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Sunday, July 18, 2010

EDITORIAL 18.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 18, edition 000572 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












































The Bengali bhadralok was the mainstay of the CPM. The decline of the Marxists has coincided with the decline of thebhadralok

Long years ago a congenitally acerbic Ashok Mitra, former Finance Minister of West Bengal, made a remark that has gone into the annals of quotable quotes. Irked by a newsperson asking him something about common courtesies, the acid-tongued economist-turned-politician shot back: "I am not a bhadralok, I am a Communist." 

Despite the sharp line Dr Mitra drew between being a gentleman, which all bhadraloks are expected to be, and Communists who presumably are not required to adhere to such behaviour, the fact is that his party has thrived on bhadralok acceptability all these decades. Despite the CPI(M)'s mass base comprising relatively low class, low caste industrial workers and farmers, its leadership is almost entirely upper caste and drawn from well-to-do, educated middle class backgrounds. In other words, the Bengali bhadralok has presided over an organisation whose foot soldiers are anything but bhadralok.

Both the late Jyoti Basu and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee are classic examples of this. Basu's affluent background, British education, impeccable attire comprising neatly starched dhotis or Savile Row suits, ability to culturally interact with the Nehru-Gandhi family, sophisticated literati of Bengal as well as top businessmen, used to lend him an aura that had helped him consolidate a hold over the masses who held him in awe. The Bengali gentry's prolonged love affair with all things English may have gradually faded with time, but its appreciation of the finer things of life such as theatre, cinema, music, poetry, gourmet cuisine and appropriate dressing remains firm as ever.

Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee does not fit into the mould of a WOG, Westernised Oriental Gentleman. But cut out the 'Western' and he is a picture of sophistication, genteel charm and restrained passion. On top of it, he is a part-time playwright, enhancing his claim to being a cultural personality. Because of his close association with the cultural cream of Kolkata, his acceptability among the post-independence middle class was probably greater than that of Jyoti Basu. 

The Bengali intelligentsia, which occasionally scoffed at Basu for his ill-concealed arrogance, regarded Mr Bhattacharjee as 'one of us'. In turn, the West Bengal Chief Minister went out of the way to pamper the cultural glitterati, pumping substantial funds to develop the Nandan auditorium complex as a hub of Left-leaning intellectuals, especially those who specialised in making grim, depressing films aimed not at viewers but festival juries alone.

In the aftermath of Nandigram, the unkindest cut to the CPI(M) has been dealt precisely by this section of quasi-anarchist intellectuals. If Mr Bhattacharjee lost his characteristic equipoise and justified the mass murder of peasants by the party cadre, it is probably because he was reeling under the shock of his 'own people' baying for his blood. In the process, the CPI(M)'s genteel, cultured mask has fallen off and its naked, brutal persona — evident all along in rural Bengal — has been revealed even to urban sophisticates who have been the party's natural allies and helped it muster the legitimacy needed to rule uninterruptedly for three decades.

From the days of Indian People's Theatre Association, set up in the 1940s, Communists have had a stranglehold on Bengal's intelligentsia, especially in the area of performing arts. Almost every big name in Bengal's cultural universe was associated with IPTA — legendary singer-composer Hemanta Mukherjee, music director Salil Choudhury, theatre and film personality Utpal Dutt downwards. The IPTA may have got subsequently dissolved, thanks to the infinite splits in the Communist movement, but the Marxist tradition continued to inspire Bengali academics, novelists, poets, actors, film-makers, musicians, painters and almost everyone with creative cultural aspirations.

Wallowing in a Bohemian lifestyle replete with instances of alcoholism, chain-smoking, moral libertinism largely involving sexual promiscuity and social irreverence, the Bengali intellectual of the 1960s and 1970s, nevertheless, blazed a creative trail unparalleled in the post-independence cultural history of India, till the commercial glitter of Bollywood diminished Bengal's aura. But even New Generation cultural icons, singer Anjan Dutta, for example, harbour a strong Marxian streak maintaining continuity with yesteryear's celebrities Sankha Ghosh, Sunil Ganguly, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay and others.

Although Communism in Bengal never consciously articulated the idea of 'hegemony', in effect, it provided a perfect model of the hegemonistic command over society propounded by Italian Marxist thinkers. The intelligentsia in any society is never numerically large, but it exercises disproportionate influence over people's thinking for it is seen as a role model by the rest. This is especially true for Bengal whose middle-class society, largely Kolkata-based, has always attached a premium on education and intellectual development, often to the neglect of material considerations. An average Bengali middle class home invariably has a book shelf in the living room even if the family is too poor to afford a two-wheeler. The Kolkata Book Fair remains a connoisseur's delight for the bewildering array of manuscripts on sale, despite its client profile being middle or lower middle class. Over the years, this section of Bengali society has been deeply influenced by Marxist ideas, even if they do not necessarily vote for CPI(M) all the time. 

That is precisely the 'hegemony' that Communists have exercised on the Bengali mindset, not so much through proactive party political propaganda but the discreet charm of the egalitarian ideal. It is the intelligentsia that has conditioned the Bengali mind through novels and films, especially those by respected directors such as Ritwick Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Satyajit Ray charted a somewhat different course, but even his films celebrated the joy of living despite indigent conditions — undoubtedly a spin-off of Marxist hegemony, although Communists never pardoned him for refusing to be a fellow traveller.

The revolt of the Bengali intelligentsia against the CPI(M) has two important portents. First, it represents a rupture in the symbiotic relationship with a party they have traditionally supported because the CPI(M) has consciously cultivated and patronised them, using them to project the acceptable face of an essentially authoritarian party. Second, it also probably suggests that the influence of the 'old intelligentsia' over society is crumbling. GenNext Bengalis are no longer clones of their parents. Many have left the economically and culturally sterile confines of Kolkata to chart their futures in Delhi and other Indian cities, while an increasing number of professionals now migrate to the US and the UK.

With the CPI(M)'s ideological gloss dimming after such a long stint in power and its bhadralok component dwindling in numbers, younger Bengalis are steadily drifting away, convinced that the egalitarian Utopia is not only a pipe dream but also that CPI(M) is just another, wheeling-dealing party hankering after power and corrupt to the core. Arguably, no credible political alternative has emerged primarily because Ms Mamata Banerjee lacks bhadralok credibility being more proletarian than the self-proclaimed champions of the proletariat. But then, it is possible that the bhadralok's hegemony is under challenge and even a Buddhadeb is forced to discard his bhadralok veneer to stay in power courtesy goons, not genteel gentlemen.

This article first appeared on November 18, 2007. Chandan Mitra is travelling and will be back next week. 







Those who were at the venue of the failed Agra summit eight years ago may recall the enormous hype surrounding the event and the sense of anti-climax that followed the inability of the participants to come up with even a goody-goody joint statement. They will also recollect the inevitable blame game which began the moment it became clear that President Pervez Musharraf would have to return to Islamabad without anything tangible to show for his undoubted flamboyance. 

From the Pakistan side, the responsibility for transforming the media jamboree was pinned on two Indian Ministers. First, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj was blamed for an innocuous sound-bite to the media where she omitted Jammu & Kashmir from the list of subjects that were being addressed. Second, the blame for thwarting a draft agreement which the Pakistani side was supremely confident would get through was attached to an "invisible hand", a guarded reference to the then Home Minister LK Advani, allegedly the leading 'hawk' in the Cabinet. 


The Indians too had their fall guy, except that the identity of the 'bad guy' ran along expected lines. The party pooper, according to ubiquitous 'sources', was none other than Musharraf. The General was blamed for souring the atmosphere of the talks with his robust answer to a question on Kashmir at a breakfast interaction with the media which was telecast live on Pakistani channels. Subsequently, he was blamed for attempting quick-fix solutions to problems that had defied resolution for decades. 

The meeting of Foreign Ministers which ended last Friday afternoon was about as inconclusive as the Agra summit, but minus the same amount of pre-meeting hype. There was an expectation that the so-called 'spirit of Thimpu' would linger and be bolstered by another stiff booster dose in Islamabad. Predictably, much of the optimism was fuelled by the fast-growing 'conflict resolution' industry which has convinced itself and its gullible promoters that its rosy assessment of the future corresponds with reality. But high hopes were also nurtured by a Prime Minister who has made the restoration of India-Pakistan bonhomie his personal theme song for UPA2. It doesn't matter that many of his Cabinet colleagues don't believe that 'Aman ki Asha' will make to the top of the charts. Being a peacenik in the age of low intensity warfare is trendy. 

For this gush-gush, love-thy-neighbour brigade, there was one villain of the unhappy Islamabad summit involving SM Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi. His name was GK Pillai, a man who wasn't even in Islamabad to contest his equation with Hafiz Mohammed Saeed of LeT notoriety. Two days before Krishna took off for Islamabad, Pillai, who also happens to be the Union Home Secretary, called the media and divulged crucial details of David Coleman Headley's interaction with Indian and US interrogators. 

The transcripts, predictably, were explosive and suggested that the 26/11 attack on Mumbai was a carefully planned, joint ISI-LeT operation. Headley identified the chilling voices of the 'handlers' who had barked out execution orders of the hostages and even gave the names of other ISI operatives who had worked behind the scenes to spill innocent blood. 

The public disclosure of what was known by top Home Ministry officials set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. The common-sense question that was asked by people was straight-forward: What do we discuss with a neighbouring country that is hell bent on exporting terror? It may be a simple question and not adequately profound to merit the attention of the conflict-resolution wallahs, but it was this question that made it impossible for Krishna to not be persistent in asking Pakistan: What are you doing about those who have been implicated? 

Arguably, Krishna could have discussed what Pakistan hoped would be the agenda had Pillai not revealed too much to the media. To that extent, Pillai is indeed the man who made things awkward for Pakistan. He was indeed the party-pooper in Islamabad. However, the suggestion that Pillai need not have revealed the Headley interrogation just prior to the Islamabad meeting rests on a very dangerous premise. It presupposes that India, as the big brother, must bend over backwards to accommodate the sensibilities of the younger sibling. In other words, the normalcy-at-any-cost approach must be based on self-censorship and overlooking the past. 

Pakistan had calculated that the issue of terrorism had been firewalled as a Home Ministry issue and delinked from the composite dialogue which would focus on Kashmir (where Pakistan feels it is on a moral high after the recent stone-throwing upsurge) and Siachen. Pillai's intervention upset Pakistani calculations and it is not surprising that he is sought to be made the fall guy by the liberal media. Without saying so, the blame-Pillai brigade has tacitly admitted that the Indian people don't need to know the full details of the extent of Pakistani involvement in the carnage because that would derail the 'peace process'. What they omit to appreciate is that any understanding based on concealment and duplicity is certain to be very fragile.

The Islamabad talks ended in bitterness not because Pillai jumped the gun or Qureshi was tactless. Like in Agra, there was an enormous gap in the positions of both countries. For the moment they seem unbridgeable but that situation isn't going to be permanent. Both sides need to engage frequently, at different levels, but without concealing their own fears and suspicions of each other. It is unrealistic to believe that such a deep-rooted acrimony can be lessened and a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship established without building trust. Unfortunately, very little of this exists and last week's faltering in Islamabad was yet another reality check. 








Interviewing prospective students for a media school can be a useful experience. It provides you with an insight into how media is perceived among the young who shall inherit the world from us. I usually begin by asking the applicants whether they want to pursue a career in print journalism or in the audio-visual media. During one such interview recently, a young woman told me, "I want to join a news channel." And do what? "I want to become an anchor." Why? "I have many things to say and as an anchor I can say anything I want." What makes you think so? "I watch television regularly. I know." And why do you think you can actually say whatever you want? That left her slightly flustered. "But we have freedom of expression, right? And media is free in our country, right?" I seemed to have planted doubts in her mind and she wanted me to disabuse her of them. I asked her to tell me about her other interests in life.

I was reminded of that conversation on Friday evening when editors of television news channels, feigning great outrage, queued up to condemn the smashing of glass panes and upturning of potted palms in the lobby of Videocon Tower in Delhi, where the offices ofHeadlines Today, Aajtak and Mail Today are located, by a crowd of people protesting against the ongoing campaign of calumny against the RSS which is being accused of promoting 'Hindu terrorism'. The violence was uncalled for, unfortunate and unacceptable. The protest could have been peaceful. Indeed, those leading the protesters should have ensured that no damage was caused on account of the demonstration. Having said that, let us look at what was said in condemnation by editors of other channels.

"This is an attack on freedom of expression. The media is being muzzled. Ideas must be combatted with ideas, not violence. It is despicable and deplorable," said a news channel editor, virtually frothing at the mouth. Others pitched in with elaborate denunciation of "goons" and "hooligans" — the protesters did not look like either category of social malcontents — and condemned the attack. What was most amusing was to see Ms Ambika Soni, Minister for Information & Broadcasting, waxing eloquent on how the cherished values of our democracy are under assault. Ms Soni heads a Ministry which is a relic of our fake Socialist past when the Government controlled newspapers (there were no news channels then) and information flow by adopting strong-arm tactics — newspapers critical of the Government were denied newsprint quota — and by regulating the release of advertisements — obedience fetched you a greater share. More importantly, her entry into politics was through Sanjay Gandhi's Youth Congress during the Emergency, when all freedoms and rights, including the right to life, were suspended and journalists who didn't extol the virtues of the Great Leader were sent to jail. All that and more seems to have been forgotten.

However, we need not be distracted by what certain practitioners of the world's second oldest profession have to say in defence of their emulating the practices of the world's oldest profession. It's a free country and people have the right to say whatever they want. But what is objectionable is the attempt to disguise biased writing and distortion of the truth as "freedom of expression". The ongoing campaign of calumny to demonise the RSS and denigrate Hindus by painting the first as a sponsor of terrorism and the second as a community of terrorists is by no stretch of the imagination 'freedom of expression'. Nor does media have the freedom to malign or defame individuals and then seek shelter in its presumed immunity from scrutiny.

Without going into the specifics of the campaign that has been launched to tar the RSS and label Hindus as terrorists, I would like to make three points. First, neither the stories published by some magazines and newspapers nor the reports that have been telecast by some news channels present even a shred of evidence. What we have read, seen and heard so far are aspersions, accusations and alleged admissions, all of it attributed to unnamed sources in the Intelligence Bureau and the Central Bureau of Investigation. These have been neither cross-checked nor corroborated with indisputable facts. Second, it is amazing that in a country which is supposed to be governed by the law of the land, there should be such organised trial by media which is really trial by insinuation. Years later, if nothing is proved in a court of law, media will conveniently choose to forget that they had already declared individuals guilty of horrible crimes. Third, since when has speaking to someone on the phone, irrespective of whether or not that person is guilty of having committed a crime, a crime in itself? 

There is, of course, the other aspect about the IB and CBI leaking like sieves with a billion holes. If the alleged offence of planting bombs in Malegaon, Ajmer and Hyderabad is to be treated seriously, shouldn't the agencies be conducting their investigations in absolute secrecy? If they must go public with titillating tid-bits, then IB and CBI offcials should formally brief the media on record. If they are planting stories, as they are doing, then this is no investigation but a political conspiracy: The RSS is being targeted to weaken the BJP. The conspiracy to defame and demonise Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has now been enlarged to hobble the BJP at the national level. There are no prizes for guessing who are the conspirators. Sadly, sections of the media have offered to play the role of co-conspirators. During Mrs Indira Gandhi's Emergency regime, few editors stood up against the criminal abuse of power. Most of them chose to crawl when asked to bend. Tragically, many editors have kept up that tradition, offering space on the front page and time during prime-time news bulletins to the Establishment's dirty tricks department.

This is not about ideology. Nor is it about political loyalties. To suggest so would be as bogus as those crying themselves hoarse that media's freedom and freedom of expression are under attack. If anything is under attack, if anything is being questioned, is the peddling of fiction as fact under the garb of 'investigative reporting'. Had it not been so, our 'free' media, a large section of which thrives on 'paid news', would have reported that the investigating agencies have failed to come up with any evidence to make their charges against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit stick. That the courts have refused to let them be tried under MACOCA, saying there was nothing on record to justify such a trial. That it's been two years since they were arrested and have been in jail without being prosecuted or formally charged.

Or shall we just burn them at the stake because 'free' media has pronounced them guilty? 

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In May, home minister P Chidambaram agreed to let him mediate with the Maoists. But human rights activist Swami Agnivesh says this has meant no more than feelings of deep guilt after the Naxalite spokesperson he was speaking to, Cherukuri Rajkumar aka Azad, was killed in an encounter with security forces. Agnivesh speaks to Rakhi Chakrabarty about the dharma of justice and his quest to solve a hydra-headed problem. Excerpts: 

Has Azad's death snuffed out all hope of dialogue between the Centre and Maoists? 


• Azad's death is a big blow to the peace initiatives. But I haven't lost hope. I am trying to re-establish contact with the Maoist leadership, especially, Venugopal Rao (Kishenji's brother). The Maoists have also been sending feelers about restarting the process. In his final days, Azad was working to pave the way for a dialogue. I wrote to him last on June 26 when I informed him that P Chidambaram had arranged my meetings with senior Maoist leaders Kobad Ghandy lodged in Tihar jail and Narayan Sanyal in Raipur Central Jail in the last week of May. Both had responded positively to the peace process. Chidambaram had been insisting that Maoists should set a date for abjuring violence for 72 hours. In my letter to Azad, I had suggested three dates: July 10, 15 and 20. Before he could respond, the police killed him. 

Is Chidambaram as keen on talks as in May? 

• After Azad's death, I met Chidambaram on July 8, seeking a judicial enquiry into the encounter. But he flatly refused. I found a different Chidambaram. There was a marked difference in body language. He seemed cold, indifferent and avoided eye contact. I could make out he was trying to defend the indefensible. He said he wasn't aware of the encounter until it happened. I find that difficult to believe. And not once did he mention the peace process. But I still want to go by the face value of the letter he wrote me. 


What is your locus standi in brokering peace between the Centre and Maoists? 

• I have been involved with human rights and civil rights movements for decades. I knew Satyanarayan Sinha and Nagi Reddy, who were part of the Naxalite movement in Bihar in the 1980s. During Emergency, we had gone underground. I protested against Emergency in my own way for which I was jailed. Then I met Nagi Reddy at the house of the then Union labour minister Raghunath Reddy. When I read about Maoist violence and people getting killed by security forces, I was disturbed. I met Chidambaram on May 2 and offered to initiate a peace process. He agreed it is a socio-economic problem, not a law-and-order problem. He said he would make public all MoUs related to mining and was ready to discuss them threadbare. He said that the longer the ceasefire lasts, the better. He did not even ask for arms surrender by Maoists. But the Maoists were sceptical to begin with. 

So you endorse the Maoists' armed struggle? 


• No. Violence is not the means to achieve anything. I told Chidambaram that corruption is the biggest violence in India. Structural violence in our society is more heinous than Maoist violence. Why are 7,000 children dying of hunger everyday? 


Maoists are not the marauders they are being painted out to be. They are not serious about overthrowing government by 2050. Yes, there are lumpens among Maoists. Maoist violence aims to counter state violence. Both should be exposed. All this talk about a unified command and joint operation is futile. It's suicidal and will lead to civil war. The security forces, on whom the government is depending to win the war, will desert them because they are unhappy with the state. 


Is there a way forward? 

• I want to create a third force comprising leaders of civil society, religious faiths and intellectuals. We are being held hostage by elected representatives. I don't believe in parliamentary politics or representative democracy. We need grassroots democracy. Why should we seek inspiration in Marx and Mao? Our Vedas say there can be no private ownership of means of production, but social or community ownership. For that, we need to break the nexus between raj (government), math (religion) and seth (businessmen). 
Years ago you said globalization is the glorification of greed as god. Do you still remain firmly against globalization? 

• Globalization, as we know it today, is a truncated form. The terms of trade dictated are only advantageous to the West. Earlier this century, World Bank president James Wolfensohn invited me to Washington for a critique of globalization. I told him it's all about market forces and commodification of everything. It's globalization of greed. As an alternative I suggested vasudhaiva kutumbakam where the world is a family. In a family, the youngest child gets his share first and the others take care of him. The eldest or the breadwinner is the last to take his share. But in globalized economy, the weak and the poor are neglected. If you really want to take globalization to its logical conclusion, immigration should be allowed. While the West is pulling down tariff walls for smooth movement of goods from developed countries, it's building higher walls to discourage immigration. That will only create more imbalance. Like goods and capital, free movement of labour should be allowed. 

Casteism, you famously said, is a form of terrorism. Isn't that hyperbole? 

• No, terrorism pales in its ferocity when you look at caste atrocities in India that happen daily. Cruelty in the name of caste has no reason. Discrimination starts from birth. It's worse than apartheid. 
You are seen as the eternal protester. Do you think you would have achieved more had you stuck to a particular issue? 

• All issues are interlinked, be it casteism, bonded labour, alcoholism or foeticide. As a rights activist, I live by three Ds: doubt, debate and dissent. That keeps me on the wrong side of the establishment. I was expelled for life from the Arya Samaj when I tried to apply its tenets like egalitarian and casteless society, rationality, spirit of questioning and acceptance of truth, to its leaders.








Sonia Gandhi has approved the National Food Security Act. This aims to deliver 35 kg of grain per month at Rs 3 per kg to every family in the 200 poorest districts, extend this as feasible to other districts, and provide 25 kg per month to families that aren't poor.


This is supposed to help the poor. Alas, the biggest beneficiaries will be grain traders, shopkeepers and corrupt officials. 


NGOs and Sonia wanted to provide 35 kg to all households. But the government's grain procurement was not remotely enough for this. So, Sonia reluctantly settled for feeding the 200 poorest districts. 
    Her approach betrayed an unwillingness to learn from history. Indira Gandhi had the same concerns. Her Garibi Hatao programme nationalized the wholesale trade in foodgrains to ensure that all the needy got cheap grain — the very aim Sonia has today. 


Indira trumpeted nationalization as an anti-trader policy — the greedy bania would be replaced by the benevolent state. Alas, the state lacked the reach to distribute food to every household. Its public distribution system depended on licensed private shopkeepers reaching less than a quarter of the population. 

Government food procurement agencies operated only in big mandis, not elsewhere. Procurement plus imports amounted to less than a quarter of consumer needs. Most grain production was self-consumed by farmers or sold to local traders. 


Indira did not realize that if the government decreed a grain monopoly, nothing legal would be left for the open market, and so open market prices would shoot up. When that duly happened, she blamed the traders! 


Private trade was essential for producers and consumers. Had nationalization been fully enforced, farmers outside the procurement centres would not have been to sell their grain. Consumers would have been equally devastated: the government couldn't supply them, and private traders were banned from doing so. 

 India survived thanks to massive illegal trading, but at higher prices. A socialist measure aimed at crushing middlemen ended up enriching them. Indira Gandhi admitted that the grain takeover was a mistake, and rescinded it. 


Lesson: universal government provision of grain is conceptually delusional. Besides, even a limited PDS has proved outrageously costly, wasteful and corrupt. 

A 2005 Planning Commission report revealed that the Targeted Public Distribution System spent Rs 3.65 to transfer one rupee of benefit to the poor. "The cost of income transfer to the poor through PDS is much higher than through other modes." 


A whopping 58% of subsidized grain failed to reach the poor because of identification errors, corruption and inefficient operation. Over 36% was siphoned off by shopkeepers /traders and another 21% leaked to non-poor households. The cost of handling of foodgrains by public agencies was also exorbitant. 
    Leakages exceeded 75% in Bihar and Punjab, and totaled 50-75% in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In the worst states, over half the leakages were at the ration shop level, while ghost cards accounted for up to 30% of leakages in Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. A separate study by Ramesh Ramnathan showed that even in Bengaluru, India's IT capital, ration cards issued for those below the poverty line exceeded the entire population of the city! 


The new scheme provides a higher subsidy than ever. Open market prices of rice and wheat are Rs 20 and Rs 12 per kg respectively. PDS supplies at Rs 3 will make grain diversion more profitable than ever. How do you think shopkeepers and traders will respond to this? 


Proposals to give smart biometric cards to consumers could reduce identification errors. Even so, shopkeepers will blithely tell consumers — as they have done for decades — that they do not have stocks (which may be true after they have diverted everything to the open market). There is no system to detect leakages and levy penalties. Shopkeepers complain they have to bribe the local Food Corporation staff, transporters and inspectors, and so must divert supplies to the open market to avoid losses. 


If everybody is going to get biometric cards, why not simply send cash directly to the needy? Why have a plethora of subsidies for grain, kerosene, sugar, cooking gas, fertilizers and much else, all of which leak like sieves? A 2005 ICRIER study by Arvind Virmani, former chief economic advisor, estimated that it would cost just Rs 22,478 crore at 1999-2000 prices to lift all poor people above the poverty line. Adjusted for current prices, this is still under 0.5% of GDP, a drop in today's ocean of subsidies. 


Madam Sonia, please abolish all subsidized goods and services that lead to huge leakages, and instead send cash to the needy. That will not only reduce waste and corruption but yield you more votes.








The US strategy in Afghanistan is in deep trouble. President Obama's December announcement that US forces would begin to draw down from July 2011 is being widely read in South Asia as the beginning of the endgame for the US and Nato in Afghanistan. Regional states are beginning to jostle for influence. They will be left for the second time in less than 25 years to deal with the consequences of a strategic retreat by a major power from Afghanistan. The nature of America's problems and Islamabad's support for the Afghan Taliban has moved Pakistan into poll position to recover its "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. If it does so, the Pakistan Army and ISI will undoubtedly conclude that their support for Islamic extremism and terrorism has been rewarded. 

All four strands of the USled transition strategy are going badly. Efforts to create a powerful Afghan National Security Force to provide security across the country are faltering; the counterinsurgency or COIN strategy has backfired in Marjah and the Kandahar operation has been delayed; the peace and reconciliation process is failing because some of the main Afghan opposition parties have declined to participate and Taliban representatives have insisted they will not negotiate; and the efforts to legitimize the Karzai government have been undermined by fraudulent elections and ongoing allegations of corruption and incompetence. America's hand is being weakened further by the civil-military tensions exposed in the "Rolling Stone" article, which led to the sacking of General Stanley Mc-Chrystal. The United States has seen nothing like it since the 1971 publication of "The Pentagon Papers" foreshadowed the ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam. 

The dilemma for the United States and the rest of Nato is that with so much blood in the soil of Afghanistan and so much money spent to resource the war, the Alliance needs a success story to provide the political fig-leaf for disengagement and persuade their respective publics that the price has been worth paying. For the leaders of many Nato members, political futures are at stake. Yet the scale of challenge in Afghanistan is so great, and the need to find a resolution to the residual question of al-Qaida so pressing, that neither the US nor Nato can achieve an exit strategy on their own terms. 

The most plausible success story, and one which would allow forces to come home with political cover and the al-Qaida issue addressed, is that the US and Nato have achieved a stable transition in Afghanistan to an inclusive Afghan government, that the Taliban have given up support for al-Qaida and come into the political process, and that the US will retain a residual regional presence — as it has in Iraq — to maintain downward pressure on al-Qaida in the theatre. The United States has come to believe that the key to this entire narrative is Pakistan. 


Pakistan has resolutely supported the Afghan Taliban since it was forced to flee Afghanistan in late 2001 and it is from Pakistani sanctuaries and the main leadership shuras in Quetta, Gerdi Jangal, Miram Shah, and Peshawar that the Afghan Taliban has staged its comeback. Backed by the Pakistan Army/ISI the Afghan Taliban is now once again in the ascendancy in Afghanistan and is thus key to any US/Nato disengagement. This is why Pakistan's Generals Kayani and Pasha have made a series of recent visits to Kabul in which they have offered to broker deals with the various Afghan Taliban groups and the Karzai regime; it is why Pakistan has now cleared the way for Mullah Baradar to be extradited to Kabul to participate in the process, and it is why secret meetings have been held with Sirajuddin Haqqani, and others to seek to engineer an endgame. Pakistan has simultaneously been pushing its erstwhile proxy Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into the process and quietly boosting militant strength in the Afghan-Pakistan border region by facilitating the movement of Punjabi Taliban into the theatre. Pakistan is also circulating the idea that the Afghan Taliban will give up al-Qaida to reach a deal, even though there are few reasons to believe this is so and no means to enforce any such offer the Taliban might make to ease the US/Nato withdrawal. 


Pakistan's price for being helpful to the US is acceptance of Pakistan's primacy in Afghanistan and that it has a strong role in shaping US regional engagement going forward. It is a measure of the desperation of the US that they seem prepared to agree this deal, cede the lead to Pakistan, and condemn the people of Afghanistan to Taliban rule or to civil war. 


Simply put, the United States seems ready to reward Pakistan's duplicitous support for militant Islamic extremism with the huge geostrategic prize of Afghanistan. The implications of this for India are grave indeed and it is difficult to believe that a White House friendlier to Delhi would ever have countenanced such a deal. India is emerging as a great power and with great power come commensurate obligations. India must take a stronger hand in Afghanistan and find a response which provides the United States and Nato with another way forward, which offers the people of Afghanistan an alternative to the Taliban or civil war, and which denies Pakistan a strategic victory which will surely resonate across the region for generations to come. 

 The writer is founder-director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford, UK








It is reassuring that Paul the Octopus, arguably now the most famous contemporary resident of Germany, has entered the Indian political discourse. When the revolutionary leader Jayalalitha promised at a spirited rally in Coimbatore this week that the end of DMK rule in Tamil Nadu was nigh, a government spokesman asked whether she thought she had become Paul the Octopus. Paul, as our learned readers will fondly recall, predicted the results of eight World Cup matches on the trot. Had Paul been a betting man instead of a playful ink-squirter, he would have been a millionaire. 


The DMK, however, might have missed the moral embedded in the crowning glory of Paul's fabulous achievements: he retired at the peak of his career. Paul knew when to stop. A statement has been issued from Paul's home, the Sea Life Aquarium at Oberhausen: "He won't give any more oracle predictions either in football, in politics, in lifestyle or economy. Paul will get back to his former job, namely making children laugh." It was news to me that Paul was giving lifestyle tips, but who can argue with the multiple collateral benefits of success? If the judicious display of cleavage can make you a sports commentator, why can't Paul provide some thoughtful advice on the hemline? 


However, we are wandering from the point. Paul has said goodbye from the pinnacle. His memory will never be tarnished by the possibility that while sketching out a scenario on the economy he messed up on the prospective value of the euro in 2011, thereby tanking Europe's economy, sabotaging the re-election of Nicolas Sarkozy and driving Greece out of the European Union. 


A perfectly timed exit is the key to history's judgment. How much greaterwould India's greatest Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, have seemed today if he had announced, just after he won his third consecutive general election in early 1962, that the time had come to write a few more books (which he did superbly; he and Churchill were in the same class as writer-politicians). Instead, wooed by suggestions of indispensability, he hung around till October and got clobbered by China in a war. Jawaharlal was already in the last phase of a long life; he would die in another 20 months. Two years of defeat, dismay and decline marred an epic career spread that had begun before the Khilafat movement. 


Consider how much more glorious would have been the image of his daughter Indira Gandhi had she resigned as Prime Minister in the second week of June 1975 after the Allahabad high court judgment, and gone to the people instead of imposing an Emergency. She would have been re-elected by an unprecedented margin. Or if Vajpayee had trusted his instincts and told his coalition that poetry was preferable to politics after the Gujarat riots. All these were rational options. One does not include Narasimha Rao, who should have quit after abdicating his Constitutional responsibility on December 6, 1992, because India's most ruthless Prime Minister did not have regret in his DNA. 


Witness Nelson Mandela: he topped a life of supreme courage and commitment by leaving office after one term of five years. The most charismatic visionary of our age had no delusions of grandeur, unlike far lesser leaders in Africa who destroyed the very freedom they won from colonial rule. Mandela placed his party and country above himself. He understood that institutions secure the future; individuals can only serve as the spur. 


Indian politicians are never tired enough to retire. They do not leave the chair even when it has become a wheelchair. Old age has been famously described as being fifteen older than your age. This happy law keeps Karunanidhi in office. He has done great service to his state; time has eroded his physical strength. This is his moment to laugh with children, not wait until children begin to laugh at you. His own children are untroubled by sentiment. They want him to campaign in a wheelchair because his charisma is their only insurance against defeat; and they want to win so that they can indulge in the unchecked appropriation of wealth that has become a privilege of power — for all parties. 


This is a central dilemma: power is too lucrative for anyone to walk away without a shove from the electorate. Some parties have also begun to believe that they can purchase enough voters to ensure victory, but such are the illusions that money tends to induce. 


Perhaps our politicians should learn to laugh. It is a good antidote to self-importance. Clemenceau, prime minister of France during World War 1 and a hero to his nation, said, wistfully, upon seeing a pretty girl when he was 80, "Oh to be 70 again!" 


Like a good Frenchman, Clemenceau had interests that were larger than politics.








In a month from now, on August 17 to be precise, the newlyopened Terminal 3 at Delhi airport could witness a disagreeable sight calculated to shame all Indians: the deportation of Bangladesh-born writer Taslima Nasreen, who currently lives in Delhi. 


Earlier this year, when her residence permit (first issued in 2003) was extended by a niggardly six months, the home ministry informed Taslima that this was the final extension and she must leave the country by August 17. She could, of course, re-apply for a residence permit at any Indian embassy overseas but there was no surety it would be granted. Senior officials have told me in private that the basis of the decision is completely "political". 


That Taslima can be a damned nuisance for politicians is undeniable. A writer who can best be described as feminist and secular-humanist (in the Western sense), she has angered conservative Muslims with her skepticism about faith, her irreverence and candid approach to sexuality. In the Indian context, this isn't unusual and Taslima has things in common with the atheistic, Dravidian rationalism of 'Periyar' EV Ramaswami Naicker, a man venerated by the DMK. Whereas Periyar confined his rationalism to an assault on the Brahmanical religion, Taslima has been preoccupied with Islam and its theology. This is not surprising because Muslims constitute a simple majority of the Bengali-speaking universe. 


Taslima's critique of Islam, more particularly Islamist dogmatism has beenrelentless but never outlandish, even though it touched many raw nerves among believers. In 1991-92, militant Islamists mounted a vituperative campaign against her in Bangladesh after two volumes of her essays became bestsellers. Her works had enough literary merit to be awarded the Ananda Purashkar in 1992, India's most prestigious prize for Bengali writing. 


The irony is that despite her literary credentials Taslima finds it difficult to get her writings published in both Bangladesh and West Bengal today. Many booksellers have been threatened for stocking her writings and at this year's Kolkata Book Fair, self-appointed vigilantes — perhaps the same ones who organized a violent bandh in 2007 against her living in the city — tried to make the occasion Taslima-free. Even those who published Hindi translations of her columns have developed cold feet. 


The comparisons between Taslima and painter M F Husain are striking. The plight of Husain, whose paintings are constantly targeted and who had to flee India, outraged the intelligentsia. Tragically, the same people haven't stood up for Taslima. Even double standards carry an eloquent message: All religions are sacred but some are more sacred than others. 


If self-publicity was the only thing driving Taslima, she would probably have been glad to escape this tension and set herself up as an exotic exile in Paris—where her views on the anti-women bias of Islam would draw an appreciative audience. After all, she travels on a Swedish passport, which was graciously given to her after Bangladesh revoked her citizenship. 


Taslima is unique in that she wants to live in India because it provides her creative nourishment. She seeks Indian nationality, views Kolkata as 'home' but is willing to live in Delhi till the dust settles. So far the authorities have grudgingly given her a toehold in India. In a month's time, even her nominal status as an intellectual refugee is set to be undone. 

