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Sunday, July 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 11.07.10

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month july 11, edition 565, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjuly

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. ABANDONED STATE IN THE NORTH-EAST - CHANDAN MITRA
  2. INDIA MUST AVOID WEST'S DEFEATISM - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. THE SPIES WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

MAIL TODAY

  1. SEE GADKARI'S COMMENTS IN LIGHT OF THE BJP'S STATE
  2. LESSON FOR INDIA AND PAK
  3. GAMES THAT ANIMALS PLAY
  4. IT'S ALL A QUESTION OF HOW WE SEE FEET - BY RUCHIR JOSHI
  5. EVERYBODY WANTS TO DISH OUT A PAUL ORDER - SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA
  6. THE CREAMY CHARMS OF PARSI DAIRY
  7. DO EXPENSIVE WINES TASTE BETTER?

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. FOR THE RECORD OMAR ABDULLAH
  2. THE RISE AND FALL OF EMPEROR PAWARUS - M J AKBAR 
  3. RIL SHOULD BID TO TAKE OVER BP - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR 
  4. TIDE OF GLOBAL OPINION TURNING AGAINST ISRAEL - MINHAZ MERCHANT 
  5. SRI LANKA'S WAR IS FINALLY OVER… IT SEEMS

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. IT'S TIME TO TAKE A CALL ON THIS NUISANCE - VIR SANGHV
  2. OUR MONSOON IS AS TARDY AS OUR RAILWAYS - KHUSHWANT SING
  3. ENTRY RESTRICTED - KARAN THAPAR
  4. MY PRIVATE AMERICA - INDRAJIT HAZRA
  5. IT'S TIME TO TAKE A CALL ON THIS NUISANCE - VIR SANGHVI
  6. 'A WISHING TO HOPE'

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. 'WE HAD REACHED A POINT WHERE SOME ACTION ON PETROLEUM PRODUCTS HAD BECOME ESSENTIAL'
  2. WITH ALL DUE RESPECT - SHEKHAR GUPTA 
  3. PAUL'S UNLIKELY CHOICES - ADITYA IYER 
  4. THE ZAP CONNECT TO PROFITS - SHOMBIT SENGUPTA 
  5. THE JIHAD COMES TO KASHMIR - TAVLEEN SINGH 
  6. CONGRESS, BJP AND CASTE CENSUS - SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI 
  7. COMMON VIEWPOINT - COOMI KAPOOR 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. CAN INDIA GAIN IN SERVICES IN THE INDIA-EU BTIA?
  2. RAMNEET GOSWAMI, ARPITA MUKHERJEE
  3. ONLY ZAP CONNECT DISRUPTION CAN INCREASE PROFITABILITY - SHOMBIT SENGUPTA
  4. WE HAD REACHED A POINT WHERE SOME ACTION ON PETROLEUM PRODUCTS HAD BECOME ESSENTIAL'
  5. CRICKET AT CROSSROADS - BORIA MAJUMDAR

THE HINDU

  1. THE AILING WORLD OF MEDICAL EDUCATION - DR. C.V. RAO
  2. THE TOOTH, THE WHOLE TOOTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TOOTH! - DR. USHA MOHANDAS
  3. THE SCARY CHAIR AND MY ROTTEN TEETH - J. VIJAYALAKSHMI
  4. BEWARE THE HOVERING HACKER, KEEP THE PASSWORD FAIL-SAFE - S. L. NARASIMHAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. DO POLITICIANS NEED LESSONS IN CIVILITY?
  2. COMMON CONCERNS - ARUN NEHRU
  3. STARTING AFRESH - DILIP CHERIAN
  4. THE COUSINS ARE COMING - CYRUS BROACHA
  5. ENGAGING IRAN FOR AN AFGHAN FOOTHOLD - K.C. SINGH

DNA

  1. DON'T BELIEVE THE GOVT; INFLATION IS HERE TO STAY - R JAGANNATHAN
  2. FOOD FOR THOUGHT ON GM CROPS
  3. PER PINSTRUP-ANDERSEN
  4. COMPUTERS AT HOME: EDUCATIONAL HOPE VERSUS TEENAGE REALITY - RANDALL STROSS

THE TRIBUNE

  1. CONTROLLING THE NUMBERS
  2. PREVENTION OF TORTURE: A WEAK BILL WON'T DO - BY PUSHKAR RAJ
  3. SPECIAL POWERS FOR ARMED FORCES - BY LT-GEN VIJAY OBEROI (RETD)
  4. 'RAJASTHAN TOURISM POISED FOR A LEAP'
  5. ON RECORD BY PERNEET SINGH
  6. SWEDE'S CONTRIBUTION TO RURAL UPLIFT RECOGNIZED - BY HARIHAR SWARUP

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. LET'S NOT CALL IT 'NEW AGE'

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. INDIA'S OWN GOAL
  2. ANOTHER SEZ CONTROVERSY
  3. BANDHS - ACTS OF TERROR BY ANOTHER NAME - K SUBRAHMANYAM
  4. IT'S NOT ABOUT GREED, BUT SUSTAINABILITY - RAHUL SHARMA
  5. THE IDEA OF REPRESENTATION IS THINNING' - HAMID ANSARI
  6. BANDHS - ACTS OF TERROR BY ANOTHER NAME - K SUBRAHMANYAM

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. DO POLITICIANS NEED LESSONS IN CIVILITY?
  2. COMMON CONCERNS - BY ARUN NEHRU
  3. COMMON CONCERNS - BY ARUN NEHRU
  4. 'PLAN BODY TALKING NONSENSE'
  5. HEALERS AND DEALERS - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  6. FROM THE DIARY OF A GENIUS - BY BERYL BAINBRIDGE

THE STATESMAN

  1. THE UN'S WOMAN
  2. GOOD INTENTIONS 
  3. THE CRUX IN NEPAL 
  4. PARANOIA & THE PLAUSIBLE - BY KURT JACOBSEN AND SAYEED HASAN KHAN
  5. HOW INDIA MET THE MELTDOWN
  6. A GOM FEARING NATION! - RAJINDER PURI 
  7. BRITISH AGONY IN AFGHANISTAN - KIM SENGUPTA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. FOOTBALL AND THE NATION
  2. IMAGINARY ESSENCE - MALAVIKA KARLEKAR

DECCAN HERALD

  1. PATNA ZOO ON WORLD RHINO MAP - ABHAY KUMAR IN PATNA
  2. DECONTROL WILL REIN IN INFLATION

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. THE GOP'S SHAMEFUL STALL
  2. NO PLACE FOR INTOLERANCE
  3. DO WE TAX, SPEND TOO MUCH?
  4. ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE
  5. FIRST OBAMACARE TAX HIKE
  6. NASA'S STRANGE NEW MISSION

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE BACKLASH - THE BLAME GAME
  2. FAREWELL TO MURALITHARAN - AAKAR PATEL
  3. ISLAM VS MURDER - S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
  4. GHOST' ORGANISATIONS - DR FARRUKH SALEEM
  5. A COLLECTIVE DEATH WISH? - GHAZI SALAHUDDIN
  6. ICT UNDEFINED - MASOOD HASAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MUCH-TALKED-ABOUT TRUST DEFICIT
  2. VERY SIGNIFICANT PAK-CHINA MOUS
  3. MEDIA UNDER ATTACK
  4. WHEN ORGANISATIONS GO WRONG - DR ZAFAR ALTAF
  5. AFGHAN ENDGAME, KNOTTY PROBLEM FOR US - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. DEMOCRACY OR DICTATORSHIP? - YASMEEN ALI
  7. EVERYONE COUNTS & DESERVES TO BE COUNTED - MUHAMMAD UZAIR
  8. PETRAEUS FACES RESISTANCE FROM KARZAI - JOSHUA & KAREN

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. POPULATION GROWTH
  2. VAT FROM PATIENTS!
  3. A STATE OF EMERGENCY..!
  4. POPULATION PLANNING TO FOSTER PROGRESS -  DHIRAJ KUMAR NATH
  5. CHINA'S QUEST FOR MILITARY DOMINANCE -  BILL COSTELLO
  6. DHAKA AND THE WORLD CUP -  BOBBY HAJJAJ

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

ABANDONED STATE IN THE NORTH-EAST

CHANDAN MITRA


Gandhiji once told the British: 'Leave India to anarchy or god'. Independent India has done precisely that to Manipur

All petrol pumps in Imphal are firmly shut. They look like forlorn relics in a ghost town. But on the road outside these once-bustling outlets sit rows of women with bottles of various shapes and sizes. They contain petrol or kerosene; diesel is completely out of stock. Petrol is currently selling at Rs 90 a litre, a dramatically reduced price compared to Rs 150 a couple of weeks ago. LPG cylinders, if and when available in the black market away from public areas, sell at Rs 1,500 — down from Rs 2,200 at the peak of scarcity. Food items are no less costly, with rice, the people's staple, priced at Rs 27 a kg, more than double its normal rate. "When you organised a Bharat Bandh to protest against the hike in fuel prices, we could only laugh. The Rs 53 for a litre of petrol that you pay in Delhi is only of nostalgia value here," a Manipuri journalist told us.


How do people make both ends meet when prices compare to Zimbabwe, which endured 4,400 per cent inflation some years back? Manipuris, resigned to their fate and pessimistic about matters improving, just grin and bear it — at least on the surface. But beneath the impassive exterior lies a grim, almost sinister, reality. My inquiries revealed that most middle class families follow a simple strategy: They depute members into diverse professions, pool in the resources and lead a reasonable existence. It is not uncommon to find the youngest son of a family enrolled in a terrorist outfit, which indulges in extortion and loot. Another male member becomes a contractor. In cahoots with politicians and officials, he siphons off development funds meant for improving the infrastructure. But some members of the family lead perfectly respectable lives as junior functionaries in Government establishments or teachers in schools and colleges.


I was told that last week a crude petrol bomb exploded in a busy commercial area in the heart of Imphal. The next day, shops and establishments in the vicinity received a threat letter from the 'commander' of a new militant outfit demanding a hefty sum as protection money. None had heard the commander's name earlier and doubted if his so-called organisation existed. But my interlocutors said that the signatory to the letter was certain to pick up a couple of lakh rupees because not paying up could invite targeted attacks. With this 'seed money', the commander would probably go on to actually recruit a handful of associates and emerge as yet another 'recognised' terror outfit. On present count, the number of militant organisations, spanning Naga, Kuki, Meitei and other Manipuri groups, is estimated at between 40 and 52. Incidentally, Manipur's population is merely 25 lakh, one-fifth of Delhi's!


Dr Mahendra Singh, CMO of Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, narrated his institution's pathetic tale in my hotel room. Ever since the 67-day blockade of the main highway connecting Manipur to the rest of India by Naga students' organisations (lifted barely 10 days ago), the hospital has run out of essential drugs. Although some medicines are periodically airlifted, supplies of bulk material are yet to be restored. The onset of the monsoon and consequent water-logging has provided mosquitoes with perfect breeding sites. In the last fortnight, six persons died of Japanese encephalitis, and over a hundred are feared infected. "To prevent encephalitis assuming epidemic proportions it is essential to do methadone fogging, which used to be carried out this time every year. The drug has to be mixed in the ratio of 1:9 with diesel before being sprayed. Since there is no diesel, we can't undertake this," he pointed out. 


Similarly, RIMS has shut down the State's only MRI facility because helium, which is needed to run the imaging machine, is almost over. "It has to be topped up every year. But trucks are not running and so the gas, which is brought from Mumbai, has virtually run out. I shut the machine down because operating it with a very low reserve of helium will damage the costly equipment and we will never get a replacement," he ruefully admitted.

My two-day visit to Manipur as part of a BJP delegation led by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj was a saga in the suspension of disbelief. In my 27 years as a journalist, covering terrorism-ravaged Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s, early years of insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, impoverishment and rampant caste-driven agrarian violence in Bihar, I had never experienced such abysmal negligence and callous indifference towards people's suffering on the part of the Indian state and the political establishment. New Delhi allowed the Naga students' blockade to continue for over two months, while the Congress-led State Government was too busy aggrandising and appropriating vast Central funds for private pockets. The media, hyperactive in Jammu & Kashmir offering gratuitous suggestions for appeasement of pro-Pakistan separatists, disdainfully ignored Manipur's pain. Even now, the situation is viewed with cynicism because everybody seems convinced things can never improve.


Manipur is the forgotten eastern outpost of a country that prides itself on democracy and the rule of law. How many of us even know that there are only two highways linking the State to the rest of India? How many bother to find out that the shorter and reasonably well-maintained NH 39, connecting Imphal to Guwahati, passes through Dimapur in Nagaland and was effortlessly blocked by Naga students protesting the Government's last-minute denial of permission to Mr T Muivah, chief of NSCN(I-M), to visit his home village in the Naga-dominated Ukhrul district of Manipur? At least I didn't know that the only other road link to Manipur, NH 53, goes via Silchar in Assam, is 300 km longer than NH 39, was described by a globe-trotting Japanese driving enthusiast as the "worst road in the world", and takes 60 hours to cover a distance that should be done in six.

With trucks still refusing to run on NH 39, fearing more extortion and also because they have not been compensated for their losses during the blockade, the only alternative is to improve the condition of NH 53. Last Friday I learnt that the Truckers' Association had despatched 80 lorries laden with stones and some labourers to repair the most seriously damaged portions of NH 53, without waiting any longer for the Government to intervene. Can there be a more telling example of the supreme unconcern of the Indian Establishment towards people's suffering?


I have returned from Manipur devastated by the realisation that the Indian state can sometimes be more insensitive that tin-pot dictatorships of African countries. By treating the problems in Manipur as a pure law and order issue, fuelled by ethnic rivalries, the authorities have blindfolded themselves to the appalling reality of India's abandoned State. Ironically, those who cry themselves hoarse over alleged human rights violations by the state against Kashmiri terrorists and Maoist predators have no time for the wanton violation of the Manipuris' basic human right to live with dignity.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

INDIA MUST AVOID WEST'S DEFEATISM

SWAPAN DASGUPTA


One of the heartening features of London is that entrance to the big, public museums is free. Last week, while killing time between appointments, I strolled into the National Portrait Gallery for a quick browse. Three weeks ago I had stumbled into an amazing exhibition of old Mughal portraits that included a gigantic contemporary painting of Emperor Jehangir. This week, there was an interesting exhibition of contemporary styles of portraiture sponsored by the much-reviled BP. But far more telling was the Queen and Country exhibition by the Turner Prize winner, Steve McQueen. The piece of installation art consisted of a cabinet with pull-out panels, each one containing a series of facsimile postage stamps bearing the portrait of British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.


On the face of it, there is nothing remotely subversive about McQueen's evocative creation. Sponsored by the Art Fund and the Imperial War Museum, it could well be viewed as a simple tribute to the soldiers who did their duty and gave their lives for Queen and Country — a contemporary version to the stone plaques and marble statues honouring past military heroes that have been so lovingly preserved in St Paul's Cathedral.

Every piece of art has a context. On the fifth anniversary of the London tube bombings that led to the death of 53 Londoners the mood in the exhibition hall did not, however, resonate with robust patriotism and gritty determination. Unlike the bronze statues of the British heroes of the 1857 Indian 'Mutiny' that grace the four corners of Trafalgar Square, McQueen's tribute spoke the language of tragedy. The subtext was the story of a war that didn't yield the anticipated results and which, in hindsight, is increasingly being perceived as a military misadventure.

Actually, the war in Iraq doesn't entirely fit the bill. What is agitating British public opinion is the apparently hopeless war in Afghanistan. It is important to recognise that the war which has already cost Britain the lives of more than 312 soldiers is proving to be deeply unpopular. From the Generals to the politicians of all shades, it is acknowledged that the goals of war — a Taliban-free, peaceful Afghanistan — are unrealisable. The priority is to manage the inevitable withdrawal from that country in such a way as to ensure that there is minimum loss of face.

Last week, it was announced that British forces would be departing from troubled Sangin in southern Afghanistan and handing over charge of the 'peace-keeping' operations to the US Army. The exit was a tacit admission that British lives had been sacrificed in vain and that the Army that had once stood alone against a triumphant Hitler was now incapable of holding its own against a fanatical but rag-tag guerrilla army of Islamists. Most Britons know that the retreat from Sangin symbolises defeat but there is an understandable reluctance to face up to the fact. Speaking in the House of Commons, Defence Secretary Liam Fox rejected any suggestion that the retreat from Sangin implied defeat. The troops, he asserted, would leave "proudly and with their heads held high… Any attempt by anyone to describe this as a retreat is in my view quite contemptible."

Fox may not succeed in his attempt to talk up a sagging military campaign which has lost public backing on both sides of the Atlantic. Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a favourite to win the race for the leadership of the opposition Labour Party, has publicly stated the need to negotiate with the Taliban because peace can come about by including the excluded. Unfortunately for the British establishment, the Taliban leadership has spurned all peace overtures. "What is the point of negotiating," their spokesman told the BBC, "when we know we are winning anyway?"

The Taliban's unwillingness to engage in hypocritical niceties is reassuring. It has driven a point that India has always been mindful of: The West's defeat in Afghanistan is certain to have grave consequences for the entire region. What we don't say openly is that the catastrophe isn't going to be confined to the people of Afghanistan who may have to endure another spell of medievalism. The images of a triumphant Taliban chasing out the mightiest armies of the Western world are certain to bolster the self-image of Islamist invincibility. It is a different matter that this so-called invincibility didn't happen solely because of the fearless idealism of the Taliban but because the medievalists were assisted by a Pakistan that used the West's money and arms to subvert the donors. What matters is that as the 'endgame' in Afghanistan approaches, it is both Pakistan and its pet Islamists who are exultant. It is possible that the Islamists may turn on their Pakistani Army benefactors at a subsequent date. For the moment, there is an expectation of imminent victory in the Islamist world.


The psychological impact of the elation at having defeated two superpowers is already being felt on the streets of Kashmir — billed, along with Palestine and Afghanistan, as worthwhile jihadi causes. It is time for India to factor this religious triumphalism in its counter-insurgency strategies. New Delhi can no longer remain content that the West is going to do its dirty work in Afghanistan. Either India has to engage more purposefully in Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan from re-acquiring its 'strategic depth' or it must be prepared to be permanently beleaguered in Kashmir (not to mention the second front opened by Maoists in central India).


For too long, India has been inclined to remain in denial about the ideological winds blowing through the Khyber Pass. There were good, pragmatic reasons to do so. Unfortunately, that time has passed. As the West confronts defeat in Afghanistan, India has to refashion the priorities of its own self-preservation. There is defeatism in the West and this mood mustn't infect India. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE SPIES WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

 

Friday's spy swap, that the US and Russia carried out at Vienna airport, brings the curtains down on the biggest spy story to break after the Cold War. Clearly, with certain influential sections in the US dead against a real rapprochement with Russia, espionage and counter-espionage continue to flourish. Kanchan Gupta brings you a report on the latest spy bust rocking the world


As spies were swapped in Vienna between the US and Russia on Friday in a replay of the Cold War years when men who came in from the cold would be exchanged after secret negotiations, officials in both White House and the Kremlin would have heaved a sigh of relief. 


Curtains were drawn on the fortnight-long drama which began with the FBI busting a Russian spy ring in America in end-June and arresting 10 Russians, some of them couples, who had been living staid suburban lives since the 1990s, when they were exchanged for four Russians spending time in Russian prisons on espionage charges. The fate of an 11th Russian spy, said to be on the run, who was arrested in Cyprus and brought to the US, remains unclear.


Soon after the Russians were arrested, the FBI claimed that they had been "serving for years" as secret agents of the SVR, the intelligence organisation which has replaced the KGB. Their main aim was to infiltrate official American policy-making circles. In its submission to the court after the arrests, the FBI said that it had intercepted a message from SVR headquarters, Moscow Centre — popularly known as the 'Centre' — to two of the Russians, describing their main mission as "to search and develop ties in policy-making circles in the US". 


Other messages intercepted by the FBI showed, or so the American agency claimed, that the Russian spies had been "asked to learn about a broad swath of topics, including nuclear weapons, US arms control positions, Iran, White House rumours, CIA leadership turnover, the last presidential election, the Congress and political parties". Which pretty much covers everything that a spy could be tasked with. American media went into a tizzy, as did the Western Press.


Given the scale of the alleged operation, and the involvement of a high profile woman 'entrepreneur' with an extraordinary lifestyle — Anna Chapman was virtually into everything that can titillate the imagination — spy watchers on either side of the Atlantic came to the conclusion that this was the biggest bust since the arrest of Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel in 1957 in New York. 


The only difference: Abel was picked up as the Cold War was beginning to slide into sub-zero zone and the world was beginning to feel the chill a decade after the Iron Curtain descended, dividing the world into what then seemed frozen forever Eastern and Western Blocs. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Empire, which also marked the end of the Cold War, nobody could have imagined spies surfacing as spikes in US-Russia relations which have been on the 'reset' mode for a while now, with both Washington DC and Moscow trying their best to put the past behind them and work as friends if not allies. 

But Friday showed how the past can never be erased entirely. Journalists crowding Vienna airport reported how a maroon-and-white Boeing 767-200 charter flight, carrying the 10 deported Russian agents, flew in overnight from New York's La Guardia Airport. Within minutes of its arrival, the plane came to a halt behind a Russian Emergencies Ministry plane carrying the four Russian double agents to be exchanged for the Russian spies picked up in America. For a while, it seemed the world had gone back in time.

We will never really get to know what the Russian spies, and we must presume they were spies as they pleaded guilty in court before being 'deported', were actually up to behind their carefully cultivated cover as part of America's laidback suburbia. What we do know, however, is that the four Russians who were exchanged to secure their freedom were spying for America. 


Anna Chapman may or may not have been a modern day Mata Hari, seducing American men into parting with professional secrets, but the four Russian double agents operating in Moscow both for their country and for America bring to mind the Cambridge Five. 


Interestingly, the memoirs of Anthony Blunt, the fourth man in the Cambridge Five spy ring, were made public during the latest tran-continental espionage drama. The Cambridge 5 were behind what has been described as the "biggest security scandal of the 20th century".


What is obvious is that the US has more to gain by securing access to the four Russian double agents than by prosecuting and jailing the Russian Ten. Nothing else explains why the US Administration should have moved so swiftly and agreed to a swap. Similarly, it could be argued that Moscow, while officially (and strenuously) denying that the Russians arrested in the US were on the payroll of the SVR, was desperate to get them out of America without being subjected to further interrogation. What secrets could they have spilled? Would they have squealed on other Russian spies operating in the US and in certain European countries, for instance in Britain? While this cannot be entirely ruled out, it's unlikely. For, undercover agents are never ever informed about others working in the same country; rarely, if ever, do spies know of their colleagues in the field. That's basic standard operating procedure: If a spy gets caught, he or she should be in no position to squeal.

Are we then to assume that standards have drastically fallen ever since the KGB was wound up and replaced by the SVR? Is the migration of the best brains in the KGB (among them Vladimir Putin) from Intelligence-gathering to politics beginning to tell on the espionage skills of new age Russian spies?


If the FBI is telling the truth, and we need not entirely believe the Americans, the Russian spies were not only technologically-challenged (even schoolchildren would do a better job of erasing their browsing history and safeguarding their computer passwords) but wrote secret notes with 'invisible' ink. 


If the 10 Russians, including Anna Chapman with her taste for the outrageous behind closed doors and between silken sheets, arrested in the US were dumb, the four Russians arrested in Russia were amazingly skilled in their job, excellent double agents and belonged to the old school of espionage which flourished during the Cold War. Two of them are former Russian Intelligence colonels who were found to have cheated on their bosses and 'compromised' — that is, helped expose — "dozens of valuable Soviet-era and Russian agents operating in the West".

Alexander Zaporozhsky, one of the former Russian colonels, is believed to have provided crucial information to the Americans that led to the capture of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, "two of the most damaging spies ever caught in the US". He was sentenced to 18 years of hard labour in 2003. The other former Colonel, Alexander Sypachev, was found guilty of "passing Russian State secrets to the CIA and planning to betray Russian colleagues working abroad for money" and sentenced to eight years of hard labour in 2002.


Of the other two Russian spies doing time in Russia, Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist, was found guilty of passing on secret information to a British firm, believed to be a CIA front. He was sentenced to 15 years' labour in northern Russia near the Arctic Circle in 2004. The fourth man freed by the Russians on Friday is Sergei Skripal, a retired GRU colonel, who was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 2006 for working for Britain's MI6 in the '90s.

If the charges levelled by the FBI against the Russian spies appear incredible — even a rooky spy would think twice before taking his or her laptop to an unknown person to solve a technical glitch, leave alone someone allegedly as accomplished as Anna Chapman — then it is equally arguable that the charges 'proved' against the Russian double agents held in Russia are untenable; after all, none of the four men admitted to their guilt, which the Russians held in America did, if only to escape prison and secure freedom. What, then, makes the whole affair so significant?


There are two theories doing the rounds. Both emanate from Moscow. According to the first theory, there are powerful sections in the FBI and the CIA which are appalled by the pace at which relations between the US and Russia have been stabilising, if not improving, in recent times. The 'reset' button was supposed to be just there, to be seen and not to be pressed. But US President Barack Obama has been itching to press the button (his predecessor, George W Bush, kept his finger firmly away). That would have meant fast-tracking improvement in bilateral relations and an equally fast cutback in the role played by American Intelligence agencies in determining the course of the US policy vis-a-vis Russia. It is significant that the Russian spies were arrested a day after President Dmitry Medvedev concluded his visit to the US, which was described as "successful" by both the White House and Kremlin.


The second theory has it that the Americans were desperate to secure the release of the four Russian double agents — the humanitarian reasons cited by Washington have been brushed aside by Moscow. Why does the US want these men out of Russia and in its safe custody? Is it because given their long and difficult prison terms, sooner or later they would have sung like the proverbial canary and told all to the SVR?


A former KGP spymaster says the end of the Cold War has no doubt de-escalated tension between Moscow and Washington and removed all chances of direct or proxy military conflict. But espionage and counter-espionage has, instead of decreasing, actually increased. According to his estimate, there are at least 400 Russian spies operating in the US. If there is any truth in that claim, there would be at least that many, if not more, American spies lurking in the shadows across Russia. While it is easy for Russian 'immigrants' to mingle with Americans, the opposite is not that easy. So the US continues to seek out and secure the services of Russian agents in Russia, lures them into double-crossing their bosses, and gets hold of information of strategic value. 


In the end, as the Cold War showed us, espionage is a zero sum game. And, that game still continues.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

SEE GADKARI'S COMMENTS IN LIGHT OF THE BJP'S STATE

 

THE president of the Bharatiya Janata Party Nitin Gadkari seems to be opening his mouth only to replace one foot by the other. His remarks that Afzal Guru is the Congress Party's jamai ( son- in- law) and that the party has given away their daughter to the parliament attack convict, have yet again exceeded the boundaries of decency in political discourse.

 

Shooting off one's mouth can be excused if at least it served some political purpose. However, Mr Gadkari's outbursts have been not only embarrassing but also politically counterproductive for his party. After the Bharat Bandh called by the united opposition, the time was ripe for the BJP to turn the heat on the UPA government on issues such as price rise. Instead Mr Gadkari's remarks have given the government a much needed diversion and also a stick to beat the BJP with.

 

The BJP president's comments clearly reflect the need he feels to assert himself within the party especially given the influence LK Advani and the leaders close to him continue to wield. Mr Gadkari's image of being a ' provincial non- entity' and his shoddy handling of the Jharkhand crisis hasn't done his credibility any good. His over- the- top rhetoric is therefore an attempt to regain the spotlight.

 

However, Mr Gadkari's misadventures are symbolic of a much larger crisis that exists in the BJP. The party seems to be lacking a proper ideology and a programme. A case in point is the Bharat Bandh which could have been an expression of popular anger against the policies of the UPA government, but ended up as an exercise in hooliganism. If the party itself lacks any substance in terms of policies and programmes, the party president can do little except spout hollow and sometimes distasteful rhetoric.

 

LESSON FOR INDIA AND PAK

THE United States and Russia have smartly side- stepped the negative diplomatic fallout of the incident emerging from the discovery of 10 persons alleged to be long- term Russian " sleeper" agents living in America.

In the process, they have shown how spy scandals can be dealt with in a humane and civilised fashion. The

Russians have rescued their agents who would have otherwise faced long imprisonment, and the US has managed to obtain the freedom of at least three top Russian intelligence officers who worked for it. In the process, both countries have shown to their intelligence " soldiers" that they will not be abandoned on the battlefield.

 

There is a lesson there, perhaps, for India and Pakistan who run major spy programmes against each other. But unlike Russia and America, they routinely leave the agents caught by the other side to their fate.

 

The result is that scores of people — usually low level field agents — are caught, tortured and rot in jails because neither side wants to acknowledge them. Recently MAIL TODAY highlighted the plight of some who have lost their mental balance as a result of what they faced. It is time that India and Pakistan followed the example of Russia and the US and traded their spies discreetly instead of treating them like dirt.

 

GAMES THAT ANIMALS PLAY

YOU know it has not been an eventful FIFA World Cup when the debate for the player of the tournament is overshadowed by the rival predictions of an octopus and a parakeet.

Not a country to hold back its superiority complex when it comes to things modern, Singapore unleashed its own Mani, the parakeet, to counter the German influence of Paul, the octopus, who has been spot on with his predictions so far with in the World Cup.

And so it appears that the final of the World Cup on Sunday night is not between European giants The Netherlands and Spain, but between an eight- legged cephalopod and an avian. For, the former has predicted Spain as the winner, while the latter has bet on the Dutch taking the World Cup home.

 

Mani needs to watch out because Paul's predictions have come true to such an extent that even statisticians are flabbergasted. But with the Germans sending out death threats to Paul for their team's loss, he better give away all his predictions in advance; else he would be, well, grilled octopus.

 

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

IT'S ALL A QUESTION OF HOW WE SEE FEET

BY RUCHIR JOSHI

 

EVERY four years the same silly question comes up and every four years I love to find different answers for it: why are Indians such rubbish at football? Following this main question come the usual, suspect, appendixed wails/ complaints: why, in a population of x. x billion can't we find eleven men to play soccer at a world- class level? Will we ever see India participate in a world cup in my lifetime/ the next century/ the next millenium? Following this litany of questions, ( accompanied by jeers and snarky comments by friends and children who have passports from proper football- playing nations), comes a whole set of answers that are as well- worn as the football boots worn by fauji footer teams in the 60s: we aren't, ahem, ' well- built' enough, we don't like contact sport, we can't conjure up the team- work required to win serious football tournaments, cricket has taken up too much dream- space in the heads of likely youth, there isn't enough money and/ or fame in football, we are too far behind in the sports technology required to make us competitive, etc etc.

 

Excuses

 

It's all nonsense. First bogey is the ' wellbuilt' business. Have you seen some of the hulks we have playing cricket and other sports? Since when were solidly constructed Jats, Coorgis, Marathas and north- easterners lacking in ' build'? You probably can't have an entire team of under- six- feet players, ( though the Koreans would argue that fiercely, jumping about five feet off the ground and going horizontal to head- butt you as they did), but you can build a team around a few key players who are about 5 feet 7 ( Pele, Messi) or 5 feet 5 ( Maradona) as long as they know what they are doing.

 

Next, teamwork: again, watch our various cricket teams now and how they back each other while sledging etc, watch our other team sports, kabaddi and rampwalking and you will see plenty of teamwork; if anything we are the opposite of a nation or a society of individuals, we love our herd instincts and hunting in packs.

 

Absence of money and fame: nonsense, as Lalit Modi and others never tire of telling us, clever investment of money will force the fame and more money to follow – today we are at a point where investment and marketing muscle could make the nation go wild about Boules or pigwrestling, leave aside the many obvious charms of The Beautiful Game. Last, sports technology: again, we have the money and enough experience from our cricket establishments to import the best technology, sports centres, coaches and so on; the technology and know- how has not been a problem in the last ten years.

 

So then how come a country like Uruguay, with a population of about 3.6 million, roughly the size of my footballmad South Kolkata constituency, manages to get to the semi- finals, something we cannot even fantasise about? My new answer for this World Cup is that I think it has to do with our different relationship with hands and feet. There is a strong theory as to why football took off as a working- class sport in Europe and then again a different one for why it did so in South America and Africa. The European theory crudely goes like this: in the pre and early industrial eras there were many machines, both agricultural and industrial, that required the deft use of feet and legs and football brought out the traces of that ingrained memory in the working- class; after a few decades football itself, a game requiring nothing more than a ball and two ' goals', became the platform- memory and the rest is history.

 

An attached theory is one about how a game of football represents and replicates the tribal struggle of a group against another, which then transfers to subliminal urges towards class- struggle. In South America it's not the machines but the confluence of two traditions of dance, African and Iberian, with intricate footwork and peculiar demands on the legs and thighs and attendant staminas, that led to ' samba' football in Portuguese Brazil and ( I'm making this up, I think) ' tango' football in Argentina and other Spanish- dominated countries.

As opposed to this, in India, both our

 

memory of the martial and of artistry and dance is queered towards the arms, the wrists and the fingers. Yes, feet are involved, but leaving aside our indigenous tribes, we are actually a foot- shy society— we venerate the gods and our ' betters' by connecting ourselves with the dust of their feet, if a foot touches a book or some other ' sacred' thing we apologise, we do everything, both consciously and unconsciously, to push away from our sensibilities our feet and legs and all the sensations connected to them; when we do give feet and legs importance it's always subordinate to the importance we give our upper bodies; even in our caste structure, the lowest of the low castes were connected to Godly feet.

 

If you look at dance traditions all over the world, you'll not find another set that privileges intricate and delicate finger and arm work as much as our non- tribal dance strands. Also, while feet were below the high- caste radar, so to speak, the head and it's contents were always put on a pedestal. If ' shudras' were made from Brahma's feet, ' brahmins' were supposed to be of his head.

 

Hands

 

In order to differentiate itself from rugby, football in the 19th century almost completely removed the arms and the hands from play. There are exceptions of course, legal ones ( goalies, throw- ins) and artistic ones ( Maradona's Hand of God, emulated very badly recently by a Uruguyan player), but basically the game is about treating your legs and feet as the most precious extensions of the body and bringing in the head as a hammer. In a sense, football plays like a parentheses around Indian sensibility and traditions, plays with both the most sacred and most profane parts of the body, teaming them into an equal and honest relationship, while denying precisely the deft sleights of hands preferred by the lazy and the rich.

 

Except of course, it doesn't wash. If you only look at our cricket recently, some of the footwork to stop the ball at the boundary, and some of the sliding dives, would put any Premiership footballer to shame.

 

And if you watch a YouTube loop of someone like Gambhir, Bhajji or Sreesanth deliberately banging their shoulder into some huge opponent you'd realise we've lost any squeamishness we might have had about contact sport, whether or not the game nominally involves a ball.

 

Television

 

Again, people looking to destroy my precious theory will quickly point out that we are pretty bad at tennis as well, whereas the feet- loving Spanish ( who've apnaaoed our complex kathak into flamenco quite nicely thank you) are currently bossing it equally in tennis, F- 1 motor- racing ( a sport that involves sitting in one seat for two hours straight!) and football.

 

Ah well, I tried. Clearly, next time, I'll have to veer off into the business of time and the Indian's relationships to games of long and short duration ( notice that besides cricket we do quite alright at chess, bridge, golf etc?), but the answer then and now will actually be the same: football exploded the world over with the advent of television and particularly colour television, with all it's subsequent attendant glitz of ads and logos. Now, the thing is, we already have all that, plus the coloured shirts and short explosive games in the shape T- 20. Perhaps, by the time the next FIFA World Cup comes along, T- 20 will have been banned and all the left- over apparatus will need an outlet. Perhaps that is when football will finally go big in India. And then it'll surely be a mere matter of time before we start losing nail- biting matches to qualify out of the group stages.

 

The writer is the author of The Last Jet- engine Laugh

 

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MAIL TODAY

FORTUNE COOKIE

 

EVERYBODY WANTS TO DISH OUT A PAUL ORDER

SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA

 

OCTOPUSES have an undeserved reputation of being devilish creatures believed to sink ships and drown humans — and thanks to Paul, whom Amitabh Bachchan wanted to cook in beer and eat, they now are hated by just about every footie lover living outside of Spain and The Netherlands.

 

The Spaniards, incidentally, don't spare an octopus when they see one — they love these creatures ( and Paul, by rights, should be eaten by them if they life the FIFA World Cup), but of course, the Japanese have cornered the honour of producing and consuming the largest quantities of octopus in the world. Akashi in Hyogo prefecture — a port on the sheltered sea between two of Japan's main islands, Honshu and Shikoku — is famous for its octopuses, informed the Oxford Companion to Food , Alan Davidson's 25- year labour of love.

 

The Japanese were bang- on when they turned the octopus into a favourite comic strip character with a reputation for amiability. The creatures may look grotesque and they may be slippery ( it's impossible to keep them as pets because they have a mind of their own and are better escape artistes than Houdini) but you cannot accuse them of being mean, though they are known as devil fish in America and sui gwai ( white ghost) or worse, laai por ( muddy old woman) in China.

 

And no, you can't cook them by dunking them in beer.

 

Baby octopuses are the easiest to cook — just fry them after marinating them for some time in lemon juice, chilli powder and salt. Otherwise, cook them briefly in boiling water and then serve them with a dash of fresh lime juice or soy sauce. You may find the flesh chewy — which is a problem for me, because the little creature slithers into my gullet and causes me to choke — but that shouldn't prevent you from keep eating. Just make sure you chew really well before swallowing.

 

Tenderising large octopuses can be a challenge, though unlike what you may have started to believe after seeing The Pirates of the Caribbean , even the largest of these creatures don't weigh more than 2 kilos. From the Oxford Companion , I learnt that according to ancient folklore, adding cork to cooking water is one method of ensuring an octopus comes out tender.

 

The other way is to thrash octopuses on a rock till they turn tender — a tedious and distasteful method.

 

The Japanese, being the largest consumers of octopuses, should know the best.

 

They follow three methods of tenderising bigger octopuses.

 

The more difficult one is to clean and put them in a bath of finely grated daikon ( Japanese radish) and knead them using fingers. They also boil these creatures lightly in water ( if you overdo it, the meat tends to get hard), slice them thin and eat them with a soy or mustard dip.

 

The other, more elaborate, method ( they call it nimono ) is slow- cooking the octopuses with vegetables and tofu.

 

The process may last for hours — till the time the meat gets really soft.

I have not come across any recipe for cooking octopus in beer. But if you make masala octopus at home, I can't imagine a better accompaniment than chilled beer. I wonder if Paul has pushed up octopus sales — he may have, if only the Japanese made it to the FIFA World Cup final.

 

THE CREAMY CHARMS OF PARSI DAIRY

BEING a dyed- in- the- wool Dilliwallah, I could not decide for a long time whether I liked the matkewali kulfi more than its teeliwali cousin. Dilliwallahs, as Shobhaa De had once famously said to me, tend not to look beyond their navels — if we'd done otherwise, maybe we would have discovered the Parsi Dairy kulfi a long time back. I discovered the kulfi, now available at Nature's Basket in Defence Colony, a couple of years back on the menu of Machan, the Taj Mahal Hotel's ' coffee shop'. I got very excited and asked for a helping — the kulfi is served in large wheels — and I was horrified to find that it was not its usual creamy self. That's when I learnt that very few people asked for the kulfi, so it had stayed within the freezer longer than it should have. Dilliwallahs, apparently, hadn't warmed up to one of the most sensuous gastronomic experiences.

Mohit Khattar, managing director of the Nature's Basket chain of stores, couldn't stop chuckling when he shared with me how notoriously media- shy and difficult the family owning the dairy is. They do such good business in Mumbai that they don't have to look for new avenues. If you have their Malai Kulfi, you will understand why, and now they also have the dessert in chocolate, mango, strawberry and kesar- pista flavours. I believe the chocolate flavour has many takers.

 

Kulfis could not have had a better brand ambassador, though the family is a mystery.

 

DO EXPENSIVE WINES TASTE BETTER?

THE Chinese and the Japanese are notorious for equating the price of a wine with quality. That explains why they are big consumers of the most expensive wines of the world. The joke about them is that they decide which wine to order at a restaurant after checking out the right hand side of the menu. So, does a more expensive wine taste better? That was exactly the question my favourite website for news on the good things of life, Luxist. com, asked a few days ago, and I was relieved to read the answer: " Yes, no, and sometimes." Most expensive wines cash in on one of four factors: history, region, vintage or volume of production. A Bordeaux red with a hoary history produced in limited quantities in a particularly good year will naturally command a hefty price tag.

But I have a problem. I have found that all great and expensive wines, especially the reds, are ready for drinking five to ten years after they've been released. It's because their tannins are still too overpowering and take time to mellow down.

 

These wines also must be paired with the right food if you wish to get a bigger bang for the buck. Most wine drinkers, though, are like the French or Italian peasants of the past. They pick up a bottle, or maybe a case, only if they're determined to empty its contents with friends and family in a day or three.

 

Certainly, for this category of people who drink wine to have their share of uncomplicated fun, an expensive one is just not right.

 

Tell that to the snobs! Researchers at the California Institute of Technology, says Luxist, have found that people appreciate the same wine more when they think it's expensive.

 

They've conducted brain scans to show that drinking high- priced wine sends extra blood and oxygen to the pleasure centres of the brain.

 

Price, in other words, determines how some people perceive the wine they drink. I think that's foolish.

 

Some of the best wines I have had didn't burn a hole in my wallet.

 

THE RECIPE FOR A HEALTHY FINAL

I WONDER why people have pizza and beer — the unhealthiest combination — when they watch football, the most athletic of all sports. In honour of South Africa and Spain ( my favourite), I'll stick to wine — I'll open with a Sauvignon Blanc from the host country in the first half and then move over to a Tempranillo, Spain's most delicious red wine that surprisingly goes well with mutton kebabs.

 

It'll be quite late in the night, so kebabs are ruled out. Instead, I may call for sushi rolls, which I have discovered pair seamlessly with a Sauvignon Blanc. When it's time for the Tempranillo, I wonder what I'll have.

 

Maybe a falafel wrap with the Greek yoghurt- and- cucumber- garlic dip. It's an odd accompaniment for a full- bodied red, but I am a great believer in the joy of discovering the unknown.

 

Best, I'll stick to cream crackers with smoked cheese, which you get in abundance in department stores everywhere. The combination has always worked well with red wines that have character.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ALL THE MATTER

FOR THE RECORD OMAR ABDULLAH

'I MUST HAVE MORE DIRECT INTERACTION WITH PEOPLE'

Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has had a tumultuous fortnight. As violence spreads across the Kashmir valley, his leadership has come under intense scrutiny. In a candid interview with Josy Joseph and M Saleem Pandit, Abdullah admits he made mistakes and needs to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Excerpts: 


Why did you decide to ease curfew restrictions on Friday evening? 

 

• We knew we could not justify holding of the festival, Shabi Miraj, under curfew conditions. We were counting on the better sense of the majority. Fortunately, this is what happened. We discussed the plan over the past two days and that is how things played out. 


Your decision to call for Army assistance in Srinagar hasn't gone down well with residents, and is being seen as a sign of your weakness. Do you regret the decision? 



• Not at all. I had only one objective, to ensure that there are no more deaths. I didn't bother how it reflected on me politically or administratively. The raw anger that was visible should not translate into more deaths. Therefore, we discussed with our ministers, officials, corps commander who is my security advisor, and the Northern Army commander. We had worked out our strategy. Fortunately, the premise on which it was taken, turned out correct. Yesterday, (Friday) the Army did not come out, and today too, we didn't have the Army out. 
So are you asking the Army to go back? 



• No, we are keeping the option available to me until the 13th when they (the separatists) have called an "Idgah chalo" protest march…we will review the decision again. 


The widespread complaint is that you lack a firm grip on the administration. And the crisis, many believe, seems to reflect that. 


• We had trouble for two weeks in some parts of the cities. It cannot reflect how bad governance has been. If it indeed was bad, then protests should have spread across the state. The troubles erupted in areas where we got very low polling percentage in elections, where voting was less than 20% even in the 2008 election that was considered a major success. Areas where there were larger turnouts in the past elections have been peaceful in these two weeks. 


Many accuse your government of mishandling the crisis. 


• When normalcy is restored I would personally, and with others, analyze the entire situation so that we can learn from this crisis. I had a difficult situation to deal with and I took what I presumed were appropriate decisions. 


There are complaints from within your cabinet and government that you don't consult colleagues and don't heed advice. Are you worried you might be disconnected from the public? 

• How can that be true when I have had more cabinet meetings in these few months this year than what past CMs may have had in an entire year? How can you accuse me of being disconnected when I have had 44 district development board meetings in the past year alone? Of course, I can increase the quantum of public interaction. That is something that has come out of it. I have to increase my direct interactions with the public. Unfortunately, I prefer small town-hall meetings with 20 people, where I can attend to their problems, than large gatherings of thousands where I give a speech and get on a helicopter and fly away. I have already made up my mind to go and have meetings at the tehsil levels, so that more people can interact with me freely. 
There are complaints that you have surrendered yourself to a coterie. 



• How can anyone accuse me of (surrendering to) a coterie when I am dealing directly with all my senior officials and cabinet members? I don't deal with the DG or chief secretary through a coterie. I have a telephone where I have a button for each of my ministers. They also have to only press a button to talk to me. All of them also have my mobile numbers. 


If this is the reality, why is there such a buzz in this city and among your senior officials about your failings as an administrator? 


• Perhaps I am a bad salesman. I am really bad at propaganda. I cannot sell myself, which makes me a lousy politician. Here people do one thing and sell 20 claims. I do 20 things and sell just one. My party is also at fault. If I am a bad salesman, then the party should come up and communicate with the people. The biggest lesson that I have learned from the crisis is that I will spend less time in office and more in the field. 
If you look at the street protests and violence, you see a larger frustration among the people about the government's inability to bring lasting peace. Is that something you agree with? 


• Both the state and centre have realized in the last 15 days that the absence of political dialogue is not healthy for the state. We have to keep making efforts to reach out to those away from the political process. Many mistook the 2008 election as the end of the problem. No, it is not; it is one of the means to finding the end to the problem. Look at the present crisis: the root of the problem also lies in the absence of such effort…Some initiatives need to be taken. Of course, governance I need to handle. I need to improve delivery, public contact and public perception. 


