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Monday, July 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 12, edition 000566 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjuly


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

































2.       EYES ON ID











































































1.       THE UN'S WOMAN










1.       A BEGINNING
















2.       CUT AND PASTE







1.       A HUMANE EGG


































3.       OMINOUS























































































Is someone out to get Mr Nandan Nilekani? Whether the result of individual envy or institutional obstructionism, the fact is Mr Nilekani's dream project of getting every Indian a unique, tamper-proof identity card in four years has now been successfully derailed by the very Government that hired him, even giving one of India's leading IT tycoons a Cabinet Minister's rank as head of the Unique Identification Authority of India. Despite finding it difficult to convince IAS officers to serve in the UIDAI — given its time-bound, exacting mandate and the fact that the boss is not a fellow babu — Mr Nilekani worked hard on a blueprint. He consulted technology leaders, spoke to other Government departments and — in the case of public programmes such as immunisation and primary education — successfully persuaded Cabinet Ministers that the unique identity system could be used to track beneficiaries. Now, however, the Finance Ministry's Expenditure Finance Committee has, for all practical purposes, sabotaged the UIDAI mission. It has reduced its four-year outlay from Rs 6,700 crore to Rs 3,000 crore, slashing a crucial mechanism that was meant to incentivise performance by registrars, those who would actually draw citizens into the UIDAI network. A cash incentive scheme is not unknown to the public welfare system. For instance, it is used to persuade village health-care workers to bring pregnant women to hospitals for safer deliveries in an attempt to curb infant and maternal mortality. As such, Mr Nilekani's proposal was completely above board and had ample successful precedents. The upshot of the EFC's petty-mindedness is that the Finance Ministry has officially conveyed to the UIDAI that rather than provide 600 million Indians (a little over half the population) identity cards in 18 months beginning August 2010, it would be better served handing out these cards over four years. By that time, there will be a national election and, perhaps, a new Government. Given the way India works, the scheme may then be scrapped, never mind the millions wasted, and a new committee and template will take over. A greater waste of national resources cannot be foreseen.

The UIDAI mission is non-negotiable. It is a national imperative, and already long overdue. A registry of all citizens of India is needed for security reasons as well as to ensure accurate disbursement of public goods, including subsidies and health and poverty benefits. It will help the poorest citizens (as it has done in Bangladesh, which has quietly and efficiently delivered a universal identity card system). It will help white collar urbanites who will be able to use Mr Nilekani's card (and the unique number that the UIDAI will generate for each Indian) to replace the half-a-dozen documents (driving licence, PAN card, passport, telephone bill and so on) that are currently used to establish a citizen's identity. Its utilitarian purpose can only be appreciated by somebody who has been at the receiving of the Indian state's labyrinthine bureaucracy. Obviously none of the smug bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry's EFC has ever suffered thus. That is why they are happy to scuttle the UIDAI initiative and are perhaps designing the road-map for Mr Nilekani to eventually throw up his hands, resign in disgust and go back to his old job at Infosys. It is time for the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to demonstrate political ownership of the UIDAI, and rescue it. Otherwise, the UPA's only useful flagship project is doomed. 







When the story broke in late-June, the world was stunned: Ten Russian spies arrested by the FBI in a single swoop on what was later described as an elaborate espionage network that had been functioning in the US since the 1990s. Among the Russian spies were couples who were leading an all-American suburban life, indistinguishable from their American neighbours. And then there was a modern day, 21st century Mata Hari, a certain Ms Anna Chapman whose lifestyle and 'standard operating procedure' would have left Margaretha Geertruida 'Grietje' Zelle MacLeod blushing. But then, Ms Chapman, whose real name we are told is Anya Kushchenko, was not double-crossing anybody; not all her charms (and they were considerable) could save Mata Hari from the firing squad when she was found to have served both friend and foe during World War I. Ms Chapman and her nine co-workers from the SVR merely pleaded 'guilty' to the charge of collecting 'secret' information, much of which is actually available on open-to-all Internet platforms, were put on a chartered flight, flown to Vienna (where else?) and swapped for four Russians who were serving prison terms in Russia after being found guilty of spying for America. In brief, the US exchanged 10 Russian spies for four Russian spies — obviously Washington, DC wanted the latter desperately while Moscow was keen to get the former back home. For those not acquainted with spy swaps of the Cold War era, all this may sound confusing and seem absurd, but it's not quite so: It has always, well almost always, been Russian spies for Russian spies or, Russian spies for Eastern Bloc spies of varying nationalities. The Cold War was a zero sum game of military one-upmanship. It was also a game of I Spy, You Spy which would often include third countries, for instance India, in which case the game would become I Spy, You Spy, We Spy. 


On a more serious note, it is interesting to learn that the FBI had planned the swap even before busting the spy network and arresting the 10 Russians, and kept the White House in the loop. So was the entire exercise no more than an elaborate charade to get the four Russian spies out of Russia and into America? Which brings us to the question: Why are the Russian Four so important to the US? What do they know which the Americans do not want the Russians to know? Conspiracy theorists would come up with a counter-question: Why did Russia surrender so tamely to the US? What do the Russian Ten know which the Russians do not wish the Americans to know? The world, of course, will never get to know more than what has been reported by media, much of which, in any case, is mere speculation! 








Last week's newspapers had a telling photograph which showed a group of young men thrashing a policeman lying on a road in Srinagar. Nobody had stepped forward to save him from the wrath of the protesters or stop the assailants from perpetrating the outrage. The photograph reminded me of my tenure as Inspector-General of Police in Srinagar during 1988-89, which was the worst period of insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. 

That was the time when the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, which had kidnapped the daughter of then Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and demanded the release of five Pakistan-trained terrorists. The Government had abjectly surrendered to the JKLF's demand to secure the release of Rubaiya Sayeed. A decade later, another Government released three terrorists to secure the freedom of the passengers of an Indian Airlines flight which had been hijacked to Kandahar. 

The Government of India has been persisting with the mistaken belief that its perverse policy of appeasement will lead to some positive results. On the contrary, such repeated capitulation has been a morale-booster for terrorists and separatists, and has led to the Union Government finding itself pushed into a corner.

One only needs to look at a few examples for evidence of the Government's folly: Parents and families of terrorists killed in open encounters are given an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh meant for their rehabilitation while assistance hardly ever reaches the families of their victims. More is being done for terrorists than for the four lakh Hindus and Sikhs who were forced to leave the Kashmir Valley as part of the ethnic cleansing launched by the terrorists and separatists. The region-wise demography of Jammu & Kashmir is reproduced with this article and the figures are are self-explanatory.

Things have come to such a pass that any use of force in self-defence by security forces in the Kashmir Valley is not only frowned upon but openly criticised by all, including the State Government. In some places, if a terrorist is killed, their supporters run riot. Every citizen of India has the right to defend himself except, it seems, the personnel of security forces. 

Whether it is by the media or the Government, security forces are labelled the villains of the piece — responsible for all ills in the Kashmir Valley. It is this tacit support that emboldens the terrorists, encouraging them to make anti-India statements which they are then allowed to get away with. Mrs Margaret Thatcher had once rightly said that "publicity is the oxygen of terrorism". It is publicity which gives terrorists a larger-than-life image.

The result of all of this is that political parties compete with each other to offer implicit support to terrorism. Winning remains the first, second and third priority of all politicians — regardless of the means, even if that means selling one's soul to the devil.

The common Kashmiri citizen, who wants to lead a peaceful life, is dragged unnecessarily into the vicious circle of violence. He cannot defy the diktat of the terrorists with even the local Government going overboard to appease them. He feels that it is pointless to look to the Government for protection as even politicians are living under the shadow of the gun.

Nowhere in the world has terrorism been countered with sweet talk and dismal surrender. The security forces do not bear a grudge against any Kashmiri. They are merely following orders to maintain law and order. Hence, anybody who throws stones at security forces or attacks them must expect retaliation with double the might. This simple reality is lost on the terrorists and separatists, many of whom have been ironically provided with security by the Government, who instigate violence on any and every issue — be it temporary rest houses for Hindu pilgrims on their way to the Amarnath shrine or the visit of the Prime Minister to the Kashmir Valley. 

The worst sufferer is the ordinary Kashmiri. Investors shy away from a place where strikes are called regularly and violence erupts at the drop of a hat. Tourists, too, think twice before booking a flight to Srinagar. It suits the interests of the terrorists to keep the Valley in a disturbed state lest pro-Pakistani politicians lose their audience. In the span of one week last month, five persons died and 65 others — including 32 policemen — were injured in violent clashes in the Kashmir Valley.

The way small-time politicians are going about wrecking the economy of the State is reprehensible. No amount of financial assistance can improve this situation. Despite the Prime Minister's repeated visits, his offers of dialogue have found no takers. 

Terror-mongers have got away with massacres of Hindus and Sikhs in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, with the Government of India playing the role of a mute spectator. If anyone from Kashmir is unhappy to be in India, including those speaking of secession, it is time for them to quietly migrate to Pakistan or any other country.

On February 15, 2006, US Congressman Frank Pallone introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives condemning the violation of human rights of Kashmiri Pandits. He stated that an ethnic cleansing campaign was being run by jihadis to convert Kashmir into an Islamic state and four lakh Kashmiri Pandits had either been murdered or displaced from their homes. The resolution was passed by the House (with the Senate concurring). It stated that the US Congress condemns the human rights violations committed against Kashmiri Pandits in the strongest terms and that it is the sense of Congress that the Government of India and the State Government of Jammu & Kashmir should take immediate steps to remedy the situation and act to ensure the physical, political and economic security of this embattled community.


It is now up to the Government of India to pick up the gauntlet. Responsibility walks hand-in-hand with power which, in the present case, does not appear to have been exercised. What we need is a clear, consistent and comprehensive policy on Jammu & Kashmir that is free of past errors of judgement. 






The Right to Education Act, recently passed by Government of India and supported by all State Governments, will bring education to the doorstep of every boy and girl in the age group of six to 14 years in three years' time. The Act is very comprehensive but its implementation is still beset with problems.

Wastage and stagnation are two of the main problems that must be tackled. A large number of children admitted in Class I drop out before they reach Class VIII and many are so weak in studies that they keep failing for many years resulting in stagnation. The main causes of poor enrolment are deficient teaching, extreme poverty and parental illiteracy. Many children either do not attend school as they are required to lend a helping hand to their parents. At many places, school hours have been successfully adjusted to suit the needs of children working on farms or elsewhere.

The Right to Education Act bans failing students up to Class VII in order to solve the twin problems of wastage and stagnation though the teachers are required to constantly evaluate the performance of students and apprise parents of their progress. Constant interaction with parents is crucial to the successful implementation of the Act. The problem of poor attendance is acute in case of girls due to societal customs like child marriage. There is a great need to open more institutions for girls especially at the middle school level. More women teachers should be appointed in rural areas.

Single-teacher schools are quite detrimental to the concept of universal education in the country. Such schools remain closed when the teacher is absent. It should be the policy of the Government to post at least two teachers in each school. Provision of school buildings is another major problem to be solved on war footing. 

There is no denying the fact that a large number of teachers travel long distances daily to reach their schools, sometimes reaching late and very often remaining absent. The Union Government has come forward to chalk out a huge programme in collaboration with State Governments for the construction of houses for teachers in rural and semi-urban areas so that they can live with their families near their workplace. 







The separatist street violence we are witnessing in Jammu & Kashmir may be inconsequential to the extent that it does not have an immediate strategic objective. Yet we can't ignore the fact that the violence is in response to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's call for a global intifada 

In his message dated February 12, 2007, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No 2 in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, has spoken of a global jihadi intifada. What, if any, according to him, would be the special areas of focus of this intifada? 

Whenever he talks of a global jihad or a jihadi intifada as in this case, Zawahiri makes it clear that it has to cover all lands which rightfully belong to Islam. But having said this, he specifies certain areas which he thinks should receive special attention. 

Of these, he gives the topmost priority to Afghanistan and Iraq. Zawahiri says the future of Islam and of the global intifada itself will be decided in these countries. If they can defeat the Americans there, the jihadis' victory everywhere else will be assured. 

After mentioning these two countries, Zawahiri names certain other areas where victory of the jihadis would be crucial. They are Palestine, including Gaza, Lebanon, Somalia, Algeria and Chechnya in Russia. He describes Somalia as the southern garrison of Islam and Algeria as its western garrison. 

By jihadi intifada, Zawahiri is speaking of a struggle in which the role of motivated individual Muslims will become more important than that of organisations — so that the weakening or collapse of an organisation does not result in a collapse of the intifada. He wants the intifada to acquire a momentum of its own as a result of the sacrifices made by individual Muslims. The importance of a central command and control in keeping the intifada going is underplayed. 

Zawahiri also projects the intifada as a mix of military and non-military struggles. In his message of December 20, 2006, he says: "We must bear arms. And if we are unable to bear them, we must support those who carry them. This support comes in many forms and guises, so we must exploit all Da'wah (making an invitation), student and union activities to back the jihadi resistance. The Muslim ummah (community) must exploit all methods of popular protest like demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, refusal to pay taxes, non-cooperation with the security forces, refusal to provide Crusaders with fuel, hitting traders who supply goods to Crusader forces and boycotting Crusader and Jewish products." 

What we are witnessing in certain areas of Jammu & Kashmir is the beginning of an intifada as propounded by Zawahiri. One does not know whether or not the Al Qaeda has had any role in the current violence in the State but its idea that the time has come to transform thejihad characterised by acts of terrorism into an intifada on a global scale characterised by leaderless street violence and a mix of military and non-military struggles has had some impact on the thinking and behaviour of some sections of the Kashmiri youth.
We are confronted with a situation marked by leaders without followers and followers without leaders. The traditional political leaders of Jammu & Kashmir have no influence over the agitating youth. The agitating youth have no identifiable leaders to whom an approach can be made on the part of the Government. Whatever the extent of Pakistan's role in instigating the violence, it has now acquired a momentum of its own. Islamabad has been exploiting the violence, but does not seem to be its originator.

The root cause of the violence is the growing perception among some sections of youth that the security forces have been insensitive in performing their counter-insurgency duties and have been adopting objectionable methods to discharge them such as alleged false encounters and use of disproportionate force against the people. The current street violence has had no strategic political objective related to the future political status of Jammu & Kashmir. It is the result of an outburst of anger against the security forces. And the violence may acquire a political direction if it continues without the anger of the participating youth being addressed by the Government. 

The youth might have been pacified initially had the dispensations in Srinagar and New Delhi shown some understanding of their anger and initiated inquiries into allegations of excesses by the security forces, redressed complaints of violations of the human rights of the people and found better ways of dealing with street protestors without use of firearms. The success of the last general elections in which nearly two-thirds of the voters participated and the perception that the ground situation was coming under control created a feeling of overconfidence at the Centre. As a result, efforts to find a political solution to the demands of the people and maintaining an increased insensitivity towards anger among sections of youth against the security forces were scaled down.

The current movement has been triggered by this widespread anger. Perceptions of political indifference to it have turned it against the political leadership, thereby triggering a vicious circle. The more the anger against the security forces, the more the force used against the agitators and the more the force used against the agitators, the more the anger against the security forces.

The Government should have taken advantage of the decline in violence in Jammu & Kashmir to deal with strategic issues related to its future political set-up but did not do so. Now when the immediate objective should be to reduce the anger of the moment by addressing grievances against security forces, long-term political issues are being discussed. 

Better methods of control of street violence to avoid the use of firearms, prompt and satisfactory redress of complaints of the people, greater interaction between the Government and the agitating youth, greater control over rhetoric to avoid demonisation of the agitators and attempts to remove the impression that the Government tends to bat for the errant elements in the security forces and not for the people are some of the immediate measures that must be adopted. The use of the Army against the street agitators would be unwise the Government has no option.


The writer, a former senior officer of R &AW, is a strategic affairs commentator. 







Obama is desperate to show he isn't a loser

Why was the meeting this time between US President Barack H Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a success? The answer is simple though not all the reasons are publicly known. So I'll tell you about them.

Mr Obama couldn't have been more effusive. They had an "excellent" discussion, Mr Netanyahu's statement was "wonderful", and the US-Israel relationship is "extraordinary". Hard to believe this is the Obama we've seen before. Mr Obama wants to improve relations with Israel for several reasons. Obviously, he doesn't want to be bashing Israel in the period leading up to the November elections. Polls show that for Americans his Administration's relative hostility toward Israel is its least popular policy. But there is more to this trend than just that point.


What Mr Obama wants is to be able to claim a diplomatic success in advancing the Israel-Palestinian "peace process", perhaps the only international issue he can so spin. Keeping indirect talks going and, even better, moving them up to direct talks is his goal. So he wants Mr Netanyahu's cooperation for that. The same point holds regarding the Gaza Strip, where Mr Obama wants to claim he has defused a crisis he has called "unsustainable." And he also wants to keep the Israel-Arab front calm while he deals with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, seeking above all to avoid crises and confrontations and to keep up his (bogus) bargain of trading flattery for popularity.

So here's the deal. Give Israel some US support in exchange for modest steps that the Obama Administration hopes accomplishes its goals. Israel will give some things that don't appreciably hurt its interests in order to maintain good relations with the US. First, Israel has revised the list of goods it permits to go into the Gaza Strip. The details were all agreed beforehand with the US. The Obama Administration will support Israel over Gaza generally, including endorsing its independent investigation of the flotilla issue.

As the Israeli Government explained it, the new list "is limited to weapons, war materiel, and dual-use items". Such military items include — aside from the obvious — a long list of chemicals, fertilisers, knives, optical equipment, light control equipment, missile-related computer technologies, and so on. Israel is defining dual-use items by an international agreement, the 'Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies', and thus this should be acceptable to Western Governments.
Construction material will be carefully monitored and allowed in only for specified projects. Israel will keep out dual-use goods including construction materials (concrete and pipes, for example) that can be used by Hamas to build bunkers and rockets. At present, there are 45 such projects approved by Israel. The Palestinian Authority must also approve each one (thus, in theory, the buildings created would strengthen its popularity and influence though this is probably wishful thinking). These include school and medical buildings, water and sewage systems, and housing. If Israel determines that the material is being misused to benefit Hamas or its military strength, the supplies would be stopped.

The US will proclaim that the alleged humanitarian crisis is over and the people of Gaza are doing just fine, ignoring their being subject to a terribly repressive dictatorship. Hamas will denounce the concessions as insufficient and continue efforts to smuggle in weapons, consolidate its rule, and turn Gaza's little children into terrorists. This is the contemporary Western idea of a diplomatic success. (Here's a riddle for you. What's the difference between the Islamist and Western views of peace? The Islamists never lose a war because no matter how badly they are defeated they deem it a victory to survive and continue the battle. The West never loses a war because it defines the end of any war as victory no matter what the result.)

But Israel's policy decision makes sense. Once Israel concluded that there will be no Western commitment for overthrowing the Hamas regime it might as well go to a containment strategy. This Western policy is terrible but Israel is merely recognising the real situation and making the best of it.

What a terrible strategy, though. Mr Obama said: "And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas." Really? How are you going to do that? Read the latest speech by Hamas's leader and wonder what possible conception of Hamas Mr Obama might have. Doesn't he realise that if Gaza prospers Hamas is strongly entrenched in power and has plenty of assets to pursue war with Israel, which then destroys any prosperity.

This is what Mr Obama thinks: The people prosper, the middle class gets stronger, the masses demand moderation and Hamas's downfall. This is a view of revolutionary Islamism and the workings of dictatorships that boggles the mind. It is the mindless idea that prosperity brings peace and moderation, and that a regime ready to torture, murder, and indoctrinate people will be easily removed.

There is the possibility of the US and other Western countries subverting Israel's position by engaging Hamas but that line can probably be held for the next few years at least. Various Western media and activist groups can try to keep up the notion that the Gaza Strip is a hell on Earth (because of Israel) and people are starving. There will be no truth to this.






Russia gained enormous foreign-politics experience across the world in the imperial epoch and in the Soviet era. Assessing the Russian-US relations over the past year from the standpoint of this experience, one readily concludes that the highlight for the period of time has been Washington's generous offer to press the reset button. No doubt, there are profound reasons why the US wants its relations with Russia reset.

After September 11, 2001 Washington's foreign politics was entirely dominated by the vision of a unipolar world. The US political establishment was convinced that Russia had lost the Cold War but was nevertheless treated gently considering that no effective ruler like Gen D MacArthur was installed to act as its vice-king. The majority of the US politicians including all of Mr George Bush's Administration were under the impression that the Kremlin's reaction to the situation was that of ingratitude and that Russia's political course was both illogical and unacceptable. Like the Roman emperors who could not agree to king of Armenia Mithridates' claiming his own sphere of influence, Washington could not accept the aspirations of the post-Soviet Russia.

At that moment, Washington's priority was to demonstrate to both Russia and Serbia that it was the US who had the final say in the Balkan affairs, and eventually not only the Kremlin but also the rest of the world were forced to realise to what extent this was the case. In 2006, Ms Condoleezza Rice bluntly interrupted Russian diplomacy chief Sergei Lavrov at the hearings in the Council on Foreign Relations by saying she had already told him the problems related to the territories west of the Danube were not to be discussed.

Why was Washington so outraged by Russia's resolute response to the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia and the killing of Russian peace-keepers? The reason was that for the US Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili was the number one partner in the Caucasus, and Moscow's dealing him a blow called into question the widening of the US hegemony.

As a result, the situation during the last six months of Mr Bush's presidency resembled that of the second half of 1983 when the South Korean Boeing drama prompted an outpouring of emotions in Moscow and Washington, and the dialogue between the USSR and the US had to be completely suspended. It did not evade watchers that in 2008 the US reaction was in part shaped by the affectivity of Ms Rice who perceived the August developments in the Caucasus as her personal diplomatic defeat.

From a broader perspective, the US's "righteous indignation" was due to the fact that, leveling as much criticism at Russia as it wished to, it clearly lacked the potential to actually influence Moscow without harming Washington's own interests. Quite a few forces in today's world would be happy to see the US and Russia clash, and in the light of the fact the new US Administration's pledge to reset the relations with Moscow gives a cause for cautious optimism.

At the same time, one should keep in mind that the US founding fathers with all their internal disagreements invariably shared the view that they had invented a superior form of statehood and that it was their mission to spread it across the world, converting peoples to their political faith or — if necessary — helping peoples displace their rulers if they stood in the way. Even nowadays, the essentially messianic notion, which is clearly rooted in Protestantism, remains the underlying philosophy of the US international politics.

Unlike philosophy, the political tactic has to be based on compromises, and the Kremlin is ready to embrace those in various spheres. Strictly speaking, Russia's presidents were markedly open to compromise throughout the post-Soviet epoch, while the US position used to be asymmetric.

The advent of the new US Administration revived hopes that serious compromises can be reached, but the first and extremely important step must be to set fair and transparent rules of the game. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is calling for a new European Security Pact as the mechanisms built in the framework of the once useful Helsinki Accords no longer guarantee the same level of security to all European countries.

Recently, Russia and the US penned the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. In the context, though Moscow had to state unilaterally that this treaty is contingent upon the US's not building up its missile defence to the level at which Russia's nuclear deterrent might be eroded. Russia is offered to join the US-led collective missile defence system, but at the moment the plan appears to be an equation with many unknowns. While the benefits of joining in are obvious, Moscow should make sure that Russia's own defence research will not be constrained under the arrangement. Another dimension of the problem is that Russia — in the case of its integration into the European missile defense initiative — has to avoid being dragged into the ongoing conflict between the US and the countries Washington regards as sources of threat to the US and its allies. In other words, Russia can cooperate with Nato, but not at the cost of alienating Iran, Syria, or North Korea.


To be continued 







THE death of a young boy in Kanpur after he could not get timely medical attention because the traffic had been stopped for the Prime Minister's motorcade, is an entirely avoidable tragedy. No one's security should be worth the life of another human being, especially a young child.


Few grudge the stringent security that attends to our top leaders even though there is occasional grumbling when the already stressed traffic is worsened by the passing of a motorcade. Most people accept that the threat to our leaders is real, but our leaders don't seem to return the courtesy by ensuring that they do not needlessly upend the lives of the ordinary folk. Unfortunately, it almost seems that our VIPs revel in creating a disruption, as if to let everyone know that they are around.


Over time, the special protection has meant layer upon layer of largely unnecessary security.


There are other countries whose leaders face the same level of threat that our leaders do, yet, their security personnel manage to provide the same, if not greater, level of security with greater deftness and subtlety. As security becomes more sophisticated, the older rules and regulations are discarded.


The problem in India is that security has been bureaucratised. There is a blue book laying out the guidelines of the PM's security and any infringement can cost a police official his job. So there is no room for humane gestures such as permitting a person facing an acute medical emergency to break a cordon.


Neither is there any attempt to work with the idea that what matters is " real" security, as against " visible" security. Sometimes, a VIP in an unmarked car without an announced schedule will be more secure than one travelling in an impressive motorcade. That is the technique that kept Cuban leader Fidel Castro alive, despite the many plots to kill him.


Given the rise in the population of our cities and the enormous volume of motor vehicle traffic, the time has come for a drastic overhaul of the security procedures that are followed.


One thing needs to be made clear: The citizen comes first, and the leader and his security detail must adjust their lives and work- styles to that of the people.


Thus helicopters should be the norm of travel for the PM and President when they move around in a crowded city. Likewise, shutting shops and offices should be the exception, rather than the rule. Intelligent security should be the watchword, not blanket security.


Check crime in the Capital


THE spate of crimes in the Capital on Friday, which left seven persons dead, will once again remind citizens that their life is not as secure as they would like it to be. While one of the incidents is a case of suicide which left three persons dead, the other incidents highlight the ease with which criminals continue to operate in the national capital.


There is no denying that crime is a problem in most big cities, and the better- equipped and staffed Delhi Police can claim to be slightly better than their counterparts elsewhere in India. The question to be asked, however, is whether their performance is of a standard to be expected from the police force of the national capital of this country. Lamentably, VIP security and corruption seem to be the bane of the Capital's police force.


As it is, in terms of preventing crime and nabbing criminals, the Delhi Police's efficiency leaves a lot to be desired. Nearly 2,000 cases of heinous crime are reported from the Capital every year, with some 500 of them involving murder. What should particularly worry those who run this city is that more than 90 per cent of heinous crimes have seen the involvement of first- timers or novices.


It certainly does not help the cause of deterrence that the legal system takes years to punish the guilty, with the conviction rate being nowhere near first world standards.


The Delhi Police have shown some initiative of late with a scheme such as the Eyes and Ears Scheme but it needs to be implemented more vigorously, along with better patrolling and beat policing being put in place. The issue of corruption in the police force, too, needs to be dealt with urgently.


As for citizens, they too can do better.


Besides being more vigilant and following safety measures strictly, they should avoid foolhardiness when faced with criminals who could be under the influence of drugs.








IS THE Lokayukta which was designed to expose maladministration and corruption a damp squib? Karnataka's Lokayukta, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde's attempted exposure of Bellary and other mining scams revealed humongous losses to the exchequer over five years. The affected people, the powerful Reddys and others hit back. On June 23, 2010, Hegde resigned, rejecting the governor and prime minister's request to resume his post. But on BJP leader L. K. Advani's persuasion, he returned as Lokayukta on July 3.


Political partisanship mars the political objectivity of a Lokayukta.


Hegde was never a Hercules, but undertook a Herculean task which eluded his otherwise undistinguished but upright career as lawyer and judge. The immediate cause for Hegde's resignation was the suspension of R. Gokul, Deputy Conservator of Forests who Hegde deputed to investigate the disappearance of 5 lakh tonnes of iron ore impounded at Belekiri and Karwar ports. Hedge resigned because he felt he could not protect his own investigators.


His resignation was an embarrassment.


His Lokayukta predecessor, Justice Venkatachala, had conducted many ' televised' raids, but no prosecution followed under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. The shameless were not ashamed; the corrupt not brought to justice.




Are Lokayuktas or the Lokpal ( called Ombudsman or Parliamentary Commissioners in other countries) simply about window- dressing with no cutting edge? Of Swedish origins and popular in some European states, it was grafted onto a parliamentary democracy in New Zealand ( 1962), England ( 1967) and Australia ( 1976). India's, story is sadder. After recommendations by Nehru ( 1962) and the Administrative Reforms Commission ( 1966), attempts to introduce a Lokpal for India's Union government failed in 1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001.


Why? Nobody wanted it. The bureaucrats wanted it to monitor politicians. Politicians wanted it to monitor bureaucrats.


The Prime Minister did not want to be included at all. Should the Lokpal investigate only ' corruption' or also ' maladministration'? Every Lokpal proposal was successively derailed by successive Union governments.


Meanwhile Lokayuktas were established in many states, including Orissa ( 1970, but abolished 1993), Maharashtra ( 1976), Bihar ( 1973), Rajasthan ( 1973), MP ( 1981), AP ( 1983), HP ( 1983), Karnataka ( 1985), Assam ( 1986), Haryana ( 1996) and Delhi ( 1996). Mostly Lokayuktas examined complaints against political functionaries; the Upa- Lokayuktas against the civil service.


We know little about how these state bodies work. The public is kept in the dark.


But the record is abysmal. In 1976, two ministers found guilty of malpractice countered by filing cases in the High Court against the Lokayukta ( a former Chief Justice).


Allegations in court were made against the Orissa Lokayukta for being pro- government. Despite clear Lokayukta findings in the Bhopal land allotment scandal in 1982, the government did nothing.


This was equally true of findings against ministers in MP ( 1983) and AP ( 1986). In Madhya Pradesh the much respected G. P. Singh resigned due to disrespect and inaction.


In 1985, cases were filed against the Lokayukta to earn the ire of the Bombay High Court. Populous UP registered startingly few complaints.


Disposal is bad. In 1999, the Supreme Court asked why the Lokayukta was not appointed in Bihar for three years or set up in other states. In 1999, Justice M. S. Sharma, former Lokayukta of Rajasthan, whose 70 odd reports against politicians were ignored, wanted Lokayuktas abolished.


On June 29, 2010, Haryana's chief minister refused information to his Lokayukta, Justice Sud.


Lokayuktas have become moribund institutions. Few complaints are filed.


Many are kept pending, findings not acted upon. Hegde knew this before accepting the post- retirement post of Lokayukta in Karnataka to make a difference. As a judge, he could issue contempt notices, as a Lokayukta he is powerless. In fact, Lokayuktas do not have strong independent investigative machinery and rely on bureaucrats who can be pressured by the government, as exemplified by Hegde's own investigation into the mining scandal.


Second, the powers of Lokayuktas are only recommendatory.




Cogent reasons are not required for rejecting Lokayukta recommendations.

Third, the Lokayuktas have not inspired confidence in the people who prefer using the ' right to information' to launch campaigns with media support.


Fourth, ombudsmen were designed for small countries where political integrity and public morality results in swift action by government and resignation by public servants. In India's never- say- die politics, no one is guilty as long as they evade the final decision.


Fifth, at a deeper level, in a parliamentary democracy, ministers ( and bureaucrats through them) claim to be constitutionally responsible to the legislature ( Art. 75, 164), not to some statutorily propped up Lokpal or Lokayukta with recommendatory powers. In Indian political practice, this power to " recommend" is merely a power to " suggest". Otherwise, it is argued the administration will be answerable to the Lokpal not to the legislature.


The truth is that India's politicians and bureaucrats hate being answerable to anyone other than themselves. They conspire to nullify Lokayuktas into an empty and unwanted experiment.


Sixth, in some senses, the National and State Human Rights Commissions ( NHRC and SHRCs) and SC, ST and Women's commissions are also in the Lokpal- Lokayukta- Ombudsman mould.


The only difference is they deal with specialised areas of violation of human rights. Why does the NHRC work better as a human rights ombudsman? One reason is its prestige and governments' fear of human rights violations being exposed.


But there are other practical reasons for its partial success.


Under the chairmanship of Justices Venkatachaliah and Verma, the NHRC asked for and obtained an independent investigation machinery firmly under its own jurisdiction. In Hegde's resignation case, the investigating civil servant was controlled by ministers. The NHRC built up a rapport with ministers and officials to ensure that the recommendations were treated as decisions not suggestions.


Seventh, what is missing from the armoury of Lokayuktas is an independent power to record FIRs with the police and to prosecute without the sanction of governments.


Today bureaucrats are protected by the Single Directive( SD) even though the Supreme Court invalidated the SD in the Hawala case ( 1998). But to proceed further, even after investigation, trials require the government's sanction.


The law needs amendment so that corruption trials can proceed on the sanction of the Lokayukta.




As long as Lokayuktas do not have the power of independent investigation, filing criminal complaints and sanctioning trials, the institution will just growl without efficacy.


But, back to Hegde's resignation which woke up everybody. Rejecting the advice of the governor, the prime minister and people from other walks of life, he withdrew his resignation on the advice of ' father- figure' Advani who had to save the BJP supported government in Karnataka.


Hegde claimed he relented for " no political reason, but because of my love and respect for Advani". Obviously,

the governor, prime minister and others did not command this love and respect. And what did the BJP offer? Only a more kindly and effective response to his work. But, it would be a constitutional usurpation for Advani to interfere with Karnataka's governance.


The style and substance of the ' Hegde- Advani' deal is unworthy. On July 10, 2010, BJP's Karnataka government prepared only minor changes to the Lokayukta Act. Top bureaucrats are included but ministers are beyond the Lokayukta's jurisdiction who will have no powers to prosecute. A miffed Hegde has gone on four days' leave.


Hegde's campaign started with glory, but ended with a tragic whimper. His remaining year in office will pass quickly.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer








A MONTH ago, when in the wake of the 2G spectrum scandal, rumours swirled about the possible axing of A. Raja. A Congress spokesperson sa id, " It is the Prime Minister's prerogative to decide who stays in his cabinet and who stays out." That Raja is still in office says much not only about the limited prerogative of the incumbent PM but also of the limited powers that the Congress enjoys in the government that it heads.


Sharad Pawar has been around so long that he can give a few lessons in the art of politics to all in the UPA, barring perhaps Pranab Mukherjee. Like the Spaniards and Germans on a grass pitch, the Maratha is the master of counter attack in the field of politics. When the pressure mounts, he switches strategy, marshals his resources and blunts his opponent's attack before launching a counter offensive that changes the course of the game.


For the past few months, both he and his NCP colleague Praful Patel have been under the scanner for their roles in the IPL. Pawar has been particularly targeted by the Congress for the uncontrolled inflation which the party believes will cost it dearly.


When the Left and the Right joined hands to bring the country to a halt last Monday to protest price rise, Pawar was in Singapore for his coronation as chief of cricket's world body, the ICC. No sooner had he landed in New Delhi, he drove to the Prime Minister's house and requested that some of the workload be taken off him. You can't but sympathise with him. At 70, even a Grand Maratha cannot be expected to carry multiple burdens. And Pawar carries so many: minister of agriculture, food and civil supplies, consumer affairs and public distribution.


It's a well- calibrated strategy, the kind that has served him well for the nearly 40 years he spent in public life. It has put the Congress on the defensive. Pawar wants his workload to be lightened, but is adamant about not yielding agriculture.


That leaves Manmohan with the limited option of handing food and civil supplies and public distribution to someone else.


The question is: with inflation running in double digits, who would want to hold the hot potato? The real motive behind Pawar's request was to force the Prime Minister to effect a cabinet reshuffle, something he knows the Congress is not ready for. At 77, this is the largest ever cabinet in independent India, with 58 from the Congress alone and Manmohan is not inclined to add to it.


Besides, he never tinkered with portfolios in UPA 1, so it would be out of character to expect him to do so within fourteen months of UPA 2. Within A. Raja the Congress, there is considerable anger at the inefficiency and the many charges of corruption hurled at alliance ministers, particularly from the DMK and the NCP. While Pawar constantly revises strategy to counter the Congress, the DMK is typically brazen and rubbishes demands for Raja's ouster saying that it can happen only if he is found guilty by the courts in the 2G spectrum allocation case. With the Prime Minister looking on like a helpless spectator, senior Congress leaders are putting pressure on Sonia Gandhi to put the house in order. The internal bickerings in the UPA would have been fodder for the media if Kashmir had not flared up and hogged the headlines. Still the Congress strategists continue to ply their trade, with motivated leaks of an impending reshuffle and TV channels predicting, like Paul the Octopus, the names of new ministers.


A mid- term reshuffle is a normal course correction strategy that governments routinely undertake to repair their battered image. But by taking the initiative for a reshuffle, Pawar has effectively stalled one. It's not the first time he has resorted to such chicanery.


After 26/ 11, when Vilasrao Deshmukh refused to resign as Maharashtra CM and Union home minister Shivraj Patil continued to spend more time in front of the mirror than looking at files, Pawar got R. R. Patil of the NCP, the deputy CM and home minister to step down owning moral responsibility.


Both Deshmukh and Shivraj saw the writing on the wall and quit. And now comes the news that the NCP will contest next year's assembly polls in Kerala in alliance with the Marxists. No one knows the black arts of the political trade more than Pawar.


The NCP may have only nine MPs in the Lok Sabha, but Pawar will continue to strut around as if he has 90.


The endless cycle of committees


LAW MINISTER Veerappa Moily has headed numerous commissions and submitted so many reports that I suspect even he may have lost count.


As chairman of the Administrative Commission, he has submitted 15 reports over the last five years on subjects ranging from good governance to ethics in government to conflict resolution and corruption in the bureaucracy.


Most of these are gathering dust as the government has neither the will nor inclination to tinker with the status quo. Sometime back, Moily handed a copy of the report on corruption in the bureaucracy to the Prime Minister.


After going through its contents, the PMO passed it on to the Committee of Secretaries who after due deliberations, suggested that a high- power committee be set up to further look into the matter. And so a committee of experts comprising P. C. Hota, former UPSC chairman, P. Shankar, former chief of the Vigilance Commission and A. K. Verma a retired UP cadre IAS officer was constituted in May.


Unlike most committees that sit on their jobs and seek extensions in order to continue enjoying the perks, this committee completed its work in two months flat. Though he was offered a secretariat and all other perks that go with such a job, Hota rejected these and opted to do the job himself, working out of his own house and keying in everything on his computer himself.


Last week, when Prithviraj Chavan, Union minister of state for personnel, called on Hota at his residence he was in for a surprise. Not only had Hota completed the task assigned to him well in time, he had put copies of his work on CD as well as on pen drives and sent these across to fellow members. He gave a copy to Chavan too, who needless to say was taken by surprise at the doggedness and tenacity of the 75 year- old retired officer.


May his tribe increase.


But on the flip side, I have the feeling that the government will set up another committee to study Hota's report.


Abdullah father and son set to play musical chairs


NOT A day goes by without TV channels flashing visuals of the young and dapper Omar Abdullah in designer attire but you can see that the man is anything but relaxed. Kashmir is on the boil like never in recent times and last week, after 10 years, the army held flag marches.

There is a National Conference- Congress coalition government in place in Srinagar, but the deputy chief minister Tara Chand of the Congress is so busy inaugurating buildings and bridges that he hasn't found time to form an opinion on the violence.


Ditto for the state Congress president Saifudin Soz and former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad.


But what really raised eyebrows was the absolute silence of Dr Farooq Abdullah. When his beloved Kashmir was burning, Farooq saab was much of the time in London.


And when he surfaced last Sunday in Srinagar, Omar added another twist to the burning tale by saying that Papa Doc was " here to advise me and not to intervene". It is worth recalling that Farooq was projected as chief minister last year, but an overnight coup by Delhi's babalog saw son take over and father settling for Union ministership.


Omar's problem is that he understands the peer crowd in Delhi but not in Srinagar and has scant regard for the political and bureaucratic set up in Kashmir which his Papa nurtured and respected.


With every brief respite from violence resembling the lull before the storm and Omar feeling totally isolated and helpless but since he was the choice of the Congress Gen Next, senior leaders are in a bind. But a whisper campaign is now on within sections of the Congress and the NC leadership that the father- son duo be persuaded to swap jobs.


No one will be hurt, Omar who is clearly uncomfortable in Srinagar's hot seat, may welcome a return to Delhi. As junior external affairs minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, he did an excellent job. For the sake of Kashmir, it is to be hoped the father and son duo comes to an agreement on a job trade off.








In a nation where reforms in politically sensitive sectors usually occur by stealth, this could turn out a rare sweetener. The agriculture minister has called for sugar industry decontrol, following review of the crop status next month. With prices heading south and a bumper crop expected, the time's indeed ripe for freeing up a sector long prey to stifling politicisation. From production and pricing to quotas on open market sale and constraints on exports, government has a finger in every pie. As a result, supposedly protective rules have hit the interests of every stakeholder: farmers, mills and consumers. Controls have discouraged competition, disincentivised investment and, consequently, impeded the industry's much-needed expansion and diversification. 

As things stand, local cane-growers are shackled to specific sugar factories in a form of negative interdependence. Farmers can do precious little even if, say, payments are held up. Mills, on their part, cede 20 per cent of their produce at below-market rates for resale via the PDS at subsidised prices. There are clamps on sale of the remaining output. Farmers and millers must be given unrestricted mutual access for proper price discovery. A rethink is also needed on whether levy instead of instruments like food coupons or cash transfers is the most efficient way economically and logistically to channel commodities to the poor. Again, while a minimum price secures farmers, it shouldn't become a patronage tool setting potentially unrealistic floor prices. Direct cash incentives can ensure cane-growers' output targets are met, even as the market determines prices. The government has admitted the sector needs unshackling to realise its potential. Come September, it must show the grit required to walk the sweet talk. 








In the most lucid explanation of the term, a bandh imply the community or political party declaring it and expecting the general public to stay in their homes and strike work. 

It must be noted that in a rather laconic ruling, the Supreme Court of India had banned bandhs in 1998. Nearly a decade later, in 2007, the Supreme Court in another ruling had clarified that bandhs or complete shutdowns were illegal but strikes and hartals were not. 

"You don't seem to understand the difference between bandhs and strikes. Bandhs are illegal [but] not strikes, which are only a way of raising objections," the court had maintained, dismissing the petition of a Chennai resident who had sought action against political parties that had called a "general strike" across Tamil Nadu on February 4, 2007 to press for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. 

Acknowledging the distinction between bandhs and strikes, it would be logical to deduce that some of the biggest Indian revolutions of the last century Gandhi's non-cooperation movement, the salt strike and Quit India movements were strikes and not bandhs. The 1974 railway strike in India which went on for 20 days and had 17 million workers participate in it, was clearly a bandh and thus illegal according to the SC ruling which came into effect later. Around the same time in 1974, J P Narayan led the students' movement in Bihar which gradually developed into a popular people's movement known as the Bihar movement. It was during this movement that JP gave a call for peaceful Total Revolution. JP's crusade against the "imperialistic" Indira Gandhi, which was to lead to Emergency and subsequently the formation of the first non-Congress government in India, employed a mix of strikes and bandhs. The most interesting feature about the JP movement was that here was a Gandhian who had participated in at least two of Gandhi's biggest mass movements against the British now trying to replicate a similar mass movement against a Congress government in independent India. 

Thirty-five years later, the concept of bandhs needs to be revisited. There is disenchantment, at least among the poor, on the issue of price rise. Yet there is no trust in remedial protests/strikes/bandhs. By default, thus, the situation remains unaddressed. 

The success of any mass protest/movement broadly depends upon two factors: one, the credibility of the leadership leading the movement and, two, people's support for the cause and the leadership. In case either is found wanting, the movement, in order to prove its non-failure, invariably turns coercive, often turning detrimental to the cause. This, unfortunately, was the anti-climax that met the recent Bharat Bandh of July 5. 

Political parties need to realise that what worked in the 1970s will not work now. There are a host of political and social reasons for this. Politically, the unrestricted growth and avarice of regional parties has led to a whole new gamut of permutations and combinations wherein a party may or may not support a cause for entirely selfish reasons. Reasoning for their decisions is subsequently doctored conveniently. That the clout of regional parties has grown to an extent wherein both the national parties are critically dependent upon their support makes the situation that much more difficult. Hence, the bandh, even if it is eventually supported by most non-Congress parties, is largely disorganised. 

Socially, there has been a sea change in the attitudes of people given our consumerist lifestyles post the early 1990s. Except in Bengal which still witnesses more than three dozen bandhs on an average each year, the rest of India seems to have developed a healthy aversion towards it. 

How can then a bandh for a just cause like price rise have its desired impact today? 

Broadly, there are two ways. Any successful mass movement needs a face to drive it. Pre-independence, we had Gandhi. The Emergency had JP. The rail strike had George Fernandes. Do we still have that one face that will inspire the trust of the masses? One needs to take into account that this is the age of living-room politicians people who are very good on television but have little support on the streets. Can this age still produce a 'street-side' politician and have the whole of India support him? More importantly, can this person bring the entire opposition together, at least on an issue that is critically important for the poor? 

The other equally important factor is that bandhs need a makeover to keep pace with changing times. Things need to happen faster in order to register their impact in an age where everybody has a limited attention span. An effective bandh could thus mean a voluntary coercive defeats the purpose halt of work for, say, two hours wherein people in offices switch off their computers and cellphones, bus drivers stop their buses in the middle of roads and students and professors unanimously walk out of their classes. This would be more in sync with the way Gandhi, if he were alive today, would have liked to protest. 

Till such time as the opposition gets a unanimous face and that face reinvents protests that would make them workable in the present day, bandhs in modern India will continue to grapple with the increasing disparity between the issue and response it generates. 

The writer is an author-scriptwriter and columnist. 






Khurram Parvez works with the International People's Tribunal On Human Rights And Justice In Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. He speaks to Humra Quraishi about the current unrest in J&K: 

What is the mood among the youth in the Valley? 

The mood here is of helplessness, anger and frustration. Every new case of fake encounter, disappearance, illegal detention, torture, rape and humiliation, reinforces the belief of Kashmiri people that the Indian state is not at all bothered about them but only in the land and resources. People don't believe Indian state representatives when they say they want to resolve Kashmir issue, as there are no visible signs of military retreat. The mindset of the Indian statecraft in Kashmir continues to be militaristic. India is yet to approach the Kashmir issue politically. 


We hear different versions of the stone-pelting protests. What is your view? 


Stone pelting, militancy and political agitations are manifestations of the people's demand for justice. Non-resolution of Kashmir issue is complicating the situation. The response to unabated violence and the non-resolution of the conflict is deepening the frustration and anger among people. Stone pelting is the symptom; one needs to address the root cause. 

Your forum has now been demanding a re-probe of all encounter deaths. Why? 

In December 2009, IPTK released the report, 'Buried Evidence', about the presence of 2,700 unmarked, nameless and mass graves in north Kashmir, containing 2,943 bodies. One of our demands was to investigate those "encounters" which led to the deaths of these men and also the reasons for their secret burial. The Indian army would want people to believe that the recent Macchil fake encounter is an aberration. The truth is there have been many more such cases. Most of the allegations are not being probed, and even those that have been probed, the army has refused to prosecute the perpetrators. 

'Buried Evidence' also examined 50 alleged "encounter" killings in various districts in Kashmir. Of these, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces. Following investigations, it was found that 47 of them were killed in fake encounters. One was identified as a local militant and the rest were civilians. 

All the recorded encounters must be examined for malpractice and all extrajudicial killings examined for linkages to enforced disappearances. All unnamed and mass graves must be investigated. The graveyard in Kalaroos, Kupwara from where bodies of three young men killed in Macchil fake encounter were exhumed, contains 60 more unidentified graves. If all the 60 unidentified graves in the same graveyard are exhumed, identified and investigated, the fate of many more disappeared men can be ascertained. 

The prime minister during his recent visit to J&K mentioned there would be zero tolerance for rights violations. 
There is absolutely zero tolerance for dissent. Freedom of expression is curtailed. Detention of hundreds of people regularly under preventive detention Acts (JK Public Safety Act), unprovoked firing on civilian unarmed protesters, murders of children and youth, the killing of a 70-year-old beggar etc confirm the disconnect between the words of the Indian prime minister and the conduct of the armed forces. 







Struggling with a PAN card address change form, i was confronted with that conundrum of my community. I was required to fill in my last, first and middle names, and given my antecedents this was a challenge. The way i always wrote it, the last part of my name was actually my first and oddly enough, i never had a last! 

If i were to hazard my last name as Kannimangalam, i would be only referring to a leafy village in Palghat which i visited but once in my life. The 'V' was in fact my father's first name and prefixing a 'Mr' before this really would have completely changed my identity. 

The problem was simple. The part of the world that i come from follows a patronymic naming convention, similar to countries like Iceland where one's 'last' name would be typically the father's first name suffixed with a '-sson' or a '-dottir'. Some Eastern European cultures have a similar take. Iyers may have had this one practice in common with the Vikings or Cossacks, but the similarity pretty much stops here. 

Rishinaradamangalam Sivashanmukham Shankaranarayanaswamy simply known as 'RSS' in roll calls, could surpass Leif Ericson of marauding fame in sheer word count. Incidentally this comes nowhere near that of a German settler in Philadelphia with an impressive 590-lettered last name who went by the simple sobriquet 'Mr Wolfe+585'! However, the point that the PAN card badshahs completely miss is that Shankaranarayanaswamy, like the Scandinavian Leif, really has no last name. 

Unbeknownst to the Smiths and the Joneses of the western world, the given name/family name debate rages across most of Asia in its own ways. My Vietnamese colleague Nguyen Anh whose first name is actually the last written, conveniently flips these words over on a tour to western nations. Twenty-five per cent of China's population made up of Wangs, Lis or Zhangs does pretty much the same thing. 

I would bet that the bookstand sizzler 10,000 Baby Names would not be a bestseller in my part of south India. Here, in conventional households the first male child takes on the name of the paternal grandfather and the second that of the maternal. The same holds true for the first and the second girls leaving innovation only for the third offspring of a kind. Again, their annotated last names would be that of their father's. Given this formula it is likely that several generations would share the same full names as their grandfathers'. To make matters more confusing, the wife's last name immediately switches over from her father's to the husband's first as soon as the knot is tied. 

With such preordained first and last names, havoc is wreaked upon the hapless ignorant outside this community. Domiciled in Maharashtra, i was forced to squeeze myself into a first name/last name format, but much like a kurta on the corpulent, got away by hiding behind my initials. 

Leaving Indian soil, things get trickier. Living in the US a country that respects only rules but no secrets or initials i had to adopt my father's first name as my last and bid a sad adieu to my ancestral village, dropping the 'K' completely from all legal records. Family travel continues to be daunting as i explain to security personnel why my western-annotated last name is different from those of the wife and children whose last names are my first. 

Confusion still dogs me. I had never imagined that my father visiting from India who as the first child took his last name from my grandfather's first, would now end up with the same name as my new one. 

Travelling together, we arrived at the airport only to find that i couldn't print my boarding pass. After frantic enquiries i realised that i was selectively booted from a packed flight automatically by the system scouring for duplicate bookings. 







An oft-quoted analogy of economic reforms in India is to the hour hand of a clock that you rarely see moving. It's a pleasant surprise then to find ourselves in a flurry of reformist intent, if not downright action. Fertiliser and fuel prices are in the process of being decontrolled, negotiations are on to simplify the tax regime, disinvestment is on track with the promise of more floating stock in our bourses, public opinion is being sought on foreign investment in sensitive sectors like defence, retail and banking, and there is even talk of freeing the price of sugar from political clutches. Fortuitous coincidence? Looks like it. Each piece of structural adjustment faces its own dynamic of resistance, pacing out its passage through departments and ministries. So if the Centre is in the last stage of discussions with states for a unified goods and services tax, fuel price decontrol is past the consultation stage, and a string of trial balloons on foreign investment is just about emerging from within the administrative machinery.


Yet, it is tempting to seek a method in this. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance appears to be using political space to its advantage. Divestment was back on the agenda immediately after the communists quit the coalition. The recent flurry of decisions and announcements, similarly, is happening during a gap in the election calendar. For the next 18 months, the Congress doesn't have big political stakes in the states going to the polls: Bihar in 2010, and Tamil Nadu and West Bengal in 2011. It can't be a mere coincidence that this window of opportunity is witnessing remarkably higher reformist zeal in New Delhi. The year on either side of a general election is usually a casualty to populism, the good news is that the UPA 2 has entered its productive zone on a high note.


If indeed an opportunity is presenting itself, the government is exploiting it cautiously. Wider consultations as in the direct tax code and half measures like freeing petrol prices while keeping the lid on diesel assist in expanding the area of the possible. This gradualism is more sensible than a big-bang approach. With one caveat: half measures tend to linger. A countrywide strike over fuel price hikes and previous agitations over Big Retail will influence the pace, if not the direction, of these reforms. With the economy's growth recovering to levels India was used to before the financial meltdown, the government can afford to turn its attention to factors that ought to raise the trend line.






As you waka woke today, were you seized with a feeling that your cup is empty? That the buzz has gone? That you have just your memories and re-runs to cling onto? You are not alone. Felled by a kick in the solar plexus, we are now paying the penalty for playing the field too often. As cold turkey sets in, we will see octo-shapes telling us that our future is bleak unless we change our goalposts. But we can't get over that empty feeling. So for the foreseeable future, we will keep our eyes peeled on the painful details of our favourite teams falling on their faces. Or indeed on the fetching and fearsome faces that we can't get enough of.


