every one of the tribal areas, and it touches every single one of us.













China and Pakistan just got a little closer, and both are going to feel the long-term benefits of a relationship that is based on mutuality rather than thinly veiled coercion. Our president was stretching a point when he described Pakistan and China as 'the cornerstones of stability in South Asia' – China perhaps; but the words 'stability' and 'Pakistan' are rarely seen in the same sentence. Nevertheless, this has been a productive visit by the president (and his two daughters – one wonders what their role was) with more than platitudes emerging from it. China is a long-term ally and an emerging regional superpower. The Chinese have a trade-rather-than-aid relationship with us that is both pragmatic and practical. Roads and bridges, seaports and now railways are all areas where the Chinese may be of help to us and we to them. 

The Chinese have an eye to their massive investments in Africa, and a railway link between Kashgar and Gawadar would reduce by weeks the time it takes for goods to move between African ports and Chinese markets. Such a link would benefit us in a multiplicity of ways, not least jobs, trade and provincial development. Chinese help with resolving the Attabad lake crisis looks a possibility, an MOU has been signed relating to broadcasting, fibre-optics, seed technology, water conservation and irrigation were all under discussion. There is a possibility that we will see Chinese banks operating here in the not-far future and there is even a possibility of China working with us on the construction of two much-needed dams. These are real solutions to pressing problems, but the Chinese are realists if nothing else. They are not going to be pouring money into support for a losing horse, and the Chinese love for gambling does not extend to their international relations. We need to ensure that the internal environment is conducive to inwards investment, that we cap the well of terrorism currently flowing out of control, and present not just the Chinese but others who could invest in us with low-risk options. Perhaps then the words 'stability' and 'Pakistan' might sit more easily together.







Here we go again! This government's latest own goal comes in the form of a letter to be sent to the Supreme Court by NAB authorities challenging not just the apex court's competence to probe the Bank of Punjab scandal but also the validity of the prime minister's executive order of March 15, 2009, that reinstated the judges. It represents the most direct challenge yet to the authority of the judiciary.

Who gave the NAB prosecutor general carte blanche to prepare a charge sheet against the Supreme Court? How can a petty functionary from a government agency muster up such audacity and impudence of his own volition without the backing of higher authorities? This government has been at pains to bring NAB under the control of the Law Ministry because of which we have seen a steady parade of officials passing through the turnstile as the search continued for compliant officers. A number of former NAB officials have either resigned or gone on extended leave because they found it impossible to work under the stifling influence of the law minister. One such official even admitted before the Supreme Court that the law minister's interference has made implementation of the NRO verdict impossible. But this letter would appear to indicate that the government's search for cooperative officials has finally borne fruit. Having succeeded in bringing NAB under its thumb, the government cannot distance itself from the views expressed in the NAB letter. Lack of action against the concerned NAB officials, along the lines of the firing of Advocate Abdul Basit from representing the government in the NRO implementation case, further proves the government's complicity in the matter.

The fact is that all the issues and questions raised in the NAB letter have already been comprehensively settled in the PCO case verdict, which was unanimously hailed as a watershed by all and sundry. So then why rehash old issues now when the Supreme Court is in the process of deciding the fate of the 18th Amendment and is pushing for the implementation of the NRO verdict? Is the objective to create instability and uncertainty? Or is it to discredit and undermine the judiciary and cloak it in a fog of controversy in the hope that some of the smears might stick?

The nation mobilised in the historic long march of March 15, 2009, for the restoration of the suspended judges and a panic-stricken prime minister had no choice but to submit to the public will or risk the consequences of facing the wrath of the enraged millions if they reached Islamabad. His executive order, therefore, conformed to the will of the political sovereign, i.e. the public, who are the highest legitimising authority in democracy. The whole nation rejoiced at and celebrated the restoration of the judges. If this order was deemed to be invalid, then why did NAB wait sixteen months to raise objections? And if it is illegal then, before anything else, why has the attorney general not taken action against the prime minister for overstepping his authority? 

In any case, the prime minister's order to restore the judges has since been superseded by the Supreme Court's PCO verdict, which declared the PCO to be invalid and illegal ab initio. As such, the validity of the prime minister's executive order is no longer of any consequence. Similarly, if Justice Ramday's appointment as ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court by the prime minister was illegal, why did NAB remain silent for so many months? 

The prime minister stood on the floor of the National Assembly one morning and issued a thinly veiled threat to the judiciary saying that his executive order restoring the judges had yet to be approved by parliament, but then gate-crashed the chief justice's dinner the same evening and invited him to a meeting at the Prime Minister's House the next day in which the issue of the appointment of judges was amicably worked out to everyone's relief. At that time the prime minister was hailed as a hero for saving the government by diffusing tensions between the executive and the judiciary. Why pick on the scabs now when the wound has begun to heal?

Since the NAB letter is not part of court record yet, it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will view it as constituting a contempt of court or not. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that its contents manifest not just a contempt of court but a criminal disregard for constitutional and democratic propriety. Court rulings are not implemented and direct court orders to officials are ignored, but the judiciary seems to be treading lightly these days. The vitality and vigour it displayed in expressing its independence and setting right the obvious wrongs was taken to be judicial activism for which it was severely criticised, not just by the proponents and beneficiaries of the status quo but even by some of those who fought and agitated for judicial independence but have since been marching to the tune of a different drummer. Nevertheless, it needs to be said that at a time when politicians and surprisingly even portions of civil society have accepted the prevailing stench as a fait accompli and have busied themselves in the procurement of personal benefits, the judiciary alone stands as our last line of defence against all that is wrong. If it is silenced or subdued, all will be lost.

Corruption is out of control, national sovereignty has been severely compromised and incompetence in high positions of authority has become intolerable, but we are told to be patient and not do anything to jeopardise the 'system', as if the 'system' is ordained by divine authority. Is it really so difficult to see that there is no system? All that is there is an unimpeded rampage over laws, institutions and established codes of ethics. What is referred to as the 'system' is in fact an open declaration of war against the judiciary, undermining of vital state institutions, fiddling with the Constitution, ostensibly to restore it to its original splendour but with the real objective of hamstring the judiciary and making the elected parliament subservient to unelected party heads, imposition of governor's rule in Punjab (which is being threatened once again) and a plethora of massive corruption scandals that are far too numerous to be fully chronicled in this limited space. And let us not forget the new NAB laws that are reportedly on the drawing boards that will legalise and institutionalise loot and plunder. This is the 'system' some are so desperate to preserve. Patience is a virtue but even virtues have their limits. At this rate, pretty soon there will be neither a 'system' nor a country left to save.

The legacy this government is likely to yield is the dismantling of the edifice of Pakistani state by systematically undermining and corroding the institutions that support it. If what remains of the state implodes, the reverberations will resonate around the world with far greater force than the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York. Unholy hell will, no doubt, be unleashed on us if that happens, but it is hard to see how this will advance the interests of those foreign powers that have vested security interests in this region.

The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.








The nation seems badly divided in the wake of the dastardly terrorist attack on one of the holiest and most revered shrine of the subcontinent, the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh. Instead of their putting up a unified front, the Centre and Punjab are engaged in a war of words and the blame game between them has intensified and reached ridiculous proportions. 

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Punjab government headed by Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif seems to be in a state of shock and is not willing to accept the stark reality that the province has become a fulcrum of terrorism in the country. Any suggestion that the militants perpetrating these heinous terrorist attacks belong to Punjab, and that they have safe havens and training camps in the province, evokes a strong reaction from the PML-N leadership. 

Fresh revelations that the GHQ is unhappy with the Punjab government's inaction against the "Punjabi Taliban" will cause further embarrassment for the chief minister. Another report, based on Punjab's supplementary budget, that more than Rs85 million was distributed to religious organisations and persons in the previous financial year, will be used by critics in support of their charge that there is a nexus between the PML-N and jihadi organisations. 

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's convening of a meeting of all the chief ministers to review the situation and agreeing to Mian Nawaz Sharif's suggestion to convene a national conference on terrorism has somewhat defused the situation. However, without thorough preparation and groundwork, such a conference would achieve little. Perhaps that is why the agenda and the date of convening the conference have not been announced. 

It is stating the obvious that the nation needs a workable, consensual and comprehensive anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency policy to deal with a menace which is devouring the state at an alarming pace. Apart from administrative and governance measures, the problem has multifaceted foreign policy, strategic, economic and social dimensions.

All major political and religious parties, as well as the armed forces and the intelligence agencies, should be on the same page in such a strategy. That fact that religious forces and political parties of the country having there own and disparate interpretations about the genesis of the problem renders the task of evolving a consensus virtually impossible.

Some of the religious parties believe in an Islamic state as envisaged by the Taliban, while there are those which actually aid and abet them. Many are convinced that if the US leaves Afghanistan the problem will somehow go away. Others trace the problem to US drone attacks and the heavy collateral damage they are inflicting on the civilian population. Nevertheless, a concerted effort should be made to at least bring those elements on board which are reconcilable and are against terrorism. Various religious parties and ulema have condemned the Data Durbar massacre in unequivocal terms. There is urgent need to build on this consensus. 

The most worrisome factor, however, is the state of denial on part of the politicians. Sadly enough, instead of grasping the gravity of the situation, the politicians have turned terrorism into an issue for politicking and one-upmanship. The PML-N, the PPP and its coalition partners represent a wide political spectrum of the country. The leadership of the two parties are seen indulging in a war of words, and this demeans the whole political process. 

The PML-N perhaps feels that it is being deliberately targeted when it is stated that the terrorists operating in Punjab belong to Punjab. According to Mian Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother, who is also the chief minister of the province, the terrorists should not be slotted to certain region. However, to claim that terrorists do not belong to any particular territory, nor have a religion, is a mere cliché.

How can one deny the incontrovertible reality that most of the recent terrorist incidents in Lahore were perpetrated by Punjab-based elements? Previously, acts of terrorism were restricted to Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa, but in recent months Lahore is their specific target. Attacks on Ahmedi worship places, on video shops on Hall Road and, more recently, the Data Durbar massacre, have all taken place on Mian Shahbaz Sharif's watch. 

Unlike his previous response when the attacks on Ahmedis took place, the chief minister, understandably beleaguered and harried, promptly visited the site and announced compensation for the victims. However, inexplicably reading from a written text he literally stuck to the message by refusing to accept any blame, responsibility or lapse on the part of his administration. Instead, he put the blame on the federal government by accusing it of not sharing intelligence information with Punjab, a charge promptly denied by Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

To his credit, after attending the meeting on law and order chaired by the prime minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif promptly announced a ban on 23 militant organisations. Most of these organisations were previously banned as well, but they cropped up again under different names, but mostly under the same leaders. The much-maligned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, an outfit allegedly having links with Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, was banned in 2002, soon re-emerged under the banner of Ahle Sunnat wal Jammat.