 On November 28, 2007, Pranab Mukherjee had assured the Lok Sabha that "India has never refused shelter to those who had come and sought our protection…This civilizational heritage, which is now the government's policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Ms Nasreen." Five months later, replying to an overseas Indian's plea on her behalf, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conceded, "Taslima has been a victim of the politics of hate that a small section of extremists…are now pursuing." Citing the sanctuary given to the Dalai Lama, Manmohan Singh gave an assurance: "We recognize Taslima Nasreen's right to remain in a country of her choice, viz India…" 


The PM was writing as an enlightened man of letters. Now, as a politician, he faces the sorry prospect of not only having to eat his words but worse, mocking the idea of an India "where the mind is without fear…"









I am not the sort of person who gets unduly perturbed by stories about the violent Hindu right or about the rise in so-called Hindu terrorism. Yes, there may be terrorists on the fringes of Hinduism but given the size of India's Hindu population, it would be surprising if there were no terrorists at all within the community. In a nation of over a billion Hindus it is hardly cause for shock and horror if 0.01 per cent of the community turns to violence.


This was my view on Thursday when Headlines Today invited me to their studios to comment on video tapes of alleged Hindu terrorists. These recordings had been made by one of the terrorists himself and were part of the police investigation into the matter. Headlines Today said that the tapes suggested a worrying nexus between the terrorists and individuals within the Sangh Parivar.


There was, first of all, a conversation involving B.L. Sharma Prem, a former BJP MP who was video-taped in conversation with some of the alleged terrorists. Prem said terrible, disgusting, anti-Muslim things on the tape (the abuse had to be bleeped out) and the possibility of staging violent attacks on Muslims was discussed. Far from dissuading the potential terrorists, Sharma seemed almost approving. Other recordings linked the potential terrorists to members of the RSS, including perhaps a relatively senior leader.


I said on the show that I did not believe that the tapes proved that the RSS had a terrorist agenda or that it had organisational links with the terrorists. But, I added, there was always a danger that an organisation that defined itself in terms of religion and had a clear anti-Muslim agenda would attract dangerous lunatics, peddlers of hate and violent radicals.


I gave the example of B.L. Sharma Prem, who I first met when he appeared on a TV show I anchored in the late 1990s. Prem was clearly a fascist of some description and said such terrible abusive things about Muslims and Christians on camera that we had to edit out most of his comments. To complete the fascist picture, he filled the studio with his own followers, who shouted 'Har Har Mahadev' each time their leader said something especially poisonous. I was so shocked by Prem that I complained about him to a very, very senior leader of the BJP. "Arrey, woh toh pagal hai," the great man said. "Don't take him seriously."


But we had no choice but to take Prem seriously because no matter how much the BJP dismissed him, it also gave him parliamentary tickets. Prem got to be an MP twice and at last year's election, he was a BJP candidate once again. (Fortunately, he lost.)


The problem with the BJP, I said on the programme, was that it did not distance itself enough from the Muslim-haters and the Hindu fascists. In the case of the RSS, the problem was more acute. We know that in the early days of the Sangh, many of its leaders supported such fascists as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. If the Sangh wished to leave behind the legacy of those days, it had to weed out the lunatics, Nazis and mad bombers from its extended family.


The RSS had its defenders on the show. The basic defence was that terrorist acts were the work of individuals and did not reflect on the organisation. The RSS is rigidly disciplined. It does not believe in violence.


So far, so good. I had my concerns. The Parivar had its defence.


That was on Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, an angry mob (numbering anywhere from 500 to 4000, depending on whom you believe) stormed the offices of Headlines Today, broke window panes, pelted stones and was stopped by the police from entering the building. The mob shouted pro-RSS slogans and its members made it clear that they were protesting against Thursday evening's story. If you watch footage of the attack, you will see how ugly the mood was and how close the mob came to doing some serious damage.


Oh dear, I said to myself, all three of yesterday's defences have crumbled at a stroke. If the terrorism was the work of a few individuals, then why is the RSS turning up to complain? If the RSS is so disciplined, then why is it being represented by rampaging goondas? And if the RSS does not believe in violence then why are these men breaking window panes and damaging property?


At first, the BJP took a safe if slightly ludicrous line. It distanced itself from the attackers and said that the whole thing was a Congress campaign to discredit the party.


But by the evening, the mood had changed. Far from disowning the attack, the BJP was actively identifying with it. Its spokesman, Tarun Vijay, even described it as a Gandhian dharna. (If this is Tarun's understanding of Gandhian philosophy, no wonder he is such a great fan of Veer Savarkar.) When Headlines Today's Rahul Kanwal protested that he and his team could have been hurt, Tarun Vijay smirked, "If they had wanted to hurt you, do you think you would have escaped?"


Hearing Tarun speak, my blood ran cold. Worse was to follow. Other BJP spokesmen, whom I know to be moderate liberals, were reduced to attacking Headlines Today for 'defaming' the RSS and glossing over the attack. Not one BJP person spoke up for freedom of the press. Not one of them disowned B.L. Sharma Prem or condemned his poisonous remarks.


I thought back to the BJP of the Vajpayee era. Then too, the fascists and the lunatics had been around. But they had been kept in check, hidden away, or, at the very least, dismissed in public. Now, the BJP was going out of its way to defend the lunatics, to justify attacks on the press, and to protect an essentially fascist agenda.


There has always been a thin line that separates sections of the Sangh Parivar from the hoodlums of the Shiv Sena, the MNS or Ram Sene. The BJP has achieved the sort of national respectability that these parties can never aspire to because its leaders have always stood up in public for liberal values and have condemned violence. But now, there is no difference between Bal Thackeray defending the ransacking of the Mahanagar office and BJP spokesmen acting as though Headlines Today brought the attack upon itself.


I still don't believe that Hindu terrorism is widespread or that the RSS is involved in it. But I do believe that the BJP is in deeper trouble than it realises. It risks going from being perceived as a respected national party to becoming a Shiv Sena clone that thrives on communal hatred, attacks the press and glories in violence.


This started out as a story about terrorists and RSS supporters. I would still acquit the RSS on that score. But now, the Sangh Parivar, by its own actions has turned it into a story about something more fundamental: the very character of the Parivar itself. Are the loonies being given free rein? Is the BJP no more than the lapdog of a hardline RSS faction? Has the party forgotten the liberal lessons of the Vajpayee years?


Judging by Friday's violence, the answer to all these questions is: yes.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)






Not so very long ago, black people in America were called negroes, niggers, blackies, and treated as third-rate citizens only good enough to mix with other blacks.  Those who  accepted their lower status without protests were known as 'Uncle Toms', those who became uppity were lynched by gangs of the Klu Klux Klan. Slowly white Americans' outlook changed.  Instead of using ugly, racist denominations, they began to call dark people Afro-Americans. Then all of a sudden there was a change in the mindset of the whites. They elected an Afro-American, son of an African Muslim father and a white American woman, as president of their country which is the richest and most powerful nation in the world — with a thumping majority. Obama became the most feared and respected man on earth. It was a miracle. What is more, his wife Michelle Obama who had a similar background and was as good looking as her husband, became the icon of the fashion world.


How the miracle took place is well told in a recent publication  titled Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope by Elizabeth Lightfoot (Om Books International). It traces her childhood in Chicago, his education in Princeton and Harvard and her first meeting with Obama. She shared her husband's dreams of the future, "We are driven by the simple belief that the world as it is just won't do — that we have an obligation to fight for a world as it should be. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight when the current of history meets the new tide of hope."


More miraculous than the rise of the Obamas is the pre-eminence achieved by Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur. After Bhindranwale's fall, Operation Blue Star, the massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi who couldn't have ever dreamt that a Sikh would be chosen as the prime minister of India for a second term, and his wife would be the first woman doing the job expected of a prime minister's wife — it all happened. Gursharan used to visit me occasionally. But ever since I started bullying her to write her autobiography, she dropped me. The only difference between the Obamas and the Singhs is that Obamas are at least a foot taller than the Singhs and while Barack Obama is the head of the most powerful nation in the world, Manmohan is heard with respect as the wisest of the world's leaders today.


Delhi, oh delhi!


There was a time when my wife, I and our closest friend, our pet — Simba (a German Shepherd), used to do the rounds of Khan Market after dinner every night. Simba would leave us with no choice. No sooner would we finish dinner, he would bring my walking stick and put it in front of me with a pleading look. So we would step out with him. He would get ahead of us and stand by the ice-cream vendor's cart, wagging his tail. So we would buy him an ice-cream cone, which he gulped down with great relish. We would then proceed to the paanwala... That was long time ago. Simba died and we gave up chewing paan. Our visits got rarer. Till a couple of years they got restricted to meeting the dentist, Dr Mehta. When he moved to a different location, I had to find a new dentist. I heard good reports of Dr Dhiraj Vohra, who along with his father had a flourishing practice in Khan Market. I made an appointment for the afternoon when the market was likely to be less crowded. So I went to Khan Market after two years, and was in for a nasty surprise. It looked as if the whole area had undergone a blitzkrieg: roads and footpaths were reduced to debris of bricks and stones; cars clogged every inch of space, and everyone moved at a snail's pace. Cars were parked so close to each other that there was no space between them. That made getting in and out very difficult. I managed to find the clinic and was struggling to step over piles of rubble when the younger Vohra spotted me and came out to lend a hand. He introduced me to his father — both handsome men. And what a fancy clinic — spick and span with the latest gadgetry, apparently from New Zealand. I asked him if the business in the market had suffered because of all the modernising of the city for the Commonwealth Games. He replied, "You can image it yourself having seen it with your eyes. I have complained often that the government gave the game business high priority and is wasting too much money which could have been spent building more schools and clinics for the poor."


Treading the Gandhian Path


 My lauding of the Sikhs in a Punjabi village rebuilding a mosque they had destroyed during the Partition riots in 1947 and handing it back to the Muslims has brought a similar gesture of goodwill towards Muslims.


One instance is that of Tejlok Bharati of Dwarka in Delhi. He is closely associated with Muslim organisations set up by Hakim Ajmad Khan and has adopted an orphaned Muslim girl of a destitute family and arranged marriages for their daughters bearing all the expenses. He is also active member of a Hindu orphanage run by the Arya Samaj which provides educational facilities to children of all communities. It was founded by Swami Shradhanand. All I can say to Bharati is shaabash.







Joel Stein's controversial article in Time magazine talked of his hometown being swamped by us weird samosa-eating, dot-wearing Indians worshipping gods with multiple arms and elephant noses. In response, here's a letter to Joel-ji:


Esteemed Joel-ji,  


I have recently arrived in Manhattan. Things here are so strange, so different from back home. Elephants, camels and tigers do not roam the streets freely, although the roads are full of a wide variety of chariots. But unlike ours, these are elephant-less carriages, kept in motion by magic. 


Arising from my bed of nails every morning and after performing my Rope Trick, when I look down at the streets below I am reminded of the ravines of my beloved Chambal. But it is odd that you people keep your magic chariots confined to the ground — I haven't seen a single flying carpet.


\I have enrolled at the local gurukul — you call it a college. I have paid my respects to my guru-ji but we had some unpleasantness the first day when I gave him a sack of cow-dung to plaster on the walls of his house as guru-dakshina. I am sorry to say he was blasphemous about cow-dung. You are so different from us. We have now become friends, however, after he learnt that I was both a maharajah and a snake charmer. I now teach him samosa-making and fire-walking while he teaches me free market economics. But I must say Central Park was a disappointment, it is not like our jungles and I couldn't find Bagheera or Sher Khan there.


I am also amazed at the poverty here, I mean the spiritual poverty. You have only one God and people are astounded when I tell them we have 330 million. Your choices are so limited I feel sorry for you. Worse, your god seems to have a limited number of limbs. Bizarre!


You have churches instead of temples, but for some reason they put up a plus sign on every church. At first I thought Americans worshipped mathematics. But I found out they only use the plus sign — I have yet to see a minus sign in churches, let alone the symbols for multiplication and division. No wonder we have to do all your computer work for you.


How come nobody here has a third eye? I was worried about how you managed to cook your food, until I heard you use a microwave.


Some things are like home though. I lost my wallet the first day because a guy in the street levitated it out of my back pocket. I have met lots of nautch girls at the place you call a disco. And some of the Latinas are reincarnated Indians.


I have read and liked your article about your home town called Edison in New Jersey where all the women wear bindis and gods have elephant noses and multiple arms and it's just like home. Joelji, I am worried I might lose my identity. Did you know I spent a night demonstrating Kama Sutra positions to a girl but couldn't speak to her? We hadn't been introduced, you see. That's a bit of British culture I imbibed during my stopover at Heathrow. So imagine what could happen to me over here — only the other day I found I couldn't do out-of-body astral travel any more. So please tell me how to go to Edison.


Your fan, Bunty


PS: Can I bring along my cousins Dharma and Karma and sisters Maya and Leela?


Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint The views expressed by the author are personal







Lawyers will tell you that the Supreme Court is supreme because it is the final court of appeal and not because it's infallible. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court remains supreme and also, sadly, final even when it's wrong. The only remedy to a poor judgement by the Court is a revision by the Court itself. And that happens rarely.


A chance reading of the newspapers last week revealed, with a bit of a shock, how easily the Court can make silly and avoidable mistakes. Last Monday, the Court refused to entertain a public interest litigation seeking to remove the word 'socialist' from the preamble of our Constitution. It was inserted during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi in a desperate bid to burnish her left-wing credentials. And there it's stubbornly stuck.


The problem is that both then and now its presence in the preamble is a mistake. India is a democracy and free to choose whatever ideology its people vote for. Defining the country as a socialist democracy not only limits the freedom of its people to choose but, worse, constrains and restricts democracy itself. After all, capitalist democracies exist and are among the most successful in the world.


Alas, that's not all. Even worse is that this is a mistake that enforces hypocrisy, if not duplicity, on many of our political parties. Under the Representation of People's Act (Section 29-A) they are required to swear allegiance to the principle of socialism. That's fine if they believe in it. But what if they don't, as they have a right not to?


Well, they can either be honest and refuse in which case they won't be registered by the Election Commission and, thereafter, can't fight elections. That's what's happened to the Maharashtra Swatantra Party, Rajaji's and Minoo Masani's ideological heirs, who have been kept out since the 90s. Or they can 'lie' — yes, that's the word — and continue to function and contest elections.


Clearly, this is a situation that needs an urgent remedy. The case is so obvious one would have thought the Supreme court would at once concur. But not only did it demur, look at its reasons for doing so. First, it said no political party had objected. So if they are prepared to lie, let them. Why make honest parties out of those who are used to this fib?


Second, the court said that although it was an important question of law, it's an academic issue and there's no urgency to tackle it. In other words, this is an error that can continue. Which means the court acknowledges something is wrong but desists from doing anything about it!


Now, if you go back to the historic debates when the Constitution was drafted, you will discover this issue was raised at the time. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, strongly advised against defining India as socialist. The assembly agreed. Indira Gandhi altered that consensus. Today, although the Supreme Court seems to recognise it was a mistake, it either lacks the energy or the clear-headed vision to remedy the situation.


No doubt at one level this is a small issue. We've lived with it for 35 years and it hasn't impeded the policies of economic liberalisation implemented since 1991. But it's also a matter of principle. And principles are neither insignificant nor can they be deferred for a more convenient time. Surely the Court should have known this? But if it did not, perhaps it should consider disavowing the adjective supreme?


The views expressed by the author are personal









The phrase `style over subas a compliment. Take a look at Vikas Minar, the Delhi Development Authority headquarters that's arguably the world's ugliest building, and you'll realise how substance can be truly overrated when style is left to the dogs.


The new rupee symbol, on the other hand, is a lovely example of style over substance. Yes, IIT Bombay Industrial Design Centre post-grad D. Udaya Kumar who came up with the symbol, said he wanted to capture the `Indian roots' of the rupee in his design. Yes, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni did mention the new symbol "denotes the robustness of the Indian economy". Frankly, even if Kumar was inspired by a plough and Soni had said the new rupee symbol denoted the youthful exuberance of members of the Nehru-Gandhi family whose names started with a `ra', I would have still liked the .


All those qualities being talked about were injected in the sign to put muchvalued substance into undervalued style, like polo-necked, jazz-listening art critics talking about how the art works of Subodh Gupta, especially his stainless steel buckets'n'thalis installations, are "ironic symbols of a septicised aesthetics moored in the nostalgic trails of a joint family kitchen".


The truth of the matter is that the new rupee symbol is stylish, potent by itself with its firmness and hint of movement that the unstable $ (waiting to be pushed and turned into a skewered and broken infinity sign), the scrunched-up paw-like , the ludicrously geriatric £, and the unoriginal ¥ don't have. If there is any substance in the , it's in the first letter of `rupiya/rupiye' in the Devnagari script and the Wolverine-like strokes across its head that signify money.


Naturally for a man having way too much cash in his wallet, the new rupee design was an invitation for me to take a look at rupee currency notes. If you flip them over, their `substance' is actually quite minimal. The 10 note, with its etchings of a rhino, tiger and elephant accompanied by a flame of Art Nouveau eruptions from the centre is worthy of Dürer. They may tell us, `National animals', but the substance of that message is overwhelmed by its sheer artistic style. The 20 has windswept palm trees (in Kerala?), the 50 shows the imperious Parliament building, and the 100 has a blue-ribbed Himalayan range that reminds us how abstract Nature really is.


It's not until we reach the 500 note that substance gobbles up style -the back of the 500 note showing the iconic Gandhi-led Dandi march sculpture `Gyara Murti' and the 1000 displaying a Soviet-style depiction of the nation's progress in science and technology through the images of an oil rig, a bunch of wheat stalks, a girl at a computer, molten steel being poured in a factory and a boxy satellite. Even the picture of Parliament building on the 50 is more a stylish depiction of a grand architecture than a `substantial' symbol of Indian democracy.


Substance, however, reigns supreme on the front of every Indian currency note, with the sole image of a smiling Bapu greeting us with every transaction. (Yes, Bapu's there each time a cash-filled suitcase is passed under the table.) This is a bit odd. The Americans, for instance, have George Washington ($ 1), Abraham Lincoln ($ 5), Andrew Jackson ($ 20) and Benjamin Franklin ($ 100) on their various dollar notes.


But then, Gandhi, I realise, performs the role of a cork-stopper. Imagine what would happen if the slot on the front of rupee notes opened up for nonGandhi national icons. Have Ambedkar on a note and there'll be someone clamouring for Subhas Bose. Ask for Shivaji on a 200 note and as the RBI Governor is my witness we'll have worthies demanding Jyotiba Phule, Lokmanya Tilak, Veer Savarkar and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on our notes -that last demand would have come overwhelmingly from those who were in their teens between 2002 and 2007 and from all those IIT students, including Udaya Kumar. So much for substance over style.


So next time someone ticks off anything for having `style over substance', tell the jaded philistine that style's not a thing to scoff at. This page you're looking at now, teeming with the finest columnists of the known universe, looks like someone's poured its contents from a cement-mixer onto the page. Maybe Udaya Kumar should take a crack at a new design. As for the substance on this page, I'm sure you'll keep dipping into it anyway even if I tell you it's way overrated.









Music is an emotion and passion that people cannot do without. A recent study by global market research firm Synovate with 8,000 adults, ages 18+, across 13 countries—Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Korea, Philippines, Spain, UK and US—confirmed that music was the world's favourite pastime.


Singers and musicians have, through discomfort, made a breakthrough in the entertainment business. They have infused new thoughts that have heightened collective and personal human emotion. Let me illustrate this by taking Western music as an example.


Western music's evolution from medieval, renaissance, baroque to the classical opera, operetta and philharmonic symphony to today's rock, rap and jazz happened amidst immense discomfort in their musical world. Classical masterpieces emerged mostly from Eastern and Western Europe since 1740.


Georges Handel was among the precursors who set the foundation of Western classical music.


Simultaneously from the 1600s, African music from the enslaved African community in the US opened another musical chapter with rhythm as the base. Black music started as spiritual, and evolved incorporating work-songs, ragtime and minstrel shows during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Blues and Dixieland were born in the late 1800s, while jazz and gospel began in early 1900s. After World War II, the black influence invented rock and rap music. African American gospel music, the collective humming voice of the black community in church was not considered aristocratic by Caucasians.


Over centuries they were used to hearing songs sung in characteristic monotone as in country music. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley created a new musical era of discomfort when he brought black gospel music and rhythm into mainstream society as rock 'n' roll. He also broke the rules of musical performance and disapprovingly got dubbed 'Elvis the Pelvis' for gyrating suggestively.


Like his father, Elvis became a truck driver, working for the Crown Electric Company. One day he stopped his truck at the Memphis Recording Studios where he had heard that anyone could record a 10-inch acetate for $4. He was 19, smitten by music and recorded his composition 'My Happiness.' That was the beginning of an extraordinary journey that ended with his being crowned the King of Rock 'n' Roll.


He wanted his music to stir up everybody's dancing shoes because the atmosphere after World War II was morose. His sensational singing style became controversial with American puritans calling it the devil's music.


Another discomfort in music came from the Beatles in 1962. John Lennon, James Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (who took the name of Ringo Starr later) were born into working class obscurity in post-war Liverpool. They took the world by storm.


An Evening Standard interviewer queried John Lennon about religion and his apolitical reply was: 'Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity.' Pandemonium broke loose. Disk jockeys in the southern American states encouraged a God-fearing youth to destroy Beatles records and memorabilia at bonfire rallies. Within a week, 30 US Bible Belt radio stations banned the Beatles from airplay. Lennon created discomfort at the risk of breaking his group's career at the height of their success.


The shock was momentary though. Lennon inspired a whole generation to think fearlessly, openly and clearly. He also touched a raw, discomfiting nerve in a social atmosphere stifled with a telling generation gap.


Musicians and singers comprised a new kind of creature who emerged to kill gloominess in Europe and America in the second half of the 20th century. They brought discomfort with a message. Singer Mick Jagger, now over 60, is still creating discomfort with 'I can't get no satisfaction.' He's taken his 40 Licks World Tour to wake up newer generations across the globe.


There was a cliché that the Punks were less a musical genre than a state of mind. In their discomfort creating heydays from early 1970, being a Punk fashion victim became fashionable. The Punks remained an underground music sect up to 1976. They demonstrated individualism and even revolted against older sub-cultures like hard-rockers and hippies. Being an anarchistic, anti-power movement, the Punks were amazingly successful in establishing a trend that influenced industry and lasted beyond their generation. For 40 years the Punks have been considered the trend that brought colour into European fashion and music.


But today the music industry faces a commercial dilemma about how to better encash music when computer downloads and recording from TV has become the music lover's way of getting music. As per Synovate's 2010 study, MTV in 1981 ushered in a new way for fans to connect to artists. About 57 per cent of people surveyed said they watch songs on TV but the computer is fast catching up with 46 per cent people getting their music from it.


In India, 38 per cent people use their mobile phones to listen to music. About 73 per cent of Indians polled say they watch music videos, mainly Bollywood music, on TV. Bollywood still rules the roost so we have not seen many artists make breakthrough change in the music scene here by creating the kind of discomfort that the West has experienced.


The flourishing entertainment business worldwide is a perpetual discomfort-creating machine. Being a perfect performer is never enough; the masses will endow the artist with commercial success only if they can remember the discomfort the artist created when reaching out to them.


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







 When I heard Pakistan's Foreign Minister liken the Indian Home Secretary with Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed last week I was so shocked that I thought I had heard wrong. So I spent a whole morning switching channels to be sure that I had heard right. I had. At the joint press conference held in Islamabad after talks between the two Foreign Ministers last week Shah Mahmood Qureshi (who himself spits venom against India every chance he gets) said when asked about Sayeed's hate speeches that in his view what G.K. Pillai told The Indian Express on the eve of the talks amounted to the same thing. He then said something even more extraordinary. He said he had discussed Pillai's comments with the Indian Foreign Minister and they had both agreed that they were unhelpful. While Qureshi was saying this, our sweet, namby-pamby S.M. Krishna said not one single word to defend the Home Secretary.


What is going on in Dr Manmohan Singh's government? We have known for a while that his ministers have found it hard to agree about almost anything and on a daily basis publicly revile each other but the line surely needs to be drawn somewhere. India's Home Secretary being compared to a notorious terrorist and hate-monger in the silent presence of our Foreign Minister is surely too much even by the lax standards that the Prime Minister has allowed.


It is true that the timing of the Home Secretary's revelation that David Headley had told Indian officials that the ISI was behind 26/11 was curious. He said this in this newspaper's Idea Exchange forum and it became the first official admission by the Indian government that it believed that the attack on Mumbai was planned and executed by the Pakistani government. This dramatically changes what happened from an act of terrorism into an act of war and the Indian public has a right to this information but for it to be revealed on the eve of the Islamabad talks has puzzled political pundits in Delhi all week. But, does this excuse Mr Krishna's silence when the Home Secretary was compared to Sayeed? Does it not immediately debase the whole effort at dialogue that India has initiated despite what we now know about 26/11?


Is this dialogue worthwhile? Every time Pakistan's Foreign Minister opens his mouth to talk about India he sounds as if he is making a hate speech. When the Indian Prime Minister first made his peace moves we saw Mr Qureshi mock him publicly. 'We did not go on our knees to ask for this dialogue, India came to us.' Then, even as our pathetically mild Foreign Minister was taking wing for Islamabad, the man he was setting off to talk to told reporters that he was in touch with Kashmiri groups who had asked him to discuss human rights violations in the Valley with the Indian minister and this is something he most certainly planned to do. He sounded as if the Indian Foreign Minister was coming only to be berated about Kashmir.


Mr Krishna for his part said he planned to talk about terrorism but he said this so half-heartedly that it was

pointless. He then sat like a sad faced mouse as Pakistan's Foreign Minister made it clear at their joint press conference that in his view, terrorism was something that affected both countries equally. This is complete rubbish. If Pakistan is under attack from the evil jihadi groups it created, this cannot be blamed on India. When it comes to jihadi terrorism on Indian soil it can with complete certainty be blamed on Pakistan, especially when it comes to 26/11. So what on earth are we talking about?


What is the point in talking to civilian officials in Islamabad if they are going to speak in such belligerent fashion? Now that we know from Headley that 26/11 was 'fully' planned and executed by Pakistani military intelligence should we not be talking directly to the Generals? Everyone knows that it is they who control foreign policy and that civilian officials like the Foreign Minister dare not open their mouths without permission from Army headquarters.

At the risk of sounding as belligerent as Shah Mahmood Qureshi, may I say that as an Indian it shamed me to see our Foreign Minister sitting silent while a senior official of his government was compared to a terrorist. It was humiliating and offensive and if Mr. Krishna cannot do better than the Prime Minister would do well in the supposedly imminent Cabinet reshuffle to shuffle him off into a backroom in the bowels of a less visible ministry. His record as Foreign Minister has always been less than satisfactory but his performance in Islamabad last week really took the biscuit.


Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter@tavleens







 Once again we have a display of the insecurities of the Maratha people. Even after having their own state for fifty years, the leaders of the Marathi speaking people are out agitating against one page of a book written by a foreign scholar on their hero Shivaji. On a previous occasion too, these agitators had already destroyed a jewel of Maharashtrian, indeed, Indian scholarship when they burned down the Bhandarkar Institute's Library in Pune. This sort of self abuse continues. Now, even the Congress has joined in the demands that despite the Supreme Court judgment, the book be not sold in Maharashtra. The idea that the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech and within that, access to books which are not banned, is beyond the intelligence of Congress chief ministers nowadays. What matters are vote banks and knee-jerk populism.


What do they think they will achieve by this? Books can be bought online these days. People travel and so can buy the book in other areas of India. Of course, fellow thugs of right extremism may demonstrate elsewhere as well but then India is big and I am sure James W Laine's book will be easy to get. What is more is that criticisms of Shivaji have been around for decades. I recall Jadunath Sarkar's writing being debated by historians but no one tried to ban them. C.N.Annadurai, the great Tamil writer and politician, wrote a play which criticised Shivaji for surrendering to Brahminical forces and undergoing a shuddhi ceremony before his coronation to make himself a kshatriya. That being in Tamil and before the creation of Maharashtra has escaped everyone's notice.


The idea that a hero should be above criticism denotes an insecurity of the admirers rather than a problem with the hero himself. When Jaswant Singh's book on Jinnah came out, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi banned it from being sold in Gujarat on the flimsy ground that it could instigate riots in Sardar Patel's native village, Karamsad. Why anyone should have been offended by what was said in the book—which was based on historical facts—is hard to understand (In any case, it boosted the sales of the Jinnah book). Again the fragility was not in Sardar Patel's reputation but in the mind of Narendra Modi. Or maybe in the minds of all these defenders of some historic inviolability of their hero, there is merely a desire to shout and destroy to attract attention.


Shivaji's reputation will survive not only any writing by Laine but even the defence of the Congress Chief Minister and his attempt at being the friend of Shiv Sena. It is astonishing that someone who should be an Indian hero is being made into a parochial, Maratha only, hero. The same goes for Sardar Patel. Why should his name be defended by Gujaratis alone—that is if it needs defending? He is after all an Indian hero. The making of linguistic states has had this fragmenting and parochialising effect on the pantheon of Indian heroes. Apart from Gandhi and Nehru, there are no all-India heroes left.


The same fate has been visited upon Rabindranath Tagore. Rather than an Indian, or even an Asian figure, he has been stubbornly clasped by the Bengalis to their collective bosom. Recently, we had the London showing of a film Life Goes On directed by Sangeeta Datta in which she has sung some poems of Tagore's set as Rabindra sangeet. She got Javed Akhtar to translate some of them into Hindi while retaining the music. At the premiere, someone objected that she had ruined the poem by having them sung in Hindi. Bengali and Bengali alone would do for Tagore. And thus, someone who throughout the late 19th and early 20th century was an all-India and indeed a global figure, is being reduced to a parochial figure.


Tagore will also survive the attempts to lock him up in some exclusive Bengali box. His work transcended languages—Bengali as well as English . His music and his paintings are of universal appeal. The attempts to claim exclusive possession to Tagore or Shivaji or Sardar Patel do not harm these heroes. They indicate the insecurities of modern India, the shrinkage of the contemporary leaders, the emasculation of the vision of what India can be.







A shameful blot on our criminal justice system is the phenomenon of undertrials rotting in jails for periods longer than the maximum punishment imposable upon conviction. One of the reasons is the inordinate delays in the trial inter alia because of lack of adequate trained Public Prosecutors (PPs). In this context, the anguished observations of a Bench of the Delhi High Court, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan, were most timely. The Court suggested that in every magistrate's court there should be one PP and wondered how one prosecutor could handle more than three courts and satisfactorily manage cases. The Bench noted that lack of adequate number of trained PPs is a main contributory factor for the problem of undertrials. The judges rightly observed that a country governed by the rule of law cannot tolerate the pathetic situation about lack of PPs in courts. The Bench asked the principal secretary (home) and the law secretary of Delhi government to visit and inspect the working conditions of PPs in various courts of the city. If this be judicial activism, it is most welcome because it enforces the right of under-trials to a speedy trial guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.


UK Supreme Court


The House of Lords has been replaced by the UK Supreme Court which is now the highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom. It was established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Court is housed in a building opposite the Big Ben. The atmosphere in Court is genial, not forbidding. The court rooms are spacious and brightly lit. There is pin drop silence in the Court. Counsel respectfully answer occasional polite queries from the Bench without loud interruptions from counsel on the other side. The day I visited the Court it delivered an important judgment in which by a majority of 6 to 3 it ruled that the Human Rights Act 1998 did not apply to British armed forces on foreign soil, viz. Iraq. A noteworthy feature is that a concise press summary outlining the facts of the case, the legal issues involved and the reasons for the judgment is issued at the same time by the registry with the approval of the Court to "assist in understanding the Court's decision". Judgments of the Court are available on the same day. Adoption of this practice in our Supreme Court is worth consideration.


Obsession with attire


Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic guidance has prescribed certain hairstyles for men as permissible models to promote Islamic culture and to confront Western cultural invasion. The French Parliament has banned the wearing of full length burqa in public to preserve French republican values and secularism. Our Union Tourism Minister Kumari Selja wants to prescribe a code inter alia to tell foreign tourists what to wear and how to wear and not to indulge in "any activity that might disturb the social fabric of the country", professedly for safe and honourable tourism. The code will be a field day for subjectivity. Would jeans be permissible whereas skirts depending on their length be taboo? Besides to make the code binding on owners of hotels, guest houses, lodges, motels and other service providers apart from causing enforcement problems has a Taliban flavour about it.


Octopus as a pet


The World Cup football tournament in which the Oracle Octopus Paul made correct predictions about the outcome has led to pet shops in Delhi being flooded with requests for octopus as a pet. There may be many reasons for this. One may be that it is fashionable to have an exotic pet like the Octopus. Another reason may be the anxiety of business magnates to know about the outcome of their proposed projects. Will they make millions or collapse? Astrologers will face severe competition from octopuses. Many lawyers would also like to adopt on a trial and error basis an octopus for its accurate prediction about the fate of SLPs in the Supreme Court, a task in which astrologers have failed thanks to our unpredictable independent judiciary.







 Some of Delhi's leading journalists camped outside Omar Abdullah's residence hoping for an interview with the beleagured Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister after the army was called in to control the turbulence in Kashmir. But for the first three days, Omar gave vent to his feelings, not through TV and newspapers, but only on Facebook. He wrote exasperatedly that he was punch drunk from all the hits he was taking. He said he could not remember when he felt worse but was determined to steer the state out of these dark times. Omar urged friends and relatives to pray to ensure that the next 48 hours passed off peacefully. Ironically, even while expressing himself freely on Facebook, Omar took a dig at social networking sites. He criticised internet sites for spreading rumours about deaths and violence, which only made things worse. Since SMSes were blocked in Kashmir, Facebook was popular as a means of communication. The state police cracked down on some Facebook users for posting purportedly anti-national videos on their websites.


Spaced out minister


Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Tushar Chaudhary had to change offices thrice in the last nine months, along with his personal staff. First, he was located in Nirman Bhavan, then he shifted to more spacious quarters in Shastri Bhavan and now he is back in Nirman Bhavan. Chaudhary's Shastri Bhavan office, which included cubicles for his secretarial staff, was right next to Law Minister Veerappa Moily's office. Moily decided to appropriate the Tribal Ministry's space on the grounds that he needed a conference room to accommodate large delegations which call on him. Considering that Moily's own office is fairly spacious and he has three ante rooms and a visitors room, a new conference hall seems an unnecessary luxury.


The fire-fighters


Sonia Gandhi and Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal did some belated firefighting in the wake of the poor publicity the government got over the death of eight-year-old Aman Khan in Kanpur. Aman's parents charged that their sick child could not be moved to the hospital in time because of the SPG's security restrictions during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to the city. Curiously, the PM's media managers, who should have been the most active in defending the PM's security guard, had little to say. A TV correspondent got his ear chewed for having the temerity to make inquiries.


These days, the PM's media adviser, Harish Khare, a distinguished former editor of The Hindu, frequently belittles the falling standards of his previous profession to the chagrin of the Capital's media. During the PM's recent foreign trips, Khare rarely mixed with journalists, even while on board the PM's special plane. He was more comfortable in the company of senior government officials, such as the NSA and the PM's principal secretary, rather than his former colleagues.


Mind your language


Many in the BJP privately endorse Murli Manohar Joshi's suggestion that whatever one has to say, one should choose one's words carefully. Party president Nitin Gadkari's marketplace language has become a source of embarrassment. Apart from his ill-chosen remarks against political rivals, the BJP president at party discussions does not always weigh his words even in the presence of women. Gadkari admires the late Marathi comedian actor Dada Kondke, whose earthy humour in films lay in the use of expressions with double entendre in a bawdy context. In Bhandara, Gadkari even used the naughty title of a Kondke film in his speech.


