Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, July 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.07.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 16, edition 000570 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









  1. I ACT, SO I AM

































































At long last the Union Government and the Governments of the States affected by Maoist violence have agreed upon a joint command and control structure for counter-insurgency operations involving the local police, Central paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies. This was needed for three reasons. First, although no State Government would admit it, there was a sort of turf war between the local police and the Central forces, often with disastrous consequences. There have been instances when the Central forces were found to have acted on their own without consulting the local police or, worse, disregarding their advice. On the other hand, there is a feeling among the Central forces that the local police see them as intruding on their turf and are reluctant to share information or provide logistical support. Bureaucratic hierarchy does not afflict babudom alone, it extends to the police too. Second, there has been virtually no coordination among State Governments as a result of which Maoists have easily slipped into a neighbouring State whenever they have faced the heat in a particular State. For instance, they have retreated into Odisha to escape security forces in Chhattisgarh; or they have slipped into West Bengal when chased by the police in Odisha; and, Jharkhand has been a refuge for Maoists fleeing West Bengal. Given this scenario, tactical coordination among four State Governments — those of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand — and sharing of realtime, actionable intelligence reports should go a long way in eliminating Red terror. It would have been better if Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra had been a part of the new anti-Maoist strategy, not least because they are part of the Maoist-hit territory. To pretend otherwise would neither benefit the people of these States nor lessen the burden of their Governments to keep Maoists at bay. Third, apart from putting down the Maoist insurgency with the help of the police and Central forces, State Governments also need to launch a political counter-offensive that transcends partisan politics. Maoists can be neutralised with bullets, but Maoism as an ideology can be defeated only through a joint initiative by mainstream parties that believe in democracy and the ideals of our republic.

It is also welcome that both the Centre and the States have agreed to focus on development-related projects in Maoist-hit areas. The Union Government, to its credit, has offered to provide the funds to undertake these projects. It is now hoped that the State Governments will earnestly take up the work of building roads and constructing social development infrastructure like primary healthcare centres, schools and other facilities. There is, of course, the unstated problem of initiating development work in areas where the Maoists are in control: How do you build a road in Bastar without confronting Maoist opposition? It is here that the role of the civil administration will be crucial. Areas cleared of Maoists must be taken over by a determined civil administration committed to taking good governance to the masses. This would require the services of dedicated officers who are not obsessed with rank and privilege. Sadly, finding such officers would be a difficult task. Had it not been so, civil administration would have not yielded space to Maoists.








The idea of a cohesive society in the age of freedom, liberalisation, diversity and globalisation within the boundaries of a nation-state has received a big boost with the Lower House of the French Parliament adopting a Bill (it was voted 355-1, indicating absolute unanimity barring the lone naysayer) banning the burqa in public places. The stated purpose behind the proposed law — the Bill will now be debated in the Upper House, where it is expected to get a majority vote, before it is scrutinised by a constitutional oversight body — is to uphold France's cherished values of equality and dignity for all: The burqa is seen, and rightly so, as a symbol of suppression of women in the name of religion. The French argue, and with justification, that there cannot be a cohesive society without a certain degree of uniformity; diversity should be cultural and not pegged to the assertive assertion of 'otherness'. The burqa, irrespective of what is claimed by mullahs and Islamists, is a vivid assertion of the 'otherness' of Muslims, as is the flaunting of the chequered kafiyeh, which has transmogrified into a symbol of Islam from a tribal headgear, by Muslim men. It is absurd to suggest, as is done by some Muslims and the clergy, that the burqa is about freedom of choice; it isn't. It is an imposition that is sought to be sanctified by citing theological texts that have little or no relevance in the 21st century as far as dress codes and social mores are concerned. We must also remember that there is something called childhood conditioning which plays a significant role in Muslim women donning the burqa 'willingly'.

There are other aspects to the French move which merit comment. For instance, should immigrants — and France's Muslims, barring those who migrated from Algeria when it was still a French colony, are just that; many of them entered the country seeking refugee status — use 'diversity' and 'multi-culturalism' as convenient covers to transplant their faith-based practices which clash with those of the host country? Britain, as also many other European countries, are now beginning to wake up to the folly of unrestrained multi-culturalism and over-emphasis on diversity: That which is alien is threatening to become dominant. So much so, schools funded by Saudi Arabia-based Islamic charities teach young Muslims in Britain that "Christians are pigs and Jews are dogs" and insist that any curbs on them would amount to denial of religious freedom and restrict diversity! There's a larger message for Islamists and those who see nothing wrong with Islamism: Europe is witnessing a blowback whose consequences could be less than happy for those who celebrate the burqa as an assertion of Muslim identity or flaunt the kafiyeh to declare their 'otherness' from the majority.








One of the first articles I wrote for an Indian paper was on Indians who had lived in Britain for years and were referred to in the late-1950's as the "unreturning". The analogy I chose was of "undead" Dracula (then a popular film) who had to sleep on a bed of his native earth no matter where he went. A cart carrying a coffin lined with soil from his Romanian village always trundled after his coach.

That tale came to mind again when I read of Mr Veerappa Moily's promise of voting rights to Indians abroad. No one can object in principle if he means that Indian citizens travelling or temporarily resident abroad will be able to choose their Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha representatives even if the result of expensive and complicated worldwide administrative arrangements may not justify the effort. But it would be another sign of the Government's woolly thinking on an important but also self-important lobby that demands constant placation if Mr Moily means voting rights for some 30 million ethnic Indians across the globe.

This is not to deny immigrants their significance. The world owes much to the urge for a better life that drove millions of people to carve out a future in the Americas, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Many were forced and cruelly so; but many others went voluntarily. These economic refugees pioneered development. No one can blame the hordes of Indians who followed in their footsteps for escaping from a country in which, according to a recent United Nations Development Programme survey, eight States alone hold more poor people than sub-Saharan Africa's 26 poverty-stricken nations. Their flight also demonstrates that free movement cannot be confined to goods and services in a globalised world.

Many have done well abroad. We are proud when ethnic Indians become Prime Ministers, Governors or captains of industry in other countries. But the economic refugee who insists on pontificating on things Indian from his comfortable perch in Britain or the US recalls the insecurity of Dracula's undead. Despite making a bit of money abroad, he is comfortable only on native soil.

Nomenclature reflects this confusion. I am baffled by the various appellations — Non-Resident Indian, Pravasi Bharatiya, Overseas Indian, Person of Indian Origin — that are bandied about. Some even figure on the landing card one has to complete when returning from abroad. What isn't clear is whether these categories also have to complete the card's foreigners' section. Authority deliberately blurs the clear and essential division between Indian citizens and the rest to appease those influential former Indians who demand the best of both worlds.

An American diplomat once lamented that Indians imagined the US as "England writ large", ignoring the new culture that settlers had created. The failing can partly be explained by Dracula's native earth syndrome. I can understand Hindus in Timbuktu nostalgically celebrating Deepavali for most people need some ritual to live by, especially when cut off from all that is familiar. But the blasts of patriotic fervour one hears from Indians who have packed their bags and shaken the dust of India off their feet are tiresome. No wonder a British survey showed "immigrant" to be one of the most derogatory terms in the language.

Traditionally, India accepted no responsibility for Indians who had left India, whether as convicts, indentured labour or voluntary migrants. South Africa was the exception only because of Mahatma Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru pointedly told East Africa's Indians to come to terms with local reality. When it became impossible to do so, India forced Britain to admit them, thereby foolishly denying itself the chance of benefiting from the community's skills, hard work and capital.

This indifference might have continued if China had not shown a diaspora's key role in mobilising investment funds. But India's experience in this respect has been somewhat different. First, our remittances come mostly from humble workers in West Asia who are not allowed to settle down in the countries where they work, not from highly-educated, highly articulate pundits in the West. Second, the First Gulf War exposed the latter as fair weather friends who invest in India when the going is good but scramble out when things become rough: NRIs withdrew $ 2 billion in 1991-92 when India desperately needed foreign exchange. Moreover, many ethnic Indians rejected PIO status when they discovered that Britain does not extend consular protection to PIO card-holders in India. They are anxious to be Indian but without forfeiting British rights.

There are other ambiguities and anomalies. Talk of 'dual citizenship' is more a palliative than hard fact. As the Malaysian crisis showed, there is little clear thinking on ethnic Indians who have lived abroad for several generations and have no interest in an Indian status even if they condescend to grace some expatriate jamborees. Our bureaucracy is not geared to dealing with this diversity, and ethnic Indian visitors often complain of harassment by immigration officials who are lethargic and incompetent at all times but, in this case, also confused.

A third generation Singaporean friend says he always wears a short dhoti (presumably to look plebeian) when he lands at Kolkata airport, folds his hands in a namaskar and asks the immigration official in his accented Bengali, "Aapni aaj bhaalo aachhen to? (I hope you are well today.)" I tell him that if this ensures easy passage, it's because he cuts a comic figure, not because he succeeds in establishing rapport. Another Indian, but one who has retained his passport, says Delhi immigration never ceases to be surprised at his not grabbing the chance to change his nationality.

The quirks of Indian life, the difficulties of getting visas, especially Schengen visas, and the political compulsions that account for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas gatherings argue against straightforward simplicity. The Italian who migrates to Australia need not pretend he is more Italian than the Italian in Italy. The Indian, alas, must do so lest he be washed away like flotsam and jetsam on the migratory stream. Our Government encourages the farce by turning a blind eye to the inescapable message that his migration sends, and by treating his Indianness seriously in hopes of gain. Mr Moily may not contemplate any serious concession but thinks it politic to keep alive the hopes (and posturing) of the undead.







The redrafted Communal Violence Bill (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) 2010, likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, has stringent clauses to punish officials who harbour mala fide intentions of supporting or engaging in communal violence. The new version of the Bill, which was first drafted in 2005 in the wake of Gujarat riots, has given the Union Government the authority to intervene in a communal situation without the concurrence of the respective State Government.

The current draft of the Bill provides for declaration of a "disturbed area" and civil society groups have opposed it, citing the imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The question of who in the bureaucratic or political chain should be held responsible and penalised for failure to maintain communal harmony has also dogged the Bill for a while.

Compared to other South Asian countries, Indian citizens enjoy better communal harmony and are ruled by less draconian laws in the pattern of the US's Homeland Security Act. Introducing such a Bill at a time when India's economic growth is steady will project India as a communally sensitive nation before the international community. India's experience of communal violence is limited to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, post-Godhra riots, Babri Masjid violence, violence after Mumbai blasts and clashes in Kashmir that triggered the migration of four lakh Kashmiri Pandits but the scale of communal violence in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and parts of China is far larger. Yet Governments in these countries have never drafted such a law or Bill.

Tabling this Bill will, therefore, undoubtedly affect India's global image and hurt its vibrant economic growth statistics in many sectors. It would also invite unnecessary foreign interference. The best option is to effectively implement existing laws and statutes to pre-empt any clashes as well as censor and shun hate speech in any form emanating from the mouth of any religious or political leader. There is also need of a uniform civil code and a strict adherence by all Governments at the States and the Centre to a policy of justice to all and appeasement to none.








When I was a student in one of the better schools of Delhi, it was common to see teachers slapping students. Scales being broken on our knuckles was as common a sight too, and as early as in Class 5, though luckily I always escaped punishment. When I reached Class 6, I wasn't that lucky.

During one of the sculpture classes, an assistant came around and slapped me hard on the head because in all my creative excitement, I was busy talking to my friend Partho Saha, who was someone I looked up to when it came to creativity. I was furious. I wanted to hit back. I controlled myself, but went back home and told my father that he must do something about it.

He was from the same school of thought as mine — rather, I had inherited his points of view. So the next day, my father took me to the principal of our school — a legendary name in education those days, Mr RS Lugani — and told him that physical punishment is not what he would allow his son to go through in school.

So after discussions, it was decided that I would from then on carry a letter in my pocket, which mentioned that if any teacher had a problem with me, it could be written down and subsequently sent to my father, but the teachers couldn't hit me. And the letter bore the stamp of the Principal's office. I think it was the most unique exception that our principal had ever made. And from thereon, till I passed out of school, no teacher could ever physically hit me.

However, like I mentioned, this was an exceptional case. The reality was that students were getting beaten up regularly almost by all male teachers and by a third of female teachers. The solace that students used to find was from the one or two good words these bad and rude teachers had for them. And thus the word used to spread about specific teachers, that though they beat students they had a kind heart. I found it sickening.

The truth is that by hitting anyone — especially a child in school — we only display our lack of education. We display the fact that we aren't fit to be teachers in the first place. Because if we want a world where peace stands a chance, where road rage doesn't happen and where people are more tolerant and loving towards each other, we have got to show peace, love and tolerance from the very beginning to our children in schools. We have to see to it that they grow up seeing no violence.

In my 16 years of experience as a teacher, I can say very confidently that there can be absolutely no reason for which a teacher is required to physically punish a student inside a classroom or in front of others. If a teacher is good, and committed to teaching — and not churning out mechanical morons who mug up topics — he enjoys the process so much that even for students, it becomes akin to recreation. Learning becomes fun and the question of forcing any student doesn't arise.

It's not a student's responsibility to enter a classroom and be attentive and learn. It's a teacher's responsibility to make the student feel interested in the class and make him or her feel that it is a life-changing experience. Only then will students attend classes. And if that's not the case, then in fact students shouldn't attend classes. So a good teacher never has student problems. Only bad teachers have. And they use physical punishment as a shortcut to make students attentive.

But human nature unfortunately is such that physical punishment in childhood never helps. It gives rise to mainly two kinds of people. One, those who get used to it and don't care and become all the more adamant. And the other, whose personalities get deformed due to the fear of punishment — such students may become more obedient but their personalities are ruined forever.

Therefore, we need laws in the country which completely prohibit the use of physical punishment in school. A school's job is to change lives and not to ruin them. Yes, there are children who come from dysfunctional families, who get beaten up at home and have a nature that is often very negative. A teacher's job is to change such a nature. And there are scores of examples where great teachers have changed the most hardened of negative souls.

That's what a teacher is about. Yes, if the teacher is not trained well enough to change the students, and the student is a menace, then the teacher can at worst hand the student over to his or parents. But a teacher is no police and should have absolutely no legal right to physically assault children. And parents must not allow their children to be physically punished in school.

--The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.







Now it is death by electrocution that is claiming lives in the national capital during a downpour. It is a fearful and unprecedented phenomenon, auguring ill for the city's residents.Last Monday evening's rains paralysed Delhi completely, thereby betraying the civic collapse just three months before the hosting of the Commonwealth Games.

Worse, as pedestrians waded through waterlogged pavements and roads, jammed with traffic, they were exposed to the perils of over-hanging electric wires and loosely installed electric poles, some with wires hanging out. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of science knows that simultaneous contact with water and electricity causes death in the absence of protective clothing. Shoddy PWD work has created such lethal traps everywhere, even in the heart of the Capital, where the network of roads around India Gate spreads far and wide.

Water, which accumulates because of clogged drains, now harbours the multiple risks of electric currents and open manholes and ditches. Ms Urvashi Butalia, noted feminist publisher, some years ago survived a watery end by clinging on to the manhole rim till she was pulled out. While there have been instances of people being killed in house collapse, or falling into an abyss, covered by swirling waters, death by electrocution during rains is a recent occurrence. Six such deaths were reported after Monday's rains.

Another five casualties were owed to wall collapse. To consider the former, two persons lost their lives to the current discharged into water on the road by a fallen electric pole in the Dariba Kalan area. It was a public place, where more such tragedies could have occurred but, fortunately, did not. Two persons were electrocuted in Mansarovar Park, and two others in Mori Gate and Patel Nagar. Since roads stayed water-logged for a fairly long time, and electric discharge from wires continued, it is a miracle that there were no further mishaps.

Conservationists, who had objected to the location of the Games village on the Yamuna bed and floodplains on environmental grounds, had also pointed out the real danger of flooding of the site in the event of rains, given the rotten state of drainage. The recurrence of water-logging during the current monsoon indicates that this fear is well-founded.

Justice Kailash Gambhir of the Delhi High Court is reported to have rapped the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for the chaos resulting after "a short spell of rain", drawing attention to roads caving in due to water-logging, and the huge traffic jams that bring the city to a stand-still. The Games being due, he added, in such a situation, crossing the roads would be a "kettle of fish". He probably meant that people would find it difficult even to cross roads. He wanted all Delhi roads to be of the same quality as roads in Chanakyapuri, in all seasons.

His reasoning that citizens deserve smooth and worthy roads on account of the high rate of road tax is irrefutable. Dangers posed by civic infrastructure seem to have magnified in the run up to the Games as the concerned agencies try to complete projects in a race against time. This is clearly hazardous. The attempt to showcase Delhi as a world class city for foreign visitors is absurd in view of the debris left behind by every spell of rainfall, and the mounting number of victims. A perfectly natural phenomenon — monsoon rains — has assumed a sinister hue because of crumbling infrastructure.

Some months ago, the Delhi Government foisted additional taxes on people on the pretext of raising funds for Games-related amenities. The extra burden borne by them seems to have failed to yield the desired results. In the absence of accountability, the city's administrators are getting away with monumental lapses that would not be tolerated in any First World city. One quotes from an article, 'Games as nation's prestige and other myths', by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan Convenor Manoj Mishra:

"Clearly, not a paisa is coming from 'outside' to the country. On the contrary, the IOA (in effect the Indian taxpayer) is obliged to pay at least $19.1 million for the right to host the Games in Delhi. This is not to mention the mega-bucks that the Indian taxpayer is in any case shelling out in Delhi's race to become 'world class' for the Games, through construction of expressways, flyovers and a highrise and a high-end Games Village which, as per the 'bid', was to have become post-Games a university accommodation".

Sadly, the execution remains slip-shod, with the people left to bear the consequences.







Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar is keeping his cards close to his chest keeping everyone guessing about his game plan. For instance, his sudden wish to lighten his burden of portfolios has raised eyebrows.

While the Congress (even the NCP) was surprised at this request, those who have followed Mr Pawar's politics know that he has the penchant to be unpredictable. The timing of his request coincided with his taking over as the president of the prestigious International Cricket Council. It also coincided with the day the Opposition parties observed a bandh against the rising prices.

Why did Mr Pawar make this move? First of all, Opposition parties in Maharashtra like the Shiv Sena and the BJP criticised him asking how a Minister holding so many portfolios would find time for this new position. Secondly, the Congress, too, has been holding him responsible for the price rise. Although Mr Pawar has turned the tables by pointing out that the Cabinet took decisions and he alone cannot be held responsible, the Congress is clueless as to how to face the common man's wrath. Thirdly, Mr Pawar seems to have suffered a series of setbacks in the past one year, the most recent being the IPL controversy. Fingers were raised at members of his family including his daughter Ms Supriya Sule.

Fourthly, Mr Pawar has to keep his flock together. There has been a demand even within the NCP for a merger with the Congress. Fifthly, the NCP is getting weaker and the recent Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections are proof of the concern of the Maratha strongman.

What is Mr Pawar's game plan? Being an astute politician, is he thinking ahead? It is quite clear, he is moving at two different levels. On one hand, he is with the UPA at the Centre and wants no quarrel to disturb this until 2014 despite the Congress not giving its ally much importance. On the other hand, he is also wooing other non-Congress, non-BJP parties as future strategy. Since there is space for a third alternative why not befriend others? With four years to go for the next polls, there is enough time to attempt this.

If Mr Pawar is looking elsewhere for his sustenance, the Congress, too, wants to have a single party-led Government after the next Lok Sabha polls. AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has made no secret of this fact and is trying to build the party to face the polls. The Congress is upbeat after its success in Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana and is poised to do well in the next year's Assembly polls.

Mr Pawar, insiders say, is in close touch with several leaders of smaller and regional parties including the AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa. He is also in touch with the BJD chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. In Bengal he can do business with Trinamool Congress or the Left. In the North-East, former Speaker PA Sangma has already strengthened the NCP. In Arunachal Pradesh, the NCP has increased its vote share from 4.28 per cent in 2004 to 19.23 per cent in 2009 winning five seats. In Meghalaya, the party has increased its vote share. Smaller outfits like Telangana Rashtra Samiti are not averse to be with the NCP. If Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy, floats his own outfit, he would be looking for the support of Mr Pawar.

Kerala is his latest move. The inclusion of the NCP in the ruling LDF this week is seen as a pressure tactic to forge the secular and democratic forces unity. NCP has two legislators in the Kerala Assembly. It is also a signal to the Congress not to treat the NCP lightly. The LDF now consists of the CPI(M), the CPI, the RSP, the Kerala Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Congress (Socialist) and the NCP. The NCP was an ally of the LDF till 2006 but it was booted out when the father-son duo Mr K Karunakaran and Mr K Muralidharan merged their outfit with the NCP.

Meanwhile, Mr Pawar is trying to spread his wings in cricket. As the new ICC chief, he has many plans including taking cricket to countries like China, Russia and Africa.







Attempts at regulating management education in India are at least two decades old. They date back to the statutory status conferred on the All-India Council for Technical Education as a sequel to the National Education Policy 1985. If these attempts of AICTE have achieved any conspicuous success, the extent of success is yet largely unknown in the public domain.

The controversies have been many and they have touched many from the lowly to the high and mighty. The facts will probably be known after the issues have faded from public memory. This is a commentary on the evaluation process with which our institutions are blessed.

Whether or not we agree with the policies of the incumbent Minister for Human Resource Development, he deserves unreserved praise and support for trying to catch the bull by the horns. Nobody would argue that quality is solely an individual's responsibility.

One of the better kept secrets of the decision-making elite in India is that, inadvertently or otherwise, the education sector has been the fallback option for many public opinion leaders, the rich and the powerful. This is a steady sector to which they return when in misfortune and 'professional oblivion'. To the best of my knowledge there is no study available on the professional background of those that run the trusts which, in turn, run the educational institutions. From my limited exposure to the field I find that they come from all fields including construction, law and order, business, politics, merchant navy, forest services and so on. One wonders if any sector has such an open criteria for entry. If the entrants had a symbolic presence, that could perhaps be condoned, but a large number of them play a pivotal role in the running of these institutions. This situation does not need to be commented upon.

Most of us are participants in this process. The pattern is to keep quiet when we are the beneficiaries. We cry foul when our interests are not served. The fate of the education sector in general is also the fate of the management sector in particular. The management sector is perhaps more affected because of its market-attractiveness.

There are other causes of concern in management education even within so-called academicians, themselves. Several of them see no difference between 'commerce' and 'management' or for that matter between 'industrial engineering' and 'management'. I remember a very senior professional in a public domain lecture saying, facetiously, "When you teach organisational behaviour wearing a bush-shirt, you are teaching commerce and when you teach organisational behaviour wearing a safari suit, you are teaching management." I can only marvel at the brilliance of the repartee.

I am a product of an old school, fast becoming an extinct variety, which believes that management educational institutions need: Positioning, physical infrastructure, a sensitive student selection process, interested and committed faculty which believes in developing oneself, sensitive programme design and delivery, research approach and paradigms, corporate connectivity and institutional connectivity.

Irrespective of the vintage of my school, I can see no getting away from all of this. Our recognition and accreditation processes can have no option but to see it as a template.

Even before that, all stake holders must agree that this a shared template of a framework for the pursuit of quality in management education.

I have heard it argued with conviction that there cannot be too much of a departure between the framework of a recognition process and the framework of an accreditation process. They agree that what is required of a business school in the accreditation process cannot be achieved by it if it is absent during the recognition process.

Be that as it may, as of now, even with the best of business schools the objectives of a postgraduate management programme appears to be to train students to take up the responsibility at different levels of the business value chain.

What then is the domain, range and depth of management education? Who is responsible for creating managers for development sectors and, for that matter, the management skill pool in any non-business sector? Where will the cadre of management teachers come from?

While pursuing the cause of quality in management institutions such as they exist, there are other collateral concerns that cannot be ignored.

The current times are such that there are more questions than answers and many answers generate their own questions. Yet the search for quality must go on.









As the government contemplates modifying certain provisions of the Right To Education (RTE) Act, it is worth questioning the mechanisms through which it plans to address the issue of universal education. According to the Act, no school can deny a child admission and must oblige the latter without any screening tests. Several private schools had genuine concerns about this provision as they believed that it would lead to a drop in their standards. Now the human resources development ministry is planning to go back on this stipulation and allow private schools to screen 75 per cent of the students in the general category, but not the remaining 25 per cent from economically weaker backgrounds for whom seats will have to be reserved. If all of this sounds ad hoc, it is because that is precisely what RTE is turning out to be. 

It seems that the government's solution to eradicating illiteracy is simply enacting a legislation and providing quotas. Little attention is being given to the real problem ^ the lack of adequate number of quality schools. To achieve the ultimate goal of universal literacy the focus must be on the public sector, not the private sector. For that to happen, a fundamental shift in the government's attitude is required. The primary focus of RTE should be to increase the number and quality of government schools. State-run schools are the platform for mass education in this country. Private schools are just add-ons, filling gaps in the system. Imposing quotas on them is meaningless and diversionary. 

If at all RTE is to bear fruit, a massive amount of government investment is required to spruce up government schools. We should be willing to spend what it takes, while also evaluating and closely monitoring outcomes to make sure the money isn't frittered away. It is only when the standard of government schools improves that they will become viable alternatives to private schools. 

On the other hand, private schools should be given a free hand to run their own affairs. As it is, bureaucratic red tape is responsible for stifling the expansion of these schools. If the government wants them to play a part in the success of RTE, then it should provide them incentives to take in a number of underprivileged children for free, rather than seek to coerce them through legislation. It is only when there is competition between public and private schools, as well as among private schools themselves within a vibrant and diversified school sector, that we will be able to solve problems of access as well as quality.







When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met seven chief ministers as well as representatives of Naxal-affected states on Wednesday, what marked out this strategy meet from others was the decision to form unified commands for overseeing anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand - four of the worst affected states. The meeting cleared an eight-point plan, which aims to balance security with a development agenda. The unanimous agreement on four of the eight proposals shows growing political convergence between the Centre and states, ruled by different parties, on the issue. The unified commands, headed by state chief secretaries, will ensure better synergy and coordination among different security forces in the states. That the army has an advisory role in the anti-Maoist strategy has been ensured through the inclusion of a retired major general as a member in the panel. The Centre will also provide helicopters for logistic support, troop movement, supplies and evacuation. 

Let's hope all this takes care of future disasters and prevents killings of securitymen and civilians at the hands of Maoists. In addition to the unified commands, a development package for building roads, bridges and 400 new police stations has also been approved. To make tribals stakeholders in governance, the state governments have been advised to strictly implement the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, ensuring that gram sabhas are assigned rights over minor forest produce. Undoubtedly, these are timely steps and critical ingredients in the government's anti-Maoist strategy. Along with security measures it's also important to target pervasive poverty in tribal hinterlands, which calls for greater transparency in governance and a corruption-free administration. A good idea will be to involve civil society organisations to ensure independent monitoring and better delivery of services.








The financial crisis, which surfaced in the US in September 2008, spread through contagion almost like a forest fire across the world. Its transmission to the real sectors of economies was rapid. Output and employment experienced a sharp contraction. The downturn moved quickly into a recession. It is clear that this Great Recession is the deepest crisis in capitalism since the Great Depression more than 75 years ago. There is, however, an important difference. Developing countries, marginal then, are much more significant in the world economy now. 

It is just about 21 months, not quite two years, since the crisis surfaced. And the outcomes provide a real surprise. Indeed, not many would have predicted the story that has unfolded. 

Most industrialised countries are still in the Great Recession. Unemployment levels are high and recovery is uncertain. The persistence of the recession in the US and the European Union is common knowledge. The impact of the enormous fiscal stimulus is, at best, modest. Much of it was used to recapitalise banks where greed followed by fear created the crisis. However, the financial sector used these scarce resources to rescue their balance sheets, create asset bubbles and reward itself with bonuses, rather than lend to the manufacturing sector which would have revived output and employment. 

But that is not all. Some market economies in the EU, described as PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), as also some transition economies in Eastern Europe, are in deep trouble. These countries have weak external balance sheets (large external debts relative to foreign exchange reserves) and/or traditional domestic financial vulnerabilities (a previous boom in private sector foreign borrowing, followed by a credit squeeze). 

Similarly, many high-income emerging economies, success stories until not so long ago, remain adversely affected. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, as also Mexico and Turkey, which were highly dependent on US and EU markets for their manufactured exports, are hard hit. 

In sharp contrast, significant parts of the developing world have fared much better in terms of both resilience and recovery. Everybody recognises that three emerging economies - China, India and Brazil - have weathered the storm and registered rapid growth. But most are not aware that there are several other countries in the developing world, large and small, which have turned out good economic performances in the aftermath of the crisis. Argentina, Egypt, South Africa, Bangladesh and Vietnam, among others, provide examples. Surprisingly enough, some regions in the developing world, such as North Africa, South Asia and East Asia, as also sub-Saharan Africa, have turned out performances that range from good to fair. 

How can we explain the resilience of these economies in the developing world? It is not as if they were immune from the crisis in the world economy. The impact on some sectors of these economies, particularly those that were export-dependent, was devastating in the short run. Yet, in retrospect, they turned out to be exceptions. 
The impact of the global crisis was less adverse for four reasons. First, the initial conditions before the crisis were supportive. Macroeconomic stability, reflected in the fiscal situation, moderate inflation, large foreign exchange reserves, combined with economic growth, provided structural flexibility both at the macro and micro levels. Second, financial liberalisation was restrained. Integration into international financial markets was calibrated and deregulation of domestic financial sectors was paced. 

Third, safety nets for the poor and the vulnerable, even if limited, were in place. Social protection in China, NREGA in India, and Bolsa Familia in Brazil are the better known examples. Fourth, the economic size of these countries, in terms of population if not income, meant that domestic consumption was a countervailing force, particularly as economic activity for significant proportions of the population was not quite connected with the world economy. 

Their economic recovery was also significantly faster for three reasons. First, these countries adopted expansionary, counter-cyclical, macroeconomic policies which were almost Keynesian and most unusual, until now, in the developing world. The existing macroeconomic situation and presence of state financial institutions made the task easier. Second, the home market's size made a difference. The increase in aggregate demand came, in significant part, from segments of the population with a high propensity to consume, which was transmitted to the real sector of the economy. Thus, domestic consumption drove recovery and sustained growth. 

Third, their financial sectors, less fragile and more regulated than elsewhere, did not absorb scarce resources from stimulus packages in recapitalisation or bailouts, so that easier monetary policies meant lending for investment to the real sector in these economies rather than the creation of financial asset bubbles. 

The aftermath of this global economic crisis, as compared with earlier crises, reveals a striking reversal of fortunes. Developing countries that fared worse in the past have performed much better, whereas industrialised countries that might have been expected to do better have fared much worse. What is more, for decades, rich countries lectured poor countries: "Do as we say, get policies right." This time around, it is the emerging economies that will be doing the teaching to their industrialised counterparts. The irony is striking. 

The writer is professor of economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.







Pakistani pop star Ali Zafar makes his Bollywood debut when relations between the two countries are under strain. His light frothy comedy going by the provocative title of Tere Bin Laden has run into trouble in Pakistan ahead of its release. He talks to Subhash K Jha about the film and relations between the two countries: 

Have they banned your Bollywood debut film Tere Bin Laden in Pakistan? 

Not the film. Only the title. And even in the title, only the Laden part. I am distributing the film in Pakistan along with a friend. As a precautionary measure we've removed 'Laden' from the title because a lot of people back home thought this film was about Osama bin Laden. That isn't the case. 

Does the absence of a more pronounced sense of humour among us bother you? 

It does worry me sometimes that we don't look at the lighter side of life. We all tend to take ourselves too seriously. 

Is it difficult for artistes from across the border to work in Mumbai? 

I sincerely feel we should keep politics out of art and culture. I'd like nothing better than to move to Mumbai and become a singing actor like Kishore Kumar. But would the current milieu of hostility allow me to make that move? 

Things have to get better between the two countries, the sooner the better. The present hostility is unbearable. We from the entertainment industry in Pakistan are hard hit by the suspicion that exists between the two countries. 

Is the scope for an artiste like you limited in Pakistan? 

I'll be honest. There are more avenues and prospects here. So if the God above and the politicians down below permit i'd love to move to Mumbai. An artiste knows no bounds and boundaries. My first home is Lahore. I'd like to make Mumbai my second home. 

How often do you visit India? 

In the last 6-7 years, i've been to Mumbai at least 20 times. However i was unable to return recently because of the current political scenario. My last visit was before 26/11. I remember how pleasant the mood was in Mumbai. I was free to move around and roam freely on the streets of Mumbai. I cannot deny there's tension between the two countries. We artistes from Pakistan used to get multiple visas quite easily. Now it's different. I feel singers and other artistes should be exempt from politics. 

You play the lead in Tere Bin Laden. Was the transition from singing to acting difficult? 

It's easy for me to incorporate singing into acting because i use a lot of acting expressions on stage while performing at live concerts. I wanted to do something different from what my colleagues from Pakistan do in India. I always thought my first acting experience would be something different and special. I've no leading lady in Tere Bin Laden. I was determined that when i act for the first time i'd sing for myself and not for others on screen. When i met director Abhishek Varma for Tere Bin Laden in Mumbai, i knew this was the project that i wanted to start my big-screen acting career with. I laughed so much when i heard the script.








Visiting Kolkata's swanky South City Mall recently, i found myself behaving like a village bumpkin faced with an avalanche of choices. I counted 18 types of organic cheese, 90 varieties of toothpaste, 200 shades of lipstick and 50 kinds of hair mousse. While picking up a tube of toothpaste, i was totally at a loss. Should i choose the herbal variety with added fluoride, the cavity-busting option with baking soda or the original formula with flavoured crystals? What would anyone do if given the onerous task of choosing from 600 kinds of coffee and 400 brands of shampoo? 

The other day, i peeked into the laptop of a junior colleague who seemed totally lost switching between matrimonial websites. Grilled, he said he'd 'shortlisted' some 50 responses in an exercise he later confessed to be bride-hunting. He had also put an advertisement in the matrimonial columns of a few national dailies. The result was astounding. Among some 'prospective' choices numbering no fewer than 300, he zeroed in on 40 applications. "But you only need one soulmate," i mumbled. To which he replied, nonplussed, "That's precisely the problem. I can't have a swayamvar like in the days of yore. Nor is polygamy allowed in India!" For those hapless and harried enough not to be able to find a suitable spouse, picking one through the market is even more brain-racking. 

Likening myself to a village bumpkin overawed by the ways of the city, i feel quite intimidated visiting posh restaurants. The first difficulty is not what to eat but what not to, that is, if you decide to go beyond the regular fare. A friend of mine left the dinner table of a chic restaurant in a huff because one of the randomly picked exotic-sounding 'specials' among 20 suggested by the waiter did not work well with his girlfriend's tummy. That cost him the relationship. 

I know of a simpleton who, on visiting a rich man's house, was struck by the ordeal of making a simple choice of what to drink. The reason: the host believed in customising service to a fault. When the poor guest opted for orange juice, he was asked if he wanted it to be organic or regular, with or without calcium and, finally, with minimal or maximal pulp. That's when he swiftly switched to tea. But then he had to choose between Ceylon tea, herbal tea, bush tea, honey bush tea, iced tea and green tea. To have his Ceylon tea with milk, he had to choose between goat milk, camel milk and cow milk. To have his tea sweetened, he had to choose between beet sugar and cane sugar. 

Tired of such bizarre if 'meticulous' hospitality, the guest finally settled for a glass of water. Mineral water or still water, he was asked. Mineral water, he replied. He was then asked to clarify whether he wanted it flavoured or non-flavoured. The matter was finally settled when, unable to take it any longer, he burst into a fit of rage and exclaimed: "I'd rather die of thirst! 

None of us wants to make a wrong choice or be a sucker. Yet, this isn't just about our dilemmas when making serious choices like selecting a pension plan or an insurance plan, a holiday destination, an educational board for one's ward or a doctor to consult. Why, sometimes it gets so difficult simply to decide which pair of jeans one should buy. There's slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit and, of course, baggy and extra baggy. Choose among them, but there's still the fabric: should it be stone-washed, acid-washed or 'distressed'? Finally, will it be button-fly or zipper-fly? My conclusion: we've become addicted to variety, which is really many, many versions of the same thing. And they call this variety the spice of life!









Insurance is a subject matter of solicitation. Medicine is not. This lies at the heart of the standoff between corporate hospitals and health insurers over alleged gilding of medcal bills. Private healthcare desperately needs the Rs 9,000-odd crore Indians spent on health insurance premiums last year to ramp up scale and improve quality of service. The four state-owned general insurance companies that control 70 per cent of this business have enough heft to be able to keep a lid on claims. The cat-and-mouse game with high-end dispensers of medical services in the metros over cashless treatment is the latest expression of their collective bargaining power. But this is a blunt tool to keep healthcare costs at bay. Health insurance and private healthcare are relatively recent phenomena in India and both industries could learn from the international experience where co-payment-in which the insurer and the person insured pay out predetermined shares of the total bill -has emerged as the preferred policing mechanism for inflated hospital bills.


Along the way, Indian insurers need to watch out for their own health as well. Medical insurance premiums make up for a fifth of the total business of the 21 general insurance companies plying their trade here. The intense competition keeps premiums low, so insurers have relied excessively on their trading desks to limit the claims ratio to 80 per cent for individual policyholders. In group insurance, medical claims were contained at 110 per cent of premiums. Unfortunately for the insurers, the financial market meltdown put paid to this business strategy; claims are now again half as much as premiums, with the biggest drain being in the metros. Stateowned insurers are learning the hard way that they cannot get by on investment profits and need to address their bloated costs. Most importantly they must refocus on their principal business: underwriting risks.


Private healthcare spending in India is today thrice that of State expenditure and its share is climbing. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co reckons spending on health could rise to 8-10 per cent of the GDP by 2025 and the country's health insurance business has the potential to grow to Rs 35,000 crore by 2015. The stakes are, thus, high for India's insurers and its healthcare industry. They need to put their heads together to evolve a symbiotic relationship. Costs can be kept lower even without engaging in an adversarial relationship. That would involve spreading the insurance risk over a greater slice of the population, redirecting healthcare towards prevention and by putting in place safeguards against unnecessary diagnostics and medication.







Here's another coconut frond in the nomenklatura of the communist commissars. Kerala will soon be called Keralam. An assertion that the colonial yoke is well and truly cast off. The comrades whose historical blunders are legion are about to make another one, the name Kerala was not conferred by some solar topee-sporting occupier but sprang from native soil in the form of the kera or coconut of the alam (land). But enough of all this amming and hawing. You have to give it to the doughty leaders of Keralam, they have their priorities right. They want only those whose tongues are tactile enough to get around the native names of places and things to come calling.


So, if you are planning to nip across to the neighbouring speakeasy and order some fiery Kerala mutton fry, be sure that you will get a volcanic response. "Waiter, one Keralam fish curry, please." That's better. All this renaming could spell problems for the Mallu bretheren who have enough trouble making themselves understood with their pebbles-in-a-jam-jar accent.


This could prove difficult when they are trying with ferocity to flee God's Own Keralam to, say, the Gulf. By the time the immigration officers have got the hang of all the new names, the immigrant could well find himself back home cooling his heels on the Arabian Sea shore. But why stop at names, we recommend that the comrades pass a diktat that henceforth, only Malayalam will be spoken by Malayalis from Keralam at all times. Not to mention that the official dress will now be the mundu, hitched up at an appropriate height. Will people, especially tourists, think that the Mallus have gone nuts? Yes, as long as they know it's coconuts.







When the Kannada film actor Rajkumar died in April 2006, thousands of young men poured into the streets of Bangalore. They forced shops to down shutters and attacked police chowkis and government offices. Oldtimers, who thought of Bangalore as a 'pensioners' paradise', were unnerved by the violence. Mumbai has been periodically subjected to communal riots; Kolkata, to bandhs and hartals at the rate of (roughly) one a week. But what happened that day in Bangalore was out of character with what has generally been a placid, genteel city. As a long-time resident, I couldn't make sense of it myself until a friend remarked of the protesters that 'these are all young men who cannot get jobs in Infosys'. Nor, indeed, in Wipro, MindTree, Biocon and the other widely celebrated entrepreneurial success stories of the city.


The boys who have been raining stones down on the police in Kashmir this past month can't get jobs in Infosys either. So too the Marathi-speaking boys who, every now and then, taunt and threaten 'outsiders' in Mumbai. When, in the summer of 2005, the Chhattisgarh government raised a vigilante army named Salwa Judum, they got very many willing volunteers because there were very many young men in the state who were without jobs in the organised economy. In promoting the vigilantes, the state government was mimicking the methods of its proclaimed adversaries, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), whose ability to recruit tribal young men was also in good part a consequence of the poverty and hopelessness of everyday life in adivasi areas.


The violence on show in India today usually travels under the flag of sentiment and ideology. But, as often as not, it's a manifestation of more elemental hopes and fears. No doubt, Rajkumar was greatly loved by those who watched his films. However, the violence in Bangalore in April 2006 wasn't wholly, or even largely, a spontaneous outburst of grief — rather, the death of the film star was an excuse, a provocation, an opening, for the public expression of the anger that smoulders among the city's subaltern groupings. The men who protested that day came from north and west Bangalore — where lie abandoned tanneries and textile mills — whereas those (like me) who were unnerved by them live chiefly in the south and east, the areas of the city's software and biotechnology 'boom'. Likewise, the stormtroopers of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are motivated as much by class resentment as by love of Maharashtra or the Marathi language.


Reports from Kashmir suggest that the proponents of 'azadi' find ready volunteers because they pay cash to young boys without jobs or prospects of getting them. And, as I found while travelling through Dantewada some years ago, while the ideologues of the Sangh parivar claim that the Salwa Judum is defending 'nationalism' from 'extremism', the recruits themselves were animated by other considerations — such as a steady income, a uniform, and, above all, a gun with which to parade one's masculinity and one's ability to rise above the status of being merely a peasant. And while the members of the Politburo of the CPI (Maoist) may sometimes have a passing acquaintance with the works of Marx and Lenin, the cadres often join for material, rather than ideological, reasons. To be a Naxalite is more exciting, as well as more paying, than the alternative occupations of tendu leaf collection and hard labour on someone else's fields.


Whether committed in the name of regional sentiment, ethnic pride, religious fundamentalism or Maoist revolution, the violence in contemporary India is almost wholly the work of young men. There are some Naxal women who know how to use a gun. But the more savage acts (the beheading of alleged informers, for example, or the laying of landmines) are the handiwork of male comrades. In watching TV footage of stone-throwers in the Kashmir Valley and of taxi window-breakers in Mumbai, I can't recall seeing a single female vandal. There may be a biological basis for this generational and gender bias in violence. However, as in so many other areas of human history, the real explanation lies in society and culture rather than in biology.


There is an excess of angry young men in India today because there are deep inequities in economic and social development. Some parts of India are indeed shining; as, for example, the cities of the South and the West. However, the economic growth here is led by the service sector, rather than by agricultural renewal or manufacturing, which have the potential to create many more jobs. At the same time, other parts of India are stagnating, or even sinking — as for example the adivasi districts of Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, where the intensifying of mining to meet global demands led to displacement and mass humiliation. The feelings of discrimination are magnified by modern means of information transmission, such that the India that isn't shining is manifestly aware of the India that is. The hurt, and the anger, are doubtless felt by women of poorer households too. But given their traditional role as homemakers, they are less prone to vent their feelings on the streets.


I have no sympathy with extremist ideologies of Left or Right, or with social movements based on sectarian identities that undermine the inclusive idea of India. But the violence that scars India today can't be diminished by the simple re-statement of liberal pieties. It requires something more substantial — namely, a reorientation of the economy and of educational institutions, such that young men of all regions and social classes can find a more productive channel for their energies than violence.


Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. The views expressed by the author are personal







Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh recently announced that he would seek the amendment of the 14-year-old Environment (Protection) Act to constitute an apex expert body called the National Environment Protection Authority (Nepa). He promised to get it passed in Parliament before the end of this year, despite several problems in the plan.


Indeed, what Ramesh is offering is not novel. The Parliament, bureaucracy and judiciary believe that environment is a subject for scientists, experts and technically qualified people. At best, there is some place for 'social scientists', mainly for understanding tribals or other such communities. However, this time, Ramesh proposes to transfer all decision-making responsibilities on infrastructure projects, townships, ports and harbours and industrial estates onto this new body, which he claims will be "free from outside influence".


In crafting an autonomous, expert body, what is the 'outside influence' he is talking about? The answer is political interference and the unfortunate conclusion, therefore, is that Ramesh doesn't see the role of politics as being for the good of the environment. The idea of a regulatory authority seems to have got his attention thanks to 'positive' examples from the fields of finance, telecom, etc. What these fields have in common with environment is unclear. However, there's a critical difference between these bodies and Nepa: environment is what our development agenda is built upon and the function of the ministry has been to press for the reconciliation of seemingly incommensurable development and environmental agendas.


In Ramesh's own words, decisions on infrastructure projects are 'trade-offs' between conservation and economic growth. Are these not political decisions? How then can we, as a democracy, place the final decision-making powers in the hands of a scientifically qualified body when it has no popular mandate? Take any of the concerns about infrastructure projects or the proposals against which there has been opposition. The arguments put forth by people are not strictly environmental in nature — they are worries about the loss of livelihoods, impacts on health, restricted access to food sources and increase in localised poverty.


The handing over of decision-making powers to a body that is apolitical by design will create a new set of landlords who have no ethical, moral or constitutional obligation to uphold the interests of the poor, the underprivileged and marginalised groups. There are multiple claimants to any piece of land or environmental resource. Every decision of the environment ministry is one that validates one party's claim over all others. These decisions cannot be handed over to a technical body.


At a time, when we are debating the causes of the rise of violence and the many ways and times when a country and a polity have failed the tribal, the fisherman, the farmer and the slumdweller, what we need is good politics rather than cold objectivity. There is an urgent need for all sections of government to do their best to count the poor as full citizens, with rights and privileges, not as poor environmentalists that live in harmony with the forests until some better corporate proposal sees them as coming in the way.


It is difficult to tell good scientists from bad even if you know the science itself. But it seems easier to tell a good politician from a reluctant one. Now will the Minister for Environment and Forests please carry on with his work? The environment issue is a political one and it is just the place for him.

Manju Menon is a PhD student at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed by the author are personal







Terrorism and human rights can't co-exist. Terrorists are the biggest violators of human rights. The State has to play by its 'own rules', but these very rules are broken by terrorists. The solution is to protect human rights while maintaining laws that allow the State to punish those — its own men or terrorists — who violate human rights.


Yes, there have been plenty of instances of security forces acting outside the provisions of special laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the North-East and in Jammu & Kashmir. Fake encounters and custodial killings immediately come to mind. But these are aberrations that should be dealt with sternly by the army.


The Indian Army's human rights concerns are reflected in the 'Special Army Training Manual No. 29 Do's and Don'ts' while operating under the AFSPA. Human rights courses are run alongside orientation capsules during pre-induction training. Centrally regulated action against violations under a human rights cell in Army Headquarters is taken.


These checks and balances are not enough. Other measures need to be instituted. One, the judiciary must be made accountable by having an ombudsman to whom litigators can make appeals. Two, ordinary citizens should be made aware of their human rights and obligations, including those under special laws. This will significantly deter the abuse of authority by security forces. Three, provisions of basic human rights should be widely publicised through the media, public fora and institutional curricula and disseminated by village councils, tribal bodies, religious groups and student bodies.


By promoting human rights awareness and a knowledge of provisions entailed in the AFSPA and other such acts, abuse by security forces will become that much more difficult and rare. Even under the conditions of AFSPA, a citizen will be able to live a life of dignity, equality and liberty. The State, on its part, will also find it easier to marginalise the terrorists who thrive on alienation and popular discontent wrought by the abuse of special powers.


Rohit Singh is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (Claws), New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal








A friend's Facebook status message the other day got me thinking. It read: "Is cynicism an easy way to behave like an intellectual? What is the difference between the spirit of inquiry versus cynicism?"


My own case was: "A spirit of inquiry demands a certain child-like enthusiasm that things will change to become better, a cynic resigns himself to the fact that they won't. Nothing makes him wonder, something has died within him."


I always believe no matter how bad things get, they'll get better, one day. That the natural flow of life is towards a positive charge. That despite naysayers calling this the Kalyug, good will prevail at the end.


At a party recently, a history student asked me to explain my job to her. The fact that I'm a journalist wasn't enough.


I didn't want to sound like a hack, throwing jargon, so I tried to say it as simply, "We write about life", and immediately found myself adding, "Our greatest battle as we go along is to keep that wonder about life alive, so we are enthused about the story ideas we propose and eventually write. Because, as you go along, from idealism to perhaps a certain sense of realism, it's easy to fall into a rut -- to propose and write without any sense of enthusiasm. You will find the maximum number of cynics in this profession, and if a journalist worth his ink wants to make even a minor positive change in society, his greatest battle isn't with the world he writes about, it's first with himself."


Well, she scuttled off immediately. And as I came out of my reverie, I realised this had been a reality check for me. How do you fight off cynicism in life in general?


I've picked out three quotations: Hope, deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an

agreeable route; In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man's torments; and once you choose hope, anything's possible.


Choose yours.








The con artist Christophe Rocancourt deceived influential members of society into believing he was a French Rockefeller; but not as successfully as "Cassie Chadwick", at the end of the 19th century, posed as a daughter of Andrew Carnegie and obtained bank loans totalling some $10 to $20 million, although Rocancourt admitted to making almost $40 million from a lifetime of conning. There must be many ways to understand, and explain, the imposter — from the ur-dichotomy of Appearance and Reality to the cloak of hyperreality. In the end, however, much like the intended distortions in Greek statuary, all it needs to nail the lie is the accurate perspective, the right angle of vision.


That a Delhi resident almost pulled off till the end posing as an adviser to the prime minister (it's another matter

that he appears to be the PM's namesake too) to get VIP escort and attendant services from the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Vaishno Devi shrine's board, explained in socio-cultural context, may be a question of excessive veneration of the neta and babu class in India — the very real parallel world of VIPs at airports, railway stations, their beacon cars intruding daily into our mundane arena — as much as this man's momentary appearance. That he and his companions were reportedly already accompanied by a police escort from Punjab generated the hyperreal cover the J&K police needed to assure themselves they were taking charge of the real thing. They found him out the minute the veil was ripped by suspicious behaviour, which, matched with their experience (and protocol), was found wanting.


Smart imposters don't push too far. Yet, too-clever-by-half conmen do sometimes enrich their crime with layers of irony. David Hampton, the late imposter who inspired Six Degrees of Separation (first play, then film) by posing as Sidney Poitier's son, carried on duping every time he was out of prison, and even pretended to be the actor playing David Hampton in the play.







Mulayam Singh Yadav has sought the pardon of the "Muslim community" for associating with Kalyan Singh during the campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In a statement issued Thursday, he admitted to taking the support of some "galat tatva" (wrong elements), though all in a larger plan to keep the communal forces from seizing power. Arguing that this may have confused his traditional voters, he appended to the apology a recap of his heroic stand as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in the prelude to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, by which time the post was Kalyan Singh's.


The Samajwadi Party's takings at the Lok Sabha elections were so meagre that a first fallout was the brusque exit of Kalyan Singh. But Yadav's apology this week is perhaps part of a larger attempt to claim space in UP's reordered political landscape. First the BSP's social alliance in the 2007 assembly elections outflanked the SP's core votebank, and even cracked it. Then, in the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress's resurgence did not just have the Muslim vote begin to drift back to the national party; it also deprived the SP of the salience that comes with being the dominant opposition party in a state. Even thereafter, the SP has struggled to find its place in the political spectrum — in its opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill, its walkout along with the RJD in Lok Sabha during a cut motion, and its support to the Left for the July 5 bandh.


The apology this week can be seen as part of this search for space. The reference to the '90s is a reminder of the polarised politics that gave the SP a stable corner from which to seek votes. But as the BJP struggles to revive its fortunes in UP, and as the Muslim rebuff to the Congress is shown to be ending, such reminders may remain academic. Identity politics is giving way to the politics of livelihood in UP, and on this the SP has not yet had anything to offer. In fact, its 2009 paranoia over the English language and use of computers showed it to be as out of step with the times as its embrace of Kalyan Singh.







You might be tempted to ask: does the rupee really need a symbol? Or: is the sign any good? But neither of those is the right question. The right question is: might the rupee need a symbol? And the answer is: if India works its advantages right, then yes. The new symbol, chosen through competition, is now known. It was designed by an IIT post-graduate student, D. Udaya Kumar; it's a half-R — or full, Devanagari "Ra" — with a couple of parallel horizontal lines at the top, one cutting the half-R's upper curve. Yes, it was predictable given the parameters of the competition — which specified that it be based on the Devanagari "Ra" — and given, too, the tendency for currency symbols across the world to feature two parallel lines, apparently to convey a soothing impression of stability. But predictability, for something that is expected to be visible, usable, and easily adoptable by all of us, is hardly a fault. Though the majority of India's population that's unaccustomed to the Devanagari script might well raise their eyebrows at the Mulayam-like insistence that the symbol for their currency be necessarily based on a letter they've never seen before.


Nevertheless, this is a sign of ambition of the sort that Official India too rarely displays. Nobody yet has claimed that the lack of a symbol slows down typesetting or visual identification of the Indian rupee. But backing India's economy means creating excess capacity in the expectation that people will rise to meet it, a sentiment that India's government too rarely expresses. In anticipating a need for something of this sort, we have for once created capacity in advance — even if, quite literally, symbolically. The reaction to the announcement shows how much a forward looking attitude is appreciated: globally, for example, "#rupeesymbol" was the top trending subject on Twitter.


The rupee is not going to become the yen, the dollar, or even the euro overnight. (Perhaps thankfully, in the case of the euro.) In order to live up to the expectations that a new symbol embodies, much needs to be done, on a less abstract plane. Some might argue, for example, that converting the rupee, even on the current account which is all that is legal right now, has been made too hard. Look again at the new symbol: doesn't it look like its bobbing just below the surface of something, a surface the parallel lines represent?


Yes, the rupee is bubbling under, about to break out — but only if we let it float.








 Conscious of its growing weight in the world, the Indian rupee has now found a visual stand-in. A crafty combination of the Devanagari "Ra" and the Roman "R" without a spine, and slashed through the middle in the standard format, the new rupee symbol lives up to the difficult demand placed on it.


The finance ministry wanted a symbol "which reflects and captures Indian ethos and culture." Design was crowd-sourced through an open competition, and the pile of entries narrowed to six ideas. Indian Institute of Technology faculty member D. Udaya Kumar's winning entry claims visual allusions to the Indian Tricolour, with its two horizontal bars. It was also interpreted as an "equals to" sign, connoting balance within the economy and with other economies.