It is obvious that if intelligence agencies and political parties continue to use these outfits for their own respective agendas merely banning them would not work and this hydra-headed monster will resurface under different names. Hence, political will is needed not only to ban such outfits or freeze their funds but also to curtail their activities. The anti-terrorism legislation on the anvil should address these issues.

The federal government, with much fanfare, announced the creation of the National Counter-terrorism Authority (NTCA) a year ago. Initially the so-called authority neither had a proper office nor a budget. Now the NTCA has been provided with a budget, although it is not adequate enough for the raising of a force of its own, as was originally envisaged. As a result, another tier of bureaucracy has been created.

Predictably, Mian Nawaz Sharif wants the federal government to negotiate with the Taliban militants "to end the relentless security crisis in the country." He is of the view that the government, instead of waiting for directives from Washington, should talk to the Taliban "who are ready to listen and ready to talk." The federal government should take the PML-N supremo on his offer and seek his help in identifying such moderate elements.

The military is already trying to initiate such talks. Why not involve political stakeholders, especially those who have a soft spot for the Taliban way of life? If, as a result of the proposed conference on terrorism, a consensus is reached on administrative, political and socio economic measures to deal with the crisis, it will be a big achievement.

The problem is of such gigantic proportions that no one party alone can deal with it. In order to evolve a consensus, the two major political parties of the country, PML-N and the PPP also signatories to the much touted Charter of Democracy (CoD) should rise above their petty squabbles. Mian Nawaz has already left for London on a personal visit. His presence should be assured in the conference proposed by him. Otherwise it will be an exercise in futility.

The proposed National Counter-terrorism Strategy should examine issues such as US drone attacks taking place with increasing frequency, with the tacit approval of the government and the alleged human rights violations by our own forces in combat areas. Furthermore, measures to improve the failing economy and governance in order to reduce poverty need to be urgently addressed. For that to happen, the federal government will have to reinvent the wheel and change its own style of governance. 

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:







July 11, World Population Day, holds special significance for Pakistan, the sixth-most populous country in the world. In a country where food, water, energy, education, healthcare, social welfare, and job opportunities are scarce for the existing population of 173.5 million, the addition of another 173.5 million over the next 34 years will pose a crippling burden in view of prevailing resource constraints. 

Population, therefore, is a true denominator for development. Additionally, a burgeoning young population with limited economic opportunities and social welfare means fuelling the fire of extremism, given that these "bleak youths" would be the perfect targets for exploitation by the extremists. For Pakistan population is also the denominator for internal security. 

We tend to place the responsibility for rising population on the underperforming population welfare programme. That shouldn't be the case. International experiences show that fertility decline is correlated with the level of socioeconomic development in a society. In other countries where it has been achieved, regulatory measures--as in the case of China's one-child policy--have been at play. The former is not the context in Pakistan and the latter not possible owing to the mistaken notion among the masses that family planning is forbidden by religion.

All hopes are therefore pinned on the performance of the country's population programme. This, perhaps, is also the reason for the current interest in the National Population Policy, 2010, which is in the final stages of review. The policy is important as it will come at a time when many structural changes are taking shape. In essence, therefore, the policy will be indicative of how the state system is adapting. With resources now shifted to the provinces--the 18th Amendment's calling for the wrapping up of the ministry of population welfare (MoPW), after the abolition of the concurrent list and the IMF's conditionality stipulating likewise--a policy issued from a federal level in a domain which is normatively and fiscally provincial will have to make very good sense in order for it to be palatable. These points are likely to be raised at the next meeting of the National Commission on Population Welfare, the inter-provincial forum where the policy is likely to be discussed prior to the cabinet's review.

This comment outlines three areas. 

First, the policy should be commensurate with stipulated mandates in the sector. It must garner provincial ownership and clearly outline roles and responsibilities. With population as a sector now completely in the provincial domain, would it be possible to carve out a role to justify the existence of the ministry of population welfare? It would, if the ministry devolves its service delivery responsibilities and focuses on a normative role. The MoPW has an untapped potential to assume a leadership role in the population-development paradigm, which remained overshadowed because service delivery responsibilities had previously crowded out the space for normative functions. Given the strategic importance of population control, a transformed MoPW, lean and competent, could be a good economic investment even in today's resource-challenged environment. 

A service delivery mandate doesn't mean the provinces shouldn't pay heed to evidence. An earlier, pre-18th Amendment draft of the policy--the current draft is not in the public domain--had outlined an ambitious plan for increasing infrastructure with targets outlined for increase in the number of Family Welfare Centres and Reproductive Health Centres. Even if this has provincial consent, the strategy needs revisiting for a number of reasons: there is currently a moratorium on new infrastructure in many government polices, with which this clearly conflicts. Additionally, there is no convincing evidence of existing arrangements being efficient, which is why the fundamental premise of "state-owned and -operated infrastructure" is under question. 

Secondly, the policy should be clear on one of the burning governance issues in the population/health sectors, relating to the standalone status of the respective ministries. Pakistan is one of the two countries in the world, Egypt being the other, where the health and population ministries are separate. Several attempts have been made by the government in the past to merge both the institutional hierarchies. When this didn't appear feasible, the UNFPA coined the term "functional integration" in 1998, which then became the mantra and endpoint in efforts to achieve institutional collaboration. However, reluctance on the part of both sides--federal and provincial--has been evident with many directives remaining unimplemented, including directives of the executive committee of the National Economic Council, the federal cabinet and the National Commission on Population Welfare in 1985, 1991 and 2006, respectively. The rationale for functional integration is strong. Health and population have shared agendas, as emphasised by the International Conference on Population and Developments, which aimed at a paradigm shift from family planning being a demographic target to a reproductive health endpoint.

A special supplement of the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association featured an analysis on this subject last year, outlining actions that could be taken to bridge the health-population disconnect ( It would be an imperative for a new policy to come out loud and clear with the specifics of "what," "how" and "when" to eliminate duplications and maximise synergies. 

Since changes are also happening simultaneously in the health sector, it appears that the sustainable long-term solution to the existing population-health disconnect centres on strengthening capacity of both the ministries for normative and oversight functions and grouping and benchmarking health and family planning as essential services to be provided through reconstituted service delivery arrangements.

Thirdly, the policy should adequately recognise existing inefficiencies in the population programme. MoPW functionaries are well aware of the pervasive collusion in the field operations of the population programme. Commodities are pilfered, fees are charged for services that are meant to be provided free and there is deliberate inattention to oversight. State resources are wasted as a result and service delivery is undermined. Changes within the existing payment and incentive systems to remedy these fault lines should be a priority for the new policy.

In a way, this links to the critical question in governance--one relating to implementation of policies. There has been no dearth of population "policy instruments" in Pakistan. The work of the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, an NGO, which predated the governments programme, was supported officially by the government in the early 1950s. Since the early 1960's every Five-Year Plan has made allocations for the sector, regardless of whether "population" was housed under the ministry of health and labour (as during the first four Five-Year Plans) or the Planning Commission, and later when it was a given the status of a ministry in 1990. Additionally, the Population Policy was enunciated in 2002 and the NCPW was created in 2006. Furthermore, all health policies, enunciated to date in 1990, 1997 and 2001 have focused on the population issue to some extent.

In theory, Population Policy 2010 has been well articulated, especially with respect to the domains, which needed to be covered in a policy document. However, this framework must be more than stated rhetoric. It must empower institutions to "do more," so that the systemic constraints that stand in the way of implementing the policy can be overcome.

The writer is the author of a recently published book on health reform, Choked Pipes. Email: sania@







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The issue of filing fake degrees to qualify as candidates for the national and provincial legislators is now haunting our politicos. Investigating the issue is a conspiracy against democracy, we are told, for at least two reasons: One, the graduation requirement imposed by a dictator as a mandatory criterion to be satisfied by public representatives in fact disenfranchised an overwhelming majority of our population and was a fraud on democracy itself; and two, with the graduation qualification no longer being a legal requirement for standing in electoral contests, the timing of this issue coming to the limelight is not just suspect but a sinister design to hold midterm polls which will tantamount to derailing democracy. But then is this an issue regarding educational ualification or fraud?

The reaction in Pakistan to the fake degree scandal has been extremely insightful. Those in the political arena caught with their pants down and others sympathetic to them subscribe to the conspiracy theory. On the other extreme are the drawing-room liberals and closet Praetorians who identify the Jamshed Dastis as evil incarnate and declare that the representative process in Pakistan will only throw up cheats and clowns and we are therefore not a nation fit for democracy. In the middle on the one side are apologists of the cheats who recommend that a general amnesty scheme be legislated to avoid accountability and by-elections this time and to let bygones be bygones. And on the other side are cynics who claim that genuine across-the-board accountability is not possible as everyone has skeletons in the closet and the angels that we seek through strict implementation of electoral laws are simply not in our midst. Unfortunately, both the arguments – the one assuming an imminent threat to the 'system' and democracy, and the one declaring us unfit for self-governance – spring from the flawed belief that our present political dispensation, the autocratic structure of our political parties, our corrupt political ethos and compromised electoral processes will continue to define democracy in Pakistan for all times.

Both the arguments suggest implicitly that the only choice available is between the type of messy democracy presently being practiced and an autocratic setup controlled by the khakis. Why should this woebegone nation allow its fate to be hung on a Hobson's choice? Why must criticism of Asif Zardari or Nawaz Sharif and the political class that they lead be interpreted as an invitation to khakis? How does one's disdain for Jamshed Dasti and the party structure, political culture and electoral process that facilitates his reelection as a national legislator translate into love for military dictatorship? Why would a large number of by-elections and cleansing of political stables derail democracy and threaten the system?

What is this 'system' that we are trying to preserve here? Must we preserve the sum total of a system without any amends that allows and encourages ruling political elites to make hay while the sun shines at the cost and peril of the distraught people of Pakistan? Just because we have suffered at the hands of rotten generals and their abettors in the bureaucracy, judiciary and the political class over the last 63 years, are we now condemned to suffer indefinitely at the hands of rotten politicians and the pygmies that surround them? Where does the ruling political class acquire this sense of entitlement? 

Is the plunder by our representatives preferable to that of the generals because it has some trickle-down quality? A bad democracy is most certainly better than the best dictatorship. But aren't these fake choices? It is a widely accepted thesis that dictatorships and dysfunctional civilian autocracies are two sides of the same coin. A political class that begins to believe and advocate that hiding or justifying the blemishes, incompetence, malfeasance and corruption of ruling civilian elites is a recipe for strengthening democracy and investment in the continuity of the political process is only deceiving itself. 