Not all of us watched the matches to follow the jabulani, we were keener on a gander at those gorgeous faces, oh okay, those flashy pins, not to mention those abs fab superstructures. Our copa la vida was just dandy when it came with David Villa's fancy facework or Franck Ribery's Pirates of the Caribbean visage. Oh, the hoots, the hooters, we'll miss them all. But, we are the fortunate for no sooner do we get over our withdrawal symptoms, the Commonwealth Games will be on us. Well, maybe what's their names won't get us going in the manner of mesmerising Messi or butterfingers Green. Can't quite see Suresh Kalmadi generating the same frisson of excitement as Jacob Zuma.


Be sure that our Games will be the new reality show with athletes burning up the tracks in half-finished stadiums. With the police commissioner telling us to stay at home due to traffic restrictions, we will have to save our cheers and jeers for TV. But then again, if we are to watch an Usain Bolt-less Commonwealth Games, perhaps we should be game for a


bit of nostalgia. Yes, even as the Games get going, if they do, we will be glued to our sets reliving our vuvuzela days and waka waka nights.








Long before Mamata Banerjee, there was Mrinal Gore. In crumpled sari, rolling pin in hand and fists clenched, the socialist leader was the original political streetfighter who built a formidable reputation as a middle-class heroine of Mumbai in the 1970s. Her agitation for providing clean drinking water to a Mumbai suburb earned her the sobriquet 'Paniwali bai'. Her causes were distinctly middle-class: clean water, affordable housing, lower prices. When she organised a rally, the neighbourhood would come out in spontaneous support. 2010 is not the India of the 1970s: which is why when the opposition organised a Bharat bandh last week, we didn't see either a Mrinal Gore-like figure leading the charge nor did the urban middle-class join the protests.


The opposition claims the bandh called against rising prices was a 'success'. If economic dislocation is a sign of a successful bandh, then perhaps the opposition has got it right. If demonstrating unity of opposition forces was the goal, then the bandh was a success. But if getting ready support from the Indian middle-class was the objective, then the bandh did not achieve its target. The vast majority of those who had gathered on the streets were party activists. In some instances, especially with the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, they were lumpen elements who saw in the bandh an opportunity to engage in street vandalism. For ordinary citizens, on the other hand, it was an extended weekend, always useful to catch up with the latest tele-serial or a replay of  the late night World Cup match.


Which raises an important question: why is the Indian middle-class relatively apathetic to participating in a bandh on an issue like price rise which is directly connected to their daily lives? Why don't the Mumbaikars who readily expressed their anger on the streets after 26/11 join a Bharat bandh on prices? Why don't the Delhiites who willingly participate in candlelight vigils against the failings of the criminal justice system join a march against inflation? The answer is simple: rising food prices anger us, but politically choreographed bandhs only add to a mood of collective cynicism (the freeze frame picture of an auto-rickshaw driver's vehicle being broken by political goondas could be enough to keep us away from bandhs forever).


At one level, this might reflect a deeper disconnect between the middle classes and the political leadership. In the 1970s, there was an instant chord that leaders like Mrs Gore would strike with the masses by their complete involvement in 'people's' issues. These were not leaders who whizzed around through the year in air-conditioned Pajeros and then suddenly descended on the street for their one day in the sun. For leaders like Mrs Gore, politics was an extension of their lifelong commitment to public service, not 15 seconds of fame earned by courting arrest once every few years. The middle classes could identify with such politicians and the causes they represented in a manner that today's aam aadmi cannot with leaders whose lifestyles are so far removed from his daily concerns.


But its not just the netas who have changed: the middle-class, especially the more affluent sections, have dramatically shifted their priorities and become more self-centred than ever before. A credit card-induced, acquisitive culture has meant that tomorrow is dispensable, what matters is the here and now. As long as an endless cycle of consumption is not significantly altered, there seems little empathy for the daily wage labourer who is struggling to survive. Double digit inflation is just a statistic, not an overwhelming concern. It's a reality which might explain why a middle-class neta like Mrs Gore has disappeared off the political map.


Sharad Pawar, the Union Agriculture Minister, has an interesting take in this context. At a recent press meet, when asked why there hadn't been a more widespread agitation against spiralling inflation, he suggested that the crucial difference between the 1970s and today lies in the fact that while prices may be climbing, there is no scarcity in the marketplace. Food shortages 30 years ago, he felt, made people angry enough to pour into the streets; today, price rise was something the Indian consumer was willing to adjust to provided the shop shelves were well-stocked.


The last election that a political party lost because of rising prices was probably the Delhi election of  1998. It was the 'onion election', where Sushma Swaraj found that charisma cannot defeat a humble vegetable at election time. Since then, political party fortunes have been remarkably immune to the vagaries of price rise, and there has been no evidence of an electoral loss on account of mismanaging food prices.


Which is perhaps why the price rise debate often veers between governmental complacency and opposition tokenism. How often has the prime minister taken the nation into confidence on inflationary pressures on the economy? Why haven't we heard a squeak from Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi on an issue that is integral to their claims to represent the aam aadmi? On the other hand, how often has the opposition tried to seriously debate issues like petrol price deregulation in Parliament? It's almost as if both sides are only shadow-boxing on an issue which is unlikely to directly impact their immediate electoral fortunes. A charade it seems is being played out before a worryingly indifferent Indian citizenry.


Post-script: it is ironical that on the day of the Bharat bandh, the politician who was the pioneer of  the idea of an all-India strike — including the historic all-India railway strike of 1974 — was being wheeled into a courtroom while suffering from Alzheimer's. George Fernandes belonged to an era of politicians for whom street agitational politics came naturally. That era is sadly coming to an end.


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network. The views expressed by the author are personal







Three major political developments should serve as a wake-up call for the Congress leadership before the monsoon session of Parliament. The party that is set to elect Sonia Gandhi as its president for yet another term in a fortnight's time has a lot to worry about the way things are at present.


Sharad Pawar's reported desire to shed some of his portfolios after assuming the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief's office has to be viewed with caution. Pawar is an astute politician and even if he has been elected to head cricket's supreme body, politics remains his first love. It will be naïve to interpret Pawar's offer as an expression of his preference for cricket over politics. He is one of the most experienced leaders in this government and can surely carry the burden of many ministries as well as the game.


Therefore, Pawar's reported action seems to have many dimensions to it. First, he has tried to distance himself from the charge of being responsible for the rising prices, which he perhaps believes are the result of the government's policies. He probably made the offer to relinquish charge of some ministries since he would want the prime minister to appoint someone who could carry out his (PM's) policies more effectively. The unstated point is that the current policy is not in sync with his thinking.


Second, by making this offer, Pawar has tried to shake the Congress leadership out of its status quo mentality. Any attempt to reshuffle the ministry is bound to have huge ramifications for the allies and could lead to instability in the government. Pawar can perhaps force the top leadership to also accommodate his daughter. Simultaneously, while stating his support to the UPA government at the Centre, he has started exploring possibilities of forging alliance with other secular parties in different states. The objective is to strengthen his base in states other than Maharashtra at the expense of the Congress.


The second major political development is Kamal Nath's attack on the Planning Commission and its supremo Montek Singh Ahluwalia. By lashing out at the Planning Commission, Kamal Nath has attacked Ahluwalia's patron, Manmohan Singh. But in real political terms, the minister has sent a signal to the Congress president that the government needs to exercise greater control over policy-making. The message is significant since the party's political stake is far greater than that of the prime minister.


Third, the success of the all-India bandh called by the combined Opposition on the issue of the price rise is something which can't be dismissed. The violence on the bandh day is condemnable but the issue touched a chord everywhere. Moroever, the weaknesses in the Congress organisation's  structure came to the fore since at no place were party volunteers able to persuade shopkeepers to keep their establishments open. This was very pronounced in Congress-ruled states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The party needs to have people with more political muscle to be in charge of states.


The government must review its handling of crucial issues. So far, the Union Cabinet has not held a single meeting to solely discuss the price rise. Similarly on Maoism and other internal security matters, many Cabinet ministers learn of crucial decisions from the media. They somehow don't seem to be in the loop in a government that is meant to be run through collective responsibility. All this must change. Major decisions should be more broad-based and inclusive. This will reflect greater wisdom than a group of ministers, Cabinet committees on various subjects or the core group of the party. The government and party will then be more in sync with the aam aadmi. Between us.







So now, finally, we are talking about handling Bhopal's toxic waste. How can this be solved?


Previously, the Ministry of Forests and Environment shamelessly and secretly took away a small amount of the waste to Pithampur, for incineration. Now it wants to pay to clean up by itself.


But the problem is, India's disposal facilities are not a patch on the world's best ones, and we have a poor record in hazardous waste management.


What shall we do?


I can think of one idea- for the waste to be taken away by Dow at its own cost, and under transparent supervision, to one of its own best facility for handling and final disposal, wherever in the world it may be.


We just don't have the facilities in India-let's not be ashamed of that. Trying to dispose off the waste in sub-standard facilities will only poison more people- an unacceptable side effect.


Let's not even attempt disposing off Bhopal's toxins in this country.


Green in Life and Death 

Talking of end of life, the United States is now seeing a new kind of environmental awareness-about green burials or funerals. Obviously, if you are buried or cremated in a heavy, wooden coffin, you do take a few trees down with you.


A nascent trend is to ask to be buried in only a bio-degradable shroud, or a cardboard coffin, with no embalming so there are no toxics that leach into the soils. The objective is for the body to decompose and become part of the soil.  And as an aside, it also means less trees dying along with every dead person.


In India, our burials are not something to worry about. But our cremations could be-if the deceased person has a mercury dental filling. Cremation will ensure it's likely to be discharged into the air-a very toxic last gift to the world.


Will we ever be brave enough to allow a service that extracts fillings at our cremation grounds, so the dead can contribute to the environment even after they've gone.








Wisdom is beyond words. It is the essence of all words. If you manipulate words, it is a lie; if you play on words, it is a joke; if you rely on words, it is ignorance but if you transcend words, it is wisdom.


Let's examine few words which have changed their meaning in the course of time.


Tolerance: Many people think tolerance is a virtue but it is a negative term. Tolerance indicates a deep sense of dislike, a sense of separateness, small mindedness, limitation of consciousness, which can at any time turn into hatred. If you are tolerating, it means you are holding on.


Disillusion, Purana: Similarly, 'disillusionment' is good because you have come to reality. And, the word 'Purana' means ''that which is new in the town, the most modern''. But it is used in the sense of being old.


Mercy: Mercy indicates lack of intimacy or belongingness. You don't have mercy on your near and dear ones. You have mercy on those who you think are not yours. Mercy indicates anger, judgment and authority. The Divine is all knowing and all loving; there is no chance for mercy. When there is intimacy there is no place for mercy.


Forgiveness: When you say I forgive, you think the other is a culprit, and when you think someone is a culprit, forgiving becomes difficult. But with a broad outlook, you see that the culprit is also a victim of his or her own mind, ignorance, unawareness, and unconsciousness. Then compassion arises from within you.


Austerity: Austerity is often mistaken to be poverty or self-denial. It is neither. Austerity comes out of maturity. It is a sign of social health. Only one who is rich in spirit can practice austerity. Poverty of spirit is vanity. Austerity brings freedom from the pride of vanity.


But taking pride in austerity is vanity!


Do not make an effort to impress others, or express yourself.


When you come from the self, your expression is perfect and your impression lasts for ages.








Sport has always been about more than the scoreline in South Africa. In the darkest years of apartheid it was an arena where a society's basic values were appraised. The boycott on sporting ties with South Africa was upheld therefore with the regret that some of the best sportspersons in the world would lose a chance to compete. This World Cup has served as a reminder that post-apartheid South Africa too has harnessed the transformative powers of sport.


We in India found that out during South Africa's first season back in international cricket. And recently the film Invictus showed how brilliantly, and with such a large heart, Nelson Mandela used rugby to forge a united sense of nationhood. This football tournament too has lingered long on the message of racism. But the chance to host it came in a slightly altered context. On footballing reasons, it has been South Africa's as a representative of a continent whose players and teams are changing the demographic of football's elite. But every host likes to make a special point at a tournament. And the efficiency and hospitality with which the World Cup has been made a success may go a long way in altering the image of the country. Visitors to South Africa, for instance, love to swap tales about the lurking crime they ran into or dodged. Indeed, curtain raisers in the West alluded to the law and order situation. That the stories out of South Africa once the matches began have none of this anxiety is significant. The opening ceremony began with a welcome to the lands where man took his first steps. As Africa's economies grow and integrate globally, the message was also, perhaps inadvertently, that South Africa is the gateway to the continent.


But will the sentiment hold? Take two recent Olympic hosts. South Korea consolidated its democratisation promise. China is still to deliver on its promise of greater Internet freedoms.








There is little doubt that the Unique Identification project — the rollout and maintenance of which is supposed to be supervised by the Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI — is a very good idea. Commentators outside government think so: it might actually cause the entire discourse about how targeting of benefits work to shift to a new fulcrum, rather than the old ones of group entitlements or corruption. The government's top economists think so: it could completely transform how government schemes are run, saving enormous amounts of money over time. Many of their political masters, too, have spoken out for it — even if others benefit from imperfectly targeted welfare schemes that cleave their followers ever-closer to the patronage they can provide. And if the bureaucracy pushes back a bit — well, it isn't really that easy to welcome a group of outsiders coming in with good ideas, and expecting you to tighten up inefficiencies in the way you've always done things in order to match their initiative.


Indeed, in spite of news that the budget for its implementation has just been cut by more than a half, there is little reason for dismay. It might appear that the crucial first phase, which must be of a large enough size to both build pressure for change and to serve as a useful laboratory, will be scrunched massively — instead of 60 crore UID numbers, 10 crore will be assigned. Yet that is not the whole story. This is a census year, for example; some data will come in through the National Population Register project that the census-takers are working on for the home ministry. Indeed, now would be a good time for the continual mutters from some in North Block — that the UID, originally a project of the department of information technology, unnecessarily "duplicates" effort on the home ministry's NPR — to die out. The case for the census-linked NPR has been eloquently and persuasively made already, and this newspaper feels it has much to contribute to our security. Yet it is not a substitute for the UID, without the latter's game-changing flexibility, though the two must work out their synergy.


In the meantime, the strategic planning for Aadhar, as the UID is to be branded, is showing encouraging signs of progress. In the past few weeks alone, linking UID data with food security and the public distribution system, with NREGA payments, and with the government's stated aims on financial inclusion, have taken major steps forward. The Central government must continue to stand firmly by this project, one that is essential to ensure the effectiveness of the social-sector schemes on which its reputation rides.







The Supreme Court has finally scotched the ban against American historian James Laine, whose book on Shivaji had enraged Maharashtra's Sambhaji brigade enough to run riot through the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in 2004, destroying rare manuscripts and harassing scholars. The then Congress/NCP-led administration cravenly gave in to their bullying, slapping a ban on the book. Political parties across the spectrum vied with each other to speak for the uninformed hoodlums rather than for scholarship and free inquiry. And institution after institution acquiesced in this unofficial censorship, until even the Supreme Court gently suggested to Laine that he simply excise the offending bits and ponder "how the interests of justice would be best served."


Now, as the ban is lifted, the old hatreds have come rushing back — the Sambhaji brigade has howled betrayal and threatened that if the government does not take action by August 15, "we will take action in our style." The MNS promised that it would burn every available copy and see how anyone managed to sell the book. Home minister R.R. Patil, speaking for the Congress-NCP government, said their opposition remained undiluted, and even the Samajwadi party presented the decision as a great insult to Maharashtra's moral fabric. Nor has the BJP emerged unscathed; it has hardly made an effort to rein in its ally, the Shiv Sena.


As it happens, the James Laine case has indeed become a litmus test for the state. The court's lifting of the ban has taken Maharashtra full circle, back where it all began — the threats of vigilante justice, the deep and dangerous illiteracy (the book is an excavation of the Shivaji myth, not an authorised biography), and political rhetoric that ratchets up the anger instead of addressing it with a larger vision. What happens next will reveal whether Maharashtra, long disfigured by its politics of violent resentment, can ever hope for better. Why must the agenda for its mainstream politics continually be set by the state's most obscurantist, hyper-nationalist fringe? When it comes to protecting an intellectual endeavour that has now been vetted by the court, will the state finally have the spine to stand up to the various Senas that menace it?








 The bulk of foreign investment in India comes through Mauritius. The Double Tax Avoidance Agreement between India and Mauritius allows investors to avoid paying taxes to Indian authorities. The original draft of the proposed Direct Tax Code (DTC) had proposed over-riding the agreement with Mauritius. However, the now revised DTC has dropped this plan. The Mauritius tax treaty is an odd one and needs to be reconsidered. But this is only politically feasible when it is one component of a larger movement by India towards sensible tax treaties with major countries.


Many decades ago, when globalisation was a new force reshaping the world, the question for policy-makers was: how can tax policy be made compatible with globalisation? On one hand, each country should have the legitimate choice of choosing its own tax rates and tax/ GDP ratio. At the same time, tax policy must not interfere with globalisation. How are these two goals to be simultaneously achieved?


The first element of the answer lies in the approach of the Value Added Tax (VAT) towards international trade. VAT is a complex tax applying at every layer of production. If a country raises its own VAT rate, this would render local production uncompetitive when compared with imports. How can countries achieve autonomy in setting their VAT rate, while simultaneously not modifying the competitive landscape between imports and exports?


The answer has been found in focusing taxation upon residents. Under this, each country has legitimate taxing powers over its own residents, however, no country can tax non-residents. If India tries to tax the British buyer of Indian steel, that buyer will simply move his business to Korean producers of steel. Hence, the VAT solution lies in "zero rating" of exports. At the point of export, the Indian exporter (that is, the foreign consumer) is paid the full burden of Indian VAT that has been applied on the exported product, by the government. Through this, the high seas price of all goods is free of the VAT.


Conversely, when goods come into India, the Indian VAT is applied at the point of entry. This VAT on imports levels the playing field between a foreign producer (where high seas prices are free of tax) and the local producer (who has paid VAT at many stages of production).


Under this arrangement India taxes the consumption of residents. Regardless of the nationality of the buyer or the location of the producer, if a person on


Indian soil buys a shirt, he pays the Indian VAT on this shirt. Simultaneously, India does not tax non-residents, by refunding the VAT collections embedded in the exported shirt.


The same questions have appeared in finance. How should German tax policy view the American buyer of currency futures traded in Germany? The principle to follow would be that tax policy should not generate the slightest bias for the American or German buyer, to favour the currency futures found in either country.


This can be achieved through residence-based taxation. The American authorities tax the global income of American residents (and exempt the financial activities in America by all non-residents). The German authorities tax the global income of German residents (and exempt the financial activities in Germany by all non-residents). Through this it becomes the legitimate right of each country to set tax policy for its own residents, but tax policy generates no distortion in the global financial system. German and American producers of currency futures compete without tax considerations changing the behaviour of their customers.


According to Indian tax laws, non-residents doing financial activities in India are taxed. Ordinarily, this would create distortions and make India uncompetitive. In practice, India has avoided these problems by signing the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Mauritius. A large fraction of non-resident financial activity in India is routed through Mauritius, and is thus


not taxed. If the DTAA with Mauritius were to be over-riden by the DTC, and this route closed in isolation, it would have destabilising effects. That would be tantamount to imposing an onerous set of capital controls. In addition, a good deal of India-related financial activity would shift from India to offshore venues. Indian firms with foreign investors would be adversely affected if India moved away from the residence-based taxation implicit in the Mauritius treaty. It is not surprising that every time the government has proposed doing something new on the Mauritius tax treaty, there has been a backlash from the private sector. This could explain the change in government plans that the DTC should override the Mauritius treaty.


How should the issue be resolved? The solution lies in seeing the Mauritius tax treaty in its larger context. As long as India lacks residence-based taxation against major countries, the Mauritius treaty is a critical pillar of Indian tax policy in that it delivers a residence-based system, at least for some foreigners who choose to come via this route. From 1991 to 2010, this treaty


has been a little understood foundation of India's financial globalisation.


To resolve the question, our tax treaties with all major countries need to enshrine residence-based taxation. This network of tax treaties needs to be put into place before any modifications to the Mauritius treaty are made, so as to avoid destabilising the financial markets. This would get rid of the costs imposed on foreign investors by making them set up offices in Mauritius. By making India much more attractive, it would reduce the cost of capital for Indian firms. It would offer a more stable policy framework, because at present there is always the sword of scrapping the Mauritius treaty hanging over the heads of market participants. India is globalising at a very fast pace and such issues need


to be resolved, rather than postponed indefinitely.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public


Finance and Policy, Delhi







 Justice Santosh Hegde (retd) may have decided to continue as Lokayukta of Karnataka after resigning in a huff a couple of weeks back over interference by the BJP government in the state, but his latest move has not put an end to the debate over the lack of real "authority" that the office of Lokayukta or Lok Pal, as it is called in some north Indian states, enjoys.


His recent actions have also once again brought into focus the apparent lack of commitment by the Central government — despite repeated assertions in the last almost five decades, starting with the first Lokpal Bill in 1968, the Centre is yet to have a Lokayukta — and the state governments to have a truly empowered ombudsman against corruption


in high offices.


There have been many instances of a Lokayukta being eased out or, in some cases, removed arbitrarily after a change in government in the state. Instances of recommendations for action against ministers, MLAs and officers by many Lokayuktas been simply ignored are aplenty.


Consider this: Haryana's first Lokayukta was Justice I.P. Vashisht (retd), who resigned as judge of the Allahabad high court to take up the offer made by then state government headed by Bansi Lal in 1997. However, less than eight months into the job, he was shunted out by the next government headed by Om Prakash Chautala through an ordinance. Through the ordinance, the Chautala government simply repealed the Lokayukta Act on the plea that his government intended to provide more powers to the Lokayukta!


Vashisht later moved the Punjab and Haryana high court, seeking payment of salary and perks due to him for the entire tenure. The high court agreed with his contention and directed the Haryana government to pay all outstanding dues to him.


Almost similar is the case of Justice S.K. Ray (retd), who had been appointed as Lokpal of Orissa in 1989 for five years but was asked to go home after the Lokpal Act was abolished 1992. Taking up his case, the Supreme Court ruled that if the post of Lokpal was abolished without allowing the incumbent to complete his tenure, he must be compensated for the loss of salary for the remaining period of his tenure.


Late Justice D.V. Sehgal, who was the Punjab Lokpal, had recommended registration of cases against four ministers in Congress government headed by Beant Singh for corruption. However, till date no action has been initiated against the Congressmen.


The present Lokayukta of Haryana, Justice N.K. Sud (retd) has written several times to the state government highlighting the lack of response from departments to reports against officials.


In a report sent to the state government, Sud wrote, "departments were unnecessarily dragging their feet in taking action against the delinquent officials. As a result of this delay many delinquent officials attain the age of superannuation and proceedings are dropped against them on the ground that they have already retired."


Critics of the institution of Lokayukta maintain that under the current system, the state governments ensure that the person occupying the post is usually close to the government of the day. While this may not be true for all cases — Justice Hegde, incidentally, is an appointee of the previous H.D. Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-BJP government — there have been allegations against some Lokayukta that while they investigated cases against leaders of the opposition with a vengeance, they tended to go slow if the complaint was against a leader of the party that had appointed him to the post.


When an earlier Punjab government headed by Parkash Singh Badal appointed Justice H.S. Rai as Lokpal in 1997, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stepped in, ordering his removal from the post. One of the allegations against Rai was that he was close to the Badal family.


Apart from the fact that it has only recommendatory powers, another important reason why the office of Lokayukta has remained a non-starter in most states is that the state governments decide to sit on the recommendations and not initiate any follow up action. While our political parties rarely see anything in the same light, when it comes to the need to have a Lokpal at the Centre, they easily find common ground and ensure that any such move is scuttled in the early stages.


In the aftermath of the Hegde episode, while the Karnataka government has announced that the Lokayukta would be given more powers, the onus, really, is on the Central government to show the way forward by fine-tuning the Lokpal Bill and introducing it in the Parliament at the earliest.








 Many of us still have hurtful memories of the mid-'60s when, after two successive years of savage drought, India desperately needed American wheat under the US Public Law 480 on rupee payment — and at relatively low prices because the country had no foreign exchange to buy food in the world market. Indira Gandhi had just become prime minister and chose to go to Washington on an official visit. Lyndon Johnson gave her a gushing welcome and responded to the food problem confronting her effusively, promising as many as 10 million tons of PL480 wheat. However, at an early stage the transaction turned sour.


Infuriated by India's criticism of American bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong in the course of the Vietnam War, the irascible Texan put food shipments on such a tight leash that India literally lived from ship to mouth. With every morsel we swallowed a little humiliation. When told that the Indians were saying exactly the same thing as the UN Secretary-General and the Pope were, Johnson had retorted: "The Pope and the Secretary-General do not need our wheat." Many in India started demanding that we should say no to American wheat. Sensibly, Indira Gandhi said nothing. Privately, she told some confidants: "If food imports stop, these ladies and gentlemen won't suffer. Only the poor would starve."


All this was, in several ways, a replay of the dismal drama over the first US wheat loan to this country that had unfolded a decade and half earlier and generated much ill-will. Since few remember what came to pass then, the story is worth telling.


In 1949 the Indian food situation was as difficult as in the '60s and the foreign exchange position even worse. In November that year Nehru made his first visit to the US amidst a tremendous welcome. During his talks with Harry Truman he did mention the scarcity of food in India. Truman's response was positive. But there were bureaucratic obstructions, resistance in the US Congress, procedural delays and other difficulties, including the American attempt to barter wheat for strategic materials. There could therefore be no agreement even though there was a glut of wheat in America. India said that the US was "ungracious" and "stingy". What annoyed New Delhi the most was that the US had tried to use food aid as a "policy lever". For their part, American officials complained that the Indian government had not "followed up" on Nehru's vague request to Truman. This, however, was not the end of the story.


By the summer of 1950, the Indian food situation had deteriorated. This time around the government conveyed to Washington India's requirement in clear terms. Nehru's sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, then ambassador to the US, handed the formal request for 2 million tons of wheat aid to the secretary of state, Dean Acheson. Truman was cautious, however, and sent an aide to the Capitol Hill to sound out Congressional opinion. Senate foreign relations committee chairman Tom Connally told the luckless official: "You will have one hell of a time getting this thing through Congress." As Truman knew, there were reasons for India's unpopularity with many Congressmen. These included India's policy of nonalignment, its friendly relations with China, its peace-making role in Korea and American legislators' astonishing ignorance concerning India. Nevertheless, Truman decided to send the food aid legislation to Congress. He enlisted the former Republican president Herbert Hoover's support for the Bill. Even so, resistance to the measure was stiff. More obdurate than the Senate was the House of Representatives, which, at one stage, postponed the consideration of the issue.


What kind of pride and prejudice this country was up against is best illustrated by an interview Vijayalashmi Pandit had with Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House and a legendary figure on the Hill at that time, from which she returned in a towering rage. It had gone something like this: "Why don't you buy wheat from Pakistan which has wheat in surplus? The only reason you don't is because Hindu India wants to do down Muslim Pakistan," Rayburn said to the ambassador. She tried to control her temper as best she could and said testily that India was not Hindu India, and that it had "more Muslims than Muslim Pakistan."


Rayburn: "Oh, you have Muslims in India! Honey, why didn't you say so earlier?"


Ambassador: "Sam, I have been saying this for two years, ever since I came here, but you don't hear and you don't understand." Whereupon Rayburn's tone suddenly changed, and he said: "No, no, now that I know, now you will have no trouble. If they give you any more trouble, honey, you just tell me." (Source: B.K. Nehru, then minister for economic affairs at the Indian embassy in Washington.)


This, combined with carping criticism and foot-dragging by the US Congress, annoyed Nehru so much that he burst out: "We would be unworthy of the high responsibilities with which we have been charged if we bartered our country's self-respect or freedom of action, even for something we need badly." Unsurprisingly, the opponents of the Food Aid Bill in Washington were miffed. Some days later the prime minister spoke of food aid in positive terms. He also declared that India would prefer the wheat as a loan not as a gift. US Congressional nerves thus soothed, the India Emergency Food Aid Bill to loan India two million tons of wheat worth $190 million was eventually passed. On June 15, 1951 President Truman signed it into law, with Vijayalakshmi Pandit sitting by his side while everyone else stood.


However, when the American wheat arrived on Indian shores, the US did not get any thanks or public relations dividend. There had been too much acrimony and bad blood during Congressional hearings. Nehru thought it necessary to explain that despite the "best efforts" of the US administration, "there has been a feeling of resentment in India regarding the long delays and obstructionist tactics of some in the American Congress".


What particularly irked the Americans was the Indian applause for a much smaller shipment of the Soviet wheat that had arrived much earlier.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








 Is the present turmoil in the valley a manufactured crisis created by separatists and the opposition PDP, or an outcome of systemic failure? Has the Centre rushed to a conclusion about the trigger behind the current phase of the crisis here? Is the Jammu and Kashmir government hiding its own failures on the ground behind unconditional support from the Centre?


A look at how the events leading to the current strife unfolded provides a logical explanation. The strife began when the Machil fake encounter was exposed on May 30. Then, on the evening of June 11, 17-year-old student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was returning home from tuition. It was Friday, and police were chasing a dozen stone throwers, when they found Mattoo alone inside a football stadium. A policeman fired at him from such close range that the plastic pellet made a half-inch hole in his skull, killing him instantaneously. And as shock overwhelmed the city, the police began a familiar cover-up. First, they claimed that a sharp stone had hit Mattoo's head and killed him. A few hours later, they termed it "deliberate murder" and sought public help to identify two men who had driven Mattoo body to hospital. But once eyewitnesses came forward and public pressure mounted, the police admitted responsibility. The separatist leaders joined the bandwagon, hoping to take over the streets swelling with anger. The mourners, however, resisted; and three senior separatist leaders had to leave Mattoo's funeral to escape their ire.


On June 12, even as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ordered an enquiry and promised action, CRPF men caught hold of another young man Rafiq Ahmad Bangroo (25) and thrashed him. He was in intensive care for eight days, where he finally died. Over those eight days, life had returned to normal.  On June 20, tempers were high among mourners returning after burying him; a group threw stones towards the CRPF bunker where Bangroo had been thrashed. The CRPF men opened fire, killing Bangroo's 20-year-old cousin Javaid Ahmad Malla. Abdullah, in Gulmarg on vacation, rushed back to Srinagar, held an emergency meeting, replaced the SSP of Srinagar and returned to join his family in the picturesque resort. What infuriated people was that there was no official regret over the killings.


On June 25, calm was setting in again when CRPF men opened fire at a protest in Sopore in which people were seeking the bodies of two local militants killed in an encounter, alleging that one of them was a civilian. The protests grew louder but instead of intervening sensibly, the government used force. The separatists moved; the Mirwaiz called for a Sopore march on June 29. The CRPF men opened fire at a procession in the outskirts of that town, killing a 17-year-old student Tajamul Bashir. Within a few hours, they again opened fire; a nine-year old school boy Asif Hassan at Delina in Baramulla, when he stepped out of his home to look for his mentally challenged older brother, was killed. The following day when Abdullah finally decided to appear before the media, three teenage boys were killed in the most gruesome manner by the J&K police. While chasing a group of protestors, a police party barged into two houses and shot dead these three teenagers — all hit in the head and chest.


With unconditional support from the Centre, the state government started pushing the theory that "anti-national elements" were responsible for the crisis, and that the protestors were rented. Abdullah's assertion that the protestors are themselves responsible if they die defying curfew sent out a dangerous message to his own police. On July, 6, police chased a half a dozen stone throwing children at Tengpora in the city outskirts and caught hold of 17-year-old student Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat, hitting him in the head with rifle butts. The police denied his arrest, which led to massive protests. In the morning, his body was found in a nearby stream; the autopsy determined he died of "blunt trauma on head". The CRPF opened fire at his funeral procession too, killing another man, 35-year old Fayaz Ahmad. Survived by two little daughters and a wife, Ahmad's tragic death provoked massive protests across Kashmir. A few hours later, a 25-year-old woman who had dared to open the window of her house during curfew was shot and killed. 


 The civilian death toll had reached 15 and Srinagar was in absolute turmoil with everyone out on the streets and Azadi songs being played over mosque loudspeakers. Abdullah panicked and hurriedly decided to hand over the city to the army. The move was unprecedented, because the army was not asked to take over the city even during the peak of militancy. Abdullah swamped Srinagar with more than 40,000 men of the police and central forces, to strictly confine its 13 lakh residents to their homes, closing down hospitals and newspapers.


 It is a fact that the separatists as well as the opposition PDP are taking political advantage of the situation. But blaming them for manufacturing the crisis is factually inaccurate, and an attempt to cover up the government's own blunders — in not first preventing these avoidable deaths, and then the delay in containing their fallout. If separatists were so keen to organise a crisis, why didn't the protests against the army's fake encounter put the whole valley on a boil? The opposition may fuel the fire but the spark that lit it was the government's own folly.  


Omar Abdullah is an elected CM, and has said that the current issue is "not a simple law and order problem but a battle of wits, ideas and ideologies." Why does is his government failing to communicate directly with his people? Why is there no political response? Where are the elected legislators? Srinagar city has eight and all of them belong to his National Conference. After all, as elected representatives they claim a greater connect to the people than the separatists — this was the moment for them to affirm that connect. Abdullah's plan to convene a meet of all the mainstream parties is too little too late.


The current protests, however, have exposed the collective amnesia of the ruling elite and have once again brought into focus the importance of a responsive political initiative to address the larger Kashmir issue. The crisis has also reaffirmed how essential is a process for a political solution, typically put in cold storage as soon as calm descends over the valley. A strategy of denial will only complicate matters, because every folly of the government provokes a public reaction that soon turns into an "Azadi" groundswell.








 Wrapping up the big, the bad and the moderately good of the past six months:


The six-monthly box office results are in. The BO barometer shows more misses than hits: the industry has suffered a loss of over Rs 250 crore. While money-spinners like My Name Is Khan, Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Housefull are noteworthy, there is only one legit superhit in the season so far, that being Prakash Jha's Raajneeti. As for the biggest losers, that's a three way tie between Kites, Raavan and Veer.


The film bounty between Jan-June threw up some interesting trends. There was little good, lots of bad and some ugly at the movies.


Here's a lowdown:




The Arrival of Ranbir Kapoor: Raj Kapoor's grandson found his rhythm with last year's double whammy of Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Wake Up Sid. This year he stole the show in the political thriller Raajneeti. Ranbir's Michael Corleone-meets-Arjuna performance eclipsed all his heavyweight co-stars. The trade has woken up to Ranbir's crowd puller abilities and there is serious money riding on him. Top-notch film-makers like Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Basu and Mani Ratnam have signed him for their next. The cherry on Ranbir's cake: the much-coveted Kishore Kumar biopic which will be helmed by Basu.


Katrina Works The Saree: The entire publicity of her big-ticket movie, Raajneeti, was nicely wrapped around Katrina Kaif's saree. Katrina, of the pink lip gloss and skimpy minis has been the reigning queen, but artistic respect was eluding her. With Raajneeti, she proved that she can speak chaste Hindi lines and even deliver a hit clad in a saree. Her hit list keeps growing.


The Game Changing LSD: After Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and now Love Sex Aur Dhoka, director Dibakar Banerjee proves yet again that he knows the middle class of the New Young India, their aspirations and their kinks. Undoubtedly Dibakar's world is a culture shock for some unclejis and auntyjis. But then reality always bites. In this case, the reality came as an electric shock. Shooting the film from a third person point of view, using digital technology was also a big gamble.


Just In 60 Seconds: Some movies sell themselves in a promo. Vishal Bhardwaj has patented this art. The edgy, rustic and saucy theatrical of his production, Ishqiya surpassed Kaminey's first look. Ishqiya also gave us the best song of the year (so far) "Dil To Bachcha Hai" and of course the ultimate term of endearment — they called it Chutiyum Sulphate.




No Controversy Cover For Bollywood: The Shiv Sena- My Name Is Khan controversy proved the film industry's vulnerability yet again. Watching the movie in a Mumbai theatre became an act of bravery. SRK's star power ensured that the film became a hit but it's not the same for the "smallies" that face unnecessary wrath from political parties time and again.


Whose Flop Is It Anyway: The war of words between Amitabh Bachchan and Mani Ratnam over the underperformance of Raavan underscored yet again that failure has no father in showbiz. Big B expressed his displeasure with the edit pattern of Raavan and used it to justify son, Abhishek's critically ravaged performance. Ratnam justified his vision to a Tamil daily and made it known that the Vikram-as-Raavana starrer was a commercial success down South. The editor of the film, A. Sreekar Prasad, sided with Ratnam.


Hype Doth Not Sell a Film: Kites came and went. So did Pyaar Impossible that tried the Beauty and the Geek formula of getting a top heroine, Priyanka Chopra to prance around with Uday Chopra. Veer, Teen Patti, Raavan, Rann also proved that hype and superstars are mere tags.




Was That a Climax?: Sajid Khan's Housefull will be remembered for its climax which was actually no climax. Letting loose laughter gas sounds like a college canteen joke but Khan actually did it. The rules of comedies have been rewritten. We shudder to think what we'll be served next.


The Kites Effect: Films flop all the time but the wave of negativity that followed the debacle of Hrithik's Kites was distasteful. The industry jokes, the text messages didn't stop. In Bollywood everybody loves a flop especially if it's of a big star.


Forgettable Debut: Does anyone even remember that Shatrughan Sinha's son, Luv, made his debut this year? This was one star launch that went totally wrong. The film was Sadiyaan, by the way.







Despite being stoned and tear-gassed on this trip to the West Bank, I find a reed of hope here. It's that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of nonviolent resistance that just might be a game-changer.


The organisers hail the methods of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., recognising that nonviolent resistance could be a more powerful tool to achieve a Palestinian state than rockets and missiles. Bilin is one of several West Bank villages experimenting with these methods, so I followed protesters here as they marched to the Israeli security fence.


Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.


But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That's the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define "nonviolence" to include stone-throwing. Soon after, the Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas at us, and then charged. The protesters fled, some throwing rocks backward as they ran. It's a far cry from the heroism of Gandhi's followers, who refused even to raise their arms to ward off blows as they were clubbed.


(I brought my family with me on this trip, and my kids experienced the gamut: we were stoned by Palestinian kids in East Jerusalem, and tear-gassed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.)


Another problem with these protests, aside from the fact that they aren't truly nonviolent, is they typically don't much confound the occupation authorities.


But imagine if Palestinians stopped the rock-throwing and put female pacifists in the lead. What if 1,000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farmland? What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown? Those images would be on televisions around the world — particularly if hundreds more women marched in to replace those hauled away.


"This is what Israel is most afraid of," said Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a nonviolent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi's famous 1930 salt march.


One genuinely peaceful initiative is a local boycott of goods produced by Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Another is the weekly demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah against evictions of Palestinians there. And in Gaza, some farmers have protested Israel's no-go security zones by publicly marching into those zones, even at the risk of being shot.


So far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr. But one candidate might be Ayed Morrar. A balding, mild-mannered activist, he was the mastermind behind the most successful initiative so far: nonviolent demonstrations a half-dozen years ago in the West Bank village of Budrus against Israel's construction of a security fence there. More than many other Palestinians, he has a shrewd sense of public relations.


"With nonviolent struggle, we can win the media battle," Mr. Morrar told me, speaking in English. "They always used to say that Palestinians are killers. With nonviolence, we can show that we are victims, that we are not against Jews but are against occupation."


Mr. Morrar spent six years in Israeli prisons but seems devoid of bitterness. He says that Israel has a right to protect itself by building a fence — but on its own land, not on the West Bank. Most Palestinian demonstrations are overwhelmingly male, but in Budrus women played a central role. They were led by Mr. Morrar's quite amazing daughter, Iltezam Morrar. Then 15, she once blocked an Israeli bulldozer by diving in front of it (the bulldozer retreated, and she was unhurt).


Israeli security forces knew how to deal with bombers but were flummoxed by peaceful Palestinian women. Even when beaten and fired on with rubber bullets, the women persevered. Finally, Israel gave up. It rerouted the security fence to bypass nearly all of Budrus. The saga is chronicled in this year's must-see documentary "Budrus," a riveting window into what might be possible if Palestinians adopted civil disobedience on a huge scale. In a sign of interest in nonviolent strategies, the documentary is scheduled to play in dozens of West Bank villages in the coming months, as well as at international film festivals.


I don't know whether Palestinians can create a peaceful mass movement that might change history, and their first challenge will be to suppress the stone-throwers and bring women into the forefront. But this grass-roots movement offers a ray of hope for less violence and more change.








The government's ordinance that resolved the dispute over the regulation of unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips) in favour of Irda rather than Sebi is causing concern among some financial sector regulators, particularly RBI and Sebi. According to a report in FE on Friday, the two regulators are particularly concerned about the formation of a joint committee with statutory powers to decide upon future disputes over hybrid products. This committee, it is feared, may trample on the autonomy enjoyed by these regulators since all its orders will be binding. This is in sharp contrast to the High Level Coordination Committee on Capital Markets (HLCC) whose orders are not binding on any regulator. RBI, of course, chairs the HLCC so it is unsurprising that they are protesting at the formation of a new body over which they will not preside. Still, regulatory autonomy is a crucial principle in a well-functioning market economy and any move to dilute that autonomy by the political executive should be looked upon with suspicion.


That said, it is difficult to deny that there is a need for a better inter-regulatory coordination mechanism than the toothless HLCC. It isn't simply that the financial crisis brutally exposed how certain instruments and products could fall between regulatory cracks with devastating effect to systemic stability. The Irda-Sebi dispute over Ulips showed how there can be products where genuine differences of opinion between regulators arise and they need solution. Of course, there is always the option of letting courts resolve disputes rather than committees. But judicial processes in India tend to be slow and protracted, the polar opposite of rapidly moving financial markets. It is, in theory, possible to have a serious crisis on hand before courts take a decision on which the appropriate regulatory authority is. So, it is hard to blame the government for acting decisively to quickly resolve the dispute. However, the government could have followed better processes. Consultations with sectoral regulators should have preceded the issuing of the ordinance. Also, the government should not have first said that it will let the courts resolve the dispute between Irda and Sebi and then abruptly step in with an ordinance. That sends out a non-transparent signal. Even at this stage, the government should involve Sebi, RBI and other sectoral regulators in thrashing out the coordination problems before the monsoon session of Parliament, when the ordinance is required to be ratified into law.







The recent sharp fall in the rate of food inflation shows that the advent of the southwest monsoons is finally making a substantial difference in lowering price expectations. Food inflation has come down by as much as 5.3 percentage points in the last three months from 17.9% in end March to just 12.6% in end June. But there remain areas of concern. The weekly figures for the first three months of the fiscal year show that though the overall prices of food grains have shrunk by 4.7 percentage points to touch single digits at 9.1% in the most recent week, most of the gains have been on account of the fall in cereal prices, especially those of rice and wheat, where the price increases have slumped to less than 6%. But in pulses, for instance, prices continue to increase by more than 30% even in the most recent week. The other major agriculture products where the price increases continue to rise very sharply include cotton (15%), fodder (18.1%), eggs, meat and fish (27.1%) and rubber (74.7%). Two other important agriculture products continue to see spiralling prices. One was that of condiments and spices, where prices picked up by 3.4 percentage points to touch 39.6% in the most recent week and sugarcane, where the prices have steadily risen by 53.2% over the last three months. So a more substantial and sustained reduction in overall food prices would happen only once the spike in prices of the outliers is also contained.


RBI may be tempted to use monetary policy instruments to tame inflation, including that in agricultural products. But as we have argued on a number of occasions in these columns, monetary policy will only have a limited effect. The government needs to seriously address supply constraints. There has been much discussion about the opening up of the retail sector to FDI in recent days. The government needs to quickly act on this demonstrating strong political will. It also needs to carry out fundamental reforms in agriculture and food distribution. Here, the hiving away of Sharad Pawar's gigantic portfolio could be an important starting point to kickstart market-based reform. At any rate, the government still has a long way to go before it can push down the rate of food inflation into moderate single digits and provide some respite to nervous monetary policymakers.









It is the season of rights in Indian public policy. The Right to Education—a piece of legislation that essentially nationalises 25% of private school capacity—will soon be joined by the Right to Food. A somewhat flippant but not unthinkable solution to India's horrible sanitation problems could require every house to make 25% of their bathroom capacity available to people who don't have their own. But this column is not a mother nature rant against the role of the state—market fundamentalists are as wrong as communists—but a case that there can be very different costs and outcomes depending on how state interventions are structured.


NREG will spend more than Rs 1,50,000 crore over five years. The modular employable skills (MES) programme of the ministry of labour has been allocated Rs 500 crore over five years. This budget differential of 300 times is wrong. MES is rooted in capabilities while NREG is rooted in rights. MES teaches people how to grow food while NREG gives people food.


NREG is a massive 'make work' scheme whose numbers will improve if we take away the beneficiaries shovels and give them spoons. Even if we don't consider the obvious transmission losses of corruption in the massive delivery system—more money would have reached if it had been dropped from helicopters—the biggest problems arise from the inability of NREG's 100-day job to deliver productivity enhancing assets or an employability corridor that builds skills. But nobody can dispute that a clear consequence of NREG has been to increase the wage bargaining power of farm labour. This is bittersweet; an obvious downside has been the scarcity of farm labour and some contribution to food price inflation. But a long-term upside of NREG is acceleration in higher farm productivity because the traditional armies of farm workers at subsistence wage and marginal productivity will no longer be available. So many more unskilled farm workers now seek non-farm rural or urban jobs.


MES is a programme of the ministry of labour that belies the notion that public policy does not listen or is incapable of innovating. It is an open architecture programme that replaces archaic long programmes with short ones, involves employers in course design to ensure relevance, links money to student performance rather than institutional need, and makes public money available for outcome measured private delivery. MES enables private trainers to deliver more than 1,200 approved courses of various durations to students who are subsequently independently assessed. Thus, MES enables repair—quick re-skilling or last mile skilling—of labour market participants seeking to make one of India's ongoing labour market transitions (farm to non-farm, rural to urban, unorganised to organised, subsistence self-employment to wage employment or school to work). Unfortunately, MES's five-year budget of Rs 500 crore—a rounding error by NREG's calibration—is completely inadequate to meet the market requirements.


No democracy on this planet has ever dealt with the fire hose of people that India faces; we will add one million people to our labour force every month for the next 20 years. While we can learn from the experience of other countries, nobody else has confronted the impossible trinity of cost, quality and scale. We need massive innovation in how we match jobs to candidates, how we para-skill our trainers, how we blend the four classroom factors of instructor, satellite, e-learning and apprenticeships, and how we finance skill development. The state has a huge role in skills because of a market failure; employers are not willing to pay for candidates or training but for trained candidates. Candidates are not willing to pay for training but willing to pay for jobs. Third party financiers are not willing to lend to candidates unless a job is guaranteed. And many training companies are unable to fill up classrooms even though many of them are spending more on marketing as a share of revenues than pharmaceutical companies. MES is an important part of attacking this market failure in skills because it provides viability gap funding while enabling scale and competition.


A 100-day job under NREG violates more than 37 labour laws: minimum wages, contract labour, ESI, EPFO, etc. So the government—unlike Left parties and trade unions—seems to recognise that the good is not the enemy of the great and a job is better than no job. But any state intervention programme in labour markets that ignores the issue of labour law reform ignores the very real costs of our current regime; unorganised employment, capital substitution and corruption. The labour law issue is important to the poverty and skill issue because it is very difficult—if not impossible—to sustain third party financing of skill development unless it leads to organised employment. So any innovative, sustainable and scalable state intervention in labour markets lies at the intersection of employment and unemployment. NREG fails this test. MES passes. I never imagined I'd be writing this, but isn't it time to give the ministry of labour more money?


—The author is chairman, Teamlease Services








The last 20 years have witnessed a gradual but perceptible shift in India's trade equations. The shift has resulted in India trading much more with Asia nowadays than it was in the early 1990s. Asia now accounts for more than 50% of India's total exports and 60% of India's imports. With India's trade basket getting increasingly dominated by exchanges with Asia, there are interesting implications of such domination for India's long-term economic policies.


India is usually referred to as a 'late starter' in international growth and development literature. There are several dimensions to the reference. One of the more obvious ones is India's inability to shake off the 'mixed economy' model for several years despite other major world economies shifting to different development strategies much earlier. The year 1991 is normally referred to as the time when India broke free of the mixed economy. The reality, however, is that some segments of the mixed economy continue to perpetuate even today. Foremost among these are inward-looking tendencies that tend to obstruct progress in seeking solutions to greater market access. As a result, India's external links continue to remain underdeveloped vis-à-vis those of its counterparts. The latter does not only include the rest of the BRICs—Brazil, Russia and China—but also other major economies of Asia, Mexico and South Africa.


On account of being a hesitant globaliser, and also because of careful distancing from East and Southeast Asia due to compulsions stemming from Cold War alignments, India was left out of East and Southeast Asia's remarkable growth story. The exclusion meant India's non-access to Asia's production networks that have acquired dense proportions over time. A considerable part of Asia's trade is intra-regional trade; and bulk of such trade is intra-industry trade. Due to limited trade with the region, India never got the opportunity to figure in these networks. This is where India's trade suffered on account of its inward outlook. A more progressive trade policy followed during the time would have had Indian firms featuring far more exhaustively in regional networks.


Nonetheless, India's foray into regional markets over the last few decades have produced gainful economic outcomes. There is, however, a need to cautiously interpret these results. From a regional perspective, trade with West Asia is the largest chunk of India's trade with Asia. This is essentially oil trade with crude oil flowing into India from West Asia and refined petroleum products moving out from India. Trade with East and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, has more variety in its patterns as far as product composition is concerned. Indeed, India's trade with these regions has helped it in scaling different layers of production networks by gaining, albeit limited, access into the region's intra-industry trade in machinery parts and components.


This is where the economic aspect of India's 'Look East' policy acquires significance. For nearly two decades now, the policy has guided India's engagement with its eastern neighbours. The economic benefits of the policy are visible. Not only has India's trade with Asean and Northeast Asia increased significantly over time, but India has also been able to strike major trade deals. The most important of these are the goods FTA with Asean and the bilateral trade deals with Singapore and Korea. Once concluded, trade deals with Japan, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand should increase India's economic engagement with the Asia-Pacific in a far greater manner.


India's current trade pattern with a striking dominance of Asia coupled with the growth trends in the world economy underlining a greater concentration of robust economic activity in the Asian region in the medium term, points to a distinct priority for India in its trade negotiations. As India negotiates with various countries with an eye to maximising potential gains, it needs to take a call on efficient deployment of its negotiation efforts. It is not possible, and also not advisable, to emphasise with equal vigour on multilateral as well as regional trade talks. There is a need to discriminate between partners and forums in future trade talks. If Asia is turning out to be a more gainful trade ally, then why shouldn't more energies and emphasis be given to trade negotiations with Asia? A multilateral trade regime offering equal access and opportunities to all is ideally the best solution for global trade. But WTO talks are unlikely to make much progress in foreseeable future. Rather than wasting efforts on defensive postures at the WTO, India can gain more by putting additional efforts in talks with the East. And that may help in further reducing the disadvantages of being a late starter.


—The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views










Once again the fate of the Indian cable and broadcasting industry hangs delicately between the right intentions of the sector regulator and the shaky will of the government to implement them.


As part of the tariff revision exercise for the sector that reaches over 90 million cable homes, mostly with an access to old analogue copper-wire cable delivery, Trai is eyeing 2013 as the cut-off date for the complete conversion to digital and addressable cable TV. That is the only solution for cleaning out our cable market, which is fraught with under-declarations, uneven subscriptions revenues, carriage fees, growing number of cable channels—550 channels already operational and 150 more waiting for clearances and the growing cost of operations among others.


For the industry, a complete digitalisation is the only solution towards digital cable at affordable pricing. But simply put, this means putting the entire country under the contentious umbrella of Conditional Access System (CAS). A similar move, though at the direction of a court order in 2006, did lead to selective CAS rollout across the three metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata with debatable results. For broadcasters and other stakeholders, CAS was a failure back then as either consumer switched to the digital DTH platforms or simply paid extra to the local operators to access the pay channels without routing them through a mandatory set-top box.


The cable prices are still not uniform and transparent as intended by Trai. And this is because while Trai recommends, it is up to the government to enforce its recommendations including CAS. But the government develops cold feet when it hears CAS. It did so in 2003, and 2007. And it may do so once again.


So, the gulf between the regulators' intentions and government's action still continues. But the regulator is again at work doing what it does best—make recommendations. And we can guess what the government will do next going by what it did three years ago. It will write to all state governments looking to gauge their mood for participating in CAS enforcement. If it succeeds, the Indian cable sector will be lucky, if not, the regulator is there to make more recommendations.










President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to China has caused predictable anxiety among those in India who tend to view relations with Beijing as a zero-sum game with Islamabad. Mr. Zardari has been a frequent flyer to China — three times last year — but this second official visit after October 2008 seems to have caused much apprehension in official India. First, there was China's reported plan to build two more nuclear reactors at Chashma. Then it was a proposed rail link from Kashgar in China's Xinjiang region, across the Karakoram mountains to Havelian in Pakistan's Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly North West Frontier Province). Just for perspective, during Mr. Zardari's five-day visit, the two sides signed six agreements on agriculture, healthcare, justice, media, economy, and technology. Presidents Zardari and Hu Jintao jointly pledged to fight the "three forces" of extremism, terrorism, and separatism. However, there was no official word from China on its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, although it is definitely on the cards. The rail link is less certain. Envisaged as running parallel to the Karakoram Highway, across the Khunjerab Pass and through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, the rail idea has been around since 2004; last year, both sides held preliminary talks for carrying out a feasibility study. Islamabad is keen but the extent of Chinese interest in the project is yet unclear. The Karakoram Highway, the highest paved road in the world, built with Chinese assistance, has proved an expensive link to maintain. A railway line would prove far more expensive.