The art criticism might seem excessive, but you cannot blame the ministry for being image conscious — this rupee sign is meant to indicate the shape of things to come. As the signifier of India's ascendant economy, it is supposed to set us apart from the others who use the "Rs" abbreviation (Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). There was no practical need for the symbol — the three-letter ISO code for all international banking and business remains INR, and in fact most currencies do not even have a symbol. It is purely a branding exercise, a bid to stand up and be counted in the world.


We know that money is meaningful mass communication. The iconography of currency notes and coins tells their own stories — the heads and tails of political authority, the profiles and state insignia and mottoes, along with the look of legal tender. Currencies seek various effects with their design elements, and there's plenty of room for whimsy. The US dollars' complex filigreed frames are meant to deter forgery, Japanese yen notes have a spare, dignified aesthetic with fields of irises and pictures of cultural figures, Mexican and central American currency forge an assimilationist ideal with their depiction of indigenous populations. The euro eschewed emotive images of great men and women and stuck to generic bridges and gates, as it attempted all-round acceptability.


But finding a currency symbol presents greater challenges, in terms of economy of expression. It is an abstraction of an abstraction. With a few lines and curves, it has to convey something of its context, be anodyne enough not to offend any sensibilities and interesting enough to be memorable in a scroll of similar icons. The search for a Russian rouble sign has taken decades now. There are other factors, like making sure the dimensions don't exceed a 0, so that it fits into accounting spreadsheets. It has to be easy enough for anyone to scrawl.


Designed in 1996 by an anonymous team of four, the euro symbol was freighted with significance. According to the European Commission which chose it, "inspiration for the... symbol itself came from the Greek epsilon — a reference to the cradle of


European civilisation — and the first letter of the word Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to 'certify' the stability of the euro." Meanwhile, the pound sterling comfortably shared its symbol with Italy for ages — it is a slash on the letter "L" from libra, a Roman unit of weight.


We live in a world where all that is solid melts into sign, and visual culture is hotly contested territory. For instance, the minute difference between fonts like Helvetica and Arial matter profoundly, and not just to typography enthusiasts. Just look at the fierce global backlash against the goofy Comic Sans font, with protests and ban petitions ("Comic Sans walks into a bar, bartender says, 'We don't serve your type.'"). Our cities are a "chatter of signage", as LRB art critic Peter Campbell puts it, "an almost anonymous structure which you read by way of notices, badges, signs, logos and banners" where "the battle between one message and another has escalated". In short, a visual trigger matters more than ever.


Creating an icon that lodges itself in the memory is hard, but the rewards are worth it. An emblem has to imprint a whole universe of meaning, in a way that needs no words. The hammer and sickle conveys industrial and agrarian solidarity. And if impatience needs an ideogram, what better than Microsoft's little hourglass? The Nike swoosh is now so recognisable that the company has shed its name from the logo. Playboy claims that it once got a letter in its Chicago office with no mailing address on the envelope, just a drawing of the famous bunny.


And once the brand has sunk in deeply enough, the logo is merely a calling-card. Apple's tree-of-knowledge associations might not immediately suggest itself to everyone, or the fact that the three-point star of the Mercedes-Benz logo was originally intended to convey its sway over the land, sea and air. That doesn't detract from the phenomenal power of either brand.


However, the real mark of acceptance of the Indian rupee symbol will lie in how keyboards incorporate it. When the euro symbol was created, it created confusion among different computing applications but, by now, the dollar, pound sterling and euro line up on a Mac keyboard — the yen takes a couple more keystrokes. How and where will the Indian rupee find a place? The creation of standards is where dominance is asserted, and if our currency symbol finds an easy place in international keyboards, that would be symbolic evidence of our currency in the world.








 Earlier this week, the Supreme Court passed orders on legislation in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu that provide for reservations in excess of 50 per cent in public employment and education. The cases dealt with challenges to the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointment or Posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1993, and the Karnataka Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1994. The court permitted the laws to continue in operation, and much has been made of its apparent sanction for quotas in excess of 50 per cent. In reality, however, the court's orders are interim in nature, and it would be premature to predict their impact on the final judgment.


Nonetheless, the spirited debate that the issue has invited gives us a useful opportunity to reflect upon the 50 per cent lakshman rekha. The Constitution has a unique approach to addressing equality: Articles 15 and 16 adopt an asymmetric anti-discrimination principle. Consequently, the central legal concerns in India are less about whether reservations are per se constitutionally permissible, and more about the relationship between these specific enabling provisions and the universal equality guarantee in Article 14, the identification of beneficiaries, and the intrusiveness of affirmative action measures. Once this constitutional scheme is appreciated, it appears that the 50 per cent limit on quotas is not a necessary ingredient of equality. It is tempting to view the limit as a policy question which, despite enormous ramifications, has little to do with the Constitution.


This argument remains unpersuasive, however, because it fails to recognise that the limit expresses an important principle of political morality: it sets the equality norm. In other words, exceeding the limit changes the foundations of our equality guarantee; the forms of discrimination that formal equality ought to protect and the exceptions it must seek to accommodate. The 50 per cent ceiling is not simply an attempt to allow for a certain degree of representation in the general category; it is an effort to limit the extent to which our society embraces proportional representation. Crossing the Rubicon towards a proportional representation model moves the focus from equality of opportunity to equality of outcomes; it narrowly limits access to public employment and education to identity-based considerations.


Earlier this year, the 50 per cent limit on reservations was at issue in Union of India vs Rakesh Kumar. The case dealt with reservations for Scheduled Tribes in panchayats in scheduled areas and involved an inquiry into the constitutional validity of the panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The court upheld reservations in excess of 50 per cent on the rationale that panchayats in scheduled areas warrant exceptional treatment. In doing so, the court did not address how the Constitution structures the equality norm.


Reservations are typically viewed through the lens of distributive justice. The emphasis is on determining the most equitable distribution of benefits and burdens.


But reservations in panchayats involve representation and so may also be analysed in an alternate conceptual fashion. To wit, through the prism of democratic theory. Thus, a critical issue in Rakesh Kumar was how such reservations would impact political participation. The court skirted this issue, regarding it to be merely "an incidental consequence of the reservation policy."


In Indra Sawhney, the court cautiously expressed the possibility of exceptions to the 50 per cent limit but remained inarticulate on its conceptual foundations. Reversing the equality norm moves beyond substantive equality; it is not simply a matter of degree and requires new justifying reasons for support.


In cases like Rakesh Kumar the burden is even higher, for distributive justice is not the sole criterion that merits examination. It is unclear how the court will address these issues as it considers Tamil Nadu and Karnataka's laws. Mediating the tension between compulsory quotas and equal opportunity is no easy task, but explicating the equality norm that the 50 per cent limit embodies could be a good beginning.


The writer is a research associate at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







 Caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Nepal can easily mock his detractors from his own party as well as outside for their failure to form a national unity government. While the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) campaigned for the ouster of "puppet prime minister" for months, Nepal's party colleagues like Jhalanath Khanal ,


Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) , and House speaker Subhash Nemwang also aided the Maoists' campaign. Nemwang asked the PM to quit saying he is blocking the formation of a national unity government, a precondition for accomplishing the twin mission of completing the peace process and constitution delivery by May 28, 2011.


The House failed to meet the deadline for electing a consensus for the promised national unity government. President Rambaran Yadav wrote to parliament secretariat once again on July 12 to have the new Prime Minister elected by simple majority at the earliest. But even that does not seem to come through easily. Each of the three major political parties insist on having their own candidate as PM. Nor are the constitution making or the peace process moving ahead smoothly. Instead, they are facing much tougher challenges.


A lot is at stake now. The possible collapse of the peace process — something that India played a crucial role to initiate four years ago — for example. Maoists not being able to form or head the new government will lead to further isolation of one major stake-holder in the peace process. Such a scenario is only going to push the country back into the conflict that the peace process had brought to an end. Hormis Tharakkan, former RAW chief who played a crucial role in bringing Nepal's Maoists, then underground, and the seven pro-democracy political parties together in the anti-monarchy platform under four years ago, knows the consequences of the collapse of the peace process.


On these pages, he argued ('This time in Kathmandu', IE., July 5) that Nepali and Indian Maoists are not the same as the former have joined the democratic process and they are staking claim to government democratically. In Nepal, this is being interpreted as support of Baburam Bhattarai as a prime ministerial candidate provided other pro-democracy parties extended their support. But the UCPN-M politburo recently extended its solidarity — after nearly four years of indifference and silence — to "communist revolutionaries" in other countries, especially India. Bhattarai was not a dissenter.


The Indian government can afford to remain silent on the record about Nepal's power squabbling. But Nepal's biggest challenge at the moment lies in forming an effective government. Major political parties need to be flexible and willing to give up their own claim. However, the much talked about politics of consensus suffered its biggest jolt in April 2008 following G.P. Koirala's insistence on, first, not quitting the leadership in favour of the UCPN-M which had emerged as the largest party in the House, and second, on not joining the Maoist-led government three months later.


All the three governments after that have one or the other major parties not joining the government. And in the latest round, if the leadership goes to UML or the Nepali Congress, the biggest party in the House is neither likely to join the government, nor extend support to the peace- and constitution-making process.


The UCPN-M is taking a more stridently aggressive posture as they realise the chances of its heading the new government are very very slim. The party's senior vice-president Narayankaji Shrestha Prakash announced on July 11 that it does not have to return the property it confiscated from political rivals and ordinary citizens during the years of conflict. This comes on top of its insistence that all its 19,000 combatants — except those who opt out or who are disabled — have to be absorbed in the Nepal army, and their stated belief that the Young Communist League is not a paramilitary outfit. As usual, the Maoists have nothing to offer, only to take as in the past. Maoists may not be able to form the government on their own, but outside the government, they will continue to dictate the political course of the country given their organised cadre and their strength in the house.







We're digging clams and picking oysters on one of the longest days of the year. It's a huge bounty, this frutti di mare, bringing to mind what the natives always said about Puget Sound: when the tide is out, the table is set. And then the waters roil and there appears off the horizon a vessel that could destroy much of the world in an eyeblink.


It's one thing to see an orca breach, a nine-ton black-and-white flash of Indian art come to life, or a great blue heron swoop for prey, its thin legs unfolding like the collapsible frame of an umbrella. All seems right in the world. But when a 560-foot-long Trident submarine breaks the surface, carrying a nuclear payload that could wipe out any number of cities, you have to check the time and place. Is this 2010, or 1964?


Just as the Russian spies, with their Facebook poses and quaint plans to get Secret Informations about the Google, made us realize the cold war maintains a peculiar grip, catching a glimpse of a nuclear submarine prompts a similar reaction. The doomsday architecture of Mutual Assured Destruction is still very much in place. The sub was bound for Naval Base Kitsap, home to what the Seattle Times in 2006 called the largest nuclear weapons storehouse in the United States.


These vessels have helped to keep the peace for decades; the service of the men and women who run silent and deep and nearly undetectable is laudable. But what about the policy behind MAD? Is it as outdated as those spies?


As the sea leg of the triad of nuclear deterrence, the Trident submarines provide "the nation's most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability," as stated by the Navy. Their mission is to launch a massive and final lethal blow in the event that the worst has happened: "nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Russkies," in the memorable drawl of Major T. J. "King" Kong, the Slim Pickens character in Dr Strangelove.


MAD makes sense in a rational world: the Russians or Chinese would never try to wipe us out, because we would then wipe them out. They want to live well and prosper, as do we. But MAD makes less sense at a time when the enemies of civilisation are cave-dwelling religious fanatics who target cartoonists and kill innocent children at soccer telecasts and think, if they die in nuclear Armageddon, a sexual reward awaits them in heaven.


American policy, as stated in the Nuclear Posture Review updated by the Obama administration in April, rightfully targets nuclear proliferation by rogue nations — North Korea and Iran — and nuclear terror by free-agent zealots as the top priority. But then it also continues the cold war triad of nuclear deterrence — MAD. Yes, the report notes that the United States and Russia have reduced strategic nuclear weapons by about 75 percent since the end of the cold war. And the new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty backed by Obama and facing a round of hearings in Congress would scale those weapons back even more. "It is in the United States' interest and that of nearly all other nations that the nearly 65-year-record of nuclear non-use be extended forever." Such is the goal, as stated in the review. And despite Mitt Romney's uninformed posturing against the treaty, Republicans with the most knowledge of American defence strategy, led by Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, say the new pact would continue the works of Presidents Reagan and Bush the elder to deescalate cold war tensions while upgrading overall deterrent strategy.


But why not kill the cold war altogether? Deconstruct MAD, or take a couple hundred cities off the hit list? Even if this treaty goes into effect, the United States will retain 240 ballistic missiles just on the submarines alone, according to information presented to Congress.


Why not a much larger reset? The deterrence would still be there, even with a pair of submarines, let alone the dozen-plus out there now, not to mention the new class of extraordinarily costly submarines under construction. These new submarines may cost about $8.2 billion each to build, the Congressional Budget Office reported a few months ago. The first one, always the most pricey, may run up to $13 billion, which would make it the most expensive Navy vessel ever built.


In May, Defence Secretary Robert Gates questioned whether the cost of all these new ships was worth it in the big view of getting the most safety for the most buck. His legitimate query was greeted by a collective ho-hum. MAD and all its budget-busting infrastructure is just so much a part of the scenery now.


What we will get for those billions are sleek new nuclear-armed behemoths to replace the sleek old nuclear-armed behemoths, all in service to a dinosaur policy. Once the subs are in use, they will likely perform the same tired mission, ready to fire the last shot in a world going down. Meanwhile, above the surface of the ocean, crazed religious leaders in tents and Flintstone huts plot murder against innocents using neighbourhood electronic storerejects.


The purpose of these subs, like MAD itself, is rarely questioned. As so they glide in and out of Puget Sound, as the seasons roll by and the decades pass, powered by the inertia of a policy dating to black-and-white television, spies in ill-fitting suits, and a fear of Doomsday just a few ticks of the clock away.








 2010 is the year which will see, for the first time, a number of international summits on the tiger, culminating in the first ever summit of head of states from tiger countries in Russia. Nepal's Forest and Soil Conservation Minister Deepak


Bohara was in Delhi for a two-day meet of the Global Tiger Forum, an India-helmed, South Asian inter-governmental group for tiger conservation — the first of the year's summits.


Nepal has officially discovered a long-suspected fact: that poachers taking away Indian wildlife are taking refuge in Nepal. With its own wild tigers being rapidly poached, Nepal's wildlife conservation strategies are on an urgent growth path, and it is looking towards India for guidance. With the same protected wildlife, and the same conservation problems, he tells Neha Sinha about Indo-Nepal joint conservation ventures.


India and Nepal share a long border. How would you compare both sides?


Indian National Parks are there on the Indian side, but they are not connected. In Nepal, one of the most favourable things for conservation is that our protected areas are connected. Just three months ago, we created Banke, a new National park. So now we have Bardia, Shukla Phanta and Banke, which are contiguous, almost a 1,000 kilometres, and good for the natural movement of animals. India has Katarniaghat, and the Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh) and Valmiki (Bihar) tiger reserves, but these are not connected. We will sign a memorandum of understanding with India in the coming month for better protection along the border.


What is the crucial thing that you hope to achieve?


India and Nepal are the only two countries in this subcontinent which have the one-horned rhinoceros. This is a matter of great pride for Nepal. We also have the tiger, but the poaching threat is there. We realise that the only way to save this amazing wildlife is for India and Nepal to work together. I hope to get all the park wardens on both sides of the border for a meeting together to work out a joint strategy. And I want to include Kaziranga National Park in Assam also, because that is the main home for the rhino in India. This is the first time conservation is getting such priority in Nepal.


What is the wildlife poaching trend that you see being established?


It is clearly established that poaching is taking place both in India and Nepal. What is more, wildlife that gets poached is being brought to Nepal. From India, it comes to Nepal; from there it goes to China. This has been proved. We have recently captured 46 kg of pangolin skin and bones in Nepal and we suspect that it has come from India. Two hundred pangolins must have been killed for this. For the first time, we have invited Indian authorities to come to Nepal and look at the case. This is because the people who caught were two Chinese, two Indians, and one Nepalese person. Recently, we sent a live sloth bear which had been smuggled into Nepal back to India. (It was received by NGO Wildlife SOS and is being housed in their bear rescue centre in Uttar Pradesh).


Are you learning from India?


We have just set up a Wildlife Crime Bureau like the Indian Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. We are also trying to get more people involved in actual protection. Unlike India, the army protects the wildlife in our national parks. But we don't have a lot of money for tiger conservation. We are also looking at working with the Indian environment ministry for conservation of the Kailash Mansarovar landscape. We will sign on the dotted line soon. We also would like to take World Bank help for conservation and talks are on.


Which is your national animal?


Our national animal is the cow. We also have Daphne, a beautiful bird which is our national bird. But the tiger is very important for us. We are Hindus and we worship the tiger. I am Hindu, and I do Durga Puja. We need the wild tiger to live.








In a signed commentary on the situation in Kashmir in the daily Sahafat, published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, entitled "Back to Square One", its editor, Hasan Kamal wrote on July 12: "It is clearly seen that the present government and the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, have completely failed in keeping the situation in control. He has accused all his adversaries, including Mahbooba Mufti's party, of instigating the people, instead of taking stock of his own administration. But those who have seen the protesters on the TV screen would hardly believe that these people are instigated by someone."


On the deployment of the army, the editor of Rashtriya Sahara, Aziz Burney, in a piece entitled, "Kashmir needs justice, not army" (July 10) wrote: "Where in India are demonstrations not staged for raising a voice for people's just rights? Do we take the same sort of steps to suppress them as is being done in Kashmir? Or, in some way, we are victims of pressure generated by a particular mentality? And deployment of the army is more to appease those who nurse that mentality."


Taking a contrary view, Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express, wrote in an editorial on July 9: "It will be easy to blame the state government and CM Abdullah and his predecessors. But if we look deeply, it is a failure of the central government... The enthusiasm shown by the people of the state during the assembly elections, unprecedented in the last 50 years, created a sense of overconfidence in New Delhi."


Bharat Bandh


Justifying the agitation against "flawed economic policies" of the government, Rashtriya Sahara, wrote in an editorial (July 7): "It is the right as well as the duty of opposition parties to awaken the poor — suppressed as a result of the economic policies of a party that attained power with the promise of protecting the interests of the aam aadmi — and organise them to agitate against the government. It is the opposition's task in a democratic system to keep a vigil on the ruling party or coalition and raise the voice of protest against its anti-people policies. Therefore, if the Left Front or BJP and other parties agitated against the policies of the UPA by organising a Bharat Bandh, it was proper, indeed necessary."


Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj is more enthusiastic in its support for the bandh. In an editorial on July 6, entitled "Success of bandh exposes the reality of Congress", the paper writes: "The way the crowds coming out on the streets against the violation of the rights of Indians overpowered by hunger, shaken by rising prices, and concerned at the anti-poor policies of the central government have got popular support, it would not be inappropriate to say that perhaps the UPA, ruling at the centre for a long time, has developed fatigue. Therefore, it badly needs some rest."


Sahafat, in its editorial on July 7, wrote: "The success of the bandh was not merely because the right and the left had, perhaps for the first time, taken part in a protest against rising prices. The most important reason for its success is that the statistics and facts the central government presented... are beyond the understanding of the aam aadmi to whom the Congress had extended its hand or tried to do so."


Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar questioned in its editorial on July 7 the BJP's motivation for the bandh: "The extraordinary enthusiasm of the BJP for making the bandh successful was certainly not for removing the difficulties of the aam aadmi hit by rising prices. The party's real interest is in devising ways to put life into its dead body. In the last six years of UPA rule, the BJP has not been able to find an issue that could weaken the foundations of the government and create possibilities for the BJP's return to power."


Matrimonial Solutions


According to a report from Jeddah in Hindustan Express (July 8), a group of young men has pleaded for four marriages by every able Saudi male to "reduce the number of unmarried women." The group has started a campaign in this regard on Facebook, with the slogan, "We want them four." There is no count available of unmarried women in Saudi Arabia, but "it is understood that the figure is very high because in Saudi Arabia marriage turns out to be a very costly bargain", the report says.


According to another report from Dubai in Jadeed Khabar (July 9), Mufti-e-Azam of the Sultanate, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, has "advised the country's citizens to "hurry up" with their marriages to ensure that they stay away from crime. He recently attended a mass marriage ceremony for 200 marriages.


Compiled by Seema Chishti







MumbaiOnce upon a time, we had no money. Many have called this our animal phase. Then, we came up with currencies. And then much later, we complemented some of them with symbols. As the number of countries grew, so did the number of currencies. And this phenomenon kept strengthening as trade leapfrogged across seas and continents to assume its current transnational dimension. But not all national currencies have symbols today. And not all those that do, attract significant attention, globally speaking. The keyboard on which this is being typed boasts only one currency sign—$. And this fact speaks volumes even if it does not negate the need to consider an alternative global reserve currency. It's against this backdrop that we comment on the Indian government's decision to formalise a symbol for the Indian Rupee. How about RS, Rs, INR, etc? Those are only abbreviations. Why do we need a currency symbol? This is sort of like questioning the need for a national flag or emblem or song. These are all symbolic players in global communication; to become integrated in the latter, it helps to have all the former. It's a question of vision.


Note that the finance ministry announced a public competition for the rupee's symbol design at a time when the the currency was going through a low ebb. Barclays Capital had said it could drop to 56 against the dollar. Also, there was talk of the euro—the most modern and wide-ranging currency experiment—becoming the new dollar. A year on, the rupee is hovering at a healthy 46 to a dollar, and the euro is in the doldrums. Symbols of both the euro and dollar reflect investments in continuity and aspirations of stability. On both criteria, IIT post-graduate D Udaya Kumar's winning design is a winner indeed (artists may carry on an aesthetics debate). Whether it will become popular and even ubiquitous will depend on how strongly our economy performs. If India's GDP and trade volumes keep growing impressively, then people will fall over each other to update keyboards, fix price tags, mobile pads, trading tickers and so on accordingly. It will also help if the rupee is allowed greater internationalisation. As of now, as RBI has noted, almost the entire bulk of international trade in India continues to be denominated in the dollar.







Price setting in a market economy is a dynamic process that cannot be bound by strict and well-set timelines. The prices of key commodities, after all, change every day, even every hour and every minute. Of course, when the government does the price setting, things aren't anywhere as dynamic. That was the case with the pricing of petrol, for example, until the recent decontrol. The question that is now being asked is how often will petrol prices be revised. The answer to that should be, as often as is necessary, depending on the level of global crude oil prices, which usually change, even if not dramatically, on a daily basis. So, in theory, there is no reason why petrol prices should not be considered for revision quite regularly, on a weekly basis, if necessary. As reported by FE, the three main oil marketing companies are converging on reviewing fuel prices at the end of every month, in accordance with the global level of prices. As such, there is little wrong with this move. Perhaps only, even greater flexibility should be allowed, given that the price of crude goes up or goes down sharply in the first week of a month and a compulsory wait till the end of the month makes little sense.


In the context of price setting, RBI is reportedly considering increasing the frequency of its meetings to review monetary policy—essentially to set a price on credit—to once every month, instead of on a quarterly basis as is the case now. Interestingly, RBI has, over the last two years, chosen to alter interest rates on a fairly regular basis outside the period of its scheduled review. Again, this makes good sense, because events, both domestically and internationally, unfold at a rapid clip and the central bank is required to respond flexibly, and not at a preassigned time. Institutionalising a monthly or a once in six weeks review process, as is the practice in many advanced economies, is, therefore, a step in the right direction. That will help remove the uncertainty that surrounds the somewhat ad hoc process that the setting of interest rates has become in recent times. A mature market economy must, after all, be at its most flexible and nimble when it comes to the adjustment of key prices.







In September 1938, James Taylor was deputy governor of RBI. We don't always notice it, but tucked away in one corner of currency notes is the RBI seal, with a tiger and a palm tree. When this was designed in 1938, James Taylor commented, "a tiger looks too like some species of dog, and I am afraid that a design of a dog and a tree would arouse derision among the irreverent". RBI sources say the quality of design was subsequently improved. But nevertheless, the tiger still looks somewhat tame and using the dog imagery, paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes, the irreverent would say it is a dog that doesn't bark when it should and barks too much when it shouldn't. That RBI seal may well have a parallel with the new logo for the rupee. The Cabinet has now approved the new rupee logo, based on the letter 'R' in both Roman and Devanagari, with two parallel lines (a sign of equality) running horizontally across. The designer says the tri-colour is also built into the design, with a white space in the middle, but that isn't immediately obvious. Some RTI activists are agitated that norms weren't followed in the design competition, but let us not get into that.


The rupee isn't a unit of account in India alone. It figures elsewhere in South Asia and Indonesia. Had it not been for the 1966 devaluation, it would probably have continued to be a legal tender in Qatar and Dubai, too. It is also legal tender in mythical countries in a few games. As everyone knows, etymology is from the Sanskrit word for silver, with coinage once made of precious metals. In a general sense, the rupee is more 'precious' today. In 1947, we enacted a Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), because foreign exchange was scarce. (Origins actually go back to Defence of India Rules, 1939). This was meant to be temporary, for ten years. But because of irrational policies, foreign exchange shortages didn't disappear. FERA became permanent in 1957 and was tightened further in 1973. The 1991 reforms, and subsequent years, eventually removed the forex shortage. Unless one makes comparisons with China (where forex reserves are excessive), India is flush with forex now. And in the medium term, with the growth one expects, the rupee can only appreciate and thus become more 'precious'. It should become more acceptable, not only in India, but also elsewhere. One should be more proud of the rupee. Not every country in the world has a currency logo. But the major ones (dollar, euro, yen) do. So, if we are proud of the rupee, it should have a logo.


However, are we proud about the rupee? Do we think it is a tiger and not a dog? The answer depends on its convertibility status, but only partly. Yes, global acceptability is conditional on that and yes, the rupee isn't convertible on the capital account. Not yet, with lessons of 1997-98 and 2007-08 financial crises having been partly misread. But the party line is that the rupee is convertible on the current account. If this is correct, and if we are proud of the rupee, we should allow full convertibility on the current account. Rather oddly, we don't allow that, but other countries do. One is not talking about hawala and illegal transactions. In parts of the Middle East (say, Dubai) and South-East Asia (say, Singapore), one can legitimately convert rupees into any other currency and vice-versa. It is different in Indian airports (and presumably sea-ports, too). Before emigration, we are technically in Indian customs territory and depending on whether one wants cash or some other instrument, subject to a ceiling, one can convert rupees into forex. For instance, if it is cash, the current ceiling is $2,000, one signs a form stating that one is not exceeding the annual current account thresholds.


Beyond immigration, one is in a duty-free zone that is global, from the exchange rate point of view. No capital account transactions are possible there. Indeed, in payments by credit cards, there are no restrictions, apart from those annual current account ceilings. But try using Indian rupees there. There is a cap of Rs 5,000 on paying at duty-free and converting rupees into forex. (The cap has ostensibly been raised to Rs 7,500 but hasn't been implemented yet. Conversion of the rupee was earlier allowed for non-residents, but is only for residents now). Therefore, we haven't yet scrapped the forex shortage and FERA mindset. Such airport transactions aren't terribly important quantitatively. But they have symbolic value. The logo, too, is no more than a symbol. It means little, because it is actual policies that determine a currency's global acceptance. In terms of the symbolic value attached to airport transactions, clearly Bangkok, Singapore and Dubai are prouder of the rupee than we are. If and when this changes, like dollarisation elsewhere, there will be greater 'rupee-isation' in South Asia and beyond. That's where genuine pride lies, not in the logo.


The author is a noted economist








If agricultural output did not go down in a major drought, some big comments and questions should have been raised. The comments should have been on the changing nature of the economy, its resilience and strengths. There should have been questions about how we can sustain and accentuate these strengths. But, as a country, we love to run people down and fix blame. Good news is unacceptable, particularly if it comes from a desi. This fellow Alagh must have an agenda. So, India was growing fast only when the IMF and a Harvard don said it. Seven years of Indian economists saying it earlier was just a rant.


Every trend in Indian agriculture was accentuated in the drought year. Some good, some bad. The bad was largely on account of policies from ancien régime, as the French would put it, but bad all the same. Grain output fell, which was expected in a drought year but was also the underlying trend. The annual average of foodgrains output was three quarters of one per cent in the period from 2002 to 2009. There is some uncertainty on area figures but more than half the growth is explained by area growth on account of the bounty of MSPs.


Foodgrains are expanding in areas where they were earlier declining on account of diversification. In fact, in an argument with Tushaar Shah, Ashok Gulati and Hemant P, I had shown that in Gujarat the area under foodgrains that went down from 49% in the triennium 1970-73 to 35.5% in 2000-03 and goes up to 37.77% in 2005-08 as an IIM-A book, edited by Ravi Dholakia, brought out. And, in fact, the area went up even more since and was higher in the period 2006-09. The agriculture sector has a very heavy hand of the state and it shows. Therefore, it was a bit disappointing when the senior most economic advisor to the government saw policy towards agriculture as largely keeping grain prices down, in a recent exchange.


Actually, it is interesting that even in a severe drought with falling output, grain stocks actually went up. The uneven impact of the kharif rainfall failure in 2009, with the worst impact on highly irrigated areas, led to this interesting outcome. But it was an unusual weather quirk that led to large surpluses in spite of low levels of rainfall and this cannot be considered a usual phenomenon. But more enduring was the upsurge in non-foodgrains crop output. The underlying growth trend here has been around 4% annually over a decade, but more recently in the Tenth Plan, the growth has been close to 6% and could have clocked around 3% even in a drought year.


It is interesting that the rainfall failure in July 2009 is expected to increase the planted area under pulses and oilseeds, for example, as compared to cotton and grains. A meteorological drought, as we argued, is different from an agricultural drought. The non-foodgrains sector responds very effectively to price changes, since the state plays a minimal role and is showing buoyancies of a kind not seen earlier. This is happening in a more effective manner in vegetables, fruits and animal husbandry products, which have all shown high growth even in a drought year.


Underlying all this has been a rapid increase in quality inputs in agriculture. Pesticides demand, for example, has been rising at around 10%, although the quantity increase is only 2-3%, showing a movement away from just pesticide use to a more selective use of quality purchases by the farmer. The pesticide market was sluggish last year but not as much as in earlier droughts. Similarly, the trend in fertiliser, now that the sector has been partially deregulated, is towards the use of quality products in terms of balancing nutrients and customised products. Here the demand is rising by 15-20% annually as compared to about 5% in the traditional products.


Farmers don't eat fertilisers and pesticides. And, therefore, there is emerging, surely and in a larger measure, a smarter and more discriminating market in ever increasing larger areas. It would be unwise to ignore these trends and, in fact, to sidestep them. The announcement that eastern India is to be saturated with hybrid paddy is the kind of policy we have been waiting for, for the last 15 years.


The country will eagerly look forward to the details concerning policies for overcoming the earlier failures. More such initiatives are in order.


The author is a former Union minister









It's about time that the government cleared the air over the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers, once and for all. For over seven months, no Chinese telecom vendors have generated any business in India as they are barred from supplying telecom equipment to local telecom service providers. And this is because the government suspects spyware and malware in the Chinese equipment. Of course, India has every right to address genuine security concerns. But that is not the worrying part.


In an era of global businesses becoming local, the pertinent question is—what is the signal that the government intends to send out to the global business community? The current situation with the Chinese manufacturers, especially in the telecom equipment space, has gone on for nearly eight months. When the crisis began, the telecom department placed a 30-day window for the government to raise any objections to the orders fixed by Indian firms to Chinese suppliers, for which a mandatory security check was in place. However, in the absence of mandatory checks, no Chinese consignment has been cleared. Now the home ministry has suggested that all Chinese telecom equipment suppliers should agree to third-party verification of their plants. Also, they will have to submit their software code to the Indian government, besides giving an undertaking that their equipment does not have any malware. There is no other instance of such an elaborate security measure for any multinational firm that operates in India. This could very well be the solution to end the government ban on Chinese telecom equipment suppliers. Also, this may just be the best signal that the Indian government can give to the global business community on its seriousness to move beyond a hurdle. It's time to move on.


Also, India is the fastest growing and second largest telecom market. Each month, the telecom service providers are adding 15-20 million subscribers, all this while keeping tariffs at the lowest levels in the world. This has been possible largely due to the low-cost Chinese equipment. After adequately safeguarding our security concerns, India should simply clear the air over the Chinese telecom suppliers as it is in our interest, if we wish to continue working towards our goal to increase teledensity and telecom connectivity.








From the time President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in June 2009 that the burqa was "not welcome" in France, it has been clear that his government was serious about introducing a ban on the veil worn by some Muslim women and on another more severe garment called the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered. The French government is now closer to this after the National Assembly approved legislation for it. It has to be passed by the Senate next, and a constitutional Council could yet void it. The proposed law is very much in line with France's inspiring secular traditions that keep religion strictly out of the public sphere, where the social contract is based exclusively on universal values enshrined in the country's laws. In April 2010, similar legislation was approved by the Belgian parliament's lower house, and a vote by the upper house is awaited later this year. Other European countries are also mulling a ban on the veil. But France, which passionately values a secular national identity over the ethnic or religious affiliations of its immigrants, has never shied away from forcing the pace on complex issues relating to religion and their place within the larger national identity. If this was first aimed at checking the influence of the Catholic church on public life, the spotlight is now on Islam. The proposed ban makes eminent sense through a feminist lens. The burqa (not to mention the niqab) is unquestionably an oppressive garment that seeks, as Mr. Sarkozy pointed out, to keep those who wear it imprisoned "behind a screen." It is nowhere prescribed in the Koran but has been imposed on millions of women by sections of the clergy — all of them male — who have interpreted religious texts to suit their backward-looking religious or political agenda. That many Muslim women seem willing to embrace the veil these days as a symbol of their piety, modesty, and virtue, or as a political statement of their Muslim identity, is no indication of female agency. It speaks more of their successful co-option in a misogynist project that is the antithesis of liberté, égalité, fraternité — values that go back to the French Revolution and are the proclaimed national motto of France.


However, there is a serious downside to the move to ban the burqa and the niqab. In the post-9/11 atmosphere, such a law is likely to be viewed as an instrument to persecute and humiliate Muslims. It could lead to further radicalisation within the fold and inflame tensions between majority and minority populations in Europe. The reality is that only a small number of women in France's estimated five million Muslim population wear the veil. Fears that a ban could end up criminalising Muslims in European societies are not misplaced, given the Islamophobia in the west. The right-wing French government's unfavourable disposition towards immigrant populations does not help either. In March 2010, the Council of State, which will examine the proposed ban for its constitutionality, observed that a complete ban might, in fact, violate the French Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Conventional Freedoms. It seemed more comfortable with the idea of a limited ban rooted in reasons of security. But even if the Council strikes down the law, the intriguing social, philosophical, and political issues the burqa and the niqab raise will not go away. For literary guidance on what might happen if the tension between an uncompromisingly secular state and radical religious identity assertion — focussed in this case on the mysterious phenomenon of the "headscarf girls" committing suicide in Kars in Turkey during the early 1990s — is allowed to sharpen and grow, there is no better text than Orhan Pamuk's magnificent novel, Snow.







The European Union's aspiration to speak in one voice seems odd in a world where the continent is still largely viewed as a multitude of nation-states, with divergent interests and concerns. Against this is the increasingly felt need for an effective counterweight to the predominance of the United States in international diplomacy. The European External Action Service (EEAS), a foreign ministry and diplomatic corps of a new genre, is in the process of being created following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on December 1, 2009. The European Parliament recently approved the final shape of the EEAS and the European Commission offices in more than a hundred countries are being converted into EU embassies. The office of EU Foreign Minister, known as the 'High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,' now combines external affairs responsibilities hitherto held conjointly with a EU executive and the incumbent rotating presidency. Internal fissures over the recognition of the independence of Kosovo, the two-state solution on Palestine, and the lifting of a EU embargo on arms sales to China remain. If deeper European divisions were exposed during the U.S.-led illegal war against Iraq (with Labourite Britain in obedient tow), current Franco-German differences over the approach to European economic recovery threaten to undermine a concerted global response. Nevertheless, the attempt to establish a coordinating foreign policy apparatus, with a 7,000-strong diplomatic corps, for a multitude of nation states is ahead of the times and must be wished the best of luck.










Three insurgent outfits of Assam and its neighbourhood seeking "sovereignty and independence" for the people they claim to represent have been having different kinds of interaction with the Centre and the State governments and/or non-official facilitators since formal and informal contacts and negotiations began, in one case, over a decade ago. Since such is the nature of the beast, these organisations like other similar outfits, are split. So there is a kind of truce or ceasefire without any real cessation of hostilities for, there is always a spoilsport.


Other insurgent organisations with similar stated objectives like those in Manipur are also active in the region. These have, however, not been able, or have not cared to secure the kind of modus vivendi the NSCN-IM, for instance, has with the Union government and, with far less ambiguity, the government in Kohima. Indeed, the position of the Union and the State governments towards even the three organisations with which some kind of talks or talks about talks are on is neither uniform nor consistent. The differences are instructive and may well provide a clue to why the 'peace process' in the region, despite being an ongoing process for over a decade, remains stalled,


Of the three organisations, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is striving for the formal recognition of sovereignty and independence that in its view returned to the Naga people with the end of the British rule in August 1947. Its dominant faction, led by chairman Isak Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, is known as the NSCN-IM. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), founded in April 1979, too has been fighting for the restoration of the sovereignty of Assam (Asom), claimed to have been lost when the kingdom of Assam was annexed by the British following the defeat of Burma in the Anglo-Burmese war of 1826, and later usurped and illegally occupied by India, following the departure of Britain in August 1947. Finally, there is the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), with its own version of history of lost sovereignty going back to pre-historic times when the 'Aryans' invaded and occupied the 'Mongoloid' people's land.


As in all such nationalist narratives, including the Great Indian Nationalist Narrative, there is an inescapable element of fiction and imagination. But the invention does not affect the passion of the narrative or the earnestness and virulence with which the stated objectives are pursued.


Of the three, the contacts and negotiations, indirect and direct, informal and formal, between the Centre and the NSCN-IM have been going on for wellnigh 15 years. Given the complexity of the Naga nationalist mobilisation, the Union government has established similar contacts with the rival NSCN faction headed by S.S. Khaplang. The old Phizoist Naga National Council, though dormant, has not been ignored and has to be reckoned in any eventual settlement or deal. Indeed, Thuingaleng Muivah, who broke from the NNC, is currently travelling in Nagaland, wooing the organisation he and the NSCN once reviled, paying a public tribute to A.Z. Phizo, and visiting areas like Khonoma, once considered NNC strongholds.


During the period when a ceasefire has prevailed except, technically, in Manipur, the NSCN-IM has consolidated itself. In Nagaland as well in the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, especially Ukhrul, the NSCN-IM is very nearly the de facto government. Indeed the recent travels of Mr. Muivah in Nagaland, a temporary break from the confrontation with Manipur that eventually culminated in a prolonged blockade of the State, were very much like the 'progress' of a head of government, which is how the NSCN-IM views itself. It collects taxes, dispenses justice, and ensures security.


However, the element of coercion is always present. Those who defy its authority are given short shrift. Further, since its claim to supremacy is contested by the NSCN (K), which in its public utterances is no less committed to Naga sovereignty and independence, clashes between the two factions are not uncommon, though these have steeply come down, once again underlining the dominance of the NSCN-IM. What was once viewed as a 'parallel government' functioning covertly is now very nearly the legitimate government. Though the 'talks' with the Union government have been going on for years without any notable advance, neither side has openly given up on such negotiations. Mr. Muivah is to return to Delhi for further talks after a sojourn of over two months in Nagaland.


Now, consider this other picture. Though the ULFA has not acquired the kind of legitimacy and its leaders, barring notably its 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Barua, are in prison, the Union and Assam governments never tire of saying they are keen on a dialogue with the ULFA, even in prison, if it agrees to two preconditions: talks within the framework of the Indian Constitution, meaning the ULFA should accept the Indian Constitution; and its abjuring violence.


But, for the ULFA, since gaining the sovereignty and independence of Asom is the core issue of what it calls India-Asom relations, the first condition would go against the very grain of its existence.


Secondly, and this is not merely the perception of the outfit but of most people of the State who do not

subscribe to its sovereignty aspirations, violence has two inter-related aspects: The ULFA's violence and the Indian state's conter-violence which has brought the two to this position of confrontation and seeking accommodation. Seen thus, the condition on abjuring violence is meaningless and is merely a reiteration of known positions from which both sides have to move away.


The contrast with the elasticity and the necessary opaqueness of the positions of the two sides in the long ongoing 'Indo-Naga dialogue' could not be sharper. Mr. Muivah and Mr. Isak Swu have never been hectored about the necessity of their affirming faith in the Constitution before the Union government holds talks with the NSCN-IM. Having never been arrested in India, they have not been advised to seek bail. Other, seemingly superficial matters like the freedom and ease with which the NSCN-IM leaders moved in the corridors of power do contrast with the 'cribbed and confined' status of ULFA leaders when they are taken to court.


The position of the poorest of the three cousins, the NDFB, is even more pathetic. Its leader Ranjan Daimary, once the most feared and elusive insurgent, arrested on May 3 this year on the Bangladesh-Assam border, had to run the gauntlet even to get the necessary legal representation because of his organisation's culpability in the massive bombings in Guwahati and other places on October 3, 2008.


Since then, he has become the forgotten man, so much so that the NDFB had to blast the rail track and derail a train near Gossaingaon on July 8 to remind the Union and Assam governments that it cannot be sidelined as of no consequence. Like the other two, the NDFB too wants to hold talks, for even if nothing comes out of them, an invitation from Delhi is the first step to its joining the big league in the hierarchy of insurgencies.


It is true that governments are not always rigidly and uniformly consistent in their assessment of threats, real or perceived, the state faces. Yet, the impression is inescapable that more than any objective assessment of the genuineness of the grievances, it is the assessment of the strength and weakness of a rebel outfit that influences the government's response to its offers of talks. Put simply, the NSCN-IM is in a strong position, virtually running a government, and so has to be accommodated, with a view to eventual absorption into the system. The ULFA, and much less the NDFB, despite their demonstrated capacity for extreme violence, have not been able to make a political point, let alone virtually take over the state apparatus, and thus pose a political challenge. So, while the NSCN-IM is at the high table, others seeking to hold talks are still waiting in the ante-room, or are yet to secure admittance there.








It has not been politics as usual for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan since the severe setback his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) suffered in the House of Councillors election on July 11. Nor is it politics as usual for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard ahead of the looming general election she promised after toppling Kevin Rudd in a lightning political strike against him on June 24.


Elsewhere in East Asia, Benigno S. Aquino III has assumed office as President of the Philippines after winning a decisive vote from the people to succeed the unpopular Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In Thailand, though, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has not so far signalled if and when he might seek the people's mandate to roll back the periodic waves of 'pro-democracy' protest against his rule.


Of these four countries, Japan and Australia are long-standing military allies of the United Sates in the Asia-Pacific theatre. And, not long ago, the Philippines and Thailand were accredited by the previous U.S. administration as its "major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies" in the Southeast Asian sub-region.


U.S. President Barack Obama's current global agenda is, however, not the defining factor in the politics of these East Asian countries. As an exception, Mr. Kan's rise to power in Tokyo early in June was largely the result of his predecessor's failure to keep his pledge of reducing the U.S. military footprint in Japan or at least in its Okinawa prefecture.


Despite this empirical reality, Mr. Kan's woes in the July 11 election were traceable to his domestic agenda and not foreign policy priorities. The key domestic issue was his failure to carry the people with him over his unpopular proposal to double the sales tax. Prior to this Councillors election, too, his brief political honeymoon was not really marred by the categorical decision he took, immediately after assuming office, to allow Okinawa to stay as the Pentagon's main playfield in East Asia. As evident from the public opinion polls that followed his ascent as prime minister, he was not held to account for not honouring his predecessor's pledge of showing the Americans who the master in Okinawa would be.


Following the latest electoral setback, Mr. Kan's coalition now finds itself without a clear majority in the upper chamber of Diet, Parliament. As this is written, he is in search of a new ally to shore up the coalition's base in the House of Councillors. Although his administration's majority in the more powerful House of Representatives remains unassailable, he requires a similar balance of forces in the upper chamber as well to push through economic and fiscal "reforms." Only through "reforms" can he hope to pull Japan out of its unending crisis of ballooning public debt and floundering growth rate.


All this is conventional wisdom. Not in the same category, though, is the way in which the issue of American military presence in Japan quickly receded as a factor in the July 11 election to one half of the total seats in the upper chamber of Diet.


Mr. Kan's early-June rise to power occurred in a surcharged political atmosphere that was accentuated by the exit of Social Democratic Party (SDP) from the DPJ-led ruling centre-left coalition. His predecessor had failed to meet the SDP's demand that the American military profile in Japan be scaled down, particularly in Okinawa as the minimal first step. Subsequently, however, the SDP's poor performance in the July 11 election serves as a key pointer. The Japanese, deeply concerned over their personal budgets, do not necessarily see the U.S. as the chief villain of their country's "failing" political plot of much-promised economic growth and fairness.


All this does not mean that Japan can indefinitely postpone tough decisions about its possible equation with the U.S. into the future. For now, Mr. Obama has not had the vision or time to think of creative alternatives to the current network of often-unpopular U.S. military bases in East Asia. Of continuing interest or concern to the U.S. in this region is China's relentless rise as a potential or possible global superpower. Official Washington is taking time to come to terms with this reality. But some American strategic experts have begun to visualise new options for the 'off-shore balancing of China' in the current climate of popular sentiments in both Japan and South Korea against the idea of timeless U.S. military presence there. One such option is to distance the U.S. troops from China's immediate neighbourhood such as the land mass of Japan and South Korea and to raise the credibility of Washington's long-distance 'strike capabilities.'


At the height of America's Vietnam War in the last century, columnist Walter Lippmann had at one stage suggested a pull-back of U.S. troops to an utterly friendly terrain like Australia. Today, the U.S.-Australia equation is far more sophisticated, with China being a crucial factor. Within hours of toppling Mr. Rudd, the Mandarin-knowing 'China-sensitised leader,' Ms Gillard affirmed that she would uphold the U.S.-Australia military-political alliance. However, like Mr. Kan in Japan, she too is aware that domestic economic concerns outweigh foreign policy priorities.


The key issues she has chosen to focus on are education, health care, carbon pricing to address climate change, and taxes on super profits in the domain of minerals.


Unlike Mr. Kan, whose rise to power was in some ways linked to an issue over U.S. presence in Japan, Ms. Gillard's 'political coup' against Mr. Rudd had nothing to do with the U.S.-Australia-China triangle of complex cross-currents. She wanted to reverse the sudden administrative 'drift' that began to spoil Mr. Rudd's "good government." By her own narrative on how she became Prime Minister, Ms. Gillard has indicated that a non-conservative government such as her party's cannot have the luxury of politics as usual. The intended message is that there must a sense of urgency in addressing the people's concerns though cabinet-level consultations and community-level consensus.


For Mr. Kan, who too espouses non-conservative ethos in an essentially capitalist milieu, the puzzle of 'politics

unusual' is how to feel the people's pulse while running a political machine such as a party or a coalition or government.


In the Philippines, Mr. Aquino III, scion of a 'people power' dynasty, is hardly a stranger to such a message. But

he is just beginning to feel the ground realities. For Mr. Abhisit, on the other hand, a clean mandate in his own

right may enhance his elbow room for essaying 'politics unusual.'











Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, can allow himself a moment of quiet self-congratulation this weekend (JULY 17/18) when he marks 10 years in power. His father, Hafez, was a hard act to follow in a famously tough neighbourhood but Assad the son has gone a fair way in modernising the country after years of isolation. Syria teems nowadays with western tourists who can enjoy boutique hotels in Damascus and puff shisha pipes in smart cafes. The oldest capital on the planet now has a stock exchange — a far cry from the austerity of the Ba'athist era and stirring slogans about the "beating heart of Arabism".


Assad, a stripling at 44, is more media-savvy than most Arab leaders, though Syria's ministry of information is a hangover from a more strictly controlled era. His resolutely secular wife, Asma, fits photogenically into the picture of a modern republican dynasty and works to promote civil society organisations.


And the president must certainly be satisfied that Syria matters — as shown by the VIPs from the US and Europe paying court almost daily at his discreetly guarded palace on Jebel Qassioun.


Less enigmatic than his father — the "sphinx of Damascus" — Assad is also a key figure in the Middle East. He is a proud nationalist, supporter of the Palestinians and desperately wants — but has so far failed — to achieve a rapprochement with the United States. Peace with Israel and the return of the occupied Golan Heights remain elusive. But a close relationship with Iran and support for the Islamists of Hamas — like Lebanon's Hezbollah considered a terrorist organisation on both sides of the Atlantic but a "resistance movement" in Damascus — mark him out from the pro-western, conservative Arab mainstream. For some Syria-watchers, these are valuable "cards" to be surrendered at the right moment. Yet how and when that moment might come is tantalisingly hard to foresee.


Assad deftly managed Syria's humiliating ejection from Lebanon after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. The effect of Beirut's "Cedar Revolution" — an alarming reminder of alternative paths to regime change after the invasion of Iraq — was in the end fairly limited. The U.N. tribunal investigating the killing grinds on but looks unlikely to indict senior Syrians. Damascus probably has as much influence in Lebanon as it ever did, not least through its close relationship with Hezbollah. Even Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader whose father was murdered by Syrian agents, pays tribute to Assad these days. No wonder the mood on Jebel Qassioun is so upbeat.


Ten years ago hopes were high that Assad — with the benefits of a British education and a nerdy interest in computers — would prove confident enough to relax his father's grip. In the brief "Damascus spring" that followed his accession some political prisoners were freed and debate permitted. But the instinct to repress was stronger than pressure to liberalise. It was all over by 9/11 and the overthrow of Saddam.


Smart guys


Still, Syrians like to point to progress: al-Watan has the distinction of being the country's only privately owned newspaper, and it prides itself on being critical. The revealing snag is that it is owned by Assad's brother-in-law, one of the most powerful businessmen in the country.


Repression has returned with the usual suspects such as lawyers and human rights activists gaoled under emergency laws at the price of pro forma protests from the U.S. and EU — still waiting for Syria to play those cards. The lesson, argues an intellectual who is (privately) critical of his president, is simple: "Five years ago things looked bad for this regime — with Lebanon, Iraq, Bush and the neocons. "Now look! Are these guys very smart or is it just that the rest of the world really needs them?" — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Efforts to tackle illegal destruction of the world's rainforests have been a success, according to a new report that details a significant fall in unauthorised logging.


The study, by the U.K.-based international affairs think tank Chatham House and released on Thursday, says illegal logging has dropped by between 50 and 75 per cent across Cameroon, Indonesia and the Brazilian Amazon over the last decade; globally it has dropped by one-fifth since 2002.


The study credits actions taken by governments and pressure groups for the improvement, as well as greater responsibility across the private sector.


Sam Lawson, associate fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report, said: "Up to a billion of the world's poorest people are dependent on forests, and reductions in illegal logging are helping to protect their livelihoods." The fall in illegal logging, if continued, could save billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and help the fight against global warming, the report says.


The change over the last decade has seen 17m hectares of forest saved from degradation, preventing the release of 1.2bn tonnes of CO {-2} emissions. Viewed another way, if the trees saved were legally logged and sold, this could bring an extra $6.5bn in additional income to the forest nations.


Stephen O'Brien, the U.K.'s international development minister, said: "In the world's poorest countries, illegal logging fuels corruption and results in billions of pounds in lost revenue every year. For the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who depend on forests for their livelihood, curbing illegal logging means vital sources of income remain protected. This groundbreaking report sets out the success stories brought about through international efforts in reducing illegal logging, which encourages us all to pursue these efforts further." In 2000, the U.K., U.S., Japan, France and Netherlands imported more than 20 million cubic metres of illegally logged timber. By 2008, that dropped to 17 million cubic metres.


Although illegal logging has declined, it remains a major problem, the report says. Where progress has already been made, additional gains are likely to be increasingly hard to achieve. A new approach will be needed to halt completely the illegal timber trade, it adds.


Serves to reinforce


The report, which compared records of wood imports to legal exports, says: "If they are to be effective, mechanisms to encourage developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation will require secure control and sound governance of forest resources. Efforts to tackle illegal logging and improve forest governance have already proved to be successful and cost-effective, and it is essential that the climate change agenda for forests serves to reinforce this response, rather than distract from it." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The Kemp's ridley sea turtle lay belly-up on the metal autopsy table, as pallid as split—pea soup but for the bright orange X spray-painted on its shell, proof that it had been counted as part of the Gulf of Mexico's ongoing "unusual mortality event."


Under the practised knife of Dr. Brian Stacy, a veterinary pathologist, the specimen began to reveal its secrets: First, as the breastplate was lifted away, a mass of shrivelled organs in the puddle of stinky red liquid that is produced as decomposition advances. Next, the fat reserves indicating good health. Then, as Stacy sliced open the esophagus, the most revealing clue: a morsel of shrimp, the last thing the turtle ate. "You don't see shrimp consumed as part of the normal diet" of Kemp's ridleys, Stacy said.


This turtle, found floating in the Mississippi Sound on June 18, is one of hundreds of dead creatures collected along the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Swabbed for oil, tagged and wrapped in plastic "body bags" sealed with evidence tape, the carcasses — many times the number normally found at this time of year — are piling up in freezer trucks stationed along the coast, waiting for scientists like Stacy, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to begin the process of determining what killed them.


Despite an obvious suspect, oil, the answer is far from clear. The vast majority of the dead animals that have been found —1,387 birds, 444 turtles, 53 dolphins and one sperm whale — show no visible signs of oil contamination. Much of the evidence in the turtle cases points, in fact, to shrimping or other commercial fishing, but other suspects include oil fumes, oiled food, the dispersants used to break up the oil or even disease. The trail of evidence leads from marine patrols in Mississippi, where more than half the dead turtles have been found, to a toxicology lab in Lubbock, Texas, to this animal autopsy room at the University of Florida in Gainesville.


The outcome will help determine how many millions BP will pay in civil and criminal penalties — which are far higher for endangered animals like sea turtles — and provide a wealth of information about the little-known effects of oil on protected species in the gulf.


In a laboratory at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Jennifer Cole, a graduate student, was slicing a precious chunk of living dolphin tissue into 0.3-millimetre sections. Supervised by Celine Godard-Codding, an endangered species toxicologist, Cole was studying cytochrome P450 1A1, an enzyme that breaks down hydrocarbons. Tissue samples are one of the only ways to learn more about toxins in marine mammals and sea turtles, whose protected status limits the type of studies that can be done.


Oil — inhaled or ingested — can cause brain lesions, pneumonia, kidney damage, stress and death. Scientists working on the BP spill have seen oil-mired animals that are suffering from extreme exhaustion and hyperthermia, with the floating crude reaching temperatures above 130 degrees, Stacy said. Far less is known about the effects of dispersants, either by themselves or mixed with oil, although almost 2 million gallons of the chemicals have been used in the BP spill. Studies show that dispersants, which break down oil into tiny droplets and can also break down cell membranes, make oil more toxic for some animals, like baby birds. And the solvents they contain can break down red blood cells, causing haemorrhaging.