Unequivocal and unconditional support to a political class committed to nurturing, retaining and defending its prevalent ethic comprising dishonesty, lack of integrity and contempt for the law is the surest way of encouraging our khaki saviors. Let us remember that the resistance that our nation mounted against the Musharraf regime was not motivated by a burning desire to see the Bhutto family or the Sharif family once again take turns at running nonperforming governments. The struggle for democracy was driven by the principles of self-governance and constitutionalism and subsisted despite the fact that we would see a return of political dispensations that have been tried before and found wanting.

Notwithstanding the various limitations of the Charter of Democracy, the document was well received and celebrated in Pakistan as it lit a candle of hope that the political class had learnt from the mistakes it made during the lost decade of 1990s. This hope started to dissipate with the breakup of the coalition between the PPP and the PML-N, once the former dug its feet over the issue of restoration of the judges. And with each passing day and week the general sense that the ruling political clique is neither interested in making a serious effort to deliver vital services to citizens through a functional system of governance nor willing to review a political ethic rotten to the core gets further entrenched.

It is this realization and the audacious defense of otherwise indefensible acts of the ruling regime and its cronies that is challenging the argument that continuity of the representative process will build sustainable democracy overtime. How does continuity of the process help, critics ask, if all continuity will do is produce more of the same politics and politicos that have landed us in the mess we are presently in. Returning to the fake degrees, this scandal isn't about educational qualification or whether or not such qualification was desirable or legitimate in the first place. It is about lack of personal integrity, corrupt ethical values, use of deceit to achieve a personal end and shamelessly justifying wrongdoing when caught red-handed.

If democracy is to survive and prosper in Pakistan we must put to practice the principle that the authority vested in public representatives and office-holders is a scared trust to be exercised for the benefit of the people. How can you allow someone to become or remain a fiduciary that not only lies and cheats his way to such position of responsibility but also defends such deceit? The degree scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. It has thrown light on the serious flaws that mar our electoral process. The provision of the Representatives of Peoples Act that required honest declaration of educational qualifications also requires honest declaration of financial assets and liabilities. And such disclosure is still a mandatory legal obligation, adherence to which must be scrutinized.

Our law prohibits ruling national and provincial governments from using state resources to influence the outcome of elections. And while the federal and the Punjab governments have both used the entire state machinery and authority at their disposal to campaign for their respective candidates, the Election Commission has taken no cognizance of such blatant disregard of the law. Likewise, we have had no serious public discourse on campaign finance requirements that are crucial to weed out financial corruption from the political process and lower the barriers against entry into politics. While our law mandates that the total expense on an election (by the candidate and his supporters) must not exceed one million rupees, we have never heard of anyone getting disqualified due to enforcement of this requirement.

The now maligned ethic of expediency and success that helped justify military takeovers and polluted our constitutional jurisprudence is no less harmful to democracy when practiced in the political arena. Let us continue to reject arguments that entice us to do the wrong things for seemingly right reasons.







Dialogue has commenced once again between India and Pakistan, let us all hope and pray that these talks do not fall victim to any mischief. International trade is a crucial activity for both countries, which some people think can be a good starting point in bringing lasting peace to the region. India is building itself as shining example of open economy with leapfrogging GDP growth rates and higher levels of investment. Foreign investors look favorably to Indian markets due to reliable security situation, consistent policies and ever-growing appetite for consumption by middle-class Indians.

While the rest of the countries are jumping over one another to get a piece of the rising and shinning India's profitability , we, the most natural partners by virtue of our very close proximity (besides many other factors), are not even in line for sharing the boons of economic relationships.

Benefits of forging strong economic relationships between the two countries are not hidden from anyone. A quick Google search opens up several academic and non-academic studies on the topics of free trade between India and Pakistan. 

A study available on State Bank of Pakistan's website reports that for year 2004-05 our annual trade with India was only $836 million, just 2 per cent of our total trade for that year. Quoting another study the report states that the cost of non-cooperation in the region for Pakistan is $511 million annually (this figure is for region but considering India's size the bulk of this figure can be attributed to it). We also need to keep in mind that these figures are at least five years old, think about how much begging we have to do for a similar tranche from international financial institutions. This does not end here, the document quotes from a World Bank study which put the potential gains from trade with India in 2002 at $1.3 billion or 1.8 per cent of Pakistan's GNP in 2002. This amount in current dollar terms would definitely be much more than that.

According to a working paper of Indian Council for Research on International Economics (ICRIE), Pakistan can benefit from India in strengthening a number of economic sectors. The most important one from Pakistan's perspective is that of textile design. Textile being the largest component of our exports makes it a strategic sector; however, it is not hidden from anyone that we have made little headway in modernising the sector. Indians, due to their superior technology background, have made progress in textile design particularly in computer-aided designing; a partnership with India can bolster this area of our traditional strength and will help us improve the share of value-added textile products in our exports. Then there are areas like energy, India is building hundreds of dams while we still don't have enough budgetary allocation for building just one Diamir-Basha dam. 

The ICRIE study also highlights that the costs related to trade between the two countries through indirect routes are nearly three times of the costs if goods were transferred directly. While in the presence of such high costs a policy brief published by the Peterson Institute of International Economics revealed that informal trade between two countries (mostly via Dubai) amounts to $3 billion per year. This certainly points to the fact that even under increased transportation costs there is still huge potential for the two countries. 

With so much benefit attached to improving economic relations, we made any progress in that direction because of inherent mistrust and enmity between the institutions of the two countries. As individuals we all want peace but the problem lies at the institutional level. A very interesting experiment, at improving relations through institutional efforts, is taking shape in the form of "Aman ki Asha". Let us hope this brings the two countries together for peace. 

The writer is a policy analyst. Email:








EVEN after completion of the much-trumpeted UN probe into tragic assassination of former Prime Minister and PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto, we are as clueless to what happened as we were on the first day of the gory incident. Majority of people of Pakistan always doubted the sagacity of referring the case to the world body but now even the governmental circles seem to be disappointed over the outcome of the investigations.

This is evident from a letter formally written by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to the UN Secretary General, which was released in New York on Thursday as a document of the United Nations. In the said letter the PPP Government has pointed out a spate of inaccuracies and unsubstantiated observations in the UN report saying that such unauthenticated inferences hold no credence at any level. It is ironical that futility of the exercise dawned upon the PPP leaders after spending millions of dollars on the UN probe, which produced nothing substantial but added to the confusion. In the first place, there was absolutely no justification to refer the case to the UN when we have about a dozen agencies fully capable of carrying out such investigations. Some people might have doubted the neutrality of the inquiry during tenure of the previous Government but now the PPP was in power and it could have ensured its transparency. Secondly, experts had been pointing out that the mandate of the UN investigation team was very limited as it was never allowed to pinpoint individuals or entities responsible for the tragedy. In the absence of a comprehensive mandate the very purpose of going to UN became questionable and that is why there were objections from different circles despite the fact that the PPP was able to get unanimous resolutions adopted from legislatures for the purpose. All this leads some people to believe that the PPP leadership was not serious in exposing those behind the conspiracy of killing a leader of international stature and just wants to drag on the issue for politicking. In any case, it was a folly to go to the UN, as the world body's report highlighted only those aspects and circumstances that were already known to each and every Pakistani. The report is nothing but compilation of hearsay and press clippings and amounts to sheer wastage of money and time. 








IN the backdrop of fast changing regional and global developments, the Director General, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) General Ahmad Shuja Pasha has pleaded for review of the country's existing counter-terrorism strategy. During a briefing to the Parliament's Special Committee on National Security, he did not elaborate in details but wanted a change in the national policy because of changes in US policy about dealing with terrorists in Afghanistan and the Afghan Government's focus on finding an indigenous solution to the problem.

With growing realisation in the West that the Afghan war was not winnable at any cost, new ideas are emerging and initiatives taken on almost daily basis to get out of the Afghan quagmire. In the face of growing body-bags and surging cost, the United States is in search of face saving options and at the moment the entire policy is being reviewed especially after blunt remarks of General Stanley McCrystal which were indicative of the growing frustration of the American troops in Afghanistan. Though Americans are still posing to rely on the troops surge but they are eager to talk to Taliban themselves and are also encouraging President Hamid Karzai to do so in the name of national reconciliation. President Karzai is also seeking active cooperation of Pakistan to make the dialogue process result oriented, which Pakistan has assured to extend. However, the Americans have a quite opposite policy for Pakistan and wants the government and Pakistan Army to open more fronts instead of initiating dialogue with Taliban. They are pushing the Government to launch military operation in North Waziristan and there are reasons to believe that some foreign forces are destabilising Punjab as well to create justification for launching operation South Punjab as well. Regrettably, some elements in the system are also working to advance the American agenda and interests by indulging in rhetoric. In this backdrop, words of wisdom of General Pasha need to be paid full attention by the policy-makers as they come from a man who has intimate knowledge of the entire situation, regional and international conspiracies.







REFORMS in the UN Security Council are under consideration for several years yet no consensus is in sight in the near future. Pakistan's Permanent Representative at the UN Abdullah Hussain Haroon at a closed door session of the General Assembly Thursday called for increasing the number of non permanent members in an effort to balance the power of five veto wielding countries. 

The UNSC shoulders the important mission of maintaining world peace and security. Even though the geopolitical realities have changed drastically since 1945, when the set-up of the current Council was decided, the Security Council changed very little during this long period. Pakistan and the Unity for Consensus (UFC) group in their proposal have sought 10 non-permanent seats saying new corridors of powers should not be created. Pakistan from the very beginning has been stressing that a negotiated settlement of the issue with broadest possible support was the only way to achieve progress on the issue of the Security Council. India, Japan, Germany and Brazil have been aspiring to become permanent members of the Council but there has been strong opposition from Italy, South Korea, Pakistan and the African countries. We think one thing should be clear that those countries which have violated the UN resolutions should not be considered for any permanent role in the Security Council. India is one of those countries, which has shown no respect to the UN Resolutions on Kashmir. Also we believe that the Council representation must be broad based to make it more acceptable to 192 members of the General Assembly. Though permanent members were not selected on regional or religious basis when the Council was formed but African and Islamic countries, which have almost half of the world population, and facing the issues of peace and security would be denied representation at the world body if one goes by the present thinking. We strongly believe that there must be representation of OIC and African Union in the UNSC and the two blocks may be asked to nominate members for this purpose. We hope that the international community would reach a consensus through earnest and serious negotiations and eventually work out a solution that is acceptable to all countries. If so, the Security Council would be able to better fulfill its sacred responsibilities of maintaining world peace and security bestowed onto it by the Charter of the United Nations.