So what, asks Rosaiah


While many in the Congress are panicky over the growing momentum of rebel Jagan Reddy's campaign, Andhra Chief Minister K Rosaiah claims to be unaffected. Rosaiah's favourite line in response to Jagan's challenge is simply: "So what? I will leave." The 78-year-old veteran points out that he has held every important portfolio in state government over the last 20 years and served as finance minister under several Andhra chief ministers. After such a glorious innings, he has nothing to lose by stepping down. His long and illustrious career may come to an end sooner than he thinks.

Change of mind


The Karnataka Bar Association planned a function to felicitate Santosh Hegde for his "bold and courageous" stand in resigning as the Lokayukta. But the programme was quickly cancelled after Hegde took back his resignation. Two Bangalore judges hastily instructed their clerks not to send off the letters of congratulation to Hegde, which they had already drafted.









The silence of the night was shattered. Passengers who were blissfully asleep lullabied by the chugging train frowned as they were rudely awakened. It took a few seconds to realise that the culprit was none other than the loud blaring ringtone of a gentleman's mobile phone.


Mobile phones have mushroomed in every nook and corner and have seeped so much into people's lifestyles that many feel helpless and lost when they realise they have forgotten to carry the device with them. The mobile phone is almost a consort to people these days. It has transmogrified life so much that we have become heavily dependent on this piece of technology in various walks of our lives.


I remember spending my times in the evening, after school, playing with friends, climbing trees, hopping on the playground, running after butterflies. But these days, one finds school students either SMSing (thanks to 'free SMS' offers by service providers), calling up friends informing them that they had sent them a funny SMS or playing games on the phone! Whatever happened to the age of scrabble, running and catching, kho-kho, bicycle races and sand castles after school? It is a pity to see the beauty of childhood being snatched away this way. This has lead to children growing up in a precocious manner.


Barbie dolls and toy cars no longer occupy the prime position at the bedside. That has long been conquered by the mobile phone which has replaced bedtime stories and dreams. Lego toys, Sherlock Holmes novels, knitting and embroidery seem to be passé as smart phones have crept in. What a pity to see young minds flipping away idly! It is an eyesore to see children playing football, soccer or cricket virtually instead of engaging in the game in the real world.


At weddings, it is a common sight to see relatives of the bride and the groom huddled on the dais handing over their phones to the newly weds informing them that their cousin from the U.S. wants to wish them well. The priest has to stop chanting the mantras and wait for the conversation to finish. The wedding hall these days reverberates with ringtones from different mobile phones, each humming to its own glory unmindful of the sanctity of the proceedings.


Even the priests are busy answering phones in the midst of the rituals. I find it strange that at the workplace people do not bother to turn their mobile phones into 'silent' or 'vibrate' mode. Meetings are usually interrupted when one of the attendees' phones starts blaring out and then the attendee sheepishly mumbles a, "sorry," and switches off the phone. What sort of 'productivity' are we talking about when employees spend their time chatting, SMSing or even switching off their phone?


Moving on to road safety, when has it become acceptable to drive with the neck craned onto the shoulder to balance the mobile phone or ride with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the phone? Nowadays, safety does not depend upon on how carefully one drives but it depends upon how the others drive on the road. Signals offer plenty of opportunity to quickly type an SMS. Handsfree systems and Bluetooth technologies have crept in and offer solace to drivers to stay connected even while on the move. But, at what cost? Is it not our responsibility to be judicious in our usage?


Movie watchers also have to endure the interruptions from people updating their friends on the phone on what the heroine is wearing or apologising to someone for not being able to speak as they are in a cinema hall. I once requested some people to turn off their mobile phones for which I invited sneers and catcalls from people sitting alongside. So much for etiquette!


My cousin recently passed away. We were offering words of comfort to her parents as she lay in her coffin in front of us. The atmosphere was filled with grief and distress. Out of the blue, a mobile phone blared out loudly. One of the visitors hurriedly rummaged through her bag to locate the phone that was comfortably nested right at the bottom. The rest of the evening, more such phones with different ringtones calling out, filled the air. Even the final hours were not in peace. Do we have to remain connected at the cost of distressing someone?


Lack of sensitivity


I am sure each of us has gone through more such annoying situations. This only goes to prove that we have lost our sensitivity towards our fellow beings. We are deeply engrossed in our lives alone that we have forgotten all about civic sense. We have started living in silos, our community being the 'Contacts' list on our phone. Our increased need to reach out and call up people demonstrates the fact that we are getting lonelier with time.


It is time to think of the following:


a) With the advent of mobile phones, are we actually staying connected?


b) How many of us convey birthday, wedding wishes on the phone and fail to attend the function?


c) In a social gathering, how many people can actually walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation rather than flipping through their mobile phones to act busy?


d) Are we so self-indulgent that we have forgotten to be sensitive towards others?


Mobile phone technology has indeed changed the way we communicate and connect with people. While the pros are many, it is high time we exercised a civic sense and a responsible attitude towards its usage for, freedom without responsibility can have consequences unasked for.







"Hello, it's me, Seshu, you know I kept Rs.75, 000 in the steel almirah underneath my shirts. Give that to the contractor, he will come there soon," an authoritative husband yells at his wife over the mobile phone from a busy public place where there is a large crowd.

The wife replies helplessly: "I do not know who he is, how he looks like, can I give the money to a stranger?"


Pat came the reply: "You saw him once and also served coffee in our house. You always forget. He is short, thin frame, of dark complexion with some curly hair, now wearing a blue striped T-shirt….OK, hand over the money. I will come home late."


Proud of his communication skill, he invited the contractor for a cup of tea from the wayside shop before proceeding to his house to collect the money. After 10 minutes, his obedient wife promptly informed him that she had given the money to the person he sent. Shocked as the contractor was still with him, he realised that someone overheard his loud instructions to his wife and duped her. The imposter had gone there in a blue T-shirt and repeated their conversation.


The husband cursed himself for the blunder of using the mobile phone recklessly in public. This is just one instance of how a mobile talk can prove costly. "Thank God," he murmured that he did not blurt out that he kept Rs. 2 lakh in the cupboard.


Likes and dislikes about persons or events are freely aired over the mobile phone, leading to undesirable and, at times, dangerous consequences.


Yes, the mobile phone has many advantages in today's fast life — in sending messages to families, friends or to the workplace. But the demerits are no less significant and the fact remains that its negatives do impact our lives. The mobile phone definitely helps a frequent flier inform his family of his whereabouts. The urgency to rush patients from home or from an accident spot to hospital cannot be overemphasised.


In case of theft, robbery, molestation or any other crime, the mobile phone is a friend indeed to call the police. Mobile phones are widely used to summon the taxi to reach the bus-stand, railway station or airport. The messages of accidents or death can be conveyed to the parties concerned in any part of the world in a trice. An SMS can be sent on a variety of matters — personal, official and business promotion.


With the facility to take photos, the mobile comes in handy when a crime take place. Photos of birthdays, marriages and festivals can be taken even by a layperson. The arrivals and departures of trains/flights can be ascertained through the mobile service. The fire service, ambulances and other emergency services can be had at the flick of buttons or even by a simple touch.


Now for the danger part of it. People talk animatedly while walking and driving vehicles oblivious of the road traffic.


Recently, two motorbike riders were run over by a lorry as they were using the mobile while driving. A woman was knocked down by a train as she was engrossed in a deep conversation over the cellphone.


The advertisement by some mobile companies of 'walk and talk' is dangerous as people keep talking while crossing the road, or boarding a train or bus, unmindful of the impending danger to life.


Listening to music on the mobile while crossing the road is another hazard. Mobile phones also affect the atmosphere in offices, where people keep talking to friends/relations for a long duration unmindful of their duties or the sensibilities of colleagues.


What should remain personal or confidential is spoken loudly to the party at the other end, and the mischief-mongers make the most of it.


Confidentiality is lost as people converse in higher decibels. Misuse of the mobile camera has increased — anti-socials take photographs of girls/women and blackmail them to extract money or other favours.


Medical reports show that continuous use of the mobile phone is detrimental to health as it affects the nervous system. A recent study stated that continuous use of the mobile phone affects the proteins in the brain. In fact, when two mobiles were connected to an egg and operated for over an hour, the protein inside the egg was found cooked. Crazy mobile users have a message here.


What started off as a means to 'communicate,' the mobile phone has become the instrument for prolonged conversation, especially among the youth. With attractive schemes and subsidies on talking time, the business is fast growing.


The mobile, thus, can be either a boon or bane depending on how we handle it.

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It is a scientifically proven fact that criminals have a structural and biological basis in their brain for asocial and criminal behaviour. A person with frontal lobe malfunction will be oblivious to the pain suffered by his victims. A person with deficiency in the amygdala could behave impulsively, without thinking of the consequences of his criminal activities. These people are likely to be repeat offenders, who simply keep returning to the prison incurring a huge cost to the state treasury and repeatedly wasting the precious time of the police and the judiciary.

The convict is kept in state custody in a prison under the watchful eyes of guards. Neither in view of their

training nor by experience can they provide any rehabilitation to the prisoners, who range from hardcore criminals to petty offenders.


The major outcome of this exercise would be exposure to fellow criminals, sharing of criminal ideas, networking among criminals and joint operations of unlawful activities. The minor outcome is some criminals giving up crime due to the hardships experienced and the stigma of being held in a prison.


Environmental factors


People can also be involved in crime due to environmental factors; frequent interactions with offenders and exposure to criminal activities. Similarly, people can be involved in crime, due to a lack of skills to pursue any job for livelihood.


It is commendable of the prison authorities to have initiated educational opportunities; now prisoners can write school and degree course examinations. So also they are exposed to yoga and religious rituals and discourses; all of these can be of enormous influence in changing their mind towards socially acceptable behaviour.


Over and above, prisoners require a multidisciplinary team with expertise in bio-psycho-social disciplines to facilitate treatment and rehabilitation. Prisoners, who have disorders of the brain, require the help of a neurologist or neurosurgeon, while behavioural and emotional disturbances can be treated by a psychiatrist. If a person has paranoia, he can suffer from a suspicion that others are planning to attack him or even kill him. A psychiatrist can set right this problem in about month's time with medication. Paedophilia is a sexual disorder which requires treatment with medication and psychotherapy.


A psychotherapist can enable them to modify their dysfunctional thought process, beliefs and emotional reactions which lead them to criminal activities. A clinical social worker would be able to initiate a procedure to correct destructive behavioural patterns, pathological family dynamics and environmental influences of criminal activities. A rehabilitation psychologist would be able to find the aptitude of the person and can guide him to choose appropriate vocational training.


The multidisciplinary team needs to have a very clear role definition and also be officially involved in all decisions related to the prisoner. Each discipline bringing its body of knowledge can enhance the state's effort to enable the person to lead a crime-free life, thereby cleansing society.

All prisoners should be considered patients unless proved otherwise!







For my first shave, like practically every teenaged boy, I used my father's razor. 'Stealthily', I must add, to set the records straight. My grandfather's razor would have been my tool, had I not been mortified by its looks. Its business end looked menacing, but it was the most basic of implements: three inches of gleaming steel with a dark grey-and-tan handle made of buffalo's horn. Grandpa would sharpen it by rubbing it against a small grey slab of slate, with a drop of water to ease the movement.


My father, having been more urbanised, used a safety razor. This one inspired courage because its cutting edges were both nearly masked. Though the all-metal, double-edged blade needed to be changed once a week, in my father's view, the blade was meant to last for e-v-e-r. When it lost its edge, he would rub it along the inner face of a glass tumbler, lubricated with a drop of water.


One of the first purchases from my salary was a safety razor made of gleaming metal and a clean, sharp blade. It had doors on the top and the handle had a knob that needed to be rotated gently to open the doors. It was one of the most advanced contraptions that I had handled till then. The replacement cost of the blade was the princely sum of Rs. 2 for a five-pack.


Then a revolution of sorts was ushered in: a model with just one cutting edge appeared. The apparatus was light and you had to buy a cassette containing five blades. When the handle was slid into the cassette, a blade would get engaged to it – and, hey presto, it was at your service. The cassette cost a fiver, I guess.


Then spring-loaded blades exploded on the scene. The blade would retract, they claimed, if they came into contact with the facial skin instead of hair. This was a quantum jump in comfort as well as price. I think the blades cost Rs. 10 each. I used to feel so guilty indulging in this extravagance.


A few years passed and, sure enough, models with two blades came. More comfort, more money, more guilt. Rs.25 apiece. I bought this hi-tech product, was extremely satisfied with it, and thought that I had found my life-partner. Once you used it, there was no going back to cheaper stuff. You stayed wedded for life.


I had to eat my hat soon, as the serpent dangled the apple in the garden again. In the form of a three-blade razor — the ultimate in shaving comfort. It required fewer strokes as it gently caressed the face. I tried to resist the temptation to buy one, but soon succumbed to the marketing blitzkrieg.


I found the trade-off between a Rs. 100 note and mornings of pure delight to my advantage, but squirmed in remorse every time I bought them. Not once in the last four years have I been disloyal to this ultimate gizmo.


Famous last words they might turn out to be. There is a model with — hold your breath — five blades. I have been eyeing this beauty at the local mall for quite some time. I can see it standing there, staring at me, egging me to give it a try, daring me to move on. I know that sooner rather than later I am going to buckle under the strain and buy one.


A friend told me of a battery-powered model which has a vibrating head that will make the hair stand up and be slaughtered. And the price, a whopping Rs.1,500 for a blade. I was not sure he was not pulling a fast one on me.


The ultimate blade


That night I dreamt of the ultimate version of the shaving razor: one with a thousand micro-blades guided by laser and driven by dedicated micromotors. It would seek out individual facial hair and destroy it without a trace and sprinkle aftershave on its reverse stroke. It had a micro-chip loaded with a thousand MP3 files. The chip would also sense the mood of the owner from his face and play the appropriate music. At Rs. 10,000 apiece.


(The writer is a former General Manager of State Bank of Travancore. His email:









We are once again in the season of disputes between states over natural resources. Maharashtra and Karnataka are battling it out over land — the status of Belgaum. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are locked in contention in a matter that concerns water, the question of the Babli dam over the Godavari in Nanded district of

Maharashtra. The argument is that the dam will obstruct the flow of water to Pochampad dam in the Telangana

region. In the case of Belgaum, an issue that goes back more than five decades, political opinion cutting across party lines is caught in a chauvinistic whirlpool caused by linguistic currents. Looking at the potential political damage that may be caused to the Congress-NCP dispensation if he is not seen to be pro-active on Belgaum, Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan has demanded Union Territory status for about 800 Marathi-speaking villages of Karnataka's Belgaum district. In Andhra Pradesh, however, it is mainly the Opposition Telugu Desam Party that is in the forefront of protest. Interestingly, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, has not struck a strident posture, preferring mainly to appeal to the Central Water Commission, although water supply to the Telangana area is the question of debate in this case. The ruling Congress in Hyderabad has kept a low profile over the issue. Some observers are led to think that the TDP is doing no more than return the Congress' compliments. When the TDP was ruling Andhra Pradesh, the Congress — then the main Opposition party in the state — had led a shrill protest over the raising of the height of the Almati dam by Karnataka on the river Krishna, much to the discomfiture of Mr Naidu, who was chief minister.
It is hard to get away from the feeling that it is the spirit of politicking at work, both on the land question as well as the water issue, rather than genuine politics which in its highest forms must concern itself with people's welfare. In the medieval era and earlier, Belgaum was very much part of the Kannada region in every respect. In the 17th century, parts of this area came under the sway of the Maratha ruler Shivaji. In the British period the entire area — indeed most of the present Karnataka state — fell under the Bombay Presidency. In independent India, under arrangements made by the States Reorganisation Commission on a linguistic basis, Belgaum district was made part of the then Mysore state though it was well understood that parts of it had a significant Maharashtrian population, and later came under the jurisdiction of Karnataka. Its status has been before the Supreme Court for some years, with the Maharashtra government challenging the stand taken by the SRC and the subsequent Mahajan Commission. However, the affidavit of the Union government in the apex court has questioned Maharashtra's stand. It is therefore unclear what Mr Chavan's political actions, aimed at securing at least some areas of Belgaum for Maharashtra, will achieve. It is clear, however, that had the chief minister kept quiet, the Shiv Sena might have gone on the rampage. Perhaps it is time for all parties to be persuaded to wait it out until the Supreme Court delivers its verdict. It should be kept in mind that the social or economic status of Belgaum city or Belgaum district has in no way been affected on account of being part of one state and not another. On the Babli dam, it is necessary to keep in view the sensitivities of Telangana, a water-deficient region. But the evaluation of the impact of the dam is best left to expert bodies, such as the Central Water Commission.








Political parties are gearing up for byelections in 10 Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh's Telangana region as this may well determine not just the future of all the three regions of the state but also the future of the main political parties in the state.


In the past few decades, the situation in Telangana has remained volatile. In the 2012 general elections one-third of the Lok Sabha seats in the state may witness three- and four-cornered fights. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has an advantage over the Congress while in coastal Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has a strong presence. Andhra Pradesh, which has 42 parliamentary seats, may well swing marginally away from the Congress and, like Tamil Nadu, may be headed towards a coalition in the future.
Jaganmohan Reddy has considerable assets acquired during his father Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's two-term regime. Also, like the Reddy brothers of Karnataka, the "excessive assets" accumulated — that might have filled the party coffers — are beyond the authority of the Central leadership. But in coalition politics, one always has "options". However, if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy is denied the post of chief minister, it remains to be seen if he will launch a regional party.
The Congress is committing a tactical error as it is yet to identify a leader for the future in Andhra Pradesh. We are well aware of the fact that caste politics exists in the north, but the south, too, is not far behind. No political party can afford to ignore this factor. The process of churning has begun and it would be politically naive to take anything for granted in this fluid situation.


IN THE Bihar Assembly elections, the performance of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) will be watched closely. All regional parties have their own issues for the future and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamul Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the TDP, the Biju Janata Dal and a host of small parties are all flexible in their approach. As the Congress aims to bag 272 Lok Sabha seats in the next elections, i.e. 72 more than its current 200 seats, in the 2014 general elections regional forces, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, will do everything possible to protect their political interests. It seems that we are heading towards a new coalition pattern that may evolve in two or three stages.

No party is irrelevant at this stage and strengths and weaknesses can be expertly "hidden" in a coalition structure. The United Progressive Alliance is stronger in theory today compared to 2004 but look at the number of decisions deferred and referred to groups of ministers (GoM) and you will begin to see the conflict in the system.

The Women's Reservation Bill has been forgotten and the issues associated with khap panchayats may well suffer a similar fate. Apart from normal "sermons" no one can predict when a decision on this and other issues will be taken by the GoMs.

Major political players will direct new alignments. Besides Mr Kumar, Mr Naidu, Ms Mamata Banerjee, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Naveen Patnaik, we may well see Mr Sharad Pawar and the NCP making decisive moves.

As I have mentioned in my earlier columns, the NCP chief operates well beyond his "numbers" and has a personal rapport with every party. This makes a huge difference in political negotiations. Also, for the sake of political longevity and survival, every party, without exception, will indulge in complex political manoeuvres in the future months — no election is ever easy in coalition politics.

THE SITUATION in Jammu and Kashmir is showing signs of improvement but the political equations in the state may well change in the future as public discontent cannot be dismissed. Along with the anti-national elements and the separatists, there is also the issue of the political interests of the National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP). In chief minister Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti both the parties have found credible leadership for the next decade. I think that Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Farooq Abdullah — both now in their seventies — have done the right thing by passing the baton to the future. They should stay away from active politics.

The PDP fared well in the last election but the Congress, for the right reasons, aligned with the NC. But the Congress has failed to develop any credible leadership in Jammu and Kashmir. Future battles in the political arena will be fought between Mr Omar Abdullah and Ms Mehbooba Mufti. In the current crisis, the PDP leader has an advantage when it comes to public support. One cannot, therefore, blame the PDP for the stand it has taken.

The curbs and restrictions imposed on media in Jammu and Kashmir are unfortunate and will prove to be negative. Sometimes electoral verdicts generate huge expectations and non-performance and failure to identify with local aspirations can result in a fair amount of dissent. As things stand, Mr Omar Abdullah is facing a credibility issue.

In Jammu and Kashmir, politics has never been easy and like the rest of the country the younger generation — which constitute a sizeable section of the electorate — is moving beyond dynastic politics and connections and is inclined towards performance. The last election in Jammu and Kashmir had produced a record turnout so I think it would be a mistake to judge politics in the Valley on only the politics of the past.
Anti-incumbency trends in the state may be rather strong with a viable Opposition but I think both the PDP and the NC will gain in the Valley. The position in Jammu will be very different as we have a classic coalition structure in place. There are far too many moving parts in this political jigsaw puzzle with few ways to arrive at an easy "political solution".


ALONG WITH our impressive gross domestic product growth "change" is taking place in every field. We continue to be surprised by both the positives and the negatives on many social and political issues that have existed for many years but are now coming into focus as there is greater awareness and participation by civil society.

This is the greatest positive development of the last decade. We often talk of our demographic pattern in terms of statistics but there is a driving change in our society where events overtake decisions as we hurtle to attain "superpower" status. India is changing rapidly and I sometimes wonder if our political system can keep pace with this change.


Arun Nehru is a former Union minister








The Planning Commission, that is home to bureaucrats and more, is now a kind of mammoth relic of the Nehruvian era. But it is gearing up for a major revamp to be accomplished over the next couple of years. And it couldn't happen sooner — for its critics, and there seem to be many, have declared an open season for lambasting the planning panel and its deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for being unacquainted with the ground realities.


Road transport minister Kamal Nath initiated the most recent charge by accusing the panel of being just an "armchair adviser". Senior Congress leader Anil Shastri too joined the chorus and now even food secretary Alka Sirohi has taken on Dr Ahluwalia on the issue of using information technology to reform the public distribution system.

The tirade against Dr Ahluwalia is, of course, being seen as an assault on the institution itself. The proposed revamp, as envisioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, includes a change in nomenclature — to the Systems Reform Commission. Arun Maira, formerly with Boston Consulting Group and now a Planning Commission member, has been assigned to restructure the commission into a larger network with think-tanks producing thought papers at a faster pace and communicating more lucidly with polity.

But that is in the future. Meantime critics are having a field day at Dr Ahluwalia's expense and babus are taking shelter on both sides.



Plugging holes

The northeast has long been an anathema for babus who exploit every rule in the book to avoid serving in the region. Babus usually cite insurgency, lack of good educational facilities and promotional opportunities for not wishing to serve in these states. But the new rules affect Union Territory cadre officers, thereby also affecting Delhi babus. Home minister P. Chidambaram has decided to tighten the rules of transfer for Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service officers of the Assam, Goa and Mizoram (AGMU) cadre to ensure that these babus serve their mandatory tenures in their parent states.

According to sources, IAS officers entitled to hold senior time-scale posts would serve only six years in Delhi, five years in hard areas such as Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and the remaining three of the 14 years in category B territories such as Goa, Chandigarh and Puducherry. The first babus on target obviously are those who have been in Delhi for long on deputation. So we can expect some large-scale movement of babus very soon.








 "Q: What's on the drinks menu at Eklav's Cafe?

A: Dhoka Cola and Thumbs Up."

From Bachchoo's

Ancient Quizzes


Occasionally, and when they can't think of anyone else to fill the forbidding emptiness of the broadcasting ether, Indian television stations and programmes ask me to appear and voice my opinion on some topic of the day.

If one is in London, the drill entails driving or bussing down to one or other satellite-linked studio, on most occasions the one on the Albert Embankment in a tall red building adjoining Lambeth Bridge.
From the studio on the ninth floor of this building one has a magnificent view of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament muted only by the darkened-glass walls which shield the cameras from glare and give the world the protected look one gets from wearing "shades".

Very polite young men seat you down in front of a camera which looks like a small flat TV screen and wire you up to listen and to speak. Then they abandon you for the little adjoining room with mysterious monitoring equipment through which they perform their transmitting ceremonials.

One sits in the chair, switching the mobile (or "mo-BILE!", as we Indians would have it) off and waits the five or 10 minutes before the earphone crackles and the host or hostess of the programme can be heard introducing the guests and perhaps bouncing into a question of the topic in hand.

Indian TV debates can get very noisy and sometimes very difficult to control with the participants insisting on getting across what they want to say oblivious of the fact that saying it above the voices of other participants militates against any communication at all.

It's what happened on the last occasion I was invited onto a programme which was supposed to debate an article by one Joel Stein in Time magazine. It appears that Master Stein is a columnist of the international magazine. He wrote a satirical piece about the town of his birth and youth, Edison, New Jersey, which has now been transformed by immigration from the subcontinent. The article was an attempt to be funny — and some may have found it so — as Master Stein lampooned himself and his friends as petty shoplifters, street nuisances and the robust if harmless youth of a community.

The piece would have had some bite if it had been written 20 years ago, as it was no more insightful than to say that the local cinema now showed Bollywood films, the cafes served spicy food and that the young Italian bling-merchants of his adolescence had been replaced by Asians who wore their black shirts open and decked themselves with tasteless gold jewellery.

Nothing new there — and perhaps because he and the editors at Time knew that, Master Stein ventured into hotter territory. He noted that the racists in his old school referred to Indians as "dot heads" and wondered how good the schools of Edison could be if this was the only insult they could think of for people "whose Gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose".

For my generation "dot heads" is associated with the American racists of the 1970s who went around assaulting Indians and calling themselves, the assailants, "dot busters". Not very nice.

Master Stein also ventured the opinion that when Indian immigrants first moved in they were mostly engineers and doctors and were regarded as very clever, but then they brought their merchant-class cousins and this somehow let the tone of the neighbourhood down.

The entire article was intended to be tongue-in-cheek but the editors who approved of it should have noticed that Master Stein's cheek was thin enough to have allowed his tongue through it to rudely protrude and point.
On the occasion on which I was invited to comment on the article the sound in my earpiece, my only indication as to what was happening in the studio in Mumbai or Delhi, was fuzzy. Turning up the volume only deafened me with incoherent ethereal noises of the electromagnetic spectrum. Remember, playing by satellite, one looks into a blank glass plate and can see nothing of whom one is addressing — a sort of blindfold inquisition.
What I could hear was a lot of very angry shouting. I couldn't make out the sentences but it was apparent that our interlocutor, the gifted and acute Arnab Goswami (known in Australia as "Go-get-'em"), had invited someone to assess the article and they had "gone" what the English call "bananas" and the Americans call "ape-shit" (I have always wondered whether ape-shit can be, or is, used to fertilise the growth of bananas, but that's another question).

The person doing the militant interrupting, whose name or provenance I failed to catch, was screaming about racism in America and, though I can't reproduce his argument as I didn't hear his words, seemed to be warning the world that this was the sort of article that led Nazi Germany to acquiesce in the holocaust.
The host did ask me my opinion and I ventured to say that the article struck me as the sort of tosh one finds on an amateur's blog, but felt impelled to warn against a particular vein of objection or extreme reaction. I don't think anyone in the audience heard a word I said because the Don Quixote of anti-racism was in full gallop against the windmill.

The host, with someone indistinct, protested to my argument by saying that Time was an important magazine and by being published there the article had been given some sort of official sanction. Editorial sanction by the insensitive? Yes! An official declaration of war against Indian immigrants which would result in injury? No!
The stuff which borders on ridicule of the avatars of Lord Shiva or Ganesha is, I agree, the most objectionable. But none of Master Stein's observations were to me a call to the barricades.

Neither should the Indian diaspora assume the hijab of intolerance and murderous threat for which the fundamentalist Muslims who place fatwas on writers have become noted. I would urge Quixoteji to burn copies of Time in Edison's town square, to begin a bloggers campaign to stop buying the magazine, to write articles flaying Stein. But Stein mustn't be stoned. The right to write satirical articles, however unfunny and insulting, as long as they fall short of incitement to racial assault, should be tolerated and seen by the world to be taken in our sophisticated kadam.




                                                                                                                                                            A TRIBUNE




INDIA faces the gravest external and internal security threats today. Pakistan and China are colluding in besieging the nation from all land and sea frontiers and the Af-Pak end-game will, certainly, aggravate the situation.


Internally in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiya, aided by anti-national elements, including some political parties, has unleashed a virulent psychological war to curtail the operational freedom of our security forces. In central India, China-sponsored Maoists have inflicted demoralising setbacks on the CRPF.


However, their prime target is the defence forces, which in people's eyes epitomise the best in India by virtue of proven valour, self-sacrifice, character and national commitment. Pakistan and China regard it the only obstacle to their proclaimed intentions of dismembering the country. Yet, the Centre and the states, politicians, peaceniks and Maovadis continue merrily playing into their hands.


Foremost is the government itself which has kept the defence forces precariously short of critical weaponry. Ships, submarines, aircraft, artillery, infantry modernisation and strategic weapons — all remain dangerously deficient even 25 to 30 years after these requirements were first projected. While some procurement preliminaries have commenced, their induction and assimilation would still take many years. Can India afford to lower its guard for close to half a century? Yet, responsibilities in the Ministry of Defence are deliberately diffused. No Defence Minister or bureaucrat can ever be held accountable. Some field commanders may get the sack, a la Kargil!


Some days ago, a Parliamentary Committee 'reviewed' preparations on our frontiers. Our infrastructure is woefully short, they stated, China is way ahead of us. Did it really take a Parliamentary Committee to discover what has been articulated by the Army for decades? The Chinese railway to Lhasa took a quarter century, but babustan seems to have just woken up to its game-changing reality.


The campaign to dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has the militants and their sponsors salivating at the mouth. To get a perspective, we need only compare current counter-insurgency conflicts. The US uses artillery, aircraft and other heavy weapons against insurgents. Collateral damage is accepted – after all, making an omelette entails breaking eggs!


To avoid incurring heavy army casualties, even Pakistan employs such stand-off strikes against its citizens in the Afpak region — disregarding civilian lives. In contrast, our Army endeavours to avoid any civilian casualties, consciously uses only small-arms, necessitating face-to-face fire-fights — a high-risk, high-casualty option. Hence, militants often use civilian shields to engage the army.


As regards civilian deaths, over 95 per cent have been found baseless. In all proven cases, exemplary punishments have been expeditiously awarded by the Army's justice system. Despite such commendable restraint, the life-and-death AFSPA decision will be taken by people who have never handled the butt of a rifle, leave alone fancied its business end. The Army will thus be forced to fight with both hands tied. Will it result in another partition? Only time will tell.


While all democracies ensure that servicemen's sacrifices are nationally recognised and rewarded, India is unique in cheating them of their dues and attempting to undermine their prestige. The mandarins in the Ministry of Defence are perceived to be in the forefront of this unequal 'corporate war' against the defence forces. The rank-pay case is illustrative.


The Fourth Pay Commission (1986-1995) unambiguously awarded rank-pay in addition to basic pay. But babustan deceitfully deducted it while fixing the basic pay. Thirty-odd years afterwards, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the affected personnel. However, the Ministry of Defence has filed a review petition, despite having paid these very dues to Major Dhanapalan for 12 years. Is Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily listening?


A Right to Information (RTI) application sought to know how many Supreme Court judgments had been honoured by the Ministry of Defence without facing contempt of court? The MoD sections for Army and Navy gave evasive replies, but the one for Air Force replied, 'Not One!' No wonder in Sidhu vs Union of India, Supreme Court Judges Justice Markandeya Katju and Justice A.K. Patnaik made scathing comments against the government in admitting defence personnel's emoluments and pensions.


The apex court asked the MoD counsel, "Is this the way you treat our army officers who are bravely defending the country's borders? It is unfortunate that you are treating them worse than beggars." Only, after much grovelling by the counsel did the court consent to keep some, even more incisive, comments off-record.


No wonder, despite Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence having repeatedly asked the government to grant one-rank-one-pension, babustan constantly cites its inability to do so. Ninety-five per cent of IAS and IPS officers, all judges and scores of other categories already have this pension, yet it is found impractical for defence forces!


On July 7, 2008, a blast in Kabul killed Brig. Mehta and IFS officer V.V. Rao. The Ministry of Defence awarded family pension and other routine benefits for Mrs Mehta. However, for Mrs Rao, the MEA specially sanctioned lifetime full pay and retention of the official bungalow. Clearly, discrimination dogs defence forces even beyond the grave.


Officer shortages have been endemic now for so many decades that the issue has been killed by bureaucratic strangulation. The figures are alarming except for a don't-care government. Some 30 per cent officers are deficient overall. However, in battalions and regiments in combat zone, the shortage of young officers soars above 55 per cent! With the government taking pains to deny honour to our heroes, to treat them as 'beggars' for every crumb of 'largesse' which is the norm for other services, is it any wonder that suitable youth no longer opt for the 'honour' of defending the nation – a sea-change in just a few years? Yet, even as officer-shortage is a severe handicap in the current proxy war, it may well result in reverses should there be a border war.


Consider the plight of ex-servicemen (ESM). Nearly 20,000 medals and awards have been handed over to Rashtrapati Bhavan in several batches. But the Supreme Commander has neither met the ESM surrendering their precious medals — emblems of sacrifice for the nation she symbolises — nor even acknowledged their concerns.


Soldiering is still a tradition in India. Even today, sons (and daughters) follow their fathers into the Army. Naturally, when their elders are treated shabbily by the government, it impacts their serving kith and kin. The forces cannot be isolated from their forebears, but the blind babustan fails to see. Its ESM Welfare Department, modelled on the US Veterans' Department, has no defence officer. The USA's is headed by a combat-experienced Lt-General, a Cabinet member.


Simultaneously, a sinister campaign to malign the forces has been launched by our enemies. The media, obsessed by circulation or TRPs, has willingly or unwittingly become their cat's paw. Take the so-called Sukna scam involving the No Objection Certificate (NOC) for a school on private land — No money changed hands. Yet this non-issue was used to tarnish the Army image in reams of newspapers and hours of TV bulletins.


Now compare these column-acres and TV-hours, with the minuscule coverage of braveheart Colonel Neeraj Sud, martyred on June 23, 2010, while personally leading his troops fighting militants. Also compare the homage paid to CRPF casualties by the Union Home Minister, Chief Ministers and high dignitaries, with the military-only national honours for Colonel Sud.


An eminent journalist, while being appointed to a reputed national daily, was told by top management, "circulation is our sole dharma; national interest is not our concern!" So true! While covering the Kandahar hostage crisis, newspapers and TV channels unleashed competitive emotional reports with footages of hysterical relatives. Finally, the government was compelled to swap JeM chief Masood Azhar plus two terrorists for the hostages. The rest is history!


We need to emulate the American media after 9/11. It stood solidly behind the US government and inspired the patriotic fervour and fortitude that swept the country after it.


In our context, recalling Kautilya's wisdom is pertinent: "Pataliputra reposes peacefully each night... thanks only to the Mauryan Army's vigil ...While citizens enable the nation to prosper, the soldier guarantees that it continues to exist."


Governments can function (or not), the media can ignore national interest and politicians can shut down the nation, only so long as the nation exists. Therefore, some self-regulation, if only in selfish interest, becomes vital. 







THE Karnataka government has finally given the power to the Lokayakta to take suo motu cognizance of allegations of corruption against any official up to the rank of the Chief Secretary, but the Chief Minister, ministers and MLAs have been kept beyond the purview of the institution. Justice N. Santosh Hegde (retd.), Lokayukta of Karnataka, put the state BJP government in the dock by resigning from his post, blaming it of "indifferent attitude" on corruption. However, the top leadership of the BJP was quick to discern the growing tide of public opinion against the state government, and L. K. Advani stepped in to control the damage and successfully persuaded him to withdraw the resignation. The state government has conceded his one demand and class I and senior officials have been brought within the ambit of the Lokayukta's jurisdiction.