It is true that the relations Pakistan has with China are the best it has with any country in the world. They have withstood the strain of shifting international relations for more than 60 years. However, it is by no means a problem-free friendship. There have been tensions over alleged training camps for separatist Xinjiang militant groups in Pakistan's north-west frontier region. Islamabad felt let down that its "all-weather friend" offered little help during a financial crunch in 2008, forcing it to knock on the doors of the International Monetary Fund. But this friendship has solid foundations, and it is time India recognised that it cannot alter the dynamics of the Pakistan-China relationship to suit its own needs. It would be more useful to focus on ways to improve India's own relations with China, and protect the substantial progress made since 1988. As National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon emphasised during his visit to Beijing, the India-China relationship has its own logic. Linking it with another bilateral relationship, which is driven by its own logic, would be self-defeating.







Arecent report of the World Trade Organisation, which has been monitoring trade and related developments since the end of the crisis, is generally positive on the prospects for open trade, although there are significant risks on the horizon. The report, which covers the six-month period ending May 2010, observes that many countries have resisted pressures to erect trade barriers. However, trade restraints of earlier periods remain, and there has been a marked reluctance to dismantle them. The WTO's two-point advice to countries — one, prevent further accumulation and two, exit from current restrictive practices — is unlikely to be acted upon in a hurry. The world economy has been recovering but the progress is too uneven to inspire confidence. The bigger emerging economies led by China and India are compensating for the lacklustre performance of the advanced economies. Merchandise trade is forecast to expand by 9.5 per cent in 2010, after an unprecedented decline of more than 12 per cent a year ago. Trade has an important role in anchoring the global economic recovery. However, despite the universal acknowledgment of the efficacy of open trade in realising important socio-economic goals — such as economic growth and poverty reduction — policymakers have been unable or unwilling to look at the big picture.


In many countries, open trade has remained captive to short-term political and economic compulsions. At this

juncture, the two biggest threats are: the persistently high unemployment levels in the advanced economies, and the high level of public indebtedness in many European countries. In advanced economies, unemployment is projected to stay close to 9 per cent through 2011 and to decline thereafter, but only slowly. Jobless growth has spawned protectionist tendencies in the United States. These include tighter visa rules for skilled persons and steps to make outsourcing less attractive for domestic companies. The continued failure to revive the nine-year-old Doha development round shows, above all, the collective failure of all countries to institutionalise multilateral trade rules under the aegis of the WTO. At their recent meeting at Toronto, the G20 leaders skipped their 2009 pledge to finalise the Doha round this year. They, however, agreed to halve the budget deficit of their respective countries by 2013. This would certainly be good for their public finance, but in the absence of expansive government spending, these countries will need to look at exports for their growth. There is a fear that, in their bid to stay in competition, at least some of them would resort to unfair trade practices.










It's practically a tradition to see India-Pakistan relations as a zero-sum game — if it is good for Pakistan, it must be bad for India and vice versa. Or so it seems to many on both sides of the border. But when all is said and done, is it really so?


In the months since the Mumbai attack, when regular dialogue has been suspended, every high-level meeting has been seen through that zero-sum prism, throwing up one as a winner and the other as a loser every time: If Yekaterinburg saw a snub for Pakistan when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave President Asif Ali Zardari a "dressing down" on terror, Sharm el-Sheikh put India on back foot after Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani slipped a reference to Balochistan past Dr. Singh. If India works on blocking China's nuclear deal with Pakistan, Islamabad feels satisfied that New Delhi has been blocked on gaining influence in Afghanistan.


The last two months have seen some change in that narrative — starting with Thimphu, where Dr. Singh and Mr. Gilani decided to make a fresh start — no scoring points ahead of their meeting, and briefings to the press after that were coordinated in content. In June, that change in strategy was more visible, first in meetings between the Foreign Secretaries, and then as Home Minister P. Chidambaram travelled to Islamabad and met the Pakistani leadership. His line was firm, sticking mainly to the agenda of more Pakistani action in the Mumbai attacks case, but he got assurances from Interior Minister Rehman Malik — from publicly agreeing to hand over voice samples of the 26/11 accused, to going after more suspects, and to "reconsidering the case against LeT founder Hafiz Saeed in the light of new evidence shared." Officials say the new avowal to act came after Mr. Chidambaram shared details of American LeT operative David Headley where he spoke of his meetings with Saeed.


Biggest shift


Perhaps the biggest shift on the part of Islamabad was accepting the centrality of action in the Mumbai attacks case to future relations between the countries. In the past, the responses of Pakistani leaders to India's pleas on the 26/11 investigation were helplessness ("We face a Mumbai-type attack everyday"), side-stepping ("Let's talk about the water problem too") and even counter-attack ("the dossier on Balochistan").



"Pakistan is coming out of denial," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told CNN-IBN last week, "People here no longer see groups like the Taliban as friends."


Dr. Singh's efforts to move away from the zero-sum game may be a small part of the reason for that shift. Pakistan's internal pressures are the bigger part. The attacks of the past few months have triggered a backlash among ordinary Pakistanis not seen in the past. The first reason has been the nature and target of the attacks — the massacre of minorities at their place of worship.


While the killing of 94 Ahmediyas in prayer may have evoked a mute response, the suicide bombing at Datta Darbar, the shrine of the revered Sufi saint Hazrat Ali Hajveri, that killed 41 devotees some weeks later brought thousands out on the streets in protest. Shops shut down in cities across the country to mark the people's outrage. Interestingly, the target of the protests has been the Punjab government, not the federal government.


According to analysts based in Pakistan, this was not just outrage at the government's failure to maintain law and order, this was anger against the State government run by the PML-N's Shahbaz Sharif for its perceived support to extremist groups. It was Mr. Sharif who last year pleaded with the Taliban not to attack targets in Punjab because they were "of the same ideology." It was his Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, who campaigned along with leaders of the anti-Shi'a radical group SSP, and his government that admitted to giving grants of Rs.8.2 crore to Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud Dawa last year. Most notably in the protests, it was the clerics of the Sunni Ittehaad Council themselves who demanded that the government stop funding Saeed's outfit. The demand also points to the widening rift between Pakistan's original and majority Barelvi 'Sufi-ist' followers and Wahabi Deobandis like Saeed, who not only rants against India but also targets Ahmediyas, Sufis and Shi'as in his speeches.


For India, the ISI's backing for Saeed continues to be the main concern, but internally now it is the provincial government's ties to the Punjabi Taliban that are taking the spotlight. The Sharifs, particularly Mian Nawaz Sharif, are known to be fervent followers of the Tablighi Jamaat — the all-powerful sect that provides inspiration to jihadi groups — especially those based in Punjab. The small town of Raiwind on Lahore's outskirts houses the world headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, as well as, interestingly, the Sharifs' own sprawling estate. It was at this Tablighi centre that the men arrested for carrying out the Ahmedi mosque massacres stayed and, according to reports, police captured a large stash of arms from another Raiwind hideout some days ago.


The other reason for the vocal backlash in Pakistan has been anguish over the profiles of those behind the most brutal terror acts — the world sat up when it emerged that the Times Square wannabe bomber was the son of a retired Air Vice-Marshal, that Headley had a half-brother in Prime Minister Gilani's office, and that in so many attacks terror recruits were drawn from Pakistan's upper middle class and elite. The men arrested for brutally gunning down 40 people including 17 children, mainly families of army officers at Rawalpindi's Parade Lane mosque in December 2009, fit into this growing statistic — while one was the son of a government officer in Islamabad, the other's father was a journalist. They were indoctrinated, say police, not at camps in PoK or Waziristan, but on the Internet, through promotional videos, and even at Dars or Koranic lectures that are so commonly held in drawing-rooms across Pakistan's big cities. Among the suspects in the parade ground attack were a former Foreign Service officer and two women who conducted such Dars, and also allegedly helped with logistics for the attack.


The revulsion over what one editorial refers to as 'Pakistan's creeping coup' by the Taliban could be India's most effective ally as it renews its dialogue with Pakistan while keeping concerns over terror at the forefront. After meeting Mr. Chidambaram last week, Mr. Malik, who is increasingly targeting the Punjab government for its lack of action against extremist groups, said in interviews: "We know that the Taliban's aim is to overrun Pakistan in order to attack India. We also have intelligence that groups behind the Mumbai attack continue to plan to send India and Pakistan to war."


As India waits for Mr. Malik and other members of Pakistan's government to make good on their latest promises on the 26/11 investigation and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna heads there for another round of talks, the zero-sum game should be put on hold — as eventually, it is only in Islamabad's realisation that working against the LeT and other anti-India groups is in its own best interests that would change the discourse from its unproductive past. A realisation on both sides that what is diabolical for India cannot possibly do any good for Pakistan, and vice versa.

( Suhasini Haidar is the Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)









On July 3, exactly a week after India and Pakistan decided that their premier investigation agencies would work together on the Mumbai terror attacks, the defence of the seven accused in the case in Pakistan were not particularly sweating.


And it was not just bravado, insisted the defence team's Malik Muhammad Rafique Khan. The prosecution had just informed the anti-terror court in Rawalpindi's high security Adiala jail that India would not send Ajmal Kasab to testify against the accused — Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and six others. If Kasab is not allowed to testify, the evidence that India has provided against the accused cannot come on record as per Pakistani law, contends Mr. Khan. And the prosecution's entire case in the Mumbai trial in Pakistan is built around Kasab's confessional statement, he adds.


India's 'no' to Kasab being sent to Pakistan took nearly two months coming and now the prosecution is hoping the magistrate and the police officer who recorded his statement can come instead. When Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik aired the proposal, it had come under withering attack from the opposition in India. Even officials in the Ministry of External Affairs had bristled at the suggestion.


Though India has sent several dossiers on the Mumbai attack, the defence team is "least concerned," courtesy "the inefficiency of the Indian investigators". Refusing to comment on the quality of evidence provided by India, Mr. Khan said there was nothing substantial and the proceedings were further delayed by the number of witnesses.


On the charge that the case was being deliberately delayed, the defence's counter is that priority was being given to it — hearings take place almost every Saturday and the Mumbai case is the first to be taken up when the anti-terror court convenes. That the case gets heard every Saturday and has a judge dedicated to it almost exclusively is evidence of Pakistan's intent, according to Supreme Court lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi. "This is just one of those actions of the Pakistan government in this case which speak for themselves but went unnoticed in the acrimony."


People privy to the deliberations within the Pakistani establishment after the Mumbai attacks insist that there was a sea change in the approach compared to the Parliament attack in 2001. "At each step — be it to register a case and arrest people — there was debate and discussion and all stakeholders were present: the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Office, and the Punjab government. There was a conscious decision to do something. After the Parliament attack, we went into a denial mode and allowed tensions to build up," said an official.


'Big step'


"Yes, we first denied Kasab's links but a case was eventually registered," points out Mr. Soofi, underlining that the Pakistan government in November 2008 was fairly new and could not do anything without the ISI's backing. "Registering the FIR was a big step. Second was the arrest of seven people. It went unnoticed but for the first time the establishment did not obstruct the arrest of its 'assets.' The government could have released them under watch till evidence was gathered. If window-dressing was all we intended to do, no arrests were needed. When the public prosecutor submitted the case in court, the government admitted that it found the persons guilty. It is a huge statement for the government of Pakistan."


Then why the slow pace is India's counter. In his recent talks with Mr. Malik, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram let it be known that India thought the trial had not started in the real sense. The Pakistan Foreign Office and lawyers respond in a chorus: Kasab's case in India took 17 months when there was just one accused and the scene of crime was nearby. Look at the logistics in Pakistan: seven accused and their lawyers. There are about 100 witnesses and the lawyers will cross-examine them separately.


More bad news is the death of the state's "most confident prosecutor" Rab Nawaz Noon. Lawyers interpreted his appointment as another attempt by the state to demonstrate its seriousness in pursuing the case as he was not from the regular panel of prosecutors. "Now they have to change horses midway. That is a setback for the prosecution and could cause further delay," said a lawyer.


This apart, both countries lack the technical and legislative capacity to try a trans-national crime which transcends more than two countries. "Trans-national crimes have different legal dynamics and, unfortunately, India and Pakistan don't have much experience in dealing with such crimes. Even if they had, it is always a difficult crime to prosecute," explains Mr. Soofi who heads the Research Society of International Law which conducted a legal workshop on the Mumbai trials earlier this year.


"Generally, trans-national crimes are tried at one venue and all evidence is brought to that court. Most European countries have a mutual legal assistance (MLAs) mechanism in place to deal with such crimes. Evidence travels from one country to another on the conveyor belt of MLAs. Even if India and Pakistan sign an MLA, it is of no use because courts in both countries do not consider treaties as part of domestic laws. That is why what is being given to us by India through dossiers is inadmissible."


A possible way out of this stalemate is to allow the Pakistani investigators access to witnesses and sites. But this would require Indian witnesses to depose in Pakistan's courts. Or, provisions of Chapter XL of Pakistan's Code of Criminal Procedure could be invoked which provides for setting up a commission to record Kasab's testimony as a witness and cross-examine him in India.


All this requires operational cooperation which has been missing from the beginning and the trial was split. "The actual crime was investigated in Mumbai and the conspiracy here … as it is, conspiracy cases are difficult to establish." While Mr. Soofi sees the atmosphere of greater cooperation as a welcome change, the result of a joint investigation will still not be admissible as domestic laws are not in place.


An irritant


Even if there is actual cooperation, Hafiz Saeed remains an irritant and from what most security experts have to say, this will keep festering as Pakistan can ill afford to repeat a Lal Masjid. Explains Imtiaz Gul, author of The Al Qaeda Connection and Executive Director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies: "There are political and social compulsions; can we deal with the fallout in case Saeed is 'harmed' in any way? We are still suffering the consequences of the Lal Masjid operation [July 10, 2007] involving a small group that has now resulted in the Ghazi Force. Taking on the LeT would probably result in far graver consequences [hence the tolerance, and reluctance to crack down on them]. How do you deal with the hundreds of thousands of students at Jama'at-ud-Da'wah [JuD] madrasas if they were to see the state coming down hard on them? The state has no capacity to take care of these youngsters. Public sector education is already a shambles."


Saeed's lawyer A.K. Dogar insists that it is not as if the state did not proceed against him. But when the court asked the prosecution to furnish the notification regarding the ban on JuD, it was unable to do so. Also, he insists, India has not provided any substantial evidence except again for Kasab's statements.


Pointing out that the United Nations itself had issued certificates to JuD recognising its work in Sri Lanka after the tsunami and in the Neelum Valley in "Azad Kashmir" after the 2005 earthquake, he maintains that Saeed had left LeT just like politicians change parties. Now, he says, he is totally committed to social work: running 142 schools and four universities, besides hospitals. And, he has a tremendous following, evident in the court whenever his case was heard. "The atmosphere used to be extremely charged in the courtroom."


As for India's insistence that the government at least stop him from making hate speeches — like his recent diatribes against "Indian water aggression" — Saeed's lawyers and many in the administration contend that he has the right to speak unless he tries to spread disaffection against the government. An FIR was lodged against him once in Faislabad for urging people to take to jihad but that was struck down.


This, like the frequent acquittals in terror cases, is the result of the legal system and the presence of Taliban/al-Qaeda apologists, says Mr. Gul. "Both countries suffer under the Anglo-Saxon legal system, complicated by domestic political compulsions. The system is tedious and fraught with loopholes which lawyers exploit. The conclusive evidence required to convict somebody is hard to define under this law. An additional factor is the Taliban/al-Qaeda apologists who are all over — the media, the judiciary, traders' community, within religio-political parties. While cases are difficult to prove, individual sympathies also run counter to the efforts to nab and convict terrorists."


The bottom line is that while India and the U.S. can keep pushing hard for action, Islamabad has to negotiate through the minefield that its history has laid out for the nation. "Do more" is easy to say from the outside. Inside Pakistan the script is written not just by the government but …









Mongolia on Sunday started the celebration of Naadam, its biggest national festival. Thousands gathered in the central stadium of Ulan Bator to watch the opening ceremony.


"Greetings to all Mongolians who are celebrating the joyous Naadam festival in Mongolia as well as around the world and the honoured guests who have come here to see the festival and wish you the best," said President Elbegdorj Tsakhia at the ceremony.


The Naadam festival, the biggest sports and entertainment event in Mongolia, has been celebrated in summer for centuries as a test of courage, strength, horsemanship and marksmanship, culminating with "the three men's games" — wrestling, archery and horse racing. In the Mongolian language, Naadam means game.


On Sunday, the festival started with cultural performances and sports shows. Horsemen dressed like ancient Mongolian warriors galloped around the central stadium amid cheering crowds. Representatives of different social sectors paraded around the stadium holding banners with their names.


Battsetseg Namjilsangarav, a 30-year-old Mongolian woman, said: "Naadam is our biggest national holiday. The festival reminds us of our national identity and where we come from. Seeing horse riders, wrestlers and archers in traditional clothes is really great." — Xinhua









The Indian media have a vital responsibility in enabling society to combat and eliminate social evils. 'Honour killings' are a particularly barbaric social practice targeting those who defy the traditional ban on 'same gotra' marriages or marry out of caste. The central government has decided to "consult" the States on steps to put an end to the spate of such killings in several parts of the country. A Group of Ministers will go into the issue and suggest changes in the law. It has been reported that although Cabinet Ministers agreed on the need to stop the killings, they were divided on which laws needed to be amended.


This is not an issue on which State rights are at stake because there is no question of a civilised society, governed by the rule of law, tolerating such savagery in the name of tradition. The challenge is the existence of 'khap panchayats,' which provide social sanction for the savagery. In Haryana, which probably accounts for the largest number of 'honour killings,' both the Opposition and the ruling Congress are one in defending the institution. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has declared that marriage within the same gotra was not part of the tradition in Haryana. He claimed that the khap or community panchayats were not responsible for the killing of couples marrying within the same gotra. He was glossing over the social truth that it is the ruling given by the khap panchayats nullifying the marriages within a gotra that leads to the killing of girls and boys, invariably by brothers or uncles of the girls. Mr. Hooda's principal political opponent, former Chief Minister and President of the Indian National Lok Dal Om Prakash Chautala, did not lag behind. He was also seeking a change in the law. He met Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and pressed for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act with a view to banning "the same gotra marriage."


(The law referred to is The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946. It is an act to remove certain disabilities and doubts under Hindu Law in respect of marriages between Hindus; marriages between persons of same gotra or prevara. The Act says: "Notwithstanding any text, rule or interpretation of the Hindu Law or any custom or usage, a marriage between Hindus, which is otherwise valid, shall not be invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto (a) belong to the same gotra or (b) belong to different sub-divisions of the same caste.")


A Congress M.P. from Haryana, Naveen Jindal, swore by the khap panchayats, reportedly explaining that he and his entire family respected their "years old traditions and rituals." In Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, in which the practice of 'honour killings,' whether based on khap panchayats or otherwise, has been reported, the situation might be somewhat different from Haryana's. However, given the proximity of the caste leaders to the power centres in several States, their response to the idea of changing laws woud be an interesting subject for the media to study, report, and comment on.


NGO petition


In respect of amending certain laws, the central government has taken the lead from the orders of the Supreme Court of India to eight State governments, besides the Centre, to submit reports on the steps taken to prevent the inhuman practice of 'honour killings.' The orders of a Division Bench of the Court followed a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organisation, under Public Interest Litigation. Shakti Vahini, which had been working in the field of women's rights and related issues, told the court that apart from 'honour killings,' which was an extreme form of reaction, women had to confront long-term, low-level physical abuse and bullying as a punishment for bringing the 'family honour' to disrepute. Such abuses could include torture, mutilation, rape, forced marriage, and imprisonment within the home, according to the petitioner. It also pointed out that when the State remained a mute spectator, there was fear among the youth and young couples who were already married or were planning to get married. The petitioner wanted the Supreme Court to lay down guidelines for law-enforcing officials on the pattern of the guidelines for combating sexual harassment at the workplace.


There is no evidence to show that the killer panchayats have been stopped in their tracks. At the same time, the movement against their barbaric diktats has gained momentum. Human rights organisations, social and political activists, and youth and women's organisations have stepped up their campaigns. These, together with what has begun to assume the contours of a national media campaign, have created greater awareness of the rights of young men and women to free choice and dignity. Almost all daily newspapers and magazines carry detailed reports with interviews and opinion pieces on the subject. Sadly, there is no matching endeavour among administrators and law-enforcement authorities in the affected States to keep pace with the crimes and help stop the atrocities. Here is an opportunity for the media to step up their campaign against the social evil in a big way. They can do this through more detailed and comprehensive coverage on the ground and a more systematic attempt to mould public opinion, especially in the States where the khaps are at their deadly work.








Ever since he took office in 2008, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has spent much of his time fending off crisis. Last summer, the alleged rape-murder of two south Kashmir women sparked off rioting across several parts of the State; this summer, street clashes have claimed more than 20 lives. Last week, the Jammu and Kashmir government called out the army to assist it in dealing with clashes in Srinagar — the first time the military has ever been deployed there in that role. In an interview to The Hindu , Mr. Abdullah explained the reasons behind the decision and his view of the way forward.


Why did the State government ask for the army's assistance to curb the ongoing protests in Srinagar and some other cities — something never resorted to in the last two decades?


We had credible information that there was a concerted effort by some parties to spread the agitation out of the urban pockets it is concentrated in, out into Kashmir's interior. This was a matter of great concern to us because the Amarnath Yatra is under way.


Had some miscreants attacked pilgrims in interior areas, it could have had grave consequences across the entire State. It isn't as if Srinagar has been handed over to the army; we've only asked for it to stand by and demonstrate its presence.


It is hard to understand why such extraordinary action was needed this year. After all, Jammu and Kashmir has seen such protests for some years now.


That's true — but we've also learned from the experience of past years. The Amarnath Yatra places a huge strain on our police. We've managed, in the past, by pulling the army out of counter-terrorism duties, but discovered that this gives terrorists a chance to regroup over the summer. This year, we did not want a situation arising where we had to pull soldiers out of the tasks they are here for. It was therefore necessary to act pre-emptively.


Some of your critics say the decision was taken in panic; without due reflection. It has also been said that Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram differed with you on the decision.


Last week, we reached a point where our police forces were stretched to the limit in Srinagar. Given the escalating protests, we had to take a call.


If we had done nothing, and matters had gone out of hand, you would be criticising us for being indecisive and not planning ahead. Like me, Mr. Chidambaram wanted to avoid a situation where the army was brought into conflict with the population. I think we have addressed that concern.


What can be done now? The People's Democratic Party has rejected appeals by both you and the Prime Minister to participate in an all-party dialogue.


It is unfortunate that Mehbooba Mufti has chosen to do so; that's all I have to say, really. I spoke to her personally. The Prime Minister also appealed to her. I earnestly hope, even at this late stage, that they will reconsider their decision. The violence is hurting ordinary Kashmiris, most of all our young people. We need to put our heads together and see what can be done. I hope, at the all-party meeting on Monday, we will get constructive suggestions that will help the government move forward. We have a very difficult situation on our hands. The mainstream parties do not have much influence in the areas that are disturbed. Even the moderate secessionists do not have much influence there. I'm open to all ideas to end the violence.


Do you think New Delhi should, as Mehbooba Mufti has suggested, play a greater role?


I think the PDP was greatly aided by the dialogue that took place between India and Pakistan during President Pervez Musharraf's time in office. Sadly, circumstances in Pakistan are such that the India-Pakistan dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir may not yield a very substantial outcome any time soon. New Delhi should keep trying.


In the meanwhile, I think New Delhi should do all it can to engage all shades of opinion, including the separatists. I know the separatists themselves have not been very helpful but every effort should be made to bring them into a dialogue.









Minister of state for civil aviation Praful Patel has done well to raise the alarm over the delay in Mumbai's planned second airport — due to come up at Navi Mumbai — which also revived the old question of the tradeoff between development and environment. Many in India share his view that this country is at a stage of development where environmental standards cannot be observed as strictly as in the West if we are to grow — and quickly. In Navi Mumbai, what is at stake is the proposed destruction of 400 acres of age-old mangroves and the diversion of two rivers. Both could potentially have a devastating impact. The mangroves along the coast protect the city from floods when heavy rains coincide with high tides, while the rivers — if diverted — can cause havoc with lives and property. Mumbai saw this just two years ago in the case of the Mithi river. It is in this context that minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh asked Cidco, which is responsible for implementing the airport project, as well as the Maharashtra government for explanations, which are yet to be provided. Mumbai's need for another airport is undeniable: crores of rupees and precious fuel are being lost ever day with planes having to circle the airport for up to an hour to find landing space, and even having to divert to other cities in some cases.

This instance apart, the larger environment-development question is more crucial than ever now, with the government going full speed ahead with infrastructure projects — roads, ports, airports, freight corridors. It is undeniable that in some cases environmental clearances have taken so long that much-needed projects have got stuck, or their cost has gone through the roof. A mechanism needs to be urgently devised so that these priorities can be balanced. A case in point is Mumbai's iconic Bandra-Worli Sea Link, where the cost almost doubled due to delays caused by objections from environment bodies. The delays also mean that when such a project eventually comes up, it often proves inadequate for the purpose it was developed.

Mr Ramesh also stirred a hornet's nest in Mumbai when he announced that the setting up of new private helipads would not be permitted — infuriating many, but also earning the support of other citizens. The Maharashtra government had sought clearance for four helipads — to be used in emergencies as well as for security purposes. Mr Ramesh has said he will give permission only for government-owned helipads but not privately-owned ones to be built on rooftops of highrise buildings. At present, some businessmen have their own helipads while many others are interested in acquiring them. Rather than take a rigid stand against private ownership of facilities which in emergencies can be used for the public good, Mr Ramesh and other likeminded public functionaries would do well, on their next visit to any major world city of the kind Mumbai aspires to be, to check out how a network of private and publicly-run facilities dotted across a large metropolis can be instantly mobilised in an emergency — as seen most dramatically in New York's 9/11 and London's 7/7 attacks. The safety and noise pollution issues that the minister has raised are no doubt important — but these only call for effective regulators to enforce exacting standards for all users, whether public or private.
It would be interesting for the rest of the country to see how these issues get resolved in Mumbai as other cities in India will also, sooner rather than later, have to deal with such competing claims of infrastructure development and environmental protection.








Changes in the political scene in India, especially after the defeat of the Left in the West Bengal elections, have raised some basic issues that will influence the course of political development in our country. The first issue is about the ideas of a united front. It is clear that the days of one-party government are over. No party, whether it is the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party or the Left can dominate the system on their own anymore. They have to form groups and alliances not just to push a political line at any point. Temporary alliances will take place in different situations because of different compulsions. These alliances can lead to the formation of governments in response to any specific challenge. But most of the time these temporary alliances will break down if there is no fundamental unity of purpose among the participatory political parties. That is not the logic of the united front. It is the working of alliances to retain power or to capture the positions of influence. For a sustainable alliance and for long-term changes to be brought about, some underlining unity in the parties concerned is needed to bring about the basic changes.

A united front or a temporary alliance with different forces cannot endure unless the parties concerned are fully committed.

In West Bengal, these issues are coming up in a stark form. Political groups oppose each ot her not on the basis of ideological differences but because of personality clash and conflict of narrow interest. This cannot fo rm the basis of any long-term political alliance, unless the gr o ups recognise fundamental aff i­rmity of interest. A united front can be based on such rec ognition.

For instance, the conflict between the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has a long history. The CPI(M) considers the Congress as a class enemy, representing those classes who are against the working classes and who are, by definition, interested in increasing the rate of exploitation. This is the rate of surplus value over and above the value of labour i.e. wages, income and subsistence requirement. It is in this sense a conflict between the working class and the non-working exploitative population that is a fundamental factor in a capitalist system. Capitalism survives because of the surplus value produced by the working class, which is extracted from them by the owners of means of production through exploitation.

But these conflict situations are the long-term conditions of a capitalist system of government. In a day-to-day business, however, these conflicts are often reconciled and compromised in the interest of economic development. Take for instance the minimum wages of the workers. Even in the face of it, they are opposed to the interest of a capitalist owner. But in many situations an increase in minimum wages is seen not only in the interest of workers but also of the capitalists by increasing the productivity of labour and expanding the market. Whether the interest groups are antagonistic or amenable for reconciliation depends on the specific condition of an economy and the relative strength of the different political positions. When they get united, these differences then need to be formed as a united front, as on their own they cannot change the basic situation. When they are united, these groups must have a roadmap of development that would allow them the power to change the situation.

In order to avoid a non-sustai nable alliance of different political groups, they must not only be united but also committed to a line of development supportive of social change and to an extent basic political transformation.
I am mentioning these because nowadays many political groups just come together to form a government without building on the principle of ideology and social development. It is just not possible to think of a situation where the Left and communal forces can form an alliance that will last even for a limited period. The anti-Congressism of several Left leaders would not recognise that and create a situation of totally unstable alliances between groups that are basically representatives of the reactionary forces. A temporary benefit from these alliances for the Left will be supported by the long-term development of a politically stable development.
It is high time that the Left for c es as well as those representing the Congress should assess the role they can play in transform ation of the Indian political ec­onomy. Pursuing purely short-term interest to form the pockets of power in different political situations can turn suicidal. The long-term implications of these alliances were not always recognised. In other words, our major political parties in their analyses of the nature of the Left and the alliances they are forming, as in the West Bengal situation, clearly shows that these allowances are fragile and would disappear after giving rise to a short phase of fascism. It would only protect their pockets of alliance leaving them open to pressures of creation. The questions that should have been discussed by them are: Which political group has long-term affirmity of interests and which of them is required as a solid basis of combined influence on the course of the Indian social development?

The Trinamul Congress, for example, must build up its strength for an alliance with the Congress in general and must identify the forces of the Left, which have long-term support of the political development leading to social change. That is the only way a viable united front can be built up in India, which will bring about the basic social changes.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Pri me Minister Indira Gandhi








Located in south-central Delhi, Defence Colony Market is a short drive — or walk, on a pleasant day — from Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the flagship facility for the Commonwealth Games that open on October 3. These days the market resembles a massive construction site, as do Khan Market and Connaught Place, two other landmarks also in the broader Games area.

The entry to Defence Colony Market has been severely restricted by a two-storey monstrosity that is under construction seemingly in the middle of the driveway. Nobody quite understands why it's there, but Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials insist it is part of an attempt to provide amenities to Games visitors. The ground floor of this new building will house a toilet. On the first floor the concessionaire — the plot has been handed out to a private contractor — can build anything he wants. In Defence Colony, right above the urinals, there are plans for a coffee shop or an eatery!

It is a ridiculous idea. Zoning plans have been torn up, visitors have been severely inconvenienced, and a piece of prime property in the heart of India's capital has been stealthily transferred to a concessionaire who is probably a crony of an MCD official. Defence Colony Market's experience is not unique. Such "toilet cum restaurant" complexes have been conceived in seven leading markets of the city, allegedly as part of a Commonwealth Games beautification drive. This is a small but telling example of just how much of a racket the Games have become for India's capital.

This past week, retailers at Defence Colony Market — and presumably other markets in the Games area and its vicinity — were paid call by a senior police officer. He asked them for their opinion on shutting down the market — all the shops and restaurants, even the florists, everything — for the entire duration of the Games. Obviously, the idea was strongly opposed. The police officer then climbed down from his maximalist position — which was probably a well-crafted bargaining chip anyway — and said closure would be necessary but perhaps a short, three-four hour business window could be considered each day during the Games. In any case, he let it be known, visitors to the market would be physically prevented from entering, and cars would be banned outright.

Imagine a situation where a Defence Colony resident wants to buy milk and potatoes in the middle of the afternoon in the first week of October. If Delhi police has its way, he will have to break the law and dodge a security cordon!

This maddening scenario is not scare-mongering limited to one neighbourhood. It threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Delhi's harassed and mortified citizens ready for their Nightmare Games. Not since Nadir Shah, or at least the Mutiny, have Delhi's soul and sensibility been so savaged. The Commonwealth Games are coming at a huge price.

The Delhi police says its hands are tied. It has been tasked with insulating the games from terror strikes and has responded with the heavy-handed approach that comes naturally to it: make all public spaces out of bounds, tell people to stay home, don't let an ant move.

Further, the Games organisers have promised that one lane on every Delhi street being used for the Commonwealth spectacle will be set aside for athletes, officials and so on. To ensure this, tens of thousands of cars in Delhi will need to be forced off the roads. As such, people are being encouraged to leave the city and go on vacation. Schools and colleges have been ordered to close down. Markets are next; presumably offices — at least public sector offices, under some sort of government control — will be targeted in the coming weeks.
Why is this happening? Oxford Street will not shut shop during the London Olympics of 2012. So why is Delhi suffering? Frankly, the city's civic sinews are grossly overstretched. A Commonwealth Games mini-city — accommodating the athletes' village, a clutch of stadiums and a media centre — needed to have been built at a virgin location close by: in Sonepat (Haryana) or Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh), for instance. This is the model Sydney, Beijing and Athens adopted for their Olympic Games. The 2012 London Olympics are being used to regenerate the eastern suburbs of the city. The heart of the British capital is being left unmolested.
In Delhi, however, Games facilities have been foisted upon the busiest stretches and most densely-populated neighbourhoods of a living city. This has played havoc with ecology and urban design. Far from an emblem of civic pride, the Games have become an embodiment of a city's greed.

Despite this, the grasping nature of the Games organisers seems to know few limits. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organising Committee, now wants the Union sports ministry to coerce the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to cancel or postpone a tour by the Australian cricket team in early October. The Australian team will not be playing in Delhi but the cricket series will clearly attract more television audiences and sponsorship deals than the Commonwealth Games.

This is not surprising. For better or worse multidisciplinary events — even the Olympics — have a limited appeal in India, where consumer and business support can be found for cricket and, to a lesser degree, tennis, football and golf. This is a hard verity. Can it be altered by government fiat? What if the BCCI and Cricket Australia decide to play in Dubai? Will Mr Kalmadi want passports revoked and live telecast banned? Will he ask the information and broadcasting ministry to tell the Mumbai film industry not to release blockbuster movies in October?

The term "Potemkin village" owes its name and origin to an 18th century Russian minister who sought to impress Catherine the Great by building facades of prosperous villages during her imperial tours. He tried to create the impression of happiness and plenty, and disguise ugly reality.

By blanking out the real Delhi, cancelling its people almost, and by attempting to forcefeed a mass identification with the Commonwealth Games that simply doesn't exist, is a vibrant city being reduced to a Potemkin village? The smug men in the Organising Committee may not be answerable to anybody, but surely the government is?


Ashok Malik can be contacted at









The Supreme Court has upheld a Bombay High Court decision to lift the ban on James Laine's book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India. The book, published in 2003, was banned the Maharashtra government in 2004 after some scholars protested that it made derogatory references to Chhatrapati Shivaji, the legendary Marathi king and symbol of Maharashtra. Earlier, members of the Sambhaji Brigade vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, damaging valuable material, because Laine had done some of his research there.

There are a number of issues at stake here. Foremost is that of freedom of expression and the misuse of the concept of "promoting social enmity", which is where the courts are coming from. Banning ideas which one of another group may not like are counter-productive in the long run. The written word may be subject to scrutiny and laws from time to time, but suppressing ideas or sending them underground for fear of possible retribution is at best a short-term exercise.  The only possible 'social enmity' here is that stoked up by politicians. 

Then there is the historical and scholarly aspect of this case. Some historians felt that Laine need not have included some derogatory references to Chhatrapati Shivaji. Others feel that Laine has not written anything new — he has repeated what others have said before. Moreover, he has mentioned that these references are not credible and have been dismissed by others. 

He has neither endorsed nor supported them. Banning this book — or any other — leans on the edge of not just being a totalitarian state unable to accept dissent but also an intellectually inept state frightened of knowledge.

But the biggest issue of all is the cynical and desperate manipulation of public sentiment in order to try and increase electoral gains by Maharashtra's politicians. The image of Shivaji is most abused by Maharashtra's political parties who try and use the state's icon to cover up their own shortcomings. In this insular battle to best represent the "Marathi manoos", politicians have found the easy way out — substitute hard work with bluster and muscle flexing in order to fool the voter. Shivaji's image will not be brought down by a few scholarly works, whether derogatory or not. 

But it will be destroyed by those who are ruining the state through neglect while misusing his name to gain or stay in power.





India has been campaigning and lobbying for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council for more than decade now. It became mandatory for foreign heads of state and heads of government visiting New Delhi to declare their support for India's candidacy, and it was the same case when the president, prime minister and foreign ministers went abroad. India is not alone in this. Japan, Brazil and Germany are in it too, and apparently Japan has been working at it harder than anyone else. But things have not moved.


There is reluctance on the part of the existing five permanent members — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France — while the others who not likely to make it to the dress circle of power — they have now grouped themselves into a band of 40 and are led by Pakistan and Italy — resent this very much. Yes. Pakistan would resent India's further rise in the ranks of world powers but it is to be remembered that there are others — for example, South Korea would not want Japan, and Italy would oppose Germany — who are opposed to the expansion of the Security Council for reasons other than that of principle.

It is understandable in these circumstances, that India's permanent representative at the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, has indicated that there could be a compromise in the matter, that the new permanent members will not have a veto right for 15 years when the UN reforms are mandated to take place. What is a permanent seat if veto power is not there? Puri has argued for the compromise through the pithy formulation that the issue of veto should not be used to veto the expansion of the council. 

Compromises are in essence pragmatic solutions but they do not touch upon issues of basic principle.


The UN General Assembly cannot be an effective forum for taking quick decisions to tackle a crisis. There is need for a smaller committee which is what the Security Council is. The council accurately reflected the power situation in 1945 but not any more. Britain and France are minor powers. Russia is a diminished power. The US continues to dominate despite its depleted economic and military clout. China will flex its muscle only to pursue its narrow national interest. It is not clear as to how far the new aspirants — India, Brazil, Germany and Japan — will try to lead the world. It would certainly signal the beginning of a new configuration with power dynamics of its own if India and the others get the permanent slot.








If the Maoist leader, Azad, has been killed in a fake encounter, as his sympathizers believe, then the security forces may have decided to take recourse to this process of elimination, which has increasingly become a feature of their operations in recent years. The Maoists themselves can be said to have set in motion this form of police action during their earlier avatar as the Naxalites. 

One of the major figures who was supposed to have been a victim of a staged encounter was Saroj Datta, whose death on the Calcutta maidan was said to have been witnessed by the Bengali matinee idol, Uttam Kumar, during his morning walk.


Recounting Datta's death, the Naxalite leader, Suniti Ghosh, wrote in his book, Naxalbari: Before and After: "The cold blooded murder of comrade Saroj Datta, secretary of the West Bengal state committee of the CPI(M-L), a member of the central committee and the politbureau, and editor of Deshabrati, after being taken to the office of the deputy commissioner, special branch, at Lord Sinha Road, Calcutta, by the police hounds on August 4--5, 1971 — the very night they captured him — was one among innumerable such instances".

The probable reason why such killings were resorted to was that the Naxalites were the first group which challenged the government by waging a guerrilla warfare. Before their appearance in 1967, the police had to deal with street demonstrations, mainly by the communist parties, or trade union agitations. Although the police were the targets of attacks, these were mainly with stones even as public vehicles were set alight. 

The Naxalites, on the other hand, shunned such open protests and took to singling out the police in urban areas, and landowners in the villages, for annihilation in accordance with Charu Mazumdar's doctrine of the need to redden a revolutionary's hands with the blood of the class enemy.


Such assassinations motivated by an ideological conviction had not been seen in India since the days of the British raj when the non-Gandhian freedom fighters or anarchists, as the colonial rulers called them, targeted British officials. It didn't take long for the police after 1969, when the first party of the Naxalites — the CPI (M-L) — was set up, to take to cold-blooded killings. There is little doubt that the long prevalent practice of using what is known as "third degree" methods in the police stations to torture the accused had accustomed them to extra-judicial operations. 

The fact that the CPI(M-L) and, subsequently, its many splinter groups were all illegal entities, which functioned outside the legal system (which they didn't recognise), enabled the police to kill with impunity.  The Naxalites, therefore, can be said to have made the police to adopt these criminal acts as part of their operational method. After the Naxalite menace had subsided, the police in Mumbai took to eliminating denizens of the underworld with such ferocity that some of the officers came to be known as "encounter specialists".


Inevitably, in course of time, the habit of killing spread and the government had to suspend several of them. Also inevitably, Bollywood could not resist the temptation of making films on the gory subject such as Ab Tak Chhappan, Shootout at Lokhandwala, and so on. It has to be remembered that fake encounters have their supporters not only in police, but also among sections of mainly the middle class who believe that elimination is the only way to get rid of the gangsters because their trial tends to be long-drawn.  


Even as the criminals dropped dead in Mumbai, fake encounters proved to be a handy weapon against the Khalistani terrorists in Punjab. Along with the gunning down of suspects, the phenomenon of some of them "disappearing", as in Latin American dictatorships, also made its appearance at the time. 

Perhaps the most prominent is Jaswant Singh Kalra, general secretary of Akali Dal's human rights wing, involved in a campaign about the hundreds who had disappeared. A year earlier, Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, a defence attorney, who appeared on behalf of the accused, also vanished.


As can be seen from these instances, fake encounters are easy to carry out in urban areas. The Naxalites in West Bengal, the Khalistanis in Punjab and the criminals in Mumbai were all killed in the towns in what was given out as genuine skirmishes with the police. The Maoists have so far avoided this fate by remaining in the jungles. But the point remains that these extra-judicial killings show that the Indian state can be quite ruthless. It may be noted in this context that the killings and even the disappearances become known in the urban areas. But the jungle can hide such acts. The Maoists can bring such incidents to light. But their difficulty is that they may be accused of exaggeration. Besides, such admissions will tend to show that they are losing the battle.








A clever friend of mine looked at me on Bharat bandh day and said deadpan, 'So what happens now? From tomorrow do all prices come down?' Brilliantly put, I thought, the futility of NDA's July 5 agitation summed up in a single sentence.

The NDA partners are probably black and blue from patting themselves on the back, but what exactly did the bandh achieve?


It showed that in Opposition-controlled states like Bengal, Gujarat and Karnataka, NDA partners can shoot themselves in the foot without any problem. As for Congress-ruled states, the bandh was partial except where parties who excel in violence, as in Maharashtra, led the agitation.


Political protest of this kind is now clearly outdated in the age of the electronic media, Twitter, blogs and all the other tools available to propagate your views. ('But what about rural areas,' someone is bound to say. 'People there don't have access to these modern tools.' Yes, but they don't have bandhs either; a bandh is a purely urban phenomenon).


A bandh though is absolutely suited to political parties like the BJP and CPM, outdated tools for outdated parties, political parties on opposing sides of an ideological divide but united by being frozen in time. Even Mahatma Gandhi, if he were alive today, would have jettisoned stoppage of work of the bandh type and gone on to evolve new strategies. But what do you expect of entities which still swear by Ram Rajya and Marx / Lenin?

But even antediluvian political parties must know basic economics. Which means that the states that get hurt the most are the ones run by the Opposition parties, since the bandh is most successful there! So the incredible strategy devised by the NDA 'Brains Trust' (the inverted commas are important) is: Let's harm ourselves as much as possible!


Bandhs are singularly 'successful' in another way: they do maximum damage to the very people they are supposed to help ie the poor. Most economic activities don't suffer as much as CII, FICCI, Assocham and other bodies would have us believe. That's because if a factory is shut down for 8 hours on bandh day, it will raise its output / work overtime to make up for the reduction in production. 

But the ones who cannot make up for the day's stoppage of work are the poorest of the poor in urban areas: beggars, for example. Or unskilled daily wage earners like hand-cart pushers or porters and the like. Even semi-skilled or skilled workers suffer if they are self-employed or work from day to day.


The economist Bibek Debroy has rubbished the claims of industry associations about bandh losses. Their figures are: CII (Rs3,000 crore), FICCI (Rs13,000 crore) and Assocham (Rs10,000 crore). He puts the loss at a realistic Rs250 crore. That figure may pale before the industry estimates but it isn't exactly peanuts. More important, that Rs250 crore comes out of the pocket of India's 14 million daily wage-earners and to some extent the country's 21 million self-employed. And these are the people the NDA was fighting its bandh battle for!


In all the discussions and post-mortems on the bandh, there's one name that has not even been mentioned in passing. This is remarkable, because he more than anyone else in the country, has been responsible for the price escalation that was the basic reason for the bandh. That man is Sharad Pawar, who has presided over the ministries of agriculture, consumer affairs and food and public distribution. He has served the interests of neither the producer (the farmer), nor the consumer. Pawar has now asked the PM to 'reduce his burden.' The PM should take that request seriously and relieve Pawar of all his burdens and let him stick to his beloved cricket.


Unfortunately the compulsions of coalition politics will not allow that. So we are in for more untenable price rises, and senseless bandhs.









WHENEVER someone gets injured in Kashmir in retaliatory action by security agencies, there is a hue and cry that the latter used "excessive force" against unarmed protesters. What is not realised is that the barrage of stones directed at the security forces is highly dangerous. Some 1,700 personnel have had their faces disfigured. Many have lost their eyesight. Now there is also incontrovertible proof that these stone-pelting incidents, mainly by youths, are not quite as spontaneous as these are made out to be. Their trail goes all the way to Pakistan and has a very sinister dimension to it. Intercepts by intelligence agencies show that these are planned and instigated by persons based in the neighbouring country. During one procession in Budgam district on the outskirts of Srinagar on July 7, the separatists had even discussed the need to kill at least 15 persons.


Two office-bearers of the hardline Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani discussed how to create these casualties. One of them was heard rebuking another that "you guys enjoy payments sitting at home and do nothing". The other responded that a procession of nearly 20,000 people had started and "at least 15 people should be martyred today". That is a chilling reminder that those who claim to be sympathisers of Kashmiris have no qualms about shedding Kashmiri blood and then putting it on the security agencies. Luckily, the police dispersed the crowd with a mild cane charge and no untoward incident took place.


The police and the CRPF are fighting a grim battle in Jammu and Kashmir. While it is imperative that they exercise maximum restraint, it is also equally important that the country does not get swayed by motivated propaganda. Money is being transferred via the Gulf and boys are being paid up to Rs 300 for each incident of stone-pelting. The influx of terrorists and arms and ammunition also continues. It is really disgraceful that while on the one hand, Pakistan speaks of building trust and confidence, it foments trouble on the other. It stands exposed before the world community, especially after the revelations by David Coleman Headley, and yet leaves no stone unturned to discredit India and its security forces. 








WITH the filing of the CBI chargesheet in a special court at Patiala, the much-delayed trial in the case against Punjab Vidhan Sabha Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon and others is finally set to take off. How difficult it is to proceed against well-placed accused is clear from this high-profile case. The case registered in 2003 and the accused include some senior IAS officers. It has taken about seven years just to remove hurdles in the way of justice. It once again emphasises the need for a fast-track trial of those holding positions of power. The use (or misuse) of power to give permission for prosecuting the highly placed also needs a review.


The case pertains to the selection of 909 panchayat secretaries, which was challenged in 2002 when Mr Kahlon was the Minister for Rural Development and Panchayats. It would have done Mr Kahlon much good had he quit his post after the Punjab and Haryana High Court first found merit in the charge of irregularities in the selections. But such dignified conduct is no longer forthcoming from today's politicians. They stick to office until conviction and know all the dilatory tactics available within the system. More than Mr Kahlon, it is the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, who bears the blame for the present sordid situation. He had invited embarrassment for himself and his government — first by appointing a tainted party leader to the august office of Speaker and then by refusing sanction for his prosecution.


Thankfully, the CBI's efforts to bring the culprits to justice have not gone waste. A CBI official reportedly claims that permission for the prosecution of the Punjab Speaker is not required under the March 2008 judgement of the High Court. It is still not late for Mr Kahlon to resign and save the high office he holds from controversy. A Speaker's conviction would be awkward even in the present much debased political situation. If he were found innocent, he would be free to return to power. It is not a very difficult decision to take. 









THE six agreements signed between New Delhi and Tehran on Friday after a two-day meeting of the India-Iran Joint Commission can go a long way in enhancing cooperation between the two countries in different areas. India and Iran can gain a lot through their joint efforts on a number of issues over which they have no clash of interests. They have convergence of views to a considerable extent on Afghanistan. India has to find a way to accept the Iranian invitation to invest in Chahbahar port, as this will help in protecting India's interests in Afghanistan. There is a plan to link up the strategically located port with Afghanistan's Zaranj-Delaram highway, built with Indian assistance. There is also need to increase the volume of Indo-Iranian bilateral trade, which currently stands at $15 billion. Better trade relations between the two countries will hopefully enable them to strengthen their ties in various other areas.


Of course, there is a major handicap owing to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council following Tehran's refusal to cap its controversial nuclear programme. The fourth round of sanctions announced recently cover a significant Indo-Iranian joint venture, Iran-o-Hind, which has been used for crude oil imports by India from Iran. India, which gets 12 per cent of its crude oil requirement from Iran, will now have to look for an alternative shipping arrangement for the purpose. India has to honour its international obligations, but at the same time it has to ensure that its interests in Iran are safe.


Despite the realisation that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will help New Delhi considerably in meeting its fast growing energy demand, India has so far not been able to join the venture. It is not only the security factor that is coming in the way. The unending US-Iranian tussle is also there. It is really a tough time for Indian diplomacy. India's interests lie in sticking to its old stand on the Iranian nuclear issue — as there is a humanitarian angle to it — that harsh sanctions will mean punishing the Iranian masses, who have nothing to do with the policies of the Ahmadinejad government. Only dialogue and diplomacy should be used for settling the nuclear crisis. 

















KASHMIR Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has called for an all-party meeting to take stock of the volatile situation in the valley where the Army had to be called in as a deterrent in support of the curfew-enforcing state police force and paramilitary forces. One Opposition leader has called for the intervention of the Prime Minister and another for the imposition of Governor's rule. There is a lot of talk of anger of the Kashmiris and the need to address the basic political problem. Though there are vague mentions that the basic Kashmir problem, going back to 1947, is related to autonomy, there has not been a fully set-out framework of that autonomy, especially in respect of finances and security.


There is no analysis in our media or among the politicians, including those in Kashmiri, whether the volatile situation could be related to the forthcoming meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan and the developing situation in the Af-Pak area. There is increasing US pressure on Pakistan to initiate action on the Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan and to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Toiyaba (LET) on the basis of disclosures made by David Coleman Headley. What would suit Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi better than to focus on the volatile situation in Kashmir and "innocent, nonviolent organised stone throwers" being shot by the police in Kashmir.


Fortunately for Quereshi and the ISI of Pakistan, the Indian politicians are of the view, as they argued on the day of the bandh, that stone throwing and bus-burning are nonviolent activities. Supporters of stone-throwing and bus-burning in Kashmir cite the arguments of the Indian politicians to uphold their stand. It is difficult to legislate against stone throwing in Jammu and Kashmir without accepting that such activity should be made a criminal act in India as well. This issue is not raised and discussed by our political leaders who are otherwise eloquent on the developments in Kashmir.


According to media reports, sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) say there are as many as four major stone-pelters organisations active in the valley, proving to be a nightmare for the security forces. "The Jammu and Kashmir Stone-Pelters' Association, the Stone-Pelters' Association of Kashmir Valley, I Am A Stone-Pelter and the Stone Throwers are the four organisations active in the valley for the past couple of years," they said. These organisations allegedly recruit young men and pay them at the rate of about Rs 150 to Rs 300 per day for throwing stones at the security forces and disturbing normal life in the valley.


So far, 1,875 CRPF personnel have been injured, with 211 of them becoming victims since the latest spate of stone-pelting started on June 11. Sources said the local police had even intercepted communications of the LeT on the ways in which to build up the agitation through stone-pelting.


Meanwhile, intelligence agencies have found that the stone pelters were funded from across the border through money-transfer agencies like Western Union via Dubai. "It is not easy to track them, as they dispatch money through small amounts. As the transactions are below Rs10 lakh, it is not easy to keep a watch always. The money is transferred to agents in small lots. It is an open secret that stone-pelters are hired for Rs 300 per day by these local agents.


The ISI is taking advantage of the vulnerability in the Indian system where politicians and businessmen use hawala channels extensively to get funds from abroad. This again is an all-India problem and not an exclusive Kashmir problem. The Prime Minister should call an all-party conference to discuss how far the mores and value systems of Indian political parties contribute to the security problem in Kashmir and make India vulnerable to the ISI Jammu and Kashmir is a highly fractional polity. The real problem in arriving at a political solution is that the Kashmiri parties will not sit down together to discuss a constructive solution to what they consider to be their grievance. It is also a highly personality-oriented politics. Even among the separatists there are different categories. External money flow and consequent influence are crucial determinants in crisis generation in the state from time to time. To obfuscate these factors, many of the parties, especially those with very limited popular support, blame Delhi for not solving the basic political issue.


As it happens in many other conflict zones where a certain equilibrium has been reached, the conflict and threat of escalating it become effective instrumentalities to extract greater financial concessions from Delhi. It will be a useful exercise to carry out a cost-benefit analysis in the utilisation of grants from the Centre. A turbulent situation is an excellent shield for gross inefficiency and seepage of funds. Conflict zone conditions also permit various kinds of extortions.