The Indian Held Kashmir boils again. Last week, police killed three youth in IHK, and there were protests in the valley over the atrocities committed on Kashmiri youth. Curfew has been clamped in Srinagar to prevent people from holding protest demonstrations against the recent killing of protesters by Indian troops. Reports from Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Handwara, Islamabad, Koimoh, Pulwama and Kakpora towns said that curfew was being strictly enforced and people are suffering because they are unable to buy food and items of daily use due to the curfew. According Kashmir Media Service 33 people have been killed by Indian paramilitary forces' during the month of June 2010 including four children. 

The APHC Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a statement in Srinagar said that no power on earth could stop the Kashmir people from continuing their liberation struggle. He urged the international community to send teams to the occupied territory for taking stock of the situation. Unfortunately, international community turns a blind eye to Indian brutalities highlighted by the Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations. The 'champions' of human rights US and the West give overriding consideration to their commercial interests with plus-one billion market rather than human rights. For the last six decades, Kashmiris are facing death and destruction, and even today young Kashmiris are being killed in fake encounters; women are being raped. And repression and state terrorism have turned Kashmir into a hell that would stretch Dante's imagination. After facing unprecedented repression for four decades from 1948 to 1988, valiant Kashmiris started armed struggle in 1989 and since then at least 90000 Kashmiris have laid down their lives. However, they are determined to take their struggle to the logical conclusion. There are some parallelism between Kashmir, Palestine and Bosnia so far as genocide of the Muslims is concerned, but the Kashmir dispute is different in a way that it was India that took the Kashmir issue to the UN under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which deals with Pacific Settlement of Disputes. The Security Council then passed the resolution on January 5, 1949 stating: "The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan would be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite". But it was due to apathy of international community that it did not persuade India to implement the UNSC resolution. Nevertheless, the issue is alive in the UN records, and unless it is resolved there cannot be a durable peace in the region. 

However, European countries sometimes do raise the issue of human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir. In 2008, the European Parliament had debated on mass graves in Indian Held Kashmir during the plenary session of European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. And passed the resolution which reads: "Hundreds of unidentified graves have been discovered since 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir and human rights violations committed by the armed forces of India continue in an atmosphere of impunity". It called upon the Indian government "to urgently ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected sites of mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir and as an immediate first step to secure the grave sites in order to preserve the evidence." Hundreds of unnamed graves were already discovered by a human rights group in Kashmir recently. Most of those buried in the graves are believed to be victims of fake encounters by the Indian armed forces. In another development, the Norwegian government termed the new discoveries of unidentified graves in Indian-controlled Kashmir as alarming despite the fact that India was signatory to UN's Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. 

In April, 2008, Amnesty International had urged the Indian government to launch urgent investigation into the mass graves, which were thought to contain the remains of victims of human rights abuses in the context of the armed conflict that has raged in the region since 1989. Unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture are violations of both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, set out in treaties to which India is a signatory. They also constitute international crimes. Amnesty International has also called on the Indian government to unequivocally condemn enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir and ensure that prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all sites of mass graves in the region are immediately carried out by forensic experts in line with the relevant UN Model Protocol. Unfortunately, even Muslim countries that have been supporting Pakistan and insisting on implementation of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir have now started the litany that the Kashmir dispute be resolved through bilateral negotiations. It is true that according to Tashkent Declaration after 1965 War and Simla Agreement after 1971 War, both India and Pakistan had agreed to resolve all disputes through bilateral dialogue but both countries had quite a few rounds of dialogue but to no avail. The problem is that the US and European countries have double standards. Take the case of East Timor, a resolution was passed and implemented within months. In 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, once again UN Security Council passed the resolution, which was implemented in weeks. Since the beginning of the ongoing composite dialogue, The US, EU and even Muslim countries who ask Pakistan to resolve the issue through bilateral negotiations as provided in Tashkent and Simla agreements should understand that those agreements were signed under duress. Secondly, article 103 of Chapter XVI of the UN Charter clearly states: "In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the members of the United Nations under the present Charter or any other international agreement, their obligation under the present charter shall prevail". It goes without saying that people to people contact, cultural exchanges and economic cooperation are not alternatives to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. International community should, therefore, help resolve the Kashmir dispute to avert the impending disaster in case of war between the two atomic powers. 

Whereas war is not an option between two nuclear states and composite dialogue might have facilitated people-to- people contact, Kashmiris see few benefits from the confidence building measures between India and Pakistan. In Kashmiris had also protested against Indian government efforts to bring about the demographic change by facilitating Hindus to settle down in large numbers in Jammu and Kashmir. Amarnath land transfer and taking a large chunk of land by Indian army personnel is a case in point. International community should ask India to stop killing of the Kashmiri youth and resolve the issue according to UN resolutions.








Suicide bombing is not only violent, it is an inhuman act. In Islam there is absolutely no scope for such suicide terrorist attacks. No religion, philosophy or belief of any religion allows for this that a person becomes reactionary because of his disagreeing with the government on some issue and he starts spilling the blood of innocent people. The suicide attacks seem to be watching a terror movie about some psychopath. The high disdain results in the reveling of blood of civilians which our religion does not allow. It is the sad fact that the working people now feel afraid of going to their work places on Fridays and most of them even take leave on that day and do not feel like sending their kids to the schools. Which factors are to be held accountable for this tragic scenario? Is poverty to be blamed or there are the other problems? These bombers also force us to contemplate what are the reasons which are responsible for producing such youngsters who are ready to die and for which cause specifically? Are economic reasons responsible for this or inequities in the social justice system give way to such an attitude? Is the government failed to establish its writ? 

Widespread hatred for America becomes one of the reasons for such brutal attacks. Sectarian rivalry can become one of the causes but it is not much evident. The Taliban have their sanctuaries in the North Western tribal agencies. There they have ethnic, linguistic and historic links. They use the card of religion to promote their interests. Their concepts are myopic. They have their own political agenda and their actions represent a home grown insurgency. The American drone attacks in the tribal areas have exacerbated the resentment of these Talibans and they have unleashed terror on innocent civilians. There are different raison deter for the suicide bombings. One acquaintance of mine told me that he belongs to the area of Mianwali and there this is a frequent practice that the terrorists kidnap the innocent people and then force the relatives to do such terror attacks for the safe return of their dear ones. Then there is the display of revenge by those who lost their loved ones without any guilt. They are some frustrated people whose families suffer heavily in some incidence and they become vindictive and even do not vacillate to take care of their own lives. However there is a need to convince such people that it is not justified to kill the guiltless persons in retaliation. If a particular police officer has punished a person then does it mean that all the police officers are bad? We are generally prone to generalize the facts? There is a need to develop in us an inductive rather than deductive approach. The religious people and institutes can play a very vital role in this regard. They can mitigate the feelings of hatred instead of airing them. Especially the people living in the distant areas are influenced by them a lot. A great national responsibility lies on them to purge the minds of the illiterate simpletons. They must tell them that there is a need to consider that the Muslims should break the barriers of sect or clan. If they start imparting the teachings of Islam in their true hue, many of our problems can be solved.

Why do not they learn from Fateh Makkah? Our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH) on that occasion announced that no harm will come to the civilians. The person who will close the door would be spared. No harm will come to the innocent women and little kids. Our religion clearly forbids hurting civilians even in times of war. Its teachings are very lucid. Why do not the religious clergies spread such teachings among the people in stead of instigating them to wage a war against a particular sect? Islam is the most forward looking religion of the world which manifests modernism in its nascent form. It has given the maximum freedom and respect to the women. It teaches peace. The lessons of our Holy Prophet also aim at imbibing tolerance, avoiding extremes and shunning every kind of profligacy. Islam says that a person who kills one person is just as he kills the whole humanity. 

To equate Islam with terrorism is a misnomer. The Madina Charter, the clauses of which are incorporated in the Human Rights charter of UN, is a supreme example of tolerance. It demonstrates that our religion provides vivid safeguards for human rights of minorities. How can this religion advocate totalitarianism? There is a need to foil the malicious propaganda of the West in an appropriate way by citing such examples. These suicide attacks are a conspiracy hatched against Islam. Our religion does not teach extremism. On the contrary it preaches the policy of golden mean. It favours the observance of moderation in every strata of life, be it is worship or worldliness. One thing which I would like to share is the poignant reality that our madaris do not prepare the students which they ought to in real sense of the term. On questioning some young boys coming out of a religious seminary in Islamabad about their parental home, they told me some were from Battagram or from Kashmir. Obviously for months they are unabale to meet their parents. In such a young and impressionable age the parents leave their kids on the mercy of semi educated madrassa teachers. What do you expect which kind of personalities they will acquire in the long run? Definitely they will believe what they are taught or in other words what they are brainwashed. An English Philosopher, John Locke described the mind of a young child as tabula rasa, meaning as blank sheet. It means that what so ever you imprint on this blank sheet, the child starts taking it for granted. I do not imply that all religious seminaries are bad, but some have actually become the safe havens and breeding places for these terrorists who have vowed to disrupt the peace and prosperity of our nation. The parents must take care to give it a second thought before sending their vulnerable children to remote religious schools. In such a case the kids remain away from their homes for a great period of time and become a handmaid to preach the teachings imparted to them. 

Moreover the government should pay special attention to improve the pathetic condition of such institutes. I had a chance to talk to many girls who were the regular students of such schools doing alma fazla course. They were living in hostels and narrated dismal stories about the living condition of girls over there. Almost every second girl was experiencing hallucinations mostly described as the spell of evil spirits. I was bewildered and felt sorry for the tales they told me. There were no arrangements for the proper provision of hygienic food or medical facilities as well. In such a scenario only a narrow minded student with very rigid outlook and abstract notions can come forward. We must take care to amend this all lest it is too late. The syllabus also needs the modifications. 

It must be modernized. The science subjects should be included along with fiqah and hadith. In order to promote interfaith harmony an attempt can be done to devise a uniform syllabus for different sects as we see in case of Egypt and Lybia. I assume that this will not be an exercise in futility. There are some misguided jihadis who resort to Jihad fil qital. They think that America invaeded Afghanistan and Iraq and killed thousands of innocent Muslims and has launched aggression against Muslims and so the survival of Muslims is at stake. Therefore it is time when jihad is obligatory, to stand against them and also against those who are favouring their designs i.e. Pakistani government. The persons whose hatred towards Israel and US is limitless and he deems towing the American policies is incorrect takes recourse to violent actions. They brand this struggle as jihad but the important thing in this connection is the verity that the West now labels any such attempt, whether in the name of liberation movement or jihad, as terrorism. Any struggle involving the use of arms after incidence of 9 11 will lead you to multiple problems. 