When Lt. Donald Armes of the Mississippi Marine Patrol heard about the rash of dead sea turtles littering the state's shores, his first thought was not of oil but of shrimp boats.


"Right off the bat, you figure somebody's gear was wrong," he said recently. By gear, Armes meant turtles excluder devices, which shrimp trawlers are supposed to have. Without them, trawls can be one of the biggest dangers for turtles, which can get trapped in the nets and drown. The devices provide an escape hatch. Another kind of shrimp net, called a skimmer, is not required to have an excluder device _ instead, the length of time the skimmers can be dragged is limited to give trapped turtles a chance to come up for air.


When shrimp season began in Mississippi on June 3, the Marine Patrol inspected all the boats and found no violations involving the excluders, Armes said. But June 6, 12 dead turtles were found in Mississippi in a single day. Similar spikes have occurred when parts of Louisiana waters were opened to shrimpers, and since most of the waters in the spill area have closed, turtle deaths have subsided.


Shrimpers emerged as a prime suspect in the NOAA investigation when, after a round of turtle necropsies in early May, Stacy announced that more than half the carcasses had sediment in the airways or lungs _ evidence of drowning. The only plausible explanation for such a high number of drowning deaths, he said, was, as he put it, ``fisheries interaction.''


Environmentalists saw the findings as confirmation of their suspicions that shrimpers, taking advantage of the Coast Guard and other inspectors being busy with the oil spill, had disabled their turtle excluder devices. Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi say turtles die in shrimp season even when shrimpers follow the law, from boat strikes and other accidents. They also say there have been far fewer shrimpers working since the spill, in part because many have hired out their boats to BP. That should mean fewer, not more, turtle deaths.


But there has also been illegal activity. In Louisiana, agents have seized more than 20,000 pounds of shrimp and issued more than 350 citations to commercial fishermen working in waters closed because of the oil spill.


Diagnosing difficulties


In the necropsy lab in Gainesville, Stacy was slitting open the turtle's delicate windpipe, looking for traces of sediment, a telltale sign of drowning. He found none there, so he examined a crinkled papery membrane barely recognisable as lungs. Nothing.


In a sense, the necropsies have posed more questions than answers, demonstrating how oil has become just another variable in a complex ecosystem. Late in June, a dolphin examined at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., showed signs of emaciation, but its belly was full of fish, suggesting that it may have gorged itself after a period of difficulty finding food.Another dolphin, its ribs broken, was hit by a boat, a catastrophe that dolphins are normally nimble enough to avoid. The veterinarian, Dr. Connie Chevis, found a tarlike substance in the dolphin's throat. The substance will be analysed to see if it is oil, but one theory is that the animal could have been disoriented by oil exposure, which can have a narcotic effect, rendering it incapable of avoiding a boat strike. Lori Deangelis, a dolphin tour operator in Perdido Bay, said the dolphins on her recent tours have been ``acting like they've had three martinis.'' The results raise questions about oil's indirect effects. Is crude, for example, responsible for what anecdotal reports say is a steep increase in turtles in Mississippi and Louisiana waters? The population of Kemp's ridleys has been rebounding thanks to years of protective measures. But some scientists have speculated the spill is driving wildlife toward the coast, crowding areas where there is more boat traffic and setting the stage for fatal accidents. — New York Times News Service








The idea of a unified command among states — announced by Union home minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday — to deal with the range of issues thrown up in the fight against left-wing extremism is self-evident. The surprise is it took so long for the Centre and some states to institutionalise it. The challenge posed byNaxalites, who typically operate in regions that are mineral rich and have strong populations of tribal forest dwellers who are extremely poor, is a complex one. Only a sophisticated response will do. The Maoist menace has become more multi-dimensional in recent years. The weapons that the Naxals use are often more advanced that those handled by the police. The organisation and deployment of Maoist cadres now speaks of careful thought and training. In the past, the Naxals were urban middle class revolutionaries who travelled to the hinterland to arouse the poor. Now it is the poor themselves who have taken up arms under the leadership of urban outsiders. The phenomenon suggests that the question of development needs to be addressed urgently. This must be the vital complement of a well thought out and carefully crafted police strategy.
The unified command, if its implementation is trouble-free, has the potential to marry development and security-related concerns on the ground. Both dimensions were adequately articulated in the speech of Prime Minister Manomohan Singh when the unified command was created. In attendance were the chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Orissa, the Jharkhand governor (the state now being under President's Rule), and a senior minister from West Bengal (CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stayed away), besides the Union home and finance ministers. Dr Singh noted quite appropriately that the Centre needed to be with the states not only conceptually but also in operational terms. This makes perfect sense. It is a pity that Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh — where also the impact of the Maoists is felt on a regular basis — have so far chosen to stay out of the ambit of the unified command. The seven states — the four that are within the unified command structure and the three that are not — are a geographical contiguity with forest cover which allows Naxal cadres to move about with relative ease. Due to the greater effectiveness of operations in states under the unified command, the Maoists may now be expected to escape to the other three states where operations are being conducted in the old way. Indeed, this was the problem earlier. Naxal cadres simply hopped from one state to another when the heat was turned on. The Centre should continue to persuade the naysayers to join the comprehensive effort. The states will themselves benefit from resources provided to reinforce the security coordinates, including recruitment and training of more police personnel, besides targeted development activity in line with each state's unique needs. Finally, the idea of a military man of suitable experience to be associated with the anti-Naxal operations has been accepted. A retired officer of the rank of major-general will assist the unified command. This is certain to have a positive impact on training and tactics appropriate to jungle warfare. This was an element lacking in earlier approaches to dealing with the Maoists.

It is a happy sign that states that have agreed to the unified command are run by parties as diverse as the BJP, the CPI(M)-led Left and the BJD. This gives the effort a political and ideological wholeness, not to say a shared purpose and sense of responsibility. Equally, the pooled efforts of these parties signifies a commitment from a wide swathe of the political spectrum to the uplift of the poor in tribal areas. This is an important signal to give.









After two weeks falls the 14th night of Shabaan, in the eighth Islamic month that precedes Ramadan, the mo n th of fasting. Muslim traditions affirm that this night, kn own as Shab-e-Baraat (Night of Pardon) in Urdu and Pe r sian-speaking countries and as Laylatul Bara'ah in Arabic, is indeed a very special night, one on which Allah op ens the doors of forgiveness and mercy, sealing the de s tinies of all souls, including those who will die in the co m ing year. The devout commence praying from the time of sunset of the 14th and continue till sunrise next morning.

In cities one can see Muslims out on the streets in groups throughout the night making their way to graveyards and dargahs to seek forgiveness for themselves and for the souls of their departed loved ones. In the subcontinent, the night assumes a festive flavour with the lighting of homes. Halwa is prepared, nazar and niaz offered over it. Food is distributed to the poor and the pious stay up all night in prayer, usually fasting the next day.
Hazrat Ali reported Prophet Mohammad saying: "Let all of you spend the night of mid-Shabaan in worship and its day in fasting. Allah descends to the nearest heaven during this night, beginning with sunset, and says: Is there no one asking forgiveness that I may forgive them? Is there anyone asking for sustenance that I may grant them sustenance? Is there anyone in difficulty that I may relieve them?"
Other narrations of Hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammad) report that one must be sincere in seeking repentance and making resolves of not sinning further. It is said that among those who will not be forgiven are the unjust, untruthful, those who keep a grudge in their hearts and those who severe relationships with their relatives and friends.

Hazrat Aisha, the Me ssenger's wife, narrated that on the Night of Pardon she accompanied the Prophet to Jannat-ul-Baqee, the graveyard in Medina, where he made supplications. Muslims are advised to visit graveyards so they remember the transitory nature of the world. Death is normally a topic people avoid discussing for it is considered morbid. But in Islamic tradition speaking of death is akin to speaking of life. The dislike for death does not distance one from it. Death reminds us of the urgency to live a faithful and fruitful life. The Quran says, "Every soul shall taste death" (3:185) and, "The death from which you flee will overtake you. Thereafter you will return to the Knower of the seen and unseen. He will then inform you of all that you had been doing" (62:8).

Remembering death encourages people not to delay seeking repentance when they err. Prophet Mohammad encouraged his followers to desire a long life for two reasons — to make up for past inequities and to increase good deeds.

A wealthy soul is one that is forever content, the contentment arising not from ignorance but from knowledge of God and reflection on death and the Hereafter. One who tr u ly reflects achieves a state of contentment, something the Pr ophet described as a treasure that is never exhausted. Mo hammad would pray, "O Allah, provide for my family wi th what suffices them and grant them contentment with it".

We cannot choose what befalls us, but we can choose our responses to the trials of life and genuinely try to be content with God's decrees. "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch thee with happiness, He hath power over all things" (6:17). Be it the decree of death or life, one cannot deny God's omnipotence; for it is He alone that decrees all things.

 Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at







The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense,as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.
The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don't recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.
Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.

Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don't know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.

Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.
What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society's inversion of Macaulay's perverse dream. Macaulay's arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf?of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher's ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.


If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.
More crucially, India can't create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.

Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.

We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.

We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.

The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don't merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.

Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new "Educational Report" which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite??


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








FAn intriguing feature of the chatter that preceded the visit of external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was the apparent bewilderment of Pakistani commentators at India's continuing preoccupation with terrorism. It was suggested by well-meaning Pakistanis with an interest in the process of normalisation that the timing of the Coleman Headleyinterrogation reports was wilfully mischievous. Why, it was said, would an Indian minister engage with Pakistan if the objective was to delve into a past tragedy?

The belief that Hindus, blessed with a very feeble sense of history, are incapable of sustained interest in something that is already some 20 months old is playing a role in shaping Pakistani perceptions of its large neighbour. There is a definite feeling that the great Hindu quest for lofty magnanimity can be manipulated in a diplomatic game.

This perception has a basis in contemporary history. In his autobiography published in 2000, Indira Gandhi's economic adviser P.N. Dhar argued that India showed exaggerated understanding towards a beleaguered Pakistan during the Shimla negotiations in 1972. P.N. Haksar's plea that it would be unwise to repeat the follies of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was bought by an otherwise hardnosed Indira Gandhi. Dhar also revealed that it was a touching concern for the political future of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that deterred India from incorporating the permanence of the Line of Control in Kashmir into the Shimla Agreement.

In hindsight, the spirit of forgive and forget hasn't paid India any meaningful dividends in its relations with Pakistan. Yet, what is truly astonishing is the persistence of appeasement as a diplomatic strategy. In 1997, the shortlived United Front (UF) government did India a colossal disservice by attempting to pursue I.K. Gujral's doctrine of asymmetry in Indo-Pakistan relations. In ordinary language the Gujral doctrine implied that as elder brother of a large subcontinental family, India must always show generosity and indulge the more spirited younger sibling. The UF government didn't survive long enough for this policy to be played out fully. Nevertheless, it was long enough for some overzealous appeasers quietly dismantle India's intelligence and strategic assets within Pakistan as part of a confidence-building measure. Predictably, there was no reciprocal move by Pakistan to dissolve Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) networks within India.

The belief that India can be beguiled by sweet talk, flattery and exemplary hospitality into letting down its guard has become a part of Pakistan's strategic thinking. There is enough evidence to point to laxity along the LoC in the aftermath of Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus trip to Lahore in 1999 which enabled Gen. Pervez Musharraf to plan his audacious military strike in Kargil. A habitually bitten India, it would seem, isn't thrice shy.

A possible reason behind giving Islamabad the benefit of doubt on too many occasions is the rationalisation that Pakistan is schizophrenic and blessed with multiple power centres, each acting autonomously. The "good" Pakistan, comprising civil society, literati, media and the beleaguered small nationalities, is thought to be constantly at loggerheads with the "bad" Pakistan which is made up of the military establishment, the crazy religious fundamentalists and the civilian clientele of the cantonments. The self-perpetuating seminar circuit has forever advised India's policymakers to be supportive of the "good" Pakistan against the "bad" Pakistan. "Don't do anything precipitate to strengthen the hands of the military" is an advice well-meaning Indians have been repeatedly given by well-meaning Pakistan.

Today, this civilian army of the good has been advising Indians that it won't to do to continue harking back to the past, to the horrific events of 26/11. "We are both victims of terrorism" is a common refrain of Pakistanis.
That Pakistan has suffered grievously at the hands of crazy suicide bombers and wild desperados is undeniable. Hardly a week passes without a fresh horrific bombing in a crowded bazaar, a hotel or an Army camp.
Even the ISI hasn't been spared. Compared to Pakistan, India does appear to have got away lightly. Yet, there is a crucial difference in the jihadi terrorism in the two countries, and one that can't be brushed off lightly. Pakistan's domestic terrorism is largely a consequence of the larger turbulence within Islam, the war in Afghanistan and the interplay of both these with the Pakistani security apparatus. In India, however, apart from the Maoist depredations, terrorism has been largely a Pakistani export and a part of the low-intensity war that began with Gen. Zia-ul Haq.

The importance of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai lay not merely in the sheer scale of the operation. The capture of Ajmal Kasab and the subsequent unmasking of Headley by the US authorities have made it possible for the world to gleam the scale of the ISI's involvement in the attacks. Had Kasab not been captured alive and Headley not been outed, Pakistan would have persisted in its steadfast denial of any involvement. Today, it has become untenable for the Pakistan government to maintain the fiction that India is laying the blame for the alienation of its own minorities at the door of the neighbour.

It's the unviability of Pakistan's protestations of innocence that has prompted the spirited plea to forget the past and start afresh on a clean slate. It's a position that is difficult to sell within India, a reason why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to control his instinctive desire for bonhomie at any cost. The Headley revelations have also made it impossible for India to firewall 26/11 as a home ministry issue, delinked from the concerns of civilised diplomacy.

Pakistan still believes that a protracted spell of diplomatic filibustering plus the embarrassment of the upsurge in the Kashmir Valley will wear India down. For the moment, Mr Krishna has indicated that this time India will not be a pushover. The joint declaration (or even its absence) will reveal whether there is any ground to believe that India is finally allowing the lessons from the past to shape its journey into the future.


Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








The National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has recommended that the food security law, when enacted, should be implemented in one-fourth of the poorest blocks in the country and then universalised in a phased manner. 

While the UPA's objectives are no doubt driven by populism, there is no doubting the fact that India needs this important social security initiative. Whatever the ideological label of the government, all citizens have a basic right to the means of survival, of which access to food is the most basic, along with clean drinking water, housing and education. 

However, there is nothing worse that doing a good thing badly. There is also no reason why social schemes should lack innovation. In its present form, the food security bill, when passed into law, will entitle people below the poverty line (BPL) to buy 35 kg of rice and/or wheat per month at a low Rs3 a kg. A modified and improved public distribution system (PDS) will be the delivery vehicle for this policy measure. But few states have the governance systems needed to really plug all leakages, eliminate wrong identification of beneficiaries and ensure full bang for the buck.


This calls for some innovative thinking. A serious contender could be the cash transfer scheme (CTS) which has been successfully implemented in some of the Latin American countries, and which have been found to be more efficient in targeting subsidies and aid to the poor. A version of this idea is already being tried out in Delhi in the field of education. Poor families are being given education vouchers — an idea developed by the chief economic advisor to the finance ministry, Kaushik Basu — worth Rs3,000-4,000 per month. This allows them send their children to any English medium school of their choice. This scheme has turned out to be a success in more ways than one because beneficiary families have added their own resources to shift children to better schools.


The key social benefit here is choice. If a similar voucher scheme were to be created for food entitlements, it would allow families to exercise choice in terms of what they want to buy and from where. Instead of accepting foodgrains (possibly of poor quality), they can use the cash to diversify the food basket according to their needs. It will save money, too, for grain need not be carted from the granary states to the poor. Instead of just creating a beneficiary, the food security law would end up creating a consumer and a market. The cash voucher scheme could be experimented with in a pilot project and then extended nationally in phases.






One key to ending the Maoist violence in India is effective coordination between the seven worst-affected states and the Centre. Displaying a certain amount of political maturity, some states have decided to put their political differences aside and agreed to form unified commands headed by their respective chief secretaries to oversee the anti-Maoist operations. This was decided at a meeting held at the prime minister's residence, with seven chief ministers and the Union ministers of home, defence and finance attending.

Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa have put aside their political differences and signed up for this strategy. Bihar has objected to the scheme, pointing out that more force may be detrimental and development is the way to go. Andhra Pradesh — which has had the most success among all states in fighting Naxalism — and Maharashtra felt that there was no need for such a unified command in their states.

All the parties involved in this decision — by dissent or acquiescence — have provided a significant perspective to the issue of tackling Naxal violence. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is correct when he states that development is the crux. But is it enough by itself? When a third of the country is ruled by the forces of insurgency and when at least three people are being killed in six attacks everyday, enforcing law and order is the first priority.


Development can't reach places where there is no rule of law. A unified command cuts down on bureaucracy and brings strategic clarity to the anti-Maoist operations.


A unified command does not mean a solution is near. But it is an important first step. There can be little doubt that a well-coordinated and well-equipped force can manage better than the sort of ad hoc responses we have seen so far where hapless CRPF personnel are treated like cannon fodder by the Maoists. The derailment of the Jnaneshwari Express made it clear that civilians were also being targeted.


It can only be hoped that the promises made at the meeting are kept — and speedily. Money has been promised to establish and augment police stations in the affected areas and the Centre has also offered more equipment, financial assistance and logistical support to all the states. But now that the jaw-jaw is over, we need quick and effective implementation. Sadly, this is where all plans have come unstuck. Hopefully, the story will be different this time.








On July 2, Joel Stein wrote a witty and perfectly appropriate column in Time Magazine titled My Own Private India about a town called Edison in New Jersey. He was excoriated as racist and anti-Indian by people purporting to represent the Indian community in the US. Stein wilted and responded: "I truly feel stomach sick that I have hurt so many people." Except for a few self-proclaimed leaders who found their five minutes of fame, there is little evidence to suggest that "so many people" were hurt. 

Time chipped in with an apology of its own, but apparently it was not convinced about the extent of anger. It said: "We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by this humour column of Joel Stein's." 

Why did Stein and Time have to cave in to a small number of the Indian American community? Stein's piece was inoffensive, whimsical and cleverly humourous. A better response for him would have been to ask the protesters to stuff it or be cleverly conditional in expressing regret, like Time did.

For many decades, Edison has been a magnet for Indian immigrants, particularly from Gujarat. Today over 17% of its estimated population of about 1,02,000 is identified as Indian American, most of them Gujarati.  I have driven through Edison, New Jersey, on a few occasions and it is not the kind of town I would want to live in. It's at once grungy and noisy, seems to teem with Indians looking for bargains or cheap desi food.  

Desi means home-grown and is used in a self-pejorative manner by almost all NRIs when referring to a fellow Indian. At last count there were over 2.5 million desis in the US. The US Census 2000 map shows that Indian Americans (officially called Asian Indians) tend to concentrate themselves in certain areas. Whenever I visit the US, it never ceases to amaze me that my Indian American friends and relatives seem to only socialise with other desis. They do tend to flock together. The US has a fair number of Indian American clusters. But it is Edison that has the highest concentration. Indian Americans have the highest median incomes in the US and are generally white-collar professionals. 

Edison's Indian American community, however, has a fair sprinkling of less well off people doing jobs which probably fetch them much less than the median Indian American income. It shows easily. One out of five desis is of Gujarati origin, and like Indians from other regions, tend to live and socialise within themselves. Gujaratis, referred to within the desi community as gujjus, tend to be in business. The 4,00,000-strong Gujarati diaspora in the US consequently has a smaller proportion of professionals. They now own more than half the economy lodging properties. Since a large proportion of the Gujaratis have the Patel surname, these hotels are popularly referred to as "potels" and quite often are places that rent out rooms by the hour.

Indians, in general, are very racist and colour conscious and our standards of political correctness are not very high. Our discourse is laced with racist and derogatory references to others. The desi community in the US is not very different. Mira Nair's 1991 movie Mississippi Masala, set among the Indian American community living in steaming Biloxi, captures in full all the prejudices and inward-looking mores prevalent in Hindu society back home. The story is about the romance of a Ugandan Indian Gujarati girl and a handsome African American, played by Denzel Washington. But expectedly the family and friends, mostly in the motel business, vigorously oppose the romance with a kalu, as persons of African origin are derogatively referred to by desis.

Indians also generally derogatively refer to white people as goras when not referring to them as white monkeys. Most Indian matrimonial advertisements seek fair-skinned brides and within India people from the lighter-skinned north tend to look down upon the darker-skinned south Indian. Hindi language movies often have a bit of comedy featuring a south Indian speaking Hindi in a typically south Indian way. More often than not, the Hindi actor playing the south Indian wears a boot black tan.


For a people who tend to look down on many of our own for reasons of colour, caste and race, Indians seem to becoming notoriously thin-skinned. As America's wealthiest median income community, they are now bigger players in US politics. The political action committee's active in serving the many Indian causes, be it the civil nuclear deal or the increase in the number of work visas. 

Many Congressmen, like Frank Pallone, who represents New Jersey's 6th district which includes Edison, have a great many Indian American constituents and increasingly pander to them. The economic clout of the Indian American is also felt in many ways. It's good that they have begun to flex their muscles a bit. But it is not good that they are becoming more thin-skinned.








Money, it seems, can buy you love. Or, at least, something close to it: like the feeling (true or false) that you are being loved, and are loving back. The Japanese (who else?) have invented an adorable (and I use the word without irony) robot that appears to be therapeutic for some patients suffering from dementia, depression or need calming. 

It's not just any old robot — not even the almost-human kind you see in sci-fi films — that is now being used in "robot therapy" in institutions of the elderly or nursing homes in the US, Europe, and Japan. This one is modelled on a baby seal. It has snowy white fur and eyes that blink when the lights come on. More importantly, it makes appreciative noises when it is petted and yelps when handled roughly.


It also has a name — Paro. Hold on, Dr Takanori Shibata, the Japanese scientist who created Paro, was certainnly not thinking of Saratchandra Chatterjee's heroine in his novel Devdas. The name is derived from the sounds in the two words, personal robot. 

Evidently, when doctors and even family fail to get through to the elderly who are marooned in their own worlds, Paro gets through, elicits responses and even unlocks emotions.


Apparently, Paro has what it takes. It was engineered to display empathy. Roughly, the word implies the ability to feel or imagine the ways others do, to put yourself in their shoes as it were, or look at the world through the eyes of others. Alas, the world is running out of this precious commodity as fast as it is running out of oil, or at least as fast as the oil that is spilling out in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Academics have now turned their searchlights on to empathy. In a paper presented this summer at the meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston, researcher Sara Konrath claimed that college students today are 40% less empathetic than their counterparts three decades ago. In a new book titled Born to Love: why Empathy is essential — and Endangered, Dr Bruce Perry stresses the importance of empathy in our daily lives. 

The director of the British School in New Delhi recently said that it was not enough to impart knowledge and provide extracurricular skills in schools. The need of the hour, according to him, was to instill empathy in students. I suppose, to be truly educated, you need not just a high IQ (intelligence quotient) but a good EQ — empathy quotient. The educationist is convinced that the lack of empathy leads to human tension, which in turn leads to violence and terrorism.


Interestingly, the steepest decline began with this millennium, when the me-first, me-only mantra took over. Video games, reality TV and the accelerating competitive climate have probably contributed to the increase of narcissism and indifference to others. 

It is sadly ironic that machines are incrementally being created and called upon to interact with human beings, even to the extent of providing companionship and the human touch that mankind seems to be losing. 


While machines are turning more human, human beings are becoming more machine-like. Gizmos have become appendages we can't do without. Cellphones are extensions of our ears, computers of our hands. Wired up — think internet, iPhones, Blackberrys, video games, iPads — we are turning into movable islands cut off from those around us by a formidable moat of technology.

It isn't just the young who are cocooned in an electronic world, their music shutting out everybody else. Children have to try hard to get the attention of their parents who are texting, or on the internet. The "just a minute beta" refrain tends to expand into an hour of neglect. 

Technology might be responsible for increasing anomie. It is now up to technologists to find the solution. Paro may be an attempt, but technologists still have a long way to go.









VELVET gloves over an iron fist. Development and police action. Carrots and the stick. That has always been the government's strategy in dealing with insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, in the Northeast and while handling the Maoists. The slew of measures announced at the meeting of Chief Ministers of seven Maoist-affected states on Wednesday also conform to the same pattern. There were few surprises as the Centre pledged to the states more money, more policemen and more resources to take on the Maoists. Rs. 950 crore will be disbursed this year for the states to lay and repair roads in these states and Rs. 800 crore more to modernise the police stations. As many as 400 police stations are to be 'strengthened' over the next two years at a cost of Rs 2 crore each, according to reports. The number of choppers at the disposal of the seven states has been trebled and more choppers promised. The number of 'special police officers', a euphemism for local villagers acting as guides and informers, 14,000 at present, will now go up to 30,000 following the recruitment of 16,000 more 'men'.


While all this is old hat really, the proposed unified command , the third such command after that in Kashmir and the Northeast, does indicate the government's seriousness in improving coordination among the states. It will be the full-time job of a retired Major-General and two serving Inspectors-General of Police in each state, one of them from the Central Reserve Police Force, to fine-tune strategies to outwit the Maoists and ensure that the security forces are not outwitted by them. The decision is timely in view of the ominous admission by the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh, that as many as 50,000 Maoist cadres have set up their base in Bastar to wage a war against the elected government.


It was left to the Prime Minister to strike the right chord though. While addressing the meeting, Dr Manmohan Singh candidly said, " For far too long have our tribal brothers and sisters seen the administration in the form of a rapacious forest guard, a brutal policeman and a greedy patwari…" The real war the government must wage is against the inefficiencies, injustice and corruption in the administration. There are strong reasons to believe that much of the money spent by the government for 'development' actually lines the pockets of middlemen and power-brokers. The government, therefore, must try and develop one Maoist pocket to set an example first, rather than spread its resources thin over a large area.








IT is not uncommon for Punjab's dead to become officially alive to claim old age pension. A recent district-wise survey by Punjab's Social Security Department has found irregularities in pension disbursals through panchayats. In cities old age pension is given through banks and in villages through panchayats, which are highly politicised. Denying state benefits to those in the opposite camp is fairly common for panchayats as was recently reported in the Chief Minister's own village. Information received under the RTI Act has revealed that benefits meant for senior citizens, widows, the handicapped and the destitute in Badal village have been passed on to the "dead" and the ineligible. The issue died down after a routine Congress demand for the Chief Minister's resignation.


Thanks to poor governance, corruption has become a way of life in Punjab. Since the corrupt get away lightly, few are now rattled by scams. The Social Security Department is content with whatever pension data it has got. It has not asked whether any sarpanches and panches were punished for the misuse of state funds. A surprising bit of information in the reported findings of the Deputy Commissioners is that only 5 to 10 per cent pensions landed in wrong hands in the last six years. Though hard to believe, that is not bad in a country where only 15 paise of a rupee, it is widely believed, reach the intended beneficiary.


Countrywide, welfare schemes have two shortcomings: inaccurate targeting of beneficiaries and leakages in the actual delivery. Both problems, perhaps, would be solved or minimised once IT expert Nandan Nilekani rolls out unique identity numbers (UID) for citizens. In the meantime, the Punjab government has roped in banks to make social security payments through biometric cards. Technology can help up to a limit. There is no alternative to good governance and enforcement of the rule of law.









ANY initiative to bring energy efficiency in electrical appliances is laudable, and one of the simple ways to save power consumption is to switch from the ordinary incandescent light bulb to more efficient lighting sources. It is thus a positive development that the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) through its Bachat Lamp Yojana will give free compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) to consumers and thus help them to conserve power usage. The bureau is also working with municipal organisations to bring in energy efficiency in the use of street lights. While it is too early to see if the projected decrease in consumption will meet its target of 30 per cent, the initiative is to be lauded since the major hesitation among users is the high initial cost of installing CFLs.


Worldwide, incandescent light bulbs are being phased out and CFL has emerged as one of the leading alternatives, although it has known issues like the need for an initial surge of power when the light is switched on, and more importantly, the need to dispose of the bulbs properly, since they contain mercury, which can poison the land. BEE should take adequate measures to ensure that the consumers are educated about the hazards involved in improperly disposing of CFLs. It should, in fact, take the lead by providing a mechanism through which users exchange non-functional bulbs with new ones at a discount, and thus ensure proper disposal of these CFLs. The fact that it intends to supply 192 lakh CFLs to power consumers shows the need for immediate action.


Light-emitting diode lighting (LED) products are also an alternative to CFLs. The famous Louvre Pyramid in Paris will be refitted to replace its current lighting with more energy-efficient and cost-effective LED lighting. Nearer home, BEE is demonstrating the technology for street lighting in both Ludhiana and Chandigarh. Alternatively, energy-efficient products like CFLs and LEDs do provide more than a ray of light as we look at the dismal picture painted by the lack of power in Punjab.

















KASHMIR, that is the Valley, and not even all of it, is in crisis. The very premise so suggestively and

breathlessly articulated that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, is afire is roundly mistaken. The tragedy of "Kashmir" from the start has been that the part has been conflated with the whole. Kashmir is less than J&K. The latter, properly and completely defined (but seldom done so, especially by the Hurriyat, the jihadis and, certainly, Pakistan), must include PAK and the Gilgit-Baltistan Area, the outposts of post-war colonialism never granted self-determination. The caveat is not intended to beg the question or the current crisis in parts of the Valley, but in order to get the facts right.


A second faulty premise is that the current crisis revolves around the induction of the Army in a few towns and parts of Srinagar in aid of civil power through flag marches and a more extensive curfew that by and large shut down affected areas for the duration. Harsh; yes. But why did the state government call out the Army in this limited role? It is not Omar


Abdullah's folly, as so readily made out. The local police, assisted by the CRPF, still remain in the forefront. Both have been fully stretched by weeks of studied stone-pelting and, now, ensuring security for the Amarnath Yatra.


In the circumstances, the Army was summoned in aid of civil power, a perfectly constitutional and well-known practice. Those who lament this development would have been among the first to berate any tardiness in so doing, as was the case in Delhi in 1984, Ayodhya and Bombay in 1992 and Ahmedabad in 2002 and so on down the line. Misgovernance has been cited. However, the first duty of any governance is humane maintenance of law and order.


Critics and punditry would have it that the Valley's youth, a lost generation of 14 to 25 years who have seen nothing but suffering and indignity for the past two decades, are angry. One must acknowledge their legitimate pain, resentment and anxieties over human rights abuses, unemployment, highhandedness, and lack of opportunities, services and amenities to which they aspire. There are lumpen elements too. But what is all the stone-pelting about, especially when these same youth have so many other democratic avenues for self-expression even if, as argued, they reject the entire current political leadership: the government, the opposition, the Hurriyat, and also parental authority.


There is by now fairly well-documented evidence of intercepts that separatists and cross-border mentors are instigating, funding, recruiting and organising young stone-pelters through agent provocateurs. Stones are provisioned, targets selected and there is a call for more "martyrs" – a dangerous word sometimes overworked to include victims of jihadi assassination like Mirwaiz Maulana Farooq, Adbul Ghani Lone and Fazle Haq Qureshi (who survives, severally injured), all men who dared to talk of dialogue and peace as an alternative to senseless violence and cross-border agendas.


There may indeed be some genuinely local stone-pelters; but no more virtuous for being home grown. A boy in Baramulla was killed by a mob when his vehicle was stopped en route to hospital. Peaceful citizens have suffered when going about or being prevented from attending to their lawful occasions. Civic and economic life has been routinely disrupted. When? Most often after Friday congregational prayers. In the absence of any better explanation, it must be assumed that mosques are being used as political platforms, giving murderous agitation a righteous jihadi halo from touch-me-not sanctuaries.


What thereafter is the cycle of events? Riotous processionists attempt to take control of the streets, perhaps marching towards sensitive targets and provoking police action. It is true that the police and the CRPF should be better trained and equipped to use non-lethal force, an all-India requirement; but this cannot be the sole cause for the mayhem that often follows.


Lamentably, much has been said by responsible leaders to justify "anger" and stone-pelting. Have these same leaders sought to pacify or channelise this "anger" in more constructive ways? It is further exaggeratedly argued that the problem is "political" and that offers of dialogue have come to naught. The Prime Minister has held out the olive branch more than once and quiet dialogue has been initiated. The failure has been not boldly to dialogue and decide on a consensual package of reforms emanating from the Prime Minister's's Task Force reports, such as they are, and build on them. Unfortunately, the Centre has been waiting for too long for the right climate and has handed a veto to spoilers such as even the "moderate" Hurriyat. Umar Farooq's latest rubiyat is that by dialogue Delhi means peace and development while the Hurriyat seeks "a political solution". Yet he has time and again refused to come to the table, always insisting on first "consulting" Pakistan!


There has also been a gross and repeated failure of communication. Both the Prime Minister and Omar Abdullah as Chief Minister should have gone on the air over AIR and Doordarshan to speak directly to the people. They never do. They allow their words to be filtered by the media or other intermediaries, resulting in angled views and interpretations, masking what they say.


The dialogue with Pakistan has resumed. This is good, but must not be axiomatically linked to the internal dialogue. The two are independent though interdependent, the former being far more important – a factor that Delhi has consistently failed to recognise.


A beginning could be made with Omar Abdullah's call for all-party talks held in Srinagar. There is already a hint that the Army will be withdrawn soon, after Martyrs Day. Hence the Army's role can at best only be incidental to the real agenda. This round table must be followed by a larger national dialogue on an internal solution embracing "autonomy", regional issues, reconciliation, the Pandits, development, et al , even as talks with Pakistan proceed. The present crisis represents an opportunity. Seize it. 








THE recent art theft at the Musée d'Art Modern, Paris, where burglars decamped with priceless works of Picasso, including the "Pigeon with the Peas" and others worth $ 100 million, is like a real-life sequel to the famous "Pink Panther" Hollywood series. The sensational heist has not only engaged attention of art lovers the world over; but also evoked memories of the legendry Inspector Clouseau — portrayed by the comic-genius of Peter Sellers — a bumbling, but instinctively brilliant detective who always cracked a case.


The clueless progress of the case has once again compelled the French to call for the services of Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the Surete.


Clouseau, now in retirement, lives a quiet life in the Alps, practising his violin and karate with his loyal valet Cato. He was last seen sliding down the snow slopes with skiis on his head, chased by Cato with a nunchaku.


Here is how, perhaps, then Clouseau would go about the solving the case.


Alighting from the car at the scene of the crime, Inspector Clouseau's trenchcoat gets stuck in the car door — entwined so intractably, that it has to be finally peeled off; revealing underneath his new, but shocking disguise as a transvestite.


In frock and pink ribbons, accompanied by Ponto, his deputy, and Nicole, the secretary of his previous boss Dreyfus (recovering in a mental health care facility), Clouseau carefully examines the window from where the thieves broke in.


"From where do you think the thieves broke in, Ponto?" asks Clouseau.


"The window, sir"


"You fool, any fool will think that, and the thieves were not fools, so don't think like a fool ...!"


"But that's where they came from, sir!"


"Don't mess with me... Ponto," thunders back Clousseau, while his gaze is diverted, slowly following the wind-blown, billowing skirt of Nicole.


"Monsieur Clouseau, are you looking for some hidden clues?" Nicole flashing her eyebrows asks back demurely.


'Yes, yes my dear, a good detective always follows his instincts .... no matter where they lead to ..."


"Nicole, smell the frames and tell me what do they remind you of, roses, tulips, or a Burgundy wine ...there might be some secret clues there!"


Clouseau goes weak in the knees, dashes to the door for some fresh air. A man in black suit and dark glasses is waiting there, and hands him an object with the fuse lit up.


"Ah! thank you Monsieur."

Then looking at the object closely, Clouseau realises it's a live bomb. "Ahhh ...... it's a bimb, a bimb ....!" The window gets blown up, Clouseau too is thrown out, landing miraculously on a barge sailing on the river Seine.


On the barge is a sailor with a pigeon on his shoulder, sipping some pea soup.


"Monsieur Captain, is this the pigeon with the peas yours?"




"Then in the name of laws and statuettes of France, I arrest you and your pigeon on the charge of stealing art works!" He then gives a kick on the sailor's butt, whereby he falls into a hatch — beneath which are hidden the stolen paintings!


Clouseau is decorated by President Nicholas Sarkozy with Carla Bruni by his side. Just when the President is about to pin the medal, a pigeon dropping falls on Jacques Clouseau, now Chief Inspector.


The rest is history.









Fate propelled Konijeti Rosaiah to the post of Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh just when he seemed on the verge of retirement. The 77-year-old Congress leader was the longest serving state finance minister in the country — holding a record for presenting budgets — till the untimely death of Y. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash which pushed him to the top post.



Rosaiah emerged as the compromise candidate with the Congress High Command moving quickly to thwart the  challenge posed by Rajasekhara Reddy's ambitious son, Jagan Mohan. Since he took charge in September last year, Rosaiah has lurched from one crisis to the next. His state faced a major drought which he controlled fairly well.


But the agitation to form a separate Telangana state snowballed and seemed to spin out of control till the Centre decided to appoint the Srikrishna Committee to go into the whole issue. While that somewhat cooled the political temperature, Jagan Mohan raised it again recently by announcing that he would proceed on a yatra across the state in defiance of the Congress High Command's wishes.


With Jagan Mohan bent on precipitating issues, political uncertainty has gripped Andhra Pradesh again. Rosaiah though remains confident of overcoming the challenge posed by the young Reddy. His experience is helping him handle the situation without being overly ruffled. He spoke at length on how he views the crisis to Editor-in-Chief Raj Chengappa and Special Correspondent Suresh Dharur at his Hyderabad office recently. Excerpts:


You have now been ten months in power and the term has been full of crises – the drought, the Telangana agitation and Jagan Reddy's yatra that seems to be in defiance of the party's wishes. What's your stand on his yatra?


Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, MP, son of Mr Rajasekhara Reddy, the late Chief Minister, started an oddar yatra (odaar means to console). Certain individuals committed suicide when they heard about the death of Rajasekhara Reddy. Nobody would have any objections if he wanted to go and meet, console and help them. But in the name of going to console them, he wanted to hold big rallies.  As the Chief Minister of the state, I was trying to provide necessary protection for the yatra.  Beyond that I was not interested in giving directions. According to his statement circulated to the media, when he broached the subject with Mrs Sonia Gandhi, she appeared to be reluctant. But he decided to hold them. Some members from our legislative assembly wanted my clarification on this. I said why did you go and join him? Let us all honour the desire of the Congress High Command.


So is he in open defiance of your government?


I am not saying he is defying at all. I don't figure in these matters. But when the High Command gives him advice, it would have been good for him and for his future to go by the advice of the Congress High Command. But somehow my feeling is that he is not properly guided. He is giving the impression that his word is more important than that of the High Command or anybody else for that matter.


What would you recommend the High Command should do in this situation?


It is not a matter to be recommended by me actually. It is a great organisation, 125 years old, and they have had to deal with a number of such cases or of more severe nature than this on a number of occasions. They will advise him properly.


As the Chief Minister what action did the party want you to take?


They did not ask my opinion at all. I do not give unwanted and unsolicited advice. And there are certain things which we have to discuss within the party administration.


Hasn't this created uncertainty in the government?


As a matter of fact there is no uncertainty at all. The Congress party is strong in the state and there is no problem for the government. Let's not forget that he is also a member of the Congress party so there is no threat to the Congress government.


Jagan has been highlighting promises which he claims his father had made to the people and have not been implemented. Does this not bother you?


No, not at all. These promises were made by YSR as a Congress leader and the then state Chief Minister and not as his father. The Congress party had made these promises to the electorate. When the situation becomes congenial, we will implement them.


The trouble over Telangana doesn't seem to go away. What's your view?


My stand right from the beginning and until now has not changed. I am only saying that the division of the state or keeping the state united is not in our hands; it is in the hands of the Government of India. The Srikrishna Committee has been appointed and is now seized of the matter. Let them study and submit their report to the Government of India. At one stage, it became a very serious issue. Fortunately, it has calmed down and now every political party in the region is busy with the by-elections that are ahead.


Hasn't the prolonged agitation impacted industrial growth and investment in the state?


There was a situation when people were a bit hesitant to come here and make investments. Slowly things are returning to normal. Investments have started flowing into the state once again. Actually, the state of Andhra Pradesh has witnessed more serious agitations for separation in 1969 and this agitation is nothing before the one in 1969. Right from 1956, that is, from the formation of Andhra Pradesh, there had been some who had proposed the formation of a separate state.


Are you not worried that the situation could descend into a civil war like situation?


No. My government is strong enough to tackle the situation and to take strict action against those who try to disturb the peace.


You continue to hold the Finance portfolio. Is there enough money for implementing the populist schemes your government has announced? The state finances don't seem to be managed properly.


Actually, as a Finance Minister I have always been experiencing stress. And I am sure no finance minister in this country or any part of the world can be a popular finance minister. There is always a lot of stress. Still, we have to make adjustments for carrying developmental and welfare activities. My government is committed to the welfare of the people of the state. And the state will get the number one position in the field of development. However, there might be some delay. It does not matter. We will continue these programmes. In the meantime, we have to concentrate on capital investment, infrastructure, generation of power, foodgrains, etc. I hope with all these developments, the state will become the number one.


The Opposition accuses your government of corruption in the implementation of irrigation projects.


Not now, but since the beginning. While there are allegations, there is no truth in them at all. My government officials — Secretary of the department concerned — took an Opposition delegation to 42 project sites and gave them opportunities for a debate. But the Opposition could not prove even a single act of corruption. So the allegations are totally false and misleading.


Do you think that you would stay for two-three more years as the Chief Minister?


We do not know about this. No one knows about the future. As long as I am here, I have to deliver the goods. The High Command of the Congress Party instructed me to take over the reins of the state, so I did it. And I will work as a true soldier of the party.


The Congress party may want to change the leadership if the turmoil continues?


I do not think that there is any threat to me and my government at all. During my 59 years' political career, I

have seen so many crises in the state and the country. I do not feel that there is any threat to me from anybody.


Till now you were always a good number two. Have you been able to outgrow the former Chief Minister's shadow?


There are no numbers like that. I have to provide good governance to the people of the state. The government's image must be clean. The people of the state should feel that we are here for their welfare. That impression has to be created by us.










At 107 sq km, it is 34 times the size of Manhattan's Central Park. There is nothing ornamental here. This is an oldgrowth forest, the home of 274 bird species, 150 species of butterflies and 42 mammals – including the leopard. This is Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and is probably the only biosphere reserve within local municipal limits anywhere on the planet. 


A few minutes off the rumble of the Western Express Highway, it's another world. It's several degrees cooler here, and very quiet. At the government log hut by one of the lakes, there is no electricity. Late at night, over the ridge of the hills across, you can just see the glow of Mulund and Goregaon. Beneath, in the forest, it is very dark and without human sound. 


Over 30 years, the size of the area grew. Its name changed. Today, it straddles the Mumbai Suburban and Thane Districts and within its area includes the 2000-year-old Kanheri Caves and the catchment areas of the Tulsi and Vihar Lakes which supply water to the city. 


For many years, it was neglected. Politicians and slum lords grabbed the opportunity. Slum lords took over large areas, and, tied with local politicians, "sold" pitches to poor migrants with assurances of permanency through that wonderful alchemy of governance called 'regularisation', legalising illegalities. There was massive deforestation, wildlife loss and the lakes were under severe threat. Commercial enterprises, including equally commercial 'shrines', mushroomed. Khair tree wood was illegally felled to feed the gutka industry. By 1995, there were 4 lakh illegal squatters in the SGNP. The encroachments, including quarries, covered an area of 1750 acres. 


Another view of the park, visible even today: Climbing up the steep slope of a defunct quarry, and stepping around an abandoned two-floor structure, there is a view of the park: a stream flowing quietly through a bowl of green hills. A second, closer look makes you stop: pouring down one entire side of the hill is a river – of garbage. 


Perhaps no other designated national park or biosphere reserve in the country is so clearly a divide between the environmentalists and human rights and affordable housing activists. The principal environmental defender of the park is my friend of many years, Debi Goenka, a man with a sometimes exasperating but always unyielding commitment to the environment. In 1995, as an activist for the Bombay Environmental Action Group (he is now the managing trustee of the Conservation Action Trust) he filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking, among other things, the removal of SGNP's encroachments. 


In a stunning leap of judicial imagination, looking well into the future, the High Court put in motion a rational and humane programme for relocating encroachers. This was opposed. Human rights activists canvassed that the poor had a right to permanent shelter, right there in the park. In 2003, the High Court passed a final order requiring the removal of all encroachments in six months. A majority of the over 70,000 illegal structures in the park have been removed, thanks in no small measure to the work of two of a highly endangered species, committed and honest government servants: Mr A R Bharati and his successor as the Director of the Park, Dr P N Munde. 


The forest, the leopard, and the poor – all are victims of encroachment. Each is denied justice, for if there is one thing that is unarguably true, it is this: environmental degradation hurts the poor most. When those forests become highrises, when the lakes shrivel, it is the poor who will still be without houses or water. Here's a familiar pattern: land sharks encourage encroachment. A Slum Rehabilitation Scheme kicks in. Portions of the park are lost. And the very poorest – those who cannot meet the government's entirely arbitrary "cut-off" eligibility dates of 1995 or whatever is the flavour of the month – get evicted anyway. 


There is a fourth victim, too, and that is the city itself. The SGNP slums are unlike those anywhere else. These threaten life - animal, plant, the forest, the lakes, the city's water supply and, given the size of the SGNP, its climate. 


Seven years ago, the court ordered a wall to be built around the park. It is still only partly done. We need that wall. Not to keep the leopards in, but to keep humans out; for on the survival of the park, depends the survival of the city. 


(The author is among the many lawyers who have appeared for the BEAG in the SGNP case, and is a trustee of the Conservation Action Trust) 



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





The mainstream projections about India's economic trajectory talk of how the country's GDP will exceed that of Japan (whose economy today is more than thrice India's size) by 2020. A large part of this sustained growth, it is assumed, will come from what is called the demographic dividend. India's young and growing workforce, the standard argument goes, will ensure that the country's wage rates keep it competitive for a long time, even as the dependency ratio (the number of people depending on active workers) drops while it climbs in most other countries. The growing workforce will also ensure a steady source of demand and, therefore, underpin investment. According to the government's latest report, there will be enough employment for 570 million people in another five years, enough to absorb the 10-11 million people joining the workforce each year.


If only such rosy assumptions could point to future reality! The India Labour Report 2009, by India's largest temping company TeamLease, throws cold water on such scenarios, and argues that the country's demographic dividend could turn out to be a demographic disaster. TeamLease identifies two kinds of problems; one is a theme that has run through its previous reports as well, namely employability. About 89 per cent of 15-59-year-olds, the report says, have no vocational training; of those who have received such training, only a tenth got it from formal sources; the current training capacity is a fraction of the 12.8 million new entrants into the workforce each year.


 The government has tried to address the issue through the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC). Critics of NSDC point out various flaws in its model, including the difficulty that entrepreneurs have in accessing its funds to set up training facilities. There will also be the challenge associated with the industrial training institutes, of keeping the curriculum up-to-date.


The greater challenge that the report identifies is that the states which will experience rapid growth in their population are not the ones that will see rapid growth in incomes. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh will account for 40 per cent of the increase in 15-59-year-olds in the next decade, but only 10 per cent of the increase in income. Considering that these are also the states where education facilities are the poorest, the quality of the workforce emerging from the heartland is going to be a drag on the economy. The low incomes and lack of investment in these states mean that their ability to employ these youth is equally poor. This combination of factors will translate into high wage rates in other parts of the country, which could erode their competitiveness. Migration will provide some of the answers, but this is not without economic cost, and political risk.







The Supreme Court's decision to allow Tamil Nadu and Karnataka a one-year extension to continue with their policies of reservation for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/Other Backward Classes beyond 50 per cent could end up being the thin end of the wedge. Till now, the accepted position, after a Constitution bench of the Court gave its verdict in the Indra Sawhney case in 1992, was that reservations could not exceed 50 per cent. With the Court now saying that this limit could be exceeded if the Backward Commissions in these states accepted the logic for the hike, it is reasonable to assume that other states will look for similar logic to increase their own reservation limits.


Even before the extension given by the Court, the limits of the Indra Sawhney ruling were being tested in various ways. In R K Sabharwal vs the State of Punjab in 1995, the Court ruled that those who got promoted on the basis of seniority-cum-merit would not be counted while determining to what extent the reserved quota had been filled; in Ajay Kumar Singh vs the State of Bihar in 1994, the Court said reservations could be extended from the MBBS course to the MS and MD degrees, since neither were super-specialities; in Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research vs KL Narasimhan in 1997, the Court even said "securing marks is not the sure proof of higher proficiency, efficiency or excellence".


 Since the Court-opened window for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka comes at a time when there is pressure on the government to include collection of data on castes in the decadal census, it is likely that the political class will increasingly see greater reservation as the solution to the problems of SCs/STs and OBCs, instead of looking at broader (and inclusive) issues like over-all development. There is plenty of evidence, from both the official National Sample Surveys (NSS) as well as from the private National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to show that mere affirmative action in medicine/management/engineering colleges and jobs is not the solution. NSS data, for instance, make it obvious that the high drop-out ratios in schools lie at the root of the lower incomes of the lower castes.


Analysis of data from NCAER's annual survey of income for 2004-05 takes you a step further and shows that urbanisation is a major factor in income levels rising. Scheduled Caste households in rural areas had an average annual income of Rs 38,622; this rose to Rs 62,334 in towns with less than 5 lakh persons, and to Rs 82,650 in cities with more than 1 million people. With 77 per cent of all Scheduled Caste households in rural areas, it is hardly surprising that the overall incomes of Scheduled Caste people are poor. Indeed, upper caste households in Bihar earn only Rs 51,187 per annum, compared to Rs 62,238 for Scheduled Tribe households in Karnataka.


It is, of course, politically inconvenient, and perhaps suicidal, to argue that the solution to more inclusive growth lies not in reservations (which have been there for 60 years now, with manifestly limited results), but in improving school drop-out ratios and encouraging urbanisation. But it would seem that even the Supreme Court has given in to politically correct thinking.








It is not yet clear whether international banks will yet again manage to work around efforts to tighten financial sector regulation and return to business as usual. To ask the question starkly, will financial market interests win over those of dispersed taxpayers? This article reviews the various financial sector regulation proposals that are under consideration in Europe, the US and in the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) and G20 forums, and highlights issues which are material.


On June 16, 2010, the British chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) announced that the Financial

Services Authority (FSA) was to be split up and the Bank of England's regulatory jurisdiction over banks was to be restored. However, banks in the UK and Germany with single regulators as well as those in the US, which has multiple financial sector regulators, were all severely affected by the financial sector crisis in 2008. Currently, Europe's sovereign debt concerns have overshadowed its efforts to improve financial sector regulation and rein in leveraged bets (leverage defined as the ratio of total risk-adjusted assets to equity). Separately, there has been widespread criticism in continental Europe of the two US-based credit rating agencies — Standard and Poor's and Moody's. However, as of now, there is no specific initiative to set up competitors.


 On June 25, 2010, the US Congress and Senate agreed on a reconciled version of the Dodd-Frank Bill on Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection. A few sample features of the proposed law, which is over 2,300 pages, are as follows: (a) the Volcker idea to ban deposit-taking banks from engaging in proprietary trading has been diluted and banks would be allowed to invest 3 per cent of their Tier-I capital in private-equity and hedge funds; (b) financial firms would not be allowed to trade asset-backed securities which they have underwritten; (c) banks would be allowed to trade interest-rate and currency swaps but other over-the-counter (OTC) products such as credit default swaps would be traded on regulated exchanges (OTC products constitute one of the most profitable business segments for global banks). It is likely that the proposed legislation, which is long and complex, would lead to protracted legal disputes over interpretation. The Bill also falls short on crucial issues, for example, it does not cap leve rage and restrict all trading of exotic OTC derivatives to exchanges.


Nout Wellink, the current chairman of BCBS, spoke on regulatory reform at an Institute of International Finance meeting in Vienna on June 11, 2010. Mr Wellink's remarks encapsulated Basel III proposals, namely: (a) capping of leverage; (b) adequate liquidity, including banks being able to manage for 30 days without access to money markets; (c) quality of capital, i.e. Tier-I capital to be restricted to common equity plus retained earnings; and (d) improvements in accounting norms.


The Financial Stability Board (FSB), set up by the G20, released reports in April and May 2010 on improving financial stability. These reports focus on: adequacy and quality of capital and liquidity; improvements in OTC markets; reforms in compensation practices; strengthening of accounting standards; and dissemination of balance sheet data.


More recently, the last G20 Summit meeting took place in Toronto on June 26-27, 2010. It seems unlikely from the section on financial sector reforms in the Summit communiqué (paragraphs 15-22) that Basel III capital adequacy and liquidity norms would be implemented by the earlier intended date of end-2012. Additionally, the proposal for banks to limit duration mismatches between assets and liabilities seems to have been dropped. This was expected since some eurozone countries need time to reduce their debt overhang and many large banks have illiquid assets on their books. Accordingly, it has been argued by financial sector proponents that enhanced capital requirements at this stage would prove to be the proverbial last straw for banks. At the same time, given the concerns among investors, the results of stress tests for 91 European banks are to be released on July 23, 2010.


This fleeting review of proposals for financial sector reforms may leave some readers confused about which are the principal issues that matter. Further, it can be anticipated that the "empire" (read recalcitrant banks) will strike back and try to obfuscate and thereby delay the implementation of enhanced capital adequacy norms and proposed regulations for OTC derivatives and securitisation. The currently envisaged bank levies and taxes on financial transactions could raise about $50-100 billion per annum. Therefore, unless there are much higher charges on all transactions for which there would be no consensus, the amounts collected would be too small to pay for the 2008 crisis or for a future financial sector meltdown. Public memory is short and people will soon forget that during the two years, 2008 and 2009, the loss in global output, as compared to potential, was at least 5 per cent of world GDP, or about $3 trillion.


If financial firms claim the distinction of having provided very high rates of return on equity, this is invariably unsustainable or undesirable since it is based on leverage, monopoly pricing or information asymmetry. Consequently, if governments are serious about reducing the probability of future demands on taxpayers, higher amounts of risk capital have to be set aside for seemingly low probability default events. It follows that bank lending and credit extension activities would be reduced. However, this should be acceptable since entire economies suffer large losses in terms of foregone growth as a result of periodic financial sector blowouts.