However, the rationale behind leaving the elected representatives out of bounds is not understandable. The fight against corruption will be meaningless if no effort is made to extirpate political corruption, which is the fountainhead of all maladies. However, Hegde's resignation, which was subsequently withdrawn, has brought the issue of corruption, particularly illegal mining in Karnataka, to the centre-stage. Surprisingly, the Congress party, which made the Lokayukta's resignation a big issue to nail the state government, is against giving "too much power to one person". Though Hegde has withdrawn his resignation, he categorically told DDNews that he did not have confidence that he would get cooperation from the state government in his fight against corruption.


The office of the ombudsman must be bequeathed adequate power if it is to be a watchdog against corruption. Unfortunately, neither the Union government nor any state government is willing to strengthen the institution. In 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh had boldly declared his intention to set up the office of the Lokpal and had even said that even the Prime Minister would come under his purview. It is reliably learnt that the Prime Minster had even asked a former Chief Justice of India to stay back in Delhi for the new assignment, but his allies like Lalu Prasad and Sharad Pawar vetoed the proposal.


One positive outcome of the unsavoury episode of Hedge's resignation is that the Union government is mulling over bringing Central legislation to effect sweeping changes in the ambit and functions of the ombudsman's office besides vesting it with constitutional status and making it a multi-member body like the Election Commission with more powers. It is necessary to make the office of Lokayukta uniform across the country. It is proposed to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a high court chief justice and consist of the state vigilance commissioner and a jurist or an eminent administrator. They will be appointed by a collegium of the chief minister, the leader of the Opposition in the state legislative assembly and the Chief Justice of the high court of the respective state.


Central legislation is essential to make the institution permanent, not contingent on the mercy of the state government. So far, 17 states have set up the institution, but there are pronounced differences in their respective pieces of legislation with regard to their powers, functions and jurisdiction. While some states have not appointed Lokayuktas, in others the holder of this post is more or less toothless. In some states, the Lokayuktas complain of inadequate staff and poor infrastructure while in others the requests for the sanction of prosecution or recommendation are gathering dust in the cupboards of the state governments.


The office of ambudsman was introduced on the recommendation of the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Morarji Desai. Acting on the recommendations, the Centre tabled a Bill in Parliament in 1968 providing for such an institution. However, the Bill lapsed following the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Since then, the legislation for the Lokpal at the Centre has been tabled at least eight times, the last being in 2001, but every time it lapsed with the dissolution of the House.


The Second ARC, headed by M. Veerappa Moily, recommended giving the Lokayukta more powers to investigate corruption. However, in 2008, Parliament diluted the Prevention of Corruption Act through an amendment which virtually nullified the powers of the prosecuting agencies, including the Lokayukta.


The question is how to combat and contain corruption. The government has made discriminatory provisions under which senior officers are protected and only petty officials are subjected to investigation and prosecution. It is precisely against this that Justice Hegde fulminated who could not investigate allegations against officers in class I rank and above.


If a class II officer is guilty how can he be exculpated on promotion into class I? At the Centre also, the government protects the officers in the rank of joint secretary and above for whom sanction is required from the appointing authority to prosecute them. It was done through single directive, which was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narayan case.


The Supreme Court has held that corruption is like cancer which malignises the polity and spreads like a fire in jungle. Corruption in public life, as the apex court observed, is a gross violation of human rights. It is anti-people, anti-development and anti-national.


The office of ombudsman must be strengthened to fight the canker of corruption. After all, the ombudsman is subject to the jurisdiction of the court. So, powers needed for the effective functioning of the office must be vested in it.








The exploitation of the helpless by miners amounts to financial terrorism against them. Poverty is acceptable, but not the loot. The government strategy to counter Naxalism should be: Stick for the Maoists, carrot for the tribal people

REPEATED Maoist attacks on the CRPF have shocked the nation. Unfortunately, the well-disciplined boys are neither properly trained nor equipped with the requisite arms and the logistics support required for counter-insurgency and jungle warfare operations. They walk into death-traps laid by Maoists. The CRPF does not have any regular special institute for such training.


If action is intended by any force, there should be complete preparation, though basically Naxalism is not a law and order problem, but that of economic, socio-political injustices, exploitation and of neglect of the helpless. The loot and exploitation of these helpless people by itself amounts to financial terrorism against them and Naxalism is thus only a reaction that becomes a very strong ideology and philosophy for getting justice and bread to the exploited and the impoverished. But when the movement is hijacked by political interest groups and senseless indiscriminate violence follows, it transforms into a condemnable terrorist activity that has to be tackled as a law and order problem and the police becomes relevant, though as a last resort.


People may reconcile with poverty as their fate and continue to live with it peacefully as they did for generations in the past, but it is difficult to reconcile with the sense of exploitation and loot. The young have great revulsion to being exploited. The organised massive loot of the area is in the mining of various ores. Actually opulence that should come to the area with minerals has become their bane. As unskilled illiterate labourers they hardly get jobs and even if some lucky ones do get they are paid very little, whereas they lose their titles to the land. The state gets very little as royalty and as such cannot look after them for paucity of resources.


The cost of mining, say iron ore, including the royalty and transport, is within Rs 500 at the most, whereas on reaching the factory the relevant international price has ranged from $60 (Rs 2,700) to $200(Rs 9,000) per tonne during the last few years. That generates a surplus of Rs 2,200 to Rs 8,500 per tonne on the 300 million tonnes of ore that is mined. That amounts to a surplus of Rs 66,000 crore at the minimum and Rs.2,55,000 crore at the highest price that the ore has commanded. On an average it works out to an annual surplus of Rs 1,60,500 crore that is pocketed by the miners. The moot point is whom does it belong to. It certainly does not belong to the miners. This surplus belongs either to the nation or the tribal people. They feel exploited and cheated.


If only the rates of royalty were 90 per cent of the international price of the ore, a problem would not have arisen for the reason that first the state would have enough resources to look after them and develop the area, and secondly, genuine business people would have come mining and stayed like that instead of mafia taking over.


It is correct that the terrorists cannot stand before the might of the state. In the process a few hundred or even a few thousand would be killed, others would be subdued and lie low, licking their wounds. The problem will appear to have been solved, but hunger, deprivation and the feeling of exploitation will compel new ones to rise again. A few years later there will be another buildup and fire will have to be doused again and again.


It happened in Bengal in 1977 when Naxalites were supposed to have been eliminated, but in 30 years Naxalism is back with a vengeance. It appears the forces may kill Naxalites, but not Naxalism. At that time it was difficult to rebuild and stand again, but now with technological and infrastructural developments, it is easy to build up quickly and our neighbours are too eager to fuel the fires. In future a fresh buildup may not take even a decade. Will the nation ever remain embroiled in these exercises?


In the seventies it was in 2 or 3 districts of West Bengal. In 1990 it was in 16 districts spread over four states. Now we face in over 200 districts spread over 16 states, a decade later it may be 400 districts or more (as one can see the next onslaught coming on in Rajasthan). At that stage no forces would be able to contain if tens of crores of people will be prepared to die for roti, kapda aur makan. Perhaps these are the last and final warning signals that we cannot afford to ignore.


There is another very serious aspect that was brought out the other day by the Home Minister of Maharashtra that Maoists collect Rs 2,400 crore annually from miners and other business/industrial groups as protection money. The DGP of Chhattisgarh had also estimated similar figures that came out of interrogation of those apprehended.


The prospective base of recruitment has to be curtailed and for this youth of the area has to be weaned from the Maoist/Naxalite path and for this the basic causes will have to be addressed. This is a problem of non-governance, bad governance, bad administration and the resultant injustices that have been handed down in the administrative and economic fields in particular over the decades.


In Mizo Hills the movement started in 1959 in the face of a severe famine with a simple demand for food that resulted in the formation of the Mizo Food Front. When this simple demand was not met and the alternative was starving to death, they converted the organisation to the Mizo National Front in October 1961 and declared rebellion.


As against the Mizos who were neglected for food alone, people of areas like Dantewada are deprived of their land, jungles, home and hearth ostensibly for economic development of the nation. If it is for the national good and these resources will be put to higher economic uses and the industry is literally going to mine gold from here, why can`t they be compensated adequately and comprehensively?


An all-out programme of development in the fields of education, economic activity, housing and industrialisation should be undertaken. Money is no problem as the government is already throwing hefty amounts in a variety of schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.


With the recent revision in the rates of royalty Chhattisgarh may collect Rs 2,000 crore more this year. Additional resources can be raised up to Rs 20,000 crore if the royalty rates are suitably raised. Development and rehabilitation work need not wait for either the talks with the militants or the police action but should be undertaken immediately as in any case it is the duty of the government to make lives of the citizens economically viable, equip them with academic and other tools to stand on their own, to provide them safe and secure modern facilities and a congenial environment for growth.


The writer is a former DGP, of Haryana








THE Defence Institute of High Altitude Research was the brainchild of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was set up in 1962 at Leh at the height of 3,500m above the sea level. The institute through its pioneering research and development efforts over the years has brought about perceptible qualitative and quantitative changes in agriculture, animal husbandry and cold desert flora of Ladakh. It was, therefore, the proud moment for India when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh honoured Dr Shashi Bala Singh with the Scientist of the Year award.


Shashi Bala is an eminent woman scientist and the Director of the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), Leh. She has immensely contributed to the understanding of high-altitude physiology and pioneered the development of drugs that prevent dreadful diseases at such dizzy heights. High-altitude maladies include cognitive impairment.


Having taken over as the Director in 2007, she has taken the institute to new heights by not only improving agro-animal research standards in the lab, but also augmenting "laboratory-to-field" research through training programmes for local farmers on the technologies developed.


These efforts have led to a synergy and harmony between the troops stationed in the Ladakh sector and the local population, thus contributing to internal security of the region.


Besides, she has pioneered research on non-conventional energy sources, permafrost-based germ plasma conservation, climate change mitigation and development of herbal interventions for improving performance at high altitudes.


In recognition of these multi-dimensional research efforts that have shown the monotonous, white, uninhabitable and barren mountain terrains of Ladakh the colour of green and a light of hope, DIHAR, under the leadership of Shashi Bala, has received the Spin-off Award in 2008, the Titanium Trophy in 2009 and the Innovation of India Award, 2010.


At present, Shashi Bala is the only woman Director heading a DRDO lab. She obtained her M.Sc and Ph.D in physiology from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1980 and 1986, respectively. She joined DRDO at the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi, in 1990.


She has right experience in the field of high-altitude human physiology. She took up the challenge to find out the solution of hypophagia at high altitudes and conducted human trials at altitudes above 3,500m to understand the neuron-physiological basis underlying the problem. She has also developed a method for ameliorating hypophagia by taking ginger-based appetisers before meals.


Anyone visiting Ladakh for the first time can be left gasping for breath due to low oxygen levels at high altitudes of the region. But a successful plantation drive has brought about environmental changes — raising oxygen content by 50 per cent and, most unusually, making it rain.


Ladakh, which used to depend on imported vegetables from Chandigarh, now produces 78 varieties of these and is about to meet 58 per cent of its vegetable needs. "We have now 78 varieties of vegetables being produced by the locals here. We have given various greenhouses to the Army and locals for horticulture. We have been able to produce 13 types of apple here with the collaboration of scientists and local farmers," says Dr Shashi Bala. 








Last week we had the scare again. The temperature hit 103 degree Fahrenheit (39.4 degree Celsius) in New York City. Once again there were speculations that with huge demand for electricity – especially with people running air conditioners at home even when they were out – there could be outrages. 

It happened three years ago when I arrived home one muggy, hot July night. I noticed the subway station near my home was not well lit and the trains were running a tad slow. When I reached my building there was electricity in our lobby, but the elevators were down and my fifth floor apartment was pitch dark.

The next two nights I spent on a friend's couch in Manhattan with his air conditioner blasting on my face, while people in my building and neighbourhood were sweltering in the heat. I learnt a new term – brownout, to describe a partial outage, as opposed to a blackout. The third night there was electricity in my bedroom and bathroom, but not in the kitchen and living room. There was no cable and Internet and so, after a quick dinner, I actually sat down and read in bed. 


In 2004, I was in New York City when the entire East Coast was hit with a blackout for a couple of days. That time it was even harder. The subways were down – in fact thousands were stuck underground in the trains, and the buses were packed with sweaty people. And there was a sea of humanity on the streets walking home. 

 No electricity also meant that ATM machines and credit cards could not be used. I had $20 in my wallet and spent two-thirds of that buying water, a flash light and batteries. I was left with $6 and I lived on that for two days, in addition to whatever non-perishable food I had at home. Not having access to money in my bank account or credit cards was a scary thought. And it was the second time it had happened in New York. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the city's banking system collapsed for a few days and credit card machines took nearly a week to become functional. 


 It feels strange to sit in the financial capital of one of the most advanced countries in the world and to worry about power outrages. But it happens here in pockets of New York City – at least once every few years and it is one of the few things that make me uncomfortable about my adopted home. I do not handle New York's summers well, despite the free outdoor concerts and film screenings, Shakespeare plays in Central Park and sidewalks buzzing with cool looking people eating at hip eateries. 


Often when I complain about the heat in New York I am told that I should shut up, since I grew up in a hot country. Yes, I lived through a couple of decades of Delhi's summers, but that should not preclude me from complaining here in New York. Delhi summers were difficult, but I have fond memories of spending the days reading, drinking Rooh Afzha and that greencoloured khas juice, sitting out in our garden during blackouts at night, talking to other family members, or listening to Vividh Bharati on a leather-cased, battery-run transistor radio that my father had bought in Japan. The power cut would often happen in the middle of the Sunday Hindi film presentation on Doordarshan's one black and white channel. We would only see half the film, but since the blackout was not consistent across the city, next morning friends in school would fill in the details I had missed out. 
 Last week a reporter from The Wall Street Journal interviewed me asking if I was prepared and had taken steps in case of a power outage. My response to him was that it is not like we are expecting a nuclear disaster in the city. But I have made a mental list of friends I can call if I need a couch to crash on. 



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Some residents of Hyderabad have initiated a campaign to assert their 'right to walk'. The campaign is led by a middle-aged lady who finds it offensive to have to walk past patches where men relieve themselves — and these in turn will point to the extreme scarcity of public conveniences. The point is that when public money is spent to improve public thoroughfares, no thought is given to the right of citizens to walk comfortably and safely along those roads. All too often, carriageways are widened by eating into pavements, placing the needs and demands of those using motorised transport over those of walkers. A similar public protest movement has gained momentum in Bangalore, in which the affected residents of particular areas and prominent citizens who empathise with them have banded together to protest against counter-productive road-widening work. Homes, shops and grand trees are being razed to make way for slightly wider roads, which will do little to relieve the traffic congestion for which the city is now known. The citizens' contention is that a contractor-civic official-petty politician nexus is focused on helping itself, unconcerned about what real benefit road-widening projects and flyovers bring to the public, and the damage they cause to public spaces. They have been emboldened by a concerted citizens' campaign which was able to halt the construction of a war memorial in a prominent park which is currently just a green lung.


The time may have come to formalise the avenues for citizens to express their views. One of the reforms that the national urban renewal mission says civic authorities should put in place in order to quality for central funding is active ward committees, and these should be consulted regularly when formulating an urban agenda. The NGO Janaagraha has been seeking to mobilise and train Bangalore citizens to insist on a say in the way their neighbourhoods are run. It is campaigning for a law that will make it mandatory for the civic authorities to consult local residents on their work programme and agenda. In other words, it is not enough for citizens to simply criticise local government bodies for misdirected urban growth models and the declining quality of urban life. They have to take the initiative, mobilise and make themselves heard so that they get a say in the governing of their cities, and take ownership.


The best examples of urban renewal in the world indicate that top-down master plans usually do not work. Cities are best able to change themselves for the better when all their stakeholders gather together, and agree on a common agenda in which they all see value for themselves. This is as true of Curitiba, which gave itself a bus rapid transit system that has transformed it, as it is of Barcelona which has been able to rejuvenate and revive some of its most distinctive inner-city areas. On the other hand, a city like Miami has been unwilling to go by the development pattern that 'enlightened' activists and city planners feel is good for it. Most civic officials will not welcome a more direct people's voice interfering with their plans, so the 'public' will have to wrest control over the public space; it will not be given to them on a platter.








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








A galaxy of well-known economists is pondering the vexed question of the preferred policy option in the context of world economic recovery — fiscal consolidation or not, and if not now, then when? The recent G-20 meet has agreed on 'growth friendly' fiscal consolidation plans for the advanced economies, going forward. And yet, in view of serious concerns about the pace of economic recovery, economists and others are slinging mud at each other on the issue of what exactly is 'growth friendly', and whether it is as yet time to withdraw the fiscal stimuli in advanced and other economies.


What do the two sides in apparent opposition assert?


 Economists supporting extension of the fiscal stimulus believe that the fact of low long-run Treasury rates, in both the US and the UK, reflect confidence in these economies; that there is as yet no indication of inflationary trends; that the growth rate of most economies is far below any plausible level of peak economic activity; that unemployment figures continue to be high; that there is continued shortage of demand; that scope for utilisation of monetary policy for promoting growth is limited; and that the recession may worsen if private spending does not go up.


Those advocating fiscal austerity have wondered whether it is possible that government spending in itself is a weak lever to counter economic cycles. Also, could debt-fuelled government spending be destroying the confidence of markets? Finally, are rising fiscal deficits contributing to private sector fears of future fiscal crises and tax increases?


Given this background, what is the preferred policy option at this juncture, and, is deficit spending always the preferred option in a recessionary or low-growth situation? If yes — the answer provided by John Maynard Keynes — how long should it be continued? Or, are there situations of slow growth in which measures other than deficit spending can work equally, if not more effectively?


Peering below the surface of the Keynesian remedy of deficit spending and counter-cyclical policy to boost demand provides scope for reflection. While Keynes is identified with fiscal prescriptions as a remedy for unemployment, what is perhaps often overlooked is why he prescribed this. Was it simply a mathematical identity that he was trying to ensure, and thereby suggesting public spending to meet the shortfall in private spending, when there was a shortfall of total demand in an economy?


Or was public spending playing some other less visible role, perhaps akin in some indirect way to the 'invisible hand' of the market? Was this expenditure, even through deficit spending where necessary, contributing in some way to holding, perhaps indirectly, the invisible but occasionally doddering hand of the market?


In case the answer to this question is in the affirmative — which appears to be the case, as understood through reference to some of Keynes' own works — then his prescriptions have to be viewed in the light of the role that they are expected to play. Keynes pointed out that his prescription for unemployment was designed expressly to counteract the growing threat of socialism and communism. Therefore, his prescription was clearly more than a simple device to enable balancing of a mathematical equation, where total demand was the sum of public and private demand. Public demand was intended to step up private demand by building up faith in markets, and not by substituting private spending with public demand.


If in today's situation, private demand, in the form of both consumption demand and investment demand, is refusing to respond to the stimulus in the form of public spending, then before pumping more money into the system, there is need to examine in greater depth why this is the case. Perhaps the role that Keynes in his brilliant treatise expected it to play is not being played out.


In fact, reference to the original work of Keynes on this subject, while shedding light on the possible role of public spending, also helps in reconciling the apparently contradictory viewpoints with respect to the need for fiscal expansion versus fiscal austerity, or put differently, on the timing of the fiscal withdrawal, which is a relevant concern at this juncture.


Before arriving at the remedy of deficit spending to counter unemployment, Keynes elaborated at great length, and in a profound manner, on the important role of short- and long-term expectations of firms, while they take the decision to invest or not. He emphasised the crucial role of confidence in shaping the schedule of marginal efficiency of capital. However, he added that nothing could be said a priori about the state of confidence. Our conclusions must depend on actual observation of markets and business psychology. Keynes also emphasised that recovery required revival of both — of lending institutions towards those who seek to borrow from them, and the confidence of those who needed to borrow.


The two apparently contradictory positions mentioned earlier also come close to reconciliation, when public spending is viewed, as a means, not merely of boosting volumes of expenditure and resultant demand, but by trying to understand the role that public spending can play in holding the invisible hand of the market. If the role of public spending is understood as that of building confidence in the ability of markets to function freely, then public spending will need to convey that message suitably, and in a manner where it does not convey the opposite by over-extending itself.


Possibly, what is needed is to carry forward the analysis in the General Theory of Keynes to discuss the nature of public spending that would build confidence of businesses and firms in their own abilities and in that of markets and economies. A new theory of the 'invisible hand of government', somewhat akin to the invisible hand of the market, which would define how far and in what manner governments can and should go in order to build confidence of markets, so as to enable them to function on their own without disturbing their 'integrity', is the need of the hour. The invisible hand of the market combined with the invisible hand of the government can then go on to provide the Midas touch to economies and lives across the globe.


Capitalism would then have been preserved, perhaps without the undue volatility and cyclicality that it is at present associated with. Questions on how much to spend and for how long would also get answered as part of the extended theory that one hopes will get propounded. One hopes that the Institute for New Economic Thinking, about which this writer has written earlier on this page, would be working towards the magic wand, and the Midas touch!


The writer is a civil servant. The views are persona








A standard response to low agricultural production is to increase the support price offered to farmers. Against the background of a low kharif harvest last year, the government has recently increased the MSP (Minimum Support Price) once again for the kharif crops. The question here is a broader one regarding our approach to agriculture in terms of pricing, procurement and stocking, which has created distortions in other areas.


The MSP is the rate at which the government procures produce from farmers. It is an open-ended scheme and any farmer can sell any amount to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) at the MSP. While the government announces these prices at the beginning of the season, the idea is to assure the farmers a minimum income. While the MSP is effective for rice and wheat, it does not really work for the other crops, where the market prices are higher. Therefore, the MSP is all about rice and wheat. More importantly, while the MSP was intended to be the last resort for farmers, it has become the convenient first option for them.


 The practice of increasing the MSPs has been more pronounced in the last four years. For example, between 2005-06 and 2009-10, the MSP was increased by over 80 per cent for moong, 65-70 per cent for wheat and rice, 60-65 per cent for tur, sugarcane, and coarse cereals, 50 per cent for soybean and 35-40 per cent for groundnut. Has this really helped?


The answer is, yes and no. The MSPs for crops other than rice and wheat are not really used by farmers to sell to the government. But, they do lend an upward bias to the prices in the market, and hence indirectly provide farmers with better prices. However, they also tend to distort cropping patterns, as farmers have tended to move to rice and wheat where relative returns are better and assured.


The result has been a gradual migration to cereals from oilseeds and pulses, which has made India more dependent on the outside world for supplies through imports. But, farmers have received better prices and to this extent have benefitted significantly in the last few years.


The accompanying graph shows how the terms of trade have moved in favour of the farmers when the price indices for primary products and manufactured products are juxtaposed, with 1999-2000 being the base year. The WPI indices for both these groups have been normalised with the base year for comparing the ratios. The pattern fluctuated until 2005-06, after which there has been a distinct increase in favour of the farm sector.


There have been three fallouts from this policy. First, there has been pressure on food prices, as the MSPs have provided an inherent inflationary thrust to market prices as they set new benchmarks for the market. Second, attention has got diverted from the basic malaise of agriculture, i.e., low productivity. Higher prices can provide better incomes to farmers, but the critical part is to improve productivity, which can only be done by ushering in a new Green Revolution with provision of better seeds, irrigation facilities and fertilisers.


Higher prices are only a partial solution and cannot sustain the farmers' income on their own in the long run. Productivity and output has to increase to provide self-sustaining incomes for them.


The other major fallout of this policy relates to the procurement and stocking objectives of FCI, which has tended to create shortages despite abundant production. This is where related policies need to be revisited. Let us look at rice and wheat, the two main crops that are featured high in terms of government support. The marketable surplus of rice and wheat are 80 per cent and 66 per cent respectively (based on 2006-07 data). This means that out of a total output of say 90 mn and 80 mn tonnes respectively, actually 72 mn tonnes of rice and 54 mn tonnes of wheat are available for the market.


The government comes in now and through its open-ended scheme starts procuring 30 mn tonnes of rice and 22 mn tonnes of wheat, which has been the case in the 2009 (rice) and 2010 (wheat) seasons until April. We have only 42 mn and 32 mn tonnes respectively left in the market, which in turn creates a shortage.


The government has been stocking large quantities of wheat and rice in the name of food security, well beyond the buffer stock norms, which peak at a combined quantity of 27 mn tonnes for July. As against this amount, FCI has stocks of 60 mn tonnes of wheat and rice as on April-end 2010. Quite clearly, such surpluses, while doubling the sense of food security, do accentuate the shortages in the immediate time frame. This combined with the higher MSPs has put pressure on the prices of these products.


There is hence need for a fresh look at the entire policy towards agricultural pricing and procurement, to ensure that there are fewer distortions. By merely increasing prices, we are deferring the problem for a later date.


The writer is chief economist, CARE ratings. The views are personal









Does a man running a grocery shop need to also run a primary school in his locality or run a mobile van for free dental checkups? Yes, if he wants to be seen as fulfilling his corporate social responsibility (CSR).


 In the normal course, for those who buy from his shop or live near his shop, it would suffice that he does not sell adulterated stuff, that he does not dirty the surrounding areas or clog the drains with plastic.


But if he hires children and keeps them holed up in a hot room in the basement with no wages and food, maybe it would be a good idea for him to arrange free dental check-up for his neighbours every month to keep them in good humour.


If he begins to use the community well to sell water, there could be an issue. In the normal course, he should be paying whatever the seller demands. The amount should not be determined by his whims. He or the government cannot put it under CSR. For it is about entitlements, not charity or CSR.


The other day, a conference on CSR organised by industry body Assocham dwelt on what exactly CSR is, if at all it should be fulfilled.


Most people talked of charity as a means of winning over trust. In other words, a corporate bribe. This echoed the recently-issued CSR guidelines of the corporate affairs ministry which ask for a fund for CSR.


Here is what Corporate Affairs Secretary R Bandopadhyay had to say: "How much you collectively do is important to us," meaning how much money industry spends on CSR is important to the ministry. It is like the fee businesses have to pay to continue doing whatever they are doing, no matter how good or bad.


Only one person, Planning Commission Member Arun Maira, sought to look at CSR in a simple and non-calculating fashion.


He said: "We may go to Church on Sunday. But what do we do on other days? What is the impact of our business practices, what values do we exhibit in our operations?"


He said even if all "corporations" were compelled to set aside 3 per cent of their profit for CSR, it won't add up to make a difference. The larger impact will be made by how the rest 97 per cent is spent, he said.


Maira challenged business associations like CII, Ficci and Assocham to be the first to act and suspend members who don't behave. He said CSR should be renamed as voluntary business responsibility.


Some companies have designed their business in such a way that they impact a large number of people. For example, ITC has its e-chaupals, which help a lot of people. Danish company Vestergaard Frandsen has made mosquito repellent nets that are used all over Africa and Asia. But that does not mean that iron ore mines or power plants should close down. CSR or corporate whim cannot determine best practices in their case. Instead, the law should do it. Again, running a school won't help if a company is offloading resources worth crores from under your feet without sharing its profits. That is more about entitlements rather than charity, and a law has to address it. And the local community should decide the terms of this law each time it is exercised, whether it wants the returns in cash or kind, in instalments or in one go.







You are aware that CPI (Maoist) is the principal Left-wing extremist organisation. As long as CPI (Maoist) was not challenged effectively, it expanded its area of activity, recruited more cadres, kidnapped more persons, extorted more money, acquired or looted more weapons, asserted its dominance in more areas, and targeted the security forces as well as civilians.


Between 2004 and 2008, on an average, 500 civilians were killed every year — many of them after being named 'police informers'. We are especially concerned that ordinary citizens should be labelled as 'police informers' and killed by CPI (Maoist). CPI (Maoist) has no right to set itself up as judge, jury and executioner. In fact, it has no right to carry arms. It is a banned organisation and functions outside the pale of the law.


 The efforts of the state governments, assisted by central paramilitary forces, have met with mixed results. Key leaders of CPI (Maoist) have been apprehended. Many attacks were repulsed. Security forces have asserted their control over some areas in the districts of Gadchiroli and Kanker. However, there have been setbacks too.


The most serious setbacks were in Silda (West Bengal) and in Tarmetla, Chingawaram and Dhaudhai (all in Chhattisgarh). Besides, there was the derailment of the Gnaneswari Express that claimed the lives of 149 innocent civilians. There have been some lapses on the part of the security forces in failing to follow standard operating procedure. There can be no gain in saying that the attacks by the CPI (Maoist) were pre-meditated and carried out with the object of inflicting maximum damage on the security forces and overawing the people and the elected governments.


We would do well to remember that the attacks by CPI (Maoist), whether opportunistic or pre-planned, are part of their strategy of an 'armed liberation struggle' and in furtherance of their goal of 'seizure of political power through a protracted people's war'.


The Central government acknowledges its role and responsibility to assist the state governments in every way — deploying central paramilitary forces, sharing intelligence, funding the modernisation of police forces and providing logistics and other support. In the light of the experience gained in the last six months, we have reviewed the level of support that we can provide to the state governments and we have taken some decisions.


These include providing more helicopters for logistics support, troop movement, supplies and evacuation; to fund the establishment/strengthening of 400 police stations in the affected districts at the rate of Rs 2 crore per police station on 80:20 basis over a period of two years; to sanction additional SPOs to the states; to request the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to create a Unified Command for anti-naxal operations; and to appoint a retired Major General of the army as a member of the Unified Command.


In addition, it has been decided to set up an empowered group chaired by Member-Secretary, Planning Commission, to modify existing norms/guidelines in the implementation of various development schemes in the affected districts and to improve road connectivity in 34 districts most affected by Left-wing extremism. A number of roads and bridges are proposed to be included, at a cost of Rs 950 crore, by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways under RRP-I.


In the course of your interventions, I would request each one of you – the Governor and the Chief Ministers – to give your views on the measures that I have outlined above. I would also request you to tell us what more measures are required to be taken to curb the menace of Left-wing extremism. I hope that each one of you will bring to the table the things that we are doing right and the things that we are doing wrong, and that we can have a free and frank discussion on this very serious subject.


(Excerpts from Home Minister P Chidambaram's address to the meeting of Chief Ministers of states affected by Left-wing extremism in New Delhi on July 14




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




We are once again in the season of disputes between states over natural resources. Maharashtra and Karnataka are battling it out over land — the status of Belgaum. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are locked in contention in a matter that concerns water, the question of the Babli dam. The argument is that the dam will obstruct the flow of water to Pochampad dam in the Telangana region. In the case of Belgaum political opinion cutting across party lines is caught in a chauvinistic whirlpool caused by linguistic currents. Looking at the potential political damage that may be caused to the Congress-NCP dispensation if he is not seen to be pro-active on Belgaum, Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan has demanded Union Territory status for about 800 Marathi-speaking villages of Karnataka's Belgaum district. In AP, however, it is mainly the Opposition TD that is in the forefront of protest. Interestingly, the TRS leader, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, has not struck a strident posture, preferring mainly to appeal to the Central Water Commission, although water supply to the Telangana area is the question of debate in this case. The ruling Congress in Hyderabad has kept a low profile over the issue. Some observers are led to think that the TD is doing no more than return the Congress' compliments. When the TD was ruling AP, the Congress — then the main Opposition party in the state — had led a shrill protest over the raising of the height of the Almati dam by Karnataka on the river Krishna, much to the discomfiture of Mr Naidu. It is hard to get away from the feeling that it is the spirit of politicking at work, both on the land as well as the water issue, rather than genuine politics which in its highest forms must concern itself with people's welfare. In the medieval era and earlier, Belgaum was very much part of the Kannada region in every respect. In the 17th century, parts of this area came under the sway of the Maratha ruler Shivaji. In the British period the entire area fell under the Bombay Presidency. In independent India, under arrangements made by the States Reorganisation Commission on a linguistic basis, Belgaum district was made part of the then Mysore state though it was well understood that parts of it had a significant Maharashtrian population, and later came under the jurisdiction of Karnataka. Its status has been before the Supreme Court for some years, with the Maharashtra government challenging the stand taken by the SRC and the subsequent Mahajan Commission. However, the affidavit of the Union government in the apex court has questioned Maharashtra's stand. It is therefore unclear what Mr Chavan's political actions, aimed at securing at least some areas of Belgaum for Maharashtra, will achieve. It is clear, however, that had the chief minister kept quiet, the Shiv Sena might have gone on the rampage. Perhaps it is time for all parties to be persuaded to wait it out until the SC delivers its verdict. It should be kept in mind that the social or economic status of Belgaum city or district has in no way been affected on account of being part of one state and not another. On the Babli dam, it is necessary to keep in view the sensitivities of Telangana, a water-deficient region. But the evaluation of the impact of the dam is best left to expert bodies.








Political parties are gearing up for byelections in 10 Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh's Telangana region as this may well determine not just the future of all the three regions of the state but also the future of the main political parties in the state.


In the past few decades, the situation in Telangana has remained volatile. In the 2012 general elections one-third of the Lok Sabha seats in the state may witness three- and four-cornered fights. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has an advantage over the Congress while in coastal Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has a strong presence. Andhra Pradesh, which has 42 parliamentary seats, may well swing marginally away from the Congress and, like Tamil Nadu, may be headed towards a coalition in the future.


Jaganmohan Reddy has considerable assets acquired during his father Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's two-term regime. Also, like the Reddy brothers of Karnataka, the "excessive assets" accumulated — that might have filled the party coffers — are beyond the authority of the Central leadership. But in coalition politics, one always has "options". However, if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy is denied the post of chief minister, it remains to be seen if he will launch a regional party.


The Congress is committing a tactical error as it is yet to identify a leader for the future in Andhra Pradesh. We are well aware of the fact that caste politics exists in the north, but the south, too, is not far behind. No political party can afford to ignore this factor. The process of churning has begun and it would be politically naive to take anything for granted in this fluid situation.


IN THE Bihar Assembly elections, the performance of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) will be watched closely. All regional parties have their own issues for the future and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamul Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the TDP, the Biju Janata Dal and a host of small parties are all flexible in their approach. As the Congress aims to bag 272 Lok Sabha seats in the next elections, i.e. 72 more than its current 200 seats, in the 2014 general elections regional forces, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, will do everything possible to protect their political interests. It seems that we are heading towards a new coalition pattern that may evolve in two or three stages.


No party is irrelevant at this stage and strengths and weaknesses can be expertly "hidden" in a coalition structure. The United Progressive Alliance is stronger in theory today compared to 2004 but look at the number of decisions deferred and referred to groups of ministers (GoM) and you will begin to see the conflict in the system.


The Women's Reservation Bill has been forgotten and the issues associated with khap panchayats may well suffer a similar fate. Apart from normal "sermons" no one can predict when a decision on this and other issues will be taken by the GoMs.


Major political players will direct new alignments. Besides Mr Kumar, Mr Naidu, Ms Mamata Banerjee, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Naveen Patnaik, we may well see Mr Sharad Pawar and the NCP making decisive moves.


As I have mentioned in my earlier columns, the NCP chief operates well beyond his "numbers" and has a personal rapport with every party. This makes a huge difference in political negotiations. Also, for the sake of political longevity and survival, every party, without exception, will indulge in complex political manoeuvres in the future months — no election is ever easy in coalition politics.


THE SITUATION in Jammu and Kashmir is showing signs of improvement but the political equations in the state may well change in the future as public discontent cannot be dismissed. Along with the anti-national elements and the separatists, there is also the issue of the political interests of the National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP). In chief minister Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti both the parties have found credible leadership for the next decade. I think that Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and Farooq Abdullah — both now in their seventies — have done the right thing by passing the baton to the future. They should stay away from active politics.


The PDP fared well in the last election but the Congress, for the right reasons, aligned with the NC. But the Congress has failed to develop any credible leadership in Jammu and Kashmir. Future battles in the political arena will be fought between Mr Omar Abdullah and Ms Mehbooba Mufti. In the current crisis, the PDP leader has an advantage when it comes to public support. One cannot, therefore, blame the PDP for the stand it has taken.