How can we change the internal societal dynamics? The changes must be in keeping with the global trends specifically and the care should be taken that these dictums do not come in clash with the basic tenets of Islam. Ignoranc and misinterpretation of religion are responsible for this sad plight. Therefore more and more avenues for spreading education should be created. There is a need to see are there some people who are using the Pakistani youth for their ulterior motives? If the employment avenues are increased, education is provided to the maximum people, law serves the interests of the deprived segments of society, equal rights are provided to the diverse sections, we can get rid of the monster of the terror attacks. The suicide attacks are efforts to torpedo the peace process.The enemies are trying to create a rift among the different sects of Pakistan. But our ulemas must remain united and promise to oust the forces of terror. 

What is needed is a dialogue because simply condemning the attacks and doing nothing tangible will be tantamount to give a tacit approval to all this. Islam does not teach killing of unwary Muslims. No Muslim can determine the way how he should he die. These are the religious bigots who spoil the minds of the youth. There is an inkling that the terrorists wished to label the recent attacks on the shrine of Data Sahib as sectarian rivalries, a reaction to sermonize the belief that these places spread shirk. To change the internal dynamics of our society the lasting solution will be to hold a dialogue.








Like our neighbour to the east, this blessed land too has been taken over by sacred cows. The species may be different but then sacred cows are sacred cows! The thing about sacred cows is that they are untouchable so to speak. Whatever they do, whoever they hurt, they are above censure. But let us talk about the bovine species for a while. The other sacred cows we leave for sometime later. The bovine species somehow keep on thrusting themselves back into the news. This is a trifle surprising since references to cows - sacred or otherwise - have generally a short shelf life; or so one was led to believe. Apparently, this is not so. The newspapers have been inclined towards the bovine species, their peculiar habits for one. Let us take, for instance, the somewhat bizarre claim that cows have what has been graphically described as 'regional accents'. 

Not that a cow has a repertoire of bovine notes. It is generally recognized by authorities on the subject that the species has no more than a one-word vocabulary and that too with a single syllable. News emanating from London a good while back, though, had it that cows 'appear to moo in regional accents despite their limited conversational skills'. According to a news report in the Daily Mail, herds in the West Country had been heard mooing with a 'distinctive Somerset twang'. No less an authority than Mr. John Wells, professor of phonetics at the University College, London, was quoted as averring, "This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows. In small populations such as herds you would encounter dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group". Going back a wee bit in recent history, one recalls that mad bovines had once made quite a foray into the international news headlines. The mad cow disease that reared its ugly head in the most unlikely places, though, is a subject one would rather not dwell on since the scare it created was hardly something to write home about. The tidings rather worth dwelling on happen to be about the 'mad cow' thing that emanated from Switzerland of all places. Perhaps a word of explanation here would be in order. Switzerland is a place which one has been brought up to equate with idyllic splendor – a place where people go to lap up all that is good and delectable in nature. Mention, therefore, of such a thing as 'mad cow symptoms' in the same breath as Swiss chocolate and/or cheese cannot but rankle a wee bit. Be that as it may, nature has an uncanny habit of playing the dirtiest of tricks. It appears that things came to such a sorry pass that even Swiss cows failed to pass muster, so to speak. Not too long ago, Agence France Presse, datelined Geneva, had reported authoritatively that Swiss cows - horror of horrors – had "developed a mean streak since being left alone in the wild under a new rearing technique, thus raising the risk of attack for the unsuspecting rambler". Obviously those, who had learnt about the Swiss countryside more from picture postcards and touristic brochures than personal acquaintance, received this disclosure with a rude sense of shock, if not disbelief. 

But, to delve a bit deeper into this rather bizarre affair, it would appear that having been bitten by the bug of 'environment friendliness', the Swiss farmers had decided to "let their cows roam freely around the countryside with their calves and a lone bull (sic)". Now, this is where, according to AFP, the nub of the story comes in. A Mr. Philippe Cossy, belonging to the somewhat murky organization named Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents, had the following to say: "Inevitably the cow rediscovers her basic instincts, which are much akin to wild animals. She rebuilds self-defense mechanisms and becomes more distrustful and aggressive towards others, be they humans or animals". There you have it in a nutshell, as the cliché goes. 

By now the reader would, hopefully, be in no doubt about the interest that Mr. Cossy's organization had in this whole murky affair. After all, how can you permit cows – even Swiss cows – to chivvy dreamy-eyed tourists all over the idyllic Swiss countryside? In the year 2001 (the news item revealed), 501 Swiss farm workers had been actually attacked and injured by animals – including cows. Also at risk would be the "million or so ramblers" who, one was informed, flocked to the Swiss countryside every year. The SPAA offered valuable advice to the said ramblers about the psychology of the Swiss cows: "They (the Swiss cows that is!) scare easily. If someone stands directly ahead or behind a cow the risk of being hit is heightened. It is vital that when you are seen by the cow; speak softly to it and avoid running or making sudden movements". A tall order, if ever there was one! If anything, what can be gleaned out of the aforementioned news item is the fact that the Swiss temperament is not to be taken lightly. In addition to being rather handy with money matters, the Swiss, it would seem, also take their cows very seriously indeed. In any other country, people would have taken such so-called farm accidents in their stride. One would have been extremely surprised if any other nationalities had kicked up a fuss if 501 of their farm workers had been at the receiving end of the hooves of cows - mad or otherwise. Nonetheless, hats off to the meticulous Swiss. Not only did they take notice of the antics of their 'slightly mad cows', but actually also went so far as to set up a 'Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents'. This must certainly have added to the confidence of all those individuals who plan to be among the million or so ramblers in the Swiss countryside in the coming years. 

While on the subject of cows, one is loath to end this piece without mention of "sacred cows". One refers, of course, to the genuine variety that freely roam around the thoroughfares of Indian cities, without let or hindrance - not to be confused with the genre that one finds oozing out of the woodwork in the Land of the Pure. These (sacred) cows, then, that one finds frequenting the streets of the metropolis of New Delhi somehow never appear to be in a frame of mind similar to that of the "Swiss cows let out into the countryside" aforementioned. 

Whenever one has had occasion to visit India, one has invariably found the sacred cows peaceful, far from intimidating and, above all, minding their own business. One is left to wonder why? After all, a cow is a cow is a cow. One supposes the contrast may well be due to the marked difference between the Western and Eastern ethos. Does make one wish the human beings would take a leaf out of the way of life of the bovines! There must be a moral in this somewhere, though one is at a loss to pinpoint it. 








Braindrain for developing countries occurs when professionals leave their countries to work in countries where they may have better opportunities. When this happens, we may see an influx in developed countries but that may mean a shortage in under developed third world countries. While this may include people in any profession, it tends to be more prevalent with the engineering, finance and medical fields. Potential professionals may leave their countries for educational purposes and choose to remain in the country they migrated to for a number of reasons. 

Some people may migrate to another country seeking a better way of life only to find that country will not honour their degree. When this is the case they may be forced to start over and go back through Universities from the beginning if they choose to stay. If they choose to do this then they may have to find other means of supporting themselves. This means such countries may have a cab driver, house cleaner or a helping man on gas stations with a degree in medicine, Engineering or even Doctor of Philosophy. They can't acquire professional jobs without a degree the country they reside in will accept, so they are forced to find whatever job they can to lay their hand on. Brain drain for developing countries means that they face a sever shortage of professionals and skilled labour. In countries where crises are rampant and resources and options are scarce, the lack of professionals only heightens the strain of an already over worked system. The one bright spot in all of this is that it allows for a melding of minds and those that go back to developing countries to help those in need often bring back a new perspective. They have knowledge of modern aspects of profession that may be unheard of in their own countries of origin and this knowledge can be used to help those that are suffering. 

To begin correcting these problems, the governments of these countries must first take action. There needs to be more funding for scientific research, education, and industry. They also need incentives to keep professionals in their countries such as better pay and secure career paths. While it is very true that no one can force people to remain in these countries to practice, bit of nationalism in hearts, higher standards of living and better wages would surely help. Other countries can do their part as well by helping with research funds and sharing knowledge they have gained in different fields. This is not a charity but a melding that has the benefit of saving nations and potentially helping the world as a whole. Development in developing countries can help to eliminate crises worldwide and prevent the spread of hate mania presently raging among the poor nations against the rich ones. Brain drain for developing countries means that a few selected countries end up having most of the brilliant scientific minds while others have an acute shortage. This uneven distribution may mean that some countries flourish while others seem to be stuck in the dark ages. 

The simple fact that a person may elect to start over rather than practice in their own country tells us that there must be a big problem that discourages the professional from serving their motherland. Acquiring professional education isn't easy in any country like Pakistan. I simply can't imagine getting a PHD and then moving to another country and staring all over again just to be able to work there. The numbers of people leaving their countries in the hope of better opportunities are truly staggering to say the least. In one report it is estimated that over 23,000 medical professionals emigrate from Africa alone and the number of nurses is even more extreme. What's more these numbers are for a single year. With numbers like this, one wonders where they all go and if they continue to practice. If only a small percentage of these trained professionals remain in their countries, then it could have a real impact on the standard of medical care in the developing nations around the world. We can also see similar results in other professions too. 

The phenomenon of brain drain is very scary for developing countries like Pakistan. It calls for immediate policy attention from the highest level. There is a need to set up a task force of professionals to unearth the reasons of precious brain drain and come up proposals to stop the phenomenon. Without affirmative action from the states, brain drain would continue to occur and time would soon come when the developing world would suffer from acute shortage of skilled workforce and professionals. It is unfortunate that this important aspect has failed to elicit the government's attention. It is hoped that immediate attention is paid to this state of affairs and corrective actions taken in the larger interest of the nation. Let us prove through action that future of our nation depends on our youth. 







Here's an intriguing nugget, given Turkey's recent decision to close its airspace to Israeli military planes: When Israel attacked a covert Syrian nuclear reactor on Sept. 6, 2007, its bombers overflew Turkey. A former senior US official who was intimately involved in handling the fallout from the raid told me Turkish officials raised the issue with Israel, were invited to discuss the matter, but in the end let it drop. Those were different times, before Turkish-Israeli ties entered their current poisonous phase. The biggest injection of poison was administered by Israel's killing of nine Turkish activists (one of them also a US citizen) on a Gaza aid ship on May 31. This was the immediate catalyst to the airspace exclusion. But well before that, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister who heads a party of Islamist bent, had hit the (negative) reset button with Israel. Erdogan was infuriated by Israel's Gaza offensive of 2008-09, in which about 1,400 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis, were killed.

