Google Analytics

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

EDITORIAL 21.07.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month,  july 21, edition 000575 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


EDITORIALcation of all daily- published newspaper  EDITORIAL  at one place.














  2. M&A Q&A


























































































Nothing extraordinarily new was expected to emerge from Tuesday's donors' conference in Kabul. Hence, the participants have not let down either each other or Afghanistan by sticking to known positions and reiterating much of what was said during January's London Conference. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has once again sought to allay fears of collapse and chaos after American troops begin to leave Afghanistan in July 2011. But it is doubtful whether her assurance, that the pullout would mark the beginning of a new engagement, has had a calming effect on those who fear the return of a Pakistan-sponsored Taliban regime. Interestingly, Ms Clinton has let it be known that the US now has much greater faith in Mr Hamid Karzai's governance abilities; that should stop the Afghan President from looking for allies in the wrong camp. On his part, Mr Karzai has made bold to claim that the Afghan Army and police will be in a position to manage their national security affairs by 2014. While most friends of Afghanistan would want this to come true, it is anybody's guess as to whether it will. Failure to do so would not be entirely on account of his Government's inability to deliver. In fact, Pakistan, more specifically the ISI, will work overtime to prove Mr Karzai wrong by undermining Afghanistan's internal security with the help of the Taliban and, if recent reports are true, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. It would be naive to believe that Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had benign thoughts in mind when he said at the conference that "Afghanistan's immediate neighbours" — he meant his country, of course — "have a special responsibility towards this country". Special, indeed. 

India has done well to make its presence felt at the Kabul Conference, after being pushed to the margins at the London Conference by the then Labour Government of Britain which cynically thought it would be electorally useful to be seen pushing Pakistan's agenda in Afghanistan. Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna, while endorsing the Peace and Reintegration Programme that envisages the mainstreaming of those individuals who are willing to give up violence, are not linked to terrorist organisations and will accept the Afghan Constitution, has taken care to add a cautionary note that was missing from what others had to say at the gathering. "The international community must learn lessons from past experiences at negotiating with fundamentalist and extremist organisations," Mr Krishna said, adding. "It is essential to ensure support, sustenance and sanctuaries for terrorist organisations from outside Afghanistan are ended forthwith." That is easier said than done, not least because Pakistan believes it has a "special responsibility" towards Afghanistan. But the larger issue cannot be ignored by the West: Nine years ago, the same countries who are now willing to talk to the 'good' Taliban — which is an oxymoron — had launched an unqualified war on the Taliban. It is most unfortunate that the West should have tired so easily. It is equally tragic that the US should continue to pump billions of dollars as 'aid' into Pakistan and gift a failing state with sophisticated weaponry despite the beneficiary of such largesse providing sanctuary to the world's most wanted terrorist and the inspiration behind jihadi violence: Osama bin Laden. Ms Clinton has not minced words while holding Pakistan guilty of providing refuge to the criminal. But will the Obama Administration smoke him out?







Nothing seems to be working with Iran as far as forcing Tehran to abandon its bomb-in-the-basement programme, which poses a threat to the region and the world at large, is concerned. The US-sponsored sanctions have only served to make Iran even more obdurate and complicated the process of a meaningful dialogue with the Government headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The latest UN clampdown, announced in June, for instance, has led to Iran's Parliament authorising retaliation against countries that inspect Iranian ships and aircraft as part of the sanctions. The June sanctions are the fourth in a series of similar moves by the UN Security Council in the hope that further tightening of screws will force Iran to give up its suspect nuclear programme. That the sanctions have not worked is both frustrating and self-defeating: What next? Meanwhile, true to his style, Mr Ahmadinejad continues to use global opprobrium to his advantage. By broadcasting Monday's Parliament session live and publicising rhetorical assertions by MPs to "take the fight to the enemy's camp" he has sought to mobilise public opinion and trigger a nationalist outcry. It could be argued that Mr Ahmadinejad has done this once too often and the law of diminishing returns could begin to set in, a possibility that cannot be entirely ignored. Nor can it be ruled out that this is good opportunity for the regime to stamp out what remains of last year's pro-democracy movement by reformists. The Government remains apprehensive about a resurgent Opposition-driven agitation.

While it may make good sense to keep the pressure on and force Mr Ahmadinejad to give up his confrontationist ways, it would be useful not to foreclose all options of exploring the middle ground. With both Russia and China now more or less convinced that mollycoddling Iran won't help reach a solution, and a modicum of unanimity among most nations about the need to scuttle Tehran's nuclear programme which is clearly aimed at acquiring a deadly arsenal, the US could consider initiating a broader dialogue process. For all his faults, of which there are many, Mr Ahmadinejad is also a crafty politician who presumably knows how far to push the envelope. He would also be aware of the increasing hostility with which Iran is being viewed by the Sunni-majority Arab countries in West Asia who are loath to let Tehran emerge as the key player in regional affairs. Such realisation, however, alone will not take the Iran issue towards a resolution acceptable to all; what is needed is a mix of coercive diplomacy and gentle persuasion. Admittedly, this is not easy to achieve, but then again, diplomacy is the art of the impossible. To give up without exploring every possible option could prove to be disastrous.








The picture is indelible. US President George W Bush strode, against the magnificent backdrop of the Purana Qila, to the microphone on the improvised stage from where he addressed India during his visit to New Delhi in 2006. He didn't quite say what India wanted to hear, least of all, on Myanmar. He said, "India's leadership is needed in a world that is hungry for freedom. Men and women from North Korea to Burma to Syria to Zimbabwe to Cuba yearn for their liberty…" and urged India to back American efforts to help the people of Myanmar get back their liberty. India's response was a sharp setdown. "India does not believe in thrusting democracy down others' throats," said an official spokesman on the same day, when asked to respond to Mr Bush's exhortation.

American policy towards Myanmar is changing. For the first time since 1966, a US President, Mr Barack Obama, met leaders of South-East Asian nations, including Myanmar, last year. Although it was a ceremonial occasion — the 32nd anniversary of Washington's relations with ASEAN — the meeting was attended by the Prime Minister of Myanmar. 

Now, ahead of Mr Obama's proposed visit to India, one of the most important foreign visitors for India is due to come to New Delhi next week —Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the Burmese military junta. Gen Than rarely travels out of Myanmar (few invite him). But after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Myanmar earlier this year, Gen Than Shwe's trip to Delhi assumes new significance.

First, the physical facts about Myanmar. Its biggest trade partners are neighbour Thailand and Singapore, besides China and India. Investments in oil and gas are virtually global. Western NGOs use devious routes to visit Yangon. India, which sent Buddhism and later its last Mughal Emperor to Burma has had to rework its relations from one of isolation to constructive engagement of the military junta. It did not abandon Aung San Suu Kyi or democracy but, guided by realpolitik and national interests, cultivated the Generals for inducing internal reform.

While this policy switch addressed India's security concerns — namely North-East rebel sanctuaries and China's influence in Myanmar — it did little to hasten democratic change. India's need of Myanmar is for connectivity to the North-East denied by Bangladesh; as a bridge to the East; and for oil and gas as an alternative to Iran. A strong and effective military-to-military relationship has been developed over the years. Yet India has to ensure that it is not on the wrong side of history. 

Myanmar is the only ASEAN country with land borders with four insurgency-ridden states. With its western flank resting on the epicentre of terrorism in Pakistan, India can ill-afford an unstable easternfrontier. The Generals run the most durable military regime anywhere and cannot be wished away as long as China and Russia have their veto. 

But these are the bare facts. The complexity is introduced by two elements: The fact that the military regime has said elections would be held in Myanmar soon; and that Myanmar's ethnic minorities are playing merry hell on its border with China.

An excellent report by ICRIER for the Asia Society outlines the problems that Myanmar has in engaging with the outside world. On the one hand, the regime is demonised and ostracised, while more repressive regimes elsewhere are tolerated and even feted. This leads Myanmar and the ruling regime to foster intense nationalism, which feeds on strong suspicion of foreign countries, especially neighbouring countries.

This nationalism is handy when Myanmar deals with China. Largely because of the void left by Western countries as well as India till 1988, China moved in to 'assist' Myanmar in a very big way. While this engagement suited Myanmar fine, China, tired of being lambasted by the international community for supporting a variety of repressive regimes all over the world, has now begun suggesting to the Myanmarese junta that it loosen its grip a bit. 

The problem is, while Myanmar is grateful to the Chinese, it fears them — especially in northern Myanmar (Mandalay) where unbridled immigration from China has practically turned the region and its Shan and Kachin states into part of the Yunnan province in China. China is also constructing river, road and rail transport infrastructure through Myanmar to connect landlocked Yunnan province with the Bay of Bengal. If China were to acquire full sway over Myanmar, it would control the economy and surround India's north-eastern States. There is evidence to suggest it is getting there. Effectively, it is clear that Myanmar has the potential to hurt India more than it can hurt Myanmar.

There is much that India can do: Offer Myanmar food-processing plants, create facilities for Myanmar to exploit and possibly export natural gas (because bringing it to India through a pipeline is not feasible). China has cottoned on to this. During Mr Wen Jiabao's visit in June, Myanmar and China agreed to fast-track the $ 1.5 billion oil pipeline and a $ 1.04 billion gas pipeline, the construction of which started in October last year.

The pipelines will run parallel to each other and enter China at the border city of Ruili in Yunnan province and terminate in Kunming, capital of Yunnan while the 2,806-km natural gas pipeline will extend to Guizhou and Guangxi. The pipeline will diversify China's crude oil import routes from West Asia and Africa, and avoid the sea route through the piracy-prone Strait of Malacca.

Now why didn't we think of that? But then, it is to New Delhi that Gen Than is coming, not to Beijing. India should put aside its residual discomfort at supporting a military regime and offer Myanmar development aid and help in the spirit of generosity. All said and done, with China, Myanmar's relationship is instrumentalist. The regime recognises this and is looking for other baskets in which to place its eggs. India should be able to offer this, even if at the cost of annoying China. New Delhi makes a big deal of its Africa policy and denies it is in a race with the Chinese in the continent. Why not develop the same approach to Myanmar, which is a neighbour after all ?







The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil," Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. But sadly, there are some educators who, despite the Supreme Court ban on corporal punishment, derive sadistic pleasure in beating students and humiliating them, often for frivolous reasons. Punishment — both physical and mental — has become an integral part of education in India. 

There have been numerous cases from schools across the country in which students have received grievous physical injuries or have been driven to commit suicide on account of being punished in school. Health Ministry documents show 16,000 students have committed suicides between 2004 and 2006.

The case of Sahil Sachdeva once again highlights this point. A Class VI student, Sahil was allegedly slapped and humiliated by his teacher for late attendance. He tried to commit suicide by jumping off the second floor of the school building. A recent study has shown that two out of every three children in India suffer physical abuse at the hands of their teachers. The death of Rouvanjit Rawla, a student of Kolkata's well-known La Martiniere School, who allegedly committed suicide after being caned by the principal, has jolted the national conscience.

Most incidents of teachers brutalising the young often do not receive media attention. A six-year-old girl was thrashed by a teacher, locked up in a steel cupboard and later thrown into a water tank at Tiruchirappalli in 2009. In Lucknow, a five-year-old boy was tied with rope and dragged for 50 metres by his teacher for not attending school regularly. Ten students were beaten with a cane fitted with nails in an MCD school in Delhi last year. 

Teachers who resort to such behaviour are no different from criminals and must be treated as such. Others must be counselled against resorting to physical punishment which, in turn, promotes a culture of violence. A show-cause notice or temporary suspension is too feeble a response to counter this menace. Need one wonder why children develop school phobia, dropout rates are on the rise and the poor hesitate to send their offspring to school?







Child development and environment have been the two un-noticed casualties of decades of terrorism and turmoil in the Kashmir Valley, as witnessed first-hand by members of an inter-faith peace initiative. According to them, education is key to repairing the people's ruptured relationship with the environment and restoring past traditions of social harmony

Exactly at 5.00 am on June 18, practically all occupants of a Srinagar guesthouse jump out of their beds and open the doors of their respective rooms. They hurry out to find the source of the noise that has awakened them. Is it a grenade, gunfire or bombing taking place on the Athwajan Bypass Chowk on which the guesthouse is located and which connects to the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway? 

The men and women, who have arrived in the State capital to take part in an inter-faith conference, have only read in newspapers about violence on such a scale or watched its footage on television screens. They are convinced that an encounter is on between the security forces and terrorists. When they were welcomed into the building situated on the campus of a well-known public school at the base of a majestic mountain the previous evening, they were all praise for the serene surroundings. But now only fear and anxiety permeate the milieu.

A few minutes later, an employee of the school walks up to the group. There has been no firing or encounter. The noise everyone heard owes its origin to quarrying activity which is permissible between five and eight am everyday. 

The visitors receive this piece of information with shocked disbelief. Men are out to demolish the beautiful mountain that has been an integral part of the landscape and life here for millennia. Suddenly, the temporary relief everyone just experienced turns into palpable anguish: They are dismembering a living entity. Don't they realise that children study here — they love their mountain, its greenery, its flora and fauna? How can a Government be so oblivious of concerns — both national and global — for protection of the environment? Everyone wants to ask several questions but all answers are along expected lines: Several attempts have been made and are being made to stop this wanton destruction of the priceless bounty bestowed by nature but so far none has succeeded. 

Whosoever arrives in Srinagar is keen to visit the Dal Lake. The estimated area of this lake in 1847 was 48 square kilometres. In 1983, the area of the lake had been reduced to 10.5 square kilometres. According to current estimates, it is just around eight square kilometres. The lake has suffered the effects of pollution, encroachment and activities of landsharks which continue even today.

The people of Jammu & Kashmir have been bearing more than their share of loss and suffering in the form of friends, relatives and family members who have fallen victim to terrorists' bullets or their propaganda. How can the State permit the destruction of its natural assets and inflict additional wounds in such an arrogant and inconsiderate manner? Is it not cruel and ironic to let 4,000 young and sensitive children in their impressionable years witness every weekday this frightening mutilation of nature while their teachers impart lessons on how important it is to maintain ecological balance and the synergy of man-nature relationship? These children learn about values, governance, rights and duties and receive education on environmental sciences and climate change in their classrooms even while being forced to watch in dismay the ruthless devouring of the State's natural wealth outside them. What conflicting data to process for a young mind! 

For the participants of the conference who have been eagerly looking forward to an enlightening interaction the next day, the contrast of their idealistic intentions and the ground reality has never been more apparent. And even as the chance to experience the beauty of the famed 'paradise on Earth' may have been uppermost on their minds, Dal Lake and the fate of the mountain near their place of stay narrate a sad story.

Jammu & Kashmir has a great history of social cohesion and communal harmony. But it is time to acknowledge that times have changed which has led to the killings and expulsion of four lakh Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. The Valley's residents live in constant fear and insecurity — the youth targeted by terrorists who threaten them with dire consequences should they refuse to join their ranks. It is the young that are killed in group clashes and firing by security forces. One is wont to wonder how children in the Valley overcome such insurmountable obstacles in order to plan their future. Politics apart, the conditions here over the last two decades have certainly been far from conducive to their growth and development. Societies that hinder the progress of their young do so at their own peril. 

Whenever the situation in Kashmir is discussed, religious demography and related aspects do emerge in cautious terms. One has to face facts if one decides not to ignore the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits as well as that of the common man. Social unity and religious amity must be restored. 

The inter-faith conference to which the visitors had been invited was planned with these high objectives. It was hoped that it would generate dialogue on a larger scale. The post-blast and pre-conference discussions, though purely informal, were indeed very pragmatic and focused around what in fact can be achieved at the ground level. Education has to play a major role in these efforts. Children must be made aware of the most outstanding objective of education in the 21st century: To achieve social cohesion and learn to live together and work together.

In a multi-religious society, it is the past traditions of inter-faith harmony and social tolerance that need to be refreshed. The basic teachings of all religions are the same but their practice differs. Children must be made aware of the commonalities and must learn to respect their differences. In the 21st century, no one can flourish in isolation and this applies equally to cultures and civilisations. 

The issue boils down to a simple query: Why don't people practice what they preach? How can those who survive on fuelling communal tensions plead for harmony? How can the system wantonly permit the destruction of its mountains, rivers and other natural resources and simultaneously talk of schemes and funds for environmental protection? It is a symphony of the self, society and nature that must be created through education of the young and their parents in order to come up with an effective answer. 







An estimated nine out of 10 Afghans still live without access to power, which is concentrated in highly populated areas like Kabul and Herat in the west. Only 4,97,000 of the country's 4.8 million households are connected to what passes for a national power grid, despite more than $ 1.6 billion already spent on energy projects, according to data from the country's utility corporation.

The system is more like a disconnected patchwork of pockets of available electricity, serving different regions of the country, some with hydropower, some with power imported from nearby countries and some with diesel-generated power.

So Afghans improvise at home, and many hotels and businesses — even embassies and international agencies — rely on their own generators for power. And some sell electricity to their neighbours.


Take Qurban Ali's old, crank-operated diesel generator, which coughs and belches black smoke before the engine starts running. Ali's generator provides electricity to more than 100 houses in the Dasht-i-Barchi neighbourhood in Kabul. 

He estimates about 1,000 small, private diesel generators like his keep the lights on in more than 4,000 homes in the area. And they'll keep using the generators until transmission lines are in place and the Afghan Government follows through on a promise to streamline power hookups for customers.

So the citizens of Kabul wait. "Right now, we are hopeless to have electricity," Ali says.

Afghans who can afford it pay private generator owners like Ali by the light bulb, about $ 2.60 a month for each bulb hanging from the ceiling. It costs nearly $ 11 a month to power a television. The average income in Afghanistan is a little more than a dollar a day.

"We don't have the ability and cannot afford to pay more money for each light we use," says Rahim, whose wife and nine children share a home with his brother, sister-in-law and their nine children.

When Mr Ronald Neumann, then American Ambassador to Afghanistan, signed an agreement with the Afghan Government to use diesel to bring more electricity to Kabul, the city wasn't completely without power. But it was close.

In the winter, Afghans resorted to burning tires and goat dung to keep warm, experiencing a scant six hours of daylight each day.

Some Afghan leaders, led by then Minister of the Economy Jalil Shams, had pushed for additional generator power in Kabul. The US rejected that approach, Mr Neumann says, because it considered generators a costly, short-term solution.

Building transmission lines to carry inexpensive imported power from Uzbekistan and other northern neighbours would be a much better investment, Mr Neumann says he initially thought. But he changed his mind after a study by Black & Veatch, a US contractor that builds power plants around the world, argued the transmission lines wouldn't bring enough electricity to Kabul or be completed soon enough.

As it turned out, those transmission lines were finished first and provide the main source of power, instead of the $ 305 million plant.

Mr Shams says the US warmed to the idea of the diesel project after he told Mr Neumann that Iran had agreed to cover most of the cost of a used diesel plant the Afghan Government hoped to buy and reassemble in Kabul.

"I had offers in hand that were $ 90 million," Mr Shams says. "On that basis of that offer of $ 90 million, we were thinking of having a good, used plant — not a 100 per cent new one."

But Mr Neumann and Mr Hamid Karzai's Government reached their own agreement, which called for $ 100 million to buy the new diesel engines. The Afghans would cover $ 20 million and commit to developing a reliable way to collect utility payments from customers.

Mr Karzai was briefed on the project and gave it his full support, even though it contradicted his country's energy strategy by nearly doubling the amount of the country's power generated by diesel engines.

Bringing 100 million Watts of power to Kabul could certainly help turn public opinion in Mr Karzai's favour. The diesel engines and generators would be installed by December 2008, US officials said, in plenty of time for Mr Karzai to take credit for the added power before voters cast their ballots.

Today, the diesel plant — which was not ready to be turned over to the Afghan Government until May 2010 — runs mostly for short periods, producing only a fraction of its promised 105 million Watts of power.

Black & Veatch, the US contractor that swayed Mr Neumann, oversaw the project for USAID as part of a joint $ 1.4 billion contract with The Louis Berger Group, another American contractor.

As the plant's costs and schedule veered wildly off course, the payouts to Black & Veatch also ballooned. USAID refused to disclose the amounts paid as costs increased, but contract records obtained by The Associated Press show expenses and fees paid to the company tripled from $ 15.3 million in July 2007, when the project was estimated at $ 125.8 million overall, to $ 46.2 million in October 2009, when the price tag reached $ 301 million.

Among the costs: $ 7.8 million to clear and prepare the project site picked by Mr Karzai. Building housing for workers: $ 2.7 million. Building a substation to connect the power to Kabul's grid: $ 15 million. Building the main plant: $ 62 million. And another $ 20 million went to transport materials, including flying the massive diesel engines in from Germany, an expense not included in the original project estimate.

Black & Veatch and The Louis Berger group landed the contract in 2006. The next year, congressional investigators chastised Berger's work on an earlier contract to build schools and health clinics, accusing the company of poor performance and misrepresenting work.

USAID also found problems with the two companies under their current contract, which an internal assessment found put too much risk on the agency and too little on the contractors, who had no incentive to control spending.

In March 2009, with more than half of the $ 1.4 billion already committed, the agency said it had "lost confidence" in the companies' abilities to do reconstruction work in Afghanistan. Yet the contract continues, with both the agency and the contractors saying management has improved.

-- Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report. Concluded. 







Government is busy painting a rosy picture based on advance tax collections in the first quarter even as growth in industrial production has touched a seven-month low. Government is bound to miss its revenue target

It is a paradox. Industrial production growth has touched a seven-month low at 11.5 per cent in May but direct and indirect tax collections are zooming — a feat of sorts. 

The Government of India seems to be performing a rope trick that is difficult to repeat. To bolster the official claims, it is also trying to revise upwards the growth projections. This should be good news but how it is being achieved is not known. 

The Finance Ministry has an infinite appetite. That should be the precise reason to probe the paradox. Fall in index of industrial production should cause more worry and anxiety to the Government. It is an indicator of an impending situation characterised by difficulty if not disaster. 

The Central Board of Direct Taxes is apparently not keeping the country posted with the right facts. Like last year, this time, too, they are trying to project the picture of a shining India on the basis of advance tax collections in the first quarter. It says indirect tax collection zooms by 43 per cent to Rs 56,930 crore and direct tax collections by 16.88 per cent to Rs 10,198 crore. 

These are astounding figures considering the country is reeling under severe inflation with food and other essential commodity prices skyrocketing. It has brought down the purchasing power of the common man. With increased raw material costs, depressed demand in the market and no glad tidings on the job front, the common man has little to cheer. 

In a scenario like this, the claims look suspect though the figures per se are not incorrect. A year back, the tax department had made similar claims painting a rosy picture for the economy as it is doing now. At the end when they could not achieve what they had projected, it was not publicised with fanfare. 

The Government has been missing its targets for the last two years. The direct tax collection at the end of the fiscal 2009-10 had fallen short of target by almost Rs 60,000 crore. The Government had collected Rs 3,30,000 crore till early March against a target of Rs 3,87,000 crore. The previous year, too, it had missed its target of Rs 3,45,000 crore due to the economic slowdown, which is not yet over. 

During both the years, the early projections were not different. That should not foreclose options during the coming year. Indications, however, point to the reenactment of the scenario despite a very favourable growth projection by the International Monetary Fund. This is not surprising. The international agencies do not do primary research and depend on respective Governments for primary data. The data is often presented by the home Governments in a propagandist fashion. 