In spite of the prolonged conflict, Jammu and Kashmir is among the relatively faster growing states. In recent months it looked as though the state will enter a trajectory of faster growth and job-creation because there was greater harmony and understanding between the young Chief Minister and the Central Government That widespread perception itself should have sent a warning to the security establishment that those who benefited out of conflict and conditions of tension would try to sabotage the young Chief Minister. Any success of Omar Abdullah would have been looked upon not only as a threat to the interests of various vested political interests in Kashmir but also to Pakistan's future plans.


Heightened tension in Kashmir will provide Pakistan an excuse vis-a-vis the Americans both in respect of action against the LeT and the Haqqani faction of the Taliban in North Waziristan. It will give the Pakistan Foreign Minister some counter-arguments in his discussions with our External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna. It boosts the morale of anti-Omar Abdullah elements in Kashmir. It attempts to create a wedge between Delhi and Srinagar. That explains the demands for the Prime Minister's direct intervention.


Involving Delhi increasingly in Kashmir at this stage will suit the interests of the Pakistani Army, the ISI and the elements under the influence of the ISI as also those who have a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo conflict situation in Kashmir. There have been analyses to establish that in terms of casualties the present situation is not worse than what obtained under the previous three Chief Ministers. And there are hints that the present may be a case of over-reaction.


That will not be a correct perception if we factor in the Pakistani compulsions. The present action appears to be fully justified, but Delhi should be extremely cautious in involving itself. That will be playing into the hands of Pakistan. This is also an opportunity for Omar Abdullah to assert his leadership.


The writer is a Delhi-based strategic affairs expert. 









THE pitter patter of raindrops broke the languid pace of Sabbath Sunday as I sat in my porch. There in front of my eyes was a tiny figure, shorn of all inhibitions that age piles on us to stop us from having unadulterated fun. In her I could see the reflection of the little girl in me whose urge to step out in the showers is immense. There is a certain irresistible attraction in the silver raindrops falling from the sky, an attraction that always pulls me out to get soaked and to keep my umbrella unopened. Even though one often oscillates between elation and a surge of wistful memories, the cold trail of shiny drops never fails to lift spirits. Looking through the haze of falling raindrops life rarely seems unclear. These soothe the hurts and wash off the desperation making the soul soak up the zest for life like a sponge.


The little girl frolicking among the falling raindrops was an embodiment of happiness — a happiness that seemed to go much beyond the boundaries of smiles and laughter. A happiness that we all yearn for and pursue relentlessly and she had found it effortlessly. How and why, I ask myself? She foxes my intelligence as I try to fathom where her happiness springs from? One minute the tiny frame of my muse seems to be elated over challenging the mighty force of Nature to dare to douse her enthusiasm, while the very next minute she appears to be deriving happiness by surrendering to the might of Nature. By letting the showers drench her to the bone she became someone who had relinquished her entire being without putting up a fight as she took no shelter under a roof or an umbrella. What was she in fact, I wondered, as I joined her to let the little girl in me soak up the manna of life. It took the tingling raindrops just a few minutes to wash away the bitterness, regrets and tiredness of fighting the tide of destiny, and soon I was enveloped in the sound and feel of the falling raindrops and became unbridled like my muse. The moment became the essence of life and I realized the happiness of the little girl sprang neither from her challenging the mighty Nature, nor because she surrendered to the "powerful hand" but because she lived in that one moment.


It was for those sitting on the fence to find a suitable label and reason for the joy, for us out there under the open sky it didn't matter because it was a moment, a moment well lived. And from somewhere I remembered the lines penned long back:


"Kuch lamhe hi umar bhar ka haasil honge


Yeh jante to saaman umar bhar ka banana na tha"










THERE are two kinds of fruits. One are those which ripen only on trees. So these are picked from the trees after they are ripe. If these are removed from the plants unripe or half ripe, they will stay like that only. Their quality cannot be improved once these are removed from the trees. Grape, litchi, pomegranate, citrus fruits etc. fall into this category.


Others are those which do not ripen on trees. These have to be picked unripe and then induced to ripen after their removal from the tree. Banana, mango, pear, apricot, chiku etc. belong to this group. The fruits are shipped unripe from the orchards to markets. Ripening is induced at the market end, mostly by the wholesalers at their warehouses.


The fruits of this group are picked from the trees after they have attained their full size and are "physiologically mature". This maturity is determined by growers from certain physical characteristics like size, colour, firmness etc. The fruits which have been harvested at perfect maturity will develop the real taste. These will also have the highest nutrient content. If the fruits are harvested before maturity, there will be loss of fruit quality depending upon how early before maturity the fruits have been picked from tree.


Inducing unripe fruits of this group to ripe by adopting various techniques is a perfect horticultural practice. It is going on for centuries. There is nothing wrong or unethical with this practice.


A number of techniques are used for inducing ripening in unripe fruits. This is going on since the beginning of commercial fruit growing. The most common practice is just to keep the fruits in open or packed in containers for a few days and let them ripen. However, this does not work in case of all fruits or fruits harvested earlier. The ripening is not even and all the fruits may not ripen at the same time. So this method is feasible only for home use and not on commercial scale where all the fruits should be evenly ripe and the process should also not take too long.


Fruit growers have been experimenting and evolving techniques for inducing ripening in unripe fruits. This process is going on since the beginning of commercial fruit growing. Now even horticultural research scientists all over the world have also started working on evolving more refined techniques not only to induce ripening but for the improvement of the quality as well as shelf life such fruits. A new area of research called "post-harvest horticulture" has now emerged during the past few decades.


The most common methods adopted are as below:


The fruits are just stored in the warehouses to let them ripen.


Fruits are placed in wheat straw or other similar materials.


The fruits, e.g. mango, are placed in the layers of leaves of certain, e.g. basooti (Adhatoda vasica). Ripening takes place in 3-4 days. This technique is also followed for a few other fruits if the quantity is not much.


In case of bananas, where the quantity of fruits to be ripened is very large, bunches are stacked in a small chamber like room and smoke is generated in this room which is sealed from outside. The fruits ripen in 1-2 days as a result of contact with organic gases contained in the smoke. The mild heat generated in this smoke chamber also helps.


Chemical treatments have also been now developed to induce ripening in fruits. Two of the most common chemicals used for this purpose are as under:


Calcium carbide (CaC2): This is an industrial chemical used for the production of acetylene gas used in gas welding. When calcium carbide comes in contact with water, it generates acetylene which induces fruits to ripen.


Calcium carbide is very widely used by fruit vendors for ripening mango. A small quantity of the chemical is put in paper packets. One or two of these packets are placed in the crate of mango fruits. The chemical comes in contact with water vapours contained in the air in crates and starts releasing acetylene gas at a very slow rate. This gas induces ripening in fruits and the unripe fruits in the crate turn ripe within 24 hours. This is very simple and cost effective technique. Nearly all the mangoes sold in the Indian market are ripened like this with calcium carbide. This chemical is used for ripening of many other fruits e.g. papaya, chiku, plums etc.


Acetylene is a gas. It escapes from crates and there is no residue left in the fruit. The calcium carbide turns into calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) which is a harmless substance. So apparently there is no risk involved and there should be no harm in ripening mangoes and other fruits by using calcium carbide. Then what is wrong with the use of this chemical and why its use has been prohibited by law in India?


All the calcium carbide used in India for ripening fruits is of industrial grade which may contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus which can be harmful for the human health. This is the reason why its use is being discouraged. But at the same time no systematic chemical analysis of mangoes and other fruits ripened with calcium chloride for arsenic and phosphorus residue content has yet been carried out in India. There is no data available. So the extent of health risk, if it at all exists, is not known. Under such circumstances is it logical to put a ban on the use of this chemical? Artificial ripening is a necessity of fruit industry under present circumstances. So what are the alternatives?


This chemical, whose full name is 2-Chloroethyl phosphonic acid, is relatively a recent discovery. It is available in India under the brand name Ethrel containing 40% of the active ingredient. This chemical has a characteristic quality. In low dilutions, its molecule disintegrates producing ethylene gas. Ethylene is a plant hormone and known to trigger the process of fruit ripening. It is produced naturally in plants and is known to control fruit ripening and a few other important developments processes in plants.


For ripening, the fruits are dipped for 1-2 minutes in ethephon solution containing 50-100 mg of the chemical in one litre of water. The chemical is absorbed by the fruits. Then it disintegrates in the fruit tissue releasing ethylene which induces ripening in the fruits. As ethylene is released right in the plant tissue, so the ripening is faster and uniform. Ethylene escapes out of the fruits and there is no residue.


The apple growers of low altitude areas like Rajgarh, Kotkhai etc. spray their fruits with ethephon a week

before the normal harvesting date. This enhances the red colour of fruits and raises their market value. Normally, the apples from low areas do not get enough red colour. Ethephon sprays for colour enhancement were developed by the researchers of Solan Horticultural University after several years of research. Ethephon sprays form a part of official university recommendation for fruit growers.


Ethephon can be used for ripening many other fruits. As this chemical is expensive, so its use is not always cost effective. Secondly, its solution is not stable and once prepared, has to be used within an hour of its preparation.


As in other cases, these chemicals are also being misused. Fruits are picked from the trees much before maturity, induced to ripen with these chemicals and then sold in the market. As such fruits had not attained the full physiological maturity, so they lack the real taste, flavour and even the right nutrient content.


The proper harvesting time of Dasheri mangoes in UP is middle of July. But unscrupulous growers/traders start picking them and selling them right from the first week of June. So the fruits you mostly find in the market are undersized and tasteless. In fact, the entire crop is harvested before the fruits are able to attain proper maturity. This is happening in case of many other fruits like plums, apricots, chiku etc.


Though it is not a fair practice, but growers or traders cannot be solely blamed for this. The choice of fruit varieties is so limited with them (80 per cent mango trees in North India are Dasheri only) that all the fruits ripen in 8-15 days resulting in crash of prices. So these people are left with no other choice than to pick fruits much before the right time.


The writer is a senior horticulture scientist based at Mandi (Himachal Pradesh)











Parliament should reconsider the provisions of the Act in the interest of one and all and redefine "consumer" and "service" so that doctors and hospital authorities do not become subject to frivolous litigation. Aggrieved patients could file suits for compensation in civil courts under the law of torts, where they would have to pay court fees and thus will think twice before filing such cases. Even if it is assumed that the medical profession has become commercial, it still cannot be termed as a trade or commerce. So greater public interest will be served by letting it remain a profession and retain its nobility.


INDIAN medical tourism is the recent concept, which is emerging very fast mainly because of the better medical facilities here. In India, the waiting period is very little, as compared to the western countries, where appointment system keeps the patient longing for the procedures and operations for months together.


In the developed countries, this is mainly because of the 'safe' approach of the doctors, who do not want to take any 'risk'. The patients there are denied medical and surgical intervention, even when badly needed, simply because of the fear of litigation. The use of steroids is so dreaded that the patients are kept devoid of their benefit, even when they are absolutely indicated in various life-threatening conditions.


The things are changing fast in India too. Gone are the days when doctor used to be considered God here. The doctor-patient relationship got a U-turn, when the Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1986, and it included medical services and made doctors accountable for any act of medical negligence, thereby making them vulnerable to be sued for compensation. However, the doctors and hospitals who render services without any charges whatsoever, are exempted and cannot be sued for compensation under this act.


The reasons why medical services had to be included under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) are –


1. Increasing knowledge of one's rights as a patient.


2. Doctors and hospitals are no longer held in high esteem as they were held before.


3. No cost is involved if a complaint is filed in the District Forum or State/ National Commission under the CPA, since a patient can make out his case and argue it himself and


4. A complaint is decided within a short span of three to four months under the CPA, while it usually takes years in the civil and criminal courts.


And now let us discuss many good reasons why medical services should be excluded from the CPA —


1. Doctors will be restrained from giving their best out of fear of mishaps, unwanted litigation, huge compensation, claims, etc.


2. Doctors will not rely on their own clinical diagnosis, to reduce the risk of litigation, but will put patients through different tests – radiology, pathology, etc, which will cost a fortune to the patients.


3. There are certain specialist doctors who work in high-risk areas such as neurosurgery, trauma surgery or heart surgery and there they regularly have so many fatalities. Now they will think twice before working in these high-risk areas.


4. The learned members of the District Forum, State Commission or National Commission are likely to commit errors in their orders while granting compensation or award in the cases of hospitals, nursing homes or doctors due to lack of medical knowledge in general and with regard to instant decisions which are frequently taken by doctors during emergency treatment and at the time of operation in particular.


5. The application of the CPA on medical personnel will do more harm than good if the doctors resort to what is called defensive medicine. The patient who comes in with a headache of one day's duration may be advised three X-ray views of the head, to seek the opinion from an eye specialist, a CT scan and an MRI scan lest the doctor may miss a brain tumour.


The writer is the Chief Dermatologist, Mohan Dai Oswal Cancer Treatment & Research Foundation, Ludhiana. 









Enunciating his political ideas for India in 1908, Gandhi wrote a book called Hind Swaraj, that among other things, distilled his ideas about non-violent resistance, bandhs and hartal. In a week when several political parties seem to have rediscovered the bandh as a political tool, it is useful to go back to the original master of the non-violent protest who argued that such passive resistance was a "method of securing rights by personal suffering" and was a traditional method of expressing political discontent in India. "We cease to cooperate with our rulers," he wrote, "when they displease us." 


Gandhi was drawing from indigenous pre-colonial forms of protest and at least from the famous Banaras House Tax Hartal of 1810-11, such modes of protest have had a long pedigree. For Gandhi though, such mechanisms of protest were about morality and about the self. They were never to be coercive. When he first called a national strike over the Rowlatt Bills of 1919, he chose a Sunday when few people were at work anyway and even those were instructed to take prior permission from their employers! 


Compare this with the cynical uses of the bandh in the past week. Food prices are a serious issue but does virtually closing down the nation for a day provide any solutions? Trains were cancelled, airports were affected, commercial activity was hit and FICCI estimates a price tag of Rs 13,000 crore. With the exception of Mumbai, the clear divide in the street response between Congress and non-Congress states hints at the role played by political coercion at the ground level – surely the price rise hits everyone equally and not just those in BJP-ruled states. The RJD-LJP bandh in Bihar against Nitish Kumar's government is equally a choreographed act of political theatre, aimed purely at scoring political brownie points, and less at any principle. 


The point is that bandhs for the sake of it may get politicians headlines but they have little efficacy beyond that as a tool of real politics in the 21st century. Gandhi and the nationalist movement evolved the tactic as a necessity against a colonial state and in an age where there were few other avenues for dissent. They served then as a conduit of popular opinion and of mass mobilisation. The India of 2010 is very different. It has enough avenues open for us to go beyond the simple politics of obstruction. 


The problem perhaps is that most of our politicians came of age in an olderage, one in which the idea of the street strike and of obstruction were in vogue. The national mood today has moved along and regards bandhs as more of a hindrance to put up with than one that is necessarily empowering. There is no question that the issue of food and fuel prices is crucial but it calls for a seasoned debate, an informed critique and political creativity by the Opposition, rather than going back reflexively to the blind politics of obstructionism that may well be past its use-by date. 


Instead, we have seen the pantomime of the Left and the BJP organising bandhs on the same day and on the same issue, all the while pretending that they had nothing to do with each other. Only for Lalu and Paswan to then orchestrate a strike on the same issue against a state government that includes the BJP. 


 There is no question that rising food prices are a lightning rod but the fact is that there is no cogent idea so far for an alternative to reducing the unsustainable fuel subsidies bill. The BJP itself tried rolling back the subsidies in 2002 but aborted the move a year later in the face of similar protests. Now the clock has come full circle. With an unsustainable deficit of 5.5 per cent of the GDP, spending nearly $20 billion on subsidising fuel is simply too much. It is a difficult pill to swallow, after decades of subsidies, but we can not have the benefits of economic reform without its downside. 


But equally, market pricing must be balanced with a way to replace general fuel subsidies with targeted assistance to the poor who genuinely need it. This is where we need a real debate and a concerted effort for effective solutions going beyond political theatre that borders on the absurd. 



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A year ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that the world economy would grow 2.5 per cent during 2010. Last October, it raised that number to 3.1 per cent. By January this year, the Fund had become positively optimistic, raising its global growth forecast to 3.9 per cent. That was raised further to 4.2 per cent in April, and has now been pegged at 4.6 per cent — which would make it a boom year. That's a good distance to cover for any forecaster. As for India's growth, the IMF has travelled an even greater span. It raised its 2010 projection from 6.4 per cent a year ago to 7.7 per cent six months ago, then to 8.8 per cent in April. It has now pegged the figure at 9.4 per cent, a level of optimism that has taken the government pleasantly by surprise since its own spokesmen have hesitated to go much beyond 8.5 per cent.


The stock market went up following the latest forecast, but both investors and economists should know that the IMF's crystal ball is quite cloudy. Its forecasts seem to follow the latest round of economic data rather than look ahead. Thus, shortly after the financial crisis unfolded in the United States and Europe, the IMF projected global growth in 2009 at 1.7 per cent. Two months later, it knocked that figure down to 0.5 per cent, only to change its forecast three months later to a global economic recession, with economic activity declining by 1.3 per cent. Its assessment of India's own performance through the rocky period of 2008-09 has been consistently pessimistic, with the reality being better than the forecasts.


 That is not to say that the IMF may not prove right this time round. India's growth in the January-March quarter was 8.6 per cent, and the government's forecast for April-June is 8.9 per cent. The last quarter of the calendar year (i.e. October-December) will get the kicker of a good kharif, following the better monsoon this year, and all the indicators for the non-agricultural economy are positive. Business confidence is high, and is being translated into substantial investment commitments, consumer spending has been rolling along, and the industrial growth numbers are positively flattering. Export growth will continue through the current quarter to benefit from the low base numbers for 2009. In short, there is nothing to prevent the economy from registering double-digit growth in the coming six months.


Sentiment could be dampened by the internal security challenges in different parts of the country. On the positive side, the government has shown signs of life when it comes to reform measures; the revamped direct taxes code (admittedly without the conceptual clarity of the original, but more palatable to most people) is on the legislative agenda, there is some activity on the GST (goods and service tax) front, and the discussion paper on allowing foreign investment in multi-brand retailing suggests that an irrational ban will be removed. The biggest negative, of course, continues to be the state of the physical infrastructure, the new Delhi airport terminal notwithstanding.







Twenty-five years after launching the Ganga Action Plan (GAP), the government has realised that a new plan backed by proper technical advice is needed to clean this mighty river, which is fast turning into a drain. A consortium of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) has been roped in to suggest strategies and actions to rejuvenate the Ganga basin and restore the quality of river water. This, in a way, is tantamount to confessing that over a thousand crore of rupees have been frittered away in the past quarter-century on cleaning the Ganga without making any headway. The Ganga is more polluted now than in 1985, when the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, launched the Ganga Action Plan. The Ganga basin is the largest in the country and the fourth-biggest in the world. It is a source of livelihood for the 400 million people who live along its 2,500-km length from Gangotri in the Himalayas to Ganga Sagar, where it merges into the Bay of Bengal.


The 100 big, medium and small towns on the river's banks generate over 3,000 million litres of sewage every day. Much of this sewage is discharged into the river without appropriate treatment. Most industrial units located near the river also dispose of their untreated effluents in the river. The other scourges of the river include habitations and farming on the riverbed itself, religious rituals like idol emersion, cremation of human bodies on its banks and disposal of corpses in it. As a result, degradation of Ganga water begins right from Rishikesh and Hardwar, where it enters the plains, and continues to worsen as it moves on. It begins to stink by the time it reaches Kanpur.


 How to tackle the pollution of the river is no great scientific or technological secret, and was known even in 1985. What the IITs are being asked to do now is to rediscover the wheel. The strategy mooted in the 1980s by the Central Ganga Authority, subsequently renamed as the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), for cleaning the Ganga envisaged sewage treatment plants and oxidation ponds to raise the dissolved oxygen (DO) content of water before letting it into the river. It also stipulated measures to reverse the denudation of the river's catchments to ensure that only clean, mud-free water pours into it, to reduce its turbidity. These plans failed largely because they required, for their success, the cooperation of state governments and a large number of civic bodies; this was not forthcoming in the manner required.


The strategies to be worked out by the IITs will have to revolve round similar approaches, perhaps with better (more modern) technologies which may help get around some operational hurdles. One option that the IITs must consider is restoring the biological processes that keep river waters clean in a natural way. Such strategies are likely to prove more durable than others.









Six years of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, and the prospect of another five, drove the Left Front, the bloc of mainstream Indian communist parties, into the arms of a self-declared "Left-of-Centre" Sonia Gandhi in 2004. Six years of a Congress party-led government and the prospect of defeat in its pocket borough of West Bengal are now driving the Left closer to the BJP. For today's generation of political analysts who think that the BJP is a political untouchable for the Left, recall not just 1977, but also 1989. If both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi could bring the Left and the BJP together, why not Sonia Gandhi?! The Left and the BJP have been on the same, anti-Congress, side before and can come together again. They just have to find a "secular" cause. It was democracy in 1977, corruption in 1989. It will be inflation and anti-Americanism today.


This is the political project of a "Left-of-Centre" BJP leader Sushma Swaraj. Ms Swaraj neither has Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) roots, nor is she the Uma Bharati type. Ms Swaraj earned her political spurs chasing Indira Gandhi during the latter's comeback trail by-election from Chikmagalur in 1978. Ms Swaraj ran up every podium that Mrs Gandhi had walked down from, after addressing a public meeting, to harangue the same crowd and campaign for Mrs Gandhi's opponent. At that time, Ms Swaraj was not yet a member of the BJP. Her political mentors at the time were hardcore socialists like former prime minister Chandrashekhar and trade union leader George Fernandes. It was only in 1980 that Ms Swaraj joined the BJP.


Ms Swaraj revealed her cards in the last session of Parliament when she walked to waiting television cameras holding up communist leader Gurudas Dasgupta's hands on one day and hugging Brinda Karat on another. Battered by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, the Left is desperate to retain its hold on West Bengal and needs all the help it can get to do so. If the Congress party and Ms Banerjee make common cause, as they seem to be doing given that Pranab Mukherjee has stepped down as party chief in West Bengal, they have the potential to unseat the Left.


It looked like the Congress party was divided on that issue given the preference of some in the party for the "predictable" Left over the "unpredictable" Ms Banerjee. But, if the mood of the people in Bengal is for change, it will be difficult for the Congress party to resist that and hedge its bets. It will have to come on the side of Ms Banerjee. What has got both the Congress party and the Left in Bengal worried is the growing support for Ms Banerjee among the minorities, the farming community and the urban middle class. This, more than anything else, is driving CPI(M)'s comrades into the friendly embrace of a Swaraj-led BJP.


It is now clear that party veteran Lal Krishna Advani has decided to back the Swaraj strategy. The BJP's decision to re-admit veteran Jaswant Singh, who did well contesting from Darjeeling, also shows the party is recanting on its anti-Jinnah tirade against Mr Singh. Mr Singh has the added advantage of having friends among non-Congress parties.


Clearly, the BJP is trying to live down its reputation as a Muslim minority-bashing party. Even Narendra Modi waxes eloquent these days about the opinion surveys done among the Muslim traders of Ahmedabad who say they are making more money today than ever before!


Both the BJP and the Left are well aware that they have to project "secular" issues like their concern about inflation, their opposition to the nuclear liability Bill and the alleged "pro-US" stance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to cement their tactical friendship. Any flare-up of communal tension would divide the two. One should expect some clever Congress leader to be taking that into account in working out the party's strategic response to the Opposition's tactics.


Old world Congressmen know a thing or two about how one keeps the Left and the BJP apart! To what extent the Congress party will succeed in keeping the Left and the BJP apart, without yielding on the government's economic and foreign policy agenda, will determine the course of politics in the monsoon session of Parliament.


The really tragic aspect of this evolving Left-Right alliance, as most visibly demonstrated by last Monday's Bharat Bandh, is that it is not forged by any positive developmental agenda. Unlike during the Emergency, when the BJP and the Left united to fight for the restoration of democracy, or even in 1989 when the focus was on corruption in high places, this time much of the agenda is disruptive.


The Left-BJP unity against the civil nuclear cooperation agreement in the previous Lok Sabha and against the nuclear liability Bill in this Lok Sabha is a cynical ploy, exploiting traditional anti-Americanism, that serves no larger national interest today.


Similarly, the agitation against energy price increases is an entirely cynical one not based on a genuine public grievance given that most opinion polls have shown repeatedly that people expect to pay more for petrol and petroleum products when international prices rise.


Corruption could have been a "secular" issue uniting the BJP and the Left, but the Congress party has been smart enough to light a fire under the BJP's seat in Karnataka by going after the "mining brothers". In any case, political parties as a whole have no interest in using corruption in high places as a mobilising platform any longer.


So, expect a disruptive and stormy monsoon session of Parliament. Both Ms Swaraj and Ms Karat can match Ms Banerjee's voice, even if Ms Gandhi sits sphinx-like!







Most assume, almost axiomatically, that organised retail chains will deal a crippling blow to kirana shops. This isn't quite true, but even if it is, what's not clear is how this translates into a move against allowing foreign direct investment into multi-brand retail (the industry ministry has just put out a discussion paper on this, asking for responses by the end of the month). After all, if it is okay for Pantaloon or Reliance Retail to finish off small kirana shops, why is it unacceptable for Wal-Mart to do the same thing?

And what kind of policy warp is it that suggests that one of the "issues for resolution", to quote from the discussion paper, could be that at least 50 per cent of the jobs in FDI-funded retail outlets should be reserved for rural youth — why not do the same for Pantaloon or Reliance or Shoppers Stop or More? The paper has many other such level-playing field suggestions which make you wonder whether the idea is to protect kiranas or the local organised retail firms. A priceless gem: "To ensure that foreign investment makes a genuine contribution to the development of infrastructure and logistics, should it be stipulated that a percentage of FDI coming in (say 50 per cent) be spent towards building up of back-end infrastructure, logistics or agro processing?" Assuming this is supposed to be a profit-lowering activity, surely the same should apply to purely Indian players.

 Right now, of course, the issue for organised retail, whether funded by FDI or not, is a bit different — it is of how organised retail is having a tough time getting its act together. Two years ago, the projection reported in the Icrier report on retail was that, by 2011-12, organised retail would grab a 16 per cent share of India's total retail market — well, we're in 2010-11, and the number is around 4 per cent!

Some part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that the total retail market grew a lot faster than anyone anticipated since the Indian economy really took off in a big way. But the larger part has to do with the fact that organised retail has yet to find its way — after the craze to go "hyper", retailers seemed to think the small-format Subhiksha was the way to go, but that hope has also been dashed with Subhiksha being wound up. You'd think that retailers would try and develop supply chains in one part of the country, or in one type of merchandise, before they moved to other areas, but this isn't quite the thinking so far. Reliance Retail, which is now aiming at increasing sales 10 times in five years, has a bewildering range of offerings — there are "value" formats like Fresh, Mart and Super, and "speciality" formats like Digital, Trends, Wellness, Footprint, Jewels, TimeOut, AutoZone and Living, with the Reliance tag before them. Whether Reliance can pull it off or not will depend on the kind of management focus/depth it has, but it is not an easy task. It's not just Reliance. The Aditya Birla Group, whose retail foray began when it bought South Indian chain Trinethra four years ago, has stores in Delhi and Mumbai whereas you'd think it would have remained focussed in the South and built up supply chains there — hardly surprising then that its chief executive spent the last year in closing down 100 super markets. Shoppers Stop, similarly, set up shops in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi — they're all large markets, but whether it was logical to have outlets that are so far apart is something that's not immediately clear. Bharti, by contrast, is focussing its energies on a few cities in Punjab, getting the supply chain right there, before moving on to other cities.

The other critical problem is lack of space. Retail consultant Arvind Singhal estimates that, on an average annual retail sale of around Rs 6,000 per square foot across the country, India needs around 300 million square feet of new retail space this year alone — what is getting created, in the absence of a well-thought out and executed plan for retail, is around a fifth of this. As a result of this, and it makes the problem worse, rentals in shopping malls are sky high. Average South Delhi rentals, for instance, are Rs 400 to 500 per square foot per month — even if such shops do sales of Rs 1,000 per square foot, the rentals are crippling. Few stores can break even with rentals of more than 8-10 per cent of top line.

But even if organised retail does get its act together, with or without FDI, the kiranas-getting-crushed story looks exaggerated — and that's not taking into account their greater flexibility, lower costs, the issue of retail space and so on. Assume, heroically, that organised retail's share of the market will be 15 per cent in a decade — if the overall retail market grows at 9 per cent per annum, as is likely, this still means sales from kirana shops will still grow around 7-8 per cent per year in real terms. If they're able to modernise, look at bulk buying, the government helps them get bank credit, and so on, the scenario is a lot rosier.







By the time this article is published, the European winner of the Football World Cup 2010 would be known. In the framing of macroeconomic policies, however, Europe seems to have lost to the financial markets. It is obvious that the fiscal contraction now happening in most major European economies, involving both tax increase and expenditure cuts, is a surrender to rating companies and bond investors. Policy-makers are still traumatised by what happened in Greece, and are willing to make their people suffer to placate financial markets. It is amazing that this stance is being adopted even when unemployment in the EU as a whole is 10 per cent; when core inflation and bond yields (Greece and a few others apart) are as low as one would wish them to be.

It is equally amazing that finance capital has regained its supremacy so soon after its excesses had brought the global economy to the edge of depression less than two years ago. People, like your columnist, who believe that finance should be a servant of the real economy, and not its master, are clearly disappointed. The objective of the fiscal contraction is to make sure that the fiscal deficit, and hence the ratio of public debt to nominal GDP, remains low enough. On the issue of fiscal conservatism, we are witnessing a strange combination on the same side: Laissez faire economists, Republicans in the US, Conservatives in the UK and "social market capitalists" in Europe.

 It is also a moot factor whether the measures taken would achieve their purpose. For, the tax raises and expenditure cuts would surely lead to further slowdown, if not recession, in the EU; higher unemployment and perhaps deflation. Will this combination keep the fiscal deficit, and the public debt, within the budgeted levels — or are the European countries entering into a vicious deflationary spiral? One cannot help recall President Hoover's fiscal policies in the US (1928-32), and his successor's in 1937-38, and the adverse impact they had on the US economy.

But Germany remains an exception to the general gloom in Europe. Unemployment keeps coming down, export orders are rocketing, thanks to the cheaper euro, and retail sales are up. Is Germany the real misfit in the eurozone?

But to come back, the choice before too many western governments is unenviable — because the opposite course of action can also lead to a slowdown. Consider the cycle. Continued fiscal deficits, higher public debt and inflation, bond markets taking yields higher, and a consequent slowdown in economic activity. Optimists would argue that this may not be inevitable given the very low inflation and unemployment; that bond investors have no option but to buy government paper; that stimulative fiscal policy will lead to faster growth, and lower unemployment, positive but still low inflation, hence an acceptable debt-to-GDP ratio. Pessimists point to Japan to come to the conclusion that fiscal stimulation is no guarantee of growth: Japan has had extremely loose monetary and fiscal policies for two decades, without finding a sustainable growth path. (Nor has inflation flared up.)

To me, two things seem reasonably clear: 


  Growth hides a lot of sins; we are a good example. 


  Those with large deficits on current account need to be particularly prudent about fiscal deficits — directly or indirectly, the savings shortfall needs to be financed by foreign capital; drawdown of reserves has its own limitations, particularly when they are composed of surplus susceptible-to-reversal capital inflows, and not current account surpluses. It was heartening, therefore, to see the Indian government sticking to its reduction of subsidies on some petro-products. (But more on Indian inflation and subsidies in a later article.)

To come back to G20, one was hoping that the unity of purpose, parallel monetary and fiscal actions, displayed during the height of the crisis, would continue for some more time. Perhaps one more recession is needed to bring G20 back on track in Seoul.

Meanwhile, the mood in the global equity markets has turned bearish in recent weeks. Most of the indices are down, with little sign of confidence. Obviously, money is flowing back to the safe haven of sovereign bonds.

Diary of a senior politician

"One was shocked at the Indian Air Force (IAF) suing former Prime Minister Deve Gowda for money he, it is claimed, owes to the Indian Air Force. The poor man, it seems, had used the IAF aircraft for non-official travel, and some rule requires that he needs to pay the costs. This seems absurd. After all, those in public service are surely entitled to, shall we say, a few perquisites — some choice pieces of property; the use of cars and travel as well as hotel accommodation for their family and friends paid for by a PSU; the use of free aircraft; lifetime security and cars with red lights, etc. If even such petty amenities are denied, why should any reasonably able man enter public service? Our sibling Pakistan is so much more liberal and broad-minded — the man known as "Mr Ten Per Cent" when his wife was the country's prime minister is now its president!"






It is an opportune time for the mutual fund industry and the regulator to sit together and work out changes in an atmosphere of trust.

Mutual fund houses in India are feeling unloved. Having been in this state for close to a year now, they, along with their distributors, are in a state of lugubriousness, of the type generally associated with a severe absence of vitamin B. The reason can be broadly attributed to the abolition of the entry load for mutual fund schemes by the securities market regulator. They are up in arms against the regulator. Their initial rumblings have grown to high decibel levels in the past few weeks. Two camps have now emerged — the regulator and the regulated; contrary arguments are being drawn from the respective quivers; points of views have hardened; it's "us" versus "they" now. There are bystanders who are enjoying the ringside view and betting on who would wink first. But this is not a desirable situation for the industry and the investors, as the prevailing uncertainty, if prolonged, could be hurtful to both. This should end.

 The arguments of the mutual funds "industry" seem to be moulded in the classical Stigler's model of economic regulation: "A regulator faces special interest pressure from producers and consumers. The special interest pressure is always more 'persuasive', so producers always win. Regulations are passed only for the benefit of large firms, not for the benefit or protection of consumers." But, two decades of our stock market history would bear testimony to the fact that such stand-offs have hurt the regulator less and the market and the market participants more. Market development has been stalled in the bargain. At the same time, it has generally been found that the securities market regulations in India have been acceptable and sustainable whenever these have been co-created by the regulator and the market participants, and not unilaterally thrust upon them. But the same history also teaches that contumacious attitudes of the intermediaries and market infrastructure institutions have often cost them dear. Several market infrastructure institutions have fallen by the wayside or lost in competition because they considered a development measure to be a battle and discovered very late that they were on the wrong side of it.

Payouts and commissions paid by the mutual funds seem to be the root cause of the stand-off. The regulator, who is charged with a statutory responsibility for investor protection (and, of course, market development!), has little choice but to discharge that responsibility and is asking for greater transparency in the matter of payouts and commissions. It perhaps believes that, at present, there is a lack of such transparency especially in the manner in which entry loads have been utilised and, consequently, the investors' money has not been employed for their benefit. The industry, on the contrary, believes that payouts and commissions are an integral part of the mutual fund business and abolition of entry loads has hamstrung growth of the industry. The common statistics which are being pulled out in support of their argument are the closure of folios in the past few months and the drying-up of funds flow into new schemes. But, these conclusions are the result of very selective analysis of mutual fund data available on the website of the Association of Mutual Funds in India. Fund houses are hopeful that painting a dismal picture of doom and gloom may perhaps lead the regulator to soften its stand and, maybe, with a gentle nudge from the government. Some are also hopeful that given their persuasive power (read clout), the distributors may even persuade the government to intervene. But, just for memory recall, when the FII guidelines were established in 1992, it was predicted that the guidelines would be a severe deterrent for their investment; when dematerialisation was introduced in phases in 1998-99, it was argued that it might kill the market. When rolling settlement was introduced in 2001-02, it was proclaimed that liquidity would completely dry up. As it is now known, that none of these apprehensions had the same power of the Paulson's oracle. Of course, the regulator in each of these cases did take the market into confidence before announcing these measures and gave the market sufficient time to adjust.

But, who are these payouts and commissions being made to? To the distributors of course, because we are told that they hold the key to the marketing and sales of mutual fund schemes. Fund distribution has grown as an attractive line of business, but only in the recent years. This is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose business. Distributors selling mutual fund schemes get a commission every time you put money in a new fund offer; invest in an existing scheme or even stay invested in a scheme that you have invested in before. To remain competitive, asset management companies try to outdo each other for higher share of assets under management. They depend on the distributors who have lower cost structures than the fund houses; their major overhead is the salary, commissions and incentives paid to their employees. They often earn more than the fund houses from the same business. But who are these distributors? The top 15 who would account for the lion's share of the business are several large private-sector domestic and foreign banks as well as financial conglomerates who also have fund houses in their fold. Who is paying for all this? The investors of course, out of the entry load. So, why on earth would the distributors let go of the lucrative business? "Carpe diem, seize the day!" is contextual and makes enormous sense for the fund houses and the distributors. After all "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest".

The dominance of the distributors in the growth of mutual funds in the last few years impacted the quality of the growth of mutual funds. For one, there is a lack of product innovation — the schemes of mutual funds have proliferated without real product differentiation. This makes the choice of investors difficult. It's always "twee deedle dum twee diddle dee".

Second, the mutual funds have not explored untapped markets in the country, since the distributors bring major business easily from the top-10 cities.

Third, companies account for a major share of the aggregate investments (AUMs) of all schemes and certainly of the income and gilt schemes. The retail investors are more in number and have the lion's share of the portfolios and cost of servicing them is high. But, the retail investors have made good money in equity schemes, which shows that if efforts are put in by the fund houses, the retail market can offer a sustainable advantage to the fund houses for discovering fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. It is here that innovative business strategies should have mattered. It is here that the mutual funds are missing an important opportunity for long-term sustainable growth.

Changes are necessary and changes will cause pain. It's not just the change itself, but the way it is made that is important. Changes that are implemented in an atmosphere of trust, and are not done piecemeal or thrust upon, make for an efficient and sustainable change management. Many years ago, there was paper "Mutual Funds 2000", which helped carve out reforms in mutual funds and the regulatory framework. Ideally, now is an opportune time for the industry and the regulator to sit together and work out a Mutual Fund 2020 paper and charter future growth of mutual funds in India.

The author is a former executive director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India and is currently associated with the IFC's Global Corporate Governance Forum of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank

Views expressed are personal  








THE decision of the Cabinet committee on economic affairs to okay a three-year moratorium on exploratory and appraisal drilling for oil and gas in Indian waters suggests pragmatism. There is a global shortage of deepwater rigs, and the sheer lack of resources would affect operators across the board. But the move points at scope for proactive policy in the high-risk and capital-intensive upstream oil and gas sector. Specifically, there's case for a new 'promote licence' in prospecting for hydrocarbon finds, sans the commitment levels for seismic and drilling activity required in the usual oil and gas production licences. The idea is to provide a period, say 2-3 years, during which licensees would be able to gauge geological prospects, largely using existing data sets, without having to undertake substantial seismic or drilling operations at an early stage. Our large and extensive sedimentary basins offer a wide range of investment opportunities for exploration and development activity, with tens of billion tonnes of hydrocarbon resources known to be in situ as per 'raw' geological data. Recent gas finds in the Krishna-Godavari basin also present ample possibilities of large finds. 


However, the fact of the matter is the geo-technical challenges and risks presented by the available opportunities — complex geological structures and limited or even outdated data — can be considerable. And turning the risk opportunities into drillable prospects or workable projects does call for dedicated geophysical study and analysis, but also innovation in licensing norms. The point is that with sparse data, potential bidders may not always be keen to carry out extensive seismic surveys or drilling of new wells, termed works programme. It is true that in recent auction rounds, the weightage for the works has been reduced. But the fact remains that there's provision for steep penalties on not sticking to the works schedule. The concept of promote licence would likely enthuse more bidders, including smaller upstream specialists, to explore specific blocks without onerous financial commitment. In any case, it would be pointless to keep drilling more wells simply to keep to a prior timetable.







 FRIDAY'S double suicide bombing in a village in the Mohmand tribal region of Pakistan, which targeted officials and leaders of a government-supported tribal militia, killing over a hundred people, underscores the fact that the Pakistani Taliban, despite a huge offensive against them in several regions, retain much of their capability. The other fact is that Pakistan will continue to be hit by these terror groups, which it nurtured in the past, until the 'deep state', comprising the military-intelligence establishment, realises that there really can't be a pick-andchoose approach on which groups to target or support. For, despite the army's offensive in parts of the tribal areas, and the status of being a declared ally of the US in its operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan has refrained from going all out against all terror groups internally and against some factions of the Taliban in Afghanistan. This Faustian support for groups it wants to use as leverage in Afghanistan, as well as continuing support for terror groups ranged against India, is a cornerstone of the current policy of that military-intelligence setup. That myopic view prevents the recognition that given their shared ideological space and aims, different Islamic extremist groups would eventually become coordinating entities and also target the state itself, if the latter moved against one or the other group. And that is exactly what has happened. 


 Indeed, Pakistan may face a period of savage turmoil as the terror groups, including the Taliban, are stepping up attacks in the heartland and are seeking to step up sectarian strife. The recent deadly attack on the Datta Ganj Bakhsh shrine in Lahore, which is a revered religious place, was a clear attack on a more peaceful, mystical form of Islam. The bright spot, if one can call it that, was that the resultant outrage caused virtually the entire spectrum of religious scholars and clerics to condemn such terrorism. The sheer scale of their savagery may yet turn much of the general population firmly against the terror-Taliban groups. But in absence of the recognition of the folly of using some extremist elements as instruments of foreign policy, terror will keep stalking Pakistan.






THE morning after, when everything from bedtime hours to nationalist passions start to come down to relatively normal levels, one could ask just what would be the enduring memory of this edition of the football world cup. Maybe, since this time it also was really for Africa, it could be the moment of realisation of the capabilities of the continent. The tournament, after all, was conducted with great efficiency and even élan. Or it could be the memory of watching an entire tournament with the incessant buzz of vuvuzelas in the background. Since many had cited reasons ranging from the weirdness of the sound, to potential deafness, to players and coaches not being able to hear each other on the ground, to argue against the vuvuzela, the latter's success has been astounding. And this could well be a great crossover story in terms of a 'musical' instrument used by sports fans. Indeed, some cricket matches have already been played to the sound of that now-familiar angry-hornet-buzz. 


Perhaps another measure of its apparently growing popularity is that the vuvuzela has already attracted a fatwa. Relevant authorities in the UAE have issued the edict against the trumpet as it is apparently not religiously feasible to hear the vuvuzela's sound above 100 decibels. It can cause harm, goes the thinking. A vuvuzela can, hence, be used in the UAE only if it produces less than that assigned decibel level. But fear of harm isn't the only reason for some people to refuse the horns. A trader in the UAE also reportedly found that the horns were traditionally used by African shamans and witchdoctors to bring out devils. Presumably scared by the idea, this trader cancelled his order for more vuvuzelas. No point telling him if devils or associated dark-world characters could be summoned by blowing a horn, post the world cup we'd have had maybe azillion roaming around the world by now. Noisy or bedevilling, the vuvuzela, it seems, might be here to stay!









THE near-flat performance of Indian equities in 2010 till date is at marked variance with the performance of most other large markets with Europe down by nearly 20%, China down by some 20% and the US down by close to 5%. While it was Asian frugality that helped pay for Americans' spending binge till the global financial meltdown in 2007, it is now the loose monetary policy in the west that is helping fund the Asian investment spree. 


Robust growth prospects in the Indian economy, strong earnings momentum and signs of progress on the reforms front are some of the factors that have contributed to this capital inflow though the market has seen several bouts of volatility during the period. 


Domestic institutional investors, however, seem unenthused by these factors and have continued to be marginal net sellers year-to-date. Given the prevailing unsettled conditions in Europe and the fast-paced unfolding events there, it is worth examining if the remarkable outperformance of the Indian equities is likely to continue over the coming months or if we are being lulled into an unwarranted sense of complacency. 


India is seen as a domestic demand-led economy that is less dependent on exports to the west compared to many other emerging markets and, hence, less exposed to the ongoing economic turmoil in the western world. India's exports are just about 16% of GDP and the bulk of its investment needs are financed by domestic savings. Given the robust growth momentum in India, the domestic market has served as a bulwark to the constant barrage of negative news coming out of the west. The old decoupling theme of 2007 — a possible negative correlation between the fortunes of the Indian market and those in the developed world — has started making the rounds in investment strategy themes once again. 


While the arguments for decoupling appear valid, it is worth noting that India's dependence on foreign inflows to sustain its growth momentum has been increasing at a rather brisk pace. The country's current account deficit is at a near-twodecade high at 2.9% of GDP in fiscal 2010 vis-à-vis a current account surplus of 2.2% as recently as 2003-04. This is despite modest crude oil prices during the year and continued strength in software exports and inward remittances. 


 Robust imports on the back of strong consumption and investment demand are likely to take the current account deficit higher by possibly around another couple of percentage points over the next two years. These deficits need to be financed by external capital flows — whether in the form of non-debt-creating inflows like FDI or FII or by external borrowing. 


This has brought about a higher degree of vulnerability to India's potential economic growth from global factors like the economic turmoil faced by some European nations, a possible weakness in US growth and their implications on the risk appetite of global investors in addition to the obvious implications on India's foreign trade. 


With India's high inflation rates proving to be a bit more sticky than earlier anticipated, partly on account of increased fuel and agricultural support prices, the inflation differentials between India and its international trading partners are continuing to be very high for quite some time now. This has inevitably made India's exports less competitive, especially because the Indian rupee has not been depreciating commensurate with the loss of competitiveness on the back of sustained foreign inflows. This is likely to have a fairly significant negative impact on the trade account, thus accentuating the country's dependence on foreign capital flows. 

THE country's financial system has admirably weathered the sovereign credit crisis emanating from southern Europe under the watchful eyes of the money market regulator. With real interest rates offered to bank depositors being in the negative territory for more than a year now, bank deposit growth has started trailing the growth in demand for credit by a substantial margin now. Given that this situation is unlikely to change in a great hurry, a significant portion of the heavy lifting in financing India's consumption and investment growth would need to be from external sources whether in the form of debt or equity. In addition, if the minimum 25% public float norm for listed companies is enforced strictly, the supply of paper in the form of new issuances would be at record levels and would require an unprecedented high level of support from foreign investors. 
    Against this reality, it is prudent to have policy action that actively encourages foreign capital inflows. Frequent noises about controls on capital flows emanating from diverse quarters would need moderation till domestic savings can fully finance our growth ambitions. Meanwhile, all is not well with the outlook on potential foreign inflows. With the credit rating agencies finally taking on board the economic reality facing several southern European countries, sovereign credit downgrades are happening at a quick pace. Soon enough, Europe would realise that pumping in short-term liquidity is not the appropriate medicine to treat what are essentially serious sovereign solvency problems. 


Without some debt restructuring, it is difficult to see how countries like Greece, Spain and Germany can remain a part of the monetary union for long. Moreover, the ongoing Bank stress tests in Europe have the potential to bring out harsh facts about the near-insolvency of several Banks holding weak sovereign bonds. Even a mild repeat of a Lehman-like crisis with some European countries being unable to service their debts can cause the global financial markets to freeze with predictable consequences on risk appetite and potential capital flows into emerging markets like India. 


The India growth story based, among other things, on high returns on equity and improving corporate governance standards is well captured at current market valuations. Only unprecedented levels of capital inflows to more than adequately absorb increasing equity issuance levels can help sustain the market at current or higher levels. 


 Given the fragility of the global recovery, the self-congratulatory tone of the decoupling discourse about India needs some serious tempering.







DEMAND contraction in the developed world, the eurozone crisis, the Chinese promise to let the yuan appreciate, the special economic zone (SEZ) tax regime, a comprehensive review of the country's export performance and the debate over iron ore exports are some issues that have engaged the attention of commerce secretary Rahul Khullar during recent months. While it is too early to assess the impact of yuan appreciation, the senior bureaucrat feels that no dramatic movement is likely and other factors like Chinese government's support to its industry and rise in wages will play a crucial role. The reported withdrawal of subsidies to Chinese steel industry, for instance, will make a major difference to this sector than the minor appreciation in yuan witnessed recently. Indian iron ore, pharma and agri exporters could definitely benefit if the yuan appreciates significantly in the long run. 


The picture is gloomy in the case of euro as the currency has depreciated sharply, slicing the margin of Indian exporters. In the interest of maintaining business volumes, exporters are working with lower margins. If the situation persists for another quarter, the commerce secretary feels, it could become a reason for serious worry. Due to demand contraction in the industrialised world, the ongoing export recovery should not be taken for granted. "We should not get carried away: export growth of 25-30% is not sustainable. I would be more than happy if we achieve the current year's export target of $200 billion that requires growth of around 16%." 
    One factor that is giving sleepless nights to the industry is the proposed change in the tax regime for exports. The draft direct taxes code (DTC) loads the dice against investors after the game has begun, says Mr Khullar. The government had promised a stable tax regime for exporters and this should be honoured. Investment decisions have been taken on the basis of abusiness model that factors in a certain tax calculation and rules of the game cannot change mid-way. "I fully understand the revenue considerations and a compromise that keeps all sides happy has to be arrived at." 


 Why is this so important? SEZs have attracted investment to the tune of Rs 1,05,000 crore in the past five years compared to just Rs 4,000 crore up to 2005. While the country's exports declined 5% last fiscal, SEZ exports increased 120%. Mr Khullar strongly feels that the tax breaks have contributed in a big way to strong investments and export growth. 


The commerce secretary has a big-picture perspective on the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy for the retail sector. The model that we are talking about entails encouragement for investment in backend logistics and supply chain. This will cut post-harvest losses and benefit the agri sector and the entire economy. Our exporters are already competitive and they can do better with an effective supply chain. "There will be a benefit to exports, but the bigger gain will be economy-wide, not limited to exports." 


Boosting the supply chain is good for the farm sector, but will the government lift the ban on export of rice and wheat? Mr Khullar's view is that it is necessary to watch the monsoon and the kharif crop before taking a decision on rice exports. In the case of wheat, world prices are low at this point and lifting the export restrictions may not help. The message is clear: wait and watch the kharif crop. "Even if we were to relax the ban, nobody could buy domestic wheat and export it at current prices." 

 While food is a different cup of tea, what about iron ore? The debate over export of iron ore holds no logic since Indian industry is not in aposition to use fines, the commerce secretary feels. There is no technology available with steel units to handle 80% fines, which is an environment and a health hazard. If we were not to export it, then what do we do with it? 


 The commerce department is now doing a comprehensive review of exports that is likely to be completed in a couple of months. Once this is done, suggestions for policy amendments would be considered on the basis of global market conditions. 


 On non-trade issues like child labour, the government is determined to counter motivated campaigns against Indian industry. "We abhor use of child labour and we are committed to stand-by all the global agreements that we have signed. At the same time, it is our responsibility to prevent any bogey from hurting the industry with baseless allegations." Mr Khullar has seen cases where reports about use of child labour turned out to be biased and he is in no mood to let such campaigns go on even as the government makes it clear to everybody that there could be no compromise on labour laws. 








CONFORMITY is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth, noted the young idealist who inspired a whole generation. That was then, in the sobering 1960s, and long before the policy pundits ideated on economic growth and convergence in the community of nations. Fast-forward to the here and now, and the mavens at the Intenational Monetary Fund have chosen to be seemingly non-conforming, in estimating a higher-than-consensus year-onyear growth figure of 9.4%, for the Indian economy in calender 2010. 


But given the fact that growth did decelerate in the third-quarter in the last fiscal year, the low-base effect would likely shore up the numbers in the like period this year. So, calender-year growth this time around can be expected to be a bit of a statistical mirage. 


But one would need to be much too sanguine to take for granted buoyant growth here, given the weak global recovery, considerable debt overhang in the ageing, mature economies and rising commodity prices generally. For an increasingly-globalising economy, the lacklustre external environment would tend to dampen investor sentiments and keep expectations range-bound. More pertinent seems to be policy influences on output growth, and not merely in the short term. Thus, the accumulation of social and physical overhead capital is deemed as important for growth. Also, macroeconomic policy aiming at stable, low inflation and sound public finances, generally speaking, result in better growth performance. 


Further, public expenditure on health, education and research are clearly vital to rev up growth and sustain living standards in the long term. And a number of studies do suggest that policy and institutions affect the level of efficiency with which resources are allocated economy-wide, although there appears to be no agreement on the specific mechanisms and processes linking policy settings to actual growth outcomes. 


The tool of choice for such analysis has been cross-country regressions, to assess the effectiveness of particular policies and their empirical relevance on growth. But the leading practitioners appear to remain sceptical of the formal correlations seen on the ground. 


What's indicated is that in growth regressions, the methodology by which economic growth or any other performance indicator, such as inflation, is reverted or 'regressed' on policy tells us 'nothing on the effectiveness of policy'. After all, the objective of policy initiatives is to arrive at outcomes, for instance, of correcting market failure via more efficient market design. Yet, policy measures can well result in a panoply of heightened distortions, making it well-nigh impossible to objectively evaluate effectiveness of policy, particularly in the short-to-medium term. So, while the policy on special economic zones initiated circa 2005 has meant increase in exports, it has also led to much diversion of economic and export activity to cash in on questionable tax benefits on offer even for non-export activities, which is distortionary. 