Spurned as a supplicant to the West — some European Union politicians have much to answer for with their notions of a "Christian club" — Erdogan has recast Turkey as a regional power with strong interests in Iran and Syria. Looking east has helped ignite the Turkish economy while Europe flounders. A novel role that turns history on its head has appealed to Erdogan: Turkish hero of the Arab street.

Given the military trade between Israel and Turkey ($1.8 billion in 2007), US godfathering of the Turkish-Israeli relationship, and Turkey's commitment to remaining inside the Western tent even while reaching outside it, I don't expect co-operation to cease between Ankara and Jerusalem. But Israel has real reason for concern. It could overfly Turkey in 2007 en route to taking out a Syrian facility of North Korean design because of the wink-and-nod nature of its military relationship with its best regional Muslim friend. That's history.

Since then Israel's actions, tactical bluster devoid of strategic sense, have left it far more isolated than before. I hear more hostility to Israel around the world than at any time I can recall. The United States, traumatised, made mistakes after 9/11. Too often, it shunned prudence and rode roughshod. Israel is in some ways an extension of the United States. The line between what's domestic and what's international in the relationship is flimsy. It's therefore not surprising that Israel, too, has erred on the side of warmongering this past decade. The war on terror, an expression dropped by President Obama, was a catchall phrase that enabled Israeli leaders to bundle the Palestinian national struggle into the terror camp, where much of it did not belong. This has proved a terrible distorting lens. I sense some Israeli realisation at last that this course — the terror-propagating Gaza sardine can, the ad-hominem outrage of the reaction to the Goldstone report on Gaza, the facile recourse to disproportionate force, the repetitive "no Palestinian interlocutor" complaints, the too spin-doctored slogans of constant existential threat — leads only to a dead end. Israel can do much better.

How else to interpret the prizing open, to some degree, of that Hamas sardine can? And the Israeli indictment of officers and soldiers for their roles in Gaza — precisely the possible war crimes of which Richard Goldstone wrote? And the dawning realisation that in Salam Fayyad, the West Bank Palestinian prime minister, Israel has the last best interlocutor it will ever encounter? And a toning-down of the overdone Iran threat drumbeat? I've long argued for such shifts. I'm pleased to see them. I've no idea how lasting they will be: Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government gives cause for doubt. Much will depend on whether Obama — this week's pre-November love-fest with Netanyahu notwithstanding — is prepared to be tough. The Mideast remains volatile. On the Iran drumbeat, some other nuggets from that former senior official are of interest. The Bush administration opposed the 2007 Israeli strike. It was worried the Syrians would respond and ignite a wider Middle East war. It believed tough U.S. diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, would ensure the Syrian reactor never became operational. President Bush's line was: Let me handle it.

Ehud Olmert, then the Israeli prime minister, was disappointed at American inaction. His line was: It's now in our hands. No US green light was asked for, and none given, as Israel bombed. The fallout was contained through sleight of hand. Israel feigned ignorance. A tight collar was placed for several months around U.S. intelligence. President Bashar al-Assad was not made to feel cornered. It was as if the reactor had gone poof in the night.

Could Iran's Natanz plant go poof in the night? Some people are thinking about it, an attack from "nowhere." I think those are dangerous thoughts. Iran is not Syria. The Obama-Netanyahu statement said: "The president told the prime minister he recognises that Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats, and that only Israel can determine its security needs." Is that plain language or a hall of mirrors? — The New York Times








The 5-day biennial summit of the D-8 countries ended on Thursday in Nigerian capital Abuja with the circulation of a final resolution, the Abuja Declaration-2010, stipulating the need for boosting investment among member countries. Admitting the inadequacy of the intra-D-8 trade, currently only at five per cent of the total foreign trade, the leaders at the summit have agreed to raise it to 20 per cent by 2020. Taken into consideration the population of nearly one billion of the brotherly eight member states, this would mean leapfrogging not only of trade but also of the economies of each individual member. The realization that resources, in which quite a few of them are very rich, and economic cooperation among the member countries, are incompatible will definitely help the group carry forward its agendas together. 


Currently, the challenge is to find a multilateral approach to their common problems like ensuring food security and putting their resources, talent and technology to the best possible use. On that score preferential trade, multilateral agreement on administration, assistance in customs activities and simplification of visa procedures for businesspeople will be of help. But more will be required in the areas of technology transfer and human resources. 


So far as this year's theme, "Enhancing Investment Cooperation among D-8 Countries" is concerned, it should be a small but sure step in the right direction. The ultimate objective ought to be a wide variety of cooperation through creation of enabling atmosphere. In this regard creation of a D-8 free trade area, as proposed by our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, deserves consideration. Of the eight nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Iran have set a pace of development unmatched by others. But Nigeria is oil-rich, Indonesia has vast resources. Egypt and Bangladesh, despite constraints in some areas, have their own resources to gainfully cooperate with the rest. Only Pakistan with the Afghan conflict at its backyard is somewhat disadvantaged. But the Iranian proposal for transfer of technology and jointly harnessing renewable energy aimed at readying preparation for climate change is expected to involve all and the end result will prove beneficial irrespective of their conditions.







The illegal dumping of tannery waste on the flood protection dam near Hazaribagh has again brought into focus the danger of coexistence of human settlement and industries producing pollutants as a byproduct. So it raises once again the question as to why there is delay in relocating the tanneries from Hazaribagh. 

As the six-month extension, given by the High Court on an application filed by the government and Tannery Owners' Association, is drawing to a close, we would like to know what steps the government has taken to shift the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar without further delay. In its order the court observed that keeping tanneries in Hazaribagh is suicidal and painful for the city dwellers. We are obliged to agree to the court observation because the pollution poses a serious health threat to the people living in the area. 

According to the Department of Environment (DoE), nearly 22,000 cubic metres of untreated and highly toxic liquid waste from more than 200 tanneries flow through the canals into the Buriganga. Now it would seem that the solid waste including trimmings of finished leather, shaving dust, hair, fleshing, trimming of raw hides and skins are now being dumped on the flood protection dam. This is most irresponsible and must be stopped immediately. That being so, shifting the tanneries must become a priority as it has been hanging for far too long. But the tannery owners are reluctant to shift until the government provides them with compensation and other facilities. Then the court observation that keeping the tanneries in Hazaribagh is suicidal and painful for the city dwellers must not go unheeded. Certainly this situation cannot be allowed to continue at the cost of people's safety.







Octopus Paul, after the Spain win, has now scored six out of six with his football World Cup predictions and I am sure is going to be quite a celebrity after the World Cup: It is rumoured that even Obama is considering buying the octopus, getting rid of his advisors and safely guide America out of the recession, etc.
"So Paul," says Obama as he visits the aquarium in the White House where Octopus Paul is kept, "How do you think we should handle the terrorist problem, should we go after Osama Bin Laden or should we have peace talks, Paul, Paul I'm talking to you!"

And Paul the octopus puts out one of his tentacles lifts Obama and shakes him for a few seconds, "Whoa! Whoa!" shouts Obama, "I hope nobody saw what you're trying to say, that we Americans are the cause of terrorism! Hey Paul, lets keep it to ourselves shall we? Now here's the next question…"Obama waits as Paul the Octopus quitens down resting his tentacles on the bottom of the sand bed then asks, "When will America come out of the recession?" The octopus raises all his tentacles closes them around itself and goes into a nose-dive deep into the water, "What?" asks Obama, and watches as Paul does the same again.
"That's an octopus's way of showing despair!" said Michelle, the First Lady as she walks in. "Despair?" asked Obama, "Despair?"

"I guess Paul is saying…."

"That America is doomed! That we will never come out of this recession!"

"Well that's what an octopus is saying, you don't have to take it as gospel truth," said Michelle as she looked at the sea creature.
"But Paul predicted all the World Cup wins," said Obama, "And I paid millions for him so he could advise me!"

"Why don't you ask something else!" said Mrs Obama.

"Okay," said Obama, "Do you think the next President of the United States will be a woman?"

"Hey!" shouted Michelle "He's lifting me up! He's saying I'll be the one!"

"You?" asked Obama, "I didn't know you had political ambitions?"

"Nor did Bill, know Hillary had," she laughed,"Till Monica came along!"

Obama looked up as the phone rang. "Yes?" he asked. "This is the White House, Obama speaking!"

"Who is it?" asked Michelle."It's a call from the Sea Life Aquarium, Weymouth!"

"Ah that's from where you bought the octopus, it must be the fellow you bought Paul from, what's he saying?"

"That Paul can only forecast football results, nothing else! Whoopee!" shouted Obama, "I didn't much fancy coming back to the White House as the First Man!"

"Stupid Octopus!" shouted Michelle, "I'll fry you in garlic butter!"

"That's exactly what the Germans want to do with him!" laughed Obama as he packed Paul and sent him back to Weymouth where he belonged.









It will perhaps be no exaggeration if it is claimed that Lailat-ul-Miraj is the most momentous occasion in the annals of not only the entire human race but of all creations. It was on this glorious Night of Ascension that a creation was permitted to cross for the first time the "Ultimate Boundary", symbolically represented by a Lote-Tree named Sidratul Muntaha, beyond which none, not even the archangel Jibrail (AS) favoured by or "brought near" Allah (mukarrabun), had ever been allowed to pass. It was on this auspicious Night that the Creator, in His infinite Mercy, enabled a creation to reach, through a long Journey immeasurable by mortal reckoning; the "Sublime Throne", achieve the closest proximity to Him, and "see of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest" in full bloom.

The Holy Quran testifies: "Glory to God Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque, whose precincts We did bless - in order that We might show him some of Our Signs; for He is the One Who heareth and seeth." (Chapter XVII, Verse 1).

The Journey mentioned above refers to the Glorious Ascension (Mi'raj) of the holy Prophet (pbuh), testifying so eloquently to the divine eminence which he was to achieve and to the unsurpassable greatness to which Islam was to rise.

It was a Monday on the 27 of Rajab, one year and five months before the Emigration (Hijrat) to the holy Medina that the holy Prophet (pbuh) was first transported through a unique Journey from the holy Makkah to the seat of the earlier revelations in Jerusalem, and then taken through the Seven Heavens, and blessed with the unique opportunity to meet the Most Gracious and Most Merciful Rabbul Alameen.

On that sacred Night of Ascension, Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) was at Makkah in the house of his cousin Bibi Ummahani (RA), sister of Hazrat Ali Murtaza (RA). Having said his night prayers the holy Prophet (pbuh) was asleep with "closed eyes but a wakeful Kalb". It was Jibrail (AS) who roused him from  'sleep' and said, "Allah sends you greetings and invites you, and I have come to take you to Him. Allah desires to show the Wonders and to dignify you in a manner as He has not done with anybody else before. No one ever heard this nor could anybody ever conceive of it."