To summarise, four elements of financial sector reforms which need to be fully implemented at the latest over the next three years are: (a) higher levels of Tier-I capital (conservatively defined) to protect against insolvency; (b) adequate liquidity to tide over a temporary shutdown of money markets; (c) verifiable valuation of assets and accounting standards which are rigorously applied; and (d) re-imposition of an improved version of the Glass-Steagall Act which segregated commercial banking, including deposit-taking, from investment banking. If these reforms were to be carried out, the sustainable return on equity for financial firms would be comparable to that for real sector companies. This should be a desirable outcome since it is the lure of astronomical profits in the short term which fosters highly leveraged non-transparent risk-taking in the financial sector.


The author is India's ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. Views expressed are personal








A recent report prepared by Deloitte Touche Tomahtsu and the US Council on Competitiveness ranked India second in manufacturing competence after China, ahead of South Korea, the United States, Brazil and Japan. It talked of India's large talent pool — scientists, engineers and skilled workmen — and commended its quality management practices. In the next five years, it concluded, India will have narrowed the gap with China. So, is the "Made in India" tag no longer a liability?


 This is the second acknowledgement in recent times that India's core skills are not just in information technology and business process outsourcing but also in manufacturing. Carlos Ghosn of Renault and Nissan blazed a new trail when he talked about the frugal engineering skills of the country. The Renault-Nissan alliance has thus invested Rs 4,500 crore in a facility near Chennai which can produce 400,000 cars in a year. It has tied up with Ashok Leyland to make trucks and with Bajaj Auto to make an ultra-small car. Its Logan sedan is sold by Mahindra & Mahindra under a licence agreement. That's a lot of work in a single country. Ghosn has put his money where his mouth is.


Beyond reports and public statements, there is a steady and sure shift in the way multinational corporations look at India. To begin with, it was just back-office work and some customisation of products for local use — peripheral assignments. Wages were unbelievably low in India, which left ample scope for labour arbitrage. For manufacturing, most multinational corporations went to China. Now, India is being rediscovered as a manufacturing base, partly because the Indian market is growing in size, and the preferred destination to devise emerging market solutions.


In fact, talk to any global car maker and he will tell you that production costs in India are at least 40 per cent lower than in the West. Hyundai has made India its hub for small car production. One of the reasons is that Japanese two-wheeler and commercial vehicle makers came to India in the late 1980s, immediately after Suzuki had set up shop in the country. They brought with them superior business practices, which have now been internalised by the component makers. This provides anybody willing to manufacture in India a ready base of vendors.


JCB has put up the world's largest backhoe facility at Ballabhgarh in Haryana, not far from Delhi. Of course, there is massive construction happening in the country and the demand for backhoes and other equipment will be strong for some time to come. But the long-term plan is to use the factory to feed other emerging markets in Asia and Africa as well. The Indian engineers of JCB, on their part, have done away with the bells and whistles from the equipment, which has opened a whole new range of price points for the company. Another unit in Pune, which specialises in fabrication, supplies to JCB factories across the world. Such things did not happen in the past.


Or take the example of General Electric. Its scientists in Bangalore have made a portable electro-cardiogram that weighs just 1.1 kg and costs as little as $800. The 240-metre round synthetic roof over the Shanghai Railway Station which stands with no pillar support was designed and developed by GE scientists in Bangalore with the use of proprietary multiwall sheets. These are all solutions and technologies waiting to be sold right across the emerging markets. Some of the low-cost medical equipment have even begun to sell in the developed world.

Still others have started to combine their Indian and Chinese manufacturing operations into one seamless process. Dinesh Paliwal, the chairman, president and CEO of Harman International and one of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States, has caused a tectonic shift in the world view on China and India. Till recently, the question every global corporation asked was China or India? Paliwal argues the debate shouldn't be China or India; he says the answer is China and India. No corporation, he says, can afford to ignore China and India in its long-term vision. Harman has developed a new audio system for cars. The product has been developed in Bangalore and the production is happening in China. It is still early to say if it will be a blockbuster, but look at the benefits Paliwal has got. One, he has cut the go-to-market time by half to six months; and two, he has been able to bring the price down also by almost half.


If India has to build on its new-found skills in manufacturing, it has to institutionalise its knowledge and expertise. The Indian School of Business (ISB) at Hyderabad, recently ranked 12th by The Financial Times on its list of the world's top business schools, has set out to build emerging market competencies. This is something business schools across the world have ignored so far. All case studies relate to the developed world. So, ISB is incubating ideas on how to provide homes to migrant workers, how to reach ambulance services to those who probably cannot afford it. It wants to put together a huge body of emerging market case studies. That should help the cause of manufacturing in India.









There is one thing synonymous with being Indian that spans both urban and rural India, and transcends the rich-and-poor divide: The annual watch and wait for the monsoon. It begins every year without fail as heat intensifies and the monsoon advances. Farmers wait desperately because they need rain at the right time for their crops. Without rain water, they cannot sow seeds. City managers wait around because by the beginning of each monsoon season, water levels in reservoirs that feed cities go precariously low. They need the rain to replenish the reservoirs. All of us wait, in spite of air-conditioning systems, for the relief that the rain would bring to us as we swelter in the scorching heat and dust. This is perhaps the only time when the entire country is united in its desperation. It cannot exhale till it rains.


But even as I write this, I think of three questions. One, is this phenomenon called the monsoon so important in every Indian's life; how much do we really know about it; do we know why it rains; do we know that scientists are still squabbling over the definition of monsoon? The only definition they have is: Seasonal winds that blow in regular directions; and they get flummoxed when this changes. Do we know that our monsoon is more globalised than all of us, and that it is integrated and linked to the ocean current faraway in the Pacific, or the temperature of the Tibetan plateau, the Eurasian snow, or even the freshwater content in the Bay of Bengal? Do we know who the monsoon scientists are in India, and how they are desperately learning to chase this unpredictable and variable creature better as each day passes by? We don't. Not really. We have been taught some science in school, but never in real life. It is not part of the usable knowledge, something that we think we need to know to survive in the world of today. But, we are wrong.


The grand old man of the monsoon in India, the late P R Pisharoty, would have told you that this annual event brings us rain for just about 100 hours in a 8,765-hour year, which means it is a challenge to manage it well. Environmentalist Anil Agarwal would have explained we need to understand the monsoon to comprehend how nature uses weak forces rather than the concentrated ones to do its work. Just think: It takes a very tiny temperature difference to carry as much as 40,000 billion tonnes of water from the oceans across thousands of miles to dump it as rainfall over India.


This lack of knowledge of nature's ways is at the core of the environmental crisis, he would say. Consider again: Today we use concentrated energy sources like coal or oil that have created enormous problems like air pollution, locally, and climate change, globally. If we understood the ways of nature, we would have shifted to using weaker sources of energy, like solar power or rainfall without waiting for it to concentrate in rivers or in aquifers. "Humans have come to rely much more on concentrated water sources like rivers and aquifers in the last 100 years. But, heavy use of these sources is leading to their over-exploitation. In the 21st century, human beings will once again move to weaker water resources like rainfall," said Agarwal. In other words, the more we understand the monsoons of our lives, the more we will know how to move from just unraveling nature to imitating its ways, thereby building a way of development that is sustainable.


Moving on to my second question: Do we know how to live without the monsoon? After some 60-odd years of Independence, and after considerable investment in creating surface irrigation systems, the bulk of Indian agriculture remains rain-fed. This literally means that farmers depend heavily on this extremely capricious and undependable God to sow, plant and harvest. But this is not even the complete picture. What is not said is that 60-80 per cent of the irrigated area is watered by groundwater — a resource that needs the rain to recharge and refill its supply. This is why every year as the monsoon progresses, from Kerala to Kashmir or Bengal to Rajasthan, hearts stop beating if it halts, slows or dies. Words such as low pressure and depressions are part of the Indian lexicon. The monsoon is, and will remain, India's true finance minister.


Therefore, I believe, instead of looking to reduce dependence, we should celebrate our association with this rain creature — we should strengthen our engagement with the monsoon. Our monsoon lexicon must expand so that we harvest the rain, and save every drop of it where and when it falls.


If we can do this, then we can also answer my third and the most painful question. How should we live and celebrate the rain that falls in our cities and on our fields? Today we cry when it does not rain and we weep when it does as rain brings floods and diseases in fields and causes traffic jams in cities.


The monsoon is a part of each of us. Now we have to make it real. 








HOPES of an early respite from mounting price pressures have been belied by inflation numbers released on Wednesday. The wholesale price index for June 2010 is up 10.55% against a rise of 10.16% in May. Worse, the number for April has been revised up from 9.59% to a 19-month high of 11.23%. If the same order of revision continues, the June number could well cross 12%, a dangerously high level in a democracy where public tolerance for inflation, quite unlike in Latin American countries, is perilously low. The spike in June is mainly on account of the hike in fuel prices effected on June 25. This has pushed the index for the 'fuel, power, light and lubricants' group up 1.7%. Unfortunately, one cannot take much comfort from that as the second order effects of the increase in fuel prices will, typically, take a while to work their way through the system. Consequently, the inflation number for July could be still higher. Add to that the fact that prices of primary articles show no sign of retreating — pulses are up 32.6%, cotton textiles are up 18.8% and minerals are up 28.5% — and there is little to cheer on the price front. Till a few months ago, the government could claim that the problem was essentially supply shortage of food items, but not any longer. With mounting evidence that inflation is no longer confined to food articles but has spread to manufactured articles, policymakers will have to act. The monsoon months often play havoc with supplies, posing a special challenge to the government to ensure availability of foodgrains, especially to the poor. Simultaneously, a coherent programme to step up agricultural output across the board has to be set in motion, without delay. 


The problem is that once the inflation genie is out of the box, there is no quick or sure way of getting it in again. Monetary measures, apart from being slow-acting, are effective only when they are pre-emptive rather than reactive. And though the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has tried to make up for lost time by raising rates twice in quick succession this fiscal year, it would be naïve to expect any quick-fix solutions. India now has the highest inflation rate in Asia. And in a country that is home to a third of the world's poor, that could have serious repercussion for both macroeconomic as well as political stability.









EVENTS in Karnataka and Gujarat test the BJP's mettle to lead the government of India. The Karnataka legislature has come to a halt over charges of illegal mining and export of iron ore by two ministers of the BJP-led government of the state, the Reddy brothers from Bellary. In Gujarat, home minister Amit Shah is absconding following the CBI's move to arrest him in the case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh's killing in a fake encounter. The BJP leadership is yet to take a remedial action against the accused ministers of the governments they run. The best they can do is to draw a moral parallel with the continuance of Mr Raja in the Union council of ministers, despite CBI investigations into putative misconduct during his watch. Karnataka's mining mess has taken a new turn with Governor H R Bharadwaj going public with his request to the chief minister to take action against the Reddy brothers, after he had conveyed his views on the state of affairs in Karnataka to President Pratibha Patil. The BJP has hit back, calling the governor a Congress agent. Charges of 'use' and 'misuse' of the Raj Bhavan aside, the governor's conduct has to be seen in the context of a Supreme Court stricture on illegal mining in Bellary in March, the state Lok Ayukta's threat to resign over the government's refusal to act against the mining mafia and the Bellary brothers' demonstrated ability to topple the government, reducing the chief minister to televised tears. The Bellary duo had thrived under the previous JD(S) regime in Karnataka, with the support of the Congress government in AP. But it is the BJP that made them leaders and ministers with an iron grip over parts of the administration and the political machinery. Should an aspiring ruling party at the Centre allow itself to be held hostage by such interests? 

In Gujarat, home minister Amit Shah is on the run, after the arrest of several senior police officers by the CBI after the apex court asked it to probe the fake encounter. The onus is on the Modi government and the BJP leadership to submit him to the law.








WHEN in doubt, set up a GoM (group of ministers)! And if you want to make that sound impressive, christen it 'empowered' GoM, or EGoM for short. If these don't deliver, don't worry, take heart and appoint a committee! So what if the committee is only going to take a relook at something that has already been relooked at many times over in the past? Haven't you heard that old saying, 'the more the merrier'? Why should committees be an exception to that rule? So, we had the Kirit Parikh committee examine the issue of oil prices, something the Rangarajan committee before it, the Kelkar committee before it and the R group before it had already examined. And now, in keeping with the same spirit, the government has announced a new committee to review the structure of small savings: the Shymala Gopinath committee. Allow us to correct that! The committee will rereview what the Rakesh Mohan committee before it and the Y V Reddy committee before it and, phew, the R V Gupta committee before it had already reviewed. 


Does that mean nothing will come out of it? Perish the thought! To be sure, Arthur J Goldberg, US labour secretary in the Kennedy administration, had dismissed committees with derisive, 'If Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be at the dock'. And Alec Issigonis, the famous designer of cars, was no less harsh. 'A camel is a horse designed by a committee.' But the present government has proved its sceptics, including this paper, wrong by finally making some moves to deregulate oil prices based on the Kirit Parikh report. So, who knows, we might see interest rates on small savings also get deregulated on the basis of the Shyamala Gopinath report. The blueprint is there. Previous committees have also urged linking interest rates on small savings to the market, so perhaps the prime minister, ever the perfect gentleman, was only waiting to allow a woman the last word!









Circa 2002: "…the finance minister has announced the dismantling of the administered price mechanism in the petroleum sector from April 1, 2002. The pricing of petroleum products will become market-determined… LPG and kerosene would continue to be subsidised with a fixed subsidy from the government for another 3-5 years." — Honourable petroleum minister Ram Naik, NDA (Global crude oil price $26.88 per barrel) 
Circa 2010: "…the government has decided that the pricing of petrol and diesel both at the refinery gate and the retail level will be market-determined… Further increases will be made by PSU oil marketing companies (OMC) in consultation with the ministry of petroleum and natural gas… Market-determined pricing of petrol and diesel is expected to do away with the OMCs' under-recoveries on these two products… PDS kerosene and domestic LPG, the government has decided that the subsidies on these products will continue." — Honourable petroleum minister Murli Deora, UPA-II (Global crude oil price at $78.86 per barrel) 

THE obvious difference between the two announcements — proclaimed landmark reforms in the country's energy sector — is the difference in the time, the government in office and, most importantly, the global crude oil prices. But the similarities in the two official announcements that come almost exactly after eight years (March 28, 2002, and June 25, 2010), prompt more questions than answers. First: why is a stated policy being reiterated? The answer, as most know, is simple. The price decontrol in the petroleum sector remained more on paper than in practice. 


Barely a fortnight after the UPA government made this grandiose reform announcement — which followed discussions and debates and yet another committee report, this time by Dr Kirit Parikh — the autonomous (sic) oil companies after a meeting amongst themselves and the ministry decided to review prices of petrol only — as opposed to both petrol and diesel — on a monthly basis, which they would announce after consultation with the parent ministry. Odd isn't it? These very companies have been crying hoarse in private about how selling fuel at government-controlled prices erodes their profitability completely. More importantly, the controlled pricing regime impacts competition in the sector, which leaves the consumer with little choice. Also, not to mention the uncertainty for the upstream oil-producing companies like ONGC and OIL that have to bear a part of the subsidy burden. At last estimate, ONGC is to bear a subsidy burden of Rs 6,000 crore for the first quarter of 2010-11. 


The government needs to allow market pricing to ensure competition that will benefit the consumer with better services and prices. Private oil companies that had made a modest beginning with retail outlets were selling higher amounts per pump partly because of better efficiency. Also, market pricing will disincentivise adulteration of fuel which is rampant in the industry. Greener fuel like those blended with ethanol would find a play in the market. The recommendations of the Parikh committee (earlier Rangarajan and Chaturvedi committee) of establishing a transparent subsidy-sharing regime surely have been put on the back burner as of now. Diesel prices, the petroleum ministry has announced, will remain under the government purview. So, what was the major achievement as far as the petroleum-pricing reform was concerned? The constraints faced by the present government are understandable. 


ONE, as is clear, global crude oil prices are still ruling firm, and have been volatile for the last few years. With India importing close to 80% of its energy requirements, high crude oil prices are always a huge challenge for the government. The risk of a high import bill, the pressure on government borrowings and the risk of fiscal instability if consumers are to be insulated from the price spikes is always there. Not to mention the high inflation — inflation today is ruling at 10.55% against 4.87% in 2002 — and the impact of high fuel prices. But continuing with high subsidies, which have to be funded through government budget or increased borrowings, also leads to a greater danger of consumption indiscipline. 


For India, which spends billions of dollars in importing crude oil — the raw material that is used to make petrol diesel, aviation fuel, cooking gas or kerosene, among others — it is a luxury to dole out subsidies to the richie-richs of the society. Consumers who spend a bomb in buying the latest car surely can pay a few rupees more on the petrol or diesel they buy. The artificially-low prices of petrol and diesel have also hampered growth of public transport. With most big cities in the country working on metro rail projects, consumption of liquid motor fuel should come down. If developed countries can make it mandatory to adopt car pooling to save energy and reduce emissions, it is almost a necessity for an energy-dependent country like India. 


To be fair, the NDA government, thanks also the advantage that global crude oil prices were far lower, allowed oil companies flexibility in fuel pricing for the first two years: the periodicity was fixed, revision every fortnight in line with global markets, and the products decontrolled were petrol and diesel. This is not saying that the petroleum ministry and its babus did not monitor or check what the oil companies were doing. In fact, senior officials of the PSU oil companies were regulars at Shastri Bhavan every fortnight to get the green signal from the political master before the price revision was made public.


But as global crude oil prices moved up, the autonomy given to oil companies was gradually taken away and the government took upon itself the job of fixing retail prices of all fuel, cooking or transport. What's more, there was no official announcement or statement that the decontrolled regime had been paused. So, for investors looking into India's petroleum refining and marketing sector, the policy on paper was very misleading. 


Decontrolling petro-pricing does not reduce government control. It has been decided that in case of a large increase or volatility in international oil prices, the government will suitably intervene in the pricing of petrol and diesel. But this needs to be defined as to when and how — this has been left unsaid. An answer to this question will be provided depending on how far an election is. For, isn't petro-pricing all about vote-bank politics?







WITH total revenue likely to fluctuate much more than in the past, managers must be ready to take anticipatory action. Consequently, they should improve their ability to forecast aggregate demand. Supply chains during the last few decades have focused on dealing with mix uncertainty. 


In fact, many of us — rightly for the time we were focused on — assumed that firms could forecast their aggregate demand well but not their mix, and we worked on improving approaches for mix forecasting. Unfortunately, these tools don't translate well to situations with aggregate demand uncertainty. 


How well do managers forecast total revenue? You can get a sense of that from looking at investment analysts' forecasts. While it is true that managers have information that analysts lack, analysts' estimates and management's guidance on earning (as opposed to sales) show the two groups are closely aligned in their thinking… 


Rocket science retailing means that retailers should: use the data generated at stores to understand customers and their needs deeply. Develop the ability to respond to this understanding with better-tailored assortments, replenishment of the hits, and timely markdowns on what is left over. Execute well, especially at the stores. Attend to data inaccuracy and placement of products within stores. Align incentives within the organisation and in the supply chain. Use technology judiciously and pay attention to emerging new technologies, whose value might still not be apparent. Explain the changes in the making to investors…










THE ideology of neo-liberal free-market capitalism has completely vitiated and distorted the thinking of Indians who are not ready to tolerate any reference to the idea of socialism in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. It is also quite surprising that while dismissing the PIL filed by an NGO against the inclusion of the ideal of socialism based on the 42nd amendment of the Constitution, the honourable judges observed that "this question is highly academic. Let us not go into it now." If the goal of social equality, which is the quintessence of socialism, is an academic issue, it means that Indian society should abandon the national goal of establishing an equal and just social order. It deserves to be clearly mentioned that the root cause of our deep social crisis and social divisions is that Indians have abandoned the national project of building an egalitarian socialist society, abandoned the goal of 'development for all'. 


Modern historical experience clearly shows that human beings have been involved in struggles around goals of equality. Every society had to find solutions for dealing with serious discontent. The idea of a welfare state and social market economy guided the policies of many European capitalist countries with a view to heal the wounds created by unequal growth of wealth under capitalism. The moral of this story of 20th century welfare capitalism is that the extension of the system of universal adult franchise-based democracy necessitated state intervention for the fulfilment of basic needs of every group in society before profit-making capitalists could pursue their economic goals. 


Capitalism and democracy develop an antagonistic relationship and this contradiction can be resolved only by linking socialism with democracy. Nehru's consensus-based politics was solidly grounded on the foundations of a national project of democracy, secularism and socialism. The present deep-rooted crisis in India is the result of the ongoing process of individual profit-seeking that has replaced the idea of a social collective based on the project of sharing of the fruits of development. This is possible only under socialism.


Sanjiv Agarwal 

Good Governance India Foundation A democracy can't have a fixed ideology 

THE largest multi-party democracy in the world cannot have afixed ideology of the state. That is the view taken by founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. There were debates in the constituent assembly on whether the word 'socialist' should be included in the preamble. Dr B R Ambedkar recorded, "What should be the policy of the state, how society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether…" That should put a lid on the issue. 


Our founding fathers were great social democrats. They could not bind future generations to one ideology even if it was their own. What went wrong then? What was the need to put the socialist tag on India by later politicians? The question is open. How does it matter? Well, it does, because it is about our Constitution. We may become an Orwellian Animal Farm if we don't care about it. The 42nd amendment provision that inserted the word socialist in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 was challenged in the Supreme Court. The court ruled that though it was an important question, it would be looked into as and when the situation demanded. 
    As the situation stands today, talking against socialism could be high treason and it takes only a despotic ruler to do the rest. History is proof of that. The present situation is that every political party in India swears by socialism before being allowed to register. That takes away space for ideas and opinions. Worst of all, it legitimises curbs on essential freedoms. For example, the fundamental right to property was eliminated in the 44th amendment of 1978. No one noticed because we were already a socialist country! The safety belt that saved us from being taken over by the state was lost. That is why it should matter. 


(The author challenged the 42nd and 44th amendments     in the Supreme Court of India)







JUST over a hundred years ago, the US led the world in terms of rethinking how big business worked — and when the power of such firms should be constrained. In retrospect, the breakthrough legislation — not just for the US, but also internationally — was the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill, which is about to pass the US Senate, does something similar — and long overdue — for banking. 

Prior to 1890, big business was widely regarded as more efficient and generally more modern than small business. Most people saw the consolidation of smaller firms into fewer, large firms as a stabilising development that rewarded success and allowed for further productive investment. The creation of the US as a major economic power, after all, was made possible by giant steel mills, integrated railway systems and the mobilisation of enormous energy reserves through such ventures as Standard Oil. 


But ever-bigger business also had a profound social impact, and here the ledger entries were not all in the positive column. The people who ran big business were often unscrupulous and, in some cases, used their dominant market position to drive out their competitors — enabling the surviving firms to restrict supply and raise prices. 


There was dominance, to be sure, in the local and regional markets of mid-19thcentury US, but nothing like what developed in the 50 years that followed. Big business brought major productivity improvements, but it also increased the power of private companies to act in ways that were injurious to the broader marketplace — and to society. 


The Sherman Act itself did not change this situation overnight, but, once President Theodore Roosevelt decided to take up the cause, it became a powerful tool that could be used to break up industrial and transportation monopolies. By doing so, Roosevelt and those who followed in his footsteps shifted the consensus. 


Roosevelt's first case, against Northern Securities in 1902, was immensely controversial. But the break-up, a

decade later, of Standard Oil — perhaps the most powerful company in the history of the world to that date — was seen by mainstream opinion as completely reasonable. And the break-up of Standard Oil took place in great American style: the company was split into more than 30 pieces, the shareholders did very well, and the Rockefeller family went on to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the public. 


Why are these antitrust tools not used against today's megabanks, which have become so powerful that they can sway legislation and regulation massively in their favour, while also receiving generous taxpayer-financed bailouts as needed? The answer is that the kind of power that big banks wield today is very different from what was imagined by the Sherman Act's drafters — or by the people who shaped its application in the early years of the 20th century. Thebanks do not have monopoly pricing power in the traditional sense, and their market share — at the national level — is lower than what would trigger an antitrust investigation in the non-financial sectors. 


Effective size caps on banks were imposed by the banking reforms of the 1930s, and there was an effort to maintain such restrictions in the Riegle-Neal Act of 1994. But all of these limitations fell by the wayside during the wholesale deregulation of the past 15 years. 


Now, however, a new form of antitrust arrives — in the form of the Kanjorski Amendment, whose language was embedded in the Dodd-Frank bill. Once the bill becomes law, federal regulators will have the right and the responsibility to limit the scope of big banks and, as necessary, break them up when they pose a 'grave risk' to financial stability. 


This is not a theoretical possibility — such risks manifested themselves quite clearly in late 2008 and into early 2009. It remains uncertain, of course, whether the regulators would actually take such steps. But, as Representative Paul Kanjorski, the main force behind the provision, recently put it, "The key lesson of the last decade is that financial regulators must use their powers, rather than coddle industry interests." 


And Kanjorski probably is right that not much would be required. "If just one regulator uses these extraordinary powers [to break up too-big-to-fail banks] just once," he says, "it will send a powerful message," one that would "significantly reform how all financial services firms behave forever more". Regulators can do a great deal, but they need political direction from the highest level in order to make genuine progress. Teddy Roosevelt, of course, preferred to "Speak softly and carry a big stick." The Kanjorski Amendment is a very big stick. Who will pick it up? 

 (The author is a professor at MIT Sloan and     asenior fellow at the Peterson Institute for     International Economics) 
    ©Project Syndicate, 2010


When large US corporations began to abuse their size, they were broken up, a notable one being Standard Oil in 1911 

So, instead of mollycoddling too-big-tofail banks, it would be wise to break them up into more manageable pieces 

With a bill to soon arm federal regulators with the power to limit big banks, all they now need to do is set an example








ONCE upon a time in a forest there lived a really astute and wily fox. True to his cunning, he was returning one day from a hugely successful lunch of stolen chicken when he spied a wisdom tree whose branches were laden with ripe bunches of enlightenment. "Ah," he said to himself as he spied the overhanging produce, "just the thing I need to round off my meal." Thereafter, he spent the better part of the late afternoon jumping up and down trying to get a couple of them into his mouth. But, alas, they were all slightly beyond the reach of his snout and, in the end, his enterprise remained fruitless. 


"Oh, what the hell," he muttered loping away to his lair as the sun was setting, "who needs this stuff anyway. It's probably unripe, over-rated and not as sweet as it's made out to be." Later that night, however, he suddenly sat up in bed and slapped his forehead when he realised that all he had to do was sit under the tree with his choppers open and wait for as long as it took for the fruit to fall into it. 


Yet, when years passed and nothing happened except that he got increasingly emaciated along with the realisation that peace comes dropping slow, he finally crawled away from his vigil to the roost of an enlightened crow. Brokenly, he inquired of her how she had managed to partake of the tree's bounty. "Well, see it's easy for me you know because I have wings and so I can eat on the fly," she replied. He struggled up to an enlightened cat next who said it was no problem for him either since he could simply shinny up the bark any old time and help himself to the largesse. An enlightened bear said he only had to give the trunk a mighty shake up to make anything on the branches fall. 


 "This is ridiculously unfair," thought the fox. "Here I am — way more street-smart and canny that those idiot clowns — yet somehow they get to land their fangs on the soul food. Somebody up there hates me." 
  Somebody inside him heard the fox and whispered in his ear: "Nobody hates you kid, which is why you're so clever," it said. "Just go back to doing what comes to you naturally." 


 Elsewhere it's been recorded that the fox forgot the entire incident and immediately went back to stealing chicken for lunch for the rest of his days and died a very contented animal who was, nevertheless, largely unbeloved by poultry. Moral: chicken also think somebody up there hates them.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The idea of a unified command among states — announced by Union home minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday — to deal with the range of issues thrown up in the fight against left-wing extremism is self-evident. The surprise is it took so long for the Centre and some states to institutionalise it. The challenge posed by Naxalites, who operate in regions that are mineral rich and have strong populations of tribal forest dwellers who are extremely poor, is a complex one. Only a sophisticated response will do. The Maoist menace has become more multi-dimensional in recent years. The weapons that the Naxals use are often more advanced that those handled by the police. The organisation and deployment of Maoist cadres now speaks of careful thought and training. In the past, the Naxals were urban middle class revolutionaries who travelled to the hinterland to arouse the poor. Now it is the poor themselves who have taken up arms under the leadership of urban outsiders. The phenomenon suggests that the question of development needs to be addressed urgently. This must be the vital complement of a well thought out and carefully crafted police strategy. The unified command, if its implementation is trouble-free, has the potential to marry development and security-related concerns on the ground. Both dimensions were adequately articulated in the speech of Prime Minister Manomohan Singh when the unified command was created. In attendance were the chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Orissa, the Jharkhand governor, and a senior minister from West Bengal (CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stayed away), besides the Union home and finance ministers. Dr Singh noted quite appropriately that the Centre needed to be with the states not only conceptually but also in operational terms. This makes perfect sense. It is a pity that Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh — where also the impact of the Maoists is felt on a regular basis — have so far chosen to stay out of the ambit of the unified command. The seven states — the four that are within the unified command structure and the three that are not — are a geographical contiguity with forest cover which allows Naxal cadres to move about with relative ease. Due to the greater effectiveness of operations in states under the unified command, the Maoists may now be expected to escape to the other three states where operations are being conducted in the old way. Previously, Naxal cadres simply hopped from one state to another when the heat was turned on. The Centre should continue to persuade the naysayers to join the comprehensive effort. The states will themselves benefit from resources provided to reinforce the security coordinates, including recruitment and training of more police personnel, besides targeted development activity in line with each state's unique needs. Finally, the idea of a military man of suitable experience to be associated with the anti-Naxal operations has been accepted. A retired officer of the rank of major-general will assist the unified command. This is certain to have a positive impact on training and tactics appropriate to jungle warfare.








FAn intriguing feature of the chatter that preceded the visit of external affairs minister S.M. Krishna was the apparent bewilderment of Pakistani commentators at India's continuing preoccupation with terrorism. It was suggested by well-meaning Pakistanis with an interest in the process of normalisation that the timing of the Coleman Headley interrogation reports was wilfully mischievous. Why, it was said, would an Indian minister engage with Pakistan if the objective was to delve into a past tragedy?


The belief that Hindus, blessed with a very feeble sense of history, are incapable of sustained interest in something that is already some 20 months old is playing a role in shaping Pakistani perceptions of its large neighbour. There is a definite feeling that the great Hindu quest for lofty magnanimity can be manipulated in a diplomatic game.


This perception has a basis in contemporary history. In his autobiography published in 2000, Indira Gandhi's economic adviser P.N. Dhar argued that India showed exaggerated understanding towards a beleaguered Pakistan during the Shimla negotiations in 1972. P.N. Haksar's plea that it would be unwise to repeat the follies of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was bought by an otherwise hardnosed Indira Gandhi. Dhar also revealed that it was a touching concern for the political future of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that deterred India from incorporating the permanence of the Line of Control in Kashmir into the Shimla Agreement.


In hindsight, the spirit of forgive and forget hasn't paid India any meaningful dividends in its relations with Pakistan. Yet, what is truly astonishing is the persistence of appeasement as a diplomatic strategy. In 1997, the shortlived United Front (UF) government did India a colossal disservice by attempting to pursue I.K. Gujral's doctrine of asymmetry in Indo-Pakistan relations. In ordinary language the Gujral doctrine implied that as elder brother of a large subcontinental family, India must always show generosity and indulge the more spirited younger sibling. The UF government didn't survive long enough for this policy to be played out fully. Nevertheless, it was long enough for some overzealous appeasers quietly dismantle India's intelligence and strategic assets within Pakistan as part of a confidence-building measure. Predictably, there was no reciprocal move by Pakistan to dissolve Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) networks within India.


The belief that India can be beguiled by sweet talk, flattery and exemplary hospitality into letting down its guard has become a part of Pakistan's strategic thinking. There is enough evidence to point to laxity along the LoC in the aftermath of Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus trip to Lahore in 1999 which enabled Gen. Pervez Musharraf to plan his audacious military strike in Kargil. A habitually bitten India, it would seem, isn't thrice shy.


A possible reason behind giving Islamabad the benefit of doubt on too many occasions is the rationalisation that Pakistan is schizophrenic and blessed with multiple power centres, each acting autonomously. The "good" Pakistan, comprising civil society, literati, media and the beleaguered small nationalities, is thought to be constantly at loggerheads with the "bad" Pakistan which is made up of the military establishment, the crazy religious fundamentalists and the civilian clientele of the cantonments. The self-perpetuating seminar circuit has forever advised India's policymakers to be supportive of the "good" Pakistan against the "bad" Pakistan. "Don't do anything precipitate to strengthen the hands of the military" is an advice well-meaning Indians have been repeatedly given by well-meaning Pakistan.


Today, this civilian army of the good has been advising Indians that it won't to do to continue harking back to the past, to the horrific events of 26/11. "We are both victims of terrorism" is a common refrain of Pakistanis.


That Pakistan has suffered grievously at the hands of crazy suicide bombers and wild desperados is undeniable. Hardly a week passes without a fresh horrific bombing in a crowded bazaar, a hotel or an Army camp.


Even the ISI hasn't been spared. Compared to Pakistan, India does appear to have got away lightly. Yet, there is a crucial difference in the jihadi terrorism in the two countries, and one that can't be brushed off lightly. Pakistan's domestic terrorism is largely a consequence of the larger turbulence within Islam, the war in Afghanistan and the interplay of both these with the Pakistani security apparatus. In India, however, apart from the Maoist depredations, terrorism has been largely a Pakistani export and a part of the low-intensity war that began with Gen. Zia-ul Haq.


The importance of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai lay not merely in the sheer scale of the operation. The capture of Ajmal Kasab and the subsequent unmasking of Headley by the US authorities have made it possible for the world to gleam the scale of the ISI's involvement in the attacks. Had Kasab not been captured alive and Headley not been outed, Pakistan would have persisted in its steadfast denial of any involvement. Today, it has become untenable for the Pakistan government to maintain the fiction that India is laying the blame for the alienation of its own minorities at the door of the neighbour.


It's the unviability of Pakistan's protestations of innocence that has prompted the spirited plea to forget the past and start afresh on a clean slate. It's a position that is difficult to sell within India, a reason why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to control his instinctive desire for bonhomie at any cost. The Headley revelations have also made it impossible for India to firewall 26/11 as a home ministry issue, delinked from the concerns of civilised diplomacy.


Pakistan still believes that a protracted spell of diplomatic filibustering plus the embarrassment of the upsurge in the Kashmir Valley will wear India down. For the moment, Mr Krishna has indicated that this time India will not be a pushover. The joint declaration (or even its absence) will reveal whether there is any ground to believe that India is finally allowing the lessons from the past to shape its journey into the future.


Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist









Today's additions to the category of No Good Can Ever Come of This:

— "Mel Gibson is on the phone."

— "The Bachelorette is close to selecting the man of her dreams."

— "Bristol and Levi are back together."

Let me go out on a limb and say that Sarah Palin was probably not happy to learn about her oldest daughter's re-engagement to her baby-daddy via an eight-page cover spread in US Weekly.


"It is intimidating and scary just to think about what her reaction is going to be", Bristol confided. "Hopefully, she will jump on board". Not right this very moment. Continuing the family tradition of communicating via press release, Sarah and Todd icily noted that at 19, Bristol is an adult. And, in this case, an adult who "believes in redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice in our daily lives".


The story of how Bristol went from suing her ex-squeeze for child support to accepting a new engagement ring is, like everything about this couple, stupendously unremarkable. They met to discuss custody arrangements. They took baby Tripp out for a walk. Bristol made fun of Levi's hair. "It was nice", he recalled.


Levi went home. And texted words of love.
"The next day we started hanging out and, literally, we have hung out every day since", Bristol concluded.
Not exactly Wuthering Heights or 'Jane Eyre. ("Reader, I hung out with him".) Not even Twilight, although, like Levi, the perpetually teenaged Edward Cullen never managed to get through 12th grade.
Johnston has proved to be the only person in the world who can make me feel sympathy for Sarah Palin. He told US Weekly that he broached the subject of marrying Bristol at the same family meeting where he apologised to Sarah for telling the national news media that she was money-hungry, insensitive, a bad housekeeper, an indifferent mother and a bad shot.


Astonishingly, the Palins didn't immediately welcome him back into the clan. "They want me to get a career and an education and prove I can take care of Bristol before we can even think about getting back together", he recounted.


Finally, an issue on which the entire nation can unite. We can't agree on how to fix the economy, but we are as one when it comes to fixing Levi. Get thee to a GED tutor.


Bristol, who followed up her US Weekly appearance with a People interview, agreed that before her mother will come around Levi would "have to get his education and a job and be willing to support Tripp the right way". The wrong way was presumably Levi's previous attempts to earn a living by posing for Playgirl.


This cannot be a welcome change of subject for the former Republican vice-presidential nominee.
She's been on a political roll — raising money, making some prescient picks in the Republican primaries. She's got a hot "mama grizzlies" video out, in which she touts a new wave of conservative women, rising up to protest... the bad thing. Palin is really, really vague about exactly what the threat is. (The closest she gets is "the fundamental transformation of America".) But there's really no need to be specific because, as she says in the video, "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong".


The Bristol-Levi debacle, which might be a minor sideshow for another politician, looms larger for a Mama Grizzly. Inquiring minds might want to know why she didn't sniff trouble, rise up on her hind legs and eviscerate that hockey-playing thug the first time he followed her daughter through the kitchen door.


Since Sarah Palin's own fame seems grounded on little but a look and an attitude, you can't blame the kids for thinking the same kind of thing would work for them. Bristol tried to become a celebrity unwed mother, the anti-teen-pregnancy spokeswoman for a sexy clothing line. Levi tried to make a name for himself as the celebrity unwed mother's ex-boyfriend. It might have worked out, except that as a spokeswoman, Bristol turned out to have nothing to say. And Levi, who kept showing up on TV promising to tell "my side of the story" was close to sub-verbal.


But the conviction that celebrity is transferable, like chicken pox, is still going strong in Wasilla. Levi has broken relations with his sister, Mercede, over her insistence on telling "my side of the story" on The Official Blog of Mercede Johnston. The home page includes a request for donations and a list of recent posts, including, "Time to set the record straight", and "No I will NOT sit down and shut up!" Her grievances seem to centre on Bristol, who she claims got pregnant on purpose and then tried to turn her brother against his family.
Tune in tomorrow when... What next? My money's on an all-Palin-Johnston edition of Dancing With the Stars.









The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.


The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don't recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.


Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.


Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don't know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.


Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.


What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society's inversion of Macaulay's perverse dream. Macaulay's arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher's ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.


If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.


More crucially, India can't create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.


Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.


We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.


We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.

The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don't merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.


Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new "Educational Report" which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite? 


* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








After two weeks falls the 14th night of Shabaan, in the eighth Islamic month that precedes Ramadan, the month of fasting. Muslim traditions affirm that this night, known as Shab-e-Baraat (Night of Pardon) in Urdu and Persian-speaking countries and as Laylatul Bara'ah in Arabic, is indeed a very special night, one on which Allah opens the doors of forgiveness and mercy, sealing the destinies of all souls, including those who will die in the coming year. The devout commence praying from the time of sunset of the 14th and continue till sunrise next morning.


In cities one can see Muslims out on the streets in groups throughout the night making their way to graveyards and dargahs to seek forgiveness for themselves and for the souls of their departed loved ones. In the subcontinent, the night assumes a festive flavour with the lighting of homes. Halwa is prepared, nazar and niaz offered over it. Food is distributed to the poor and the pious stay up all night in prayer, usually fasting the next day.


Hazrat Ali reported Prophet Mohammad saying: "Let all of you spend the night of mid-Shabaan in worship and its day in fasting. Allah descends to the nearest heaven during this night, beginning with sunset, and says: Is there no one asking forgiveness that I may forgive them? Is there anyone asking for sustenance that I may grant them sustenance? Is there anyone in difficulty that I may relieve them?"


Other narrations of Hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammad) report that one must be sincere in seeking repentance and making resolves of not sinning further. It is said that among those who will not be forgiven are the unjust, untruthful, those who keep a grudge in their hearts and those who severe relationships with their relatives and friends.


Hazrat Aisha, the Messenger's wife, narrated that on the Night of Pardon she accompanied the Prophet to Jannat-ul-Baqee, the graveyard in Medina, where he made supplications. Muslims are advised to visit graveyards so they remember the transitory nature of the world. Death is normally a topic people avoid discussing for it is considered morbid. But in Islamic tradition speaking of death is akin to speaking of life. The dislike for death does not distance one from it. Death reminds us of the urgency to live a faithful and fruitful life. The Quran says, "Every soul shall taste death" (3:185) and, "The death from which you flee will overtake you. Thereafter you will return to the Knower of the seen and unseen. He will then inform you of all that you had been doing" (62:8).


Remembering death encourages people not to delay seeking repentance when they err. Prophet Mohammad encouraged his followers to desire a long life for two reasons — to make up for past inequities and to increase good deeds.


A wealthy soul is one that is forever content, the contentment arising not from ignorance but from knowledge of God and reflection on death and the Hereafter. One who truly reflects achieves a state of contentment, something the Prophet described as a treasure that is never exhausted. Mohammad would pray, "O Allah, provide for my family with what suffices them and grant them contentment with it".


We cannot choose what befalls us, but we can choose our responses to the trials of life and genuinely try to be content with God's decrees. "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch thee with happiness, He hath power over all things" (6:17). Be it the decree of death or life, one cannot deny God's omnipotence; for it is He alone that decrees all things.


— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]







In Spain earlier this month, the Catalonian Assembly narrowly rejected a proposed ban on the Muslim burqa in all public places; On Monday, France's Lower House of Parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on Islamic veils. Even the headscarf often causes trouble. In Germany (as in parts of Belgium and the Netherlands) some regions forbid public school teachers to wear it on the job, although nuns and priests are permitted to teach in full habit.


What does political philosophy have to say about these developments? What is it to treat people with equal respect in areas touching on religious belief and observance?


Let's start with an assumption that is widely shared: that all human beings are equal bearers of human dignity. It is widely agreed that government must treat that dignity with equal respect. But what is it to treat people with equal respect in areas touching on religious belief and observance?


We now add a further premise: that the faculty with which people search for life's ultimate meaning — frequently called "conscience" — is a very important part of people, closely related to their dignity. And we add one further premise, which we might call the vulnerability premise: this faculty can be seriously damaged by bad worldly conditions. It can be stopped from becoming active, and it can even be violated or damaged within. (The first sort of damage, which the 17th-century American philosopher Roger Williams compared to imprisonment, happens when people are prevented from outward observances required by their beliefs. The second sort, which Williams called "soul rape," occurs when people are forced to affirm convictions that they may not hold, or to give assent to orthodoxies they don't support.) The vulnerability premise shows us that giving equal respect to conscience requires tailoring worldly conditions so as to protect both freedom of belief and freedom of expression and practice.


Five arguments are commonly made in favour of proposed bans on burqas and headscarfs. First, it is argued that security requires people to show their faces when appearing in public places. A second, closely related, argument says that the kind of transparency and reciprocity proper to relations between citizens is impeded by covering part of the face.


What is wrong with both of these arguments is that they are applied inconsistently. It gets very cold in Chicago

— as, indeed, in many parts of Europe. Along the streets we walk, hats pulled down over ears and brows,

scarves wound tightly around noses and mouths. No problem of either transparency or security is thought to exist, nor are we forbidden to enter public buildings so insulated. Moreover, many beloved and trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters. What inspires fear and mistrust in Europe, clearly, is not covering per se, but Muslim covering.


A reasonable demand might be that a Muslim woman have a full face photo on her driver's licence or passport. With suitable protections for modesty during the photographic session, such a photo might possibly be required. However, we know by now that the face is a very bad identifier. At immigration checkpoints, eye-recognition and fingerprinting technologies have already replaced the photo. When these superior technologies spread to police on patrol and airport security lines, we can do away with the photo, hence with what remains of the first and second arguments.


A third argument, very prominent today, is that the burqa is a symbol of male domination that symbolises the objectification of women. A Catalonian legislator recently called the burqa a "degrading prison". Society is suffused with symbols of male supremacy that treat women as objects. Sex magazines, nude photos, tight jeans — all of these products, arguably, treat women as objects, as do so many aspects of our media culture. And what about the "degrading prison" of plastic surgery? Every time I undress in the locker room of my gym, I see women bearing the scars of liposuction, tummy tucks, breast implants. Isn't much of this done in order to conform to a male norm of female beauty that casts women as sex objects? Proponents of the burqa ban do not propose to ban all these objectifying practices. Indeed, they often participate in them. And banning all such practices on a basis of equality would be an intolerable invasion of liberty. Once again, then, the opponents of the burqa are utterly inconsistent, betraying a fear of the different that is discriminatory and unworthy of a liberal democracy.


A fourth argument holds that women wear the burqa only because they are coerced. Do the arguers really believe that domestic violence is a peculiarly Muslim problem? But there is no evidence that Muslim families have a disproportionate amount of such violence. Indeed, given the strong association between domestic violence and the abuse of alcohol, it seems at least plausible that observant Muslim families will turn out to have less of it.


College fraternities are very strongly associated with violence against women, and some universities have banned all or some fraternities as a result. But private institutions are entitled to make such regulations; a total governmental ban on the male drinking club (or on other places where men get drunk, such as soccer matches) would certainly be a bizarre restriction of associational liberty. Anyone proposing to ban the burqa must consider it together with these other cases.


Societies are certainly entitled to insist that all women have a decent education and employment opportunities that give them exit options from any home situation they may dislike. If people think that women only wear the burqa because of coercive pressure, let them create ample opportunities for them, at the same time enforce laws making primary and secondary education compulsory, and then see what women actually do.


Finally, I've heard the argument that the burqa is per se unhealthy, because it is hot and uncomfortable. (Not surprisingly, this argument is made in Spain.) This is perhaps the silliest of the arguments. Clothing that covers the body can be comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on the fabric. In India, I typically wear a full salwaar kameez of cotton, because it is superbly comfortable, and full covering keeps dust off one's limbs and at least diminishes the risk of skin cancer. It is surely far from clear that the amount of skin displayed in typical Spanish female dress would meet with a dermatologist's approval. But more pointedly, would the arguer really seek to ban all uncomfortable and possibly unhealthy female clothing? Wouldn't we have to begin with high heels, delicious as they are?


All five arguments are discriminatory. We don't even need to reach the delicate issue of religiously grounded accommodation to see that they are utterly unacceptable in a society committed to equal liberty. Equal respect for conscience requires us to reject them.


* Martha Nussbaum teaches law, philosophy, and divinity at the University of Chicago. She is the author of several books, including Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality.


By arrangement with the New York Times








GIVEN the chronic inability to accord quality governance higher priority than political advantage, the chief ministers' meeting on Maoist-containment could hardly have been expected to yield more than it did. Indeed, had the Prime Minister not stressed the importance of presenting a common front, and not permitting "inter-personal" relations to prove impediments, there might have been more strident expressions of differences than the chief minister of Bihar chose to make public. Hence it would be an exaggeration to talk of strategy having been evolved: at best a policy has been outlined, the details could prove tricky. And finally there is the age-old query about political commitment. Valid would be reservations over the revised force-management structure ~ doesn't four "unified commands" appear a self-contradiction? Where is the overarching coordinating authority, the Maoists hardly honour state boundaries. Protocol (pique?) is clearly at play, what expertise does a Chief Secretary have in counter-insurgency operations? So also, what will be the role and status of a retired Major-General ~ the Army has had its way in not getting its hands dirty? Much will depend on the personal attributes of the general: he may be experienced in jungle warfare but will he possess the political acumen (faujis tend to live in a cocoon) critical to missions of this nature, possibly having previously functioned under AFSPA cover. There is also a huge difference in Army/police functioning, and will the cops provide him the requisite intelligence support? Similarly, using more IAF helicopters (when they return from UN duties) for logistic/casualty-evacuation support appears positive, but is there a procedure laid down should the Maoists fire at a "chopper" (as they did during the elections)? Can an attack on an armed force of the nation go unanswered?  

What merits full appreciation is the decision to set up/refurbish 400 police stations across the Red Corridor and allot each Rs two crore. Provided the men are well-trained, equipped (creature comforts included) and professionally led that should ensure better area-domination than paramilitary patrols. Raising 34 India Reserve Battalions dedicated to tackling Left-wing extremism is also welcome, but experience would raise doubts over the efficacy of Special Police Officers. The overall police upgrade will take time, is that available? If Dantewada and Narayanpur pushed things back to square-one, only a pawn's movement was attained at the New Delhi deliberations. Details of the Rs 1750-crore development package are expected to be unveiled to the National Development Council; will the state administrations be geared up to "march" in tandem with the forces? The Prime Minister was spot-on in demanding erasing of the tribal's image of the administration being "a rapacious forest guard, a brutal policeman, a greedy patwari." Pity he backed off from including "a pernicious politician".




Theoretically, the West Bengal government can hardly be faulted when it claims that the Act on universal, free and compulsory education envisages no detention till Class VIII.  As it turns out, that may be the only provision with which the state is prepared to comply, let alone ensure that every child attends a school, at least in the neighbourhood. In a sense, the school education department has readily plumped for a proposal that is the easiest to implement. This is borne out by the spurious enthusiasm with which the minister, Partha De made the announcement ~ "Under no circumstances can a student be declared unsuccessful." Equally, did he stop short of spelling out whether the state has the wherewithal to implement the Universal Compulsory Education Act. It palpably doesn't. Which explains the shortest route to perceived progress. A student will be assured of promotion till Class VIII with no questions asked and regardless of whether the school has the correct teacher-student ratio, proper classrooms, blackboards, water, midday meals and gender-based sanitation. On every parameter, West Bengal is now in the also-ran category. And yet the state has no qualms about allowing a student to  move to the pre-college stage of senior school ~ Classes 9, 10, 11 and 12 ~ without any evaluation whatsover. The assimilation of knowledge must be open to question, let alone the proclivity for streams.
Yet it might be less than fair to blame West Bengal alone. This is a breathless provision in a parliamentary legislation, one that urgently calls for reflection both by the Centre and the states. It deserves to be shot down, and this can only be possible if the Act is amended. A generation of children will suffer. In the case of West Bengal, it doesn't stand scrutiny even as a pre-election gimmick to reduce the pressure in schools. We dare say that it could turn out to be as disastrous as doing away with English at the primary level. The child ought not to suffer on account of adult whimsy.




AS Myanmar gears up for a shambolic election and a bout of spurious democracy, the Army chief will only be deceiving himself, his junta and, above all, the country. The comity of nations will almost certainly see through General Than Shwe's latest exercise in gimmickry in the run-up to an election. He has ordered his cabinet ministers, who don the uniform, to resign from the Army. Thus does he hope to lend a civilian facade to the junta's government that has been in power for close to two decades, has denied a duly elected leader from assuming power, has stifled democratic dissent and has now scheduled an election that makes a travesty of the canons of democratic engagement. The sartorial change would have been laughable were it not for the profound implications. In real terms, it means little or nothing. Ahead of the election, it is the same set of generals who will be ruling the country ~ whether in uniform or the traditional Myanmarese longyi. So convoluted an exercise in self-deception is perhaps without parallel. Small wonder why there is an undercurrent of strong resentment within the cabinet, even rumblings that the military has been let down by its leader. The generals by and large are loath to shed their uniform, a symbol of authority that they realise the longyi simply won't command. There is perhaps greater resentment over the forced resignations, the consequent loss of military privileges and quite the most crucially the denial of legislative stakes. Once out of the army, these generals now in power will not be entitled to the 25 per cent quota that the military has reserved for itself in the new parliament. General Than Shwe may have imperilled his iron-fist authority through this spurious exercise in visibly civilian administration. He is acutely anxious about his own security; he has scheduled an election but doesn't know when it will be held.  Without the military regalia, the junta may look less dandified; but of a change in substance there is none. Nor for that matter will Than Shwe enhance his acceptability. It is a safe guess that the electoral fraud in Myanmar will overshadow the ones in Iran and Afghanistan. Of all the volatile countries trying to dabble in democracy, a fairly honest exercise was conducted only in Iraq ~ the country that has suffered by far the most.









THE ineptitude displayed by the local police and administration in Kashmir provided opportunity to terrorists based in Pakistan. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) released to media transcripts of taped conversation between Kashmiri separatists in J&K and commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen based in Pakistan. The intercepted dialogue revealed that the recent spate of stone- throwing by Kashmiri youth was exploited and funded by the Hizbul Mujahideen to cynically create martyrs of police firing among the Valley's teenagers. This will help Islamabad in the forthcoming Indo-Pak talks of foreign ministers. The Hizbul Mujahideen is led by Syed Salahuddin. It might be appropriate to infer, therefore, that the heightened scale of the current crisis in J&K is partly created by Salahuddin.

But who created Salahuddin? Recall some facts. Salahuddin's real name was Mohammed Yousuf Shah. He was a student activist from a middle class family. He decided to contest the Assembly elections in 1987 by becoming a candidate of the newly-formed Muslim United Front (MUF) from Srinagar's Amirakadal constituency. The MUF was a front of extreme separatist organizations. He lost the poll against Farooq Abdullah's National Conference candidate. Even among visiting media persons there was widespread belief that the 1987 polls were heavily rigged. Mohammed Yousuf Shah agitated against alleged rigging and was put in jail by the National Conference with the blessing of Rajiv Gandhi's government. This triggered anti-India sentiments and the seeds of militancy were planted in the Kashmir Valley.

Armed struggle

After his release in 1989 Shah claimed the authorities continued to threaten him. He used this as justification to support armed struggle. He joined a fledgling armed militant organization, Hizbul Mujahideen, that was founded by Muhammad Ahsan Dar with support from ISI. Yousuf Shah adopted the name of Syed Salahuddin in honour of Saladin, the 12th century Arab Muslim warrior who fought in the Crusades. The Hizbul was backed by Pakistan against the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which sought independence for the state. The Hizbul wanted merger with Pakistan. However, the Hizbul remained a minor player for many years.

Then in 1991 something happened. Ashfaq Lone, the deputy intelligence chief of the Hizbul, was arrested in Delhi with big unexplained money. That was how the police stumbled upon the infamous Jain Hawala case. After questioning Lone the police also arrested Shahbuddin Gori who allegedly had ISI links while studying in Jawaharlal Nehru University. In February 1991, Gori had gone to Pakistan where he had met Salahuddin who gave him a letter for the Hizbul chief, Ahsan Dar.

The CBI swung into action. It registered a TADA case as soon as it was discovered that hawala money was paid to Kashmiri insurgents. OP Sharma was the CBI official who pursued the TADA case. But then the police stumbled on the Jain diaries which revealed that the same conduits that funded the Kashmir insurgents were also funding over 40 leading politicians of the country. The recipients cut across party lines and included Rajiv Gandhi, LK Advani, Madhav Rao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot and all the who's who of Indian politics. All had to be investigated under the TADA law. Therefore, the CBI stalled the TADA probe.