Besides, the IMF prediction came before the latest IIP figures were published. The May figures fell sharply from April's which projected industrial production growth at 16.5 per cent. 

While the figures indicated deceleration all over, the worst was noticed in the manufacturing sector. It slowed down by over seven per cent from 19.4 per cent to 12.3 per cent. The fall is remarkable in consumer durables — an indicator of the purchasing capacity. It fell from 37 per cent last year, when recession was said to be returning to a growth path. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said a low growth of 1.7 per cent witnessed by the textile sector was "worrisome" as textiles are the biggest job spinner after agriculture. 

Another aspect that adds to the anxiety is that the sectors which are mostly under the public sector are not showing robust growth. If it persists, it would translate into higher budgetary support for these areas causing a further drain on the Government's finances. It might mean further cutting down on development projects. A small indication is the attempted dilution of the Right to Education Act in the form of a proposal to curtail the number of beneficiaries. 

The CBDT officials may be upbeat but the industry is not. The generalised inflation figures at 10.55 per cent at end-June have rattled the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. In a survey conducted among its members, 70 per cent of the companies said that if the prices continue to rise at the current rates, then the input costs would increase manifold. About 76 per cent companies expressed fears of increase in energy costs as also wages of the workforce. The industries also expressed apprehension at the ways Reserve Bank of India jacks up interest rates. They feared that this would not only increase capital costs but also reduce domestic demand. 

If this apprehension comes true, the future of the economy at the end of the current fiscal would be anything but rosy. Once again, the Government of India is bound to miss its revenue target. 








THE manner in which the new Chief Justice of India threw out a bunch of public interest petitions on Monday, including some that had been entertained by his predecessor, suggests that public- minded citizens who have looked at the higher judiciary as the institution of last refuge are in for a disappointment during his tenure, notwithstanding his integrity.


It is understandable for Justice Kapadia to take a strict view of frivolous or motivated public interest litigation ( PILs). But this is not the same as having a conservative approach on genuine PILs — which may concern millions of human lives — where the courts refuse to deal with any matter that is, strictly speaking, outside the domain of judicial intervention.


This has the potential to subvert the process of judicial activism that was initiated after PILs came into being in the 80s. There is no doubt a danger of courts overreaching themselves when they resort to activism, but let us also accept that PILs have made the authorities more accountable and contributed to public good over the years.


Justice Kapadia's stance that courts cannot interfere in matters of policy and governance would have been justifiable were the other organs of the state doing their job well.


This is not the case. In fact, one reason why governments have, somewhat reluctantly, bowed before the authority of courts in the recent past is that they are aware that they have not lived up to their political mandate, and the people of the country know this.


If Justice Kapadia wants to let go of this moral check that the higher judiciary has exerted over governments, it is his prerogative, but he must know that he will not be doing the people of India a great favour.



WITHOUT going into the specifics, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon has confirmed what Union Home Secretary G. K. Pillai had said a week earlier— that the Headley interrogation had revealed that there are deep and troubling links between the Pakistani establishment and the terrorist groups operating from that country.


Mr Pillai had charged that the Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate had been involved in the Mumbai attack of November 2008 " from the start to the end." On Tuesday, Mr Menon told a seminar on terrorism that this nexus ( between terror outfits and official establishment) would not be broken soon. " If anything, it is getting stronger." Mr Menon was forthright in acknowledging that since the picture is clearer, " we know what needs to be done", but the official linkages made it that much more difficult to act on the matter.


Such an admission raises a big questionmark before the Union government's effort to jump- start a dialogue with the civilian government in Pakistan. If parts of the establishment, presumably the powerful Pakistan Army, are complicit in terrorist activities, it is hardly likely to allow any process that will undermine its role to succeed.


That seems to be the real message that Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was seeking to give to his counterpart S. M. Krishna.



SARAH Palin holds quite a few records in the United States — she is the only one from whose house you can see Russia and the only American politician who has been to all the pro- America areas of America.


So, what is wrong, we ask, when she coins a new word for the English language and compares herself to Shakespeare for doing so? Besides, ' refudiate' is such a malleable word.


For example, when Pakistan accuses India of interfering in Balochistan, we can now refudiate the claim. And if India carries on with the mundane task of sending dossiers on 26/ 11 which have been of little consequence so far, the Pakistanis could say that they are refudiating the evidence, when they are actually only refudiating them to dust- bins.


In honour of our linguistic role model, we, too, have invented a new word: Palinthropy.


It's a noun which means " being overly generous to oneself"; like when former US President George W. Bush says, " I am not dumb". Of course, you've got to forgive him, for he is only being, you know, palinthropic.








SPORT is transparent for one wins and loses in the open. Yet politics, which functions on a diametrically opposite principle, often finds in sport a useful ally. This is as true of Spain as it is of India. If India had won a world cup in any event, politicians would have taken the opportunity to gloat about India's international status. It was no longer a third world country, but one that could beat the best in the world.


This would complement the " Incredible India" slogan.


In Spain the story is different. Spain does not have to worry about being world- class; its major concern today is to keep the country together. Catalonia is stamping the floor demanding all kinds of cultural privileges. The Basque parts barely acknowledge their unity with Spain. In fact, they signed an elaborate pre- nuptial agreement before moving in with Madrid. When the players returned home, the Basques equivocated, but the streets of Madrid and Barcelona, showed no signs of division. If anything, one could fairly sniff the glue of a united, even jingoistic, Spain.


A day before Spain won the finals, Barcelona witnessed one of the largest demonstrations ever demanding the right of Catalonia to be considered a " nation" ( not nation- state, not yet), and that Catalonian language be given special status. The demonstrators were angry that the Constitutional Court had turned down these demands in a recent judgment. The scene after Spain won the World Cup was completely different. The crowds were even larger on the same streets, but this time celebrating the victory of united Spain in distant Johannesburg.




Not surprisingly, the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero sensed a political opportunity. It would have been a gaffe on his part if he had not. In his speech welcoming the team home he craftily inserted the message that Spain's football victory reflects the glory of the Spanish federation. In other words, a country united is definitely more glorious than one that is divided. The way he said it was like a " read my lips" moment! Many thought that Zapatero was getting a little ahead of himself in doing this.


But the euphoria on the streets was so high that his message went home. The football victory made the financial crisis a little more bearable, at least for some time. Three days after Spain's triumph in the World Cup, Zapatero was able to stave off a strong opposition demand that fresh elections be called ahead of schedule. What is even more significant to the ruling party is that a public poll conducted around the same time on this issue gave Prime Minister Zapatero a clear thumbs- up.


In the Basque areas of Spain the situation is more complicated. One gets a sense of political sentiments in the region from the way the Spanish victory was met in the bars and streets of the Basque country. The militant ETA separatist have been politically sidelined, but this has not completely dimmed the view that the Basques are different from the rest of Spain.


Till the semifinals, the Basques, as a rule, affected indifference towards how Spain fared in South Africa. Their team was Atletico Bilbao, where every player had to be Basque. When Spain met Germany and entered the finals muted cheers escaped from some of the bars of this region. When Spain eventually won the finals, many came out on the streets and splashed madly in the fountains in the open squares.

Not without danger, though. Some hardcore Basque nationalists did not like this show of Spanish exuberance. In small fishing villages along the Basque coast, Spain's victory did not create a ripple.


In urban Basque centres, such as Vitoria and Bilbao, there was palpable excitement, but it was unwise to display it too brazenly. This tension vividly reflects the political fissures in Basque Spain. There were many who sought to downplay Spain's victory, but there were other Basques, who on that clear starry night, wanted to celebrate with the rest of the country.




Catalonian nationalists are facing a much harder time. This is because there are as many as seven players in the Spanish team who play for the Barcelona Football Club, and Barcelona is Catalan. Xavi who knit the Spanish team together in match after match in the World Cup has publicly stated that he would not play for any other club but this Catalonian one.


Real Madrid might tempt him, but his heart will forever beat for Barcelona F. C. David Villa, the prolific goal scorer in the World Cup, is not Catalonian, though he plays for Barcelona. But in the victory parade his voice went hoarse cheering " Viva Espania." There was one clear Basque who played regularly in all the games and even took an ugly hit on the chest from a Dutch player. Still nobody in Basque land— not in San Sebastian, Bilbao or Vitoria— wears a shirt with his name on it.


Most interesting of all is the case of the Spanish captain— the scintillating goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. His first name is clearly Basque; it means a person of quick thinking. Through the entire campaign in South Africa he never wore the Spanish colours between the goal posts, preferring instead to don the jersey that was reminiscent of Arconada, the great Basque goalkeeper of yesteryears.


His glamour status, notwithstanding, Arconada played for the Basque team in San Sebastian, and never left it for any other club. Even under his football boots, Iker Casillas's socks were a replica of what Arconada wore in his time. Yet Iker was the captain of the Spanish football team, and he had the Spanish flag draped around him in the victory parade in Madrid.




The metaphor of sport is not over yet.


Individual sporting events do not stoke nationalist sentiments like team sports do. Rafael Nadal had won the Madrid Open, the French Open and the Wimbledon Cup in quick succession this very year. Yet, on no occasion did Spaniards come out on the streets to hail him as a national symbol. The Spanish love and admire him, but tennis does not charge identity sentiments. Football is different for it is a team sport where players have to weld together. It is this that arouses group passions that is a kitty corner away from becoming ultra- patriotic.


Spain is developed, Spain is European, but, uncharacteristically, it is also plagued by identity claims. The ETA militants may have been tamed but their appeal still lingers in the interstices of Basque politics. The constitutional Basque Nationalist Party, which till recently ruled the region, stands for a non- violent expression of nationalism, but is very emotional about it. Catalonia is complaining noisily hoping to extract whatever identity capital it can from the Spanish government. This worries Spain a great deal, perhaps more than the financial crisis that has gripped the country.


Spain's football glory could not have come at a better time for the federationists, or those who stand for a united Spain. By the same token, it could not have come at a worse time for internal nationalists. Sport is played by the rules, but it is open to metaphoric interpretation where, as in politics, the rules are made up.


The writer is currently on a short- term study tour of Spain










THE large scale violence witnessed at Sompeta in Srikakulam district in north- coastal Andhra Pradesh last week following protests by local fisherman and farmers against the construction of a mega thermal power plant seemed like a repeat of the conflict in Nandigram.


Two fishermen were killed in police firing and more than a 100 persons were injured in the clashes between the local people and the police.


The green fields of Sompeta claims. First of all, the project site is located in an ecologically fragile stretch that supports an eco- system with a wide ranging biodiversity.


It is a nesting place for many endangered species of flora and fauna and hence has to be conserved under the Ramsar International Treaty on Conservation of Wetlands. Besides, it provides livelihood to local farmers and fishermen. However, the state government, while seeking environmental clearance from the project will boost large scale economic activity in the area creating indirect employment for thousands of people.


" There will be good roads, big townships, shops, business establishments, schools and colleges in the area, which is otherwise sunk in deep poverty. The economic benefit will be several hundred times better than what is lost in the power project," he says.


Local farmers and environmentalists, however, rubbish these turned into a virtual war zone with more than 3,000 policemen fighting a pitched battle with nearly 10,000 villagers from 34 surrounding villages who were hell bent on preventing the laying of the foundation stone for a 2640 MW thermal power plant proposed to be set up by the NCC Power Projects Limited. While the state and district administration as well as the police are supporting the promoters of the project, the locals are supported by some environmentalist groups which have been fighting against the power plant in the area.


Once again this raises the question of whether this so- called development should be at the cost of poor people. The state government argues that Srikakulam needs large- scale industrialisation as it is one of the most backward districts in Andhra.


Revenue Minister Dharmana Prasada Rao, who hails from here and has been instrumental in securing the project, argues that besides providing employment to a few hundred skilled and semiskilled unemployed persons, the A fight for survival: local people in Sompeta take on the police in their Centre, described the stretch as a mere " swamp."


ENVIRONMENTALISTS fear that the project would cause pollution of ground water and local water resources due to the fly ash which is a by- product of thermal power generation.


Thirdly, the NCC power project is classified as a merchant power plant, according to which it can sell 80 per cent of the power generated to any industry at any rate and only the remaining 20 per cent is allotted to the state power transmission corporation for supplying to local consumers. Thus, the government is allowing the promoters to make huge profits at the cost of local consumers.


For the time being, the work for the project has come to a halt after the National Environment Appellate Authority cancelled the environmental clearance, after agreeing with the genuine concerns of the local people and the environmentalists. The government, however, is still trying to help the power project by going in for a revised environmental impact assessment.



THEATRE buffs of Hyderabad got a pleasant surprise last week. An American literary classic play staged by an all- Indian cast and crew left them spell- bound for three hours.


Based on Tennesse Williams' magnum opus A Streetcar Named Desire for which he got the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948, the play depicted the clash of cultural values in a transforming society. Though the theme was based on the conflicts in the American society in the post- World War era, it was nicely adapted to the contemporary Indian context.


For the record, the original play ran to packed houses for 885 days non- stop after it opened on Broadway in December 1947.


Kartaal Productions, which brought the drama for the first time to an Indian theatre, succeeded to a great extent in bringing alive the characters immortalised by the American playwright. The script and stage- play were scrupulously followed in the Indian version; the elaborate sets and intense lighting carried the Broadway style to the Indian theatre.


The play captured the cultural clash between old- world Southern ideals and a new emerging America, represented by two iconic characters in the drama, Blanche Dubois, a fading beauty, and Stanley Kowalski, a brutish and aggressive man who is a symbol of the urban working class.


Producer- actress Seema Azharuddin played the role of Blanche, Telugu film actress Bhumika Chawla played Blanche's sister Stella Kowalski, a docile and lovable girl. It was a brilliant performance by Seema, who is an experienced theatre artiste. Even more appreciable was the performance of Bhumika in her maiden stage performance.


The play was directed by Dr K Srikanth Iyengar who also played Stanley Kowalski, originally immortalised by Marlin Brando.


" We plan to stage the play in other Indian cities as well. We also have plans to produce plays in other Indian languages," says Seema.








Over 200 accidents in 14 months is not a record any railway minister can be proud of. No conspiracy theory can explain how 400-plus lives were lost in these accidents. It's too early to explain the cause of the tragic collision in a West Bengal station on Monday. An inquiry has been ordered, though preliminary reports suggest that human error may have caused the accident. 

The great number of accidents that take place on our tracks and even stations should bother us. Since 2000, more than 1,700 people have died in over 2,700 major and minor accidents. These are shocking figures since train accidents are rare in most countries that maintain substantial railway networks. Railways elsewhere have managed to remain largely accident free because they refuse to compromise on safety measures. Our railway ministers are obsessed with new trains and new lines, which per se is not a bad idea. For a billion-plus population, we could have better connectivity and networks to transport people and goods. But a creaking infrastructure can't support so many trains or transport so many people. It's been reported that anti-collision devices could have prevented Monday's accident in which more than 60 people died. 

Though successive railway budgets have talked about railway safety, there's not much that's done. Clearly, the Railways need to adopt better technology and recruit and train workers better. It may be impossible to weed out human error completely but technological upgrades could provide some safeguards. It's also important to improve rescue and relief measures so that many lives can be saved. The death toll in accidents often goes up because of the delay in providing medical care to victims, as was the case in Sainthia on Monday. 

However, the modernisation of the Railways is possible only under a committed minister. Indian Railways may not be short on talented and committed personnel but it needs an inspiring leader to maximise the potential of its workforce. The present railway minister Mamata Banerjee's passion is West Bengal politics. With assembly elections coming up soon she is hard-pressed for time. Coalition compulsions can't override passenger safety. The prime minister needs to appoint a full-time minister for the Railways. As for Mamata, the best she could do before elections in West Bengal may be to quit the ministry lest voters should use her tenure there to assess her administrative skills. 








Time and again we have been warned that someday we will be exposed to international oil prices and no one can take cover behind subsidies. That doomsday has apparently arrived. We have been told petrol prices are finally in tune with international prices and happy days are over. But this only raises a bigger question. If oil price is decontrolled, we should pay around Rs 30 per litre for petrol and about the same for diesel, the reigning free market price, for example, in the US. 


If that's asking for too much, one could just look at the import price of crude oil, and then add the refining costs, transportation expenses, etc, and come up with a petrol price that will be far less than Rs 55 per litre. Yet, we will pay more even when the international price has not shown any considerable jump in recent times. So why should we care at all about decontrol? 

Whatever be the world oil price, our government can impose taxes at will, undermining any direct relationship between domestic and global prices. There is no guarantee that, when oil prices drop overseas, our government will not raise taxes. This is why we were almost never allowed to get the benefit of falling prices. Reform or no reform, if ordinary citizens buy fuel at a much higher price than the world price, the purported market-driven strategy is an eyewash. Any kind of taxes and subsidies reflect fundamental deviation from market principles. Therefore, control is very much in place. 

Even if we ignore the inherent inconsistency in the announced government policy which reflects a kind of lack of understanding on what reform is all about, we cannot ignore the fact that taxes need to be imposed on petrol to finance subsidies required to provide relatively cheap kerosene and natural gas for the less affluent. Then you need to ensure domestic oil companies do not incur losses by selling cheap. They have to be covered as well. Fair enough. What would bother a student of economics is whether total taxes on petroleum and diesel far exceed subsidies. If they do, the government has to explain whether surplus could have been raised elsewhere. Or, if there is a surplus, why diesel's price needs raising, affecting transportation expenses at a time of soaring inflation. 

Well, the answers are hard to come by. Even within the government, possibly no one knows what an unalterable formula for oil price is, as this is always dictated on a need-to-implement basis. Since demand for fuel is highly inelastic, incremental taxes promise huge revenues to finance government expenditure of various kinds. But skyrocketing food prices are further propelled by rising costs of diesel, so the beneficiaries of a programme like NREG may actually lose in terms of real income despite getting employed for 100 days. 

Last year, almost Rs 60,000 crore were given away as tax cuts to manufacturers of cars, consumer durables and the like in the name of combating recession when there was a moderate slowdown and plenty of demand existed for these goods. Eventually prices did not show substantial decline; most tax cuts were absorbed, possibly as increase in profits. Those crores could have been adjusted against a huge hike in oil prices. Ultimately, it is a matter of political choice and it is bad judgement to ignore inflationary consequences for the poor. If the strategy is to subsidise the price of a Rs 10 lakh car while making the small Matador van, which supplies vegetables to the local market, pay more for diesel, it cannot be good politics either. 

India's oil sector is an oligopoly of public sector firms and perhaps one private sector firm. If the government truly believed in competition, many others including multinationals would have been welcome to procure, produce and sell oil in the retail market. Pure market-based solutions would have yielded prices for petrol, diesel, kerosene and natural gas. The government would have wanted revenues. But taxes and subsidies would have affected all firms symmetrically. The government would not have taken extra care to protect a handful of public sector firms. This is the lesson of true reform. 

"Ratna" status for public sector firms is engineered to the extent that the government creates the oligopoly or monopoly and sets prices and garners revenues by making them jewels in the crown! That's "decontrol" for you. Allowing other foreign and domestic firms in would have tested the inner strength of oil PSUs and policymakers know that, without biased treatment, they would be in deep trouble. We have never had a white paper on domestic companies' efficiency. There are sophisticated and world recognised measures of efficiency, but we never see serious work on this. If our oil firms have far greater costs of operation compared to global standards, the task is to bring these down rather than accommodate inefficiencies through subsidies and fuel price increase. 

If the reigning market structure is oligopolistic, inefficiencies must crop up even if economies of scale are important. Sadly, relevant economic issues are put on the backburner to satisfy vested interests, and the rhetoric of reform is utilised by various political parties to camouflage their real intentions. Citing "reform" and "world market" trends as an antidote to all our errors, then, is not the right approach. 

The writer is with the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. 








Educationist Anil Sadagopal has been part of the Bhopal gas victims' struggle from the start. In November 1985, the Supreme Court appointed him and Sujit Das of Drug Action Forum, Kolkata, on a committee to make recommendations regarding medical relief and rehabilitation of the gas victims. In 1988, the two filed a minority report in court. Sadagopal speaks to Jyoti Punwani : 

How did the court come to monitor the victims' health? 

The MP government refused to administer the only antidote to methyl isocyanate (MIC), sodium thiosulphate injections, though the victims showed immediate improvement after receiving them, and they were recommended by the ICMR. It also shut down our Jan Swasthya Kendra, the only clinic administering these injections and systematically keeping medical records of the victims. On the night of June 24, 1985, the police, acting on behalf of Union Carbide, arrested the doctors and seized our records. That's when we approached the Supreme Court. Our clinic restarted, but we never got back our records. 

Why did you need to file a minority report? 

We thought the Supreme Court committee was a tool to get the data on the effects of MIC and the required treatment. This would have not just helped in treating the victims systematically but also fixed Carbide's criminal and civil liability for the deaths and injuries caused by the leak. Carbide had held that MIC broke down on contact with water on the surface of lungs and eyes, causing no systemic damage. But months after the leak, the victims were suffering from multi-systemic chronic disorders. 

Within weeks we realised the committee was a farce, because the government-appointed members, including ICMR officials, refused to ask any questions. So the two of us decided to work on our own. The director of a DRDO laboratory in Gwalior, Ramachandran, whose research had established the dangerous long-term effects of MIC, gave me all his data. I thought i'd found a gold mine, and rushed to place this evidence that showed MIC caused sustained systemic poisoning before the court. We asked that Carbide be ordered to produce all its research findings on MIC. This would have also provided the ground for punitive damages. But Carbide's counsel and the attorney general told the court that the government already had access to the data! In vain did our lawyer Indira Jaising demand that we be given this data. 

Were your recommendations accepted? 

On the contrary, the court did not pass any orders. In February 1989, hearing the petition for compensation from Carbide, the SC approved a shameful settlement of $470 million between the government of India and Union Carbide, also quashing all criminal charges and banning all future civil suits against Carbide. The SC had already set a precedent of the owner's absolute liability in the Sriram Mills case. But this was ignored. The Supreme Court was forced by people's protests to go back on the criminal liability decision, but the settlement amount didn't change. 

Had the government insisted on the full $3.3 billion that it had originally demanded from Carbide, we would have been seen as too unsafe for corporate capital. The government kowtowed to the market forces. The Nuclear Civil Liability Bill shows that our ruling class refuses to learn from Bhopal. 







What is it about the game of football? There we were in the Bombay Gym which wears its 135 years lightly. But in spite of its youthful vigour, it's not a boisterous club, except occasionally on a Saturday night when the spirit is willing the flesh to be weak. Yet on World Cup final evening, the bar and the adjoining dining room made enough din for a stadium. It wasn't just that the place was packed to the gills; it was packed with girls, their numbers matching the number of men present. 

That doesn't happen for cricket, our so-called national game, not even for the T20 World Cup. It doesn't happen for tennis where you would expect women to gather round in strength, at least out of solidarity for the women on court. 

Does football's universal appeal have to do with the fluidity of the game? T20, cricket's shortest format, still takes twice as long as a football match. It's also full of one hiatus after another, as overs get completed and bowlers change ends. In football, it's all one continuous motion, 90 minutes of non-stop action which goes first one way then another, so fast and so furious that a player is said to lose five kilograms at the end of each match. 