Are you frightened by the scale of vested interest in strife — from stone-throwers to policemen — that have emerged from two decades of militancy? 


• Yes, I am surprised. We all know there are vested interests. It is easy to make the mistake of seeing everything in black and white in J&K. Not all protests are instigated by the LeT. It is a mixture of both. How we handle protests determines what happens the next day. 


There are allegations about your too-frequent weekends in Delhi with your family? 


• I put in long hours at work from Monday to Saturday. I travel around a lot. When things are fine, nobody remembers my weekend trip to Delhi. Did the trouble arise because I was in Delhi? I haven't left the state for a month now. If my absence is the problem then there should not be the present problem. The way I work I can understand issues in five minutes what someone else may take half an hour. Often, the longer you sit in a meeting is reflected as one's capability. I do not agree with that. In 18 months of my tenure, I have had a couple of bad weeks this year, and a couple of bad weeks last year. If those two bad weeks are going to be used to assess me, then I can't help it. That is politics, I suppose.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ALL THE MATTER

THE RISE AND FALL OF EMPEROR PAWARUS

OUT OF TURN

M J AKBAR 


Sensible Roman emperors feared but two eventualities: barbarians at the gate, and a shortage of corn in Rome, citadel of free citizens and heart of empire. While generals were dispatched to deal with the former, the emperor treated the availability of food as a personal responsibility. A hungry populace could be dangerous to the emperor's health. 

 

In 23 BC, the divine Augustus enhanced his godly reputation during a food crisis by purchasing grain with his private wealth and distributing it to a quarter million Romans. In 19 AD, his successor Tiberius, clearly a more mature economist than his populist predecessor, calmed food riots with a price freeze, and compensated merchants with a subsidy. 

 

There is no known instance of an Emperor Sharadus Pawarus throwing his arms up in his toga in the middle of a corn calamity and letting it be known that he was a bit tired of distribution hassles and his time would be far better spent as Caesar of ICC (Imperial Coliseum Circus). This, particularly now that the punters had displayed a pronounced eagerness to pay inflated prices for a seat at a shortened form of gladiatorial gore, in which one side had to die within 20 bouts while vestal non-virgins cheered each slash with an acrobatic 'rahrahrah' and sponsors offered to arrange a vestal meeting at a suitable price. 

 

 Abdication of responsibility while clinging to power does not suggest the happiest of analogies. Such indifference during this simmer of discontent is a symptom of complacency that descends easily on those blessed with re-election, particularly when anaesthetized by the image of high growth. Pawar and Murli Deora can shrug and carry on. Elections are four years away, and when the sun rises on that a May morning in 2014, the price of fuel and food might be the last thing on the electorate's mind. Why worry about judgment until face to face with Providence? 

 

Roman emperors were less smug. Theoretically, they held their jobs till death; in practical terms, death was only a short stab away. The emperor knew that you cannot rule unless you are able to govern. Curiously, democracy seems to have legitimized the opposite. If you want a contemporary instance of being in office without being in power, check out Srinagar. Is there anything in common between the fuel-protest bandh in Delhi and the curfew in Kashmir? The circumstances are different, but the complaint is the same: the government has gone deaf. 

 

Governments seem unaware of a dangerous phenomenon called buyers' remorse. Voters may not have the luxury of returning what they have purchased to the store, but their remorse can suck credibility out of authority. German chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected last October in an election that broke the back of the Opposition. In nine months, the back is healed, and Merkel's united front is in a clinic: 77% of Germans believe that she has lost control. That is the key to authority: are you in control of events, or do events control you? 

 

In 1971, Indira Gandhi won the most astonishing endorsement in our electoral history; by December that year, she led the nation to military victory over Pakistan and was declared a veritable goddess. By the summer of 1973, the charismatic George Fernandes had halted the nation in a railway strike, and Jayaprakash Narayan was stirring from retirement. Inflation – the supply of corn, if you wish – was the principal reason for buyers' remorse. The government limped towards Emergency, gulled by the belief that it had destroyed the opposition. The most dangerous opposition is not that of political parties, but of people. 

Nearly four decades later, we have terrorists at the gate, a crisis in the kitchen, Naxalites in the courtyard and the hedge dividing us from Pakistan is on fire. Nero may not be the emperor, but he does have the agriculture and food supplies portfolio. 

 

Sharad Pawar is the first Union minister publicly to admit he has passed his sell-by date. But at least he spent a lot of time in the store. If the younger lot doesn't watch out, they will putrefy in the warehouse. 

 

Contemporary India is beginning to resemble a multiplex in a contentious marketplace, with different simultaneous movies: a violent drama in Kashmir; a stodgy farce in Delhi; an oily family soap opera in Tamil Nadu and a buttered one in Punjab; a Bfilm in Maharashtra; a tragic and tiring re-run in Gujarat; a faux David-Goliath mythological in Bengal; tales without a script in the northeast, while in some parts of the country the caretakers have simply turned off the lights and gone to sleep. Who cares?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SWAMINOMICS

RIL SHOULD BID TO TAKE OVER BP

SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR 


The share price of British Petroleum, the fourth largest company in the world, has halved after causing the greatest environmental disaster in history. Its out-of-control Macondo well is spewing thousands of barrels of oil daily into the Gulf of Mexico, killing birds and sea life and ruining tourist beaches and the livelihoods of fishermen. It has been obliged to suspend dividends and put $20 billion into an escrow account from which damages will be paid. 

 

But disaster for some means opportunity for others. Mukesh Ambani suddenly has an opportunity to take over the fourth largest company in the world. Reliance is small compared with the global oil majors. Yet the stock market has driven down BP's market value to just $100 billion, not far above Reliance's $80 billion. 

 

Mukesh could offer a merger in which two Reliance shares would be exchanged for every BP share, giving BP shareholders a substantial premium over their current market value. This would, however, carry the risk of sinking Reliance if BP itself is driven into bankruptcy by a failure to plug the Macondo well. 

So Mukesh can explore a less risky option. BP seeks a big investment in its shares to lift market confidence, and has approached sovereign wealth funds and rich Arabs. But these investors burned their fingers when they bought into distressed US banks (notably Citibank) in 2008, and then suffered huge losses when the banks plunged into near-bankruptcy. Once bitten, twice shy. 

 

Mukesh is not a passive investor. He wants control. So, he could buy a 10% to 15 % stake in BP, which at current prices would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion. This will give Mukesh a Board seat, not total control of BP. But he can increase his stake later and acquire control once the Macondo well is capped, limiting the damages BP will have to pay. 

 

 Borrowing $10 billion to $15 billion for this strategy will be easy for a company with a market value of $80 billion. Borrowing this sum will still leave Reliance with a very respectable debt-equity ratio of less than one. It has a strong balance sheet, with cash in hand of $5 billion. It will not suffer the mountainous debtequity ratios that burdened Tata Steel in taking over Corus, or Hindalco in taking over Novellis. 

 

 BP is well worth taking over, despite the risk. If the disaster costs BP $20 billion in damages, this will be paid out over several years, and will be well within the capacity of a company with a net profit of $21 billion in 2009. Even if damages ultimately cost between $40 billion and $50 billion, that will be affordable if spread over five to ten years, which is likely. President Obama has no desire to drive BP into bankruptcy; he wants it to remain viable and pay the damages. 

 

Buying into BP carries risks, but is justified by the bargain share price. BP trades today at a price-earnings ratio of just 5.1, compared to 13.4 for Exxon-Mobil and 12.56 for Conoco-Philips, its two main US rivals. There remains some uncertainty whether BP will succeed in plugging the Macondo well. It is drilling two relief wells, giving itself two chances to drill into the cursed well and kill it. The technology is welltested, and should work. 

 

Reliance is not famous for taking big risks abroad. It has long had a rule of thumb: all its projects in India should promise a return of at least 20%, and all foreign ventures should promise at least 30% (to compensate for higher risks abroad). Reliance's great comparative advantage in India has always been its ability to influence government policy, an advantage it lacks abroad. That is one reason why its foreign ventures to date have been so modest. It has gone for small oil exploration projects in Yemen, Iraq, Oman, Colombia and East Timor. It acquired Hoechst's polyester plant in Germany, but that failed and had to be closed. This showed how much more difficult operations were abroad. 

 

What would Dhirubhai Ambani have done had he been alive? Some regard him as simply a master manipulator, but he was also a visionary. His vision of making telephone calls cheaper than postcards was achieved. His vision of building the largest oil refinery in the world was also achieved. I think Dhirubhai would have gone all out to take over BP. This is the fourth-largest company in the world. Along with Reliance's own sales, a BP takeover would put his company in a strong position to become world number one. That's the sort of goal Dhirubhai would have gone for.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

IN PRINCIPLE

TIDE OF GLOBAL OPINION TURNING AGAINST ISRAEL

MINHAZ MERCHANT 


Is Israel's long-term security as a nation under threat? That was not a question many asked seriously 10 years ago. But today, thoughtful observers of West Asian politics, including friends of Israel, are asking the question and coming up with a one-word answer that was, till recently, unthinkable: perhaps. 

 

Israel has clearly overreached itself in recent months under the pugnacious leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who took office in March 2009 (he was earlier prime minister between 1996 and 1999). In January 2010, an Israeli assassination squad murdered Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai, leading to international condemnation. More recently, Israeli navy seal commandos killed nine protesters aboard a peace ship flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Movement. 

 

For more than three years, 1.5 million Palestinians have been living under siege in Gaza, a narrow strip controlled by the Islamist party Hamas and blockaded by Israel, subsisting on food, water and medicines allowed in by Israeli troops and smuggled from Egypt through a maze of underground tunnels. There are three principal actors in this human tragedy. First, the United States for its support of any Israeli action, however excessive, in West Asia. Second, Israel for its uncompromising position on Gaza and the West Bank. Third, the broader Arab leadership, largely impotent since the creation of Israel in May 1948. 

 

The trade-off is cynical and simple. American military power protects Arab governments from democratic movements in their own countries in return for acceptance of US policy in West Asia. Arab leaders make periodic statements of protest against Israel through the Arab League. But the clear understanding between the US and nearly a dozen Arab countries (including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Jordan) is that America's policy writ in West Asia will not be challenged. Though President Barack Obama has attempted to moderate this policy, it remains an article of faith on Capitol Hill. The Obama administration's balanced approach has, however, restored US goodwill among moderate Palestinians. 

 

The Palestinians are the original inhabitants of the territory which today comprises Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. They were historically known as the Peleshets or Philistines, an Assyrian-Phoenician people who lived in the land since 3,000 BC. Herodotus, the Greek historian, first used the term Palestini around 500 BC. 

Palestine was under Ottoman rule till just before the end of World War I. Between 1917 and 1948, it was administered under a British mandate. During this period, the population of Jews in Palestine rose sixfold from less than 100,000, mainly because of the migration of persecuted Jews from Eastern Europe. The massacre of more than six million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II gave powerful Jewish leaders in Britain and the US a window of opportunity. Public opinion worldwide, outraged by Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust, favoured the immediate establishment of a Jewish state made up largely of European Jews and predicated on biblical prophecies of a Jewish homeland. Had the creation of Israel under UN resolution 181, adopted on November 29, 1947, been delayed by even a year, the moment would have passed. 

 

Palestine as a separate nation has a solid legal — and civilizational — foundation. In 1917, Article 7 of the League of Nations mandate stated that a new, separate Palestinian nationality be established. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations gave international legal status to Palestinian people and territories earlier administered by the Ottoman Empire. 

 

How will the modern Palestinian tragedy play out? Israel, though a nation of determined and talented people whose centuries-long persecution in Europe rightly draws widespread sympathy, has two crucial weaknesses. The first is demographic. Israel has a low birth rate. Net migration, due to the psychological state of siege it lives under, is also turning negative. Meanwhile, the Palestinian population is exploding. Though confined to narrow strips of land, the number of Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank (nearly six million) has already exceeded the total Jewish population in Israel (5.66 million). If this trend continues, Israel's long-term security will be seriously compromised. 

 

Israel's second weakness is the shift in global, especially European and US, public opinion against its treatment of Palestinians. The international Free Gaza Movement, now three years old, is gathering pace. European Nobel laureates, American senators and Asian civil society leaders are challenging Israel directly and frequently. 

But Israel's real worries will begin once a separate Palestinian state is established over the next few years under the two-state solution brokered by the US at the Annapolis Conference in November 2007. Palestinian demographics and cross border fungibles could break down Israel's ring-fenced security, causing even more of its nervous east European-origin Jews to migrate back to their homes in Russia, Poland and elsewhere. The inevitability of longterm reverse migration is what really haunts the Israeli political leadership. The result of reverse migration could be a creeping, backdoor takeover by neighboring Palestinians of much of the territory they lost when Israel was created. It is this very real fear that drives Israel's policy on Palestine.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

POLITICALLY INCORRECT

SRI LANKA'S WAR IS FINALLY OVER… IT SEEMS

 

"It seems'' is perhaps one of the most endearing 'Indianisms' of all time. It covers just about everything, including a few butts. At once cautious and circuitous, it says everything without really saying a thing! "The war is finally over," was what i said as soon as we walked out of Colombo's smart airport. Peace was definitely in the air and there were miles of smiles all over, especially from warweary boy soldiers still manning checkpoints and stopping suspicious-looking vehicles. But now, the checks seemed more obligatory than menacing. A far cry from the menacing experience it used to be even as recently as last year, when i was here right in the thick of the LTTE aerial attacks. Peace has eluded Sri Lanka for almost three decades and people are understandably slow to recognize and celebrate it. I asked the hotel chauffeur what he felt about freedom from anxiety as we drove swiftly past the main Galle Face Green, which was closed to traffic for a long, long time, and where locals recently celebrated a euphoric victory parade (minus the architect of the victory, General Fonseca. He wasn't invited to his own parade!). The Sri Lankan flag is flying high, but people's hopes are a bit low. The driver, a Tamilian, slowly said "it seems" when i pressed him on whether he believed peace was here to stay. 

 

In fact "it seems" was pretty much the response of most Sri Lanka watchers monitoring the shrewd moves of the president and his family. As an observer commented, "At least Marcos (of the Philippines) during his heyday was willing to share the booty with others — here it is one family that takes it all, and keeps it all. We also seem to be chumming up with rather strange political partners — from Chavez to the Chinese." If this is making citizens uncomfortable, they are not saying so. Not in public, at any rate. "Dissent and criticism are being cracked down upon aggressively. Journalists who express strong views challenging government policy disappear overnight. We could become a fascist nation if more people don't speak up," said the observer. 
 

I sensed the discomfort myself when a guest at my book reading asked a question about democracy and human rights. A few of the invitees left at this tricky juncture, as discreetly as possible, scrupulously avoiding photographers. 

 

As we drove to Galle the next day, i noticed countless shallow graves along the coastal route. "Tsunami victims," explained our local host. We were passing one of the worst-hit villages, where an entire train had overturned, killing everybody. Thousands had died within minutes. The world rushed to help the 30,000 who lost their lives, but somehow the listless efforts of the then president, Chandrika Bandaranaike, dismayed her people, and angered them enough not to care when she stepped down after two terms. Most of the devastated homes in these villages remain in ruins, the way the fury of the killer waves left them. "It is appalling," said those who worked tirelessly to attract funds and volunteers. "Nobody knows what happened to all that money." This sounded eerily familiar. We drove over a tiny flyover and were told it was mockingly billed as the 'most expensive on earth" because so many people got a cut while it was being built. Ditto for the road-widening programme, which was announced 10 years ago! What is it about the subcontinent that converts officials into the world's most venal rascals? 

 

There was more. But let me spare you the horror stories which will make you smile at the irony of the parallels. It is depressingly "same same''. But there is much else that isn't. Land prices are going up now that Sri Lanka is seen as a safe and stable destination and the people buying tracts of beachfront property (including several desi developers) are supremely upbeat. Yes, it is whispered that Chinese prisoners, held in Gulag-like camps, are building the ambitious port project. But the next decade is still looking blindingly good. Clearly, Bollywood thinks so, too. Salman Khan, Sri Lanka's latest, self-appointed brand ambassador, has been here for a long shooting schedule, and the press loves him enough to feature him in generous cover stories. But the recently concluded IIFA did ruffle feathers because local movie stars felt diminished and marginalized. "Raavan" is running in local theatres but nobody is flocking to watch it, and the snub may have something to do with the Bachchans ditching IIFA. "It sent out the wrong message," said an enraged journalist, who is a newly minted, die-hard Salman fan. Bollywood has major plans to shoot in a destination that effectively offers a 25% discount to filmmakers scouting for fresh locations — and what amazing locations there are — some of the most dramatic beaches in the world, to say nothing of technical facilities that rival our own.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

IT'S TIME TO TAKE A CALL ON THIS NUISANCE

VIR SANGHV

It started out innocuously enough. One day my phone beeped and the screen told me I had a new message. I clicked to see what it was. Could it be work-related? Was a friend trying to get in touch?

In fact it was neither. It was a message from somebody I had never heard of, offering to sell me a 'sauna-slim belt', which would make me lose weight within days with a minimum of effort.

I was a little annoyed by this intrusion into my private space — and a mobile phone is about as personal and private as it gets — but looked in the mirror, took in the bulges and decided that perhaps God was trying to tell me something.

Within days I had cause to wonder about His motives. If God did want me to lose weight, then he also wanted me to buy homes in Gurgaon, invest in the stock market, get my car washed, see movies at Abhishek Cineplex, take out life insurance, exchange my old Acqua-guard, get 'home tuition for all subjects', get my kidney profile and iron profile blood tests organised, and go to parties sponsored by Bacardi.

Clearly, the Almighty had better things to worry about (though admittedly, the SMS about blood tests did give me pause) so I abandoned my Divine Intervention theory. What I was dealing with here was plain and simple Commercial Intrusion.

Over the last few months, the intrusions have multiplied. I get an average of 15 to 20 junk SMSes a day — at least as many as my normal SMSes and, on some days, even more. When I am abroad, these SMSes are thoughtfully forwarded by Airtel to every corner of the globe.

So I have sat by the harbour at Portofino and heard my phone beep. "Stock market me daily 1 intraday   jackpot call and guarntd (sic) 3000 profit..." it said. I was not sure what annoyed me more — the intrusion or the mangled syntax and strange spelling.

Then, I examined my phone bills closely and I stopped being philosophical about the junk SMSes. It turned out that I was paying for each text I received while I was abroad. Depending on the roaming charges levied by international operators, I was paying up to Rs 30 a message for the dubious pleasure of learning about property in Gurgaon, Manesar and Noida that nobody seemed willing to buy.

Given that I seem to get around 15 junk texts a day, I was paying up to Rs 450 a day just so that these tele-marketers could try and flog me their dodgy wares.

Now, the flood of messages has increased so much that I am forced to keep my phone on silent because otherwise, it beeps constantly as one rubbish message after another keeps arriving. My inbox is constantly clogged, and the number of messages actually seems to be multiplying.

A recent message gave me more cause for concern. It read "Send bulk SMS anywhere in India at 4 paisa/SMS with company name to promote your brand. All kinds of data available. Call 9891343339…"

So, that's all it takes. If somebody wants to invade my privacy and make my phone beep with his nasty commercial message, it only costs him four paisa! Never mind that I might be paying up to Rs 30 for the message to be forwarded to me when I am abroad. If it only costs four paisa to intrude into my life, why shouldn't unscrupulous marketers make my phone beep again and again?

I phoned my former colleague Siddharth Zarabi, who was HT's telecom correspondent before going off to become a Big Wheel at CNBC. If I had signed up for the do-not-call register introduced by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), I said, did this also offer protection from junk SMSes?

Yes, said Siddharth, it should. But the truth was that the register had failed. People still violated our privacy and there was nothing anyone could do because Trai, the telecom regulator, had no teeth and the phone companies made money out of the junk SMSes so they had no interest in stamping out the practice either.

My call to Siddharth led to a conversation with J.S. Sarma, the Chairman of Trai. To my surprise, he had no hesitation in conceding that the do-not-call register had flopped. He agreed also with Siddharth that Trai lacked the teeth to take any action against telemarketers and that the telecom companies were opposing changes that would make life easier for consumers and protect our privacy.

What Dr Sarma has in mind is eminently sensible. He wants a "Do Call" register not a do-not-call one. If you want to be told of new homes in Gurgaon or be invited to parties at Lap (I have just got a junk SMS inviting me — isn't this supposed to be an exclusive place?) then you can sign up for this privilege. If not, then the telemarketers can leave us in peace.

Fair enough? I would have thought so. But Dr Sarma says that the phone companies are opposing it. (Their revenues swell each time your privacy is invaded.)

Dr Sarma also says that Trai does not really have the power to act against telemarketers. All it can do is to ask the phone companies to fine the telemarketers (isn't it great how the telecom moguls make money every way?), which is (and this is my parallel — not Trai's) like asking a fence to fine a burglar.

Trai has a consultation paper out. It wants to get opinion from stake-holders (in this case, every person who owns a mobile phone) before it changes the rules. You should write in with your own views (advqos@trai.gov.in), but here is my suggestion.

Trai should not only ask the telecom companies to block every phone from which a nuisance call is made, or a junk text goes out, but it should also impose fines. Naturally, we should not be made to pay the roaming fees for each text that is forwarded, but we should also be entitled to a penal credit for every junk SMS we receive. If we can demonstrate that we have received such an SMS, then the phone company should credit us Rs 10 per text. They need not hand us the money, this can take the form of a credit on our phone bills. So, if you get, say, 450 junk texts a month (I get more), then Vodafone, Airtel, Idea or whoever, should credit you with Rs 4,500 on your bill.

Once the telecom companies start losing revenue, they will suddenly discover a new-found concern for our privacy. It is the only language they understand.

Until that happens, you might want to phone the numbers given on the junk SMSes and tell them what you think of them. I would never dream of suggesting that you discuss the legitimacy of their births or the mating habits of their parents. (That would be a Very Bad Thing to do.)

But hey, I can't stop you, can I?

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

OUR MONSOON IS AS TARDY AS OUR RAILWAYS

KHUSHWANT SING

Of all the professions, healing the sick is regarded as the noblest. Jesus was a healer — Isa Masih. He could heal people by the mere touch of his hand. He did not charge any fees for doing so. Since then healing has become an expensive business as healers have to undergo six years of learning how to heal and have expensive gadgets like stethoscopes, thermometers, blood pressure gadgets, blood sugar counters, X-Ray machines and much else. So to demand the fees that they do is understandable. But there are huge differences in the monies they demand. I know of two doctor brothers. One is a heart surgeon; he earns upwards of Rs 1 lakh every day. His brother is a physician. He refuses to take any fees and even travels long distances to treat sick friends without accepting a rupee. However, the majority of doctors not only charge high fees but also pass their patients on to their friends in the profession for further tests in the expectation of getting patients in return. It has become a mafia of doctors: the Hippocratic oath be damned.

I have recently come across a family which has three generation of doctors who combine 'pay for advice' with free healing so that they can make their living as well as serve the poor who cannot afford to pay them. They are Bengalis settled in Delhi. Dr Samir Nundy is attached to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, his wife Mita set up a society to help spastic children. Their son Surajit Nundy was schooled in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, reckoned to be among the best schools in the capital. After finishing his school, he went to the United States to become a doctor. He studied at Manhattanville College for pre-medical, sociology and computer science. Then he went to Duke University and got a PhD in Neurobiology. He went on to the Washington University School of Medicine, Harvard School of Public Health and set up his own practice in Boston. Two years ago he returned to Delhi, married the beautiful Mandakini, daughter of Manju and Suman Dubey. They have two little girls.

Surajit Nundy is a strapping 6 feet 3 inches tall, handsome young Hindi-speaking Bengali. He did not return home to make money but to combine comfortable living with serving the poor. First, he explored prospects of doing so with Dr Binayak Sen's colleagues in Chattisgarh. Then he returned to Delhi and through his father's contacts met Reeta Devi Varma of the Ila Trust to see what she was doing. The first day she took him to her mobile clinic to Jama Masjid where her doctors and nurses treat hundreds of men, women and children free of charge as well as give free medicines. The next day she took him to the red light district of GB Road. Dr Nundy offered his services to the Ila Trust. He has been doing the rounds of Delhi's slums where everyday her mobile clinics treat about a thousand people. One day Reeta brought him over to meet me. I ferreted out bits and pieces of information of his past and future plans. He was reluctant to talk about his plans. It is evident he has to earn to provide for his wife and children as well as have the satisfaction of serving the needy.  He must not be forced to return to the States, but made full use of by our government. There are not many people as highly qualified and eager to do their bit for their countrymen as he is.

MONSOON EXPRESS

There are a few features that our railways share with the monsoons. Most of our trains depart on time but very few reach their destinations as printed in railway time-tables, no matter what fancy names they are given: Rajdhani, Shatabadi, Deccan Queen, Queen of the Himalayas. When I was able to travel by rail, I used to take the the Shatabadi to Chandigarh from New Delhi railway station at least four times a year to go to Kasauli. It used to pull out dot on time and gather speed as soon after it cleared the suburbs of Delhi. However, I can't recall it ever arriving in Chandigarh on time: a delay of 15 minutes to half an hour was normal. Other trains are usually late by an hour or two. We have got used to our trains running late.

It is much the same with the summer monsoon. It was expected to hit the west coast by the last week of May or first week of June. This year it broke over the Malabar coast on May 31. Then it moved northward, drenching Mumbai a week later. Its progress further inland was preceded by dust storms and an occasional shower. Our weather forecasters assured us our first gift of rains on June 24. On the promised day, the sky was overcast by the afternoon and in the evening there was a dust storm followed by a light shower. We waited a week when the proper monsoon was supposed to break over the city. Though more cloudy days came and went, but there was no rain. As usual, the summer monsoon like our railway trains, is always late in arriving.

Why do the monsoons, both the summer and the winter mean so much to us Indians? For one, despite our network of canals, thousands of tubewells and water-harvesting devices, we remain heavily dependant on good monsoons to feed ourselves. The summer monsoon is the time of national rejoicing: flying kites, girls singing sitting on jhoolas, dancing and seeing peacocks spread out their tails and raise their cries to rain-sodden black clouds.

YOGIC MIRACLE

My friend's son Golu used to bite his nails. I advised my friend to send Golu to Baba Ramdev who will teach him yoga. After two months I asked my friend, "How is Golu now?" My friend said: "Now Golu can bite his toe nails also."

(Contributed by JP Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

ENTRY RESTRICTED

KARAN THAPAR

She was staring intently at the  television when I walked in. The look on Mummy's face suggested bewilderment. I  could tell she was displeased with something she'd heard.

"What's grabbed your attention?" I asked, trying to snap her concentration with a little deliberate levity.

"It's the judges", she replied gravely. "They seem to think they know how to run the army better than the army chief! They want to force him to take in women officers. On the other hand, he's  reluctant to do so. Surely this is something the man should be allowed to decide  for himself?"

Even at 93 the issue had riled Mummy. First as a wife and then as a widow, she's spent over seven decades connected to the army and firmly believes she understands it better than most. Judges, who have no martial tradition to boast of and little understanding of the services, are unlikely to change her mind. And Mummy can be pretty obstinate.

"Don't you think women have a right to join the army if they want to?" It wasn't a serious question so much as an attempt to engage her in conversation. But Mummy saw it as an opportunity to teach me a thing or two.

"Don't be silly" she shot back. "No one has a right to join the army. It's not a birthright conferred upon you. Not unless you qualify and you are accepted. In this case, the army is the best judge of what they want and who meets their standards or requirement."

"Oh, come now, Mummy", I responded, still trying to be jocular despite her heavily crossed eye-brows and clearly visible irritation. "Don't you think women in uniform parading down Rajpath would make a fetching sight?"

I think she snorted. At least it sounded like that. At any rate her contempt for my comment was difficult to miss.

"But the judges aren't only talking of decorative roles. Would you feel safe if the defence of India was left in the care of women indulging in hand-to-hand combat with strapping lads from China and Pakistan?" Mummy waited for the import of her question to sink in. When she thought it had, she delivered her coup de grace. "When you're faced with the prospect of ending up as chopsuey or burra kebab I think you'll be very grateful for a tough male soldier ready to sacrifice his life for you!"

The force of that rejoinder took me  aback. I had no idea Mummy had such strong and passionate views. But now that I had made this discovery I was keen to find out more.

"But there are non-combat roles women can perform. What's wrong with that?"

"If only you'd use your head you'd  realise non-combat roles are meant for the second rank. Do you want women to be in a position where they are permanently inferior?" This time Mummy positively spat out her words. So I decided to change tack.

"And do you agree with the argument that soldiers don't like taking orders from women? The army says it goes against their cultural grain."

"It depends on which women you mean. They may not like being commanded by one but they'll bloody well do as they're told when spoken to by a senior officer's wife!" Clearly that must've brought back happy memories because Mummy started smiling.

"Now enough of this nonsense or I'll  think you're as daft as those silly  judges."

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

MY PRIVATE AMERICA

INDRAJIT HAZRA

I haven't been to Edison, New Jersey, and frankly, I never intend to. But I have recently been to Jackson Heights, New York. So what I say may come across as crass and as politically incorrect as referring to a female dog as a biyatch or calling a pile of egg shells in the dustbin White Trash. But just by having walked around Jackson Heights on a May afternoon, I totally understand what poor Time magazine columnist Joel Stein — by now probably locked inside an 8 ft by 5 ft cell shared by a paedophilic Ku Klux Klansman — meant by bemoaning the fate of his hometown, Edison, New Jersey.

Stein wrote in the July 5 issue of the American edition of Time (the column wasn't carried in the magazine's Asia edition, perhaps fearing the wrath of family members of Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria living in India) about how, on going back to his old hometown, he found it completely unrecognisable. "The Pizza Hut where my busboy friends stole pies for our drunken parties is now an Indian sweets shop with a completely inappropriate roof. The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas."

Now this kind of feeling — of leaving a place in your early manhood because you couldn't bear to live there any more, but moaning when you drop by for a nostalgia trip to find it completely changed — must be familiar to many more people than just Stein and me. That hideous mall or high rise must have been so mindlessly built on that old overgrown-with-weeds patch where once those bucolic mosquitoes spawned and where, while retrieving the cricket ball, you would step randomly on human turd. Capitalism crushing the remnants of our youths! Stein felt it too and wrote about it.

But that's, of course, not why everyone's so pissed off with Stein, Time magazine, America, White people, the two male members in Abba — not necessarily in that order. And that's certainly not why Kal Penn — oops, did I just say Kalpen Suren Modi? — Indian-American thespian, acting in roles like Taj Badalandabad in National Lampoon's Van Wilder: Rise of Taj — turned green and gigantic and made Time print an apology for running Stein's column, as well as ensure that the supremacist magazine runs nasty profiles of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley — Republicans who turned their backs on their culture of origin by installing western-style toilets in their homes.

But coming back to Jackson Heights. Coming out of the subway and trying to find my way to my friends' house — Jewish American husband and Chinese American wife — I had to pass through a smorgasbord shacktown that was part-Sylhet, part-Rameshwaram and overbearingly small-town subcontinental. Among the signs in Bengali and Tamil was a replication of South Asian kitsch. No whiff of Lakshmi Mittal and Co. or anything 2010 New Delhi or Mumbai here. The bitter gourd truth was that I was embarrassed to see such a crummy advertisement of 'India' where you couldn't hide it from 'prying eyes'.

Later that evening, over dinner, my hosts asked me enthusiastically — and innocently — whether I saw "a bit of home" a few blocks down the road. It's one thing to bad mouth your own kind among your own kind. It's quite another, even for a flag-burning type like me, to be a honest hombre before outsiders. But there I was, explaining how Indians in Jackson Heights were stuck in a stasis that every big city in India has either got out of or wants to get out of.

But Stein's column was, according to my forever mangled judgment, rip-roaringly funny — the sort that's set up to make people react to it and to make you prolong the laughter by following the reactions. "...in the 1980s, the [Indian] doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing," something that I could have tipped him off about only if he had asked me, considering I knew a few chaps who were desperate to go to America — so that they could have sex whenever they wanted, with whomever they wanted. "In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants," wrote Stern, "brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor." (And, to the quiet relief of many in India, Operation Drain Brain was finally proving to be a success.)

I always end up with snapshots of Russians and Israelis in my head when I hear stories from locals and ex-locals about Goa and Manali. All because of the influx of egg shells in the dustbin in those two places down the years.

As a Jewish wise man once said, "This business of being funny is far too serious." Stein should have listened to Groucho's advice and kept his mouth shut about cross-cultural angst. As I've done since I ran away from Jackson Heights, New York.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IT'S TIME TO TAKE A CALL ON THIS NUISANCE

VIR SANGHVI

It started out innocuously enough. One day my phone beeped and the screen told me I had a new message. I clicked to see what it was. Could it be work-related? Was a friend trying to get in touch?

In fact it was neither. It was a message from somebody I had never heard of, offering to sell me a 'sauna-slim belt', which would make me lose weight within days with a minimum of effort.

I was a little annoyed by this intrusion into my private space — and a mobile phone is about as personal and private as it gets — but looked in the mirror, took in the bulges and decided that perhaps God was trying to tell me something.

Within days I had cause to wonder about His motives. If God did want me to lose weight, then he also wanted me to buy homes in Gurgaon, invest in the stock market, get my car washed, see movies at Abhishek Cineplex, take out life insurance, exchange my old Acqua-guard, get 'home tuition for all subjects', get my kidney profile and iron profile blood tests organised, and go to parties sponsored by Bacardi.

Clearly, the Almighty had better things to worry about (though admittedly, the SMS about blood tests did give me pause) so I abandoned my Divine Intervention theory. What I was dealing with here was plain and simple Commercial Intrusion.

Over the last few months, the intrusions have multiplied. I get an average of 15 to 20 junk SMSes a day — at least as many as my normal SMSes and, on some days, even more. When I am abroad, these SMSes are thoughtfully forwarded by Airtel to every corner of the globe.

So I have sat by the harbour at Portofino and heard my phone beep. "Stock market me daily 1 intraday   jackpot call and guarntd (sic) 3000 profit..." it said. I was not sure what annoyed me more — the intrusion or the mangled syntax and strange spelling.

Then, I examined my phone bills closely and I stopped being philosophical about the junk SMSes. It turned out that I was paying for each text I received while I was abroad. Depending on the roaming charges levied by international operators, I was paying up to Rs 30 a message for the dubious pleasure of learning about property in Gurgaon, Manesar and Noida that nobody seemed willing to buy.

Given that I seem to get around 15 junk texts a day, I was paying up to Rs 450 a day just so that these tele-marketers could try and flog me their dodgy wares.

Now, the flood of messages has increased so much that I am forced to keep my phone on silent because otherwise, it beeps constantly as one rubbish message after another keeps arriving. My inbox is constantly clogged, and the number of messages actually seems to be multiplying.

A recent message gave me more cause for concern. It read "Send bulk SMS anywhere in India at 4 paisa/SMS with company name to promote your brand. All kinds of data available. Call 9891343339…"

So, that's all it takes. If somebody wants to invade my privacy and make my phone beep with his nasty commercial message, it only costs him four paisa! Never mind that I might be paying up to Rs 30 for the message to be forwarded to me when I am abroad. If it only costs four paisa to intrude into my life, why shouldn't unscrupulous marketers make my phone beep again and again?

I phoned my former colleague Siddharth Zarabi, who was HT's telecom correspondent before going off to become a Big Wheel at CNBC. If I had signed up for the do-not-call register introduced by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), I said, did this also offer protection from junk SMSes?

Yes, said Siddharth, it should. But the truth was that the register had failed. People still violated our privacy and there was nothing anyone could do because Trai, the telecom regulator, had no teeth and the phone companies made money out of the junk SMSes so they had no interest in stamping out the practice either.

My call to Siddharth led to a conversation with J.S. Sarma, the Chairman of Trai. To my surprise, he had no hesitation in conceding that the do-not-call register had flopped. He agreed also with Siddharth that Trai lacked the teeth to take any action against telemarketers and that the telecom companies were opposing changes that would make life easier for consumers and protect our privacy.

What Dr Sarma has in mind is eminently sensible. He wants a "Do Call" register not a do-not-call one. If you want to be told of new homes in Gurgaon or be invited to parties at Lap (I have just got a junk SMS inviting me — isn't this supposed to be an exclusive place?) then you can sign up for this privilege. If not, then the telemarketers can leave us in peace.

Fair enough? I would have thought so. But Dr Sarma says that the phone companies are opposing it. (Their revenues swell each time your privacy is invaded.)

Dr Sarma also says that Trai does not really have the power to act against telemarketers. All it can do is to ask the phone companies to fine the telemarketers (isn't it great how the telecom moguls make money every way?), which is (and this is my parallel — not Trai's) like asking a fence to fine a burglar.

Trai has a consultation paper out. It wants to get opinion from stake-holders (in this case, every person who owns a mobile phone) before it changes the rules. You should write in with your own views (advqos@trai.gov.in), but here is my suggestion.

Trai should not only ask the telecom companies to block every phone from which a nuisance call is made, or a junk text goes out, but it should also impose fines. Naturally, we should not be made to pay the roaming fees for each text that is forwarded, but we should also be entitled to a penal credit for every junk SMS we receive. If we can demonstrate that we have received such an SMS, then the phone company should credit us Rs 10 per text. They need not hand us the money, this can take the form of a credit on our phone bills. So, if you get, say, 450 junk texts a month (I get more), then Vodafone, Airtel, Idea or whoever, should credit you with Rs 4,500 on your bill.

Once the telecom companies start losing revenue, they will suddenly discover a new-found concern for our privacy. It is the only language they understand.

Until that happens, you might want to phone the numbers given on the junk SMSes and tell them what you think of them. I would never dream of suggesting that you discuss the legitimacy of their births or the mating habits of their parents. (That would be a Very Bad Thing to do.)

But hey, I can't stop you, can I?

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

'A WISHING TO HOPE'

The greatest show on earth will come to an end on Monday morning, leaving a World-Cup-shaped hole in the life of our family — and in that of millions of others. Our second-most-favourite team is in the final, so our eight-year-old daughter — a staunch Barcelona fan — will vocally get behind the team that has seven Barca players.

But that's only our second-most-favourite team. And Sunday night is only the final.

For us, the defining moment of our World Cup came on the evening of Saturday, July 3, when the team we really root for (as regular readers of this column might know), root for with the kind of zeal and irrational allegiance that fandom engenders, were pillaged, murdered, quartered and sent back to where they came from by Germany.

Argentina had been abject. But try using that as an explanation to an eight-year-old.

Oishi's entire day was a slow wind-up to the game in the evening. She fretted. She was distracted. She became sullen, and exuberant in turns. "I have thousands of butterflies in my stomach," she said.

Watching her, I was reminded of myself when I was eight (I was reminded of myself as I still am), and I knew how it went, this unsettling combination of high-strung anxiety and excitement.

As Thomas Muller scored to rip the heart out of Argentina, she sat slumped on the sofa, disbelieving, her face in her hands.

"How could this happen?" she whispered.

I, having turned being a spectator into a spectator sport many decades ago, grimaced. (My wife watched. And watched me.) "It happens. All the time," I said.

At 0-2, she slapped her forehead in anger and frustration, both emotions eliding into a sort of gloom-laden, anguished questioning: "Baba, what will happen?" "What will happen?"

0-3 brought on a fist-pounding, foot-stomping disappointment tinged with the dawning and irrevocable realisation that it was all over for Argentina.

Don't cry for us, Argentina. We shall, for you.

Dead and buried already, the fourth goal was a richly-deserved nail in the coffin.

"Argentina were outplayed," I said with my adult's objectivity. "But it wasn't fair," Oishi said, with her child's habit of not spotting the truth even when it coshes you on the head.

It didn't help that Oishi's grandmother, an ardent supporter of Germany's, phoned to gloat. Seeing her on the verge of tears, I took the phone away.

She was inconsolable. Gutted myself, I tried to make her feel better, make her mind this humiliation a little less.

And it suddenly struck me, that for the first time in my life, my grieving at a sporting loss had to be subsumed into my gestures of consolation and solace-giving as a parent.

Is this what father-hood is?

And then she asked it. "Baba, where will the next World Cup be held? Argentina will still be rubbish, but will Maradona still be the coach?"

And I knew then that she was getting ready to be in it for the long haul.

She was getting ready to participate in what V.S. Naipaul described as "a dream of glory together with a general pessimism, a wishing to hope and a nervousness about hoping".

I wouldn't wish this masochism upon anyone. But if you are afflicted by it, who can save you?

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

'WE HAD REACHED A POINT WHERE SOME ACTION ON PETROLEUM PRODUCTS HAD BECOME ESSENTIAL'

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE STATE OF THE INDIAN ECONOMY?

 

The Indian economy has done well recently. Economic growth has been strong in the five-year period beginning 2005-06. The average growth during this period has been 8.5 per cent and per capita GDP growth 7 per cent. I would think this is the best performance we have had in any five-year period after Independence. Looking ahead, I think the Indian economy will grow at 8.5 per cent in the current fiscal. This will be because of a considerable jump in agricultural production. Even assuming that on an average we grow only at 3 per cent, the pick-up in the current year in agriculture, if the monsoon is good, should be between 4-5 per cent. So the overall growth rate can be 8.5 per cent assuming industry and services grow at more or less the same rate as last year. The question is if India has the potential to grow at 9 per cent per year in a sustained way. I would say the potential exists: some of the macroeconomic parameters like the savings rate and investment rates are at levels which will support a 9 per cent growth. The savings rate is close to 35 per cent and the investment rate is above 36 per cent. These will enable the economy to grow at 9 per cent a year, even if we assume an incremental capital output ratio of 4:1.

 

M K Venu: What about the high inflation?

 

The high inflation is hopefully a temporary phenomenon. We need to bring down the inflation rate as quickly as possible.

 

M K Venu: Food inflation has been a persistent worry. What is your outlook on food inflation and the overall inflation?

 

Food inflation can be broken into two parts: the food inflation that is caused by an increase in the price of cereals and the one triggered by other non-foodgrain items such as milk and vegetables. The early phase of inflation was largely triggered by price increases in cereals, besides the strong price increase in pulses. Right now, the food inflation is being driven by the increase in the prices of other commodities such as vegetables and milk.

 

We need to handle this problem in two ways. First, we need to ensure that the available food stocks with us are used in such a way that they dampen the market prices. This can be done in two ways. We can increase the availability of the subsidised stocks of food, particularly for the weaker sections. We should also ensure that the food grain available with the public authorities are also sold at prices below the market prices so that it has a dampening effect on prices. State governments need to find additional channels for distribution of food grain. In Delhi, food grain is distributed through various outlets but such outlets are not necessarily available in other states. Therefore, management of the food stocks is one important way of bringing down food prices. I believe that monetary policy also has a role to play even in a situation where inflation is triggered by food prices. Some moderation of the demand may also become necessary which entails some monetary action on the part of the RBI. The situation warrants it and the timing is something that RBI has to decide.

 

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: The decision to deregulate fuel prices has been a bold one. How did it all work out, given the political sensitivity?

 

I think we had reached a point where some action on the petroleum products had become absolutely essential. The provision of cash subsidy of the order that was required to cover the under-recoveries of oil marketing companies was simply not possible. More than freeing the prices of petrol, the decision to raise the kerosene prices was bolder or required greater political courage. But even after the price hike, there will be substantial subsidisation in the price of kerosene. If we succeed in electrifying rural areas, the need for subsidised kerosene should come down further.

 

Gireesh Chandra Prasad: Despite the deregulation, there still exists a gap between the prices fuels are sold at and market-determined rates. What would be an equitable burden-sharing formula between the government, the upstream and downstream oil companies?

 

This is really an internal arrangement of the government because so long as kerosene and LPG is subsidised, there will be under-recoveries. Even if diesel is freed and there is no under-recovery on account of petrol and diesel, still there will be under-recoveries on account of LPG and kerosene. These have to be met either by direct cash subsidies from the government or from some discounts that upstream companies like ONGC can give. ONGC and other upstream companies are being paid at international rates as far as their production is concerned and so, they now have a benefit arising from external circumstances. Therefore, they can share some burden—either by offering a price discount or by direct subvention to OMCs.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Do you think the global crisis is over given the events unravelling in Europe? Would there be a double-dip recession?

 

As far as I see it, double-dip recession will not probably happen. The US economy is reasonably well established at a stage of recovery. The US economy is expected to grow at about 3 per cent in this calendar year. The European economy, even before the Greek crisis, was expected to grow only at 1-2 per cent. This could be somewhat affected by the Greek crisis but I believe the European Union is very much interested in maintaining Euro as an independent currency and would do what is necessary to help some of the countries which are in distress. I do not, therefore, think that the world will experience a second recession but the recovery is going to be very weak or even anaemic in some ways.

 

Coomi Kapoor: Who should call the shots on monetary policy, the Finance Minister or the RBI?

 

Ultimately, it is the RBI which should do it. There is always considerable amount of discussion between the RBI and the government because the government is also responsible for the decisions taken by the central bank. I do not think the RBI would announce some decision to which the government is totally opposed. It is the responsibility of every wing of the government to ensure that the inflation rate is kept low, growth is enhanced and financial stability is maintained.

 

Sunny Verma: Recently, the government passed an ordinance to settle the Sebi-IRDA (Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority) dispute over regulating unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips). Won't such apparent arbitrary decision-making disrupt the synergy among regulators?

 

It is indeed desirable to have consultations before enacting any legislation or taking any decision that has a bearing on the working of institutions. The ordinance was issued in the context of a conflict between two regulators. It could have been left to the courts to decide, but that could have been time-consuming.

 

K G Narendranath: The fiscal deficit reduction target under the FRBM Act is 3 per cent. In the 13th Finance Commission report, the target is again pegged at 3 per cent. What is special about the 3 per cent figure?

 

There is some logic to fixing the fiscal deficit of the Centre at 3 per cent and the fiscal deficit of the states or taken together as 3 per cent. This would mean the overall fiscal deficit of the governments, Centre and states taken together, would be 6 per cent. Despite the high level of the savings rate that we have, if you look at household savings, the savings in the form of financial assets is about 11 per cent. This is what we call transferable savings, which can be transferred from households to the other two sectors—the corporate and government sectors. Therefore, this 11 per cent has to be shared between the corporate sector and the government sector. Of the 11 per cent, 6 per cent goes to the government, some parts to the public sector enterprises and the rest go to the corporate sector. So long as the household assets are around 11 per cent I think the 6 per cent target is a good one.