In a sting operation, the CBI unsuccessfully tried to implicate their unrelenting official, OP Sharma, probing the case. It alleged that he was the recipient of bribes. In an astounding move it refused to chargesheet Moolchand Shah who had been apprehended as a prime conduit for hawala payments to the Kashmiri insurgents as well as to politicians. The TADA case was illegally converted into a corruption case against the politicians. After arresting the Kashmiri separatists who received hawala funds and sentencing them to brief jail terms the TADA probe was closed. Syed Salahuddin who was a minor separatist at that time was among those being probed. He hugely benefited from the closure of the TADA case. To protect politicians, therefore, the CBI aborted investigation of the newborn Hizbul Mujahideen.

Terrorist angle

Recently a book by a former CBI official, who investigated the Jain Hawala case, wrongly claimed that there was no terrorist angle to the case. This was arrant nonsense of course. In his book the name of Moolchand Shah does not even figure! Moolchand Shah, who was let off by the Jain Hawala case investigators despite overwhelming evidence against him, was eventually convicted after ten years for being the conduit of funds in the Mumbai bomb blasts case.

After getting reprieve from the Jain Hawala TADA probe Salahuddin never looked back. He became the supreme leader of the Hizbul which continued to flourish. According to official sources, even the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is linked to Hizbul Mujahideen. Today Salahuddin also heads the 14-member United Jihad Council, a group of Pakistan-based terrorist organizations. This is the man who is credited with fanning the fires of the current unrest in the Valley. He was provoked to become a terrorist by the alleged rigging of his election in 1987. He was helped to grow by the motivated closure of the TADA case against him. Neither fact exonerates him for becoming a terrorist. He is guilty. But what about India's political system that helped create Salahuddin? Is it not equally guilty? 


(The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist)






It may be because I'm too English for Gallic high rhetoric but it's very difficult to take seriously France's impassioned debate about banning the burkha. It's something that affects, at most, a couple of thousand people among a couple of million Muslims in France. For the average citizen a covered female face is a lot less obtrusive, and certainly less threatening, than a hooded youth, of which there are tens of thousands in the city, even in summer.

And yet here we have France's National Assemblée voting by 335 to a single objector for a Bill that would make it an offence punishable by fine to appear in public in the full veil, and could send a man down for a year if it was then found out that he had insisted his wife or daughter wear it. A "walking coffin", one French MP described it, "a sign of alienation on their faces" said a member of the ruling party, "a threat to French values" declared another. To which the English response is "come off it" (the declamation not the veil).
The question of the full coverage of the face is a serious one but it is one for the Muslim communities themselves to argue out, not a bunch of overexcited Christian and secular legislators – including the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy – to make of it an issue of national rights and cultural absolutes. 

And it's a lot more nuanced a debate than a straight matter of female oppression or specific Islamic beliefs. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and, for that matter, parts of Africa and South-east Asia, the veil is undoubtedly the weapon of patriarchy and the release from it the challenge of feminism in those countries. 
It's more a social issue than a religious one. In the Hindu villages of India, young women have to hide their faces even from the older men of the villages of their marriage. But, however expressed, imposed dress in traditionalist countries is about power and modernity.

Around Europe, in North Africa and the Middle East nations, the veil has become not an instrument of oppression but of identity. Go to Turkey and Tunisia and you will encounter an older generation brought up as secularists deeply perturbed at a younger generation returning to "conservative values". For the parents, the rejection of traditional dress and habits was a proof of anti-colonialism. To maintain tradition was almost to accept subservience. 

To their children, the opposite is the case. Returning to the past is a demonstration of a rejection of Western dominance and full-body coverage an expression not of slavery but of self-worth. The tension between secularism and Islam is a very real one now throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. Educated, middle-class young women are as likely to be on the side of covering up as ill-educated working men are on the other. The Turkish government has made the cause of democratic progress a repeal of the law banning the wearing of the veil in state offices or government occasions. And the tensions are bound to spread – are already spreading – to Muslims in Western Europe.

The very worse thing to do, however, is to politicise what is essentially a social issue by making it into a political question of secularism, feminism or Eastern-versus-Western values. Yet this is precisely what the legislators of Paris, as the proponents of the ban in Spain, the Netherlands and even Britain would have it be.
A whole range of opinion from working-class right-wing nationalists to left-wing middle-class secularists have combined to make the burka into a litmus test of rectitude. And all for their own reasons. 

The right wing embraces the cause because of their resentment at immigration, centrist politicians such as Sarkozy because they can use it to paint themselves in patriotic colours and women's groups because this can be presented as an up-and-down issue of women's rights. 

When none dare oppose a law, as happened in the Paris Assemblée, you can be pretty sure that a bandwagon is being driven for reasons of political self-interest. And when the vote is over 99 per cent in favour of something, you can be pretty sure that it is wrong.

And wrong the burkha banning movement is. If there is a problem – and you can certainly argue that there is – in teachers hiding their face whilst communicating with children or your doctor, passport officer or local government official discussing your case through a muslin or cotton mask, then it is perfectly possible to ban the dress in such circumstances, or to allow shops, restaurants or anyone else to forbid their employees keeping the veil on while communicating to clients. But banning it entirely in public, let alone trying to criminalise husbands who insist on their wives adopting it, is both unenforceable in practice and an open invitation for the committed deliberately to seek victimhood to further their cause.

Multiculturalism has become a contentious issue. If it means simply leaving minorities to their own devices, it must be wrong. But if rejecting it means trying to impose a centrist set of values on communities already feeling isolation, then it is bound just to lead to trouble.

There's nothing much that women insisting on wearing the burka can do to society at large except irritate it. But there's a great deal of harm that you can do if you make martyrs of them.

The Independent







More than 100,000 foreigners are set to enter Singapore's workforce this year, an increase fuelled by the record growth the government is forecasting for the economy this year. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in projecting the bigger inflow, said it was unavoidable as the labour market was bursting at the seams. "If we don't allow the foreign workers in, you are going to have overheating," he told Singapore reporters at the end of his six-day official visit to the United States.

However, he assured Singaporeans that the government is managing the number, saying the foreign worker levies have been calibrated to moderate the inflow. But he added: "Even with that, I'd imagine there will be more than 100,000 extra foreign workers this year. "I cannot see it otherwise. But we have to accept that."
Higher levy rates and a tiered system that makes it increasingly costly to employ many lower- and semi-skilled foreign workers were announced in February. But they came into effect only at the start of this month to give employers time to adjust and to invest in improving productivity, which is Singapore's new catalyst for growth.
The projected inflow is, however, a slowdown when compared to the surge in 2007 (144,500) and 2008 (157,000), said economists and employers interviewed. In fact, the pool shrank by 4,200 in the downturn last year, reducing the total foreign population to about one million.

Said economist Leong Wai Ho, who did not think the new inflow is excessive: "The addition of 100,000 probably reflects more discriminate and careful use of foreign workers, now that the levies have gone up."
Lee's comments coincided with the trade and industry ministry's announcement of first-half growth heading for a new peak. It led the ministry to raise its growth forecast for Singapore this year, saying it will be 13 to 15 per cent instead of its earlier projection of seven to nine per cent.

The need for more foreign workers this year was implied by Lee at the May Day Rally, when he said that, given the projected strong growth, "a higher inflow of foreign workers is unavoidable".

Economists like Leong see many of them flowing into the hotel plus food and beverage sectors, as well as high-end industries such as electronics and marine, where demand for semi-skilled S-pass holders is high. The hospitality sector is particularly hungry for workers, following the opening of the two integrated resorts and a surge in the number of tourists landing on Singapore shores.

Said a hotel manager: "Once we hit the quota, it's very hard to hire more. The government has to make it more competitive for us to hire foreign workers when we need to." About 10 per cent of its 140 employees are foreigners, and like others in the hospitality industry, it struggles to get locals to work in lower-skilled jobs such as waiters and chambermaids.

Said Teo Siong Seng, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has some 4,000 members: "We support the government policies to cut reliance on foreign workers and push for productivity, but in some sectors, it will take time to see results. A more controlled inflow of foreign workers will benefit the country."

In February, the government, in making a commitment to reduce the country's reliance on foreign workers, said it would limit the numbers to one-third of the total workforce, which stands at around three million.
The need to focus on a productivity-driven economy to achieve sustainable growth for the next 10 years was also stressed by PM Lee and manpower minister Gan Kim Yong. Said Gan: "In the short term, we would need to tap on more foreign workers to support economic growth." But it has to be done "while maintaining the longer-term goal of reducing over-reliance on foreign workers through investments in productivity", he added.

The Straits Times/ANN






Gun-Stick And Cartridges In A Woman's House Finds of arms and ammunition continue to be made in Calcutta, and another case of a successful search was reported to the Commissioner of Police on Monday morning. 

It appears that on information given at the Colootolah Thana, Inspector Golam Hyder applied to the Chief Presidency Magistrate for a warrant to search the house of a woman named Debi Jan, at 1-5, Halliday Street. The application was granted, and on Sunday afternoon the Inspector visited the house. 

The woman said she knew nothing of any arms or ammunition being concealed in the house, but on a search being made, a gun-stick and eight cartridges, the latter in an old soap box, were found under the matting in a corner of a habited roam. The articles were seized and the woman arrested. She said she had no idea who had placed the gun and cartridges there, but probably one of her visitors had hidden them. 

The gun-stick, which is very heavy, bears the name of Messrs Rodda and Co., makers.

The question raised by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce for creating an Advisory Board, consisting of commercial men, to act as expert advisers to the management of the Eastern Bengal State Railway is not yet closed. The Chamber has again addressed the Railway Board on the subject and strongly urged the acceptance of their suggestion. This is now under reconsideration.










It is not common for Indian politicians to own up to failures. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, seems to believe, however, that an honest admission of failure is the first step towards a course correction. What he has said about the State's failure in Maoist-affected areas is far removed from the average politician's familiar rhetoric. His remarks at his meeting with the chief ministers of four Maoist-hit states give the battle against the rebels a very necessary human face. For many years now, several governments at the Centre and the states have routinely talked of a two-pronged strategy of development and counter-insurgency offensives to fight the Maoists. Politicians across India have always known how the State and governments have failed the tribal people. But few have admitted the State's failures in such candid terms as Mr Singh has done. Who does not know that the tribal people have always seen the administration "in the form of a rapacious forest guard, a brutal policeman, a greedypatwari"? But not many politicians have had the courage to admit their own responsibilities for this state of affairs in the country's tribal heartland. It is an important perspective that is often lost in drawing up battle strategies.


Nobody denies, however, that there is a battle to be fought. Given the lack of co-ordination among different police and paramilitary forces and agencies, unified commands in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal should improve the efficiency of the counter-insurgency offensives. Such commands have been in place in some of the north-eastern states and in Jammu and Kashmir. The proposal to set up 400 new police stations in the Maoist-affected districts can make a difference only if it is implemented within a time frame. The police forces are not usually trained or properly equipped to fight Maoist guerrillas. But the fact that there are some 70,000 vacancies in these forces is an indication of the general administrative ineptitude. Even if the logistics improve with the unified commands and additional forces, the battle could still be hard and long. That is why the prime minister's ideas are particularly relevant. Maoists may want to seize State power with the help of guns. But the tribal people need food, shelter and their rights to livelihoods. Mr Singh could not be more right — it is time the State reached out to India's heart of darkness.








What does change look like? It is a word that has been ringing out like a resounding promise of happier days from politicians in opposition, political workers and the meekest and most peace-loving of non-political people. That the last group is also gasping for change shows the depth of the feelings of disgust, fear and desperation in which West Bengal has become gradually immersed because of the excesses of the Left Front. If, as seems more than likely, the leader of the Opposition in West Bengal, the Union minister for railways, Mamata Banerjee, comes to rule the state after the elections in 2011, then her voters will be looking to her for the promised change. She has built up to this moment, bit by hard-won bit. She and her followers, especially her brood of articulate, glamorous, cultured 'intellectuals', have been flying the banner of change like a beacon of hope in a rescue fantasy. But not all her followers are famous: the others are just the doers, the foot soldiers. And in their hands, 'change' is beginning to look frighteningly like everything that has gone before.


In spite of the opposition parties' virtuously professed abhorrence of bandhs and disruptions, recent incidents show that bullying, intimidation, coercion and violence are their chosen methods of conducting business. In Khejuri and Kanchrapara, in West Midnapore and Bankura, on the road, in government offices, in schools and colleges, the champions of change confront their opponents aggressively in an effort to silence competition, dissidence and difference. Everyone has the right to protest in a democracy, but that protest cannot take the form of annihilating different positions and points of view. This is precisely what the party in power at present does. The forces of opposition seem to be taking over those habits even before they have achieved full victory over the Left Front. The Trinamul Congress is doing itself no favours by reminding the electorate of its earlier disruptiveness and violence, when it had no power at all. This is not promising; it is frightening. It is high time that Ms Banerjee reined in her followers and asked them to adhere to her declared rejection of violence. She has created the promise of change. To fulfil that potential, she must ensure that her party moves away from the route of vengefulness and violent oppression. West Bengal may not want more of the same.









Our army chief of staff is obviously head over heels in love with the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. He has his own reasons to be.


The act, a Central legislation, was put in the statute book more than 50 years ago in the wake of large-scale insurgency in the north-eastern parts of the country, particularly in areas where the Naga community predominated. While the state government — at that time the entire region was a part of Assam — was formally responsible for maintaining law and order, it found it difficult to cope with the situation. The Union government hurried through Parliament the AFSPA, vetting deployment of armed forces in a state — or parts of it — to restore law and order if conditions so warranted, but subject to the approval of the state government. Once a state comes under the purview of the legislation, the lives and limbs of its residents are putty-clay in the hands of the army. Rights granted to citizens by the Constitution are suspended. Military personnel have total discretion to decide how to tackle disturbances taking place in this or that segment of the state. They can search premises at will and take anybody into custody for interrogation. These interrogations are not necessarily gentlemanly affairs; those taken in are often victims of third-degree methods, which sometimes lead to the breaking of bones or even maiming for life. Complaints of arbitrary killings of innocent people by the military have been innumerable. Reports of fake encounters involving deaths have streamed in from areas wherever the act has been enforced, especially from the Kashmir valley. Resentment against tyranny under the cloak of the act is both deep and widespread.


In Manipur, which came within the ambit of the AFSPA a couple of decades ago, the waywardness of the army personnel has provoked massive social resistance. Numerous stories of the violation of helpless women and indiscriminate assaults and arrests are the staple of everyday talk. The state has been more or less in a state of siege for years on end, with protest rallies and blockage of highways choking normal life. Protests against army excesses might have assumed, observers suggest, an even more virulent form had not inter-ethnic feuds affected cohesion among protesting groups.


In the light of these developments, New Delhi was persuaded to set up a committee under the aegis of a retired Supreme Court judge to review the problems that have arisen in implementing the provisions of the AFSPA. The findings of the reviewing judge were severely critical of the behaviour and activities of army people while they strut about enjoying the protection of the act. The judge went on to suggest a number of amendments in the statute to ensure its mutation into a more humane, and less arbitrary, piece of legislation. His recommendations evidently did not suit the authorities and have been allowed to rest in peace.


That did not put a lid on the expression of public misgivings. The country's Constitution does not intend defence forces to be responsible for maintaining internal security; that charge belongs to state administrations. The AFSPA was passed by Parliament to circumvent that roadblock. How the country will be administered within the four corners of the Constitution is for politicians sitting in Parliament — and state legislatures — to decide. They, it follows, have the prerogative to review from time to time provisions of such statutes as the AFSPA, which they themselves had legislated. Given continuing reports of people's unhappiness with the functioning of the act, it is only natural for politicians to wish to take another look at it. Some of them are possibly happy with the act as it is and would like to leave it in an unamended form. Some others, for example, the current chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, will perhaps not mind the continuation of the act, but only after the introduction of amendments which address public concerns over the seeming absence of accountability in the act. There might yet be other politicians who would rather scrap the act in its entirety, since in their view it goes ill with the mores of a free democratic society.


In sum, there is scope for a public debate on aspects of the AFSPA. The army chief of staff — who no doubt had the benefit of the advice of his service colleagues — looks with disfavour on such a debate. He would like the act to continue in its present form, which allows military personnel a free hand while dealing with elements suspected of waging war against the State. He is actually in some fury, and has gone to the length of questioning the motives of politicians who want to either do away with or drastically amend the act.


Is not the army boss forgetting his station? India is no Thailand, it is no Pakistan either, surely not the Pakistan people and politicians over there are currently trying to extricate themselves from. The armed forces in India are, the Constitution lays down, servants of an elected government. The government is elected by politicians who are members of parliament. The status of politicians who are elected as representatives of the people is way superior to that of the army chief. It is, of course, within the range of the army chief's responsibilities to speak — or send a note — to the defence secretary and, through the secretary, to the defence minister, in case he feels apprehensive about proposals to amend or abolish the AFSPA. But that is all. To presume that he can publicly dress down politicians who hold views different from his on the merits of the act is a bit too much; somebody needs to advise him where to draw the line.


For the ground reality in regions of the country where military or paramilitary forces have been — or are being considered to be — deployed is often excruciatingly complex. Leave aside at-this-moment-once-more-a-boiling-cauldron Kashmir, where factors such as religion and national identity further cloud the picture. Even in the other regions afflicted by insurgency — whether the north-eastern belt or states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal — stark issues of ethnicity render enforcement of law and order bewilderingly difficult. It would be foolhardy to delegate this to the discretion of military or paramilitary personnel.


Two recent incidents in West Bengal, where the Central Reserve Police Force is engaged jointly with the state police in tracking down Maoists, are worth mentioning in this context. In the first incident, the CRPF shot down in a forest encounter eight suspected Maoists, three of them women. The bodies of those killed were brought back from the forest to the nearest subdivisional town as trophy: the hands and feet of each were separately bound and then hung, upside down, with the help of a strong rope, from a bamboo pole, precisely the manner in which a carcass is brought back when villagers return from a successful hunt of wild boar or of any other predatory animal.


In the other episode, in a supposedly Maoist-infested village, the CRPF accosted a schoolboy, the fingers of whose right hand were smeared with red ink. He must have been, it was instantly concluded, writing posters extolling the Maoist cause. Suspicion was reckoned as proof; the boy was set upon and beaten black and blue.


In both incidents, Maoists are the target, but the victims happen to be adivasis, and this is true in almost every part of the country where conditions of rebellion prevail. The incidents are bound to be grist for the Maoist propaganda mill: the system does not consider you, adivasis, as human beings, they treat you as beasts, even your children are not spared, you therefore have every right to rise in revolt against the system.


Awesome consequences can follow if counter-insurgency operations are not supervised with finesse and imagination, a responsibility too risky to be left to the whims of the CRPF or the armed forces. There is therefore enough logic in seeking a review of the AFSPA. This matter does not fall in the domain of the chief of staff or his colleagues.








It has become rather painful and dreary to write about the realities of this exploited nation. Every battle that is fought for what is right is lost because those who govern us are perpetuating personal commitments instead of a national agenda looking ahead to the future. Rajiv Gandhi, in his wisdom and integrity, had declared the conservation of the Ganga as one of his national priorities. He was bang on right. Today, the same government that eulogizes him twice a year, on his birth anniversary and on the day he was assassinated, has consistently taken decisions that radically deviate from what was once the mantra of the Congress — the protection of rivers, mountains, forests and fauna for the future of India.


The once mighty Ganga has been brutalized in its high reaches by a rapacious approval to build small dams along its upper course. The approval was an anti-environment decision, which was first stalled by the courts. The matter was then referred to the concerned authority for reassessment. Recently, an empowered group of ministers, the bane of our lives, has approved the continuance of this hugely damaging project. Why is the Manmohan Singh government hell-bent on destroying the Himalaya and the Ganga, using the laughable excuse that Rs 600 crores have already been spent? Why the hypocrisy of spending crores to restore the damage already done in the lower course of the river and, at the same time, allow, through an EGOM decision, the damage of the part not destroyed yet?


This time, the concerned ministry is not in the hands of an alliance partner. Is the ministry of environment being overruled by the EGOM, when the former could have used this opportunity to show by example that the Congress is a party of integrity that adheres to the environmental laws of the land and abides by the recommendations of the concerned minister? Where is the Congress as the watchdog of its government? Remember Indira Gandhi stopped the dam in Silent Valley. Money had been spent there too.


Decline in standards


The UPA II must endorse and celebrate the wisdom of Indira Gandhi by continuing the action she initiated based on her emphatic commitment to the country. Why spout euphoric words about her on her birthday and, in the same breath, deviate from her ethics?


The march towards an enhanced, destructive rate of growth needs to be damned. The time is ripe for the Youth Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, to take the baton Indira Gandhi left behind and run with it, compelling a restructuring of the prevailing mindset and making essential correctives for a truly substantive socio-cultural rate of growth. The economic rate of growth must not be allowed to take precedence over all else by breaking the rules that are enshrined in the statute books for our protection under the banner of 'liberalization'. When rules are bent from the top, how can any law be enforced on ordinary citizens?India has become an unregulated playground for unregulated projects being executed by unregulated individuals who have access to those who can ask for the laws to be bent to suit needs and priorities that have scant respect for environmental norms and rules. For ordinary Indians, politics and governance are at an abysmal low. Corruption is at an all-time high and rising. At a time when India should take its rightful place as an emerging power with all engines operating on socio-cultural-economic fronts, we are declining at all levels — integrity, ideas, alternatives, solutions and correctives. With a honourable and honest prime minister at the helm, we must urge the reversal of wrongdoings, and learn a lesson from those who once had the will to do so.



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





The continuation of the stand-off between the opposition and the government in the Assembly which has held up crucial legislative business, including passing of the state budget, symbolises the deepening chasm in the political life in the state. The Assembly has degenerated into a chamber of rowdy behaviour with the language of the members descending to the level of abuse and threats. Both the opposition and the government are responsible for this situation, although it is the treasury benches which bear the greater onus for the alarming denouement. More disturbing, the war of words threatens to now spill over to the streets with both the sides declaring that they would be conducting marches to and from Bellary, the epicentre of the political seismic activity in the state.

It is apparent that the BJP-led government is under great stress. Some members of the cabinet through their questionable activities may be walking the tightrope of conflict of interest as the government's silence over the massive heist of five lakh tonnes of iron ore from Belekeri shows. People are also watching with helplessness the relentless rape of the state's natural resources and the virtual autarky that Bellary has been turned into by some of the legislators and ministers from the district. They may not approve of the method that the governor H R Bhardwaj has adopted to rein the government in — and there's no doubt he has gone beyond what the Constitution mandates — but the situation begs for a mechanism to deal with a rapacious government gone completely awry.


The earlier the chief minister and the BJP central leadership realise that the Bellary trio of ministers has of late become a political liability and a deep embarrassment to the party the better it will be. For Yeddyurappa in particular, their actions are like a Damocles sword hanging over his head. The adversity is also an opportunity for the chief minister. He can persuade the opposition to accept an overarching inquiry by the Lokayukta into the whole gamut of illegal iron ore mining from a date preceding the BJP's entry into power, while offering a specific CBI probe into the missing iron ore at Belekeri. The two probes can be complementary and not be mutually exclusive. That should satisfy the honour of the opposition, strengthen Yeddyurappa within the party and end the gridlock that is affecting the state's governance.








The supreme court's order lifting the ban on James Laine's biography of Shivaji is not surprising. There was not much opposition to the book from the academic world and the ban went against the right to free speech. It was clear that the objections raised against the book were motivated by politics and inspired by narrow considerations. The book actually became known because of the protests staged by the members of a little-known organisation, the Sambhaji Brigade, and the Shiv Sena which claimed it had made derogatory references to Chhatrapati Shivaji. The Brigade's hooligans even vandalised the reputed Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune,  which was not associated with the book, except for the fact that James Laine had worked there for some time. It was the chauvinist politics built around Shivaji, who has been made the symbol of Maratha pride, that triggered the trouble. But it was the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra that banned the book in 2004. That was competitive chauvinism and moral cowardice.

The responses to the supreme court's order are equally unsurprising. The Brigade and the Sena men have declared that they will not allow the book to be sold. Chief minister Ashok Chavan and home minister R R Patil, who claim to represent liberal parties, have said that they shared the 'public sentiments' about Shivaji and did not agree with the supreme court's decision. That shows that the claims of respect for freedom of speech and expression are all a sham. It is patently wrong for a government to shy away from its constitutional mandate. The Sena brigade is less hypocritical. They do not claim that they respect free speech. The state government should desist from its move to get around judgment as it is not only bound to be struck down by the court as violative of the constitution but also will show the government as intolerant and chauvinist.
The supreme court said that the legal provision that may allow censorship in cases where religious sentiments are hurt is not applicable in the case of historical figures. History and historical figures are always open to scrutiny and re-assessment. A healthy and democratic society should encourage debate and criticism. Glorification of the past and deification of historical figures will only trap the present in the past and endanger the future.






India and Pakistan should set up a joint commission to go through the textbooks so that appropriate changes are made.


Former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral would always say that a solution between Pakistan and India had to be evolved, not presented to the people as if a magician had pulled a rabbit out of the bag. He had a point. The two sides, particularly the politicians and the establishments, had to gulp down the solution and chew it, a slow process.

This is like a building which would be erected brick by brick. Therefore, people-to-people contact is the obvious way out for the two countries to discuss and debate the various issues facing them at length, without even reaching a consensus of any sort.

My experience shows that the contact comes to be confined to those who can get a visa or lucky enough to be part of Track II committee. Governments on both sides are frustratingly cussed and slow. They have hardly left any scope for contact among the common people on both sides. India's home ministry is further tightening visa eligibility criteria so that it can keep out 'unwanted elements.'

Norms under discussion indicate income criteria and minimum educational qualifications for entry into India. This is an approach meant to allow only the elite. I thought the home ministry would facilitate the exchange of newspapers which has been stopped since the 1965 war. (In Pakistan, the dissemination of Indian television news is banned.)

The meeting between foreign ministers of the two countries is a step forward after the talks between the two home ministers and foreign secretaries. What they say and the steps they take are important for the two countries to normalise relations. And they should do it quickly because the people want normalisation without further loss of time.

Yet the most important thing is how to disabuse the minds on both sides. The feeling of national solidarity is nurtured on the two sides by emphasising on the 'misdeeds of the other side.' When nationalism feeds on downing the 'enemy,' there is little hope in building an atmosphere of confidence. Nationalism, in fact, is prejudice.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh's remark that 'trust and verify' the sincerity of Pakistan may be justified because of India's 'feeling of betrayal' after many successful attempts to reach an understanding. Yet it only underlines the depth of distrust. Who is to verify what and how? These are ambiguous questions and should not be raised when the two countries are yet to outline even the agenda of talks. New Delhi does not want to give them the name of a 'composite' dialogue, the phrase which Pakistan prefers.

Renewal of trauma

People in both the countries have to overcome the memory of partition's traumatic experience. But the tragedy of partition is only renewed again and again when the Pakistani textbooks arouse hatred against Indian people, not the state. Although the observations have been reportedly toned down, they still talk about 'India's evil designs against Pakistan' and 'identify the events in relation to Hindu-Muslim differences.'
How can the children forget what is taught to them in schools? They carry the same impression when they grow up. It is time that both countries set up a joint commission to go through the textbooks and directives given to those who prepare them.

No doubt, such a step will do away with the hatred cultivated at a young age. Yet the fear of a small state that Pakistan has been, the natural fallout of partition, is understandable. It feels pitted against a big state of India. And most Pakistanis still believe, even after 62 years of the formation of the country, that New Delhi wants to destroy their entity.

This thinking gives grist to the propaganda mills of extremist organisations. Civil societies in both the countries have to fight against the feeling: Would Pakistan survive the difficulties it faces? I am reminded of what Atal Behari Vajpayee wrote on the visitors' book at Minar-e-Pakistan: "India's integrity and prosperity depends on the integrity and prosperity of Pakistan".

The prisoners on both sides are a sad commentary on the attitude of rulers and bureaucrats. Indian and Pakistani prisoners languish in jails long after their sentence is over. The crime of most of them is that they had strayed into the other country. Poor fishermen particularly have become victims in the 'hostile' atmosphere. Of those arrested, 95 per cent of them are from Gujarat and Diu while a higher percentage is from the Sind province of Pakistan. Generally they become pawns in the hands of political leadership of the other country.

I still believe that people-to-people contact on a wide-scale will improve the situation in the two countries and lessen fear, suspicion and mistrust. But I do not see such a possibility in the near future because terrorism has changed the scenario. It is true that Pakistan is a prey to it.

But so many reports by the US think-tanks have said that the Taliban, who attack Pakistani cities at regular intervals, are trained and funded by the elements, including the ISI, from within Pakistan. Now that both New Delhi and Islamabad are determined to fight against terrorism jointly, with the help of other SAARC nations, some kind of mechanism should be created to eliminate the Taliban.








The political class in Jammu and Kashmir is deeply divided between squabbling mainstream parties.


On June 11, as Tufail Ahmad Mattoo headed home from a tutoring centre where he was studying for the medical entrance exam, a tear gas canister fired from close range bashed a hole in his skull. He died almost instantly.

That morning Mattoo, 17, had been simply a student with a rucksack full of books. By day's end, he was being called a martyr for the disputed region of Kashmir, and the next day, against his family's will, he was buried in the martyrs graveyard of Srinagar.

Since then at least 15 Kashmiris have died here in the capital and a few other places, most of them young men killed in encounters with Indian security forces or the Kashmiri police. More than 270 security officers have been injured in confrontations with stone-throwing mobs of youths.

The events that have unfolded here over the past month followed a script that has played out every summer for three years.

In 2008 dozens of Kashmiris died and everyday life was paralysed in disputes over land for Hindu pilgrims. Last year protests flared after two young women were found dead by a stream in the town of Shopian. It appeared that they had been raped and killed by security forces, but Indian investigators concluded they had accidentally drowned.

Temporary calm

This summer, a fresh crisis has emerged, with Mattoo's death the catalyst. Since then, stone-throwing mobs have confronted security forces almost daily. A government clampdown, which included several days of strict curfew that ended on Sunday and the deployment of the Indian Army on the outskirts of this restive city for the first time in more than a decade, have brought a semblance of calm. But few believe the peace will last.

The partition of British India divided Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But both countries, now armed with nuclear weapons, continue to claim the Himalayan region.

These days, though, the battle for Kashmir comes from within.Tens of thousands of Indian security officers are deployed here, shielded from scrutiny by special laws, and many angry Kashmiris say they act with impunity, like an occupying force. 

The political class in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is deeply divided between squabbling mainstream parties, which favour embracing union with India, and separatists who seek independence and have refused to participate in elections. 

By some measures, Kashmir had been enjoying a season of tranquillity. Militant violence was lower than at any time since a separatist insurgency swept across the region in 1989. Infiltrations from Pakistan had ebbed. Tourists, from India's growing middle class and from abroad, flocked to the Kashmir Valley.

In 2008 Kashmiris voted in record numbers, which many took as a sign that the separatist urge had faded. A new state government led by the fresh-faced scion of Kashmir's best-known political family took the reins. Hope for a new era was in the air.

But Mattoo's death and its chaotic aftermath have laid bare Kashmir's inner turmoil." The hope which was generated in the elections has turned into despair," said Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami, who represents the Communist Party of India in the state Assembly. "The current state of affairs reflects the disillusionment and disappointment of the people."

Omar Abdullah, 40, has been the state's chief minister, since his party won the most seats in the 2008 election and formed an alliance with the Congress Party.

With his youth and family pedigree — his grandfather, Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, was one of the state's earliest and best-loved political leaders — many here hoped Abdullah would lead Kashmir from bitter, armed struggle to peaceful prosperity. But it has not turned out that way. His critics call him aloof and not up to the challenge.

In an interview, Abdullah tried to swat away that notion. "Everybody has an opinion on how I should do my job," he said. "Everyone who has an opinion thinks they can do my job better than me."


Still, he acknowledged, democracy has not delivered everything people hoped it would.

"The towns where you are seeing these protests are the areas where people did not come out to vote," he said. "They are areas where mainstream politics has little or no say."

That would include a neighbourhood a few blocks from his house, where residents seethed under curfew restrictions. Friday Prayer, normally offered at one of the city's big mosques, was held locally instead.

"Curfew is imposed just to break the will of the people," said a young sociology student who gave his name as Sheik. "Kashmir is a simmering volcano. There is a semblance of peace, but it is a fragile and weak peace."







The values of life have nothing to do with caste, creed or gothras.


Our profession brought us together in the mid 50s. Iyer and I had joined the same steel plant and shared a room in the then Soviet Union as trainees, during which we found each other quite congenial. Later on we worked in the same zone for several years till he left our plant to head a different organisation at Bombay.

Life moved on for Iyers as per their chalked out blue print till their son, their only offspring, fell in love with a girl of a different caste and same gotra and married her as per civil law. Though their daughter-in-law (orphaned at a young age and totally self-made) was highly qualified, professionally well placed besides being endowed with an extremely sweet and amicable temperament, Iyers could not reconcile to this unexpected development. As their closest friend I nearly succeeded in convincing them that they have nothing to regret and have every reason to feel happy and proud.

Before the turbulence of the event settled down, cruel fate struck, completely destroying the fabric of goodwill the joint family was trying to build up. My friend's wife got killed in a freak accident. To my horror, Iyer was somehow convinced by an inexplicable logic that his daughter-in-law's stars were responsible for this calamity. Dejected, he detached himself from his son's family, left his lucrative job and settled down alone taking a small house in a temple town down south. No amount of entreaties from the youngsters could change his mind and he withdrew from them cocooning himself in his warped convictions.

Years rolled by and despite my incessant efforts there appeared to be no change of heart in him. Strained and drained physically and mentally the old man fell ill and was bed-ridden, deserted by the so-called well-wishers who had actively incited his prejudice. On coming to know of this, the daughter-in-law took leave from her job, rushed to his place, took charge of the situation and nursed Iyer with filial love till he completely recovered!

A couple of months later I was pleasantly surprised by Iyer's unexpected visit to me. He appeared to be a totally changed man. "What a blunder I have committed all these years!" he lamented with choked voice, tears flowing in profusion. "Who was I to question the act of God? What a fool I must have been to expect the mighty river of love to flow the way I desire? Look at my daughter-in-law and her divine magnanimity despite my hurting her! She has more God in her than I have in me! I have decided to join them!"

The fragile man-made barrier, which had separated them, had been shattered by the power of realisation that values of life and ultimate truth have nothing to do with caste, creed or gothras!









Even as Syrian President Bashar Assad misses no opportunity to urge Israel to sign a peace treaty with his country, the Knesset House Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit the government from authorizing a withdrawal from the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem without a referendum and a majority of 61 MKs. The bill will now be sent to the plenum for its second and third readings. This is Israel's response to Assad's declarations of peace.


The Syrian leader speaks of commercial and tourism ties, open borders and peaceful relations between the two states following the Golan's return. Meanwhile, the Knesset further ties the government's hands, erecting more and more hurdles to thwart any chance of peace. If the plenum approves this harmful bill, then even a courageous, determined, peace-seeking prime minister will find it difficult to advance a deal with Syria.


Such an agreement has lately been described as possible and attainable, perhaps now more than ever. Assad's statements are lucid and emphatic. In fact, he has repeated them again and again, to audiences in both the West and the Arab world. Perhaps his declarations are not a guarantor of his true intentions, yet Israel should have sought to challenge him and put him to the test.


Instead, Israel has crassly ignored his statements. The government's official spokespeople rarely, if ever, comment on them. And as far as we know, neither is there any serious behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity that could pave the way for the start of negotiations, either direct or indirect.


In contrast with the Palestinian peace process, the terms of a deal with Syria are clear-cut and obvious - full peace in exchange for full withdrawal from the Golan. In light of this reality, negotiations can be brief and to the point. All that is needed are good, sincere intentions on both sides.


The advantages of peace for Israel are more precious than gold: rapprochement with one of its largest and most dangerous neighbors; the weakening of Syria's ties with Iran and Hezbollah; and a far-reaching strategic change in Israel's international standing. If the world sees that Israel is bent on peacemaking and on returning occupied territories, even if only to Syria, that would change the international community's attitude toward it. It is also safe to assume that launching peace talks with a country that plays host to Hamas's political bureau could improve prospects for Gilad Shalit's release.


Presented with this plethora of opportunities, Israel should already have made a Herculean effort to quickly gauge the sincerity of Assad's statements. Instead, the proposed law - which is likely to pass - will make it even more difficult to start peace talks, as it will send a clear signal to Syria that Israel has no interest in making peace.


In such a situation, the Middle East is liable to become even more dangerous and flammable: President Assad will be forced to throw up his hands in despair because all his peace overtures have been met with silence, and Israel will be pushing him into the corner of extremism and violence. Thus not only is the referendum bill unnecessary - there is no need for referenda over peace in a country that does not hold referenda on war or any other issue - but it is also very dangerous.









1. If you think we hit peak temperatures this week, just wait for August. The three elders of the Turkel Committee have nothing to lose - they will fight like lions, not rabbits. Those who thought the hands of these elderly men would tremble and their minds would not be sharp and lucid made a mistake. It's true that the committee was set up to prevent the establishment of an international commission of inquiry, but judging by its energetic preparations, it is more aggressive than the authorities had expected. It's no coincidence that the prime minister and the defense minister, who will apparently be the first to be called for questioning, have hired attorneys already. Benjamin Netanyahu has Dori Klagsbald, while Ehud Barak has Ram Caspi and Navot Telzur.


One question is whether Netanyahu made Barak responsible for handling the flotilla affair before Bibi left for

Canada, or Moshe Ya'alon, who served as acting prime minister while Netanyahu was away. Since the forum of seven senior ministers does not have official status, the question will be asked who decided on the way to act against the flotilla.


At the moment, it seems Barak will try to say the chief of staff was responsible, even though Gabi Ashkenazi recommended well in advance, in a letter to Bibi and Barak, that it was preferable to solve the problem with diplomacy and leave the military option as "an alternative with low priority." It's not by chance that Barak's office has been carrying out a mudslinging campaign against the chief of staff. Perhaps Barak fears that the day will come when Ashkenazi replaces him as defense minister.


Barak reminds one of Moshe Dayan, who was saved from denunciation after the Yom Kippur War by the Agranat Commission; that panel made the unfounded claim that the defense minister merely gives "ministerial advice" and is not the commander of the army. He pushed the blame onto the chief of staff, David Elazar, even before the commission was set up. Before Barak pushes responsibility onto Ashkenazi, he will have to explain what his instructions were for dealing with the flotilla. Wasn't he the one who gave the mistaken order to raid the Turkish ship outside Israel's territorial waters, stirring the wrath of the entire world?


It will be more difficult for him to explain why, after the failure, he eased the blockade on Gaza (just as he will have trouble explaining what was achieved by Operation Cast Lead other than bringing on us the anger of the entire world ). Those who thought the Turkel Committee would act like a house committee in an old-age home can expect a surprise. Didn't we say we would have a sweltering summer?


2. Do you recall the Likud party conference when Limor Livnat, at the time education minister, shouted at the hundreds of participants: "What were we elected to the government for? To dish out jobs?" The delegates' response was different than she had expected: "Yes!" The Mapai regime, which began even before the state was established and collapsed in 1977, gave the best government jobs to those who were known by the Yiddish word unzere - our people.


There is a famous story that a party member who wanted a job would get a note on which was written: "The bearer of this note is one of ours. Greetings from a colleague." Many years passed until members of the right-wing Herut party could get senior government positions or were allowed to join the upper ranks of the Israel Defense Forces. It was no coincidence that David Ben-Gurion gave the army the name Tzva Haganah Leyisrael (Israel Defense Forces ) so it would be clear that the Haganah, the pre-independence underground army, had played a central role in the establishment of the state. To his dying day, Menachem Begin called the IDF Tzva Yisrael (Israel's army ), leaving out haganah.


In the first years of the state, the former members of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi - the pre-state underground militia led by Begin - had trouble getting jobs in the government and public bodies. My colleague Eitan Haber is wont to mention with pain how his father was left almost penniless when he couldn't get a job as a teacher because of his political affiliation.


Two of my good friends, who on May 15, 1948, were enlisted into the Negev battalion, most of whose fighters had been in the elite Haganah strike force the Palmach, were sent back to the induction base due to "unsuitability" after it was discovered they were from Kfar Hasidim, an Irgun stronghold. The state's key institutions were led exclusively by Mapai activists. The Shin Bet security service had a department that spied on the parties. Not merely on Herut but also on left-wing party Mapam. One time, microphones were found in the office of that party's leader, Meir Ya'ari.


Even though Herut supporters felt discriminated against by the time Begin was elected prime minister, he acted with statesmanship at first. Many Mapainiks, especially the leaders, remained in their positions. This was not only out of greatness of spirit but also a sense of practicality. The veteran and experienced assistants, especially in areas like the treasury, security, industry, trade and commerce, taught the new ministers the ins and outs of government and perhaps, by the way, the ins and outs of proteksia - favoritism. Herut's victory in the elections was rivaled only by the pressure from the bottom for jobs. And they did it no less well than the Mapainiks. It is not clear why so many years elapsed until Ehud Olmert and Tzachi Hanegbi were interrogated about appointments at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.


The random way the state prosecution gets hold of a minister and makes his life a misery for years does not solve anything. The solution is to fix rules under which everyone is appointed based on merit - not according to his political affiliation or length of his tongue.








I hereby call for a boycott of the Knesset.


A bill proposed by coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud ) and the chairwoman of the Kadima faction, Dalia Itzik, together with MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union, would punish any Israeli calling for a boycott of any Israeli individual or institution, whether in Israel or in the territories. The fine is NIS 30,000, plus any damages that can be proven. The bill passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday.


I therefore call for a boycott of Ze'ev Elkin and Dalia Itzik as individuals (no point in boycotting Dr. Eldad; he would thrive on it ), and of the Knesset as an institution. I call on parliaments throughout the democratic world, and interparliamentary associations, to boycott Israel's parliament, once the pride of the Jewish people, until it buries the bill and recovers its democratic heritage.


That would also, of course, require revoking the infamous vote, also taken on Wednesday, in which MK Hanin Zuabi was deprived of parliamentary privileges because she took part in May's flotilla to Gaza (believing it would be nonviolent ).


I am hastening to call for this boycott because I want to be the first person prosecuted under the new bill when it becomes law. This article will still be out there on the Internet, and I ought therefore to qualify. I want to earn a footnote in Jewish history: He tried, Canute-like, to stand against the wave of fascism that engulfed the Zionist project. I'm ready to pay NIS 30,000 for that.


Beyond that little vanity, perhaps a call to boycott the Knesset, if it gained any traction, could puncture that most smug and pernicious piece of propaganda: that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East."


Israel is a democracy for Jews. "We'll deal with your presence in the Knesset later," MK Ofir Akunis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's longtime aide, informed Arab MK Ahmed Tibi ominously, unashamedly. True, he was admonished by the Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin. But Rivlin the democrat is a mere fig leaf now, a holdover from another age.


Meanwhile, at any rate, Tibi's still there. But four million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have no political rights at all. Plainly, as was predicted decades ago by the peace camp, it is the occupation that is eroding democracy inside Israel.


The settlers got it right, too. "Yesha zeh kaan" - "Judea and Samaria are right here."


This article would not be complete without the ritual, required - and actually completely true - addendum: I deprecate and despise the people calling for boycotts of Israeli universities. I most especially disdain them if they themselves remain faculty members of those same universities. Israeli universities do not deserve to be boycotted.


I know that "deserve to be boycotted" opens up a whole other can of worms. Do settler wines, for instance, deserve to be boycotted? I was in a restaurant recently where a salesperson from Barkan Winery was promoting her products. When someone muttered something about "boycott," she smoothly replied that the winery had long ago moved to inside the Green Line. It was not a settler business, and there was no reason, therefore, for anyone to boycott it. So boycotts work, apparently.


But things are not always all that simple, given the complicated lives we lead here, in the fifth decade of the occupation. My darling grandchildren live in a settlement (albeit within one of the "blocs" ). Do I call for a boycott of them? I had better not, or they'll call for a boycott of me.









Until recently, we had been asking ourselves about this strange calm, and hoping that it came before the storm. But our hopes have been dashed: Israel is still the leading country in social gaps; it is number one among all the countries in the OECD.


Yet the calm has indeed been shattered, and the cries can be heard in the heavens. So who is it that cries out to

us by night, whose sobbing do we hear?


It is the tycoons shedding tears of distress, as is the custom with crocodiles when they devour their prey. They fear that soon, their unswallowed food will be removed from their mouths and they will be prevented from chewing it.


Perhaps their sky-high earnings and profits will be capped. Perhaps the public will also enjoy some of the underground treasures they have been hoarding for themselves, in the form of royalties on gas and oil. Perhaps interconnection fees will be reduced and another cellular operator will get a permit, and then there will be more competition. Perhaps the power wielded by the monopolies will be weakened a bit, the concentration of the economy will be reduced and the destructive shadow of the pyramid-structured holding groups will be diminished. And perhaps mining companies will lose their eligibility for government grants.


At present, the tycoons have nothing to fear. It is true that many committees have been set up, but when a committee convenes, it is a sign that decisions are being avoided, delayed for generations. And in order not to raise the minimum wage, or not to reduce the maximum wage, no committee whatsoever was necessary: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banged on the table, and that sufficed to thwart both these plots.


Still, the tycoons are concerned. The "families" are not used to a driving attack on their gluttonous leverage. What, ask the sons of Ofer and Tshuva and Dankner and Arison and Ben-Dov, has happened here all of a sudden?


Did we not sow wealth and power both? Did we not together, with the sweat of our brows, like pioneers, pave the highway between wealthy districts and poverty-stricken ones - the road that divides Israel in two? Did we not eat and drink delicacies at social events and appear as a unified group in the gossip columns? Did we not send Yaakov Neeman - flesh of our flesh - to the cabinet to be our faithful representative there? Did we not make generous donations to the ministers and Knesset members and cast our bread upon the waters? So why do we, the best of families, deserve this? Why are they holding a knife to our throats?


One must never take chances; it is best to start lobbying before the blow falls. For example, the media reported this week that Israel Chemicals is organizing a pressure campaign aimed at preventing the revocation of its eligibility for government grants. And mayors are reportedly telephoning ministers' bureaus in an effort to avert the evil decrees.


But even if the country's leaders go down on bended knee, even if they crawl on all fours, they will never find anything beneath the tables of the rich but bones and crumbs. Repeated studies have shown that Israel's wealthy make negligible donations to charity when compared to their colleagues in the West. Those who see all the charity fund-raisers, the gala events, the ceremonies and receptions in their honor may be moved by the generosity of our local philanthropists, but it is not so. It is true that the rich have many friends, but this is an altruistic friendship, purchased with a fraction of a percent of their enormous profits.


If only the poor of our country were able to fight for their bread like our tycoons fight for their butter, topped with a layer of caviar! For out of Zion will go forth in disgrace the Torah of inequality.









The head of the Jewish Division in the Shin Bet security service, a skullcap wearer who lives in a settlement east of the Green Line, is a big man whose body and face resemble those of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and the MK who represents the settlers, Uri Ariel. This coincidence reflects the mess in which the Shin Bet works in the home arena. If when confronting Palestinians and other Arabs it is swift of foot and agile as a high jumper, when it comes to Jews it has chains on its feet and weights around its neck. The results are commensurate, among them an affair like that of Chaim Pearlman, who is suspected of a double murder; someone who has had contacts of one kind or another with the Shin Bet over the years.


There are Jewish terrorists. They are no different from other terrorists in terms of the danger they present, except in one aspect: They are more dangerous. They are part of the society against which they are plotting, they know how to get close to the centers of power and are familiar with democracy's weak points by dint of their civil rights. They are also up to date with the most modern legal and media-related means of combat. It's easier for them to avoid exposure - if not in terms of intelligence, at least in terms of evidence, without which intelligence is not sufficient. And after their arrest they are skilled at throwing smoke bombs in the fashion of an agent provocateur.


With the caution required on any matter related to systems or people whose basic work is handling agents, fraud and deception, it can be stated that in the Pearlman file the Shin Bet's denials are based on truth. For the past 15 years, since the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Shin Bet has refrained from operating straw organizations designed to attract "isolated terrorists" and get them to carry out terror attacks.


The Shin Bet failed in its short-lived activation of Pearlman a decade ago after the murders for which he is now suspected. Among other things, he did not take a polygraph test, which is supposed to detect lies in his reactions to questions about involvement in terror attacks. But that failure, like the failed attempt to operate him as an agent among his friends, does not put him on the list of famous agents provocateurs in human history, from the days of the czar's secret police up to Avishai Raviv.


Like Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, Chaim Pearlman - if proven guilty (and the Shin Bet was not satisfied with the boasting it recorded and looked for supporting evidence ) - is living proof of an "intelligence failure over the past 10 to 13 years and an intelligence success of the past year," said a top expert on Jewish terror.


The balance really is mixed. It's not exactly the Shin Bet's Pearlman Harbor, but neither is it an achievement to be bragged about. The ongoing failure is more disappointing than surprising. Nationalist murderers, like ideological murderers in general, are usually sophisticated people good at psyching out their opponents - the Shin Bet and the police - no less than the intended victim. If they keep their secret and conduct their lives under the assumption that they are under constant surveillance, they will defeat the system.


Usually terrorists can be defeated only by stratagems: deceiving them, making them believe that a certain activity is being conducted in an innocent context, such as a want ad ostensibly meant for everyone. In this way they don't understand they are acting in a play directed by the Shin Bet. "The Truman Show," but with Pearlman.


The problem is that in the Israeli theater the rules have long been broken and there is no clear division between the director, actors, extras and audience. The Shin Bet does not only attack. It has to invest a great deal of energy in self-defense. In the settlements people harass Shin Bet employees and their families (and sometimes even elderly parents in their hometowns west of the Green Line ). They also harass officials and inspectors, some who break down and leave.


That makes it difficult to carry out the security services' main mission: preventing future terror attacks against VIPs headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and against religious symbols (for example the Temple Mount ) and diplomatic processes. The forecast is gloomy. The Jewish terrorists are liable to imitate their counterparts all over the world with suicide attacks, regardless of the identity and numbers of the dead.


The summer snooze is misleading. In about two months the construction freeze in the settlements will be over. A continuation of the freeze without limiting it to isolated and extremist settlements, a renewal of the diplomatic process toward evacuating settlements, the government's failure in handling the evacuees from Gaza - all this will increase support for the determined hundreds of terrorist extremists who are ready for a violent confrontation.


As a preliminary softening-up exercise, the Shin Bet holds frequent and frank talks with yeshiva heads and

other religious leaders. Only at Har Bracha did they encounter total refusal to maintain contact. Compared to the anticipated dangers, the defense establishment will miss the cases that took a long time but were solved in the end, like those of Teitel and Pearlman.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Last year's crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, which killed 50 people, highlighted the need for more stringent pilot training and tougher rules about how long pilots can fly before they are required to rest.


Those reforms have been irresponsibly sidetracked by one of Capitol Hill's nastiest and most expensive lobbying fights over the unrelated issue of unionization rules at the rival delivery companies, FedEx and United Parcel Service.


The complex bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration would require more hours in training for commercial pilots and a closer watch on their flight schedules. The House and Senate have passed versions of the reauthorization with the sensible new safety rules. But the legislation has stalled as the two corporations and their hugely well-paid lobbyists battle over whether the unionization standards for U.P.S. package deliverers should also be applied to FedEx's ground workers.


The nation is fortunate that the standoff has now galvanized a less dollar-driven lobbying force — the families of the victims in last year's tragedy. They are buttonholing lawmakers with a question: What's happening with passenger safety?


The House's aviation bill, led by Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat of Minnesota and a union champion, would finally put the two companies on the same footing. Mr. Oberstar argues adamantly that a Republican Congress unfairly allowed FedEx special antiunion protections in 1996, and this needs to be corrected.


The Senate-passed measure has no such provision. And a filibuster is threatened to protect FedEx by Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, Republicans of Tennessee, where, of course, FedEx is based. Far more than parochial posturing is at stake in the bill, which also includes modernization of the air traffic control system.


Both sides remain unyielding on the union fight. We sympathize with Representative Oberstar's point and find the filibuster threat on behalf of FedEx shameless. Congress needs to rise above this to serve the one special interest most at stake: air passenger safety.







The Senate spent this week searching for ways to water down the modest greenhouse gas emissions targets in the House-passed energy bill, which opponents claim — wrongly and shortsightedly — will injure the economy. The British, French and German environmental ministers showed a lot more sense this week.

They issued a bold call in The Financial Times for all European Union governments to approve stricter emissions targets, arguing that it would encourage private investment in low emissions technology and hone Europe's export edge in low carbon goods and services.


Ministerial exhortations are one thing; binding legislation is another. Europe has generally talked a better climate-protection game than it has delivered. Yet this week's contrast in directions is embarrassing for President Obama, who once pledged to fight for the stricter House targets, and for the United States.


At December's climate conference in Copenhagen, most countries agreed in principle to try to hold global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, by midcentury, which mainstream scientists regard as the threshold for preventing potentially catastrophic climate changes.


Achieving that will, they believe, require reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by some 80 percent by 2050. Every nation will have to contribute, though not necessarily in equal measure. The House version of this year's energy bill called for a 17 percent cut from 2005 emissions levels by 2020. The three ministers, by contrast, call for reinstating a European target of 30 percent reductions from much lower 1990 levels by 2020.


The European Union deferred that target, in part because of the economic strains of the global recession. But the ministers point out that the recession, by slowing economic activity across Europe, has actually made the original 30 percent target easier and cheaper to achieve. And they rightly note the potential export benefits for Europe of being a leading low-carbon producer.


Nobody expects the Senate to go as far as the European ministers advocate. But there is no excuse for the Senate's backward march. We all live on the same planet, and it is getting warmer.







Finally, there is a surefire way to win at New York City's off-track betting establishment: Get yourself hired as a consultant. The Off-Track Betting Corporation is officially bankrupt. Yet it still paid out more than $2 million in consulting fees in the last year and now has plans to pay plenty more this year.


Last year's consultants helped come up with a sensible plan to put the enterprise back in the black by shutting down two-thirds of the city's seedy betting parlors and cutting the number of workers from 1,300 to less than 700. Legislators balked. Now Gov. David Paterson has signed off on the hiring of a new consultant who is supposed to come up with a new plan — at an incredible salary of $125,000 a month.


New York City's OTB brings in almost $1 billion a year, with $800 million of that going to bettors and $100 million to the state or the racing industry. The OTB operation, somehow, hasn't been able to manage on the remaining $100 million, and it is now $80 million in debt. When Governor Paterson asked Meyer Frucher, a politically connected businessman, to come up with a plan to fix the city's OTB, Mr. Frucher agreed to work for free. Then he hired a slew of high-priced consultants, as Russ Buettner reported in The Times.