In broader terms, in drawing cause-andeffect relationships between policy and real growth, net of inflation, various methodological issues arise. For example, it can be a tall order to neatly 'disentangle cause and effect' going forward. Anyway, the umpteen determinants of growth — such as financial reforms, or trade liberalisation or a well-managed exchange rate against the backdrop of large-scale capital inflows threatening to undermine the real economy — all tend to be correlated across the board and more likely to be only imperfectly measured. 


It needs to be reiterated, however, that sustained institutional inflows, starting in the 1990s, have comprehensively modernised India's capital markets. It remains though that in a scenario in flux, it would be problematic to pinpoint policy effectiveness. There would be other rigidities, such a multiple conjectures and hypotheses but not enough data points. 


Nevertheless, the effects of public policy on organisations, corporates and economic activities have been widely observed. Ultimately though, it cannot be gainsaid that policy is but one of the external conditions that market players and organisational bodies face. Besides, policy effects can be more or less optimal to the extent that they are complemented and supplemented with cultural, societal and technological factors. 


Anyway, policy advise come about not because regression analysis points at a particular result but more likely due to evidence from multiple sources, background knowledge, and considered opinions — albeit often with a political bias. All the same, objective evaluation of growth outcomes cannot be overemphasised. Take, for instance, labour productivity. The figures available up to the mid-2000s show a decline in labour productivity economy-wide, with the sharpest fall in industry. The services sector has the highest per-worker output and the changing pattern of services-sector bias in employment would scarcely lead to overall increase in labour productivity unless the measure improves both in agriculture and industry.


Policy influences on growth outcomes seem to be more pertinent, and not merely in the short term 
Such measures can mean heightened distortions, making it impossible to objectively evaluate their effectiveness 

All the same, objective evaluation of growth outcomes cannot really be overemphasised







THOMAS Gray observed years back, "Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise." Indeed, many who aspire for goodness and excellence often get frustrated watching many around them, who are oblivious to subtle and finer aspects of life. These persons also appear happy doing nothing tangible or by hobnobbing, partying and revelling. It would almost convince that one is unfortunate to have feelings and thoughts on and aspirations to sublimity and creativity! 


So, wandering thus between two worlds, "one dead and the other powerless to be born", the ardent seeker could obtain sustenance and encouragement from many sources. 


The Katha Upanishad (I, iii, 14), exhorting the aspirant to arise, awaken and approach the wise, also cautions that treading the path to ultimate liberation is like walking on a razor's edge. One has to, as Bhagavad Gita also notes (6, 5), uplift oneself by his own self because he, ultimately, is his own best friend or worst enemy. While certain developments, situations, shallow relationships and unfair things all over cannot be modified in this world of men and matter, one's reaction and approach to them can. Henry Thoreau in his Walden reminds, "Things do not change; we change." 


 However, a deeper understanding of Thoreau's message would reveal that when we change, and truly change, things do change too. This is through the power of example and authenticity, which comes to those who change not just the course of history but also hearts. The basic and tangible changes within one's own self through observation, intelligence and practical application (karmasu koushalam) and through cleansing and strengthening of the self (atmasuddhi and atmasakthi) get mirrored to aspects without too — a process of 'inside out'. 


This is patience, perseverance and persistence in real action. This also is real sadhana, regardless of the methodology adopted, as long as it is marked by clarity and that needed penetrative insight. This finally is the process of obtaining the needed power for one's natural world to be born, which would, doubtless, be a delight to inhabit. 


Though some souls would be hemmed by more hurdles and problems than others, eventually, it is, at least in most cases and to a large extent, up to the individual. This is because, to quote Gita again, one can actually become his own friend or his own enemy!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Minister of state for civil aviation, Mr Praful Patel, has done well to raise the alarm over the delay in


Mumbai's planned second airport, which also revived the old question of the tradeoff between development and environment. Many in India share his view that this country is at a stage of development where environmental standards cannot be observed as strictly as in the West if we are to grow quickly. In Navi Mumbai, what is at stake is the proposed destruction of 400 acres of age-old mangroves and the diversion of two rivers. Both could potentially have a devastating impact. The mangroves along the coast protect the city from floods when heavy rains coincide with high tides, while the rivers — if diverted — can cause havoc with lives and property. Mumbai saw this just two years ago in the case of the Mithi river. It is in this context that the minister of state for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, asked Cidco, which is responsible for implementing the airport project, as well as the Maharashtra government for explanations, which are yet to be provided. Mumbai's need for another airport is undeniable: crores of rupees and precious fuel are being lost ever day with planes having to circle the airport for up to an hour to find landing space, and even having to divert to other cities in some cases. The larger environment-development question is more crucial than ever now, with the government going full speed ahead with infrastructure projects — roads, ports, airports, freight corridors. It is undeniable that in some cases environmental clearances have taken so long that much-needed projects have got stuck, or their cost has gone through the roof. A case in point is Mumbai's iconic Bandra-Worli Sea Link, where the cost almost doubled due to delays caused by objections from environment bodies. The delays also mean that when such a project eventually comes up, it proves inadequate for the purpose it was developed. Mr Ramesh also stirred a hornet's nest in Mumbai when he announced that the setting up of new private helipads would not be permitted — infuriating many, but also earning the support of other citizens. The Maharashtra government had sought clearance for four helipads — to be used in emergencies as well as for security purposes. Mr Ramesh has said he will give permission only for government-owned helipads but not privately-owned ones to be built on rooftops of highrise buildings. At present, some businessmen have their own helipads while many others are interested in acquiring them. Rather than take a rigid stand against private ownership of facilities which in emergencies can be used for the public good, Mr Ramesh and other likeminded public functionaries would do well, on their next visit to any major world city of the kind Mumbai aspires to be, to check out how a network of private and publicly-run facilities dotted across a large metropolis can be instantly mobilised in an emergency — as seen most dramatically in New York's 9/11 and London's 7/7 attacks. The safety and noise pollution issues that the minister has raised are no doubt important — but these only call for effective regulators to enforce exacting standards for all users, whether public or private.








Changes in the political scene in India, especially after the defeat of the Left in the West Bengal elections, have raised some basic issues that will influence the course of political development in our country. The first issue is about the ideas of a united front. It is clear that the days of one-party government are over. No party, whether it is the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party or the Left can dominate the system on their own anymore. They have to form groups and alliances not just to push a political line at any point. Temporary alliances will take place in different situations because of different compulsions. These alliances can lead to the formation of governments in response to any specific challenge. But most of the time these temporary alliances will break down if there is no fundamental unity of purpose among the participatory political parties. That is not the logic of the united front. It is the working of alliances to retain power or to capture the positions of influence. For a sustainable alliance and for long-term changes to be brought about, some underlining unity in the parties concerned is needed to bring about the basic changes.


A united front or a temporary alliance with different forces cannot endure unless the parties concerned are fully committed.


In West Bengal, these issues are coming up in a stark form. Political groups oppose each other not on the basis of ideological differences but because of personality clash and conflict of narrow interest. This cannot form the basis of any long-term political alliance, unless the groups recognise fundamental affirmity of interest. A united front can be based on such recognition.


For instance, the conflict between the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has a long history. The CPI(M) considers the Congress as a class enemy, representing those classes who are against the working classes and who are, by definition, interested in increasing the rate of exploitation. This is the rate of surplus value over and above the value of labour i.e. wages, income and subsistence requirement. It is in this sense a conflict between the working class and the non-working exploitative population that is a fundamental factor in a capitalist system. Capitalism survives because of the surplus value produced by the working class, which is extracted from them by the owners of means of production through exploitation.


But these conflict situations are the long-term conditions of a capitalist system of government. In a day-to-day business, however, these conflicts are often reconciled and compromised in the interest of economic development. Take for instance the minimum wages of the workers. Even in the face of it, they are opposed to the interest of a capitalist owner. But in many situations an increase in minimum wages is seen not only in the interest of workers but also of the capitalists by increasing the productivity of labour and expanding the market. Whether the interest groups are antagonistic or amenable for reconciliation depends on the specific condition of an economy and the relative strength of the different political positions. When they get united, these differences then need to be formed as a united front, as on their own they cannot change the basic situation. When they are united, these groups must have a roadmap of development that would allow them the power to change the situation.


In order to avoid a non-sustainable alliance of different political groups, they must not only be united but also committed to a line of development supportive of social change and to an extent basic political transformation.


I am mentioning these because nowadays many political groups just come together to form a government without building on the principle of ideology and social development. It is just not possible to think of a situation where the Left and communal forces can form an alliance that will last even for a limited period. The anti-Congressism of several Left leaders would not recognise that and create a situation of totally unstable alliances between groups that are basically representatives of the reactionary forces. A temporary benefit from these alliances for the Left will be supported by the long-term development of a politically stable development.


It is high time that the Left forces as well as those representing the Congress should assess the role they can play in transformation of the Indian political economy. Pursuing purely short-term interest to form the pockets of power in different political situations can turn suicidal. The long-term implications of these alliances were not always recognised. In other words, our major political parties in their analyses of the nature of the Left and the alliances they are forming, as in the West Bengal situation, clearly shows that these allowances are fragile and would disappear after giving rise to a short phase of fascism. It would only protect their pockets of alliance leaving them open to pressures of creation. The questions that should have been discussed by them are: Which political group has long-term affirmity of interests and which of them is required as a solid basis of combined influence on the course of the Indian social development?


The Trinamul Congress, for example, must build up its strength for an alliance with the Congress in general and must identify the forces of the Left, which have long-term support of the political development leading to social change. That is the only way a viable united front can be built up in India, which will bring about the basic social changes.


- Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and
former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi









BILIN, West Bank

Despite being stoned and tear-gassed on this trip, I find a reed of hope here. It's that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of non-violent resistance that just might be a game-changer.


The organisers hail the methods of Gandhi and the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, recognising that non-violent resistance could be a more powerful tool to achieve a Palestinian state than rockets and missiles. Bilin is one of several West Bank villages experimenting with these methods, so I followed protesters here as they marched to the Israeli security fence.


Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.


But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That's the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define "non-violence" to include stone-throwing.


Soon after, the Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas at us, and then charged. The protesters fled, some throwing rocks backward as they ran. It's a far cry from the heroism of Gandhi's followers, who refused even to raise their arms to ward off blows as they were clubbed.


(I brought my family with me on this trip, and my kids experienced the gamut: we were stoned by Palestinian kids in East Jerusalem, and tear-gassed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.)


Another problem with these protests, aside from the fact that they aren't truly non-violent, is they typically don't much confound the occupation authorities.


But imagine if Palestinians stopped the rock-throwing and put female pacifists in the lead. What if 1,000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farmland? What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown? Those images would be on televisions around the world — particularly if hundreds more women marched in to replace those hauled away.


"This is what Israel is most afraid of", said Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a non-violent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi's famous 1930 salt march.


One genuinely peaceful initiative is a local boycott of goods produced by Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Another is the weekly demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah against evictions of Palestinians there. And in Gaza, some farmers have protested Israel's no-go security zones by publicly marching into those zones, even at the risk of being shot.


So far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr. But one candidate might be Ayed Morrar. A balding, mild-mannered activist, he was the mastermind behind the most successful initiative so far: non-violent demonstrations a half-dozen years ago in the West Bank village of Budrus against Israel's construction of a security fence there. More than many other Palestinians, he has a shrewd sense of public relations.


"With non-violent struggle, we can win the media battle", Mr Morrar told me, speaking in English. "They always used to say that Palestinians are killers. With non-violence, we can show that we are victims, that we are not against Jews but are against occupation".


Mr Morrar spent six years in Israeli prisons but seems devoid of bitterness. He says that Israel has a right to protect itself by building a fence — but on its own land, not on the West Bank.


Most Palestinian demonstrations are overwhelmingly male, but in Budrus women played a central role. They were led by Mr Morrar's quite amazing daughter, Iltezam Morrar. Then 15, she once blocked an Israeli bulldozer by diving in front of it (the bulldozer retreated, and she was unhurt).


Israeli security forces knew how to deal with bombers but were flummoxed by peaceful Palestinian women. Even when beaten and fired on with rubber bullets, the women persevered. Finally, Israel gave up. It rerouted the security fence to bypass nearly all of Budrus.


The saga is chronicled in this year's must-see documentary Budrus, a riveting window into what might be possible if Palestinians adopted civil disobedience on a huge scale. In a sign of interest in non-violent strategies, the documentary is scheduled to play in dozens of West Bank villages in the coming months, as well as at international film festivals.


I don't know whether Palestinians can create a peaceful mass movement that might change history, and their first challenge will be to suppress the stone-throwers and bring women into the forefront. But this grassroots movement offers a ray of hope for less violence and more change.









CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's directive to comrades to lead a simple life as part of the party's rectification drive has triggered a lot of sniggers. The rectification drive was launched to cleanse the organsiation and make its leaders appear "working class-friendly".


But party leaders are talking in hushed tones about the lifestyle of Mr Karat and his wife Brinda, also a

politburo member. While one comrade whispered about their foreign holidays, another pointed out that while the couple had locked up the "simple accommodation" provided by the party, and were living in a plush south Delhi house.


No wonder, partymen say, the rectification campaign has failed to take off, with most top Marxists, either in Bengal or Kerala, refusing to take Mr Karat seriously. Charity, as they say, should begin at home.


The hospitality tactic


Rajasthan is famous for its hospitality but the Ashok Gehlot government is now using the hospitality trick even while dealing with Opposition protests.


During the recent Bharat bandh, BJP leaders were taken to Jaipur's Manak Chok police station after they

courted arrest. But they were quite surprised when the police employed waiters of a top hotel to serve tea and snacks to them. The police also made proper seating arrangements to accommodate all the arrested 213 leaders comfortably. In fact, the police station turned into a "party venue" and those not arrested were bemoaning their luck.


Last month, Meena strongman and MP Kirodi Lal Meena suddenly staged a sit-in along with tribal people at the Udaipur DM's office. The government immediately arranged drinking water and makeshift toilets for the protesters. Likewise, during the month-long Gujjar agitation, the government directed district magistrates to ensure drinking water and medical facilities for protesters.


This was a far cry from the methods adopted by the earlier BJP government, which took an aggressive stance against the Gujjar agitation, leading to violence and deaths.


Thanks to its hospitality tactic, the Congress government was able to make peace with the Gujjars in the end.


A 'childish' idea


It seems ruling BJP leaders in Chhattisgarh never run out of ideas when it comes to seeking publicity. But this time, their idea turned out to be more than bit "childish".


During the recent Bharat bandh, the party "hired" around 200 poor schoolkids to stage a show of protest to highlight how the poor have been affected the most by the soaring prices of essential commodities.


They were also produced before the local electronic media to field questions from the journalists.


The kids displayed no nervousness before the TV cameras, but soon forgot all they had been taught by the BJP leaders. For instance, when asked who is responsible for price rise of essential commodities, the children replied in unison, "Advaniji". The puzzled journalists then switched over to another question — Who is opposing price rise? The reply was, "Sonia Gandhiji".


Amused with the replies, the TV crew turned their cameras towards the BJP leaders, only to find that they had already disappeared.


Hail the dhoti heroes


Who said globalisation has made us all Westernised in dress and thought? Our politicians certainly don't subscribe to this, even when they are climbing into the cockpit of a fighter jet. Last week, when defence minister A.K. Antony a great votary of "be Indian, buy Indian", climbed into the pilot's seat of the naval version of the light combat aircraft Tejas, he did so in his trademark white dhoti. Wrapped lungi-style, it braved the July winds near the HAL airport in Bengaluru.


And who can forget the sight of Union home minister P. Chidambaram landing at Chaklala airbase in Pakistan in his crisp white dhoti. As he delivered his "tough" message to fully-suited Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik, the dhoti fluttered like a glorious flag in the gusty winds. Talk about confidence in high places.


The rise and rise of Shahi


Uttar Pradesh BJP president Surya Pratap Shahi has become a leader of considerable clout within days of his appointment. Soon after he took up the top job, the BJP came to second position in a bypoll in Dumariaganj. Mr Shahi, expectedly, walked off with all the credit — even where it was not due.


Then his son's wedding reception in Lucknow on the eve of the Bharat bandh coincided with party chief Nitin Gadkari's first visit to Uttar Pradesh.


Mr Shahi, a shrewd politician, also used the rally addressed by Mr Gadkari to invite leaders and workers to the wedding reception.


Thanks to this, the reception became a bigger event than the rally.


And the presence of senior party leaders, including L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, boosted the image of Mr Shahi and made him a bigshot in a jiffy.








Located in south-central Delhi, Defence Colony market is a short drive — walk, on a pleasant day — from Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the flagship facility for the Commonwealth Games that open on October 3. These days the market resembles a massive construction site, as do Khan Market and Connaught Place, two other landmarks also in the broader Games area.


The entry to Defence Colony market has been severely restricted by a two-storey monstrosity that is under construction seemingly in the middle of the driveway. Nobody quite understands why it's there, but Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials insist it is part of an attempt to provide amenities to Games visitors. The ground floor of this new building will house a toilet. On the first floor the concessionaire — the plot has been handed out to a private contractor — can build anything he wants. In Defence Colony, right above the urinals, there are plans for a coffee shop or an eatery!


It is a ridiculous idea. Zoning plans have been torn up, visitors have been severely inconvenienced, and a piece of prime property in the heart of India's capital has been stealthily transferred to a concessionaire who is probably a crony of an MCD official. Defence Colony market's experience is not unique. Such "toilet-cum-restaurant" complexes have been conceived in seven leading markets of the city, allegedly as part of a Commonwealth Games beautification drive. This is a small but telling example of just how much of a racket the Games have become for India's capital.


This past week, retailers at Defence Colony Market — and presumably other markets in the Games area and its vicinity — were paid call by a senior police officer. He asked them for their opinion on shutting down the market — all the shops and restaurants, even the florists, everything —for the entire duration of the Games. Obviously, the idea was strongly opposed. The police officer then climbed down from his maximalist position — which was probably a well-crafted bargaining chip anyway — and said closure would be necessary but perhaps a short, three-four hour business window could be considered each day during the Games. In any case, he let it be known, visitors to the market would be physically prevented from entering, and cars would be banned outright.


Imagine a situation where a Defence Colony resident wants to buy milk and potatoes in the middle of the afternoon in the first week of October. If Delhi Police has its way, he will have to break the law and dodge a security cordon!


This maddening scenario is not scare-mongering limited to one neighbourhood. It threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Delhi's harassed and mortified citizens ready for their Nightmare Games. Not since Nadir Shah, or at least the Mutiny, have Delhi's soul and sensibility been so savaged. The Commonwealth Games are coming at a huge price.


Delhi Police says its hands are tied. It has been tasked with insulating the games from terror strikes and has responded with the heavy-handed approach that comes naturally to it: make all public spaces out of bounds, tell people to stay home, don't let an ant move.


Further, the Games organisers have promised that one lane on every Delhi street being used for the Commonwealth spectacle will be set aside for athletes, officials and so on. To ensure this, tens of thousands of cars in Delhi will need to be forced off the roads. As such, people are being encouraged to leave the city and go on vacation. Schools and colleges have been ordered to close down. Markets are next; presumably offices — at least public sector offices, under some sort of government control — will be targeted in the coming weeks.


Why is this happening? Oxford Street will not shut shop during the London Olympics of 2012. So why is Delhi suffering? Frankly, the city's civic sinews are grossly overstretched. A Commonwealth Games mini-city — accommodating the athletes' village, a clutch of stadiums and a media centre — needed to have been built at a virgin location close by: in Sonepat (Haryana) or Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh), for instance. This is the model Sydney, Beijing and Athens adopted for their Olympic Games. The 2012 London Olympics are being used to regenerate the eastern suburbs of the city. The heart of the British capital is being left unmolested.


In Delhi, however, Games facilities have been foisted upon the busiest stretches and most densely-populated neighbourhoods of a living city. This has played havoc with ecology and urban design. Far from an emblem of civic pride, the Games have become an embodiment of a city's greed.


Despite this, the grasping nature of the Games organisers seems to know few limits. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organising Committee, now wants the Union sports ministry to coerce the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to cancel or postpone a tour by the Australian cricket team in early October. The Australian team will not be playing in Delhi but the cricket series will clearly attract more television audiences and sponsorship deals than the Commonwealth Games.


This is not surprising. For better or worse multidisciplinary events — even the Olympics — have a limited appeal in India, where consumer and business support can be found for cricket and, to a lesser degree, tennis, football and golf. This is a hard verity. Can it be altered by government fiat? What if the BCCI and Cricket Australia decide to play in Dubai? Will Mr Kalmadi want passports revoked and live telecast banned? Will he ask the information and broadcasting ministry to tell the Mumbai film industry not to release blockbuster movies in October?


The term "Potemkin village" owes its name and origin to an 18th century Russian minister who sought to impress Catherine the Great by building facades of prosperous villages during her imperial tours. He tried to create the impression of happiness and plenty, and disguise ugly reality.


By blanking out the real Delhi, cancelling its people almost, and by attempting to force-feed a mass identification with the Commonwealth Games that simply doesn't exist, is a vibrant city being reduced to a Potemkin village? The smug men in the Organising Committee are unanswerable to nobody, but surely the government is? 


- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








The sages of India had reflected on all aspects of human life including conception and reproduction as well. As in other areas of life, here too they were keen on instituting practices and beliefs that uplift humans morally and spiritually.


The sages were of the opinion that a woman gives birth to a virtuous child only if she conceives when her mind and body are pure. Modern science too admits the importance of the mental state during conception.


According to Indian tradition, people usually get married after Brahmacharya (the period of celibacy and education). The scriptures suggest that after marriage, the couple should observe fasts and prayers to get a good offspring. Clean food should be consumed and the couple should always have positive thoughts.


Charitable acts, prayers and complete submission to God will add to the confidence of the couple. Even sexual intercourse should ideally be an offering to God and the resultant conception should be considered sacred. Such an attitude gives sanctity to family life.


Our ancient texts say that the first four days after menstruation and the full moon, and new moon days are not auspicious for conception.


The sages also insist that a healthy mind devoid of worries and tension at the time of mating results in the birth of a good child. Such a child will have wisdom, intelligence and good character as he grows up. Psychologists have also got much evidence to support this belief.


One interesting ritual in ancient India was to narrate stories that hail virtue to a pregnant woman. It was believed that this will have a positive effect on her mind. The older people in the household, especially old women took the initiative in reading out good stories to the pregnant women.


Apparently to encourage the ritual, there are stories in the epics that say that the foetus listens to such stories.


Nowadays, science has found out that the foetus reacts to the mother's moods. Her negative moods affect its growth and even emotional balance. So our epics had a point. Not only that, the family should be careful not to expose expecting mothers to tales or talks that would cause anxiety and stress.


This "narrative therapy" was in fact part of a ritual called "pumsavana". There was the belief that the child born to a woman of short temper will never be of any quality. On the other hand, a woman of well balanced and contended mind will give birth to a fine baby. And good stories play a part in making people good.


This is why our forefathers observed such practices. Many seemingly superstitious practices such as this are, in fact, quite meaningful and worthy of observance even now.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at [1]








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.





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.   




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.








The fight between the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority has ended in a draw. The quarrel was about who was to regulate unit life insurance plans issued by insurance companies which are liquid investments like mutual funds. The issue came to the boil because Sebi abolished entry load on mutual funds. Insurance companies continued to charge entry loads. To equalize competition, Sebi asked them to cease; Irda asked them to continue charging them. The dispute went to the finance ministry, which has issued an ordinance which essentially says that Ulips could continue to be regulated by Irda. This is typical of a stressed mother of two fractious daughters; she frees the daughters' hair from each other's clutches, locks them up in separate rooms, and goes back to lording it over the house. But while the daughters may have been separated, their toys continue to play and row with one another. Specifically, insurance companies can continue to charge entry load and pay salesmen from the entry load; mutual fund managers cannot pay them. So salesmen will go from door to door and sell Ulips; Ulips will get an advantage over mutual funds. Mutual funds will go to Sebi and plead that they are its daughters, but get such stepmotherly treatment. Those upstart Ulips can go on bribing salesmen, but Sebi would not let them.


The only course left before Sebi is to rescind its ban on entry loads. That will return investors to the situation where they would have to shell out money to agents for no essential service. Any investor can buy a capital market magazine or guide which would tell him how to choose and invest in a mutual fund; he does not need an agent to do it. But mutual funds will pay agents 1-2 per cent, and will take it out of the investor's money even before they accept it. This is sheer robbery — robbery that the finance ministry has now authorized. There can be only one of two conclusions. Either the finance ministry is in collusion with the salesmen, or it has no understanding of the issues involved.


Arrogance and ignorance make an impenetrable combination. Still, it is necessary to adumbrate the elementary point that regulation must be principled, and that the principles cannot change with industry. This implies that there should ideally be only one regulator for both mutual funds and insurance companies which would govern both even-handedly. The ministry cannot, of course, have that, since one of the government's objectives in creating regulators is to create jobs for retired and useless bureaucrats; from its point of view, the more the regulators, the better. If they fight, so much the better. Then they will run whining to it, and give it a chance to give arbitrary rulings. Or better still, appoint a super-regulator to arbitrate between them.









As the American withdrawal gains speed, there are fewer American troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan for the first time since 2003. By the end of August, there will be no US combat troops left in Iraq, though some tens of thousands of support troops will remain until next year. And still there is no new Iraqi government, although it is now four months since the election on March 7.


The US vice-president, Joe Biden, was in Baghdad urging Iraqi politicians to end the political deadlock, but America's influence over events in Iraq has been falling as fast as its troop numbers. In the end, the same broad coalition of Shia Arabs and Kurds that ran the country before will probably rule again, excluding the Sunni Arabs, but it's unclear who will lead the new coalition. The last election made Iraq's sectarian and ethnic rivalries even sharper. The corruption is universal, and dozens of people are still killed by suicide bombers every week. But the country cannot really fail, because there is just so much oil.


After three decades of foreign wars, UN sanctions and American occupation, Iraq's oil exports bottomed out at 1.8 million barrels per day in 2008, but they are already back up to 2.5 million b/d. Baghdad plans to be producing 9.9 million b/d 10 years from now. That would make it the world's first, second or third largest exporter (depending on what happens to Saudi Arabian and Russian production). The target is plausible, because this is not speculation about production from new oilfields; it is just enhanced production from existing fields. Contracts to build the infrastructure to pump that extra oil have already been signed with two dozen foreign oil companies. Since the foreigners are only paid a fee per barrel, Iraq gets most of the profits.


Striking deals


On the reasonable assumption that the price of oil will not drop below $50 per barrel in the next decade, the Iraqi government will have an oil income of at least $150 billion a year by 2020. Two-thirds of the current government's income is stolen by the political elite and there is no reason to think that this will change, but that would still allow some $50 billion a year to trickle through and serve the needs of ordinary Iraqis.


That is probably enough to buy the grudging loyalty of most Shia Arabs to the Iraqi State. The Kurds are a different case, but the hostility of all their neighbours to full Kurdish independence will probably persuade them to maintain their semi-detached relationship with Baghdad. The Sunni Arab minority can be either bought off or repressed. All that the Iraqis can hope for, in the aftermath of the US occupation, is corrupt governments riven by sectarian and ethnic divisions, but that is probably a stable outcome provided there is enough money. To be fair to the Americans, no other post-Saddam, post-occupation outcome was ever likely.


The union last month between outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's secular, but overwhelmingly Shia, State of Law party and the two religious Shia parties in the Iraqi National Alliance creates a bloc that is within striking distance of a parliamentary majority. Recreate the alliance with the Kurds that Maliki had in the last coalition, and the deal is done. That coalition has not yet happened because Maliki would almost certainly not be the prime minister in it: one of the Shia religious parties, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, hates him too much. Talks may continue till September as Maliki seeks to stay in power, but he will probably fail.


Meanwhile, the Americans are leaving quietly. As quietly, that is, as you can move 1,900 heavy tanks and fighting vehicles, 43,000 trucks, 600 helicopters, and 34,000 tonnes of ammunition. Some of this will go back to the US, but a lot of it will be repaired in Kuwait and then sent on to Afghanistan. The "dumb war", as President Obama called it, is over. The almost-as-dumb war continues.









India is incredible (after shining), with the fastest growth rate, an emerging demographic dividend and innovative brains for the globe. But the vast majority in rural India — employed in agriculture, small-scale and tiny industries, self-employed, and with no assets — does not find it so. This government, claiming inclusive growth for the grossly deprived and poor, has not taken actions to bring down prices of essential food items, unprecedented for over 30 years. Instead, it raised the prices of petroleum products. Their cascading effects on other prices have, for the poor, cut the quality of food intake, sapped their already low nutrition levels and made them more vulnerable to disease. There is hypocrisy behind this claim of inclusive growth.


The Indian economy has shown significant growth rates over the last seven years. But India's human development indicators are well behind many countries in Asia. Despite improving since 1995, we lag well behind countries with whom we would like to be compared, Brazil, Russia and China. Growth in India has not led to comparable development for the poor.


Top Indian economic policy-makers say that prices will fall after a few months. Poor consumers — mostly on daily wages, paying very high prices for family food — cannot wait. They have been paying more as compared to five years ago — 35 per cent more for rice, 18 per cent for onions, 45 per cent for sugar, 70 per cent for tur dal, 56 per cent for petrol, and 40 per cent for diesel. Against last year, food prices are up by 18 per cent. Policymakers mouthing "inclusive growth" sound hypocritical when deprivation is rising because of actions (raising fuel prices) and inactions (not using grain stocks to bring down prices).


One indicator of massive deprivation is that over 500 million Indians are not connected to electricity and burn biomass — mainly crop residues, dry twigs, leaves, branches and cow dung — in dingy and unprotected huts (only 19 per cent of rural households live inpucca houses) without toilet facilities (87 per cent). This indoor smoke pollution has led to India having the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the world (138 per 100,000 households versus 99.7 for the world as a whole), with other adverse effects as well on the health of women and children.


Ours is a services driven economy, not driven by the 'real' economy of agriculture and industry. Agriculture employs 52 per cent and, with industry, should be producing goods to raise the living standards of the poor. But rural India earns 85 per cent less than urban, showing the latter's deprivation. Of the extremely marginalized scheduled tribes, the many scheduled castes and Muslims, the worst off are the STs who have lost land rights and livelihoods, and become easy fodder for the Maoists.


The government should be building their capability through health services of adequate quality, accessible to all, by providing opportunities for quality education, developing skills and good sanitation, ensuring clean drinking water to prevent illnesses of the chest and stomach that are common in rural India. The human development report of the United Nations Development Programme (2006) shows that only 73 per cent of children has full immunization against TB, and 56 per cent against measles; 22 per cent of children with diarrhoea are receiving oral rehydration and continued feeding; 48 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are using contraceptives; 43 per cent births are attended by skilled health professionals; the number of physicians per 100,000 people is 80; 20 per cent of the population is undernourished; 45 per cent of children are under-height for their age, and 30 per cent of children are with low birth weight. Poor health and nutrition care led to an infant mortality rate of 62 and mortality rate of 540 per 100,000 births, higher than in most comparable Asian countries. This is also true for education.


India's spending on health and education is not comparable to others. As per cent of gross domestic product in 2003, public expenditure on health in India was 1.2 and private 3.6, while in China the comparable figures were 2 and 3.6. Public expenditure on education was 3.3 per cent of GDP in India, and 10.7 per cent of total government expenditure against 2.2 and 12.7 in China. Government expenditure to GDP in 2003-04 on health was 1.2 per cent, education 3.7 per cent, military expenditure 3 per cent and debt servicing 2.8 per cent, demonstrating the inability of the government to assign resources to improve people's capabilities. Serious administrative flaws and corruption made even this spending largely ineffective.


On present demographic trends, India will have the largest youthful population in the world by 2030, boastfully

called a demographic dividend. But investments in health and education services — development of skills and administrative and monitoring systems that ensure all have good quality in both — is necessary to reap benefits from a youthful population. Without these it could be a demographic disaster.


Inequalities in India are less than in China, but India is also said to have the fourth largest number of billionaires and the largest private holdings in banks overseas. Urban households spend three-fourths more and save nearly double than rural households. Inequalities by occupation, region, location (urban-rural, big city, small-town), education, and so on, are wide and growing as demonstrated by surveys conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research.


The combined fiscal deficit of governments at the Centre and the states is estimated in 2009 to have actually crossed 11 per cent, as in 1991. Government debt is over 60 per cent of GDP, placing severe limits on government expenditure on infrastructure and the social sector since interest payments have become the single largest item in government expenditure (as percentage of revenue receipts — 52.1 in 1998-99, 31.6 in 2007-08, 31.6 in 2008-09 and budgeted at 36.7 in 2009-10).


After 1991, India reduced government deficits by reducing expenditures that benefited the poor and the deprived, investments in agriculture and infrastructure, and even the social sector. These cuts badly affected the building of capability among the excluded part of the population.


Political populism led government to keep many prices artificially low by measures such as oil subsidies, physical supplies of food grains and kerosene below cost, free or cheap electricity, and so on. The logic of letting the artificially low oil prices adjust themselves to the market was impeccable. It was terrible timing for the poor, already reeling under inflation, who suffered even more.


After 2007, imaginative schemes to support the poor have been introduced, like free access for all to primary education (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), National Rural Health Mission to achieve the same for health services, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which significantly increased funds available for employment schemes from 0.22 per cent of state domestic product in 1998-99 to 0.34 per cent in 2005-06. Others like right to education and right to food are on the anvil.


However, serious administrative inadequacies — high cost, red tape, corruption — in state governments have in many cases led to under- spending or to spending with little effect. Thus in 2005-06 (from available survey figures) only 30 per cent of the funds was spent from those available. Even the spending did not reach the targeted population in many cases and a good part was lost to administrative expenditures and corruption. However the NREGA — despite non-spending, massive corruption and diversion — has led to rural wages going up, no doubt helping these deprived people. The anecdotal evidence of some decline in internal labour migration is also indicative of its success in enabling the poor to earn wages in their own area.


Relating fuel prices for parity is good. But fuelling inflation by raising fuel prices in the midst of rampant inflation shows that the government is paying lip service to the idea of enabling the poor to benefit from economic growth.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research



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





In the surreal political scenario that rules Karnataka, the government conceding some of the demands of the Lokayukta is a silver lining that calls for some cheer. Given the times that we live in, the glass should be viewed as half full rather than half empty. The requirements of the Lokayukta thus met are not wholly or in full measure, but as the Lokayukta says, half of what he wanted. The ombudsman will be vested with curtailed suo motu powers to investigate government servants. This certainly is a step forward. The door has been prised open and there is a sliver of light. The bureaucracy is the bedrock on which the venality of the politicians rests. The fear of attracting the Lokayukta's attention might lead many officers to refuse to collude with politicians' plans to milk the exchequer and partake in the state's natural resources with impunity. Some of them may follow the Latin dictum Veritas Vos Liberabit (the truth shall set you free) and turn whistleblowers in personal, if not public, interest. This is probably what Justice Santosh Hegde was indicating when he stated that even with the truncated powers he could do much.

The government has been criticised for keeping the elected representatives and the governing class out of the reach of the Lokayukta. This was but to be expected. Given the level of corruption in which Karnataka's political establishment is mired, it would have been completely unrealistic to expect the government to allow the office of the chief minister, members of the council of ministers or legislators to be brought under the scrutiny of the ombudsman. Reports suggest that representatives of the opposition parties who attended the meeting convened by the chief minister were in agreement with the government's views. This again should surprise none. Statements of faux indignation emanating from opposition leaders at the immunity given to the political class reek of hypocrisy. The office of Lokayukta in Karnataka is a quarter-century old, and no government in the state thence, regardless of the party in power, has so far taken proactive steps to strengthen the institution.

Justice Hegde's action in withdrawing his resignation has drawn some criticism. His resignation forced a national debate on the institution, forced the BJP government on the backfoot and embarrassed deeply the central BJP leadership which feared a nationwide exposure on the mining scam in Karnataka. For that alone, Justice Hegde deserves kudos.








Kadapa MP and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son Jagan Mohan Reddy has cocked a snook at the Congress high command by launching the second phase of his Odarpu (condolence) yatra from Srikakulam. The first phase was suspended some weeks ago in the wake of violence indulged in by Telangana supporters. Jagan Mohan Reddy has claimed that the yatra has no political significance and he only wanted to console the families of those who died of shock or committed suicide after his father's death in a helicopter crash last year. The argument is unconvincing, especially in the context of his statements and actions against state chief minister K Rosaiah and the party leadership in the last few months. Party president Sonia Gandhi had warned him against undertaking the yatra and had advised him to meet the bereaved families in one place if he wanted to make a public gesture towards them. The fact that he has ignored the advice and gone ahead with the yatra shows that he is on a collision course with the party leadership.

The yatra is meant to send out the political message that Jagan is the inheritor of his father's legacy and the state's chiefministership is his rightful due. Jagan joined the party only over a year ago. The party high command made Rosaiah the chief minister as he had vast experience in administration and was non-controversial. Jagan could have worked with him and gained political and administrative experience. Rosaiah will not be there to lead the party in the next election as he will be far advanced in age then. But Jagan seems to be in a hurry and wants to wrest the leadership from an unwilling high command.

In spite of the embarrassment, it may not be easy for the leadership to take action against Jagan who has openly  defied it. The yatra has received good popular response. Though the party has warned all MLAs against joining it, a sizeable number seem to be ready to support Jagan. His support has apparently dwindled from the almost entire legislature party of 150 MLAs last year to about 30 now but that is enough to pose a threat to the Rosaiah government. The party leadership cannot ignore this when it tries to deal with the challenge from the young leader.






Is there middle space in Indian politics? This was the great dilemma before the Socialists in the 1950s and 1960s.


The nationalist movement, which kneaded the contours of ideology, did not offer much clarity. Mahatma Gandhi broadened the Congress umbrella to such an extent that every ideology could claim to be a rib. His creed was simple and effective as long as it worked: the nation belonged to everyone, and therefore everyone belonged to the struggle against the British. And so members of the Hindu Mahasabha co-existed with the Muslim League, till the early 30s, and G D Birla shared space with Communists in the Congress tent till 1942.

The flaw in this elixir was evident each time an important decision had to be taken. Without the presence of the Mahasabha the Congress might have come to terms with the constitutional formula proposed by Jinnah at the 1928 all-parties conference in Calcutta, for instance. By the late 1920s, Netaji Subhas Bose had begun to sound out Jawaharlal Nehru on his concerns about Congress' commitment to socialism, and after the Tripuri session, Bose was convinced that the only option left to him was to split and form his own party, the All India Forward Bloc.

Other Socialists, led principally by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and Nath Pai, left the Congress after India became free. Unity proved as elusive as socialism, and they split into the Praja Socialist Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party. Neither found any traction in electoral politics; the people remained loyal to Gandhi's heir, Jawaharlal, and the Congress. Denied middle ground, most of the PSP merged into Congress; Jawaharlal was delighted to welcome them back. Ashok Mehta was rewarded with a place in the Cabinet, while the 'Young Turk', Chandra Shekhar, went on to create history at the party level by winning an election to the working committee without the support of Indira Gandhi. Lohia's SSP retained its anti-Congress radicalism, and sought a solution in 'United Front' formations, which included the Jana Sangh and had a working, if arm's length, relationship with the majority faction of the Left, the CPM. The crisis of the 70s provoked authoritarian tendencies within the Congress, and drove most of the non-Congress parties into a unique merger. This was too good to last, not least because electoral success in 1977 brought power, and power inflated petty egos into grand bubbles that had to burst. Non-Congress politicians went back to their old shells, sometimes redecorated with fresh names. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, for instance, became the Bharatiya Janata Party; and the Lohia-ite Mulayam Singh Yadav created the Socialist Party, while Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar became embedded eventually in the Janata Dal (U). A national formation had disintegrated into parts of its sum, but, interestingly, the parts became larger than the whole as they adopted regional identities.

Failure of Mandal report

ishwanath Pratap Singh made a serious effort to create middle space at the nationwide level when he sought to build on his election triumph in 1989 by spinning out the Mandal report. It did not work because he was an individual without an institution. The tension between a leader's personal proclivities, often no more than a desire to sustain a family hierarchy, and the collaborative demands of a larger structure, has been the biggest impediment to a successful 'Third Front'.

Can Sharad Pawar succeed where so many predecessors have failed? He has sent, or re-sent, an early signal indicating that he is more comfortable in a Third Front than in his current alliance with the Congress. It is perfectly legitimate in politics to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, but you need the latter's fangs and the former's feet. Pawar is shrewd enough to hone the combination, but the more interesting point is the timing. Why make this pitch with four years left for an election, unless there is the possibility of an earlier election?

There are four models open to non-Congress parties: disparate regional ambitions; the 1967 pattern of a United Front, which was partially successful; the unity of 1977, which was exhilarating while it lasted; and the V P Singh balancing act, in which there is an implicit understanding between middle and right, without this being made too obvious to the voter.

There is some evidence that the need for prevarication might be unnecessary. In Bihar Nitish Kumar has managed an extraordinary feat in reshaping the image of the local BJP. He has prevented social conflict and concentrated on good governance, the two fundamental requirements for electoral victory. He is likely to get enough of the Muslim vote to return to power; this, in turn, will propel him towards the focal point of a larger understanding. He was a junior minister in V P Singh's government, which survived with support from both the Communists and the BJP; he clearly learnt far more than his seniors from Singh.

There is middle space in Indian politics, but it is full of potholes. The ride will be bumpy; there might be accidents. But it could still be the pathway to a destination.








Like a steamy summer romance, this euphoria cannot last long, but it sure is nice while it does.

His name is Paul, he has eight legs and he flaunts a flexibility that would put to shame the ethics code of any self-respecting investment bank on Wall Street. What's more, he's one of the stars of the World Cup blazing on zillions of TV screens around the world. Yet Paul has never set foot on a soccer field, never kicked a ball and to this day most of his running has been devoted to chasing lobsters. Paul, you see, is an octopus.

OctoPaul is, at present, an inmate at the Oberhausen aquarium in Germany, where he has entered the VIP lounge of animal oracle lore due to the uncanny precision in his predictions on the outcome of crucial sports events. He works his magic according to a strict procedure: his caretakers introduce into his tank two boxes containing the flags of the opposing teams (and a mussel in each for him to snack on, post-decision). Then, while the world news media eagerly waits, OctoPaul, cucumber-cool and donning his trademark deep-thinking face, settles on one of them.

At it again

He deserves his own show in Vegas plus a cut of the action because, these days, the smart money is on Paul's side, whichever he chooses. Some claim his infallibility nears that of the pope, while others, enraged by his prophecies, have complained that Paul should be served in a garlicky sauce with potatoes and parsley. Recently, Paul did it again, correctly predicting that Spain, sporting her best team in many years, would defeat the stellar German team last Wednesday.

Spain's victory, won with a magnificent head strike from Barcelona's Carles Puyol, set a historical mark: for the first time the Spanish team has advanced to the World Cup final. Thousands and thousands of Spanish fans in dire need of good news have taken to the streets in joy.

Good news in Spain, as in most of the western world, has proved scarce in recent times — so, yes, we'll take any glimpse of the stocking we can get. But it's true: what sense of unity and positive energy Spaniards have experienced in the past few months, that rare feeling of 'getting it right', has come almost exclusively from our athletes, from Rafa Nadal's No 1 tennis ranking and eight Grand Slam titles to Pau Gasol's recent triumph with the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, corruption scandals and somber economic signs and the farcical battles of everyday politics loom over perhaps too much circus and not enough bread.

I confess I was never a great soccer fan, yet in the last few days, seeing the sense of joy and passion the game is bringing to the lives of Spaniards looking to cheer for something or someone actually worth it, I've been following the World Cup and rooting for the team to crown what is already a job well done. Like a steamy summer romance, this euphoria cannot last long, but it sure is nice while it does. What the future will bring, maybe only Paul the Octopus knows. And by the way, Paul predicted Spain will win the final.
Which brings me to ponder if such a wise and charming creature shouldn't be granted an amnesty and a return to the ocean. Or maybe it would be wiser to extend his contract and appoint him to higher responsibilities. Because when all the wonderful sound and fury of the World Cup has faded, it would be swell to have someone honest, decent and smart to point the way ahead. And these days, the more you look around, the more an octopus serving time in a German aquarium looks like a contender.

So, may the best win, and may that optimistic, hard-working spirit the Spanish team has displayed so far

permeate other spheres of the country's public life that could use a serious kick. Perhaps that, beyond Sunday's chance at glory, should be the real goal. For once the game is over, all eyes must go back to the ball.







 I am inundated with the calls of the cuckoos all around me. It has been a couple of months now. Their calls never seem to end.Starting from a low pitched coo... coo... of a solitary bird it soon attains crescendo of several cuckoos simultaneously screeching in unison. They have several tunes to their credit. At times very plaintive, soon to change into other modes including one that sounds very alarming. Are these pleasing to the ears or shrill and jarring? I have not been able to come to any conclusion. But I enjoy a sense of being one with nature. I feel I am not alone but there are other living beings surviving in harmony with nature against all odds. It brings to my mind a sense of order and rhythm and tells me all is not lost.

While my attention is solely taken away by these birds, I also wonder what happened to my other friends, the mynas, the spotted doves, the barbets, including a crow pheasant with its guttural ghuk… ghuk, which hops in and out occasionally like a guest actor in a movie. I start focussing my attention. I am reassured all of them are very much there. Not that they have given up their chirping and cooing and hopping but they only appear subdued in the presence of their more voluble friend, the cuckoo. Each seems to live in its own world undisturbed by the others' presence, yet making a kaleidoscopic harmony.

In the midst of all this, there is the ceaseless dance of the squirrels scampering from branch to branch, moving so deftly and with such determination that I keep wondering what gives them such motivation and to what purpose. I do not find any.

My neighbours are troubled by my trees which the squirrels use nonchalantly to enter and exit from their flats in the complex that has come up. I understand their problem. I fetch a help after great difficulty and he chops the tree to the required height. My tree only knows to grow. It does not understand my neighbour's requirement.

I have a Goan friend, a very soft spoken gentleman residing close by to my house. The other day I found him in a furious verbal duel with some shoddy characters. He was trying to save a small tree in front of his house planted and nurtured by him while the others were trying to chop its branches for their all-too-important necessity of feeding their goats. They were rebuffed. My friend beamed with satisfaction. He is a frail old man in his 80s. I walked away in the satisfaction that not everything is lost.









It was accurately noted over the weekend that Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who passed away last Thursday night at the age of 85, never managed to muster serious political power. His dovish Meimad party, founded in 1988, perennially failed to garner on its own the minimum electoral backing needed for Knesset representation, entering parliament only as a minor grouping within the Labor party. Yet Amital's influence as an educator and as a religious thinker was profound and far-reaching.

Religious movements tend to encourage monolithic, dogmatic thought that discourages or limits individual expression. The faithful are expected to adhere to a higher authority, sometimes against their own sense of right and wrong. For some, this is comforting.

Relinquishing responsibility for difficult decisions and putting one's trust in a spiritual leader can make life easier and can provide a deceptive sense of purposefulness.

This tendency toward herd mentality and consensus thinking – especially in political opinions – afflicts the religious Zionist movement in Israel. Nevertheless, in comparison to other faith-based movements, religious Zionism is relatively diverse and opinionated, and this is in no small degree thanks to Amital.

After the Six Day War, Amital, a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence, broke with his haredi roots to establish the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva that combines military service with advanced Torah study. Amital, who saw Jewish sovereignty as an opportunity for profound religious development, rejected the possibility that piety overrides menschlichkeit, roughly translated as natural morality. If Jewish society functioned better without the demands of faith, this was a sign of a misguided faith. Devotion to Torah scholarship was no excuse for exemption from military service. And long before Zionist rabbis supported extended military service, Amital encouraged suitable students to pursue officers' training, even if it left less time for Torah.

Shortly after Har Etzion was founded in the West Bank settlement Alon Shvut, Amital invited Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who holds a doctorate in English literature from Harvard University, to share the leadership with him. The two encouraged an atmosphere of intellectual openness and independent thinking.

A real protege of Amital's was one who could intelligently disagree with his teacher, as Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva, was lovingly told by Amital when teacher and student ended up on opposite sides of a public debate. Har Etzion has produced numerous independent-minded rabbinic leaders over the years, including Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi Re'em Hacohen and Rabbi Ya'acov Medan, who happen to be among the most dynamic, original and moderate leaders of religious Zionism.

AMITAL GUIDED his own actions with the same intellectual independence that he passed on to his students. The same man who established the first yeshiva beyond the Green Line and was a central leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement gradually changed ideological directions after the Yom Kippur War, but more pronouncedly so after the first Lebanon War.

If a true teacher shows the possible, Amital did just that by abandoning what a former student called Gush Emunim's "fervor of certainty" regarding the centrality of the settlement movement. In the process, Amital paid a high personal price, but never backtracked. Just a few years ago he noted that "a Palestinian state is the light at the end of the tunnel of what we have undergone in the past few years, because only a Palestinian state will save us from losing the Jewish state." The courage to make such a statement in religious Zionist circles should not be discounted.

From his own experiences with narrowmindedness, Amital – and Amital's students – learned to more fully appreciate the importance of tolerance for the diverse opinions of others. Amital embraced liberal democracy as the best form of government in a contentious Jewish state and entered into dialogue with secular and non-Orthodox Jews.

Amital's political endeavors with Meimad may not have resulted in electoral windfalls, but his impact on what could have been a very monolithic religious Zionist society is undeniable. Thankfully, Amital's legacy is alive in hundreds of students.







The president is convinced of his own magnificence, yet not of his country's.

Talkbacks (12)


Remember NASA? It once represented to the world the apogee of American scientific and technological achievement. Here is President Barack Obama's vision of NASA's mission, as explained by administrator Charles Bolden: "One was he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to 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 and math and engineering."

Apart from the psychobabble – farcically turning a space-faring enterprise into a self-esteem enhancer – what's the sentiment behind this charge? Sure America has put a man on the moon, led the information revolution, won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation by far – but, on the other hand, a thousand years ago al-Khwarizmi gave us algebra.

Bolden seems quite intent on driving home this message of achievement equivalence – lauding, for example, Russia's contribution to the space station.


Russia? In the 1990s, the Russian space program fell apart, leaving the US to pick up the slack and the tab for the missing Russian contributions to get the space station built.

For good measure, Bolden added that the US cannot get to Mars without international assistance.

Beside the fact that this is not true, contrast this with the elan and self-confidence of president John F. Kennedy's pledge that America would land on the moon within the decade.

There was no finer expression of belief in American exceptionalism than Kennedy's. Obama has a different take. As he said last year in Strasbourg, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and theGreeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Which of course means: If we're all exceptional, no one is.

TAKE HUMAN rights. After Obama's meeting with the president of Kazakhstan, Mike McFaul of the National Security Council reported that Obama actually explained to the leader of that thuggish kleptocracy that we too are working on perfecting our own democracy.

Nor is this the only example of an implied moral equivalence that diminishes and devalues America.

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner reported that in discussions with Chinaabout human rights, the US side brought up Arizona's immigration law – "early and often." As if there is the remotest connection between that and the persecution of dissidents, jailing of opponents, suppression of religion routinely practiced by the Chinese dictatorship.

Nothing new here. In his major addresses, Obama's modesty about his own country has been repeatedly on display as, in one venue after another, he has gratuitously confessed America's alleged failing – from disrespecting foreigners to having lost its way morally after 9/11.

It's fine to recognize the achievements of others and be nonchauvinistic about one's country. But Obama's modesty is curiously selective. When it comes to himself, modesty is in short supply.

It began with the almost comical self-inflation of his presidential campaign, from the still inexplicable mass rally in Berlin in front of a Prussian victory column to the Greek columns framing him at the Democratic convention. And it carried into his presidency, from his posture of philosopher-king adjudicating between America's sins and the world's to his speeches marked by a spectacularly promiscuous use of the first-person pronoun – I.


Notice, too, how Obama habitually refers to cabinet members and other high government officials as "my" – "my secretary of homeland security," "my national security team," "my ambassador."

The more normal – and respectful – usage is to say "the," as in "the secretary of state." These are, after all, public officials sworn to serve the nation and the Constitution – not just the man who appointed them.

It's a stylistic detail, but quite revealing of Obama's exalted view of himself. Not surprising, perhaps, in a man whose major achievement before acceding to the presidency was writing two biographies – both about himself.

Obama is not the first president with a large streak of narcissism. But the others had equally expansive feelings about their country. Obama's modesty about America would be more understandable if he treated himself with the same reserve. What is odd is to have a president so convinced of his own magnificence – yet not of his own country's.








The recent meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was as good as it's going to get.

Talkbacks (5)


At the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the president could not have been more effusive. They had an "excellent" discussion, Netanyahu's statement was "wonderful," and the USIsrael relationship is "extraordinary."

Hard to believe this is the same Obama.

The US president wants to improve relations with Israel for several reasons.

Obviously, he doesn't want to be bashing Israel in the period leading up to the November elections. Polls show that for Americans, his administration's relative hostility toward Israel is its least popular policy. But there is more to this trend.

What Obama wants is to be able to claim a diplomatic success in advancing the Israel-Palestinian "peace process," perhaps the only international issue he can so spin. Keeping indirect talks going and, even better, moving them up to direct talks is his goal. So he wants Netanyahu's cooperation for that.

The same point holds regarding the Gaza Strip, where Obama wants to claim he has defused a crisis he has called "unsustainable." And he also wants to keep the Israel-Arab front calm while he deals with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, seeking above all to avoid crises and confrontations and to keep up his (bogus) bargain of trading flattery for popularity.