 

Sandip Das: Don't you think there has been laxity in the last few years in creating additional storage capacity for food grains?

 

What requires to be done is to release the stocks by as much as possible and as fast as possible through additional channels so that there is a dampening effect on the prices. I think we should have two channels through which the stocks should be flowing. One is the public distribution system (PDS), through which subsidised food is distributed. In addition to that, we need to sell the stocks at prices which are lower than the market price, but are not necessarily highly subsidised.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Do you favour the Tobin tax?

 

I think there is a lot of misconception about Tobin tax. The original Tobin tax was conceived as a levy on all financial transactions, on all inflows and outflows in the foreign exchange market. This was intended to be a disincentive for short-term capital flows. At present, there does not appear to be a need for a Tobin tax. I find the capital inflows into the country at a modest level.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Has the global financial crisis fundamentally changed the state of affairs in favour of the state as against the market?

 

I do not think so. What has really changed is that financial markets need greater regulation. When you look at the broader question of state and the markets, the market in that context includes not only financial markets, but the entire gamut of markets that produce goods and services. I do not think there is any change in that side of the market.

 

In the case of financial markets, regulation was truncated. There were some segments of the financial markets that were either loosely regulated or not regulated at all, particularly in the industrially advanced economies. For instance, rating agencies, investment banks, hedge funds and some of the financial institutions were not regulated in any significant way. Therefore the important lesson from crisis is that all segments of financial markets should be regulated to avoid what may be called regulatory arbitrage. What is clear is that financial markets left to themselves are prone to excesses.

 

We really need to strike a balance between financial innovation, which are badly needed in our economy, and regulation which is needed for financial stability. But in India, I think there is a danger of financial innovation being impeded in the name of regulation.

 

Coomi Kapoor: Shouldn't subsidies be phased out as most of these reach unintended beneficiaries?

 

Same kind of subsidies can benefit both weaker sections of the population and the middle class. For instance,

the fertiliser subsidy benefits both the small and marginal farmers as well as those with larger land holdings. Since large farmers consume more than the smaller ones, in effect, the former benefit more. That is why there is the argument that there is a case for targeting subsidies. There are two classifications that are needed. One is that some activity needs to be subsidised—say, agriculture or fertiliser use. But the another classification is what class of consumer has to be subsidized.

 

For example, in the case of fertiliser and LPG, one can think of a mechanism by which we subsidise provision of LPG to a particular level above which market-determined pricing mechanisms sets in. The expenditure commission had earlier recommended that a certain quantity of fertilisers should be made available to all at subsidised rate. But if any farmer requires more than that, he would have to buy at market price.

 

M K Venu: Do you think that time is ripe for India to move away from its present policy of managing exchange rates to a complete free exchange rate management?

 

I think there are very few countries in the world that fall in the system that you are describing. Everybody is managing it in one way or the other. In emerging market economies, it becomes, to some extent, necessary. But by and large, I believe that the exchange rate now is being determined by market forces. The intervention would become necessary when capital inflows are very large and that requires some action on the part of the monetary authorities.

 

M K Venu: One gets the sense that the UPA and the Congress party have reached a point where some high inflation has to be tolerated to drive an 8.5-9 per cent growth. Real incomes are rising despite rising inflation. There seems to be a shift in mindset on how much inflation can we tolerate.

 

I do not think so. I think the Prime Minister is certainly not of that view. He had always held the view that the inflation rate needs to be brought down. Therefore, the phenomenon of inflation in India, at least in the last two years, has been happening somewhat independent of what is happening in the real sector. It is being driven by the fall in agricultural production and expectations relating to prices.

 

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: What is the next big challenge in reforms?

 

There are reforms required in almost all sectors. But one important issue that becomes urgent is improvement in governance. This is not necessarily a reform issue in the particular sense of the term, but more efficient administration, timely policy decisions, things will become more critical as we go along. The role of the government in the social sectors is expanding. We really need to get the maximum out of the money that we are spending. I think the issue of governance would become more important as we go along. Land is one resource which is limited. Therefore, there would be competing demand for land as we grow. The land policy will assume importance in balancing the interests the economy—agriculture on the one hand and infrastructure and urban development, etc on the other.

 

Transcribed by Gireesh Chandra Prasad and Anto Antony

]

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT

SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

 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.

 

sg@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

PAUL'S UNLIKELY CHOICES

ADITYA IYER 

 

 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.

 

aditya.iyer@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE ZAP CONNECT TO PROFITS

SHOMBIT SENGUPTA 

 

 Last December I'd written about how India's three generations: the Retro (above 45 years) and Compromise (between 30 and 45) generations seem to have connived with this country's peculiar socio-eco-political circumstances to create Zap86, a generation different from them. These below 30 youngsters, particularly those born in 1986 who were five-year-olds in 1991 when India's economic reforms were introduced, have only known their parents' open pockets. The economy had started booming then, new jobs had opened up and foreign goods had become freely available. People started to spend on unfulfilled urges. More importantly, they indulged their children, whose whims and fancies continue to influence all buying decisions made in every home.

 

From my travels around the world, I've come to realise that the Zap, Compromise (they try to adjust with both sides) and Retro generations are not an exclusive India phenomenon; they exist everywhere. My classification of the 19th century being the mechanical era, electronic technology ruling the 20th century, and 21st century being the digital age is doubly endorsed from watching how the Zap generation operates. Like zapping TV channels, Zappers are most comfortable with change. Their text messaging is phonetic, and giving vowels a miss is accepted script today. The above 30s may find it jarring, yet their mentality is to co-opt Zapper trends because clearly, discrete numerical form is ruling this digital century that's become totally Zap driven.

 

The establishment and its doctrines do not work anymore today. Take the world of high fashion. Chanel, the French haute couture design house Coco Chanel founded in 1909, had maintained an elegant, prim and classical tradition up to the 1990s. Chanel's classic, rectangular shaped perfume container was so coveted that it was impossible to think it could be disturbed. But even Chanel had to bow to the Zap generation. Their recent perfume called Chance broke Chanel's classicism by having a round bottle with a half naked, funky girl. To make the brand contemporary, Chanel radically changed its dresses too. Chanel now stitches jeans for Zap girls to look rowdy and sexy. Levis Strauss had popularised the cowboy logo for the jeans back pocket to sport, now Chanel's "CC" logo also adorns back pockets of jeans. From archetypical French haute couture to jeans is a daring step. By doing that Chanel has not reduced its brand value, rather it has extended to the youth.

 

Another example is reputed French designer Christian Dior who started in 1946. His legacy was carried forward by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré in Paris in 1989. After Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH, acquired Dior, he found Ferre too straightlaced. So in 1996, he appointed John Galliano, the most eccentric English fashion designer, for Christian Dior. Galliano had demonstrated the ability to redefine existing subcultures to create fashion garments for the younger, funkier set. "My role is to seduce," he confessed. He recreated some of Dior's period clothing for Madonna to wear in the film Evita .

 

Galliano's fashion radically shifted Dior's old classicism. The perfume Miss Dior has been a French classic. From such a gentle perfume, Dior went on to create the provocative Poison, a new departure in perfume. Christian Dior used to be dressed in classy suits when in the fashion ramp with models, but Galliano came to his first Dior fashion showing a great deal of skin. By doing this, the Dior brand has not lost its value in the world. It has instead connected to the Zap generation and contemporarised its image for the continuity of the brand.

 

The designer shook up the haute couture world, infused energy into an industry that was showing signs of losing sales. These two examples among many show how connecting to Zappers is taken so seriously.

 

But in India, there's still a huge distance between industries and their attempt to appeal to the Zap generation. Most connect their products and services to Compromise or Retro generation buyers. They are not sensitive to the fact that the Zap generation has, and will continue to have, a significant influence on their elders. Without this realisation, Indian brands will become old fashioned and the country will be swamped with foreign brands. Developed countries have the capability to co-opt the trend in advance to drive the world. But the Compromise and Retro generations running business in India, either choose to neglect or do not notice the attitude of the Zap generation.

 

Working in the West through almost four decades from 1970s, I have meticulously used disruption as a weapon in strategising for brands, industrial products, retails or in corporate structure design. Industries there welcome the "fresh" perspective as a point of differentiation because they set the cash registers ringing. In India, almost two decades have passed since liberalisation that brought in gigantic changes to the marketplace. Indian industrial houses first refused to believe that Indian consumers would ever discard their savings mentality. Now that the market has become vibrant, they are wondering how to get back the consumers they lost to foreign brands. But I still don't see any attempt to apply the disruptive attitude to retain market share that's escaping to new foreign players. If Indian brands don't think about using disruption for profitability and sustainability in the face of incoming foreign brands, they may grow in volume but the bottomline will be ruined.

 

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at

 

www.shiningconsulting.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE JIHAD COMES TO KASHMIR

TAVLEEN SINGH 

 

 Not long ago in the lobby of the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi I ran into Yasin Malik. He was with his pretty Pakistani wife and they were off to dine in the Italian restaurant. After sharing a laugh about meeting an ex-terrorist in the lobby of a five-star hotel, we talked about Kashmir and I said jokingly that people in India were so sick of Kashmir that if I were Prime Minister I would give Kashmir its independence. He replied, quite seriously, that I would always be welcome to come and visit 'my friend Yasin' in his new country.

 

You know, I know and I think every stone-thrower and protester in the streets of Srinagar knows that 'azaadi' is not an option. It is never going to happen. From my brief encounters with General Pervez Musharraf in snowy Davos, I formed the impression that this is something he knew well. This is why he suggested in his last year in office that a solution in Kashmir could only come if everyone stepped back from their stated positions. The Kashmiris would have to give up their demand for complete independence, India would have to stop pretending that the problem was a domestic matter and Pakistan would have to give up its dream of absorbing Kashmir into the Islamic Republic. This was his analysis. According to experts in South Block, we came closer to an agreement on Kashmir when Musharraf was in power than at any time since 1947. But, it did not happen and Kashmir has erupted once more.

 

Children have been killed in police firing, Srinagar spent last week under total curfew, inflammatory speeches are being made from mosques and on a personal level I have been inundated with abusive tweets from Kashmiri Twitterers. They were provoked because I twittered about last week's phone intercepts that recorded secessionist voices demanding more 'martyrs'.

 

The conversation between a man, believed to be close to Hurriyat hawk, Ali Shah Geelani, and some other separatist was played on every major news channel last Thursday and my guess is that most Indians would have believed it to be authentic. This is because most Indians outside the Kashmir Valley have no sympathy with the so-called freedom movement. Whatever little there was dried up completely after 26/11. There remain a few human rights types led by the ex-novelist who continue to speak of India's 'occupation' of Kashmir but you can count them on your fingers. Most Indians sympathise with the security forces and not the stone-throwers despite the tragic deaths of children in the past few weeks.

 

The reason for this is that they sense that the worldwide jihad has changed the nature of the 'freedom movement' that began when Yasin Malik kidnapped Mehbooba Mufti's sister in December 1989. As someone who wrote a book blaming the Government of India for the Kashmir problem ten years ago I confess that in my view things have changed since then. Dr Manmohan Singh's government has gone out of its way to control human rights violations but it has made no difference. And, if we are to judge by last week's telephone intercepts this is because there are jihadi groups behind the current agitation, groups that want innocent children to die so that ordinary people come into the streets to express their rage.

 

Anyone who has listened to the intercepted phone conversations from 26/11 knows that the jihadis have a cynical disdain for the loss of human life. A few dead children would mean nothing to them. What matters is the jihad and its goal of subjugating idol-worshipping, infidel India once more to the domination of Islam. This is their stated objective and you can look it up on their websites. Kashmir is a mere pawn in this grand plan. If by some miracle the Kashmir Valley has to be made independent tomorrow it would be a matter of months before a Taliban type group took charge. When supposedly moderate Kashmiri politicians suggest softening the borders do they ever think of the kind of people that would come across those soft borders?

 

The Government of India has to think of these things. With Islamist terrorists rampaging through Pakistan and Afghanistan and winning friends in Bangladesh no Indian Prime Minister can begin to even vaguely consider freedom for Kashmir. What he should be thinking about is what our policy is going to be if Taliban type groups manage anyway to do to Kashmir what they have already done to Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. As a first step it would help greatly if the Prime Minister would articulate loudly and clearly what he cannot do. He cannot now or ever consider the possibility of 'azaadi' for the Kashmir Valley and he needs to say this in so many words.

 

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

CONGRESS, BJP AND CASTE CENSUS

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI 

 

Thank God, the Congress is divided over the inclusion of caste in Census 2011. Hail the failure of the Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee to reach a conclusion last week on this politically myopic and socially divisive issue. This is a reassuring sign that there are still some people in the Congress leadership capable of putting the nation before the party, and principles above populism. The GoM has rightly decided to seek the views of all political parties on a move, which, if approved, is bound to further intensify quota-driven caste politics at every level.

 

Here is an opportunity for the BJP to correct its mistake in hurriedly supporting caste Census without holding an in-depth and broadbased debate within the party. Since OBC politicians are most vocal in seeking caste Census—BJP's Gopinath Munde and NCP's Chhagan Bhujbal demanding an OBC census from a common public platform recently—the BJP's hasty decision undoubtedly stemmed from its desire not to lose the OBC votebank to its rivals. For a party that has rightly derided 'votebank politics' all these years, and which must rise above its own 'Hindu votebank' politics to be eligible to be called a truly national party, its ideological surrender before the lure of a caste-based votebank is lamentable.

 

BJP leaders should study their own history to see how, in their chase for the OBC votebank, they are turning a blind eye to an important principle espoused by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, their ideological guru. This is what L.K. Advani writes in his autobiography: "The only time Deendayalji entered the electoral fray was in 1963, when he contested and lost a by-election to the Lok Sabha from Jaunpur in UP. In spite of the defeat, he proved to be a leader of unshakeable principles. An election in Jaunpur, and in many other constituencies in eastern UP, invariably used to be fought on caste lines, mainly between Rajputs and Brahmins. Since Deendayalji was born into a Brahmin family, the Congress fielded a Rajput candidate and conducted an aggressive campaign to woo Rajput votes. When some local Jana Sangh leaders wanted to play the Brahmin card, Deendayalji warned them: 'If you try to win the election on caste lines, I shall immediately withdraw from the contest'."

 

Similarly, Congress leaders—Rahul Gandhi, above all, since the party has accepted him as its future leader and also because he has an opportunity to start on a clean slate—would do well to study their own history. In recent times, they have steadily yielded to the mindset of quota politics, as evidenced by their shocking acceptance of the demand for Muslim reservations. They are guilty of turning a deaf ear to what Jawaharlal Nehru had said in a letter addressed to all chief ministers on 27 June 1961: "(Get) out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group...I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards...If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost. I am grieved to learn how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations...This way lies not only folly but disaster."

 

If Nehruji is ancient history to today's Congress leaders, they would do well to recall what Rajiv Gandhi had said in the Lok Sabha on September 6, 1990, as the then leader of the Opposition, during the debate on the Mandal Commission's report. He flayed Prime Minister V.P. Singh's announcement of job reservations for OBCs as an attempt "to divide our country on caste and religion", describing it as "not very different from what the Britishers were doing."

 

Forward-looking leaders in both the Congress and the BJP owe it to the nation to reverse its downslide into the quagmire of caste-based politics and quota-based development. The toxin of caste Census would further hasten this degeneration. It would accelerate the bizarre race for, to borrow the title of Arun Shourie's hard-hitting book, Falling Over Backwards—more and more castes wanting the OBC label and demanding, not without the possibility of violent conflicts, for a bigger slice of the reservations pie. The quota claims of 'Dalit Muslims' and 'Dalit Christians', both patently untenable misnomers, would become unstoppable. The only justifiable quotas are those meant for SCs and STs. However, here too the limitations of quota-dependent development have become obvious. If Dr Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Advani and Gadkari are true to their own convictions, they'd certainly acknowledge that what is keeping crores of SCs, STs and the poor belonging to Muslims, Christians, Kurmis, Kunbis, Gujjars and thousands of other castes and sub-castes deprived of livelihood, education, healthcare, housing, drinking water and human dignity is not the inadequacy of quotas but the gross inadequacy of good governance. It is our polity's acquiescence of corruption, inefficiency, insensitivity, apathy, and unaccountability in governance, all resulting in India's unbalanced development, which is making people see elusive solutions to their problems in caste and communal identities, to the detriment of our common Indian identity. Caste census will harden these divisive identities and push good governance further into the background.

 

sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

COMMON VIEWPOINT

COOMI KAPOOR 

 

 Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and the RSS are on the same side of the fence. Both disapprove of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi promoting himself through advertisements in Bihar's newspapers. The RSS has always been opposed to self-glorification and personality cults within the BJP. It feels that the Modi advertisement has unnecessarily annoyed the Janata Dal (U) and weakened the NDA alliance. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat who met Modi recently reportedly advised him to restrict himself to his home ground.

 

Ananth Kumar, however, is clearly unaware of the RSS view and even of his own party's position that nothing should be done to fuel the controversy with Kumar. During a visit to Ahmedabad, he announced that Modi would definitely be campaigning in Bihar during the assembly polls, an avoidable pinprick for Nitish Kumar.

 

Not overshadowing son

 

ON A family holiday in Ladakh, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah did not alter his travel plans and return immediately to Srinagar after trouble erupted in the Valley. Instead of flying directly home, Omar took the lengthy drive back via Kullu Manali. In contrast, Omar's father and central minister Farooq Abdullah, changed his travel plans instantly in response to the crisis. Farooq, who was on an official visit to the Philippines, was scheduled to return to Kashmir, but instead he flew to London. That way he scotched the strong rumour that the seasoned Farooq would take over the reins of government from his inexperienced son.

 

Silent spokesperson

 

Defence Minister A K Antony was hurt by a cabinet colleague's remark at a press briefing that he is the spokesperson for the cabinet committee on security but "he seldom speaks". He was mollified only after it was explained that the comment was made in a lighter vein and no slight was intended.

 

Stealing a march

 

THE Congress persuaded actor-politician Chiranjeevi to withdraw the Praja Rajyam candidate for the recent Andhra Pradesh Rajya Sabha elections so that all four Congress candidates could be elected unopposed. Chiranjeevi feels let down since although he fulfilled his side of the bargain, his demands, some of which concern his film empire, have yet to be met. While Chiranjeevi sulks and the Congress dithers, hoping to get the Praja Rajyam to merge with the Congress, the TDP's Chandrababu Naidu is quietly engineering a split in the Praja Rajyam. Naidu hopes to poach half of the legislators from under Chiranjeevi's nose.

 

Who is in charge?

 

L.K. ADVANI, who has once again emerged as a major player in the BJP, has of late voiced the view that the BJP party president should not be hamstrung by constant referral of decisions to others. He cites the example of Sonia Gandhi's unchallenged writ in the Congress. This runs counter to the RSS belief that decision making in the BJP should be a collective responsibility, with no single leader in complete command. In a recent interaction with the BJP's top brass in Delhi, RSS general secretary Suresh (Bhaiya) Joshi expressed unhappiness with the continuing drift in the party. BJP president Nitin Gadkari—the RSS's choice for president—has not come up to scratch. The RSS bosses are annoyed on several counts. Although they were informed of Jaswant Singh's re-induction to the BJP, they did not realise that Singh would not apologise for his views on Jinnah. The decision to nominate Ram Jethmalani to the Rajya Sabha was also taken without consulting them. They are particularly riled with the BJP for backing the proposal for a caste-based Census.

 

A rupee above babus

 

A JOINT parliamentary committee on wages has mooted that the salaries of MPs should be pegged at one rupee more than the salary and perks of a full secretary to the government of India. Though there is some ambiguity as to whether it is the secretary's monthly income of Rs 80,000 or the cabinet secretary's Rs 90,000 income that is to be the marker. Civil servants joke that they too should now be granted a daily sitting fee less one rupee, which is part of the MPs' pay packet. At present, an MP's monetary benefits work out to around Rs 42,000, including Rs 16,000 as salary. It is not at all certain that the committee proposal will be implemented. It has to be cleared first by the Cabinet before it can be placed before Parliament for approval.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

OPINION

CAN INDIA GAIN IN SERVICES IN THE INDIA-EU BTIA?

RAMNEET GOSWAMI, ARPITA MUKHERJEE

 

The Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) between India and the EU is likely to be signed by the end of this year. Since the beginning of the negotiations, Indian policymakers have repeatedly pointed out that gains in services will more than offset the losses in the goods sector. This is due to the fact that the average tariff rates in the EU (2%) are much lower than in India (17%) and, therefore, India may have to lower its tariffs much more than the EU. On the other hand, in services, India can aggressively negotiate for greater market access in 27 EU member states in areas such as temporary movement of people and outsourcing. Issues like movement of service providers and recognition of qualification are relatively easier to raise them in bilateral agreements. Moreover, bilateral agreements can go beyond liberalisation of high-skilled professionals to movement of skilled and semi-skilled workers. It is also expected that the BTIA will increase inflow of investment, technology and best management practices in services such as finance, telecommunication, IT and energy which the country needs. While all these arguments are justified, can India's gain in services offset the losses due to reduction in tariffs?

 

For this it is important to understand the India-EU's trade in services. Globally, while both of them claim to be large exporters of services, the EU accounts for around 50% of the world exports of services compared to India's share of only 4%. This shows the unequal bargaining position of the two players in the global context. At the bilateral level, the EU is India's second largest trading partner in services (after the US), second largest investor (after Mauritius) and a major contributor of technology and development aid. India-EU services trade has increased over 3.6 times between 2003 and 2008 and reached $24.3 billion in 2008. The cumulative FDI inflow from the EU (between January 2000 and December 2009) was around $21, out of which services accounted for 30%. Indian companies are also investing in the EU services sector. In 2008, Indian FDI outflow to the EU was $5.4 billion. Among services, IT services accounted for a substantial share of this investment. The EU public procurement market is estimated to be around 370 billion euro (approximately $507 billion) in 2007, out of which services accounted for 67%. Construction, information technology and business consulting are some key sectors covered under the EU public procurement in which Indian companies have a strong interest.

 

An in-depth study conducted by ICRIER on the potential for enhancing trade in services through the BTIA, found that although there are some potentials, there are a number of areas of concerns for India. Unlike goods, the EU does not have a single market for services. The regulatory regime differs across 27 member states. Many crucial decisions like work permits and visas are under the purview of individual member state and hence not fully covered under the BTIA negotiations. In the EU, around 50% of trade in services is among the EU member states that get the first preference. With the enlargement of the EU, it is increasingly becoming difficult for service providers from third countries to access the EU market. This is evident from the UK visa regime which has now become more stringent than ever before. Moreover, even EU member states donot recognise each other's qualifications. For professional services like engineering each country has its own requirements. In the EU, the market access barriers like FDI restrictions are gradually being replaced by stringent regulations. In India, the restrictions are largely in the form of entry barriers. Since the BTIA is following a GATS type of approach for services negotiations, the negotiations tend to concentrate on market access and hence at the onset India may be portrayed as having a more restrictive regime. The ICRIER study also found that while Indian companies are keen to invest in the EU, each EU member state has its own rules on investment and the EU market is not harmonised. In the EU, a company is treated as an EU company if it is a wholly-owned subsidiary but it is treated as a foreign company if it has a representative office. Since setting up of a wholly-owned subsidiary is expensive, this is a major barrier for Indian companies.

 

The ICRIER study pointed out that the EU has already scheduled its existing market access liberalisation in the revised offer to the WTO (dated 26th June 2005) and there is a limited scope for improvement over it. Both India and the EU have their sensitive areas. While India wants greater market access in sectors like audio-visual and professional services, in return the EU would like India to undertake commitments in sectors like retail and legal services. Moreover, with the global slowdown, unemployment and job losses, it will be extremely difficult for the EU to liberalise movement of service providers. Given these barriers, the market access in services may not be large enough to compensate for the losses that India may incur due to reciprocal concessions.

 

The study concluded that to have a balanced services agreement, India should try to secure the autonomous liberalisation in the EU. India should use the BTIA to enter into mutual recognition agreement with the EU in selected professional services like architecture in which the EU market has reached some form of harmonisation. Cooperation in sectors like energy, R&D and transport can be beneficial for Indian companies. India can explore possibilities for enhancing R&D collaborations, especially collaborations among SMEs of the two economies under Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) (2007-2013) through the BTIA. This programme has a budget of 53.3 billion euro ($73 billion). It covers services sectors like health, information and communication technology, energy, and environment and has a strong Indian focus.

 

As India expands the scope of its FTA negotiations to include services, it is important to note that services liberalisation is more complex and sometimes more sensitive than goods liberalisation.

 

—Arpita Mukherjee is professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. Ramneet

Goswami is a research assistant at ICRIER

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

OPINION

ONLY ZAP CONNECT DISRUPTION CAN INCREASE PROFITABILITY

SHOMBIT SENGUPTA

 

Last December I had written about how India's three generations: the Retro (above 45 years of age) and Compromise (between 30 and 45 years) generations seem to have connived with this country's peculiar socio-eco-political circumstances to create the Zap86, a generation widely divergent from them. These below-30 youngsters, particularly those born in 1986 who were 5-year-olds in 1991 when India's economic reforms were introduced, have only known their parents' open pockets. The economy had started booming then, foreign companies came seeking Indian talent to solve problems like Y2K, new jobs opened up, salaries saw an upturn, and foreign goods became freely available giving everyone ample purchase choice. People started to spend on unfulfilled urges, from having hitherto lived in the closed economy. More importantly, they indulged their children, whose whims and fancies continue to influence all buying decisions made in every home.

 

From my different work travels around the world, I've come to realise of late that the Zap, Compromise (they try to adjust with both sides) and Retro generations are not an exclusive India phenomenon; they exist everywhere, albeit with different parameters. My classification of the 19th century being the mechanical era, electronic technology ruling the 20th century, and 21st century being the digital age is doubly endorsed from watching how the Zap generation operates. Like zapping TV channels, Zappers are most comfortable with change, change and rapid change in every aspect of life. Their text messaging is phonetic, and giving vowels a miss is accepted script today. The above 30s may find it jarring, yet their mentality is to co-opt Zapper trends because clearly, discrete numerical form is ruling this digital century that's become totally Zap driven.

 

The establishment and its doctrines do not work anymore today. Take the world of high fashion. Chanel, the French haute couture design house the Coco Chanel founded in 1909, had maintained an elegant, prim and classical tradition up to the 1990s. Chanel's classic, rectangular shaped perfume container was so coveted that it was impossible to think it could be disturbed. But even Chanel had to bow to the Zap generation. Their recent perfume called Chance broke Chanel's classicism by having a round bottle with a half naked, funky young girl gracefully showing her beautiful legs. To make the brand contemporary, Chanel radically changed its dresses too. Chanel now stitches jeans for Zap girls to look rowdy and sexy. Levis Strauss had popularised the cowboy logo for the jeans back pocket to sport, now Chanel's "CC" logo also adorns back pocket of jeans. From archetypical French haute couture to jeans is indeed a daring step. By doing that Chanel has not reduced its brand value, rather it's been extended to the youth.

 

Another fashion example is reputed French designer Christian Dior who started in 1946. His legacy was carried forward by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré in Paris in 1989. After Bernard Arnault, Chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH acquired Dior, he found Ferre to be too straight laced. So in 1996 he appointed John Galliano, the most eccentric English fashion designer, for Christian Dior. Galliano had demonstrated the ability to redefine existing subcultures to create fashion garments for the younger, funkier set. "My role is to seduce," he confessed, saying that theatre and femininity inspired him in his creations. He recreated some of Dior's period clothing for Madonna to wear in the film Evita.

 

Galliano's fashion radically shifted Dior's old classicism. The perfume Miss Dior has been a French classic. From such a gentle perfume, Dior went on to create the provocative Poison, a new departure in perfume. Christian Dior used to be dressed in very classy suits when in the fashion ramp with models, but Galliano came to his first Dior fashion showing a great deal of skin, you could openly see his body and leg in a provocative carnival dress. By doing this, the Dior brand has not lost its value in the world, but has instead connected to the Zap generation, and contemporarized its image for the continuity of the brand.

 

Critics did question whether Galliano's maverick reputation would appeal to Dior's established clientele. The designer shook up the haute couture world, infused energy into an industry that was showing signs of losing sales and customers. In his 1997spring/summer collection, Galliano spun classic Dior themes around exotic African Masai tribal forms to fashion silk evening dresses. He used colorful choker bead necklaces that injected a young image. But the Dior name remained glamorous and refined. Galliano's collections, complete with historic personalities and forces, have always enchanted or shocked audiences and been of commercial success. These two examples among many show how connecting to Zappers is taken so seriously.

 

But in India, there's still a huge distance between industries and their attempt to appeal to the Zap generation. Most connect their products and services to Compromise or Retro generation buyers. They are not sensitive to the fact that the Zap generation has, and will continue to have, a significant influence on their elders. Without this realization and connect to Zappers, Indian brands will become old fashioned and the whole country will be swamped with foreign brands. Developed countries have the capability to co-opt the trend in advance to drive the world. But the Compromise and Retro generations running business in India, either choose to neglect or do not notice the attitude and behavioural aspects of the Zap generation. In spite of their children or grandchildren being Zappers, the Retro generation is highly disconnected from them. But the Zap pressure, their way of living and exposure, is so high that neither the Retro nor the Compromise can ignore it.

 

Working in the West through almost four decades from 1970s onwards, I among others have meticulously used disruption as a weapon in strategizing for brands, industrial products, retails or in corporate structure design. Industries there welcome the "fresh" perspective as a point of differentiation, because these disruptive strategies help their cash registers to ring. In India almost two decades have passed since liberalization that brought in gigantic changes to the marketplace. Indian industrial houses first refused to believe that Indian consumers would ever discard their savings mentality. Now that the market has become vibrant, they are in a paralytic situation, wondering how to get back the consumers they lost to foreign brands. But I still don't see any attempt to apply the disruptive attitude to retain market share that's escaping to new foreign players. If Indian brands don't think about using disruption for profitability and sustainability in the face of incoming foreign brands, they may grow in volume but the bottomline will be ruined.

 

—Shombit Sengupta is an international Creative Business Strategy consultant to top managements. Reach him at www.shiningconsulting.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

WE HAD REACHED A POINT WHERE SOME ACTION ON PETROLEUM PRODUCTS HAD BECOME ESSENTIAL'

 

C Rangarajan, former RBI Governor and currently chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, was at the Express for an Idea Exchange. In this session moderated by Dhiraj Nayyar, Senior Editor, The Financial Express, Rangarajan explains why India has the potential to grow at 9%.

 

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: What is your assessment of the state of the Indian economy?

 

The Indian economy has done well recently. Economic growth has been strong in the five-year period beginning 2005-06. The average growth during this period has been 8.5% and per capita GDP growth 7%. I would think this is the best performance we have had in any five-year period after Independence. Looking ahead, I think the Indian economy will grow at 8.5% in the current fiscal. This will be because of a considerable jump in agricultural production. Even assuming that on an average we grow only at 3%, the pick-up in the current year in agriculture, if the monsoon is good, should be between 4-5%. So the overall growth rate can be 8.5%, assuming industry and services grow at more or less the same rate as last year. The question is if India has the potential to grow at 9%per year in a sustained way. I would say the potential exists: some of the macroeconomic parameters like the savings rate and investment rates are at levels which will support a 9% growth. The savings rate is close to 35%and the investment rate is above 36%. These will enable the economy to grow at 9% a year, even if we assume an incremental capital output ratio of 4:1.

 

MK Venu: What about the high inflation?

 

The high inflation is hopefully a temporary phenomenon. We need to bring down the inflation rate as quickly as possible.

 

MK Venu: Food inflation has been a persistent worry. What is your outlook on food inflation and the overall inflation?

 

Food inflation can be broken into two parts: the food inflation that is caused by an increase in the price of cereals and the one triggered by other non-foodgrain items such as milk and vegetables. The early phase of inflation was largely triggered by price increases in cereals, besides the strong price increase in pulses. Right now, the food inflation is being driven by the increase in the prices of other commodities such as vegetables and milk.

 

We need to handle this problem in two ways. First, we need to ensure that the available food stocks with us are used in such a way that they dampen the market prices. This can be done in two ways. We can increase the availability of the subsidised stocks of food, particularly for the weaker sections. We should also ensure that the food grain available with the public authorities are also sold at prices below the market prices so that it has a dampening effect on prices. State governments need to find additional channels for distribution of food grain. In Delhi, food grain is distributed through various outlets but such outlets are not necessarily available in other states. Therefore, management of the food stocks is one important way of bringing down food prices. I believe that monetary policy also has a role to play even in a situation where inflation is triggered by food prices. Some moderation of the demand may also become necessary which entails some monetary action on the part of the RBI. The situation warrants it and the timing is something that RBI has to decide.

 

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: The decision to deregulate fuel prices has been a bold one. How did it all work out, given the political sensitivity?

 

I think we had reached a point where some action on the petroleum products had become absolutely essential.

The provision of cash subsidy of the order that was required to cover the under-recoveries of oil marketing companies was simply not possible. More than freeing the prices of petrol, the decision to raise the kerosene prices was bolder or required greater political courage. But even after the price hike, there will be substantial subsidisation in the price of kerosene.

 

If we succeed in electrifying rural areas, the need for subsidised kerosene should come down further.

 

Gireesh Chandra Prasad: Despite the deregulation, there still exists a gap between the prices fuels are sold at and market-determined rates. What would be an equitable burden-sharing formula between the government, the upstream and downstream oil companies?

 

This is really an internal arrangement of the government because so long as kerosene and LPG is subsidised, there will be under-recoveries. Even if diesel is freed and there is no under-recovery on account of petrol and diesel, still there will be under-recoveries on account of LPG and kerosene. These have to be met either by direct cash subsidies from the government or from some discounts that upstream companies like ONGC can give. ONGC and other upstream companies are being paid at international rates as far as their production is concerned and so, they now have a benefit arising from external circumstances. Therefore, they can share some burden—either by offering a price discount or by direct subvention to OMCs.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Do you think the global crisis is over given the events unravelling in Europe? Would there be a double-dip recession?

 

As far as I see it, double-dip recession will not probably happen. The US economy is reasonably well established at a stage of recovery. The US economy is expected to grow at about 3%in this calendar year. The European economy, even before the Greek crisis, was expected to grow only at 1-2%. This could be somewhat affected by the Greek crisis but I believe the European Union is very much interested in maintaining Euro as an independent currency and would do what is necessary to help some of the countries which are in distress. I do not, therefore, think that the world will experience a second recession but the recovery is going to be very weak or even anaemic in some ways.

 

Coomi Kapoor: Who should call the shots on monetary policy, the Finance Minister or the RBI?

 

Ultimately, it is the RBI which should do it. There is always considerable amount of discussion between the RBI and the government because the government is also responsible for the decisions taken by the central bank. I do not think the RBI would announce some decision to which the government is totally opposed. It is the responsibility of every wing of the government to ensure that the inflation rate is kept low, growth is enhanced and financial stability is maintained.

 

Sunny Verma: Recently, the government passed an ordinance to settle the Sebi-IRDA dispute over regulating unit-linked insurance plans. Won't such apparent arbitrary decision-making disrupt the synergy among regulators?

 

It is indeed desirable to have consultations before enacting any legislation or taking any decision that has a bearing on the working of institutions. The ordinance was issued in the context of a conflict between two regulators. It could have been left to the courts to decide, but that could have been time-consuming.

 

KG Narendranath: The fiscal deficit reduction target under the FRBM Act is 3%. In the 13th Finance Commission report, the target is again pegged at 3%. What is special about the 3% figure?

 

There is some logic to fixing the fiscal deficit of the Centre at 3% and the fiscal deficit of the states or taken together as 3%. This would mean the overall fiscal deficit of the governments, Centre and states taken together, would be 6%. Despite the high level of the savings rate that we have, if you look at household savings, the savings in the form of financial assets is about 11%. This is what we call transferable savings, which can be transferred from households to the other two sectors—the corporate and government sectors. Therefore, this 11 per cent has to be shared between the corporate sector and the government sector. Of the 11 per cent, 6% goes to the government, some parts to the public sector enterprises and the rest go to the corporate sector. So long as the household assets are around 11 per cent I think the 6% target is a good one.

 

Sandip Das: Don't you think there has been laxity in the last few years in creating additional storage capacity for food grains?

 

What requires to be done is to release the stocks by as much as possible and as fast as possible through

additional channels so that there is a dampening effect on the prices. I think we should have two channels through which the stocks should be flowing. One is the public distribution system (PDS), through which subsidised food is distributed. In addition to that, we need to sell the stocks at prices which are lower than the market price, but are not necessarily highly subsidised.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Do you favour the Tobin tax?

 

I think there is a lot of misconception about Tobin tax. The original Tobin tax was conceived as a levy on all financial transactions, on all inflows and outflows in the foreign exchange market. This was intended to be a disincentive for short-term capital flows. At present, there does not appear to be a need for a Tobin tax. I find the capital inflows into the country at a modest level.

 

Dhiraj Nayyar: Has the global financial crisis fundamentally changed the state of affairs in favour of the state as against the market?

 

I do not think so. What has really changed is that financial markets need greater regulation. When you look at the broader question of state and the markets, the market in that context includes not only financial markets, but the entire gamut of markets that produce goods and services. I do not think there is any change in that side of the market.

 

In the case of financial markets, regulation was truncated. There were some segments of the financial markets that were either loosely regulated or not regulated at all, particularly in the industrially advanced economies. For instance, rating agencies, investment banks, hedge funds and some of the financial institutions were not regulated in any significant way. Therefore the important lesson from crisis is that all segments of financial markets should be regulated to avoid what may be called regulatory arbitrage. What is clear is that financial markets left to themselves are prone to excesses.

 

We really need to strike a balance between financial innovation, which are badly needed in our economy, and regulation which is needed for financial stability. But in India, I think there is a danger of financial innovation being impeded in the name of regulation.

 

Coomi Kapoor: Shouldn't subsidies be phased out as most of these reach unintended beneficiaries?

Same kind of subsidies can benefit both weaker sections of the population and the middle class. For instance, the fertiliser subsidy benefits both the small and marginal farmers as well as those with larger land holdings. Since large farmers consume more than the smaller ones, in effect, the former benefit more. That is why there is the argument that there is a case for targeting subsidies. There are two classifications that are needed. One is that some activity needs to be subsidised—say, agriculture or fertiliser use. But the another classification is what class of consumer has to be subsidized.

 

For example, in the case of fertiliser and LPG, one can think of a mechanism by which we subsidise provision of LPG to a particular level above which market-determined pricing mechanisms sets in. The expenditure commission had earlier recommended that a certain quantity of fertilisers should be made available to all at subsidised rate. But if any farmer requires more than that, he would have to buy at market price.

 

MK Venu: Do you think that time is ripe for India to move away from its present policy of managing exchange rates to a complete free exchange rate management?

 

I think there are very few countries in the world that fall in the system that you are describing. Everybody is managing it in one way or the other. In emerging market economies, it becomes, to some extent, necessary. But by and large, I believe that the exchange rate now is being determined by market forces. The intervention would become necessary when capital inflows are very large and that requires some action on the part of the monetary authorities.

 

MK Venu: One gets the sense that the UPA and the Congress party have reached a point where some high inflation has to be tolerated to drive an 8.5-9% growth. Real incomes are rising despite rising inflation. There seems to be a shift in mindset on how much inflation can we tolerate.

 

I do not think so. I think the Prime Minister is certainly not of that view. He had always held the view that the inflation rate needs to be brought down. Therefore, the phenomenon of inflation in India, at least in the last two years, has been happening somewhat independent of what is happening in the real sector. It is being driven by the fall in agricultural production and expectations relating to prices.

 

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: What is the next big challenge in reforms?

 

There are reforms required in almost all sectors. But one important issue that becomes urgent is improvement in governance. This is not necessarily a reform issue in the particular sense of the term, but more efficient administration, timely policy decisions, things will become more critical as we go along. The role of the government in the social sectors is expanding. We really need to get the maximum out of the money that we are spending. I think the issue of governance would become more important as we go along. Land is one resource which is limited. Therefore, there would be competing demand for land as we grow. The land policy will assume importance in balancing the interests the economy—agriculture on the one hand and infrastructure and urban development, etc, on the other.

 

—Transcribed by Gireesh Chandra Prasad and Anto Antony For longer text, visit www.indianexpress.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CRICKET AT CROSSROADS

BORIA MAJUMDAR

 

World cricket stands divided. On the one hand is the rift between the white and coloured blocs, divided over the nomination of former Australian prime minister John Howard for vice-president of the ICC and on the other, cricket's financial powerhouse, India, stands divided with the BCCI at war with its former poster boy, Lalit Kumar Modi. In an atmosphere of escalating mistrust, there is little that is being done to contain growing tensions within the ICC and between national cricket boards. With the finances of the game now concentrated in India, fights with the BCCI are already an endemic feature of world cricket. It is imperative that the ICC get its house in order, because the future trajectory of the current tensions between the North and South Blocks in World cricket, with England, Australia and New Zealand on the one hand and Asia on the other, will determine the potential of cricket as a global sport. Meanwhile, questions of political interference continue to confront cricket administrators globally. It is a very delicate situation for the game and a satisfactory balance between politics, morality and monetary considerations is an urgent need. Add to this the volatile war of words between Modi and the BCCI and it is evident that world cricket it at crossroads, with cricketing cultures across the globe in conflict with each other.

 

The Modi-BCCI affair is like a 15-round boxing bout, which is at round 9 as I write this piece. Modi, needless to say, has already faced three standing counts. Bleeding and in a corner, he continues to fight what some say is a losing battle. A knock-out looks likely, but with Modi all set to drag the BCCI to court, an unlikely turn cannot altogether be ruled out. And, with stakes amounting to thousands of crores, what this sordid saga has done is that it has damaged the reputation of the BCCI no end. Even if Modi is sacrificed and we are told that the BCCI had no prior knowledge of all his shady deals, what this does is portray the 14-member IPL governing council as incompetent and impotent at the same time. How can they, for three years and more, ignore autocratic and unethical functioning by Modi? Such questions will continue to hog the limelight in the last months of Shashank Manohar's tenure, despite his persistent efforts to ensure otherwise.

 

More important for world cricket, however, is the brewing crisis over John Howard, a situation further complicated by Howard refusing to back down despite seven cricket boards firmly opposing his nomination for ICC vice-president. With the two prime ministers, that of Australia and New Zealand, throwing their weight behind Howard, the issue has all of a sudden turned political. While India and the others unanimously voiced their displeasure over Howard's lack of cricketing credentials, the real issue is his bias against men of colour, which pre-empted his election. In the BCCI working committee meeting in May, senior BCCI leaders were asked by the BCCI president to articulate their concerns over Howard's nomination. The picture that was portrayed was totally negative—his treatment of Shoaib Akhtar, his bias against Muthiah Muralitharan and his comments on Zimbabwe were highlighted in suggesting that Howard's election would certainly not aid India's dominance at the ICC. Rather, he was perceived as a threat, one who will continuously fight for a white resurgence inside the ICC's boardrooms. The anti-Howard voice was strong enough to get the BCCI to pass a unanimous resolution against him and the president and secretary were empowered to vote against Howard at the ICC annual meeting.

 

What the Howard affair draws attention to is the utterly politicised nature of world cricket. Despite the close proximity between the BCCI and Cricket Australia, partners in organising the Champions League and staging regular India-Australia contests, the two boards were at opposite ends when it came to Howard. Sensing that Howard could and perhaps would thwart Indian ambitions at the ICC, the BCCI did not waste time in sacrificing its friendship with Jack Clarke and James Sutherland, men who control the functioning of Cricket Australia.

 

Again, in recent times at least, the BCCI and the English Cricket Board have appeared exceedingly close in their efforts to take on Modi. It was Giles Clarke's e-mail to the BCCI president on May 6 that prompted the issuance of a slew of show-cause notices and helped a great deal in the BCCI nailing Modi. The ECB, traditionally opposed to Indian interests, is now hand-in-glove with India in most issues at the ICC. So much so, that pundits have labelled this phase as the best in Indo-English cricket relations.

 

Against this backdrop, it is impossible to fathom how the BCCI totally ignored the English request of considering Howard a successor to Pawar. In fact, it was the outgoing president, David Morgan, who till the very last moment tried to ensure that the ICC stood united on the issue. The least he expected from India was to allow Howard make an emotional plea before the ICC board in Singapore in support of his candidature. However, despite his efforts and in total disregard of the wishes of Clarke and Morgan, India led the Asian bloc on the path of revolt against the former Australian prime minister.

 

Of great interest in the Howard affair is the role of South Africa and the West Indies. Both financially dependent on India, they had little option but to back the Asian bloc in the fight against Howard. Cricket South Africa has been the single biggest beneficiary of Indian benevolence in recent times. With the second edition of the IPL moving base to South Africa and with the second edition of the Champions League to be played in South Africa between September 10-26, Cricket South Africa can do little to upset their Indian counterparts. West Indies, on the other hand, is perhaps facing its worst financial crisis in years and needs every bit of Indian support it can garner to come out of this situation. With India all set to tour the Caribbean in May-June 2011, a tour that runs the threat of cancellation due to the IPL, West Indies has little option but to appease India and the Asian bloc in the boardrooms of the ICC.

 

The might of the Asian bloc was also visible in the way the ICC appointed hosts for future ICC multi-nation competitions. The most lucrative of all ICC competitions, the T-20 World Cup, has been allotted to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, respectively, for 2012 and 2014. England, on the other hand, has been allotted the Champions Trophy, the most devalued of all ICC tournaments. With India hosting the 2011 50-over World Cup, Asia, according to the current FTP, is set to stage three major ICC competitions in the next four years.

 

Coming back to Modi, it is only a matter of time before the boxing bout moves to the nation's courtrooms, offering the cream of India's legal fraternity a chance to hog media limelight. While crores are spent by both sides, cricket, one can assert with certainty, is the loser. An issue that could stall the workings of the Parliament for days and hog national headlines for days only helps draw attention to cricket's hold on India's public imaginary. The only fear is that with repeated scandals, the fans, the game's single biggest stakeholders, might lose interest and sympathy in the months to come.