We're no fans of gambling, but Mr. Frucher's recommendations appeared reasonable. Betting parlors would be replaced with far less costly kiosks in bars and restaurants. He also wanted to decrease payments to the horse racing industry, increase earnings from out-of-state betting facilities and issue tax-free municipal bonds to pay to rebuild the few remaining gambling dens and make them look like the best wagering clubs in Paris. Like most good plans — especially ones that challenge patronage jobs — it died in the State Legislature.


The governor has now asked Lawrence Schwartz, one of his top aides, to take over at OTB. The first thing Mr. Schwartz did was hire Greg Rayburn, an expert on bankruptcy, at that rate of $125,000 a month. If Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Rayburn don't come up with a workable plan quickly, maybe the best thing the state can do is recognize this is a failing business and shut the city's OTB parlors for good.







There was more than enough in the financial reform bill — now on its way to President Obama — to merit broad support. Yet, for Thursday's final Senate vote on the bill, 60 to 39, just three Republicans joined 57 Democrats to support reform. In the House, only three Republicans voted for the bill when it passed that chamber in June, 237 to 192.


Republican opponents would have you believe that lack of bipartisanship was evidence of the bill's unworthiness, but the margin of victory was really about partisan politics and not the bill's content. That made the vote an even greater victory for Mr. Obama, who has had to fight for every inch of progress against entrenched Republicans (who have been willing to deny unemployment benefits to millions of Americans rather than cooperate with Democrats on anything).


As was the case with last year's economic stimulus and this year's health care overhaul, Republican opposition to the bill was primarily an attempt to drag down Mr. Obama by killing any legislative accomplishment.


When that effort was headed for failure, Republican leaders disparaged the bill on ideological grounds. On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, lashed out at what he called a "government-driven solution," while the senior Republican on the banking committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, bemoaned "vast new bureaucracies."


Those are convenient and time-tested bugaboos to campaign by, but they ignore the urgent needs the bill addresses, and its achievements. Those include resolution procedures to help ensure that shareholders and creditors — not taxpayers — bear the losses when big financial institutions fail; new capital requirements for banks and other curbs to help quell speculative excess, including the regulation of derivatives and restrictions on proprietary trading.


To get all that, the bill had to withstand a lobbying juggernaut. Since January 2009, the financial sector has spent nearly $600 million to weaken reform, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The lobbyists notched some victories, to be sure, mainly in the defeat of reforms that would have broken up large banks and done more to constrain risk-taking throughout the financial system.


But they also lost, especially on consumer protection. The new consumer financial protection bureau established in the bill is a milestone, not only for its intent and power to rectify lending abuses, but because it will institutionalize the insight that the safety and soundness of banks cannot — and should not — be measured by profitability alone, but by the impact that bank practices ultimately may have on consumers.


Having earned this victory, the Obama White House and the bill's Congressional supporters still have another fight ahead of them — over implementing the bill. The legislation requires regulators to write hundreds of rules and conduct dozens of studies, a process that occurs largely outside of public view.


Complicating public trust in the process is the fact that some of the regulatory bodies — the Federal Reserve comes most prominently to mind — are still run by the same people who were blind-eyed as the financial crisis developed. And because the implementation phase is labor- and resource-intensive, public-interest groups, including consumer and investor advocates, will be outmatched by the financial lobby. Congress will have to be unceasingly vigilant during the rule-making to ensure that resulting regulations reflect lawmakers' intent and the public's needs.


The administration also must supply top-level fire power, and use the president's bully pulpit, to guarantee that the bill's promise is fulfilled.


Supporters of this much-needed financial reform bill took a well-earned bow on Thursday. Now they have to get back to work.








Bethlehem, Conn.


MORE than 30 years ago, when the artist Larry Rivers filmed his two adolescent daughters on the subject of their developing breasts for a project he titled "Growing," it seems that his intention was to make art. He zoomed in on their breasts and genitalia, asked them to describe their feelings about their changing bodies. He admitted, in the voiceover, that he made the film despite the "raised eyebrows" of his friends and the reluctance of his daughters.

After all, this is what artists do — isn't it? Art is subversive. It pushes boundaries. The moment we label a subject off limits, we create censorship. Where would we be, after all, if "Lolita" had been forever banned? Or "Lady Chatterley's Lover"? "Ulysses"? What's the difference between, say, Michelangelo's "David" and the celluloid representations of Rivers's daughters?


In a few weeks, the archives of Larry Rivers will be delivered to their new permanent home at New York University, which purchased them from the Larry Rivers Foundation. These archives contain the film and video of Rivers's daughters — one of whom, Emma Tamburlini, now 43, has for years been pleading with the foundation to destroy the tapes. N.Y.U. has stated its willingness to discuss the matter and has agreed, at the foundation's request, to keep the material from the public while the daughters are alive.


Is no one at N.Y.U. thinking about the ramifications of this? Consider the emotional fallout for Rivers's daughters, knowing that their father's film will outlive them. They were used — unwillingly, at least in the case of Ms. Tamburlini — in the service of their father's art. They were minors. They were objects of their father's narcissism and, as such, their feelings were considered invalid and moot. Apparently they still are.


I have spent years thinking and writing about a moral question central to every artist who is also a parent. I am the mother of an 11-year-old son, and am also a writer whose subject matter is often intensely personal. I have written about my family extensively. When my son was born, I became aware that he had a fundamental right to a private life. Still, I have written about him, though every sentence is accompanied by questions: will he be hurt by this, now — or ever? Am I crossing the line? He was very sick as an infant, and I felt compelled to write about that time in our lives. Was that a violation of his privacy?


Right now, my son enjoys that I write about him. But, ultimately, he will be the one to say whether I've gone too far. In the meantime, I hope my constant questioning of myself and my artistic motives keeps me in check. I live with the secret fear that someday he will turn to me and say, "I wish you hadn't done that."


Driven by a desire to explore this, I wrote a novel in which I pushed the question to its limits: inspired by the controversial work of the photographer Sally Mann, I created a character, a photographer mother, who shot a series of images of her young daughter in provocative poses, nude. Many years later — upon the mother's death — she gives her daughter the rights to the photographs. It is her one redeeming act.


N.Y.U. has the opportunity to do something right. This isn't a philosophical problem, or the beginning of a slippery slope leading to banned books and puritanical outcries. "Lolita," "Lady Chatterley's Lover," "Ulysses," Michaelangelo's "David" — these works of art have no victims. They add to our understanding of what it is to be human, rather than implicitly condone the stripping away of humanity in the name of art.


By returning the footage to Rivers's daughters, N.Y.U. would correct an injustice perpetrated for years by the Larry Rivers Foundation, and take a moral stance rather than engage in a highly academic debate. The film "Growing" is a document of exploitation and abuse, and has been claimed by one of its victims. The question of whether it is art becomes suddenly, glaringly irrelevant.


Dani Shapiro is the author of the memoir "Devotion" and the novel "Black & White."







WHO is a Jew? It's an age-old inquiry, one that has for decades (if not centuries) provoked debate, discussion and too many punch lines to count — all inspired by what many assumed was the question's essential unanswerability. But if developments this week are any indication, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, might soon offer an official, surprising answer: almost no one.


On Monday, a Knesset committee approved a bill sponsored by David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, that wouldgive the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. If passed, this legislation would place authority over all Jewish births, marriages and deaths — and, through them, the fundamental questions of Jewish identity — in the hands of a small group of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, rabbis.


The move has set in motion a sectarian battle that is not only dividing Israeli society but threatening to sever the vital connection between Israel and the American Jewish diaspora.


The problem is not simply that some of these rabbinical functionaries, who are paid by the state and courted by politicians, are demonstrably corrupt. (To take the most salacious of a slew of examples, an American Haredi rabbi who had become one of the most powerful authorities on the question of conversion resigned from his organization in December after accusations that he solicited phone sex from a hopeful female convert.) Rather, it is that the beliefs of a tiny minority of the world's Jews are on the verge of becoming the Israeli government's definition of Judaism, for all Jews.


It is hard to exaggerate the possible ramifications, first and foremost for Jewish Israelis. Rivkah Lubitch, an Orthodox woman who is a lawyer in Israel's rabbinic court system, painted a harrowing picture of the future in a recent column on the Israeli Web site Ynet.


"Even if you didn't go to register for marriage, and even if you didn't go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn't pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street — the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness and revoke it," she wrote. "In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish — until proven otherwise."


Why are the rabbis doing this? The process is not being driven, as some say, by a suspicion of new converts — they're simply a wedge issue. Nor is it, as others argue, a reaction to the influx of Russian Jews, who when they seek permission to wed in Israel are often asked for evidence that their families were registered as Jews in the old Soviet Union.


No, what is driving this process is the desire of a small group of rabbis to expand their authority from narrow questions of conversion to larger questions of Jewish identity. Since what goes for conversion also goes for all other clerical acts, only a few anointed rabbis will be able to determine the authenticity of one's marriage, divorce, birth, death — and every rite in between.


And lest one imagine that this is just another battle between the more progressive Reform and Conservative denominations and the more observant Orthodox, it must be noted that the criteria used by the rabbinate are driven by internal Haredi politics, not observance. According to the Jewish Week, at one point the number of American rabbis who were officially authorized by the Israeli rabbinate to perform conversions was down to a few dozen. Even if you are Orthodox — and especially if you are Modern Orthodox — your rabbi probably doesn't make the cut. (Don't believe it? Go ask him.)


Given that the conversion bill is the latest in a series of similarly motivated efforts, it seems almost useless to note that the stringent approach to Jewish law that the Israeli rabbinate promotes bears little connection to the historical experience and religious practice of the majority of Jewish people over the past two millenniums. It will do little good, too, to point out that it is well outside the consensus established by Hillel — arguably the greatest rabbi in all of rabbinic Judaism and whom, as Joseph Telushkin argues in a forthcoming book, was willing to convert a pagan on the spot, simply because he'd asked.


And it doesn't help to argue that giving the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate total control over Jewish practice will destroy religious life in Israel just as surely as clerical control hurt the Church of England and the Catholic Church in Spain and France. Or that the Zionist founders, from Herzl to Jabotinsky to Ben-Gurion, all believed passionately in the unity of the Jewish people and the need for a secular state.


But perhaps a more practical rallying cry will work: If this bill passes, future historians will inevitably wonder why, at a critical moment in its history, Israel chose to tell 85 percent of the Jewish diaspora that their rabbis weren't rabbis and their religious practices were a sham, the conversions of their parents and spouses were invalid, their marriages weren't legal under Jewish law, and their progeny were a tribe of bastards unfit to marry other Jews.


Why, they will wonder, as Iran raced to build a nuclear bomb to wipe the Jewish state off the map, did the custodians of the 2,000-year-old national dream of the Jewish people choose such a perverse definition of Jewish peoplehood, seemingly calculated to alienate supporters outside its own borders?


And, they will also wonder, what of the quiescence of diaspora Jewry? Many American Jews understandably see Israel as under siege and have not wanted to make things worse; they imagined that internal politicking over conversions and marriages was ephemeral, and would change. But the conversion bill is a sign that this silence was a mistake, for it has been interpreted by Israeli politicians as a green light to throw basic questions of Jewish identity into the pot of coalition politics.


The redemptive history of the Jewish people since the Holocaust has rested on the twin pillars of a strong Israel and a strong diaspora, which have spoken to each other politically and culturally, and whose successes have mutually reinforced the confidence and capacities of the other. Neither the Jewish diaspora nor Israel can afford a split between the two communities — a dystopian possibility that, if this bill passes, could materialize frightfully soon.


Alana Newhouse is the editor in chief of Tablet Magazine, which covers Jewish life and culture.








Republicans are feeling good about the midterms — so good that they've started saying what they really think. This week the party's Senate leadership stopped pretending that it cares about deficits, stating explicitly that while we can't afford to aid the unemployed or prevent mass layoffs of schoolteachers, cost is literally no object when it comes to tax cuts for the affluent.


And that's one reason — there are others — why you should fear the consequences if the G.O.P. actually does as well in November as it hopes.


For a while, leading Republicans posed as stern foes of federal red ink. Two weeks ago, in the official G.O.P. response to President Obama's weekly radio address, Senator Saxby Chambliss devoted his entire time to the evils of government debt, "one of the most dangerous threats confronting America today." He went on, "At some point we have to say 'enough is enough.' "


But this past Monday Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, was asked the obvious question: if deficits are so worrisome, what about the budgetary cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which the Obama administration wants to let expire but Republicans want to make permanent? What should replace $650 billion or more in lost revenue over the next decade?


His answer was breathtaking: "You do need to offset the cost of increased spending. And that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans." So $30 billion in aid to the unemployed is unaffordable, but 20 times that much in tax cuts for the rich doesn't count.


The next day, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, confirmed that Mr. Kyl was giving the official party line: "There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."


Now there are many things one could call the Bush economy, an economy that, even before recession struck, was characterized by sluggish job growth and stagnant family incomes; "vibrant" isn't one of them. But the real news here is the confirmation that Republicans remain committed to deep voodoo, the claim that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.


It's not true, of course. Ronald Reagan said that his tax cuts would reduce deficits, then presided over a near-tripling of federal debt. When Bill Clinton raised taxes on top incomes, conservatives predicted economic disaster; what actually followed was an economic boom and a remarkable swing from budget deficit to surplus. Then the Bush tax cuts came along, helping turn that surplus into a persistent deficit, even before the crash.


But we're talking about voodoo economics here, so perhaps it's not surprising that belief in the magical powers of tax cuts is a zombie doctrine: no matter how many times you kill it with facts, it just keeps coming back. And despite repeated failure in practice, it is, more than ever, the official view of the G.O.P.


Why should this scare you? On paper, solving America's long-run fiscal problems is eminently doable: stronger cost control for Medicare plus a moderate rise in taxes would get us most of the way there. And the perception that the deficit is manageable has helped keep U.S. borrowing costs low.

But if politicians who insist that the way to reduce deficits is to cut taxes, not raise them, start winning elections again, how much faith can anyone have that we'll do what needs to be done? Yes, we can have a fiscal crisis. But if we do, it won't be because we've spent too much trying to create jobs and help the unemployed. It will be because investors have looked at our politics and concluded, with justification, that we've turned into a banana republic.


Of course, flirting with crisis is arguably part of the plan. There has always been a sense in which voodoo economics was a cover story for the real doctrine, which was "starve the beast": slash revenue with tax cuts, then demand spending cuts to close the resulting budget gap. The point is that starve the beast basically amounts to deliberately creating a fiscal crisis, in the belief that the crisis can be used to push through unpopular policies, like dismantling Social Security.


Anyway, we really should thank Senators Kyl and McConnell for their sudden outbursts of candor. They've now made it clear, in case anyone had doubts, that their previous posturing on the deficit was entirely hypocritical. If they really do have the kind of electoral win they're expecting, they won't try to reduce the deficit — they'll try to make it explode by demanding even more budget-busting tax cuts.







Let us enter, you and I, into the moral universe of the modern narcissist.


The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself.


There used to be theories that deep down narcissists feel unworthy, but recent research doesn't support this. Instead, it seems, the narcissist's self-directed passion is deep and sincere.


His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.


And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force.


Mel Gibson seems to fit the narcissist model to an eerie degree. The recordings that purport to show him unloading on his ex-lover, Oksana Grigorieva, make for painful listening, and are only worthy of attention because these days it pays to be a student of excessive self-esteem, if only to understand the world around.


The story line seems to be pretty simple. Gibson was the great Hollywood celebrity who left his wife to link with the beautiful young acolyte. Her beauty would not only reflect well on his virility, but he would also work to mold her, Pygmalion-like, into a pop star.


After a time, she apparently grew tired of being a supporting actor in the drama of his self-magnification and tried to go her own way. This act of separation was perceived as an assault on his status and thus a venal betrayal of the true faith.


It is fruitless to analyze her end of the phone conversations because she knows she is taping them. But the voice on the other end is primal and searing.


That man is like a boxer unleashing one verbal barrage after another. His breathing is heavy. His vocal muscles are clenched. His guttural sounds burst out like hammer blows.


He pummels her honor, her intelligence, her womanhood, her maternal skills and everything else. Imagine every crude and derogatory word you've ever heard. They come out in waves. He's not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.


It is striking how morally righteous he is, without ever bothering to explain what exactly she has done wrong. It is striking how quickly he reverts to the vocabulary of purity and disgust. It is striking how much he believes he deserves. It is striking how much he seems to derive satisfaction from his own righteous indignation.


Rage was the original subject of Western literature. It was the opening theme of Homer's "Iliad." Back then, anger was perceived as a source of pleasure. "Sweeter wrath is by far than the honeycomb dripping with sweetener," Homer declared. And the man on the other end of Grigorieva's phone seems to derive some vengeful satisfaction from asserting his power and from purging his frustration — from the sheer act of domination.


And the sad fact is that Gibson is not alone. There can't be many people at once who live in a celebrity environment so perfectly designed to inflate self-love. Even so, a surprising number of people share the trait. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health suggested that 6.2 percent of Americans had suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, along with 9.4 percent of people in their 20s.


In their book, "The Narcissism Epidemic," Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an "important person." Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.


That doesn't make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we've entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.


Every week brings a new assignment in our study of self-love. And at the top of the heap, the Valentino of all self-lovers, there is the former Braveheart. If he really were that great, he'd have figured out that the lady probably owns a tape recorder.









The most amazing thing about the financial overhaul that won final congressional approval on Thursday might be that it took so long and proved so contentious.


Immediately after the worst financial meltdown since the Depression, it appeared as though the national priority of fixing a broken banking system would ensure that the response would be swift and far-reaching. Lawmakers of good faith would work together. Chastened banks would accept change.


But that's not quite how things worked out. After a few weeks of remorse, Wall Street got its swagger back and fought like mad to preserve its profits. And Republicans, once seemingly inclined to work constructively, reverted to "just say no" partisanship. Only three GOP senators — Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine— voted for the bill on Thursday. The same number of Republicans voted for an identical measure a couple of weeks ago in the House.


In some ways, this says as much about the pathetic state of contemporary American politics as it does about the troubling nature of Wall Street finance.


To hear those on the right, the measure is an attack on business and a vast overreach. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, compared it to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." To some on the left, it is a feeble gesture because it does not carve up big banks like Christmas hams and feed them to the poor.


Hard as it may be to believe, not long ago it was possible for Congress to pass significant measures on a more-or-less bipartisan basis. The 2001 Bush tax cuts garnered 12 Democratic votes in the Senate. The Iraq invasion authorization got 29. The No Child Left Behind law got 42. The new Medicare drug benefit got 11. And the bank bailout, known as TARP, got 39.


The financial reform measure, though far from perfect, is clearly a step toward making the system safer. It restricts risky trading, requires banks to maintain stronger balance sheets and sets up an orderly process for liquidating those that fail.


It won't necessarily change the culture on Wall Street, where banks have abandoned long-term relationships with clients for schemes to make a quick buck. But perhaps Goldman Sachs' $550 million settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, announced Thursday, will make the big banks think twice about treating some of their customers as suckers to be fleeced.


President Obama's signature will hardly be the last word on financial reform. Many decisions — and much out-of-the-spotlight lobbying — will simply be transferred to regulatory agencies, which will implement the legislation.


Nor does the measure address the conflicts of interest inherent when rating agencies pass judgment on securities issued by the very banks that pay them. And it does not begin the process of dealing with troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

All in all, however, financial reform is a victory for consumers and economic soundness, even if overheated rhetoric and senseless partisanship nearly kept it from happening.










If you didn't know George Steinbrenner personally, you can't realize how strongly he felt about expressing himself very clearly and making major decisions very firmly. The Boss did things his way.


This week, even at the very end of his 80 years, things worked out his way. Think about it:


•He died suddenly of a heart attack. No lingering problems for him or his family, which is a concern of most elderly.


•His death came on a major day for his profession — the Major League All-Star game. That focused most press and public attention on his major achievements, rather than his minor problems.


•He died during the year of the suspended estate tax, saving his family hundreds of millions of double-dip dollars on which he has already paid taxes.


I've had the good fortune of knowing George for more than 30 years. Here's how it happened:


He came to make a speech at the Kennedy Space Center, a few miles from where I live in Cocoa Beach, Fla. Afterward, I invited him to our home.


Sitting on the back porch over drinks, overlooking the ocean, I told him I was considering starting a national newspaper. We'd call it USA TODAY and it would have heavy emphasis on sports.


"You're crazy!" he immediately responded. "Everybody can already get all the news and sports they want. All

you would do is lose a helluva lot of money."


Later he often told people he thought then that "Neuharth should be put in a straitjacket, because he's nuts!"


After we started USA TODAY, Steinbrenner became one of its biggest fans.


That was The Boss. Quick to criticize. Quick to apologize. But on the right side of most decisions most of the time.







Despair churns my gut just thinking how soon Haiti is being forgotten. It is a pinching desolation, tight like skin. Now that emergency services have recovered the injured and a sea of corpses, I worry we have forgotten. We have a history of forgetting.


CHAT: Rich Benjamin will be online at 1 p.m. ET Friday for a live chat. Send questions and comments to


We don't recall Haiti's pivotal role in founding and expanding our own country. Once Haiti's slave rebellion defeated colonial France, a cash-strapped Napoleon, denied a toehold in the New World, felt compelled to sell the Louisianaterritories to the U.S., doubling this nation's size in 1803.


Concerned over the formidable economic might of Germans on the island, President Wilson sent Marines to protect U.S. business interests from 1915 to 1934. Was that Operation Uphold Democracy? Or was that the operation ordered by President Clinton to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide? Or President Bush's operation to install Rene Preval? Dictators, coups, natural disasters: Details slide through the slipstream of history.


After the USA's generous response to Haiti's earthquake six months ago, we suffer from compassion fatigue. Sometimes this fatigue is worsened by a suspicion that Haiti is a basket case, not worthy of long-term attention, just emergency-disaster charity.


But do most Americans realize that 1.5 million Haitians, displaced by the quake, live on a precipice of catastrophe, lacking housing, clean water, garbage removal, medical care, schooling, and civic institutions?


More than fatigue, we suffer from confusion. Americans are perplexed by the deep, complicated historical and political dynamics that keep Haiti in a headlock and how our nation can foster a farsighted global role.


Let's remember Haiti's bright spots, too. Our media reduce Haiti to a national caricature, The-Poorest-Country-in-the-Western Hemisphere. Portrayals of Haiti fail to grasp the rich tapestry of its culture, woven from Africa, Europe and the Americas: the delicious kidney-bean rice and stews, the lush visual arts, the sublime literature, all so exquisite, but unfussy.


For a spell, we were entranced by the quake survivors, haunted and haunting, who pleaded at us from YouTube and Flickr.


But I worry how soon we will forget.


Rich Benjamin is the author of Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America.(Benjamin will be available for a live online chat about Haiti from 1 p.m.-2 p.m. ET today. Please submit your questions and comments at







James Poniewozik,blogger, on Tuned In forTime: "A federal appeals court (on Tuesday) struck down Federal Communications Commission regulations over 'fleeting expletives' on the airwaves, ruling that the commission's definition of 'indecency' was so vague as to create an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' on speech. But the ruling is subject to appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning that the victory for the networks may be fleeting itself. ... This decision, in any case, will likely have little or no effect on what broadcast networks regularly air. But whether the case goes to a higher court or the FCC sets clearer rules, the result should hopefully be a clearer sense of what the government can regulate. I'm not sure that clarity is what everybody wants here, though."

Los Angeles Times, in an editorial: "Rather than trying to justify a highly subjective regulatory scheme, the

(FCC) should return to the restrained approach it took in previous decades. Broadcast networks are no longer dominant, inescapable media voices. Besides, the FCC can't shield children from inappropriate programs — it has no authority over cable TV channels, and it can't stop kids from using DVRs or the Internet to watch late-night programming in the middle of the day. Happily, parents now have better tools for blocking programs they don't want their children to see. The FCC would be better off promoting those tools than trying to micromanage what's said on the airwaves."


The Christian Science Monitor, in an editorial: "Parents who want government help to protect their kids from vulgarity may also want to keep tabs on the Federal Communications Commission. ... The rising assault of indecency in digital media, especially with more Internet and mobile devices, demands that all levels of government — the FCC, courts and Congress — help parents. ... This recent court decision on 'fleeting expletives' was legally grounded in two centuries of assaults on free speech. But courts also need to recognize the real-world evidence of the harm done to vulnerable children by media creators who constantly push the boundaries of social acceptance."


Ashby Jones, blogger, on The Wall Street Journal: "Tuesday was a good day for private broadcasters and a bad

day for those who regulate them. ... The big question now: Will the FCC appeal the ruling? The FCC hasn't issued a statement on the ruling or said whether it will appeal. ... So what does the FCC have to lose by trying to take the case up? It risks that the court overturns much of its First Amendment jurisprudence on the governmental regulation of speech, it seems, and strips the FCC of further power to regulate speech over the airwaves. In other words, with an appeal, the FCC just might stand to lose more than it stands to gain by winning."


The Denver Post, in an editorial: "With the number of virtually unregulated media choices available to

consumers beyond broadcast television, it seems silly to have a strenuous regulatory scheme for just one sector. ... We're not advocating for over-the-air, free programming riddled with swear words and naked bodies. And we don't think that would happen if the FCC were to take a step back from being the obscenity police. We believe viewers will vote with their remote controls — a message that revenue-hungry networks will get loud and clear. ... An approach focusing on individual control makes far more sense, we think, than trying to fashion some one-size-fits all sensibility when it comes to objectionable words and images."








WASHINGTON — The president, focused like a laser on the nation's top problem, decided to give a nationally broadcast speech.


"On the basis of this simple principle of doing everything together, we are starting out on this nationwide attack on unemployment," he said. "It will succeed if our people understand it — in the big industries, in the little shops, in the great cities and the small villages."


It is time, he added, "for patience and understanding and cooperation."


Barack Obama?


No, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 77 years ago this month, in one of the most important "fireside chats" of his presidency.


Yet even after an intense national effort that included unprecedented public works spending, a reduction in hours of the standard work week, cuts in basic government spending, and pledges by workers to avert strikes and employers to sign onto the plan, it took years and World War II to end the Depression.


The Obama enigma — he is liked as a president more than he is respected as a strong leader — can be explained in this comparison. Unemployment has become the greatest challenge of his 18-month presidency, but while tackling a broad front of tough issues, Obama has yet to put the sustained focus on employment thatFDR outlined four months into his tenure.


In his defense, Obama talked a lot about jobs in his January State of the Union message, and his administration and political allies have tried to cheerlead any good employment news as baby steps in the right direction. His opening legislative move was a $787 billion "stimulus" bill aimed at keeping unemployment below 8%.


But with joblessness hovering between 9% and 10%, it's no surprise that 60% of respondents told Pew in a recent poll that the stimulus had not worked.


Obama tried again this past week to refocus on jobs by calling in congressional leaders, former president Bill Clinton and investor Warren Buffett, for a series of meetings. Democrats complained that Republicans were blocking extension of benefits to the unemployed; Republicans were trying to draw the line on more government spending.


The Chamber of Commerce, in a jobs summit of its own, issued a stinging criticism, saying in a letter that Obama and Congress had taken their "eyes off the ball."


In truth, Obama might not have taken his eye off the jobs ball as much as he has put too many in the air at one time.


He has jumped back and forth on transformational and hugely consequential health, financial industry, immigration, energy and environmental reforms that have either become law or dominated Congress's time. From the outside, jobs have not been Job One, despite the fact that Pew's June survey showed that job creation was by far Americans' biggest priority.


A July 7-11 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that while Obama retained an overall job approval of 50%, the percentage of those who approved of what he was doing on the economy had fallen 7 points in a month, to 43%.


Pew also reported that those who considered Obama a strong leader had fallen from 77% in February 2009, to 53% last month.


In this atmosphere, Obama's party is bracing for big losses in the November congressional elections. A long-term and coherent government strategy on jobs is at stake.


If the Republicans take one or both houses, or even if they gain near majorities, the battle over how to attack unemployment could end up in a prolonged struggle between a weakened president's urges to spend more on government programs, and emboldened Republicans' desire to lower taxes on job-creating businesses. But attacking the problem also requires leadership and compromise: Pew found Americans evenly split on which of these two positions would help the most. So more Republicans in Congress also has the potential to break logjams, especially if unemployment continues to stay high.


Those arguing that Obama has too many fires to put out to focus on jobs ignore history.


As FDR called for a "nationwide attack on unemployment," Hitler was forming the Gestapo, the Japanese were in the second year of their invasion of Manchuria, legions of Americans were wandering the country looking for work, and the breadbasket was blowing away in one of the greatest environmental disasters in history, the Dust Bowl.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at









Democrats' struggle to pass a comprehensive financial reform package despite wide Republican opposition finally paid off Thursday with approval of a sweeping bill. The hard-won legislation will restore badly needed regulation of banks, curtail Wall Street's casino-style gambling with exotic derivatives, and protect uninformed consumers from many of the egregious credit abuses that have shaken their financial stability.


All but three Republicans voted to block the bill from being brought for a floor vote. But with the help of Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Massachusett's new senator, Scott Brown, Democrats just managed to corral the 60 votes needed to overcome another Republican filibuster.


After weeks of arguing over amendments to a bill that they never intended to support, every other Republican senator voted against letting the bill come to the floor for a final vote. As usual, they attempted to justify their obstructionism by saying that though America needed financial reform, this bill was inadequate. They claimed it would hurt consumers and businesses in need of credit, while failing to rein in the Wall Street abuses that came within a whisker of putting America, and the global economy, in a second Great Depression.


Their claims are simply not credible. Indeed, they are a deceitful and shameless excuse for more obstructionism on one the major problems now confronting the country. Many of their proposed amendments, for example, would have weakened vital provisions of the bill to rein in abuses.


More expert and less partisan analysts credit the bill with doing most of what is needed to curb the Wall Street and banking abuses that created the globe-shaking financial implosion of 2008, and the Great Recession that continues to grip the industrial world in joblessness, despair and broken dreams. Among key provisions toward reversing a long era of costly banking deregulation, it would:


* Vastly improve oversight and systemic monitoring of the entire financial system under a council of top federal financial officials led by the Treasury department. The council would oversee banks and non-bank financial institutions, including major foreign financial institutions operating in the United States and foreign subsidiaries of American financial institutions.


* Create a resolution authority under which regulators could seize and dismantle failing financial institutions by liquidating assets and requiring shareholders and creditors to take the losses rather than laden taxpayers with bailouts.


Such authority would have allowed federal officials to address the problems that ultimately brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and American International Group, which insured Wall Street's exotic derivatives in the United States and abroad without adequate capital -- all of which precipitated the 2008 implosion.


* Stipulate tighter rules for capital, equity, accountability and liability in financial institutions. The bill also allows regulators to impose stricter standards for reserves, reporting and leverage as institutions become larger and assume greater risk.


* Create a powerful, independent consumer financial protection agency that, with the glaring exception of auto industry financing, would monitor and regulate a range of providers of consumer credit. The new agency, to be housed under the Federal Reserve, would possess both regulatory and enforcement powers -- a huge boon for consumers, and a huge defeat for Republicans who tried to shelter credit providers from consumer protection laws.


* Establish the Volcker rule, which would restrict banks from investing and trading for their own accounts, a practice which led some to secretly bet against investments they backed for their clients. The bill would also restrict what banks could do with their customers' deposits.


The legislation does not address every issue -- i.e., it leaves out executive compensation rules and the federal Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae agencies. But it is achieves most of the goals of financial refor







It's hard to understand, but Democrats in Washington are seriously considering raising taxes on our people in a time of economic recession.


President Barack Obama's advisers "say there is no reason to abandon his longstanding intention to allow Bush-era income tax cuts to expire on households earning over $250,000, and to raise rates on capital gains and dividends to 20 percent from 15 percent for those same households," The New York Times reported.


Of course, the phrase "allow income tax cuts to expire" is just a nicer-sounding way of saying, "raise taxes." But that is exactly where we are headed if liberals in Congress don't reverse course.


The tax relief that Congress approved during President George W. Bush's first term is scheduled to end Dec. 31. That would mean huge tax increases Jan. 1 if no legislative action is taken to make tax relief permanent.


Predictably, the president and his allies in Congress are saying that they want to raise taxes (or "let tax cuts expire") only on "the rich." What they ignore is the fact that many taxpayers earning $250,000 per year represent the small businesses that employ millions of Americans. Raising taxes on those employers could mean more job layoffs, and it certainly would adversely affect our whole economy.


With "official" unemployment 9.5 percent -- and millions more Americans having given up seeking work or having to settle for part-time jobs when they need full-time -- the last thing Congress and the president should do is raise taxes on the very businesses that can create jobs.


But it seems sadly unlikely that they will turn back from that destructive path.







Most Americans don't think much about our huge dependency upon oil -- until there's a problem. But we are addicted to oil. Our world runs on oil, usually with little trouble. But sometimes there are tremendous problems.


The current oil news centers on a big oil well catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. But until then, who in the general public thought much about the fact that there were roughly 3,000 other oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico producing needed oil with no big problems?


In 1989, the troubling spill from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker off Alaska got worldwide attention. But there is no "news" now as thousands of oil tank ships deliver oil -- with no trouble.


There are many thousands of oil wells, in our country and throughout the world, that are having no trouble responding to our thirst for oil, for our cars, manufacturing, heating and countless other uses.


But remember, some years ago, when periodic Arab oil embargo threats disrupted our whole economy?


The fact is that our world is dependent upon oil for many important purposes.


We don't have sufficient substitutes today, although there are many other energy sources.


The big challenge, of course, is to assure an uninterrupted supply of oil, safely, dependably, economically and in an environmentally acceptable way, from both land and sea, throughout the world -- at prices we are willing and able to pay.


We are addicted to oil, dependent upon oil -- with no current, readily available substitute in sight.







Some officials in the federal government do not understand why Americans doubt Washington's ability to run our medical system through ObamaCare socialized medicine.

But the real question is, why would anybody think the costly, inefficient federal government is capable of

running a massive health care system that represents roughly one-sixth of our entire economy?


Existing federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are already headed for bankruptcy unless major reforms are enacted soon. And the true costs of those programs have been far higher than the original estimates. Why would that inspire confidence that big new federal involvement in medical care will improve the system?


And it's not only the huge, complex programs that the federal government manages so poorly.


Recently, it was shown that the U.S. Department of Energy has wasted millions of dollars by not following the energy-efficiency advice it gives to the American people.


For example, the department's website strongly urges Americans to change out their old fluorescent light bulbs and install much more efficient, technologically advanced bulbs. And yet, an internal audit showed that hardly any of the Energy Department's own offices have switched to the very bulbs that the agency has spent millions of dollars promoting to the general public.


Here is an even more absurd example. Back in 1997, the department installed timers that would shut off lights in its new building when no one was there at night. But nobody bothered to install the central control unit that would actually run the system, and so 13 years later, the agency has not gotten any cost savings from the timers.


"We can acknowledge there's more work that needs to be done," a department spokeswoman told The New York Times.


That's true, but again, how can we trust the federal government with gigantic programs such as health care when it cannot follow its own recommendations on something as simple as energy-efficient light bulbs?


Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





Military tacticians have long understood that you have to "know your enemy." That means that to defeat your enemy, you have to assess his battle strategy, capabilities, and various strengths and weaknesses, as well as what motivates him to fight.


But in our nation's struggle against terrorists, we are failing to know the enemy as fully as we should.


The Obama administration has declined at times to call terrorism by its name, absurdly referring to it as "man-caused disasters." And it has renamed the "global war on terror" an "overseas contingency operation."


What is just as disturbing is that the administration has downplayed or ignored the Islamic radicalism that has been behind the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks on the United States and on U.S. interests in recent years. Officials say they don't want to portray the battle against terrorism (or "man-caused disasters") as a war against Islam.


But while it's true that most Muslims have never committed terrorist attacks, it is a fact that most of the terrorist attacks against the United States have been coming from radical Muslims.


Now, a group of counterterrorism experts has issued a report challenging the idea that we can fight an enemy that we will not clearly name.


Experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the administration should not "denigrate the Islamic religion in any way," but should state plainly that the threat is obviously coming from radical Islam.


"There is an ideology that is driving al-Qaida and its affiliates," Matt Levitt, one of the authors of the report, told The Associated Press.


We should never gratuitously insult a peaceful group or individual on the basis of his faith. But it will be difficult to defeat those Muslims who do resort to terrorism if we refuse even to describe them accurately.








Despite the fact that the Hürriyet Daily News is an institution with a large (but thankfully dwindling) number of enthusiastic nicotine addicts, we have largely supported the government's initiatives to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Turkey. We continue to do so.


At least 100,000 premature deaths each year in Turkey are attributable to smoking. In Europe, deaths blamed on cigarette addiction are estimated at 1.2 million. The risks to non-smokers of "secondary smoke" inhalation are well established. And there are plenty of other reasons to discourage smoking.


In developing countries for example, the first major behavioral shift when per capita income reaches about $5,000 is a transformation in diet. With a bit more money, people tend to move from deriving requisite protein from vegetables to a preference for meat. This has some positive outcomes but also dramatic environmental consequences as land is newly dedicated to the production of animal feed crops.


The second thing that occurs with arrival at this "tipping point" in disposable income is embrace of the cigarette habit. Very poor people tend not to smoke. Upper income individuals also increasingly tend to eschew the habit. Demographically, those consuming the most cigarettes are poor, but not desperately so. The fact that the so-called "working poor" are the largest market for cigarettes is an element of the debate often ignored. Cigarette consumption represents a very regressive set of economic realities, robbing in tiny amounts (that aggregate over time) the capital and purchasing power of those least able to afford it.


We think this set of factors alone is enough argument to justify discouraging smoking as a matter of public policy. But, all this said, we also think a bit of context is in order. More than 1 million people die each year worldwide in car accidents. Natural seepage of gas in Europe is the cause of 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year. As Halid Şimşek commented in our story yesterday on the anti-smoking campaign, industrial pollution is also a big killer in Turkey.


Our point is not to let other dangers obscure those from smoking. But smokers are not lepers, who were so routinely and unnecessarily discriminated against in centuries past. We are concerned the anti-smoking campaign in Turkey has taken on the coloring of a morality play. We see nothing wrong with the provision of properly ventilated smoking sections. And we worry when we learn of public health officials debating whether a warning on smoking's threat to sexual performance will somehow damage traditional values.


Turkey needs intelligent and thoughtful public health policy in many areas. This should include measures to discourage smoking. But this kind of behind-the-scenes moral vigilantism has no place in the public policy sphere.


Let's snuff out smoking in Turkey. Let's also snuff out dumb policy debates in the Ministry of Health.








Turkey agreed "to leave the Iran nuclear issue to Security Council powers and IAEA," the international media quoted a "senior U.S. official" as saying after a 45 minute conversation on Monday between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton.


While there was no official confirmation or denial about this from the U.S. side, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu was quick to come up with a strong denial, going so far as to indicate that the Iran process could not move ahead without Turkey's involvement.


Pointing to a letter of response to the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton by Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili about resuming the nuclear talks in September, Davutoğlu suggested "a new process" was about to start that would also involve Turkey.


Catherine Ashton sent a letter earlier to Jalili in which she called on Iran to resume negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, or the group known as "P5+1."


Talking at a joint press conference in Istanbul with Baroness Ashton, following a Turkish EU dialogue meeting, Davutoğlu said, "We have no concern about being in that process because no process can take place without including us."


He went on to deny that he had been asked by Secretary of State Clinton that Turkey should leave the Iran talks to the Security Council and the IAEA.


It is very hard to know what the actual situation is, given this confusion. That confusion was compounded after remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday. Lavrov was quoted by the Russian media as saying, "Turkey and Brazil would not be joining talks led by the Iran Six group of international mediators on Tehran's nuclear program."


Turkey and Brazil had worked out a uranium swap deal in May, which was frowned on by Washington and disregarded in the subsequent vote in the Security Council on sanctions against Iran. Turkey and Brazil were left as the only Council members who voted against the proposed sanctions, but with no effect on the final outcome.


Lavrov's remarks appeared to be a response to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who had indicated a day earlier that his country wanted Turkey and Brazil to participate in the nuclear talks with his country.


Looking at this overall picture, observers say it is unlikely Turkey will find a place for itself at that table should the talks go ahead. They suggest that the P5+1 does not want Turkish involvement, most probably because of a concern that Ankara's interventions will again water down international efforts to up the pressure on Tehran.


The issue has, however, turned into a matter of political and personal prestige for the Erdoğan government, and in particular for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who appears to many diplomats in Ankara to be losing his previous "luster" following Turkey's involvement in this issue, as well as the Mavi Marmara crisis with Israel that erupted later.


It is more than apparent at this stage that Mr. Davutoğlu himself is on the defensive and is trying to salvage his reputation. Matters even turned ugly this week when Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the new leader of the main opposition Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, accused him openly of "lying" to the public.


The issue was Mr. Davutoğlu's alleged misrepresentation of a Presidency statement in the Security Council on the Mavi Marmara crisis. The Turkish foreign minister has been maintaining that that statement has more force than it in fact does, his critics and political rivals say.


There was talk at one stage that a possible nuclear meeting between Iran and the P5+1 could take place in Turkey, and some diplomats in Ankara feel that this is what Davutoğlu may have been referring to when indicating in so many words that negotiations with Tehran cannot move forward without Turkish involvement.


If this is the case, it will be an added embarrassment for Davutoğlu if these talks are not held in Turkey but go ahead in Vienna in the end. What Western diplomats appear to be also concerned about is that Iran is going to use Turkey as some kind of a precondition for the nuclear talks to resume.


Foreign Minister Mottaki appeared to point at this when he said he wants Brazil and Turkey to be part of the nuclear discussions. Diplomats say Tehran could turn this into a precondition of sorts by indicating that it will not resume talks if these two countries are not involved.


If this turns out the case, it is certain that Tehran's position will be taken as a new bid to buy time at Turkey's and Brazil's expense. It is also clear that such a development will not endear these two countries to the P5+1. But as matters stand Brazil has in effect pulled out of the Iran issue for the time being, suggesting that it would return if asked to by all parties.


But it has signaled that there is no point in being involved further at this juncture.


It is more difficult for Turkey to do the same because of the fact that it shares a border with Iran. It is clear, however, that Ankara will have to change tack in order to be a part of the nuclear discussions with Iran.


That will most probably involve leaning more on Tehran to comply with the demands of the international community. The problem for the Erdoğan government, however, is that it has become the victim of its own political rhetoric at home, and any overt leaning on Iran at this juncture will be used against the AKP in domestic politics.


It is hard therefore for Mr. Davutoğlu, who has appeared an advocate for Iran to date, to all of a sudden start applying pressure on Tehran. Given this overall situation, it may be best if Ankara does step aside on Iran at the present time until a new opening presents itself for Turkish diplomacy to play a positive role in this respect.


Otherwise, Ankara will continue to flog a dead horse and end up isolating itself further among its allies and

partners in the West on this issue.








In order to have the utmost benefit from talks with the opposition parties Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should have included the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, leaders in the process of seeking consensus. But that didn't happen. He even did not offer to have a meeting with them on the pretext of "they are benefiting from terror." His claim about the MHP could be understandable up to a point because Devlet Bahçeli of the MHP had announced long ago that they wouldn't have any conversation with Erdoğan on the subject. But that was not the case for the BDP. In the end, an initiative that leaves two fundemantal political entities of Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms out of talks will obviously not be profitable while trying to settle the Kurdish and PKK questions.


Another point is that the subject of discussion is unclear. The government insists on a "democratic initiative" on one side, but says on the other that they want to discuss the "fight with terror" with the opposition. Apparently, in the meetings so far the leaders have remained in the frame of terror discussions. However, the most important characteristic of the "initiative," which the government launched a year ago, was to search for unarmed solutions. In short, first saying "Democratic initiative continues" and then "prioritizing armed struggle against terror" is quite a contradiction.


Special units


As for what is new that the government will tell about counter-terrorism efforts, we are facing now the concept of having a professional army that has been partly implemented by the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, in the Southeast and which has been discussed for some time. The opposition in criticisms focuses on drawbacks of having two different types of armies. Let's keep in mind that they could be right and ask a vital question: "Which problem will the professional army solve and how?"


Let's check the "how" part first. The professional army concept reminds of the special teams that created shock and awe in the Southeast some time ago. Today some might talk highly about them, but others who had the opportunity to make observations in the area in the past, journalists for instance, know very well that the special forces had no contribution to the solution of the Kurdish conflict and were even harmful.


I do remember a two-week exploration trip of a Refah (Welfare) Party, or RP, delegation led by Şevket Kazan in 1994 in the Southeast. Kazan and his friends had received complaints about the special forces and witnessed a few unpleasant incidents as well. They were even assaulted.


Is it an end or a beginning?


Bad memories about the special forces remain fresh. If a professional arm is considered to be set up in the region, they could set an example of what should not be done. But there is a problem where a solution seems impossible. Ill treatment of special forces in the region happened because they equate people with the PKK in their mind. Since then, the PKK expanded grassroots and deepened more. So, it is most likely that the prospective professional army will face unpleasant interaction with people while trying to chase the PKK terrorists.


Let's say that problems are minimal and the professional army becomes quite successful militarily. Will the problem be solved? Let me elaborated a little. Although it is next to impossible, if the military defeats the PKK, does that mean the PKK is finished for good?


I don't think so. Almost all similar organizations around the world are forcefully liquidated or abolish themselves unwillingly. No one should underestimate an organization that has survived for 30 years in the mountains of the Middle East. Especially if this group rises on a strong social platform, encounters an end in the mountains but might rather take place in cities.


Let's leave an in-depth discussion of this possibility to a later time and say only this: Even if a military success comes with a professional army in rural areas, this does not mean the "end" of terror and the PKK. Yet it could be the beginning of a more dangerous period in Turkey.


Mr. Ruşen Çakır is a columnist for the daily Vatan in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








On one side Turkey discusses setting up a professional army as the most professional unit of the Turkish Army went on trial Tuesday.


I am talking about young SAT commandos who are on trial for their involvement in the Poyrazköy case. SAT commandos once were sent to Palestine for special missions, or protected the embassy in Baghdad or raided the Kardak rocks. These young men in dark blue blazers stood before a judge Tuesday.


I shouldn't utter big words. Tiny little details and bulky minutes of this case are quite complicated. I am not an expert. Since the claims of a mosque to be bombed by the military in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case, we read plenty of conspiracy theories in newspapers. Although I am having a hard time believing them, it is not right to make any assessments during the judicial process.


It is difficult to believe, but who knows… Perhaps these young men, these young military officers who are running around to save the country were really preparing assassination plots against admirals, or planning to kill non-Muslims, bomb museums, murder children and Alevi leaders. And for that, they obtained munitions and buried all in Poyrazköy.


But let's go back to the professional army issue.


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently gave good news during a meeting with the opposition leaders that a professional private army will be deployed in the Southeast and along the borders.


In fact the expression "private army" doesn't belong to Erdoğan; it is the last ring of a contradiction in terms. What Erdoğan mentioned about was a project on which the army has been working on for some time as the Chief of General Staff, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, announced in 2008.


The General Staff conducts necessary works and shares information with the government. Although too late, because of the latest acts of terror and of the government's pressure, it is a modernization move that has been sped up finally.


What is considered is the formation of six brigades (at least 30,000 soldiers), including five professional commando teams of the Land Forces and one of the Gendarmerie, who are subjected to intelligence and special counter-terrorism trainings and who are able to act swiftly against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.


The plan is to deploy a professional army to the region instead of rookies who are sent after three or four months training to fight with terrorists. It is to have an army that remains in the East for five or ten years not for a short time; just like U.S. marines. However, it is said to be structured under the command chain of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK.


These are "professional military units." But there is another possibility which is to transform the entire army into an army of professional volunteers, as in the United States and some European countries, but Turkey doesn't seem ready for it.


Since a professional army will ease the military's influence in politics and will complete modernization process

of the TSK, the government wing and some circles are interested in the idea. Professional armies are more

successful than old-fashioned, bulky structures in terms of speed and maneuverability. For this reason, the

military service is mandatory in only seven of 27 European Union countries. Germany has decided to have a professional army in 2014 and Greece in 2012.


But this is not an easy task for Turkey due to geographic conditions.


In order to adopt a professional army structure, we should be able to remove daily threats. Unless terror comes to an end, peace and calm settle in politics, all dimensions of Iran's nuclear power are explored, no one expects of the TSK to take such a step.


However, that doesn't mean the Turkish army will not change at all. On the contrary, an ever-changing world makes restructuring of the army necessary. The military is aware of this. Downsizing the Land Forces by 20 percent and adopting professional army order is being pressured. In the future, we might have a couple of brand new ideas such as merging the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd armies under a "West Army" or having a joint command.


It is the fact that the TSK, whose skeleton was based on the NATO concept set-up in the Cold War era, is no longer an institution fighting the Soviets outside and communism inside.


This is what concerns are all about. Even military threats are different. We now have various types of enemies ranging from chemical weapons to cyber terror. For instance, the formation of a 20-30,000 soldier professional army could be more effective than a regular army of 500,000 soldiers in order to fight with the PKK. Or electronic surveillance and new border security systems are more rational than having military concentrations on the borders of Turkey-Greece or Turkey-Syria and landmines along the borders.


For these reasons, we will continue to discuss the military in the upcoming years. We are a soldier-nation…


Aslı Aydıtaşbaş is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








President Barack Obama thinks Turkey is not a democracy. He thinks Turkey is "a great Islamic democracy." You may think there are some democracies and others. President Obama thinks there are also democracies associated with certain religions.


Too bad, Italian daily Corriere della Sera forgot to ask Mr. Obama what kind of a democracy an Islamic democracy is, or what really a 'great' Islamic democracy is. But apparently an Islamic democracy must be something other than a democracy because otherwise Mr. Obama would have chosen to say merely 'a democracy.'


How does the president of the United States of America refer to Israel which is a Jewish state? A democracy. How does Mr. Obama refer to western European countries? Christian democracies? No, just democracies. To his own country? A Christian democracy because America is overwhelmingly Christian? No, just 'a democracy.' Does Mr. Obama think India is a Hindu democracy? Is Japan a Shintoist democracy? No, they are merely democracies. What, then, makes Turkey an Islamic democracy, and not just a democracy?


This is not the first time Mr. Obama refers to Turkey as an Islamic democracy. So, it cannot be a slip of the tongue. Simple logic tells us that he must be viewing Turkey as a different kind of democracy – something different than democracies without a religious prefix.


Islamist Turks may have cheered because the world's most powerful man referred to their country as a great Islamic democracy. They should be sorry because the reference has a hidden pejorative connotation. "An Islamic democracy" instead of "a democracy" is a reminder that Muslim countries are generally not democracies – which is a fact. So, here there is nothing to cheer up. In Mr. Obama's language, "a great Islamic democracy" probably means a better democracy than other Muslim countries but not good enough to qualify as a 'democracy' without a prefix.


In the same interview with the Italian daily, President Obama said something – perhaps not exciting from a journalistic viewpoint – that contradicts his tag for Turkey's democracy: "The U.S. always expressed the opinion that it would be wise to accept Turkey into the European Union." So, Washington is telling Europeans that they should accept 'a great Islamic democracy,' not a democracy, into their wealthy club.


The trouble is Europe is about democracy, not democracy based on one monotheistic religion. It is about values and institutions derived from democracy, not values and institutions derived from Islamic democracy. Its membership criteria, also, is about democracy, not about Christian, Jewish, Islamic or atheist democracies.


This is why Turkey's Islamist rulers view the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or İHH, the Islamic (like our democracy?) 'humanitarian relief' organization and protagonist in the flotilla incident, as an angelic nongovernmental organisation, but the German authorities have banned its Germany based namesake for having links with a terrorist organization. And that terrorist organization, not only for Germany but for the EU, happens to be Hamas which, according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is not a terrorist organization. Mr. Erdoğan has made it clear that Hamas members are resistance fighters, not terrorists.


For Mr. Erdoğan, Bulent Yildirim, the (Turkish) İHH's president, is a humanitarian aid activist. In 2006, Mr. Yildirim highly praised Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel-turned-Islamist terrorist, on his death. Basayev claimed responsibility for the 2004 Beslan School siege in which 350 people, mostly children, were killed. Mr. Erdoğan, who is very sensitive about children's deaths in Gaza chose muteness when schoolchildren were killed in Beslan. They were not Muslim. But our democracy is Islamic, so religiously discriminative sensitivity to children being murdered is all right.


This is the Turkey Mr. Obama thinks is fit for EU membership. An honest European politician would only tell Mr. Obama that Turkey's accession will be perfectly fine "only after Turkey has transformed from an Islamic democracy into a democracy."


Mr. Obama told daily Corriere della Sera that Turkey can have a positive influence on the Muslim world. It sure can. Since Mr. Erdoğan took charge in 2002, no Muslim country has inched toward (even an Islamic) democracy. But President Obama is right about the possible Turkish influence if he thinks reinforcing Hamas-fetish and other anti-western sentiments among Muslim countries. In this context, Turkey is already a positive influence.









This article was prepared as soon as the below book was published, but the agenda was so busy that I was not able to share it with you.


Hasan Cemal's latest book is the best among those he wrote until now.


Please don't take it as give-and-take between colleagues.


Cemal since the 80s is the one who wrote about military involvement in politics in his book "Emret Komutanım" and also worked on the Demirkırat documentary about a subject that I keep insisting on. That is why I read his latest book carefully. I examined it in detail, took notes and, to tell the truth, loved it. I admire his book and liked it more than any other of his books.


This book, titled "Türkiye'nin Asker Sorunu" (Turkey's Soldier Problem), needs to be called an "eye opener." It needs to be read in colleges and universities.


See why?


Foremost, Hasan Cemal, or HC, fulfills an extremely important function. He simplifies the Ergenekon chaos for us in order to explain in a striking way what it all means. You don't have to read thousands of pages of indictments. HC leaves aside unimportant details and puts together data collected by prosecutors.


He does not give away any secrets but processes open sources and data with his own perception so that the Ergenekon case is easily understood. You end up saying, "Ok, so that's what it is all about."


No misinterpretations no false applications; the Ergenekon case becomes clear in your mind.


Military habits and gaps created by politicians


This book is based on two sets of data.


It describes the view of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, on Turkey's civil world and how they position themselves and vice versa the civilian approach to the military.


You won't find any indication of hostility against the military in HC's sentences. On the contrary, you'll find drawbacks of intervention in politics.


As you read through you'll see that the Kurdish issue, even the AKP has come this far as a result of the military's erroneous approach.


He strikingly reveals that things have come this far due to the process that started on Feb. 28: overthrowing Çiller and referring her to the Supreme Court by decision of the Judicial Court, closing the Welfare Party, imprisoning Erdoğan, military-judiciary rulings and cases taken place between 2006-2008.


The other important aspect in this book talks about the inferior role attributed by civilians to the military. Especially stated with examples are destructive effects of the gap left over by civil administrations.


He does not force into a corner civil administrations that stand strong against the military. He just looks down on those who succumb. Each step he takes is backed by politicians, business men or scientists. To be more correct, he is lead by civilians. The judiciary appears to be the main support of the mechanism. 