So here's the deal as he sees it: Give Israel some US support in exchange for modest steps that the administration hopes accomplishes its goals. Israel will concede on some things that don't appreciably hurt its interests in order to maintain good relations with the US.


First, Israel revised the list of goods it permits into the Gaza Strip, the details of which were all agreed on beforehand with the US. The Obama administration will support Israel on Gaza generally, including endorsing its independent investigation of the flotilla issue.

As the Israeli government explained it, the new list "is limited to weapons, war material, and dual-use items."

Israel is defining dual-use items using an international agreement, the "Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies," and thus this should be acceptable to Western governments.

Construction material will be carefully monitored and allowed only for specified projects. Israel will keep out dualuse goods including construction materials (concrete and pipes, for example) that can be used by Hamas to build bunkers and rockets.

At present, there are 45 such projects approved by Israel. The Palestinian Authority must also approve each one (thus, in theory, the buildings created would strengthen its popularity and influence, though this is probably wishful thinking). These include school and medical buildings, water and sewage systems, and housing. If Israel determines, through its multiple intelligence-collecting sources, that the material is being misused to benefit Hamas or its military strength, the supplies would be stopped.

The United States will proclaim that the alleged humanitarian crisis is over and the people of Gaza are doing just fine, ignoring their being subject to a terribly repressive dictatorship. Hamas will denounce the concessions as insufficient and continue efforts to smuggle in weapons, consolidate its rule, and turn Gaza's children into terrorists. This is the contemporary Western idea of a diplomatic success.

AS I'VE pointed out before, once Israel concluded that there would be no Western commitment for overthrowing the Hamas regime, it might as well go to a containment strategy. This Western policy is terrible but Israel is merely recognizing the real situation and making the best of it. Obama was quoted as saying: "We believe there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas."

Really? How exactly are you going to do that? I know what Obama thinks: The people prosper, the middle class gets stronger, the masses demand moderation and then comes Hamas's downfall.

This is a view of revolutionary Islamism and the workings of dictatorships that boggles the mind. It is the mindless idea that prosperity brings peace and moderation, and that a regime ready to torture, murder, and indoctrinate people will be easily removed.

There is the possibility of the US government and other Western countries subverting Israel's position by engaging Hamas (as Russia did lately) but that line can probably be held for the next few years at least. Various Western media and activist groups can try to keep up the notion that the Gaza Strip is a hell on earth (because of Israel) and people are starving. There will be no truth to this, of course, but there was no truth to it before and that didn't stop them. But their task will be harder.

OBAMA PRAISED Netanyahu just as much on the "peace process." The president said: "I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he's willing to take risks for peace."

Remember that quote when Obama turns on Netanyahu again after the November elections. As for risks, we've had enough of those, thank you very much.

But Netanyahu's goal was to make Obama happy with the minimum of risk. Israel will extend its building freeze on the West Bank and east Jerusalem in exchange for the Obama administration's commitment to endorse its predecessor's acceptance of Israel retaining "settlement blocs" as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians.In other words, if a diplomatic settlement were ever to be reached then borders would be shifted to allow Israel to annex some relatively small areas with a large number of settlers. This would not only improve Israel's security situation in the event of a peace agreement but also greatly increase support for a flexible policy within Israel.

Continuing to freeze will present a domestic problem for Netanyahu but he can hold his coalition together, if necessary, by adjusting it. Parties are constrained from walking out of the government because if elections were held today, Netanyahu would win in a landslide partly at their expense.

Another thing Netanyahu wants is for Obama to escalate pressure on Iran regarding that country's nuclear weapons' drive. The new sanctions, thanks to Congress, are going to hurt Iran and undermine support for the regime there. It's not enough, of course, to stop the program. Still, when Iran does get nuclear weapons, Israel will need the United States to take a strong stand in containing Teheran.

DOES ISRAEL'S government trust Obama? Of course not. Israelis in general are under no illusions about Obama's view of their country, his willingness to battle revolutionary Islamists, or his general reliability and toughness.

There is a possibility of Obama turning to a much tougher stance on Israel after the congressional elections are over. Yet with a plummeting popularity at home and many domestic problems, perhaps Obama will have more on his mind than playing Middle Eastpeacemaker.

The Palestinian Authority is so uneager for a peace agreement that anything Israel says on the subject is most unlikely ever to be implemented. And it seems that the Obama administration has at least some sense that it isn't going to get an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement so it doesn't want to look foolish in making this a high priority and then failing.

Thus, Israel's strategy is as follows: try very hard to get along with the administration, seek to keep it happy, and avoid confrontation without making any major irreversible concessions or taking serious risks. Have no illusions, but keep the US government focused on Iran as much as possible.

The next Congress will be more likely to constrain the president and who knows what will happen in future. A building freeze might be ended on strong grounds the next time. It is quite possible that Iran, Syria, and other radical forces will so assault the United States and trample on its interests that Obama will be forced to alter course. And there's always the 2012 presidential election.

This, then, is the best policy for Israel to follow considering the more unattractive options. And for the foreseeable future, Obama will play along.It isn't neat but it is real world international politics.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at







We must be concerned by with the threats directed at Israel's minority population.

Talkbacks (36)


In the 11 years that I have served in the Knesset, I have received numerous death threats. Pulsa Denura (the term for a rabbinical death curse) has evidently taken exception to my consistent call for equal rights for the country's Palestinian minority.

Recently I received a letter – the second in as many days – that warned: "You have 180 days to live. Your death will be sudden and cruel, accompanied by great pain..."

Last month, I was forcibly removed by armed guards from the Knesset podium. In recent days, colleagues have faced violent and vulgar rhetoric and one was very nearly physically attacked by a fellow Knesset member. Much, but not all of this fury, is a consequence of daring to speak out on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, a land cruelly and illegally deprived of essential goods. Yet American elected officials seem far more concerned with specious claims against humanitarian aid workers who were violently attacked by Israel in international waters on May 31.

A young dual Turkish-American citizen was killed execution- style on board the lead ship, with one bullet to the chest and four, at close range, to the head, according to some reports in the Turkish press. The next day, another young American, Emily Henochowicz – a college student at New York's prestigious Cooper Union – had her eye shot out by an Israeli-fired tear gas canister as she peacefully protested the flotilla raid in Jerusalem.

Days later, a Palestinian man married to an American woman was killed at a police checkpoint in Wadi Joz after what some say was a traffic accident. Israeli police maintain that the man tried to ram his car into two police officers and then flee on foot but some witnesses told police and media channels that the man's sudden swerving of the car was unintentional.

US OFFICIALS have not demanded accountability for these acts of violence. Instead, too many are busy responding to AIPAC, which has released a list of Congress members parroting the group's talking points.

They speak of Israel's right to "defend itself" from humanitarian workers brutally murdered in international waters by the equivalent of modern-day pirates. It seems that only in the US Congress is this perverted Israeli rationale accepted as reality.

The new American president's silence is even more disappointing. It reminds us that Palestinian freedom and equal rights are unlikely to be secured by a United States committed to false notions of Israeli security.

Since his Cairo speech last year, President Barack Obama has failed to pursue new policies. In the Middle East, he is regarded as full of fine, but empty words.

Empty because securing Palestinian freedom and equal rights requires standing up to Israel.

Furthermore, the president is grievously undercut by fellow top Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer, who told an audience at the Orthodox Union last month that it made sense "to strangle them [Palestinians in Gaza] economically" because they elected Hamas and "they don't believe in the Torah, in David."

This may play well with some of Sen. Schumer's constituents at the Orthodox Union where he was cheered for his remarks, but it goes over very poorly with Palestinians agonizing over stunted and malnourished children.

One can imagine the uproar had he suggested economically strangling Israelis for electing neo-fascists such as Avigdor Lieberman.

THE ONE glimmer of hope I can see came from President Obama's National Security Strategy of May 2010. Promisingly, the document calls for "rights for all Israelis." But the strategy requires crucial elaboration.

We have some rights in Israel. The question is whether we will have equal rights and here the document falls silent. The issue is vital as the human rights organization Adalah has documented over three dozen Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

As we have learned with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, constructive ambiguity is not helpful.

American support for a "Jewish state" suggests a willingness to relegate Palestinian citizens of that state to inferior standing.

Israel's current government clearly opposes equal rights and its most extreme members are threatening the overthrow of numerous democratic norms. Foreign Minister Lieberman leads the charge with his loyalty oath that threatens to strip Palestinians of citizenship.

More than 20 bills have been introduced since Binyamin Netanyahu took office in spring 2009 that would exacerbate discrimination against Israel's Palestinian minority.

In Israel, especially among those on the Right, there is a fierce refusal to accept any activity or statement, by myself or my colleagues, against government policy.

For example, my support of the Libyan flotilla and my calls for the end of the Gaza blockade, are immediately seen as an attempt to undermine the security of the state. It seems there is no tolerance for the "other," the Arab, whose differing opinion is promptly attacked for being reckless and unrestrained.

Between the Scylla of death threats and the Charybdis of expulsion, the standing of Palestinian citizens of Israel is as tenuous as it has been since the lifting of martial law in 1966. Democratic allies of Israel must concern themselves not only with its 43-year subjugation of Palestinians in the occupied territories, but with the mounting threats being directed at its minority population by a majority that wrongly deems us a fifth column for demanding to be treated as equal human beings regardless of whether or not we believe in the Torah.

The writer is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and is deputy speaker of the Knesset.









Israel has not taken effective action to bring Gilad or Jonathan home alive.

Talkbacks (9)


The government of Israel has flailed about for four years "trying" to secure Gilad Schalit's release, but failing miserably.

The more time goes on, the more doubts there are about Schalit's continued viability.

It is a fact that ever since my husband, Jonathan Pollard, was arrested in 1985 and abandoned by the State of Israel, the Israeli government has not succeeded in bringing a single captive IDF soldier home alive.

It may well be that Gilad Schalit's swift return home, alive, depends on his connection to Jonathan Pollard.

How so? Let's answer that question by way of analogy.

WHAT IS the best that can be said about a mother with two sons with special needs, who allows her friends to lock her elder son away in a cellar and throw the key away, while she devotes all her time, energy and attention to her younger son? To be kind, such a mother would, at best, be described as either morally deficient or mentally disturbed.

Regardless of how her psychological state is defined, it is twisted and precludes her ability to act wisely, fairly or effectively for either of her sons. The two sons are part of the same psychological whole, but a mentally unbalanced mother is unable to relate to either of them in a healthy, normal, lifesustaining way.

Worse still, her psychological state prevents her from seeing and accurately accessing all of the available options for her sons, and thus impedes her from making good decisions for either of them.

Thus, it is specifically her abandonment and betrayal of her older son that defines the mother's moral/psychological state and prevents her from taking the most effective and appropriate action to save her younger son.


Jonathan Pollard and Gilad Schalit are sons of the same mother, the State of Israel.

Pollard and Schalit have more in common than the fact that they both served the State of Israel.

Schalit served as a soldier, guarding its borders. Pollard served as an agent, providing it with the information that caused its civil defense plans to be changed from bomb shelters to sealed rooms and gas mask kits – not a small contribution to the state's ongoing security.


Both Pollard and Schalit remain in captivity because of a warped morality that prevents government leaders from making good decisions for either of its national sons.

The national psychosis which declared Pollard expendable 25 years ago and leaves him to rot in captivity is still ongoing, and has resulted in a moral paralysis which prevents the State of Israel from taking effective action to bring any captive home alive, Gilad included.

EFFECTIVE ACTION does not mean the release of hundreds or thousands of murderers and terrorists.

Quite the opposite. Effective action, by definition, is action that would produce the desired result – freedom for a captive – without endangering the rest of Israel's soldiers or civilian population.

Surrendering to terror and rewarding those who killed, maimed and murdered by setting them free is not justified and is morally corrupt. This plan seeks to free one captive by endangering the lives of all Israeli citizens and all Israeli soldiers.

There are many ways to free a captive and bring him home alive, but a lack of moral integrity prevents the government from seeing or implementing these other solutions.

The government and its cohorts in the defense-intelligence establishment appear to be far more concerned about what will be said on CNN than they are about freeing captives and bringing them home.

Similarly, the public, via the media, has been seduced into believing that Israel has one captive and one captive only: Gilad Schalit. Any attempt to bring Pollard into the discussion is met with vehement protest and slanderous lies being bandied about by government officials attempting to shake Pollard off, the way you would shake something odious off of the bottom of your shoe.

Again, this is the root of the problem that keeps both Pollard and Schalit in captivity. It is a manifestation of one Israel's highest values, not leaving a wounded solder in the field, being warped and perverted to apply it selectively.

By definition, there is no such thing as mutual responsibility – all for one and one for all – when it is applied selectively.

If the public is capable of ignoring Pollard, an Israeli agent in captivity for 25 years, but devoted heart and soul to returning Schalit home, its concern for Schalit is as corrupt as its lack of concern for Pollard. It reflects the same moral schizophrenia that the government has implemented as policy – a policy that damns Schalit, every bit as much as it damns Pollard.

Returning a captive home requires no moral ambiguity. It requires moral integrity and moral consistency. It requires national pride and self-respect.

The noisy, boisterous and bullying campaign for Gilad Schalit would do well to open its eyes to the truth. Jonathan Pollard's rescue and timely return home is the key to bringing all of our captives home alive.

The writer is the wife of Jonathan Pollard, an American-born Israeli citizen who worked for the Ministry of Defense. He is currently in his 25th year in an American prison for his activities on behalf of the security of the State of Israel.








Maybe Turkey, Lebanon and Iran need their own flotillas.

Additional humanitarian aid flotillas from Lebanon, Iran, Libya and the West may be en route to the Gaza Strip as we speak. But it seem that the plight of the Turks, Iranians and the Palestinians in Lebanon is far worse. Here are the facts.

Turkey was the most prominent country in the recent Gaza-bound flotilla. The Mavi Marmara with members of the IHH, an organization affiliated with global jihad, sailed from that country. Lebanon is dispatching a ship that is due to arrive perhaps in the coming days. Even Iran, that bastion of humanitarian justice, is joining the party. Thus, it is worth checking what is happening in these compassionate countries, which are showing such noteworthy generosity in dispatching humanitarian aid to an "oppressed" population.

Infant mortality is one of the most important indicators in gauging a humanitarian situation. And according to the data, Turkey is in worse shape than Gaza.

Infant mortality in Gaza is 17.71 per thousand; in Turkey it is 24.84. The Gaza Strip is in a much better situation than the global average, which is 44 infants per 1,000 births. It is also better than most of the Arab countries and several South American countries, and is certainly better than Africa.

Life expectancy is another important indicator. And here, life expectancy in Turkey is 72.23, whereas in the Gaza Strip it is 73.68, much higher than the global average of 66.12. In comparison, life expectancy is 63.36 in Yemen, 52.52 in Sudan and 50 in Somalia. These countries are crying out for international attention, for aid, for any rescue ship. But none come.

Regarding population growth, the Gaza Strip is ranked sixth, with a growth rate of 3.29 percent per annum. This may not be an indicator for quality of life, but it seems that the high rate of growth, along with the high life expectancy and the low infant mortality rate, attests to one thing: There is no hunger, no humanitarian crisis and tales of 1,001 nights from 1,001 human rights organizations.

Even by other indicators, such as personal computer use or Internet access, the situation in the Gaza Strip is much better than that of most of the world. To complete the picture, it should be noted that two years ago, a British politician claimed that life expectancy in Glasgow East was much lower than that in the Gaza Strip.

The claim caused an uproar. Britain's Channel 4 carried out a scrupulous check and issued its "verdict": Indeed, life expectancy in Glasgow is lower than that in the Gaza Strip.


Thus, it is a little strange that humanitarian aid comes from people whose situation is much worse. It could be that there is a need for additional ships. But the direction should be reversed. It is Turkey that needs the help.

The Gaza Strip which should join the aid delegation for the benefit of the poor Turks.

ONE OF the bans imposed by Israel is on building materials.

Experience has shown that materials that reach the Gaza Strip do not serve the residents but Hamas's military goals. Thus, no sane country, and let us hope that Israel is one of them, would supply an enemy organization with materials from which the bunkers for the struggle against it would be built.

Here as well, a reminder is needed. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in neighboring Lebanon.

They live in refugee camps, under various restrictions that could fill a chapter on Arab apartheid against the Palestinians. One of the most severe restrictions is a ban on construction. This ban is enforced even in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, bombed by the Lebanese army in 2007. The extensive damage caused 27,000 of the camp's 30,000 inhabitants to become refugees again.

They paid a heavy price for the fact that a mere 450 men were members of the rebel group Fatah al-Islam.

The struggle against radical Islam, which tried to establish itself in the camp, was used as a pretext for the vast devastation that was inflicted. It is interesting to note how the world encouraged Lebanon's heavy-handed in this situations, while Israel is always asked to knuckle under. There are donations for reconstruction and there is also agreement for reconstruction projects but the Lebanese government is making things difficult.

LET US not forget Iran. According to every possible indicator, the situation there is worse. Infant mortality, for example, is 34.66 per 1,000 births. Life expectancy is 71.43 – less than the Gaza Strip and Turkey. With the imposition of Shari'a law in the Hamas Strip, as in Iran, and when stoning women becomes the norm, one may assume that the residents of the Strip will deteriorate to Iranian levels. It was only last week that news came from Iran of a 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi e Ashtiani, in danger of being put to death by stoning, following a sham trial for adultery. But in the meantime, it is preferable for aid to go from Gaza to Iran. Let us hope that Egypt will allow passage through the Suez Canal.

MOST INHABITANTS on this planet are worse off than the residents of the Gaza Strip. American aid per capita to the Gaza Strip is 7.5 times higher than aid per capita to Haiti. By any possible indicator, economic or medical, the residents of the Gaza Strip are incomparably better off those of Haiti. Gazans are also better off, by every possible indicator, than the Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. But we have not seen demonstrations in solidarity with those suffering in Lebanon; and no aid flotillas either.

What is true is that it is thanks to Israel that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are better off than most of their brethren in the neighboring countries. Because of the "brutal" occupation, life expectancy in the Gaza Strip rose from 48 in 1967 to 66 in 1993 and, as we have shown, life expectancy continues to rise.

But please, let us not confuse a "human rights activist" on the aid flotilla with the facts. They do not send aid flotillas to Iran, Lebanon or Turkey, and certainly not to Darfur in the Sudan. The humanitarian distress does not interest them. It is the anti-Israel obsession that interests them. This is not to say that they cannot be presented with the facts. They want to embarrass Israel. But the basic facts are likely to embarrass them.

Nons of the above aims to make the case that there is no true distress in Gaza. There certainly is, even if according to objective data, it is worse in Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. Israel has an interest in bettering the situation in Gaza. Israel disengaged in 2005 so that Gazans might develop an independent life.

But the Hamas takeover has led to a situation in which instead of developing and producing, the only development is on the Kassam rocket front. The blockade was imposed because the Hamas regime refuses to acknowledge previous agreements, recognize Israel or enter into the path of peace and reconciliation. The regime in Gaza has instead chosen Iran and global jihad. And despite this, everything could change in a day – if Hamas would only decide to accept the Quartet's conditions. The keys are in its hands.

The writer is a columnist at Maariv, where a longer version of this article first appeared.








Netanyahu has not even begun to prepare the Israeli public opinion for the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The package of confidence-building measures that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to offer the Palestinians raises questions. At first glance, it suggests a change in direction. It includes removing roadblocks, transferring to Palestinian control a parcel of land in order to build a road to the Palestinian city of Rawabi and, above all, transferring the responsibility for security in several West Bank towns from the Israel Defense Forces to the Palestinian Authority. The proposed measures are aimed at bolstering PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's control of the West Bank. But in practice it more closely resembles camouflage netting whose purpose is to conceal Israel's avoidance of any responsibility in the peace process.


Had this offer come a year ago, shortly after Netanyahu declared his adoption of the two-state solution, it could have been viewed with seriousness and credibility. But the gap that developed between Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the move to proximity talks after years of direct talks and especially the fact that the latest offer is a response to American pressure make one suspect that Netanyahu is still trying to cling to his old policy. In other words, that he is willing to offer confidence-building gestures and measures so long as he does not have to talk about any issue of substance.


bbas and the PA are wise to the wiles of Israeli governments, and we can assume that they will not fall for offers that lack purpose and content. But it's not only the Palestinians' trust that Netanyahu must gain; the Israeli public, too, is far from convinced that he and his government are willing to do what is necessary to progress toward serious negotiations, not to mention peace.


Israel has not declared its willingness to discuss the core issues such as determining borders, the status of Jerusalem, a fair resolution to the refugee problem and the status of the settlements. Netanyahu has also not made clarified his position on extending the freeze on construction in the settlements, which he must do by September. And he has not even begun to prepare the Israeli public opinion for the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.


The steps Netanyahu is proposing are not policy nor a substitute for it. He cannot ignore his commitment to the peace process and attempt, once again, to portray the Palestinians as the ones refusing peace.









Note the date: July 7, 2010 - the day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that if the Palestinians agreed to talk to him, within a year he could reach an agreement with them. Furthermore, he said: "I am prepared to lead them a very long way to peace."


These surprising statements should be cut and pasted next to a newspaper clipping from July 7, 1996, during the beginning days of Netanyahu's first term as prime minister. Fourteen years before declaring that he'd returned to leadership "to do something as prime minister," Netanyahu said in a 1996 interview to CNN that he would surprise the world the way Menachem Begin had. That was just prior to his meeting with president Bill Clinton, in the shadow of the controversy over - what else - the settlements.


Since that time, as we know, the world has been holding its breath. True, in those days Netanyahu was saying a Palestinian state was unacceptable, while today he speaks of a two-state solution. Indeed, in July 1996 he explained that there was no value in demilitarizing Palestine because "it would be impossible to assure demilitarization after the establishment of a state," and yet now demilitarization is the key word in the prime minister's peace doctrine. Age, experience and reality sometimes result in sensational surprises. Perhaps the 2010 Netanyahu model is an improvement over the 1996 model? If only it were so.


According to the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin: "The judge is to be concerned only with what he actually sees with his own eyes." Similarly, political commentators can only judge by what they see and hear. Less than two weeks ago, this writer heard and wrote down statements made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that during the proximity talks he had handed a very detailed document to Netanyahu on the Palestinian positions regarding borders. Abbas also said he had proposed stationing foreign forces in the areas from which Israel would withdraw, for example UNIFIL or NATO forces. The Palestinian leader told the half-dozen Israeli reporters he hosted in his office that he had proposed to Israel via special Mideast envoy George Mitchell to restart the work of the Israeli-Palestinian anti-incitement committee.


Instead of a pertinent response to his positions and proposals, Abbas received general questions, mainly procedural, that disparagingly bypassed the core issues. Netanyahu isn't interested in hearing about the Olmert-Abbas understandings, assumed under former U.S. president George W. Bush. The permanent status agreement Clinton presented in December 2000 (annexation of 4 to 6 percent of the West Bank and an exchange of territory ) matters to Netanyahu as much as the Wye River Memorandum, which he signed himself in October 1998 (the transfer of 13 percent of Area C to Palestinian civilian or general control ) and was never implemented.


To judge by statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama after his last meeting with Netanyahu, as well as during his Channel 2 interview, Obama believes "that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he's willing to take risks for peace" (In 1996, Bill Clinton also said he believed Netanyahu would continue the peace process ). Yet it's unclear what the president is basing his optimism on. Obama's critics contend that his warm welcome of Netanyahu conceals narrow political interests: the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections. In Israel, as we know, we don't see such things. Ehud Barak and the other members of the "club of those continuing Rabin's path" sit in Netanyahu's government out of a sincere belief that the prime minister is readying a surprise for us. Fact is, Obama did give him a little hug.


In July 1996, the day after Netanyahu visited the White House, then-opposition chairman Shimon Peres warned us not to be misled by the smiles that welcomed the prime minister.


"America is a country rich in manners," he said. "[The Americans] were promised surprises and pragmatism. There was nothing of either."


Peres said Netanyahu's policies could endanger Israel's existence, no less. Now the Nobel laureate is keeping quiet. He must also be waiting for a surprise a la Menachem Begin. Meanwhile, we're left with Likud MK Benny Begin. As long as he's sitting next to Netanyahu, forget surprises.









The Economic Arrangements Law is celebrating 25 years since its inception, when the Knesset, under the influence of the cabinet, was ready to relinquish in one fell swoop the right and duty of elected officials to pass laws only after debating and studying them.


The Economic Arrangements Law is a euphemism that allows the Finance Ministry, under the guise of the need for economic efficiency, to concoct an arrangement of the economy and society as it sees fit. It also give the treasury the opportunity to neutralize the Knesset by turning it into a legislature on paper only, with most of its members unable to evaluate what is being proposed.


 What was intended as a temporary order in response to a difficult economic situation in 1985 has become an annual event, in which the Knesset strips itself of its legislative mantle. A law intended to deal solely with budgetary issues has become a catchall for basic overhauls of public policy in a variety of matters, from health and welfare to the media, education and streamlining the judicial system. This at the price of violating constitutional rights such as the right of disadvantaged members of society to have legal representation and access to the judicial system.


Far from the public eye, the Economic Arrangements Bill is being concocted for submission to the cabinet in the next few days and then to the Knesset in October. This flood of reforms, whose connection to achieving budgetary goals is tenuous in most cases, is supposed to be stemmed by the attorney general. He is the one who must stand in the breach and stop the finance and justice ministers, whose intentions may be good but whose headlong rush is leading to the destruction of the foundations of the democratic system, since the result is a rubber-stamp Knesset.


It's enough to take the judicial system as an example, a system struggling with an unreasonably heavy caseload and a serious shortage of judges, conditions that lower legitimate expectations for the conclusion of legal proceedings in a reasonable period of time. The draft Economic Arrangements Bill, which MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) posted on her blog, does not fail to mention that the annual salary of a judge is more than NIS 1 million shekels - in order to draw a purported fiscal link between the bill and the legitimate economic purpose of the Economic Arrangements Law, which essentially proposes a fundamental, substantive revolution.


According to the proposal, appeals of rulings in the magistrate's and district courts will be heard in a higher court (a District Court or the Supreme Court ) by a single judge and not by three judges, as is the practice today. This proposal can indeed free up the judges to a significant extent. But it also leads to the curtailment of the right to appeal, which is a basic constitutional right.


Such a change requires serious and thorough debate, and cannot be carried out in one fell swoop. It is difficult to imagine that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch would lend a hand to such a proposal, and her agreement is necessary, given that she sits at the head of the judicial system. In a 2004 ruling by the High Court of Justice, Beinisch wrote that the Economic Arrangements Law "makes it very difficult to have a thorough and exhaustive debate" and "harms the ability of the decision makers in the government and the Knesset to formulate a well-founded position." Then-justice Mishael Cheshin emphasized in that ruling that the Economic Arrangements Law, which revolutionized Israel's agriculture industry, passed without a chance for legislators to "read, reflect, and exchange views," causing him to "lament the legislative process that made the Knesset useless."


The High Court did not intervene and overturn the law, but Beinisch did rule that there can be judicial intervention "in rare and extreme cases" in which Knesset members are denied any practical possibility of presenting their positions, as is happening now. The High Court's reluctance to get rid of the Economic Arrangements Law on the grounds that it is only masquerading as a law is understandable. But using that law to make changes whose main purpose is something other than achieving budgetary goals must cease being a legitimate practice.


In his previous term, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin supported the criticism voiced by the High Court of Justice and fought against the Economic Arrangements Law, without sufficient support from the legislators. If the government continues to take control of the Knesset through the Economic Arrangements Law, the legislature will have to stand up for its role in the parliamentary system. Maybe this time.









In an era of political correctness, there are those who think it appropriate to adjust the message to the audience to which it is directed. I don't agree. In my view, political correctness is a defilement - sweet talk that obscures blatant racism. There is a universal morality that transcends religions, peoples and nations, and is binding on anyone who belongs to the community of humankind.


So when I speak about Gilad Shalit, for example, I call him "the captive Israeli soldier." That's right. Captive and not abducted, which is the term they try to feed the public here. In Israel, they prefer to forget, or deliberately try to make others forget, that Shalit was not abducted. He was taken captive as a soldier in a military operation carried out against an army, in the context of the Palestinian national struggle against the decades-long Israeli occupation. That basic fact turns the act into a legitimate one, carried out by a people fighting for its national liberation.


So far so good, but from this point forward there are other things that have to be said. I have already published them in Arabic for an Arab audience, because it's important for the Palestinians to hear that the Shalit case belongs to them too. It is appropriate that these things be heard in Hebrew as well, and read by all manner of brainwashed Hebrew speakers. The remarks also have to do with the Israeli Palestinians (yes, there are such creatures, who also read and speak Hebrew ).


There is no doubt - this I believe, this I want to believe - that Israeli captive Gilad Shalit is being treated humanely by his captors in Gaza. All of us hope a prisoner exchange deal is carried out quickly, and that the Israeli captive returns to his family and the Palestinian prisoners return to theirs.


Nonetheless, the silence by Palestinian intellectuals over the case is troubling. Hamas is demanding a large number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit's release.


No one has asked himself what this means from a moral standpoint, in terms of the way the Arabs view the value of each individual Arab. How much is an Israeli prisoner worth compared to Arab or Palestinian prisoners?


The silence of Arab Knesset members is also conspicuous. They cry out, and rightly so, about the injustices of the Israeli occupation and the suffering it causes the Palestinian people, but not a word is heard from them taking a clear moral stand on Shalit. That is their duty. They must rise and wholeheartedly tell the Hamas government in Gaza and Khaled Meshal, who pulls the strings in Damascus, that there are things that are simply unacceptable. They can and must say that refusing to allow the Red Cross to visit the Israeli prisoner is a moral stain on the Palestinian struggle as a whole. If Shalit is a prisoner of war, and he is, then he is certainly entitled to all the rights accorded prisoners of war under international law.


The Palestinian side, which has suffered for decades from the Israeli occupation, can demonstrate moral superiority over the occupier by allowing Shalit's family to visit him, or at least by allowing Red Cross representatives to visit him, just as they visit Palestinian prisoners in Israel.


I have never understood why the Arab side is forsaking the moral arena, leaving it for others. It is acting as though matters of morality are none of its concern. Those who choose to abandon the moral arena should not be indignant over their poor image in the eyes of the world.









Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu seem to share a common dream of Palestinian statehood. In this dream they are joined by many millions throughout the world - Palestinians, Israelis and well-meaning believers in peace from everywhere.


They visualize the creation of a Palestinian state - a second Palestinian state in addition to Jordan - on territory in Judea and Samaria, as well as parts of Jerusalem, to be ceded by Israel, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The establishment of this state will presumably bring with it a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, peace will reign and U.S. interests in the entire Middle East will be considerably advanced.


There is no mathematical proof to show that this is a pipe dream, and it may yet come about. But at the moment it certainly does not seem likely. There is an undercurrent, seemingly unnoticed by the thousands of politicians, Middle East observers and analysts incessantly writing about developments in the area that may very well throw the whole scheme into disarray.


The Palestinians are drifting apart. Rather than coalescing into a homogeneous entity in preparation for future statehood, the geographically separated Palestinians are drifting apart like tectonic plates.


That Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, officiating from Ramallah, and the Hamas leadership in Gaza have for a number of years been functioning as separate, and even mutually hostile, political entities is obvious to all. But the general belief is that their differences will be patched up.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has invested considerable effort pursuing this goal. Israel has on occasion been urged to negotiate with Hamas as if that might produce the desired result. Large sums of money have been thrown at both camps toward achieving this goal.


But at the moment it looks like we are dealing with two Palestinian political entities which don't seem to be getting any closer. The differences are personal, cultural and political.


But it is ceasing to be mainly a political divide. A significant economic phenomenon is taking place. The Palestinian economy in Judea and Samaria has been growing at a record pace in recent years, far outdistancing the Gaza Strip. Ramallah at night does not look like Gaza at night. While Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin progress, the towns of the Gaza Strip are deteriorating.


Is it likely that they will all fall into one state? Will the Palestinians in Ramallah want to shoulder the economic burden of the Palestinians in Gaza? Will they welcome hundreds of thousands of Gazans into their towns? Economic considerations may determine the result in the end.


And what about the millions of Palestinian refugees languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan for the past 62 years, and the others who have found temporary asylum in other countries? Will a Palestinian state be capable of absorbing these masses into its already densely populated territory? Will its economy be able to sustain this burden? Will its population be prepared to shoulder this challenge?


By the looks of it the Palestinians are drifting apart. Centrifugal economic, cultural and demographic forces seem to be at play, driving a wedge between Ramallah and Gaza, between the Palestinian diaspora and their brethren in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.


It may be that individual solutions will sooner or later have to be found for the three separate Palestinian elements. It will take a worldwide effort, in which the wealthy Arab countries will have to participate, in order to resolve the festering Palestinian refugee problem.


For the Gaza Strip, as well, only a concerted international effort will bring relief; no new-born Palestinian state can handle that problem. As for the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, there are a number of options that should be considered.


The Palestinians have had a great fall. Led by an incompetent and corrupt leadership over the years they have gone from one disaster to another. They were never a homogeneous nation in the Western sense. In recent years great sums of money, vast effort and a giant public relations campaign have been invested in Palestinian nation-building, with questionable results.


As so often happens in history economic factors may in this case as well determine the final outcome. The Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian refugees may end up going their separate ways. The two-state solution may never come to pass.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




The life of animals raised in confinement on industrial farms is slowly improving, thanks to pressure from consumers, animal rights advocates, farmers and legislators. In late June, a compromise was reached in Ohio that will gradually put an end to the tiny pens used for raising veal calves and holding pregnant sows, spaces so small the animals can barely move.


In California last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold in the state conform to the provisions of Proposition 2, the humane farming law that was embraced by state voters in a landslide in 2008. By 2015, every whole egg sold in the state must come from a hen that is able to stretch her wings, standing or lying, without touching another bird or the edges of her cage. This requirement would at least relieve the worst of the production horrors that are common in the industry now.


Since California does not produce all the eggs it eats, this new law will have a wider effect on the industry; every producer who hopes to sell eggs in the state must meet its regulations.


Heartening as these developments are, there is also strong resistance from the food industry and from fake consumer-advocacy groups that are shilling for it.


In fact, there is no justification, economic or otherwise, for the abusive practice of confining animals in spaces barely larger than the volume of their bodies. Animals with more space are healthier, and they are no less productive.

Industrial confinement is cruel and senseless and will turn out to be, we hope, a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.







When the Supreme Court opened the gates to unlimited corporate spending in federal elections, one of the most alarmed lawmakers, Senator Olympia Snowe, called it a "serious disservice to our country." Snowe, a Republican from Maine, warned that decades of legitimate restraints on "the pernicious effect of undue corporate and labor union spending" had been swept aside.


So we hope that Ms. Snowe shuns her party's diktat and supports legislation that would require corporate and special-interest contributors to identify themselves on their campaign ads, the same way candidates must. And maybe she could bring other Republicans with her.


Ms. Snowe noted in January that the misguided Citizens United court decision did uphold disclosure, a tool she fostered in campaign law. The disclosure bill has passed the House and may come up in the Senate this week. But if it is to become law, Senate Democrats will need Republican supporters to break an expected filibuster by the minority leader, Mitch McConnell.


Yes, the same Mitch McConnell who used to speak highly of disclosure as a control on campaign abuse.


Senator John McCain, once the fiery missionary of campaign reform, seems only interested now in protecting his right-wing flank in a re-election battle.


But Senators Snowe and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, have been known in the past to stand apart for decent reform. And Senator Scott Brown, the Republican victor in the "take-back-our-government" upset in Massachusetts, has a perfect opportunity to champion the political transparency that was his campaign mantra.


Forcing mystery donors to come forward on their ads is a tool voters badly need for the heightened attack ads and propaganda already being underwritten for the coming campaign. The Chamber of Commerce, bitter foe of vital health care and Wall Street reforms, is reportedly upping its $36 million campaign kitty of 2008 to $75 million for the elections this year. And American Crossroads, the new Republican campaign vehicle engineered by Karl Rove, the Bush political guru, raised a fast $8.5 million in June.







The Federal Trade Commission has an opportunity to reach a settlement in the litigation over Intel's dominance in the microchip industry, an important sector of the American economy. It has until July 22 to do so. It is crucial that the agency get it right.


Merely forcing Intel to stop behavior that has hindered competition in the industry will not do. The F.T.C. must close off Intel's ability to leverage its near monopoly in C.P.U. chips to foreclose competition in other fast-developing technologies. While the agency cannot foresee every tactic that might smother competition, its objective should be to lower the barriers to entry for new competitors.


Such a deal, however, would probably require imposing structural changes, like forcing Intel to license the technology to its x86 chips — the cornerstone of the computer architecture — on reasonable terms so rivals can design processors that will operate smoothly on Intel's platform. Intel may resist, but there is no point reaching a settlement if it cannot protect future innovation. If the company will not agree to these changes, the F.T.C. should not settle.


The F.T.C.'s suit is the latest in a series of legal challenges to Intel's practices around the world. Antitrust authorities in Japan and South Korea have accused the company of using illegal tactics. The European Commission fined Intel $1.5 billion for abuse of monopoly power. Last year, Intel paid $1.25 billion to its smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices to settle charges that it used illegal tactics to shut A.M.D. out of computer markets.


But the challenges have mostly been narrow, centered on the C.P.U. market — where Intel has an 80 percent market share. They revolve around its practice of offering rebates and other incentives to reward computer makers that used only Intel chips and punish those that used A.M.D. processors. As part of its settlement with A.M.D., Intel agreed not to use such tactics.


The F.T.C. said Intel's abuses extend to graphics processors, which are faster and can handle more data than standard chips and have been taking over many tasks formerly done by C.P.U.'s. Intel's graphics chips are technologically behind those of cutting-edge rivals like Nvidia, but have about a 50 percent market share.


According to the F.T.C., Intel corrupted its chips so rival processors would not run smoothly with them. It misled Nvidia about technical specs — leading it to waste time and money. It charged more for its C.P.U.'s to computer makers that used rival processors for graphics. Intel should probably commit to some standard of inter-operability or at least guarantee it will not to do anything to degrade the operation of rival processors.


But the F.T.C.'s ultimate objective should be to ensure competition that prevails in the computer processor market. In a world in which Intel has four-fifths of the market for the basic building block, the task is to ensure that innovative chip designers have reasonable access to the Intel technology they need for their innovations to work.









No industry enjoys the array of tax breaks and subsidies that the oil and gas industry does. No industry needs them less. For all the damage it has caused, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may provide the political momentum to end this special treatment.


President Obama's 2011 budget, proposed before the spill, would eliminate $4 billion in annual tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Bills in both houses introduced after the spill would achieve many of the same results. Industry has spent $340 million on lobbying over the last two years to block these sorts of initiatives, and until recently Congress has been eager to do its bidding. This year could be different.


The White House has proposed eliminating nine tax breaks. Some are modest, all are complicated, but in toto they provide a range of cushy benefits — fast write-offs for upfront drilling expenses, generous depletion allowances, and the like — that are available at virtually every stage of the exploration and production process.


The net result, as The Times reported recently, is an effective tax rate on investment far lower than that paid by other industries. That, the Treasury Department argues, has encouraged overinvestment in oil and gas drilling at the expense of other parts of the economy.


Industry argues that these and other breaks are vital to robust domestic production and that both investment and employment would fall if they were eliminated. These arguments, which may have made sense years ago, are much less compelling when oil prices are hovering near $80 a barrel and oil companies — including BP — have been racking up huge profits.


Moreover, a Treasury Department analysis says that ending these breaks would reduce domestic production by less than 1 percent. A separate study by Congress's Joint Economic Committee says that ending the biggest of the deductions — 9 percent of qualified income from gas and oil produced in the United States — would have zero effect on consumer prices.


Apart from these benefits, two other areas cry out for reform. One is the royalty relief program, enacted by Congress in 1995 to encourage the kind of deepwater drilling that has now landed the gulf, its wildlife and its neighboring citizens in so much trouble. Royalty rates are currently 12.5 percent of the per-barrel price for onshore leases, and up to 18.75 percent offshore.


The law suspended royalties as long as oil remained below a threshold price of $28 a barrel. Prices have long since exceeded that threshold, even adjusted for inflation; and because the law was not tightly written, companies have been able to exploit its ambiguities to save themselves billions of dollars.


Sima Gandhi, a tax expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, estimates that the losses from lost royalties could eventually exceed $80 billion unless Congress fixes the law. It is high time to review the entire royalty relief program, which at current prices is surely outdated and may be unnecessary.


The administration also needs to look carefully at the oil industry's use of tax havens abroad. The Senate Finance Committee has already announced that it will examine whether Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, exploited tax laws when it moved its headquarters first to the Cayman Islands, then to Switzerland. Other oil companies also have foreign subsidiaries; the question is whether and to what extent they use them to dodge taxes. The Times article reported that Transocean alone had saved $1.8 billion in taxes since moving overseas in 1999.

Instead of enriching the oil companies, Congress should end these unjustifiable breaks and focus on encouraging alternative fuel sources that create cleaner energy and new clean-energy jobs.







No industry enjoys the array of tax breaks and subsidies that the oil and gas industry does. No industry needs them less. For all the damage it has caused, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may provide the political momentum to end this special treatment.


President Obama's 2011 budget, proposed before the spill, would eliminate $4 billion in annual tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Bills in both houses introduced after the spill would achieve many of the same results. Industry has spent $340 million on lobbying over the last two years to block these sorts of initiatives, and until recently Congress has been eager to do its bidding. This year could be different.


The White House has proposed eliminating nine tax breaks. Some are modest, all are complicated, but in toto they provide a range of cushy benefits — fast write-offs for upfront drilling expenses, generous depletion allowances, and the like — that are available at virtually every stage of the exploration and production process.


The net result, as The Times reported recently, is an effective tax rate on investment far lower than that paid by other industries. That, the Treasury Department argues, has encouraged overinvestment in oil and gas drilling at the expense of other parts of the economy.


Industry argues that these and other breaks are vital to robust domestic production and that both investment and

employment would fall if they were eliminated. These arguments, which may have made sense years ago, are much less compelling when oil prices are hovering near $80 a barrel and oil companies — including BP — have been racking up huge profits.


Moreover, a Treasury Department analysis says that ending these breaks would reduce domestic production by

less than 1 percent. A separate study by Congress's Joint Economic Committee says that ending the biggest of

the deductions — 9 percent of qualified income from gas and oil produced in the United States — would have zero effect on consumer prices.


Apart from these benefits, two other areas cry out for reform. One is the royalty relief program, enacted by Congress in 1995 to encourage the kind of deepwater drilling that has now landed the gulf, its wildlife and its neighboring citizens in so much trouble. Royalty rates are currently 12.5 percent of the per-barrel price for onshore leases, and up to 18.75 percent offshore.


The law suspended royalties as long as oil remained below a threshold price of $28 a barrel. Prices have long since exceeded that threshold, even adjusted for inflation; and because the law was not tightly written, companies have been able to exploit its ambiguities to save themselves billions of dollars.


Sima Gandhi, a tax expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, estimates that the

losses from lost royalties could eventually exceed $80 billion unless Congress fixes the law. It is high time to

review the entire royalty relief program, which at current prices is surely outdated and may be unnecessary.


The administration also needs to look carefully at the oil industry's use of tax havens abroad. The Senate Finance Committee has already announced that it will examine whether Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, exploited tax laws when it moved its headquarters first to the Cayman Islands, then to Switzerland. Other oil companies also have foreign subsidiaries; the question is whether and to what extent they use them to dodge taxes. The Times article reported that Transocean alone had saved $1.8 billion in taxes since moving overseas in 1999.


Instead of enriching the oil companies, Congress should end these unjustifiable breaks and focus on encouraging alternative fuel sources that create cleaner energy and new clean-energy jobs.








The rich are different from you and me. They know how to game the system.


That's one interpretation, at least, of last week's news that Americans with million-dollar mortgages are defaulting at almost twice the rateof the typical homeowner. It suggests an infuriating scenario in which the average American slaves away to keep Wells Fargo or Bank of America off his back, while fat cats and high fliers cut their losses and sail off to the next investment opportunity.


That isn't exactly what's happening, most likely. Just because you have a million-dollar mortgage doesn't make you a millionaire, and a lot of the fat-cat defaulters probably aren't that fat anymore. Chances are they're more like Teresa and Joe Giudice from "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," tacky reality-TV climbers who recently filed for bankruptcy after their decadent lifestyle turned out to be a debt-enabled fantasy.


Still, watching the Giudices sashay through their onyx-encrusted mansion, and knowing that thousands of similarly profligate homeowners are simply walking away from their debts, it's easy to succumb to a little class-warrior fantasizing. (Pitchforks, tar, feathers ... that sort of thing.)


The trick is to channel those impulses in a constructive direction. The left-wing instinct, when faced with high-rolling irresponsibility, is usually to call for tax increases on the rich. But the problem, here and elsewhere, isn't exactly that we tax high rollers' incomes too lightly. It's that we subsidize their irresponsibility too heavily — underwriting their bad bets and bailing out their follies. The class warfare we need is a conservative class warfare, which would force the million-dollar defaulters to pay their own way from here on out.


Consider the spread that the Giudices currently occupy (pending potential foreclosure proceedings, of course). The first million of its reported $1.7 million price tag is presumably covered by the federal mortgage-interest tax deduction. Intended to boost middle-class homebuyers, this deduction has gradually turned into a huge tax break for the affluent, with most of the benefits flowing to homeowners with cash income over $100,000. In much of the country, it's a McMansion subsidy, whose costs to the federal Treasury are covered by the tax dollars of Americans who either rent or own more modest homes.


This policy is typical of the way the federal government does business. In case after case, Washington's web of subsidies and tax breaks effectively takes money from the middle class and hands it out to speculators and have-mores. We subsidize drug companies, oil companies, agribusinesses disguised as "family farms" and "clean energy" firms that aren't energy-efficient at all. We give tax breaks to immensely profitable corporations that don't need the money and boondoggles that wouldn't exist without government favoritism.


And we do more of it every day. Take Barack Obama's initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years. As The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney points out, it involves the purest sort of corporate welfare: We're lending money to foreign governments or companies so that they'll buy from Boeing and Pfizer and Archer Daniels Midland. That's good news for those companies' stockholders and C.E.O.'s. But the money to pay for it ultimately comes out of middle-class pocketbooks.


This isn't just a corporate welfare problem. The same pattern is at work in our entitlement system, which is lurching toward bankruptcy in part because of how much Medicare and Social Security pay to seniors who could get along without assistance. Instead of a safety net that protects the elderly from poverty, we have a system in which the American taxpayer is effectively underwriting cruises and tee times.


All of this ought to be grist for a kind of "small-government egalitarianism," in the economist Edward Glaeser's useful phrase, that seeks to shrink government by attacking Washington's wasteful spending on the well-connected. And sometimes conservative politicians make moves in this direction. President George W. Bush's Tax Reform Commission proposed sharply reducing the mortgage-interest deduction. House Minority Leader John Boehner, to his great credit, recently floated the possibility of means-testing Social Security. Many Republican senators have been staunch critics of corporate welfare.


In the age of Barack Obama, many rank-and-file conservatives have been more upset about redistribution of a different sort — the kind that takes money from the prosperous and "spreads the wealth" (as Obama put it, in his famous confrontation with Joe the Plumber) down the income ladder.


This kind of spending can be problematic. But conservatives need to recognize that the most pernicious sort of

redistribution isn't from the successful to the poor. It's from savers to speculators, from outsiders to insiders, and from the industrious middle class to the reckless, unproductive rich.








Back in 2002, a professor turned Federal Reserve official by the name of Ben Bernanke gave a widely quoted speech titled "Deflation: Making Sure 'It' Doesn't Happen Here." Like other economists, myself included, Mr. Bernanke was deeply disturbed by Japan's stubborn, seemingly incurable deflation, which in turn was "associated with years of painfully slow growth, rising joblessness, and apparently intractable financial problems." This sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen to an advanced nation with sophisticated policy makers. Could something similar happen to the United States?


Not to worry, said Mr. Bernanke: the Fed had the tools required to head off an American version of the Japan syndrome, and it would use them if necessary.


Today, Mr. Bernanke is the Fed's chairman — and his 2002 speech reads like famous last words. We aren't literally suffering deflation (yet). But inflation is far below the Fed's preferred rate of 1.7 to 2 percent, and trending steadily lower; it's a good bet that by some measures we'll be seeing deflation by sometime next year. Meanwhile, we already have painfully slow growth, very high joblessness, and intractable financial problems. And what is the Fed's response? It's debating — with ponderous slowness — whether maybe, possibly, it should consider trying to do something about the situation, one of these days.


The Fed's fecklessness is, to be sure, not unique. It has been astonishing and infuriating, as the economic crisis has unfolded, to watch America's political class defining normalcy down. As recently as two years ago, anyone predicting the current state of affairs (not only is unemployment disastrously high, but most forecasts say that it will stay very high for years) would have been dismissed as a crazy alarmist. Now that the nightmare has become reality, however — and yes, it is a nightmare for millions of Americans — Washington seems to feel absolutely no sense of urgency. Are hopes being destroyed, small businesses being driven into bankruptcy, lives being blighted? Never mind, let's talk about the evils of budget deficits.


Still, one might have hoped that the Fed would be different. For one thing, the Fed, unlike the Obama administration, retains considerable freedom of action. It doesn't need 60 votes in the Senate; the outer limits of its policies aren't determined by the views of senators from Nebraska and Maine. Beyond that, the Fed was supposed to be intellectually prepared for this situation. Mr. Bernanke has thought long and hard about how to avoid a Japanese-style economic trap, and the Fed's researchers have been obsessed for years with the same question.


But here we are, visibly sliding toward deflation — and the Fed is standing pat.


What should it be doing? Conventional monetary policy, in which the Fed drives down short-term interest rates

by buying short-term U.S. government debt, has reached its limit: those short-term rates are already near zero, and can't go significantly lower. (Investors won't buy bonds that yield negative interest, since they can always hoard cash instead.) But the message of Mr. Bernanke's 2002 speech was that there are other things the Fed can do. It can buy longer-term government debt. It can buy private-sector debt. It can try to move expectations by announcing that it will keep short-term rates low for a long time. It can raise its long-run inflation target, to help convince the private sector that borrowing is a good idea and hoarding cash a mistake.


Nobody knows how well any one of these actions would work. The point, however, is that there are things the Fed could and should be doing, but isn't. Why not?


After all, Fed officials, like most observers, have a fairly grim view of the economy's prospects. Not grim enough, in my view: Fed presidents, who make forecasts every time the committee that sets interest rates meets, aren't taking the trend toward deflation sufficiently seriously. Nonetheless, even their projections show high unemployment and below-target inflation persisting at least through late 2012.


So why not try to do something about it? The closest thing I've seen to an explanation is a recent speech by Kevin Warsh of the Fed's Board of Governors, in which he declared that doing what Mr. Bernanke recommended back in 2002 risked undermining the Fed's "institutional credibility." But how, exactly, does it serve the Fed's credibility when it fails to confront high unemployment, while consistently missing its own inflation targets? How credible is the Bank of Japan after presiding over 15 years of deflation?


Whatever is going on, the Fed needs to rethink its priorities, fast. Mr. Bernanke's "it" isn't a hypothetical possibility, it's on the verge of happening. And the Fed should be doing all it can to stop it.








Antibiotics are modern wonder drugs, but their weakness is that they can gradually put themselves out of business. Use them too much, and some of the bugs they routinely control could mutate into resistant variants that require stronger or newer antibiotics to overcome.


This is an increasingly frightening problem. Estimates are that more than 90,000 hospital patients die every year from drug-resistant bacteria, and still more people die from "superbugs" they pick up outside hospitals.


That's why doctors discourage patients from turning reflexively to antibiotics for every minor sniffle. Overuse can encourage the evolution of mutations that shrug off routine drugs such as penicillin or tetracycline and require exotic new antibiotics — or in some cases can't be killed at all.


But at least humans usually have to be sick and get a prescription from a doctor to obtain an antibiotic. Not so with pigs, chicken, cattle and other "food animals," which routinely get the drugs to make them grow faster and bigger and ward off diseases they might get from being crowded together in modern factory farms.


This high-volume use of antibiotics in animals is a dangerous avenue for the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that can eventually spread to humans. But, in a classic case of the public interest taking a back seat to private commercial interests, the farm lobby has for decades successfully fought restrictions on animal use of antibiotics. Now federal regulators and some members of Congress are making a worthy new push to rein in hazardous practices.


The Food and Drug Administration is sufficiently concerned that it issued a detailed, 19-page "draft guidance" last month that calls on the agriculture industry to voluntarily end the "injudicious" use of drugs to help animals grow, which it said "poses a qualitatively higher risk to public health" than using the drugs selectively to cure or prevent disease.


The history of such calls for self-regulation shouldn't make anyone optimistic that food producers will act on their own. Giving animals antibiotics in their feed makes them grow bigger more quickly, which cuts producers' costs. As long as producers can claim that the evidence of harm to humans is murky, they're not likely to voluntarily raise their cost of doing business.


Those claims are ringing increasingly hollow.


The FDA says 30 years of studies point unmistakably to a hazard from overuse of antibiotics in animals.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says humans could pick up drug-resistant bugs through contact with animals or by eating contaminated food; it cites the example of Campylobacter bacteria, which lives in chicken intestines and can cause diarrhea in humans who eat undercooked chicken.