The curbs and restrictions imposed on media in Jammu and Kashmir are unfortunate and will prove to be negative. Sometimes electoral verdicts generate huge expectations and non-performance and failure to identify with local aspirations can result in a fair amount of dissent. As things stand, Mr Omar Abdullah is facing a credibility issue.


In Jammu and Kashmir, politics has never been easy and like the rest of the country the younger generation — which constitute a sizeable section of the electorate — is moving beyond dynastic politics and connections and is inclined towards performance. The last election in Jammu and Kashmir had produced a record turnout so I think it would be a mistake to judge politics in the Valley on only the politics of the past.


Anti-incumbency trends in the state may be rather strong with a viable Opposition but I think both the PDP and the NC will gain in the Valley. The position in Jammu will be very different as we have a classic coalition structure in place. There are far too many moving parts in this political jigsaw puzzle with few ways to arrive at an easy "political solution".


ALONG WITH our impressive gross domestic product growth "change" is taking place in every field. We continue to be surprised by both the positives and the negatives on many social and political issues that have existed for many years but are now coming into focus as there is greater awareness and participation by civil society.


This is the greatest positive development of the last decade. We often talk of our demographic pattern in terms of statistics but there is a driving change in our society where events overtake decisions as we hurtle to attain "superpower" status. India is changing rapidly and I sometimes wonder if our political system can keep pace with this change.


- Arun Nehru is a former Union minister









I was driving from Washington to New York one afternoon on Interstate 95 when a car came zooming up behind me, really flying. I could see in the rearview mirror that the driver was talking on her cellphone.


I was about to move to the centre lane to get out of her way when she suddenly swerved into that lane herself to pass me on the right — still chatting away. She continued moving dangerously from one lane to another as she sped up the highway.


A few days later, I was talking to a guy who commutes every day between New York and New Jersey. He props up his laptop on the front seat so he can watch DVDs while he's driving.


"I only do it in traffic", he said. "It's no big deal."


Beyond the obvious safety issues, why does anyone want, or need, to be talking constantly on the phone or watching movies (or texting) while driving? I hate to sound so 20th century, but what's wrong with just listening to the radio? The blessed wonders of technology are overwhelming us. We don't control them; they control us.


We've got cellphones and BlackBerrys and Kindles and iPads, and we're emailing and text-messaging and chatting and tweeting — I used to call it Twittering until I was corrected by high school kids who patiently explained to me, as if I were the village idiot, that the correct term is tweeting. Twittering, tweeting — whatever it is, it sounds like a nervous disorder.


This is all part of what I think is one of the weirder aspects of our culture: a heightened freneticism that seems to demand that we be doing, at a minimum, two or three things every single moment of every hour that we're awake. Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds.


Why do we have to check our email so many times a day, or keep our ears constantly attached, as if with Crazy Glue, to our cellphones? When you watch the news on cable television, there are often additional stories being scrolled across the bottom of the screen, stock market results blinking on the right of the screen, and promos for upcoming features on the left. These extras often block significant parts of the main item we're supposed to be watching.


A friend of mine told me about an engagement party that she had attended. She said it was lovely: a delicious lunch and plenty of Champagne toasts. But all the guests had their cellphones on the luncheon tables and had text-messaged their way through the entire event.


Enough already with this hyperactive behaviour, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism. We need to slow down and take a deep breath.


I'm not opposed to the remarkable technological advances of the past several years. I don't want to go back to typewriters and carbon paper and yellowing clips from the newspaper morgue. I just think that we should treat technology like any other tool. We should control it, bending it to our human purposes.


Let's put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency, amid all the craziness that surrounds us, to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves, and that includes our own individual needs — those very special, mostly non-material things that would fulfil us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.


There's a character in the August Wilson play Joe Turner's Come and Gone who says everyone has a song inside of him or her, and that you lose sight of that song at your peril. If you get out of touch with your song, forget how to sing it, you're bound to end up frustrated and dissatisfied.


As this character says, recalling a time when he was out of touch with his own song, "Something wasn't making my heart smooth and easy".


I don't think we can stay in touch with our song by constantly Twittering or tweeting, or thumbing out messages on our BlackBerrys, or piling up virtual friends on Facebook.


We need to reduce the speed limits of our lives. We need to savour the trip. Leave the cellphone at home every once in awhile. Try kissing more and tweeting less. And stop talking so much.




Other people have something to say, too. And when they don't, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That's when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you.








Instead of acknowledging the anger brewing over killings in firings by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the police, the Cabinet Committee on Security met in New Delhi only to issue threats, and even dragged in Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, blaming them for the unrest. In Kashmir, this was seen as a snub to the people, People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti tells Yusuf Jameel in an interview.


Q. Many criticised your decision to stay away from the all-party meet called by chief minister Omar Abdullah to discuss the current unrest in the Valley. And some said you only wanted to play to the gallery by turning down the Prime Minister's request.
A. There is total alienation among the people of Kashmir today. It needs to be addressed and a healing touch provided. By constantly saying that all mainstream and nationalist political parties should unite, you (the government) only intended to give rise to total polarisation. We didn't want to be part of any such exercise. You want to unite against whom? Against the very people who have risen in revolt against injustice?


Q. You could have raised the issue at the all-party meet.
A. Convening the all-party meet at a stage when you had already called out the Army and taken other decisions was a travesty. The Centre endorsed every step of the chief minister and vice versa. This was a superficial approach. If the meeting was called to decide on the ex-gratia relief to the families of the victims, even a district magistrate can do that. No doubt, we are a mainstream party but we didn't want to be seen as a part of a process which was nothing but fallacious.


Q. The Prime Minister phoned to persuade you to reconsider your decision. Did you tell him what should have been done other than calling the all-party meet?
A. The PM must know what is to be done to address the issues faced in Kashmir. If you ask me, he has to take some bold decisions on Kashmir and the foremost of these should be to give a healing touch. By calling in the Army, imposing frequent curfews, beating and arresting people who resent these, you are not helping the situation but only infuriating the people.


Q. Those who are out on the streets ask for azaadi or freedom. Do you think the Prime Minister, or any government in power, can concede that demand?
A. People are angry and the rage often finds expression on the streets. Even those very people are part of these protests who voted in the last elections, whether in our favour or for National Conference. It started with the killing of innocent youth at Bomai... Haigam, the Shopian... Sopore. You refused to learn lessons from these incidents and failed to rein in the security forces. People are now overwhelmingly identifying themselves with the sentiment either out of choice or compulsion.
When things began to thaw a little, I wrote to the chief minister to urge him to call a special session of the Assembly, or at least an all-party meeting, to discuss the situation. But he turned a blind eye and started taking measures which were seen by the people as a deliberate attempt to teach them a lesson.


Q. As a responsible Opposition party you could have helped to calm people down. But your statements and actions virtually added fuel to fire.
A. Absolutely not true. Ours is a mainstream party and we are part of a democratic system. What role we should have played, we did play — both when in power and as an Opposition party. We set up an agenda which was endorsed by both New Delhi and Islamabad in their own way.
After being voted to power in 2002, we took several measures which were appreciated by the people and an atmosphere of reconciliation was created. We sought the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and other cross-LoC routes, disbanded the notorious Police Task Force, said no to Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act), etc. All these left a positive impact on the thinking of people. But unfortunately the political gains made over the years were dissipated on account of inept handing of the situation in the wake of the recent incidents, and the overall demeanour of the Omar Abdullah government.


Q. But you also withdrew support from the Gulam Nabi Azad government, and that too on the Amarnath land issue. According to critics, this sent out wrong signals about the role you actually wanted to play or were playing towards winning back the people of Kashmir and isolating the separatists' agenda?
A. We were part of the government and sacrificed power over a principle. The whole issue was mishandled. We did everything we could to make the Centre and the then chief minister understand that no harsh or half-hearted measures would help in Kashmir, or address key issues. Even today, we are saying for God's sake try to learn lessons from past mistakes.


Q. What do you think the government should have done or should do now to contain what appears to be a difficult situation?
A. The chief minister and his team have to change their behaviour and be people friendly. Mr Abdullah must give up his puerile style of working and stand up for the rights of his people when talking on issues with New Delhi.
The Prime Minister has to initiate some healing touch measures. More importantly, it should be seen happening on the ground. Eleven people had already been killed in Kashmir when he convened an all-party meet after his return from Canada but failed to utter a single word of sympathy for the victims' families. Instead the thrust was given to the conduct the Amarnath Yatra.
Again, instead of acknowledging the genuine anger brewing over the killings in CRPF and police firings, and sending a clear message that the government would not tolerate any further human rights violations, the Cabinet Committee on Security meets in New Delhi only to issue threats and even drags in Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, and other so-called vested interests, blaming them for the unrest. This was seen here as a snub to the people of Kashmir.


Q. You recently said that in the face of growing alienation which finds manifestation in widespread protests, the space for mainstream political parties is shrinking fast. Are you scared of possible rout if the situation is allowed to persist and are therefore trying to identify with the separatists' agenda?
A. After all it is an inclusive society and you can't live in isolation. I think mainstream political parties have a bigger role to play in these circumstances. Unfortunately, there is absence of political will in New Delhi and with the state government to address the issues in Kashmir in an appropriate way... I think there is still a scope for antidote. New Delhi should not lose further time in addressing the fundamental problems facing J&K. Credibility can't be restored without addressing the basic sentiment behind the current unrest.








The Planning Commission, that is home to bureaucrats and more, is now a kind of mammoth relic of the Nehruvian era. But it is gearing up for a major revamp to be accomplished over the next couple of years. And it couldn't happen sooner — for its critics, and there seem to be many, have declared an open season for lambasting the planning panel and its deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for being unacquainted with the ground realities.


Road transport minister Kamal Nath initiated the most recent charge by accusing the panel of being just an "armchair adviser". Senior Congress leader Anil Shastri too joined the chorus and now even food secretary Alka Sirohi has taken on Dr Ahluwalia on the issue of using information technology to reform the public distribution system.


The tirade against Dr Ahluwalia is, of course, being seen as an assault on the institution itself. The proposed revamp, as envisioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, includes a change in nomenclature — to the Systems Reform Commission. Arun Maira, formerly with Boston Consulting Group and now a Planning Commission member, has been assigned to restructure the commission into a larger network with think-tanks producing thought papers at a faster pace and communicating more lucidly with polity.


But that is in the future. Meantime critics are having a field day at Dr Ahluwalia's expense and babus are taking shelter on both sides.


Plugging holes


The northeast has long been an anathema for babus who exploit every rule in the book to avoid serving in the region. Babus usually cite insurgency, lack of good educational facilities and promotional opportunities for not wishing to serve in these states. But the new rules affect Union Territory cadre officers, thereby also affecting Delhi babus. Home minister P. Chidambaram has decided to tighten the rules of transfer for Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service officers of the Assam, Goa and Mizoram (AGMU) cadre to ensure that these babus serve their mandatory tenures in their parent states.


According to sources, IAS officers entitled to hold senior time-scale posts would serve only six years in Delhi, five years in hard areas such as Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and the remaining three of the 14 years in category B territories such as Goa, Chandigarh and Puducherry. The first babus on target obviously are those who have been in Delhi for long on deputation. So we can expect some large-scale movement of babus very soon.







Carlos Castaneda was a philosopher who was very important to my generation. For reasons that I do not judge, he ended his days doing some things that I have always condemned, but we all have our contradictions. Through his writings, some of which I quote below, Castaneda left a legacy that cannot be forgotten.


Behaviour: A man must go in search for wisdom in the same way that a soldier goes to war; in fear, with respect and with total security. He should act like he knows where he's going, although in reality he has not the slightest idea of what he will find. All that matters is that he is following the path he has chosen.


Acting and Knowing: A warrior is always a hunter. He calculates everything and acts after thinking well on what to do. No one can force him to do things that he does not want to do. He lives for acting, not because he thinks about age. Not knowing whether this world is only for a short period of time, he seeks to know all the wonders possible. Speaks little, never worries about fear, and assumes responsibility for his actions.


Death as a Companion: A warrior-hunter knows that each decision may be his last. Death is his companion, always sitting to his left, at a distance of less than one metre. So, he goes to the battlefield completely focused on his life, knowing that most people are moving from one action to another without much thought.


The Paths are Equal: All paths are equal, and lead nowhere. Therefore, the warrior chooses a path that is life itself, and from the moment he begins to run it, he rejoices in his own journey. His decision to go ahead depends only on joy, and not his ambition or his fear. Therefore, he always asks himself before he acts, "Does this path have a heart?"


The Opinion of Others: A warrior never spends his precious time thinking about the opinions of others. He knows that some people think they are important, and because of that they are also fat, arrogant and inflexible. For a warrior, the art of combat must be combined with lightness, tension and lack of ambition. A warrior is kind to others because he is gentle with himself.


The Intention: The intention of a man is not a thought or an object, or a desire — but what goes on even when everyone says he will be defeated, or that what he has chosen does not make sense. So having a clear intention will help the warrior to be invulnerable.
Given the choice of their way, nothing in this world is given as a present, the most important lessons learned are always with great effort and difficulty. With this in mind, the warrior-hunter never despairs, wears away, or wastes time blaming others. Because he knows in his every gesture is the responsibility of his choices.
A warrior cannot complain or regret that his life is a constant struggle or that his challenges are either good or bad - they are just challenges.


© Translated by Michelle Artimez








FOR all its touted intentions, the official approach to the Food Security Bill has been dodgy at best and now discriminatory at worst. The only recommendation advanced at last Wednesday's meeting of the National Advisory Council is the tentative target date of implementation ~ April 2011, which is two years after it was announced by UPA-II. The expression "universal PDS" may have profound societal implications, but has now been reduced to a misnomer not least because of the mild discord within the NAC, chaired by Sonia Gandhi. The food inflation over the past year has deepened the privation of the poor across the country; but the application of "universal PDS" will be restricted to one-fourth of the most "disadvantaged districts". Identification of these regions will take yet more time and may well provoke inter-state bickering over regional entitlement. And should the target area be reduced to blocks, as hinted at the NAC meeting, the scope of PDS-for-all will be restricted further still. If PDS has to be "universal" ~ an essential parameter of food security ~ an earnest approach would have ensured nationwide coverage of the poor. The strident pitch of the social rights activists, Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander ~ with the full backing of the NAC chairperson ~ quite plainly failed to make headway. If only one-fourth of the country's districts are to be covered, the NAC's recommendations do not constitute even a halfway house, let alone unanimity on so critical an issue as food security.

 The council would appear to have accepted the contention of the worthies who have consistently been against universal PDS, pre-eminently the failed food minister Sharad Pawar, that embroidery called the Group of Ministers, and also of course the Planning Commission. True, the uncertainty over the availability of foodgrain and the expenditure can turn out to be the constraints. But such nitty-gritty ought to have been settled at the drafting stage. Mercifully, there was no further discord on 14 July on what and how much to eat  ~ the entitlement has been settled at 35 kg of foodgrain at the rate of Rs 3 a kg ~ a 10 kg rise over the Planning Commission's initial allotment. There also appears to be a consensus on complete nutritional support to the vulnerable segments of the population. For all that, the poor deserve more than a deceptive tag. The public distribution system, the bedrock of food security, will be far less than universal. In the net, the Food Security Bill might flounder because of its limited application. And we haven't even spoken of the quality of implementation.



RECOURSE to the old ad-line ~ Oh No, Not Again! ~ is what many residents of the Capital would take when informed that the Indian Olympic Association is bidding to host the 2019 Asian Games in New Delhi. Regardless of how things work out during the Commonwealth Games in October, the battering the city has taken, the tremendous inconvenience people have suffered over the years normal life has been disrupted, would make them shudder at the prospect of another edition of such misery. The contention that the infrastructure is in place will not convince, the same theory was propounded after Asiad 82. It is against that backdrop that there will be much appreciation of the sports ministry cautioning the IOA against arbitrary moves, and then presenting the government a fait accompli. And rightly has it stated that the local government will have to be fully on board. Those with a finger on the political pulse of the Capital would surely be wary of getting involved in another exercise of the nature that has taken much of the sheen off Sheila Dikshit's reputation. If the CWG, which has competitions in 17 disciplines required so many facilities, just imagine the demand for the Asian Games which boasts over 40 competitions. Not to mention raising another luxury complex mistakenly dubbed a "village". It would be most unfair to saddle the city with the burden of boosting IOA ambitions. This cannot be projected as a matter of national prestige. The Centre has valid concerns over funding an Asiad, since it is now palpable that the CWG can in no way pay its own way. As all estimates have been rendered irrelevant, local agencies find themselves cash-strapped and are begging for assistance. So is the CWG Organising Committee, its sponsorship drive never attained momentum. After repeatedly slamming the BCCI, Suresh Kalmadi is said to be pleading for funds from it. Political clout has been wielded, many public sector enterprises are being pressured into sponsorship: including those in the petroleum sector. Yet just a few weeks ago the official line was that a hike in fuel prices was necessary to avert the oil marketing companies from collapsing under the subsidy load! Whose mandate did the IOA secure before bidding for 2019? Do its leaders think they can further inflate their egos at aam aadmi's expense? For once has MS Gill proved some worth, he must not meet the same fate as his predecessor who fought a similar battle.



IT will not be remiss to assume that Nagaland's air passengers would appreciate civil aviation authorities looking into some of their ordeals. In the 1980s, when Indian Airlines started Boeing services to Dimapur, the airport ~ of World War II vintage ~ had no terminal as such. After the present one was commissioned in the late 1990s, efficiency and passenger amenities were expected to improve but a report in the local press speaks of there not even being proper facilities for a pre-paid taxi. Passengers have often complained of the national carriers not being dependable or ignoring Dimapur. At present Air-India operates flights to Dimapur on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The rest of the week is served by its subsidiary, Alliance Air. These days most want to take advantage of sophisticated fly-by-wire aircraft and frequent fliers, mostly officials and businessmen, are demanding that on Wednesdays the Dibrugarh flight, on its return journey, pick up some passengers from Dimapur to enable them to catch connecting flights from Kolkata. Both the winter and summer schedules need to be programmed so as not to inconvenience Nagaland passengers bound for big cities. Sadly, the lackadaisical manner in which they are treated is not solely due to the fact that no one has raised a voice. The present and even former Governors are said to have approached the civil aviation authorities to consider Nagaland's demand but with little success.








A SYSTEMATIC inquiry into the co-relationship between the individual and the political process was initiated by the Greeks. Since then, there have been two different approaches to deal with economic, social and political problems. One is the tradition of  Plato ~ political prescriptions are made on the basis of apriori knowledge. This allows one to ignore the reality of an aberration, such as slavery. Plato portrayed an ideal political order which is timeless. He didn't delve into the contemporary issue of slavery.  

In the second category falls the Aristotelian framework of comprehending the political, social and economic realities and then to attempt a conclusive solution. Slavery has been discussed incisively in Politics. Aristotle's political philosophy envisages a  society that is free from slavery. 

Given this divergence in political thought, subsequent discourse has broadly followed  the arguments of either Plato or Aristotle. In the post-classical tradition, the philosopher Plato draws less attention than the scientist Aristotle. This is because the latter allows speculation that leads to a definite conclusion. The Platonic model is more idealistic. 

Two 20th century examples can be cited. One is the Beveridge Report of 1944 which laid down the basic framework of post-war  reconstruction with the setting up of a welfare state in Britain. This was followed by all the countries of western Europe. The second example is Michael Harrington's analysis of poverty in the United States. It revealed extensive poverty amidst affluence in the early 1960s, leading to the Great Society Programme. In India, the framers of the Constitution were conscious of the fact that the system bristled with contradictions. Our constitutional process incorporates what Granville Austin describes as "the seamless web" of a combination of three co-equal aspects of political reality ~ unity, democracy and social revolution. Those who drafted the Constitution had correctly perceived that the attainment of independence had completed the process of national revolution. However, a daunting task still remained ~ to achieve social revolution. 
K Santhanam highlighted the need to overcome the medieval practices based on birth, religion, custom and superstition. Imperative was a new foundation of a modern state based on law, individual merit and secular education. This needed to be combined with an economic revolution which would effect the "transition from primitive rural economy to scientific and planned agriculture and industry". S Radhakrishnan emphasised  the need to achieve a "fundamental change in the structure of Indian society". Santhanam was categorical that India's choice was clear ~ either rapid evolution or violent revolution. 

The framers of the Constitution envisaged a process which may be described as the new framework of achieving a revolution by consent. It is this capacity to initiate major social and economic reforms within the constitutional framework that has belied the hopes and predictions of commentators like Selig Harrison that India would disintegrate. It has disproved Arendt's contention that a successful democratic revolution would have to confine itself to the political realm; India's democratic revolution has successfully encompassed the political and the social. 

Two developments have strengthened the institutions of liberal democracy in India. One is the evolution from a parliamentary democracy to a constitutional. The second is the strengthening of democracy through societal and economic change. This has changed the very basis of democracy. It has been transformed from an upper caste urban-centric elitist concept to incorporate what Kanshi Ram called the "Bahujan Samaj" ~ constituting 85 per cent of the population. The composition of Parliament, the legislative assemblies and the civil service has changed. This testifies to the social revolution that has been achieved on the strength of  a liberal Constitution. 
In the Indira Sawhney case, generally referred to as the Mandal Commission case,  the Supreme Court had affirmed that Article 16(4) is exhaustive. Also, provision can be made in favour of the backward classes in the matter of employment. The court ruled that though the Constitution does not define backward classes, there exists "an integral connection between caste, occupation, poverty and social backwardness". In the Indian context, lower castes are treated as backward. "A caste may by itself constitute a class."  The ruling also stipulated that "for getting reservation, a class must be backward and should not be adequately represented in the services under the state". 

This directive has a direct co-relationship with the  nature and composition of the caste system. It clearly acknowledges that caste is central to social and economic inequality. So critical a problem cannot be tackled by just ignoring it. And yet we have ignored the issue for the past 60 years. It needs to be addressed in the context of the social and economic inequalities in contemporary India. Mulayam Singh Yadav's claim that 80 per cent of the jobs and 90 per cent of the wealth is cornered by about 20 per cent of the population is a point that needs to be scrutinised. If his claim is correct, remedial measures are urgently required. He has also claimed that among the OBCs, only the Yadavs and Kurmis have been identified; most of the other backward castes have been left out. This too is a matter of  concern. 

The critical aspect that opponents of  a caste-based census have ignored is that data on the exact number of castes is essential if the caste system is to be abolished. And this database must cover Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. The caste system is prevalent among all religious denominations. The caste-count must not be done selectively. The number of upper castes should also be calibrated to prove or disprove Mulayam's  contention relating to the concentration of power and wealth in India. Caste plays a crucial role in three respects ~ electoral politics, reservation in government jobs and khap panchayats. Amitabh Bachchan's assertion that his "caste is Indian" is the perception of a small segment of extraordinarily successful persons belonging to the upper castes. 

The argument that a caste census will lead to group mobilisation and conflict ignores the reality where extra-parliamentary mobilisation is an integral part of the political process. The recent agitations by the Gujjars and the Jats illustrate that demands on the basis of caste can be made even without a caste census.  It would be wrong to argue that a caste census will lead to a swingback to medieval practices. 

The census operations will be incomplete without a realistic appraisal of social realities.  A casteless society presupposes equality of opportunity to every single Indian. Caste continues to be a class in this country. Democracy must ensure the right proportion in political representation, civil service appointments and allocation of public funds. Without a caste census, it will be impossible to achieve even a measure of  parity.
The writer is retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi






IT should be amply clear by now that Pakistan foreign minister Qureshi is a spoiler deliberately wrecking the Indo-Pak peace process. His provocative remarks after talks with SM Krishna concluded indicate this. One TV anchor ascribed his misconduct to pressure exerted by Pakistan's media. Another TV anchor asked what alternative is there to continuing with dialogue when two nuclear powers confront each other. Both views reflect popular perception. Both views are extremely naïve. 

Qureshi's wrecking spree was not impelled by Pakistan's media. Let's get a few things straight. India is continuing with a fruitless dialogue in order not to displease America. Pakistan is wrecking talks to please China. Both governments behave like pawns on the Sino-US chessboard. In February this year, Qureshi visited Beijing where he taunted India by saying that he was ready even if India wasn't to give China a blank cheque for helping achieve Indo-Pak peace. This was on the eve of the Indo-Pak foreign secretaries' meeting.
Before the latest talks of the foreign ministers, President Zardari had visited Beijing to get his briefing. By wrecking the peace dialogue Pakistan is thumbing its nose at America . It can do that because it is backed by China which holds trillions of US treasury securities to render President Obama into a prize wimp. 
India can follow a soft line or a hard line. India follows neither. A soft line involves a radical peace formula for Kashmir leading to a South Asian Union as I have repeatedly advocated. If that is considered futile in the light of Pakistan's intransigence, there is also a hard line India can adopt. India can do what I had suggested on 22 December, 2008.

I wrote in these columns: "India can tighten security internally on a war footing. It can seal all Indo-Pakistan borders and raise its guard militarily. It can break diplomatic relations with Pakistan and close down its embassy in Islamabad . It can sever all trade, cultural and people to people contacts with Pakistan . It can lobby in the UN to declare Pakistan a rogue state that has become the hub of global terrorism. It can urge all nations to impose trade sanctions against Pakistan and cut off all aid. It can give recognition and offer moral support to those separatists in Baluchistan who seek independence. It can do the same with Pashtuns in the NWFP who want to join up with their tribal brothers in Afghanistan. It can do all these things simultaneously. And then it has only to guard against precipitate action from across the borders, and wait. What the Indian government must resolutely avoid is to launch a military adventure under foreign advice. Sooner rather than later, Pakistan will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. It would be seen then how far and how effectively can China continue to prop up Pakistan ." 

These steps with Pakistan would need to be augmented by India cutting off trade with China and blocking all its exports to India unless Beijing stops encouraging Islamabad. At present China is vulnerable. It desperately needs exports to maintain domestic stability. But India's economy can survive loss of trade with China. The time to play this card is now. Critics will describe this as extreme recklessness. We can heed the critics and play it safe. We can continue to talk with Pakistan to please America . We can continue to bleed as Pakistan inflicts terror strikes against us. We can continue to talk of playing a global role while acting like a puppet nation. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist








FOR a football-crazy people, the Germans took it rather well. Watching Spain, my second choice team after Maradona-coached Argentina, put on a brilliant display of technical football in the second semi-final and in the process shutting out a young German team from the World Cup final on a large screen in Dresden ~ the hotel I was staying at had installed one in its courtyard for the occasion ~ was not without its moments of trepidation. Having had some experience of the lager louts that are the British football "fans", a beer-fuelled crowd of vocal German supporters in one the country's historic cities that a couple of years ago had an, albeit, minor, neo-Nazi problem was not exactly reassuring. Especially not when I, and a journalist colleague from Goa, were clearly the only two in the crowd supporting Spain. Yet, apart from some offkey if lusty singing, muttered expletives under the breath, especially when Miroslav Klose couldn't score with only the goalkeeper to beat, and repeat orders of the local brew, they were gracious losers. "Spain deserved to win," chorused a German couple in their cups.

But when you think about it, a Spanish team that played tight technical football had just beaten a creative German team that played with dazzling flair… the role reversal, as it were, given the German reputation for dour technical efficiency and the Spanish/southern European proclivity for being dazzling players if occasional under-achievers, however, is not restricted to the football field. Germany today, with its post-reunification blues subsiding, has the largest stick in Europe ~ forged out of fiscal discipline in the midst of economic profligacy, a consensual attitude to conflict resolution domestically and in the international arena, and an abiding commitment to the European ideal. Yet, much as their creativity in spheres ranging from integration of ethnic minorities to trying to make the European Union ~ not to mention the Euro Zone ~ work deserves attention, Berlin is also in danger of being labelled an under-achiever.

The Economist reminds us that fashionable as it is in Asia and America to look upon its failings with disdain, the European Union is still the world's largest economy and the "Europe's time is past" dirge need not necessarily be true. But for that, as a cross-section of German policy makers and intellectuals concede, Germany has to resolve an elemental contradiction in its attitude towards the EU and, more crucially, how it leverages its status as the EU's strongest economic ~ and now arguably also political ~ force to shape EU policy in its interaction with other powers, emerging or otherwise.

Navel-gazing by Germany and its European partners is understandable given the nature of the Big Idea that the EU is; and that's a work in progress for sure. But what of Europe's Big Four interlocutors outside the continent ~ USA, China, India and Russia ~ with whom individual European nation-states have historically had their own bilateral relationships, good, bad or ugly, but that now need to be aggregated and amalgamated into an EU policy framework? Globalisation has generated myriad interdependencies and economic impulses but the EU-Big Four interaction is yet to be given a strategic architecture, save to a significant extent with the USA, thanks to two World Wars, the Cold War, Nato, and what could be described as special trans-Atlantic relationship.
The nature of the European Union's relationship with India, China and Russia, however, is more complicated. That these three countries have moved up the pecking order of priorities for the major European nations including Germany is obvious. But each of these countries still fits into the classical definition of a nation-state, where sovereignty is zealously guarded and the articulation of national interest has primacy. Their interlocutor, however, is now a behemoth of 27 nation-states that have voluntarily pooled sovereignty and where the articulation of national interest in the classical sense is slowly but surely getting obsolete. That doesn't mean that the individual countries don't have their own interests, naturally, just that they have signed up to the EU in their individual national interests. Enter, Germany; and despite French sniping!

It is now up to Berlin to punch its weight and use its fabled consensus-building attitude and apparatus within Europe to provide the motor that will run an EU policy ~ a pan-European foreign service is already on its way, incidentally ~ vis-à-vis major non-European powers and provide countries such as India, China and Russia a single interlocutor to deal with. In the words of a former American President ~ "the guy to call." Whether it uses its stick ~ in conjunction with plentiful carrots, naturally, the Germans could hardly do otherwise ~ to spur the European Union into a differential foreign policy model that has a certain overarching thematic consistency, or use the stick to lean on as it hobbles along the road to a European Union still under construction, is what Germany must decide for itself. New Delhi, on the other hand, would do well for itself to capitalise on the new-found German interest in India and leverage that in its future relationship with what will eventually be a United States of Europe, at least de facto if not de jure. 

(Disclosure: I was in Germany last week on an invitation from the Robert Bosch Foundation.)







The posthumous "king of cool" is how Steve McQueen is routinely described by his fans today. Thirty years after McQueen's death, the reputation of the star of The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and The Getaway hasn't been usurped by any of his successors. No subsequent male lead has managed to be quite as cool as McQueen. 

It's not for want of trying. From Die Hard onward, Bruce Willis has striven forlornly to emulate McQueen's laconic screen image. Kevin Costner clearly modelled his persona partly on that of the equally close-cropped and undemonstrative star. Alec Baldwin was another McQueen pretender, even taking the star's old role in an ill-fated remake of The Getaway. But no one has come close to McQueen's mix of machismo and unflappability. He was only 50 when he died of cancer. Unlike Paul Newman or Robert Redford, he did not become crumpled with age or take on the character roles that would diminish his original aura. 
The irony is that McQueen really didn't think he was a very good actor – one reason why he was so undemonstrative on screen. "He always said he wasn't an actor, he was a reactor. By that he meant that he didn't want to be lumbered with speaking plot. He wasn't sure he could do it," the Briton Peter Yates, who worked with him on Bullitt, recalled. 

McQueen's solution was to pare down and down: to aim for the most minimalist style he could. He is the antithesis to a star like James Cagney, who was in audiences' faces demanding their attention with his motor-mouthed delivery of dialogue and expressive physical gestures. Nor, although he studied with Sanford Meisner (one of the top method acting coaches) and effortlessly projected rebelliousness, does he have the soul-searching, neurotic quality of a Montgomery Clift or a James Dean. He isn't the monolithic John Wayne type either. Actors who try to imitate him risk being dull. They don't have his eyes or intensity. 

"Steve was the ultimate movie star. He had what they refer to as the X-factor. Well, it's sex appeal, that's what it is. He had enormous sex appeal," Robert Vaughan (his co-star in The Magnificent Seven) said of him. 
McQueen was unusual among action stars in that he appealed equally strongly to male fans, who relished his feats of derring-do on motorbikes or in cars, and to women, who sensed a vulnerability behind the swaggering persona. "I think it's safe to say that it would have been impossible not to fall in love with Steve," Ali McGraw, who began a turbulent love affair with him during the making of The Getaway, recently told Vanity Fair. 
For all his self-possession on screen, McQueen had a violent temper and a reputation as a rebel. In his early roles, a sense of barely suppressed rage is always evident. McQueen had been abandoned as a kid by his stunt-pilot father. He was a troubled adolescent who often fell foul of the law, fought with his stepfather and spent time in reform school. His time in the Marines taught him the restraint and discipline he always seemed to convey in movies. 

Scan McQueen's filmography and what is apparent is that, outside the films that are mentioned regularly (The Great Escape, Papillon, The Getaway, The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and one or two others), there is a lot of dross. The Blob (1958) may be a cult film but it doesn't show off McQueen to advantage – it's hard to maintain your cool when your co-star is a mass of flesh-eating gunge. His breakthrough, Never So Few (1959), his first film with John Sturges (later to direct him in both The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape) is a dreary war picture. 

"His entire modern, 21st-century appeal seems to be down to six or seven particular movies," says Tony Earnshaw, curator of a season titled, Steve McQueen: Hollywood Non-conformist. "I've always felt that he was a far better character actor than people gave him credit for but he became subsumed within this peculiar persona." 

It's a moot point how nonconformist McQueen really was. His choice of projects was often very conventional indeed. Contemporaries talk about his outrageous scene-stealing antics with his hat and gun during the making of The Magnificent Seven, designed to ensure that audiences' attention would be drawn to him. Yul Brynner became increasingly exasperated by the way McQueen tried to upstage him. 
When he was playing tough-guy roles, he didn't convey much in the way of emotional depth. In The Great Escape, for example, his character, "The Cooler King", is defined entirely by his actions. He is an escape artist who sees breaking out of Nazi captivity as his one and only goal. 

One of the more surprising aspects of his career, given that he became the best-paid star of his era and is closely associated with action roles, is how effective McQueen was at playing losers and characters on the margins. 
By the time McQueen made Tom Horn (1980), he was already suffering from the cancer that would kill him. His Horn looks old and ravaged. He is, we're told, "a vestige of that heroic era we've just about lost". He moves stiffly, at microscopic speed, his spurs always clinking. He can't even look at his beloved mountains without a tear coming to his eyes. 

This is a film about dying. From the very first sequence, in which Horn drifts into a Wyoming town, shuffles off for his morning whisky and manages to get himself badly beaten up by heavyweight boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett, it's obvious his days are numbered. He knows it, and often seems to be willing his own death. Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner is equally moving and well-observed, an elegiac film about a rodeo star whose best days are also behind him and can't cope with the shiny, modern new world. 
Given the dignity and pathos of these two performances, it's surprising how seldom McQueen took roles that stretched him. When late in his career, he tackled Ibsen in An Enemy of the People (1978), there was a sense that he was belatedly trying to correct the sense that – as critic David Thompson put it – "he preferred playing with cars to making movies." 

The Independent










Money is a curious animal. It is, at once, real and virtual, material and abstract, literal and symbolic. To hold a 500-rupee note in one's hand is not only to hold a piece of paper that has almost no value in itself, but also to possess the ability to buy a decent meal or a set of clothes, a pleasant train-ride or a bit of sex with a stranger of one's choice. What turns paper into promise or pleasure is that elusive and unstable thing called 'value'. And the value of the Indian rupee — its actual buying power as well as its international prestige — has now officially acquired a neat little visual form. It has become a mark on the page or screen, a sign. Once the mandatory legal and technological processes are complete, it can be used easily and recognized instantly not only in India but, it is hoped, all over the world. In the global lexicon of the eye, the rupee will flash with as much allure as the dollar, euro, pound or yen. So the new sign for the rupee is a symbol many times over. It symbolizes a currency (which is already a symbolic entity) as well as what the State wants to proclaim as the nation's achievement — a place in the world.