 

Finally, the Howard issue draws attention to three cardinal truths staring world cricket in the face: the Indian monopoly, for better or for worse, has finally heralded a shift in cricket balance of power to Asia. Secondly, Sharad Pawar, once the supreme arbiter of India's cricket affairs, has lost his fiefdom to Manohar and Srinivasan and despite his best intentions, could hardly do a thing for Howard. Thirdly, the Howard issue has, once again, helped reunite India and Pakistan after a hiatus of two years. the reunification, much needed and awaited, might again allow for the reintroduction of bilateral cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, contests that will contribute to filling the coffers of the BCCI. Once such a thing happens, the next crisis will only be minutes away. Cricket, Ashis Nandy had rightly said, is well and truly an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English.

 

—The writer is a cricket historian

 

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THE HINDU

OPEN PAGE

THE AILING WORLD OF MEDICAL EDUCATION

THE EVER-RISING DEMAND IN MEDICAL EDUCATION HAS CREATED AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PRIVATE PLAYERS TO ENTER THE ARENA IN A BIG WAY. THIS CREATES AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MIDDLEMEN AND TOUTS WITH NO CONCERN FOR STANDARDS OR ETHICAL VALUES.

DR. C.V. RAO

 

Medical education and technical education are two important constituents of higher education, which are monitored and controlled by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The rising demand for higher education, and the government's inability to fulfil the requirements, have created an opportunity for private players to enter the arena in a big way. This has resulted in the mushrooming of professional institutions. This kind of vertical growth with no sound base has provided an ideal opportunity to middlemen and touts with no concern for either standards or ethical values to intervene and influence both the MCI and the AICTE. Maybe it is an unfortunate, but inevitable, coincidence that high profile executives of these organisations are caught by the country's prime investigating agency. The CBI has raised doubts over the honesty and transparency of the system.

 

An autonomous body, the MCI came into existence through an Act of Parliament in 1956. The governing council is composed of elected and nominated members from all States. In the first three and a half decades, professionals with integrity and concern for standards in medical education were either elected or nominated to the body, and they conducted themselves in a dignified way.

 

The increased demand for private medical colleges made people with money power and the right political connections to enter the council, giving scope for manipulation. Recent press reports on the unsavoury happenings in the MCI are a matter of concern. The government of India did well in dissolving the discredited council and appointing a balanced and efficient team of professionals with integrity and commitment as the new board of governors.

 

The new board should erase the public mistrust of the system, in general, and medical education, In particular. The focal areas for qualitative changes are the initial permission and final recognition of colleges, improving the quality of teaching, modifying the curriculum for our health needs and introducing transparency in the examination system. It is an opportune time for the new MCI to elevate the fast deteriorating standards and values in medical education on the lines of what Alexander Flexner did for the chaotic American medical education system over 100 years ago.

 

Inspection by the MCI for permission to start a new college, whether private or government, should be transparent. The inspectors should have full authority with accountability to make recommendations either way — which will be binding on the MCI. In case of a review inspection requested by the aggrieved party or as suo motu action, the second inspection should be conducted by either a member of the governing body or its special representative. This single act will totally curtail lobbying by middlemen. There should be no leniency on either infrastructure or the full strength of the permanent teaching faculty.

 

The tradition of visiting faculty can be curtailed by surprise visits by either the MCI or university representatives at periodic intervals and by the recently introduced tag access monitoring and tracking system. The acute shortage of qualified staff can be partially met by increasing the retirement age to 65.

 

The curriculum is aimed at producing a multi-competent physician, i.e., family physician volunteering to work at the primary level with social responsibility. Health promotion and disease prevention should be given importance on a par with the curative aspects. More bedside, evidence-based medical learning should be included in the syllabus, in addition to theoretical aspects. The objectives of the WHO-introduced Reorientation of Medical Education (ROME) programme and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) will be better achieved when students are trained at the field level.

 

The present tertiary level training in an urban environment with no real exposure to the primary and secondary health care problems and facilities is making students diffident and fails to motivate the young graduates to opt for rural service. This requires the immediate attention of the MCI to introduce at least six months' exposure of the medicos to the rural and semi-urban environment for a better understanding of the problems at the ground level.

 

The desired results will be achieved only when proper facilities for stay and training under the supervision of basic specialists are created. As the fresh graduate is expected to lead the health care team in rural areas, he/she should be suitably trained to work with the nurse, the pharmacist, the paramedics and social activists for better coordination. Also, he/she needs to develop communication skills and know about the consumer protection Act while in training.

 

In the pyramidal health care system, the top tertiary care slot is almost occupied by the corporate sector and is attracting the cream of specialists and teachers with attractive financial returns. A good and dedicated teacher is always a role model for students, but unfortunately that tribe is vanishing fast. Ethical practice of medicine with empathy and concern for the sick by the teacher will give realistic opportunities for the student to emulate. The teacher in a medical institution is burdened with patient care, research and private practice, giving him/her little time for teaching.

 

There is an urgent need to introduce the mentor system for meaningful teacher-student interaction. It is still possible to attract dedicated and talented teachers with offers of attractive salary, housing, conference incentive and research fund. A mere increase in the intake of students without optimum infrastructure and faculty will only help to add to the numbers and not to the quality of service. The medical education cell in colleges should be strengthened to continuously update the teachers on modern trends in teaching. It is disheartening to note that in some centres, the students are attending private theory classes on a payment basis. For better monitoring and implementation of the MCI and university guidelines at institutions, the Dean/Principal should have necessary powers with accountability for the desired results.

 

(The writer is a retired professor of plastic surgery and Principal of Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam. Email: drcvrao@yahoo.com)

 

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THE HINDU

OPEN PAGE

THE TOOTH, THE WHOLE TOOTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TOOTH!

THE EMPHASIS ON LEARNING BY ROTE HAS RESULTED IN REDUCED SKILL IN STUDENTS OF DENTAL SCIENCES, WHICH ARE ABOUT DEXTERITY AND SKILLED CLINICAL TRAINING.

DR. USHA MOHANDAS

 

"Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army," said Edward Everet.

 

Fresh dental graduates prefer joining call centres as staff! A majority lack the confidence to start private practice right after the completion of postgraduation attained by hardly attending classes! By all outward signs, the dental profession is prospering. However, signs of a looming crisis in dental education threaten the future effectiveness of the profession. Hope it is not moving into a phase of extinction from extraction!

 

The Dental Council of India (DCI) is a statutory body incorporated under an Act of Parliament: The Dentists Act, 1948 (XVI of 1948). Set up to regulate dental education, the DCI has failed to handle the challenges on many fronts.

 

The regulator claims authority but does not hold itself responsible or accountable for the debacle. It keeps complaining about mushrooming of colleges and shrinking of jobs; yet, it gives approval for more fresh colleges.

 

Does this mean that the regulator was ignorant of the level of saturation and the distribution of the 183 colleges in 2004? I quote the DCI president, who recently said: "There is no equal distribution of dental colleges. Take, for example, Australia with a two crore population. It has five dental schools. On the other hand, Kerala with a 2.5-crore population alone has 23 dental colleges, and still 6,000 posts of dentists in the Union Government are lying vacant." Who accorded approval for these colleges knowing very well it was one too many? If any objection was made, how come it fell on deaf ears? Why has the proposal to start 100-plus institutions since 2004 been approved? Who is accountable, responsible and answerable for the lapses in oral health care delivery systems?

 

Talking of dental education, one should admit that the emphasis on learning by rote has resulted in reduced skill in students of dental sciences, which are predominantly about dexterity and skilled clinical training. There is need for a drastic change in approach, and unless we bring about a complete paradigm shift, we may find ourselves falling behind in this 21st century of unlimited opportunities.

 

Shortage of teachers

 

The severe shortage of teaching faculty, coupled with the proliferation of colleges (capitation-based, community-based, deemed university status), ensured that the primary focus was on hiring teachers. A few members of the faculty have capitalised on this serious lacuna in the demand-supply chain and showed up only for inspections.

 

Regulators should have ensured practical solutions to tide over the problem. They have just made it worse by introducing the countrywide biometric real-time attendance! It's almost like compulsive tail-chasing for approximately 12,000 dental surgeons, 10,000 medical teachers as well as 10,000 auxiliary personnel.

 

Can such a colossal task of real-time be monitored from just one base at the centre? Is it truly a viable option? Many stakeholders are already innovating methods to beat this system, which ensures only the physical presence of a teacher but does not address the issue of imparting quality (proxy biometric fingerprinting). Wonder why some government colleges are exempted from the biometric attendance?

 

Why not legalise part-time teaching rather than police people and force them to commit crimes and bend and break rules? It is a widely accepted norm in reputed institutions all over the world to include a good mix of full-time and visiting faculty. Legalisation of the visiting faculty enables the sharing of knowledge and improved clinical training which is so crucial in dentistry.

 

Some colleges are geographically located in areas where a serious dearth of patients is recorded. Attempts are rarely made to impart hands-on training, especially in dentistry, which so heavily relies on clinics and experience. Out-patient records are mostly fudged to meet the so-called "required minimum" numbers. The current guideline/ordinance, though improvised, is actually much more stifling and rigid.

 

At the moment, India has one dentist for 10,000 persons in urban areas and about 2.5 lakh persons in rural areas. Almost three-fourths of the total number of dentists are clustered in urban areas, which house only one-fourth of the country's population. Almost 80 per cent of the focus is currently on urban areas. Systems ordained must be easy to comprehend, easy to implement, and most transparent to maintain.

 

The focus must be on participation and equity, and not autocracy. The helplessness of the regulator to execute its responsibility is surely a sign of a serious handicap. There is no point in having a regulator if it cannot perform or constantly expresses its inability to do what it is supposed to do — regulate!

 

The DCI must be held accountable, responsible and answerable. The DCI president recently said: "There is a serious dearth of visiting faculty. It has become a lucrative business to start a new dental college. This clearly explains a sudden increase in the number of dental colleges applying for permission to the DCI." Answers are well within these statements.

 

It is indeed time to debate the scarcity of resources, severe shortage of teaching faculty, inequity in distribution of institutions and absolute inefficiency in utilisation in rural as well as urban areas and invent methods of overcoming them.

 

( The writer is past president, Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry & vice-chairperson, Women's Dental Council of the IDA.. email: ushaamohandas@ gmail.com)

 

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THE HINDU

OPEN PAGE

THE SCARY CHAIR AND MY ROTTEN TEETH

J. VIJAYALAKSHMI

 

At last, I had had to sit in the dentist's chair and experience the terror of my life! The dentist asked me to wait for a while. Wait for what, dear doctor, I felt like asking. Wait for my life to end?

I looked around the clinic and found colourful charts on the walls describing the different kinds of human teeth and their functions —incisors are eight sharp-edged front cutting teeth, four in the upper and four in the lower jaw; canines are the four pointed teeth, used mainly for tearing food, one on each side of the four incisors; then there are six pre-molars and ten molars — teeth used for grinding; last, but not least, the wisdom teeth if you are foolish enough to cut them. Never before did I realise the true meaning of the maxim, 'Ignorance is bliss.' The knowledge of so many varieties of teeth in my mouth invariably made me worry about an equal number of dental diseases in store for me.

 

Then I glanced at the wooden platform that ran from one end of the wall to the other. There are scissors, forceps, pluckers, squeezers, tweezers, spray-guns, dentures, blocks to take an impression of teeth, injections, disposable syringes, spirits, spirit lamps, lotions, cotton swabs, and other paraphernalia. The sight sent shivers down my spine.

 

Next I watched closely the chair I was sitting in, or lying down to be exact. It looked like an easy chair, though there was nothing easy about it. To the left, there is a small washbasin in which you can spit, most probably your blood while the dentist works on your teeth; a glass of water kept handy in case your mouth dries up out of fear; a hanky to wipe your unavoidable tears with. To the right, there is a computer-like machine with wires hanging down to the floor and rotating plastic rods going spirally up and up and ending just above your head with a mirror to see how pale your face looks while your teeth are being pulled. Just behind my chair, to the right is the dentist's stool on which the doctor is already seated.

 

He gave me injections to make the affected teeth, and the surrounding areas, numb. Somehow I felt they were my death warrants. Putting on his gloves and mask, he commanded me right in my ear — "Open your mouth." He appeared to me like a devil asking for my soul. I obeyed him closing my eyes tightly. "Open your eyes" was his next command as he wanted to make sure I was alive. How I wished I were dead till the whole tragedy was enacted!

 

When the dentist gave the nod, everybody and subsequently everything sprang into action. There were closing of doors, flashing of lights, splashing of water, buzzing of machines, rotating of rods — all reminding me of the shooting of a film I had seen in my childhood. At one go, I had had three of my teeth out. At the dentist's second nod, all the hustle stopped and my mouth had been stuffed with cotton swabs through which blood was oozing. One of his assistants proudly exhibited my (yet not mine) teeth on a tray as if they were medals! I staggered my way home, swallowed some painkillers along with my liquid food and went to bed.

 

Next morning, when the tooth ache recurred with more vigour than before, I stood in front of the mirror to see what went wrong. To my horror, I found the agonising myths about the dentist proving true in my case. All my three rotten teeth are still there mocking at me, and three of my healthy teeth are gone for ever!

 

Panic-stricken, I broke into sweat. But, luckily, the horror didn't last long. I got up and found to my great relief it was just a dream!

 

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THE HINDU

 OPEN PAGE

BEWARE THE HOVERING HACKER, KEEP THE PASSWORD FAIL-SAFE

S. L. NARASIMHAN


One thing I will ever remember about my grandfather is the bunch of keys he used to keep in his hip tucked in the dhoti. I was brought up among 12 members in a joint family and all of us were free from such a bother. He used to keep the keys under his pillow at night. I was the only person to whom he gave the key to open the cash box or fetch an account from his almirah.

Today, there is no bunch of keys and goddess Lakshmi dwells in bank lockers. One front door key is the order of the day.

 

We cannot be happy the way we have shed the heavy load. The password, soft version of the keys, is here to stay. It has no physical form and occupies a good part of our memory. Well, you can note it down, but if it reaches unsafe hands everything is finished. It will be a treasure trove for the evil and the needy.

 

We, probably, have to keep 10 times as many passwords in our head as we did 10 years ago, said Jeff Moss, who founded a popular hacking conference. Mail passwords, ATM, PINs and Internet passwords — it is so hard to remember and keep track of all of them. The security of the password need not be overemphasised with increasing thefts and frauds on the Internet. Creating passwords and file names are the arts everyone should master in the present yuga. Those of us who are thrust upon a computer in our mid-40s and 50s with an adequate dose of short memory are the less skilled and soft targets for hackers.

 

A study by a company that makes the security software for users examined a list of 32 million passwords that an unknown hacker stole from users of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace.

 

The study found that one per cent of the users used passwords 123456, 123abc, etc., and 20 per cent picked passwords from a small pool of 5,000 words which are easily susceptible. The hackers could easily guess from the small window of words used as the password and access the accounts with the support of software. Some of us create passwords like "iddli 1", "iddli 2" as we believe that iddli is not a universal word and chances of stealing this word are remote. Often we have trouble remembering whether we put 'I' or 'y' as the last letter. They could have as well used the word 'hack me' says a write-up in New York Times. Using names of close relatives is also vulnerable as known persons can guess them easily.

 

Today, everyone is keeping a bank account with an ATM card. Many write the PIN in the space provided for signature, and this is an open invitation to thieves.

 

Cryptography schemes have existed for thousands of years, and attempts to break coding schemes are almost as old. A "code breaker" or the present day hacker seeks to detect patterns in the encrypted messages that will lead to sufficient understanding of the encryption scheme to enable the discovery of a decryption method. Do we need to be a cryptographer or do we need to use a Hagelin machine to write a password? Many websites talk about strong and weak passwords. An ideal password is long and has letters, punctuation, symbols, and numbers. Microsoft suggests using at least 14 characters or more in a password. The greater the variety of characters, the better. The use of the entire keyboard — not just a few familiar characters such as @, #, $ — is good enough. Further tips about passwords can be had from: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/ fraud/passwords/ create.aspx

 

No doubt, long passwords are hard to remember. All of us have to pick up some mnemonic techniques to remember the gamut of passwords we have to remember for sustenance. Music mnemonic is the art of remembering words built into jingles. This is how children are taught the alphabet. Name mnemonic enables us to remember the words by correlation with standard phrases and names. For analogy the word "vib" can be remembered as the first three letters of the colour scheme of the rainbow, "vibgyor." This reminds me of the phrase, 'All Students Take Coffee,' which our trigonometry professor asked us to memorise to remember the signs in four quadrants.

 

(The writer's email is: srisln@gmail.com)

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

DO POLITICIANS NEED LESSONS IN CIVILITY?

 

Some mumbo-jumbo is being fed to the media by BJP circles to suggest that occasionally the uplifting thoughts of its president Nitin Gadkari are being lost in translation and emerge akin to invective when that native Maharashtrian-speaker seeks to question other parties' political positions in the best Hindi he can summon. This hashappened twice in a single month. The first time two political stalwarts, of UP and Bihar respectively, became the (un)intended targets of the BJP chief's robust attempt at public speaking in the national language. Fortunately, the matter was prevented from snowballing into anything seriously unpleasant as Mr Gadkari hastened to explain away his observation, using cultural gap as alibi, although he wouldn't have sounded convincing even to a groupie. No tit for tat ensued, and it was widely accepted that the BJP chief had perhaps acknowledged a faux pas had been committed. Alas, this was not the case when the pick of the RSS to head the saffron party took on the Congress two days ago on the Afzal Guru question. Instead of acknowledging boor articulation, however indirectly, Mr Gadkari chose to dig his heels in and insist he would produce an encore if need be. What inspired such a reckless idea can only be guessed at. In retaliation, a young and ebullient Congress spokesman took on the BJP chief head on (conveying his no uncertain thoughts in English). If he had been advised better, he might have used a linguistic flick or glance and moved on. That would have told its own story. Compliments are best not returned in the belittling ways of the street. What then followed was fit to turn away from. A leading BJP spokesman all but extolled his chief on prime-time television. This was not unavoidable.


Lapses from dignity are not unknown in politics anywhere in the world, but those who occupy high positions in public life seek to insulate themselves at the personal level from the hurly-burly of the linguistic mud-pit, or make amends at the first opportunity if a transgression occurs. It is in this that lies Mr Gadkari's uniqueness. Were he to reflect on the pedigree of his position, he might consider himself placed uncomfortably, for the lineage includes the likes of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. Those who seek to trace humour in the expressions of the current BJP leader will see the folly of their ways if for a moment they recalled Mr Vajpayee's thrust and parry, or the memorable repartees of Bhupesh Gupta and Piloo Mody that so enriched parliamentary life in another era.


In a democracy, political parties are an integral aspect of civil society which, by definition, abjures violence, including that of language. Were this not so, language brutality can easily make the transition to brutal ways in other fields that would endanger civil society itself, and as a consequence democracy. We see examples of this on India's periphery. In this country, we are fortunate our civil society has evolved to its present stage, although living conditions remain frightening for many. If leaders are meant to offer direction to a society, and not merely to their own parties, they would consider deepening the positive features of our civil society. The present BJP chief has had his position thrust upon him as a historical irony. It is up to him to grow into the graces and intellectual suaveness that his position demands, and not continue to be held back by ways of the mofussil counter-elite. In a broad sense, this can be said to apply to some other senior regional politicians too, but concerns are more pressing in respect of a leader of a party which aspires to an all-India dimension.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

COMMON CONCERNS

ARUN NEHRU

 

The June 5 Bharat bandh, called by the National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties, crippled India for a day. Clearly, the issue of "price rise" will remain a priority for both, the ruling party as well as for the Opposition. The bandh was a success because inflation and rising prices of essential commodities is a reality for the public.

 

Almost everyone, from the aam aadmi to the middle class, is affected and common sense tells us that further rise in the prices of fuel will aggravate the situation.


I have little doubt that everyone concerned is well aware of the increase in international prices of crude oil. But everyone is also aware of multiple and excessive taxation on petroleum prices. There is a general feeling that both, the Central and the state governments, have lost interest in the aam aadmi. And I think this may well be reflected in the coming elections.


Change is taking place in every part of our society at a very rapid rate and the media, both electronic and print, is changing many traditional attitudes. The "need" factor of the aam aadmi is no longer restricted to basic essentials.


We have a global crisis in Europe and recovery is still very fragile in the United States. While there is no doubt that the critical economic issue is to control deficits, good economic practice is not always credible in a society with great disparity in incomes. While the government must do what is essential for good governance, the distribution of the gains of a nine per cent gross domestic product growth needs very close scrutiny. The National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have much to do in the coming months.


A good monsoon in the coming weeks will result in good crops, and we will again face the problem of storing foodgrains. Some nimble thinking is required on export of our surplus crops and, if necessary, imports of some commodities like sugar. We need a full-time Cabinet minister to deal with this situation.
Media reports indicate a Cabinet reshuffle and the media is busy picking the winners and losers in the power game. Apart from Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's elevation as the International Cricket Council president, Mr Pawar also has to plan his succession in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Though confined to Maharashtra, Mr Pawar is a mass leader and has always functioned far beyond his strength in numbers. But the situation in Maharashtra is fluid with the alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena under pressure. This will make the role of the NCP crucial and for Mr Pawar party matters will become a priority.


The Cabinet reshuffle may well see changes in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam representation as the image of the United Progressive Alliance and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been taking a beating with Union communications minister A. Raja's involvement in the 2G spectrum scam. A change is necessary. For the Trinamul Congress, the reshuffle may be useful as its ministers of state might be given a bigger responsibility.
Change within the Congress Party is long overdue and the thinking of the future has to be reflected in the changes both in the Cabinet and within the party.


In the 2014 general elections while the Congress will try to inch towards the magic figure of 272 seats, the Opposition will have little option but to make strategic alliances for survival. The Assembly elections in Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will, in all probability, set the pattern for the next government at the Centre. The Congress, despite the odd political accident, is still in a strong position. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, talks are on between the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal to put up a united front against the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Opposition scores a point or two for a few days but is unable to sustain its advantage.

 

THE INTERNAL security situation in Kashmir continues to fester. Though the curfew was relaxed on Friday for 24 hours, chief minister Omar Abdullah has requested the Army to restore law and order. Dr Singh has called a Cabinet Committee on Security as since June 11 there have been 14 civilian deaths, which is a matter of grave concern.


After a record turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, little work has been done on development. Clearly, the situation in Kashmir has to be tackled by the National Conference-Congress combine and a prolonged posting of the Army is not advisable. Anti-national elements and terror networks will utilise this to their advantage in a state where there is already a great deal of talk about poor governance after the record voter turnout.

 

THE TWO-DAY bandh on July 13-14 called by the Maoists is being taken rather seriously by the government. There is a full red alert in all the seven states where Maoists have a strong presence — Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — and Dr Singh has cancelled his visit to Andhra Pradesh for the fourth time after the killing of C. Rajkumar Azad in a police encounter.
The political situation in Andhra Pradesh continues to simmer as elections draw near in Telangana. The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi has adopted an aggressive attitude and has an advantage. The Congress looks fragmented but Chandrababu Naidu and his Telugu Desam Party is not looking like a credible alternative either. While political confusion with Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, continues, the Congress high command is seeking a solution.


I have written several times of family members of political leaders becoming business tycoons and Mr Jagan Reddy is very much a part of this brigade. And he will have to face serious issues soon. Many of his supporters, who need the power of the state to maintain their financial status, will encourage him to challenge the Congress. The Congress is in a difficult position but Mr Jagan Reddy may find that his "excessive" assets are a major liability. It takes more than financial power to meet political challenges.

Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

STARTING AFRESH

DILIP CHERIAN

 

Kamal Nath says the Planning Commission is tripping him. But he clearly has problems closer home. The search for a new chief of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has got extended after the embarrassing discovery that a member of the search committee was also an applicant. Now the government has revised the eligibility criteria for the chairman and launched the process all over again.

 

Sources say that the move leaves a string of babus, including ex-member NHAI K.S. Money (now secretary-general National Human Rights Commission), Railway Board chairman S.S. Khurana, director-general foreign trade R.S. Gujral, member, engineering, Railway Board Rakesh Chopra, current NHAI chairman Brijeshwar Singh and roads secretary Brahm Dutt, all groping in the dark.


Meanwhile, the government has added a few more clauses in order to attract the best talent. The applicant now would be required to have at least 15 years of experience in the field of finance and financial management and should have held or been empanelled to the post of secretary or its equivalent. The candidate must possess "professional knowledge and experience in any of the areas pertaining to management, administration, law, finance and highway engineering".


Hopefully, the selection process this time would be uncontroversial and, perhaps, quicker as well? And Mr Nath will get the heavy rollers bumping along.

 

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Bargaining power

A high-powered committee headed by former Union Public Service Commission chairman P.C. Hota is considering several proposals including quickening inquiry proceedings against tainted bureaucrats to avoid time-consuming proceedings at the cost of the public exchequer. After all, it is no secret that babus are adept at deliberately delaying proceedings by seeking time extensions or adjournment of hearings due to medical reasons.


Under the new proposal, the inquiry officer will allow adjournment of hearings in extraordinary circumstances and it will be limited to three during the entire inquiry period. However, the proposal does envisage a "plea bargain", wherein babus facing disciplinary or vigilance proceedings can now plead guilty and be punished immediately, albeit with a lesser punishment than otherwise warranted.


According to sources, the Hota Committee is also considering other proposals to provide incentives for quick disposal of proceedings through fiscal incentives to babus and linking the proposal to the babus' annual confidential reports. But, provided the proposal finds acceptance, will babus accept the plea bargain system? And who will bargain?

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE COUSINS ARE COMING

CYRUS BROACHA

 

The cousins are coming. In less than seven days I've already done what I always do when relatives come a knocking. I've ordered lots of painkillers, but combiflam can only do so much. My three-year-old Maya was the one to ask all the pertinent questions. "What is a cousin?" she asked adoringly. I immediately responded with the... contained in the Encyclopaedia Britannica answer: "A cousin is a person who may look like you but isn't really you, mostly probably". Her next question flooredme. "Describe them and don't be stingy on detailing." I responded as best I could: "There were three of them on last count, one male and two females."
Then it was time for the preparations. As you know, Mumbai flats are exactly the size of Mexican shoeboxes and three more occupants was going to be more than a challenge. A typical American child would be roughly the size of your middle aged Indian male, i.e. five-feet-six-inches and 75 kilos.


We had few options: A) get rid of two of our old cupboards which had been in our family for over two generations. B) Get rid of father's huge double bed which was another family heirloom. C) Put my father and the double bed in the two afore mentioned cupboards. However, this suggestion was met with strong objections from both the cupboard and my father.


The next option was to rearrange the hall. The hall furniture consists of four large armchairs, one black piece of wood that used to be a table and a piano which no longer could be considered upright. One clear suggestion was to put the piano out of her misery by propelling her through the balcony. However, a resolution okaying this could only be passed if there was a guarantee given that the piano would land on old Mr Nehra, the ground floor occupant, who was the singularly most disliked member of all plants and animal species combined in the building. Unfortunately, Mr Nehra was hardly likely to cooperate in the highly sociably-acceptable endeavour.
Next choice for removal was the dining table. To be completely honest, it is a dining table. I mean it is a dining table today but its origins are a bit mystifying. Legend has it that many, many years ago it used to be a village situated in a thick wooden shrubbery. Thanks to the process of evolution and the occasional strong gust of wind it metamorphosed itself as a huge long table. Again no one was willing to part with this table. We all had such happy memories associated with it. For my wife it was the memory of first meal together after her marriage. And although she left the table within seconds due to a violent uncontrollable stomach upset, the memory has got sweeter over the years. On my part, I couldn't help reminiscing about the time I failed in mathematics, and my nice mom then threw her slipper at me and as I ducked it hit a set of glasses placed on the table like nine pins. That led to my mother not speaking to me for one month. And my dad not speaking to mom for nine months as well. Ah! Sweet, sweet memories.


Finally Maya had a suggestion: "Why can't dad and Mikhaail bhaiya sleep on a mattress under the piano? In the hall I'll move with momma and we'll give the kids' room to our cousins". It was exactly like I was drowning. I saw a sea of faces, all swaying happily to a mysterious beat, agreeing to everything. My last hope now rested on my first-born Mikhaail.


"Dada, I think it's a great idea. The two of us under the piano", said Mikhaail as he delivered the coup de grace. I had forgotten the golden rule: All seven-year-olds love sleeping under something. The important word here being "under".


So that is it. The cousins are coming. And for the next three weeks I, the provider, bread winner, alfa male, patriarch, regal commander of the troops, have to vacate the comfort of my room and instead be confined under the belly of a highly collapsible piano. My nesting place.

So in effect, as my three-year-old reminded me, "Dada don't worry. You'll be sleeping safely and bhaiya will look after you".

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

ENGAGING IRAN FOR AN AFGHAN FOOTHOLD

K.C. SINGH

 

India-Iran relations have haunted the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, particularly the UPA-I. The halcyon days of this relationship were actually during the National Democratic Alliance regime when Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Iran in April 2001. The then President Mohammad Khatami was the chief guest at India'sRepublic Day in 2003, leading to the Teheran and the Delhi Declarations. The first visit was against the background of Taliban control of Afghanistan and the Kandahar IC-814 hijacking in December, 1999. Taliban had likewise invited Iranian ire over the slaughter of 11 Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif almost causing war between them. The convergence of strategic interests was obvious. The rest of the relationship fell into place: Iran's gas and oil reserves tied neatly to India's burgeoning demand; Iran was a natural bridge for connectivity to Central Asia, Russia and even Europe; Iran was a huge market for India's increasingly sophisticated industrial products and it helped that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) viewed Indian Shias as possible allies, particularly in Mr Vajpayee's Lucknow constituency.


By end of 2001, the region exploded as US descended on Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attack in New York. The transmutation of Pakistan from Taliban's ally to its stated antagonist, US' open ambition to re-order the regimes West of the Durand Line and George W. Bush's Axis of Evil categorisation of Iran in February 2002 fuelled debate in the higher echelons of the Islamic regime. Mr Khatami, re-elected in 2001, was already a pale shadow of his position in 1997-99. The radicals regained the ear of the Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei. Iran was back to wrestling with its twin impulses: paranoia over regime change and anger over role deficit in the region. India could have still managed bilateral relations while enhancing its engagement with the US had not the Iranian clandestine nuclear activities burst into the open with the unravelling of the A.Q. Khan network and the confessions of Libya. The symbol of closer relations with US, i.e. the civil nuclear deal announced in July 2005, was also the very issue over which Iran was in the dock from end 2003.


To have made India choose one over the other was US diplomatic success. To have offended Iran in doing so was Indian diplomacy's failure. The choice was perhaps easy at that stage as Taliban were gone, hopefully forever. Hamid Karzai, India educated as we were reminded, was the new badshah in Kabul and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, intemperately questioning the holocaust and repeatedly mouthing crudities, seemed an unpalatable character to engage. Iran reneged on its commitment to supply 6.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas and haggled interminably over the price of gas for the Iran-Pakistan-India pipe-line. Apparently the two countries were on different politico-strategic trajectories; India moving from an era of sanctions to engagement with the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. Iran, although a Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory, was challenging its contours. Indian Prime Minister, despite repeated Iranian reminders, refused to visit Iran; Mr Ahmadinejad was with some reluctance granted mere transit halt in New Delhi.
The region today is undergoing another shift of power and alliances. Pakistan's allies in the Taliban and the Haqqanis are back in play, America's Af-Pak strategy is in some disarray, Mr Karzai is leveraging one power against another and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistani Army Chief, is negotiator-in-chief for a new dispensation across the Durand Line. The marginalisation of India was presaged in her exclusion from the Istanbul conference. Notwithstanding frequent chants that India is to play a vital role, it is excluded from any serious cogitation on Afghanistan's future. What better indication of changed times than the Indian attempt now to woo the same Iran.


The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses hosted the Iranian thinktank Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS). There were no meetings between 2003 and 2008. The joint commission met on July 8-9, 2010, led by their minister for economy and finance. India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, delivering a key-note address, talked of the two rising powers as natural partners, having civilisational links, needing pragmatism so as to be not hostage to single issues and finally sharing a need for a stable Afghanistan and cooperation in operationalising transit links through Iran to Central Asia etc.


These arguments ignore the handling of Iran since 2005. Iran today has different priorities. The Teheran Declaration for them is the one that President Lula of Brazil, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and Mr Ahmadinejad adopted last month and not the one of 2001. An Iranian IPIS delegate enquired why India was missing from the latest photo? Was it a taunt or an invite? Iran's quest to be a nuclear power is relentless. With three million Afghan refugees in Iran who are likely to be in touch with Taliban, they too may see Iran as a strategic alternative to Pakistan, able to withstand US pressure. Iran's nationalistic-Islamist track is embedded in the Non-Aligned Movement narrative of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. India is correctly evolving a 21st century discourse. We must realistically assess the narrowing space for engagement with Iran. Using hackneyed arguments will invite contempt. India needs its own Af-Pak strategy, if it does not get one, it will fall between the Iranian and US stools.

 

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DNA

COMMENT & ANALYSIS

DON'T BELIEVE THE GOVT; INFLATION IS HERE TO STAY

WE HAVE A FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION, AND THIS IS NOT AMENABLE TO SHORT-TERM SOLUTIONS

R JAGANNATHAN

 

The government's sudden decision to initiate a debate on allowing foreign retailers into India is not a belated realisation that reforms are vital for the Indian economy. Politicians from the Left and Right will surely attack the move as elitist and as being against the interests of small-time kirana shops. The reality is that we need a retail revolution and a supply side agricultural miracle to put runaway inflation behind us.


Government babus periodically emerge from the woodwork to tell us that inflation will be down to 6% by December or some other more comforting figure. But it doesn't really matter what the headline inflation, as measured by the wholesale prices index, is. You know and I know what vegetables cost this year and what they did last year. Throughout the winter, when vegetable prices usually fall, we saw only minor dips. The prices of staples like rice and wheat are even today, after a good rabi harvest, significantly higher than they were last year — and certainly well above the official inflation rate. A good monsoon may improve things later this year, but it will be the lull before the storm.


Why? Any budding economist will tell you that when prices and wages keep chasing each other, inflation is literally going to spiral. There are only two ways to break this vicious circle. One is to drastically curb demand by clamping down on wage increases and raising interest rates. And two, one can improve the productivity of agriculture and reduce inefficiencies in the supply channel — the logistical chain from farm to fork that is tied together by cold storages, transportation, and middlemen.


The first solution will moderate demand, but is only a short-term remedy. You can't cut wages or raise interest rates beyond a point. At least, not at a rate that will be politically acceptable. In any case, food demand cannot be compressed beyond a point. We've all gotta eat. The second solution will take time, but a retail revolution has to be a part of it.


This is how it is supposed to pan out. Big retail works by promising consumers low prices and this is ensured by having direct access to producers. In the case of groceries, a Wal-Mart or a Reliance Fresh will enter into long-term contracts with farmers, or groups of them, to buy a fixed minimum at a certain price. This cuts out thousands of middlemen, eliminating their margins. Farmers get paid more and consumers still pay less at the mall. Some kirana shops will go out of business in the process, but others can band together and do deals with the big retailers or even build their own supply chains.


The other leg of the strategy has to be an improvement in agricultural productivity. Indian agriculture has not received a major leg-up since the green revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, throughout the 1990s and the last decade, Indian agriculture has been facing the downside of the earlier revolution, which involved increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides. Today, thanks to small land holdings, low irrigation investments, and destruction of the natural fertility of the soil through sustained fertiliser use (brought on again by heavy subsidies on fertiliser), farmers are switching off foodgrain and shifting to cash crops. The urban expansion is also eating into farmland, and once again, food output suffers.

This is why when the government launched its NREGA scheme to guarantee employment to the landless, it had a damaging effect on food prices. The beneficiaries spent more on food, and less of the food produced made it to cities, where inflation soared. Higher payments to NREGA beneficiaries also increased farm and industrial wages everywhere, and this is how we got the classic wage-price spiral.


However, the problem isn't NREGA, but the long-term failure to set off another green revolution. This is not going to happen anytime soon, as investments in irrigation, improved seeds, and building retail chains will take years. In the short-term, it might make sense to allow genetically-modified (GM) seeds to boost productivity quickly — after building enough safeguards. GM seeds are controversial, but not any more controversial than fertilisers or pesticides — two ingredients that set off the original green revolution. They may be worth a gamble, if we want quicker results — with the caveat that we also need an exit strategy from them if they prove dangerous or problematic.


Whatever the solution, one thing is clear: there is no easy answer to inflation. Government may talk of taming inflation with a good monsoon or imports, but the food problem is structural in nature and there are no easy solutions. We have to learn to live with higher inflation for the next few years. 


r_jagannathan@dnaindia.net

 

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DNA

COMMENT & ANALYSIS

FOOD FOR THOUGHT ON GM CROPS

THOSE WHO OPPOSE SEED COMPANIES ARE REALLY AGAINST CAPITALISM RATHER THAN GM SEED, BUT THEY SHOULD CHOOSE A CAMPAIGN THAT WOULD BE LESS DAMAGING TO THE POOR AND HUNGRY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

PER PINSTRUP-ANDERSEN

 

As the world continues to debate the impact of climate change while seeking a new global treaty to prevent it, Kenya has endured a prolonged drought followed by heavy flooding. Maize plants have withered, hitting poor rural families hard. People are starving, and many of those who survive are grossly malnourished.
There is hope: next year, the Kenyan authorities will begin testing maize varieties that they hope will provide high yields and prove more resistant to drought. But why did farmers in Kenya and other African countries not have access to drought-resistant crop varieties before catastrophe struck?


One reason is that such crops rely on research tools used in molecular biology, including genetic engineering. African governments have been told that genetic engineering is dangerous, with many Europeans and their national governments - as well as transnational NGOs such as Greenpeace - determined to stay away from it.
Unfortunately, Kenya's government listened and did not permit their farmers to grow genetically modified (GM) maize, even though it has been approved, sown, harvested, and eaten by both humans and animals in South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, and other countries for many years. Although Kenya has a well-functioning and well-funded agricultural research system, the government has not even permitted field tests of GM crop varieties.


IMAGINARY RISKS

Molecular biology has provided excellent tools to address health, environmental, and food problems such as those seen in Kenya. The question is whether decision-makers are prepared to use them. Obviously, most EU countries' governments are not. But why are developing country governments dragging their feet? Are the risks so high that they justify the suffering that could have been avoided?


GM foods have now been on the market in the US for more than 12 years. Most of the food consumed by Americans is either genetically modified or exposed to genetic modification somewhere in the production process. There is no evidence of even a single case of illness or death as a result - in the US or anywhere else where GM foods are consumed. Similarly, GM feed has not resulted in any illness or death in animals. And no environmental damage has been detected.


It is unusual that a new technology has no negative side-effects. Just think of all the deaths that the wheel has caused, not to mention the side-effects of much of the medicine we take. What, then, is the danger of GM foods?

INVALID ARGUMENTS

Opponents of genetic engineering in food and agriculture have several arguments, none of which appears to be valid. First, "genetic engineering cannot solve the hunger and food insecurity problem." This is correct: GM foods cannot singlehandedly solve the problem, but they can be an important part of the solution.
A second argument is that "we do not know enough about the effects and side-effects." Since some of the groups opposing GM organisms destroy the field trials that could give us more knowledge, a more pertinent argument might be that many opponents do not want us to know more.


Third, "we should not play God." But if God gave us brains, it was so that we should use them to ensure a balance between people and nature to help eliminate hunger and protect the environment.
Fourth, pollen from GM crops may "contaminate" organically produced food. This, of course, would be an issue only with open pollinating plants, and only if the definition of "organically produced" excludes GM, something that is difficult to justify, since genes are as organic as anything.


MISPLACED OPPOSITION

Lastly, some argue that if farmers are permitted to sow GM varieties, they become dependent on large seed producers such as Monsanto, which have patent protection - and thus a monopoly - on the seed. But private corporations undertake only about half of all agricultural research, whether or not it involves genetic engineering. The other half is done by public research systems using public funds. Results from such research would not be subject to private sector monopoly power. The fact that virtually all US maize and soybean farmers, and all papaya farmers, use GM seed indicates that it is good business for them.
Similarly, a large share of farmers - most of them smallholders - in Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, China, India, and other countries, prefer GM seed because they make more money from the resulting crops. Large reductions in the use of insecticides cut costs for growers of GM varieties, while providing an important health and ecological benefit.


But maybe those who oppose private seed corporations are really against capitalism and the market economy rather than GM seed. If so, they should choose an issue for their campaign that would be less damaging to the poor and hungry in developing countries.


The global food crisis of 2007-2008 was a warning of what the future may hold in store if we continue with business as usual, including misplaced opposition to the use of modern science in food and agriculture. European and developing country governments urgently need to reverse their current adverse position on GM organisms in order to help ensure sustainable food security for all.


Such a reversal would reduce hunger, poverty, and malnutrition; help protect our planet's natural resources; and slow the emission of greenhouse gases from agriculture. All that is needed is political will.


Copyright: Project Syndicatethinksunday@gmail.com

 

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DNA

COMPUTERS AT HOME: EDUCATIONAL HOPE VERSUS TEENAGE REALITY

STUDIES SHOW THAT STUDENTS LEFT UNATTENDED WILL SPEND THEIR TIME ON GAMES NOT HOMEWORK OR ANY OTHER FORM OF SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING

RANDALL STROSS

 

School students are champion time-wasters. And the PC may be the ultimate time-wasting appliance. Put the two together at home, without hovering supervision, and logic suggests that you won't witness an educational transformation.


Still, wherever there is a low-income household unboxing the family's very first PC, there is an automatic inclination to think of the machine in its most idealised form, as the Great Equaliser. In developing countries, computers are outfitted with grand educational hopes, like those that animate the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The same is true of computers that go to poor households in rich nations.


Economists are trying to measure a home computer's educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.


In the US, Jacob L Vigdor and Helen F Ladd, professors of public policy at Duke University, reported similar findings. Their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, "Scaling the Digital Divide," published last month, looks at the arrival of broadband service in North Carolina between 2000 and 2005 and its effect on middle school test scores during that period. Students posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband service provider showed up in their neighborhood, and significantly lower reading scores as well when the number of broadband providers passed four.


The Duke paper reports that the negative effect on test scores was not universal, but was largely confined to lower-income households, in which, the authors hypothesised, parental supervision might be spottier, giving students greater opportunity to use the computer for entertainment unrelated to homework and reducing the amount of time spent studying.


The study suggests the disconcerting possibility that home computers andiInternet access have such a negative effect only on some groups and end up widening achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups. 
The state of Texas recently completed a four-year experiment in "technology immersion." The project spent $20 million on laptops distributed to 21 schools whose students were permitted to take the machines home. Another 21 schools that did not receive funds for laptops were designated as control schools.


At the conclusion, a report prepared by the Texas Center for Educational Research tried to make the case that test scores in some academic subjects improved slightly at participating schools over those of the control schools. But the differences were mixed and included lower scores for writing among the students at schools "immersed" in technology.Catherine Maloney, director of the Texas center, said the schools did their best to mandate that the computers would be used strictly for educational purposes. Most schools configured the machines to block e-mail, chat, games and websites reached by searching on objectionable key words. The key-word blocks worked fine for English-language sites but not for Spanish ones. "Kids were adept at getting around the blocks," she said.When devising ways to beat school policing software, students showed an exemplary capacity for self-directed learning. Too bad that capacity didn't expand in academic directions, too. —IHT

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THE TRIBUNE

PERSPECTIVE

CONTROLLING THE NUMBERS

WE NEED TO CHANGE THE MINDSET IN HIGH FERTILITY STATES, SAYS AMARJIT SINGH

 

TODAY is World Population Day. Considerable public interest was generated when the world population reached five billion on July 11, 1987. The United Nations Development Programmed (UNDP) decided to celebrate it as an annual event as World Population Day (WPD) to raise awareness about global population issues.

 

Accordingly, each WPD is celebrated around a theme. This year, it is "everyone counts" literally because some countries like ours are engaged in decennial census operations, generating useful data for development. As the world's second most populous country, it is only appropriate for us to take stock on this day.

 

Our population has increased by over four times during the last century — from 23 crore in 1901 to 102 crore in 2001. In the nineties, we added 18 crore people, i.e. almost the population of Uttar Pradesh to our country!

 

Obviously, we are not content with this. We are currently growing at the rate of 1.4 per cent annually — almost two and a half times that of China's rate of 0.6 per cent. Soon we will have the pleasure of overtaking China as the world's most populous country.

 

Gloomy facts apart, there's some good news. Fourteen states, especially in the south, have reached the replacement level of fertility of less than 2.1 children per woman. The population of some larger or high fertility states in central India is, however, growing alarmingly. Over 45 per cent of the population growth by 2030 will be from Uttar Pradesh (22 per cent), Bihar (8 per cent), Rajasthan (8 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (7 per cent). In comparison, the four states in the south will contribute only 13 per cent. So, while an average woman in Andhra Pradesh will give birth to 1.9 children in her reproductive years, her counterpart in UP will bear four children.

 

The high fertility states are also reeling under high maternal and infant mortality rates, which reflect poor quality of healthcare within. Recent studies show that unmet need for contraception in some states is as high as 46 per cent compared to the national figure of 22 per cent (which is just 11 per cent for Kerala). Ironically, even when services are available, they are delayed. Over 84 per cent sterilisations are carried out after three children have been borne and 97 per cent of the Intra-Uterine Devices inserted after two children in some of these states. Obviously, this is ineffective effort, with little impact on population stabilisation.

 

Apart from overall weak governance in some of these states, there are critical systemic issues accounting for the poor performance. In the better performing states of the south as well as west, there is a strong public health cadre trained to handle public health issues effectively. Whereas in the states under reference, most often one will find a clinical person with no idea of management or public health heading the district health team consisting of around a thousand auxiliary nurse-cum midwives, paramedics, and doctors.

 

There is also a poor understanding of epidemiology, surveillance, logistics, management information system, finance and man management. In other words, you have a chemical engineer where a structural engineer is required. Obviously, the district health teams are an undermined lot, working at sub-optimal levels. The result of the poor absorption capacity of these states is huge saving in these states of the fund allocations under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).

 

This is compounded by issues on the socio-economic front such as poor literacy, especially amongst girls. Such factors along with antiquated social norms contribute to early marriage. In the high fertility states, 60 to 70 per cent of girls in rural areas get married before the age of 18. Over 35 per cent of them begin child bearing before 18.

 

This largely contributes to high infant and maternal mortality, low quality of life and increase in population. The only way out of the mess is girl child education up to the secondary level which not only empowers girls economically and socially but also enhances the acceptance of contraception and limits the family size as in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and now Himachal Pradesh.