Unlike cricket or tennis, football is also a contact sport, although theoretically not of the direct kind: the ball is the magnet to which players' feet and heads are drawn. Their contact with each other is supposed to be only through that ball. Yet in practice, contact is direct, often bruisingly so as this year's final so clearly showed. We may not acknowledge it, but is that what attracts us, a kind of blood lust which builds up our anger and finds release in a yellow card, or preferably a red? The most brutal tackle angers us and anger is a kind of arousal. I supported the Dutch team when the final began; in a while, disgusted with their thuggish ways, i switched sides and joined the general consensus about Spain. That switch in loyalties showed an emotional commitment, and any game that plays with our emotions has to win. 

Amazingly, football works even when it misses. We say Roger Federer served 26 aces in a match. We don't say Roger Federer missed 15 aces. We say Yuvraj Singh hit six sixes in a T20 game. We don't say Yuvraj Singh missed six sixes. Yet Diego Forlan, the star of the World Cup, scored five goals in seven matches out of a total of 32 shots at the goal. (Of those 32, less than half were on target.) More important, Spain won the Cup scoring a mere eight goals in their seven games; their success lay in conceding only two goals in the whole tournament. These statistics may suggest that Spain was a defensive team. Yet we know that wasn't so: Spain played 'Total Football'. 

So the misses are an intrinsic part of the game. We applaud the goals and want to see them again and again, from this angle and that, in slow motion and speeded up. Who views the slam dunks in basketball repeatedly? In that game, the ease with which players go through the hoop makes their hits commonplace; a football goal, on the other hand, is a 10-carat diamond and you are lucky if you see just one. 

Someone suggested that football succeeds because in it we see nationalism at work. If that were so, we wouldn't have had the remarkably high viewership that we did in India and other countries whose teams were either not on the radar of the World Cup or were eliminated in the tournament's early stages. So, the game's appeal transcends jingoism and stretches beyond national boundaries. No, football succeeds because it is more than the sum of all these things. There is speed, there's stamina. There are national styles and individual skills. There's triumph and there's heartbreak. There is unbelievable physicality and emotional vulnerability. Its players are angels (almost) or demons (most certainly)... 

And which other game produces an octopus called Oracle Paul? 

The writer is a public affairs commentator. 








The danger signals have been flashing for at least a decade now but inexplicably, no one in the railway ministry seems to have taken them seriously. Had they done so, perhaps the mishap on Monday when the Uttar Banga Express crashed into the Vananchal Express in West Bengal could have been averted. As always, no time has been lost in calling for Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's resignation along with allegations of her cavalier attitude to her portfolio. And much of the criticism is warranted. But, for the moment, given that at least 63 people have died, the focus should be on getting the green signal for the long-awaited modernisation of the antiquated equipment and systems in the railways.


The most important of these is to install anti-collision devices (ACDs) in trains. This has been done with good effect in the Konkan railway network and the Northeast Frontier railways. But for reasons of bureaucratic and political apathy, these have not been installed in all trains. In the latest accident it is yet to be ascertained whether the driver of the Uttar Banga disregarded the warning signal or the signal failed. Either way, better technology could have minimised the casualties if not avoided them altogether. Where ministerial culpability can be seen is in the manner in which at least 90,000 safety-related posts have been lying vacant for want of official sanction. Apart for the ACDs, experts have long sought the installation of auxiliary warning systems in trains that prevents them from jumping red signals. This drastically eliminates the margin of human error. With the railways having grown at a rapid pace, the skills of its employees too should have been upgraded so as to keep them on track. In addition, safety equipment should be refitted as also railway tracks.


Our decision makers often go on tours to examine how the railways are run in other countries. Should we conclude that this has not enabled them to bring anything fruitful to the table? Of the four major train accidents this year, the latest included, three appear to have been caused by systems' failure. One was sabotage. At a time when connectivity is the buzzword, it is passing strange that efforts are not being made to improve an existing lifeline like the railways. It would be a pity if this disaster too becomes mired in political mudslinging and the real issues put off till another occurs. Four accidents in six months make it inexcusable for officials to misread the signals once again.




                                                                                                                                                          THE PUNDIT



Can sports and science mix so wonderfully? If you pour them both into a bubbling beakerful of commerce, of course. A 'book' on iconic cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is due for publication in February. So where's the connection between sports, science and commerce? It lies in the emphasis we just laid in the previous sentence on the word 'book'. For what will be on sale — ten 'readers' already having pre-ordered it isn't only a biography of Tendulkar but the bits and bobs and dribbles of the world's greatest batsman himself. The 37 kg, 852-page, $7,500-a-pop special edition of Tendulkar Opus will have a 'signature page' mixed with Tendulkar's blood into the paper pulp. For all of you who remember their Jurassic Park, this could mean making a clone out of Tendulkar's DNA — and perpetuate the legend well after he's gone into the Great Dressing Room in the Sky.


The publishers have dipped into the fact that Tendulkar is, as they say, a "religious icon". A book with an icon's bodily fluids is as close to those old religious relics of hair and bones that a modern worshipper can come to. This is a wild guess, but one can suppose that the ten people who've deposited their    35 lakh-plus for the book are Indians or from the Gulf region — in other words, 'readers' whose tastes are on the high range of over-the-top.


Previous 'luxury' books from the same publishing house include 'bios' of Manchester United, Maradona, Michael Jackson and Michael Schumacher. For cheapskates with a Tendulkar fetish, there will be 1,000 copies of a 'regular edition' of the book for $2,000-$3,000. The proceeds of these, unlike the ten 'deluxe'n'blood' editions, won't be going to Tendulkar's charitable foundation in Mumbai. But then, these ones won't have the master's cloneable blood.







As if they were characters in Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, the people of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah's government, and people across much of India view what's occurred in Kashmir from perspectives that make each the victim-hero of their respective versions — the armed forces standing in as India's victim-hero. This is a recipe for disaster. For it accentuates anger, resentment, even hatred, against whichever party is assigned the role of wrongdoer in each narrative. From New Delhi's perspective, stone-pelting teenagers


are the bad eggs; the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and local police only fire as a last resort to control these wanton lawbreakers. In this narrative, jawans have shown great restraint. Pictures published and telecast across India last month showed jawans cowering as Kashmiri boys assault them.


In the Kashmiri media, on the other hand, pictures of teenagers' bodies, and of their grieving relatives, too get wide display. It's imperative to understand the discourse within Kashmir in order to respond sensibly. In late-June and early-July, the discourse there was full of CRPF jawans and policemen arbitrarily assaulting boys, women, even the aged, tearing up media persons' curfew passes, thrashing boys returning from neighbourhood mosques, breaking windows of homes with lights on during a night curfew and firing indiscriminately to kill. Kashmiris focus on the fact that many of the boys who have fallen to the forces' bullets since June 11 weren't throwing stones. One was going for tuition classes; a 9-year-old had gone out to bring home his mentally unstable brother. While their deaths cause anger, riotous indignation is generated by reports, for example, that three boys killed were dragged from their houses on June 29 to a nearby garden in Anantnag and shot in cold blood.


Kashmiris generally don't see stone-pelters as law-breakers but as expressing the community's indignation against such incidents — and others, such as the killing of three boys at Machil a few months ago. They were lured to an army camp with promises of lucrative work, killed and declared to have been militants. Officers of the army unit got cash bonuses worth lakhs of rupees — and a better shot at promotions and medals. The incident is being investigated, but there was enough preliminary evidence for two officers to be removed from their posts.


One reason for the tragic divergence in discourse, within Kashmir and across the country, is 'media management' since the late 90s — by both the BJP and the Congress. Since the space for insightful, critical reporting has shrunk, most Indians react with fear-filled amazement to explosions of public anger. They are unaware of Kashmiris' experience or of shifts in public mood there — alienation caused by the armed forces and their mercenaries from 1994 to 1999, openness between 2000 and 2005 to an autonomous status agreed between India and Pakistan, and increasing anger since 2006 at both the stalling of talks and continued presence of the armed forces in overwhelming numbers. Their presence is experienced as humiliation: being abusively ordered to hold one's ears as a murga in front of one's children or facing barricaded roads and arbitrary searches — apart from much harsher torture of being tagged as suspects.


The result: youngsters who were, at times, even beginning to support India during an India-Pakistan cricket match have picked up stones. In contrast with previous generations, they're articulate — and unafraid. Subliminally at least, many factors form their angst, which is only fuzzily related to what happened in 1947, 1987, or 1990. Many of them have been influenced by the puritanical Islam propagated by televangelists; and they connect, through the Net and mobile phones, to global perceptions about oppression of Muslims. Perceiving armed forces abuse through these lenses, their minds easily leap to the belief that the central forces deliberately kill Kashmiri Muslims — or that the government transferred land to the Shrine Board to re-engineer Kashmir's demography.


A new discourse has developed: India has colonised Kashmir; it robs its water resources and favours Hindus of Jammu (the reverse is believed in Jammu) in recruitment and development activities. This discourse has most impacted the boys of (mainly downtown) Srinagar and some other towns. It also has salience among some rural youth, though the discourse in other rural areas is strikingly different. It's spreading, though — and the Centre's responses only fuel the fire in more young hearts.


Owing in part to compromised institutions, the Centre had no idea of the smouldering ire and misread its dimensions when it burst into flames. Over the past couple of weeks, the Centre has tried to 'handle' this year's uprising through Goebbelsian propaganda; facts were fabricated or exaggerated. Srinagar newspaper offices were starved of electricity and prevented from functioning, local correspondents of some national TV channels couldn't leave their offices even at night, criminal charges were slapped on a couple of them, local reporters were beaten on the streets, and their curfew passes torn up.


Given the already existing divergence of discourse, these tactics are disingenuous at the very least. First, unlike the 1975 Emergency, the internet and mobile phones disseminate information, opinions and rumours far more effectively today than even the media channels that the government suppresses. Second, like the Emergency, the suppression (including suspension of SMS services) causes fresh Kashmiri anger. So does the constructed narratives put out nationally. The most dangerous divergence in narratives is that while Kashmiris believe that stones-for-bullets constitutes a non-violent response, the rest of India sees pictures of security men cowering before violent mobs. If these perspectives finally converge in these boys picking up guns, the fresh insurgency would be far more lethal than that of the 90s.


David Devadas is the author of In Search of a Future: The Story of Kashmir. The views expressed by the author are personal







I stumbled upon a fascinating piece by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman called 'The Myth of Asia's Miracle: A Cautionary Fable'. It was written in the early 90s — therefore, it can be interpreted with the luxury of hindsight. Krugman analysed two earlier economic races: one between the US and Soviet Union (1950s through to the 1980s), and another between the US and Japan (1970s and 1980s). He cited plenty of popular commentary from those days, which read ominously like today's obituaries.


By way of example, he quoted economist Calvin Hoover (1957) who had predicted that "a collectivist, authoritarian state was inherently better at achieving economic growth than free-market democracies (and) the Soviet economy might outstrip that of the United States by the early 1970s". Others asserted that "Japan would overtake the US in real per capita income by 1985, and total Japanese output would exceed that of the US by 1998".


According to Krugman, these predications were bound to fail because they ignored the intangible force-multipliers of innovation, technology and competitive efficiency. He added that similar predictions were also being made then (do remember that 'then' were the early-90s!) about the US and China. 'The World Bank estimates that the Chinese economy is currently about 40 per cent as large as that of the US. If China can grow at 10 per cent annually, by the year 2010 its economy will be a third larger than ours.' Of course, at that time Krugman concluded that this comparison, too, could fail. Today we are in 2010, and we know that Krugman was right. Forget about being a third larger, the Chinese economy continues to be less than 40 per cent of the US even today.


Krugman's fallacies have a crucial bearing on who will ultimately breast the tape: China's hare or India's tortoise. Perhaps the answer won't be quite as simple as who is investing more and growing faster today. You will have to put your arms around a few intangibles: who has superior innovation? Who has more entrepreneurial savvy? Who is grappling with and expanding in intensely competitive conditions?


China's spectacular sweep, compared to India's relatively mild rise, could tempt an easy answer. But it'd be wise to remember that history unfolds over several decades, perhaps even in fractions of centuries. So it truly may be too early to call this match. Do also remember that China and India were the quickest to bounce back after the Lehman crisis of 2008. China's rebound, however, was accompanied by huge debt and deflation, as prices (and therefore demand) were weak. India's turnaround was sturdier, caused by lower debt and modest inflation.


So in economic terms, India's nominal GDP grew twice as fast as China's for a few quarters on the trot-the first time that this happened in nearly three decades. This is what economists call a 'lead indicator'. In simple language, it could be the one swallow which makes the summer — an early signal of change. But before we spring to quick conclusions again, do remember that China is so far ahead that India's fledgling momentum could easily get snuffed out. The imponderables are far too many; China's ambition and confidence are, unfortunately, equalled by India's poor governance and self-doubt. China could yet re-write economic theory, and India could yet blow its chances.


As with all good games of chance, there's a joker in the pack. What if India were to graft some of China's ambition and determination? Or, what if China were to adopt some of India's democracy? Now the game gets really interesting, because the odds then move, from comparing economic structures, to figuring out which country can do what more easily. Can India fix its governance more easily than China can repair its politics? Whoever gets this one right will win the biggest wager of the 21st century.


Raghav Bahl is founder and editor of Network18. His book Superpower: The Amazing Race Between China's Hare and India's Tortoise (Penguin Allen Lane), will be published in August. The views expressed by the author are personal





As a journalist, I spend a considerable amount of time at conferences scouting for 'useful contacts'. Since such talkathons don't always have the most-engaging of speakers, my mind often floats in and out of those speeches till someone cheerfully announces 'tea break'. At one such meet recently, as I was plotting my escape route, I overheard two participants talk about a common acquaintance. "He is a conference tourist," one of the two announced grandly.


An amusing term, I thought, but spot on nevertheless. In fact, the more I thought about it, I realised I knew quite a few of them. But don't get me wrong here, these conference tourists are not boring characters, in fact they have unique personalities.


Take for example, the 'bag collector'. At a recent meeting, my trained eye spotted him collecting freebies from the stalls with great enthusiasm and passion. At the end of the first day of the meet, he was the proud collector of at least six multi-coloured bags (cloth bags, no plastics, please), colourful brochures, writing pads and ballpoint pens. Over the years, the 'conference tourist' has also become techno-savvy. These days they carry small digicams and whenever a speaker presents slides with data and important information, click goes the tourist. No more jotting down those painful details about the world going bust.


Then there was this Chinese gentleman I met recently. After every session, he had a flawless modus operandi: while others would go up to the speaker for his visiting card or a question/suggestion, the Chinese gentleman aimed for the speaker's laptop. In one flawless motion, he would swoop down on the speaker, ask for his/her permission to copy the slides into his pen drive — and even before the speaker could give his permission, his job was done — all in a flash. So when does one earn the celebrated 'conference tourist' tag? I think when you know where to sit during the talk sessions: the real McCoys always sit next to a door.








I am suspicious about the cause of the accident." With that reaction to the Sainthia rail collision, Mamata Banerjee revealed a problem greater than her capacity to personalise even an accident that's already taken more than sixty lives. In a pattern that's come to be expected of her as Union railway minister, she not only trivialised the deaths of passengers for possible political gain, she also underlined the message that in her scheme of things the buck cannot stop at her ministry. Yet more disturbing is that by personalising matters she draws the line on ministerial accountability. No government at the Centre can be unconcerned about rail safety: Indian Railways carries about 15 million passengers every day, and accidents like these radiate anxiety through the country.


But Banerjee's way of portraying reversals as a big conspiracy against her political promise is also a signal to her coalition partners: Railways is her turf, and they'd better be mindful of that.


She is not the first populist politician to take charge of the railway ministry. The ministry holds special appeal for them, and since the mid-'90s they have used their clout in coalitions to gain the portfolio. In this scheme, the Railways, with the huge potential for patronage in jobs and rail services, becomes a route to political positioning in the minister's home state. Yet, Banerjee has refined the formula to the point where the politics of the home state becomes the prism through which ministerial achievement is measured. Therefore, you have not just callous responses to mishaps (with the Railways bureaucracy signalled, dangerously, that accountability is beside the point). You have also the ministry's budget and energies put to bizarre acts of patronage: this year bore the proposal to set up a "Cultural and Heritage Promotion Board", for a Rabindra Museum at Howrah and a Gitanjali Museum at Bolpur for Tagore's 150th birth anniversary. In fact, in a spectacular instance of imperial over-reach, the budget included plans for new drinking water bottling plants, eco-parks and sports academies.


The cause of the Sainthia disaster in West Bengal's Birbhum district must, correctly, be established before responsibility is apportioned. But whatever the cause, the collision has revealed the absence of mechanisms like anti-collision devices which could avert disasters elsewhere. It is not beside the point that a file relating to 90,000 safety-related posts awaits her attention. As the lifeline of India, the railway network needs reformist leadership. Can the UPA government afford to put off upgrade till Mamata Banerjee gets the electoral mandate to move to Kolkata?






A committee tasked by the Securities and Exchange Board of India to examine takeover regulations has come out with recommendations with far-reaching consequences. First, they recommend that the threshold for takeovers — the size of the holding that will "trigger" an open offer for more shares — be raised from 15 per cent to 25 per cent. An acquirer, in addition to having to meet this higher threshold, will have to make a larger open offer: in fact, instead of being required to make an open offer for merely an additional 20 per cent, it is suggested that they offer for 100 per cent of the target company's equity.


The most immediate consequence of these changes is that takeovers have become more expensive and difficult. This could be a problem: in too many Indian companies, promoters still exercise inefficient control through indirect control of a small block of shares; harder rules for acquisitions could protect these holders from efficiency-improving takeover threats. The committee would argue, however, that those concerns are outweighed by the benefits from the new rules: most importantly, that they ensure that only "serious players" will make takeover offers. Takeover artistes, people without deep pockets who would specialise in turning over undervalued and mis-managed companies, are presumably not serious enough. However, the raising of the "trigger" to 25 per cent means that private equity funds, for example, are more likely to invest in Indian companies than earlier, since they can now purchase larger stakes without triggering an open offer. There are indirect ways, too, in which greater private equity stakes could be argued to lead to more (and more efficient) takeovers, not less.


In addition, the other focus of these moves is the protection of minority shareholders, which continues to be an important direction for equity regulation if we wish to ensure that a higher proportion of household saving is directly channelled to investments in listed companies. In particular, when a company changes hand, every shareholder should be given a chance to make the decision to sell out to the acquirer. Some recent, high-profile shares, featured a good price per share going to the promoters selling out — but only to a fraction of the remaining shareholders. The new code won't let that happen.








More than 60 people lost their lives on Monday when the Uttarbanga Express rammed into the Vananchal Express at a station in West Bengal. Since Mamata Banerjee took over as railway minister a little over a year ago 428 people have lost their lives (and over 600 injured) in nearly 200 railway accidents (including nine collisions). That is a shocking safety record. There is plenty wrong with Indian Railways, from the state of its balance sheet to the quality of the services it offers, but none is perhaps a matter of life and death like safety is. And Banerjee has presided over a Railways machinery seemingly unable to even guarantee this most basic need — safety of travellers. In another era, or in another country, even one fatal collision would have been enough to claim a ministerial resignation. But Banerjee isn't the kind to leave of her own volition and the UPA, dependent on her 19 Lok Sabha seats for survival, is unlikely to give her marching orders.


However, it's time somebody read Banerjee the riot act. She cannot continue to treat the ministry of railways as an extra-curricular activity while she goes about the task of preparing for the West Bengal elections next year. Her absenteeism isn't simply taking a toll on the Railways' profit and loss account, it is costing people their lives. This newspaper reported on Tuesday that 90,000 appointments related to railway safety are pending because the minister has been mostly absent from Delhi. And the installation of more anti-collision devices, that could prevent accidents like the most recent one, remains mired in red tape. There is a thin line in a minister taking a hands off approach to management and abdicating responsibility and leadership altogether. Banerjee is clearly on the wrong side of that line.


Her predecessor, Lalu Prasad, on the other hand found himself on the right side of that same dividing line. The Railways, written off at the start of the decade, turned into a massive profit generating entity in Lalu's time mostly because of two very simple but very effective managerial decisions, both relating to freight. The ministry in Lalu's time speeded up the turnaround time of freight trains and allowed them to carry extra load. With a little help from the general boom in the economy, these two measures helped the Railways mop up a lot of money.


Yet, with hindsight, one can safely say that the temporary boom in fortunes was a setback for the longer term future of the Railways. The euphoria over profits allowed the Railways to gloss over the pathetic state of their outdated technology (particularly in rolling stock), the substandard quality of train and station services (even on premier trains and premier classes) offered to passengers, and continued question marks over requisite safety standards. The profits eventually disappeared when the slowdown began without being sufficiently invested in addressing these long-term problems of the Railways.


The fact is that few of the ministers who have presided over the Indian Railways these last two decades have had any transformative vision for the behemoth. Railways has been a prized portfolio because of the patronage (jobs, coach factories, special trains, etc) that can be doled out to favoured constituents and constituencies. And populism has completely clouded decision making in Railways, even as the rest of the economy has managed to squeeze its way out of the clutches of mindless populism.


So while Mamata Banerjee has been a particularly incompetent railway minister, the problems may not disappear with her mere departure. Railways needs radical institutional reform.


The obvious solution for entities that are run aground by political interference and government mismanagement is privatisation. However, because the Railways is a natural monopoly (tracks and stations can't be duplicated easily for example), privatisation can be a complex exercise. It can even lead to a worsening of the scenario as it did in the UK after the haphazard privatisation of British Rail in the 1980s. In any case, given how lukewarm governments have been to privatisation in India, expecting privatisation of the Railways anytime soon is wishful thinking. Still, there are a number of steps that can be taken to radically reform the Railways that stop short of privatisation.


As a start, it would be useful to abolish the ministry of railways. Its functions then need be hived off into three separate entities. The policy aspects of the Railways can be diverted to a unified ministry of transport. Ideally, civil aviation should also be a part of a single ministry of transport, much like it is elsewhere in the world. This unification would help create a more broad based and rational vision and policy for the country's transportation infrastructure as a whole.


The operational management of the Railways should be the domain of a newly created PSU, say Indian Rail, with its own board of directors, CEO and chairman. For all practical purposes, the new PSU should be granted full operational and managerial autonomy, but it can be accountable to the ministry of transport. Of course, the new PSU will still be a monopoly. There is a need therefore to set up an independent regulatory authority which can enforce safety standards and safeguard consumer interests. Again, this is standard practice now in other sectors of the economy.


In this way the three key functions of policy, management and regulation will be carried out by separate entities, something that will ensure necessary checks and balances that are completely absent as long as all the functions are carried out by the same ministry.


What will, however, still be missing from this overhaul is an element of competition for the services offered by the Railways. An independent regulator, while useful, isn't a like replacement for competition from another corporate entity. But how can competition be introduced without privatisation? Instead of hiving off operations to one single PSU entity, the government could divide the Railways into six or seven different PSUs, perhaps by region. Each of these can then be allowed to offer competing inter-zonal services, while having the responsibility to maintain tracks and stations within their regional domain.


These are just some of the available options to reform the railways. What is needed is political will. And an early departure for Mamata Banerjee, duronto.