With its use of Devanagari and the tricolour, and by allowing only a ghost of the English R, the rupee symbol makes the nation integral to its design. (The Chinese and the Japanese created their currency symbols by abbreviating the English phonetic transcription of a Chinese character.) For the Union minister of information and broadcasting, the Devanagari distinguishes the rupee from other currencies, turning it into a symbol of nothing less than "identity". So a strong currency means not just value, power or prestige but an assertion of identity as well, and with this, the Indian rupee becomes part of the peculiar double-bind or paradox of globalization. India wants to be recognized as Indian even as it demands its place in the world. The larger the web of relations and perceptions a nation becomes part of, the more simplified the image by which it wants to be identified, even at the expense of reducing the nation's diverse character to an invented unity.


That Devanagari letter would signify India to the world, even when vast swathes of the Indian population do not use the script at all. As a new word, 'euro' had created endless problems with spelling, grammar and the formation of plurals when it started being used by the different languages of the European Union, from Asturian to Welsh. And look what is happening to the economy of Greece — "the cradle of European civilization," according to the European Commission — from whose alphabet the euro took its symbolic epsilon.


As the master chameleon, money becomes more money precisely when it begins to lose its identity, its fixed place in the world — and symbols, whatever be the glories they signal, are not to be taken for the real thing.










Preparing to travel abroad again, it came home to me last week that I was actually nothing more than my passport. I could be a famous exponent of Kuchipudi, I could be the best poet of blank verse in Maithili or I could be a columnist writing for major Indian publications; I could be a business pundit who regularly scratches his beard on national TV or a 'practitioner-critic' invited to jury documentaries and first novels; people could call me 'Saar' or 'Da' or 'Doctor'; but the moment I step out at the other end of an international flight from India I am reduced to a well-worn, deep blue booklet, or in my case, now, a pancake-stack of them that are stuck together. This stack does nothing to reduce the impact of my sudden paradrop into anonymity, it just increases the time and suspicion the immigration darwan deploys to rifle through the document.


My Siamese-tripletted passports are precious to me, and I hate the way the immigration thulla or thullette in whichever foreign country fingers the pages with intimacy and a sense of complete and easy proprietorship. "Leave that page alone!" I want to say, when they finger the embossing on the Swiss visa from 2008, "That was for my film tour!", "What are you looking at?" I want to snap when they start counting all the different Schengen visas, "Can't you see I've entered the golden walls of your fortress many times but never ever tried to stay?" But none of it ever matters, the accumulative weight of visas and stamps only whets the curiosity and suspicion whereas their scarcity in a thinner, newer passport would immediately raise doubt. For the immigration thulla, the default mode of looking at someone proferring a passport from a subaltern country — and that's what India still very much is, make no delusional mistake — is to treat them like a criminal about to enter your precious house and burgle benefits and unwarranted, illegal domicility.


I began to travel to the West just after the golden period of free entry for brownies was chopped off under racist clamour from the likes of Enoch 'Rivers of Blood' Powell in the early 1970s. Suddenly, from being a welcome labour force and valuable intellectual resource imports, we subcontinentals had become a massed swarthy threat to the economies, the social stability and gene-pools of all the Have-countries. Travelling from here to Euromerica meant first having to run the gauntlet of interrogations by sundry, loser, consular number threes deeply resentful of their 'combat'-posting in a 'backwater'. Despite the extremely plush life, the fully air-conditioned apartments, the membership of the best clubs, the non-stop parties and dinners, this resentment at being in a dump like Calcutta came out in different ways: the English would be supercilious, running you through hoops of accent, vocabulary and grammar to see if you could keep up; the French, in their charmingly decrepit chambers off Park Street would be bored, slowly and deliberately rude, especially if you flaunted your English too much, and the word 'non' was their favourite, unless of course you happened to be a good-looking young woman, in which case the oui on your visa application would often be coupled with an invitation to dinner and a foretaste of France; the Americans didn't do either superciliousness or seduction, they knew a US visa was the crown jewel of any Indian's passport and they would do their level best to deny it to you. I still remember the anger and contempt that was part and parcel of all those US consulate interviews on Ho Chi Minh Sarani. The third or fourth time I went there was a visa officer who was black and I made the mistake of imagining that he might be a tad more sympathetic; but not a bit of it, this was a man trying to climb the diplomatic ladder in the Reagan era and he was determined to outdo all his white colleagues in terms of hardness. In any case, it seemed to make no difference who was in the White House at the time, from Jimmy Carter to Condi Rice, the instructions remained the same: you knew the visa interviews were designed, deliberately calibrated, to fill you with anxiety and to humiliate you. As an Indian you knew from the outset that this was a lose-lose game for you: lose your temper and you were out, with no chance of getting into Fortress Amerika; keep your anger in check and you would walk out feeling shamed and soiled that your need to travel to America outweighed your self-respect and pride. You also knew that the humiliation and the shoot-at-your-feet questioning would be repeated at the US airport where you landed by someone even less well-disposed and far more illiterate than the Visa Officer.


But you put up with this s***, whether it came from Amricans or Europeans. Maybe you had relatives waiting 'over there', maybe close friends, maybe a lover with whom you were in deep, joint, viraha-mode; maybe it was just the taste of croissants and coffee at a particular café, or blinis or a Frozen Margarita, stuff that you knew had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the visa-darwans and the teetering structures they were fronting. So you shut your mouth and kept your eyes straight and ignored the blood rushing between your ears. You carefully packed your dark blue booklet and went. Over the years, like money accumulating, the visas and entry stamps began to make a fine mesh of ink and forgery-proof paper and, at least, at the visa-applying end of it, things became a tad easier. Suddenly the yokels sent to guard the golden borders of their diamond lands began to understand, began to be able to decode in the simple language they understood of multiple entry visas and stamps of arrival and departure, that perhaps, you were one of those rare ones who actually didn't want to slip into their country like lice does into scalps, that perhaps there was something here in this maddening place that pulled you back like a non-immigrating yo-yo.


Recently, applying for a new visa to one of the countries I visit regularly, I found myself actually missing those bruising encounters. Now the old loser-diplo visa-darwans were replaced by slippery natives fronting what was primarily a business operation. The first thing they smilingly took from you was money, amounts you could not get back if the visa was refused or if the visa granted was of a shorter duration than the one you'd paid for. It was against all fair business practice, a kind of official lottery sanctioned by the Have-country. This was the new humiliation, quite bloodless and efficient, that you went through, and the worst part of it was that it was run by locals who looked, smiled and acted like airline staff — there was no chance of you actually meeting one of the visa officers and, if it came to that, look in the eye the person who was refusing your visa. After an over-long period of naivety it became clear to me how much this whole business was about money rather than any notion of national purity. If you were rich enough to gamble crazy money and not mind losing all or a part of it, you were welcome to play the lottery; if your circumstances were at all dicey, you now fell off the edge.


All in all, it brought back to me with force the story a friend told me recently. Travelling from India to Germany for the christening of his brother's son, my friend was hauled up at Frankfurt by immigration who rudely demanded to see the invitation card to the ceremony, something my friend almost hadn't carried with him. A month later, the same friend happened to be returning to Germany from England, but on a private jet hired by some friends working in the City of London. Same airport, same passport, same visa, completely different treatment: the immigration officer drove up to the Learjet, came in and quickly began to put entry stamps into people's passports, apologizing profusely all the time for having held them up by seven minutes. Looking again at all the visas and entry stamps in my passport I suddenly felt very lucky — even without the advantage of private jets and such, I was actually a man of considerable substance, especially compared to all the thousands who try and travel to the great West with their life and passports hanging by a thread of a first, single-entry visa.



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




World is fast changing and people are opting for more modern gadgets to make their life comfortable. But some of the practices continue to remind us of the stories narrated in epics and other hoary texts. Now, the mission undertaken by a 36-year old man reminds one of Shravan Kumar of great epic Ramayana.



Kailash Giri Brahamchari has resolved to visit all important religious places in the country to fulfill the vow taken by his mother Kirti Devi. A resident of Wargi village of Madhya Pradesh, Brahamchari has been carrying his blind mother Kirti Devi in her 80s in a makeshift swing suspended from a pole across his shoulder. While the woman sits in one of the baskets, Brahamachari keep his clothes, utensils and some other heavy items in the other to act as counter balance. 

"When I was about eight years old, I fell from the treetop and suffered fracture. Expensive treatment was not possible because of financial difficulties. It was then my mother prayed for my recovery. She vowed to undertake a journey to some of the religious places, if I was cured. Her prayer bore the fruit and I recovered quickly and that too without any medicine. She could not perform the thanksgiving trip  for one reason or the other. But when I turned 24, I started taking my mother to the religious places," recalled Brahamchari. 

He has taken his mother to places Ayodhya, Chirtrakut, Kashi, Tarapith, Basukinath Dham (in Jharkhand) and Tarakeshwar in the past 12 years.  

 Kirti Devi had asked Brahmachari a few times to end this religious travel but he is insistent on completing it. Brahmachari faces embarrassing moments at times as people seek his blessings because of his true love for his mother. The new-age Shravan Kumar gets good response from the people and at many places the locals make arrangements for food and shelter for the two.





As life in J and K shifts gears from violence to unending curfews, all fingers point at Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, once hailed as not just another political scion, reports Deepak K Upreti on a visit to the restless state.


Summer of discontent is back in Kashmir, reviving memories of  the 2008 Amarnath land transfer row when the valley was rocked by civil protests. The state is on the boil again. Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, resembles a ghost town with a complete shutdown forced on the city either by official declaration of curfew or by supporters of Syed Geelani, the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leader and head of   the breakaway Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. 

The average citizen, who may have been a willing partner to the bandhs after 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo was killed by a police teargas shell in Srinagar on June 11, is now frustrated with the repeat cycles of forced shutdowns. Immature handling of the unrest by the Omar Abdullah government has given Geelani and his likes an easy handle on the situation in the valley that was otherwise peaceful after the 2008 protests and the economic blockade in Jammu that led to the fall of the PDP-led Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government.   

Barring a few civilians armed with curfew passes and paramilitary forces, the streets are empty.  The uncoiled  razor wire is one of  the many lines of  "defence" or "obstruction", depending on which side of the "political fence" one is sitting. 

Mr CM blamed

Leaving the international dimensions of the Kashmir issue, independent observers, rival politicians and the man on the street are squarely blaming "an inexperienced Chief Minister" and his prolonged failure to grasp the ground situation for the current mess that has "undone" what was achieved by the successful conduct of  the Assembly poll with a 60 per cent turnout. 

The "disconnect" of the 38-year-old Omar Abdullah with the people, administration and lack of clear instructions to security forces dealing with the situation immediately after June 11 are seen as the major contributory factors leading to the spiral of violence. "Even now he has not visited the trouble spots and tried to soothe tempers. The continuation of curfew has exasperated people," says Bashir Ahmed, a lecturer in Kashmir University. 

Shaken by the disturbance, a visibly chastened Chief Minister has, indeed, chaired a series of meetings and sought to deliver on law and order and development planks. In a bid to keep his ear to the ground, he has asked district secretaries to meet "aam janata" every day from 2 to 3 PM.  He is staying put in Srinagar, while the senior Abdullah made an air dash to Delhi and briefed his son on "major changes" needed. 

Omar, who has rather candidly accepted his "mistakes",  is now asking the Centre to initiate a dialogue with all, including the separatists, and also advocating track II diplomacy like in 2000 when the Centre initiated ceasefire with militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. But close on the heels of his appeal, his own party leader Mustafa Kamaal has castigated "governments in New Delhi" for "weakening National Conference by patronising the valley's militants and separatist leaders" and "organising their foreign tours with state facilitation." The mosaic of politics in Kashmir with international dimensions seems to be more complex than understood by the youthful chief minister. Is Kamaal accusing Congress party of having larger, solo political ambitions in the valley?

Delhi protégé

Well, there is a view doing the rounds here with an obvious dig at the chief minister - that Omar Abdullah "is a pilot project" of  Congress General Secretary  Rahul Gandhi. His much too much identification with New Delhi is also resented with the accusation that he is less of Kashmir and more of New Delhi.

Is the Chief Minister on the right track now? Not many are willing to give him a belated respite. "The foremost thing he has to do is to give good governance," says Yasin Ahmed, a Tunmarg resident, and cites unemployment among youth and corruption. 

A similar view is expressed by well-meaning Kashmiri people, who maintain that militancy has declined and there is need to consolidate gains that followed Mufti Sayeed's government. "There are very few people with guns in the valley and a far-sighted state government could establish lasting peace irrespective of the sporadic chants of 'Azadi' and occasional terror flare-up", says Abdul Hamid, a "kirana store" owner. He scoffs at the Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir  with a laconic " Timseth kya gasiy" (what will it do).

One would like to err on the side of optimism as pilgrims on "Amarnath Yatra" are pouring in despite the curfew situation and providing sustenance to the tourism industry, which is steeped in losses due to the month-long unrest.

But as of now the constituency for peace in the valley has drastically shrunk with separatists seizing the opportunity and "calling the shots". An empty houseboat across my hotel on the  banks of the Jhelum river, with an  inscription "Happy Day House Boat", gives a forlorn look.








In the aftermath of the situation in which newspaper headlines have played tirelessly – and inevitably – on the dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers which led nowhere at all, we now see a blame game unfolding. The Indian media has accused Pakistan of trying to pin down talks, notably on Kashmir, to a timeframe and thereby sabotaging them. Meanwhile, the Pakistan foreign minister has himself lashed out in still harsher terms, accusing his Indian counterpart, S M Krishna, of adopting a rigid approach, of engaging regularly in telephone conversations with New Delhi and of failing to display flexibility. Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi has pointed out that Kashmir was always on the agenda for talks and he can hardly be blamed for bringing it up. The points raised by Mr Qureshi are possibly valid – but the last thing we need at this point in time is further bitterness or a return to the unconstructive finger-pointing exercise we have seen since November 2008. There is no doubt at all the talks were a huge disappointment; there is embarrassment in Islamabad where many had hoped to make a more triumphant announcement and perhaps win some of the international approval Pakistan so desperately seeks. But this is no reason to abandon maturity and poise. It is important for the process of dialogue to move on; as it rolls along it may hit a less bumpy portion of road and gain pace. But trading jibes and making accusations will only hinder this.

Pakistan has insinuated that the Indian prime minister was not aware of the line Mr Krishna would take. It is questionable if Islamabad should attempt to embroil itself in New Delhi's affairs or any power struggles there. The main challenge for both countries must be to create trust, and continue to work towards building accord. The hardest tasks are not easy ones. It took years of struggle and patient negotiation to build peace in South Africa, in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world. Particularly in the case of India and Pakistan that have thrice since 1947 faced each other across battlefields, instant results cannot be expected. The history of recent tensions makes this still more unlikely. Diplomacy, if it is to succeed, requires patience and the ability to persevere with effort in the cause of national interest. Islamabad and New Delhi would do well to immediately pour cold water to douse anger. They must understand that we have, as nations, no alternatives but to work towards peace. War is simply not an option. Neither is a continuation of the tensions that have eroded trust and contributed immensely to the problems faced today. The leaders of both countries have frequently asserted their desire to build trust. This should inspire their ministers and others in key places to carry on with the initiative and ensure that the peace process can be carried on, even if it moves forward one miniscule step at a time.







Once again the ugly side of our politics comes through as the chairman of the Higher Education Commission seeks the support and protection of the prime minister. Well he might, because there are dark forces banging at his door – as well as the doors of his close family. Professor Javed Leghari is seeking protection because of the threats he is receiving and the pressure being brought to bear on those around him as he pursues the fake-degree issue. There are any number of powerful vested interests who have not the slightest interest in their fakery being exposed, and they are going to do everything in their power to make sure that they hang on to their privileged positions.

Allegedly (but credibly allegedly) threats are emanating from Sindh PPP leaders and provincial assembly members who are said to be seeking to avert the collapse of the government in Sindh. And why might it collapse? For no other reason than a significant proportion of the members of the Sindh government may hold not only fake degrees but fake matriculation and fake intermediate certificates. The chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Education is of the opinion that Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza is turning the screws on Dr Leghari – which of course has been denied but then it would hardly be in the home minister's best interest to admit that he is trying to intimidate a man doing an honest job. Would it? The whole issue of degree and other qualification verification has now gathered traction across a range of institutions and the scale and depth of the fraud perpetrated perhaps by tens of thousands stands to be exposed. Given the numbers of people who could lose out as a result it is unsurprising that the process has provoked a strong reaction against those carrying it out. The government has a duty to protect and preserve those who seek to cleanse the body politic, because doing anything less will smack of collusion with crooks and fakers.













It is said that right up to the time of the field marshal Ayub Khan, Pakistanis could drive across the border into India, and Indian movies were shown in all the halls of Lahore and Karachi.

A piece I read somewhere mentioned how in the 1960s a couple of men, one of them a writer, decided one afternoon in Amritsar to drive over to Lahore for lunch.

It is difficult to comprehend such a time now, and it is not easy to imagine when such a time will come again. The way that the two nations see each other is poisonous, and it will require time, and perhaps something other than time, for this view to alter.

For those who have been reading newspapers for 25 years or so, as I have, it is apparent that things have become worse over the years rather than better or even stable.

It is strange, therefore, when a person from either nation visits the other and sees that it isn't as he imagined it to be, because we are so conditioned by what we are told.

I first came to Pakistan a few years ago, during a cricket series. In that period – this was when Musharraf and Vajpayee were in power – there was a whiff of friendship in the air, and visas were more easy to come by.

I had a very enjoyable time then, and again later on a second visit, and it is appropriate at this time to write about these visits and those I met.

One of the best people I know, whether Pakistani or anywhere else, is the man I lived with when I was in Lahore, just behind the LUMS campus. He was retired colonel, from Musharraf's batch in the military academy. He was unlike a soldier, because he was curious and read a lot. He was open-minded about the nature of the world, and about religion. 

I am not attracted to faith myself, and it is easier to find common ground when such things are set aside first. This applied to that man also, and his range of friends included his former army buddies, who were quite unlike him, and some intellectuals of the sort that only Lahore seems to produce. One in particular, whose writings I had been acquainted with, was every bit as wise and knowledgeable as I had expected him to be. 

Lahore produced many memories. One magical night was spent at the shrine of Shah Jamal, where we heard the drummer Pappu Sain play with another man, perhaps his brother, on drums and a third man, playing trumpet. This man played only one short hook, perhaps no longer than five seconds, through the night. He did not play it continually, but every few minutes, and you began to forget him, especially given the smoky haze of the place, when again, like an old memory, he would introduce his theme. 

What struck me at the place was that the audience, other than a very small, tiny really, group of middle class and wealthy people, was drawn from the poor. There were a couple of thousand people there and most of them might have been autorickshaw drivers and labourers, going by their dress and their faces. 

We were taken to the shrine by a serving officer of the Pakistan army, a young man, who was looking to leave soldiering and get a corporate job. Another young man, I think his cousin, was a rising star in the bureaucracy, and we had an interesting discussion with him defending the 'doctrine of necessity' unemotionally and with reason.

I visited the house of Sa'adat Hasan Manto, in Laxmi Mansion just off the Mall. One of us, a girl from Lahore who was then living in Bombay, knew the family and on a whim, we knocked the door and were invited in.

Manto's daughter Nighat is married to a Gujarati, Bashir Patel, and we returned a couple of other times to spend an afternoon with them. Nighat says that all the years that the Manto children were growing up, they did not know, or at least did not hear others talk about, their father as a mighty writer. It was only much later, in the 1980s, that he became the figure he now is both in Pakistan and in India.

Leaving Manto's house, we stopped at the stall of Goonga Kababwala. Our little party, two men, a woman and a child, were immediately spotted as Indians and while the small office crowd waited for their lunch, we were served first. A delicious meal topped off with an enormous glass of thin, salted lassi.

Khalid Hasan began translating the works of A Hamid after I left Lahore, but it would have been interesting to see then how the places written about, Tollinton Market and Nagina Bakery, have changed in the decades since.

I did of course go to Pak Tea House, which I think used to be India Coffee House before the Partition. There are still dozens of India Coffee Houses around the country, run by the government, and Lahoris who go to one will be struck by how similar they are in atmosphere to Pak Tea House.

I do not like to pose for photographs, but one was shot very consciously next to Zam Zama, the great gun from Rudyard Kipling's Kim, the finest novel about India.

In Karachi I stayed with a friend's uncle and he was a most gracious host. He lived above, and was related to, Sultan Khan, foreign secretary during Ayub's time, and Yahya's. I met Mr Khan, a handsome man who was one of the few people present when Richard Nixon decided that Pakistan would help him connect to China through Kissinger. Sultan Khan wrote about this in his memoirs, and though I have the book I haven't yet read it.

My host, Sultan Arshad, used to be head of PIA in Bombay, and his leaving the city was mourned by the Times of India, which carried a large piece on him. He was popular with Bollywood actors and singers, and lived in a lovely flat in South Bombay. Arshad Chacha, as I know him, is related to my friend Farah, whose Sheedi family descends from the nawabs of Sachin, near Surat. Every month, Arshad Chacha gathers a group of people in Karachi and they sing karaoke to Bollywood numbers from the 50s and 60s.

I found Karachi to be more modern in its architecture than Lahore, and with less sense of history. It was different from Lahore in that many homes were guarded by men carrying automatic rifles. We were taken to a temple in the city that was functional, and which had devotees and also not a few Muslims who had come out of curiosity. I do not think that would have been possible in Lahore.

I was not in Karachi long enough to meet some of the Gujarati businessmen I had hoped to meet, and perhaps that will happen another time. Culture shows in us more strongly than faith, and I think I would have been able to, had I known him, connect to Quaid-e-Azam better than most Pakistanis.

Writers often dismiss Islamabad, and one of them referred to it as being "half the size of a New York graveyard and twice as dead." But I like the city. It does not have the urban anarchy of the cities of Pakistan and India, and its surroundings are quite lovely. I prefer it to Rawalpindi, which is just like any other town in our parts. 

Before I went to Islamabad, we had been to Multan, a very sleepy city where I stayed with another retired army officer and his wife, a teacher who drove us around. I liked the architecture of the tombs of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya, and there was qawwali outside, just as there is in a thousand shrines in India. 

Driving from Multan to Islamabad, we stopped at Harappa. It was deserted and there were no tourists. The man punching tickets handed us foreigners' tickets (which cost a little more), though we hadn't introduced ourselves. How had he known, I asked. "Yahan Pakistani kam aatein hain," he grinned. Harappa is magnificent. Its bricks are like nothing now made. Many of them were taken to build the railway line by the British till they discovered how valuable the site was. In those ruins of 3,500 years ago, before Islam and before even Hinduism, we share a history and a culture that defines us even today.


The writer is a director with Hill Road Media in Bombay. Email: aakar







"Everything is possible in the Bhutto family," declares Fatima Bhutto in her widely publicised book Songs of Blood and Sword, a sort of family hagiography. True, contrary to Daughter of the East, Benazir Bhutto's autobiography, Fatima Bhutto goes an extra mile in revealing the skeletons the Bhuttos would love to keep hidden in the closet. 

It is indeed bold of Fatima Bhutto to mention the colonial-era certificate no feudal family would like to publicise. The certificate reads: "By command of His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor General, this certificate is presented in the name of Her Most Gracious Majesty Victoria, Empress of India, to Doda Khan Bhoota in recognition of his loyalty and good service as a landholder." It was honest of Fatima Bhutto to quote Khair Bux Marri as saying, "Bhutto was no different from Hitler." To publish all this calls for a daring perhaps nly "possible in the Bhutto family," of all the country's feudal families.

Benazir Bhutto had made courageous revelations about her paternal aunts who were never married off lest the Bhuttos' feudal estate shrink by a few miles. The Bhutto ladies, however, give up their intellectual chivalry when it comes to embarrassing truths or the need to retain a status quo in the country. Therefore, despite an apparent nihilistic attitude, one finds the feuding aunt and niece in complete harmony on every key political and family concern. Both glorify the Bhuttos' feudal past and massive fiefdom. Benazir Bhutto proudly wrote about a British official travelling for hours by car through the Bhuttos' estate. Fatima Bhutto narrates the story of a census taken during the Raj when a British officer instructed a subordinate to tally up the various holdings of Sindh's elite. ''Call me when you've finished detailing the Bhutto land,'' the officer was said to have instructed. Several days later, he had not heard from his colleague and returned to ask why he had not reported back. "I'm still working on the Bhutto lands,'' was the subordinate's reply.

Similarly, both Bhutto ladies acclaim the macho acts of their feudal forefathers. While Benazir Bhutto wrote about a great-grandfather who seduced the wife of a British official, Fatima Bhutto introduces the reader to Rasul Bux Bhutto with his "nasty habit of swearing," who would curse "everyone in sight." Would he swear even when a white man was in sight? Fatima Bhutto does not say. However, one victim of this nasty habit in Fatima Bhutto's book is a nameless poor servant whom Rasul Bux Bhutto addressed and referred to as haram zada. 

While she nonchalantly speaks of Rasul Bux Bhutto's "nasty habit," Fatima Bhutto, like her aunt, chose to ignore the adulatory letter Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote to Iskander Mirza in 1959, which one can find in Stanley Wolpert's book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan. Expressing his "imperishable and devoted loyalty" to him, Bhutto wrote to President Iskander Mirza: "When the history of our country is written by objective historians, your name will be placed even before that of Mr Jinnah." He goes on to write, "Sir, I say this because I mean it, and not because you are the President of my country." 

However, Bhutto as an individual should not be judged by his adolescent letters. The way he heroically walked to the gallows in an act of supreme defiance, absolves him of his personal flaws. The problem arises when objective historians in 70 Clifton's archives cite facts from history only selectively. On capitalism, feudalism, democratic institutions, the role of the military, foreign policy, one finds both aunt and niece in harmony. 

While Benazir Bhutto rejected nationalisation outright, Fatima Bhutto does not even want to discuss the "pros and cons of nationalisation." When Grandpa Bhutto did it, "nationalisation was the only means to redistribute wealth." Venezuela and Bolivia even now find it the only means to redistribute wealth. 

In both books, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appears as an India-centric hawk (although with great contempt for Kashmiris' right to self-determination). This is not a coincidence, perhaps. India-centric hawkishness implies support and justification for the hefty defence budget. Hence, Benazir and Fatima Bhutto criticise a few generals, but there is not a word about the army as an institution. 

Dictatorship is not the Bhuttos' problem. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto welcomed and served the 1958 "revolution" and collaborated with Gen Yahya Khan in the reversal of the democratic outcome of the country's first general elections, with catastrophic consequences for East Pakistanis. Likewise, in 1999, Benazir Bhutto, even Ghinwa Bhutto, welcomed Gen Musharraf. Fatima Bhutto ceaselessly eulogises Hafez al-Assad of Syria. Tyranny is no problem as long as it is a gracious host.

No doubt, Fatima Bhutto denounced dynastic politics in her book. She accuses Zardari of ruling "by virtue of having a close enough tie to the dead, to the corpses that demand–and receive–sympathy votes." But the same criterion is not applied to her father Murtaza Bhutto or his widow Ghinwa Bhutto, or to their PPP-SB group. In the book, she herself invokes family tragedy and seeks sympathy. 


Hence, what appears to be a fierce clash of ideas between niece and aunt boils down to strictly personal issues. The Bhuttos have been clashing in the past: Murtaza Bhutto against sister Benazir, Nusrat Bhutto against daughter Benazir. Every clash was cloaked in ideology. In all these clashes, commitment to the status quo in the country remains a constant. None of the Bhuttos contests the status quo.

The writer is a freelance contributor. 









In 1955, PA4117 Major (later Lt Col) Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan, S.J. (Corps of Engineers), wrote an article titled "Persian Pipeline," thereby giving birth to the idea of an energy pipeline between Iran and Pakistan. In 1989, Ali Ardekani, former deputy foreign minister of Iran, and Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), got together and furthered Col Aftab's postulation.

In 1994, the governments of Iran and Pakistan launched negotiations about the project. In 1995, Iran and Pakistan signed a preliminary agreement (to build a gas pipeline costing some $3.3 billion). In 1998, Iran proposed the extension of the pipeline into India, and the following year Iran and India also signed a preliminary agreement. In 2008, Iran officially invited China's participation. On Sept 28, the US House of Representatives approved the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement (which will help India add some 25,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020). In 2009, India, citing pricing and security issues, withdrew from the IPI project.

In January 2010, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke asked Pakistan to abandon the IPI Project in return for American assistance for a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, plus import of electricity from Tajikistan through the Wakhan corridor. On March 16, Iran and Pakistan signed a tariff and tax agreement in Ankara. Under the agreement Iran will provide Pakistan 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from its South Pars gas field for 25 years (via a 1,200mm-diameter pipeline estimated to cost $7.5 billion). 

Pipeline politics. The energy empire. Battle for energy. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Oil Pipeline was built with American support in order to marginalise Russian influence in the South Caucasus. The objective of the Nabucco Pipeline is to reduce European dependence on Russian energy supplies.

What interest do global powers have in the IPI? The IPI is more complex than the BTC and Nabucco put together. The US and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan's biggest financial supporters, don't like the IPI. Russia likes the IPI just because the US does not. China also likes the IPI, for its own reasons. Iran loves it because the 2,775km IPI could become Iran's new economic lifeline. Some elements in Balochistan don't like the IPI (of which more than 700km would pass through the restive province) because it would be an alternative to Balochistan's gas. 

Then, there is the Iran Sanctions Act of the US Congress that imposes economic penalties on companies doing business with Iran. Gazprom, the largest Russian natural gas extractor, has shown interest. At other times, Petronas, Total SA, Royal Dutch Shell and BHP Billiton had also shown interest (but none can defy the threat of US sanctions). The ADB does not support the IPI. Gazprom is not as rich as it once was. China's shaky banking sector cannot provide an alternative source of financing either. Eventually, Iran and Pakistan would have to raise the colossal $7.5 billion on their own. 

Plus, there remains the yet to be answered question of technology--especially for a pipeline passing through seismically active terrain. Is there a non-Western source that possesses the technology (as no Western source would dare defy the US)? Will the IPI be economically viable without India's participation? To be sure, the IPI will be no panacea for Pakistan's severe energy poverty because IPI gas can cost upwards of $8 per mmbtu (Pakistani consumers currently pay around $4 per mmbtu).

Iran and Pakistan are playing politics of their own over the project. The Iran-Pakistan agreement signed in Ankara is deliberately quiet with regard to the financing of the IPI. Pakistan knows that it cannot pull off the IPI on its own but the proposed pipeline can certainly be used to extract goodies from the US. 

Right now, the IPI is more about politics, bargaining, leverages, daydreams and chimeras. Politics, as we all know, makes strange bedfellows and practical politics is all about ignoring facts. Then, there's hope, but hope is a dream of the waking. Our leaders have long sustained us on a steady diet of dreams, and to actually believe in the power of dreams means spending a lifetime dreaming.


The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email:







There is this song that I remember from long time ago: "Oh-oh, yes I'm the great pretender". It obviously tells of romantic thoughts of a day-dreamer, "adrift in a world of my own". And the gist of it is: "I seem to be what I'm not, you see". 

Well, aren't we, in a collective sense, great pretenders, too? Besides, there is nothing romantic about this penchant for deception or make-believe. In fact, there is a definite touch of criminality about it. One might even say that we excel in the art of falsifying reality. 

Now, my peg for this column could justifiably be the continuing saga of the fake degrees of so many of our legislators. We know that this is just the tip of an iceberg, considering the possibility that people in other professions and services would also have resorted to the same device of acquiring fake documents. There is already some evidence that a number of medical doctors have forged degrees from foreign institutions. A quack, to be sure, is also a pretender. 

But what has prompted me to look at the 'counterfeit' lives of a large segment of our population is a report published on Thursday, though the fake degree issue would also be relevant in this context. The headline of the report in this newspaper was rather explicit: "Pakistan world leader in porn searches: Google". Incidentally, something to this effect was known in recent years. So you need not be very surprised about it. 


What is actually surprising is the other side of the relationship that people in Pakistan would want to establish with the digital world. The same people, by and large, who love to surreptitiously access pornographic sites on the internet are publicly inclined to demand a ban on such vastly popular and essentially useful sites as Facebook and YouTube because of some sacrilegious material on their sites – the material that can only be accessed by people looking for it. 

There is no need to go into why we, as a people, cannot renounce our citizenship of the limitless kingdom of cyberspace, irrespective of its seamy side. The internet is the most potent tool for empowerment that we can use to promote social change and advancement. Facebook, for instance, is a phenomenon and social scientists are engaged in studying its impact on individuals and societies. 

How do our people use this magical mechanism? This would evidently depend on what we are in terms of our educational, cultural, moral and economic capacities. So, we have this FoxNews story that "Google ranks Pakistan No. 1 in the world in searches for pornographic terms, outranking every other country in the world in search per person for certain sex-related content". 

On the face of it, this assertion seems astounding. A high percentage of our population does not have access to the internet, though we do seem to hold some kind of a record in cell-phone penetration and the reach of internet is constantly on the rise. The measure used is said to be "search per person". Only experts can compute the validity of this additional distinction for Pakistan, a country that generally figures among the top ten in the lists of 'failed states'. 

Indeed, the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), in a statement published on Saturday, has said that the FoxNews report, quoting Google, "is false and showed inaccurate data". Be that as it may, the fact that such an assessment is seriously made by an important news organisation is bound to carry some significance. We should at least give some thought to whether this reflects the existing morality of the nation or not. By the way, the AP story had this heading: "No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan". 

We do have an image problem on the basis of our ranking in many different measurements made by international agencies. There is the UNDP's Human Development Index or the Transparency International's corruption perception report. In almost every social sector, our performance is shameful. Some aspects of what we are doing in our education and health sectors may compel you to just close your eyes to this reality and find refuge in your choice of make-believe. 

With reference to the FoxNews report, we should consider the behaviour of the ordinary Pakistani male towards women. Ask women about it. Even compared to other countries in the region, our situation is bad. But we do not tire from castigating the western society for its sexual morality. Similarly, we profess to be very religious and invoke religion in every argument. When there is a terrorist attack on a mosque or imam bargah or shrine, there is always this contention that a Muslim cannot do it. 

What kind of Muslims are we, really? The fake degrees have exposed our political morality. But our business morality may be worse. Counterfeit and sub-standard goods abound in the market. We are a country where adulteration in medicines and edibles is widespread. I wonder what ranking we would have on this score. We find it difficult to trust other people in our daily transactions. 

There has generally been a wide gap between what we say and what we do. In addition, we want to judge others on their actions and judge ourselves on our motives. The latest Gilani Poll/Gallup Pakistan survey was issued with this intro: "Practice apart, more than half (52 per cent) of all Pakistanis disapprove of the availability of foreign music and movies and its effect on the culture". Even the opinion that is formally presented to us can be spurious. 

It is against this background that we should make our attempt to understand the reality of Pakistan. When it comes to daily headlines, the situation is getting worse at an alarming pace. There was, this week, the assassination of Habib Jalib Baloch, a leader of the Balochistan National Party in Quetta. It is a tragic event with fearful implications. All kinds of antagonistic conflicts are raging in the country and particularly in Balochistan. 

Very sad, also, was the outcome of the meeting in Islamabad on Thursday between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. This relationship also underlines our disdain for reality. Meanwhile, some more terrorist attacks have resulted in loss of life and loss of hope. More and more people now feel that the system has nearly collapsed. 