 

Himachal remains by far the most admirable example of sustained and effective effort in this regard. More than 71 per cent of the Himachal girls have received Plus Two education in contrast to 15 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and 19 per cent in Bihar. The fruits of education have been sweet — only 9 per cent of the currently married girls in Himachal's rural areas were married before 18.

 

Along with education, delayed marriage is another way forward in our mission for population stabilisation. People must oppose vigorously any move to reduce the age of marriage for girls as is being demanded by the Khap Panchayats prevalent in northern states.

 

We also need to explore innovative ways of service delivery. Despite our best efforts, in the last five years, under the NRHM, of 55 lakh deliveries in UP annually, only 21 lakh took place in institutions. The rest were supervised by quacks, dais or family members. Clearly, the government alone will not be able to fill the gaps.

 

There is a need to explore the possibilities of public private partnerships in reproductive and child health as well as family welfare programmes. Worthy of emulation is Gujarat's Chiranjeevi Scheme. It shows how small efforts can deliver big results. Under the scheme, an offer was made through the Federation of Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI) to the private obstetricians to collaborate with the Gujarat government to provide safe delivery facilities to the below poverty line (BPL) women.

 

Private obstetricians were offered an average of Rs 1, 795 for a delivery and had to take up all BPL cases, regardless of the complexity. The state government offered an advance of Rs 25,000 to the private obstetricians opting for the scheme ensuring prompt payments and taking responsibility for mortality in case of severely anemic women.

 

So far 800 obstetricians have joined and have carried out more than 500,000 institutional deliveries for below poverty line mothers. At a maternal mortality rate of 300, the state could have lost 1,500 mothers. However, as the deliveries were carried out by skilled birth attendants, only 77 mothers lost their lives. The scheme also saved many neonates who used to die because of poorly handled deliveries.

 

This reflects the promise of public-private partnership which must be explored by other states for enhancing access to high quality reproductive and child health services. As bigger partners, the states have to take proactive steps to involve NGOs. In Uttar Pradesh, over 4,000 obstetricians are willing to join hands with the government to strengthen reproductive and child health services and improve healthcare for the masses.

 

There is need for a vigorous campaign for a meaningful girl child education, increasing the age of marriage especially for girls, delaying the birth of the first child and ensuring healthy birth interval — a minimum of two years between each child.

 

We need to change the mindset towards son preference as well as active male involvement in family welfare and to redouble our investments to involve private sector to improve reproductive and child health and meet the unmet need for family welfare qualitatively and in a humane manner.

 

The focus in all this has to be on the high fertility states. Unfortunately after the Emergency days, even well-meaning people have relegated the issue to the backburner, with population stabilisation continuing to be a high stigma subject. This attitude must change to realise the full potential of the demographic dividend.n

 

The writer is Executive Director, National Population Stabilisation Fund, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

PERSPECTIVE

PREVENTION OF TORTURE: A WEAK BILL WON'T DO

BY PUSHKAR RAJ

 

THE Lok Sabha passed the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, on May 6, 2010 and is now pending before the Rajya Sabha. It has long been overdue as torture is recognised as a heinous practice that needs to be criminalised.

 

To this end, the United Nations adopted the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) that was opened for signature, ratification and accession by the General Assembly in 1984 and came into force in 1987.

 

India signed the convention in 1997 pending ratification preceded by the enabling domestic legislation.Given the frequency of torture in India, there should have been a law in place against torture long back. According to the National Human Rights Commission, an average of 158 people died every year in police custody from 1994 to 2008.

 

Deaths in judicial custody hovered around over a thousand per year during the same period. It is a fact that punishment for custody death is more an exception rather than the rule. If an attempt to punish a perpetrator is made at all, it takes decades. By then, either he is past active life or is dead. Judicial custody deaths are not even considered worth prosecuting as only one-sided story emerges from the four walls of the jail, protecting the perpetrators of the crime and thereby encouraging the culture of impunity.

 

Otherwise, what is the explanation for increasing police and judicial deaths in the country year after year? For example in 1994-95, there were 111 police custody deaths and 51 judicial custody deaths. This number reached 188 and 1789 respectively for each in 2007-08.

 

It is apparent that to deal with such a widespread menace, we need a very strong law in accordance with the international standards set by the United Nations. However, the government has chosen to come up with a weak and inherently flawed Bill that at best could be described as a law in name only. It will make no difference at the ground level in curtailing torture as widely practiced by the internal security forces.

 

The Bill in question is a one-and-a-half page piece with five sections dealing with a clause each on definition, punishment and limitation for cognisance of offences. Though the statement of its intent reads "whereas India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture; and whereas it is considered necessary to ratify the said convention and to provide for more effective implementation …", the Bill completely omits the important provisions enumerated in the UN Convention such as ensuring that an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture, ensuring that torture is an extraditable offence, establishing universal jurisdiction to try cases of torture, providing mechanisms to promptly investigate any allegation of torture, providing an enforceable right to compensation to the victims of torture and banning the use of evidence produced by torture in the courts, etc.

 

Torture as defined in the Bill is narrow and vague. It reads, "whoever, being a public servant or being abetted by a public servant or with the consent or acquiescence of a public servant, intentionally does any act which causes — (i) grievous hurt to any person; or (ii) danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of any person is said to inflict torture."

 

The definition does not make any reference to other cruel, inhuman or degrading, treatment or punishment. Nor are intimidation and coercion included in the Bill. The gamut of mental torture though mentioned, is left completely unaddressed.

 

While dealing with torture cases, UNCAT clearly states that there should not be any exceptions — not even war or a threat of war; internal political instability or any other public emergency may be invoked as a justification for torture. Yet, the Bill puts a ceiling of six months beyond which no court can take cognisance of any offence under this Act. This violates the existing law under the Criminal Procedure Code that does not put such a limitation in the case of grievous hurt caused to a person by any other citizen, thereby giving preferential treatment to public officials.

 

The situation is made worse with Section 197 of Cr PC that requires prior sanction from the government to prosecute public servants accused of torture and other human rights violations.

 

Apparently, the Bill in the present form will not be an effective weapon to fight the curse of torture as it is practiced by state agencies. The Bill needs to be completely redrafted taking inputs of civil society groups, lawyers, academicians and above all, the concerned ordinary citizens who bear the brunt of torture without an effective remedy. This is the least that is expected from a democratic government.n

 

The writer is General Secretary,People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), New Delhi

 

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TRIBUNE

OPED

SPECIAL POWERS FOR ARMED FORCES

WE NEED CLARITY, NOT EMOTIONS

BY LT-GEN VIJAY OBEROI (RETD)

 

THE Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, better known as AFSPA, has been brought out of wraps at various opportune times – opportune for those who have either something to gain, i.e. the insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir, political parties always ready to fish in troubled waters, with an eye on electoral gains or those who are regular establishment-baiters, who have made it a habit to take the plunge headlong in any controversy with the belief that if it is against an organ of the government, it needed to be opposed!

 

Many have called AFSPA a draconian law and have vehemently supported its repeal, but having read quite a few of their views and watched them pontificating on TV, I am convinced that most lack even a rudimentary, let alone in-depth knowledge on the subject. This Act has been in force for over five decades because it was essential for the conduct of smooth counter-insurgency operations by the army. It will continue to be needed as long as the army is employed on counter-insurgency/ terrorism tasks.

 

The Act was promulgated on September 11, 1958. The rationale for bringing the Act on the statute book needs to be appreciated. When the army was first employed on counter-insurgency tasks in Nagaland in the 1950s, two aspects came to the fore immediately. First, unlike in the case of maintenance of law and order, when the army is called out in 'aid to the civil authority', where time is available to employ the police before committing the army, operations against insurgents are entirely of a different genre, as the insurgents do not give any time for such niceties.

 

The insurgents we are fighting today are heavily armed, they act speedily, commit heinous crimes and disappear. Unless the army counters such actions with speed and not wait for orders from higher civil or military authorities, nothing would be achieved.

 

Secondly, the soldiers and officers of the army had to be protected from prosecution for consequential action taken against insurgents in good faith as part of their operations. Here too, the Act does contain the important caveat that the army personnel can be prosecuted with the Centre's sanction, if their actions warrant it. There is, therefore, no blanket immunity from the laws of the land.

 

Over the years, some army personnel have indeed been prosecuted where a prima facie case existed. However, it is also true that due to the exceptional care which all army commanders take when their troops are employed against insurgents, such cases are few and far between.

 

After the initial employment in Nagaland, the employment of the army on counter-insurgency tasks continued increasing, till it was progressively employed in all the north-eastern states for such tasks. Along with such employment, AFSPA was also invoked in all affected states.

 

When insurgency erupted in Srinagar in 1990, the Act was extended to the Valley. Later, as the activities of the insurgents spread, first to the Poonch-Rajauri area, then to Doda and Bhadarwah and finally to the whole state, the entire state was brought under the Act's purview in stages. It can thus be seen that AFSPA was invoked progressively only when the situation required the deployment of the army.

 

The army is designed and structured for fighting external enemies of the nation. Consequently, they are not given any police powers. However, when the nation wants the army to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations, then they must be given the legal authority to conduct their operations without the impediment of getting clearances from the higher authorities.

 

If this is not done, they would be unable to function efficiently and defeat the insurgents and terrorists at their own game. It is for this reason that the Act gives four powers to army personnel. These are for 'enter and search', 'arrest without warrant', 'destroy arms dumps or other fortifications' and 'fire or use force after due warning where possible'. Once again, there is a safeguard in the Act, which stipulates that the arrested person(s) will be handed over speedily to the nearest police station.

 

The law stipulates that AFSPA can be imposed only after the area in question is declared a 'disturbed area' by the state government concerned. When this writer was the Director-General Military Operations (DGMO) and the army was asked to deploy in the Doda-Bhadarwah area, we requested for the invocation of the Act. The state government was reluctant to do so on account of political considerations, but we did not commence operations till the Act was invoked.

 

Clearly, the Army has no desire to get embroiled in counter-insurgency tasks. It is not the army's job. However, despite over 50 years of insurgency in our country, the state police as well as the central police forces (CPOs) have not been made capable of tackling insurgency. Consequently, in each case the army was inducted to carry out counter insurgency/ terrorist operations. If the national leadership tasks the army for conducting such non-military operations, then it is incumbent on the leadership to provide the legal wherewithal to all army personnel employed on such tasks.

 

It is only then that the operations will be conducted in the usual efficient manner of the army and would be result-oriented. They also must be legally protected. It is because these two aspects have been catered for that the army has been neutralising the insurgents and terrorists, so that normalcy is restored and the political leaders and officials can restart governing.

 

The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Indian Army

 

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TRIBUNE

OPED

'RAJASTHAN TOURISM POISED FOR A LEAP'

ON RECORD BY PERNEET SINGH

 

HAILING from Punjab's Gurdaspur district, Manjit Singh has handled key assignments in the Rajasthan government. A 1988 batch IAS officer, he has made his mark as Chairman and Managing Director of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC). He talks about tourism in Rajasthan and challenges ahead with The Tribune in Jaipur.

 

Excerpts:

 

Q: What is the state of tourism in Rajasthan?

 

A: Rajasthan is a leading state in tourism and is popular among foreign and domestic tourists. We offer a variety of tourist destinations — from deserts to forts to wildlife. We are now focusing on new circuits like the Tal Chhapar sanctuary in Churu district, Ganganagar, Hadauti region, Jhalawar and Sirohi.

 

Q: What new strategies are you adopting to promote tourism?

 

A: We are improving facilities at Rajasthan Tourism hotels to the level of three- and four-star hotels. We are also developing new tourist destinations and taking measures to ensure tourists' security. We will tackle the tourists' problem due to lapkas (unregistered guides). Besides, talks are on for proper maintenance of towns and cities.

 

Q: Which are the new areas that you are focusing on?

 

A: We are primarily channelising our efforts in developing the Tal Chhapar sanctuary in Churu as a major tourist destination. We are also planning cruise tourism in the Kota belt where the Chambal river is ideal. We also intend to promote lake tourism in Udaipur and Jodhpur with boating, house boats or shikaras for tourists. Rajasthan has already received Rs 250-300 crore under the National Lake Conservation Project.

 

Q: How do you plan to face competition in the luxury train sector as new players have entered into the market?

 

A: Though our Palace on Wheels has recently been declared the world's fourth best luxury train by noted global travel magazine Conde Nast, we are not resting on laurels. Currently, both our luxury trains – Palace on Wheels and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels – are undergoing a major revamp at a cost of Rs 2 crore. With a new spa, gym, cuisines from around the world, latest upholstery and other modern amenities, both our trains will roll out in a plusher avatar to woo tourists. More varied food including Mexican, Thai and seafood will be served and the bar will be upgraded with the world's finest wines.

 

Q: What about the tourists' safety and security?

 

A: Currently, we have around 250 personnel in the tourism police force. We will increase the personnel and strengthen the force. We have recently passed an Act under which anybody found harassing tourists would be dealt with strictly. As for our trains, the Indian Railways has provided adequate security.

 

Q: How are you preparing for New Delhi's Commonwealth Games?

 

A: We expect at least 40 per cent of New Delhi's tourists to visit Jaipur, the Pink City being a part of the Golden Triangle. They will also visit the Ranthambore National Park and the Sariska Tiger Reserve. We are renovating almost all the RTDC hotels, offering discounts to tourists in both our luxury trains and cultural programmes on all 14 days of Common-wealth Games in Jaipur for which we have received funds from the Centre. We will receive the Queen's Baton here in September-end.

 

Q: After tigers' relocation to the Sariska Tiger Reserve, do you see revival of tourism?

 

A: Definitely. We expect heavy inflow of tourists in Sariska where tourism had almost finished a few years back. But since the relocation of tigers a couple of years back, our hotels there have been making profit. Now, with the government planning to shift more tigers to Sariska, we hope to receive more tourists. We have already announced special packages for tourists to promote Bhangarh in the same circuit.

 

Q: You hail from Punjab. How do you see tourism scenario there?

 

A: Amritsar's Golden Temple is Punjab's USP when it comes to tourism. But I feel the state has failed to cash on it as much as it could have done. Punjab needs to adopt a pro-active approach and resort to aggressive marketing in the tourism sector. It should participate in national and international tourism fairs if it wants to make big gains in tourism.

 

Apart from Amritsar, I see immense tourism potential in Patiala, Nabha, Anandpur Sahib, hilly areas around Chandigarh and Harike Wetland which can be tapped.

 

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TRIBUNE

OPED

SWEDE'S CONTRIBUTION TO RURAL UPLIFT RECOGNIZED

BY HARIHAR SWARUP

 

G D Birla Awards, instituted by the Birla Academy of Art and culture, sometime chooses unique personality for honour. Among the recipients of the award was a Swede, Dr Percy Bernevik. His contribution in the field of rural development at Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu has been spectacular.

 

He puts in practice what he preaches. His self-help movement in the impoverished southern state has been creating 400 enterprises every working day and is on course easily to exceed its target of 1.3 million jobs within five years.

 

He is expected to move to other Indian states even as he extends his approach to South Africa and war-torn Afghanistan. He has ploughed 7.5 million pounds of his own money into the Indian project. He makes a particular point of stressing how he is applying business practices to poverty relief through charity — Hand in Hand International (HHI) — he set up five years ago. " I do not want Hand-in-Hand to be the best NGO. I want it to be the best company", he says.

 

HHI's approach to job creation is based on micro-credit, arranging loans of start-up capital to groups of 15-20 women to enable them open enterprises as bakeries, garment factories and brickwork. While this is not especially unusual, Barnevik has stipulated a rigid line that loans must on no account be used for consumption, that they are repaid on time, and are made exclusively to women. Men, he says, cannot be trusted not to drink and gamble the money away.

 

On one occasion, he was persuaded by the Tamil Nadu government, against his better judgment, to make loans to group of men. When the time came for repayment of the first instalment, the group of men came forward with one excuse after another; "I have been sick; terrible dry spell"; and "would I (Percy) defer the repayment"?

 

For women, the results are typically empowering. "What's fantastic to see is that we can lift these impoverished women, who are 85 per cent illiterate, the most backward castes, and they can rise". he says, recalling that once, he had met three women walking to an evening meeting of those self-help group. Asked where their children were, they replied their husbands were giving them supper and putting them to bed.

 

In Tamil Nadu, this enterprise drive is only one part of what HHI called a five-pillar programmed. Barnevik stresses the importance of the other four elements, adult literacy courses, schooling for children and elimination of child labour. Here too, there is a strong emphasis on self-help. Barnevik is clear, for instance, that villagers must themselves take over paying the teachers in their new schools.

 

Born in Southern Sweden as the youngest of three children, he grew up in Uddenvalla, north of Gothenburg where his parents operated a small printing company. Barnevik was educated at Goteborg University's School of Economics and Commercial Law and at Stanford School of Business. He started his professional career in the Swedish Company Datema, but soon moved to Sandvik. In Sandvik, where between the years 1969 and 1970, he hired over 150 people. His employees say, he has some kind of magic in him — you just can't refuse his offer.

 

Since 1999, Percy is involved as a major donor and an advisor in the Indian charity organisation, HIH and their programmes to eliminate rural poverty. By the end of 2007, 272,000 women have been organised and trained and have started 106,000 small enterprises. Since 2006, Hand-in-Hand is also engaged in South Africa and Afghanistan.

 

A non-smoker, who shuns alcohol, Bernevik has visited India some 50 times since his first visit in 1968. During the past six years, he has been engaged in HIH programmes to eliminated rural poverty. Presently, he spends some 12 weeks per year in Tamil Nadu.n 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEWS

LET'S NOT CALL IT 'NEW AGE'

DESPITE THE SUCCESS OFDEV D AND KHOSLA KA GHOSLA, POST-BOLLYWOOD INDIE CINEMA IS TOO YOUNG TO BE DEFINED AS A GENRE


This week Cameron Bailey, the suave and dapper looking codirector of the Toronto International Film Festival was in Mumbai scouting for films. As a lot of people do these days, Bailey was often on Twitter talking about his meetings. And he gave hints about the films he watched. 

 

On Wednesday, he tweeted that there were a "cool crop of post-Bollywood indie filmmakers rising up, but they'll have to get a better name than New Age." 

 

"New Age?" I asked him and his response was that he had heard the term from a couple of people in Mumbai. He then supported his claim by posting an article where the writer referred to films such as Satya, Dil Chata Hai, Dev D and Khosla Ka Ghosla as examples of "new age" films. 

 

I have concerns with the term "new age." For one, the term has a completely different connotation in the West, representing a spiritual movement with elements of music, astrology, and whole array of Eastern religious philosophies. 

 

To Bailey's credit he does not like the sound of "new age" and hopefully will not use it in any literature that TIFF produces in September. But it is important for Indian film journalists and other observers to be careful as they chose words to describe and analyse the newer films emerging out of the Hindi language industry in Mumbai. 

 

There is always a possibility that some other international film festival may pick up the term "new age," a journalist may use it in an article and pretty soon it will become widely acceptable. I may sound like an alarmist, but that is exactly how Bollywood became such a popular and accepted term worldwide – whether it was first used by Amit Khanna to describe the popular Hindi language cinema, or by H.R.F. Keating in his 1976 book Filmi, Filmi Inspector Ghote, as detailed by Oxford English Dictionary. 

 

 We have accepted the derivative word Bollywood. Overtime scholars and writers have emphasised that the emergence of Bollywood films paralleled the liberalised Indian economy and the global Indian often seen in the works of Yash Chopra and Karan Johar. There was a pre-Bollywood cinema – the mixed bag of good and bad Bombay films of the 1940s all the way up to 1980s. And the late 1960s through the 1970s also witnessed a completely unique film phenomenon – referred to as the new wave or the parallel cinema movement, often socially relevant films and also funded by the government. 

 

Bailey now sees a post-Bollywood trend in the Hindi film industry. But there were good indie films even in the 1990s. Dev Benegal directed English August in 1994 (although it was in English). Also in 1994 Shekhar Kapur directed Bandit Queen, after the huge box office success of Mr. India (1987). Nagesh Kukunoor released Hyderabad Blues in 1998, the same year Johar gave us Kuch, Kuch Hota Hai, one of the early global Indian Bollywood films. 

 

I would not want to refer to the films of Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardawaj, Dibakar Banerjee, or Onir as post-Bollywood. All of these filmmakers work within Mumbai's Hindi film industry and their paths often cross with Bollywood (although Banerjee's first two films nearly heralded the emergence of a film industry in Delhi), while maintaining their independence from the studios. Their works are independent in spirit, but the narrative language of their cinema is not completely free of Bollywood. 

 

 In fact there was a greater independence – in financing and filmmaking ethos, reflected in the American indie film movement that emerged in 1980s, with works by Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee. 

Things are still evolving in Mumbai and may soon get complicated. Aamir Khan's production house is about to release two small indie films – Peepli Live and Dhobi Ghat. These films are far removed from Bollywood in style, but the funding did come from the production house run by one of the industry's biggest stars. So it appears we are not ready to give a name to this new crop of films, other than maybe to simply call them indie Hindi language cinema! 

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

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S OWN GOAL

THERE IS NEED FOR MORE INVESTMENT IN FOOTBALLING INFRASTRUCTURE

 

In 2007, Fifa President Sepp Blatter visited Kolkata and watched a match between traditional rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Afterwards, asked whether Fifa would invest more money in Indian football, the voluble Swiss said: "Help yourself and heaven will help you". Which was an elliptical way of saying no. Few people would argue with Mr Blatter on this point, even if they haven't witnessed the painfully low quality of India's top football clubs. With a country ranking of 133, India has few reasons to put before Fifa for funds. But Mr Blatter was making a more important point that Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who heads India's football federation, may want to consider as the 2010 Fifa World Cup draws to a close after being hosted by a country with an economy a quarter the size of India's.

 

Fifa's vision for India, Mr Blatter explained, was "Win in India with India" by improving infrastructure first. "India is a rich country," Mr Blatter said, "and I am sure that with the proper infrastructure and culture of football at an early stage, be it in schools or universities or at the regional leagues, Indian football will definitely improve a lot." That's the kind of sensible recommendation that India's disorganised and politicised football administration is unlikely to follow. Yet, it must surely be a matter of embarrassment that the country's international football record has deteriorated steadily in the nineties — from 100 in 1993 to 133 in 2010. The country's best result has been fourth place in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (the story that the Indian team was disqualified from the 1950 World Cup because its footballers were barefoot is disputed).

 

If one takes Mr Blatter's point that success begets investment, then Indian football has a long way to go before it can be deemed worthy of the kind of money the world governing body for football pours into Africa. It is striking that countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria routinely turn out global football stars whereas India's most-capped player to date was mostly benched by a second division English club.

 

Many theories have been forwarded for African footballers' success in the European leagues, most of them absurdly racist (Sampler: they are tough because they only eat meat since there is little crop cultivation). The fact is that many of these small, poor African nations see a link between poverty alleviation and footballing success, and this prompts them to channel a mania for the game into constructive promotion at local levels, so Fifa is happy to pour money into these countries. The impact of their programmes can be seen on the world stage. And the international success of their players has created a feedback effect; most African footballers who make it big in Europe remit their earnings for schools and hospitals and public facilities in their native countries.

 

By contrast, India, a country with 384,900 registered players and over 6,500 clubs (compared with, say, 23,000 players and 220 clubs in Ivory Coast) barely invests in its footballing infrastructure despite the publicised efforts of the odd corporation. Indeed, one of the most successful local clubs, Mahindra United, backed by conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra, will be disbanded after the 2010 season. In 2007, Mr Blatter called India a "sleeping giant". The country's 50 million football fans wait for the country's football administration to wake up, with more hope than realistic expectation.

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER SEZ CONTROVERSY

IT IS NOT JUST A QUESTION OF TAXES FOREGONE

 

There is something odd about India's export numbers. While the government focuses month after month on the rapid growth in exports (on the 2009 base and on the 2008 base, the 2010 numbers continue to show that exports have shrunk), the even greater success story that has been reported is the doubling and more of exports from the new special economic zones (SEZs). Exports from 111 such zones totalled $49 billion in 2009-10, up 123 per cent from the $22 billion earned in the previous year. Some of this very rapid growth would be on account of the fact that the zones are still in the process of getting up and running. What is odd, therefore, is not the export figure for the zones but that for the rest of the country. Total exports last year, at $176 billion, were about 5 per cent lower than in the previous year. If you take out the SEZ numbers for the two years, then non-SEZ exports fell from $163 billion to $127 billion — a sharp drop of 22 per cent.

 

Two explanations are possible. The first is that export performance outside of the SEZs, in the domestic tariff area (DTA), has been pretty disastrous; it is hard to recall any previous year in which exports fell by anything remotely like 22 per cent. Indeed, non-SEZ exports in 2009-10 were at the same level as three years earlier ($129 billion in 2006-07). The law on SEZs was passed in 2005, and it took a while for the government to start clearing the zones after the controversy over land acquisition and related issues. It was only after this that the zones could start functioning. So, it is safe to assume that hardly any of the exports that took place in 2006-07 would have been from the SEZs

 

The alternative explanation would be that the surge in SEZ exports points to diversion of trade from the DTA to the SEZs — something that policy is supposed to prevent. If there is such diversion taking place, then the country is not gaining much on the export front, in terms of additional dollars earned, while the government is losing tax revenue.

 

The issue gains new currency because proponents of the draft direct taxes code have argued that the continuation of tax exemptions for SEZ units would undermine the effectiveness of the new direct tax laws. Defenders of the SEZ scheme, on the other hand, point out that the cost of preventing the exports sector from a virtual collapse in 2009-10 was a paltry Rs 5,200 crore by way of income-tax revenues, and Rs 3,200 crore of indirect tax revenues, which is what the government lost on account of the tax concessions given to SEZ units. If the numbers are correct (the total cost being less than $2 billion), then the argument would be in favour of the SEZs. But that does not take away the urgent need for the government to undertake a detailed examination of what is the real additionality achieved in exports through the SEZs. If the bulk of such exports are, in fact, not a result of diversion from the DTA, the country faces a serious export challenge in the DTA that the over-all export numbers mask.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

K SUBRAHMANYAM: BANDHS - ACTS OF TERROR BY ANOTHER NAME

COURTING ARREST AND DISRUPTING NORMAL LIFE MAY HAVE BEEN AN ELECTION-WINNING STRATEGY DECADES AGO, BUT TODAY IT SMACKS OF A KHAP PANCHAYAT'S APPROACH

K SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Media reports suggest that the Bharat Bandh ordered by most opposition political parties, cutting across ideological divides, cost the country several thousand crores of rupees in lost incomes and output, and contributed to lost daily wages for millions of poor. This was the direct cost. Also, disruption of public transport and vandalisation of public property heaped suffering on millions. A person in need of medical treatment may have arrived late at a hospital, children missed school, and so on. Why did so many stay at home, especially in states run by opposition party governments? Were they expressing solidarity, or just afraid to step out?

 

If Naxalites and extremists disrupt normal life, destroy public property, inject fear into people and make them retreat into their homes and away from public places, we call that terrorism. What is a state-sponsored bandh?

 

 Opposition parties organising the bandh claimed that this was a peaceful protest to enforce accountability. Surely, if there is to be accountability in our democracy, elections in various states are not far away and that should give ample opportunity to test the popularity of the decision to decontrol the price of petrol and the proposal to decontrol diesel in future.

 

Politicians claim that since they are submitting themselves to the people's court (the elections), they should not be prevented from standing for elections till their final appeal is disposed of in criminal cases. Is it not a derogation of democracy to let violence rule the streets in the name of protest, without waiting for the people to give their verdict on the decontrol of petrol?

 

The right to protest is inherent in a democracy, but not the resort to violence. In other mature democracies the right to protest is exercised without interfering with road, rail and air traffic, and without schools, hospitals and public transport being affected. People hold placards and march in single file or in double line without disrupting anyone else's business. That is peaceful protest and not use of intimidation of working establishments and hampering thousands of cars and buses in traffic snarls for hours, without availability of toilet facilities for those trapped close by. This is sadism at its worst.

 

I have taken part in the protest 'march of the million' in New York in favour of Nuclear Disarmament on a Sunday (a non-working day), with police providing escort and portable toilets on the streets. Indian political parties' 'peaceful' protests do not fall into this category.

 

Suppose those who do not want their work to be disrupted and the normal life of the city to be affected exercise their democratic right of protest at the same time. What will be the result? Do they not have the right to the same type of 'peaceful protest' to keep shops open and transport running, and daily wage labourers to their livelihood?

 

What some of these political parties and leaders do not realise is the impact of such 'peaceful' stone-throwing and bus-burning protests on national security in this age of terrorism. Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."

 

Bandhs enforced by political parties fit in with this definition of terrorism. Those organised stone-throwers in Kashmir invoke the analogy of 'peaceful' stone-throwing and bus-burning protests in the rest of India to justify their perpetual stone-throwing and daily bus-burning.

 

It is the height of hypocrisy to claim that those who called the bandh and directed its enforcement did not anticipate the violence and that it was a spontaneous protest. This has been happening for years and they all know very well what the consequences of a bandh are. It is bound to license anti-social and criminal elements to have freedom to run riot and to tie down the policemen.

 

Such a resort to terrorism for parochial political purposes indirectly legitimises other forms of terrorism, including the Naxal terrorism and that inspired from outside by religious extremists. Violence is anti-democratic and has no place in a democracy. After having had the experience of years of most 'peaceful' protests turning into 'non-violent' stone-throwing and bus-burning, the politician has no excuse to plead that he is calling for a peaceful bandh.

 

Mahatma Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri-Chaura violence. He always emphasised that ends did not justify the means. Let us look at the issue.

 

The government claims decontrol is necessary to stop the subsidising of petrol, which is used only by a minority of the popualtion. If the subsidy continues it will lead to a higher fiscal deficit, resulting in inflation, which affects everybody. Whether one agrees with them or not, the government's arguments also emphasise the long-term interest of the aam aadmi.

 

Obviously, the UPA believes that in four years the impact of decontrol will wear off and the policy will benefit not only the country but also itself politically. In elections, those who were deprived of their daily livelihood will remember it more vividly than the petrol price hike, which does not impact them.

 

Should not the opposition parties reflect on this and dispute this with facts, figures and strategies in Parliament — which is to open in a few weeks — instead of resorting to this terroristic disruption? The people are bound to come up with their answer. As it happened in May 2009, it may be different from the traditional street agitators' approach.

 

Courting arrest and disrupting Parliament and normal civil life may have been an election-winning strategy decades ago, but one wonders whether persisting with them in the second decade of the twenty-first century does not reflect the approach of a khap panchayat. Handling the issue in the exploding media of today would have been a more cost-effective way of protest than the counter-productive legitimisation of terrorism at the expense of national security.

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

IT'S NOT ABOUT GREED, BUT SUSTAINABILITY

RAHUL SHARMA

 

There was a time not long ago when you could end up feeling rather poor at a dinner in Dubai. Guests would discuss the millions of dollars they had spent buying their dream home no. 2, 5 or 21, depending on who you spoke to. I know people who ended up buying a place because they felt utterly left out at dinners where rich expatriates sipped expensive wine and tucked into mouth-watering kebabs.

 

That was two years ago — before the bubble burst, before the rich lost their zillions, before cheques began bouncing, before people began leaving their expensive cars on roadsides on their way to the glitzy airport. Times have changed. There is more sanity at dinner parties. People talk of getting stuck because they can't leave before repaying their loans in hushed tones; they worry about the return of greed that sank a place that for many was the great golden goose, which would always lay that proverbial golden egg. Those who bought and got stuck now look at those who didn't invest in real estate with envy. "You are very lucky," one long-time resident told me. Two years ago he probably considered me a fool.

 

The good part is that Dubai did lay those golden eggs, making many very rich in a very short time during a

period when nothing could go wrong there. It was a time when red-hot real estate deals brought eager investors from all parts of the world — including India — to this once-dusty town along a creek that aspired to become the Las Vegas of the east. The emirate built the world's biggest and tallest, attracting the best from Hollywood and Bollywood to grace showcase events. Imagine walking through the world's biggest chocolate shop, facing the world's biggest aquarium, in the world's biggest mall, right next to the world's tallest building! It's some experience.

 

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones were guests of honour at the unveiling of what would have been a mile-high tower along Dubai's coastline — taller than the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest building. On the famous Palm Jumeirah — visible from space — was to stand the fancy Trump Towers, a building that was never to be. Its foundation now lies buried under tonnes of sand. A faded banner announcing the wonderful project flutters in the breeze.

 

Greed has many stories to tell in a place that has always been special for Indians, and for people from more than 100 other countries that call it home. But let's move forward, ahead of what happened, what didn't and what was expected to happen as the financial cycle turned and boom became bust. In more ways than one there are lessons to be learnt from the debacle that kept Dubai on the front pages for a long time, with the kind of publicity the emirate was unused to. Negativity worried officials, who blamed it on jealousy. Tut, tut, said others who wondered why the emirate would not accept reality, grow up and mend its expensive ways.

 

The situation today is different. Even though a huge number of buildings lie empty, rents are down and few people are interested in buying real estate, the old homely feel is back in Dubai. People have time for each other, there is more to discuss than mere money and how to make more of it; the traffic has eased and the middle class that ran to nearby Sharjah as Dubai became expensive is slowly returning to the fringes of the city they once lived in.

 

It takes less time to travel from new Dubai to the older parts on Sheikh Zayed Road — the famous artery lined with shining towers — than it did two years ago. The number of newly registered vehicles has dropped sharply and car dealers are offering some of the wildest deals as they struggle to move their stock. Folks are relaxed as they digest the news that it's going to take a long time to go back to the hairy or hoary (depending on who you talk to) days of two years ago. Business is down, but people are more used to the downturn than a year ago, when they felt they had been hit by a tsunami.

 

And Dubai seems to be back to its old business — somewhat — after opening its new airport, touted to become the world's biggest when it is completed on a yet-undisclosed date. This is where care is required and the reality accepted. There are businessmen in Dubai today who are talking of moving out, or at least investing in new businesses elsewhere, as trust and confidence in the place ebbs. There are bankers closely looking at the debt repayment plans of government-linked companies. And there are people still seeking reasons to stay on.

 

There is far too much happening on the sidelines that is still not clear, but needs to be clarified for the sake of those who belong to Dubai and those who have made it their home for many years. The core strength of Dubai — that there is no place like it in the Middle East — still remains. That is what Dubai needs to build on. It needs to showcase its secular and centuries-old trading strengths to attract people, not greed. It's not always about the biggest and the tallest, it is about sustainability.

 

The author is former editor of Khaleej Times and president, public affairs, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. The views are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE IDEA OF REPRESENTATION IS THINNING'

HAMID ANSARI

 

Our founding fathers adopted specific electoral systems for specific institutions of the state. While elections to the Lower Houses of the Central and state legislatures were on the basis of adult suffrage and first-past-the-post in delimited constituencies, elections to the Upper Houses was on the basis of proportional representation through a single transferable vote. A similar electoral system of proportional representation through a single transferable vote with different electorates has also been prescribed for the elections of the President and the Vice-President.

 

Since every decision has a context, a re-look at the occasion and the legislative intent is educative.

 

 The issue of representativeness came up for discussion in the Constituent Assembly in the Report on Minority Rights that was submitted on August 8, 1947. In the debate that followed, one Member moved an amendment suggesting Qualified Joint Electorates and stipulating that a Scheduled Caste candidate, before being declared elected, "shall have secured not less than 35 per cent of the votes polled by the Scheduled Castes in the elections for the reserved seat". He argued that it was important to demonstrate the Scheduled Caste representativeness of a victor in a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes.

 

Another Member argued that "there should be confidence in the minds of the minorities that their views are properly represented in the legislature by persons in whom they have confidence and in whose election they have a reasonably fair voice". Yet another proposal was for abolition of reserved constituencies and introduction of a system of proportional representation with multi-member constituencies by means of cumulative vote for election to the Lower Houses of legislatures.

 

In response, Dr Ambedkar gave three reasons for preferring the first-past-the-post system over the proportional representation system: Absence of a high level of literacy essential for proportional representation; Apprehension of a fragmented legislature that would impede stable government and maintenance of law and order; Disruption of the agreement already arrived at between the various minority communities and the majority community.

 

It would be recalled that the Two-Member Constituencies (Abolition) Act of January, 1961, abolished the Two-Member and Three-Member Constituencies to which elections took place in the 1952 and 1957 general elections.

 

How well has the first-past-the-post system worked? Electoral record for the Lok Sabha elections shows that, in the past five General Elections, the number of winning candidates who secured 50 per cent or more of the valid votes polled has varied between 121 and 221; it was 121 in 2009. Earlier, the Venkatachaliah Commission had surveyed the record of three general elections to conclude that over two-thirds of the members of the Lok Sabha and almost 90 per cent of the members of some State Legislative Assemblies were elected on a minority vote.

 

A perceptive observer of our electoral scene has rightly focused on what he calls the 'paradox' of a deepening representative democracy coexisting with a thinning of the very idea of representation. This paradox, he adds, plays out differently in different domains of the democratic arena and most commonly takes the form of an encounter between a dynamic political process and an inflexible institutional response.

 

A few questions unavoidably come to mind: What is the representative-ness of the elected representative? Our system works on the principle of plurality rather than of majority.

 

Does the current electoral system encourage a politics defined by 'who you are' and 'where you live' rather than 'what you believe in' and 'what you want to achieve'? What can be done to address the grievance of under-representation and unequal access to political power emanating from the Muslims?

 

The data is compelling and disturbing. How are we to overcome the implications, in terms of the principle of one person, one vote, one value, of the 84th Amendment that froze the number of seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies till the year 2026?

 

(Excerpts from an address by Vice-President Hamid Ansari at a national seminar on electoral reforms organised by the C Achutha Menon Study Centre and Library at Thiruvananthapuram on July 8)

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BANDHS - ACTS OF TERROR BY ANOTHER NAME

COURTING ARREST AND DISRUPTING NORMAL LIFE MAY HAVE BEEN AN ELECTION-WINNING STRATEGY DECADES AGO, BUT TODAY IT SMACKS OF A KHAP PANCHAYAT'S APPROACH

K SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Media reports suggest that the Bharat Bandh ordered by most opposition political parties, cutting across ideological divides, cost the country several thousand crores of rupees in lost incomes and output, and contributed to lost daily wages for millions of poor. This was the direct cost. Also, disruption of public transport and vandalisation of public property heaped suffering on millions. A person in need of medical treatment may have arrived late at a hospital, children missed school, and so on. Why did so many stay at home, especially in states run by opposition party governments? Were they expressing solidarity, or just afraid to step out?

 

If Naxalites and extremists disrupt normal life, destroy public property, inject fear into people and make them retreat into their homes and away from public places, we call that terrorism. What is a state-sponsored bandh?

 

 Opposition parties organising the bandh claimed that this was a peaceful protest to enforce accountability. Surely, if there is to be accountability in our democracy, elections in various states are not far away and that should give ample opportunity to test the popularity of the decision to decontrol the price of petrol and the proposal to decontrol diesel in future.

 

Politicians claim that since they are submitting themselves to the people's court (the elections), they should not be prevented from standing for elections till their final appeal is disposed of in criminal cases. Is it not a derogation of democracy to let violence rule the streets in the name of protest, without waiting for the people to give their verdict on the decontrol of petrol?

 

The right to protest is inherent in a democracy, but not the resort to violence. In other mature democracies the right to protest is exercised without interfering with road, rail and air traffic, and without schools, hospitals and public transport being affected. People hold placards and march in single file or in double line without disrupting anyone else's business. That is peaceful protest and not use of intimidation of working establishments and hampering thousands of cars and buses in traffic snarls for hours, without availability of toilet facilities for those trapped close by. This is sadism at its worst.

 

I have taken part in the protest 'march of the million' in New York in favour of Nuclear Disarmament on a Sunday (a non-working day), with police providing escort and portable toilets on the streets. Indian political parties' 'peaceful' protests do not fall into this category.

 

Suppose those who do not want their work to be disrupted and the normal life of the city to be affected exercise their democratic right of protest at the same time. What will be the result? Do they not have the right to the same type of 'peaceful protest' to keep shops open and transport running, and daily wage labourers to their livelihood?

 

What some of these political parties and leaders do not realise is the impact of such 'peaceful' stone-throwing and bus-burning protests on national security in this age of terrorism. Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."

 

Bandhs enforced by political parties fit in with this definition of terrorism. Those organised stone-throwers in Kashmir invoke the analogy of 'peaceful' stone-throwing and bus-burning protests in the rest of India to justify their perpetual stone-throwing and daily bus-burning.

 

It is the height of hypocrisy to claim that those who called the bandh and directed its enforcement did not anticipate the violence and that it was a spontaneous protest. This has been happening for years and they all know very well what the consequences of a bandh are. It is bound to license anti-social and criminal elements to have freedom to run riot and to tie down the policemen.

 

Such a resort to terrorism for parochial political purposes indirectly legitimises other forms of terrorism, including the Naxal terrorism and that inspired from outside by religious extremists. Violence is anti-democratic and has no place in a democracy. After having had the experience of years of most 'peaceful' protests turning into 'non-violent' stone-throwing and bus-burning, the politician has no excuse to plead that he is calling for a peaceful bandh.

 

Mahatma Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri-Chaura violence. He always emphasised that ends did not justify the means. Let us look at the issue.

 

The government claims decontrol is necessary to stop the subsidising of petrol, which is used only by a minority of the popualtion. If the subsidy continues it will lead to a higher fiscal deficit, resulting in inflation, which affects everybody. Whether one agrees with them or not, the government's arguments also emphasise the long-term interest of the aam aadmi.

 

Obviously, the UPA believes that in four years the impact of decontrol will wear off and the policy will benefit not only the country but also itself politically. In elections, those who were deprived of their daily livelihood will remember it more vividly than the petrol price hike, which does not impact them.

 

Should not the opposition parties reflect on this and dispute this with facts, figures and strategies in Parliament — which is to open in a few weeks — instead of resorting to this terroristic disruption? The people are bound to come up with their answer. As it happened in May 2009, it may be different from the traditional street agitators' approach.

 

Courting arrest and disrupting Parliament and normal civil life may have been an election-winning strategy decades ago, but one wonders whether persisting with them in the second decade of the twenty-first century does not reflect the approach of a khap panchayat. Handling the issue in the exploding media of today would have been a more cost-effective way of protest than the counter-productive legitimisation of terrorism at the expense of national security.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DO POLITICIANS NEED LESSONS IN CIVILITY?

Some mumbo-jumbo is being fed to the media by BJP circles to suggest that occasionally the uplifting thoughts of its president Mr Nitin Gadkari are being lost in translation and emerge as akin of invective when that native Maharashtrian-speaker seeks to question other parties' political positions in the best Hindi he can summon. This has happened twice in a single month. The first time two political stalwarts became the (un)intended targets of the BJP chief's robust attempt at public speaking in the national language. Fortunately, the matter was prevented from snowballing into anything seriously unpleasant as Mr Gadkari hastened to explain away his observation, using cultural gap as alibi. No tit for tat ensued, and it was widely accepted that the BJP chief had acknowledged a faux pas had been committed. Alas, this was not the case when Mr Gadkari took on the Congress two days ago on the Afzal Guru question. Instead of acknowledging boor articulation, however indirectly, he chose to dig his heels in and insist he would produce an encore if need be. In retaliation, a young and ebullient Congress spokesman took on the BJP chief head on (conveying his no uncertain thoughts in English). If he had been advised better, he might have used a linguistic flick or glance and moved on. That would have told its own story. What then followed was fit to turn away from. A leading BJP spokesman all but extolled his chief on prime-time television. This was not unavoidable. Lapses from dignity are not unknown in politics anywhere in the world, but those who occupy high positions in public life seek to insulate themselves at the personal level from the hurly-burly of the linguistic mud-pit, or make amends at the first opportunity if a transgression occurs. It is in this that lies Mr Gadkari's uniqueness. Were he to reflect on the pedigree of his position, he might consider himself placed uncomfortably, for the lineage includes the likes of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. Those who seek to trace humour in the expressions of the current BJP leader will see the folly of their ways if for a moment they recalled Mr Vajpayee's thrust and parry that so enriched parliamentary life. In a democracy, political parties are an integral aspect of civil society which, by definition, abjures violence, including that of language. Were this not so, language brutality can easily make the transition to brutal ways in other fields that would endanger civil society itself, and as a consequence democracy. In this country, we are fortunate our civil society has evolved to its present stage, although living conditions remain frightening for many. If leaders are meant to offer direction to a society, they would consider deepening the positive features of our civil society. It is up to Mr Gadkari to grow into the graces and intellectual suaveness that his position demands, and not continue to be held back by ways of the mofussil counter-elite.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

COMMON CONCERNS

BY ARUN NEHRU

The June 5 Bharat Bandh, called by the National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties, crippled India for a day. Clearly, the issue of "price rise" will remain a priority for both, the ruling party as well as for the Opposition. The bandh was a success because inflation and rising prices of essential commodities is a reality for the public. Almost everyone, from the aam aadmi to the middle class, is affected and common sense tells us that further rise in the prices of fuel will aggravate the situation.

I have little doubt that everyone concerned is well aware of the increase in international prices of crude oil. But everyone is also aware of multiple and excessive taxation on petroleum prices. There is a general feeling that both, the Central and the state governments, have lost interest in the aam aadmi. And I think this may well be reflected in the coming elections.

Change is taking place in every part of our society at a very rapid rate and the media, both electronic and print, is changing many traditional attitudes. The "need" factor of the aam aadmi is no longer restricted to basic essentials.

We have a global crisis in Europe and recovery is still very fragile in the United States. While there is no doubt that the critical economic issue is to control deficits, good economic practice is not always credible in a society with great disparity in incomes. While the government must do what is essential for good governance, the distribution of the gains of a nine per cent gross domestic product growth needs very close scrutiny. The National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have much to do in the coming months.

A good monsoon in the coming weeks will result in good crops, and we will again face the problem of storing foodgrains. Some nimble thinking is required on export of our surplus crops and, if necessary, imports of some commodities like sugar. We need a full-time Cabinet minister to deal with this situation.