The situation is not quite understood, it's more like a chicken-and-egg situation.


HC seems to have sat down by a lake telling us about those who pass his way.


Among those passing his way are owners of famous newspapers, famous representatives of a term in Ankara, those who used to bow and scrape, and foremost TRT and other TV stations.


Oh well, I know them too.


I'll never forget about their torture, blackmail and their shameless approach in respect to the military.


HC quotes such examples that all my bad memories are revived.


Cemal, contrary many famous people, criticizes himself as well. He says he did not show enough reaction to some past events. It is obvious that Cemal's awareness in respect to involvement of the military in politics increased after Feb. 28. Especially games played during the AKP term really upset HC.


By the time you finish reading this book you won't be able to recover anytime soon.


Some of you will feel sorry for what has happened or be shocked about how we were fooled for years.


You may get upset or you may like it, but please don't forget to thank him for enriching the Turkish society and Turkey's recent history with his book.









Current public policy debates in Armenia and Azerbaijan over a possible Nagorno-Karabakh war are more acceptable to those who want to return to their homes rather than live in a "no-war-no-peace" situation. The danger of another open war in the Caucasus – one much worse than the August conflict between Russia and Georgia – is all too real, which military experts and politicians in both countries recognize.


Today, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces are spread across a cease-fire line in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, often facing each other at very close range, and gunfire is common. The current situation, in which the Azerbaijani army has gained the strength to easily defeat the Armenian forces, is alarming to Yerevan while Baku has been encouraged to take back its occupied territories.


Meanwhile, there are three possible scenarios for the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The first is that a sustainable status quo is maintained. The second is that a solution be negotiated. The third is the resumption of full-scale hostilities and the creation of a new situation on the ground.


Azerbaijan considers the first scenario unacceptable and unsustainable. The second scenario is the continuation of the current negotiations under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, Minsk Group. This is obviously the most desirable scenario, but Armenia is far from responding to the "renewed Madrid principles" which have been accepted by Azerbaijan. And finally, the third scenario, war, is difficult but becoming more and more possible.


This possible war would likely be a very quick affair, ending in the adoption of a conflict resolution plan proposed by international mediators. There are precedents of such "authorized" wars in recent history. For example, in the mid 1990s Croatia, with de facto, tacit agreement and behind-the-scenes support from great powers, solved the problem of Serbian Kraijina in a kind of "blitzkrieg."


Unfortunately, in Armenia the tendency has been toward resumption of the sword rather than acceptance of an unpalatable peace. In the increasingly bellicose rhetoric across much of the political spectrum, a significant detail is missing. Clearly, the greater burden of compromise is on Armenia, whose people must confront truths about diplomacy and war at odds with their hopes and expectations.


First, diplomacy – even that of great powers – is not itself a force in international affairs, but a mechanism. Diplomacy can promulgate peace and avoid war, but Armenia uses this method to "keep" the occupied lands of Azerbaijan. Secondly, a military response – as Armenian politicians believe in any case – a "common response" of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, against Azerbaijan is not real. The real potential of the CSTO was also demonstrated during the Kyrgyz events. There is no sense in making a fright of this organization, which will interfere with the Karabakh conflict and take Armenia's side.


Indeed, some aspects of a resumed war may represent drawbacks also for Azerbaijan. New military operations may disrupt investment in the Azerbaijani economy and slow down successful economic development. On the other hand, a new war may create serious problems for the pipeline politics of Azerbaijan. Apart from dealing a blow to its energy projects, a war in the region could seriously damage the use of transit capabilities in the region supporting the continuing operations in Afghanistan, which are unlikely to conclude in the near future.


Given the importance of Azerbaijani energy resources, the mediators could still agree to the formula of the "high level of autonomy" for Nagorno-Karabakh within the framework of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This principle could be reflected in the political agreement leaving room for future maneuvers for the Armenian side given the fact that all key players in global politics would act as guarantors of all the agreements. In such a case Azerbaijan would not be able to start a war in violation of its undertakings because this would result in serious international sanctions and pressure.


In any case peace requires compromise, in an environment where both of these terms are spoken on both sides with revulsion. For the successful implementation of the "best scenario" it is important that a consensus be reached between the key players in global politics – the United States, European Union and Russia, which act as principal mediators in the Karabakh resolution process (where the EU is represented informally by France), with Turkey involved in the process as a regional power.


Finally, the "no-war-no-peace" situation could be "unfrozen" in the long term, by which time both the economic and military potential of Azerbaijan would have increased. The prospect of a military solution to the conflict on the part of Azerbaijan would also grow because patience in Azerbaijani society towards the on-going occupation of the country would be wearing very thin.


Last remark:


This year the vuvuzela was the symbol of Africans as the sounded out to the world community, making their voices clear. In the Caucasus over the 16 years, Azerbaijani refugees have suffered and still sound out to restore "injustice" in the region, but nobody is listening to them. What do they need – a vuvuzela? Or maybe a new clash and war will be the vuvuzela for the world community?


Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan








It is no secret for those who have some insight in the discussions within the National Unity Party, or UBP, immediately after the election of party leader and Prime Minister Dr. Derviş Eroğlu as the third president of Northern Cyprus in April that İrsen Küçük emerged as the strongest candidate for the prime ministry out of a concern to prevent succession-related turmoil and even worse.


Anyhow, with Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu revolting against Eroğlu and becoming a presidential candidate with encouragement from some senior Justice and Development Party, or AKP, figures – as part of the failed last ditch effort to divide the conservative vote and help an election victory by Mehmet Ali Talat – the UBP had suffered a sufficient-enough crisis and needed no more. Thus, even though initially up to six leading politicians implied they wanted to join the contest for UBP leadership, and thus to prime ministry, eventually with reluctant intervention of Eroğlu also, Küçük emerged as the compromise candidate, elected chairman of the party until the November convention and the "interim" prime minister heading a minority government supported by the Democrat Party, or DP, of Serdar Denktaş.


No one would expect that a minority government with an unreliable external support could be successful, particularly in view of the "tangentially passing" economic crisis in Turkey shrinking Turkey's financial support for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. For the past almost two decades, particularly since the AKP government came to office with a landslide in the 2002 elections, there have been constant pressures on the consecutive Turkish Cypriot governments from Ankara for a radical economic and administrative restructuring. Often bureaucrats from Turkey were joking with Turkish Cypriot counterparts that northern Cyprus has become the most losing state economic enterprise of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots should know that, if they don't undertake some strident measures and undertake serious administrative reforms and increase governance efficiency, "you may see yourself coming to the end of the sea."


In 2009 the socialist Republican Turks' Party, or CTP, led coalition government decided to go to early elections among other reasons because of the pressures from Ankara to undertake some biting economic and administrative reforms, which might be very costly in polls scheduled for 2010. The UBP government, which came to power after the electoral landslide of 2009, did not undertake the reforms demanded by Ankara as well because Eroğlu was planning to run for the presidency, and undertaking such reforms would seriously risk his election chance.


After coming to office, however, the Küçük-led minority government wasted no time and plunged into taking one after the other all those painful measures long demanded by Ankara. Trade unions revolted, opposition parties strongly criticized the government. The external support of the minority government, the DP, started playing hide and seek. If it was supportive of the government in the morning, it was critical of it in the afternoon and supportive once again in the night.


Still, Küçük persisted on the reform path, cancelled the 14th salary for civil servants and public employed, privatized the bankrupt Turkish Cypriot Airlines, restructured state banks, overhauled the state economic enterprises, restructured the state agencies, brought an end to bureaucrats and political appointees earning more than one salary and started talking on undertaking a set of economic measures that would discriminate in favor of the private sector and gradually pull the state totally from many sectors of the economy, including tourism.


"If Saray Hotel – the first hotel of Turkish Cypriots owned by the Foundations Administration – is making a one million lira loss every year, and if we rent the hotel for one lira annual rent, that means we will save every year one million and one lira... The state should stop running hotels," he said.


Now, Küçük is preparing for the November convention of his party. Scores of other UBP senior figures are hinting as well their intention to run for chairmanship. But, it appears that Interior Minister İlkay Kamil and Küçük are the only two candidates who might have Ankara's sympathy in this race even though Turkish officials strongly underline they have no intention to intervene in the political choice of Turkish Cypriots.


Yesterday Küçük was in Ankara for an official visit and to demand some additional financial support to fund the reforms he has taken or is planning to undertake. He appeared satisfied with his talks in Ankara. Today he will be received by President Abdullah Gül and on Saturday will return to northern Cyprus.


Talking to Küçük, 70, yesterday in Ankara, I had the impression that he is determined to continue reforms at any cost.









The long-delayed press conference by Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and our Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the end of yesterday's talks was low key. There were no surprises and the two men sat next to one another speaking in measured tones – they wanted nobody to misunderstand what they said. Yet what they said was very little and there was not much room for misunderstanding it. Reading between the lines there are a number of positives. The first was that they took longer in their discussions than was expected, a sign that they were at least prepared to sit around a table with an agenda that was clearly wide-ranging. Secondly, they are going to be doing it again and our foreign minister has accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart to visit in the near future. Thirdly it is obvious that even though there may be a willingness to discuss more openly and frankly the issues which both divide as well as bind us together – few of them are easily soluble.

There are Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) that are at the margins where movement can clearly be made – an exchange of prisoners accused of petty crimes for instance, and here there was a welcome mention of the fishermen that both sides hold. A resolution of the Sir Creek dispute on which we have requested that the Indians put their proposal to us in writing. On more tricky ground there was a suggestion that both sides are fighting a common enemy, terrorism, and that fighting the enemy together made more sense than doing it separately. Foreign Minister Qureshi pointed to 'a change of mood' in Pakistan which might enable that to happen rather better than it does at the moment. Words like 'useful' and positive' peppered the press conference throughout and the impression was given that we have moved on from 'talks about talks' to 'talks about what we do next'. To the man on the street this may seem like little more than a rearrangement of the chairs, but in diplomatic terms this is a significant shift in the currents that run between us. There is no quick fix, but at least the possibility of a fix for some things is on the table. Keep talking.







Yet again the killers were about their business in Balochistan, and this time it was a renowned moderate and central secretary general of the Balochistan National Party, Habib Jalib, who died in a hail of bullets. There are reports that he had been receiving threats for the past week but the police said that he had never requested protection. Once again Balochistan is plunged into mourning, with wheel-jams and shutterdowns, and with the destruction of property witnessed on Wednesday following the murder. He was shot from the back of a motorcycle which seems to be the preferred method of delivery for the murderers who roam unchecked. Doctors, academics, political and judicial figures – all are regularly cut down by 'unknown assailants'. The people of Balochistan are hostages to fear and the government, be it provincial or federal seems powerless to change this miserable state of affairs.

The murder was followed by the again familiar 'condemnations' by leading lights of the government. The faces in the line issuing the 'condemnations' included the president, the prime minister and the governor of Balochistan - all of whom expressed their grief and vowed that the murderers would be brought to book. The 'bringing to book' of murderers such as those who killed Habib Jalib is 'vowed' every time. Every time another innocent gets gunned down there is 'an enquiry' established into the killing. Every time whatever enquiry is established is overtaken by the next killing before it can reach any conclusion or deliver a report - and every time there is nobody caught, brought into a court of law and tried and sentenced for their crime. Is it so far beyond the capabilities of our police and intelligence agencies that the catching of these killers is an impossibility? The absence of a charge sheet speaks more of failure and incompetence than it does of police and security services committed to the safety of a wider public? The death of Habib Jalib is a loss. Many in Balochistan will say he was one of those men who could make a positive difference. His killers will be satisfied at their apparent immunity to the forces of law and order and will live on to kill again.













What are we to make of the legislation passed by the French Parliaments' lower house last Tuesday which bans the wearing of the burqa and the niqab in public? Female violators of the ban will be fined 150 euros but stiffer penalties are there for men who are found to have forced their female relatives to wear the garments. Spain has already passed a similar law. The legislation was passed 335-1 and it seems that it will be fast-tracked through the French senate to be law by September. Legal pundits are already speculating on what might happen if a conviction under the new law is appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – coincidentally in France. At the level of the populist the ban has the support of 80 per cent of French voters and the overwhelming support of the non-Muslim population.


There is a clear and increasingly codified sense of popular dislike and mistrust of Muslims in the non-Muslim populations of Europe and North America. This in part stems from 9/11 and events that followed which are popularly interpreted as being representative of the desires and views of a majority of Muslims – which they are not; and the widespread failure of policies associated with the doctrine of multiculturalism. Alongside these elements is the perceived failure of Muslims to integrate in the same way that other cultural and religious minorities have into their host culture. The French seem to see the ban as an attempt to blunt the rise of fundamentalism, but they may find that it will be used by conservative Islamic groups to aggravate wider Muslim concerns about being unfairly targeted and discriminated against in societies that are becoming measurably less tolerant. Such laws will only fan the fires that fuel alienation.







If the political class did not get earlier it should do so now. The target of the campaign set in motion last year was not just Asif Zardari. It was the political system as a whole, all in the name of fighting corruption, the slogan with which every road leading to hell has been paved in Pakistan since 1947. 

Zardari was just a metaphor and a symbol. The wheels of intrigue, with a band of media jehadis in the lead, would not have stopped with him. They would have gone on to Nawaz Sharif, ending eventually in that dream of most retired senior mandarins, an 'interim' government on the Bangladesh model. 

Once upon a time appeals for change were made to General Headquarters, the politically disinherited bending the knee before army chiefs and supplicating them to save the country. The court of appeal this time was the Supreme Court, restored not once but twice by the lawyers' movement and the prayers of a hopeful nation. 

Behind everyone of Pakistan's four martial laws stood a combination of generals, judges and a section of the press (there was no media as such then). Justice Ramday is not wholly right in saying that whereas the higher judiciary gave a temporary reprieve to military rulers, parliaments gave them permanent relief. As Nazir Naji (with whom I seldom agree) point outs in one of his columns, that whereas the parliaments which sanctified the actions of military dictators were the creatures of those dictators, shaped by them, the judges who legitimised military takeovers laboured under no such compulsion. They were on their benches before those takeovers. 

There is thus little room for too much self-righteousness in the broad spaces of the Republic. All who matter are tainted, not one institution which has not sinned, not one tribune which can claim baptism in holy water. This should teach us humility. Instead we see arrogance in a variety of bewildering colours. 

Which constitution in the world says there should be elections in political parties? Does the American constitution have this provision? Yet their lordships observe that with the provision of party elections deleted from the constitution, the command of the constitution is affected. And the media, giving a spin to this remark, turn it into another denunciation of the political class. 

Making a punching bag of politics feeds into the obsessive delusion of the chattering classes, and indeed the media-obsessed middle classes as a whole, that the thing wrong with Pakistan is the greed and incompetence of politicians. 

The political class should have wit enough to understand this danger instead of making matters worse for itself. For two years the PML-N championed the cause of the judiciary as if nothing else mattered, fostering the impression that with the restoration of the Chaudhry-led judiciary Pakistan's problems would start disappearing. 

Now the PML-N is waking up to the realisation -- and this is a rude awakening -- that there are stars and planets beyond the judiciary. Ik aur darya ka samna hai Munir mujh ko, mein aik darya ke paar utra tu mein ne dekha -- there was another river in front of me Munir, I saw this when I had crossed the last river. 

The fake degrees issue -- dressed up by the self-righteous vanguard of the media, including analysts and pundits, some of them close friends, whose innocence and naivete are not so much astonishing as frightening (perfect exemplars of the doctrine of good intentions) -- is proving to be a bugbear not just for one political party but for the entire political system. 

And who championed this issue? The PML-N once again, not as a matter of party policy -- we should be clear on this score -- but through the exertions of just one lone ranger, friend Chaudhry Abid Sher Ali MNA, who deserves a tutorial in the law of unintended consequences. 

The torpedo launched by him, and this was an unguided torpedo, is now causing havoc left and right. And who is having another field day? All those who think that if only politicians were cleansed from this land the republic of our confused imaginations would be within our eager grasp.

Politicians can be the world's biggest scoundrels but it would be a dreary and bleak world if they were the only scoundrels around. Every profession has its rogues, every calling its blackguards. No one will accuse generals and judges, or lawyers for that matter, of being saints. No one in his right mind will describe journalists as knights of any round table. Why raise the bar to the skies when it comes to politicians? 

We all cheat on taxes, don't we? What did New York society lady Fiona Helmsley say on the subject? That only the little people paid taxes. Don't the imbibing classes cheat on prohibition? Don't gentlemen cheat on their wives? And is it entirely unknown for upright ladies to cheat on their husbands? Most of us who stick to the straight and narrow are prisoners of the poverty of our opportunities. We would do things if only we could. Most of us stay away from temptation because temptation is not within our reach. 

Commenting on Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars, Gore Vidal says that the Caesars, whose private lives encompassed every kind of activity imaginable, were not particularly vicious or depraved. "They differed from us -- and their contemporaries -- only in the fact of power, which made it possible for each to act out his most recondite (private) fantasies." He goes on to ask, "What will men so placed do? The answer, apparently, is anything and everything."

People tend to find a way around stupid or senseless restrictions. Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s spawned a culture of bootlegging, with its attendant rituals of smuggling and violence. Al Capone's criminal empire was a product of prohibition. The Kennedy clan made its fortune from smuggled whiskey. There has always been a law in Pakistan against the oldest profession. Has it ever worked? Bhutto, against his better judgment, imposed prohibition. Zia added several draconian layers to the original restriction. Those with a thirst associated with the rites of Dionysus find ways to slake it. Most of us live in glass houses. We should be careful about throwing stones. 

Mein ne Majnoon pe lark pan mein Asad, Sang uthaya tha ke sar yaad aya. When I picked up a stone to throw at Majnoon, I remembered my own head (my own youth). Ghalib would have uttered a verse or two, of a humorous kind, about fake degrees. He wouldn't have waxed indignant about virtue and public rectitude. Why are we a nation of such hypocrites? 

Musharraf slapped an unreasonable restriction on the political class: that you had to be a graduate to get elected. Those who didn't fulfil this condition found ways of getting round it. They knelt at the altar of fake degrees. Are fake degrees worse than cheating on taxes? 

There is a self-righteous streak in our middle class, especially the non-voting middle class, which makes it adopt over-pure positions, which far from doing any good end up rolling out the red carpet for military saviours. 

But politicians are also their own worst enemies. Every conspiracy against democracy is not woven in General Headquarters or Aabpara. Politicians themselves can be experts at self-demolition. 

The fake degree issue is a deadly IED (improvised explosive device). The Supreme Court only took up the issue, but not without adding garnish to it, after it had been turned into a tamasha (spectacle) by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education. Politicians as authors of their misfortunes: there is a dissertation waiting to be writing here, in no better place than Montecello University, the celebrated seat of learning famous for its post-doctoral degrees. 

The resolution against the media was another own goal, as was the call for the expulsion of Mastikhel from the party. Lahore needs better political management. Things may be bad but not half as bad as they appear to be when the instinct of self-destruction takes over. 

Tailpiece: In this season of discontent there is a dire need to encourage voices of sanity. In this regard nothing better than to set aside all differences and adopt Asma Jahangir as candidate (of all parties) for President of the Supreme Court Bar Association. A woman for all seasons, she deserves everyone's support (although I do wish she'd stop those bhangras at the Wagha border). 









Imagine the following scenario: the US-led NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan, though not as chaotically as Russians did, and certainly without admitting defeat. The most likely situation will be that they just install a new Afghan government of some kind, make a lot of fuss about helping Afghans, claim that now Afghans are ready to govern their own country, even claim the high moral ground of honouring their promise of not occupying Afghanistan, but depart, nevertheless. Then what?

There is only one unfolding scenario for the next two weeks: town after town falls to half-organised Taliban troops as they sweep across the land, with fiercest fighting taking place in the north. But then what?

The next scene is not clear, ground situation is not as straightforward, but still, one has to pierce through the cloud to explore various possibilities. But before doing so, one must secure the premise: are the US-led NATO forces really going to pull out and if yes, under what conditions?

It has been said over and over that Afghanistan is a country no one has been able to occupy; this is a historically proven fact, even though the political and military leadership of the United States acts as if it is beyond the constraints of several centuries of human history. Another factor is simple math: for how long can the US economy sustain a drain of five billion dollars a month? Obviously not forever.

Furthermore, every single coffin that goes back to the Unites States, Canada, the UK, Germany, or any of the other western countries, sends shock waves across the population. For how can any government -- facing its next round of public scrutiny at the next general election -- ignore these shock waves? Obviously not forever.

In addition to the above, the fact that the US aggression in Afghanistan has already surpassed the timeline set by Vietnam, which tested the ability of the US forces and economy to its limit, suggests that every new day that sees US forces in Afghanistan is now readily overtaxing its entire system.

Thus, President Obama, like all his partners in war, would need to seriously think through the modus operandi of a pull-out, if not by next July, then certainly before July 2012, when he gears up for his re-election. That leaves hardly enough time for working out post-US scenarios for all involved, especially the next door neighbour, Pakistan. But is Pakistani leadership ready for this? What are the questions which must be asked by Pakistanis?

Let us not pretend to know answers, but does Pakistani leadership even know the questions? Are there people in the army, in the Foreign Office, and in any of the political parties who are even capable of framing possible scenarios which will emerge in the post-US Afghanistan? The answer is obvious.

Thus, it becomes clear that Pakistan will deal with the post-US Afghan situation as haphazardly as it dealt with the situation during the long years of US occupation of that rugged land to the north. But would that be of any help in a drastically changed scenario in which the Taliban are not going to be content with operating across the so-called Durand Line, but would certain attempt to secure strategic cross-border areas in order to survive in Kabul?

Whether or not Pakistani leadership thinks through possible strategies, one thing is certain: the destiny of Pakistan is now irrevocably intertwined with that of Afghanistan. No matter what happens next, Pakistan will not be able to leave its neighbour to the north. There is a certain historical compulsion in this changed scenario, already predicted at the poetic level by Iqbal. That, however, is a topic for another quantum note. For now, let us just list the questions which need to be addressed by Pakistani leadership at the military and political levels:

1. What would be the role of Pakistani military during the massive pull-out of hardware and war machinery from Afghanistan? Assuming that it will be an orderly pull-out, and the NATO army will just fly out of its basis in Afghanistan, one cannot assume that they will spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on taking back their heavy armoured vehicles and other machines.

2. Assuming that a "US-friendly" government is installed, just like in Iraq, and the reigns of the country are handed over to this puppet regime (which may or may not include the present puppets), what would Pakistan do to secure its interests in the short-term, before the waves of the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, and what would Pakistan do in the aftermath of the Taliban success?

3. What if the post-US era turns out to be that of another civil war in Afghanistan with the Taliban on the one hand and a US-supported regime (which will be internationally accepted) on the other hand locked in struggle to survive or perish? What would Pakistan do in such a situation?

4. Given that Pakistani military and political setup has not been able to secure its own cities from Afghanistan-related violence, what will Pakistan do to prevent the spillage of Afghan civil war into its own territory?

These are some of the questions which need to be urgently and openly debated at the national level. Had there been a functional parliament, one would have hoped that those who have been elected to take care of the nation's affairs would be already at it. In the absence of a functional parliament, there could be think tanks and political parties discussing these issues. But alas, there is little hope there as well. So, by default, the only possibility is Pakistan will have its knee-jerk reactions when the time comes and it will all depend on who holds the reigns at the point in time. Thus, those who are thinking ahead will try to have their men in place by then and if the present dispensation is willing to do their bidding, then they will keep it in place.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







In my column, "A ministry of climate change" (July 13. 2008), I wrote of the need to replace the existing ministry of environment with a ministry of climate change and I spelled out a new role of the federal and provincial Environment Protection Agencies (EPAs)--all in light of the environmental and climate-change challenges faced by Pakistan. It's been two years and one constitutional amendment--the 18th--since, and there are now new reasons, not just in having a ministry of climate change, but to approach the subjects of development and governance in a new light.

The first and most important duty of a state--and those privileged enough to have been given the mandate to operate it--is to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens. Not that this state of 170 million souls has been discharging this duty. It barely has control over things now. But consider this: In the not-too-far future (which I define as my four-year old daughter's lifetime), this state will have over 300 million souls to deal with. The repercussions of self-induced environmental degradation and global climate change on this increasing and increasingly impoverished nation will be far more than the state's existing apparatus can handle. 

One of the primary tools of that apparatus is the Federal Government Rules of Business. This little guidebook on how the federal bureaucracy functions and which ministry and division does what was written in 1974. Think about it. This was before the world was introduced to things like the personal computer, the internet, globalisation. Things we take for granted in today's world. There was nothing near the awareness people now have of climate change. This was before sustainable development or good governance entered the everyday lexicon.

Climate change will affect Pakistan in a variety of ways. There will be water and energy shortages, food security issues, increased incidence of epidemic disease, ecosystem degradation and mass migration. Climate change will (and does) change lifestyles, livelihoods and will (and does) effect our national economy. Self-induced environmental degradation kills hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis a year (contaminated water is the most lethal killer of all and is responsible for every other Pakistani in a hospital right now) and costs the economy about Rs1 billion a day. That's Rs365 billion a year. 

In response to this, the state has a ministry of environment. Under the Rules of Business, the ministry is responsible for eight things. These include the national policy on the environment, planning, pollution and ecology; dealing with other countries and international organisations in the fields of environment, housing, physical planning and human settlement; the Quaid-e-Azam Memorial Fund, the Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Limited (PEPAC); economic planning and policymaking in respect of forestry and wildlife; and administrative control of the federal EPA, the National Energy Conservation Centre (ENERCON), the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, the Pakistan Forestry Institute and the Zoological Survey of Pakistan.

According to the Economic Survey 2009-2010, "the government of Pakistan has increased its funds allocation to the environment and sustainable development in its current public-sector development programme. Overall, an allocation of around Rs5,500 million has been made for the environment sector projects in the federal PSDP 2009-10. There are about 55 projects under implementation, which fall in the brown, green and capacity-building components/sub-sectors of environment such as: mass awareness, environmental education and environment protection; preparation of land use plan; fuel efficiency in road transport sector; projected areas management; forestry; biodiversity; watershed management; hospital waste management; environmental monitoring; capacity building of environmental institutions; natural disaster, early warning and mitigation; improvement of urban environment; etc."

Sound convincing? In the very next sentence, the Survey states: "However, release of funds remained a serious issue during the year due to financial crunch being faced by the country." That pretty much sums up the situation. It's clear that the ministry, as it is set up, does not have the capacity, flexibility or funds to do its job--that is, to protect the lives, liberty and property of the citizens of Pakistan. Clearly, something needs to be done.

The 18th Amendment appears to have made matters more complicated. Environmental pollution and ecology have been removed from the Concurrent List and are now wholly provincial subjects. This decentralisation raises issues about the relevance of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997. PEPA is a federal law that regulates the enforcement of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) and Pakistan's international environmental obligations)--like, among others, the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)--from a federal perspective.

There are many considered views on this decentralisation. At the federal level, there are concerns about coordination. For example, will provinces now be able to set their own NEQs or, worse, totally disregard existing ones? Also, who will implement international obligations and represent Pakistan during the UNFCCC's Conference of Parties negotiations?

The 18th Amendment is also an opportunity to think about and debate how we are to tackle our environmental and climate-change challenges. It is an opportunity to address the larger issue of how our state responds to the issues faced by its people. It's a chance to introduce new ideas. Like this one: Get rid of the ministry of environment and replace it with a ministry of climate change. Such a ministry can retain the previous ministry's responsibility over some national responsibilities (like coordinating the Pakistan Environment Protection Council's power to set NEQs). as well as the international aspects of Pakistan's environmental obligations (like negotiating with other countries, international organisations and the regulation of the Clean Development Mechanism). But it can be a cross-sectoral ministry with climate-change cells in every other ministry of government. Such cells can coordinate the government's efforts to adapt to and mitigate the challenges of climate change.

Enforcement of environmental laws must be strengthened at the provincial level (the enforcement in Islamabad can be, subject to capacity enhancement, handed over to the Capital Development Authority). The provincial EPAs should be made financially independent from government and given more powers, through legislation by the respective provincial assemblies, to chase after polluters and those who make profit at the cost of the health of others. At the same time, something similar to the climate-change cells at the federal level is needed to coordinate the province's overall response to climate change and sustainable development. I suggest altering the scope of the planning and development department by making it a planning and sustainable development department that evaluates the provinces' development spending through the lens of environmental sustainability.

The 18th Amendment offers the government and the people of this country a chance to look at how the state functions and reacts to issues. The environment and climate change can be the pivot upon which reform of the entire system of governance can be rotated and direction fixed. What is needed is understanding from the government and political commitment. Can the state and the present government stand up to the challenge?

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







Hey, I have a question. Why does it always have to be the Bhutto/Zardari children who get to visit China? This truly hurts my feelings sometimes. I mean, what's wrong with my children? Why don't they ever get to fly a free flight to China? Trust me, my children are a good-looking lot too. They photograph very well, are entirely Pakistani, come from a lineage of taxpaying ancestors and, to top it all, one of them even looks Chinese! I am sure if somebody could teach them how to eat with chopsticks, they would literally shine in China. Don't you think it is a matter of human rights here? The VIP children are regular globe-trotters, whereas my poor kids haven't even seen the Karachi airport. Tusk tusk, and I thought we were a democracy.

Please don't think I have anything against the Bhutto children. Those of us who have grown up on Benazir Bhutto's politics, and find her life struggle hopelessly romantic, have sure followed the aspect of her life called motherhood. O sure we love the Bhutto/Zardari trio. Who wouldn't who has a heart? We still well up every time we see the baby pictures. But as BB's voters, what we sure don't understand is what exactly young Bilawal was doing sitting next to President Obama, or why his picture once appeared next to the Quaid's on a billboard, or why Asifa appears on a polio vaccine advertisement.

Hey, I have a question. When are they going to find something for Bakhtawar?

But then a very strong argument is: who cares? This seems to be a pretty weighty argument around here, this 'who cares?' business. Especially when there is so much going on inside the country, who really cares what the VIP kids clap at in China, or which governor they endorse on a billboard? The only people who care are the agents of the establishment, namely the J for journalists, constantly conspiring to discredit the government 24/7. 

Hey, I have a question. Who was trying to discredit the government in the US when the Obama girls planned that trip to Indonesia along with their daddy? Although the trip was official with some tracing of familial roots thrown in, and was later cancelled; yet we did hear something that sounded like taxpayers' expense!

But then this is Pakistan where since time immemorial there has been a tradition of grooming the VIP children to become future leaders. So it is grooming that is happening in China these days. Hey, I have a question. Since it is OK to groom one's kith and kin while on job doing business for the country, what is wrong with Shahid Afridi's children? Why don't we allow him to groom his children on the field and rid ourselves of the cricket board? The only thing he will have to do is give them a cricket ball to chew, tie a blindfold around their heads, and let them loose around the field. The more they run around clueless, dropping catches, munching balls, and hurting their fingernails or earlobes, the more they will be groomed for the future of cricket in Pakistan.

You know, this suggestion of mine is quite a hit in the Punjab Assembly. All the MPs have decided to do some grooming and brooming while on job. The strategy is three 'J'ayed; focusing on the art and craft of jostling, jeering and jabbering. The learners can take notes if they want to. The only condition is that they will have to spell their journals with a G. 

Or was it generals with a J? Hey, wait a minute, I have a question…

The writer is an academic. Email: adiah








Is it possible to write about events at home sitting in a foreign land? Some of my fellow writers, like our group editor Shaheen Sehbai and columnist Anjum Niaz, do it all the time. But, I find it a bit disconcerting.

I have diligently read Pakistani papers on the net for the last six days but it is hard to find the right emotional tone for the two major events of last week; more fake degrees being unearthed by the Higher Education Commission and the Punjab Assembly resolution, allegedly on the behest of the PML-N leadership, against the media. 

The fake-degree issue is not unimportant because it indicates fraudulent behaviour. It is a window into the moral compass of our elected representatives and enough ground to make the presumption that people who cheat to get what they want are hardly likely to solve problems of the nation. 

Yet, an argument can be made that only a small percentage has been caught doing it and this reflects poorly on neither democracy nor the credibility of national and provincial legislatures. The offenders can be punished and life can go on. So why should the politicians make such a big deal of it? 

They are in a panic mode. Unable to find a justification for lies and cheating of their fellow members or blame usual suspects like the agencies, there is much angst and welling up of anger against the media. The feeling is that had it not dug so deeply or given so much space, this issue would have quietly died.

This expectation of course makes no sense because the media will always hold elected representatives to account in a democracy. This is its business and those people who choose to be in public life should be prepared for it. Imagining that the media will ignore something as juicy as lies and fraud is childish and frankly perverse.

Events of the past week show that the top leadership of the political parties is as incensed about this intrusive scrutiny as the members. It is not possible for a resolution in the Punjab Assembly to take place without the knowledge of the PML-N leadership. And the support extended to it by the PPP and the Q league cannot be without the consent of its leaders. 

This indicates that the fear is far more pervasive than would be justified by the bleak future of a few lying members. The only probable culprit is a deep sense of insecurity that pervades the political leadership as a whole about the future of democracy. There seems to be a feeling that this fake-degree issue has the potential to upset the entire democratic applecart.

It has to be something as serious as this because otherwise why would the PPP leadership gun for Dr Javed Leghari, chairman of the HEC, in such a crude way? He is a widely respected former head of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) and a past PPP senator to boot. He also quietly resigned his Senate seat so that the leadership could accommodate the former finance minister Shaukat Tarin. 

He is now under the cosh and in a most obnoxious way. The cheapest of old, cheap tricks is being employed by involving his brother, a senior civil servant, in cases of corruption. This combination of fear, arrogance and stupidity shows a high degree of desperation. 

Unless it has completely become unhinged, the PPP leadership would not have tried this trick knowing it would create a huge stink. Yet it is ready to bear this odium to pressurise the HEC because it wants it to bury this issue or at least make it to go slow. This is a ridiculous demand because the HEC has no greater role than passing on what the universities send it. The targeting of Dr Javed Leghari seems utterly insane.

One may have deep reservations about the moral conduct of the PPP leadership or its ability to govern, but it has always been clever in a street smart way. But, there is nothing smart about exposing itself to ridicule in this way. There is thus only one explanation; it is panicking in a big way.

But, are these fears justified? Let us assume that ten or fifteen per cent of the members are disqualified. It will create a huge hole because a large number of bye-elections would have to be conducted. But, bye-elections have been taking place over the last two years and have been managed. This will be a larger exercise, but so what? It can still be handled. Why the panic?

The only reason can be that the problem of fake degrees is much greater than currently imagined. Five or ten per cent can be handled but what if it is close to fifty per cent? Most of the mullahs clearly have false degrees so they will have to go. What if the majority of the idle rich who reside in our assemblies also have dubious credentials?

We know that education has never been a priority among the landed elite and it is they who populate our assemblies the most. It is not unimaginable that many, if not a majority, have fiddled around with the degree requirement to get elected. It is possible that if a proper scrutiny takes place, we may no longer have a quorum in the assemblies.

Now if this is true, and the leaderships of the parties would know, there is indeed a crisis and a cause for panic. By the by, is there a requirement to state educational qualifications in the nomination papers for the presidency? I would be curious to see what Mr Zardari has written. 

Clearly, if the potential problem is bigger than currently visible, the panic and the pressure on the HEC, while obnoxious, are understandable. If it does its job diligently and with speed, our august assemblies may be wiped out without the need for any judicial or other outside intervention.

This is what is scaring the leadership of most parties. They see the potential of a total collapse of elected houses and the need for a fresh election. Even on this score, some as the PML-N should not be unhappy. By general reckoning, they want fresh elections.

But the problem is that the Constitution mandates a caretaker step to conduct elections and quite frankly, the conditions are not conducive for this to happen at the moment. The fear among the politicos could be that once a caretaker setup is in place, its tenure may get extended beyond ninety days.

Also, it must be remembered that politicos in general are deeply scared of the permanent establishment of this country. This amorphous entity has now expanded from just the armed forces to include the judiciary, the bureaucracy, civil society, the media, the business community and large parts of the intelligentsia. 

The politicians know that their stock among this powerful section of society is low to the point of extinction. They have every reason to worry that if by some happenstance they are out, they may remain so for a long time.









The murder of Habib Jalib Baloch, a seasoned lawyer, former parliamentarian and secretary general of the Balochistan National Party (Mengal), is the most high-profile murder of a politician after Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti in recent years. This came a couple of days after another veteran political leader, Maula Bakhsh Dashti, a Central Committee member of the National Party and former Nazim of Kech district, was shot down in Turbat. Already sizzling separatist sentiments in Balochistan will gain more heat in days to come. Islamabad shows its concern, sends condolences to the traumatised and aggrieved family and party-mates instruct the provincial government to institute a judicial inquiry. 

Unfortunately, remaining worried and concerned is where it all stops in Islamabad. It seems there still is a lack of awareness about how swiftly things are moving from bad to worse. Or is it happening with the consent of those at the helm of affairs? If it is not, then why is their concern not translated into purposive action?

Fundamentally, it is the responsibility of the federation and its institutions, including the military and civilian bureaucracy, but Balochistan has a functioning legislature and a PPP-led coalition government for the last two and a half years. All but one of the sixty-odd members of the assembly remain part of the cabinet, true to the tradition of appeasement, political patronage and financial perks offered to the provincial legislators at an incomparable scale in Balochistan always. These people are responsible for implementing the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan package, rolled out of late by the federal government which includes doubling of development expenditure in the province. Would this money be proffered to the blue-eyed contractors, touts and supporters, who would in turn heavily grease the palms of decision-makers? Or will it be spent on much-needed development schemes for citizens starving for basic services and decent livelihoods? 

Have we ever heard a clear position of the Balochistan government from its chief minister, let alone a strategy, on rising alienation in Baloch population, disgruntlement of youth and intelligentsia, interference of external powers, be it India, the US or the UAE, that we keep hearing from many others, and terms of engagement with those who have taken up arms to wage their struggle? What have they done to save the lives and property of common folk, Baloch and non-Baloch alike, from target killing, sectarian or ethnic? Why do the perpetrators of violence go scot-free if the government is committed to restoring law and order and healing the wounds of those who are kept out of the development mainstream for decades? The chief minister prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul and said that may Allah Almighty give courage to the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss with fortitude. He ordered a judicial inquiry and directed the law enforcement agencies to arrest the culprits besides beefing up security in Quetta and other sensitive areas. 

If he is unhappy with the presence of FC in his province, he should say that. If he is not, then he should take a position. But this is what you get when you have an inefficient and non-representative government, serving no one's purpose. Federal government did not take all stakeholders on board either when putting together the Balochistan package. No less will help other than committing to real provincial autonomy, fair share in resources, putting an end to disappearances of political workers and investment in common people rather than looking out for and appeasing compliant sardars, and fresh elections in Balochistan. 

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email:








PAKISTAN is entangled in a cobweb of internal and external conspiracies aimed at weakening the strength of the nation and the federation. Apart from the extremism and militancy necessitating the ongoing war on terror, there are incidents of target killings in Karachi and Balochistan, which are apparently aimed at creating divisions and discard among communities, sects and provinces. Central General Secretary of Balochistan National Party (BNP) and former Senator Habib Jalib Baloch became the latest casualty on Wednesday when he was shot dead by some unknown armed men in Quetta.

His tragic death is shrouded in mystery as no one has any authentic information about the background of the incident or those who committed this heinous crime. Some circles are jumping to the conclusion by pointing fingers at intelligence and law-enforcing agencies but they too have nothing to substantiate their claim. Their allegation seems to be a far-fetched idea because Habib Jalib was a moderate and peace loving leader, considered to be a voice of sanity and reason. He was not causing any harm to the system or the State and, therefore, there was no cause for ill-will by the State agencies. Instead, his was a supportive role in a complicated scenario and there was every justification to protect and promote such personalities. It is possible that elements having extremist tendencies were behind the tragedy as Jalib was neither on board nor pursuing their agenda and instead advocating the cause of national unity and harmony. Similarly, it is also likely that the enemy agents who are having a free hand in Balochistan for the last several years might have perpetrated the crime as part of their designs to destabilize Balochistan and create hatred against the federation. The enemy apparently succeeded in its plan as the killing triggered strong protest in Quetta and Baloch-dominated areas of the Province where angry protestors blocked Quetta-Karachi, Quetta-Sibi and Quetta-Taftan national highways, torched the rest house of Buildings and Roads in Nushki, smashed windowpanes of dozens of vehicles and shops in various parts of the metropolis and other parts of the Province. The routine life was paralyzed as business activities in the provincial capital and some other parts of the province came to a standstill. Diehard people have their own agenda and they are pursuing it through different means and tactics. Killing of Habib Jalib is a serious blow to the peace of the Province and a national loss and, therefore, concerted efforts should be made to address Balochistan problem through a combination of measures. 







TALKING to a Pakistani defence delegation, headed by Defence Minister Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar, in Ankara, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is an ardent advocate of cementing strategic partnership with Pakistan, has floated the idea of initiating joint defence production projects between the two countries. He emphasized that the existing strategic partnership between Pakistan and Turkey provides an opportunity for joint ventures among defence production organs of the defence forces of the two countries.

According to defence analysts, heavy investment in defence industry during the last two decades has helped modernize Turkey's military into a crack fighting force while reducing the country's dependence on the costly imported weapons. Turkey's defence products range from modern jet fighters and complex components of anti-aircraft missiles to high speed patrol boats to frigates to armoured vehicles to sophisticated air defence and electronic command and control systems. Pakistan too has attained self-sufficiency in defence production sector as indigenous facilities are not only fulfilling requirements of our armed forces but the surplus is exported to a number of friendly countries. Its defence products meet European and NATO standards and that is why its customers include countries like the United States. Last year, the country entered into agreements with six renowned international firms for joint ventures for manufacturing of modern weapons. Therefore, by combining their expertise and pooling their resources, Pakistan and Turkey can not only meet modern-day requirements of their armed forces but also fulfil needs of a number of Islamic and other countries. The Western suppliers, who are dominating the field, often impose conditions that impinge upon the sovereignty of the buyer States and, therefore, Turkey and Pakistan have great potential to turn their joint projects into profitable ventures. Of course, there are issues of financing but friendly Gulf countries can assist a lot, as these ventures could be of immense help to them as well. It is not for the first time that Turkey has offered joint ventures in defence production but response from our side has been very slow. Hopefully, this time the timely offer would be responded with the same spirit and practical steps would be taken to translate this dream into a reality for the benefit of the two brotherly countries.







THE Federal Cabinet, at its meeting on Wednesday, took several decisions that would go well with the people as these are aimed at providing much needed relief to them. In the backdrop of resentment and anger being expressed by intending pilgrims over hike in PIA airfare for Hajj, the Cabinet reduced the fare by Rs 9,000. Similarly, it also decided that there would be no power outages during Sehr and Iftar in the month of Ramzan.

However, the major relief for the inflation-ridden people would be the Ramzan package worth Rs 2.27 billion approved by the Cabinet with the objective of reducing the prices of essential commodities during the holy month. The allocation would be utilized to provide subsidized items through the network of the Utility Stores, which is already contributing a lot in mitigating the sufferings of the people. In view of the bitter experience of steep rise in prices during the holy month, the package would mean much to the poorer segments of the society. However, it must be kept in mind that despite expansion of the outlets of the USC, it has either no presence at all or has symbolic presence in many of the cities and towns while majority of those living in rural and far-flung areas remain un-served. Therefore, the private sector should be taken on board and persuaded to exercise self-regulation to ensure provision of essential commodities to the consumers at reduced rates during Ramzan with a view to mitigating the sufferings of the poor. Federal and Provincial Governments should also activate price control mechanism to discourage the tendency of fleecing the consumers with immunity and that too during the holy month.











South India is very different from the two states that were the hub of the Pakistan movement during 1935-47,Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. While these two states remain economically backward and social tensions remain high, the south has emerged as the core of India's economic success, displacing the west of India, despite the performance of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Along with Delhi, Kerala is the only state in India with 100% literacy, a status it reached more than a decade before the national capital did. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the heart of India's Information Technology industry, with the capital of the latter state, Hyderabad, being nicknamed "Cyberabad". The state of Tamil Nadu has developed into a manufacturing hub, especially for automobiles. Throughout the region - and despite the many barriers created by state and central regulations whose sole purpose is to ensure a steady flow of bribes - educational institutions are coming up at a fast pace. The region's politicians are usually pragmatists rather than ideologues, focussing on measures that would raise the rate of development.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who is now in Pakistan, is from this pragmatic region of India, which is why he will be looking to ensure that tangible achievements and not just an exchange of toasts at dinners come from his visit. As chief minister of Karnataka during 1999-2004, Krishna supervised the growth of the IT sector and used his diplomatic skills to ensure that the state was not neglected by the BJP-controlled central government despite being ruled by the (then) opposition Congress Party. Bangalore in particular witnessed a significant increase in urban infrastructure during his tenure. A votary of modernisation, Krishna appointed a modern Muslim lady politician, Nafees Fazal, to the post of Medical Education Minister, even though conservatives within the community frowned on the fact that she refused to wear the Hijab, and refused to stop her two daughters going about publicly in denims. During his 49 years in electoral politics, Krishna has always sought conciliation rather than confrontation, in the process building up relationships across political and social divides. In this task, he has been helped by his wife Prema, who throughout her 46 years of married life has refused to accept any post except that of housewife and mother to two daughters, both of whom are married to successful businessmen and who have followed their mother's example in staying away from the temptations of political office to which so many siblings of the powerful have succumbed. However, his present assignment - of seeking a working relationship between India and Pakistan - will test all the skills he has acquired in his 78 years. 

What Krishna is hoping is that his southern pragmatism will get reciprocated by his hosts in Pakistan, so that together they can work out a road map whereby India and Pakistan become pluses rather than minuses for each other. If Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is the "hard" face of the Manmohan Singh government, S M Krishna is the concilatory one, but he will need to always look across his shoulder at the hardliners, even though his focus will be on forging a practical arrangement that can take forward cooperation between both sides, a task in which his political seniority can help.

Because then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao chose (present Union Law Minister) M Veerappa Moily in 1992 to be the chief minister of Karnataka rather then himself, Krishna became a strong supporter of Rao's bete noire, Sonia Gandhi, who he used to regularly and ostentatiously to visit even during Rao's tenure as 1992-96 PM. Krishna's loyalty to Sonia Gandhi paid off in 1998,when she removed him from six years of obscurity and made him the Karnataka Congress Party President. In that capacity, Krishna secured an impressive victory for his party in the 1999 state assembly polls, and was appointed chief minister by Sonia, who backed him throughout his five years in office, despite several efforts by colleagues in the state Congress Party to weaken and if possible depose him. Krishna also remained in touch with Manmohan Singh, who chose him as External Affairs Minister last year, confident that he would follow the guidelines mapped out for him by the PMO rather than seek to promote his own policy prescriptions. With Krishna as Minister and Nirupama Rao as Foreign Secretary, the External Affairs Ministry has come under the sway of the Prime Minister's Office to a degree not seen since the period when Indira Gandhi was the PM.

In the past, the Pakistan establishment was seen by South Block as a monolith similar to the Chinese Communist Party, except that here the power was seen as concentrated not in Party HQ but in GHQ. With all his drawbacks, it is a fact that the period under Pervez Musharraf saw a flowering of civil society and its institutions in Pakistan. Indeed, Musharraf seems to have gone the way of India's Narasimha Rao: leaders who implemented transformational reforms but who were subsequently reviled by the media and by the political class. However, the Indian establishment has been slow to change its policies to adapt to such a change, and many elements within it still see the military and its associate institutions as being the only significant players in Pakistan (thereby causing a feeling of hopelessness at the prospect of a rapprochement, it being an article of faith that GHQ seeks nothing less than the fracturing of India into multiple weak entities). These days, an increasing number of analysts in India say that the GHQ in Rawalpindi is supported more by the Pentagon and the PLA than by its own people, although many in Pakistan point with pride to their armed forces.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone against the many hardliners in his own team by seeking a politically viable - repeat, politically viable - understanding with Pakistan establishment. He would like to once again promote commercial, cultural and other links between two peoples who get on famously with each other in a private setting, after such cooperation was interrupted by the 26-28/11 Mumbai attacks. The task before Krishna is to use his considerable charm and friendly nature to convince the non-military segment of the Pakistan establishment that geopolitical currents make it self-defeating for the two countries to remain hostile to each other. His effort has been to seek out areas of congruence, even while accepting that differences of opinion exist on selected key issues. Prime Minister Singh is working equally hard on another front, the consolidation of relations with China, the way he succeeded in doing with the US. Over the past year, contacts between China and India have multiplied. and the two sides are reaching a point where the atmospherics are finally turning positive again, for the first time since 1956.

This columnist calculates that Sino-Indian trade will cross $100 billion in three years, thereby making the PRC the largest trading partner of India. As China can be expected to have a positive trade balance of about $40 billiion, this will act as a powerful incentive not to "rock the boat" with India. It is a fact that in China, as in Pakistan, the military takes a much more hardline view on India than the civilian establishment. The problem with such a negative perspective is that it may become self-actualizing . If there is a hostile Chinese policy towards India, the certain reaction from South Block would be to put in place policies that are negative to Chinese interests, such as the recent blocking of multibillion dollar orders for Huawei. The visit last week of National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Beijing was to impress upon his Chinese hosts that a mutual escalation of negative actions does not take place, so that India and China become allies rather than rivals. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is looking to ensure his place in Indian history as one of the great PMs of the country. This he seeks to achieve by putting in place - even if at temporary political cost – a framework for double-digit growth of the economy. In foreign policy, his objective is to warm up relations with China, and to normalize them with Pakistan. It is a difficult task, but one that S M Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi will need to tackle.

The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.









Last month has been the most violent in Afghanistan having demanded more than a hundred lives of Western soldiers. This surge of violence and the unrelenting initiative of the Afghan Taleban despite the surge of foreign troops and their deployment of lethal weapons against the insurgents is interpreted by a growing number of observers as a sign that the Taleban can not be defeated militarily regardless of the numbers of foreign troops or their technical superiority. So why not go for a peaceful political solution before it is too late for the adamant American leadership who has lost its credibility before the Taliban, one time American allies in the war against Soviet Union. This lesson which has been proven right many a times in history including Vietnam and many other places seems to be slowly-slowly now coming home to the West; Secretary Defense Robert Gates is reported to have supported this peace talks on CNN. The US as many other nations are famous for refusing to learn lessons from history. For instance, in the US American film "Rambo III" which plays in Afghanistan during the time of Russian occupation Rambo is saying while encountering a Russian enemy that "People fighting against foreign occupation can not be defeated". Now why this truth could not be applied to the real world? 

From the pages of our national as well as from the international press we can learn that after nine long years of warfare, destruction and civilian deaths finally the Karzai government for its own reasons is aiming to strike a deal with the taleban. After the Afghanistan conference in January this year it was revealed that the West is unable or unwilling to take practical steps towards a political settlement with the Taleban; that is why Karzai is trying to make his own peace with them; a peace that would secure his power also. The peace jirga conducted in Kabul last month among others demanded the de-listing of the names of Afghan taleban from the terrorist list of the UN as one of the preconditions to facilitate the negotiations with the militants. It seems that this process is now underway with the support of the UN envoy to Afghanistan Stafan de Mistura and the rather hesitant support of Mr. Holbrooke. Though the outcome of this whole process is not yet clear it seems inevitable that something in this direction has to happen given the wisdom of Rambo III which is coming home to a growing number of people and the rising resistance in the US Congress and the parliaments of other European countries why to waste so much money in Afghanistan, while Afghan soldiers have started killing NATO soldiers and the economies at home are seriously in jeopardy. 

The firing of General Mc Chrystal and the installation of General Petraeus can be seen as a last-ditch effort which is unlikely to turn around the tide. Afghan tribal elders and religious leaders agreed a few days back to make peace with the Taliban, handing President Hamid Karzai a mandate to open negotiations with the insurgents who are fighting foreign forces and his government. Karzai had called the "peace jirga" to win national support for his plan to offer an amnesty, cash and job incentives to Taliban foot soldiers while arranging asylum for top figures in a second country and getting their names struck off a U.N. and U.S. blacklist of terrorists. "Now this peace path may become a reality, the path that has been shown and endorsed by the peace jirga, we will go on that step-by-step and this path will Inshallah, take us to our destination," President Karazai told the delegates gathered in a tent under heavy security. He urged the Taliban, who have virtually fought tens of thousands of U.S.-led NATO forces and the Afghan army to a bloody stalemate, to stop fighting in a bid to win peace for this region and provide a corridor to occupation forces to leave Afghanistan. 

The UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon has also welcomed the decisions of the three-day jirga, saying it was a significant step toward reaching out to all Afghans to promote peace and stability. "The United Nations supports these national efforts to end conflict in Afghanistan, and remains fully committed to working with the Afghan authorities as they strive for a peaceful life," he said in a statement. But there were few signs that the Taliban, who have dismissed the jirga as a phony American-inspired show to perpetuate their occupation of the country, were ready to respond to the peace offer if concrete assurance was made available. The Taliban want the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country before any negotiations can begin. The insurgency is at its most intense since their ouster in 2001 and analysts say there is little reason for them to sue for peace. The militants had even attacked the opening of the jirga with rockets and gunfire just as Karzai was speaking inside a giant marquee in the west of the capital. On the closing day the president was forced to take a helicopter to the tent site to address the closing session, this is the real situation and NATO and Americans also want to leave as Britain has already announced they cannot stay in Hellmund province. 

Afghanistan's direct neighbors including Pakistan and Iran and near neighbors such as India and China are all seen as battling for influence ahead of a planned U.S. military withdrawal set to begin from mid-2011. It will make more sense if the moderate forces amongst the Taliban are persuaded to surrender their arms and work with the United Nations for peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

We hope that some sense will prevail in the civil and military leadership in Pakistan and they will not waste further time in fighting this proxy war and try to work out solution on the lines of peace agreement. Presently, only the warlords and corrupt politicians of Afghanistan are benefiting from the American military aid while the masses are suffering termendously. Same is the case with Pakistan. It is therefore earnestly desired that killing of civilian population in Afghanistan and Pakistan be stopped immediately as a predator of this peace agreement. Progress and prosperity can then be achieved by applying honest approach.









The economic life of Islam is also based upon solid foundations and Divine instructions. Earning one's living through decent labor is not only a duty but a great virtue as well. Dependence of any able effortless person on somebody else for a livelihood is a religious sin, a social stigma and disgraceful humility. A Muslim is enjoined by God to be self-supporting and to stay away from being a liability on anybody. Islam respects all kinds of work for earning one's livelihood so long as there is no indecency or wrong involved. With a clear conscience and due respect from society the Muslim can roll up his sleeves and undertake any kind of work available to provide for himself and his dependents. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported as having said that it is far better for one even to take his rope, cut wood, pile it up and sell it in order to eat and give charity than to beg others whether they give him or not. According to Islam, the status of honest working men cannot be lowered on account of the kind of work they are doing for a living. Yet the laboring workers have no limited scope for improving their lots and raising their standards as high as possible. They have equal opportunities at their disposal and enjoy freedom of enterprise. 