The writer is a senior editor with 'The Financial Express'











The collision between Uttarbanga Express and the stationary Vanachal Express at Sainthia station is the latest in a series of large-scale railway accidents. The immediate cause will be known after the commissioner of railway safety publishes the inquiry he has to hold under the Railway Act. If experience is any guide, he is unlikely to go into the larger question of the extent the railway system has been stressed by railway ministers in their desire to introduce new trains every budget. Railway ministers have increasingly avoided addressing the issue of adequate manpower and maintenance facilities before announcing new trains. Accidents, where a train enters an occupied line, are not meant to happen. The whole system is designed to fail safe. The accident is explained only by gross system failure, not an aberration.


Symptoms of generalised failure are evident across the network. The simplest indicator of system stress is punctuality of trains. If the system is moving more than it can comfortably carry, the overload shows up in the late arrival of trains. In this case too, Vanachal Express was running five hours late. So Indian Railways (IR) needs to do more than just address the immediate cause of an accident. A new approach is essential.


The new approach can not be confined to technical fixes like the anti collision device (ACD) or other gadgetry as is being suggested in the media. The underlying cause of accidents is inadequate capacity to meet the increasing demand for movement of people and goods. This is not a technical problem but a problem of our democracy as practised. Railways ministers, and I do not mean only the present incumbent, have to take a large part of the responsibility for persistent under-investment leading to the present state of affairs.


IR has failed to adapt to a more complex world and this is partly because the administrative structure supports a rigid and conservative approach, which does not necessarily lead to good policy. Delay in installing the anti collision device, for instance, is shown as an example of red-tape by the media. Here I would like to point out that as the device, at present, is not fool-proof and can lull drivers into a sense of security, thus endangering the system further. The chairman of the Railway Board pointed out in the press conference that the device was not free from spurious signals and such could not be introduced without further improvements.


IR seems to be confronted by forces that it does not understand and it has failed to put in place a methodology to recognise what these problems are and how policy makers can master them. Some of the problems that the political establishment needs to address are how the investment rates can be raised to make IR a safe system, while ensuring 10 per cent plus growth. How to make the railway a preferred way of travelling and moving goods and how to make the total transportation effort of the country less harsh and more environmentally benign? These difficult questions need the best brains from within and outside Indian Railways and that there is a need to create a space for discussion and debate free of political posturing.


Over the years, Indian Railways has commissioned all too many studies and appointed committees to identify the way forward, but with little results in terms of safety, rise in market-share, or effective response to the demands of a growing India. It remains hostage to a business model and institutional structure around a network built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which keeps it from becoming a dynamic 21st century system. Even the separate railway budget, introduced by the separation convention in 1924, has been degraded to a budget that pampers the political constituencies of interest to the railway minister, rather than providing flexibility to railways in managing their affairs.


The committees and other bodies that have studied IR have done so mainly to address specific issues or suggest drastic structural changes. The approach of these committees has been, to borrow Arun Maira's terminology, "frontal attack." This has clearly not worked and Indian Railways needs to change its approach from appointing committees to nurturing think tanks, which will help it to establish strategic thinking, incorporate social and political context and and help it contend with the forces shaping the future of the railways.


The writer is a former general manager of Indian Railways and former member of the Central Administrative Tribunal








If the Indian banking sector has, over the years, emerged stronger despite political interference at various points in time, a fair amount of the credit must go to the regulator. Today, commentators across the world are applauding the Reserve Bank of India for the way in which has governed the Indian banking system and acknowledging that its conservative approach, although criticised by some, has paid off.


Despite a downturn in the Indian economy, following the global financial crisis which broke out in late 2008, banks in India were never in danger of piling up very large quantities of non-performing assets; at a systemic level, loan losses in recent times have not touched the levels seen historically. Except for a couple of banks that had lent recklessly to retail borrowers, most banks have managed to maintain fairly clean balance sheets that are well-capitalised. At another level, the RBI has been careful about whom it has allowed into the industry; most of those who were given licences in the last round have fared reasonably well with just a couple needing to be rescued.


So, it's a pity that the finance ministry, which has been blessed with a good central bank that has kept a watchful eye on the banking system and prevented any major embarrassment or financial problems for the government, should want to undermine its authority. However, following the spat between the Securities and Exchange Board of India or Sebi, and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, or IRDA, over jurisdiction, to which an amicable resolution could not be found, the government has issued an ordinance. It has decided that a joint committee, headed by the finance minister, and comprising all other financial sector regulators and finance ministry officials, will resolve any disputes between regulators.


Since the decisions of this joint committee will be binding — unlike those of the High Level Co-ordination Committee (HLCC), which does not have statutory powers — the finance ministry now clearly becomes a kind of super-regulator. Fearing that its autonomy is being reduced, the RBI has urged the finance minister to allow the ordinance to lapse.


The RBI is probably concerned that if the right decisions are not taken with regard to regulations and supervision of financial products, it could impact the financial system as a whole. While no government would want to have weak regulations that could trigger systemic risks, the central bank would want to ensure not only that these rules are watertight but also that they are implemented. Also, while the government may consult the RBI, as it would since the RBI would be a member of the joint committee, the central bank believes that the establishment of a statutory joint committee is itself problematic because while the current prime minister and finance minister have strong and impeccable commitment to regulatory autonomy, over the longer term personalities could change. Again, RBI governor D. Subbarao has pointed out that "the appearance of autonomy is as important as the actual autonomy itself" and "the very existence of a joint committee will sow seeds of doubt in the public mind about the independence of regulators."


The central bank is also anxious that a mechanism is being proposed to resolve differences on the regulatory jurisdiction of certain financial instruments exchange-traded instruments like interest rate futures, credit default swaps and currency futures. This is being done through an amendment to the RBI Act. Currently, a joint regulatory mechanism between the RBI and Sebi deals with these; while the broad contours are finalised by the central bank, Sebi registers the exchanges that trade in these. Any new products, such as a rupee-euro contract or a rupee-yen currency future, need the RBI's go-ahead.


Clearly, the central bank is concerned about adverse consequences if regulation is weak for these products and markets because any mishaps could hurt the financial system. Given that the global financial system today is far more dynamic and that there could be volatility in currencies, it's understandable that the central bank wants to be cautious that trading in such products will not cause any harm. So far the arrangement between Sebi and the RBI seems to have worked well so there was little reason to alter it and it's surprising that the government wants a change. Apart from the dispute over ULIPs, there hasn't been too much confusion over jurisdiction of financial products. So, it's probably best that these debates are settled through the HLCC, which can make specific recommendations. Regulation is best left to the regulators.


The writer is Mumbai Resident Editor of 'The Financial Express'








As the much-watched military muscle-flexing by Washington and Beijing around the Korean Peninsula came to a head this week, the White House appears to have backed away from a confrontation with the People's Liberation Army. When the Obama Administration announced last month its plans to send an aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, to the Yellow Sea as part of a joint exercise with South Korea, Beijing went ballistic.


Beijing considers the Yellow Sea, which separates the Chinese mainland from the Korean peninsula, as its "front yard". Beijing declared that any US manoeuvres there would be a military provocation and announced its own exercises to coincide with those of the United States and South Korea.


As China upped the ante, the US first postponed its exercises, meant to signal US solidarity with South Korea after the sinking of its naval ship Cheonan by the North Koreans in March. Washington has now decided to hold the exercises during July 25-28, off the Korean peninsula. Involving about 20 ships and submarines, including George Washington and 100 aircraft, the exercises have apparently been designed to avoid provoking China. While the official Pentagon announcement said that the exercises will take place in both sides of the Korean peninsula, reports from Washington suggest that the US forces, especially the George Washington, will stay out of the Yellow Sea to the west of the peninsula.


The exercises have been timed to coincide with high-level political consultations between the United States and Korea. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are holding talks with their South Korean counterparts in the first ever "two plus two" dialogue between the two allies.


After some debate, Washington appears to have decided that if the purpose of the exercises was to underline its strategic commitment to defend South Korea against the threat from the North, there was no point in picking up an avoidable fight China at this moment.




The US decision, however, worries some in East Asia. American prudence, they say, will be mistaken for weakness and a reluctance to confront the growing Chinese naval power. As it built a powerful navy in the last few years, one of Beijing's main objectives was to constrain the US navy's current freedom to operate close to the Chinese coastline.


The Chinese strategy has been to develop a range of weapons — sea-skimming missiles, stealthier submarines, anti ship ballistic missiles — as well as space and cyber-warfare capabilities to delay or raise the costs of American naval power projection into the Western Pacific.


The latest US decision to avoid the Yellow Sea is being seen as the first visible success for China's "anti-access strategy". Celebrating the US decision in an editorial, the Global Times newspaper called it a "turning point". The editorial argued that the Yellow Sea should be seen as a "boundary marker" in the Pentagon's future decision making. "The Chinese people's endurance is not a spring that can be pressed over and over," it said.


Doubts about American naval credibility, Beijing will hope, will compel its Asian neighbours not to depend on alliances with Washington to contain China's rising power. Put simply, Beijing's objective is to alter the very geopolitical structure that has dominated its Asian and Pacific neighbourhood for the last six decades.


Air-Sea battle


As China seeks to undermine the US ability to dominate the waters of Western Pacific, the Pentagon has begun to respond. with what it calls the doctrine of "air-sea battle". The US navy and air force are working together to develop this new maritime military doctrine.


The objective is to defeat "adversaries equipped with sophisticated anti-access and area denial capabilities. The idea is to integrate capabilities in all the domains — air, sea, land, space and cyberspace — to counter growing challenges to US freedom of action." In terms of the political context, the doctrine of air-sea battle is similar to the air-land battle concept that the Pentagon developed at the turn of the 1980s to counter what it saw as rising Russian military power. The Asian defence communities will have to pay a lot of attention to the competing military doctrines that China and the US are experimenting with. The outcome of this contest will indeed define their strategic environment for a long time to come.








The international conference on Afghanistan on right now in Kabul brings together more than 70 countries, international and regional organisations and financial institutions to support a plan for development, governance and stability. The meeting will result in a clear way forward for the transition to Afghan responsibility and ownership. In short, it will be a milestone in the process by which Afghans are finally becoming masters of their own house.


This new political momentum has not come about by happenstance. It is the result of a sustained effort both by Afghans and the international community to give this country a new lease on life. Afghanistan is finally moving in the right direction. Maybe the insurgents think they can wait us out, but we will stay for as long as it takes to finish our job. Our training of Afghan soldiers and police is ahead of schedule, and by next year there will be a 300,000-strong Afghan security force — and it can't be waited out.


By sending 40,000 additional international troops, we have demonstrated our commitment to protecting the Afghan people by holding areas we have liberated from the insurgents. We are also finally taking the fight to the Taliban where it hurts them the most. Over the past months, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has launched military offensives into Taliban heartland — Helmand and Kandahar.


These operations, in which the Afghan security forces play an important role, will inevitably lead to intensified fighting. Regrettably there will be more casualties. But these military actions are of tremendous political importance. They contribute to the marginalisation of the Taliban as a political and military force. And this will encourage many who joined the Taliban to quit their ranks and engage in the reconciliation effort.


Reconciliation, however, is no blank check. Renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan Constitution, including women's rights, is a precondition for successful reintegration. The Afghan authorities know this, and we will keep reminding them.


The next important political step after the Kabul conference will be the parliamentary elections in September. Despite death threats, Afghans have voted several times since the fall of the Taliban regime. Nothing could illustrate better the desire of the Afghan people to take their future into their own hands. NATO-led forces will support these elections, but the overall responsibility for their security and their free and fair conduct will lie with the Afghans themselves.


All these developments point in the same direction: a gradual transition to Afghan lead. This transition will not be done on the basis of an artificial timetable. It will be done on the basis of clear assessments of the political and security situation in each area. Where and when we do it, it will be irreversible.


Starting the transition does not mean that the struggle for Afghanistan's future as a stable country in a volatile region will be over. Afghanistan will need the continued support of the international community, including NATO. It is important that we send a clear message of long-term commitment. The Afghan population needs to know that we will continue to stand by them as they chart their own course into the future.


To underline this commitment, I believe that NATO should develop a long-term cooperation agreement with the Afghan government. We now have a new commander, General David Petraeus. But our strategy hasn't changed, because it is the right one. Our objective is clear: to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorism.


We are building Afghans' ability to resist terrorism and extremism on their own. We are changing the political conditions in the key strategic areas of Afghanistan; we are protecting the population; we are strengthening the capability of the elected government; and we are training the Afghan Army, to enable Afghanistan to look after its own security.


If we and our Afghan partners stick to our strategy and give it time to work, it will.


The writer is the secretary general of NATO








Sadly, Professor D.C. Wadhwa, who put an end to the unconstitutional practice of re-promulgation of Ordinances, passed away at 8 pm on July 18. Professor Wadhwa was a regular contributor to The Indian Express; all of his work was in one way or the other, inspired by his faith in the Constitution of India. The only religion that he believed in, all his life, was logic: he always used to say to me that if you stick to your logic, nobody can turn you down.


Professor Wadhwa was a student of both law and economics. He was the first Indian to write extensively about agrarian legislation ; Agrarian Legislation in India (1793-1966) took him 10 years, making him the authority on land legislation in India.


He put a full stop to re-promulgation of Ordinances; in the early 1980s, he gathered the likes of Soli Sorabjee and Nani Palkhiwala — apart from considerable courage — to file a case against the chief minister of Bihar and the president of India. His book Re-promulgation of Ordinances: A Fraud on the Constitution of India was originally the annexure to his writ petition. Even though the judgment was in his favour and re-promulgation was stopped, there was an exception carved out by the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court; and this disturbed Professor Wadhwa till his death. His argument was that the courts cannot add words to a statute, and hence carving out of the exception is also unconstitutional; he cited various cases in favour of his argument. He always hoped that one day this exception would be removed. But the question is: do we have more Wadhwas to fight with the same spirit and zeal?


He was the first person to highlight the inevitable need to introduce the system of conclusive title to land in India, through his monograph, in 1989, entitled Guaranteeing Title to Land: A Preliminary Study. This monograph was his report to the Planning Commission, after they appointed him to study the status of records-of-rights in land in India. He always believed that if this system is ever implemented, then not only would it solve the problems related to land transactions and land acquisitions, but it will also help to deal with poverty and even elements like naxalism. In fact, according to him, all land litigation and encroachment is because the government does not guarantee title to land in India.


For more than 20 years, till he reached his deathbed, he kept on knocking at various influential doors to get the system of conclusive title in place. Out of his agitation over government failure, he started to write a book in which he discussed his long struggle, as a last effort to inspire someone to take this task ahead.


Finally, Professor Wadhwa devoted all his life to just one institute, the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, serving eventually as its director. He always ensured that all his work benefited the institute, and hence never took the work offered to him by private organisations, regardless of how lucrative.


It is very rare to find a man who so strongly craves nothing but perfection and who believes in nothing but logic.


The writer, a former research assistant to D.C. Wadhwa, is at the Gokhale Institute in Pune







Against the backdrop of the violence in Kashmir, the CPI feels that the government must be ready to concede autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir as well as to different regions within the state. The party believes that "the sky should be the limit for autonomy." The CPI's observation came in the lead editorial in its mouthpiece New Age. Similarly, it feels that New Delhi should make attempts to smoothen the relations with Pakistan to the extent that "boundaries and line of control become invisible." Both processes must be carried forward, it feels.

Mamata's responsibilities


Mamata Banerjee may have opposed the hike in prices of petrol and diesel, but the Left claims that she had concurred the cabinet decision. An article in New Age claims that Banerjee met Petroleum Minister Murli Deora "just before the cabinet meeting and had given her consent for the decision."


"To keep an escape route for skirting his responsibility, in consultation with them, she premeditatedly absented herself from the cabinet meeting," it says. Never missing an opportunity to attack the Trinamool chief, the CPI says, "fuel price hike is not the only anti-people, anti-nation decision of this government. There are many such decisions and Banerjee is party to all those decisions."


Liability too limited


The CPM journal People's Democracy carries the note given by General Secretary Prakash Karat to the standing committee of science and technology and environment and forest on the civil nuclear liability bill. He talks about the government pushing through the legislation under pressure from the US and lists out the party's concerns. On the government's keenness to join the convention on supplementary compensation or CSC, he argues that liability bill has been drafted to make it compatible with CSC. "US nuclear industry and the US administration want all countries which receive US manufactured nuclear equipment to sign the CSC and indemnify the US suppliers," he says.


"The key difference between the CSC and other similar international conventions is the degree of protection offered to the suppliers — CSC provides the maximum protection to the US suppliers," he argues. He reiterates that the bill exempts suppliers from virtually any liability to pay compensation for the damages caused.


Supermarket myths


The UPA government is mulling the opening up of the retail sector to FDI. In an article in the party's official voice, the CPM tries to debunk theories that the arrival of MNC retail giants with superior technology and investment would put an end to the huge wastage in the agri-produce supply chain and the farmer would also benefit from this improved efficiency. "International experience has shown that, except for the huge profits raked in by the supermarket chains, organised retail has been a lose-lose scenario for farmers, small traders and wholesalers, consumers, and the environment and therefore society as a whole," it says.


It cites the examples of the US and the UK to buttress its argument. The article says supermarkets in the US throw away Rs 95,000 crore worth of food every year, more than twice as much as in the EU, partly from fear of spoilage but also simply because they appear unappealing to consumers.


On whether organised retail would benefit farmers and small traders, it says "the authoritative UK Competition Commission found in a 2000 study of major retail chains including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco that supermarkets had a poor record on treatment of all categories of suppliers, specifically that the burden of cost increases in the supply chain has fallen disproportionately heavily on small suppliers such as farmers". Apart from prices, smaller farmers came under severe pressure from supermarkets due to the latter's requirement for large volumes of each product, pushing farmers to grow single crops rather than the multiple produce they would usually grow to minimise risk.


In its January 2010 report, the UK Competition Commission concluded that the practices of big retail chains continued to cause losses for farmers and small stores. The near-monopoly of supermarket chains, which procure over 70 per cent of food products in the UK, enables them to "dictate prices and force farmers into trading for less and less."


Compiled by Manoj C.G.








The proposed takeover code to replace the 1997 vintage one is certainly going to be scanned carefully by just about any entity that has an interest in the M&A space. One thing is for sure, the code will bring a welcome change for retail investors. The code proposes to give a chance to all retail investors to participate in an open offer, which means that they can get the same price as is given to the promoters instead of queueing up to avail of the 20% window. This means the famous market rumours, so popular and so responsible for driving prices of scrips up before a proposed deal, will now fall flat. No investor having bought into a scrip needs to bother—each one will now be counted in the new price. There cannot be a more level-playing field than this. The Sebi panel on the takeover code has also recommended that independent directors of target companies must give their feedback on an open offer price. This recommendation is very significant. One might believe that going by past records of independent directors in India, this proposal might not work in practice but such a presumption is misplaced. The mandate on the directors is not an advisory but a compulsion. So the information, one presumes, will travel to the stock exchange. Thus, an independent director can not only look very silly if he/she does not take care to do the due diligence on the pricing, but he/she also runs the risk of being proceeded against. Based on all these inputs, retail investors will now get an exit option if they do not want to continue with the new management after a merger or acquisition. The takeover code suggested by the Sebi committee will, therefore, be a strong cushion to perk up the confidence of retail investors in the capital market, and Sebi will be earning kudos for the timely and unstinted adoption of the report.


The suggested recommendations would no doubt significantly increase the investment requirement for any acquisition and in getting a strategic stake for companies. The suggestions for combining the open offer with the process of delisting the shares of the company is a welcome measure. The open offer price suggested at 12 weeks average closing price is realistic as against the existing regulations, as it avoids short-term fluctuation in the price. The Achilles' heel of the Indian markets has been the reluctance of companies to allow takeovers. The committee has done the correct thing by developing a code that encourages only the serious players to mount such offensives and at the same time writing in rules that are transparent in encouraging them to do so.







The continued growth in merchandise exports, over the past nine months till June 2010, indicates that the recovery on the external front is gaining momentum as global demand steadily picks up. However, it should be noted that despite these gains, India's export trade is yet to bounce back to the levels achieved before the global slowdown. Although the statistics show that exports have increased by 32.2% to touch $50.8 billion in the first quarter of 2010-11, the gains were mainly on account of the sharp fall in exports in the corresponding quarter of 2009-10, when exports slumped by close to a third. In fact, the absolute numbers show that the first quarter exports in the current fiscal year is still a tad lower than the $51.5 billion exported two years ago in the same period in 2008-09. And if one accounts for the increase in export product prices over the period, it is very likely that the volume of India's exports still remain much lower than levels achieved before the global recession. India's gains are clearly in tandem with the global developments, where exports have steadily picked up from around $85 billion in early 2009 to about $115 billion in April 2010, still $20 billion lower than the peak level of $135 billion achieved in mid-2008. To India's credit, its performance has helped the developing countries take the lead in the global export recovery.


India's export prospects in the remaining months of the fiscal year are likely to be impressive as the export of chemicals, petroleum and oil products, and engineering goods, which account for more than half of its total merchandise exports, have zoomed far ahead of the average growth to the 41-90% range in the most recent month. Adding to the optimism is the upward revision of the trade outlook projections by the International Monetary Fund earlier this month. These numbers show that the volume of exports of goods and services from developing countries will now surge up 10.5% in 2010, sharply reversing the 8.5% decline in 2009. The positive trend will continue in 2011, with the export volume of goods and services increasing by 9% in 2011. The only reason for caution on the trade front is the sharp increase in trade deficit, which has more than doubled to $32.2 billion in the first quarter of the current fiscal. If this trend continues into the fiscal year, it will once again push up the ratio of the trade deficit to GDP closer to double-digit levels and increase the overall downside risks in the external sector.









The old saying that "your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" is as true of regulators as it is of individuals. In a regime of multiple regulators, the autonomy of each regulator is effectively limited by the autonomy of other regulators. What this means is that regulatory autonomy is a delusion and regulatory heteronomy is the reality.


The only real question is whether this heteronomy should be judicial or bureaucratic. I argued for the judicial option in these columns four months ago ('Fill the gaps with apex regulator', FE, March 19). Some degree of competition between regulators is a healthy regulatory dynamic, but ultimately any dispute between two regulators must be resolved in the courts.


My recommendation was based on the well-established proposition that the legislature frames laws, the judiciary interprets them and the executive implements the law as so interpreted. If there is a dispute about a law, the judiciary can step in and interpret the law or the legislature can step in and rewrite the law to eliminate the ambiguity. The executive has to await guidance from either of these two branches. I realise that this principle is perhaps totally old-fashioned in an environment where all three branches of the government are increasingly inclined to step on each others' turf.


However, the judicial option at least had the advantage of being acceptable to the regulators. Three months ago, when the government suggested that the dispute between Sebi and Irda regarding the regulation of Ulips be resolved by the court, none of the regulators complained about loss of regulatory autonomy.


Last month, however, the President promulgated the Securities and Insurance Laws (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2010, which not only settled the Ulips dispute in favour of Irda legislatively, but also provided a new bureaucratic arbitration mechanism for certain future disputes.


Most of the regulators are upset with this on the ground that it undermines their autonomy. This is not quite the correct way of looking at it because what it does is to replace judicial arbitration of disputes by bureaucratic arbitration. A better reason for scepticism is that, in general, bureaucratic arbitration is inferior in terms of process and in terms of outcomes.