Media reports indicate a Cabinet reshuffle and the media is busy picking the winners and losers in the power game. Apart from Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's elevation as the International Cricket Council president, Mr Pawar also has to plan his succession in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Though confined to Maharashtra, Mr Pawar is a mass leader and has always functioned far beyond his strength in numbers. But the situation in Maharashtra is fluid with the alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena under pressure. This will make the role of the NCP crucial and for Mr Pawar party matters will become a priority.

The Cabinet reshuffle may well see changes in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam representation as the image of the United Progressive Alliance and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been taking a beating with Union communications minister A. Raja's involvement in the 2G spectrum scam. A change is necessary. For the Trinamul Congress, the reshuffle may be useful as its ministers of state might be given a bigger responsibility.

Change within the Congress Party is long overdue and the thinking of the future has to be reflected in the changes both in the Cabinet and within the party.

In the 2014 general elections while the Congress will try to inch towards the magic figure of 272 seats, the Opposition will have little option but to make strategic alliances for survival. The Assembly elections in Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will, in all probability, set the pattern for the next government at the Centre. The Congress, despite the odd political accident, is still in a strong position. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, talks are on between the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal to put up a united front against the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Opposition scores a point or two for a few days but is unable to sustain its advantage.

THE INTERNAL security situation in Kashmir continues to fester. Though the curfew was relaxed on Friday for 24 hours, chief minister Omar Abdullah has requested the Army to restore law and order. Dr Singh has called a Cabinet Committee on Security as since June 11 there have been 14 civilian deaths, which is a matter of grave concern.

After a record turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, little work has been done on development. Clearly, the situation in Kashmir has to be tackled by the National Conference-Congress combine and a prolonged posting of the Army is not advisable. Anti-national elements and terror networks will utilise this to their advantage in a state where there is already a great deal of talk about poor governance after the record voter turnout.

THE TWO-DAY bandh on July 13-14 called by the Maoists is being taken rather seriously by the government. There is a full red alert in all the seven states where Maoists have a strong presence — Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — and Dr Singh has cancelled his visit to Andhra Pradesh for the fourth time after the killing of C. Rajkumar Azad in a police encounter.

The political situation in Andhra Pradesh continues to simmer as elections draw near in Telangana. The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi has adopted an aggressive attitude and has an advantage. The Congress looks fragmented but Chandrababu Naidu and his Telugu Desam Party is not looking like a credible alternative either. While political confusion with Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, continues, the Congress high command is seeking a solution.

I have written several times of family members of political leaders becoming business tycoons and Mr Jagan Reddy is very much a part of this brigade. And he will have to face serious issues soon. Many of his supporters, who need the power of the state to maintain their financial status, will encourage him to challenge the Congress. The Congress is in a difficult position but Mr Jagan Reddy may find that his "excessive" assets are a major liability. It takes more than financial power to meet political challenges.

- Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

COMMON CONCERNS

BY ARUN NEHRU

The June 5 Bharat Bandh, called by the National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties, crippled India for a day. Clearly, the issue of "price rise" will remain a priority for both, the ruling party as well as for the Opposition. The bandh was a success because inflation and rising prices of essential commodities is a reality for the public. Almost everyone, from the aam aadmi to the middle class, is affected and common sense tells us that further rise in the prices of fuel will aggravate the situation.

I have little doubt that everyone concerned is well aware of the increase in international prices of crude oil. But everyone is also aware of multiple and excessive taxation on petroleum prices. There is a general feeling that both, the Central and the state governments, have lost interest in the aam aadmi. And I think this may well be reflected in the coming elections.

Change is taking place in every part of our society at a very rapid rate and the media, both electronic and print, is changing many traditional attitudes. The "need" factor of the aam aadmi is no longer restricted to basic essentials.

We have a global crisis in Europe and recovery is still very fragile in the United States. While there is no doubt that the critical economic issue is to control deficits, good economic practice is not always credible in a society with great disparity in incomes. While the government must do what is essential for good governance, the distribution of the gains of a nine per cent gross domestic product growth needs very close scrutiny. The National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have much to do in the coming months.

A good monsoon in the coming weeks will result in good crops, and we will again face the problem of storing foodgrains. Some nimble thinking is required on export of our surplus crops and, if necessary, imports of some commodities like sugar. We need a full-time Cabinet minister to deal with this situation.

Media reports indicate a Cabinet reshuffle and the media is busy picking the winners and losers in the power game. Apart from Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's elevation as the International Cricket Council president, Mr Pawar also has to plan his succession in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Though confined to Maharashtra, Mr Pawar is a mass leader and has always functioned far beyond his strength in numbers. But the situation in Maharashtra is fluid with the alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena under pressure. This will make the role of the NCP crucial and for Mr Pawar party matters will become a priority.

The Cabinet reshuffle may well see changes in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam representation as the image of the United Progressive Alliance and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been taking a beating with Union communications minister A. Raja's involvement in the 2G spectrum scam. A change is necessary. For the Trinamul Congress, the reshuffle may be useful as its ministers of state might be given a bigger responsibility.

Change within the Congress Party is long overdue and the thinking of the future has to be reflected in the changes both in the Cabinet and within the party.

In the 2014 general elections while the Congress will try to inch towards the magic figure of 272 seats, the Opposition will have little option but to make strategic alliances for survival. The Assembly elections in Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will, in all probability, set the pattern for the next government at the Centre. The Congress, despite the odd political accident, is still in a strong position. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, talks are on between the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal to put up a united front against the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Opposition scores a point or two for a few days but is unable to sustain its advantage.

THE INTERNAL security situation in Kashmir continues to fester. Though the curfew was relaxed on Friday for 24 hours, chief minister Omar Abdullah has requested the Army to restore law and order. Dr Singh has called a Cabinet Committee on Security as since June 11 there have been 14 civilian deaths, which is a matter of grave concern.

After a record turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, little work has been done on development. Clearly, the situation in Kashmir has to be tackled by the National Conference-Congress combine and a prolonged posting of the Army is not advisable. Anti-national elements and terror networks will utilise this to their advantage in a state where there is already a great deal of talk about poor governance after the record voter turnout.

THE TWO-DAY bandh on July 13-14 called by the Maoists is being taken rather seriously by the government. There is a full red alert in all the seven states where Maoists have a strong presence — Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — and Dr Singh has cancelled his visit to Andhra Pradesh for the fourth time after the killing of C. Rajkumar Azad in a police encounter.

The political situation in Andhra Pradesh continues to simmer as elections draw near in Telangana. The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi has adopted an aggressive attitude and has an advantage. The Congress looks fragmented but Chandrababu Naidu and his Telugu Desam Party is not looking like a credible alternative either. While political confusion with Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, continues, the Congress high command is seeking a solution.

I have written several times of family members of political leaders becoming business tycoons and Mr Jagan Reddy is very much a part of this brigade. And he will have to face serious issues soon. Many of his supporters, who need the power of the state to maintain their financial status, will encourage him to challenge the Congress. The Congress is in a difficult position but Mr Jagan Reddy may find that his "excessive" assets are a major liability. It takes more than financial power to meet political challenges.

- Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

'PLAN BODY TALKING NONSENSE'

In the news recently for calling the Planning Commission an "armchair" advisory body, the minister of road transport & highways, Kamal Nath, rebuts the plan body's contention that his ministry has spent only 40 per cent of its share of the budget allocated for 2009-10. In an interview with Rashme Sehgal, Mr Nath is optimistic about pushing 12,000 kilometres of roads a year and about the participation of the private sector in thisproject.

Q. When you became transport minister last year, you declared you would be overseeing the construction of 7,000 km of road per year. You also said you were starting with a huge infrastructure deficit. Has this been overcome?
A. The infrastructure deficit we face is huge though I am trying to narrow it down. Between June 2009 and May 2010, I have awarded 118 projects with a combined length of 7,478 km. This is the equivalent of nearly 21 km a day. Our total progress today stands at 12,348 km. Of this, 4,870 km is from the previous years. In the next financial year, we are hoping to award another 12,000 km.We have also been able to complete 5,187 km of national highways, costing the exchequer Rs 58,632 crore. This is the best the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP) has achieved in a year.

Q. Your figures don't quite match with what financial analysts and the Planning Commission are saying. The Planning Commission is claiming that the NHDP is building only six km of road per day or less.
A. I will repeat that our target is to construct 7,000 km of track per year and we are on schedule. Despite all the criticism, we have awarded 62 projects for 5,617 km. By 2010-11, we plan to target 12,000 km and by 2011-12, we will have work in progress on more than 24,000 km.
As for the Planning Commission, they have come out with some targets to be monitored based on historical data, and work out their figures from that. We are an implementing agency and producing a road is a completely different ball game.

Q. The Commission has stated very categorically that you are not meeting their targets?
A. There were a couple of hurdles plaguing this sector when I joined last year. My first job was to listen to the problems of the different stakeholders to see why the whole award process was slow, and why, despite the government's best intentions, companies were not coming forward to invest. They had concerns with the standard bid documents. These have been corrected and form part of the Chaturvedi Committee recommendations.

Q. You've talked about the need to invest $50 billion in this sector, out of which 70 per cent of the funds are to come from private investors. But these have not been forthcoming so far.
A. Who says they are not coming? Private investors are coming forward. In fact, 15 of the projects awarded have yielded revenue profit (negative grant) amounting to Rs 639 crores. The average grant for all BOT projects awarded is 19.26 per cent. We have made changes in our bid documents. We have also made changes to facilitate market-oriented bids from stronger players.

Q. You have faced problems in relation to land acquisition, environmental clearances and in the Model Concession Agreement?
A. Land acquisition per se is not a contentious issue. We have acquired a total of 6,244 hectares of land in one year against 3,120 hectares acquired in the previous year. Delay in acquiring land can result in time and cost over runs. We have made it mandatory to have 80 per cent of the land made available before the bidding of a project, and the balance 20 per cent before achieving its financial closure. We have done this by creating special land acquisition units in the states whose only job is to acquire land for National Highways Authority of India projects.

Q. The Planning Commission states categorically that you have succeeded in utilising only 40 per cent of the Rs 30,000 crore budget allocated to you for 2009-10.

A. They are talking nonsense. We have utilised almost 94 per cent of our budgetary outlay. We had problems with poor quality feasibility study (FS) but are taking steps to ensure these are made more accurate. We have the second-largest road network in the world but we need to expand our skilled work force that can facilitate its expansion.

Q. Recently you also called the Planning Commission an "armchair" advisory body?
A. I would like to emphasise that there cannot be a standard Model Concession Agreement for PPP (public-private partnership) across the country. The ground realities of road construction in Kerala are completely different from those in Madhya Pradesh.

Q. If things were so smooth, why has your ministry refrained from awarding contracts to a big player like Larsen & Toubro?

A. I'm hearing this for the first time. L&T has set up a training institute in my constituency of Chindwara.

Q. What are they providing training in?

A. Construction skills. A lot of young people have received training to get absorbed in this construction activity.

Q. You have had a public spat with minister of environment Jairam Ramesh because you insisted on widening a national highway which was going through the Pench Tiger Reserve?
A. Look, I've been environment minister for four years and I'm the person who helped create the Pench Tiger Reserve which was part of my constituency. I understand environmental issues. If we were creating an alignment for a new road, the criticism would be justified. But in this case, all we wanted to do was expand an already existing road.

Q. What is the secret of your being re-elected from Chindwara eight times in a row?
A. I'm very committed to my constituency and have always been so.

Q. What do you feel about the performance of the Madhya Pradesh state government?
A. I have no comments. It's a complete mess.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HEALERS AND DEALERS

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH

Of all professions, that of healing the sick is regarded as the noblest. Jesus was a healer — Eesa Masih. He could heal people by the mere touch of his hand. He did not charge any fees for doing so. Since then, healing has become an expensive business as healers have to undergo six years learning how to heal and have to have expensive gadgets like stethoscopes, thermometers, blood pressure gadgets, blood sugar counters, X-ray machines and much else. So their demanding fees is understandable. There are huge differences in the fees they demand. I know of two doctor brothers. One is a heart surgeon; he earns upwards of Rs 1 lakh every day. His brother is a physician. He refuses to take any fees and even goes long distances to treat sick friends without accepting a rupee. However, the majority of doctors not only charge high fees but also pass on their patients to their friends in the profession for further tests in the expectation of their sending patients in return. It has become a mafia of doctors, the Hippocratic Oath be damned.

I have recently come across a family which has three generations of doctors who combine paid for advice with free healing so that they can make their living as well as serve the poor who cannot afford to pay them. They are Bengalis settled in Delhi. Dr Samir Nundy is attached to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, his wife Mita set up the society to help spastic children. Their son Surajit Nundy was schooled in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya reckoned to be among the best schools in the capital. After finishing his school he went to the United States to become a doctor. He started with Manhattanville College for pre-medical studies, sociology and computer science. Then to Duke University and got a Ph.D in neurobiology. He went on to the Washington University School of Medicine, Harvard School of Public Health and set up his own practice in Boston. Two years ago he returned to Delhi, married the beautiful Mandakini, daughter of Manju and Suman Dubey. They have two little girls.

Surajit Nundy is a strapping 6 feet 3 inches tall, handsome young, Hindi-speaking Bengali. He did not return home to make money but to combine comfortable living with serving the poor. First he explored prospects of doing so with Dr Binayak Sen's colleagues in Chhattisgarh. Then returned to Delhi and through his father's contact met Reeta Devi Varma of the Ila Trust to see what she was doing. The first day she took him in her mobile clinic to Jama Masjid area where her doctors and nurses treated hundreds of men, women and children free of charge as well as gave free medicines. The next day she took him to the red light district of GB Road. Dr Nundy offered his services to the Ila Trust. He has been doing the rounds of Delhi's slum areas where every day her mobile clinics treat about a thousand people. One day, Reeta brought him over to meet me. He was reluctant to talk about himself. I ferreted out bits and pieces of information on his past and future plans. It is evident he has to earn to provide for his wife and children as well as have the satisfaction of serving the needy. He must not be forced to return to the States, but made full use of by our government. There could not be many people as highly qualified as he is, nor as eager to do his bit for his countrymen.

This is the Monsoon Express

There are a few features our railways share in common with the monsoons. Most of our trains depart on time but very few reach their destinations as printed in railway time-tables, no matter what fancy names they are given: Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Deccan Queen, Queen of the Himalayas — or whatever. When I was able to travel by rail, I used to board the Shatabdi to Chandigarh from New Delhi Railway Station at least four times a year to go to Kasauli. It used to pull out on the dot and gather speed as soon as it cleared the suburbs of Delhi. However, I can't recall it ever arriving in Chandigarh on time: a delay of 15 minutes to half an hour was normal. Other trains are often late by an hour or two. We have got used to our trains running late.

It is much the same with the summer monsoon. It is expected to hit our western coast by the last week of May or the first week of June. This year it broke over the Malabar Coast on May 31. Then it moved northwards, gave a drenching to Mumbai a week later. Its progress further inland was preceded by dust storms and an occasional shower.

Our weather forecasters assured us our first gift of rains on June 24. On the day promised by the afternoon the sky was overcast; in the evening there was a dust storm followed by a light shower. We waited a week when the proper monsoon was scheduled to break over the city. Though more cloudy days came and went, there was no rain: as usual the summer monsoon like our railway trains always are delayed.

Why do the monsoons, both the summer and the winter, mean to us Indians? For one, despite our network of canals, thousands of tubewells and water-harvesting devices, we remain heavily dependent on the good monsoons to feed

ourselves. The summer monsoon is the time of national rejoicing: Flying kites, girls sitting on jhoolas, singing, dancing and seeing peacocks spread out their tails and raise their cries to rain-sodden black clouds.

Biting toes, Yoga miracle

My friend's son Golu used to bite his nails. I advised my son to send Golu to Baba Ramdev, who will teach him some yoga. After two months I asked my friend, "How is Golu now?" My friend said, "Now Golu can bite his toe nails also."

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

FROM THE DIARY OF A GENIUS

BY BERYL BAINBRIDGE

For almost three decades the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, who died last week, wrote book reviews and diaries for the Spectator. They were, without exception, brilliant. It has been said over the last week that she was the best novelist of her generation, but she was also (though a lifelong Labour voter) the best sort of conservative: "What a mistake change is!" she wrote in a diary in 2000. "Who needs those ghastly new buildings which have taken over Swiss Cottage? Why was Peter's bookshop in Camden Town done away with, and the off-licence and the pet shop and the Delancey Café?" Which Spectator reader would disagree? In one diary she confessed to taking a carving knife with her during her long midnight walks, "in case anyone is out there aching to do a spot of mugging".

Here is one of her best diaries, from January 15, 2000.

On approaching the side entrance to my high street Marks & Spencer — I needed sausages for the following day — I was confronted by the usual sight of an apparently homeless person slumped on the kerb alongside his well-built and far from dozing Alsatian. I would have given a coin to the unfortunate but for the fact that he lives in rented accommodation nearby — I know that because I've often seen him swigging from either a bottle of turpentine or Sparkling Vimto while letting himself into a flat on the ground floor. I partial to a drop of the hard stuff paid for by innocent bystanders, she took to going into town and coming over all faint, particularly outside a better class of public house. Acknowledging the concern of those around her, she would murmur that a little glass of brandy would see her right and, drooping pathetically, allow herself to be helped inside.

Friday night I took three grandchildren to the glorious Hackney Empire to see Cinderella. Prince Charming was very good about inviting the poor into his home, though, of course, that was because he wouldn't have found Cinders if he hadn't. When the glass slipper fitted and they kissed, my little grandson shuddered and said it was disgusting. The next morning, after they'd complained about the sausages, he and his cousin Esme got married. Instead of a honeymoon they asked to watch a video of The Rescuers Down Under.

It's about a mouse called Bernard who's madly in love with a lady mouse called Miss Bianca who spends all her time doing good and saving children who get into trouble after disobeying their mothers. Just as we got to the part when the baddie fell into the river, a neighbour known as Mad Joe banged on the knocker. I went into the hall and cried, "Go away", at which he tried to kick the door in. I shouted for him to retreat to the gate, then hurled a ciggie, a £5 note and an old mince pie down the path.

"Forgive me", I called. "I have young ones in my care." In my absence crocodiles were moving in to gobble up the baddie. We didn't see him being eaten, just heard him bawling for help. Later, the newly-weds went under the table and the bride had babies. Oddly enough, they were of the canine kind, 101 in all, who yapped a lot. Needless to say, when the happy pair were fetched by their parents, the offspring were left behind. I did consider a mass drowning, but have since thought of a more humane solution, namely taking them round to that Alsatian outside Marks & Sparks. After weeks of wheezing and hawking, I tried to get through on the telephone to book an appointment with the doctor. Nothing but a taped message telling me the lines were busy and I should call back later. I contemplated going round in person and demanding a little drop of brandy, but old habits die hard. I was brought up to believe you had to be dying before troubling the doctor and, even if that were true, you had to scrub the house from top to bottom before letting him over the doorstep. I couldn't be taken into the shelter any more, so I was bedded down under the dining-room table. Just before the doctor was due to call, she rolled me back and forth so that she could hoover the carpet. Actually, what I really had was TB, but I didn't know that until four years ago. Medical treatment being unavailable, I set off to visit the Hunterian Museum, always a place to restore one to health. Inside is housed a magnificent display of monstrosities, foetal abnormalities, diseased kidneys, calcified lungs. I feel at home there. Today the garnering of such items would be frowned upon, which is possibly why all those infant organs were found hidden in the basement of that Liverpool hospital. Hunter was alive at the time of Dr Johnson — middle 1700s. Medical science then knew everything that we know today; it just hadn't yet discovered the best treatments. I went into the museum library and browsed through a book of case histories. I was looking for something on scrofula, but got sidetracked by the dilemma of the Revd Mr Shepherd and the wounding of a soldier called Thomas

Thruber. The latter got stabbed in the loins by a bayonet, through the tendon of the Latissimus Dorsi and the fleshy part of the Sacro Lumbales. The wound was four inches deep and was not opened, but instead draped with cloths dipped in vinegar. "He healed soon but was stiff in buttocks for four weeks."

The Revd Mr Shepherd had only himself to blame. On his very first night in the city — he had come to London from Gloucester in order to listen to sermons — he "fell in with a low woman and had connection", probably in the doorway of an 18th-century equivalent of Marks & Spencer. By the third day he couldn't pass water. Fearing the worst, he consulted Dr Hunter, who flushed out his bowels with a corrosive sublimate, injected him with something called Saccharian Saturni, and then made him stand with his wily over a bowl of steaming brandy.

This latter procedure did him a power of good, as well it might, and sent the sinner home determined never again to stray from the path of righteousness.

I'm still coughing and hawking but have decided to cure myself by lying down with a hot toddy and listening to that opera in which the young woman's tiny hand is frozen. There's always somebody worse off than oneself.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE UN'S WOMAN

PRACTICE MUST NOW MATCH INTENT

 

THE value of the UN Charter has profoundly been enhanced. The constitution of the "UN Women" may on the face of it be another entity under the auspices of the world body. The recent General Assembly vote must rank as a globally historic attempt to address the problems of women ~ primarily rape, gender discrimination, female circumcision, forced marriages, child mortality and healthcare. That the UN has had to take the initiative is a chilling illustration that the scourge is almost endemic, save in the decidedly enlightened and developed bloc. Whether "UN Women" will succeed in ensuring a measure of gender equality need not detain social activists just yet. The unabashedly disgraceful wounds, consciously inflicted by society over time, must first be healed. It will be a momentous achievement if women across the world can be assured of humane entitlements. Chief among these must be an end to female foeticide and the equally criminal phenomenon of the disappearing girl child. These are scourges at the threshold; inequality and persecution, mental as much as physical, come at a later phase of under-development. The success of the UN's initiative to promote equality of women will hinge hugely on the follow-through by the governments, not merely in sub-Saharan Africa but tragically no less in an India on the roll. The onus is clearly on the countries; "UN Women" will have the authority to challenge the governments on issues germane to a woman's right and plight. That disconnect is a common thread. And with an annual budget projected at $ 500 million,  "UN Women" has enhanced the responsibilities of the world body.

 

 After 65 years, a critical chapter has been added to the Charter of the United Nations. The member-states must now be seen to act, not least India where the ministry of  women and child development is given to periodic platitudes even as the depredations of the khap panchayats are tacitly condoned. The new entity is a testament to the world body's acknowledgment that "inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society". "UN Women" has eventually placed the woman at the "heart of development", in the reckoning of the Council of Europe. She has won the vote in the General Assembly. Honest endeavour must now match the noble intent of this watershed development.

 

GOOD INTENTIONS 

DON'T ALWAYS DELIVER 

 

COMMENDABLE is the Supreme Court upholding the Delhi High Court's directive that a crash helmet of certified quality be sold as "original equipment" with two-wheelers, without which the vehicle would not be registered. Even if there were some technical objections, the Society of Indian Automobiles Manufacturers did not project itself in positive light when challenging an order that was obviously issued in the interest of riders' safety. In fact it is a poor, yet perhaps accurate, reflection of Indian society's lack of safety consciousness that the use of a helmet had to first be made mandatory, and then action taken to ensure that helmet and bike be sold as a package. The risk of grave head injuries being sustained by a two-wheeler user in an accident is common knowledge, also common is the knowledge that the severity of the injuries can be reduced by helmet-use. Yet so many riders use them only to comply with the law ~ even their personal safety counts for nothing, and has to be "enforced". Many discard helmets if they think the police are not "watching", chin-straps are not fastened, some try to get by with technical compliance by using a hard-hat meant for miners and construction workers. Perhaps the only valid complaint is that helmets are unsuited to warm weather conditions: no manufacturer has addressed that problem though producers of protective headgear for cricketers have done so. Then again, there is no uniformity on the rules: members of the Sikh community are exempt on religious grounds, in some states women are not required to use them, and confusion also persists about whether they are a "must" for pillion riders. The Motor Vehicles Act prescribes the use of certified helmets only, but the authorities do not prevent the sale of sub-standard items. 


   In such overall conditions judicial verdicts can have only limited impact, and it is ridiculous that people have to be pressured into protecting themselves. Still, the courts are to be appreciated for making an effort. Wonder if they could carry things to a logical conclusion and crack down on motorbike advertisements on TV that encourage the most dangerous of stunts and project them as "feats" ~ the small-print advisories/disclaimers are ineffective. Such ads, however, are of a piece with those who seek judicial "relief" from a safety-promoting measure.   

 

THE CRUX IN NEPAL 

NO DECISION YET ON CONSENSUS GOVT 

 

POLITICAL parties in Nepal are still at sixes and sevens over the formation of a national unity government. The seven-day deadline set by President Ram Baran Yadav following Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal's resignation on 30 June expired on 7 July. Significantly, a sudden change in the political scenario was observed last Wednesday when 25 parties unanimously petitioned the President to have the deadline extended, to which he readily agreed and allowed five more days in accordance with the provisions of the interim constitution. It is now almost certain that the next five days will be crucial for the feuding parties as there is no provision for further grace.  Clearly, no party can form a government on its own terms and in accordance with its wishes. A consensus government has proven elusive so far because each party is trying to forestall the other's efforts by setting terms when the need of the hour is to back the right man for the Prime Minister's post so that the country can complete the drafting of the new Constitution by the new deadline, 28 May 2011, and fulfil the commitments made in the landmark November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord. By virtue of being the largest party with a majority in the constituent assembly, the choice obviously is the Maoists. But the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) has vowed not to support them and the  Nepali Congress has set terms for its support ~ the Maoists must agree on modalities for integrating their combatants with the Nepal army, relent on confiscation of seized private property and disband the Young Communist  League. A tall order, indeed, but not unrealistic, if the objective is to beat the deadline.

 

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THE STATESMAN

SPECIAL ARTICLE

PARANOIA & THE PLAUSIBLE

BUSH'S TOXIC LEGACY PERSISTS

BY KURT JACOBSEN AND SAYEED HASAN KHAN


SINCE George W Bush pounced on 9/11 to ram through the misnamed Patriot Act, a 'special powers' act abrogating the rights of anyone the US apparatchiks disliked, the authorities predictably became ever more unhinged. The lack of a legal compulsion to prove anything allows the lowest intellects to indulge their looniest fancies. Paranoia is made to seem plausible in every case. The majority of the Guantanamo prisoners were never charged in a court of law for the simple reason that there was no evidence. Over time, this clumsy malevolence always extends to the blatant. Arrogant officials with excessive powers become over-confident. 
Power, unchecked, breeds foolishness, just as absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the 1950s, the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy not only suggested that the US State Department was a hotbed of raving reds but that President Eisenhower was shockingly pink too. The huge files that secret police agencies customarily compile on trade unionists, peaceful radicals, dissenters, and critics probably match, if not exceed, those dossiers tracking genuine saboteurs, spies and crazed cranks. Was Ernest Hemingway or John Lennon a peril to the American Republic? No, but they were deemed a threat to particular powerful actors. Yet the evident waste of resources is not entirely foolish, at least from a certain point of view, if you realize that one underlying objective of draconian measures is to intimidate legal opponents too. Even Obama cannot resist this boost in power, since he has retracted very little of the Patriot Act. 


If you really want to zero in on domestic enemies, please start with the authors of the Patriot Act, which rubbishes American liberties. Next, examine the profoundly cynical officials who plotted the Iraq invasion on the basis of patent lies and plunged the US into an insanely expensive war to support a corrupt Afghan regime in order to fight, by their own count, all of 50 Al Qaida operatives. Then let us pry into the never-ending machinations of Wall Street scam artists to cripple the global economy for their own fun and profit, and investigate the sociopathic bankers who now promote austerity that unnecessarily wreaks further havoc on the job and financial security of the American populace who bailed them out of their own massive misbehaviour.  
Marie Antoinette was in closer touch with the French populace than the bankers are with the typical indebted American. Do the American people really suffer from worse enemies than these ? Alas, the people who should be investigated themselves are the same folks deciding who is investigated. Neat system, that. No wonder elites will do or say anything to defend it. 


The weirdest, if not cruellest, example of highhanded idiocy is the effort to extradite Sean Garland from Ireland to the US on a preposterous charge that only illogical security fanatics find believable. Garland, in his mid-70s and in very frail health, is former president (2000-2008) and current treasurer of the Workers Party of Ireland, which was a coalition partner in an Irish government. The Workers Party is a Left-wing organization that evolved remarkably out of the official IRA, which ceased armed operations in May 1972 to work for a non-sectarian solution in Ulster even as the breakaway Provisional IRA fought on into the 1990s. Whether the armalite or the ballot box (or both) was more effective is debatable, but for his estimable role in that political feat Garland, a legendary IRA firebrand in his youth, surely was more entitled to a Nobel Peace Prize than the likes of the lethal Henry Kissinger or the do-nothing Barack Obama. 


The Bush administration in 2005 first accused Garland of abetting North Korea in an extravagant scheme to flood the US with fake hundred dollar bills. Quite the reason why Garland would engage in such a daft enterprise is not evident, except for  the lazy assumption that an ex-IRA simply must be that sort of fellow. The intricate B movie plot ~ involving Russian and British mobsters as well as lots of spooks ~ surpasses anything a South Park script could conjure. Supposedly super-slick Garland during Moscow trips picked up bulging bags  of counterfeit 'superdollars' to fly back to Ireland for dispersal to the US for an international criminal cartel. Readers can imagine how many suitcases he successfully would have to smuggle to make a dent in the value of the currency. Cartel there may well be, but is a dedicated and aging Irish Republican, noted for his stern principles (whether you like them or not), likely to be part of it? 


Garland was arrested in 2005 in Belfast where American authorities apparently banked on a new evidence-free extradition agreement with the UK to snatch him, but he skipped to the Republic. Garland was arrested again in Dublin last year and, at enormous costs, continues to wage a fight  against extradition. Second-rate John Le Carre fanciers infesting the British press had a jubilant time trumpeting the case's totally improbable facets with perfectly straight faces. The otherwise sober newspaper, The Independent, breathlessly reported that "travelling as president of the Workers Party, he is said by the US to have used the cover of his position in the party to organise the purchase, transportation and resale of forged dollar bill notes on a huge scale." 


Under the 'cover of his position'? As leader of one of the most monitored organizations on the planet? You'd think the naïve reporter was describing the President of the Red Cross or the leader of a retired Policeman's Association. Incidentally, the Moscow police, an organization not widely renowned for its probity or competence, is cited as fingering Garland in the plot too. Even the UK's Observer published utterly credulous accounts of Garland's supposed exploits, demonstrating that the English still tend to abandon all common sense where anything Irish is concerned. 


Garland has garnered support in some surprising quarters. The Irish Labour Party parliamentary group unanimously opposed extradition as have Garland's long-time bitter rivals in Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein, for which they deserve a tip of the hat. Counter-theories offered by Garland's defenders include the possibility of a US 'plant" of the counterfeit bills story to provide grounds for attacking North Korea. It's hard to say which theory is crazier.  


Of course nothing, absolutely nothing, could be put past the Bush administration ideologues, but Obama so far has done little to rein in his predecessor's toxic legacy. And that is really the larger problem to which the Garland case points. Later this month the Irish High Court will rule on a discovery motion in the case. The lesson remains, however, that it isn't the law-breakers who are the greatest threats to our daily lives; rather it is the people enforcing the law who we must watch most carefully. We face the same problem with our law-enforcers.

 

The writers are freelance journalists and researchers

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

HOW INDIA MET THE MELTDOWN

 

The performance of the Indian economy in overcoming the adverse effects of the global meltdown has been commendable. It was able to overcome recession and move towards nine per cent GDP growth from 2005-06 to 2007-08. The government provided fiscal stimulus through reduction in excise duty by six per cent and service tax by two per cent. Thanks to the basic resilience of the economy, there was a revival of business confidence. 
The Prime Minister has said that Indian economic growth in the last two years, when there was global meltdown, has been among the highest in the world. This year the economy would grow at about 8.5 per cent, up from 7.2 per cent and 6.7 per cent in the previous two years. The growth trajectory would be maintained and the medium-term target was to achieve a growth rate of 10 per cent. He said that emphasis had been laid on inclusive growth and India did not allow the global financial crisis to interrupt this inclusive growth. 
The 10 per cent growth can be achieved if infrastructure can be developed to support it. Availability of long-term capital at reasonable interest rates is imperative for development of the economic and social infrastructure, and agriculture. Fiscal discipline would be essential both at the Centre and in the states. 


The Planning Commission felt that total investment of $1 trillion would be needed in the 12th Plan against $500 billion in the 11th Plan. The private sector investment share, about 35 per cent in the 11th Plan, would have to be about 50 per cent in the 12th Plan. An investor-friendly environment and a financial system conducive to such garnering of resources for viable projects was necessary to attract private capital of such magnitude. Power, roads, port and civil aviation were most important, and efficiency in implementation of projects had to be ensured.


Social infrastructure in education, health, housing and employment, besides agriculture, is also important. Inclusive schemes such as Bharat Nirman, NREGA and housing projects have been allocated massive funds. The states have an important role in these schemes. 


Inflation, particularly food inflation, is gradually coming down ~ wholesale inflation from about 10 per cent in the early months of this year to around nine per cent, while food inflation has declined from about 20 per cent to around 16 per cent. Government expects inflation to drop to 5-6 per cent by this year end. A good monsoon will decelerate prices of foodgrain. 


During the global meltdown, many banks in USA and Europe suffered a breakdown, but the Indian banking structure emerged almost unscathed; it proved to be basically sound and strong. The Reserve Bank's conservative policies and its stringent regulations and controls paid dividends and banks have performed well. The credit also goes to the elite of the banking community who have been making disbursements, lending judiciously. 


Canada's financial system has also shown a good performance. Thanks to strong financial regulations, while the USA was in the throes of deep recession, Canada had a mild recession from which it recovered quickly. As The Economist succinctly says "Yet whereas the United States has still not officially declared its recession over, Canada is nine months into recovery from its mildest and shortest downturn in recent history". 


The Reserve Bank stated that the Greek debt crisis would not affect its monetary policy since it has factored in the impact of uncertain environment. The instability in Greece largely resulted from a large fiscal deficit of more than 14 per cent, while its sovereign borrowing was about 115 per cent of its GDP. Its current account deficit is also around 15 per cent. The RBI deputy Governor said that Asian economies had developed their "autonomous growth drivers". However, global economic recovery depends upon revival in USA and Europe. 
The fiscal deficit increased to 6.7 per cent of the GDP last year. The finance minister proposed to reduce it to about 5.5 per cent this year and 4.8 per cent in 2011-12. The level in 2007-08 was three per cent and that would be the target for the subsequent period. Last year, fiscal stimulus had been provided by reducing excise duty and service tax. Besides, there was a sizeable increase in public expenditure (about 36 per cent). Provision for pay commission increases also had to be made. The partial roll back of excise duty as part of fiscal stimulus was only two per cent to 10 per cent, besides mild tightening of monetary policy by RBI. 


Certain measures should contribute to fiscal consolidation. Revenue buoyancy should be maintained. The ratio of taxes to GDP has risen to 12 per cent. It is expected to increase to 14 per cent this year. Rationalising subsidies should be a significant factor in cutting fiscal deficit. Disinvestment of shares in public enterprises should yield around Rs 50,000 crores and also render them more efficient and competitive with public shareholding. 3G Spectrum Auctions have yielded about Rs 67,000 crores as against expected Rs 30,000 crores. Public expenditure in the form of outlays of various ministries would be scrutinised and rationalised. Besides, efficient utilisation of money should assist fiscal consolidation. With strict monitoring, less money should yield the targeted benefits. 


The finance minister has stated that voluntary tax compliance has improved considerably thanks to adoption of best global practices and departmental efforts. The self-assessment system has proved to be a success and the department is able to devote greater time to difficult cases. 


The government, in tune with Chelliah Committee report, reduced personal and corporate taxes. The beneficial effect has been electrifying and buoyancy in revenues during fiscal year 1994-95 was such that direct tax collections greatly exceeded targets. The buoyancy has been sustained in subsequent years. Reduction in taxes is a triple benefit formula. Tax payers were happy; revenues acquired buoyancy and the momentum of growth was accelerated. Tax to GDP ratio escalated from nine per cent in 1983-84 to 12 per cent in 2008-09 despite the reduction in tax rates. 


In the case of the USA, income-taxes, pay roll taxes and property taxes amount to 48.2 per cent, 24.1 per cent and 9.4 per cent, respectively, aggregating 81.7 per cent while customs and excise duties account for 18.3 per cent of total revenue. Thus, while in developed countries, direct taxes yield the major portion of taxes, the contribution of customs and excise is proportionately less. As per capita income rises, income taxes and other direct taxes assume increasing importance.The ratio of direct taxes to GDP in India grew from 1.9 per cent in 1983-84 to 6.2 per cent in 2008-09 while the ratio of indirect taxes to GDP declined from 7.2 to 5 per cent. This reflects a growing economy. 


The author is a former member of Parliament

 

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THE STATESMAN

A GOM FEARING NATION!

RAJINDER PURI 


The Minister put down the phone and leaned back with a wide smile. 


"What did PMO say, Sir? Some good news?" the PA asked eagerly. 


"I have been anointed to help GoM," the Minister said happily. "PM has included me in the team to serve GoM." 


"GoM is omnipotent and omnipresent, Sir," the PA said reverentially. "GoM looks after everything! What are we asking GoM to do this time?" 


"I will be in the team to help GoM suggest the changes in law required to deal with honour killings. It is a very, very delicate task. We have to protect the honour of all castes. We also have to protect the honour of our government. We must win the next poll." 


The PA frowned. "But don't we already have laws to deal with honour killings, Sir?" 


"What laws?" the Minister snapped. "Do you know of any law that deals with khaps?" 


"I was thinking of the laws that deal with killings, Sir," the PA said apologetically. "There is law to deal with murder." 
"These aren't ordinary murders," the Minister said irritably. "These are killings ordered by Khaps!" 


"We also have laws to deal with incitement to murder, Sir," the PA blurted.


"This isn't simple incitement," the Minister shouted. "Can't you understand? This is revered tradition of 3,000 castes sanctified for thousands of years. We can't trample over the religious sentiments of Khaps. It calls for very delicate handling!" 


"I see what you mean, Sir," the PA said hastily. "Something like Sati, isn't it, Sir? The British dealt with that! Of course they didn't care about religious beliefs of people. They never believed in GoM!" 


"The British were dictators," the Minister said sternly. "They never had to fight elections. They didn't need GoM. They did as they pleased." 


"By GoM's grace one day we too may be able to do the same, Sir," the PA said solemnly. "We are lucky to have such a GoM fearing Prime Minister. But is that enough? Why do we still need the cabinet? Why do we still go to Supreme Court? Can't we repose full faith and leave everything to GoM?" 


"May GoM bless you, my son," the Minister murmured. "GoM willing that too might happen!" 


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

BRITISH AGONY IN AFGHANISTAN

KIM SENGUPTA


These are hard and painful times for British forces in the relentless conflict in Afghanistan. The death toll now stands at 312, with the former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, saying it is likely to go beyond 400 before it is over. Both sides are anticipating a summer of ferocious fighting as the endgame approaches.
Against this background the withdrawal from Sangin – where 99 British soldiers were killed, almost a third of the total – has particular resonance as US forces take over. To a greater extent than ever before, this is America's war. There is little doubt that the new British Government would like to bring the troops back from a war it has inherited, and one which is proving increasingly costly in both human and financial terms.
David Cameron has said he wanted troops back home by 2015, the time of the next election, while Foreign Secretary William Hague has talked about 2014. The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, initially stated they should be out as quickly as possible from what he described as a "13th-century state", but has since stressed they should stay for as long as it takes. 


There have been predictable cries that the withdrawal from Sangin has been a waste of the "blood and treasure" which have been invested and a betrayal of those who had fallen. Major-General Gordon Messenger, the military's official spokesman on Afghanistan, said in a moment of quiet reflection: "I accept the attachment to Sangin. It is born of spilt blood, a great deal of endeavour and some pretty tough sacrifices. There will always be a bit of Sangin in the bloodstream of the Army and the Royal Marines."


But the reality on the ground is that Helmand, and southern Afghanistan as a whole, is now very much an American show. There are already twice as many US troops as British ones in Helmand and that number will rise by another third when the full complement of the "surge" is in place by next month.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Fox said that the result of the British forces being moved from Sangin into central Helmand will be "a coherent and equitable division of the main populated areas of Helmand between three brigade-sized forces, with the US in the north and the south, and the UK-led Task Force Helmand, alongside our outstanding Danish and Estonian allies, in the central population belt".


In plain language this means that two American brigades will be in charge of just under three quarters of the territory in Helmand and the British the remaining area, mainly the urban population centres in central Helmand.


This, again, reflects the respective strengths on the ground. Until now the British, with 31 per cent of the Western forces, were supposed to be covering 70 per cent of the population. It was an untenable situation that resulted in areas being taken from the Taliban, often at a cost of life and limb, only to be abandoned because there were not enough "boots on the ground".


The 1,400-strong 40 Commando Royal Marines battlegroup will withdraw from Sangin in the autumn. Their replacements, a battlegroup led by the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, will be partly deployed in a belt from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gar, to Nad-e-Ali and Gereshk. The new ratio would be 31 per cent of the troops providing security for 32 per cent of the population.


The idea is that this will reinforce a "security envelope" where reconstruction is taking place. But the broader aim, as the Prime Minister made clear, was to hasten the departure of the troops. "2010 was the key year for the mission in Afghanistan," said Mr Cameron, and time for concerted military and political pressure. But he stressed: "Let me be clear. Do I think that we should be there in a combat role in significant numbers in five years' time? No, I don't. This is the time to get the job done and the plan we have envisages making sure that we wouldn't be in Afghanistan in 2015."


General Dannatt talked of past failures and future pitfalls. "The intention when we went into southern Afghanistan was to try to get the country on its feet economically," he said. "We all know it didn't turn out that way. We spread our small resources thinly and that inevitably made the small number of British soldiers like flies in a honey pot. We got into this cycle of fighting. 


"We have got to make sure that the general public in this country understand why we are in Afghanistan, what we are doing, and that the cost – while very, very tough for the families who lose loved ones – is worth the price we are paying. I don't want to see the figures get to 400 but realistically they probably will."


The former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "At out peril, we fail to understand and estimate the sophistication of these people and their ability to turn facts into propaganda," he said. "People will assume from this that this is preparing the ground for the eventual withdrawal in 2015 and it is bound, of course, to be interpreted in that way by the Taliban." And Sir Menzies added: "The political context of course has got to be what the Prime Minister said following his visit to Toronto and the G20 – namely that he expected British troops to be out by 2015."


But Afghanistan has shown that meticulous plans made in the offices of London and Washington often do not survive contact with harsh reality on the ground. For the moment, bringing the troops home by 2015 remains an aspiration – and nothing much more.


The Independent

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THE TELEGRAPH

FOOTBALL AND THE NATION

 

Football lovers in Bengal are more emotional than rational. They are thus in mourning that their two favourite teams, Brazil and Argentina, will not be playing in the World Cup finals to be played tonight. The two South American sides have lost because they played bad football. But this was related to a more fundamental reason: they did not have balanced and good enough teams. Their defeats were thus foretold. There is another reason linked to the manner soccer has developed over the years. This is being missed in the wave of emotions and the surge of pseudo analysis. Football, for all the top footballers in the world, is no longer a mere sport. It is a full-time career. The players make a living by playing football, and the very good ones make considerable amounts of money. This money does not come to them, however, by playing for their countries. They earn it by playing for a club, from sponsorships and from endorsements. Football for top players like Messi, Kaka or Ronaldo is a job, and their clubs are their employers. It stands to reason therefore that the players put up their best showing when they don the colours of their clubs. Patriotism is not even an idea for them. On the football pitch, the nation state has suffered a quiet and an unsung death.

 

This has important implications for the way the teams have performed in the World Cup. It means that a top footballer, during his playing career, spends only a few months playing for his country. Appearing for his club is his bread, butter and jam; it makes or breaks his reputation. It would be only a foolhardy player who would risk an injury while playing for his country as that would jeopardize his performance for the club. Thus, a Messi or a Kaka would be reluctant to go all out wearing the colours of their respective countries. The same argument from the opposite end holds true for the performance of Germany, which has a team composed of many new players who are not regulars in any of the top club teams. The names of Klose and Ozil come immediately to mind. These footballers are playing to establish their reputation, which will enable them to fetch a high price in the football mart. Club prevails over nation.

 

The outstanding performance of the Spanish side — Spain is considered the favourite by many in tonight's finals — can be attributed to the fact that as many as six of the current squad play for the same club, Barcelona FC. Their understanding and rhythm have been established through repeated appearances for their club. Tournaments like the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League have emerged as the real strength of a footballer's talents and skills. Football retains its stars; only their firmament has changed.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IMAGINARY ESSENCE

THE EVOLUTION OF THE PHOTO STUDIO IN 19TH-CENTURY INDIA

MALAVIKA KARLEKAR

 

The invention of the photograph in the mid-19th century and the emergence of the studio brought about interesting changes in middle-class life. Purveyors of a quickly-valued skill, the growing band of comprador photographers, soon brought the visual into the world of the market and of the urban middle-class home. At the most obvious level, to be photographed provided an exciting option of visuality for many who had not been able to afford a portrait painter. What is of interest, of course, is the intense activity, some of it 'backstage', that preceded a 'photo op' of those days. As little has been written about the photographic encounter, so to speak, it requires some reading between the lines as well as generous doses of imagination and conjecture to describe these momentous events in family life.

 

When the idea of the studio was evolving, those with some enterprise used makeshift spaces in horse-drawn vans, railroad cars and shacks on the beach; these co-existed with the well-appointed interiors of ones that provided the choice of multiple identities and a kaleidoscope of backdrops: the new visual specialist was a slightly intriguing — if not awesome — icon of the industrial century whose instructions were diligently followed by his clientele. The early studio was a performative space, the 'sitters' often catapulted into the role of unwitting actors as the photographic establishment provided options of accoutrements ranging from important-looking vellum-bound tomes, a variety of exotic potted plants, a selection of objet d'art and ottomans, divans and a variety of chairs. To be photographed was indeed gratifying, but before the final product adorned the family album or mantelpiece, a long, if not stressful, period of discipline and patience was required. Specialized personnel, proscenium-style studio sets, and an elaborate lighting system helped in creating an ambience where the client had often to play-act so as to appear 'real'. In India and other colonies, studio codes were adopted from the West within a very short time and often replicated effectively. "The reception rooms of the first London studios were temples of ornamental plasterwork, velvet and gilt, with changing rooms, maids in attendance and cosmeticians at the ready". When necessary, "appropriate clothes were also provided to match backdrops and props," wrote Robert Pols (Family Photographs). Well-to-do Indian studios were not very different and soon internationally-reputed photographers were available by the 1850s.