In 1995, the FDA approved the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in chickens. Soon, though, doctors began to find Campylobacter strains in sick people that were resistant to fluoroquinolone, and the FDA eventually banned the antibiotic for use in chickens.


The FDA has hinted that it might seek regulations if jawboning industry doesn't work. At a hearing this week, a congressional committee will consider legislation that would help phase out the excessive use of antibiotics in animals. Government would do well to move ahead before new superbugs emerge.









First and foremost, America's livestock farmers use antibiotics to keep their animals healthy and, in turn, to produce safe food for consumers. And, contrary to the opponents of modern food-animal production, antibiotics are not being given excessively to pigs and cattle, and their use in livestock production is not the likely cause for an increase in antibiotic resistance in humans.


In fact, according to top scientists with theCenters for Disease Control and Preventionand the National Institutes of Health, there are no scientific studies linking antibiotic use in livestock production with antibiotic resistance in people. In one survey, the results of which were published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, experts estimated that 96% of human antibiotic resistance occurs because of human uses of antibiotics. A 2006 report from the Institute of Food Technologists concluded: "Eliminating antibiotic drugs from food-animal production may have little positive effect on resistant bacteria that threaten human health."


The U.S. pork industry believes that more research must be conducted on the causes of antibiotic resistance before any antibiotics are banned or restricted from use in food-animal production. Who knows? The risk of not using antibiotics could outweigh any risk of using them.


There's evidence that might be the case. A recent study by Dr. Scott Hurd, associate professor at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and former U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy undersecretary for food safety, found that when pigs have been sick during their lives, they have a greater presence of food-safety pathogens on their carcasses. An Ohio State University study found that "antibiotic-free" pigs kept outdoors had a higher incidence of the sort of diseases and parasites that can be transmitted between animals and humans than pigs raised indoors that received antibiotics.


All antibiotics used in food-animal production have gone through a rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process, which includes determining their safety for animals, humans and the environment. All are administered under an animal health plan developed by a veterinarian to ensure animal well-being.


Taking away important animal health products would be bad for animals, bad for farmers and bad for consumers.


Dr. Howard Hill, a veterinarian, is a director of the National Pork Producers Council








In 1943, four Army chaplains gave away their life vests to save others when the troopship Dorchester, which had been torpedoed, sank. Those chaplains (two Protestants, one Catholic and one Jew) comforted the wounded — of all faiths — with their dying breaths.


YES: Religious liberty is in real jeopardy


Today, despite two centuries of such heroic, selfless service by military chaplains, some religious groups threaten to withdraw their chaplains from America's armed forces if "don't ask, don't tell" — the policy allowing lesbians and gay men to serve only if they hide the fact that they are gay — is changed.


The current policy dishonors gays. The threat dishonors chaplains.


A chaplain's mission


Despite some outlandish claims (including one charge that the Bible will be banned), chaplains should not be affected by a new policy. "Don't tell" never did apply to conversations with a chaplain, which are "privileged communication." And good chaplains can preach and teach, true to their beliefs — respecting rights while challenging what they believe is wrong. They also teach commandments — loving neighbors, judging not, not casting stones, the golden rule — that help the troops serve together.


Free exercise of religion is the basic reason chaplains serve. But their mission is threefold: ministry to those of their own faith; helping those of other faiths fulfill their religious needs; and providing care for all. Christian chaplains ensure that Muslims have prayer rugs and Jews have matza, and military rabbis and imams find rosaries and New Testaments for personnel they serve. For those in pain — religious, atheist, straight or gay — chaplains offer comfort and a helping hand.


For many military personnel, including many chaplains, being gay (or straight) is neutral, neither crime nor sin. Others hold that regardless of their own religious views, neutrality and respect for equal rights should determine military policy and law. In more than 20 NATO nations, gay men and women serve without restriction and with distinction.


Of course, some chaplains believe that homosexuality is sinful, but most religions teach that all of us are sinners, although in every soul there is good, too. Civilian pastors visit hospitals and prisons with no demands that gays "don't tell." And those who ask "What would Jesus do?" know from Gospel teachings that he drew near to many sinners when others walked away.


We Americans should never underestimate our heritage and vision of united service, despite differing beliefs.

Some religions teach all alcohol is sin, divorce is sinful, or certain faith beliefs (surely, mine included!) lead straight to hell.


For some faiths, abortion is premeditated murder, yet no religious group makes threats to withdraw chaplains unless rules bar women who had abortions, or "tolerate" them only if they "never tell."


Americans agree to disagree, serving side-by-side, fighting for the way of life that allows us to disagree.


My life is proof that chaplains bring with them their faith, then show how to reach across faith lines. In Vietnam, a minister helped me use my faith to become a better leader, person and even a better Jew. I wouldn't be a rabbi now without his help back then.


Reaching beyond faith


In Beirut in 1983, a priest tore pieces from his uniform to make me a new kippa, or skullcap. Mine was bloodied as I wiped off a Marine's face when a bomb destroyed the barracks, killing hundreds in the blast. Chaplains helped all. Some wounded whispered names of loved ones, even secret names, and messages to be delivered in case of death.


In the Middle East, where religious groups so often fight, U.S. foxholes are interfaith. Among Christian, Muslim or Jewish foxholes, ours give refuge to people of every faith or no faith. I've often said that if the world had more foxholes that were interfaith, we'd have less need for foxholes and have more room for faith.


Contrary to the old canard, there are atheists in our foxholes, too — alongside chaplains whom they trust. Until now, gay military personnel had faith that chaplains would help them, too. I pray their faith was not misguided, and chaplains do not desert their posts, or give up the ship.


Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff began his Navy career as a line officer in the rivers of Vietnam's Mekong Delta and retired after serving as Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command. In 2005-06, he served as Special Assistant for Values and Vision to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force.








For 38 years, I was privileged to serve the men and women entrusted with our nation's security. The character of their service is reflected in something called The Soldier's Creed. Most everyone I have met who is familiar with its four key lines agrees that they define the essence of uniformed service:


I will always place the mission first;


I will never accept defeat;


I will never quit;


I will never leave a fallen comrade.


Four simple, declaratory statements — promises that form the foundation for trust within military formations.


Especially in time of war, those who wear our nation's uniforms and their families bear incredible burdens for us. A new generation faces the demand for courage, strength, dedication and stamina — as daunting today as it has ever been. Failure is never an option. Our servicemembers have never failed the nation, the mission, or their comrades.


But the toll for this kind of loyalty and dedication is high. Troops are returning with invisible wounds that can be as debilitating as any physical battlefield trauma. As in every conflict in our nation's history, today's warriors are suffering emotional injuries just as they do physical ones.


The residual effects of combat manifest themselves in every combatant's life. You have to be strong to prevail. You must be loved, respected and supported to weather the worst of the storms. You must be patient, and it helps to be lucky. And you must have the strong, unwavering support of the nation that sent you on those missions.


At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) there is only one goal — to ensure that veterans of every generation receive the best possible health care and the benefits they have earned.


Previously, veterans filing for health care and disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were required to document in detail the causes of their symptoms. These have traditionally been called "stressors."


The rules stringently required veterans, who served in the combat branches of the military, where the likelihood of direct action against an armed enemy was highest, to provide detailed documentation of those engagements. For those not serving in the combat branches, the burden of proof was even higher. But in either case, these rules were neither fair nor sustainable.


At VA, we're now moving to treat all veterans equally. Today, VA begins simplifying the process by which veterans with PTSD are able to access health care and receive benefits.


Streamlining this process will help not just the veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, but generations of veterans who have previously "borne the battle" for our nation.


We're publishing a regulation today in the Federal Register that simplifies the process for claiming service connection for PTSD by reducing the documentation needed for veterans to validate the specifics of place, type and circumstance of incident. From this point forward, VA will not require corroboration of a PTSD stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, if a VA doctor confirms a diagnosis of PTSD and the stressful experience recalled by the veteran adequately supports that diagnosis.


This decision to simplify the process has been validated by an Institute of Medicine study, which concluded that service in a war zone is inherently linked to increased risk of PTSD.


As President Obama has said, "Just as we have a solemn responsibility to train and equip our troops before we send them into harm's way, we have a solemn responsibility to provide our veterans and wounded warriors with the care and benefits they've earned when they come home. That is our sacred trust with all who serve — and it doesn't end when their tour of duty does."


In Profiles in Courage, President John F. Kennedy, himself a combat veteran, noted, "Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men ... have lived. The courage of life ... is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy."


The courage to deal with the effects of battle is real, and it takes courage and determination to mitigate its effects once we return from operations. It has been so for every generation of warriors.


Simplifying the documentation needed to receive medical care and compensation for service connected to PTSD upholds our commitment to those who protect our freedoms — not just the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, but all generations of veterans, who proudly served and sacrificed in their time.


Eric Shinseki is secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.








WASHINGTON — Any political journalist over a certain age knew Bill Dougherty, an all-American throwback to when politics was about people more than about science, and when breaking bread with those you disagreed with wasn't considered selling out.


Dougherty, of Sioux Falls, S.D., died July 3 at age 78, six years to the day after his wife, Billie, passed away.


A lieutenant governor of South Dakota in the early 1970s who later became a lobbyist, Dougherty was the ultimate Democratic political insider of the last quarter of the 20th century. Political reporters from all over frequently called him for the pulse of Middle America. He told it like he saw it, whether it helped his side or not.


Dougherty also was a long-time confidant of the Kennedys. Dougherty talked on the phone with Robert Kennedyshortly before he was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968. Dougherty had managed Kennedy's campaign in South Dakota that year, a primary that Kennedy had won the same night he had triumphed in California. The victories might have boosted RFK to the Democratic presidential nomination, had he lived.


As he got older, Dougherty became rarer on three fronts.


First, he genuinely liked people, and not just those who shared his viewpoint. He could be tough on politicians he thought were opportunists or sellouts, but he never considered those who did not share his center-left view of the world as mortal enemies. These days, some younger political operatives come across as contemptuous of public opinion except in polling aggregates or when it fits squarely into their personal world views.


Second, Dougherty understood the role of a free and independent press in a democratic republic. Young political operatives today often come into the business believing that the media are just another constituency to be manipulated, outflanked or won over. Dougherty genuinely liked reporters, and he understood our challenges, flaws and failings. In one of our final talks, Dougherty lamented how insta-pundits on shout television had hurt the profession, and he was sad for America because of it.


Third, he put the science of politics in its place. In an era in which political messaging strives for a faux familiarity based on micro-targeting and a form of online spying, Dougherty still believed, first and foremost, in his gut. He saw up-and-comers before they arrived, before pollsters did.


To him, politics was more passion than science, although he would applaud some of the recent innovations that have gotten more Americans involved.


Democrat strategist Mark Penn and Republican message guru Karen Hughes were asked at a recent forum atGeorge Washington University for their "gee whiz" predictions about the 2012 presidential campaign.


Penn predicted that political messengers would be able to send highly personalized Internet messages to prospective voters based on what they revealed about themselves and what they searched for when they were online.


"For the first time, you will be able to get the right commercial to the right person in a way that we used to target direct mail," Penn said. "So I think you are going to have a new level of involvement and personalization in political information that we have not seen."


Penn predicted that up to half of the electorate in 2012 will be involved in political campaigns through social networks, with much of the new impetus of civic involvement and fundraising in modest amounts coming from young people. It is a far cry from 20 years ago, he said, when he discovered that the median age of the top 100,000 Democratic donors was 74.


Hughes marveled at the technological changes that have enabled more activism, and more involvement, in just the last decade.


"None of us had a BlackBerry in 2000," she said. "We all thought Al Gore was a little weird because he had this little machine he used to type 'I love you's' to Tipper on. It was his BlackBerry. ... I couldn't imagine running the 2004 campaign without a BlackBerry. President Obama, who was known for the use of social media in his own campaign — none of them Twittered. Can you imagine that in 2008, they didn't Twitter?"


Dougherty welcomed innovations like this, but he would remind us that the people using the technology are what ultimately matter.








President Obama extols them. Members of Congress -- both Democrats and Republicans -- regularly call them the backbone of the United States economy. "They" are the small businesses that are an essential part of every community. Those businesses, praised as they are, still find it difficult during the current economic difficulties to get the bank loans that are vital to their continued operation.


Congress is not unmindful of the situation. Indeed, the House recently approved a multi-billion dollar package designed to motivate community-sized banks to provide more small-business loans. The taxpayer-financed measure now goes to the Senate. The fate of the bill -- and of the many small businesses that desperately need the loans -- remains unsure.


What is certain is that many small businesses need ready access to loans, but have been unable to obtain them from banks. For the most part, the financial institutions have been sitting on cash rather than making loans. Whether the incentives will change that is difficult to predict.


There is an oft-overlooked alternative to community banks as the source for small-business loans. It's the credit union.


Many of the member-owned organizations are willing to lend to small businesses but find it difficult to do so under current laws. A change in those rules could prove beneficial for small businesses, for credit unions and for the communities where both operate.


Current law caps loans to small businesses at 12.25 percent of a credit union's assets. The credit unions want Congress to increase that cap to 27.5 percent of assets. It's a sensible suggestion, one that could infuse billions of dollars into the business community and, directly and indirectly, create thousands of jobs. And for those worried about the federal treasury, lifting the cap for credit unions would cost taxpayers nothing.


A bill just introduced in the Senate would lift the cap. If approved, it would allow well-capitalized credit unions to increase business lending from the current limit to 27.5 percent under certain conditions. That's reasonable. Not all credit unions would be eligible and some that are would choose not to make the loans. What's important is that expanding the role of credit unions could increase the available pool of money to small businesses.


The banking industry, predictably, opposes the legislation. It argues that credit unions would have an unfair competitive advantage in the small-business market and that they likely would make bad loans. That's rich coming from an industry whose own loan practices nearly deep-sixed the nation's economy.


Experts say that credit unions pose no threat to banks in this arena. Even in the unlikely event that every eligible credit union reached the proposed new cap for small-business loans , banks would still own around 90 percent of the market. Besides, banks continue to be reluctant to lend money to small businesses. Credit unions are willing to do so using sensible criteria set forth in proposed legislation. They should be allowed to do so.







Federal regulators have tip-toed around the issue of antibiotics in the nation's meat supply for years. Despite considerable evidence that the use of the drugs in animals contributes to the creation and expansion of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that affect humans, the Food and Drug Administration has been slow to take a definitive stance on the issue. No more.


Recently, the FDA warned that widespread use of antibiotics in animals is "a serious threat to public health." Trouble is, the FDA action, while welcome, is unlikely to prompt change in the meat industry. The FDA recommends that producers reduce the use of the drugs -- especially those used in treating human illnesses -- in animals, but it provides little incentive for them to do so. There is no legal framework to control or ban their use. Without that, there's no certainty that the industry will adopt practices that arguably help safeguard public health.


Indeed, industry groups reacted negatively to the FDA warning. A National Cattlemen's Beef Association statement said that the causes behind drug-resistant infections are complex and that human misuse of antibiotics contributes to the problem, too. The latter is true, but it does not lessen the meat industry's role in creating the problem.


The National Pork Producers Council said the FDA's view of the antibiotic issue is overly bureaucratic and that it would rob the industry of drugs vital to animals. A council statement added that "there is no scientific study linking antibiotic food use in animal production to with antibiotic resistance." The latter is simply untrue. Study after study indicates the connection.


The FDA recommendation, in fact, does not suggest banning the use of all antibiotics in livestock, only more judicious use of them.. It urges that they be used only when an animal is sick. Currently, that's not the case in a majority of instances. Most producers now routinely add antibiotics to the feed of all livestock to promote growth and to prevent the spread of disease in pens and other facilities. That builds profits for the producers at the expense of public health.


Put simply, livestock producers should use antibiotics only to treat animals that are already ill, not as a matter of course to prevent disease, encourage growth and maximize profits. But the FDA's suggestion that such a ban be adopted voluntarily by the livestock producers is unrealistic. The industry won't change a profitable business model without a compelling reason to do so.


The FDA and Congress should provide regulations that would compel them to do so. The rules need not be overly complicated. They should ban the use of antibiotics in livestock except to treat illness. Public health officials say that about 70,000 Americans die yearly from once treatable but now antibiotic-resistant infections. Tougher rules on the antibiotic use in animals could reduce that toll, slow the increase in the number of drug-resistant bacteria and lead to overall improvement in the nation's health.







One of the ideals of our United States of America is that every citizen, no matter how prominent or how unknown, how rich or how poor, whatever his or her other distinctions or lack of them, may be assured "equal justice under law."


Fortunately, we believe that ideal prevails in most cases, in courts of all kinds and at all levels.


But ironically, the court on which many Americans are convinced there is the least assurance of real impartiality is our highest court, the Supreme Court of the United States.


We see many justices express their personal, "preconceived" points of view, not adhering strictly to the Constitution and the laws enacted under it and in accord with it.


We expect our presidents -- heading the executive branch of our government -- to have partisan views, and to express them, getting elected on that basis.


We expect members of Congress -- our representatives and senators, the members of the legislative branch of government -- to have specific and differing "points of view," and to express them as the basis on which they are elected by the people.


But don't we expect, or shouldn't we be able to expect, that our judges, on every level, are totally impartial, upholding the law as it is written, and ruling according to the facts in each case -- and are not prejudiced in any degree in their performance?


Do you consider it ironic, to say the least, and improper, to say the most, that many of our highest judges -- the members of the Supreme Court of the United States -- are not impartial, but use their exalted positions to impose their own points of view?


Members of Congress are empowered by our Constitution to "make the law." The president is supposed to "execute the law." Judges on all levels are supposed only to "apply the law."


But now, as our nation is considering the most recent nominee for the Supreme Court, with the United States Senate charged with confirming or rejecting the nominee, we are reminded that the current subject -- Elena Kagan -- is obviously, on her record, not inclined to be an "impartial" judge if confirmed, as she is expected to be.


Judges are not supposed to act as "legislators" or "executives," and certainly not as "dictators."


Our current Supreme Court members are Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.


Many people have not "paid attention." But those who have paid attention to Supreme Court rulings may be quite aware of the justices' political and philosophical leanings -- liberal or conservative. And citizens who are currently paying informed attention know where justice-nominee Kagan stands on the political spectrum. She's a liberal.


But wouldn't it be best if we all had reasons for confidence that every Supreme Court justice was of good character, had excellent knowledge of and adherence to the Constitution of the United States -- and that we would never have any reason to know whether any justice was "conservative" or "liberal," because each one delivered only "equal justice under law" in accord with our Constitution?








Here is another reason why state governments -- like the federal government and local governments -- ought to be run responsibly and within their means: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has ordered that 200,000 state workers' salaries be cut to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.


Why? Because California legislators have failed to take the tough actions necessary to close a $19 billion state budget deficit, and the money just isn't there.


To put the governor's order in perspective, the typical state employee in California earns about $65,000 per year. The reduced pay would leave the workers earning about $15,000 a year. That's undoubtedly a frightening prospect to those hundreds of thousands of workers, though legal maneuvering has stalled the governor's order as of this writing.


But why has Gov. Schwarzenegger been forced to take such drastic measures in the first place? Because like our federal government, California has refused, year after year, to make even the most basic attempts to live within its means. It has embraced every costly environmental fad that has come along, artificially inflating energy costs. It also has piled one business tax on top of another. That has, among other things, destroyed California's auto industry. The "Golden State" went from eight car-manufacturing plants 20 years ago to none early this year.


Those policies have devastated the tax base and slashed tax revenue for the state, leading to its current financial nightmare. How bad have things gotten? Well, California has even had to consider ending some "safety-net" programs altogether and sharply reducing spending on programs that provide care to the elderly and disabled.


Shouldn't all states -- and most especially our big-spending federal government -- avoid similar catastrophes by reducing ineffective, wasteful government spending and focusing on free-market economic policies that actually have a chance to promote growth and sustain legitimate government programs?


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





The federal government is showering billions of dollars on unethical medical research that destroys human embryos to harvest their stem cells. So it is ironic that much of the promising research isn't coming from embryonic stem cells at all.


"The excitement is not generated by stem cells harvested from human embryos," The Miami Herald reported. Rather, adult stem cells are now considered as good as or in some cases better than embryonic cells in pursuing cures for serious diseases and ailments.


"Adult stem cells have more flexibility than we thought," Dr. Joshua Hare of the University of Miami Medical School told the newspaper. "The embryonic stem cell might not be the most valuable property in actual therapy."


That confirms earlier studies that show the extremely high value of adult cells in medical research. Those findings are important, because the cells can be harvested from adults without harming them in any way. The use of embryonic stem cells, however, requires the destruction of tiny, unborn humans.


"This is really exciting," another researcher, Dr. Kenneth Zuckerman, told the Miami paper.


Some still see research value in using embryonic cells. But the focus ought to be on ethical research that seeks desired cures and treatments without destroying human life.







A state lawmaker in Massachusetts who calls himself "pro-immigrant and in some cases even pro-illegal-immigrant" was recently rammed by an allegedly drunk driver who is believed to be an illegal alien.


State Rep. Mike Moran was in his car when he was hit at 60 mph by the suspected illegal. Ironically, because Massachusetts is a "sanctuary state" for illegals, police there were forbidden to contact federal immigration authorities about the driver's status.


The suspect's blood alcohol level far exceeded the legal limit, and he joked that he would just go back to his country to avoid prosecution, the police report stated. "Nothing is going to happen to me, man," he added.

With lax policies such as those promoted by the unfortunate Rep. Moran, he may be right.








What is the cost of a collapsed agricultural system? We think it is far more than the sum of the products we replace through imports. Its true price includes emptied villages, teeming cities, fractured families, the devastation of rural culture and new threats to the environment from the chaotic development that almost inevitably follows.


Two months ago, we published a series translated from our sister newspaper Vatan on the collapse of Turkey's agricultural economy. The series found that not only has production plummeted, but many farmers have also been left deeply indebted by an aggressive push to extend credit to farmers that was followed by a plunge in commodity prices. We followed up publication of that series with a call for a renewed commitment to Turkey's farming sector.


Today we repeat our call in the wake of yet more evidence that Turkey's agriculture system is in the direst of states. In our Weekend newspaper, we reported on a new study by the Ankara Chamber of Commerce, or ATO, which found that Turkey's transformation from food exporter to importer is only accelerating.


We now import barley from France, rice from Egypt, corn from the Ukraine, tea from Sri Lanka, garlic from China, bananas from Panama, chickpeas from Mexico and lentils from Canada. All of these are products that Turkey has produced, and in most cases exported, for centuries. Now even wheat, which originated in Anatolia, where agronomists still come to study remaining wild strains, is being imported from Russia.


The study found that over the past 30 years, Turkey's exports have grown just two-fold in value, far less than inflation over the same period. Imports, however, have increased 90-fold.


Already, Turkey's urban dwellers have reached 70 percent of the total population. This is more than the 60 percent of the European Union's population that now lives in cities. But rather that voice concern, our political leadership almost takes pride in this transformation. There is a misplaced conclusion that all this adds up to a transformation from an "agricultural" economy to an "industrial" one. Hardly.


Healthy industrial economies are supported in many ways by healthy farm economies. Germany, France, Japan and certainly the United States are all countries with strong farm sectors. In America's state of California, the much-imitated but never replicated "Silicon Valley" is intertwined geographically with the most productive farmland in the world, Technologies developed for one sector sometimes aid the other. The production of California wine grapes, for example, is monitored by infrared scanning, which is then digitized to enable optimal control of pests and disease with minimal use of chemicals.


The notion that Turkey must somehow "pick" whether to be an industrial or agrarian society is a false choice. It can and should be both.








Whenever Turkish exports falter, exporters and their sidekicks from the academy and media (academedia for

short) begin to whine about the exchange rate.


It is an entirely different question whether the exchange rate is to blame for the country's trade deficit and the high import content of exports - one which was addressed at a conference organized by the Central Bank of Turkey, or CBT, back in November. Instead, I would like to discuss whether the exchange rate is really overvalued and what, if anything, can the Bank do about it.


But which exchange rate should we be talking about? The most obvious choice is the nominal exchange rate, weighed by the size of Turkey's trade with its trading partners. However, what matters for competitiveness is not the nominal, but the real exchange rate, which is simply the nominal exchange rate adjusted by price differentials. Intuitively, the real exchange rate compares prices of a basket of goods in different countries.


A new index…


Although it is possible to come up with simple measures of the real exchange rate such asThe Economist'sBig Mac Index , a complete index is rather laborious. Fortunately, the CBT has been preparing such indices for some time, and it recently revised its methodology.


The first result that stands out is that the new indices point to less overvaluation than before. And to quell accusations of data manipulation, the CBT has published an accompanying paper on the methodology, earning high marks for transparency as well.


The CBT has also started to publish separate developing and developed country-based indices. These show that overvaluation is less evident in comparison to developing countries, which are Turkey's main export competitors. A brand-new index based on unit labor costs, a better measure for comparing costs across countries, points to a favorable post-Lehman real exchange rate.

Moreover, once you decompose the change in the indices into the nominal exchange rate and the inflation differential between Turkey and the rest of the world, it becomes clear that most of the recent upward trend in the real exchange rate is due to the inflation differential. So exporters should think twice before criticizing monetary policy, less they want to risk shooting themselves in the leg.


All this is not to say that the real exchange rate is undervalued. On the contrary, different methodologies such as its long-run trend, the external financing outlook and macroeconomic theory all point at overvaluation. But the new indices do suggest that the overvaluation is not as large as often claimed, especially when making the right comparisons.


… But the same ancient mindset

Even if the exchange rate were to blame, at least partially, for the country's export woes, the most-common solution suggested by the whiners, that the CBT should manage the exchange rate, simply would not work in context of inflation targeting and the absence of capital controls- this is the impossible trinity of international macroeconomics.


This is why learned critiques have started to discuss limiting capital controls and even dispense with inflation targeting altogether. While there are some merits to some of their points, their arguments are also extremely short-sighted and asymmetric. For one thing, they ignore the theoretical underpinnings of the overvaluation based on growth and productivity differentials. They also never mention the benefits of a strong lira such as low exchange rate pass-through to inflation and a growing services sector. A balanced discussion needs to involve these factors as well.


But Turkey's unholy trinity of exporters and academedia will continue their attacks, as balance is the last thing on their minds.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








When the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon had no war plan at all on the shelf to destroy al-Qaeda. James Risen of The New York Times, in his work titled "State of War," asserts that the U.S. military knew next to nothing about Afghanistan. The situation was so serious that the U.S. "air force didn't even have updated maps of the country for its pilots, who in desperation turned to old Russian maps to help plot their missions."


The way the operation was subsequently conducted, nevertheless, was a serious blow to Osama bin Laden's war plans. Peter L. Bergen, in his fabulous work titled "The Osama bin Laden I Know," claims that bin Laden disastrously misjudged the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, which he believed would be one of two strategies: "an eventual retreat from the Middle East along the lines of the U.S. pullout from Somalia in 1993, or a full-scale American ground invasion similar to the Soviet invasion of 1979, which would then allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to fight a classic guerrilla war." Yet the U.S. did not fall into that trap. The initial battle went quickly and was indeed a success for both the U.S. military and CIA. The size of the U.S. force on the ground, for instance, never exceeded four thousand troops.


Soon, however, it was realized that this success was a relatively temporary one. There appeared two basic problems: Tommy Franks, then commander in chief of CENTCOM, in his memoir, "The American Soldier," wrote "speed has a mass all its own." Thus, Franks planned the war strategy in such a way as to reach the center of gravity of the war, namely Kabul, as quickly as possible. The aim was not seizing territory but simply controlling it, a strategic mistake similar to that he would make in Iraq. As the Iraqi army would do two years later, the Taliban too, acknowledging that it cannot confront the U.S. war machine, simply chose to disappear and leave the cities to American control.


The size of the U.S. force, in turn, was not sufficient to allow control of that territory. More troops needed to be deployed, but the U.S. army, forced to the deal with a new theater of war in Iraq, lacked the necessary troops. During the First Gulf War of 1991, the total number of U.S. Army troops was almost two million. In Bill Clinton's era, it fell to 1.5 million. At the time George W. Bush came to power the army had only 1.4 million soldiers in service. Just after the 9/11, the situation was so critical that the Pentagon refused to accept the retirement of 40,000 soldiers. It is precisely for this reason that the American generals strongly opposed the war in Iraq.


At present, the number of U.S. and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan is 130,000. President Barack Obama, despite the risks in domestic politics, made the decision to send an additional 30,000 soldiers, but for a country that big, this increase will not change much. The situation on the ground has actually become so delicate that June, with 102 casualties, was the deadliest month for the allied force since the war began in October 2001. Facing that bitter reality, the Obama administration has two options before it: to force its allies, including Turkey, to send more troops, and/or to accelerate the training of the Afghan forces. In light of the second option, Stanley McChrystal's replacement by David Petraeus acquires particular importance.


Petraeus' success in counter-insurgency goes back to his command of the 101st Airborne Division that was responsible for the control of Mosul in the post-combat stability operations in Iraq. To "win the hearts and minds" of the Iraqis, he quickly established two top priorities: reestablish government and economic functions, actually what is also strongly needed in Afghanistan. In 2007, after he assumed command of all U.S. forces in Iraq, this policy became known as "the anaconda strategy," which aimed to go after the terrorists and insurgents from every angle. As put in Linda Robinson's "Tell Me How This Ends," Petraeus would say, "You can't do in al-Qaeda with just counter-terrorist forces… You've got to get services, education, jobs" as well.


The second striking aspect of Petraeus' career was his appointment to the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq in 2004, the main mission of which was to train and equip the new Iraqi army as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that he lacked resources and manpower even for its own staff, Petraeus managed to accomplish his mission of creating more Iraqi security forces by the time he handed over the job to his successor, Martin Dempsey. However, soon it was realized that these new troops were neither combat capable nor actually present for duty. More importantly, their ranks were filled with sectarian militia members.









After Holland beat Uruguay last Tuesday, reaching Sunday's World Cup final, for a moment I considered buying a ticket and flying to the Netherlands to be there when the match is played. You cannot imagine the mood in the country. Everything is colored orange, from the pastry to the houses. An expected record 80 percent of the Dutch will watch the game, either at home or on one of the many town squares where big screens will be put to share the excitement with compatriots fully dressed in orange as well. It was tempting to join those crowds and be there when history is made, whether the Netherlands win the title or not. In the end, I decided to stay in Istanbul and watch the final at the Dutch consulate.


I am sure many sociologists and anthropologists will use this opportunity to try and describe what is happening in a society where nationalism has never been highly appreciated and the use of national symbols is rare. Being a Turk or an American, one is used to flags around all the time. To national hymns being played at any possible occasion. Not so in the Netherlands. The use of the flag is strictly regulated. Most people only hear the national anthem when an athlete or sports team wins a gold medal at the Olympics. But then, once every two or four years, there is the Dutch national football team. They have managed to provoke strong feelings of being proud to be Dutch and happy to live in that post-nationalist country that still needs its dose of national pride but is willing to reserve it for the occasions when eleven football players defend our colors.


Against Spain this time. A country that we liberated ourselves from 400 years ago but that is too long ago to evoke strong feelings. There is no soccer history either, except for two friendly games in the last ten years – both won by the Netherlands by the way. To the contrary, many Dutch football fans have always felt attracted to the Barcelona team since Johan Cruyff played and coached there so successfully in the seventies and nineties. Players from the same Barcelona make up the backbone of the present Spanish national team that Holland will have to beat to win its first World Cup title.


What are the chances? I guess the Spaniards are the favorites. They already won the European title two years ago, and they have performed better in the last couple of weeks than the Dutch, who always managed to win ugly - but I must admit, with a determination and intransigence that is almost un-Dutch. The newspapers are full these days with analysis on why this team decided to replace beauty by efficiency, having learned the lessons of previous tournaments, where the Orange Machine got all the applause but never won a prize. In that sense, it is true that this Dutch team has imported some key qualities from our eastern neighbors, who managed to win many titles despite the fact that they were not the best team. Let's see whether the Dutch are able to bring their 'German' lessons to perfection tonight.

Which brings me to the final that most Dutch wanted but did not get: Holland versus Germany. From a Dutch perspective, that would have been the mother of all finals. A game of football that would have aroused old animosities, going back to the problematic history between the countries in the last century and, more specifically, the lost World Cup final in 1974. But that final would also have underlined the growing contacts and improved relations between the two antagonists, off and on the pitch. Key Dutch players Robben en Van Bommel play at Bayern Munich, coached by Louis van Gaal, one of the most successful Dutch trainers. It was not to be.I guess nobody will mind anymore if we beat Spain and the whole country turns orange and gets a shot of self confidence that no other event is able to create.









Perhaps an old Elton John song best describes the state of Turkish-Israeli relations today: 'It's a sad, sad situation, and it's getting more and more absurd.' As Israel's only Muslim ally in the region, Turkey has had a long standing strategic partnership with Israel, involving military cooperation and intelligence sharing. All of these are now practically nonexistent as Turkish-Israeli relations have taken a spiraling nosedive since Israel's attack on Gaza in December 2009 and its establishment of a subsequent blockade, strangling the Hamas controlled area of basic provisions. Since that time, a year and a half has passed with the international community's wavering hesitancy caught between Israel's vociferous reminders of its own legitimate security concerns and an exacerbating humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza on the other hand. While Turkey has dealt with the situation in the strongly worded anti-Israeli rhetoric of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, nevertheless, the Turkish-Israeli relationship has not come to the brink of a complete break-off of diplomatic relations as it has done so now.


Turkey's threat to withdraw its ambassador after an Israeli snub in January, which displayed the ambassador on a lower sofa opposite his counterparts in the Israeli foreign ministry, came about because of a Turkish soap opera about Gaza, which Israel found anti-Semitic. The absurdity probably began about there. When low chairs and soap operas dictate the level of tension in diplomatic relations, it is a clear indicator that, if tensions re-erupt over something far more serious, neither side will be willing to back down or listen to reason. But at the time of the 'low chair' affair, Israel did back down and apologize. It seems that this time around, the crisis will not be resolved so easily. Turkey has not only recalled its ambassador for real, but has also threatened to break off diplomatic relations. Israel has refused to apologize.


First of all, there is the gravity of the situation where Turkey is concerned. Eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed by Israeli commandos in a raid on the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara, carrying cargo destined for Gaza in late May. There is also the international dimension to consider. The raid took place in international waters on an unarmed convoy. The international community's paralysis since 2009 in Gaza has continued. Both the UN and NATO called for the establishment of a 'prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation,' falling short of Turkey's demands for an international inquiry, at the insistence of the U.S. Instead, Israel has launched its own inquiry with two international observers. Turkey is skeptical whether its findings will be impartial. However, pressure from the international community for an international inquiry is mounting as the crisis escalates. This was requested recently not only by Britain and France but also the UN Secretary General.


Given Turkey's frustration with the sluggishness of the international response to the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey has given an ultimatum to Israel: Either apologize or accept an international inquiry into the incident, or all diplomatic relations will be broken off. Israel has responded by saying they have nothing to apologize for. Once diplomatic relations are broken off, usually the time lapse in which they can be resumed again is much longer than the reinstatement of an ambassador.


This is likely to have wider repercussions for the region. First, the impact on Turkey's role as a mediator in the region, particularly a potential role in the Middle East Peace Process. Second, Turkey is a NATO member, and Israel has a Partnership with NATO. Israel participates in NATO's Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, which is a naval monitoring mission established as a counter-terrorism measure after September 11. If Israel ceases to have diplomatic relations with a NATO member, it is likely that its NATO partnership activities may have to be suspended for a while. At least, one would expect Turkey to make such a demand at the North Atlantic Council, the political decision-making body of the alliance, where every member has a veto right. Third, it will be interesting to see how Iran moves to take advantage of this emerging vacuum in the region's balance of power.


The role Britain has to play in this crisis becomes all the more crucial as inconsistencies in U.S. policy towards Israel with regards to new settlements also signal a decline in U.S. legitimacy as a mediator, as well as its wider approach to the Islamic world, which President Obama displayed so eloquently last year. A more conciliatory Netanyahu government towards the peace process can also toughen U.S. attitudes towards an intransigent Turkey vis a vis Israel. However, Israel is in no position to accept an international inquiry, and Turkey has insisted on Israel's full consent for an international inquiry. Perhaps the time has already come and passed to establish and international inquiry with or without Israeli consent and the establishment of an international monitoring mission to check cargo ships bound for Gaza as a stop-gap measure to avoid a future tragedy such as the Mavi Marmara one.


* Gülnur Aybet is a lecturer at the University of Kent, England, a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC and a Visiting Professor at the Izmir University of Economics.









We witnessed a transition from an agricultural economy to production economy and from a production economy to an information economy in the 20th century. And now we are in the 21st century presenting so many opportunities yet challenges at the same time. Definitions are questioned, contents are subject to change and new values are born in this age. The 21st century underlines the fact that it is actually a transition period for the history of mankind.


The number of Internet users is increasing every day as individuals now have easy access to information. With the spread of globalization and the Internet, more people are connected while the awareness of national and international issues continues to grow. We compare more, question more and pay more attention to be united. In line with this, we have just turned an era where human rights, the rights of workers, gender equality, accountability, responsibility, sustainable development and some values are questioned more and demanded more. All sectors work hard.


Technology and science are making an enormous progress. We owe 70 percent of global growth to rising markets such as India and China. International companies dive deep into R&D studies; therefore, multi-center innovative points emerge. Non-Western firms play to the world's leadership when many others explore new lines of production and distribution and focus on new business models.


We now see cars worth $3,000, computers worth $300 and cell phones worth $30. Innovative business models were for high-income class in the past but they are for middle and low-income classes now. New product/service lines are being implemented, too. Corporate governance, strategies and inter-institutional balances have changed gradually.


In the light of all these developments, threats to people and to the world are growing as well. Climate change, population increase, poverty, diseases and scarcity of natural sources cause wars and damage environment. If risk analyses for food safety and terrorism, in addition to the above, are not made properly and if preventive measures are not taken, this century might turn into a dark age.


We see that expectations are rising for shareholders to take more responsibility than powerful companies in developed and developing countries and that they should act accordingly. As companies decide strategies and business models, they have to minimize damage to environment.


At this point, the adaptation of environmentally friendly technologies, the development of new products based on these new technologies and the improvement of product/service quality come into picture.


Companies' sensitivity toward the society, region, and country they belong to attract investors, customers, workers and other shareholders. So they become more competitive in the long run. In this supply-and-demand chain, Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, which appeared in the 1990s, takes a further step, measures economic performances of companies in addition to environmental and social impacts and prepares reports. Social and environment impact assessments and carbon indicators are used in this while CSR sustainability reports in addition to financial reports of companies are published.


In order to have an idea about companies, it is not sufficient to look at economic data only. We need a tripod in order take a perfect picture. Similarly, environmental and social indicators are needed besides economic indicators so as to have an in-depth analysis of a company. Following these measures, the position of a company is determined and objectives are set. Companies work on policies to meet objectives. In the future, we will have the opportunity to see both financial report and the CSR report of a company.


As CSR is being accepted widely in the international arena, we are seeing debates over it continue and the concept is being enriched even more. We also see that other institutions besides the private sector are encouraging the CSR concept and internalizing it better.


CSR and CSR measurements for private sector are, as a matter of fact, a method that could be applied for general impact assessments of all other institutions and sectors.


Perhaps one of the key areas that could be applied is Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, which is still regarded as a measurement of universal living standard. GDP is the total market values of goods and services produced during a given period – usually one year.


However, for a country, the calculation of macroeconomic data does not provide satisfactory information about sustainable development and welfare unless social/environmental benefits and costs in the given country are uncalculated.


Neglecting these areas means a neglecting of the happiness measurement of a society, expectations and level of satisfaction; it doesn't give a fine picture of the society either. It doesn't provide adequate information about the position of a society, where it is heading and in this sense which objectives and policies need to be improved. It is not enough for financial reports of a company and for showing the level of development of a society.


Relating economic, social and environmental issues to the society shows Gross National Product, or GNP, macroeconomic data clearly in order to make aforementioned measures as additional supportive measures are also needed for economic data.


In order to apply these indicators in addition to GNP as supporting agents and to have a different perspective, they should be accepted internationally and applied easily. Numerous initiatives such as Human Development Index, Gender Development Index, Environment Sustainability Index, Carbon Footprint, Happy Planet Index and Millennium Development Index to examine environment, health (infant deaths, fertility, mothers' health, and disease), gender equality, poverty and work conditions support the GNP.


However, all need individual care and a new kind of calculation with the combination of required indicators is also needed. Of course, one should dwell upon whether or not all these calculations could be measured precisely as indicated by macroeconomic data, or how they could be used to support GNP.


The Global Reporting Initiative is preparing an international reporting standard for CSR as ISO 26000, which will be published in fall and will reveal international standards for CSR. Therefore, companies are preparing a CSR frame to reflect these values. The calculated GNP as an indicator of a country's wealth, likewise, needs to go through a reconstruction phase. Various countries, the European Union and international organizations have launched a series of works for the calculation methods of social welfare, happiness and environmental impact.


I hope Turkey will bring different shareholders and partners together in order to follow developments and take an active role in creating methods.


* Mr. Serdar Dinler is the president of the Corporate Social Responsibility Association.










It has to be underlined in all clarity that the apparent change in the policies and political approaches of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, just because that party has changed its leader is itself a manifestation of the crooked and leader-dominated political setup in this country.


Put aside the disquieting pressures on the media that constitute a serious impediment to the progress of democracy in this land - unless and until Turkey scraps the current laws covering political party activities and regulating elections, it will be impossible to democratize politics, and without democratizing politics, it will be impossible to achieve a truly democratic country. Definitely, democratizing the legislation covering political party activities and regulating elections will not solve the entire web of anti-democratic woes of this country. But without providing liberty and democracy in politics, unchaining politicians from the tyranny of party leaders and of course achieving full respect to freedom of thought, despite all other so-called democratic reforms or openings, Turkey cannot achieve to transform itself from a "peculiar democracy" into a full-fledged democratic country.


Naturally, the CHP officially proposing Parliament to reduce the electoral threshold from the current 10 percent level to a lower 7 percent level has to be applauded even though a 7 percent threshold will still be very high. Yet, this was the first time that the CHP came up officially with such a proposal that reflected a change in the mentality of the main opposition party. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was reluctant to take action on the 10 percent electoral threshold issue, believed to have been serving the larger parties and keeping away from Parliament minority parties, and thus minority political tendencies.


The proposal underlined as well that CHP's new chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who had declared in his convention speech that he would both take rapid moves to establish democracy within the CHP, start composing candidate lists through by-elections rather than being composed by the party headquarters and work to reduce the electoral threshold. The CHP is still very much the same CHP. The CHP parliamentary group is still composed of the same deputies as we have not yet gone to an election. But there is a new leader in the seat of the party chairman, and the main opposition party is no longer conducting politics through selling fears – such as the famous "secularism is under threat" theme. Instead, the CHP has been concentrating on the one hand on poverty, unemployment, economic hardships, that is problems faced by the ordinary people, and on the other on structural problems of the country, such as the electoral threshold and the constitutional amendment package, which may accelerate the tilt towards autocracy in this country .


The CHP proposal is definitely not satisfactory, as even a conditional 7 percent threshold will be a very high one, still compromising seriously the justice in representation principle for the sake of stability in governance. In Western democracies the electoral threshold is around three to five percent. Yet, it is a very significant step in the right direction.




The first impediment in front of the proposal is of course the famous constitutional stipulation that changes in the election law cannot be applied in elections held less than 12 months after Parliament completes such legislation. Even if the AKP agrees and the CHP proposal becomes law, Turkey will go to polls the latest on July 24 next year.


Furthermore, neither the AKP nor the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, are expected to support the CHP proposal at a time when the country has de-facto entered the campaign period for the referendum on the constitutional amendment package. Even though a conditional 7 percent electoral threshold is still too high, if applied, it would mean the AKP might produce 30 to 35 less deputies than it would have with the current threshold.


Yet, if with a miraculous development the CHP proposal becomes law, it will be a modest but very important step towards the creation of a parliament where at least some minority views might find the chance of representation.


Anyway, people who want a democratic Turkey must continue to hope that Turkey will one day replace the current anti-democratic political party laws and the election law with new texts more in conformity with Western norms of democracy.








The prices of 71 items are set to soar after the government imposes reformed GST at 15 per cent, from October 1. Items that were previously exempted will come under the new tax net imposed in keeping with IMF conditionalities. As a result of agreement reached between men who sit in air-conditioned rooms and sip cool glasses of mineral water as they decide the fate of millions, people across the country will suddenly encounter new hardships. They can do nothing to ease them. GST has been imposed on items without which people cannot make do. They include fresh poultry, live animals, fish, vegetables, pulses, ice, red chillies, ginger and other items without which kitchens cannot run. It is a hazard to fall sick too. The price of saline and dextrose drips will also rise as a result of the taxation as will that of animal feed and building materials. These are by no means luxury items. Already the vast majority of people struggle to manage their households. It may become virtually impossible for them to do so once the new tax comes in.

What can the government be thinking? The new GST goes beyond the measures previously laid down. The fact is that for more and more people life is becoming next to impossible. Even beyond the poorest in society, those who live on salaries or small-business incomes struggle to manage. Once amounts for utility bills, rents, school fees and the other essentials of life are taken away, little remains. Even relatively small crises mean debt, either to credit card companies or to private lenders. The plight of people unable to manage, quite literally unable to live, leaves the government apparently unmoved. There are no suggestions as to what those who do not possess lavish bank accounts and other resources should do. Even opposition parties have done little to respond to the situation or come up with concrete proposals as to how things should be managed. People are already bowed double under their burdens. The new GST imposition will add to their grief. We wonder how much further pressure they can sustain and how long the surreal story unfolding in Pakistan can continue without reaching a dramatic climax of one kind or the other. Anger after all needs an outlet. We wonder how people will express theirs.







Sunday, July 11, was World Population Day, a day designated by the UN to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues worldwide, especially in the context of development plans and programmes. During this year 60 countries are counting their populations by census, the only statistical operation to cover the entire population of any country. Why does anybody need a census? Because access to good reliable data is a component of good governance, as well as transparency and accountability – all areas where we could make significant improvement. Data on the population allows leaders to make informed decisions about the reduction of poverty and hunger, the structure of future education policies and priorities in the health sector. Of particular note for ourselves is that census data is a key tool in the handling of humanitarian crises, of which we sadly never seem to have a shortage. The theme of this year's World Population Day was 'Everyone counts' – because to be counted is to become visible. Again this has a particular reference to us; as many of our women and children are for whatever reason, invisible. But data which is sorted by age and gender can foster an increased responsiveness by policy makers to the rights and needs of women and children.

World Population Day has now passed, and it passed mostly unnoticed here in Pakistan. Our estimated population extrapolating from the last census is 169,971,000 which make us the sixth most populous country in the world. Our population growth rate stands at 1.6 per cent. At least 20 per cent of us (more depending on which model is used) live on less than $1.25 a day and about 45 per cent of us are food insecure – meaning that we may not always be sure where the next meal is coming from. We are living longer with life expectancy at birth now 63 for females and 62 for males, and we are the most urbanised population in South Asia with 50 per cent of us living in settlements bigger than 5,000 people. We are also running out of water, the power crisis is crippling industry and we live in a policy desert in respect of health and education. No wonder there was little to celebrate in Pakistan on World Population Day.













In the tragic aftermath of the Data Darbar bombings earlier this month, with emotions everywhere running high, few took note of an event that could in the future come back to haunt us. As anger soared, Sunni sects turned against each other – lashing out at property and individuals – to express their outrage. For some hours mobs rampaged through the streets. With sectarian violence already taking so heavy a toll on life each year, we can only imagine what the situation would be if Wahabis, Brehlvis, Deobandis and others turned on each other. This could happen. At one time it had been impossible to imagine Muslim groups would take on each other. The targeting of Shias represents the outcome of shortsightedness in the past that failed to see where a strategy of dividing people would lead. The discrimination we see towards Ahmadis is an outcome of similar narrowness of thought. But worse could lie ahead and we could see still greater mayhem everywhere. The warning signs are there. It would be reckless to ignore them.

We can prevent an increased division of people into narrow bands determined by sect and by nuances of belief only by striving to create a wider harmony. The central idea of nationhood, that all citizens are equal regardless of their religion, their race or their gender must be re-created. The idea has drifted away from our midst. This is one reason we see so much violence today. We must do all we can to prevent it from expanding still further. The state and also religious scholars must wake up to their responsibilities and accept that unless they do so the sectarian problem in our country may worsen and emerge in a still more dangerous form.







The subcontinent's leaders never learn from mistakes—their own, or one another's. Nawaz Sharif's White Elephant M-2 expressway was one of the greatest scandals in global infrastructure development history. Now, India is about to produce its match—in aviation, by building a $4 billion (Rs12,700 crore) new terminal at Delhi airport. Terminal-3, to be opened soon, is claimed to be the world's fifth-largest airport terminal, and bigger than Heathrow's Terminal 5 and Singapore 's Changi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh euphorically described T-3 as signifying the "arrival of a new India , committed to join the ranks of modern, industrialised nations …". 

T-3 is being commissioned just when the UK 's Conservative-led ruling coalition has abandoned plans for a third runway at London 's Heathrow airport, which Prime Minister David Cameron was keen on. T-3 will be seen by many as a manifestation of the global power shift: China , India and Brazil are ascending while the long-affluent Western economies decline. This over-reads the truth. The Heathrow runway wasn't abandoned primarily because Britain cannot afford it, but because environmentalists opposed it. With such projects, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation would exceed the UK 's entire GHG ceiling for 2050.

India's ruling elite favours gigantic projects in energy-intensive mining, industry, and high capital-cost infrastructure because it sees them as symbols of high modernity and prestige. For South Asia's rulers, modernity doesn't mean a society free of religious superstition and fanaticism, caste-ism and gender discrimination in which all citizens can equally develop their potential as free, rational human beings. Rather, their notion of modernity is gigantic, super-expensive buildings which bear no relationship to their function. 

This notion is perverse. Saudi Arabia —despite its huge palaces and wide expressways—won't be considered even remotely modern. Malaysia's international prestige came from its firmness in resisting the International Monetary Fund's pressure to open its financial markets during the 1997-98 East Asian crisis, not from the Kuala Lumpur-101, long the world's tallest building. 

Similarly, Beijing hosted the Olympics, and Shanghai built the world's fastest airport-city link. But that only drew passing admiration. China is more respected for its manufacturing, and export successes, following land reforms and provision of social services which combated poverty. The halo over the Burj Dubai and Mumbai's 117-storey WorldOne (planned to be the world's tallest residential building) will soon fade. 

So will Terminal-3's—but only after enormously damaging India 's transportation policies and its ability to combat climate change, which disproportionately affects underprivileged people. Clearance of the T-3 project was rushed just when Delhi airport's modernisation-expansion was well advanced. This included a new runway, a brand-new domestic departure terminal for private airlines, and considerable expansion of both the domestic arrivals and the entire international terminal.

This Rs5,000-crore-plus modernisation is creating an annual passenger-handling capacity of 30 million. (Delhi currently only handles 26 million.) This can be modestly expanded to cope with increased future demand with better instruments landing, all-weather radars and air traffic-control systems, faster movement through immigration, and more gates and aerobridges. 

All this could have been done incrementally, at low cost. But T-3, with an additional 34 million-passenger capacity, was promoted for prestige—and probably for huge payoffs and kickbacks from sweetheart deals totalling Rs12,000 crores. The contract was awarded to the GMR Group, which has no experience in airport construction. T-3 follows the public-private partnership (PPP) model, based on private profiteering at public expense. PPPs are leading to rising tolls and huge user fees even on rural roads, besides highways and airports.

Manmohan Singh is wrong about prestige. He said T-3 "would be a window to India , the first impression of the country …". But the visitor's lasting impression—of general squalor and stupendous rich-poor disparities, visible right outside the terminal—will prevail over the first impression.

T-3 is doubly obscene because 80 percent of the structure is glass. Glass loses 30 percent more warm or cooled air than insulated brick. Its production is expensive and emissions-intensive. It may have limited merit in a cold-climate airport which needs maximum sunlight—but not in Delhi . T-3's designers mindlessly imitated the West. Similarly, the liberal use of energy-intensive materials like aluminium and marble belies the claim that T-3 is a "green" building. 

T-3's greatest absurdity is that it will add to Delhi 's long-notorious airspace congestion. Few domestic flights take off or land in Delhi on time; most aircraft circle for 30-60 minutes. This is a tremendous waste of social time and costly fuel. A new terminal will worsen the congestion.

Projects like T-3 are being promoted in India on the specious plea that civil aviation is a public good and indicates social progress. But globally, aviation is increasingly seen as a social liability. Air travel is a major contributor of GHG emissions. Exhausts from airplanes, containing potent GHGs besides carbon dioxide, are 2.7 times more harmful at the altitude at which they occur than on the ground. Affluent air-travellers' emissions significantly widen global GHG disparities. 

Worldwide, sensible policymakers are seeking alternatives to planes, including trains, airships and waterways. The greatest alternative is reorganising cities to limit long-distance travel—and thus carbon footprints and travel bills. All of South Asia should join such efforts before addiction to air travel even for casual/holiday trips grows among their elites, and powerful private aviation lobbies capture policy-making. 

India and Pakistan are poor countries where only a minuscule minority can afford to fly. We shouldn't delude ourselves that aviation will become affordable for the millions who cannot even give their children enough nutrition. During the low-airfare peak, only three per cent of Indians flew. 