The drafting of the ordinance itself is a good example of how bureaucratic processes tend to go wrong. The intention of the new section 45Y that has been inserted into the RBI Act is to ensure that future disputes can be resolved quickly. However, as one reads the section, one realises that this section is hopelessly inadequate.


First of all, section 45Y deals only with instruments. It essentially says that if any difference of opinion arises as to whether a certain instrument is a hybrid or composite instrument and falls under the jurisdiction of RBI, Sebi or Irda, then such difference of opinion shall be referred to a joint committee consisting of the finance minister, two top finance ministry officials and the key financial regulators.


Because the Ulips dispute was about a certain instrument, the government created a statute to deal with disputed instruments. What happens if the next dispute is about institutions and intermediaries? For example, RBI may want to regulate as an NBFC an entity that Sebi regulates as a capital market intermediary. Section 45Y is helpless to deal with this dispute because the dispute is not about instruments.


The second problem with the statute is that it says: "The Joint Committee shall follow such procedure as it may consider expedient and give, within a period of three months... its decisions thereon to the Central Government." One would have liked to see an explicit provision of decision making by majority or qualified majority. The fundamental problem with the existing HLCC is its quasi-consensual and secretive procedure and its unwillingness to rely on transparent voting. The joint committee inherits this fatal weakness.


The third problem is that the ordinance provides that the decision of the joint committee shall be binding on the regulators—RBI, Sebi, Irda and PFRDA. It does not say that the decision is binding on anybody else. In particular, it is not binding on any of the regulated entities.


Suppose, for example, the joint committee decides that a particular product offered by a bank is actually a security that falls under the jurisdiction of Sebi. If Sebi then imposes a penalty on the bank, the latter could well go to court challenging the jurisdiction of Sebi. Neither the bank nor the court is bound by the decision of the joint committee. The decision is binding on RBI, but surely RBI cannot impose a penalty for violation of a Sebi regulation.


I remain convinced that when we have swinging regulatory fists and bleeding regulatory noses, a judicial solution is far more viable and sensible than section 45Y. The time for a Financial Sector Appellate Tribunal is now.


The author is professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad









There has always been a question mark against the Tehri dam project. It was planned with Soviet assistance and they had a yen for huge electric projects since the days Vladimir Lenin produced the Gelro electrification plan. If mountains came in the way, they would be blasted. Rivers had to be tamed and so it went on. Mikhail Gorbachev was to admit that bad policies had led to irrigation growth becoming negative.


I am supposed to be a big dam man since I planned Sardar Sarovar. I am not. I support good projects that need careful work. The benefits have to be carefully worked out, not on paper but assuming normal behaviour by normal peasants. Soils have to be analysed to see if they will sustain the water and drainage has to be modelled and provided for. Not an acre of land should be allowed to waterlog. Above all, the fewest possible people should be displaced. They should be looked after not by irrigation engineers who are not good at it, but by professionals supervised by mentors.


The planning of Sardar Sarovar Project met all these tests and so I supported it. I chaired a civil society group and argued against the Ken Betwa Link Project because its own data showed that more than two-thirds of the soil was unsuitable for deep irrigation even as it provided for 60% irrigation of rice. I have seen flood irrigation damage the black soils of Malwa. When the concern was raised by Indira Gandhi, I vowed to stop it if I could.


In the 1990s, Tehri was an enigma to me. I got suspicious because the design and location of the dam was changed more than once and the target of irrigation remained the same. This is strange and can only happen under very unusual circumstances. I later found out that the hydrology and seismicity of the project were done badly and there really wasn't any rehabilitation plan.


Soon, I was to become the Union power minister. I asked my senior, Hanumantha Rao Garu, to chair a committee to build a real rehabilitation plan for the project-affected persons. He was to enumerate them properly, build up a rehabilitation plan and identify independent systems to implement and monitor the process. He did so and my argument with him was over why he did not provide land for land. To this, his reply was that in Gujarat, on account of fast growth, a shift was taking place away from agriculture so land was available. But in the Shiwaliks and the northern Gangetic plains, if land was found for the oustees there would be secondary displacement, so alternative livelihoods would need to be planned for, which he did methodically.


On seismicity, a lot of work had to be done and we entrusted it to the prestigious Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology.


It was to cost crores since models needed calculations outside the country, but it had to be done. I am not quite sure what happened to these reports, since I left the government after accepting them.


There was a strong activist movement against the Tehri project led by Sunderlal Bahuguna. Officers and contractors couldn't keep up with him, and he would go on fast. I would take a helicopter and go down and assuage his concerns. The press would carry the story of Bahuguna gently chiding Alagh the next day, but he would break his fast. The trips were a bonus for me because Delhi is enough to give anybody a headache and Tehri is beautiful. Meanwhile, we got the project authorities to do small things like being generous to the hill people on Dussehra and building a memorial for the legendary Swami Ram Teerth who had led the Congress in Telangana in the late 1940s and had also come to Tehri. The other good thing was that, unheralded, an architect had produced a beautiful new Tehri town. I suggested it was an ideal place for a university and a hill campus was set up there.


The big questions on Tehri apparently still remain. As per press reports, when activists raise these, they are

side-stepped. The hydel power Tehri will produce is probably very valuable, but a lot has to be answered for and provided for before we get there. The sooner we begin, the better off we will all be. But my experience in life is that nobody likes a good dam, for it takes a lot to projectise it, more to build it and we really don't seem to have the discipline to go by the rules we set down when we give the go ahead. Meanwhile, it would be wise to recognise that even the Russians do not follow Soviet rules any more and we never followed them.


The author is a former Union minister








The recent ill-fated collision between the Uttarbanga Express and Vananchal Express has once again put a question mark on the government's policies on safety in a rail network that serves more than six billion passengers every year. Indian Railways, over 63,000 km long, is the world's fourth largest network behind the US, Russia and China. Safety is a vital aspect for any mode of transportation.


An analysis of the accident statistics reveals that derailments constitute a majority of the accidents followed by unmanned level crossing accidents. Human failure, by railway staff or the general public, continues to be the main cause of accidents—as is being suspected in case of Monday's collision. Sabotage by Maoist rebels is also gaining steam. Its contribution to total accidents has increased from 1.7% in 2004-05 to 7.3% in 2008-09. As is being widely reported, approximately 428 people have been killed and over 600 injured in some 200 train accidents in India in the last months. All this has happened despite the existence of ministry's Corporate Safety Plan (2003-13), under which Rs 31,835 crore have been envisaged for safety enhancement, including funds already available under the non-lapsable Special Railway Safety Fund and the Railway Safety Fund.


Some of the key objectives of this long-term blueprint are to achieve reduction in rate of accidents per million train kilometres from the current level of 0.44 to 0.17 by 2013, to focus on development of manpower through major improvements in the working environment and training to reduce the accidents attributable to human failure by 40% and to eliminate fatalities due to collisions by the extensive use of indigenously developed anti-collision device (ACD), which has a success rate of 99.9%. However, with nearly three years left for the plan's tenure and ministry's dodgy attitude towards the implementation of ACD on all its trains, it doesn't seem that these objectives can be attained on time. Going forward, the ministry should install ACD on all its trains at the earliest to save several more precious lives. If not, then it should at the least cite the reasons for its hitherto lackadaisical approach towards implementing the measure.










The killing of 43 people on Sunday outside Baghdad by a suicide bomber is a grisly reminder of the political instability that prevails in Iraq seven years after the illegal and calamitous U.S.-led invasion. The suicide bomber struck when members of the Sahwa or Awakening Councils had queued up to be paid. The group, also called 'Sons of Iraq,' was once allied with al-Qaeda but was turned against that outfit in 2006 by the United States, which became its chief patron and paymaster. Sunday's attack, symptomatic of the cycle of violence that entraps Iraq, has highlighted the inherent contradictions of the post-invasion process of political reconstruction. American planners of the invasion, deficient in their sense of history, completely missed the point that resistance to their military misadventure in a country that traces its lineage to, and draws inspiration from, the great Mesopotamian civilisation was guaranteed to be deep and unrelenting. There are other structural reasons that explain why violence in Iraq has not abated. The U.S. decision following the invasion to rebuild state security institutions from scratch, after launching a virulent de-Baathification campaign, resulted in the emergence of a dangerous political vacuum in Baghdad. Well-seasoned militias, some of them trained abroad, attempted to fill this vacuum. In the process, they became vehicles for drawing in external influence, especially from neighbouring countries.


De-emphasising Iraqi nationalism and embedding an ethno-sectarian ethos in Iraq's new constitution also played a hugely divisive role, undermining national unity and contributing significantly to the cycle of violence. As though this was not enough, the al-Qaeda, squeezed out of Afghanistan, established sanctuaries of rabid intolerance and violence in Iraq. However, notwithstanding the grave challenges, all is not lost in Iraq. In the March 2010 elections, surprisingly large sections of the Iraqi electorate voted along non-sectarian lines. This resulted in the emergence of the secular Iraqiyaa formation, led by the Iyad Allawi, as a surprise winner. Such an outcome would not have been possible had only Sunni groups, which are in minority in Iraq, backed Iraqiyaa. It would be a real shame if squabbles primarily over the post of Prime Minister stand in the way of the formation of a national unity government. However small the window of opportunity, Iraq must be encouraged to complete its process of political reconstruction and return to normal dealings with the rest of the world. This cannot of course happen unless the U.S-led occupation ends and the people and politicians of Iraq are left free to carve out their own destiny.






The decision of the Chinese government to renew Google's licence to operate its website in China is a pragmatic response to what was turning into a political question. Beijing has displayed sagacity in allowing Google to develop some of its operations in the country, a conciliatory approach that has been reciprocated by the company. Under the agreement, Google will abide by the legal restrictions on what can be published by its China website within the mainland, and visitors can continue to access unfiltered results on its Hong Kong website. However, websites that do not meet legal requirements will remain inaccessible, although they may show up in the search results from Hong Kong. Such a solution does not come as a big surprise. Although Google raised a high profile dispute with political overtones just six months ago over online attacks on its databases and issues of censorship and free speech, no one seriously expected it to wind up its China operations. The issue has been speedily resolved, confirming the desire on both sides to pursue a beneficial path.


Everyone is aware that China, with an Internet user base of 384 million, including 346 million broadband users (as of December 2009), is the world's biggest online market. Ignoring it can seriously hurt growth and no one knows this better than Google. Online access on mobile devices is also growing rapidly; eight per cent of Internet users go online only on mobile. All this clearly points to the need for continued, realistic engagement with China on issues of free speech and cyber security, and for business imperatives to be appreciated in context. A prime interest for Google today is promoting its new Android operating system for mobile in China. Plans to popularise cloud computing are also high on its agenda. The prospects for growth are important to handset makers too, as they support the Android platform with new hardware and application software. Now that there appears to be a closure to the row over cyber attacks on Google's databases, the process of resolution of online free speech issues in China can begin. After all, 'reasonable restrictions' are applied in the west to freedom of expression on the Internet, especially when security concerns and offensive content are involved. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has underscored this in the context of terrorism. Evidently, with positive, less doctrinaire engagement, it should be possible to open more windows to free expression in cyberspace. That can begin with social networking websites that are currently unavailable in China.











France's obsession with the burqa continues. Its lower house, the National Assembly, has voted to ban it by an overwhelming margin of 335 to 1 despite an official advice from the Conseil d'État, France's constitutional watchdog, not to pursue "the bill to forbid concealing one's face in public" as it violates the principle of laïcité (secularism) recognised in the French Constitution.


But France is not the only country suffering from burqaphobia. For several years now, Belgian MPs have been demanding a ban on the voile intégral which resulted in the lower chamber of the Belgian Parliament approving an anti-burqa bill. Spain, Italy and the Netherlands too are contemplating a ban on the full veil, and a week ago British MP Phillip Hollobone sought to include Britain in this group when he tabled a private member's bill to ban "certain face coverings" in public.


The present European stance against the Muslim attire seems hypocritical when compared to the huge support the Danish cartoonist got across that continent for his criminal act of depicting Prophet Muhammad as a promoter of terrorism. And interestingly, "freedom of expression" was the reason cited by government after government for not proscribing the provocative cartoons.


Nonetheless, all is not lost for the European Muslims yet. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last month unanimously opposed a general EU ban on the burqa saying although the veiling of women is often perceived as "a symbol of the subjugation of women to men," a general ban would deny women "who genuinely and freely desire to do so" the right to cover their face.


But the question is: Does facial exposure constitute such a big threat to Muslim women and their religious rights that they should expend so much time and energy debating this issue? The truth is that most Muslims are unaware of the fact that the word "burqa" is not part of the Koran's sartorial terminology. The terms used by the Koran are jilbaab, an outer wrapping garment which is to be worn around the body (33:59), and khimaar, a kind of covering for the head and the bosom (24:31). It may be noted here that jilbaab and khimaar denote just modest clothing and not a head-to-toe shroud like the burqa with just a small opening for the eyes. Had this been the case, the Koranic instruction to Muslim men to "lower their gaze" (24:30-31) would have made no sense. For how could a fully shrouded woman be gazed at? And what does one say of hadith in Bukhari which asks women not to cover their faces during Haj?


Another word that is equated with the burqa is hijaab. It occurs eight times in the Koran (7:46, 17:45, 19:17, 33:53, 38:32, 41:5, 42:51 and 83:15) but interestingly, not once in the traditional meaning of burqa as understood by Muslims today. Hijaab actually refers to an imaginary or real barrier between people or things. For instance, verse 17:45 talks of a hidden barrier ( hijaaban mastoora) between the non-believers and the Prophet, and verse 33:53 teaches social etiquette to the not-so-literate Arab guests of the Prophet by instructing them not to confront the women of his household directly for their requirements but to talk to them from behind a curtain (min waraayi hijaab) as a mark of respect.


Why then this insistence on the full veil in some Muslim societies? The answer lies in the fact that some of the widely read translations of the Koran are not exactly honest on this issue. For example, in The Noble Quran, an English translation authorised by Saudi Arabia, a perusal of 24:31 would reveal that an attempt has been made to introduce, without any basis, an extra-Koranic meaning to the following text concerning the dress code; walaa yubdeena zeenatahunna illa ma zahara minha wal yazribna bi khumurihinna ala juyoobihinna. The Noble Quran translates this as: "[Tell the believing women]…not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent [like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron], and to draw their veils all over j uyoobihinna [i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms]."


The meaning that is sought to be conveyed in the parentheses is a clear addition to what is contained in the Arabic text wherein " khumurihinna ala juyoobihinna" only means "to put a covering over the bosoms" and not the face. The translators of The Noble Quran have also tried to support their views by mistranslating a hadith from the Bukhari which quotes Hazrath Aisha as saying that when verse 24:31 was revealed women tore off pieces from their waist sheets ( murooth) to use them as a covering for their "heads and faces." Once again, the words "heads and faces" are not found in the original hadith text, shaqqaqna muroothahunna faqtamarna biha, which means "they tore off the murooths to cover themselves up."


The aforementioned facts coupled with the Prophetic saying (in Abu Dawood) advising women not to reveal any part of their bodies "except the face and the palms" clearly prove that neither the Koran nor the hadith forces a woman to conceal her face. Muslim women, therefore, need not worry over a French ban on the burqa because wearing a niqab minus the face veil does in no way violate the Koran or the Prophet's teachings.


What Muslim women really need to take cudgel against is the gender bias prevalent in their societies. They must realise that Muslim patriarchy rallies around them when they demonstrate against issues such as the proposed ban on burqa (which could be easily circumvented), but the medievalists are conspicuously absent when it comes to pressing problems like instant triple talaq, hedonistic polygyny or child marriage.


Unless Muslim women recognise this truth they would not be able to claim their legitimate Islamic rights.


(The author is the secretary-general of Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought among Muslims. He may be reached at











Four years ago thousands of Zimbabweans descended on the Marange fields in the grip of diamond fever. Marange, near the eastern border with Mozambique, was a field of dreams which did not need expensive or complicated mining equipment, you could simply pan your way to riches.


Diamonds came to mean different things to different constituencies. There was a story — perhaps apocryphal — of a newly rich posse of young dealers who, having sold their diamonds, made their way to the nightclub Stars, normally beyond their reach, and upon entrance, waved stacks of trillion-dollar bills while calling out " Tapinda, tapinda!" — "We have arrived, we have arrived!" Diamonds became closely associated with the tapinda tapinda culture of dealers who, as the expression went, "burned" their money on flashy cars and other goods.


To the government, diamonds have come to represent the fastest way out of a 10-year economic crisis. But the sale of Zimbabwe's diamonds has been blocked — until now. Last week, at the World Diamond Council in St. Petersburg, Zimbabwe received approval from the Kimberley Process to export a limited amount of its stockpiled diamonds. The Kimberly Process is a voluntary body established in 2002 to certify that diamonds entering the market are "conflict free" — a status not without controversy in Zimbabwe, where mining has been linked with allegations of severe human rights abuses.


Kimberly-approved exports are just what the country needs to jump-start its economy. And the necessity for the certification was one of the few issues that united the fractured unity government. Obert Mpofu, the Minister of Mines, a Zanu-PF appointee, and Tendai Biti, the Minister of Finance, a Movement for Democratic Change appointee, were particularly energetic in their campaign for this approval. But not all members of the government have the same aims: to some members of Zanu-PF, cut off now from access to the state coffers by Mr. Biti's reforms at the Finance Ministry, the diamonds represent an opportunity to loot again.


And to the NGO and human rights community, Zimbabwe's diamonds are drenched in blood, and represent the repression against which they have long campaigned. These groups are particularly concerned about the military presence in the Marange diamond fields, which the government justifies as necessary to prevent illegal panning and diamond smuggling. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, the Centre for Research and Development and other NGOs produced a number of damning reports alleging abuses ranging from extra-judicial killings to displacement, as well as raising environmental concerns.


It is these competing interests that were behind the recent debates at Kimberly Process meetings. In its founding document "conflict diamonds" are described as "rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments".


There is no question that the military has used unnecessary violence in many instances. Particularly disturbing are reports of the shooting of illegal miners, the formation of syndicates using forced labour — including children — and of beatings and torture. So human rights organisations are right to be concerned about Marange. But these kind of abuses, outrageous and unacceptable as they are, are not unique to Zimbabwe, but can be found wherever riches are discovered around the homes of the poor, such as oil in the Niger Delta or Equatorial Guinea. As with reports from NGOs of Sierra Leone-style amputations and Darfur-like rapes during Zimbabwe's election in 2008, human rights activists are in danger of overreaching themselves. It is simply wrong to argue that Zimbabwe's diamonds come within the Kimberly definition of conflict diamonds. The NGO Africa Partnership Canada spoils its most recent and otherwise excellent report by arguing that Zimbabwe's Joint Operations Command — made up of chiefs of police, prisons, armed forces and air force — constitutes a "rebel movement seeking to destabilise the government"Human rights organisations have expressed dismay at Zimbabwe's certification, but they should be heartened by its willingness to be part of the Kimberly Process. The scheme is entirely voluntary, and under the approval Zimbabwe will continue to be monitored.


Zimbabwe's participation in the scheme gives NGOs an opportunity to influence which would not be there had the country done as it threatened and simply sold its diamonds without Kimberly approval. The history of Zimbabwe's relationship with the Commonwealth is instructive. When Zimbabwe quit in 2003, it left the Commonwealth ineffectively mouthing speeches from the sidelines. The Kimberly Process has probably calculated that Zimbabwe was better in than out: "out" would mean no control at all, risking potentially destabilising dumping of large quantities of diamonds on the world market, while "in" would mean Kimberly could continue to send monitors there.


If the wealth from the diamonds is channelled properly, it is just what Zimbabwe needs. The diamond fields that have been discovered are so vast that it is estimated the country could produce a quarter of the word's diamond needs in a matter of years.


At the same time, it is precisely this wealth that makes the diamonds so worrisome. As Zimbabwe saw with land reform, ordinary people may eventually benefit from national resources, but only after the lion's share has gone to politicians. The crucial issue around Zimbabwe's diamond wealth is how to ensure it benefits the whole country and not just a few, because if managed well it has the potential to transform the country. There is only one thing that stops Zimbabwe achieving its potential: its politicians.


(Petina Gappah's collection of short stories about Zimbabwe, An Elegy for Easterly , won the 2009 Guardian First Book Award.)










The path to the criminal trial and conviction of Keshub Mahindra and six others on June 7, for 'rash and negligent' conduct that resulted in the death of over 20,000 people and injury and harm to over 5,00,000 people, is full of curious twists and unexplained turns. The dilution of charges in 1996 — from culpable homicide to rashness and negligence — is presided over by a question mark. But the history of this leniency travels further back in time to 1989 when all criminal cases, in process and that may arise in future, in relation to the Bhopal gas disaster were quashed by the Supreme Court when Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) paid $470 million. In February 1989, the court said this would "enable the effectuation of the settlement." But in December 1989, another bench of the court found that the Claims Act, under which the government had taken over the litigation, had nothing to do with the criminal cases, and that part of the settlement did not derive from the Act but was beyond it. And in 1991, the court, unable to sustain the quashing of criminal cases, backtracked and the criminal cases were revived. This was before the dilution of the charges in 1996. The quashing of criminal cases continues to be shrouded in a mystery that could be resolved if those who were part of the settlement proceedings could be called upon to reveal what they know.


A chronology:


In the beginning, there was the law. In March 1985, Parliament enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act. This gave the Central government the exclusive right to "represent, and act in place of every person who had made a claim, or was so entitled to make a claim, for all purposes connected with such claims in the same manner and to the same effect as such person."


On February 14, 1989, while an appeal relating to interim compensation was pending before it, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court found "this case is pre-eminently fit for an overall settlement … covering all litigations, claims, rights and liabilities … related to and arising out of the disaster." So it "ordered" that UCC pay $470 million and, "to enable the effectuation of the settlement," all civil proceedings would "stand concluded in terms of the settlement" and "all criminal proceedings related to and arising out of the disaster shall stand quashed wherever they may be pending". The next day, advocates for the Union of India and UCC and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) filed "Consequential Terms of Settlement" which included a clause that read "and all such criminal proceedings including contempt proceedings stand quashed and accused deemed to be acquitted."


On May 4, 1989, propelled by protests led by victims' groups and their supporters, the Supreme Court explained how it had arrived at the sum of $470 million. But about the "part of the settlement which terminated the criminal proceedings," the court declined to say anything since review petitions challenging the settlement were already in court and it "might tend to prejudge this issue one way or the other."


A 1986 challenge to the Claims Act of 1985 had not been heard before the settlement order was passed. Victims had contested the power of the state to take away their right to litigate. The Supreme Court heard this case in the brooding shadow of the settlement. The judgment of the court in this case, dated December 22, 1989, was categorical that "the criminal liability arising out of the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster is not the subject matter of this Act and cannot be said to have been in any way affected, abridged or modified by virtue of this Act." "Clearly, therefore" the judges explained, "this part of the settlement comprises a term which is outside the purview of the Act." Further, the court records the Attorney-General as having told the court that "these are not the considerations which induced the parties to enter into settlement."