 

In books on early photography in India, one comes across the names of leading photographers — Samuel Bourne, Linnaeus Tripe and Lala Deen Dayal — with amazing regularity. It is rarely mentioned that these men were minor entrepreneurs, heading outfits with several employees, most of whom remained anonymous. The person who finally operated the cumbersome early camera was, in fact, called the 'operator'. The composition of the final image — presentation, posture and juxtaposition of various persons in case of a group photograph — was determined by the likes of Bourne and Deen Dayal. These men were the directors of a fairly complex production that involved — apart from technical expertise and ideas of composition — tact and the art of persuasion. For the time span of the photographic session that could run into half a day, the photographer was in charge and even gave directions on items of clothing and accoutrements. If he was of the stature of Lala Deen Dayal, then who would have the courage to demur? His studios in Bombay, Indore and Secunderabad encouraged 'defectors' from the well-established Bourne & Shepherd and Johnston & Hoffman establishments. In no time, he had European operators named Wartenburg and Schultz who undoubtedly added to the mystique of the photographic experience.

 

In case potential clients had any illusions of a visit to the studio being a cake walk, Lala Deen Dayal took care to disabuse such notions. Carefully tucked away in a catalogue on his works was a section on what to expect of a photography session. Sensitive to the fact that a long studio sitting may exacerbate the moodiness of some initial enthusiasts, Deen Dayal quickly advised 'sitters' to place themselves in the experienced hands of the operator — under, of course, the overall supervision of the photographer. If clients "prefer to pose themselves, and to take full direction of the sitting", the staff would help to ensure a good result — and in some cases, "a good result will be obtained", the catalogue added somewhat guardedly. Prior appointments were recommended, and it was imperative to come with plenty of time in hand. The long exposure of early photographs necessitated the use of immobilizing equipment such as the headrest, and many staccato instructions on keeping still, holding the smile and so on. Aware that some may flinch at the thought of being incarcerated by equipment such as the headrest, clamp and knee brace, the catalogue assured sitters that the "headrest is often of great assistance". Many years later, the social theorist, Roland Barthes, articulated what many 19th-century visitors to photographic studios might have secretly felt: a mounting apprehension as the supports that "maintained the body in its immobility" were trundled towards them. Few had the imagination to think of these as Barthes did, "the pedestal of the statue I would become, the corset of my imaginary essence".

 

Clearly, a photographic session was an event of no mean proportions, involving time, energy and a positive frame of mind. Who knows for how long young Kristo Mohan Mullick (picture) would have to sit on the inhospitable seat of the tricycle? His expression indicates that it had not been easy, and perhaps many instructions and counter-instructions had preceded the final framing. And, of course, there had possibly been many discussions on the backdrop, in this case, a temperate forest flanking an elaborate staircase into a garden. The photographic establishment had not only to invest in backdrops, accessories, expensive equipment, and personnel with a variety of skills, but also modify the physical space for specific requirements, the most important being that of light. In the early days of the daguerreotype photograph, the need for light inside the studio led to interesting innovations: Richard Beard, who started the world's first ever photographic studio in London's Regent Street, devised a blue glass rotating skylight that could control the amount of natural light available for the photographer and his assistants. Deen Dayal's studios were arranged so "that the strongest light is thrown upon the sitter and that without causing any heavy shadow". As the makeshift gave way to the more established, a discourse around the photograph and the photographic establishment grew.

 

Till well into the 20th century, photography and the photograph were the preserve of photo studios, the growing breed of photographers and their support staff. Indian establishments — some of which lasted only a few years — made a handsome living out of portraying the trappings of the raj, and later, its well-to-do subjects, aware of the growing fashion of recording themselves visually for posterity or otherwise. Where control over access to physical space was a marker of racial and colour difference, the studio acquired a curiously powerful status, being one where cultural and social differences melded, even though briefly. The Indian photographer of an European establishment would make a portrait of the tight-lipped British bureaucrat in his three-piece suit — and within hours recommend the same backdrop of moonlight and roses to the blushing child bride, wife of a first-generation English-educated Bengali lawyer.

 

As individuals and their families were committed to a flattering reproduction of the physical mien, they tended to follow the photographer's diktat minutely. While men were the first sitters for the photographer, with changes in family dynamics, it became imperative for women, and also children, to visit the studio as well. Public viewing through the photograph, so to speak, of mothers, wives, daughters and sisters was integral to the affirmation of the emerging identity of the nuclear family. The photographic studio provided images to be framed or placed carefully in family albums; these were precious objects, important markers in a cultural milieu still in the process of defining itself. And if the studio and its owners became wealthy men overnight, they did so only after contributing significantly to the fashioning of an emerging middle class. The creation of a new self-image is never easy — and the middle class of late 19th-century India gratefully accepted the role of photo studios in this, at times challenging, process.

 

karlekars@gmail.com

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

SPECIAL FEATURES

PATNA ZOO ON WORLD RHINO MAP

ABHAY KUMAR IN PATNA


The Sanjay Gandhi Park came into the limelight due to high breeding of rhinos.

 

 

Ten years after the Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Park came into existence in Patna in 1969, a pair of rhino (Rhinocerous unicornis) - Kancha and Kanchi - was brought here from Guwahati. Three years later, or to be more precise - in 1982 - another rhino, Raju,  was captured from Bettiah on Indo-Nepal border, and brought to the zoo. 


Though the warm climate of Patna is not conducive for housing rhinos, Raju and Kanchi mated successfully and gave birth to a baby rhino after a long gestation period of 18 months. The year 1983 proved to be a turning point for the zoological park, as four more rhinos were born in successive years. 


Three decades down the line, the Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Park here has six male and as many female rhinos. Today the zoo has  second largest population of rhinos in the world. 


"So far as the population of rhinos is concerned, the Patna zoo tops the list in India, and is second in the world after San Diego, (in US)"  the zoo director Abhay Kumar told Deccan Herald, while dwelling at length on how there was a difference between a rhino breeding in Kaziranga (Assam) and one in the cage of a zoo. 

Three cheers 

"The year 2010 has witnessed successful mating of three female rhinos. So we are expecting three more 'new guests' next year," said Kumar. 


In view of the large number of rhinos, the problem of housing them is bound to arise. So he is now mulling over the proposal to set up a rhino safari, much on the lines of lion safari in Nandankanan (Orissa). "Once these rhinos grow up, it will be very difficult to keep them confined within a cage or a limited area. Chances are they might harm themselves by constantly clashing each other. So we have sent a proposal to the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) for setting up a rhino safari in the southern area  for providing a good and natural congenial habitat to rhinos," he added. 


Endangered species 

The Indian rhino is primarily found in Terrai regions (in the foothills of Himalayas). It is confined to tall grasslands in the Indo-Gangetic belt. But after poaching began, their numbers dwindled over the years. The Centre then declared it a Schedule 1 animal. Eventually, an ambitious project was launched in the country for the conservation of the endangered species. "This is precisely why the CZA has selected Patna zoo as a breeding centre for rhinos," Kumar said, and added, "The Sanjay Gandhi Park came into limelight due to high breeding of rhinos. Now more countries want to know about the techniques used at the Patna zoo, the kind of food we give to the world's most endangered species, and the size of the cages." 


Earlier, under the mutual exchange programme carried out by the International Rhino Federation, two rhinos were transported from Patna to the US in exchange of three giraffes and two female rhinos from St Diego Wild Animal Park.     

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT

DECONTROL WILL REIN IN INFLATION


In the deregulated era, the possible malign impact of rise in crude oil price on Wholesale Price Index-based inflation will be cushioned off to some extent.

 

 

Hike in oil prices always has a direct bearing on the inflation. Especially hike in diesel price exerts a cascading effect on the overall price line, thus pushing up the inflation level. 

 

The government's decision to decontrol petrol pricing along with an across the board hike in retail prices of three other mass consumed products—diesel, domestic LPG and kerosene—has already given rise to inflationary expectation. 


It is being overwhelmingly apprehended that as a spin off effect these upward revisions in retail prices of petroleum products will push up inflation rate—as measured by the Wholesale Price Index  (WPI)—by at least one percentage point. The WPI-based inflation level has already crossed the double digit by hovering around 10.16 per cent in May this year.    


Of the four mass consumed petroleum products, the movement of retail price level of two auto fuels—petrol and diesel—will have a more direct bearing on the price line.


Therefore, the pertinent question is: What will be the impact of deregulation of pricing of petrol and diesel on inflation?

Notwithstanding general apprehension that deregulation of fuel prices will push up inflation, economists say determination of pricing of auto fuels strictly by market dynamics will help in reining in inflation over a period of time.


Under the present system of Administered Pricing Mechanism (APM), retail prices of petroleum products are being kept artificially low through a complex system of cross-subsidization. 


This growing subsidy bill widens the fiscal deficit—the net difference between the government's expenditure and income. The ballooning of fiscal deficit always leads to inflation. 


Economists say in the decontrolled environment at least the subsidy burden on the government will come down. Besides, as the deregulation will lead to fiercely competitive pricing of auto fuels the intensity of direct impact of any rise in the global crude oil price will be reduced considerably. Thus, in the decontrolled era the possible malign impact of rise in crude oil price on WPI-based inflation will be cushioned off to some extent.    


As Chief Statistician T C A Anant explains, an economy cannot have a strict regulated regime for fuel prices, as it will widen the budget deficit. 


"If an open-ended fuel subsidy is maintained, huge budget deficits would occur when global petroleum prices rise. This, too, contributes to rise in inflation," he says. 


Noted economist Dr Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Ministry of Finance says, in the decontrolled environment under-recoveries of state-owned OMCs will come down thus reducing the subsidy burden on the government. 


"This would lead to improvement in fiscal situation thus curtailing inflationary expectation," he explains vouching for deregulation of auto fuel pricing. 

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

THE GOP'S SHAMEFUL STALL

 

President Barack Obama's appointment Wednesday of Dr. Donald Berwick to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was widely seen as a smart and welcome appointment. The Harvard professor is an acclaimed patient care specialist and a leader of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a think tank whose linkage with hospitals, nurses and doctors has earned him endorsements from the American Hospital Association and AARP. The CMMS, moreover, has gone since 2006 without a director and clearly needs a leader to plan implementation of the health care reform bill.

 

Yet Republicans predictably rose to complain about the president's use of a so-called recess appointment to install Dr. Berwick. They claimed it wasn't fair because the Senate, off on the extended July 4th holiday break, didn't get a chance to grill him.

 

Look who's talking about fairness.

 

Senate Republicans presently have seemingly interminable "holds" on 69 administration appointees, all of whom have been approved by Senate committees, generally months ago and some nearly a year ago. Four who are languishing in this limbo while awaiting perfunctory approval by the full Senate -- Barbara S. Haskew, Neil G. McBride, Marilyn A. Brown and William B. Sansom -- are nominated to fill four vacancies on the 9-member board of TVA.

 

The agency badly needs their services to adopt long-range power plans. In fact, one of the five members who presently give the agency the quorum that is needed to legally approve any piece of business is a volunteer holdover. His board term has expired since TVA began waiting on the four pending nominees

 

Handcuffing TVA's board in a such a situation amounts to scandalous negligence in the Senate --negligence tolerated for partisan pettiness. It is even more baffling because the two Republican senators from Tennessee, which constitutes the bulk of TVA's service area, have recommended all of the pending four members.

 

TVA's plight serves to illustrate how blatant the Republicans' current abuse of the "hold" practice has become.

 

The current 69 holds, anonymous in all but a handful of cases, are part and parcel of a large, coordinated effort by the GOP to hinder the inner workings of the Obama administration to a degree not previously seen.

 

It used to be that holds placed anonymously on a nominee by a senator were lifted within hours, or at most in a few days. But what Senate Republicans are doing now to obstruct the Obama administration is egregiously different by several orders of magnitude.

 

Here's the current scorecard: Just one Democratic senator, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, has placed an open hold on a committee-approved nominee for a seat on the Federal Election Commission. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., is openly holding up two approved nominees for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is openly holding up appointment of Craig Becker, an approved nominee to the National Labor Relations Board. And Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is opening holding up formal appointments of six approved nominees for seats on the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

The other 59 holds on approved nominees for a variety of positions are being held up by secret, or anonymous, holds -- all by Republicans. Senate Democrats have affirmed they have placed no holds, and that's a logical, credible claim. They generally would have no reason to place a hold on a nominee proposed by Democratic president, and approved by Democratically controlled committees.

 

Republicans, by contrast, may place a secret hold -- a practice strangely allowed under quirky Senate rules that should be banned -- for no reason other than unattributed partisan obstructionism. See the full list at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126528338.

 

Included are nominees five ambassador posts, 23 vacant federal district court judgeships, three seats on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an under secretary in Homeland Security, and positions at the Federal Aviation Administration, the Farm Credit Administration, the director of the Office of Radioactive Waste for the Department of Energy, and an assistant secretary of Treasury.

 

Americans need and expect better service from the Senate. Partisanship there should have limits. Republicans should respect those limits, and allow TVA, federal courts, the Justice Department and a raft of other agencies to get on with their jobs.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

NO PLACE FOR INTOLERANCE

 

Given the high stakes involved and the heat of daily political battle, it can hardly be a surprise that some Congressional candidates say things that are so controversial that they seem to dominate an entire campaign. You can put Lou Ann Zelenik, a Republican candidate to fill Tennessee's 6th District seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, in that unenviable category.

 

Late last month, Mrs. Zelenik called plans for construction of a new mosque in Murfreesboro "outrageous" and called it a threat to the state's moral and political foundation. She's spent almost every moment since then either explaining and defending her remarks. She's having a tough time doing so.

 

Mrs. Zelenik, who proudly labels herself a leader in the Middle Tennessee tea party movement, obviously agrees with those strongly opposed to the construction of a 52,000-square-foot mosque and community center. Opposition to the building became public at a zoning hearing concerning it. Most there opposed the center, they said, because they became aware of the new mosque after construction was approved. If that claim is true and political chicanery is involved, there are well-defined methods available to challenge the approval.

 

A small minority of those present at the zoning hearing, though, seemed far more concerned with the group that was going to build the center than with the planning and zoning issues involved. Clearly, the fact that the new building was to be a mosque and a Muslim community center fueled their opposition and exposed their narrow-mindedness. Mrs. Zelenik's comments seem to place her firmly in that camp.

 

"Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open out society to any of them," she said in a statement.

 

What nonsense. Most Muslims in America have loudly and regularly condemned the excesses of their co-religionists around the world. Many are hard-working members of their communities who participate willingly and wholeheartedly in social, civic and government affairs. Indeed, many American Muslims are in uniform serving their country. Mrs. Zelenik's remarks fail to acknowledge those facts.

 

The candidate, one of three leading GOP hopefuls for Mr. Gordon's seat, later said she's not opposed to the mosque but to the proposed "Islamic training center" that is part of the building. She didn't say specifically that such a center would become a site for nefarious activities, but she certainly implied it. If that's the case, she's ill-informed, pandering to a mean-spirited part of the electorate or both.

 

Approval of a new mosque in Murfreesboro ought to succeed or fail on its merits and the law. Incendiary comments -- from a Congressional candidate or anyone else -- have no place in civil discourse. Mrs. Zelenik's apparent intolerance is out of place -- in everyday life and on the campaign trail.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

DO WE TAX, SPEND TOO MUCH?

 

We don't hear many (any?) people complain that our country is taxing our people too little. But we are spending $3.55 trillion in the 2010 budget -- and expect $1.55 trillion in red ink, at least.

 

Are we spending too much?

 

The Constitution of the United States outlines the limited, specific powers of the federal government. But we spend unconstitutionally for many other things. That's part of the problem. The other part is just fiscal irresponsibility.

 

In the current budget, $2.184 trillion is listed as "mandatory" spending -- meaning not optional.

 

* $695 billion of it is for Social Security promises.

 

* $453 billion is for Medicare.

 

* $290 billion is for Medicaid.

 

* $164 billion is for paying interest on our $13 trillion national debt.

 

*The rest of "mandatory" spending is for relief and stabilization and a variety of "other" programs.

 

Then we will spend $1.368 trillion for "discretionary" programs.

They include such things as $663.7 billion for the Defense Department, $78.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, $72.5 billion for the Department of Transportation, $52.5 billion for Veterans' Affairs, $51.7 billion for State Department and other international programs, $47.5 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, $46.7 billion for the Department of Education, $42.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, $26.3 billion for the Department of Energy, $26 billion for the Department of Agriculture, $23.9 billion for the Department of Justice, $18.5 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plus ... .

Then come these "smaller" spending items: $13.8 billion for the Department of Commerce, $13.3 billion for the Labor Department, $13.3 billion for the Treasury, $12 billion for Interior, $10.5 billion for environmental protection, $9.7 billion for the Social Security Administration.

 

Then there are such things as $7 billion for the National Science Foundation, $5.1 billion for the Corps of Engineers, $5 billion for the National Infrastructure Bank, $1.1 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Services, $700 million for the Small Business Administration, $600 million for the General Services Administration -- and about $125 billion for "other" agencies.

 

There are, of course, lots of things that members of Congress and others want us to spend more for -- ignoring the high rate of taxes and the growing national debt.

 

We are passing our bigger debt on to our children and grandchildren.

 

We are not being very "responsible," are we?

 

If you could see the amount you pay in taxes -- and examine each spending item -- you surely could find many things you'd like to cut out to reduce your taxes and the national debt.

 

You can't do that, unfortunately.

 

But isn't that what we elect our representatives and senators to do for us? Some do well, but a majority spend too much.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE

COURTS SHOULD NOT RIG ELECTIONS.

 

That seems so obvious that it shouldn't have to be stated. But we need reminding.

 

Up in little Port Chester, N.Y., some residents complained that no Hispanic had been elected to the local government. Many Hispanics in the town were not citizens, and thus were not entitled to vote. Some Hispanic citizens eligible to vote didn't. Nevertheless, some people considered it unfair that no Hispanic served in local elected office.

 

So a federal judge ruled that each voter in Port Chester could cast a vote for each of six candidates in local elections, or six votes for a single candidate, or some combination in between!

 

It was called "cumulative voting."

 

The goal was to allow Hispanic voters to get behind a single candidate and ensure that he would be elected. Other voters presumably would divide up their votes among the non-Hispanic candidates.

 

Well, sure enough, in the recent elections, a Hispanic candidate was elected -- with the judge's "help."

 

We do not fault the winner for benefiting from the court's bad ruling. But courts ought not to be in the business of guaranteeing particular, predetermined results in what are supposed to be free and fair elections.

 

Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************


TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

FIRST OBAMACARE TAX HIKE

 

Not all Americans use tanning salons, but those who do must now pay an additional 10 percent tax, thanks to ObamaCare socialized medicine.

 

The tanning-bed tax started July 1. It is the first of several taxes that will be imposed to help pay for ObamaCare, which Democrats in Congress muscled into law in March.

 

So what can we expect now that tanning salons -- many of which are small businesses -- have to collect an extra 10 percent tax on their customers? Well, we can expect the same thing that usually happens when a new tax is imposed on goods and services: You get less of those goods and services.

 

The increased cost to use a sun bed means fewer Americans will go to tanning salons, and those businesses and their employees will suffer. Some will lose their jobs. That would never be good news, but it is especially bad news in the midst of an economic crisis, when unemployment is nearly 10 percent.

 

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, who recently succeeded able Rep. Nathan Deal in Georgia, correctly summarized the likely effects of the tax increase. It is "another kick to the gut of small businesses and will only hurt job creation in the United States," Rep. Graves said in a news release. "The government should be empowering the taxpayer, not charging them new taxes to pay for their big government programs."

 

Exempted from paying the tax is anyone who has a condition, such as certain skin ailments, requiring tanning services as medical treatment.

 

OK, so what will be the result of that exemption? Very likely, some people will start trying to avoid the tax by "discovering" they have a condition that only a sun bed can treat. Remember what happened when California legalized the use of so-called "medical marijuana"? Lots of people started getting pot legally even though they had no real "need" for it.

 

But can't sun beds harm your health? And if so, why should it matter if the new tax means fewer people use them? It matters because extremely costly ObamaCare relies on the tanning-salon tax and other taxes to pay for medical coverage for millions of people.

 

As with cigarette taxes, the fewer people who use tanning salons and pay the 10 percent tax, the less revenue Washington will get. Our nation already cannot afford trillion-dollar-plus ObamaCare, so how can we possibly fund it if the taxes it imposes do not bring in the money required?

 

You may see the sun bed tax as something "other people" pay. But have no doubt: ObamaCare and other wasteful federal spending will soon be a tax not only on "other people" but on "you."

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

NASA'S STRANGE NEW MISSION

 

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a recent interview with TV network Al-Jazeera that the "foremost" thing President Barack Obama wants him to do as head of our space program is "reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering."

 

International outreach is fine, but we thought the main goal of the U.S. space program was to explore space.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE BACKLASH

 

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Punjab Assembly on Friday which led to the passing of a resolution against the media has attracted nationwide and international attention. The Punjab Assembly members have done themselves and the nation a great disservice, and once again held us up to the ridicule of our neighbours and the comity of nations. A day later there appears to be a dawning of reality – and a swift move by some of the major players to distance themselves from what is clearly an extremely damaging episode. PML-N leader has called for the expulsion of the mover of the resolution, member of his own party and has accused him of trying to cover up his crime of faking his degree. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said that he 'cherishes the free media as much as he likes an independent judiciary in the country.' A belated damage control effort within PML-N appears to be underway.


Civil society groups, lawyers, journalists organisations and even a few of our own more rational politicians have reacted with shock and a justified level of grave concern about this pernicious resolution. Across the country, in every province there were demonstrations on Saturday against the resolution. Old political warhorses like Pervaiz Elahi were quick to distance themselves from what was beginning to look like a thoroughgoing political debacle and an international embarrassment. Anybody who was anybody got themselves in front of a microphone as fast as they could to declare their credentials as true democrats, defenders of the freedom of the press and the media and in possession of a set of academic qualifications that were beyond reproach. The scramble to get away from the damage done by the PA was almost as unseemly as the process by which the resolution was launched by the PML-N. Suddenly the entire political class was all in favour of the press tearing great bleeding chunks off them on a daily basis, and offering themselves to be nailed to the wall by determined, even psychotic, current-affair anchors bent on beating the truth out of them. The PA resolution against the media is one of the great foot-in-mouth political moments of the last several years. It is also a credible indicator of the mindset that prevails among those who rule us. If they can get away with lying to us – they will. If they can get away with cheating themselves into the assemblies – they will. And if they are caught they will cry 'foul' and try to pin the blame elsewhere. We have news for you assembly members everywhere – those days are over. Get used to it. The discredited resolution and the discredited lot of politicians will have to be thrown out of the assemblies.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE BACKLASH

 

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Punjab Assembly on Friday which led to the passing of a resolution against the media has attracted nationwide and international attention. The Punjab Assembly members have done themselves and the nation a great disservice, and once again held us up to the ridicule of our neighbours and the comity of nations. A day later there appears to be a dawning of reality – and a swift move by some of the major players to distance themselves from what is clearly an extremely damaging episode. PML-N leader has called for the expulsion of the mover of the resolution, member of his own party and has accused him of trying to cover up his crime of faking his degree. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said that he 'cherishes the free media as much as he likes an independent judiciary in the country.' A belated damage control effort within PML-N appears to be underway.


Civil society groups, lawyers, journalists organisations and even a few of our own more rational politicians have reacted with shock and a justified level of grave concern about this pernicious resolution. Across the country, in every province there were demonstrations on Saturday against the resolution. Old political warhorses like Pervaiz Elahi were quick to distance themselves from what was beginning to look like a thoroughgoing political debacle and an international embarrassment. Anybody who was anybody got themselves in front of a microphone as fast as they could to declare their credentials as true democrats, defenders of the freedom of the press and the media and in possession of a set of academic qualifications that were beyond reproach. The scramble to get away from the damage done by the PA was almost as unseemly as the process by which the resolution was launched by the PML-N. Suddenly the entire political class was all in favour of the press tearing great bleeding chunks off them on a daily basis, and offering themselves to be nailed to the wall by determined, even psychotic, current-affair anchors bent on beating the truth out of them. The PA resolution against the media is one of the great foot-in-mouth political moments of the last several years. It is also a credible indicator of the mindset that prevails among those who rule us. If they can get away with lying to us – they will. If they can get away with cheating themselves into the assemblies – they will. And if they are caught they will cry 'foul' and try to pin the blame elsewhere. We have news for you assembly members everywhere – those days are over. Get used to it. The discredited resolution and the discredited lot of politicians will have to be thrown out of the assemblies.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE BLAME GAME

 

The blame game over Kashmir is on again. As unrest simmers in Indian-Held Kashmir and the army is called in, Indian political leaders have directed responsibility Pakistan's way, accusing it of deliberately stirring up unrest to create for it a better negotiation position. The matter of Kashmir is certain to come up when Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers meet in Islamabad in a few days time. The conspiracy theories of Pakistani involvement have been dismissed by many of the more rational voices in India. As always, at such times, we see also much interplay of forces within the country. While it is easy to accuse Pakistan and groups within it of working with key Kashmiri leaders to create dissent, there is for India no getting away from the fact that enormous resentment against it and its security forces exists within the valley. International rights groups have criticised abuses that routinely take place at regular intervals. It is obvious that the Kashmiris seek an escape from the periodic cycles of violence that disrupt lives and each time cause death and suffering. Purely as a humanitarian issue, with all matters of politics thrust aside, this misery must end. This is something the leaders of Pakistan and India need to take up.


For far too long, indeed since 1947, the leaders of both countries have used Kashmir as a theatre where they can score points against each other. The result has been the growth of militancy and a rapidly worsening situation in the valley. A generation of Kashmiris has known nothing but violence. With many of those engaged in the latest protests comprising the very young, there is a real danger the next generation too will not escape the same fate, the same brutalisation and the same anarchy. Formulas of various kinds have been drawn up for some kind of peace in Kashmir. One was put forward just a short time ago by former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri. Certainly, there is a need to come up with rational ideas. A final decision as to the fate of the territory is not easy; much time has gone by, much blood has flowed. But to create the environment that can make this possible, agreements which turn the LoC into a 'soft' border and allow people to meet are certainly an option. We hope these will figure during the upcoming talks so there is a possibility of moving towards peace and, by doing so, ending the friction between Islamabad and New Delhi that emanates from that mountainous stretch of territory in the north.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FAREWELL TO MURALITHARAN

AAKAR PATEL


Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan will retire from test cricket this month after the Lankans play India on July 18 in Galle. Murali's performance in his last appearance will be anticipated for a second reason. He has taken 792 test wickets and another eight in the match against India will mean he will be the first bowler in history to get 800 wickets. 


I am hoping he gets there, because it is a record that is unlikely to be surpassed. And it's always better to have these things happen before you, than wonder how great someone might have been whom you've never seen play, like Don Bradman. 


We can tell generations after us that Sachin was better than current batsman XYZ or that bowler ABC couldn't swing it like Akram. We might be right, but it doesn't matter if we're not because we saw Sachin and Akram play and the other person didn't.


Murali's record will remain even as if he doesn't get to 800, of course, because nations don't play as much test cricket as they used to. 


With the popularity of Twenty20, whose matches have been added to the calendar, and the addition of several international and local tournaments, this fading of test match cricket is unlikely to change. The days when many players on a team had 100 tests behind them are surely behind us.


The busiest national teams play about a dozen tests a year. The very best bowlers, like Murali, average between five and six wickets in a test. This means that a bowler must be around for a dozen years performing at his peak in tests to equal Murali and I don't think that will happen.


Murali is an attacking bowler, which is strange because he's an off-spinner, the most basic kind of bowler in cricket. 

His menace comes from two things. The first is his (naturally) bent elbow, and the other is his wrist action, which snaps the ball out during release rather than rotating it with fingers in the manner of other off-spinners.


Of the men on the list of top wicket-takers, he's the only off-spinner, though it could be argued that Anil Kumble is also an off-spinner who bowls with a leg-spinner's wrist action.


The man whose record Murali broke to become the leader is the great Shane Warne, a genuine leg-spinner with over 700 wickets. 


Spinners dominate the list of wicket-takers because the quicks don't last as long. Shins, knees, backs and rotator cuffs are all worn out with the pounding that the fast bowler's body takes, and develop stress fractures over time. I once saw in super slow-motion what Shoaib Akhtar's body went through during a delivery (ball, not baby) and it was frightening.


The spinners also come under strain, but not as much. Warne said it wasn't the bowling itself, but the running up to bowl that tired him out most. At some point after tea, the legs just gave up, he said. This could be because he's a fatty. 

But the point is that because they're less worn out after every year, spinners last longer and thus dominate our list. 

Murali is in fact the only cricketer from his side still around from the dazzling Lankan team that won the World Cup in 1996.


Murali is also the only Tamilian on the Lankan team, and the only Hindu. Such things might not mean much in other parts of the world but for us inclusion is important. It makes us feel better if national teams are inclusive in their representation. 


Murali's name is a synonym for the god Krishna, who plays the flute, or Murali, and hence Muralitharan (or Muralidharan) is he-who-holds-the-flute.


Most Sri Lankans are Buddhist, though there are also Christians in the team, like Dilhara Fernando, and Muslims, like Ferveez Maharoof. 


The end of Muralitharan's career has come after he has beaten off questions of the legitimacy of his action. For many years in the 1990s, he was accused of being a chucker. His action was then checked or corrected through a scientific process which found that the straightening of his elbow during his delivery was due to a deformity in his arm. 


But this has not satisfied everyone. 


Bishan Bedi, who bowled left arms slow in the 60s and 70s, said Murali had the action of a javelin thrower. "If Murali doesn't chuck, show me how to bowl", he said.


I think it was Australia's Darrell Hair who used the word 'diabolical' to describe Murali's action. Diabolical means Satanic, and so that was slightly off. Hair was one of the two umpires to no-ball Murali, saying that the action was suspect. There were also questions about how the ball could do the sort of things Murali made it do, if his action was clean. 


It is true that all three bowlers who have the ability to bowl the doosra -- Muralitharan, Saqlain Mushtaq and Harbhajan -- bend their elbow in delivery.


The doosra is the ball that is spun away from the right-hander, and the South Asian bowlers invented it. 


Bedi says that if the doosra was legitimate, first-rate spinners like Prasanna would have learnt how to bowl it decades earlier, and it is difficult to argue against that.


Australia's cricket board has apparently banned the doosra from domestic cricket, though it's unclear what will happen when a foreigner bowls it at Sydney.


The man Murali thinks has a chance of overtaking him is India's Harbhajan. 


Harbhajan has 355 wickets (exactly as many as Dennis Lillee) in 83 tests, and he is only 30. Though he's likely to play for another seven years or so, it's unlikely that he will approach Murali's record. That is because India's cricket board is focussed on limited overs cricket since much more money may be made here from the gate and from sponsors than in tests. 

Harbhajan debuted in 1998 so he's played an average of only seven tests a year. He will have to double that rate now to get close, and that's not about to happen. 


So will Murali be seen as the greatest bowler in history? There is a good case for that. He also holds the record for most wickets in one-day internationals, taking 515 in 337 matches. Akram is second with 502 in 356. 


I saw a link on the cricket website, cricinfo.com, asking people for their opinion on whether Akram was the best left-arm fast bowler of all time. Bradman had said earlier that he was, though I think Akram was easily the greatest bowler of his era, left or right, fast or slow, and I don't know if a better bowler ever played cricket. 

Had he played longer, and I think he should have because he's still so fit, he could have had a crack at the record. Uniquely among fast bowlers, Akram bowls with a bent front knee. This is unorthodox, because the body needs the straight leg on which to pivot and accelerate the arm, but Akram generated his power from his shoulders and a quick action. 


He could have lasted longer for this reason, since most fast bowlers usually end their careers when their knees pack up. 


With him gone, no fast bowler is likely to come close to Murali. 


Another reason I think Murali's record will last is that spinners aren't as important a part of teams any more. I am fine with that. Spinners are enjoyable to watch only on hard wickets, where the ball bounces and spin may be seen. On the subcontinent, spin is boring to watch because hardly anything is visible up close because it's dusty and the ball doesn't rise. 


Jim Laker once described heaven as Bishan Bedi bowling at one end and Ray Lindwall at the other. These two men because they had exemplary actions. Murali's action is quite ugly, but I wouldn't mind watching it for a very long time, though not perhaps for eternity.


The writer is a director with Hill Road Media in Bombay. Email: aakar @hillroadmedia.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ISLAM VS MURDER

S IFTIKHAR MURSHED


Religion is not the opiate of the people, as the Marxists believe, but, if misinterpreted, it ignites the flame that destroys society. The twin suicide bomb attacks at Data Darbar in Lahore on July 1 were yet another tragic episode in Pakistan's unending nightmare of extremist violence. A little more than a month earlier, the slaughter of scores of Ahmedis as they congregated for prayers shamed the entire country as much as it appalled the international community.


Extremist groups have repeatedly targeted respected religious scholars, shrines and places of worship. Thus, in September 2007 Maulana Hasan Jan was killed, as was Dr Sarfraz Naeemi in June 2009. The tomb of Pashto Sufi poet Rahman Baba (d. 1711), celebrated as "the Nightingale of Pakhtunkhwa," was destroyed on March 5, 2009. Later that month, a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Jamrud killed more than fifty worshippers. These are only a few examples of the savagery. 


Admittedly, the military operations against the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine in Malakand Division, South Waziristan and some of the other tribal agencies have been fairly successful. But this could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory unless the false ideology of the extremist groups based on the distortion of Islamic tenets is effectively exposed.


This is the core around which a counter-radicalisation strategy, so desperately needed to defeat extremist violence, must be built. Unfortunately, the formulation of such a strategy does not even seem to be on the anvil in Pakistan. The initiative has been taken by the religious scholars of other countries with the support of their respective governments. 


On March 27-28 leading academics and theologians representing the diverse schools of Islamic thought--from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iran, Morocco, Mauritania and Indonesia--convened in Mardin, a historic fortress city in south-eastern Turkey. The primary purpose was to discuss the famous fatwa of Taqi-ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328). Issued from the same city after the Mongol invasions, it supposedly authorised violence against unjust rulers. 


The importance of this edict in the context of the contemporary era is that it has been repeatedly invoked by Osama bin Laden and his cohorts for terror strikes against Muslim leaders and people living under their rule. 


The conference, from which Pakistan was conspicuously absent, adopted a widely publicised declaration stating: "Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation… It is not for a Muslim individual or a Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad...on their own."


The scholars were also unanimous that: (i) the actions of terrorist groups are not jihad but arbitrary murder; (ii) ibn Taymiyya's Mardin fatwa has been misinterpreted, and in no circumstances can it be used to justify terrorism or violence; (iii) the religion unequivocally forbids indiscriminate killing and murder; and (iv) the terrorists are destroying their own faith and disparaging the honour of Islam.


The outcome of the conference was summed up by its spokesperson in the following words: "This historic and important summit made it clear that ibn Taymiyya, and the Mardin fatwa in particular, cannot be used to justify terrorism. This summit made it clear that neither did ibn Taymiyya take such a position nor does orthodox mainstream Islam allow for such a position to exist. This summit drew together scholars and theologians from different persuasions within Islam. But united they stood: Islam condemns terrorism and indiscriminate murder."

Ibn Taymiyya has been demonised by the West while the likes of Osama bin Laden have misquoted and misinterpreted his writings. This has been conclusively proved by reputed scholars such as Sheikh Abd-al-Wahab, former professor at Al-Imam University in Riyadh. According to Abd-al-Wahab, the only known manuscript of Ibn Taymiyya's fatwa is archived at the Zahiryyah Library in Damascus. Mardin at the time was under Mongol occupation, and though the Mongols had superficially converted to Islam, their rule was marked by severe persecution of Muslims. 


Ibn Taymiyya was specifically asked whether Mardin was the land of peace or war, and, furthermore, should those Muslims who did not emigrate be considered to be assisting the enemies of Islam and therefore apostates to be fought against. The corrupted copy of the fatwa reads: "The non-Muslims living there outside the authority of Islamic law should be fought, as this is their due." The original word is yu'amal (should be treated) but has been rendered as yuqatal (should be fought). This is the error that has changed the meaning entirely and has been exploited by Al Qaeda and its associates.


Furthermore, ibn Taymiyya was a follower of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855) who prohibited rebellion even against unjust authority, as that would spur anarchy and bloodshed. It is therefore doubtful whether ibn Taymiyya would violate the teachings of his own school of Islamic jurisprudence.


The Mardin Conference, which was inadequately reported by the Pakistani print and electronic media, demonstrates the importance of involving the ulema, and there is no dearth of such learned scholars in the country, in the exposure of the false doctrines on which extremist ideology is based. 

 

This has to be the starting point for a counter-radicalisation strategy. Furthermore, Pakistan should involve itself and interact with the Mardin process to build international support for its counter-radicalisation initiative. Lastly, popular opinion has to be galvanised towards a nationwide surge against terrorist violence, and this will only be possible if a strikingly moderate message of Islam is presented to the people. 


The writer, a former ambassador, publishes Criterion quarterly. Email: ifti murshed@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

GHOST' ORGANISATIONS

DR FARRUKH SALEEM


Good governments just govern. Good schools provide what businesses need and businesses must be made to compete to produce what they can produce most efficiently. And that in a nutshell is the triangle of success. It is no rocket science. 


The government of Pakistan does not govern, but is into producing steel, selling airline tickets and distributing electricity, as well as gas. Whenever--and wherever--governments get into the productive sector of the economy they mess things up. We also need to ask as to what is the output of Pakistan Stone Development Company, Pakistan Software Export Board, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, National Industrial Parks Development and Management Company, National Productivity Organisation, Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company, Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company, Directorate of Dock Workers Safety, Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees, Labour Market Information System and Analysis Unit, National Institute of Labour Administration Training, National Talent Pool and Pakistan Manpower Institute. 


National Institute of Oceanography, Centre for Applied and Molecular Biology, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Pakistan National Accreditation Council, Pakistan Science Foundation and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority should all be asked to justify their existence at taxpayers' expense.


Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation loses Rs22 billion a year. PIA's accumulated losses stand at Rs77 billion, and no one really knows the real quantum of losses at Wapda.


Next. Just look at what we are teaching our kids at school. The official Curriculum Document, Primary Education, Class K-V, specifically prescribes "simple stories to urge jihad." Under "Activity 4," the prescription for three- and eight-year-old Pakistanis is "To make speeches on jihad and shahadat." 


Class VI students of social studies are taught that "the foundation of Hindu setup was based on injustice and cruelty." Social Studies students in Class VII are taught that "Europeans nations have been working during the past three centuries, through conspiracies or naked aggression, to subjugate the countries of the Muslim world." In Class VII we teach our kids that "Some Jewish tribes also lived in Arabia. They lent money to workers and peasants on high rates of interest and usurped earning. They held the whole society in their tight grip because of the ever-increasing compound interest." 


Is this teaching or preaching? Is this part of a curriculum or hate literature? Are our schools harvesting crops whose products, our students, can be used by Pakistani banks, insurance companies, the textile industry and software houses? 


Next. What is the real name of the game in Pakistan's business world today? In one word it's "cartels." Executives sit around tables and ink explicit agreements to fix prices (and in other cases production quotas). The objective is to maximise profits for cartel members and to rip off 175 million consumers. We now have a sugar cartel, a banking cartel, a cement cartel, an oil cartel and an automobile cartel. In other countries, governments break up cartels, but here we have a government that is an active partner in most cartels. Public money, private greed. 


They say that we are becoming the home of lost causes. They really don't know how content we are with failure. They say that nothing succeeds like success. We know that the success of the wicked tempts many to sin. 

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A COLLECTIVE DEATH WISH?

GHAZI SALAHUDDIN


Every institution, we can see, is under attack. Every institution is struggling to protect its integrity – and territory. There is, besides, widespread confusion about the role of these institutions and their limits of power. Finally, everyone is asking: what is going on in this country? Why are we losing our balance? Is it because of the poor quality of the individuals, in terms of both morality and professional efficiency, who run these institutions?

Well, these thoughts have been relevant for a long time. But the frenzy with which animosity between elected members of our legislatures and the media, mainly the electronic media, has surfaced this week is remarkable. A climactic moment in this divergence arrived on Friday when the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution against the media. This was accompanied by very stringent remarks against the journalists on the floor of the house. A similar outburst had come earlier in the week. 


Also interesting was the knee-jerk response of the reporters and media persons who were covering the proceedings of the legislature. They burst into anger. This has been followed by a torrent of statements on the event and revelations about elements responsible for this confrontation. Politicians have found another pretext for playing their politics. 


At the heart of all this, of course, is the issue of fake degrees. It is really incredible that so many of our prominent politicians were willing to indulge in this forgery to be able to contest elections in 2008. Its implications, in terms of the moral basis of our electoral politics, are horrifying. It is difficult to understand why the leadership of the Pakistan People's Party, in another shameful recourse to political expediency, has sought to vindicate the earlier deception on the plea that graduation is no longer necessary for the candidates. 

I would term this fake-degree issue as the tip of the iceberg. It certainly has served as some kind of a catalyst in the rising tide of political and social upheaval in the country. At the same time, some questions may be raised as to the prominence that this issue has gained in the media at a time when other issues of a larger significance are assaulting our senses. 


On Friday, the day of the Punjab Assembly resolution, a devastating suicide attack in Mohmand Agency killed nearly 70 people – the death tally in newspaper reports varied from 65 to 80. It came eight days after the Data Darbar suicide bomb blast and remains one of the deadliest of such attacks. Here was one more very sinister reminder of the challenge that terrorism, an expression of religious militancy, has become for our security agencies and the ruling establishment. 


Perhaps because there has been a chain of such terrorist atrocities, Friday's bombing did not really serve as the topic for the television talk shows in the evening. For the past two, three days, fake degrees and the flare-up in the Punjab legislature have been the subject of our talk shows. Thankfully, panellists, including senior journalists, have also underlined the need for the media to do some self-assessment and to establish its credentials on the basis of an accepted code of practice. 


The point I want to make is that we are being engulfed in the flames of conflicts and dissension, some being more antagonistic than others. In this context, I should also mention the rising tempo of what is seen as confrontation between the judiciary and the executive. In a sense, many other skirmishes are being conducted in the shadow of this confrontation. This would include the fake-degree issue as well as the increasingly bitter campaign against the media. 


Meanwhile, the entire social fabric is tearing apart. One positive impact of the kind of coverage that our 24/7 news channels have designed is that the nation is now fully aware of the misery and the desolation of the lives of the poor in this country. Some recent stories of suicides that were prompted by dire poverty were soul-destroying. We have been fully informed about a situation in which people are dying of hunger. The extent of this despair is very substantial, in statistical terms. 


So, what are our rulers doing to help the poor? I am reminded of a quotation by someone who said that the best way to help the poor is not to be one of them. Our rulers have practised this dictum to the hilt. Just as the poverty of the poor baffles you with its savage reality, the riches of the rich – and most of them are in the ruling class – are similarly of a very high order. And the rich do seem to be flaunting their wealth and their privileges. 

No wonder people have started talking about the prospect of a bloody revolution. How social forces and the machinations of the ruling elite would interact in our situation is hard to predict. But one does wonder if the rulers, including the wielders of military power, are capable of understanding the dynamics of social change in a society as deprived as ours. If they do have social scientists within their ranks, their degrees may be bogus. Or, come to think of it, what worth do even legitimate degrees from most of our institutions of higher learning really possess?


Is it possible that just as the poor would think of committing suicide when they are unable to resolve the crisis of their life, our rulers may be subconsciously contemplating suicide because they are unable to deal with the problems they confront? Is there not a hint of a collective death wish in the manner in which the rulers conduct themselves? After all, some realities are too glaring to be ignored. One of these is that the present system has almost collapsed. 


Many commentators have repeatedly said that our rulers are in denial. This is some kind of a mental state. Possibly the trouble with the collective mind of the establishment is more acute. Our national security policies, our political predilections, our social priorities and, more significantly, the moral and intellectual capacities of our rulers do suggest suicidal tendencies. 


I plead guilty to not being a social scientist or someone who has delved deep into these matters. But I have been speaking to some experts, including psychiatrists. Being a newsman, I have this habit of collecting opinions and trying to keep abreast of not just news that is broadcast and published but also the credible information that remains off the record. It is really very hard to bear the emotional burden of what you know about the working of the ruling establishment. Incidentally, the ordinary people do not need any inside information about the system. They are condemned to live in its prison.

 

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail .com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ICT UNDEFINED

MASOOD HASAN


All kinds of cruel things are said about ICT, or better known as Islamabad Capital Territory. There are those who swear that it does not exist in Islamabad, which itself does not exist in Islamabad--whatever that means--and that it can be found 40 miles from where it is supposed to be. Others say that you will shortly need a visa to visit ICT, and yet others claim that you already need a visa. 


There are those who say that it is not a city of the living but of the dead, since no other city spends so much time plotting where they are going to be buried, and if their neighbour is also of an equivalent grade. Many have died unable to bear the tension thinking that they could end up next to a Grade 17 official or, worse, a civilian. The armed forces, which have a strong dislike for "damn civilians," chose to be buried in their own earmarked graveyards where civilians cannot be buried, come hell or high water. Yet others dismiss ICT saying it's half the size of Arlington Cemetery and twice as dead, which is not true since it is four times as dead.


Yet others claim that a capital where good grade marijuana grows in the wild and adorns every roadside, no serious work can be done. Many others who subscribe to this theory also maintain that this weed is the reason why everyone who comes to power here soon enough goes completely batty.


Apparently more educated and informed people tell me that it is customary to put capitals out of the jurisdiction of all provinces. They say Australia does the same, and so does Brazil, but even if they all do, it still is a silly practice. If ICT is not in Punjab and not in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, then where is it? Could it be that those who claim Islamabad is not really in Pakistan do have a point after all? 


However, ICT has its unique properties too. It's the only city in Pakistan where the policemen outnumber the citizens and the roadblocks outnumber the houses. It's also the only city that falls in an urban area that has as many hogs rolling about in the adjoining woods, and there is an assembly here of enlightened lawmakers who have achieved great mastery in percussion drumming on desktops over the many sleepy sessions they have yawned their way through. 