Accompanied by Jibrail (AS), the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) went to the holy Ka'ba, performed the circumbulation of Ka'ba (Tawaf) seven times, and sat for a while at the Hatim of the Holy House. Mounted on the Buraq, he then set forth toward the Great Unknown. He was first carried to Masjid-ul-Aqsa in Jerusalem. It is said that an assembly of angels received the holy Prophet (pbuh) with the ovation: "Salam be on you, O the First (Ya Awwalu); Salam be on you, O the Last (Ya Akheru); Salam be on you, O the Saviour (Ya Hasheru)." The Apostle of Allah (pbuh) objected that the terms were applicable to Allah alone. But the angels explained that the holy Prophet (pbuh) was the First because Benign Providence created his Noor before anything else was created; he was the Last because he had come to the world as the last Messenger of Allah; he was the Saviour because only his intercession (Shafa'at) as the saviour of sinners would be accepted by God on the Day of Judgment.

After leading a two-rakat prayer at Baitul-Mukaddas in which all the one lac and twenty-four thousand Prophets participated, the Apostle of Allah set out for the Seven Heavens so clearly mentioned in the Sura Talaq: "It is Allah Who created the Seven Heavens and as many Earths."

As he passed through various Heavens, he had the unique privilege to see Allah's "Signs" in various shapes and forms. It is claimed that he saw with his own eyes Bahrun Naqam, the Great Sea the waves of which wrought Great Deluge inundating the whole world of the Prophet Noah (pbuh). He also had the unique distinction of seeing during his lifetime Hazrat Azrail (AS) in the fourth Heaven, Hazrat Michayeel (AS) with the Great Scale (Mizan) in the sixth Heaven, and Hazrat Israfil (AS) with his Great Horn (Soor) in the seventh Heaven.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also met a good number of his predecessors during his Journey through the Heavens. He met Prophet Adam (AS) in the first Heaven, Prophets Isa and Yahya in the second, Yusuf, Dawood and Sulaiman in the third, Musa, Marium and Asiya in the fourth, Ibrahim, Ismail, Yaqub and Lut in the fifth, Noah and Idris in the sixth, and the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be on all the Propkhets) once again in the seventh Heavens.

In the seventh Heaven the holy Prophet (pbuh) again led a two-rakat prayer at the Baitul Mamur mosque in which all the angels of the seventh Heaven participated. As he advance further, he reached Sidratul Muntaha, the Lote-tree,which has been specifically mentioned in the Holy Quran: "Near Sidratul Muntaha beyond which none may pass: Near it is Garden of Behold! the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable). His Sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong. For truly did he see of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest."(Chapter LIII, Verses 16-18).

It is indeed remarkable that even at this stage where the spiritual knowledge of man could reach no higher, the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) remained unperturbed. The Sufis interpret the Lote-tree in Islam to be what the Burning Bush in the valley of tuwa was to Moses (AS). Only, in the case of Moses (AS) it was but a prefigurement of the divine  effulgence on this earth: in the case of Muhammad(pbuh) it was the Divine Glory in Heaven itself, and it was "shrouded in mystery unspeakable". This was indeed "the Greatest of the Signs of the Lord".
The holy Prophet (pbuh) advanced further and reached Hijabe Zarbaft where Jibrail informed him that he (Jibrail) was unable to proceed any further. According to the Tafsir Ruhul Bayan, however, Jibrail (AS) halted at Sidratul Muntaha.

What followed indeed is unique in the annals of creation. For the first time since the birth of the universe was a creation allowed to proceed beyond Sidratul Muntaha and approach the "Sublime Arsh". The holy Prophet (pbuh) passed through many a screen of Noor and Zulomat and ultimately reached, in the words of the Holy Quran,"the highest part of the horizon". "Then he approached and came closer, and was at a distance of two bow-lengths or (even) nearer." (Chapter LIII,Verses 7-8).

Two bow-shots (counting 100 to 150 yards to a bow-shot) would be a clearly visible distance. But Sufi mysticism would interpret: "two drawn bows, with their chords touching", making a complete circle of union.
Muhammad (pbuh), the Last and the Greatest of all the Prophets, had indeed seen the Greatest Signs of Allah. According to Tirmizi, the holy Prophet said: "I saw my Rab with my eyes and Kalb." The Miskat also testifies: "I saw my Rab in His best appearance ... I was endued with knowledge of whatever is in the Heavens and on the Earths." And the Holy Quran further adds: "The (Prophet's) heart in no way falsified that which he saw." The renowned exegetist Abdullah Yusuf Ali points out that the "heart" in Arabic includes the faculty of intelligence as well as the faculty of feeling. The impression conveyed was pure truth; there was no illusion in it."
The holy Prophet (pbuh) then visited Jannat (the Paradise) and Jahannam (the Hell, and returned to Makkah.
It may be mentioned in this connection that it was during this noctural journey on the Lailat-ul-Mi'raj that Allah had imposed upon the holy Prophet (pbuh) 50 (fifty) salats a day as obligatory prayers for the faithful. On the Prophet Musa's (pbuh) advice, Muhammad (pbuh) asked several times for an alleviation and each time Allah, in His infinite Mercy, granted it. But when Musa (pbuh) said 5 (five) salats are still too many, the holy Prophet (pbuh) refused to ask for less. In response to Musa's (As) request, Muhammad (pbuh) replied very politely, "I have asked my Lord till I am ashamed, but now I am satisfied and I submit." (Bukhari and Muslim).
These obligatory prayers, to be performed five times a day, form one of the pillars of Islam. And the five prayers so enjoined equals fifty in worth and reward. The holy Prophet (pbuh) testifies: "I went back to Him (Allah) and He said, 'They are five and at the same time fifty. What has been said is not changed with Me." (Bukhari and Muslim).


The holy Prophet (pbuh) completed the entire Isra (or noctural Journey), comprising the unique Audience with the Creator, visits to the Heaven and Hell offering of prayers at various places on Earth and in the Heavens, discussions with numerous Prophets, in an incredibly short period. The astounding feat surprised many. The non-Muslims refused to accept it. Even a few Muslims went to the extent of claiming that the Journey was performed through a Vision. The holy Prophet (pbuh) himself silenced the Quraish who were questioning him about his night journey. Jabir told that he heard God's Messenger say, "When Quraish accused me of falsehood I stood up in al-Hijr, then God made Jerusalem clear to me, and I informed them of its distinguishing marks while I was looking at it." (Bukhari and Muslim).

And the handful of Muslims who unfortunately doubt the physical ascension of the holy Prophet (pbuh) perhaps forget that Allah can do and undo anything and everything. Nothing is impossible on His part. "He is the Best of the planners and when He hath decreed a Plan, He but saith to it, 'Be' and it is" (Chapter III, Verse 47). What is more, the miraculous Journey of the Prophet of Islam may sound incredible to an ordinary person shrouded by ignorance about the latest developments in the realm of science, but not to a person who is acquianted with the Theory of Relativity wherein time does not remain constant but varies with the velocity of the object concerned. The holy Prophet (pbuh) completed the Mi'raj mounted on the Buraq and the very word Buraq emanates from Burqun which means electricity. This implies that the holy Prophet might have travelled as fast as the electricity', and the modern science still claims that the light, radio waves and various forms of electromagnetic radiation have the fastest velocity in the universe which is denoted by c and equals 186282 miles per second. 
The scientists of the Modern Age also admit that if a person manages to travel at the fantastic velocity of light  his 'time' will vary enormously in comparison with the passage of time on Earth. No wonder the holy Prophet, mounted on the 'Buraq' and endued with the Divine Blessing of the Lord of the Worlds, could so easily perform so many acts in so short a period.

And if the Prophet Abrabam (pbuh) could remain unhurt in the midst of the blazing fire kindled by Namrood, if the Prophet Yunus (AS) could survive in the stomach of a whale for several days, if the Magic-Stick of Moses (AS) could turn into a huge and fearful snake, if Adam and Eve could be created without any father or mother almost out of nothing, if Jesus (pbuh) could see the light of day without the help of any father, if the Nile could be split to enable Moses (AS) and his followers to escape to safety, why should it not be possible for Allah to enable His best Servant to Ascend to the Heavens in person to meet his Creator?

(The writer is former Director General, Islamic Foundation Bangladesh)










The United Nations' World Population Day is observed on July 11 every year to reiterate the human right to plan for families. The observance of this day under the aegis of UN promotes activities, events and disseminates information to help make the people of the world aware of the consequences of the ever increasing population. 
The activities in connection with the observance of this day include seminars, discussions, symposia, general knowledge, debate and essay completions etc., on various issues pertaining to population. The day focuses on family planning, gender equality, poverty elimination, finding out ways and means of improving maternal health and human rights. 

 Forty-two years back in 1968 world leaders advised that every person determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children.  World Population Day began to be celebrated in 1989 as a development of the Day of Five Billion, marked on July 11, 1987 which is approximately the date on which the world's population reached five billion. Since then, with the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) encouragement, governments, non-governmental organizations, institutions and individuals organize various types of activities to celebrate the annual event. Each year UNFPA selects a different theme for the day. The theme for world population day 2010 is 'everyone counts'. This theme aims to put emphasis on the importance of data for development, encourage an understanding of why reliable data are so crucial to progress, and inspire people to participate in census and other data collection efforts because  counting everyone is an integral part of making sure that everyone is taken into account.

Reliable demographic data make a difference and for that the state ought to collect, analyse and disseminate data that are crucial for planning for education institutions, health services and public transportation, for designing policies on the basis of future population projections, for monitoring the effectiveness of measures taken for the welfare of the population. The information that come into view from data collection can illuminate important trends like what striking situation prevails in a country. The data analysis also tells about the progress towards meeting the millennium development goals, and whether certain groups are lagging behind and so on. 
The United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) promotes the right of all individuals to develop their fullest potential. To exercise this right, all people, especially women, need access to information and services on reproductive health, including family planning and overall health, to enable them to make informed and voluntary choices and decisions. 

As reflected in the UNFPA's mission statement, the fund supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is safe, every birth is free of danger, every young person is free of contagious deadly diseases and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and honour.  