On October 3, 1991, a five-judge bench pronounced its decision on the review petition filed by the victims and their supporters. Of the five judges who constituted the original bench, Justice Pathak had moved to the International Court of Justice not long after the Bhopal settlement order, and Justice Venkataramiah had taken over as the Chief Justice and retired by the end of the year. But Justices Ranganath Misra, Venkatachaliah and N.D. Ojha were still on the bench, with Justices K.N. Singh and Ahmadi joining them. In the time that had elapsed since the settlement order, the government had changed and, with it, the government's position on the settlement order had undergone revision. It was then left to the three judges from the original bench and Fali Nariman, who was UCC's counsel, to recall what had transpired. But that was not to happen. Instead, memory and record were substituted by conjecture.


First, the court declared that it had the constitutional power, located in Article 142, to do "complete justice," and no statute could undermine this power of the court. So, if the court in its discretion decided that quashing criminal cases was in the interests of complete justice, it had the power to do just that. Then, acknowledging that "the order terminating the pending criminal proceedings is not supportable" strictly in law, the court drew on Mr. Nariman's submission "that if the Union of India as the dominus litis through its Attorney-General invited the court to quash the criminal proceedings and the court accepting the request quashed them, the power to do so was clearly referable to Article 142(1) read with the principle under Section 321 CrPC which enables the government … to withdraw a prosecution." And so on.


The concern then was not about the existence of the power — which, the court declared, did exist — but "one

of justification for its exercise." "No specific ground or grounds for withdrawal of the prosecution having been

set out at that stage, the quashing of the prosecutions requires to be set aside."


So, settling criminal liability was not negotiated under the Claims Act. The government says it had nothing to do with the quashing of the criminal proceedings. The Supreme Court claims to have the power to go beyond law but says it had not been given grounds for doing so at that stage. It does not say why, then, it did what it did. It leaves it in the realm of conjecture: if the government had invited the court, the court may be obliged. So, it would appear, the Supreme Court had quashed the criminal proceedings for no statable reason.


This became clearer with the court explaining that the quashing of criminal proceedings was not a 'consideration' for the settlement. That is, no party to the settlement was making it a condition without which the settlement would not stand.


Mr. Nariman drew a distinction between 'motive' and 'consideration', and the court adopted it, although what is 'motive' is not explained. If the quashing of the criminal cases was not to help negotiate the settlement and get the company to agree to pay $470 million — which was $120 million more than it had agreed to pay — why was it in the order and in the terms of settlement?


The settlement was not negotiated in open court. If, as the court conjectures, the government asked the court to quash the criminal proceedings, the court would know.


It is imperative that individual and institutional memory be called upon to resolve these opaque aspects of the Bhopal gas disaster.

(Usha Ramanathan works on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights.)








Railway minister Mamata Banerjee behaves as the epitome of the absentee landlord created by the East India Company under the Permanent Settlement in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency to maximise land revenue collections. Under this scheme, if there was an "accident" in the normal interplay of natural forces and the rainfall was deficient, the people had to lump it and comply with the extortionist tax demands anyway; if the rain gods smiled, the absentee zamindar — namely, the revenue collector for the Company — made a killing over and above what he was required to surrender to the British trading house that then governed India. This helped to enhance his grandeur and improve his fortunes. Even a child in West Bengal can see the parallel. The Trinamul Congress leader insisted on the railways when she became minister. She thought the fief was large enough for her to dispense favours left, right and centre to her constituency, which was the whole state, in order to win it over in preparation for her coronation as chief minister one day. The planning was perfect for normal times, and "Didi's" image as benefactor of Bengal would have grown as she would go about setting up railway production and maintenance hubs in the state, and make available jobs and contracts for the deserving and the undeserving. However, it has been raining accidents since "Didi" took charge of India's oldest public sector undertaking, and like the ryots (tenants) of old, it is the people — the train passengers — who must bear the brunt. In the raj of the present minister, the railways' attitude to safety concerns appears singularly cavalier. She merely passes the buck by invoking sabotage and foul play, the stock-in-trade of those who are out of touch with the work they do. Ms Banerjee forgets that the people the railways serve are mostly poor. Ergo, her inability or unconcern hurts the poor the most.

Given its coverage, the most extensive in the world, the railway system — along with the postal service — ought to be the pride of India. It binds the country together, not unlike the monsoon. It makes mobility possible at an affordable price to the remotest corners of a far-flung land. Many goods will not be worth producing if the railways weren't around to ferry them to their destination. It is not far-fetched to say that the railway is on the same scale of importance as agriculture for the country's economic well-being. And yet Ms Banerjee has seen to it that it is acquiring a dubious reputation for safety under her stewardship. Fourteen months, 200 accidents, over 400 deaths, and more than 600 injured. How is that for a record? The minister is not expected to be all over the place to prevent accidents, but she is expected to be at the national headquarters of one of the country's most vital national assets — to give the ministry leadership, direction, focus, goals, and a mission that accords with the aspirations of the people and the needs of the economy. But few can recall when Ms Banerjee was seen in New Delhi's Rail Bhavan last. On the other hand, everyone can recollect when she was stomping on the streets of Kolkata raising slogans against her political opponents. Railway accidents have been a declining trend in the past 10 years, and suddenly they are becoming a rising concern. This is chiefly because there isn't anyone around at headquarters to direct the upgrading and maintenance of rolling stock and tracks, and enforcing strict codes to cut out avoidable accidents, such as the one that we saw at the Sainthia station in West Bengal on Monday in which about 66 persons were killed and a great many seriously injured. If "Didi" can't shape up, she must ship out. It's as simple as that.







Long experience has taught me never to say: "Things are so bad that they cannot get worse". For, usually they do. Even a cursory glance at some of the recent developments in the country would show how sustained, and sometimes sharp, is the decline in the norms without which there can neither be anything like healthy democracy nor governance worth the name. Let us begin with the deterioration of the terms of political discourse. The dismal trend had begun in the late Sixties of the last century during the power struggle within the Congress Party that eventually led to the 1969 split. Subsiding somewhat two years later after Indira Gandhi's metamorphosis from goongi gudiya to goddess Durga it escalated fast due to the events culminating in the hammer-blow of the Emergency. Neither the sudden rise of the Janata and its equally sudden collapse nor Indira Gandhi's return to power made any difference to unbecoming and unseemly exchanges among political rivals.
Fast forward to the present day, and the appearance on the national stage of Nitin Gadkari, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) new president. It is astonishing that he has managed to lower the already distressing standard of public discourse to such a shocking degree in so short a time. Barely two months ago, he likened the two Yadav stalwarts, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, to "dogs" busy licking "Sonia Gandhi's soles". His rage against the twosome may be understandable — because the two leaders had reneged on their earlier commitment to vote for the BJP-Left Front cut motion but staged a walkout instead, thus letting the government win — but not at all his manners and lack of civility.

Various Congress spokespersons reacted to Mr Gadkari's offending utterances differently. None of them descended to his level. However, there seemed little point in the suggestion of one of them to the BJP to "take pity" on its new chief and consign him to some "mental asylum". All of a sudden Mr Gadkari tried to make amends of sorts, and many of us started believing that his regrettable lapse was a stray aberration. How wrong we were! Soon enough he plumbed much lower depths of what can only be called vulgarity over the issue of the execution of Afzal Guru, sentenced to death for the terrorist attack on Parliament, whose mercy petition has been pending for five years. In all fairness, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is vulnerable to legitimate criticism on this score. The BJP has indeed been attacking the UPA and accusing it of "playing votebank politics". Others, including eminent jurists, have described the procrastination over Afzal Guru's mercy petition as "inhumane". But Mr Gadkari has his own style. There is no point repeating all he has said about Afzal Guru being the Congress Party's "son-in-law" because it has given him its "daughter" for these are well known. In the Indian milieu these wo­­­rds have a very ugly connotation. Yet, declaring that he wo­u­ld repeat them any number of times, the BJP chief went on to im­ply that Congress leader Dig­v­ijay Singh was "Aurangzeb ki aulad (offspring)". Ironically, th­is is the worthy the Rashtriya Sw­ayamsevak Sangh has handpicked to reunite and reinvigor­a­te the Saffron Party so badly ba­tt­ered in the 2009 general election.
Another dreary development is the staggering mining scandal in Karnataka. Its gargantuan dimension is matched only by its brazenness. Chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has publicly admitted that 30 million metric tons of illegally mined iron ore has been exported, equally illegally, during the last seven years. Of this seven million tonnes performed the vanishing trick in just one year. Once again details are superfluous because investigative news reports have documented them fully. A far more damning exposure has come from Justice Santosh Hegde, the state's Lok Ayukta, who was at first forced by the state government's stonewalling to resign. Having withdrawn the resignation he has spoken out. His message is clear: The loot by the mining mafia has gone on during the tenure of five successive chief ministers, belonging to the Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, and, of course, the BJP. He has also underscored that each of these parties is now adopting self-seeking strategies. The Congress and the JD(S) are demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry; Mr Yeddyurappa intriguingly insists on the inquiry being conducted by the Lok Ayukta whom he had earlier driven to despair. And, of co­u­r­se, the chief minister is both un­w­­illing and unable to ask the Re­ddy brothers of Bellary to resign.

Indeed, the phenomenal clout of the Bellary brothers is one of the several factors that have made the Karnataka mining scandal the worst in the country's mineral-rich states. Rem­arkably, its second distinctive fe­a­ture is that it has no geographical or political boundaries. The collusion between the BJP Reddys of Karnataka and the Congress Reddys of Andhra (also rich in iron ore) is complete.

The third feature of the Karnataka political shenanigans that has a bearing on democratic no­rms is that the state governor and ve­teran Congressman H.R. Bh­a­radwaj has unhesitatingly ju­mped into the act, inevitably dr­a­wing flak. Leave aside the BJP's angry reaction. Many independent observers also hold that he has "overreached" himself. He has a point, however, when he says that he has a "constitutional duty" to act when humongous corruption takes place. But his duty requires him, in Walter Bagehot's famous words, only to "caution, warn and advise" the chief minister, and to keep the President and the Prime Minister informed. It is no part of his function to go public and join a campaign against the state government. As for unacceptable corruption, has anyone in New Delhi done anything about the loss of Rs 60,000 crores in the G-2 Spectrum scam?
Finally, why is no one protesting against the indignity the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) MLAs are inflicting on the legislature by using the chamber as their eating and sleeping place? Nothing better is expected from Mr Gowda and his cohorts. But has the top leadership of the Congress lost all control over its Karnataka unit?








India-Pakistan me­ets are like Passion Plays — the plot familiar, the characters fresh. The audience is supposed to suspend disbelief and watch the tragedy. The performance in Islamabad on July 8-9, between the two foreign ministers, merits deeper exam­ination.

Henry Kissinger says, in his book Diplomacy, that "statesmen need luck as much as good judgment". S.M. Krishna, suave and well groomed, was hand-picked for the external affairs post, as were many of his predecessors — to mask the exercise of policy making in the Prime Minister's Office. His dispatch to Pakistan was a mission impossible. He was to allay the suspicions of the Indian public that New Delhi was returning to the negotiating table without adequate action by Pakistan against the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. At the same time he was to shepherd the talks towards comprehensive dialogue. The ill-luck that dogged the minister's journey was the upsurge in civil disturbances in the Kashmir Valley; Pakistan Army's rising expectation of likely US withdrawal from Afghanistan and ascension of Pakistani allies in the ruling order in Kabul; and finally the David Headley confessions.

Were home secretary G.K. Pillai's Headley revelations a day before Mr Krishna's visit a blundering stumble or a deliberate attempt to play to the Indian gallery? Mr Krishna's own arrival statement reiterating a desire to obtain answers from Pakistan on Headley seemed to confirm the latter conclusion. Considering that Headley impugned no less than the heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, such a public focus on this issue was bound to invite Pakistani Army's wrath, undermining whatever the two foreign secretaries had finalised on June 24 in Islamabad.

Foreign secretary N. Rao advised, after the visit, that Pakistan needs to introspect. Perhaps so does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Time and again he has articulated his vision for peace with Pakistan. The reasoning is debatable, his vision is not. Firstly, he contends that India cannot be great unless it settles with Pakistan; secondly there is no option but to talk. He also often quotes former US President Ronald Reagan's dictum: trust but verify. This needs to be collated with Kissinger's explanation that Reagan's success sprang from a fortuitous convergence of personality and opportunity; a decade earlier, he would have seemed too militant; a decade later, too one track.

Opportunities for lasting peace are transient. Careful preparation by the diplomats and ministers a necessary precondition. Both at Yekaterinburg and Thimphu, leaders ordained half-hour of televised spectacle to trump the deep schisms, like lovers defying the khap panchayats.

De-classified British papers have a note by T.J. O'Brien, British High Commissioner in India on his meeting with Sardar Swaran Singh, the then external affairs minister, who tells him on April 19, 1966, that "India would always talk about Kashmir within the terms of the Tashkent Agreement and would always consider anything new the Pakistanis had to say, but that the willingness to talk did not imply the slightest modification of India's basic position".

Forty-four years later that would still be India's starting point. Why then the panic to negotiate? A rising India, the status quoist power, is going to increase the differential of power with Pakistan. With gross domestic product doubled to almost three trillion by 2020, or before, the defence budget at two per cent of that total would be over $60 billion. We need to modernise our Navy, increase the punch of the Air Force and the mobility of the Army. We also need to douse the fires of Maoism and civil disturbance in the Valley. What is on offer to Pakistan would depend on when they ask. The one left behind in Islamabad involved incremental resumption of dialogue, beginning with confidence building steps and then onto core issues as Pakistan moved on the terror issue. The Headley charges galvanised the Pakistani Army to scuttle the process. Pakistan pitched for a full and time-bound resumption of a comprehensive dialogue with action on terror linked to movement on Kashmir and Siachen. This was back to terror as instrument of state policy. It was justifiably rejected by the Indian side. Unfortunately no one had prepared for that eventuality. Media had been told good news was around the corner. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's charge of calls to Delhi may be valid as apparently a close aide of Dr Singh, a junior diplomat with limited diplomatic experience, was peppering the delegation with calls, unmindful of the ISI tapping.

Whither next is the issue, particularly when Mr Qureshi has rejected coming as a mere tourist. Mr Krishna had mindfully carried a chadar for the Lahore shrine of Data Ganj Baksh, the Sufi shrine attacked by suicide bombers. It was a signal to the Barelvis, 70 per cent of Pakistanis, that India shared their grief. Unfortunately, the Islamabad fracas stole the limelight. Pe­r­haps Mr Qureshi needs to come as a pilgrim to Ajmer to exorcise the demons that have risen from the Army GHQ in Rawalpindi and seized his soul.


The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry








Whenever we hear of new water conflicts between states we groan in trepidation. We feel that such rows will be shrill, emotional, long-winding and complicated — in short, insoluble.

But the good news is that water conflicts are eminently soluble — all you need is to be rational and commonsensical. Is this too tall a demand?

The most recent conflict revolves around the Babli barrage being built in Godavari river by Maharashtra.
The Andhra Pradesh Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu was arrested recently, along with fellow MLAs, when he attempted to visit the project site. Now the issue has become one of Andhra pride vs Maratha determination.

But it is wrong to believe that Babli issue cannot be solved. India negotiated several settlements with Pakistan over water with mediators. Can't the states talk to each other and resolve issues when India and Pakistan can?
Let's analyse the Babli issue first. Maharashtra constructed the small barrage to pump about 2.7 tmc (80 million cu.m) to supply drinking water to farmers of Babli villages and residents of Dharmabad taluk of the backward Nanded district.

According to the state, such small structures do not require Central Water Commission (CWC) permission and on top of it, the barrage is supposed be well within their allocated quantum of water from Godavari. Drinking water is obviously a priority.

Andhra Pradesh's contention is that Babli dam is being constructed within the water impounded area of Sri Ramsagar dam. It is actually within the reservoir of Sri Ramsagar and therefore the construction is illegal and unethical.

Political parties of Andhra Pradesh are also promoting the much larger fear that Babli can effectively suck 60 tmc of water, half of Sri Ramsagar, and during critical times there may not be water for irrigation. So the entire Northern Telangana might become a desert and this might even spread to the Godavari delta.

Before we speak about solutions to this vexed row, we also have to take a quick look at some outmoded ideas of water management and the questions provoked specifically by Babli.

We are still stuck with old concepts of water management, which actually evolved when water itself was not the issue, but the huge investment to construct dams was the problem. Now that governments have money, water has become the big issue.

Secondly, every Indian politician repeats the outdated idea that water flowing into the sea is waste and every drop of water in a river should be used. Let it be made clear that water going to sea is not waste and it is not possible and wise to use every drop. Rivers have to flow into sea and that is good for people and ecosystems on which we depend.

Water allocated from one river basin to each riparian state is now based on the principle called "70 per cent dependability". But rivers are natural systems and there are fluctuations in quantity of water from year to year. This is a fact. But there is no mechanism now to share water equitably during lean years.

When water allocations were made, usually in mid-1970s, the technology was less sophisticated in terms of lifting water and transporting it long distances. Now technology has advanced so much that the upper riparian state can draw water in large quantities without even constructing large dams. This is the root of Andhra Pradesh's fears.

The Babli controversy also poses a few questions which will have implications for many other states.
Is it right for upper riparian states to construct their own dam and well within the water-impounded area and is it justified for the lower riparian state to object to small dams if they are explicitly for drinking water?
Also, since small dams do not come under the preview of the CWC, how many such small dams can the upper riparian state construct and what is the mechanism to prevent their misuse?

In our times, all water conflicts should also be seen in the context of climate change, an invisible but real dimension which is going to get more important in the future.

We should look at Babli in this broader context and think about a solution. Certainly there is one, but it requires first an atmosphere of dialogue. So before we get into the technicalities of the issue, we should de-politicise and de-emotionalise the issue. Let us make it clear that it is not Andhra vs Maharashtra. Once this is done, there are five steps that could help in addressing the Babli issue:


w A dialogue between two states based on facts and trust. This may sound commonplace but that is the basic foundation.

w Andhra Pradesh should clearly articulate what specific measures are required to stop "illegal" pumping by Babli barrage and who should be ensuring that violations do not take place.

w Maharashtra can gain much by being transparent about its intentions on constructing the barrage. If the purpose is only for drinking water, Andhra Pradesh in general and Telangana region in particular will not object.
w A civil society initiative from both the states to mediate a solution could be another effective option.
w Setting up of a permanent mechanism to solve such future conflicts over Godavari basin.
And lastly, let us not forget that we are all from one country, and we all live in one river basin, Godavari. People of the states have to live side by side. Whatever we might do, we cannot change geography.


Dr Biksham Gujja, a water management expert, works with

WWF-International as a senior water policy adviser.









The proposed new takeover code makes all the right moves and noises. The Achuthan committee, set up by Sebi to review takeover rules and regulations, has decided that the old code cannot be fixed with patchwork changes. It, therefore, opted for a complete overhaul. A former presiding officer of the Securities Appellate Tribunal, Achuthan did the right thing. All laws need a complete rethink when times change, and the takeover code probably needed more than just a coat of paint.


On the face of it, the suggestions made by Achuthan will make takeovers difficult and more expensive for acquirers. Among other things, he has proposed that open offers should be made
only if the buyer has reached a threshold of 25% of the target company and not 15% as now. The logic is that only at 25% does an acquirer really come close to threatening the control of the enterprise. This reasoning is arguable — there are companies being controlled with far less shareholding — but given the trend of business families consolidating holdings steadily, it is unlikely anyone will be able to mount a challenge with just 15%.


Under the new code, if implemented by Sebi, the acquirer will also have to make an open offer for all the remaining shares outstanding, and not just 20% as now. This change will make takeovers financially daunting unless the acquirer happens to be a foreign buyer with oodles of cash or has the backing of a posse of blue-blooded banks.


Making takeovers difficult is not such a bad thing. The world over, easy money and corporate egos have driven big-ticket takeovers, but these have seldom delivered shareholder value. In this context, it makes supreme sense to give all existing shareholders the right to bail out through the open offer. A high financial barrier will ensure that takeovers are not undertaken for frivolous reasons.


The provision for buying out all minority shareholders will ensure that open offers don't leave them with residual shares, which may drop in value after the takeover is concluded. For far too long, promoters and acquirers have ignored the interests of minority shareholders, both during and after takeovers. Achuthan has struck a blow for equality of treatment of shareholders.








The sense of frustration and anger over yet another train mishap at Sainthia, where the Uttarbanga Express rammed into the Vananchal, killing 60 and injuring 150 in the early hours of Monday, is understandable. The last 12 months have seen a spate of railway accidents, and there is good reason — even a rush — to lay the blame squarely at the door of railway minister Mamata Banerjee. Not without reason. Foremost among them, she is not showing the kind of commitment her predecessor brought to his job. Her attention seems more focused on winning the next elections in West Bengal. Her frequent absences from Rail Bhavan have created the perception that no one is in charge, and she has only herself to blame for this. There's no question, the country — with 19,000 trains carrying more than 10 million passengers daily — needs a railway minister who is not only in charge, but is visibly so.


However, there is no point pretending that the absentee minister is the only problem that needs fixing. The system is not exactly working well, and for this we do not have the luxury of pointing a finger only at Mamata-di. As the biggest public sector commercial undertaking, the railways need more autonomy and leadership.


Every railway minister uses the occasion of the rail budget to make grandiose announcements, but it is far from clear if we are getting a safe and efficient railway system. The argument that accidents will happen once in a while in such a large system is absolutely unacceptable.


Over the years, adequate attention has not been paid to running the railways effectively. It was either run to build political capital for railways ministers or, during Lalu Prasad's tenure, to show that profitability can come from freight alone. In fact, we now know that much of the profitability came from legalising the overloading of rail wagons, and the consequent deterioration in tracks may not be a small factor in the spurt of rail accidents we have seen over the last few months.


Moreover, nothing much has been done to modernise the system in terms of updating technology, recruiting the right skilled people, upgrading skill levels, and inculcating a sense of responsibility among employees towards customers — the ever-growing passenger traffic. It is not surprising that in its present anarchic mode, the simple solution of using anti-collision devices (ACD) has not been taken up on a priority basis. The shabby treatment meted out to the railways must end if they are to become safe and remain the lifeline of the nation.








India is in the grip of a severe inflation. What is most significant about this scenario is that it is driven by skyrocketing prices of food and other essential commodities. For those whose incomes are not adjusted for inflation, this is tantamount to an indirect tax and invariably erodes their real incomes. One measure of a people's capacity to access improved quality of life is inversely proportional to the extent of their income which is spent on basic requirements of life — food and nutrition. 

The US has evolved a criterion that citizens who spend more than one-third of their income on daily food requirements are entitled to a subsidy through food coupons. By the same count, one does not know how many Indians would be entitled to food subsidy. But the figure would definitely be appallingly high. 


The reasons are not difficult to understand. With the changes taking place in the Indian economy since the early nineties, the very idea of insulating vulnerable sections of the population from price movements has been abandoned. And, over the last two decades, the direction is towards achieving an exclusively market-driven paradigm. 


The second factor, of course, is the change in the nature and structure of employment. This is not to talk of the outright unemployment that affects a large part of our population, both in the urban and rural areas. In all, 92% of total employment in the country is in the unorganised sector. This involves a situation where there is virtually no provision of social security to ensure the basic needs of human life.