It has also some of the most delightful cathouses in the country, but instead of catching the inmates and proprietors of these dens, they choose to kill random "tigers" which are large cats desperately seeking food since their natural habitat has been overrun by cement girders and other tools of progress. ICT is also the depository of the famed Tosha Khana where only a few Khanas remain after Prime Minister Uriah Heep, aka Shaukat Aziz, aka Shauka, systematically pilfered its contents, not even sparing ballpoints and the like. What a deprived childhood can do to a man! 


ICT has, to its credit, some of the ugliest buildings this side of the Suez, and that side too. These confectionary items called residences are the work of artists gone mad and a bewildering array of styles drives most people batty. With citizens already hallucinating on marijuana and falling like ninepins, the sight of these artistic houses is a bit too much for the human spirit. The Chinese adage that people build larger and larger homes for less and less people holds true for ICT. Huge bungalows stand derelict with no sign of human activity. Rents are sky high, having gone through the roof and the next floor. Even the famed Constitution Avenue, where crows are also security checked, no two buildings look alike. 


And if Islamabad is not pockmarked enough, Pervez Musharraf had to go and build that flower on top of Shakarparian Hill, which, as buildings go, is just as inspiring as a boiled turnip. With four provinces no longer the flavour of the year, there are suggestions that the flower should have six petals, with room for two or three more. Perhaps they should convert it into a turnip since this particular vegetable should be crowned as the King of All Vegetables? People in Islamabad who have survived attacks of hallucinations, boredom and pollen say that this could be an aspirational move as the turnip has more IQ than anyone else in the government that runs (ruins?) Pakistan daily.


ICT also takes the cake. They occasionally bake some, for the most weird announcements like the time the drones were killing us and the prime minister, bless him, stood up and thundered in a weak voice that no one will be allowed to play with our sovereignty. Those not well-versed in the black arts assumed this was a new ballgame and the prime minister had the ball and was not willing to play with anyone.. 


ICT is also the national capital of black arts, having seen performer after performer pull out impossible rabbits from invisible hats and sail away into the sunset--rabbit, hat and a few billion rupees. Amazing talent. While it is open house on skinning Pakistan, the black bakras are having a hard time of it. A press release from a body that calls itself PBBFPZ--Protection of Black Bakras from President Zardari--has expressed its concern that at the rate of one black bakra a day that is slaughtered at the Presidency to ward off the evil eye, there may soon be a time when these will disappear altogether. David Attenborough and Nisar Malik are working on a script as we speak.

A recent article in Haram Playboy delightfully recounts the escapades of a farangi journalist who comes to Islamabad to get drunk. He should have opted to get stoned, of which the chances would have been better, but farangis don't learn, and we have no time teaching them since we are doing nothing. Residents of ICT have appealed to the security heads to allow them to practice graffiti on all the roadblocks since these are not going to go away and might as well be treated as objets d'art. It is not a bad idea at all. And while they are at it, could the chiefs be also told that waving a car through just because a woman is sitting inside is no guarantee that she won't blow up the next ugly building she comes across? Whoever said that intelligent people are not necessarily intelligent deserves a pat on the back and to have his loans written off. 


And lastly, having had dinner at an American friend's house I was visited by a member of the ISI goofy brigade who wanted to know what kind of relations I had with the Americans. When I said that these weren't the same class as what his organisation had, he asked me if there was a job I could get him since spying on folks was very embarrassing. I expressed regrets but offered to share the menu, dish by dish, of the meal my American friends had organised, but he wasn't interested. That's the ICT spirit I love.


The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MUCH-TALKED-ABOUT TRUST DEFICIT

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has once again talked about the trust deficit that persists between Pakistan and the United States, warning that it has the potential of diluting the common objective of combating terror. Talking to US Senators Carl Levin and Jack on Friday, he pointed out that Pakistan was doing its utmost to strengthen cooperation with the US in intelligence sharing and in the fields of defence to root out terrorism and expected US and other friendly countries to share with it credible and actionable information rather than indulging in blame game to achieve the common and shared goal of succeeding against militancy. 

 

One may say that Pakistani leadership also often refers to the trust deficit between Pakistan and India and unfortunately instead of narrowing down, this is widening, both with India and the United States with the passage of time. We are sure that the Prime Minister and the US Senators are aware of the causes behind this phenomenon, which are mainly attributable to the US duplicity as its statements and actions are diametrically opposite. On the one hand, the American leadership tries to assuage apprehensions of the Pakistani people about US designs vis-à-vis Pakistan's nuclear programme and holds out repeated assurances that Washington wants a long-term strategic partnership with Islamabad going beyond the realm of terrorism but the ground realities belie all such claims. The US is killing dozens of people almost daily in drone attacks, which are seen as a direct assault on the sovereignty of the country. Apart from this hundreds of people are killed in frequent incidents of terrorism of the likes of the one in Mohmand Agency on Friday in which 100 people were killed. Regrettably, instead of appreciating the sacrifices being rendered by Pakistani people and realising the difficulties of the Government of Pakistan, the United States is still insisting on doing more and wants the country to open more fronts in North Waziristan and South Punjab. It is understood that the prolonged conflict would destabilise Pakistan beyond imagination and the consequences could be catastrophic. Therefore, if the United States is genuinely concerned about welfare of the people of Pakistan and wants peace and tranquillity in the region then it would have to discard the policy of arms-twisting and extend a helping hand for promoting peace and initiate all-encompassing economic activities.

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

VERY SIGNIFICANT PAK-CHINA MOUS

 

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari's visit to the friendly country of China has yielded very positive results as the signing of four MoUs on Friday in health sector and building of two major highways would boost the already multifaceted cooperation between the two countries. Under the MoUs, signed after President's address to the Pak-China Economic Cooperation Forum in Beijing, China will build Jaglot-Skardu and Thakot-Sazin roads at a cost of Rs 45 billion and set up vaccine production facilities in Pakistan.


These agreements without conditionalities reflect truly friendly gesture by China in total contract to Kerry-Lugar Bill, which lays preconditions for the $ 7.5 billion assistance in five years. The construction of the roads in Gilgit-Baltistan would open up the far-flung areas to the rest of the country and bring economic benefits to the people there. President Zardari during his address at the Forum expressed satisfaction over the cooperation between the two countries in civil nuclear technology setting aside reservations being expressed by our neighbouring country. The establishment of two more nuclear power plants by China would help Pakistan add much needed cheap electricity in its system. Also the proposed rail and road links between the two neighbours would boost trade and economic relations to the advantage of the two peoples. China is helping Pakistan in a number of fields including telecommunication, water and energy and infrastructure development projects. Over the last two years the two countries have reached more than 60 agreements and about 11,000 Chinese engineers and technicians are in Pakistan working at a number of key projects that speak volumes of the close friendship. China has made mind boggling progress in all areas particularly in infrastructure, defence, nuclear energy and agriculture over the past few decades. Pakistan needs to learn from the Chinese experiences particularly to meet its energy and agriculture needs. President Zardari rightly stated that this was his fifth visit to the great friendly country as he wanted to learn about miracles of China and replicate them in Pakistan. There is no doubt that Pak-China relationship is a model but in our view this should be further widened to hitherto unexplored sectors.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MEDIA UNDER ATTACK

 

AS part of the damage control strategy, different political parties and their leaders are trying to distance themselves from the outrageous resolution adopted by the Punjab Assembly on Friday against media but passage of the resolution is an undeniable reality and the worst part of the entire episode is that almost all political parties extended their fullest support to it. In fact, some of the worthy MPAs were very furious and used language which is even not used at Mochi Gate public meetings not to speak of the august elected Houses.


It is disgusting that the representatives of the people should stoop too low to defend some of their colleagues who deceived not only the system but also those who reposed confidence in them at the time of general elections. The MPs are disturbed over the unfolding scandal of fake degrees which is assuming new dimensions. Media has nothing to do with the production of fake degrees but is only exposing those who indulged in fraud and dishonesty. In a truly democratic polity, this would have been appreciated by the political parties as exposure of such wrong-doings of the public representatives and members of the Government helps purge the system of the corrupt. In this backdrop, one fails to understand the hue and cry of the MPs and their venomous attitude towards media. We would urge parliamentarians to learn respecting the independence of the judiciary and media in the larger interests of the democracy and the system. At the same time, we would urge media not to sensationalise things, expose follies and hollowness while remaining strictly within the bounds of morality and decency. Attempts to ridicule women legislators are violative of our cultural and religious norms. Exposing cases of corruption is something else and mudslinging is something quite different and we must differentiate between them while reporting and commenting upon events and developments. We are sure that media would perform its duties with full sense of responsibility, which is commensurate with its place in the society and the State.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WHEN ORGANISATIONS GO WRONG

DR ZAFAR ALTAF

 

It is in government systems that one finds tall organizations and not flat and there has always been controversy as to how tall and how flat. That is at the conceptual level and two of them that will never end are the generalist-specialist. The other has just been alluded to. Now a days and especially after the Musharraf regimes dirt the options are clear. Get as much of the money and clear out. Prostitute the system and forget about accountability for he was the one that had ministers that were corrupt and he dealt with them as exigency demanded. Even they were not ashamed of their role as prophylactics. 


One is aghast at the way that the system had been made to operate through the HEC. Uncles and aunts were given lucrative positions by the HEC and these so called professors of HEC were nothing but windbags from other cultures. Having what they thought were superior cultures they went for the jugular to amass as much resources as they could and kept on the articulate route irrespective of whether there was any outcome or even earlier any output out of it. Ignorance of the military regime was fully exploited by the late NL Norman Borlaug. His contribution aside he reaped its profits for over sixty years. I came head to head with him on many occasions. 

At the Presidency when Sardar Farooq Leghari asked him some pertinent questions. Then at the dinner hosted by Sartaj Aziz in the nineties the NL had just returned from China and was going to Africa when he made some points abut China and how it was doomed. Much to the chagrin of the host I took cudgels with him on his limited awareness of the Chinese methods. China was to die of hunger unless they adopted his chemical methods for high value crops [HVCs]. I would not agree and we came to a discussion that was both memorable. I had been in the cricket school where we took on reputations. The legacy that he has left us is worse than his interventions in a similar vein right from the start. When the same policy is repeated year after year and for other countries there is an exploitative element in it. The cultural aspect is forgotten. The same was my view on the Comilla Model and its repetition from 1955 and its continuity without modification has left a smear on the good name of Akhtar Hameed Khan. The model goes on unabated and its social aspects and difficulties have not been understood and corrected. The legacy is propaganda and the teams that do this excel in this activity. Borlaug's legacy is not about siphoning of resources from the poor under the garb of research. 


Further it is not about employing one's wife and sister in law not to mention brother in law. The legacy has been cheated, this especially in a country where the resources are few and far between. Other clever activities that came about are so criminal in nature and so difficult for the country to digest that I quiver at the thought when these projects of Musharaffs time and since then continued by vested interest groups are checked by the auditor general. That is for later day. Should power structure stop any one from telling the truth? The answer to a person should be clear. This is any one's country that chooses to be here. It is not of the scoundrels who choose it after they have no options else where. The kick start is not possible from the poor country. Only a part of the word is available preferably the first one. 


Is it so difficult for Pakistan to understand the motivation and morals can be depressed because of the idiocity and egoistic attitude of the individual who prefers to use these resources for his end? Although standardized rules are there the individual under the garb of whatever decides that he will use arbitrary and inconsistent methods and lay favorites that happen to be his relatives. Does working in an international organization enable any one to be above the law of the land he is serving in? The answer should be clear. Can he deliver on cleverness that is unwarranted? Does any one from that legacy of Borlaug believe that the now dead man will allow this kind of activity to take place? Morals have high grading with researchers for there is no one that sees whether they are involved in plagiarism or what? Despite the fact that the clarity on what is the basis for evaluation is known and exists. The funds of Pakistan require in the ultimate to be examined and stated to the Parliament. Borlaug's legacy cannot take that away from the country where these checks and balances are available. 

One has listed only a few of the ways that the system can be made to operate in a manner consistent with the policies of the country. Nothing else matters. I am reminded of Bizenjo and although I have never met him I have for some reason always thought exceedingly well about him. During Shaheed ZAB's to time Qayum Khan's [then Interior Minister] marauders were playing havoc with the Baluchis in Quetta. Bizenjo as governor asked the powers that be to hand over these marauders. Qayyum Khan had to surrender his fifty odd marauders/mercenaries. That is the power of decency and intolerance towards criminality. The time has come to take care of this kind of criminality. For after all Pakistan is where one lives and where one has chosen to die come what may. Good bad I live the aroma of this country and its colors. One does not have to piggy back anything. 

The chiefs in any organization have to deliver and it is not desirable to have a daily paid labor whose wages turn out to be one hundred and fifty thousand!!! That is the stuff that these bums are made off. What can be done? Simple depend on oneself? How? Fear has been injected in to the system. Here is the tail piece. How about spending upwards of 9croes of rupees for 200grams of seeds whose quality and assessment is uncertain. That must be the most expensive 200 grams of wheat seeds. Must be made of gold. Shall we cut our losses and or go on and take the risk? Choice for me is simple and for there have been people trained in the art of balancing the outputs and seeking certainty by different routes; ever heard of balance of convenience and legal fiction, both very powerful concepts from law and workable in the system. Take care the royal battle is about to start as to the conflict resolutions in an organization.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AFGHAN ENDGAME, KNOTTY PROBLEM FOR US

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

Washington and Kabul were marching in step till end 2009. As the final phase in Afghanistan drew nearer, the two fell out of steps and so far they have been unable to get back in steps. Major reason for this is Washington 's unhappiness over Karzai's performance and latter's conflicting views on solving Afghan imbroglio. Obama's straight talk with him advising him to improve and produce results caused heart burns to Karzai. He got miffed at the role of USA and UK in last presidential election and feels convinced that it had been purposely made controversial to weaken his position. He has become aggressive and has been off and on giving anti-US statements and even threatening to join the ranks of Taliban.


Karzai is not in favor of Kandahar operation and wants reconciliation with all without making a wedge between reconcilable and irreconcilable. In this respect he has been making repeated overtures to Pakistan which has been resented by several segments in Washington , India , Northern Alliance leaders and Israel . He suspects that rocket attack on the jirga he hosted at Kabul on 2 June was conducted either by intelligence chief Amrullah whom he subsequently sacked or Blackwater at the behest of USA . Sacking of Amrullah and interior minister by him was a major blow to USA in the given troubled times since the two were their loyalists. Seething with rage that he has been unseated at the behest of Pakistan , anti-Pakistan Amrullah organized an attack on an isolated post in Mohmand Agency held by paramilitary troops to cause embarrassment to Pakistan .

According to US Congressional subcommittee investigations led by John Tierney D-Mass, US military is paying millions of dollars to insurgents, Afghan warlords and corrupt government officials to ensure safe passage of supply of convoys. It is part of Pentagon's $2.1 billion transport contract. Reportedly Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week from contractors and then dishing out the booty to warlords and Taliban. Watan Risk Management Security firm under scrutiny contends it has to pay $1000 to $10000 in monthly bribes to every Afghan governor, police chief, local military unit whose territory is trespassed. Trucking companies maintain that for safe passage payments have to be made to local security firms with ties to Taliban, or warlords who control the roads. Such undesirable activities are undermining larger US objectives of curtailing corruption and strengthening effective governance in Afghanistan . Interestingly, in Pakistan instead of extorting money, militants torch supply convoys. 


Another problem area is the flourishing drug trade which has doubled since 2005 and has helped finance insurgents and encouraged corruption. In Marjah , US troops stopped Afghan officials from destroying poppy fields. Besides curse of drugs, liberal employment of Blackwater and other civilian contractors in Afghanistan on heavy fees is another drain on US economy. Recently $120 million contract has been awarded to Xe Services to provide security to Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif US Consulates. Another $200 million contract has also been assigned to Blackwater which works for CIA and US military to provide bodyguards and security cover to American officials visiting Afghanistan . It has four forward operating bases. CIA camp in Khost that had been successfully targeted on 15 January houses Blackwater operatives as well. It is mandated to conduct covert operations against Pakistan and Iran . In Iraq, KBR Inc was awarded $2.8 billion worth contract last March. Blackwater is busy trying to delay planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq to ensure continuation of lucrative contracts.


The US military and intelligence have become heavily dependent upon this shady outfit which is seriously undermining their operational capabilities. Their craze for drones is borne out of desire to avoid direct physical action and to play safe. Those pulling trigger to fire hellfire missiles are located in Nevada , Kandahar airbase or Shamsi airbase. Young boys raised on diet of video games now kill real people remotely using joysticks. Today US air force has more drone operators in training than fighter and bomber pilots. It is robbing the American soldiers of their fighting spirit and turning them into mischievous kids. Huge amounts are being spent to expand and train ANA and Afghan police on war footing without achieving any worthwhile results. While the ANA soldiers are undisciplined and drug addicts with very high desertion rate, police is no better. 67 to 70% of police recruits drop out during training. Lt Gen William Caldwell said this 'attrition rate' is too high. The general incharge of training reported to Gen George W. Casey, commander of US Army Training Command that US Army has lost thousands of uniformed trainers because of troop demands in two theatres of war because of which junior level trainers had to be put in charge of some key training functions.


Morale of US troops is low and ill-discipline and desertion cases very high. Frequent redeployments in combat zones, like recently arrived 101 Airborne Division in Afghanistan, which had previously got deployed four times since 2002, have taxed the nerves of soldiers to maximum. US Army VCOAS Gen Peter Chiarelle revealed that percentage of American soldiers who are unavailable for combat has risen sharply during the last three years from11% of each brigade in 2007 to 16%. Repeated deployments, health and traumatic stress disorder problems have driven much of increase in soldiers listed as non-deployable. Sarah Lazre says that US Army is overstretched and exhausted. Many from within ranks are openly declaring that they have had enough, allying with anti-war veterans and activists calling for an end to US led wars, with some active duty soldiers publicly refusing to deploy. 


While grappling with mounting problems in Afghanistan and trying to lessen Washington-Kabul strains, US leadership was faced with yet another challenge of civil-military relations within USA . Gen Stanley McChrystal whom Obama had chosen for Afghanistan ruffled the feathers of Obama and other high officials in his administration as a consequence to his scathing interview he gave to a magazine. He and his aides censured Obama and top US officials. Some among Obama's administration as well as US Ambassador in Kabul Eikenberry differed with McChrystal's policies in Afghanistan.

 


Disagreements surfaced after McChrystal asked for additional troops in September 2009 to recapture southern and eastern Afghanistan . His opponents who were not in favor of troop surge and risky stretching out strategy became more vocal once McChrystal failed to show results. Other grouses against him were his inability to rein in Karzai who of late had become belligerent, and to train Afghan National Army (ANA) to takeover security duties from coalition troops. Most weaknesses pointed out are command failures, but these could have been over looked and he retained despite his diatribe had he been a winning General.


Although Gen McChrystal has been sacked and replaced with Gen David Petraeus but not without creating tension in civil-military relations. In case the situation in Afghanistan spins out of control and coalition forces are forced to hurriedly exit in disgrace, or fatalities mount up, it is bound to further aggravate civil-military relations in USA. However, prompt action by Obama has dispelled the lingering impression that Pentagon has become more powerful than White House. He has reasserted his authority by this act and demonstrated that he is in full command. Replacement of military commanders is not the solution to the problem particularly when Petraeus and McChrystal were on one frequency. Petraeus task will be more arduous since he will have to hop between his two offices of CENTCOM and US-NATO Command HQ in Kabul . Unless the US leadership undertakes some revolutionary steps to get rid of weak areas, the US will not be able to overcome its host of problems and final phase will end up in complete disaster. 


The writer is a retired Brig, security and defence analyst. 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DEMOCRACY OR DICTATORSHIP?

YASMEEN ALI

 

The term "democracy ", like many other terms is often abused and misused. The classic debate one hears is a discussion on the merits and demits of democracy vs dictatorship. A definition of both needs to be made to clear the cobwebs. The term "democracy", comes from the Greek: dçmokrat?a meaning thereby "rule of the people". Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes: equality and freedom. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power, and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.


This explanation raises many questions: Do our political parties within their cadre, allow it's workers equal access to power? Can a worker within a party structure has the opportunity to rise to the status of the Chairperson of that party, in due course of time? Lady Warsi's appointment as Conservative Party Chairperson and a full cabinet minister reflects on the progress the UK has made in terms of maturity in their political sphere. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we remain stuck in the groove of dynastic dynamics and have not progressed from this point in over 62 years of our history.


From PPP to ANP to MQM and PML N and all shades of parties in between, we see the mantle of leadership being worn by the one who originated the party, and much like a family heirloom passed on from one generation to the other. Is this the much touted democratic order ?Where is the democracy WITHIN the party cadres themselves? Is heredity to determine who heads the party and merit to be ignored? When heredity becomes the corner stone of the political parties, this in turn inevitably leads to sycophancy and appointment by favoritism, not merit. There is no accountability within the party from those who purport to lead the party. 


The second part of the definition deals with the right of citizens that is protected by the Constitution. These rights are determined from Articles 8 to Article 28 in the Constitution and deal with various rights of the citizen of Pakistan, for example, Article 25 professes that all citizens are equal before law and have a right to equal protection of law. Article 14 deals with inviolability of dignity of man and subject to law, in privacy of his home is inviolable, so on and so forth. However, words on a piece of paper without implementation loses any standing whatsoever, of any kind. And history proves, these Fundamental Rights are generally not respected. Many think "elections" is synonymous with "democracy". I am often told that once the system is "allowed to continue" it will lead to a "better democracy". Those advocating this thought process fail to appreciate, that elections are a step only in the process of democracy, it is not democracy itself.


Democracy is a method of deciding who shall rule. It does not determine the morality of the resulting government. At best, democracy means that government has popular support. But popular support is no guarantee that government will protect your freedom. While democracy doesn't guarantee either freedom or peace, there are many historical examples of societies that didn't have either elections or legislatures, but in which people's rights were strongly protected. Examples include the American Colonies before the Revolutionary War ,the American West in the 19th Century, where violence was on a ratio of one to ten of what it is in large U.S. cities today ,many cantons in Switzerland today which have little government ... and the nations of Andorra and Monaco.On the other hand is the much abhorred term , "dictator". The term is used to define a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power (sometimes but not always with military control) but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. However does this mean, that leaders who repeatedly come to power through national elections, and without first conducting party elections, which is the first rung of the ladder, and once assuming power, become all powerful and discriminatory are democrats at hearts? Or are they dictators in the real sense of the word, as they maintain a dictatorship role within the party cadre and once in power, fail to fulfill the requirements of the term "democracy"?


To achieve a free and peaceful world, we must restore freedom and individual liberty, not democracy. In the current day scenario, with inflation that has sky rocketed, terrorism, power outrage, non availability of opportunities to improve one's lot, is it not important to have a man(or a woman) who delivers? Till when do we have to beat the drum of "democracy" thrust on us by vested interest groups? The first step that must be taken is to conduct in-party elections on every three yearly basis. However, merit must govern, not heredity. No one, must be allowed to contest more than twice for a party seat. The same must hold good for the MNA and MPA elections as well. 


Unless and until we appreciate that elections are means to an end, and, not an end in itself, unless and until we appreciate that those who come in power are there to serve not to be served, and, unless and until we appreciate that no system can deliver till it consists of people with a will to serve its people, Pakistan shall continue to flounder. I am reminded here of Aristotle: "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost." 

 

The writer is a lawyer and teaches in Beacon House National University, Lahore.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

EVERYONE COUNTS & DESERVES TO BE COUNTED

MUHAMMAD UZAIR

 

The concept of counting is not new; we can say that this is the most ancient and important process which has been frequently used, right from the evolution of human beings. Counting is involved everywhere, for example accessing, allocating and utilizing resources according to the number of people. Hence, we can say that it would be impossible to run the successful or unsuccessful operation of this world without the process of counting. In order to run the successful operation we need to have right and realistic counting covering the whole number in consideration. For this purpose we must have an efficient as well as reliable method of counting which should be flawless and useful to generate positive results.


As the topic is related to population so it is very important to explain that how counting is helpful in population studies. Counting can not be considered as an ultimate result but it helps in getting fruitful results. As it is depicted from the word "Population" that this study is all about digits and numbers which must be true, as on the basis of these digits and numbers we plan the future of the nations which is not consisted of some years, but, it cover decades and centuries. The most fundamental method in population studies is census, which is the process of methodically acquiring and recording information about the members of a specific population. It is a frequently occurring and official count of a particular population. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses are taken at least every 1 0 years.


All the developed countries of the world conducts census after every 1 0 years at maximum, some countries even conduct it after every five years in order to be updated regarding the latest position of the population of the nation. It segregates the population of male, female, children, youth, and the senior citizens etc, which enables a government to allocate the resources in an efficient way to facilitate the whole mass of the country. According to the census results health and educational policies are formulated or modified which includes defining the budget for the construction of health research institutes, hospitals, educational research institutes, schools, colleges and universities. It enables a government of allocate funds for the investment in new projects to employ the unemployed youth, and defining unemployment found for the senior citizens, to plan its industrial and agricultural growth. Utilizing the youth and facilitating the children and providing the old age benefits to the aged people.


The census process in Pakistan unfortunately has not been conducted very frequently. The census organization was established in 1950 being the part of Ministry of Home Affairs. Four years after the birth of Pakistan, the first census was conducted in 1951 which shown population of 33.82 Million, the second in 1961 with total population of 42.98 m Million, whereas the third census was held in 1972 instead of 1971 due to political situation in the country and confrontation with India, at that time the population was accessed as 65.32 Million. The fourth census was held in March 1981 and fifth one which was due in 1991 could be held in March, 1998 due to specific circumstances. From the fourth to fifth census the population of Pakistan was raised from 84.25 Million to 130.58 Million. This is a significant increase which evidently shows the importance of census or counting.

If the census would have been conducted in regular intervals, the control on population would be possible which could lead in efficient use of the limited available resources. Today, It has been more than 10 years since the census was conducted, the result of which is clearly being shown in the form of scarce resources, adverse health and educational condition, uncontrollably increasing population and the extensive migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of modern resources by leaving the fertile land to get barren and to make the limited resources more limited, scarce and finally disappeared.


Pakistan is an agricultural country, and being an underdeveloped country the major asset or the resou rce of the country is youth. The absence of youth in rural areas has substantially decreased the overall agricultural progress and increased unemployment in urban areas. In order to develop the entire country we need to have perfect and reliable population facts and figures. Each national has the right to be counted because every decision or step taken by the government has some specific, direct or indirect effect on his life. The government will be able to do apposite budgeting according to the correctly and flawlessly segregated population. If the counting is done efficiently and after standard intervals we would be able to control our population by educating and making the people aware in right direction. If population is controlled, all the populace would be getting equal Medicare, educational facilities, self esteem and overall national dignity.


Hence Pakistan requires census and state population counting policy which can be implemented, and can be evaluated. This policy should not be affected by the political or economical or any sort of instability. This is to understand that each shakiness is the result of the poor distribution of resources and wealth due to unsuitable and imprecise population data. In order to bring sustainable development in Pakistan we need to have sustainable population research analysis in our country.


On 11th July, 2010, we are celebrating World Population Day, this year the theme of this day is "Data for Development, Everyone Counts and Deserves to Be Counted". This year it is targeted to make the people aware regarding their right to be counted and developed by utilizing this counting.


World Population Day was recognized by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989 to center concentration on the importance of population issues. It was a result of the attention paid by the Day of Five Billion, which was observed on 11 July 1987. 


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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PETRAEUS FACES RESISTANCE FROM KARZAI

JOSHUA & KAREN

 

As he takes charge of the war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus has met sharp resistance from President Hamid Karzai to an American plan to assist Afghan villagers in fighting the Taliban on their own. A first meeting last week between the new commander and the Afghan president turned tense after Karzai renewed his objections to the plan, according to US officials. The idea of recruiting villagers into local defence programs is a key part of the US military strategy in Afghanistan, and Karzai's stance poses an early challenge to Petraeus as he tries to fashion a collaborative relationship with the Afghan leader. Senior US officials say that the United States would like to expand the program to about two dozen sites across Afghanistan, double the current number, and are hoping to overcome Karzai's concerns. 


The US initiative was developed under Petraeus's predecessor, ousted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, although Petraeus has been a strong supporter of such programs. When Petraeus commanded the Iraq war, U.S. forces partnered with tens of thousands of civilian guards, including former insurgents, who fought against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Despite his tensions with other US officials, McChrystal formed a close working relationship with Karzai. The question of whether Petraeus can replicate that bond remains a significant uncertainty hanging over the war effort. "We always have long meetings and many arguments," said a senior Afghan official who was present at Karzai's meeting with Petraeus. "We always try to teach our foreign partners how to deal with a situation like this. We Afghans know better than you."


In his first week on the job, Petraeus has met with Karzai three times and discussed many topics. But on at least one issue, the village defence forces, the general has run into resistance from Karzai. The policy would give the United States and the Interior Ministry authority to pursue a variety of programs, including expanding the pilot projects that give uniforms and salaries to villagers trained by US Special Operations forces. The Afghan official said Karzai is wary of creating "a force that will be viewed as a private militia." "We should be empowering the community in a way that doesn't risk future stability," the official said. "We are not looking for a solution only for our sake. We try to find solutions for the sake of the US and Afghanistan." A senior US military official described the initial Petraeus-Karzai meeting on July 3 as a "forthright" discussion of "concerns and needs" on both sides and said Petraeus and his staff came out of it feeling that it was valuable for getting a clear firsthand sense of Karzai's views. At a subsequent dinner in Kabul attended by Petraeus, Karzai, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others, Karzai asked Petraeus to revisit the idea of the village defence, which Petraeus and Karzai plan to discuss at a meeting Tuesday. Petraeus is attempting to quickly respond to Karzai's concerns point by point, U.S. military officials said. 


Some of Karzai's concerns are "understandable," a senior military official said. "There are potential downsides with these, and safeguards are needed," the official said. "That's what we're working with our Afghan partners to ensure." When Karzai initially objected to the initiative, his skepticism was shared by his then-interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and by US Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. But Atmar has since been fired, and US officials said that Petraeus's arrival has changed the dynamic between the civilian and military sides of the U.S. effort. While it was not made explicit in President Obama's offer or Petraeus's acceptance of the command, officials said that the general's stature, and the perilous state of the war, have clearly positioned him as the senior member of the US team. Attempts to recruit villagers to fight the Taliban have emerged in many forms in Afghanistan. One effort called the Village Stability Program (formerly Local Defence Initiatives), run by US Special Operations forces, has been tested in places such as the volatile Argandab Valley of Kandahar. But without Karzai's approval of the policy, the spread of the program would be limited. Another iteration, the Afghan Public Protection Police, is intended to provide an Afghan government structure over the armed villagers and salaries paid by the Interior Ministry. This program is intended to eventually envelop programs run by the US Special Forces, as Afghans take more control of security in the country.


A plan for local defence forces was expected to be endorsed Thursday at a large co-ordinating meeting in Kabul of Afghan officials and military and civilian representatives from donor countries, to pave the way for formal introduction at an international conference in Kabul in 10 days. But while the concept was supported, it was not officially endorsed as some at the meeting wanted clarification on how it would work, according to three participants. "It's a very well-thought-out concept, which is aimed at protecting civilians and enabling and empowering the local people to gather behind the law," said Vygaudas Usackas, the European Union special representative in Afghanistan. — The Washington Post

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

POPULATION GROWTH

 

The Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey seems to have belied the perception that the country's population control programme has achieved enviable success. If the fertility rate among poor couples is 3.2 per cent, one per cent more than their wealthy counterparts, it means an exponential increase in just a decade. Why? Because, in the previous decade till 2000, the population is reported to have grown at the rate of 1.6 per cent. Even if the child mortality is taken into consideration, there is no way of justifying the sudden population boom. Most likely, the rate was artificially downsized when in fact the rate was much higher. Its impact has been very negative not so much on the family size as it is on the population control programme. 


Although the First Five Year Plan (1973-78) declared that "no civilized measure would be too drastic to keep the population of Bangladesh on the smaller side of 15 crores for the sheer ecological viability of the nation," its size has already crossed that critical benchmark. One of the reasons for the population growth was certainly the high proportion (45 per cent) of women of child-bearing ages (15-44). Now the director general of the Directorate of Family Planning admits that the programmes are geared to lower the rate of population growth at 2.2 per cent. In 2003, Bangladesh had a population of 13 and a half crores with 50 per cent within the reproductive age. 


This shows the danger of a population explosion is lurking in the corner. If the campaign continued with equal seriousness like before during the intervening period, things would not have come to such a pass. Now a huge population size of 26 crore, exactly double the size of 2003, will confront us by the year 2050. Today, delivery of family planning goods and services is conspicuous more by its absence. This is taking its toll. At the current rate of growth about 20 lakh people are added each year. But we surely need stabilization of our population. For that we have to reverse the declining trend of contraceptive prevalence among the poor and also discontinuation of family planning methods through vigorous campaign.  

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

VAT FROM PATIENTS!

 

Viewed from an economic point, VAT or value-added tax is imposed on commodities or services where new value is added or profit earned from the manufacturing, transforming or transferring of the same. During diagnosing, prescribing and pathologically investigating a patient, no value is added to the patient's purse. Rather he has to pay for the service which adds value to the doctor, the pathological establishment and private hospitals. In these cases if there is any provision for VAT, it should be realized from the doctors, pathological establishments and hospitals because value has been added to their purses. Ironically, so long this simple matter has been misinterpreted and the burden of VAT has been forced on the shoulder of the treatment seekers. 
Poor and middle income groups of people do not prefer going to private hospitals and pathological investigation establishments due to their exorbitant rates. But as facilities in public hospitals are limited, people are compelled to go to the private ones. There, they are often charged unjust fees. VAT is one of such unjust charges at which neither the service providers nor the government looked rationally.  


At last some lawyers filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) writ to the High Court and the court declared VAT collection from patients illegal. The decision went to the Appellate Division by way of appeal and the AD upheld the HC judgement. After the highest court's decision the private pathological holdings and hospitals cannot realise VAT from patients. But some of them may quietly impose VAT on patients. The health ministry needs to be vigilant and ensure that the Supreme Court order is complied with.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB'S BANTER

A STATE OF EMERGENCY..!

 

Over three decades ago the mother- in- law of the present UPA chairman declared a state of emergency in the country and ruled India like a dictator for nearly two years. Nobody really knows what the emergency was, that the late Mrs Indira Gandhi suddenly saw, which made her suspend democracy; all I know is that after that draconian phase, the word 'emergency' has lost all meaning.


Now everything is called an emergency and like the shepherd boy who yelled wolf, nobody in the country is shaken into action when he hears the good word.


How else would you explain something that happened this morning after a shout I got my watchman, "Sir there is a gas leak downstairs!"


 "Okay!" I shouted back, "I'll call the piped gas people and tell them to rush here."


I looked up the receipt of the last payment and there was a phone number, for emergency call xxxxxxxx, I dialed immediately.


 "Is this the gas company? There is an emergency, a gas leak!"


 "We will send a man!"


 "When?"
 "After two hours!"


 "But it is an emergency!"


 "Everything is an emergency sir!"


Yes, I wonder whether Mrs Gandhi by declaring a state of emergency made everything an emergency in the country, meaning that nothing is an emergency at all.


I look at some postal letters that have just come in and find one sent by a publisher, which says 'Urgent Enclosures'. Now when somebody tells me something is urgent it means a life and death situation right? So I tear open cover and quickly scan the papers in which I am told to take part in a lucky draw.


Was it so urgent it had to be called urgent?


Mrs Gandhi do you hear?


Maybe that's why we have a police force that arrives a full hour after a murder is committed: "Police a man is trying to kill me!"


 "We will be there soon sir!"


 "Are you bringing men with guns?"

 "No sir, just a stretcher to take you to the morgue!"


That's how lax we've become! After thirty-five years we are so averse to the word, 'emergency', there's narry a situation urgent or an emergency!


 "Dirty word!" say the police.


"Bad word!" say the gas people as an explosion rocks my backyard. "What happened?" I shout to my watchman.


 "The gas pipe burst sir, your gate has come unhinged!"


 "Not just my gate," I say wearily, "the whole country! This is what happens when we haven't got out of a state of emergency we were never ever really in..!"


—bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

POST EDITORIAL

POPULATION PLANNING TO FOSTER PROGRESS

BANGLADESH IS NOW A LOW FERTILITY NATION WITH TFR 2.7 PER WOMEN AND ALSO POPULATION GROWTH OF 1.40 PER CENT

 DHIRAJ KUMAR NATH

 

The World Population Day marks the day when the world's population reached 500 crores on 11 July 1987. The world population reached to 600 crores on 21st April 1999. According to the United States Census Bureau, the world population was at 680.61 crores on 3rd March 2010, and it will be 700 crores in July 2012, 800 crores by 2030 and 900 crores by 2040.  


This statistical forecast on demographic trend is important to create public awareness and alert policy makers of a country to realise the impact of rapid population growth and also to emphasize on issues relating to overpopulation that hinder economic progress, reduce health status and threaten ecosystem in particular. 
"Everyone Counts" has been selected as the theme of World Population Day 2010, putting importance on reliable and disaggregated data specially related to population that are vital to formulate strategies for development. This is also to encourage people to participate in the census and data collection initiatives. A Government with a charter to change the destiny of people needs to collect dependable data and information about population dynamics including population growth rate, age structure, fertility, mortality, migration, mobility, etc. to formulate policy priorities for socio-economic development of the country. Thus, the theme of the year, so selected, to develop capacity in data collection and analysis in formulating demonstrative programme is most essential for a country like ours at this critical stage of our war against poverty and attainment of sustainable economic growth to emerge as middle income nation by 2021, the year of golden jubilee of our independence.


The population of Bangladesh was around 4.42 crores in 1951 that now reached to around 16 crores, almost 4 times higher, within a span of 60 years with major changes in the age structure, fertility trends, family norms, occupational diversification and behavioural pattern. 


Thus, data relating to population are obviously central points for strategy formulation to eradicate poverty, ensure empowerment of women, generate employment and provide health and family planning services to people at large. The collection of vital statistics is, therefore, a major link and most essential component of any development effort. At the same time, the credibility of collected data must be unique, and confidentiality of any census information should strictly to be protected by the law of the land.


Bangladesh has achieved excellence in population research, survey and scientific analysis on population dynamics to resolve significant public health challenges and contributed much in generation of knowledge and its translation into policy and practice. Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey by NIPORT, Population Census by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Centre for Health Systems Studies, James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) Population Council and many other organizations in addition to routine research and periodic evaluation by government departments and development partners have proved their outstanding performance in projecting trends and patterns of population as inputs to strategic planning.


All these efforts combined contributed much to the making of Bangladesh Family Planning Programme, a success story under a challenging environment and emerged as an example of third world country. 
Bangladesh is now a low fertility nation with TFR 2.7 per women and also population growth of 1.40 per cent. The achievements of Bangladesh in addressing primary health care, generating awareness on small family norms and health consciousness, innovation of ORT, successes in EPI and Immunization, etc,  are regarded as commendable  initiatives that successfully drawn the attention round the world.


There is no scope to remain complacent with this declining trend of population while around 30 lakhs new faces are being added with the population in every year and in every 11 second a newborn is added to the total. The present population of around 160 millions with the density of around 1127 population per sq. kilometer is 4 time's higher than India and 8 times more in comparison to China. Bangladesh will stand as the 7th most populous country and Dhaka will emerge as the 4th densely populated city of the world by 2025 as per estimate of UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division.


The poverty level is so acute that almost 40 per cent of the population living below poverty line, with 20 per cent hardcore poor, who cannot meet their two square meals a day. The maternal mortality rate is 3.2 per thousand, pelvic inflammatory diseases, feotal wastage, cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancy are common and more than 50 per cent mothers suffer from STI/RTI and many of them from obstetric fistula complications. They suffer from acute morbidity due to the culture of silence and shame to discuss problems of female diseases even with their husbands. 


The high risk pregnancy sustains especially among low income groups due to the situation that 82 per cent of delivery takes place at home under the guidance of unskilled birth attendants without having any pre-natal care. More than 70 per cent pregnant women are suffering from malnutrition giving birth to taunted and low weight babies. 


This alarming scenario is getting worse in hard to reach areas and among underserved groups of inaccessible areas receiving inadequate attentions from service providers, programme managers and policy makers as well.
Therefore, the need for accurate information and authentic data collection is indispensable to make substantial improvement in the health, nutrition and population sector. This system of developing information network can act as major breakthrough to formulate strategic planning to ensure just and equitable distribution of reproductive health care services to poverty stricken population of the country living in hard to reach areas. None should be left outside the counting to confuse realities of the situation in view of the habitation or any other parameter considered as indicator of the survey and evaluation.


In fact, everyone must be covered under the system of counting to contribute to the adoption of significant policy framework in the country. The baseline or midline qualitative survey in no way should miss any segment or class of population to reflect inaccurate situation prevailing in the country. .The participatory rapid appraisal or focus group discussion should count issues to ensure service delivery to poor as target group.
The rapid population growth at present should be considered as a positive  threat to the development and should therefore be addressed as a top priority issue of the country demanding maximum investment from the exchequer with the adoption of multi-dimensional approaches to combat problem on emergency basis. Any lapses to prioritize the population control programme or misunderstanding of the gravity of the problem might cause a disaster that can make an irreparable loss to the nation in the long run.

(The writer is former Adviser to Caretaker Government) 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

POST EDITORIAL

CHINA'S QUEST FOR MILITARY DOMINANCE

 BILL COSTELLO

 

What if Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic rise, was also secretly the architect of China's quest for military dominance? It's not a far-fetched theory.


Two decades ago, Deng advised his colleagues to "hide your brightness, bide your time." 


The way to move stealthily would be to focus on economics first. A strong economy is a prerequisite for a strong military.


By personally handpicking all of the top leaders who have succeeded him-Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao-Deng increased the likelihood that his long-term plan would be carried out.


Deng's plan would have been shaped by the large body of historical evidence that supports the concept that empires rise or fall based on their economies.


Take the British Empire, for example. Over a century ago, it expanded from economic to military to political power. At its height, the British Empire accounted for roughly a quarter of the world's land surface. However, Britain's global dominance ended when its economy deteriorated.


Fast forward to present day China. China's economy is the world's second largest in terms of purchasing power parity and the third largest based on current exchange rates.


If China overtakes the US to become the world's largest economy in the near future-as is widely predicted-then China is also likely to overtake the U.S. in terms of military spending.


China is already causing concern among the US's top military leaders because its military spending has roughly doubled over the past decade.


US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, recently said he is "genuinely concerned" about China's "heavy investments" in sea and air capabilities.


Deng's plan, if he had one, would seem to be working thus far.


In fact, an outside factor seems to be contributing to its fruition: the US financial crisis. The US debt is threatening not just the nation's economy, but also its national security.


"Our financial health is directly related to our national security," explained Admiral Mullen during a recent interview.


During a speech at the Brookings Institution, US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said: "Spain under the Habsburgs, France under Louis XVI, the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, the British Empire in the 20th-all of them were crippled by borrowing, by interest payments, by debt. We are not exempt. In every era, these fiscal issues are questions of national security and national success."


To address this dilemma, President Obama's deficit-reduction commission is considering recommendations to reduce military spending. While this would help bring the US deficit under control, it would also afford China the opportunity to close the gap in military spending.


Currently, the gap is substantial. In 2009, military spending was $661 billion in the US and $100 billion in China.


However, the moving picture may be more telling than the snapshot when considering that China is the world's fastest-growing major economy and the US is facing a financial crisis.


The degree to which US military spending can be reduced without undermining national security is a delicate balancing act. Reduce spending too much, and the military loses dominance. Reduce spending too little, and the economy declines, bringing the military with it.


Whether or not Deng was secretly the architect of China's quest for military dominance is not certain.
However, if Deng were alive today, his advice to a nation lacking a road map to greater economic and military power would be to "cross the river by feeling the stones."

 

(The writer is a US-based education columnist, blogger, and author of Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want)

 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

POST EDITORIAL

DHAKA AND THE WORLD CUP

 BOBBY HAJJAJ

 

I am fascinated by Dhaka's      celebrations of the FIFA world cup. Here is a phenomenon that under any other circumstance would sound incredible, and even now is believable only because I am witnessing it with my own eyes. The whole city is painted in colours of nations whose very location is a mystery to most proud Dhakaites. This phenomenon puts me in a quandary - how to define Dhaka and us Dhakaites.


We don't consider the city as an entity when trundling through our daily mundane rituals, but somewhere in between the skyrocketing real estate prices and the suffocating congestions our city has changed. There have been big spectacles before and football world cups before but Dhakaites have never reacted to one quite like this.


The spectacle of a football world cup is beyond parallel; the nations of the world contest the most coveted prize of the world's most popular sport, so the fanfare and the hullaballoo is expected. What comes as a huge surprise, however, is the show of support for one individual nation or another that we are seeing in this city.
Argentina seems to rouse the most passion followed closely by Brazil, with England, Spain, Germany and the likes enjoying a smattering of support here and there. In any other place this would be a guess, or the result of some football related opinion poll, but our Dhakaites' exuberance for the have reached a whole different plateau and we can see visual confirmation of which country enjoys how much support. Most of the city is painted in blue and white, the colours of the Argentine nation, followed closely by Brazil's green and yellow. 
As far as cities go we usually see a few common labels being attached to them, some are melting pots, some are cosmopolitan, and some are introverted and ethnocentric. Which one is Dhaka?


Ethnocentrism is endemic in all hegemonies - the romans believed everyone else to be a vandal, the Greeks believed their neighbours to be savages even when their neighbours thought the same of them (quite justifiably so for the Persians), and Americans swear by it today. But Dhakaites are not an ethnocentric lot, and this world cup is giving us a resplendent visual demonstration of that. 


Then there is the opposite of ethnocentrism, the melting pot. These are cities where people of all cultures and hues convoke and create a culture all on their own. The trappings of their old cultures melt into the expansive and magnanimous pot of the city itself. Can we call Dhaka a melting pot, or any other city for that matter? Melting pots don't exist; it is just a fancy tag, a sound bite, manufactured by some New York City public relations campaign.


Is Dhaka a cosmopolitan city then with all worldly denizens, not restricted by the narrow limitations of topical culture? Or is it getting there? Those are questions upon which I leave you ponder.

 

(Bobby Hajjaj is an Oxford scholar, a global consultant and lecturer in Business Strategy).

 

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