Is there some hope in the upcoming round of strategic dialogue between the United States and Pakistan? Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has arrived in Pakistan, ahead of secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Just before flying to Islamabad, Holbrooke told a Senate committee in Washington, with reference to Afghanistan, that "Pakistan's role in reconciliation is ambiguous and opaque at this point".

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail .com









It was always known that given our green passport, traveling to just about any part of the world was going to be something of an ordeal. It has also become common knowledge over a relatively very short period of time that for Pakistanis getting a visa to most parts of the world is an exercise that can render most people mad. Along with the procedural rigmarole which instead of getting simpler gets more and more complicated there is the added humiliation of being treated like a leper in your own country.

For much of that the blame, as is our custom, cannot be laid at the doorstep of the offensive visa-awarding countries but our own government (well that is what can loosely describe the Mickey mouse operation we are running these days), which has ensured that it looks the other way while its citizens are treated like convicts. What to mention of reasonably humane conditions visible at the world's embassies located in Islamabad, ordinary people are made to endure sub-human conditions. Applying for a visa now frightens the daylights out of most Pakistanis. The new regime of trekking to Islamabad again and again and the one way communication that governs this entire procedure is humiliating. Yes, some of the world's biggest liars are found here when passport applications are cross checked but since the system cannot tell the difference between genuine visa seekers and shady ones, all are thrown in the same cesspool. Many can take that on the chin but it is the absence of any trace of humanity and understanding and lack of background research which shapes official thinking that hurts and offends. Asking our government to take a stand, even on the very basics is useless because they will not. 

Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect our government to take a stand where the common people are involved and since we owe everyone tons of money, we can hardly tell them what to do or how we like our eggs done. We can make noises, beat our chests and make threatening gestures but all those who are involved know well that this is just a sham show and not meant to be taken seriously. This is not a stroke of genius on their part. They know who they are and certainly know who we are. Examples of the prime minister or the president challenging foreign powers not to mess around with our sovereignty while drones merrily dot the skies and rain hell, violating our airspace at will – such things merely reinforce home truths that beggars can hardly dictate terms. The charade continues uninterrupted.

But why is getting out so complicated and so nonsensical? Why is there so much checking, rechecking and further rechecking of the checking that is prevalent at all departure points? Any amount of goons are present mindlessly stamping anything that they can lay their hands on. You are first checked when you arrive at the airport long before the departure lounge is in sight. You are peered at in a desultory manner and sometimes asked where you are going. A glance at the vehicle and even more casual glance at the rear seats and you are waved on. The question does arise. What are they looking for and how do they expect to find it? Is it that if it has no ticking clock tied to it or red cigar shaped items strapped on, it must be kosher? And glancing at you, are suicide bombers and others of their tribe, equipped with four eyes, six ears and three noses? Is the lowly cop at the barricade a master mind reader? Often tickets have to be thrust in their noses? Can these guys read? Decipher flight numbers, dates or destinations? Arriving at the departure gates, tickets are once more checked before you are waved in. Here diligent customs make you spread open your bags and rummage through your underwear while asking you all manner of questions. If you are clean, you are allowed to repack your bags a task that is rather complex given the random toss up the contents have had.

Your bags next go in the scanner and all else you have while you are bodily searched and let through. Bags are collected you are then allowed to proceed to check-in only to emerge with more stamping of anything that sticks out and can flutter in a breeze. You then haul your bags to another line of scanners where all bags are checked again, in case you added detonators between the first scanner and the check in without causing any suspicion whatsoever. Houdini could perhaps pull it off. Most of us simply cannot. And on to Immigration where another experience awaits the intrepid traveler. While your passport is flipped through and re-flipped through, you are subjected to some inane questioning. Should there be the slightest hint of some thing not being just right, you are in for a lot of questioning. If you are cleared, you leave immigration only to be re-checked by another set of officials not more than ten feet away from the Immigration Desks. If your passports and visas have been given the work over ten seconds back, what does this rechecking hope to unfurl? Throughout all this and before you actually board your flight, your hand baggage is constantly checked, stamped, punched and stamped. It's a frenzy of stamping I guess and the staff have to stamp mindlessly.

Yes security is all fine and all this procedural nonsense is actually for our safety but surely half of what is enacted could still do the job and reduce the ordeal or would that be cutting too close to the edge? We are all paying this heavy price of security – roadblocks, sandbags, check points, far too many men armed with too many guns – all these rule and condition our existence. The sight of so many guns is despairing for some of us who recall a country where spotting a gun was a novelty. Not any more. The armed to the teeth goon squads that roam the roads trailing or leading VIPs is distressing and more so when they causally ride open vehicles with guns nonchalantly pointed in the direction of your heart. All rules indicate that guns, loaded or not, must point downwards but who is going to be foolhardy to tell them that? We are still stuck to such mindless announcements and signage that 'prohibits photography' at the airport? In this day and age when satellites can catch you picking your nose or examining your navel? Surely this is nonsensical and must be scrapped. How is security compromised?

And lastly, can we be allowed to breathe a little? This security business, apart from being largely ineffective and inefficient, is intruding far too much into our lives. Yes, we have a situation but increasingly people feel it has gone beyond reason and is there only and only to protect the lives of the few and very privileged ones. The man in the street is still in the street fending for himself. People are also now questioning the brilliant logic of placing once the deed has been done heavy guards at all those venues where bombs have blown away buildings and people. Another senseless policy in full bloom here. Nothing will change I suppose but my God it does try the patience of the most patient ones who have to live here in Pakistan.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email:








AS Pak-India Foreign Ministers talks have hit an impasse, the Indian media has launched a tirade against Pakistan in line with Indian mindset. This time the target is the person of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who had criticised the Indian Home Secretary for his uncalled-for remarks on the eve of the all important bilateral talks blaming the ISI for Mumbai attacks. 

The Pakistani Foreign Minister was within his right to express his dismay over the way Indians were approaching the talks. Instead of questioning Mr Krishna and the Home Secretary as to the need for making remarks that vitiated the atmosphere, the Indian media targeted Shah Mahmood Qureshi and ridiculed him. This tirade is yet another proof that the Indian media follows the dictates of the Establishment and extends full cooperation to the Government when it comes to their national objectives. Same had happened after the Mumbai attacks when there was a lethal campaign, anti Pakistan sentiments were inflamed and an atmosphere was created for launching attack against Pakistan. In contrast, Pakistan media is yet to define such an approach and acquire that maturity particularly when it comes to our national security interests. The deadlock in the talks was the result of myopic and selective approach by the Indian Foreign Minister who had one item agenda i.e. expeditious trial of those allegedly behind the Mumbai attacks. This narrow-mindedness cannot take the two countries forward to resolve the contentious issues. There should be no doubt that the Indians were under pressure from the United States to resume dialogue with Pakistan and they came at the negotiating table to tell the world that New Delhi was keen to resolve issues through talks. They had been doing this for the last six decades and one doubts they would adopt a positive approach to resolve the outstanding issues in the future. In order to hide their failure to discuss the issues bedevilling relations between the two countries, the Indian Establishment is now using the media to blame Pakistan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the impasse. Mr Qureshi during the talks had shown Pakistan's sincerity and even later said that Islamabad could wait till New Delhi was ready and gave mandate to its team to take up the core issues. In our view this tirade against Pakistan has proportionately enhanced Mr Qureshi's respect and standing through the length and breadth of the country as whatever he did was in the interest of Pakistan.







THE unpleasant incident that took place in the Supreme Court on Friday shocked all those present in the Court Room when a three-member bench heard petitions of two Lt Colonels who were removed from service during the Musharraf regime. The Counsel for the petitioners Shaukat Aziz Siddiqi did not obey the court orders and exchanged hot words with a member of the bench that made the learned Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to intervene by saying that the Counsel should address the court in a respectful manner. 

Surprisingly the lawyer instead of amending his attitude retarded by saying "I am behaving like as my Lord Justice Ramday". We are extremely sorry to note that it was not an isolated episode of this nature where there had been exchange of hot and unpleasant remarks during the proceedings of cases. In the past few weeks there had been scenes of unpleasantness in the court rooms where uncalled-for remarks were made reflecting lack of decorum. Both the petitioners also misbehaved in the court and protested against the verdict in the court room forcing the learned Chief Justice to order police to take them out of the court. Superior courts enjoy extreme respect in any society and it is the duty of every one to ensure maintenance of their dignity rather than going for a brawl. The cases are argued and heard on the basis of Constitution and the law of the land in a civilised society and not with threatening posture and use of remarks that in any way send wrong signals. Senior lawyers expressed their annoyance over the episode and were of the view that the lawyer should have maintained the decorum in the court. Similar incidents had taken place in Islamabad, Lahore and Faisalabad district courts. Unfortunately in Pakistan, an atmosphere has been created where people feel emboldened and they express their views without caring for the dignity of the courts which is a disturbing development. In this scenario, there is a need that all stakeholders should analyse the situation to prevent recurrence of such unpleasant incidents in the larger interest of the system and for upholding the respect of the judiciary.







AFTER a long time the nation has heard a good news of discovery of natural gas reserves by the State owned OGDCL in Kohat. The energy-starved nation is desperate to find some significant reserves and for this purpose the OGDCL and other companies are actively exploring in different prospective blocks.

Though the volume of production of 15 million cubic feet of gas per day is insignificant when compared to the shortfall, yet it re-establishes the fact that hydrocarbon reserves are not limited to Balochistan and Sindh. Because of shortage of gas, power plants are not running to full capacity while the CNG stations in the Punjab are forced to shut the supply once a week. The situation is expected to be critical during the winter season when more gas would be needed by domestic consumers and for the power plants because hydel generation would go down. While Kohat discovery is a good news and one is confident that there would be more in the vicinity of the area, the Government must go for drilling in Balochistan by offering incentive laden packages to the owners of the land where the exploratory work could be carried out. Therefore if we prioritize exploration and efforts are made in a big way, we are confident that the country can hit some big reserves one day. We are confident that the OGDCL, an elite organisation of Pakistan in exploration sector, has all the know-how and expertise to act as a leader in this effort. Pakistan certainly needs a few big discoveries of gas and if we succeed in this effort, it would not only help meet our energy shortages but give a major boost to the economy and save precious foreign exchange reserves.










Life in the civil service has been very worthwhile not because of the power one wields but because of the way in which various experiences impinge on the personality and how it affects the inner workings. Posted to East Pakistan with very little experience one was suitably naïve to take on a new culture and to work on it to the benefit of becoming a better human being. One realized that the new Pakistan was in the making and that the oppressive behavior of the Punjabis had created a considerable hatred in the system. The Punzabis, as they were called, were abrasive and had rough edges. One had touched rock bottom when one had seen the debacle of East Pakistan. No not yet I was reminded by my elders for the work of a nation is cut out for all times and one season of wellbeing does not herald a nation of sorts. The process is a continuous one. The economic situation as well as the political situation needs to be continuously evaluated even if there is no cognition of the interface between economics and politics. 

Ever since my return to research I have wondered at the loss of culture of work organized by M-S [short of the criminal gang of Musharaff and Shaukat]. They paid hefty sums as bribes to the bureaucracy besides providing them the asset wherewithal. Like the woman of easy virtue the bureaucracy was paid for lewd services. They responded magnificently by not working. Everything was 'special' and they were paid not to work but to live lavishly on government levies meant for the development of the country and its people. The purchases of expensive equipment not meant for research was purchased and blatantly sent to houses of the researchers. One wondered at the mind of these criminals that have played havoc with the economic system and the work culture. A deliberate study of the bureaucracy would reveal that the mind set and the criminality of the culture of despotism and greed [from the FNCB] came together to create a new kind of hybrid personality that had the hides of a donkey and was therefore insensitive to the needs of the people.

But life at the center of power continued unabashed because there is always a time lag between the actions taken and the impact of those actions. Gresham's law states that bad intentions drive out good intentions. Let us now look at some of the actions that were taken during that period. Water is the prime source of the agriculture sector requirement. The sector has been in turmoil because of the M-S regimes actions especially where water has been taken to the lands of the new allotties in the lands that they acquired forcibly-forcibly in the sense that they made their own laws and then went ton to implement it for the sake of their own asset development. Irsa will never deliver as long as it has parochial interests in it. The electronic media does not help either for they are the curios of this world. Never satisfied by one they look for the alternative and if the alternative is taken as the policy then the first one questioned, if not this then that and if not that than this; funny funky personality. I remember that while touring with the India with the Pakistan team I was padded up against Baroda and we had a batting debacle. I was relatively inexperienced and I was pushed back. All the experienced went and acme back till eventually I was asked to go in with Pakistan reeling at 26 for 7. Wallis Mathias and I continued and retrieved the situation for Pakistan when eventually I was out after a good score. As I came out Fazal Mahmood was annoyed and said why did I not get my hundred. It felt that I had purposely got out. Pakistani personality is such, never happy at anything. The other day I had a ministerial visit and despite everything that was done he was unhappy at two areas [not bad after a three hour visit]. 

What is the issue in water? Prejudice is one. Ignorance is another but the very strong issue is that the abrasive Punjabi personality is not willing to look at things differently and even not willing to listen to anything. The then agriculture minister was from Sind and he was present at all these inaugural water infrastructure developments. He was double faced and double tongued for he did not have the courage to state the case of Sind. Double tongued weak bellied surpassing in intrigue. The water issue requires not new dams but a new way of thinking and a new way of compensation. I am afraid the irrigation engineers have been responsible for a lot of ills. Fat and obese in the mind they have lived under the impression that they are cat's whiskers answerable to no one. Calling themselves degreed and qualified engineers they have never graduated to life. Now to nearer where I am involved. In Karachi I have upwards of 287 persons doing agriculture research. What research at Karachi? None. The Cotton research ahs 175 personal working on cotton. What cotton? Living on pensions!!!. Imagine the loss to the nation and the opportunity cost is one thing but the development of dirty ethics is another. Money maybe corrected but the loss of decency cannot be retrieved. Despite the efforts to get these corrected the individuals responsible for this are everywhere. The cotton sector indicates the heat that has been set up as result of not doing anything about it. 

The mistaken identity has been that jobs are important. This is no way to create jobs or save them. This is a recipe for disaster. How will the textile sector compete when the cost of lint is Rs.7500 per bale up from Rs. 3000 per bale? How? The chickens are coming home to roost. The cloth for the common man already very expensive will go up even more. The exports will be down in the value added weaving sector and the rupee-dollar parity will once again be disrupted or will become more volatile and inflation ridden. The political system needs to know what to do and if they do not then they should go. Instead of helping the poor ma this is a recipe for disaster for the poor. The designing of projects is another aspect. Look at the M-S livestock projects and see how the resources have been siphoned off, how MNCs have been subsidized, how bird flu was used to benefit a relative? I can take you through a plethora of M-S activities meant to harm the country and I cannot believe that they were demented persons that did not understand the situation that they were taking us to. At least some of them were supposed to be very intelligent.

The lessons are clear. Everyone has to work in the federation and there is no question of having a class of people that can live on the fat of the land. There is no fat left, if you know what I mean. The implementation part is another.








Washington and Kabul were marching in step till end 2009. As the final phase in Afghanistan drew nearer, the two fell out of steps and so far they have been unable to get back in steps. Major reason for this is Washington's unhappiness over Karzai's performance and latter's conflicting views on solving Afghan imbroglio. Obama's straight talk with him advising him to improve and produce results caused heart burns to Karzai. He got miffed at the role of USA and UK in last presidential election and feels convinced that it had been purposely made controversial to weaken his position. He has become aggressive and has been off and on giving anti-US statements and even threatening to join the ranks of Taliban. 

Karzai is not in favor of Kandahar operation and wants reconciliation with all without making a wedge between reconcilable and irreconcilable. In this respect he has been making repeated overtures to Pakistan which has been resented by several segments in Washington, India, Northern Alliance leaders and Israel. He suspects that rocket attack on the jirga he hosted at Kabul on 2 June was conducted either by intelligence chief Amrullah whom he subsequently sacked or Blackwater at the behest of USA. Sacking of Amrullah and interior minister by him was a major blow to USA in the given troubled times since the two were their loyalists. Seething with rage that he has been unseated at the behest of Pakistan, anti-Pakistan Amrullah organized an attack on an isolated post in Mohmand Agency held by paramilitary troops to cause embarrassment to Pakistan.

According to US Congressional subcommittee investigations led by John Tierney D-Mass, US military is paying millions of dollars to insurgents, Afghan warlords and corrupt government officials to ensure safe passage of supply of convoys. It is part of Pentagon's $2.1 billion transport contract for food, water, fuel and ammunition to US troops serving at 200 forward bases. Reportedly Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week from contractors and then dishing out the booty to warlords and Taliban. Watan Risk Management Security firm under scrutiny contends it has to pay $1000 to $10000 in monthly bribes to every Afghan governor, police chief, local military unit whose territory is trespassed. Trucking companies maintain that for safe passage payments have to be made to local security firms with ties to Taliban, or warlords who control the roads. Such undesirable activities are undermining larger US objectives of curtailing corruption and strengthening effective governance in Afghanistan. Interestingly, in Pakistan instead of extorting money, militants torch supply convoys. 

Another problem area is the flourishing drug trade which has doubled since 2005 and has helped finance insurgents and encouraged corruption. In Marjah, US troops stopped Afghan officials from destroying poppy fields. 

Besides curse of drugs, liberal employment of Blackwater and other civilian contractors in Afghanistan on heavy fees is another drain on US economy. Recently $120 million contract has been awarded to Xe Services to provide security to Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif US Consulates. Another $200 million contract has also been assigned to Blackwater which works for CIA and US military to provide bodyguards and security cover to American officials visiting Afghanistan. It has four forward operating bases. CIA camp in Khost that had been successfully targeted on 15 January houses Blackwater operatives as well. It is mandated to conduct covert operations against Pakistan and Iran. In Iraq, KBR Inc was awarded $2.8 billion worth contract last March. Blackwater is busy trying to delay planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq to ensure continuation of lucrative contracts. 

The US military and intelligence have become heavily dependent upon this shady outfit which is seriously undermining their operational capabilities. Their craze for drones is borne out of desire to avoid direct physical action and to play safe. Those pulling trigger to fire hellfire missiles are located in Nevada, Kandahar airbase or Shamsi airbase. Young boys raised on diet of video games now kill real people remotely using joysticks. Today US air force has more drone operators in training than fighter and bomber pilots. It is robbing the American soldiers of their fighting spirit and turning them into mischievous kids playing killing game instead of soldiering. 

Huge amounts are being spent to expand and train ANA and Afghan police on war footing without achieving any worthwhile results. While the ANA soldiers are undisciplined and drug addicts with very high desertion rate, police is no better. 67 to 70% of police recruits drop out during training. Lt Gen William Caldwell said this 'attrition rate' is too high. The general incharge of training reported to Gen George W. Casey, commander of US Army Training Command that US Army has lost thousands of uniformed trainers because of troop demands in two theatres of war because of which junior level trainers had to be put in charge of some key training functions. 

Morale of US troops is low and ill-discipline and desertion cases very high. Frequent redeployments in combat zones, like recently arrived 101 Airborne Division in Afghanistan, which had previously got deployed four times since 2002, have taxed the nerves of soldiers to maximum. US Army VCOAS Gen Peter Chiarelle revealed that percentage of American soldiers who are unavailable for combat has risen sharply during the last three years from11% of each brigade in 2007 to 16%. Repeated deployments, health and traumatic stress disorder problems have driven much of increase in soldiers listed as non-deployable. Sarah Lazre says that US Army is overstretched and exhausted. Many from within ranks are openly declaring that they have had enough, allying with anti-war veterans and activists calling for an end to US led wars, with some active duty soldiers publicly refusing to deploy. 

While grappling with mounting problems in Afghanistan and trying to lessen Washington-Kabul strains, US leadership was faced with yet another challenge of civil-military relations within USA. Gen Stanley McChrystal whom Obama had chosen for Afghanistan ruffled the feathers of Obama and other high officials in his administration as a consequence to his scathing interview he gave to a magazine. He and his aides didn't mince their words in censuring Obama and top US officials. Some among Obama's administration as well as US Ambassador in Kabul Eikenberry differed with McChrystal's policies in Afghanistan. 

Disagreements surfaced after McChrystal asked for additional troops in September 2009 to recapture southern and eastern Afghanistan. His opponents who were not in favor of troop surge and risky stretching out strategy became more vocal once McChrystal failed to show results. Other grouses against him were his inability to rein in Karzai who of late had become belligerent, and to train Afghan National Army (ANA) to takeover security duties from coalition troops. Most weaknesses pointed out are command failures, but these could have been over looked and he retained despite his diatribe had he been a winning General. 

Although Gen McChrystal has been sacked and replaced with Gen David Petraeus but not without creating tension in civil-military relations. In case the situation in Afghanistan spins out of control and coalition forces are forced to hurriedly exit in disgrace, or fatalities mount up, it is bound to further aggravate civil-military relations in USA. However, prompt action by Obama has dispelled the lingering impression that Pentagon has become more powerful than White House. He has reasserted his authority by this act and demonstrated that he is in full command. 

Replacement of military commanders is not the solution to the problem particularly when Petraeus and McChrystal were on one frequency. At no stage there was any difference of opinion between the two. Petraeus task will be more arduous since he will have to hop between his two offices of CENTCOM and US-NATO Command HQ in Kabul. Unless the US leadership undertakes some revolutionary and well meaning steps to get rid of weak areas, the US will not be able to overcome its host of problems and final phase will end up in complete disaster. 


The writer is a retired Brig and a security and defence analyst








Kinza Fatima, a sixteen years old Kashmiri girl wrote to me three weeks back, "Death and blood, cries and shrieks, injured, smashed and emaciated bodies of our dear and near ones; what else we are left with? You writers! Keep on writing but be sure that no one among the Indian Army deputed here in the valley of Kashmir, is going to read what you write. The world around us is deaf and dumb; there will be a time when you would realize that you have been wasting the energy of your words. Your words could never bring back my brother because he is now somewhere in the realms beyond your imaginations, high above the sky." She further said, "My seventeen years old brother Ahmed Ali was kidnapped by a team of the Indian Army one evening while he was on his way back to home six months ago. We tried our best to locate where they had detained him but we could find nothing. Five days later we found scattered parts of his body floating in a clear water stream." The most painful sentence of her mail which really made my eyes water; "Dear writer, do you know why the people of valley get frightened when they see a shrieking crowd of wild crows circling around a mountain top: because their circling and shrieking indicates the presence of some dead body brutally thrown there by the Indian security forces." 

This mail of innocent Kinza Fatima must be very much agonizing for all those who have a humane heart. I personally feel that it is something very easy to pen down the brutality and portray the hardships the people of Indian occupied Kashmir have been facing for more than seventy years but almost next to impossible is to bear these atrocities even for a single moment. It is simply the courage and determination of the people of Kashmir which has still kept them energetic and alive. If it were the Americans or the British or the Israelis, they would have lost all their hopes very long ago, in the very beginning. Ask the innocent children of Kashmir; 'who is going to be our saviour?'

The people of Kashmir are of the opinion that it is nothing but the presence of the Indian army in the valley which has deprived them of their basic human rights. But the Indian Army Chief General V.K. Singh has a different point of view in this context. In his recent statement he said, "The basic reason behind the flare up in the Kashmir Valley is the failure to build on the gains that had been made by the security forces in the 'troubled state'. The army had brought the situation under control to a certain level from where other steps should have been taken to carry forward the process and bring peace in the Valley. There are people who are passing instructions on phone. They have to be identified. 

The situation in the valley of Kashmir is nothing but the result of the loss of confidence." This statement of the army chief has many important points which require a very keen type of analysis. First of all he has admitted that there is a situation of 'flare up' in the valley. Secondly he has admitted the failure of the security forces and thirdly he has accepted that Kashmir is a troubled state. And above all is his admittance of the fact that the people of Kashmir have lost their confidence in the government of India and the Indian forces. The situation can be very easily improved if all these factors pointed out by the Army Chief are taken care of sympathetically. Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author and columnist. Here is an extract from her recent piece of writing published in the Countercurrents. 'It does not need to be reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a complex one, but when the armed forces fight civilians, it is not only a matter of separatist aspirations. It is also about a badly-administered state that is not providing basic infrastructure and opportunities to the citizens. The freedom of individuals to express their own anger is being manipulated by various power centers, it is a precious irony'. 

Sumit Ganguly holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University at Bloomington. In one of his recent articles he states, 'The problem that the government confronts has no military solution. The anger that has spilled out into the warren-like streets of Kashmir's villages is not the work of Pakistan-supported jihadi terrorists or organized indigenous separatists. Instead it is the spontaneous outburst of a generation of young Kashmiris who have witnessed much hardship over the last two decades of the insurgency. This anger has its roots in economic stagnation. The coalition state government has done little to attract investment into the troubled state. Kashmiris, especially young men, have limited employment opportunities'. 

Let us put together the statement of General V.K.Singh, the opinion of Farzana Versey and the analysis of Sumit Ganguly to form the real picture of Kashmir. The only reason behind is nothing but injustice and human rights violation. The Indian political and military hi-ups are never ready to pay any heed to the actual root cause. They always try to deny the facts and mitigate the situation by commenting the Kashmir issue as an internal affair of India. Kashmir has never been an internal affair of India; it is the actual bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries India and Pakistan. It is because of the Kashmir conflict that India is always eagerly ready to drag Pakistan into every incident of terrorism which takes place on the Indian soil. The Mumbai attacks of 2008 are the worst example in this regard. The Indian hi-ups are mistakenly of the opinion that Pakistan is supporting the people of Occupied Kashmir through different jihaddi groups. 

They are also of the opinion that all these groups are trained and financed by the ISI. The Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M.Krishna also expressed the same thoughts during his visit to Pakistan in the second week of July. He said that the peace process could never be successful unless Pakistan puts behind the bars the perpetrators of the Mumbai Blasts. He also criticized the statements made by Hafiz saeed. Same type of comments was made by the Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai in Indian Express. He said, 'The ISI did not have "just a peripheral role" in Mumbai assault. 

They (ISI) were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning till the end'. As far as Hafiz Saeed is concerned, he has always been the most favourite target of the Indian politicians and Indian media. This religious scholar is being continuously blamed for his connections with the Kashmiri militant groups which are fighting against the Indian atrocities in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. These groups have nothing to do with Pakistan same in the manner as those of the Naxalites and the Maoists. All these groups are nothing but the 'Indigenous Protestants'. The South Asian Region can become a peaceful paradise if an amicable solution of the Kashmir issue is sought on urgent and compassionate grounds. This is the only way to compensate and pacify the innocent Kinza Fatima who is helplessly mourning over the brutal murder of her brother Ahmed Ali.

—The writer is a defence and strategic affairs analyst.








In line with a series of meetings in connection with the Pak American strategic dialogues, the American representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke has asked Pakistan to "wait and see" and not to over commit itself till the new legislation regarding the energy sector of Iran is drafted. He has told Pakistan that the US Congress will come with the new legislation that may apply to the project and has warned Pakistan in the clear words that the legislation may have vital implications for Pakistani companies. It was the tenth visit of Richard Holbrooke since Barack Obama appointed him in this region.

However the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his news conference at Multan airport on Sunday said that although Pakistan is facing an acute dearth of energy but coming up with any final statement on the issue will be premature. If this agreement comes under UN sanctions then the course of action will depend upon the circumstances and they will not violate any international law.

One wonders that on Saturday during a press conference with the Pakistani Foreign Minister Holbrooke was saying that the US had no objections against the pipeline project. But the very next day he retreated from its earlier stance. Well in a recent interview the Irani ambassador Masha Allah Shakri told the Pakistani anchor that America has high stakes in Iran.Geographical importance of Iran is above board. The general opinion is that not only in Iran but in the whole Mid East America has its interests. Just look at a report of New York Times, the American experts have discovered in Afghanistan huge underground reserves of minerals. There is copper, iron, cobalt and light weight Lithium. Lithium reserves are greater than the biggest Lithium exporter, Bolivia. The global media points out that actually America wants to exploit the resources of Afghanistan and other countries of Mid East. Masha Allah Shakri in a blatant tone has questioned the validity of the right to America for becoming the guardian of peace in this region. He said America came in Afghanistan with the plea to solve the problem of narcotics, eradication of poverty, good governance and economic uplift. However none of these objectives have been so far materialized. It was indeed baffling to listen to the audacity of his stance. Hence keeping all these facts in mind it would not be difficult to discern why America revoked his earlier view on gas pipeline project.

The Pak Iran gas agreement involving $7b was signed on 13 June in Tehran. According to it for 25 years Iran will export 1 million cubic meters of gas to Pakistan per day from 2014. On the very next day, the work started to lay the pipeline from Iran to the Pakistani frontier. The length of the said pipe line is 300 kilometers. Talking in this perpective, Pakistan's petroleum secretary, Kamran Lashari told the media that in three years Pakistan will lay 700 kilometers long pipeline from Nawab Shah to the Iranian frontier and its feasibility report will be prepared in one year. Gas is recognized as the fastest growing fuel source. As compared to expensive sources of energy, natural gas is economical than coal, wood, oil and it is environment friendly also. It is a cheap source of energy. Iran has the world's second largest reserves of gas after Russia.

The crisis of energy makes it incumbent on the two countries to nurture economic collaboration in the face of globalized realities which are able to change the political and social structure of regions. They will be able to rephrase the issues like national security also. This project will also give way to reap political benefits. This project boasts a good opportunity for economic development not only for Pakistan but Iran also .As Iran needs $25b to revamp its energy sector. As a result of the said project there will be development, enhanced employment opportunities, peace and prosperity in the region. Potential economic collaboration is thus necessary for having gains which will lead to engender a healthy relation for political discourse. It will be transformed and modified in this way.

This trade also has the potential to change the strategic face of the two countries and even other regions of Asia and the Mid East. It speaks of the mutual trust the two countries share with each other. If we continue with it, we can also send the message to other powers that Pakistan is an autonomous country and can go for striking any agreement for benefiting its economy. This agreement can be an expression of the capability not to tolerate any interference on the part of any third party to take decisions in national interest. But the real issue is the imposing of the UN sanctions on Iran pertaining to this project and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani has revealed on Tuesday that in such a case Pakistan will act according to the international law. But otherwise Pakistan is not bound to go according to the American decision regarding the restrictions on Iran.

The agreement was signed at a time when the Security Council has asked the member countries to cut off every kind of co-operation with Iran. Also the resolution was passed to impose more sanctions on Iran on the pressure of America. Iran is hit by fourth round of sanctions. The major allegation is that it is going ahead with its uranium enrichment activities. The member countries are asked to refrain from investing in military equipment. It was a sixth resolution against Iran during four years which was presented in the UN. 

The cargo planes will be searched as per resolution. 40 Iranian companies and persons are banned to do business in other counties. The member countries will inform UN about the activities of Iran within sixty days as to act upon the sanctions is a must for them. 12 out of 15 countries in UN voted to impose sanctions. But Iran has given an inkling that it will not yield in like Syria and Lybia. How this project will help solve inter and intra regional conflicts lies in the fact that it will facilitate the way and reassess the roles of both the countries for conflicts over Iranian Balochistan issue, differences over Shia-sunni and Afghanistan conflicts. There were some misunderstandings regarding the drilling of oil from Balochistan contiguous to Iran. It was a common assumption that Iran plays a role in destabilizing Balochistan so that Pakistan may not be able to obtain oil or gas from here because the underground flow of oil is from Iran to Balochistan and Pakistan can get this black gold with much ease. These and other problems of such type will be likely to spell out once we enter into a regular deal with Iran and it is carried on without any interference. The major task is to lay the gas pipeline. It must be ensured that unnecessary delay should not be there for the preparation of report, its analysis and final approval. Therefore this task should be assigned to the experts. Efforts should be devised to ensure for its timely completion. Political parties should cooperate for successful completion of this project.

The project was planned in the 1990s. The land route included the laying of pipeline from Asaluyeh to Bandar Abbas, Iranshahr and Khuzdar. From there it was to be laid to Karachi and to Multan and then from Multan to Delhi as India was also included. Regarding the sea route it was to follow the route from Persian Gulf to Arabian Sea. Earlier India was supposed to be a party to this agreement but it was in favour of an off shore laying of pipeline. This was not possible due to practical hinges. Moreover India suspected the disruption of flows by the extremist forces in Pakistan. Further on American pressure it quitted last year. Its withdrawal was also caused by striking of a nuclear deal with America but in case of Pakistan will there be something concrete if Pakistan retreats? It must ask for nuclear reactors along with the transfer of technology for production of power to meet its starving energy situation








The killing of three British soldiers by a member of the Afghan national army (ANA) may not tell us much about the success of the Taliban but it says a lot about the shortcomings of security sector reform in Afghanistan. Recruits to the ANA go through basic training that is often delivered haphazardly, with the focus on the art of war rather than the ethics of war. After basic training there is an undue emphasis on mentoring by the international forces. The proximity between the mentoring armies and the ANA shows Afghan soldiers the mentoring army's work conditions and comparisons are always drawn. ANA members believe they are hard done by, particularly as earning a living as a soldier is marred by late payment and pay rises that never arrive.

Once in combat, the ANA, Afghan police and the international forces continue to work closely in one sense and worlds apart in another. I spoke with one ANA member who was stationed in southern Afghanistan. He spent his days being mentored by the Americans and saw their secure accommodation, complete with cafeterias and state-of-the-art equipment. At night, the Americans would go to their fortress while the ANA took charge, eating food donated from the public because their ration money was late, collecting guns from their dead comrades as they were so ill-equipped, and sleeping in the cold.

The ANA soldier resented the fact that, despite being worse off than the Americans, his team had to secure the city at night – hence were at most risk from Taliban attacks. He also resented the fact that one of his injured comrades died waiting for a US helicopter to carry him to Kabul for treatment. These men, without any money, find out too late that the army is not for them. Some, from a battalion stationed in Paktika, decided to escape. 

They grew beards and, one day, dressed in civilian clothes, slipped on to a bus to Kabul. En route they were stopped by the Taliban, who identified them as soldiers by looking at the marks that a gun strap leaves on one's shoulder and army shoes leave on the feet – and executed them on the spot. Another way out of the combat zone for ANA soldiers is to be injured and sent to Kabul.

I spoke with a large number of injured ANA and police members from southern and eastern Afghanistan. Contrary to the praise they anticipated at having gone through so much while serving the country, they were faced with a humiliating situation where the hospital beds and medical attention went to a senior staff member of the defence ministry who was getting his haemorrhoids removed, while the battle-injured soldiers lay two to one bed as their families chased doctors for attention. Those that sustain serious injury get $400 (£260) compensation, and there were arguments over whether losing a limb and losing a kidney both remitted $400.

While these men lay in bed waiting for attention, they recounted their battlefield antics in gory detail; some had filmed deaths of their comrades. One showed me the footage of what looked like minced meat and explained that it was the chin of his best friend blown up by a suicide bomber. There was no one at the army hospital to look after the mental wellbeing of these men. They showed deep resentment towards their mentors. They gave each other the hero treatment while ridiculing their international colleagues for being cowards and not getting out to take on the Taliban "like men".

I can picture many of these men being capable of killing their foreign counterparts – their mentors – out of resentment, out of jealousy, out of anger over being hard done by, and not even feeling remorse, since they have learned their lessons in inflicting violence so well. This group of ill-trained, ill-paid and ill-treated people are in no way suitable to take charge when the international community leaves.