It is in such a background that one needs to understand the steps that the government has initiated. For the last two years, food prices have risen almost unabated. Earlier, the consumer prices indices (CPI) for both industrial workers and agricultural labour were rising much faster than the general rate of inflation — indicating that the consumption basket of the toiling sections was becoming unaffordable. 


At the time of the budget, the finance minister had indicated that the price situation would be under control by the end of June. But there's no sign of that. The prime minister now has left the situation to the gods and the market. It has been claimed by him that with a favourable monsoon, the situation can be brought under control by December. 


Never has a country seen such insensitivity! Almost six crore tonnes of foodgrains are stored in the public godowns, but the government is not prepared to release it through the public distribution system. Such a course would not only have benefited the vulnerable sections but would also have had a sobering effect on the open market. But that was not to be.


It is in this inflationary scenario that the government has moved towards deregulating petroleum products. It uses an absolutely fictitious argument to push this course: that the public sector oil companies are incurring losses to the point of becoming bankrupt. In actual reality, not only have these oil companies made major profits during the last few years, but they have paid the exchequer huge amounts as taxes, duties and dividend. The total earnings of the public exchequer during the last year from the sector were Rs90,000 crore, while this year it is estimated to be Rs1,20,000 crore. It is true that the government has budgeted a small amount — Rs3,000 crore — for oil companies for below-cost sales of kerosene and cooking gas. But having earned Rs1, 20,000 crore, parting with a small bit can't be construed as subsidy. 


Had the government been little more sensitive to people's woes, they would have been a more transparent and come out with the cost break-up — the crude price component, the refining and marketing costs and the taxes, by the Centre and states. But there was none of it. 


Perhaps, the government, on its part, had good reasons. The private refiners like Essar and Reliance, who do not dispense a single bit of subsidised products like kerosene and cooking gas and earn cool amounts in the form of export duty drawback, will now be blessed with government patronage to force domestic consumers to cough up prices which they would otherwise earn in the export market on the presumption that their refining cost is the same as that of the foreign refiners (which obviously is much higher). After having ensured such a windfall for these private players, the government is hoping that private players will also come into retail marketing to skim off the 'creamy' segment of the market. Well, that is 'incentive' and not 'unsustainable populist subsidy'!


Taking care of the khas aadmi and slashing the nutritional intake and real income of the aam aadmi  is the order of the day.


Meanwhile, protests may continue. God and market will surely smile on the government in the interregnum. But

the lessons of history show that ultimately the votaries of 'shining India' cannot sustain themselves.









It's been a sweltering summer around the world, with cities registering record temperatures. Yet, for one constituency of global hot shots, who until now had the luxury of hoofing it to salubrious climes whenever the mercury edged up, the heat is well and truly on. And they're increasingly beginning to lose their cool and have an indecorous meltdown in full public glare.

In recent weeks and months, the cosy authoritarian-capitalism relationship of the past two decades between China and foreign businesses operating in it has become frayed at the edges. It's almost as if multinational corporations, who had been gambolling with what they thought was a cuddly panda, have been bitten on their backsides and realised too late that the genial beast of old has over time morphed into a kick-ass Kung Fu Panda. 

Where once they had a red carpet rolled out for them when they came wide-eyed to China in the hope of milking the "1.3 billion" market, they now find the rug being pulled from under their feet. 
But in fact, the widely held perception, borne out by anecdotal evidence, that China is an easy place to do business is something of a fairy tale. A recent report from the World Bank that assesses the ease of doing business in 87 economies has dispelled the myth of the Chinese red carpet for foreign businesses. 


When it comes to ease of establishing a foreign business, for instance, China scores 63.7 on a 100-point scale, below the global average of 64.5; in contrast, India, which in the popular perception is bound together by bureaucratic red tape, scores 76.3, well above the global average. Indicatively, it takes 99 days and 18 procedural requirements for foreign businesses to set up shop in China, against just 46 days and 16 procedures in India. 


And although restrictions on foreign equity ownership in India admittedly make it a less-than-fully-open economy, the projection of China as a land of milk and honey for foreign companies is more than a little exaggerated. In fact, on many sub-indices, China fares worse than India. 


Multinational corporations are now at risk of seeing their years-long dreams of tapping into the Chinese market turn sour. In an earlier time, they might have lain low in the hope that things will get better, but today, they are increasingly giving loud and sonorous voice to their frustrations. 


Earlier this month, GE's chief Jeff Immelt griped at a private dinner in Rome that it was getting increasingly harder for foreign companies to do business in China, and that he wasn't sure if "they" wanted any of "us" to win. And last week, the chief executives of Siemens and BASF went public with the 'difficulties' they face in doing business in China, with the Chinese insisting on transfer of prized technology as the price for market access. Having hooked foreign companies with the bait of its "billion-plus market", China is now reeling them in. 


In contemplating their no-win situation in dealing with China, foreign businesses could well learn a lesson from history. In the late 18th century, British monarch George III dispatched a mission to China to seek Emperor Qian Long's permission for British trade representatives to reside in China. As a goodwill gesture, he also sent musicians and painters and telescopes and chronometers as gifts for the Emperor. Qian Long wasn't easily moved, and in an edict he sent back for the king, proclaimed that the Chinese "have not the slightest need of your country's manufactures".  He signed off in traditional imperial style with an exhortation to "tremble and obey". 


Foreign businesses in China today, who are in too deep to withdraw, may have no option but to "tremble and obey" even though the red carpet has been pulled from under their feet.









Stopping NRIs from visiting India on the basis of a Union Home Ministry blacklist seems unreasonable. According to newspaper reports, the Centre has blacklisted 169 Sikh hardliners of whom, the Punjab government says, 46 are innocent. If there are Indians abroad wanted for violating the law, then they should be arrested on arrival here and tried in a court of law. Why deny them visas? There might be some who got misled as youngsters during the days of militancy or were too immature to understand the implications of taking on the might of the state. Now wiser with age and experience, they might want to lead a peaceful life in the country of their birth or visit their homes to meet their near and dear ones.


Since the blacklist has not been officially made public, this has created confusion and fear among Indians abroad. Policemen and Customs officials can harass anyone they think is an undesirable person. Harassing or blackmailing innocents at airports sends a wrong signal about the rule of law in this country. Earlier this year, the Mayor of Slough (UK), Mr Joginder Singh Bal, was sent back from the airport as his name figured on the blacklist. His name was subsequently dropped from the blacklist. There might be others who got similar treatment but their cases never got highlighted. If there are known killers and pro-Khalistan elements who had escaped the law, why stop them from visiting the country? Just arrest them and put them to trial.


The names and photographs of all wanted persons from various states should be put on the official site of the Home Ministry so that they get to know what particular offence they have committed and decide whether they would like to visit India and face trial. Some may like to surrender. Home Minister P. Chidambaram has offered to consider a surrender policy for Kashmiri youth willing to abjure violence. Even the surrendered Naxals have been offered police jobs. Then why deny Sikh extremists or others abroad a chance to return to normal life in India?








What happens all too often did not happen, and it became news. All too often, someone who commits a traffic offence is pulled over by the police. He flashes his 'VIP' credentials or calls a 'VIP friend' and asks him to intercede on his behalf. The policeman on duty lets him go, and pounces on another hapless person. Life goes on as normal. In Fatehgarh Sahib, the police officer in-charge of traffic issued a citation to a Mandi Gobindgarh-based 'VIP' who is said to be a close aide of an OSD of a VIP. Now, with that kind of connection, how could the person be hauled up for committing a traffic offence. The officer did his duty. How dare he?


Ah! the malice of impunity that afflicts our VIPs and their kith and kin! The feeling that you can mow down people in your fancy car and get away with it, even kill someone and beat the system; what is a mere traffic offence like not fastening a seat belt? After all, any restraint is infra dig for the 'VIP', so what if it is for the safety of the occupants? The 'VIP' is above law. In a hierarchy-conscious nation like ours, not only do we have 'VIPs' but 'VIP-relations', 'VIP-friends', friends of OSDs of VIPs, friends of VIPs cooks, and so on. They all bask in the reflected glory of being in the VIPs wake, and need to be pampered accordingly. Thus it comes as no surprise that the officer was transferred and punished, post haste.


The shameful act of interceding on behalf of law breakers should be condemned by all right-thinking citizens. It is disgraceful that people who misbehave so badly in India, turn into model citizens when they go abroad. All that changes is that they realise that they can't flaunt their 'VIP' status and thus they have no excuse for impudent behaviour. They should feel the same in India too. It is high time the law is enforced in right earnest and wrongdoers punished. The police officer concerned should be commended, instead of punished for his action.








Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia has rightly stressed the need for replacing the scourge of litigation with a settlement culture through mediation. Inaugurating the National Conference on Mediation in New Delhi recently, he said that if various courts — from the Supreme Court to the subordinate courts — are flooded with cases, it is only because of the absence of settlement culture among the litigants. In many countries, people prefer settlement to litigation and that is why mediation is successful there. Giving a classic example, Justice Kapadia pointed out how for recovering Rs 5, people do not mind spending 15 years in the courts. While the court presents the litigants with a "win-lose" scenario, in mediation, one has to create a "win-win" situation for the contending parties. Undoubtedly, the people do not understand the value of time. Otherwise, what prevents them from opting for or trying out the various methods in the alternative dispute redressal mechanism?


Significantly, many judges of the Supreme Court, who attended the conference, joined the CJI in blaming the lack of out-of-court settlement culture in the country for the rising backlog of disputes and the need for promoting the alternative dispute resolution mechanism to reduce the burden on courts. Justice Altamas Kabir said that though nobody can be blamed for the load of work they (the judges) have, they will have to find a solution to "get out of this mess". Justice R.V. Raveendran said that space needs to be created in courts to deal with cases which cannot be resolved through mediation, like criminal, election and administrative cases.


For making mediation a success, there is need for effective cooperation between the judiciary, the Bar and the legislature. Unfortunately, the government is the biggest litigant today. Sadly, the Centre and the states continue litigation for litigation sake. They are prepared to file appeals after appeals and fight it out in the court for years but refuse to sympathise with a poor employee and deny him his legitimate dues. In a welfare state, the government should act as the custodian of public weal and not as a stumbling block in the speedy administration of justice. The Manmohan Singh government's new litigation policy will be of little value if the officials do not change their mindset.

















Things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan. The troop surge and military operations in the South and East have failed to regain the initiative from the Taliban as expected. Rather, the Taliban offensive has taken a heavy toll of US and Afghan forces. An overall increase in violence is 87 per cent compared to that last year — a 94 per cent rise in roadside bombings and three suicide bombings a week, including multiple bombers targeting US/NATO bases inflicting the highest casualties in June. Earlier this month was the third case of fratricide since 2008 — a rogue Afghan soldier killing three British Gurkha soldiers and wounding four more. This is bound to adversely affect Afghanisation's security sector.


The Afghan Rights Monitor (ARM) in its mid-year report has described 2010 as the worst for Afghanistan in terms of insecurity since 2001 and criticised the UN which has been "effectively paralysed in almost 90 per cent of Afghan due to self-paranoia and extreme risk-prevention measures". If this was not bad enough, Holland, Canada, Poland, Australia and even UK are contemplating withdrawal of troops. "We can't be there for another five years, having been there for nine years already", British Prime Minister David Cameron has noted. NATO's Secretary-General Rasmussen has warned that the Taliban would return to Afghanistan and it would once again become a safe haven for terrorists if international forces withdrew too soon.


President Obama, whose popularity is at a new low, has said that the July deadline is only the start of a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility and not cut and run. Whatever the spin, the mood in America is somber, even pessimistic about the war of necessity which has a diminishing traction though support for the GIs is solid. US Congress is divided — an amendment sponsored by Democrats in the House demanding a detailed withdrawal plan was defeated due to Republican support.


Almost no one on the US think-tank circuit believes that the war can be won. The refrain is about averting defeat. The argument goes that to fight the war, the US has chosen two unreliable partners: President Karzai and Pakistan. It is uselessly spending $100 billion annually and losing 1.7 soldiers a day with no light at the end the tunnel. Afghanistan has become America's longest military campaign in which more than 1000 soldiers have been killed and 6000 wounded. The talk is about alternative extrication strategies.


I heard a version of the alternate strategy during an international conference earlier this month in New York. It categorically asserted that the war could not be won; that it was a lost cause; that the US should immediately review its strategy keeping modest and attainable goals by scaling down troop levels to 20,000, mostly special forces and holding only key population centres like Kabul. Emphasis was on covert operations, backed by drones and air power. Both President Karzai and the Pakistan military establishment came in for a pasting which no one, including the Afghans and the Pakistanis attending the conference, seemed to mind.


There is little originality in this strategy as it resembles the US Vice-President's own Biden Plan after his name. The latest incarnation of strategy comes from a former US envoy to India, Robert Blackwill, who recommends a defacto partition of Afghanistan between Pashtun and non-Pashtun areas with US forces concentrated in the non-Pashtun belt while employing Special Forces and the Air Force to target the Taliban leadership in the partitioned Pashtun area and inside Pakistan. Even the Blackwill Plan has shades of the Cofer Black (former CIA and counterterrorism expert) and Peter Galbraith (former Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan) alternate strategies.


The strategy being executed under the new leadership of Gen David Petraeus — the most over-researched strategy in recent history — is simply not working. Besides unreliable local partners, it suffers from the clarity of mission, inadequacy of resources, insufficiency of political will and a surfeit of cooks spoiling the broth. Nothing is more diverting for troops in combat than the deadlines for thinning out or alterations in the rules of engagement which are proposed by General Petraeus. Despite these deficiencies, American, British and other allied soldiers are fighting with "courageous restraint", a term introduced by the dismissed Gen Stanley McChrystal for "protecting people". Further, making President Karzai deliver on better governance and Pakistan on acting against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network is the work in progress but unlikely to succeed.


The exit strategy is premised on a negotiated power-sharing agreement with the reconcilable Afghan Taliban for which president Karzai and US interlocutors have been in contact with elements of the Quetta Shura, courtesy Pakistan's ISI. One report suggests that General Petraeus has met Mullah Omar and that the Pakistan Army is in the driver's seat on reconciliation. Ironically, the Pakistan Army has gained notoriety for breaking deals with militant groups in Pakistan and will sell a lemon to the US, anxious to walk into the sunset.


It is impossible to tell how Afghanistan will shape up by December when President Obama will preside over the third review of the Af-Pak strategy. The civilian and military surge is continuing, the delayed operations to clear and hold Kandahar, the intellectual heartland of the Taliban, will have been attempted to commence negotiating with the defeated Taliban from a position of strength. Most Afghans believe the real Taliban will not negotiate when they know that the occupation forces are on the way out. The best case scenario for the US is empowering the Afghan National Security Forces in undertaking independent operations against the Taliban coupled with a credible power-sharing agreement resulting from a national unity government.


The scenario that India dreads is the return of the Taliban in whatever combination of anti-India networks that Pakistan is able to engineer. A nuanced shift has taken place in New Delhi's Afghanistan policy. It has reconciled with the idea of reintegration of Taliban foot soldiers but rejected reconciliation with its leadership as dangerous. The need of the hour is preventing with the help of regional players a precipitate departure of the US and NATO forces by scuttling Pakistan's design of foisting the Taliban on Kabul.


Reviving the Northern Alliance, opening channels to the Pashtun groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Taliban, is an immediate challenge for New Delhi. So also is protecting its 4000 workers and assets in Afghanistan while continuing to gainfully employ its soft power in reconstructing Afghanistan. India's biggest handicap in pursuing a proactive policy is the lack of contiguity with Afghanistan and US over-reliance on Pakistan to deliver both on counter-insurgency as well as reconciliation with the Taliban. Enlarging military engagement through military training and exchange of police and army officers will ensure that the Afghan military benefits from the Indian Army's long and sustained counter-insurgency experience. India needs to augment its defence wing in Kabul and improve intelligence-sharing with ISAF and the Afghan military. It could donate one division-worth of military equipment for the Afghan Army. The essence of the challenge is combining hard and soft power for preserving India's interests while promoting stability in Afghanistan. New Delhi should stop saying that it has no leverage!








In an exclusive off-the-record briefing in which he demanded anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, a senior official of the Punjab government stridently sought to put to rest all speculation regarding the visit of the state's legislators to the country known for all things scotch. "It is not only desirable but also necessary that state legislators continually educate themselves," he said.


He strongly refuted the allegation that the honourable legislators had gone on a pleasure trip. "This is a serious attempt to examine and understand the process with which scotch whiskey is manufactured", he said, adding that the team would visit various facilities with a view to drawing lessons which would be of immense help to such endeavours in the state."


When asked if it was desirable that the public exchequer's money be used for such trips, the official came back with the following argument: "Look at all the liquor shops in Punjab. Even in Chandigarh you have many shops in a single location, like the Sector 9 market. We need quality products for such up-scale showrooms."


In response to a pointed question about the honourable members' dietary excursions, he said that scotch egg was a staple with many members in the morning and scotch pancake's at tea time. Some members had even tried the scotch pie. He pleaded ignorance about whether the members imbibed the more potent drinks that Scotland is also associated with worldwide.


His PA, who had been hovering unobtrusively in the background, taking notes and doing the things PAs do, however, pointed out that it would be rude to refuse traditional scottish hospitality and the members would be expected to do all they can to further the strong fraternal bonds between the scotch and Indians.


The issue of whether the ground water around Punjabi distilleries was polluted (as claimed initially) or not (as the state pollution control board later said), was dismissed off-hand. "How does it matter? We must be prepared for all challenges, extant or anticipated. Pollution is a global phenomenon and we must go globe-trotting to study it," the official, who is a figment of this writer's imagination, said.


Talking of global ramifications, a request has just been received for a high-powered committee to study the designs of the scottish kilt. "There is a remarkable similarity between the tartan design and the Madras check. "It is also not a coincidence that the kilt and the lungi are used to cover the lower part of the male torso. "We must examine if there is any patent violation involved in this, and while doing so we can also explore the possibility of manufacturing scottish kilts in Ludhiana," said the official.


"Brilliant Sir", said the PA, "other honourable members who have been complaining of being left out. We can take care of them now". Scotland, here they come.









The problem with policing is too well known to be rehashed. More important is the solution. In democracies, the relationship between the police and the political executive is always close. Both are bound in the common enterprise of preventing and investigating crime, maintaining law and order and ensuring that society has a well provisioned, well functioning essential service that protects life, liberty and property.


The key to better policing lies in defining clearly the roles and responsibilities of the political executive (i.e. the bureaucracy and the people's representatives) and the police and making them know their limits of power.


Those who fear losing their death grip over the police sometimes deliberately like to create the impression that any rein on the unfettered exercise of will over the police will create an entirely independent and out of control police force. Ironically though, today's dysfunctional police-executive relationship has given us a force with very few limits on its power.


There is no question but that the political executive must always be paramount. But the relationship has to be symbiotic, not parasitic or dependent.


A suggested model for defining this relationship would read: "Responsibilities and independence of State Police Chief"


The supervision, direction and control of the police throughout the state shall, be vested in an officer of the rank of Director General of Police (DGP) designated as the state police chief.


 The DGP shall be responsible to the Minister for


i) carrying out the functions and duties of the police;


ii) the general conduct of the police;


iii) the effective, efficient and economical management of the police;


iv) tendering advice to the Minister;


v) giving effect to any lawful ministerial directions.


 The DGP shall not be not responsible to, and must act independently of, the Minister regarding:


i) the maintenance of order in relation to any individual or group of individuals; and


ii) the enforcement of the law in relation to any individual or group of individuals; and


iii) the investigation and prosecution of offences; and


iv) decisions about individual police officers.


 The Minister may give the DGP directions on matters of government policy that relate to


i) prevention of crime;


ii) maintenance of public safety and public order;


iii) delivery of police services; and


iv) general areas of law enforcement.


 No direction from the Minister to the DGP may have the effect of requiring the non-enforcement of a particular area of law


 The Minister must not give directions to the DGP in relation to the following:


i) enforcement of the criminal law in particular cases and classes of cases


ii) matters that relate to an individual or group of individuals


iii) decisions on individual members of the police


  If there is dispute between the Minister and the DGP in relation to any direction under this section, the Minister must, as soon as practicable after the dispute arises,


i) provide that direction to the DGP in writing; and


ii) publish a copy in the gazette; and


iii) present a copy to the legislature


True, present Acts are hazy about how the police is to be 'supervised' and seemingly do not explicitly condition the political executive's powers. But underlying police manuals specify exactly how and by whom administrative powers will be exercised. Similarly, there is clear law that prohibits any interference in police investigations from any quarter. But all this is observed in the breach.


Judicious supervision has degenerated into bossism and the power to transfer, appoint, promote or suspend police officers is too often used as punishment and reward to bend the police until today 'control and supervision' has become something entirely different from what was originally intended.


Nevertheless, willy-nilly we are in the era of police reforms. After 30-odd years, the National Police Commission's recommendations have been dusted off. Multiple committees have spent endless hours culling out priorities. Under the chairmanship of Soli Sorabjee, the Ministry of Home Affairs has drawn up a brand new Model Police Bill for the benefit of lawmakers across the country. Civil society has polished it and is begging policy makers to pay attention.


Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily's Administrative Reforms Commission has added more suggestions to change the police force into a reliable and trusted police service. The ruling party's manifesto has recognised "the imperative of police reforms" and said "a clear distinction between the political executive and police administration will be made."


Even the Supreme Court has spoken and laid out a road map for reform. Its directions came nearly five years ago. Since then, every government has avoided compliance. Some have gone through the motions change while going about business as usual on the ground. Others have created stunted institutions designed to defeat intention. Yet others have legislated their way out from under the weight of obedience. And some have simply done nothing at all.


Meanwhile, everyday, in the absence of honest and law abiding policing, the security situation for country and individual is worsening. At the root of rotten policing lies the degree to which raw political power has been able to gain control over it. Weak leaderships have bowed low before illegitimate interference in the everyday running of the force and allowed informal but powerful influences to gain a large footprint in all police work. If policing is ever to improve this has to be rectified. The solutions are there. We need the political will.


The writer is Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi








THE demand for meaningful police reforms in India is an old one. Successive governments created many committees and commissions for nearly three decades. In 1979, the National Police Commission (better known as the Dharam Vira Commission) made a number of practical recommendations for police reforms which are relevant today.


In 1996, two former DGPs filed a PIL before the Supreme Court asking the court to direct the states to implement the Dharam Vira Report. But after a decade, the Supreme Court had given clear directives to the Centre and the states to implement the core reforms recommended by the NPC to insulate the police from extraneous pressures and influence. Despite these unambiguous orders, the state governments are dragging feet and betraying unwillingness to lose their stranglehold over the police.


The majority of the states have said that they support the spirit of reforms but objected to many of the directives of the court. Initially, the states, one after another, filed petitions in the Supreme Court asking for more time to implement the directives. On January 11, 2007, the Supreme Court considered the objections and concerns of the states, but said firmly that the process of police reforms must commence immediately. Unfortunately, the process of implementation of police reforms is still not visible in most states.


States like Gujarat, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have questioned the raison d' etre of State Security Commissions. They have brazenly stated that no unwarranted influence is at all exercised over the state police. They have also expressed the view that setting up a State Security Commission with binding powers will lead to the creation of a parallel body which is not accountable to the people of the states.