We must develop climate-friendly alternatives to flying. Trains are an excellent example. Today, the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani takes 16-17 hours to cover 1,400 km. If it can be accelerated to the global level of high-speed trains, it will cross the distance between the two city centres, the most convenient points, in about four hours. This is less than current flying time (2 hours), city-to-airport transit time, plus check-in margins. Most travellers would prefer trains to planes—as they do between Paris and Lyon, Madrid and Barcelona , and Tokyo and Kyoto. Similarly, there's no reason why the Lahore-Islamabad distance (360 km) can't be covered in one-and-a-half hours by rail.

Trains consume only about one-quarter as much energy as planes, and emit much less GHGs. Speeding up trains will need large emissions-relevant investments. But these would be only a fraction of what it costs to replicate White Elephants like T-3 and other emissions-intensive aviation infrastructure. 

Singh was obviously delighted when he said Indian aviation can "absorb" up to $120 billion (Rs564,000 crores) of investment by 2020. India could do wonders with such money for its healthcare, education and social security. Alternatively, it could build a first-class surface transport network appropriate to its needs. The sum represents one-eighth of India 's GDP. Should we blow up such colossal sums on socially low-priority aviation, and on super-expensive ecologically unsound projects like T-3? 

It's time to radically rethink our transportation and urban development policies in the light of equity, inclusiveness, energy efficiency and climate responsibility.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:








In the next general elections, due in 2013, those who indulged in plunder, default or forgery will once again be key contestants. The Election Commission will once again fail to verify the credentials of the candidates. The core committees will once again nominate the Gilanis. The Gilanis will once again promote the Dastis. The Dastis will once again get elected. Democracy will once again wreak revenge, on the people of Pakistan. 

An electoral process that consistently recycles the corrupt, the incompetent and the crooked can hardly be expected to usher in a democratic order. The only way of breaking this pattern is massive electoral reforms. 

The existing "first-past-the-post" (FPTP), or "winner-takes-all," voting system suffers from serious shortcomings. A candidate can win an election with as little as 30 per cent of the votes, if the remaining 70 per cent, where voters favour other parties, get divided into smaller portions. There can thus be a party with a majority of seats in parliament even when 70 per cent of the voters did not vote in its favour. 

More than 80 countries, including most Western democracies, now follow the proportional representation (PR) voting system, in which parties are assigned parliamentary seats in proportion to the total number of votes they obtain. This also increases voter turnout since every voter knows that his or her vote will impact the number of seats won by a given party and that each individual citizen can thereby "make a difference."

Pakistan should replace its existing FPTP system by proportional representation. In a PR system every party presents a list of candidates and people vote for the party as a whole. PR facilitates a better representation of all regions, minorities and smaller parties in parliament. If a small party received, say, only 5 per cent of the popular vote, it would be entitled to 5 per cent of the total number of seats. In a 340-seat legislature that would mean 17 seats, which would go to the top 17 names on the already declared list of the party. 

Electoral tensions and conflicts are greatly reduced because locally powerful and influential groups are not in direct clash with each other. Small parties and independent candidates have a much better chance as they can receive nationwide vote instead of just the vote from a local constituency. Thus, the PR system can cause major hifts in the profile of people who get elected to parliament. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan, the institution responsible for conducting elections, itself needs radical reforms and reconstruction. It has unwittingly abetted the repeated re-election of criminals. The Election Commission must be taken out of its "post office mode" in which it blindly receives and notifies whatever information is provided to it by candidates. The EC seemed completely helpless when it came to stopping a publicly recognised swindler in Muzaffargarh being a contestant in elections twice in two years. The EC has also consistently failed to disqualify candidates when they made false declarations of assets or grossly exceeded limits to their election expenditures.

Modern states cannot be run by half-literate feudals. High standards must be defined for candidates' qualification to enable the most competent people to enter the lawmaking process. Anyone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or presentation of false evidence or fraudulent documents should be permanently ineligible to contest elections. 

The amendment that enables a rapist or murderer to contest elections if five years have elapsed from the date of his release from jail needs to be nullified. Those possessing the nationality, passport or permanent residence of a foreign country should also be ineligible. Complete information about each participant (nationality, assets, tax paid, educational qualifications or any criminal record) must be open to public scrutiny, The details should be placed on a website and printed in newspapers at least two months before the election.

Voters should have the option of negative voting. Negative votes send out a stark message of the number of voters who expressed lack of trust in a certain candidate. Where the negative votes in a constituency are more than the highest votes received by a candidate, all candidates are made to step down and there is re-election in that constituency.

Massive campaigns for voter-awareness and voter-education should begin on the print and electronic media at least two years before elections. Besides explaining the voting procedure, the campaigns should make voters aware of parameters for evaluation of a candidate. 

The existing voter lists needs to be cleansed of anomalies and inaccuracies. Specific details of a candidate's constituency, voter name, NIC number, address and polling stations should be computerised, linked with NADRA and displayed on websites and at public places, for people to check and point out any discrepancies.

On voting day, the government should provide free transportation to voters to the polling stations. Political parties and candidates should be barred from providing transport, making payments or arranging free meals to influence voters. 

The Indians have been using electronic voting machines (EVMs) since 1999. For the 2013 elections, Pakistan should also use these tamper-proof, portable machines that in addition save on printing, securing, transportation. The prevent ballot-stuffing, as well as miscounting of ballot papers. 

The army should be asked to supervise polling stations to prevent terrorism, lawlessness, bogus voting and harassment. Cameras should be installed at all polling stations. 

At the same time, intra-party elections must be made mandatory if Pakistan is to be rid of dynastic and fascist political parties.

The system of "separate electorates" should be done away with, and people of all faiths should vote as equal members of a common electorate. Now is the time to initiate a serious debate on reforming our electoral process. Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Must we prove this right in our elections?

The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues. Email:







Most of us face illness and/or mental worries at some point in our lives, causing us to seek medical treatment or benediction. While medical treatment and medicines can cure a disease, benediction is neither visible nor can it be purchased. It can only be felt. People tend to pray for deliverance from serious, chronic or incurable diseases. And when they are under severe anxiety and mental agony, especially when they cannot find solace or relief from other sources. But solace lies not only in intercession by others, but in large part on self-help. 

If one can afford to do so, the best available specialists may be consulted in the case of illness, but when in mental stress and anxiety, religion is often the only way to seek relief. Added to this may be other techniques such as relaxation, contemplation and exercise. When all is going well, human nature is such that we easily forget to pray to and thank the Almighty for all we have. It is when we are under duress or in need that we call for help. This has been so aptly described by Allah in the following verse: "When a trouble touches a man, he cries unto Us (in all postures)–lying down, on his side, sitting or standing. But when We have solved his trouble, he passes on his way as if he had never cried to Us for a trouble that touched him. Thus do the deeds of transgressors seem fair in their eyes." (10:12.) Human nature is also referred to in the following way: "Man does not weary of asking for good things, but if ill touches him he gives up all hope and is lost in despair. (41:49.) In other words, we give up too easily and don't continue struggling for a solution and exploring all options. 

Most people, when in trouble, search for religious personalities to pray for them, but in doing so often end up falling victim to exploitation by fake "pirs." The prayers of such hypocrites (if they actually pray) are never listened to by Allah and those concerned end up losing their money, and the problems they are already facing remain unresolved. Those who are genuinely pious usually advise people to pray directly to Almighty Allah as He is kind to people in distress and will listen to his/her heartfelt prayers.

Even in the Quran we are warned of fake pirs and ulema. "O you who believe! There are indeed many among the priests, hermits and monks who in falsehood devour the substance of human beings and hinder them from the way of Allah. (9:34.)

It is not for nothing that so many of these so-called pirs and saints or heads of religious parties have a bad reputation. Nobody would be willing to swear for their honesty and integrity. Unlike the religious personalities of yesteryear who lived most humbly and honestly and showed no interest in worldly comfort and luxuries, present-day pirs lead a luxurious life, living in large bungalows with all amenities and the services of their acolytes. They drive expensive four-wheel drives, own shopping plazas, mills, factories, etc., and even manage to become senators, members of the National and Provincial Assemblies, ministers and advisors. In the past, humble, God-fearing religious-minded people were highly respected, both by the public and by the rulers, and everyone sought their advice and guidance. At times of natural calamities–floods, earthquakes, droughts–they were requested to pray for salvation as it was believed that their prayers were of great value. Very often their prayers were answered by the Almighty. 

The point I would like to make here is that behaviour and mental attitudes have totally changed over time. Honesty has been replaced by dishonesty and truth by hypocrisy, without general condemnation from those around. It is not uncommon to find quacks replacing doctors and to find that the market is full of spurious medicines instead of only proper ones. Unfortunately, we have nothing to blame for this but human nature and our own actions. 

The only way we can save ourselves from this curse is by becoming honest and God-fearing and then struggling to improve our own lot and that of our fellow human beings. History is full of examples of nations which were poor and backward but, by working hard, struggling, bearing their suffering with patience and gratitude, managed to turn themselves into advanced, industrialised, prosperous countries. 

Unfortunately the spirit required for this kind of action is scarce and hard to find in our country. Everyone wants to be rich and live a good life today, not tomorrow. We suffer from a defeatist personality and expect everything to be taken care of by the Almighty without the willingness to make any sacrifices ourselves for betterment in the long run. Admittedly, there are many things about which we, the common people, can do nothing but we should, nonetheless, look around us and learn from examples. 

After the Second World War, Korea, Germany and Japan were totally destroyed and bankrupt. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of their people, they became world economic powers within the span of one generation, almost before our very eyes. And look at the miraculous transition made by our Chinese friends. Hardly 30 years ago they were still underdeveloped, struggling to feed and clothe their people and bravely facing vicious and mischievous economic blockades and isolation. Now they are an economic world power and even their onetime vocal enemy, the USA, is having to borrow from them and begging them not to take any economic measure that would hurt its economy. It is amazing to see how China has transformed from a poor, underdeveloped country into a rich, highly developed world power in every sense of the word. Those of us who visited the old China and had the opportunity of visiting after its development are truly amazed by the transformation. 

How have these countries managed to achieve this stability and prosperity? By sheer hard work, honesty, dedication and sacrifices in their initial stages of recovery/development. Add to that the edicts of Almighty Allah which we, as Muslims, have been clearly told to follow, and you have a solution. We have been told in unambiguous terms:

1.       Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves. (13:11.)

2. That man can have nothing but what he strives for. (53:39.)

All this leads but to one conclusion–while bodily ailments can be cured by proper medical care, mental/psychological conditions require both medicines and/or benediction. Furthermore, it also clearly denounces a defeatist attitude. The national ailment of poverty and backwardness can only be tackled by following the commands of our Creator to struggle, to work hard and to be sincere and honest.







The energy, time and money Pakistan puts into politics, politicking and the art of wheeling-and-dealing blow the mind and the national wallet. Read any publication and there's a scandal brewing, a politician staging a "dharna" about something, a scam in the works, or a disagreement about something or the other. All the quotes contained in these stories will shave a few points off your IQ by the time you're done reading them. There's no logic and reason, and mostly not a shred of common sense displayed by those who are supposed to have all these qualities if they are to lead a nation to some degree of normality. In short a Vulcan would commit suicide in Pakistan.


For those of you who haven't ever watched Star Trek and aren't familiar with the Vulcans I would recommend a trip to the movie wala immediately. The Vulcans are a race in the epic sci-fi series and movies who are immensely enlightened, tolerant, logical and scientific. Their entire society runs on reason and logic, and their core function is to gain more knowledge of everything they don't know about – which is very little. Basically, they are everything we're not. My question is: where did all the Vulcans go from Pakistan? Mohammad Ali Jinnah was perhaps the last of the Vulcans and he died. I have stopped referring to Mr Jinnah as Quaid given the number of Quaids who have popped up all over the country and who aren't a fraction of the man the great leader was. Did all our Vulcans go extinct due to a huge fireball of stupidity and absurdity? Did they just realise that their kind wasn't welcome in the new Pakistan? Or did the raptors hound them out systematically? We will never know the facts but we can hypothesise for sure.

If anyone doubts that we have very few Vulcans left in Pakistan, please throw on the idiot box and get back to me. Talk shows, analysts, politicians, "leaders" – no one wants to talk any sense anymore. All anyone wants to do is push emotional buttons, talk gibberish and when all else fails resort to invoking religion. I've seen more gravitas and common sense in four-year-olds than I do when I watch our gladiatorial pygmies on television. I've always maintained that while the South Americans have had their football, and the North Americans have had their soap operas, us Pakistanis are fascinated by our political soap operas. Evening conversation – politics. Lunch conversation – politics. Dinner conversation – politics. When my wife moved to Karachi this was one of her first observations – don't you guys talk about anything but politics? As a husband it was my duty to give her a long-winded explanation on why it was so important to be involved, but really she was right. It seems that other than business and politics we want to talk about very little else.

Our relationship with science, technology and innovation is also tragic. Tragic as in Greek tragic. Years of indoctrination that somehow science is not compatible with religion, bad schools/universities, series of clueless and uninterested governments later we are at the bottom of the tables when it comes to all three. Most of the great scientists we had were hounded out of the country. Instead we were left with self-promoting metallurgists. Our society's relationship with teachers and professors also has changed dramatically. Not valuing them in what they can impart but rather more interested in the end results that they can produce. The two-track education system has not helped either. Once the "peela" schools could produce giants like Dr Abdus Salam. Today they're lucky if their poor teacher shows up – a teacher whose salary is the same as a driver in Karachi. While our leaders prattle off speeches on the value of innovation, science and technology, most of them would be hard-pressed to have a five-minute conversation on any of them – intelligently. 

Yet there are sleeper cells of Vulcans who still operate in Pakistan. I think they keep the whole thing going. You can see their work even if you can't see them. If it weren't for them there is no way things could go on. As a society we need to believe that things aren't quite right and that we need to fix them. If not for ourselves then for our children and grandchildren. If we can find logical, elegant and simple solution to our problems without resorting to conspiracies and funny talking men in berets and red fez's there's a lot to be optimistic about. Until then we can go back to watching the idiot box and getting stupider. 

The writer lives in Karachi. Email: shakir.







The writer is opinion editor of the Khaleej Times. 

It's nearly seven years since I visited Kashmir as a guest of the J&K Tourism. Fond memories of that week-long visit to the land that Mughal emperor Jahangir insisted was 'paradise on earth' remain as fresh as the valley's incredible landscape. 

The experience of staying at the magnificent Grand Palace, former residence of Maharaja Hari Singh, overlooking Dal Lake and against the backdrop of the Pir Panjal mountain range, is enough to last for a lifetime. The rich Kashmiri cuisine that reminded me so much of our own and the warmth of my hosts and friends added to the experience. 

At the end of that trip in the spring of 2003 I promised my friends that I'd visit the valley every year. It's a shame I haven't been able to keep that promise. However, I've stayed in touch with my friends in Kashmir. Some of them write to me now and then commenting on my articles, invariably asking me why I never wrote about Kashmir.

Indeed, for all my love and admiration for Kashmir and its people, I have been running scared of the 'K' word. (Not that an opinion piece in a distant, foreign newspaper by a little known writer really made a difference to the existence of Kashmiri people). Maybe it's because of the red lines that Indian Muslims have drawn around themselves. 

Having long carried the cross of Partition, the Indian Muslim finds it difficult to talk about his own problems, let alone take on the Kashmiris' existential angst. No wonder most Kashmiris despise us. As for the rest of India, Kashmir is like another planet. For all our tolerance and liberal ethos, we still cringe at any discussion involving Kashmir and the appalling humanitarian situation in the state. 

The K word has acquired a radioactive nature of its own. India and Pakistan, their media, establishments and armies have fought so long and so bitterly over Kashmir that even the most innocuous, harmless discussion involving genuine concerns and problems of Kashmiri people is impossible today. Except for some solitary, but immensely courageous voices, there's been deafening silence in the media on the humanitarian disaster brewing in the state that has become a matter of great national prestige for us. 


But this is no time to hide and remain silent. Kashmir is burning. And if something is not done soon, the heat will be felt by the rest of India — and the world. If we really care about India and all that it stands for and represents, we must speak out against the shame of human-rights abuses going on in the valley. 

I have watched with growing horror increasing reports of innocent, young boys – as young as 13 – dying in police firing and so-called encounters with security forces. No week passes without people coming out on the streets even in remote villages over some killing or other. 

"In Kashmir Valley," writes Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, "where gross violation of human rights results in anger spilling out on the roads in the form of protests and stone-pelting, the agencies are unsparing, responding to every voice, every stone with a bullet. Young boys and men disappear and one hears about them only when 'encounters with militants' turn out to be fake, the dead men turning out to be missing men and not foreign militants as claimed."

Last week, three young men were killed in police firing and clashes with security forces, one after another, sparking massive protests all over the state. This week, two more people have been killed in police firing and clashes. The valley has been regularly rocked by protests over the killings and disappearances of young Kashmiris for years now. 

Nearly hundred thousand people have been claimed by the current round of conflict that began in the late 1980s. Thousands of Kashmiri men – and boys — have disappeared never to return. But the cost is much higher. Ghastly scars of this long-running conflict are not always visible. From the Shopian rape and murder episode to the brutalities meted out on a daily basis, it's a long tale of betrayal and a love affair turning into a nightmare. 

International rights groups say that almost every home in Kashmir today has someone either missing or emotionally scarred or both. Hospitals have little clue how to deal with the never-ending deluge of psychologically damaged people. In any case, you can't treat acute mental trauma and scars of the soul with aspirin or those meaningless bottles of glucose. 


How did Jahangir's 'firdous' end up like this? Perhaps both India and Pakistan share responsibility for this state of affairs. Their bitter rivalry – and many wars – for this coveted piece of territory has turned Kashmir into a large prison for its people from which they can neither escape nor hope for release. If Kashmir had been treated as a living people, rather than as a prized piece of real estate, the Kashmir knot would have been resolved long ago.

Personally speaking, as an Indian, I would want nothing better than have Kashmir with us. With its fabled religious and cultural diversity, Kashmir is perhaps the best example of India's own breathtaking plurality. It has been home to both Hazratbal and the Amarnath temple for centuries. Srinagar's Jama Masjid and Shankaracharya's temple have long coexisted in harmony. Look at the map and see how it seems to sit like a crown on India's head. 

But we can't protect this crown at gunpoint. 

We cannot continue to claim Kashmir belongs to India even as we drive its people away with our actions. The bulk of India's security forces – a whopping 716,000 – are deployed in Kashmir, the heaviest concentration of troops anywhere in the world. Take a walk along the Dal Lake in Srinagar and there are more soldiers on the road than civilians. 


With so many soldiers on the march and throwing their weight around, it's a virtual battlefront out there. Is it any wonder then there's so much of resentment against the security forces in Kashmir today? That powder keg of anger and frustration blows up every now and then at the slightest provocation. With so many jackboots on the ground, how can we ever hope to win Kashmiri hearts and minds?

During his recent visit to the state, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked of "creative political and economic initiatives" to address the Kashmiri alienation. He also talked of an economic roadmap to put the state on the road to progress. 

While 'creative' solutions are welcome, when will our leaders in Delhi realise that it's not economic dispossession but lack of political empowerment and continuing atrocities that are at the heart of Kashmiri alienation? Dr Singh also warned of "zero tolerance" for human-rights violations. Once again, a welcome assertion! But why are those responsible for the shame of Shopian and other outrages still at large?

I don't know if and when the K knot will ever be resolved between India and Pakistan. But if India's leaders really want to win back Kashmiri hearts and minds, they must get the army out of Kashmir now. Right away. Before it's too late! India is loved and admired the world over for its democracy, its philosophy of peace, love and tolerance. What's going on in Kashmir doesn't gel with these ideals. We can win Kashmir only with love, not at gunpoint. Kashmir is the land of love and peace, the land of Sufis and saints. Let's not turn it into a battleground. Please!







Barely able to walk she struggled into the accident and emergency department at my local hospital. She had an infection on her leg that stubbornly refused to respond to treatment and I had brought Sakina for some 'proper doctoring' – or so I thought. Chaos prevailed. Relatives pushed trolleys around, a child with an airway inserted was having a back-arching spasm and a man mangled in a traffic accident breathed his last in front of us as we waited to see the doctor. His examination was perfunctory to say the least and he made no attempt to take a history – how she came to have the infection on her leg. The x-ray showed nothing of significance and we left with a prescription for yet more antibiotics and I knew that this was not the solution.

Twenty-four hours passed, Sakina got worse, I got worried and called a friend. If there is one lesson I have learned it is the utility of networking in Pakistan, and on my network is one of the finest doctors in southern Punjab. Would he see my servant at his hospital? Messages sent on Facebook and by email produced a rapid response – come tonight at 8.30.

The contrast between public and private medicine was painfully stark. The waiting area was clean. Nobody died lying on a trolley in full view of a fascinated audience. There was a sense of calm orderliness and then we saw The Doc. I have known him for several years as a friend and we talk politics every time we meet, but he was instantly focused on a poor small woman with a painful swelling on her right leg. He asked all the right questions and it was not long before we had a diagnosis that fitted a lot more closely with my own guess – there was a foreign body in her leg causing the infection and this is why the wound was not healing. Minor surgery necessary.

Saturday morning and a very nervous Sakina got operated on quickly and effectively in sterile conditions by a man who knew one end of a scalpel from the other. He found a splinter of wood deep in her leg and it is going to take a couple of weeks to heal. The wound was dressed on Sunday by a smiling nurse who was gentle and reassuring and Sakina is going to get better.

The other option, the option outside my network, was possible death. Had a proper history been taken by the doctor at my local hospital a correct diagnosis could have been arrived at and she could have been treated appropriately. Had there not been a Doubting Thomas such as myself she would have gone on her way, the infection would have rapidly worsened and it could have been the end of her.

I have no wish to pillory unfairly a public health facility where I have been well-treated myself on more than one occasion – as has Sakina four years ago. However, I strongly suspect that the 'gora factor' might have something to do with this even though it did not work this time around. My unexpected appearance more or less anywhere still provokes a flurry of busy-ness and feigned efficiency, be it in a hospital or an office or even my local supermarket where I am a weekly customer. It should not be like that but it is. Perhaps I am such a familiar figure around Bahawalpur these days that the gora-factor is wearing off, and I get treated like everybody else. Mental note to self – next time you need health care Cork...go private.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








THERE has been a genuinely strong resentment in the media community over the shocking passage of a Resolution in the Punjab Assembly with scathing remarks against journalists. The journalists throughout the country showed unanimity in condemning the resolution and PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif, now in London, expressed his solidarity with them by terming the resolution as malicious and went to the extent by asking Punjab Chief Minister to kick Sanaullah Khan Mastikhel out of the party.

Though Mian Saheb has taken a principled position on the resolution against the media, but the question arises why Mastikhel did what he did? At whose behest he moved the resolution? The speeches in the Assembly launching frontal attacks against media, anchorpersons and reporters astonished the visitors while reporters present in the gallery boycotted the proceedings. No body took notice of the boycott and the members continued spitting venom without any interruption or objection from any member over the derogatory language used though unparliamentary language used is normally expunged from the record. The fact of the matter is that anti-media tirade has been prompted by the fake degrees issue and some of the members were upset over the exposure of their forgery, as media had been highlighting this issue day in and day out. Majority of these members in their talk shows and press conferences in the past had been eulogising the role of Media during movement for the restoration of independent judiciary and for exposing corruption in different departments. Now when it came to the fake degrees issue they joined hands against the media which exposed those who forged the documents or obtained fake degrees to contest elections. No society can tolerate people who indulge in corrupt practices what to talk of the elected representatives. The media is therefore justified to question that if these representatives of the people could commit forgery to get themselves elected, they might stoop low to more unethical pratices. Thus feeling the punch, the resolution was moved which is a reflection of culture of defiance and arrogance at the Centre and in the Provinces. Even there is talk of unseating the Chief Justice and uncalled for utterances are being made to teach lesson to those not following the lines. In our view the Resolution was part of a wider conspiracy to gag the media and poor Mastikhel fell into the trap.







THERE has been a genuinely strong resentment in the media community over the shocking passage of a Resolution in the Punjab Assembly with scathing remarks against journalists. The journalists throughout the country showed unanimity in condemning the resolution and PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif, now in London, expressed his solidarity with them by terming the resolution as malicious and went to the extent by asking Punjab Chief Minister to kick Sanaullah Khan Mastikhel out of the party.

Though Mian Saheb has taken a principled position on the resolution against the media, but the question arises why Mastikhel did what he did? At whose behest he moved the resolution? The speeches in the Assembly launching frontal attacks against media, anchorpersons and reporters astonished the visitors while reporters present in the gallery boycotted the proceedings. No body took notice of the boycott and the members continued spitting venom without any interruption or objection from any member over the derogatory language used though unparliamentary language used is normally expunged from the record. The fact of the matter is that anti-media tirade has been prompted by the fake degrees issue and some of the members were upset over the exposure of their forgery, as media had been highlighting this issue day in and day out. Majority of these members in their talk shows and press conferences in the past had been eulogising the role of Media during movement for the restoration of independent judiciary and for exposing corruption in different departments. Now when it came to the fake degrees issue they joined hands against the media which exposed those who forged the documents or obtained fake degrees to contest elections. No society can tolerate people who indulge in corrupt practices what to talk of the elected representatives. The media is therefore justified to question that if these representatives of the people could commit forgery to get themselves elected, they might stoop low to more unethical pratices. Thus feeling the punch, the resolution was moved which is a reflection of culture of defiance and arrogance at the Centre and in the Provinces. Even there is talk of unseating the Chief Justice and uncalled for utterances are being made to teach lesson to those not following the lines. In our view the Resolution was part of a wider conspiracy to gag the media and poor Mastikhel fell into the trap.







THE devastating suicide attack in Ekkaghund town of violence stricken Mohamand Agency on Friday which killed 104 innocent people and injured an equal numbers, is a reminder that Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and adjoining tribal agencies are still in the grip of militancy and uncertainty despite continuing operations by the security agencies to cleanse the area from the menace of terrorism. The attack in Mohmand Agency was one of the deadliest in the tribal areas and came after the one at Data Darbar in Lahore. These attacks, after a relative calm of a couple of months, give the clear message that the militants are not on the run but they have recouped the losses and launching counter attacks with vengeance.


According to reports the incident has further shaken the confidence of the people who were under the impression that things were settling down and with the passage of time the situation would normalize. Banned Tehrik-i-Taliban which claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement said their target was a peace Jirga of Ambar Tehsil tribes people, which was taking place in the office of the political agent at that time. The suicide attack is a proof that the militants have enough capacity to target people whom they consider as a danger to their hold in the area. They have been attempting to target the houses of members of peace committees in the tribal areas and in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa particularly in Peshawar. Over the past couple of months, Peshawar and other parts of the KP had been in relative calm due to security measures taken by the authorities but it appears that the militants had also deliberately retreated to draw up a new strategy. Though operations were carried out in South Waziristan and other agencies but the suicide attacks indicate that suicide bombers are still being trained, equipped and sent out to bleed the nation, create uncertainty and destabilize the country. This situation has once again created uncertainty and added to the worries of KP Government. It is irony that innocent people who are not party to the conflict are suffering. As we have been repeatedly emphasising, there is need to revisit the whole policy and strategy to pacify the situation. This is only possible if our intelligence agencies are able to identify the hideouts, training centres of the militants and cut their supply lines of arms and finances










Indian Army Chief General VK Singh, has recently opined that political initiatives will be more crucial than the security requirements of India in the occupied State of Jammu and Kashmir and that such initiatives need to be all-inclusive and must take on board the people of Kashmir. General Singh was of the impression that the internal security situation has been 'brought under control' and it is because of the 'forces which have sacrificed with their blood' to achieve this. Fresh spate of riots and ensuing curfew clamping in IHK certainly point towards much more of such 'sacrifices' which India's security forces are posed to continue making in Kashmir. India's colonial mindset has bared its teeth yet once again.

Violence is back in Kashmir, courtesy unrelenting atrocities by Indian security forces mandated under special powers and equipped with torture weapons. The underlying reason for the current upheaval is the brutal rape, murder and subsequent cover-up by Indian soldiers in Sopore. This saga was never forgotten nor is it likely to be forgotten. Indian military continues to use rape, torture and murder as weapons duly authorised by the state and union governments.

Current wave of uprising in Kashmir covers Anantnag, Aachidorian, Srinagar, Kupwara, Bandipura, Budgam, Phulawan, Kagan, Sumbal Handwara, Rajwari areas etc. Over a dozen people have been killed by the Central Reserve Police Force. Their only fault was that they were protesting against the state terrorism perpetrated by police and military. Periodically long spell curfews have been imposed and cell phone services have been suspended. Indian Home Minister Chidambaram has asked the IHK government to act 'strongly' and has promised support from the centre.

Indian media has gone crazy to generate an impression that violence in IHK picked up momentum after the Home Minister returned from Pakistan and just as talks are about to get underway. As we know India has never been enthusiastic about talks, and it has been brought to this point under international pressure, hence it is preparing the environment for blaming Pakistan for instigating violence in Kashmir. On this pretext India could walk away from the dialogue on as required basis. 

It is interesting that the worsening of Kashmir situation comes just when Pakistan's importance for the Afghan situation is being recognized and there is a move towards national reconciliation and integration in Afghanistan. n this process Pakistan is playing the lead role, something that India can not stomach.

Decades old struggle for independence in IHK has its own peculiarities. Kashmiri's have never accepted the Indian rule, and as a corollary, Indians have never trusted Kashmiri populace. These two perceptions often superimpose each other to give periodic impetus to the freedom movement if ever it falls short on steam. When authorities imposed strict curfew restrictions in most parts of Srinagar and closed the schools and colleges after protestors appealed to students to hold anti-India rallies, thousands of people came out in streets to defy curfew while shouting "we want freedom". Writ of state was effectively challenged. Cruel Kashmir and Central Reserve Police Forces which have only guns at their command to tackle the protests aggravated the situation. The use of force against the protesters agitating against successive killings in the firing was indeed brutal and without restraint. 

Deaths of protesters, in the last three weeks, have triggered the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two years, across Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. As per his rote script, Indian Home Minister Chidambaram has accused Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (Indian equivalent of American term 'Al-Qaida'), being behind these snowballing anti-India protests, but majority of locals believe that the protests are mostly spontaneous and home grown.

Indian occupation forces in IHK are fighting against Kashmiri freedom movement, which is a popular political struggle. So far all efforts to suppress this movement have failed. Kashmiri youth appears to be highly determined to fight for their just cause of self determination. Their elders have sacrificed their lives and honour for freedom and have suffered grave losses in the hands of powerful Indian occupation army. 


Indian army has started a campaign to humiliate Kashmiris. Objective is to inflict emotional and psychological pressures so that the people of Kashmir give up their struggle for self determination. Admitting that human rights violations at the hands of security forces 'do occur' in IHK, the Indian Prime Minister in his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir said, "The security forces in state have been strictly instructed to respect the rights of civilians".

It was in response to such observations that the former Kashmir Chief Minister and the current Chief Minister's father, talked of the "trust deficit" between New Delhi and Kashmiris. This sentiment is also shared by Vijay Dhar, the son of late DP Dhar, "Indians have not been able to give Kashmiri Muslims a sense of belonging, a partnership in the Indian enterprise." 

The baton of struggle for right of self determination has successfully passed on to next generation. This generation grew up watching the fate of that segment of Kashmiri population that opted to go along with Indian occupation in exchange for limited political gains. Elders as well as children of such clans know the hard reality that their families have been used as puppets for perpetuating Indian hegemony over Kashmir. Pro-India elements have become irrelevant. 

The conflict in Kashmir has cost tens of thousands of lives since the revolt against New Delhi got rejuvenated two decades ago. It is the firm belief of younger generation that only a homegrown struggle could lead to a solution in Kashmir in line with the aspirations of Kashmiris. Essence of the matter is that the issue must be solved quickly through a participative political process involving Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. But Indians remain content with accomplishing firefighting through brutality. This certainly is not likely to lead towards a perennial solution. It only reinforces the resolve of suffering people to continue to till the finish line. 

People of Kashmir are struggling to keep the issue alive. Pakistan needs to undertake a supportive campaign to correct the international perception by unscrambling this legitimate freedom struggle from terrorism. Likewise, UN needs to wake up to the reality and implement its resolutions on plebiscite. 

—Writer is an analyst of international security, current affairs and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.









According to a recent report on Human Rights violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir by Indian Army and its paramilitary forces, there have been deaths of 93,274 innocent Kashmiri from 1989 to June 30, 2010. Besides this alarming figure of open killings by its security forces, there have been 6,969 custodial killings, 117,345 arrests, destruction, and razing of 105,861 houses and other physical structures in the use of the community as a whole. The brutal security forces have orphaned over 107, 351 children, widowed 22,728 women and gang raped 9,920 women. In June 2010 only, there have been 33 deaths including four children besides, torturing and injuring 572 people. The brutal Indian security forces molested eight women during this one month. This brief account indeed, is the reality of Indian achievements on which they are trumpeting for their success in the Kashmir through counter insurgency operations. 

It seems that non-condemnation of these Indian acts of massive human rights violations, by the so-called civilized international community has further encouraged India to step-up its brutalities on the armless Kashmiri masses. Indian authorities are not willing to talk with Kashmiri people on political grounds. India perhaps reached to a conclusion that only bullet is the right way of dealing with Kashmiris, demanding their right of self-determination. Surprisingly, Indian successive governments are trying to ignore the dynamics of the Kashmiris movement for the freedom from the Indian rule. This indeed is the continuation of their resistance against the Dogra Rule, started in early part of the 20th century. On July 13, 1931, the Dogra authorities ordered firing on a group of peaceful Kashmiri Protestants in Jammu, resultant killing of dozens of innocent Kashmiris. Thereafter, there has been no letup in the oppression of the Dogra rule until its end in October 1947. The end of the Dogrea rule was marked by the beginning of the Hindu rule, another repressive rule on the Kashmiris, which is continuing. People of Kashmir feels that, "The martyrs who sacrificed their precious lives for Kashmir cause teach us all not to bow before the forces even if one has to sacrifice his life."

India misperceived that the temporary halt in the armed struggle of Kashmiris after 2002, is because of its counter-insurgency operation. Indeed, from 2003 onwards, there appeared a change in the Indian attitude, and it was thought that, as Pakistan, India is also sincere in the resolution of Kashmir dispute. In January 2004, during the historic 12th SAARC Summit, both countries pledged that, Kashmir issue would be resolved through an option acceptable to all three parties; the Kashmiri, Pakistan and India. T that time, many options were debated to reach on a consensus solution. Unfortunately, India's stubborn attitude and its misperception that Kashmiris are no more presenting a resistance, as if they have reconciled with the Indian rule has led her not to make further progress on the issue. In the meanwhile, through various compensatory measures, India tried to redress the Kashmiri grievances. However, there has been no policy change in the repressive activities of Indian security forces. Indian security forces continued human rights violations in Kashmir unabated. 
Seeing no progress for the resolution of Kashmir issue, in 2008, Kashmiri once again renewed their peaceful protests. This time forceful grabbing of their land by the Indian authorities became the raison d'être for the protests. Through a deliberate attempt, Indian Government allotted 800 kanal of Kashmiri land to a Hindu shrine. The tactics was that, through a gradual process, a demographic change would be effected in the Vale of Kashmir, the way it was done in the Jammu, following the Indian rule there, from October 1947 onwards. It is worth mentioning that Muslim population constituted 62 percent of the Jammu province according to the last census held in the united Kashmir in 1941. Now it is in thirties. The Valley has over 95 % Muslim population; therefore, India is all out to reduce this by inhabiting Hindu population, through land allotments. To curb their uprisings, this time Indian state machinery decided to economically strangulate the Valley people. Making use of the security forces and Hindu extremists of Jammu, India blocked all the entrants and exist routes of the Kashmir Valley. The economic blockade was so ruthless that there took place severe shortage of the foodstuff in the Valley. The Protestants were fired upon, resultant killing of hundreds of the innocent masses including the prominent leaders like Sheikh Abdul Aziz on 11 August 2008, once he was leading a peaceful march towards Muzaffarabad, demanding an end to economic blockade by Indian Army. 
With the passage of time, Kashmiris have realized that it is only a delaying tactics being used by the Indian Government; otherwise, there is neither the will nor the desire of resolving the issue by India. So much so, after the Mumbai terror attack, India is emphasizing Pakistan to resolve other issues less Kashmir. The process of Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue is no more the agenda. Rather, India stresses on a new beginning, mostly revolving around the cross border terrorism and the trade issues. India desires to do away with the tangible developments made during 2004 to 2007, on the core issue on Kashmir, Siachin and Sir Creek. Linked with the Kashmir is the water issue between the India and Pakistan. Through the construction of a number of dams and water storages and diversions, India has reduced the water flow for Pakistan to almost 50 percent from the rivers whose water is exclusively dedicated for the Pakistan. 

There is a big question mark on the role of the United Nations Organization (UNO), the only International Organization, mandated to redress the oppressed people of the world. The organization has badly failed to implement its responsibilities and its own resolutions towards a rightful solution of the issue. Besides, the major powers had a role to play for the maintenance of peace and a balance in the world, but owing to a number of factors; they also failed to undertake their moral responsibilities from the platform of UNO. Through new strategic alliances, India has become a partner of the major powers like; United States, European Union, and Russia. These major military and economic powers have their stakes in India, a country having 1.3 billion populations. Within these major interests, the voice of the Kashmiri's right of self-determination has lost its pitch as well as the echo. 

There is a need of awakening the international conscious. Closing of the eyes and ears by the international community on the massive human rights violations in Kashmir by Indian security forces would not end the issue. Rather the seething protest against Indian human rights violation would endanger the world peace to an extent that may be unimaginable now, as India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries.

Therefore, the UNO, US, Russian Federation, European Union and China must pressurize India to immediately end the human rights violations in Kashmir, pullout its security forces and resolve the issue as per the wished of Kashmiri subjects in the light of UN resolutions. This would bring peace and stability in the region as well at the global level. After all, global peace must be dear to the major powers too. 

The writer is an analyst of international relations.








There is no doubt that, in these days the Judiciary of Pakistan is quite different. It is different from what people of Pakistan used to see whole through their life. So, I feel, it will take some time for us Pakistanis, particularly the intelligentsia, to be accustomed to this new look Judiciary. An understanding and unquestionable endorsement from the public, and particularly from the intelligentsia, is the very basic requirement for the Judiciary to be effective in playing its due role in the country. "Azad mansh" (independence minded) judiciary, as extolled by many stalwarts of glorious lawyers' movement, is not the only ingredient for the judiciary to be effective, or "independent" – as they used to say, but it needs much much more for its real role to play. The foremost thing, of course, is that the people in the judges' chairs should be 'azad mansh', but at the same time they should be the persons deserving these chairs, in others words – "right people for right job". They should be thoroughly analytical, judgmental, decisive and religiously willing to deliver justice at any cost. They should have the knowledge and guts to give judgment - not alone the verdict - which could find its way into the law.

In Pakistan, we are unfortunately still following acts and laws enacted 100/150 years ago, when the politics, economics, geography and demography were totally different – when rulers were different and when the number of ruled were quite few as compared what is prevailing today. So, it becomes imperative that, the judges should not only pass the verdict, but should give the judgment which could fill the gaps in the laws, which could become case laws. But in Pakistan, the things are very often than not strange and funny. I have seen many verdicts of higher courts, which have been source of respite for many, but without continuing on them they have been nullified by totally different verdicts given subsequently. It is, however, up to the people who give judgment or verdict to sort these things out. 

Coming to the point of effective and independent judiciary, apart from the judiciary being manned by "azad mansh" judges, it is imperative that, the judiciary should be independent both administratively and financially. The tussle for administrative independence from the Executive, or at least the understanding for the same, is going on. It may take some time more for financial independence to come to the fore, or in the common debates.

With the new face of Judiciary in our front, and with our newly acquired wisdom through independent media, we all are relentlessly debating and discussing every act and word of judicial people. In my humble opinion, this trend should be discouraged as much as possible. 

This is hampering the strengthening of Judiciary as an important state institution, on which depends dissemination of justice, preservation of constitution and upholding of fundamental rights. The new found judiciary is doing many things new in the country. These may eventually become the building blocks of a new and totally independent judicial institution. This judiciary, in my humble opinion, needs to take many more new steps that might be unique, unconventional and extraordinary, and may be without having any precedence elsewhere. This would help define the role and nature of the judiciary in this country. In all developed countries, as it is understood, judicial norms and diktats are developed through centuries-old customs, conventions, practices and people's respect for written and unwritten values for justice. 


But we have just entered into that realm. So, through such unique and unprecedented actions, in which judges in service should also be involved, we may start developing such values, gradually but promptly.

There are some issues of general interest involving judiciary and judges on which debates by media people and politicians are vociferously going on. As the apex court takes suo motu notice of issues of public interest, so should it take notice of such issues, and call all the related parties to the court room to have full fledged debate and lead to logical conclusion. Surely, such conclusions may not be and should not be conclusive for all time to come, and may remain open for future revision and review. But for now, we should proceed on clearing confusion and developing consensus. 

Now-a-days too much discussions and debates are going on on the Judiciary. Almost every one of the society, whether has any standing or not, bears some opinions about the conduct and role of the Judiciary, and thanks to the opening in the media, can now freely propagate the same for the consumption of general public. But this is not beneficial for any institution, nor for the country. I am sure, the nation is not becoming any wiser by these debates, which at times touch the verge of tirades against judiciary. This creates confusion in common man's mind, which is least wanted at this juncture of our national life.

This brings us to the question of "contempt of court". Once the doctrine of "contempt of court" was overly used in this country, or kept hanging as Damocles' sword on the necks of discerning people willing to stand against injustices. But now-a-days "contempt of court" is heavily under-used, or not at all used. This is also doing no good to the country – to its prevailing situation. This is incubating sorts of despondency, disrespect and discourtesy in the minds of general public against the institution, and the pillar of the state, which must to be seen with respect and awe. But this respect, awe and veneration is being dreadfully compromised on simple political exigencies.

Without doubt, the sitting judges of higher courts should avoid controversial and politically tainted public/private statements at all cost. At the same time, they should also 'ration', if not censor, the unabated and unbridled opinion mongering by all sorts of people from vested interest politicians, to so-called experienced journalists, to rookie journalists and anchor persons, to people on the street - all and sundry. 

Higher courts should take concrete steps to reduce or curtail all sorts of opinion mongering, except event reporting and reporting on cases pending for any valid or invalid reasons. The media and media people may discuss the published verdict purely from legal angles, and nothing more than that. My last words for today: everyone's pontifical effort to become judicial expert must be stopped forthwith!








Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and encouragement of investors is the need of the hour for the elimination of poverty and unemployment keeping this in views Pakistan aims to attract foreign investment worth five billion dollars this year, but needs to tackle reform, maximize anemic growth and stem rampant violence to clinch its ambitious target. What is interesting or rather fortunate to note is that currently Pakistan is bent more towards reaping the favorable side of the FDI inflows. Though increased foreign inflows in the recent months have expanded the reserve money growth, the benefits of these inflows cannot be ignored.

Pakistan is one of few countries blessed with lot of untapped coal, wind, hydro and solar energy potential and many countries are keen to help Pakistan fully exploit these resources. Pakistan is an important and strategic country in South Asia and its growth and development has far reaching implications for the Asian region in general and the South Asian region in particular. Foreign business and industrial houses have confirmed their plans to continue to invest in Pakistan despite certain difficulties. These difficulties relate to an uncertain law and order situation on the back of terrorist activities in the country's western region. But, seventy-four per cent of the foreign investors already operating in Pakistan are interested in going ahead with new investments over the next two years and beyond. 

Pakistan though facing several challenges offers vast opportunities of investment. In Pakistan foreign investors are permitted to hold 100% of the equity in industrial, agriculture, horticulture, livestock, service, infrastructure and social sectors (subject to certain conditions) on repatriable basis. Moreover, no government sanction is required for setting up an industry in terms of field of activity, location and size except in case of four sectors relating to national security. Under the deregulation policy, government controls on business activity are being relaxed even further. To avoid double taxation on income earned by foreign investors, Pakistan has already concluded agreements with 51 countries that include nearly all the developed economies. As a result of these proactive policies, the FDI increased by more that 900% in the past six years. It crossed the USD 1 billion mark in FY 04 and is set to cross the USD 4 billion mark in the current fiscal year. Total FDI inflows for the first nine months of the current fiscal year stand at USD 3.86 billion which is 72% higher than the amount of USD 2.24 billion for the corresponding period of the last fiscal year. Nearly half of these FDI inflows were a result of proceeds from the sale of state enterprises while the financial services sector, telecommunications and the energy sector remained the primary recipients of the bulk of FDI. The Government of Pakistan assigns a vital role to private foreign investment in the development of its economy. The Government welcomes foreign investment and has consistently followed liberal policy towards it. The attitude of the Government towards foreign investment is worth to appreciate. Pakistan is fully safe for investment and its growth. In Pakistan the investment policy is very friendly towards local as well as foreign investors and countries all our the world can plan to boost their investments here.

FDI has been recognized the most powerful and strategic weapon for transforming a traditional economy of a nation into a modern economy by accelerating the pace of growth and development. There have been many examples wherein the FDI inflows have boom red the economies of many countries. For example, China and South Korean economies have transformed their respective economies into major destinations for FDI and through FDI inflows they have emerged as faster growing economies in the world. Similarly, the Indian economy has also been trying hard to attract FDI to transform its economy into an emerging growing economy. Hence the question does arise why not Pakistan make use of FDI as a vehicle for transforming its economy into an accelerated economy in the world. 

The government has successfully introduced a wide range of incentives, congenial for local and foreign investors and has increasingly tended to turn to FDI as a source of capital, technology, managerial skills and market access needed for sustained economic development. The outward orientation in policies designed by the government to attract more FDI has been accompanied by the adoption of policies relating to privatization and deregulation of economic activity, offering unprecedented and conducive business environment to all multinational corporations. According to the BoI, there are bright prospects for FDI inflows to Pakistan. This is because the government of Pakistani has successfully created both macro and micro business environment in the country.








Joschka Fischer

Turkey's "no" last month (a vote cast together with Brazil) to the new sanctions against Iran approved in the United Nations Security Council dramatically reveals the full extent of the country's estrangement from the West. Are we, as many commentators have argued, witnessing the consequences of the so-called "neo-Ottoman" foreign policy of Turkey's Justice and Development party (AKP) government, which is supposedly aimed at switching camps and returning to the country's oriental Islamic roots? I believe that these fears are exaggerated, even misplaced. And should things work out that way, this would be due more to a self-fulfilling prophecy on the west's part than to Turkey's policies. In fact, Turkey's foreign policy, which seeks to resolve existing conflicts with and within neighbouring states, and active Turkish involvement there, is anything but in conflict with western interests. Quite the contrary. But the west (and Europe in particular) will finally have to take Turkey seriously as a partner – and stop viewing it as a western client state.

Turkey is and should be a member of the G20, because, with its young, rapidly growing population it will become a very strong state economically in the twenty-first century. Even today, the image of Turkey as the "sick man of Europe" is no longer accurate. When, after the UN decision, the United States secretary of defence, Robert Gates, harshly criticised Europeans for having contributed to this estrangement by their behaviour towards Turkey, his undiplomatic frankness caused quite a stir in Paris and Berlin. But Gates had hit the nail on the head.

Ever since the change in government from Jacques Chirac to Nicolas Sarkozy in France and from Gerhard Schröder to Angela Merkel in Germany, Turkey has been strung along and put off by the European Union. Indeed, in the case of Cyprus, the EU wasn't even above breaking previous commitments vis-à-vis Turkey and unilaterally changing jointly agreed rules. And, while the Europeans have formally kept to their decision to begin accession negotiations with Turkey, they have done little to advance the cause.

Only now, when the disaster in Turkish-European relations is becoming apparent, is the EU suddenly willing to open a new chapter in the negotiations (which, incidentally, clearly proves that the deadlock was politically motivated). It can't be said often enough: Turkey is situated in a highly sensitive geopolitical location, particularly where Europe's security is concerned. The eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, the western Balkans, the Caspian region and the southern Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East are all areas where the west will achieve nothing or very little without Turkey's support. And this is true in terms not only of security policy, but also of energy policy if you're looking for alternatives to Europe's growing reliance on Russian energy supplies.

The west, and Europe in particular, really can't afford to alienate Turkey, considering their interests, but objectively it is exactly this kind of estrangement that follows from European policy towards Turkey in the last few years. Europe's security in the 21st century will be determined to a significant degree in its neighbourhood in the southeast – exactly where Turkey is crucial for Europe's security interests now and, increasingly, in the future. But, rather than binding Turkey as closely as possible to Europe and the west, European policy is driving Turkey into the arms of Russia and Iran.

This kind of policy is ironic, absurd, and short-sighted all at once. For centuries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been regional rivals, never allies. Europe's political blindness, however, seems to override this fact. Of course, Turkey, too, is greatly dependent on integration with the west. Should it lose this, it would drastically weaken its own position with regard to its potential regional partners (and rivals), despite its ideal geopolitical location. Turkey's "no" to new sanctions against Iran in all likelihood will prove to be a significant error, unless Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can deliver a real turnaround in Iran's nuclear policy. This, however, is highly unlikely.

Moreover, with the confrontation between Israel and Turkey strengthening radical forces in the Middle East, what is European diplomacy (both in Brussels and in European capitals) waiting for? The west, as well as Israel and Turkey themselves, most certainly cannot afford a permanent rupture between the two states, unless the desired outcome is for the region to continue on its path to lasting destabilisation. It is more than time for Europe to act.

Worse still, while Europe's listlessness is visible first and foremost in the case of Turkey and the Middle East, this lamentable state of affairs is not limited to that region. The same applies to the southern Caucasus and Central Asia, where Europe, with the approval of the smaller supplier countries there, should firmly pursue its energy interests and assert itself over Russia, as well as Ukraine, where Europe should also become seriously involved. Many new developments have been set in motion in that entire region by the global economic crisis, and a new player, China (a long-term planner), has entered the geopolitical stage. Europe risks running out of time, even in its own neighbourhood, because active European foreign policy and a strong commitment on the part of the EU are sorely missed in all these countries. Or, as Mikhail Gorbachev put it: "Life has a way of punishing those who come too late." — The Guardian








At a seminar on 'Speedy Trial of the War Criminals' in the city yesterday, Jute and Textiles Minister, Abdul Latif Siddiqui, made a number of controversial comments. Member of a cabinet headed by none other than Bangabanhdu's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, he should know what he is speaking about. A person of his rank and status should watch out before making any comments on the professional integrity of the journalists. Such sweeping, uncharitable and unsubstantiated comments by any minister are unlikely to go down well with people he has virtually lashed out against. 

As for the bribe-taking by journos from 'the main actors of the 1/11', he has, however, raised accusing fingers at 'some owners of television channels and newspapers', claiming that welcoming the last military-backed government they accepted money from those who played a decisive role in the political changeover. For one thing, it was not the proper forum to raise a matter of such grave import. And for another, allegations of such nature always demands proper substantiation. Unless specific cases with irrefutable evidence can be cited, this type of comments creates confusion in public minds. If he knows for sure that money exchanged hands in prompting the political changeover, he can bring charges against all involved in the matter. If the perpetrators get punished as a result, it will not only remove the confusion but also do justice to the matter. As to his comments on the professional conduct of Barrister Rafiq ul Haque, it would be taken as a personal vituperation rather than a well-founded allegation. For the right to choose a brief is ingrained in the professional ethics of a lawyer.

The whole matter, we feel compelled to admit, smacks of bad taste. There is always a time and place for everything. But everything is not what one in exalted position  can give vent to having been carried away by strong personal feeling. We hope the honourable minister would refrain from such irresponsible comments in future. 

Now in the interest of truth, indeed whole truth, the  minister has an added responsibility of redirecting focus on that crucial chapter of our history. As a nation we have time and again taken retrogressive steps that have impeded our journey on the democratic course we so much cherish. If the minister fails to do this, it will do good neither to his status as a minister nor to himself as a gentleman. Now that he has raised the issue, it is incumbent upon him to clarify his position vis-à-vis the allegations he has made. 







The departments of fire service and explosive control admit that they are aware of the absence of fire fighting equipment at petrol pumps and CNG filling stations. These two departments are responsible for ensuring fire-fighting arrangements and their maintenance at places where fires can break out without notice. Of the 3,000 petrol pumps and CNG filling stations in the country including 198 in the capital, 90 per cent lack fire fighting arrangements. But the departments concerned only accuse each other for not having enforced the mandatory keeping of fire fighting equipment on the filling station premises. 

This only reinforces the idea that diarchy of authority does not ensure efficiency. The government needs to decide which of the two directorates will be responsible for compelling the filling stations to put in place their fire-fighting facilities. How devastating fire could be, when it comes in contact with explosive substances, has been proved only last month by the Neemtali fire. A few accidents like the bursting of cylinders at filling stations mercifully did not turn hellish but such chances were always there.  

Employees of some CNG filling stations made open admission they did not know about the fire safety arrangement. No wonder, therefore, that most CNG filling stations lack fire extinguisher, fire dousing powder and dry sand buckets. Installation of CNG stations in close proximity is forbidden but on Mohakhali-Gulshan road there are three CNG stations within only half kilometre. Such fault in policy should be corrected soon. Non-enforcement of the provision for procurement of fire fighting system is not always without an ulterior motive. The authority should look into the allegation of bribery involved for non-implementation of regulations.