The international community, the Afghan government and Afghan civil society must shift the focus from quantity to quality as they develop the police and the ANA. The larger the size of the current army, the more dangerous Afghanistan would be. The focus in education and mentoring must also shift from tactics to ethics, which would be harder but would provide the country with the right type of army and police if the aim is to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

One idea that has hardly been considered in Afghanistan is that of conscription. Afghans are currently enticed to join the ANA and the police through TV adverts that promise them a job, skills and an opportunity to serve the country. This approach seems to attract the jobless and the aimless, while conscription would bring a variety of people from all walks of life to the army, and only those that really wanted to stay would stay, creating an army where the soldiers at least want to be soldiers.

It would be very disappointing if Nato and the British forces decided to not look at the recent killings thoroughly and instead went along with the simplistic explanation that some young man joined the Afghan army and then, after completing his training, decided to join the Taliban. No matter what the Taliban propaganda machine says, I cannot believe that this killer supported the Taliban ideology. He is more likely to be someone hard done by, with big dreams, too much knowledge of inflicting violence and too few ethics. — The Guardian







The arrest of three physicians of a city clinic on charge of medical negligence has once again brought the doctor-patient relations into focus. It is not for the first time that the near ones of patients have angrily complained that attending physicians' lack of attention caused the death of their patients. To such enraged people, the deaths are unacceptable and those with muscle power are at times reported to have attacked the physicians or vandalised the clinics or hospitals. Incidents like this are certainly not helping the cause of making medical service more pro-patient in this country. 

We would like to believe that the doctors are responsible people; for if they are not, it is too dangerous to leave patients to their care. But it should also be admitted that in every profession there are members who do not quite rise up to the mark in the same way as the few others among them simply excel. In medical profession, though, any laxity or lack of proper and timely attention can be fatal for a patient. We do not exactly know in what circumstances the patient died in this case but, at least, the prima facie evidence points to the three doctors' inattention. Even if the arrested physicians are cleared of their responsibility in the patient's death, this incident should serve as a warning against lack of medical attention in future. 

Now that the country's prime minister has favoured creation of facilities for physicians of government hospitals and clinics for their private practice there in exchange for fees, medical service may transform dramatically.  Its corollary is that they will have to do away with private practice in chambers elsewhere. If the option is used rationally and conscientiously by doctors, it will benefit both doctors and patients. If abused, the project may turn the medical service rendered by government medical hospitals and clinics upside down. So the conditions attached to the proposed facilities will need proper monitoring to get the desired benefits. The bottom line is to raise the standard of medical service so that no untoward incident like the one we have referred to recur in future.








In July 6 issue of our paper we carried an editorial on 'toxic fertiliser' calling for planned crack down by the authorities on the unauthorised harmful fertiliser factories of Hazaribagh in the capital city. But to the utter frustration of the people, no action has so far been taken. Consequently, the civil society and the environmentalists have been compelled to plan a movement against the producers of deadly fish/poultry feed and bio-fertilisers. 

Laboratory tests and scientific investigations conducted by Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) have found heavy and harmful metals in vegetables, poultry and fish. Principal scientific officer of BCSIR disclosed that in an egg of broiler chicken 23 micrograms of chromium was found in laboratory test which is higher than the recommended limit of WHO. Intake of poultry, egg and fish produced by the use of products made in Hazaribagh can cause cancer, damage kidney, bone, brain, blood, liver, lungs and cardiovascular system which means all the organs of human body are at risk. Not only that, agronomists and soil scientists say use of fertilisers of such variety decreases soil fertility and quantum of production. So, they are slowly killing man and destroying the land. What else could be more dangerous for a nation than this?
Industries minister Dilip Barua some days back had admitted that he was aware of the existence of unauthorised factories in Hazaribagh and elsewhere. He informed that the government had plans to crack down on such factories. Two weeks have already passed but no sign of government action is in sight. Can we suggest to the minister that it would be wise to go for action before the civil society and the environmentalists opt for movement.







Many years ago I remember flying back from the United States and sitting next to a foreign couple, "Where are you from?" I asked.

 "Belgium!" they said.

 "I'm an Asian!" I said.

 "We know that!" laughed the couple and I laughed with them, what else could I be with the colour of my skin.
But even if we are painted with the same colour, is it possible to be different?        

I think of a story I heard of how a Miami mother came to the police and spilled out cash and coins totaling $19.53. A young boy turned in 85 cents. After two days, they were the only people to return money scooped up from an armored truck that toppled on an overpass and rained more than half a million dollars onto the street below. 

Police said that witnesses reported seeing rush-hour commuters loading money into their cars and driving off while two Brinks workers lay bleeding. Police had pleaded with residents to return the money, but got nothing but laughter until another and a boy came in.

In a world that seemed to think alike, two people had a different idea. 

They were not painted with the same brush as everyone else. "I have children and I needed to set a good example," said the mother of six, who could have used a little extra cash to supplement her low retail store wage. 

She chose not to blend in too closely.

Most people talk about values - what we believe to be right and wrong. But whether or not we realize it, we all live our true values. It is our actions, more than our words that show what we truly believe.
The 11-year-old boy who turned in 85 cents because he felt "it was wrong for me to keep anything," stood out from the crowd. And a mother who wanted to teach her children to do the right thing set an example they will never forget. Like Ruth E. Renkel says, "Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritances."    

What inheritance are you leaving your kids? I find myself going back to that flight on the plane and I wonder whether I had done anything different from those around who had the same colour of skin I had?

Had I also stared at that pretty woman like all the others did?

Had I acted in an obnoxious way with the stewards on the flight or make a noise when the non-veg food got over?

I don't remember if I had been any different, but I like to think that next time on a plane or wherever, I would like someone sitting next to me to say to himself, "He sure is painted different..!"









Rice is the dominant staple food in Bangladesh, accounting for about 35 per cent of household expenditure. About 80 per cent of the agriculture production originates in the crop sector alone in Bangladesh of which rice contributes about 72 per cent. The country is the fifth largest rice producing country in the world after China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Though the cultivated land has diminished with rapid growth of population; but in spite of doubling rice production since the introduction of modern varieties in early 70s, Bangladesh has experienced a continued annual shortage of nearly 1.5 million tons of foods grains. However, the country produces around 30 million tons of rice, nearly sufficient to feed its more than 150 million people. Rice production in Bangladesh varies according to seasonal changes. The large harvest is at present Boro in January to June. Aman occurring in July to December and Aus in March to July.

Structure of rice market: With the process of urbanisation, the entire city dwellers depend on their capacity to buy rice. So rice shifts from rural to urban areas. It absorbs the largest share of household expenditure. The poorest households devote much more of their expenditures to rice consumption than the well-off groups. According to a study, the bottom 40 per cent of rural household spends 35 per cent on rice and wheat, whereas the bottom 40 per cent of urban household spends 25 per cent on rice and wheat. Rice is one of the world leaders in the per capita consumption of slightly more than 150 kilos of milled rice per person annually. It supplies 2/3rd of total calorie supply and about half of total protein intakes of an average person in Bangladesh.


This ratio is among the highest in the world. Market information is a facilitative function required for the efficient operation of the marketing system. Most intermediaries get their market information through market visits, personal observations and from fellow traders. 

There are different elements of market structure of rice, which consists of two broad systems. Firstly, public rice distribution system and secondly, private marketing system. The public distribution system ensures a minimum quantity at reasonable prices to the consumers, which includes both import and internal procurement. The rice economy of Bangladesh is sharply skewed. The rice market is a liberalised market, which has matured step by step. The free market orientation creates a favourable environment for private rice traders. 

The structure of marketing channel through which rice passes from farmer to the final consumer is quite complex and this channel in Bangladesh includes many types of middlemen (wholesalers) operating in the local markets. There are 'faria', 'bepari', the miller, 'aratdar' and the retailer involved in rice marketing. This creates a favourable condition for competition among rice traders. 

Bangladesh's rice markets are well integrated. Dhaka dominates near markets, but is dominated by more distant markets. Market integration refers to co-movements of prices and smooth transmission of price signals with information across markets. It allows free flow of goods and information - and thus price - over form, space and time and is thus closely related to concepts and efficiency. 

Market analysis: FAO forecast of global rice production over the 2009 season has been lifted by nearly 10 million tons to 678 million tons, 2 percent below 2008's crop, but still the second highest production on record. The revision to the global production outlook principally reflects better than previously anticipated results in many Asian countries, where overall paddy production is now forecast at 612 million tons, and some 12 million tons below 2008. The contraction was mainly caused by adverse weather, especially drought, which particularly hit crops in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. By contrast, very strong gains are expected in China mainland, Indonesia and Myanmar. Production prospects are negative in Africa, where 24.5 million tons are forecast to be harvested, 3 per cent less than the previous year. The 2009 outlook remains favourable in Latin America and the Caribbean, where output is estimated to rise by 4 per cent to 27.4 million tons. In the other regions, production is set to rise in the EU, the Russian Federation and the United States. Despite a recovery, 2009 paddy production in Australia continues to be constrained by lack of water for irrigation.
Rice production is the largest contributor to farm income in Bangladesh, while related trade and commerce are one of the largest sources of rural non-farm income. When rice prices fall, consumers benefit at the expense of a large group of farmers. Because of this universal conflict of interest, political stability has always been hyper-sensitive to fluctuations in rice prices and supply. This, in turn, has kept the government involved in price stabilisation and other interventions in food grain distribution. However, public intervention in the rice has such a direct effect on public psychology, any falls in rice production worry the government.

The process of price formation in the rice market is simple. The domestic price strongly depends on international prices. With that the bargain process is also driven by competition. However, the structure of rice marketing chain can affect greatly the level of price. The structure of market chain can be categorised in three groups. Firstly, market chain at high level of concentration at wholesaler level and little protection to the rice producers. Secondly, market chain between the rice producers and intermediaries. Thirdly, markets under a government price control system, e.g. open market sale (OMS). 

The rice supply has steadily increased over time. Domestic production is the major reason for the steady increase in rice supply. Though domestic production increased, but the amount supplied by public distribution has declined. The MoF&DM makes the public distribution collected food for distribution to targeted groups (e.g. TR, VGD, VGF, OMS) from the domestic procurement, commercial imports and food aid. However, domestic production cannot meet the total demand of the country, every year Bangladesh has to import huge volume of rice from international sources to feed her people. Rice imports depend on the level of domestic production, stocks and demand for rice in the particular year in the country. After independence, the population in Bangladesh has increased continuously; food production growth rates could not keep pace with the population growth rate, which resulted in huge volume of imports from different countries. An average of 229 thousands tons of rice was imported by the public sector over the last two decades, and 832 thousands tons of rice was imported by the private sector from 1995/96 to 2005/06 in Bangladesh. The private sector has contributed significantly to the total imports if rice since 1995/96.

Implication of market analysis: There exists natural monopoly in the rice market in public sector, which is not harmful for competitive market. Again rice market in private sector is highly integrated, where the players are highly competitive. In the markets of all 64 districts, price variation of rice is not more than Tk. 2 per unit (kg). The presence of middlemen (wholesalers) creates a favorable condition for competition among rice traders.

Above all, in rice market, the government or the market regulator (i.e. proposed Competition Commission) is not having much role to play other than promoting in order to continue the competition in rice market. They should also observe any disruption in the supply chain and thereby recommend for market intervention.
However, though the rice market of Bangladesh is relatively stable, but there are major problems faced by the farmers and intermediaries due to lack of capital, poor transportation facilities, lack of adequate storage facilities, lack of market information and reliable data, lack of market facilities, etc. Therefore, the market regulator should recommend to the government for taking necessary steps to solve those problems, which will obviously increase the efficiency of rice market in the country.


[The writers are, respectively, Member, BCS (Administration); Member, BCS (Agricultural Marketing); and Coordinator, Centre for Participatory Research and Development]









India is our largest neighbour with respect to the physical size, population and the size of the economy. Bangladesh is surrounded by Indian territory almost from three sides except the South and this aspect should be made to act as a positive factor in promoting and enhancing trade between the two closest neighbours as is happening between neighbours in most part of the world.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world after China and may be Brazil. India is a member of the "Elite Club" of G-20. India is a market of almost 1-billion people, second only to China, with a steadily rising buying power and standard of living. As such Indian market has become a very lucrative target for producers from all over the world. This becomes very obvious when you watch Indian TV channels which are flooded with commercials for products from USA, Britain, and other EU countries and of course from Japan and other Asian countries. This proves how important the Indian market has become to the commodity sellers of the world.

However it is a matter of great astonishment that Bangladesh in spite of being the closest neighbour and having the best potential of cheap road and train communication with India has not made any serious effort either on the state level or on the private sector level to exploit the huge and the enormous Indian market for Bangladeshi products.

The best example of economic benefit derived by two friendly neighbours having mutual respect, for each others sovereignty, is the trade relations between USA & Canada through road transportation. Canadian exports to USA accounts for almost 60 to 70 per cent of its total exports and almost the entire trade is through road transit. The prerequisite for export or import through road transit is "Easy and Speedy Border Crossings" which has been made possible by the USA and the Canadian governments through years of experience. The USA and Mexican border is also fast becoming an example of swift border trade. India and Bangladesh can learn a lot from the way the NAFTA countries are carrying out an almost flawless trade through road transports in a speedy and easy way.

There was a time when Benapole was the only border crossing between Bangladesh and India. However, good senses have prevailed in the two governments and there are at least three border crossings (land ports) as of today and more are in the process of opening. This process of opening more land ports is heartening because transportation of goods by roads or railway is the cheapest thus making the cost of imports cheaper and competitive. It was also heartening to read a news item (few months back) in one of the local dailies with the following headlines: "Rangpur garments cross border". I must congratulate the owners of the two garment factories in Rangpur for having exported garments to north-east India including northern West Bengal, Assam and other north East Indian States. The owners of the two garment factories have very rightly pointed out that the importers of the city of Shiliguri where they are sending their products are buying these items (three-quarter pants and trousers) mainly for the middle and low income groups of people who cannot afford to buy the brand name products produced and marketed in India.

This is a great beginning by the two garment factories in Rangpur. So I hope that the other garment factories and not only garment manufacturers but sectors like leather goods and leather products like shoes, leather bags, toiletries like soap and beauty products, fruit drinks and beverages, jute and specialised jute goods like jute shopping bags and ladies shoulder bags and pharmaceutical industries to name a few should follow the lead of the two Rangpur garment factories. We should remember that India has a big and strong middle class and lower middle class, hungry for quality consumer goods and products at affordable prices and as such there is a huge and almost endless potential of Bangladeshi products in India especially in the North-Eastern states where middle class and lower middle class are a big part of the total population.

This prospect of a multifold increase in trades with India will become even brighter and easier with the completion of the transit road networks when we will have the fastest and cheapest mode of transportation of our goods to India and thus help us become, some day, one of the biggest trading partners of India.







I am just a wee bit confused with the job market in Dhaka today. To be more precise, it's the value equation, or the cost-benefit equation, that is quickly becoming the norm that has me perplexed. Fresh university graduates today are expecting, and demanding, higher and higher remunerations without much justification in terms of value added to the firm.

Value is a relatively straightforward equation for anyone in commerce. By value we usually mean the difference between the benefit received from a thing minus the complete price paid for it. More often than not both variables have more to do with perceptions than actual benefit or cost - accurately measuring either is practically impossible. 

While recruiting, an employer is always thinking of value. In any recruitment process the recruiter is trying to measure the cost of the recruitment versus the benefits he will receive. 

When hiring for entry level positions, I have often had to decide whether to go for the candidate with some experience versus the one with none, and it comes down to the value equation. I would be willing to pay more for the candidate with some experience, and less for the one with none - benefit minus costs. The candidate with experience needs less training while brings more in the form of practical knowledge and a lot of the times some established client network or additional information network to the firm: those would get him the extra premium. 

In most cases I opted for the candidate with more experience - be that through internships, or previous full or part-time jobs - and I know most recruiters choose the same path. That is not saying that fresh graduates without any experience will not find jobs, but that it is becoming more difficult for them. 

There was a time when your first job was looked at as training with pay. Sort of an extension of your education, only this time the university was giving you some money instead of running you or - depending on which university you chose - your whole family dry. 

I remember how thrilled I was with my first job, which to be very honest paid less than peanuts, but I looked at it as a chance to learn. That's what adds to your value. Whatever I missed out in dollars in that first year or so I made up soon, because I could offer added value to prospective recruiters.

The experienced recruit provides the firm with more in terms of benefit but both experienced and inexperienced graduates are demanding the similar remuneration packages. The choice for the recruiter then becomes unequivocal. 

A concluding word of advice to those about to enter the job market: rake in as many hours of internships as you can before you graduate, and/or get a grip on reality and re-examine what value you offer to prospective recruiters.


(Bobby Hajjaj is an Oxford scholar, a global consultant and lecturer in Business Strategy)








Why, asks a Japanese magazine, wasn't the iPad invented in Japan? The short answer would be that Steve Jobs isn't Japanese. Japan does, however, have a similarly hard-driving perfectionist manager in Mr. Tadashi Yanai, head of Fast Retailing, who is rapidly turning his chain of clothing stores, Uniqlo, into a global brand like Sony or Honda.


Uniqlo, offering reasonably priced casual ware, has recently opened flagship stores in Paris, Moscow and Shanghai, with plans for overseas sales to surpass domestic revenues by 2015. This year the majority of its 300 new hires were Japanese, while some 100 were from China, South Korea and elsewhere. Mr. Yanai wants half of its 600 hires next year to be non-Japanese and to reverse the proportion by 2012 so that two-thirds are from overseas.


In line with this goal of becoming a truly international company, Fast Retailing recently announced that it is shifting its company language to English by March 2012. Such a policy is rare in Japan. One predecessor is automaker Nissan, which switched to English a decade ago when Mr. Carlos Ghosn became president, and Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and head of the online retailer Rakuten, who announced at the end of last month plans to likewise make English the company's working language within two years.


Unusual in Japan's risk-adverse culture, Mr. Yanai is nothing if not daring in his vision, entering last October, for example, into a collaboration with German designer Jil Sander to create the +J line of affordable fashion. The American brand Theory, which was purchased by Fast Retailing, has recently made a similar hookup with the young Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens.


Mr. Yanai's latest venture, announced July 13, is a partnership with Mr. Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank in a "social business" to manufacture clothing in Bangladesh at prices affordable to the local population. Fast Retailing first established an office in Bangladesh in 2008 to oversee the manufacture of goods for sale in Japan, but the new operation will primarily be to train local workers and contribute to the local economy.


Let's hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Mr. Yanai can inspire a new generation of Japanese, as he was inspired by pioneers at Sony and Honda.







Japan has long taken pride in its world-class rail system. Trains enjoy a prominent role in its culture from the Shinkansen to Kenji Miyazawa's "Ginga tetsudo no yoru" ("Night on the Galactic Railroad") to Hitori Nakano's "Densha otoko" ("Train Man"). So it is hardly surprising for strains in Japanese society to appear there as well.


On July 7 it was announced by 25 railway companies that attacks on rail employees nationwide had increased for the third year in a row, to a new high of 869 cases in the last fiscal year, compared to 554 in 2004. Traditionally train companies have hesitated to get tough with unruly passengers but are increasingly calling in the police. In order to call attention to the problem, 74 railway companies throughout Japan kicked off an anti-violence campaign on July 15.


Almost 60 percent of those violent cases involve alcohol; it seems that drinking serves to release bottled-up frustration and stress. In one such case, a drunken Tokyo career bureaucrat was arrested on July 6 at JR Shin Osaka station for hitting the station employee who came to help when his ticket became jammed in the automatic ticket gate.


According to the rail companies the majority of incidents are set off by such trivial matters, rather than by delayed trains or disrupted schedules. Last October four employees at JR Ochanomizu station in Tokyo suffered injuries including broken noses when attempting to arouse a young man sleeping on the platform after the last train had departed.


This month the Nagasaki prefectural police described another shocking incident in April involving a bus: a 66-year-old woman attacked a high school boy commuting to school by public bus in Nagasaki city early one morning. Irritated that he was sitting in a "silver seat" (priority seating for the elderly) she started hitting and kicking him, and finally striking him in the face with the point of her umbrella, breaking his nose.


More disturbing still is the continuing rash of suicides at train stations, all too familiar to Tokyo residents. After trying various countermeasures to prevent people from jumping or falling onto tracks, such as supposedly calming blue LED lights, JR East has begun installing platform doors on its 29 Yamanote-line stations, to open only when the train is at the station. Sadly, last year JR East's lines registered 132 suicides.








BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Resistance is not a band of armed men hell-bent on wreaking havoc. It is not a cell of terrorists scheming on ways to detonate buildings. Resistance is a culture — a collective retort to oppression. Understanding the nature of resistance is not easy. Even if a newsbyte could explain why a people resists, it would directly clash with mainstream interpretations of violence and nonviolent resistance.


The Afghanistan story must remain committed to the same language: al-Qaida and the Taliban. Lebanon must be represented in terms of a menacing Iran-backed Hezbollah. The Palestinian territory's Hamas must be forever shown as a militant group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. Any attempt at offering an alternative reading is tantamount to sympathizing with terrorists and justifying violence.


The deliberate conflation and misuse of terminology has made it almost impossible to understand and thus resolve bloody conflicts. Even those who purport to sympathize with resisting nations often contribute to the confusion.


Activists from Western countries tend to follow an academic comprehension of what is happening in the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Thus certain ideas are perpetuated: suicide bombings bad, nonviolent resistance good; Hamas rockets bad, slingshots good; armed resistance bad, vigils in front of Red Cross offices good.


Many activists will quote Martin Luther King Jr., but not Malcolm X. They will infuse a selective understanding of Gandhi, but never of Guevara. This supposedly "strategic" discourse has robbed many of what could be a precious understanding of resistance — as both concept and culture.


Between the reductionist mainstream understanding of resistance as violent and terrorist and the "alternative" defacing of an inspiring and compelling cultural experience, resistance as a culture is lost. The two overriding definitions offer no more than narrow depictions. Both render those attempting to relay the viewpoint of the resisting culture as almost always on the defensive.


Thus we repeatedly hear the same statements: No, we are not terrorists; no, we are not violent, we actually have a rich culture of nonviolent resistance; no, Hamas is not affiliated with al-Qaida; no, Hezbollah is not an Iranian agent.


Ironically, Israeli writers, intellectuals and academicians own up to much less than their Palestinian counterparts, although the former tend to defend aggression and the latter defend, or at least try to explain their resistance to, aggression. Also ironic is the fact that instead of seeking to understand why people resist, many wish to debate how to suppress their resistance.


By resistance as a culture, I am referring to Edward Said's elucidation of "culture (as) a way of fighting against extinction and obliteration."


When cultures resist, they don't scheme and play politics. Nor do they sadistically brutalize. Their decisions as to whether to engage in armed struggle or to employ nonviolent methods, whether to target civilians, whether to conspire with foreign elements are all purely strategic. They are hardly of direct relevance to the concept of resistance itself.


If resistance is "the action of opposing something that you disapprove of or disagree with," then a culture of resistance is what occurs when an entire culture reaches this collective decision to oppose that disagreeable element — often a foreign occupation.


The decision is not a calculated one. It is engendered through a long process in which self-awareness, self-assertion, tradition, collective experiences, symbols and many other factors interact in specific ways. This might be new to the wealth of that culture's past experiences, but it is very much an internal process. It's almost like a chemical reaction, but even more complex since it isn't always easy to separate its elements. Thus it is also not easy to fully comprehend, and in the case of an invading army, it is not easily suppressed.


Here is how I tried to explain the first Palestinian uprising (1987), which I lived through in Gaza: "It's not easy to isolate specific dates and events that spark popular revolutions. Genuine collective rebellion cannot be rationalized though a coherent line of logic that passes through time and space; its rather a culmination of experiences that unite the individual to the collective, their conscious and subconscious, their relationships with their immediate and not-so-immediate surroundings, all colliding and exploding into a fury that cannot be suppressed" (from "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story").


Foreign occupiers tend to fight popular resistance by including a varied amount of violence to disorient a nation and then rebuild it to a desired image (read Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine"). Another strategy is to weaken the components that give a culture its identity and inner strengths, thus defusing the culture's ability to resist. The former requires firepower, while the latter is achieved by soft means of control.


Many Third World nations that boast of sovereignty and independence might in fact be occupied, but due to their fragmented and overpowered cultures — through globalization, for example — they are unable to comprehend the extent of their tragedy and dependency. Others might effectively be occupied, yet often possess a culture of resistance that makes it impossible for their occupiers to achieve any of their desired objectives.


In Gaza, while the media speaks endlessly of rockets and Israeli security, debating who is really responsible for holding Palestinians in the strip hostage, no heed is paid to the children living in tents by the ruins of homes they lost in the last Israeli onslaught.


These kids participate in the same culture of resistance that Gaza has witnessed over the course of six decades. In their notebooks they draw fighters with guns, kids with slingshots, women with flags, as well as menacing Israeli tanks and warplanes, graves dotted with the word "martyr," and destroyed homes. Throughout, the word "victory" is persistently used.


When I was in Iraq, I witnessed a local version of these kids' drawings. While I have yet to see Afghan children's scrapbooks, I can easily imagine their content, too.


Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story," now available at









World Cup fever is over. In the absence of new controversial policies from the central government or high-profile cases that usually make the headlines in the nation's media, this week's news has been dominated by existing events from the last several weeks.


Fires, allegedly triggered by gas canister explosions, continue to haunt households nationwide, with at least three explosions recorded this week – one in Sidoarjo, East Java, and two in Jakarta. Despite the government's recent surprise raids at gas equipment shops aimed at netting poor merchandise, it is feared that explosions may continue as faulty gas canisters may still be in use in households throughout the country.


The government previously required that gas stove components meet national standards after learning that many gas explosions resulted from unsafe stove components. Since the government started a kerosene-to-gas conversion program, there were 61 gas canister explosions recorded in 2008, 51 incidents in 2009 and, as of June 2010, the record has reached over 40 cases with dozens of fatalities reported.


The National Police's slow response to an issue that has the potential to ruin its image was another highlight of the week. To the disappointment of many, the National Police headquarters, which was supposed to release the results of its investigation into the implausibly large bank accounts of seven high-ranking police officers, came up with a statement that only two out of 23 accounts belonging to police officers were problematic.


They said in a media conference Friday that they were unable to provide satisfactory explanations without help from the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK). The allegations of the police officers' alleged excessive wealth had been on the spotlight following a cover story run by Tempo magazine earlier this month.


The police are also under pressure to immediately arrest and uncover the perpetrators of last week's attack on Tama S. Langkun, an activist with the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), who had led an investigation of the allegations of the seven police officers' wealth.


The only "significant" move by the police headquarters this week was apparently the progress of the investigation into the suspects who had uploaded and distributed copies of sex videos, allegedly involving singer Nazriel "Ariel" Ilham, artist Luna Maya and TV presenter Cut Tari. The three have been declared as suspects in the scandals. The police named a digital sound recording technician, identified as RJ, as key suspect in the uploading and dissemination of the videos.



Still on issues related to the country's law enforcement, dozens of lawyers from the Indonesian Congress of Advocates (KAI) ran amok at the Supreme Court in Central Jakarta on Wednesday after they failed to meet Supreme Court Chief Justice Harifin A. Tumpa in an attempt to clarify their organization's status. Tumpa has ignored the existence of the KAI and recognized the rival Indonesian Lawyers Association (Peradi) as the sole association for Indonesian lawyers.


Efforts to establish a single association, aimed at upholding the professionalism and integrity of Indonesian lawyers, are not a new phenomenon. Such attempts have been made since the early years of the New Order administration.



On the domestic front, rumors of a potential Cabinet reshuffle abounded this week especially after the chief of the Presidential Work Unit for Development Monitoring and Control (UKP4R), Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, announced earlier this month that some ministries had been given red marks for poor performance, such as the Justice and Human Rights Ministry under Patrialis Akbar, the Communications and Information Ministry under Tifatul Sembiring and the Public Works Ministry under Djoko Kirmanto.


It remains to be seen whether President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will make some replacements or only rotate ministers.


Still on domestic politics, the central government and the House of Representatives agreed Wednesday to keep a policy that blocks the creation of new local administrations. "Eighty percent of the new regions are a failure. We have to ensure that the creation of new administrations or mergers of existing ones should be done carefully in the future. Make sure that public services improve, economies thrive, and justice is served," Yudhoyono said in a joint press conference with House speaker Marzuki Alie.



In a separate development, the government has decided to review a plan to increase electricity rates amid complaints by businesses that the new rates could hamper their competitiveness by making them vulnerable to cheaper imports.


Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Darwin Zahedy Saleh said after a meeting with economic ministers Wednesday that the government would review the new rates, which businesses said could increase up to 80 percent for certain sectors. The average increase should be by 10 percent as demanded by the 2010 state budget revision.


The week had passed, leaving a number of unsettled issues behind. Still, they need to be settled soon, otherwise they might explode and become uncontrollable some day.  


— Imanuddin Razak








Your humble narrator, a novelist, was featured at a literary festival with Scott Turow, the lawyer who wrote Presumed Innocent. It got me thinking. Books from lawyers like him, John Grisham and David Baldacci fill the bestseller lists. But where are the accountants?


I put this question to a group of friends who developed a theory to explain the discrepancy. A lawyer's job is to delete distracting facts until one is left with an emotionally affecting narrative.  


In other words, lawyers are identical to novelists, except for the fact that they earn money, drive big cars, live in huge houses with blonde trophy wives called Meghan and deserve to die die die dieeeee.


Not that I'm jealous. No serious novelist would lower himself to "sell out" by doing anything as artistically questionable as "earning money".


Accountants do the opposite to lawyers and novelists. They're trained to gather all related facts to create a comprehensive record which is entirely free of emotion and as dry as possible.   


"The better the accountant, the worse the novel," said one of the professional people present, made philosophical by my presence, or, more likely, the six empty bottles of Corona in front of him.


That got me thinking again. What sort of adventure stories would serious accountants write? I decided to write one on their behalf. I call this: "Harry Potter and the Balance Sheet".


Once upon a time there was a boy called Harry Potter, whose uncle told him he was a liability. But the boy felt unwilling to accept this designation without qualification, since his parents were off-balance sheet, ie, missing.


One day, a strange visitor named Hagrid gave the boy professional advice. "This advice is provided to you without prejudice," he said. "Your fortunes may go up or they may go down. But due diligence requires me to inform you that you are not a liability of the muggle class, but an asset of the wizard class."


The young asset travelled to Hogwart's School for a set of "add value" courses expected by analysts to cause a significant appreciation in his book value. In class, Harry met a female asset called Hermione and thought about having a merger with her.


But he was distracted because an outside party called Voldemort earmarked him for 100 percent depreciation, ie, death. A huge takeover battle followed, with Voldemort attempting a hostile acquisition followed by a total liquidation of Harry and associated assets.


Harry won by using an unlisted extraordinary item called heroism.  In a huge EGM of interested parties at Hogwarts Hall, Harry found that his book value had increased considerably.


However, there was no merger with Hermione. "Also, I haven't found my parents, who are still listed as receivables," Harry said. As a result, analysts suggested that there may be room for subsidiary or spin-off adventures.


The following day I emailed the story to the gang. They said that it was not as child-friendly as the original, but it did have a refreshingly different feel about it.  Will it be appearing on bestseller lists soon?


Probably not. JK Rowling's famously large crew of copyright lawyers will make sure of that. Unless, of course, they are all too busy writing novels. Heh-heh-heh-heh.

The writer is columnist and journalist.








Indonesia, as the world's fourth most populated country, possesses a huge potential in human resources. One obvious example is that, each year, many of its citizens excel in international academic competitions.


These highly qualified Indonesians have caught the attention of developed countries seeking qualified human capital for their own benefit. It is common for them to scout these prestigious academic contests in order to recruit some of the best brains, who are then expected to produce inventions and innovations in their new countries.


More often than not, they track down the winners of such contests and promise them all kinds of scholarships or grants to study in their countries.


Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, the US, and some from the European Union are ambitious to recruit these brilliant students.


Singapore, for instance, often approaches these young geniuses by offering scholarships even before the contests have wrapped up. This country offers tantalizing scholarships for Science Olympics winners from Indonesia, promising to not only cover their tuition fees and living expenditures, but also that they will receive prestigious job contracts as they graduate from college. In this sense, the contract is designed to make them stay and contribute their skills before they leave that country for good.


Being offered the opportunity to study free of tuition fees and living costs, many accept these offers. As soon as they graduate, there is a probability that those geniuses will stay in those countries to work there as a part of the terms and conditions of the scholarship and even beyond.


Purnawirman from Riau, for example, won the gold medal in the 2004 and 2005 Physics Olympics and decided to study at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and had been promised a prestigious job as soon as he graduated.


Another example, Muhammad Kautsar (18), champion of the International Conference of Young Scientist from State SMA 6 High School, Yogyakarta, despite insisting on wanting to continue his studies in Indonesia, has failed to gain entry to any of Indonesia's top universities, making him feel that his achievement has gone unappreciated in his own country.


Adam Badra Cahaya, another Physics Olympics winner, has followed Purnawirman's suit by choosing to study at Osaka University, Japan.


This situation makes us all wonder: What is our future if our best and brightest are all snapped up by other countries? Is it possible for Indonesia to continue its national development program if the country's most brilliant minds have been taken to work or study abroad?


What can the government do to keep this potential store of human capital at home and implement their skills for the sake of the nation? Each are big and challenging questions to answer. But, one thing is certain: This nation is facing the human capital insecurity.


Human capital is one important element in keeping a country's development programs on track and maintaining its position as a sovereign country. As part of a globalized world, Indonesia needs to have more skilled, intelligent and competent individuals to keep a balanced pace in a more dynamic world.


The development of technology, information and communication has forced Indonesia to have human resources that can play significant international roles in order to defend its global interests. As an example, the revolution in defense systems always needs the roles of intelligent and smart generation in order to design, create and operate new defense technology.


Similarly, vast economic progress will only be possible if we have decision makers who know exactly how to predict, analyze and arrange significant decisions in economic matters. Those examples illustrate that by embracing as many potential individuals as it can, Indonesia will secure significant position in the international arena.


How Indonesia can convince those brilliant brains to work for their own nation is one problem to resolve.


The government is not ignorant of the problem, because they have already allocated 20 percent of the state budget to enhance the education system and improve the education infrastructure.


Furthermore, the Indonesian government has made some efforts to deal with the problem of human capital insecurity. One of them is by signing Memorandums of Understanding with several prestigious Indonesian universities, such as the University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada University, Surabaya State University and Brawijaya University to offer these brilliant students scholarships as incentive to stay in the country.


The National Education Ministry has also made lists of students who have won academic championships at home or abroad. Through these lists, it is expected that those geniuses can be easily contacted and offered university positions as soon as they finish high school.


Another effort is by providing scholarships to those with limited funds to continue their studies from undergraduate to post graduate levels.


For instance, the National Education Ministry has launched a scholarship program called Beasiswa Unggulan, intended to fund the studies of those with high academic merits.


This scholarship program has a vision to produce the best individuals who posses integrity and high credibility in order to take part in the national development program.  It also provides double degree programs in collaboration with national as well as international universities.


For those who do not only want to continue their level of study, but also intend to take part in the nation's development program may likely choose this program as a part of their actual contribution to our nation.


In order to reduce the possibility of losing more geniuses, the Indonesian government needs to initiate more scholarship programs and disseminate the programs as wide as possible.


As soon as the youngsters return to the country from their contests, the government should act quickly before other countries snatch up our human resources.


Offering scholarships to those who have excelled in international contests at first chance will bestow in them a sense of pride as they realize the government really does appreciates their efforts. Thus, a humble act from the government may determine our country's future.


So, if you are smart, if you are winners of Physics or Mathematics Olympics, and are offered scholarships by other countries, please remember one thing: Our nation needs your incredibly valuable brain. Please, act wisely!

The writer is a Master's Degree student in international relations, University of Indonesia.





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