The economic system of Islam is not drawn in the light of arithmetical calculations and capacities of production alone. Rather, it is drawn and conceived in the light of a comprehensive system of morals and principles. The person who is working for another person or for a firm or an institution is ordained by God to do his work with efficiency and honesty. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that if any of you undertakes to do any work, God loves to see him do it well and with efficiency. Once the work is done, the worker is entitled to a fair wage for his services. Failure by the employer to pay the just wage, or attempts to cut it down and waver on it is a punishable act, according to the Law of God. Business transactions enjoy a great deal of attention from Islam. Honest trade is permitted and blessed by God. This may be carried out through individuals, companies, agencies and the like. But all business deals should be concluded with frankness and honesty. Cheating, biding defects of merchandise from the dealers, exploiting the needs of customers, monopoly of stocks to force one's own prices are all sinful acts and punishable by the Islamic Law. If one is to make a decent living, it has to be made through honest ways and hard endeavor. Otherwise, easy come, easy go, and it is not only that, but anybody that is bred with unlawful provisions will be, according to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), a burning fuel to the Hell Fire on the Day of Judgment. To combat cheating and exploitation, Islam demands honesty in business, warns the cheaters, encourages decent work and forbids usury or the taking of interest just in return for lending money to the needy. 

This is to show man that he rightfully owns only what he works for, and that exploitation of other people's pressing needs is irreligious, inhuman and immoral. In the Qur'an God says: Those who devour usury will not stand except as stands one whom the Evil One by his touch has driven to madness. That is because they say: 'trade is like usury'. But God has permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who, after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for God (to judge). But those who repeat (the offense) are Companions of the Fire; they will abide therein (for ever). God will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity; for He loves not creatures ungrateful and wicked (2:274-276). And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice) in order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance (55:7-9). This is to guide man to resort to justice and straightforwardness in all his dealings and transactions. The future of cheaters is grim and their doom is awful. Here is how the Qur'an looks into the matter: Woe to those who deal in fraud, those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account on a Mighty Day, a Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds (83:1-6)? 

Besides that, there are numerous Traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) excluding the cheaters, exploiters, monopolizers and dishonest business people from the band of the true Muslims. Any business deal that involves injustice or cheating or exploitation is strictly inhibited and cancelable by the Law even after it is concluded. The main purpose of the Islamic legislation's on economics and commerce is to secure the rights of the individual and maintain the solidarity of society, to introduce high morality to the world of business and enforce the Law of God in that sphere of enterprise. It is logical and consistent that Islam should be concerned with such aspects as these, because it is not merely a spiritual formula but a complete system of life in all its walks. Proprietors are constantly reminded of the fact that they are in reality mere agents appointed by God to administer their holdings. There is nothing in Islam to stop the Muslim from attaining wealth and endeavoring for material improvements through lawful means and decent channels. Yet the fact remains that man comes to this world empty-handed and departs from it likewise. The actual and real owner of things is God alone of Whom any proprietor is simply an appointed agent, a mere trustee. This is not only a fact of life but also has a significant bearing on human behavior. It makes the proprietor always ready to spend in the way of God and to contribute to worthy causes. It makes him responsive to the needs of his society and gives him an important role to play, a sacred mission to fulfill. It saves him from the pit of selfishness, greed and injustice. This is the true conception of property in Islam, and that is the actual status of proprietors. The Qur'an considers possession of wealth a trying test, and not a token of virtuous excellence or privileged nobility or a means of exploitation. God says: 

Although man is encouraged to work, is free to enterprise, is entitled to earn and possess, the fact that he is a mere trustee provides the necessary measure to insure proper handling of his possessions, his trusts. He has authority to earn, to invest and to spend. Yet in so doing he is guided by high principles to save him from going astray. An example may be sufficient to illustrate the point. Proprietors are not unreservedly free to spend their money or handle their properties the way they please. There are certain rules of expenditure to be followed. In the words of the Qur'an, God enjoins upon the proprietor to fulfill his financial obligations towards his fellow men, and to be moderate in his private spending. He is always reminded of the fact that God is the Real Provider and Actual Possessor. Here is the declaration of the Qur'an: 

And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer. But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily, spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones, and the Evil One is to his Lord (Himself) ungrateful. Make not your hand tied (like a niggard's) to your neck, nor stretch it north to its utmost reach (like a foolish spendthrift); lest you become rebuked and destitute. Verily your Lord does provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleases, and He provides in a just measure. For He does know and regard all His servants (1 7:26-27, 29-30). 








July 14, 2010 again created panic and sounded alarm in Mumbai when apparently Chlorine Gas leakage occurred at 4 a.m and over 80 people were taken to the hospital in a critical condition. As per media, out of effected individuals the condition of six students is very critical. The leakage took placed from a cylinder near the Bombay Port Trust in Sewri area. According to the reports "It's a huge cylinder down below various other cylinders (from which the gas is leaking). However, the signs of victims' personals created doubt about the types of the gas in the locals. 

On the conditions of anonymity some of the renowned locals and businessman gave serious reservations and claimed that in fact the leaked cylinder was part of the consignment that was suppose to be transported to chemical industries which are world over known for production of biological and chemical weapons. The claim of locals could be true since as per page 24 of Section – 1 of NBC Proliferation Challenges, Indian has already India Acknowledged its chemical warfare program in 1997 and stated that related facilities would be open for inspection. India has a sizable chemical industry which could be source of dual-use chemicals for countries of proliferation concern. U.S. Department of Defense, Proliferation and also confirmed the facts in their various reports too. However, the signs on the skins and unconscious of effected individuals are quite closer to the symptoms cause as result of poison gases like phosgene, Mustered, Tear and Chlorine Gases. More over Customs authorities also stated that the cylinder under discussion is among various cylinders seized by custom authorities. As per reports the custom official failed to satisfy the reporter of news agency when was asked about the type of gas filled in the cylinder. The Mumbai occurrence also created terror amongst the citizens because of unforgettable miseries of Bhopal Union Carbide Pesticide Plant, when over 8000 innocent people killed and more than 5000 suffered with serious injuries as a result of gas leakage in 1984. The affected individuals of Bhopal have still not been compensated and keep on crying for their rights in even in the highest courts. The entire discussions confirm that Indian scientists and authorities are lacking expertise in handling sensitive and dangerous material related to nukes and gases. 

Precisely, commenting the major incident in nukes pants, theft cases of enriched Uranium, murdering and harassing of nuclear staff by intelligence agency and leakage of gases are in on increase. Reportedly, because of poor safety and security arrangement on May 14 2010, another incident of poor radiation security green place radiation experts have identified eight hotspots in New Delhi Mayapuri area which have 5000 times the natural background radiation defined as safe by the department of atomic energy. In this incident one individual died and eleven others were injured. The nukes experts always have shown strong concern over Indian poor safety and nuke arrangements on the nuke plants and handlers. In this reared New Delhi never paid heed to IAEA concerns over nukes safety and security. Almost 160 cases of theft, loss and misplacement of radioactive source have been registered in the local police. Again recently a radiographer boarding a train in New Delhi carrying an industrial gamma radiography exposure device was stolen from him and never found. In April 2007 a radiography Camera stolen from Jadadishphir near Lucknow could not be found till to date. 

In November 2009, fifty five employees consumed radioactive material after titrated founded its way into the drinking water cooler in Kaiga Nuclear plant in Karnataka. The leakage of 4-14 tones of heavy water from the pipes at madras atomic processing plant in Tamil Nadu. Six workers have been exposed to high doses of radioactive radiation. Indian police found dead body of the nuclear scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam from Kali River in Jun 2009. The scientist was in possession of highly sensitive / classified information. On 29 December 2009, a fire broke out at the BARC, killing two scientists identified as Umang Singh and Partha Bagga. Anantha Narayanan, a scientific working in the computer department of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam is missing since Feb 2010. A 48 year old Madhadevan lyer, scientist of the BARC was found dead in his official residence in Feb 2010. 

Mr Thirumala Prasad Thenka, a scientist of Raja Ramanna Centre for Advance Technology (RRCAT) committed suicide by hanging himself on 12 Apr 2010. On 28 April 2010, Delhi Police traces Cobalt – 60 to DU Chemistry Department. In short, such incidents indicate that these scientists were involved in some criminal acts such as nuclear materials thefts / proliferation. The possibilities of killing by terrorist / extremists groups after getting nuclear secrets can not be ruled out. 

But same time I would like to express that Nuke Watchdog IAEA has not yet carried out detailed inspection of Indian Nuclear plants. The opinion of locals, customs officer, businessmen referred reposts in the article and todays gas leaking incident of Mumbai do confirm that India is preparing chemical and biological weapons. World community should ask India to stop further expansion of their nuclear and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programme. Pakistan should also discuss the matter of nuclear proliferation with Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna in ongoing SAARC Interior Ministers Conference. 

—The writer is a political & defence analyst.








In Asia's war on terror, India's Maoists and Afghanistan's Taliban fighters have proved some of the toughest and most tenacious enemies. Indian and U.S.-led forces in both conflict zones could learn greatly from each other's shortcomings. The two theaters are proving similar. Both in Afghanistan and India's Maoist-affected states, the collapse or lack of governance remains a critical factor that aids insurgency and generates popular support for the extremists. Fatalities among the foreign forces in Afghanistan reached a record high this year; similarly, casualty figures among India's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force also recently marked an all-time high. In Afghanistan, the US-led coalition is frustrated with the local Afghan security forces' inability to secure areas once cleared of the insurgents. 

A similar incompetence prevails among India's police forces in the Maoist-affected states. None of India's state police forces, with the exception of Andhra Pradesh's, have the ability to lead anti-Maoist operations. And both forces have recently had a change of command at the top after public spats with civilian leaders: In Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal was shown the door, while in India, Vijay Raman, CRPF's Special Director General of Police in charge of the anti-Maoist operations too was fired.

There are common lessons here for both commands. For a start, the extremists' military threat must be neutralized by external security forces to give local forces time to gain skills to deal with the extremists and ward them off in future. This strategy requires more boots on the ground—both external and local—even if in the long run local police will shoulder the responsibility to hold onto the area. The second challenge is to bolster forces. India's Ministry of Home Affairs plans to fill 350,000 vacancies in the state police forces over the next five years. But Delhi might want to examine what happened in Afghanistan when the Obama administration ramped up the Afghan National Army's numbers to 250,000 from the current 130,000 by 2014. However, a recent Pentagon report notes 86% of the new recruits lack basic levels of literacy. The Afghan National Police is also plagued by inefficiency, corruption and cronyism. It is possible that in a rush to fill the vacancies too fast, the police departments in Indian Maoist-affected states too will be burdened with incompetent personnel.

The third challenge is to tackle the insurgents across a wide geographical area. American and NATO forces have increasingly depended on large-scale operations in concentrated extremist strongholds to expand the area under their dominance. On the contrary, India's Green Hunt operation against the Maoists has been a multi-state operation. With the state police forces proving inadequate partners, the central forces have been spread too thin over a vast area. This makes carrying out regular counterinsurgency operations difficult, not to speak of pinpointed precision strikes. A state-by-state approach would be the most plausible tactic to adopt. Andhra Pradesh, once the worst Maoist-affected state, managed to weaken the extremists even with limited forces, while neighboring states continued to struggle with the problem. There is no reason why such a measure cannot be adopted in any states like Chhattisgarh or West Bengal, which have been Maoist strongholds for quite a long time. Another important challenge is to decapitate the enemy leadership. For years, India tried to negotiate with the Maoists; so much so that the recent killing of Azad, the Communist Party of India-Maoist spokesman, has been described by a section of the Indian intelligentsia as a setback to the peace prospects. Yet Andhra Pradesh's failed 2004 peace process and other examples show that the Maoists have used talks as an excuse to stall and regroup. Similarly in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation process to win over the Taliban leadership is doomed to fail until significant military gains are achieved against the insurgents, driving them to a point of desperation and to real negotiations.

These comparisons are by no means exhaustive. But there is clearly a similar road map to success in both theaters, which includes an emphasis on institution building, the provision of security, better governance and delivery of basic essential services to local residents. Both U.S.-led forces and Indian forces have suffered through a long conflict, as have the citizens they're trying to protect. It's time to learn from each other and figure out how to win a durable peace. —The Wall Street Journal 







It is bewildering to think that a megalopolis of Dhaka's size has a capacity of picking only half the solid waste generated, amounting to 4,200 tons, everyday. Had it not been for the rag pickers who collect 800-1,000 tons of such waste daily, the disposal problem would be even severer. So about 1,000 tons of such garbage get straightway into the drainage system. This explains to a large extent why the capital city is suffering its water-logging problem perennially. Clearly, much of the solution to the city's water-logging depends on its efficient waste management. The Dhaka City Corporation's 8,030 cleaners are capable of collecting 2,200 tons of solid waste, but do they perform their job regularly? Then it is important to know if the waste they collect is treated before their disposal. Answers to both these questions are likely to be in the negative. 

If untreated waste including effluent ends up in rivers, lakes, canals and other water bodies, not only does sanitation become a casualty, the environment of the city also gets terribly polluted. Add to this the hospital waste which requires specialised treatment and only one or two hospitals have facilities for this. What is galling is that an array of domestic waste materials is dumped together with no arrangement for their separation. To make the matter worse, construction materials are littered all around and these also find their way into drains, obstructing the channels all the way.


Introduction of compactor truck

The introduction of compactor truck, courtesy of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), initially on Dhaka University campus may improve the disposal system. But until the ugly iron garbage bins left on the roadside are not replaced, condition is unlikely to change much. But dumping of solid waste without treatment cannot be a solution too. Recycling alone holds the key. We need to go for such technologies that are capable of efficiently treating solid waste for its further uses in factories and industries. This is how apparently useless things go through the process of value addition. It is important because the process makes the entire project economical.







By refusing to vacate extra accommodations, six ministers, state ministers and 28 members of parliament (MPs) have simply not done themselves any favours. Notwithstanding their accommodations apposite to their elevated positions, the ministers and state ministers have not vacated the flats. Then 28 MPs do not live in flats allotted to them, instead they have allowed their personal staff, relatives and others to live in those flats. The chairman of the house committee of parliament Abdus Shaheed said that the ministers were reminded three times to vacate the NAM flats but they totally ignored it. The house committee on 12 June issued letters to 28 MPs reminding them that only they and not others can live in their flats but to no avail. Responding to the letter, only two of them have sought some more time for vacating the extra accommodations. 

Other MPs who live in the flats allotted to them allege that they live in constant fear of theft and untoward incidents because of the presence of outsiders in some of the flats.


A moral obligation

The ministers and law makers have a moral obligation to go by the law. After all, people expect them to set precedents so that others can follow those. The MPs who do not stay in their flats clearly prove that they have alternative accommodation. Still those among them who retain possession of rooms in MP hostel are actually doing injustice to their fellow MPs who have no such accommodation. It should not be their privilege to undermine the privilege of their fellow MPs. 







"Kerala to be named Keralam.." Hindustan Times, July 15th 

And finally Kerala's problems are over!

The problems between the chief minister and his other ministers, the traffic jams, the crumbling infrastructure, the still on the drawing board highways, the still in the dream stage airport; have all been solved. In one simple move, the people of Kerala rejoice, they have got what they wished for; their Keralam.!

Only in India can problems of gigantic proportions be solved with simple methods: Madras became Chennai,


Mumbai, Bombay and Calcutta, Kolkotta.

 "People of Kerala," says the Chief Minister, "I was elected into office to solve your problems and today Kerala doesn't have any problems, because Kerala is no more! Kerala is dead, long live Keralam!"

Long live Mumbai and Chennai and Kolkotta!

The people clap and scream with frenzy and applaud a chief minister who has delivered.

 "Sir!" says a citizen, "my road hasn't been cleaned for a week!"

 "Change the name!" laughs the chief minister.

 "Sir we have no drinking water in our area!"

 "Change the name!" shouts the chief minister and the public, yell and scream and do a war dance as the chief minister joins them.

 "The airports a mess!"

 "The roads are inadequate!"

 "The public transport employees are corrupt!"

 "Change the name!" shouts the chief minister.

Then later at some function where the chief minister is sitting next to one of those numerous film stars who have added either an 's' or 'e' or 'i' or some such letter to their name, they turn to him and say, "so how is Keralam doing?" The chief minister puts his face down and whispers, "the same as Kerala was doing!"

"No roads?" 



"Then you should do what I did!" says the film star. "Put one more 'k' in front of Keralam or take out the 'a' and put in a 'u'"

"Will it work?"

"It did, see I'm sitting next to you!"

So next year don't be surprised to find Keralam spelt Kkerulam, or Kkarulaam or Kkkkeralum! Because it's a determined chief minister who wants to make a success of his state.

Oh what fools we mortals be..!









A continuous inability on the part of, for example, major political parties of Bangladesh to capture, retain and harness adequate people's power in pursuit of better governance in the country has inter alia been instrumental in enhancing, enlarging, and sustaining - in varying degrees, though - dependencies of above parties, particularly ruling parties at any given time, on for example power of bureaucracies and power of justice systems beyond acceptable limits, and vice versa - - for purposes say filling up of voids associated with insufficient people's power in the power grid of country's governance at varying costs to people of Bangladesh and people of world at large, per se. It will not be out of place to mention here: outcomes of interdependencies have so far been successful in inter alia sustaining and promoting - in varying forms and degrees - partisan politicization of bureaucracies, as well as justice systems via the courtesy of say mindsets, philosophies and activities of successive political governments after the independence of Bangladesh. 

It implies inter alia factors such as and as appropriate: outcomes of constitutional inadequacies such as those relating to appointment, promotion and removal of superior court judges; the development of bureaucracies that are transparent and accountable - largely - to political parties and not to the people; the culture of partisan bureaucracies, aiming primarily at serving past and present political masters, facilitated by what I would call chain reactions of partisan loyalty regardless of requirements such as transparency and accountability in pertinent areas; an average failure of outcome of donor (such as the UNDP) assistance, so far, to good governance in pursuit of facilitating and help sustaining substantive improvements in relevant areas; and growing gaps between the demand and the supply of outcomes of people's overall empowerment against the backdrop of ever increasing competition for survival, continuity and growth in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world; are being instrumental in inter alia enhancement of governance related pollutions, promoting apparently party based and party driven developments and not all Bangladesh based and not all Bangladesh driven developments in the country, per cycle of political regime.  

As a result of above and other developments, displacements in several areas are evident. For example: bureaucrats, with the support of politicians, are attempting to transform themselves - fully - into masters and not servants of the people; the country's judiciary are increasingly becoming victims of judicial pollutions, affecting efforts towards affording all concerned the right justice at the right cost, irrespective of for example their power, position and belief in societies; politicians and political parties are apparently busy in, among other things, cultivating and sustaining constituencies in bureaucracies and justice systems in pursuits of protecting them and their interest during rainy days; outcomes of alliances between and among political parties, bureaucracies and other partners in governance - are being instrumental in inter alia putting up barriers to the development of fully operational bottom-up systems in the domain of country's governance; leadership by example is scarce in supply; a proper BMR (Balancing, Modernisation and Rehabilitation) of the country's constitution is not in sight; political parties are apparently involved more in patching up daily problems than dealing with the big picture for improved competitiveness and image building; politics by dividing people in core areas are being instrumental in productivity losses, confidence losses in areas such as justice, promoting initial conditions for conflicts, terrorism and extremism, and enhancing the real cost of maintaining Bangladesh and accelerate its development at a faster rate. 

The bottom line is: the contemporary nature, level and outcome of politics in the country is not apparently conducive to promoting a competitive 21st century Bangladesh largely because of its internal weaknesses arising out of division of people's power along political lines. 

One of the questions here is: how could you light up the entire Bangladesh with light of better governance when the supply voltage is low? Do not become pessimistic! One of the probable answers to the question could be: an aggregate amount of voltage, via uniting the country in areas say competing national priorities in a sustainable fashion, could bring about a significant improvement in the supply situation. The sooner it is done, the better it will be for Bangladesh.

The last word: liberate the country's justice system from clutches of politicisation and revolving political ownership (use in a negative sense) of it (I mean, the system) - per political regime. Do not attempt to get exonerated on the basis of executive, as well as other power, by-passing the normal course of justice. Set examples in areas of anti-corruptions for others to follow. Rise to the occasion to ensure non-partisan supply of goods and services to people of all Bangladesh at all times - in that respect, do not make differentiations between for example an Awami League Poor and a BNP Poor. Share true data, information and statistics with people of Bangladesh and concerned others in the country's greater interest. Promote media freedom for constructive purposes. Encourage and value meaningful participation of the people in solving problems and in harnessing opportunities for good of all concerned. Recognize Kosovo and make meaningful contributions towards resolving Palestinian and Kashmir disputes at individual, collective and other levels. Let us work towards those and other objectives for the betterment of people of Bangladesh and people of world at large - all, in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner. Let us not allow disunity, along political lines, to grow to an extent that could be instrumental in inter alia transforming Bangladesh into a heaven of terrorism between now and the future. Let us improve, as soon as possible and in a sustainable manner, the per capita consumption of energy in Bangladesh in pursuits of economic growth, elimination of hunger, and reduction of poverty, as well as illiteracy, to mention a few. God bless!   

(The writer is contributor of The Independent)









A continuous inability on the part of, for example, major political parties of Bangladesh to capture, retain and harness adequate people's power in pursuit of better governance in the country has inter alia been instrumental in enhancing, enlarging, and sustaining - in varying degrees, though - dependencies of above parties, particularly ruling parties at any given time, on for example power of bureaucracies and power of justice systems beyond acceptable limits, and vice versa - - for purposes say filling up of voids associated with insufficient people's power in the power grid of country's governance at varying costs to people of Bangladesh and people of world at large, per se. It will not be out of place to mention here: outcomes of interdependencies have so far been successful in inter alia sustaining and promoting - in varying forms and degrees - partisan politicization of bureaucracies, as well as justice systems via the courtesy of say mindsets, philosophies and activities of successive political governments after the independence of Bangladesh. 

It implies inter alia factors such as and as appropriate: outcomes of constitutional inadequacies such as those relating to appointment, promotion and removal of superior court judges; the development of bureaucracies that are transparent and accountable - largely - to political parties and not to the people; the culture of partisan bureaucracies, aiming primarily at serving past and present political masters, facilitated by what I would call chain reactions of partisan loyalty regardless of requirements such as transparency and accountability in pertinent areas; an average failure of outcome of donor (such as the UNDP) assistance, so far, to good governance in pursuit of facilitating and help sustaining substantive improvements in relevant areas; and growing gaps between the demand and the supply of outcomes of people's overall empowerment against the backdrop of ever increasing competition for survival, continuity and growth in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world; are being instrumental in inter alia enhancement of governance related pollutions, promoting apparently party based and party driven developments and not all Bangladesh based and not all Bangladesh driven developments in the country, per cycle of political regime.  

As a result of above and other developments, displacements in several areas are evident. For example: bureaucrats, with the support of politicians, are attempting to transform themselves - fully - into masters and not servants of the people; the country's judiciary are increasingly becoming victims of judicial pollutions, affecting efforts towards affording all concerned the right justice at the right cost, irrespective of for example their power, position and belief in societies; politicians and political parties are apparently busy in, among other things, cultivating and sustaining constituencies in bureaucracies and justice systems in pursuits of protecting them and their interest during rainy days; outcomes of alliances between and among political parties, bureaucracies and other partners in governance - are being instrumental in inter alia putting up barriers to the development of fully operational bottom-up systems in the domain of country's governance; leadership by example is scarce in supply; a proper BMR (Balancing, Modernisation and Rehabilitation) of the country's constitution is not in sight; political parties are apparently involved more in patching up daily problems than dealing with the big picture for improved competitiveness and image building; politics by dividing people in core areas are being instrumental in productivity losses, confidence losses in areas such as justice, promoting initial conditions for conflicts, terrorism and extremism, and enhancing the real cost of maintaining Bangladesh and accelerate its development at a faster rate. 

The bottom line is: the contemporary nature, level and outcome of politics in the country is not apparently conducive to promoting a competitive 21st century Bangladesh largely because of its internal weaknesses arising out of division of people's power along political lines. 

One of the questions here is: how could you light up the entire Bangladesh with light of better governance when the supply voltage is low? Do not become pessimistic! One of the probable answers to the question could be: an aggregate amount of voltage, via uniting the country in areas say competing national priorities in a sustainable fashion, could bring about a significant improvement in the supply situation. The sooner it is done, the better it will be for Bangladesh.

The last word: liberate the country's justice system from clutches of politicisation and revolving political ownership (use in a negative sense) of it (I mean, the system) - per political regime. Do not attempt to get exonerated on the basis of executive, as well as other power, by-passing the normal course of justice. Set examples in areas of anti-corruptions for others to follow. Rise to the occasion to ensure non-partisan supply of goods and services to people of all Bangladesh at all times - in that respect, do not make differentiations between for example an Awami League Poor and a BNP Poor. Share true data, information and statistics with people of Bangladesh and concerned others in the country's greater interest. Promote media freedom for constructive purposes. Encourage and value meaningful participation of the people in solving problems and in harnessing opportunities for good of all concerned. Recognize Kosovo and make meaningful contributions towards resolving Palestinian and Kashmir disputes at individual, collective and other levels. Let us work towards those and other objectives for the betterment of people of Bangladesh and people of world at large - all, in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner. Let us not allow disunity, along political lines, to grow to an extent that could be instrumental in inter alia transforming Bangladesh into a heaven of terrorism between now and the future. Let us improve, as soon as possible and in a sustainable manner, the per capita consumption of energy in Bangladesh in pursuits of economic growth, elimination of hunger, and reduction of poverty, as well as illiteracy, to mention a few. God bless!   

(The writer is contributor of The Independent)








Serving Bangladesh as a diplomat in a foreign country is a difficult task. However, the general perception in Bangladesh about the work of our diplomats abroad is quite the opposite. People tend to think that our diplomats spend a life in luxury contributing very little to the country while being allowed to spend the taxpayers' money for their own sake.

On the point of luxury, the difference between reality and perception cannot be further apart. For the sake of dignity of the diplomats, it would be unwise and embarrassing to quote any figure about their pay and allowances. It is often said in a lighter vein that a diplomat is sent abroad to lie for his country. On one issue however, a Bangladesh diplomat has to lie through his/her teeth is when a fellow diplomat from another country or foreigners he/she has befriended asks about his/her pay and allowances in the post. Generally, we avoid answering such a question, and muster all our diplomatic skills to do so. When we are forced to quote a figure, we invariably double or treble the amount we are paid by the government to save our own face and that of the country. On my first posting in Canberra as a Second Secretary, I dreaded when this issue was raised with me which was quite often because I had  a good number of diplomats from other countries as close friends and in our informal gatherings, it was quite common to discuss our work and work environment.

In New Delhi, where I was posted after my tour of duty in Canberra, we were asked to run an exercise by the High Commissioner on foreign and entertainment allowances diplomats were paid from South Asian countries and countries on the same scale of economy as Bangladesh. The High Commissioner was Air Vice Marshal AK Khandker who went there from Canberra in 1982. When a paper was placed to him, he could not believe the figures he saw. As a High Commissioner, his foreign allowance was less than the Counsellor of most of the Embassies we surveyed and a First Secretary of a South Asian country that is better left un-named! Over the years, the Government has very grudgingly enhanced the foreign and entertainment allowances of the diplomats but such allowances in Embassies of other countries have also increased, keeping the gap which in fact has increased.  To suggest that diplomats paid such level of foreign and entertainment allowances live in luxury is a travesty of the truth. 

Those who criticize us for our so-called lives of luxury never consider that our diplomats are paid the barest minimum. One of the reasons why the allowances of our diplomats have never been approached rationally has been the fact that those who can do so are government servants themselves. They can never get over the fact that as diplomats we receive a pay package that is a few times more than what they receive at home. It must nevertheless be said that since my Canberra days, new perks have also been included in the allowances package that makes a diplomats' life more acceptable at present. These days, diplomats receive educational allowances that were not paid when I was posted to Canberra. In the absence of educational allowances those days, diplomats were forced to great hardships in educating their children. Some of us who were educating our children in the best educational institutions at home were forced to either keep our children at home or send them to educational institutions inferior than those at home because we could not afford to send them to good educational institutions in our posts.

The other issue that critics fail to consider while evaluating the work of a Bangladeshi diplomat is how difficult it is for him/her to succeed in representing the country's interests. Bangladesh is not exactly the most sought after country in stations where our Embassies are located where the interest for spending time for a Bangladesh diplomat is less than if the diplomat seeking the time is from India, England or the United States. In fact, the hosts are lukewarm most of the time when a Bangladeshi diplomat seeks to meet them. It is only by perseverance that we eventually succeed in making the contacts necessary to further the country's interests. A Bangladeshi diplomat thus has to work much harder for making the contacts and achieving the results that diplomats representing countries that are important to the hosts have it readymade for them. However, once we make the contacts, we have always found the hosts both eager and impressed with Bangladesh because they seldom think about Bangladesh or look at it the way we are able to represent it to them. In representing Bangladesh, our history, particularly the sacrifices we have made for our liberation, our sacrifice to establish our language; and our rich culture and cuisine are always extremely useful.

Unfortunately, we are just not constantly criticized as diplomats by our own people; those criticizing us are most of the time oblivious to the fact that we are not given the support we require to represent the positive sides of Bangladesh in countries where we have representation. Bangladesh practically spends nothing on external publicity and image building and seldom sends cultural delegations/exhibitions abroad to expose the rich culture and traditions of the country. On my first tour of duty to Canberra, I would regularly be invited by embassies of countries in South Asia to performances of cultural troops and exhibitions from their countries but was never able to reciprocate that often embarrassed me. Such visits allow the diplomats to represent his/her country's culture, history and traditions as well as make the important contacts for furthering national interests. We are deprived of this support that makes our work of representing our country more difficult. In the absence of such support from home, our Embassies manage cultural events/exhibitions with their own resources and with the assistance of the expatriate Bangladeshi community which does not even scratch the potentials that cultural troupes/exhibitions coming from home can achieve for Bangladesh's image and its interests. During my Canberra days, we did a lot of such locally arranged functions, exhibitions, etc. I always felt sad that at our Government's total lack of interest to assist the Bangladesh Embassies in such efforts as other countries did for their Embassies. In fact, it is strange but true that our Government feels that money spent in such efforts is a waste! 

Such a view has been one reason why Bangladesh has not succeeded in countering its persistently poor image problem which has not always been based on facts. Bangladesh Embassies can effectively counter part of the problem if they are given the assistance and the resources needed to market Bangladesh's rich culture, history and traditions. There are countries all over the world, including in our own region, that spend more money and resources on external publicity and image building alone than what Bangladesh spends in running its Embassies abroad. It is indeed a pity that those responsible for our foreign policy fail to see the importance and potential of marketing Bangladesh's rich culture and traditions through the Embassies.

The High Commission did not have any press/economic/commercial officer while I was posted in Canberra. Majority of Bangladesh Embassies have no press officer.  All such work in Canberra fell on my lap. I found that the press in Canberra had little interest in Bangladesh except when calamity struck the country. I found the same to be true in all the other stations to which I have been posted in later years. Such lack of interest notwithstanding, personal contacts sometimes made it possible to get positive news and articles published in the host country's media. For such efforts to succeed, positive developments in Bangladesh are always a great help which is unfortunately seldom the case. In my Canberra days, we were able to receive extremely positive press coverage in the Australian media when Bangladesh announced its Drug Policy early in the Ershad years for which Dr. Zafarullah Chowdhury had worked a great deal. In Canberra, we also formed a press and information corps of diplomats from a number of countries that we named the Press and Information and Cultural Corps of Australia (PICCA) through which I was able to represent Bangladesh to some extent in Canberra. In one event of PICCA, we were able to bring then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser that was a major media event in Canberra.

In those days, the Australian National University used to run a master's degree programme for Bangladeshi government officers in development economics. Government officers also attended the ANU under other programmes. During my stay in Canberra, officers of the erstwhile CSP cadre AKM Jalauddin, Abdul Haroon Pasha and Ezaz Ahmed (sadly, now no more) were studying in ANU. They were good company and made life in the lonely city of Canberra a little more fun than it was otherwise. There was also a steady flow of many others from the Universities whom I knew who came to Canberra during my tenure and added spice to life in an otherwise dull post.


(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt. He has a








By coincidence, this is a busy year for round-number anniversaries for France's greatest leader since Napoleon. Charles de Gaulle was born 120 years ago in Lille. He died 40 years ago at his home in Colombey-les-deux-eglises, expiring of a heart attack as he played solitaire one evening. Seventy years ago, he delivered his celebrated call to resistance over the BBC after flying to London from France as it collapsed in June 1940. This year also marks a much less noted anniversary, an occasion on which de Gaulle showed how his rare combination of determination, political skill, and rhetorical ability could be brought to bear to face down determined opposition. It was a central moment in the establishment of the Fifth Republic, which continues to this day.

The war in Algeria played the key role in enabling de Gaulle to return to power in May 1958, at the age of 67. Though his memoirs paint a characteristic portrait of a leader who knew what he was doing, research for my new biography shows that his policy towards the crisis across the Mediterranean combined hope and frustration. He hoped that France could dominate the National Liberation Front (FLN) militarily, and was frustrated at the extremely messy political situation on the ground and the difficulty of persuading the settlers that maintaining the status quo was untenable.

In 1958, he told a crowd in Algiers made up mainly of pieds noirs Europeans 'Je vous ai compris' (I have understood you). But, by 1960, euphoria had given way to rancor among those whom he had used to regain office but who now saw him as a traitor to be neutralized along with the regime he had brought into being.
The catalyst for what came to be known as 'Barricades Week' was an interview published in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung with the parachute general Jacques Massu, in which he said that part of the army regretted having called de Gaulle back to power, did not understand his policy, and was disappointed that he had become 'a man of the left'. Massu, a convinced Gaullist, should have known better than to say such home truths publicly, whatever his own frustrations. He was promptly sidelined to a command in provincial France. After a stormy meeting with de Gaulle, Massu telephoned his chief of staff, Colonel Antoine Argoud, who had been pressing for a coup.

A general strike was called, and militant students threw up barricades in the centre of Algiers. When police attacked with tear gas, pieds noirs opened fire. In the ensuing gun battle, 14 members of the security forces and eight demonstrators were killed, and 200 people were wounded. 'The hour has come to bring down the regime,' the extremist ideologue, Jean-Jacques Susini declared. 'The revolution will start from Algiers and reach Paris.'
De Gaulle was at Colombey, but returned immediately to Paris. An official who saw him in the corridor of the palace recalled him muttering: 'What a business! What a business!' At a cabinet meeting, he insisted that the challenge to the new republic had to be put down.

The prime minister, Michel Debré, was sent to Algiers, but the rebels treated him contemptuously, and he flew back empty handed. Rumors flew of the creation of a shadow government by extremists in Paris. Members of the presidential military staff were told to carry handguns. Summoning Massu's successor, General Jean Crepin, de Gaulle told him, 'The Europeans do not want the Arabs to make a choice, [but] the Muslims do not want to be Bretons. If the army collapses, it is Algeria [and] France which collapses.'

The decisive moment came when de Gaulle, in military uniform, went on television to demonstrate his mastery of the new medium. 'Well, my dear and old country, here we are again facing a heavy test,' he said. Insisting that self-determination was the only way ahead, he called on the army to reject even passive association with the insurrection and instructed it to re-establish public order. If the state bowed before the challenge it faced, 'France would be no more than a poor, broken toy floating on an ocean of uncertainty,' he warned.
Within 15 minutes of the General's face fading from the screen, 40 army units in Algeria declared their loyalty. The men at the barricades were persuaded to leave their stronghold; the insurrectionary leaders were either detained or escaped to Spain.

The defeat of the military revolt was the first time that the republican authority of Paris had been asserted over the pieds noirs who had helped to bring down the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle's firmness and rhetoric - aided, it must be said, by the fumbling of the rebels - established the primacy of the state. The next day, de Gaulle's face was drawn, but he was resolute and full of energy. Ministers who sympathized with the settlers, notably the long-time Gaullist Jacques Soustelle, were sacked. The National Assembly granted de Gaulle the power to rule by decree for a year. Trade unions held a symbolic one-hour strike to back the government. An opinion poll gave the General 75 per cent backing.

The Fifth Republic was safe, and a historic page had been turned. The disdain felt by de Gaulle, a man of the north, for the emotional settlers across the sea had deepened. Two years later, after de Gaulle's steeliness repulsed a second uprising, the Evian peace agreements between France and the FLN brought Algeria's independence.


(The writer is the author of The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved)


— Project Syndicate, 2010









ANYONE who remembers the Hawke-Keating era will not be surprised at the vigour with which two of the most effective political leaders Australia ever produced are disputing the spoils of their impressive legacy. The resumption of a personal hostility stretching back several decades, however, does not detract from their outstanding record in government, especially the hard, long-term structural reforms that saved the nation from sinking into an economic malaise.


After inheriting an economy shackled by high tariffs, rigid financial structures and regulations, high unemployment, spiralling wages and strikes, Labor recognised, as Mr Keating put it in his inimitable way in 1986, that if the government could not keep wage outcomes moderate and run a sensible economic policy, then Australia was "basically done for" and would end up "a third-rate economy . . . a banana republic". That such an outcome was avoided and the nation set up for decades of prosperity owes much to the most radical free-market reforms in Australia's history by Mr Hawke, Mr Keating and many talented frontbenchers. In contrast to the timorous Fraser government, Labor floated the dollar, drew the ACTU into the process of abandoning centralised wage-fixing with the prices and incomes accords, cut tariffs, sold the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas, admitted foreign banks, established compulsory workplace superannuation and reintroduced tertiary education charges. The Hawke-Keating governments also embraced welfare reform, introducing the unpopular but effective assets test for pensions and extending job searches for the unemployed. Such measures were later adopted by the Blair and Clinton governments. The reforming thread should be picked up again.


Driven by colossal egos, the robust tone of the current legacy war between Mr Hawke and Mr Keating is a refreshing reminder of the fulsome repartee, grounded in economic understanding, with which the pair sold one tough decision after another to the public in the 1980s and early 1990s. That they won five elections after implementing measures that produced real losers -- pensioners with assets, university students, workers expecting high wage rises to continue, workers in industries previously shielded by unrealistic tariffs - is evidence of their persuasive skills. In the interests of the nation, their task was made easier by the bipartisan support offered by the opposition for most of the reforms, the need for which was well understood by John Howard.


Both in substance and style, Mr Hawke and Mr Keating were a wholesome contrast to some of today's

politicians, who appear more comfortable repeating the rehearsed lines emailed to them each morning. That two such strong personalities -- the populist, former trade union leader and the eager, impatient driver of economic reform -- clashed hard was no surprise. It was Mr Hawke's political instinct, for example, that led Labor to back away from a consumption tax, strongly backed by Mr Keating in the lead up to the 1985 tax summit. But whatever the underlying conflicts, their creative tension tended to balance the government, ensuring reform proceeded, but not at a pace that outstripped public opinion. Nor were they a two-man band. Mr Hawke was a highly effective, consultative cabinet chairman, drawing the best from a talented front bench in which Peter Walsh, John Button, Mick Young, Bill Hayden, John Dawkins, John Kerin and others had much to contribute.

In lashing out at an extract from Blanche d'Alpuget's account of the Hawke prime ministership in this newspaper, Mr Keating has heightened interest in the book. His own account of the same period would make riveting reading and provide a valuable account of an important period in Australia's history. We hope he takes up the pen.






WAYNE Swan claims he can clear the budget deficit in three years, but the Treasurer only has months at best to get Labor's economic credibility back into surplus before voters deliver their verdict. It is incredible to think that a government which emerged from the global financial crisis with the economy in robust condition has squandered the credit on which it should now be building its case for re-election. But the mangled introduction of the mining tax, wasteful stimulus spending on schools and roof insulation, and a failure to reform have left it with a credibility deficit on the economy.


Labor is right to worry about recent polling showing voters see the Coalition as superior economic managers and, at the National Press Club yesterday, the Prime Minister gave every indication she understands the tough job ahead to restore credibility on this issue. She acknowledged the need for governments to actively reform to ensure strong and sustained growth -- a refreshing change from the Rudd years when Labor dropped the ball on the infrastructure, tax and productivity changes needed to keep the nation competitive. Julia Gillard's commitment to real micro-economic reform was impressive. Her predecessor argued that the federation was "arguably the last remaining frontier of micro-economic reform" needing urgent attention. Ms Gillard sees it differently, arguing Labor's job is to reform the economy to "sustain stronger growth over the longer term and ensure that Australian firms and workers are able to adapt successfully to changing conditions".


Labor needs clear thinking on the economy. Its legacy on reform since winning power in 2007 has been poor. In opposition, Kevin Rudd and Mr Swan argued that the resources boom was coming to an end (wrong) and that John Howard had squandered it (right). In power, Mr Rudd and Mr Swan got it wrong again: rather than introducing reforms to make the boom pay, they adopted the easy route of trying to make the miners pay. Their resource super-profits tax was a hamfisted effort. As former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser told the 7.30 Report on Wednesday, "the original proposal was extremely elaborate, elegant in design in a way, like one of those da Vinci drawings almost that you see in Renaissance history books, but it was never going to fly".


The tax was not just structurally flawed but posited on short-term political goals that have no place in serious reform. The government argued revenue would pay for a rise from 9 per cent to 12 per cent in superannuation. But that increase will take a decade to achieve and will be paid for by business. As well, Labor, panicked by its high budget deficit, saw the tax as a way to return to surplus in 2012-13 while still managing a cut to company tax.


Now Labor's revised figures show the rushed attempt to introduce the RSPT tax would have led to an enormous

impost on the mining sector, raking in $24 billion in the first two years -- double the $12bn originally cited.

Little wonder miners launched an intense lobbying campaign against the tax. They were right to be alarmed.

Treasury estimates the restructured tax set at (effectively) 22.5 per cent instead of 40 per cent, will raise $10.5bn, but it is hard to take seriously figures from a department that was out by 100 per cent the first time around. Yesterday, Mr Swan suggested it was bad form for the Coalition to criticise Treasury. He needs a reality check. The Australian has long questioned Treasury's estimates. In May last year, for example, we noted its budget estimates had accurately predicted revenue in just seven of the past 20 years, and that it had always had terrible trouble estimating the size of the surplus. Treasury also failed to spot the mining boom in the early part of the last decade, then overcompensated by suggesting it would go on forever, leading Mr Howard to expand the welfare system and cut taxes. Australia began to run a structural deficit. Thank God the Reserve Bank has been on its game, given the problems at Treasury.


With the government in election mode, it is not surprising it is making much of Treasury's latest number crunching, which puts the surplus at $3bn, rather than $1bn, by 2012-13. It's a good number but can we really believe it, given the opacity of the underlying assumptions on resource prices and volumes? Perhaps more worrying still is the volatility built into the nation's finances through a reliance on mining revenue. Miners, and the Australian public, understand that what goes up can come down in this sector, even if the government might prefer to ignore that reality.


Labor, having fudged the figures on the mining tax, should now be careful about its rhetoric on the surplus. Its claim that the $3bn will be achieved by discipline and a 2 per cent cap on spending is disingenuous. The figure is closer to 5 per cent after inflation, which scarcely represents rectitude. It is not restraint, but China, which will deliver a surplus.







ACCORDING to Blanche d'Alpuget, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were ''two bulls in one paddock'' when the former was prime minister and the latter his ambitious treasurer. But that was at least a couple of decades ago, when each was in, or approaching, the prime of public office. They were men of the moment, one of the more creative and mutually destructive partnerships in Australian political history.


It is hard to see them now as raging bulls. Their animosity to each other seemed to have cooled. The years do that. How thin the veneer can be, however. A new biography - d'Alpuget's second study of her husband, Hawke: The Prime Minister - has stripped away the niceties and provoked a bitter lashing from Keating, who insists that Hawke was missing in action as prime minister for all the 1984-87 term and that d'Alpuget has rewritten history to reflect Hawke's glory and diminish Keating's.


It is an unedifying scrap, poorly timed for a Labor government preparing for a tilt at re-election and exposing the sort of nasty wounds that seem to be erupting between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd with new accounts of the leadership change of June 23-24 reflecting less well on Gillard.


Just whose version of 1980s events is the more accurate depends, in part, on where you are coming from.

Defenders of Hawke will prefer to believe, for instance, that their champion was back in the saddle much more

quickly after an unsatisfactory election campaign in 1984 and learning that his younger daughter was a heroin addict.


Keating says he declined to be interviewed for the d'Alpuget book because he sensed it would not deal honestly with Hawke's ''long years of depression and executive incapacity''.


Hawke was Labor's most successful leader. The party gains nothing from having his reputation trashed. Equally, Keating understandably wants to preserve his place in history. Being branded by Hawke as needing his hand held early as treasurer, as having been injudicious in remarks about Australia, as illustrating ongoing bitterness, even as having been a little work-shy, is not lightly swallowed by someone of Keating's pride.


The aggrieved Keating should make good his threat to pen his own version of the Hawke and Keating



As for d'Alpuget's suitability as a Hawke biographer, she makes the valid point that objectivity is best left for mathematics. No one could accuse d'Alpuget and her husband of concealing their affection for each other. To demand a more ''balanced'' portrait of her husband might well mean she writes about Hawke with less candour, not more.







WE HAVE our frenzy about foreign boat people. The French are exercised by what some immigrants wear once


settled. This week, on the eve of Bastille Day - celebrating 1789's revolutionary moment of ''liberty, equality, fraternity'' - their National Assembly voted to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public.


This is aimed at just 2000 or so women, among France's 5 million Muslims, who wear either the full-face cover, the burqa, or the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered. These ladies, it seems, are a threat to the French way of life, their enveloping garments a Trojan horse for Islamic fundamentalism. The ban is not a reduction of liberty but an unlocking of chains.


The President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has declared: ''The burqa is not welcome in France because it is contrary to our

values and contrary to the ideals we have of a woman's dignity.'' His Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, called the vote a victory for French values of ''freedom against all the oppressions that try to humiliate individuals; values of equality between men and women, against those who push for inequality and injustice''.


This is in a capital where women dance almost naked in risque cabarets, or contort their bodies into sometimes bizarre haute couture as slaves of fashion - and where the Enlightenment savant Voltaire once declared:


''I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.''


If a very few Muslim women and their families believe that the full veil is demanded by their religion (though most of their imams deny it) or that it protects them from the X-ray vision of the male gaze, should they not be allowed their choice? Ah, choice - that much abused word in this world of manipulated consumerism: but in the absence of specific evidence of compulsion, shouldn't voluntary choice be the law's assumption?


Unfortunately, France is shifting from its tradition as a beacon of liberty into one of intolerance. Belgium's parliament has passed a similar ban, and Spain and certain Italian cities are considering it, while opinion polls in Britain and Germany show majorities in favour. Sarkozy himself is trying to draw the fire of a renewed swing to the right-wing National Front. His followers in the Senate will probably endorse the ban. It would be best if the French constitutional court, or failing that the European Court of Human Rights, rescues France's politicians from their absurdity.









LABOR is mystified that it does not get more credit for steering Australia clear of the recession that engulfed the world's developed economies. Regardless of its record, the government failed to sell its singular achievement. After his economic statement showed an improvement in government finances, Treasurer Wayne Swan's flummoxed response to a question about why Labor trails the Coalition in polling on economic management spoke volumes. Yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard went to the National Press Club intent on reclaiming economic bragging rights in a way that Kevin Rudd failed to do - at the cost of his leadership.


Labor sacrificed much of the advantage of incumbency along with its leader, so Ms Gillard must rapidly lay claim to the role of a steady hand who can be trusted to deliver ''prudent and disciplined economic management''. It remains to be seen whether voters are convinced. Most would have paid less attention to her address than did her press club audience. Many questions were not about the economy, an indication that it will take more than one speech to frame the election contest on Labor's preferred terms.


Three weeks into her prime ministership, Ms Gillard knew she must send ''a clear message about what I believe

in'', starting with a strong economy as the foundation of all other policy goals. Her pitch was resolutely centrist; she repeatedly referred to the pressures on ''hard-working Australians'' while distancing herself from the stereotype of a ''raging leftie'', as one questioner put it. She rebuffed Coalition attacks on Labor's spending - and alluded to the Coalition record in government under John Howard - by saying: ''Those expecting an old-style spend-up campaign can forget it.''


Economics is not an area in which Coalition leader Tony Abbott has shown himself to be at ease. While there

has been much commentary on Labor's $7.5 billion ''gift'' to miners, Ms Gillard drew attention to


Mr Abbott's promise of an even greater gift - to axe the resource tax altogether at the cost of an extra $10.5 billion in revenue over the next two years. Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb insists the Coalition could outdo Labor in returning to surplus and reducing debt, but the political risk is that this invites the question of what austerity measures the Coalition might have in store.


Ms Gillard offered a taste of the campaign to come by saying Mr Abbott wanted to bring back ''the worst

elements of WorkChoices''. Voters would have to decide: ''Who do they trust to lead this nation forward not back?'' The question comes straight out of Mr Howard's election playbook. Ms Gillard, too, will play up the risks of changing government, especially amid global economic uncertainty. ''It is … not a time to take risks with a Liberal Party that got it wrong on the global financial crisis, that opposed action to support Australian jobs and would have allowed hundreds of thousands of jobs to be destroyed.''


Looking ahead, Ms Gillard said education would be ''central to my economic agenda'', since no other investment produces such enduring returns, as The Age has long argued. She also sought to establish her reform credentials, with health and education as her priorities, by citing her results as a minister. She said there was no inherent superiority in public or private sector services as she sought to portray Mr Abbott as an ideologically driven minister in the Howard government.


Labor has its own image problem, having too often made its political missteps the issue. Its fudging of the cost

of the concessions to miners was ludicrous spin and ensured the main point of its economic statement was overshadowed. There was nothing startling in what Ms Gillard said yesterday, but her message was clear, her pitch shrewdly balanced. She offered a template for the re-election campaign of a first-term government that, whatever its failings, has protected the economy in the most testing of times.


Source: The Age







MALCOLM Fraser and Gough Whitlam were eventually reconciled, however much the dismissal of the latter's government in 1975 remains a matter of contention between their respective supporters. And Kim Beazley, who in 1998 failed to displace John Howard as prime minister despite winning a majority of the vote, once mused that Mr Howard was the most astute conservative leader of his generation.

But Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, who successively led the ALP during its longest tenure of national office and jointly oversaw the restructuring of Australia's economy, need no encouragement to engage in very public spats about whose contribution was the greater. The bitterness engendered by Mr Keating's toppling of Mr Hawke as Labor leader in 1991 has never wholly subsided, as is evident from the former's irate reaction to comments about him in the second volume of Hawke biography written by Mr Hawke's wife, Blanche d'Alpuget.


Pundits and future historians may dispute whether Mr Keating is correct in alleging that Mr Hawke's performance was severely hampered by depression during four of his eight years as prime minister, and whether the remarks in the book that offended Mr Keating reflect anything more than Ms d'Alpuget's partiality as a biographer. Most Australians, however, are more likely to judge that the remaking of Australia during the Hawke-Keating years was a joint legacy, and to leave it at that.


If the two men themselves seem unable to leave it at that, the lesson is probably that no political rivalry is ever so keenly felt as one between members of the same party. Indeed, the Hawke-Keating antagonism has, perhaps perversely, become a model for how leadership aspirations should be satisfied in Australian politics. The story of how the young bull drove out the old bull during Labor's years in power in the 1980s and '90s became a ghostly presence in later media reports about Peter Costello's never-realised desire to succeed John Howard as prime minister, with commentators citing Mr Keating's example to goad Mr Costello.


No political execution is ever as dramatic as that administered by erstwhile allies, as Australians have seen

again in Julia Gillard's ascension to the prime ministership. History never repeats itself exactly, and Ms Gillard endured neither long years waiting to claim the top job, like Mr Keating, nor endless hesitancy and frustration, like Mr Costello. It should cause no surprise, however, if long after Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard have left the political arena they find grounds to dispute their party's and the nation's debt to each of them.


Source: The Age









In a hushed lecture theatre, Dr Vincent Cable let his professorial glasses to slip down his nose and set out to convince the assembled great and good of the university world that he was one of their own. It is just as well that he did that spell as a lecturer in the 1960s, because he went on to say things that only a member of the family could. Making full use of that detached, frank and apolitical manner which has proved a political winner, the industry secretary talked of cuts that would lead not merely to consolidation but outright contraction, while also warning that the average student would have to cough up more. For good measure – just in case anyone was still feeling complacent – he headlined his address "the looming crisis".


Dr Cable, however, added an extra ingredient to what has become the coalition's trademark brew of blood, sweat and tears – namely, fairness. While he took care to fox-trot away from the toes of the ongoing Browne review, which until yesterday had looked like a process designed to provide the cover for higher top-up fees, he plonked a new option on the table. A graduate tax (or, in the inevitable euphemism, a "graduate contribution") marks a progressive departure from the current mish-mash of loans and fees. First, and most importantly, it requires graduates to repay their due in line with what they can afford – with the repayment period being fixed instead of the cash amount. That, as Dr Cable relished explaining, might mean social workers paying back less, and investment bankers paying back more. Second, as a consequence of doing away with flat-rate bills, it also removes the upfront debts which increasingly hang round the neck of university courses, price tags which are a particular psychological deterrent to students from cash-strapped families investing in their future.So far, so fair, but there is a legion of questions which bear on the principle as well as the practicalities. The industry secretary steamrollered through the obvious technical quibbles about how tax receipts in the distant future could rescue cash-starved colleges in the here and now. He rightly senses that a solution ought to be possible; he must now strain every sinew to find one, or his proposal will disappear into the black hole of public debt. He must also decide whether elite universities should be able to levy their graduates' pay at a higher rate. Although they will press for the right, they should not get it. Funding an academic premier league by a super-tax would put off the poor, and since the alumni of the ivory towers command such high salaries, charging these at the ordinary rate should bring in considerable cash. Dr Cable must also find a way to soothe the nerves of his party, whose manifesto made the rash promise to ditch tuition fees – not to replace them with a graduate tax, but in order "to save students £10,000 each". Having snapped up student-rich seats, such as Manchester Withington, with the help of the proposed giveaway, the Lib Dems will not enjoy explaining to young scholars why most will now have to pay not less, but more.

The party, however, would be well-advised to give serious consideration to the deal that Dr Cable is trying to broker. Yes, there are Conservative parts to the package – the encouragement of private university provision – and Lib Dem activists will rightly be anxious not to create an educational architecture that could unravel into an American-style educational market. Until the government gets a grip on rising graduate unemployment, students will also have ev