According to the census of 2009, the total population of Bangladesh is 156,050,883 which has ranked the country 7th largest in the world as per the CIA World Fact Book. That means 2917 people live in an area of one square mile. So, this year's slogan of World Population Day is very significant for Bangladesh, for the massive size of her population is a threat to the development of the country. Policymakers need to conduct extensive research for long-term planning and sustainable development of the country. For this purpose, they have to have pertinent data and information on education, health, industrialisation, energy, social welfare etc., not only for the prevailing population but also for the population that will be added to the existing number in twenty or fifty years. Using these data the researchers should find ways and means to obtain a satisfactory level of achievement in economic growth and human resource development. Because, our achievement in these two sectors is much less than the population growth, and it is only when the economic growth along with a satisfactory development in human resource is greater than the population growth, can we envisage a society less burdened with poverty. May World Population Day of the current year bring success to all.


(The author is an Assistant Professor of English at Bangladesh University)









After the European Central Bank announced on May 9 that it would buy the government bonds of Mediterranean countries experiencing severe fiscal strains, critics complained that the Bank had lost its virginity. The actions looked like a clear contravention of Article 21 of the ECB's Statute, which forbids credit facilities to governments or to European Union institutions.

Similar comments were made about the US Federal Reserve in 2008, after it began large-scale purchases of non-conventional assets, including agency debt and mortgage-backed securities, in order to support the collapsing US housing market. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, for example, complained that the institution was operating at the bounds of legality.

In both cases, the central bank looked as if it was doing something other than traditional monetary policy. In the past 30 years, a remarkable degree of consensus had been established that the primary, if not sole, responsibility of central banks was to ensure price stability. Increasingly, since the early 1990s, it had become fashionable to define price stability more precisely through the use of inflation targets.


 Keeping prices roughly constant was a very different mission from the historical role of central banks. In the original vision of central banking, price stability was not at all an obvious purpose, since the value of money was cast in terms of specific weights of precious metals.

Instead, central banks were established for two major purposes. First, they were to manage the state's credit, almost inevitably in the wake of costly major wars. This was how the oldest central banks, the Swedish Riksbank (1668) and the Bank of England (1694), came into being.

Likewise, another wave of central banks was founded in the early nineteenth century, with the Norwegian and Finnish banks following the example of the Banque de France (1800).

In each case, the new bank was closely tied to the interests and influence of a narrow political elite. The banks looked as if they were devices to harness financial power to an existing but controversial and threatened political order.

More democratic regimes were, consequently, rather suspicious of the political implications of institutional innovation. It was suspicion of the politics behind a designated state-oriented central bank that led to the non-renewal of the charters, and the demise, of the First and Second Bank of the United States. Resistance to the process of political capture led in some countries (such as Switzerland) to opposition to establishing any central bank at all.

A second historical motivation for the creation of central banks involved the safeguarding of financial systems. In the mid-nineteenth century, a new generation of central banks was established essentially to manage payments systems and stabilize fragile banking systems.

This was the motivation behind the founding of the German Reichsbank (1875), which was a response to the stock-market and financial collapse of 1873, and the US Federal Reserve System (1914), which was established in the wake of the major financial crisis of 1907. In these cases, too, there was an obvious suspicion that the central bank was a tool of the financial elite.

The ECB is the first and purest example of a modern central bank that is concerned only with the issuance of money and price stability. It absorbed much of the political inheritance of Germany's Bundesbank, whose establishment after World War II reflected Allied insistence on breaking with German central banking's past traditions, in which political subservience and close ties to the financial establishment undermined monetary stability, leading to inflation and the destruction of the currency.

There had been a prior attempt to create an institution that would deal with short-term support mechanisms for member states: the European Monetary Cooperation Fund, launched in 1973 and governed by a board of central bank governors. Designated as a European Community institution, it was regarded as being dangerously political.

The ECB was also unlike older central banks in that it was not seen as a source of support for an integrated but potentially vulnerable banking system. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, there were debates about whether the ECB should be responsible for banking supervision and regulation. The answer was no - a decision that, in the wake of the 2007-2008 credit crisis, appears to have been a fundamental mistake.

In other words, in the face of the crisis, the ECB needs to behave much more like the older central banks. In the first place, it is becoming an institution concerned with state debt, particularly with its term structure, and with ensuring that the market for that debt continues to operate smoothly, without episodes of breakdown and panic. Second, it has become clear that, whether they like it or not, central banks bear major responsibility for financial-sector stability.

There are obvious risks: non-conventional monetary policy might be considered a sort of fiscal policy, in which the central bank is allocating or redistributing resources to a particular constituency: the housing market in the case of the US, or recipients of government largesse in the European case.

The transition to the new stance will involve a broader and much more political role for the central bank. Hence there will inevitably be a demand for greater accountability, and even for the involvement of political authorities in the process of setting central-bank policies.

Permanent virginity is a recipe for permanent sterility. The choice for European central banking is now open: should it play around with multiple political partners, or should it settle down to stable marital bliss with a well-defined mechanism for responsibility and accountability? P


(The writer is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and Marie Curie Professor of History at the European University Institute, Florence. His most recent book is The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle.)


— Project Syndicate 2010







THE forthcoming federal election will be a contest between two professional, and ultimately pragmatic, politicians. One is a Christian, the other an atheist, but both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard see politics as a means to practical solutions, rather than a moral crusade. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their approach to border protection.


This week the Prime Minister has returned Labor policy to its traditional position by reintroducing offshore processing of asylum-seekers. By recognising reality and challenging the Coalition for the centre ground, Ms Gillard has opened up the possibility for a broad debate on refugees, free of the moral polarisation of the past.


For his part, the Opposition Leader has been labelled Captain Catholic, yet he has shown a healthy capacity to change his mind based around his reading of the reality rather than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both leaders have arrived in their new jobs after 30 years in the cauldron of debate and the contest for ideas. As student politicians they had early experience of the need to argue for workable policy in the battle for votes. Ms Gillard, in particular, sems to have learnt from Bob Hawke, who once reportedly said: "Do you know why I have credibility? Because I don't exude morality." Not for her the approach of Kevin Rudd, who wrapped climate change and mining tax in morality then discovered there was nowhere to go when his policies unravelled. High moral purpose allows no debate and no negotiation. It is ill-suited to a political system such as ours where politics is the art of the possible and the best politicians are those who are able to see beyond black and white answers to find the right shade of grey.


The Prime Minister's new policy on boat arrivals eschews political correctness and is designed to deter people from bypassing official channels. Mr Abbott takes a similar approach. Their pragmatism does not show a lack of values, which the Oxford dictionary defines as "principles or standards; one's judgment on what is valuable or important in life". Ms Gillard made that clear at the Lowy Institute this week when she called for an end to political correctness while rejecting inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers. Under her policy, Australia remains committed to fulfilling its obligations under the 1951 UN convention on refugees, but rejects the hollow morality of those who would advocate an open door for boatpeople.


The Prime Minister's stated goal is to break the impasse after years of passionate, but sterile, debate which has achieved nothing. The treatment of refugees should not be cast as a simplistic contest between good and bad, right and wrong. Rather it is better understood as a contest of competing principles, between those who champion international law based on humanitarian concerns, and those who champion the right of a constitutional democratic state to decide who joins their community and becomes one of them.


What has also become clear in recent years in this country is that any political solution to address immediate pressures cannot overcome the bigger challenges thrown up by the 1951 UN convention on refugees.


Sixty years after it was set up to aid Europeans displaced by World War II and those escaping the eastern bloc during the Cold War, the convention is under enormous strain. It is no longer an adequate framework for managing the world's 15 million refugees. Globalisation and technology have transformed the ability of people to move around the world and to present themselves at national borders to seek asylum.


This tsunami of people has put severe strain on many countries in the past 20 years and has led to the contradictory situation where signatories to the convention continue to confirm their obligations, yet introduce tough measures to keep asylum-seekers out. This is not what those who framed the original convention had in mind.


It is well past time for Australia's political leaders to direct the same principled pragmatism they have applied to boatpeople to the broader question of how the UN convention can be amended to suit a changed world. We should not be afraid to seek practical solutions to this complex global problem.








HOWEVER much Industry Minister Kim Carr dresses up the Green Car Innovation Fund as promoting innovation and cutting greenhouse emissions, he cannot disguise the fact that it is, in essence, a $1.1 billion gamble with taxpayers' money. Sometimes governments manage to pick a winner and reap a good return. But more often than not, especially in a competitive industry such as cars, they commit public money to projects private corporations would consider marginal if they had to find all the funding themselves. As a result, for the past 60 years, Australian taxpayers have been subsidising cars that they, and the rest of the world, increasingly don't want.


The latest such example to roll on to the sales lot, and stay there, so far, in large numbers is Toyota's locally built hybrid Camry. The vehicle, which sells from $36,990, is the first beneficiary of Senator Carr's green fund's largesse. It received $35 million, as well as general industry assistance and an undisclosed sum from the Victorian government.


The hybrid Camry was projected to sell 10,000 in its first year. It's still early days and its fortunes may yet rise. It is, by all accounts, a well-engineered vehicle. But while the highly competitive car market, in general, is doing well after a tough period, just 2960 hybrid Camry sales were recorded for the half-year, 40 per cent short of expectations, making the public's investment look a little shaky. Governments have been by far the biggest customers, with the state of Victoria signing up for 2000 vehicles even before the price was announced. But private buyers, who like to shop around to compare models and value, have so far bought just 657 of the cars. If the Camry hybrid meets its 10,000 sales target per year, the subsidy per vehicle will be between $2500 and $3500.


A Victorian government spokesman boasted yesterday that the "worthy investment" had secured jobs. But at a time of near-full employment, that argument is a furphy. So was Kevin Rudd's claim that the Camry represented "the beginning of a whole new era in Australian motoring" that would be good for motorists, jobs, the economy and climate change.


It is time that the green car fund is recognised for what it is - old-fashioned protectionism propping up an industry struggling to pay its way. Taxpayer-funded drip-feeds branded "transitional assistance", "adjustment schemes" and now green funding have oiled car assembly lines for too long.







FEW prime ministers' spouses would have the skill to produce the definitive biography of their husband's time in The Lodge. Twenty-eight years after her first biography of Bob Hawke, however, Blanche d'Alpuget has created an important addition to the nation's political literature with her new book, Hawke, The Prime Minister.


Such an assessment of an important chapter in our political history is overdue. Almost 20 years after Mr Hawke was dumped by the Labor caucus in favour of Paul Keating, the eight-year Hawke prime ministership continues to stand tall as a period of important economic reform and modernisation that opened up Australia to the world and made the nation more competitive.


The extract in the Inquirer section of today's Weekend Australian shows that Ms d'Alpuget has broken new ground in revealing important aspects of the Hawke family's personal story from 1983 to 1991. The work also details Mr Hawke's success in devising the plan to attack South Africa's ap