Further, a fixed two-year tenure for DGP, irrespective of the superannuation date, will block opportunities for promotion of other senior eligible officers who will feel demoralised. Most states have not also complied with the directives of the Supreme Court regarding the establishment of independent Police Complaints Authority at the state and district levels to look into public complaints against police misconduct. The state governments' stand is that the establishment of PCA will demoralise the police personnel and adversely affect their working.


The Soli Sorabjee Committee submitted its draft report to the government on October 31, 2006. But no meaningful steps have been taken so far by the Centre to enact a new law for the police in the Union Territories.


Many states have enacted new police Acts. A number of them have submitted in the Supreme Court that they are in the process of framing new police laws. On the surface, they appear encouraging. But a reality check on the ground will reveal that what is being attempted in many states is contrary to the spirit of instructions issued by the Supreme Court.


The new police Acts that have been passed and the Bills that have been readied have diluted the core systemic reforms stipulated by the Supreme Court. Some states have set up State Security Commissions and packed them with yes men and excluded the Leader of the Opposition. To retain political control over the police, they have made some cosmetic changes and not meaningful systemic reforms.


A three-member Monitoring Committee was set up by the Supreme Court with Justice K.T. Thomas, a former Supreme Court Judge, as its chairperson. It is mandated to examine the affidavits filed by the states. It will also examine the new police Acts passed by the states after the Supreme Court judgment of 2006 and find out if the Acts are in keeping with the letter and spirit of the apex court's directives.


The committee has not yet submitted its final report. Thus, meaningful police reforms in the country are stalled. But the reforms brook no delay. The country needs an apolitical, efficient and revamped police force to take on the forces of disruption and destabilisation. Tomorrow will be too late.


The writer, a former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission, is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi







 Not a single state has managed to fulfil all the criteria prescribed by the Supreme Court with regard to the State Security Commission (SSCs). Most states have set up SSCs that do not reflect the court's criteria with regard to the composition, function and powers. States such as Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh are in complete non-compliance with this directive.


 Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are the only states that have adopted the court's prescribed criteria with regard to the selection, tenure and removal of the Director-General of Police. A few states have only partially incorporated these criteria whilst several states such as Karnataka, Jharkhand, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are not compliant with this directive.


 Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland are in full compliance with this directive which provides for a fixed tenure for officers on operational duties. While a few states have partially satisfied the criteria set by the Supreme Court, it is notable that the majority are not in compliance with this directive.


 Several states such as Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Sikkim have complied with the Supreme Court's directive to separate the law and order police with the investigation police. However, a majority of states have not fully implemented this directive.


 Most states have established a Police Establishment Board, but only Arunachal Pradesh and Goa are in full compliance with all the court's stipulated criteria in this regard. In contrast, Bihar is the only state which has taken no steps towards complying with this directive.


 No state government has established Police Complaints Authorities at both district and state level that fully comply with the Supreme Court's orders. Many states have established Authorities which only partially comply with the court's directive in terms of the composition, mandate and powers.


Many states — Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh have completely ignored this directive. 










Whenever we compare our cinema to that coming from across the pond, the big shiny mainstream cinema from Hollywood that takes over our multiplexes, we look at the two as fundamentally different.


you see, the Indian argument is that we don't have similar attention to detail or art direction or basic continuity or effects or just plain polish because their films are a lot more expensive. They can afford to spend money on all these things, Bollywood explains, while we, making a film at a tenth or even a hundredth of their mega budget costs, can't.


It sounds almost believable, save for the fact that we pay our stars far, far more than they do (Not in terms of actual money, of course. Will Smith's $35 million a film paycheck is enough to buy him, well, Bandra). Here's some perspective: a film that gives Smith or Clooney that kind of money has an overall budget of, say, $200-$250 million, making the big A-lister's price about 10-12 per cent of the total production cost.
   In India, on the other hand, when we pay an Akshay Kumar or an Aamir Khan Rs 40 crore, the film's overall budget scarcely goes beyond, well, 50 crores. Even a smaller film, a film with a production budget of Rs 8 crore spends Rs 3 crore on the main cast, which is almost bloody half!


We essentially hand all our money to the big name, hoping their presence on the poster will get us that all-important opening and lead to a hit film — or at least the perception of a hit, which is pretty much as important, but that's the subject of a whole new rant we'll save for later.


This current Bollywood model, as you can imagine, is alarmingly unrealistic. It bets far too optimistically and short-sightedly on 'star status,' as we conveniently like to label it, and since nobody in the country can possibly guarantee a hit — except Aamir Khan, of course — producers manage to get away by standing on the shoulders of stars but distributors and exhibitors routinely end up licking their wounds.  It also makes it very hard to take our mainstream cinema seriously. The idea that an actor is paid an obscene, fantastical amount while the rest of the film strains to stay within budget is an appalling one. Stars bring audiences to theatres and are, to a large extent, the reason we love our bigscreen movies. They bring the glamour, the charisma, the poster, the buzz: but is that really worth sacrificing the film itself?


The model, however, seems to be imploding, even if slightly. The star prices commanded in Bollywood aren't what they used to be a few years ago, and more and more megastars are etching out percentage deals for themselves where they get a chunk of the profits and less money upfront. It's a strategy that sounds brave, but considering the number of revenue streams available to our cinema today — from ringtones to television rights with many others in between — it's hard for a cleverly-budgeted film to lose money. Even as our cinema routinely loses realism, slickness and intelligence. Which is why audiences are regularly fed idiocy and they lap it up, because that's what they now believe cinema is. 'It's just a movie,' they say, casually forgiving our films far too many flaws. Correction: 'It's just a *Hindi* movie,' goes that justification, since we clearly expect more from regional and English-language cinema. And that just hurts.



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





The report of the Takeover Regulations Advisory Committee (TRAC) deserves to be commended on several counts. First, it is an endeavour to deal with the complex subject of acquisition of shares for substantial control and takeovers on a much more mature footing than the regulations currently in place do. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) Regulations for Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers, notified in 1997, was the country's first attempt at significantly regulating the market for takeovers. Over a period of time, the initial regulations had become complicated by attempts to incorporate into it provisions to plug every loophole and to provide for every situation and nuance of takeovers. The TRAC's report removes many of these complications. For example, "control" and its definition under the present regulations complicated corporate strategy much to the advantage of the legal profession. By emphasising a simple approach that acquisition of de facto control, and not just de jure control, should expressly trigger an open offer obligation, the report makes for clarity. This is a second good thing about the report. Third, it calls upon the corporate sector to look at the market for corporate control as a serious and mature alternative growth strategy. Though international experience of takeovers and mergers, and amalgamations is varied, the votaries of a free market for corporate control argue that this market essentially helps improve valuation of companies and, to that extent, benefits the shareholders. The report makes a case for it when it recommends both the requirement of 100 per cent open offer and raising the threshold limit to 25 per cent. The rationale for increasing the offer size to 100 per cent offer is not that "it happens elsewhere" but that it is necessary in the interest of fairness to all the shareholders. The 25 per cent requirement will help harmonise the delisting requirements with the takeover regulations — a step which was long overdue. The common positive outcome of both will be an improvement in valuations, which benefits the shareholders. These two changes, if implemented, would have a far-reaching impact on India's corporate sector. The corporate sector knows this and hence the apprehension that these may be shot down or diluted on some trite pretext, like corporate takeovers becoming expensive.


There have been other attempts at weeding out some of the definitional and procedural complications which had crept in the existing regulations. These measures should help in reducing the cost of takeovers and market uncertainties. Exemptions from making offer have been made simpler; the timeline for the offers has been reduced and the offer price calculations should hopefully become more practical. More importantly, the proposed mandatory requirement of a committee of independent directors of the target company to comment on the offer and, in the process, to involve the whole board in the takeover process is a progressive step in corporate governance. The codes and regulations for takeovers are predicated on certain cardinal principles like equality of opportunity to all shareholders, protection of minority interests, transparency and fairness. It is good that the TRAC report, while proposing the changes, has maintained these principles, like the 1997 Sebi report. What remains to be seen is how many of the recommendations are in fact implemented. One can expect some lobbying against some of these ideas from vested interests. Sebi will have to take a pragmatic view and effectively implement these recommendations without getting into another confrontation.








The Government of India's initiative to focus on agricultural development in the eastern states, as represented by the meeting that the Union ministers for finance and agriculture attended in Kolkata last week, is welcome if belated. Some may see this as a pre-election gimmick with an eye to elections in Bihar and Bengal. But there is no gainsaying the fact that the region's agricultural economy needs a productivity boost. Among the ideas mooted, a task force is to be set up to ensure speedy popularisation of hybrid rice in the same way as has been done in China where over 60 per cent of the total land under rice now grows hybrid rice. While the talk of a "second green revolution" in eastern India has been heard for a long time, the recent spike in food prices, due largely to supply-side constraints, seems to have stirred activity in New Delhi. Moving green revolution technologies to new areas is one way of boosting land productivity in the country, while at the same time making the growth process more regionally inclusive. The eastern region has the maximum untapped potential for high-yield farming. It has fertile, deep alluvial soils, copious water resources and plenty of sunlight — all the prerequisites for productive agriculture. Moreover, the present crop yields in the eastern zone are far below those in other zones.


While all this bodes well for the success of efforts to enhance crop productivity in the East, the proposed strategy of concentrating chiefly on hybrid rice for this purpose seems dicey. It is, no doubt, true that hybrid rice has the potential to yield 20 to 25 per cent more rice than the available high-yielding rice varieties. In fact, the yield advantage may be even more in the eastern region where the present rice productivity is quite low because of poor penetration of high-yielding varieties. But, at the same time, what also needs to be borne in mind is that hybrid rice cultivation requires relatively costlier inputs, especially seeds that need to be bought afresh every year. The resource-starved farmers of the East may not be able to afford it. Besides, it also requires specialised skills for both seed production and crop cultivation which, at present, are found to be wanting in the region. Farmers who have failed to adopt the available and relatively cost-effective agronomic techniques, may find it difficult to straight away graduate to sophisticated hybrid rice cultivation technology. Though the government intends to involve private seed companies in the production of hybrid rice seeds, these firms will need time to acquaint themselves with rice hybridisation technology and build adequate trained manpower to take it up on a large enough scale. This apart, the fact also is that the farming systems based on single or double cropping, as has been the case in the north-western bread basket of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, tend to create ecological problems in the longer run. The better option will be to promote diversified farming systems right from the beginning.









One of the key challenges for India's foreign and security policy for the next decade and beyond will be the management of China's emergence as a great Asian and, increasingly, global power. This challenge is further complicated by the simultaneous, though less spectacular, emergence of India itself as a country with significant and increasing economic and military capabilities. For both countries, Asia remains the principal platform for power projection.


In fashioning an appropriate China strategy, India must recognise that the essential character of India-China relations is and will remain competitive. We represent two contrasting but long-standing civilisations. Each has its own deeply rooted cultural ethos despite the shared legacy of Buddhism. In more contemporary times, China has seen its emergence in Asia as regaining its historical, though sometimes mythical, status as a pre-eminent power, at the summit of a hierarchical economic and security architecture in the region. There has been and will continue to be resistance to the emergence of any rival centre of political and economic power. This has been a consistent theme throughout the past 60 years of China's posture towards India. However, in a classic exercise of the Chinese art of "walking on two legs", China has also sought to cultivate a more positive and benign relationship with India, to avoid tipping India into an overt and threatening military alliance with one or more of China's adversaries. More recently, tactical alliances with India have been useful to China in safeguarding its interests on several global issues such as climate change and multilateral trade. The "Copenhagen spirit" is a manifestation of this. Tactically, there may be, at times, a more friendly and cooperative approach. At other times, there may be negative pressures, such as activism on the unsettled border or a more threatening posture on the Tibet issue. What is critical for us to recognise is that this does not deflect China from its strategic objective of preventing India from challenging her march towards predominance and pre-eminence in Asia.


 Let us look at the historical record. China has never hesitated to use its alliance with Pakistan to keep India tethered firmly in South Asia. We have a rare example here of a nuclear weapon state actively assisting a non-nuclear weapon state in acquiring both strategic weapons and the means of delivery. The target was India. This has been for China a low-cost, low-risk means of constraining India without having to confront her directly. In fact, at crucial junctures, China has refrained from intervening on behalf of Pakistan. This happened in 1965, in 1971 and again more recently during the Kargil conflict. In December 1971, the US NSA, Henry Kissinger, virtually pleaded with his Chinese interlocutor, Ambassador Huang Hua, that China should carry out some military operations on India's borders to relieve the pressure on Pakistan. But China did not bite. China has worked against India's claim to permanent membership of the UN Security Council and lobbied actively to deny India the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group to enable her to participate in international nuclear commerce. But China has avoided being the only holdout in publicly opposing India. This points to an important aspect of Chinese behaviour, that is, some aversion to risk-taking in pursuing its diplomatic objectives relating to India. We need to build upon this in our engagement with China.


India must learn to pursue its interests with the same unsentimental calculation that China displays in advancing her perceived interests. We, too, need to learn to "walk on two legs" and pursue a more nuanced policy. We should welcome constructive engagement with China on issues where our interests are convergent. At the same time, we should not hesitate to demonstrate our willingness to defend our interests with firmness. It was interesting to see that during our NSA's recent visit to China, the two sides spoke of the need to respect each other's "core concerns". This is a good sign provided there is clarity about what these core concerns are and how legitimate they are perceived to be by others. We should not accept that China's territorial claim to the South China sea is its legitimate core concern.


There is no doubt that in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis, China has acquired greater diplomatic clout in relation to other major powers. This has the potential of shrinking our own room for manoeuvre and increasing our vulnerability. However, precisely because of our own display of economic resilience and dynamism, and the significant acquisition of military, in particular, naval capabilities, our diplomatic clout, too, has increased. The sheer weight of India's sub-continental profile makes it an indispensable partner in tackling any global or cross-cutting issue such as energy security, non-proliferation and public health. Here is an opportunity to expand our own strategic space vis-a-vis other major powers, including China.


It has been our experience that China has been more accommodating towards India whenever it has felt that India's range of options had expanded. It was China which proposed a "strategic and cooperative partnership" with India in April 2005 and negotiated what is undoubtedly, from India's standpoint, a favourable set of "Basic Principles and Political Parameters" as the basis for resolving the boundary issue. This happened in the aftermath of the historic strategic partnership forged between India and the EU in November 2004 and the impending and significant upgradation of Indo-US relations envisaged for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to Washington later in July that year. The more diplomatic options India is perceived to have, the more diversified its relations with other major powers, the greater the display of accommodation on the part of China on Sino-Indian issues. Therefore, we should actively pursue coalition-building globally as well as with all those major powers who wish to see a more plural and loosely structured economic and security architecture in Asia. This would include Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Vietnam. We should promote a more inclusive arrangement in the region, welcoming the participation of the US and Russia. This is not a containment policy towards China. It is a strategy of expanding India's options, which would help manage relations with friends and adversaries alike. After all, even friends should know that we have alternatives available.


The author was India's foreign secretary and until recently the prime minister's special envoy








The developed world in general and the United States in particular are worried about losing their manufacturing competitiveness to emerging economies, especially leading Asian players. This is a rerun of the anxiety that had gripped the US in the late 80s when it saw its leadership position threatened by Japan. The Japanophobia then gripping the US was reflected in the anti-Japan polemic in the thriller Rising Sun by Michael Crichton. At a more serious level, a detailed study, Made in America, by the MIT Commission focused on the need for strategy in production, better balance between cooperation and individualism and investment in physical and human capital. It didn't quite ask for the "developmental state" that was supposedly at the root of the Japanese success but was a step away from the notion that a developed economy wedded to neo-liberal economics did not need an industrial policy.


Today, in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the pall of gloom over the US, Europe and Japan (it is on the other side of the fence now) that refuses to lift, developed country opinion leaders are counting their worry beads again. A joint study by the US Council of Competitiveness and the consultancy alliance Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has evolved a global manufacturing competitiveness index which places three Asian countries — China, India and South Korea, in that order — at the top. They are followed by the US, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Singapore and Poland (in that order) to make up the top-10. What is even more serious is that in five years, Brazil, Mexico, Poland and Thailand (it will become the 10th country) will move up and the US, Japan and Singapore will move down a notch or two. China, India and Korea will retain their ranks at first, second and third. While China will remain at the top with an unchanged score of 10, India will improve its score slightly whereas Korea's will decline a little.


Importantly, this is not a mixture of cross-country data and polled perceptions, which usually go to make up such league tables, but wholly made up of the latter. It is based on how manufacturing CEOs view manufacturing competitiveness around the world. They were asked to rank the importance of components of manufacturing competitiveness and then the overall competitiveness of 26 countries today and five years from now. Larger, more global companies have been given a greater weightage (they know more about how manufacturing-friendly countries of the world are) and, therefore, have had a greater impact on the outcome of the survey. However, 50 per cent of the respondents operate out of developing countries. The executives have identified many drivers of manufacturing competitiveness but talent-driven innovation — made possible by the steady supply of highly skilled workers, scientists, researchers and engineers — is considered the most important in the long run. Low cost — material and structural (regulatory environment) — is important but more is being able to gain entry. Sustainability will come from talent. This is what puts China, India and Korea at the top. India particularly scores by its ability to play host to design, development and manufacturing and is, therefore, becoming "an integral part of their (many executives') global manufacturing enterprise and location strategy".


So, are the developed countries in permanent decline? Not necessarily. There also has to be an energy and environmental sustainability agenda. US, Japan and Germany, which currently appear to be losing out in manufacturing, may have a renaissance through their sustainable policies. Significantly, the report sees a paradox emerging. Western nations with more democratic, social and environmental policies are in decline whereas emerging markets with their large government infusions for manufacturing — some leading manufacturers are government-owned — are on the rise. Governments, especially in emerging markets, are competing with nations.


Declining nations, says the study, are outsourcing their core manufacturing strength — a key link in the innovation equation of research-design-manufacture-after sales. These factors are synergistic — and with the manufacturing step missing, much know-how is taken out of the equation. Industrialised countries need to address the larger issues of manufacturing and the supply chains that are built on complex and often incoherent and fragmented patchworks of social, political and economic systems. As such, there will be a growing tension between free-market capitalism and state-run enterprises, especially when security frictions are involved. (Huawei, the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer, is currently making heavy weather in the US.) The bogeyman of the state as a driver of aggressive challengers in manufacturing competitiveness is emerging again, reminiscent of the late 80s.


A lot of the logic in the report has impeccable academic backing. Michael Spence, a Nobel prize winning economist, in a recent article in the Financial Times joins his voice with the Intel chief to warn that manufacturing is vanishing in the US and manufacturing jobs are moving offshore. Spillovers between R&D, product development and manufacturing will be lost if manufacturers leave. US President Barack Obama's new export council is a move in the right direction, he says, and calls for a public-private partnership to invest in technologies which create capital-intensive jobs. Their high labour productivity will support high rich country incomes. So, there is both hard rational thinking and some possibly exaggerated fears, as was the case earlier.


Where does this leave India? The second rank, for whatever it is worth, does not mean that the massive unfinished agenda in infrastructure and regulatory cost reduction, not to speak of the need to remove poverty, can be forgotten. The great asset which has to be built upon is the ability to address the whole product lifecycle — design, develop and manufacture. And the greatest need is to remember that the global situation is intensely dynamic. (The rise and stagnation of Japan is a lesson from recent history.) Complacency or hubris will inevitably bring nemesis.








Basic acquaintance with law and access to legal information have become indispensable to everyone these days, but no species of knowledge is more difficult to get at the desired moment. It is still a sealed book and patrimony of the legal profession. The courts are the least accessible of all branches of government. The situation has changed little even after computerisation of courts more than a decade ago.

Though the Supreme Court, high courts and tribunals have their own websites, there has been little effort to make them more user-friendly in a decade. On the other side of the globe, the Supreme Court of the Philippines has joined social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter so that the court can swiftly announce its decisions and answer criticism.


 Though most websites of the courts are designed and operated by the National Informatics Centre, a government outfit, the quality of the websites varies vastly. The Supreme Court website is easily the most helpful, though it takes a few days to upload the judgments. Orders come even more slowly. The court's decision can be searched in 11 ways, like the name of the petitioner/respondent, judge's name, case number, date of the judgment, the statute or the key phrase.


However, the websites of the high courts give very few options. If one wants to read an important judgment of the Madras High Court, for instance, one must know the case number, the judge's name or the petitioner's name. This means that only the parties involved or their lawyers can get access to the judgment because only they know the case number and the names of the judges who passed the judgment. The legal profession in general, researchers, law students, faculties, public interest activists and the media are not able to read judgments first hand. Print version of judgments come months later.


The Calcutta High Court also requires you to know the case number, the judges' names or the date of the judgment if you want to read the decision. Delhi, Gauhati, Rajasthan and Kerala High Courts, among others, also pose this problem. The Karnataka High Court has a hybrid search system with alphabetical order and date, the latter following the American system of year, month and date last.


Then there are some high courts that give choices without clearly defining them. The Allahabad High Court, for instance, has divided the cases into "important decisions that were in headlines", larger bench decisions, leading/bench cases and judgments from its own publication, Indian Law Reports. The last issue of the print edition came out in summer of 2008.


When you search for high courts in one way, there are 16 of them. But using another way, there are 20. The Sikkim High Court, which has only 89 cases before it, delivers only a few judgments in a year and there is no indication whether they are available on its site.


The speed with which the judgments are uploaded also leaves much to be desired. A random search on websites of high courts shows that some of them upload judgments and orders very selectively and slowly, while some others provide information excessive information.


If this is the condition of the websites of high courts, one can imagine the state of the websites of subordinate courts and appellate tribunals — more backward and discordant. The Intellectual Property Appellate Board has not uploaded any order this year. In its five years, it seems to have delivered just over 200 orders with large gaps in time. A search for the judgments of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal turned out to be a wild goose chase. There are three debt recovery tribunals functioning in Tamil Nadu, but none of them has a link for judgments or orders.


There is a committee, headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court, for developing and improving computerisation in courts. It is for this "E-Committee" to look into these aspects and make access to court websites easy and cheap. One of the first steps it should take is to call the registrars of the high courts or the officials dealing with their websites and bring in some uniformity in the search options.








Chairman-cum-MD, United India Insurance Company Ltd


Treatment costs vary hugely across hospitals and are making health insurance unviable. The PPN system is an attempt to control fraud while limiting the rise in health care costs


The concept of preferred provider network (PPN) introduced by public sector general insurers has brought into focus the serious problems faced by the health care sector today. The health care providers are unregulated with no standardised treatment protocols, no standardisation of costs to be charged and no data maintenance in proper formats. This results in making health care unaffordable for the common man. Health insurance, which is expected to be the financier of the system, has run into problems of unviability with loss ratios running in excess of 120 per cent — this doesn't include insurers' expenses. Health insurance is the fastest-growing line of business for general insurers, growing at 35 per cent annually in the last decade to reach Rs 8,300 crore in 2009-10. With less than 10 per cent of the population covered under health insurance, there is a huge potential to be tapped. What is worrying, however, is the galloping and unjustified claims. Customers would be seriously impacted if the sums insured by them are burnt faster with nothing available for unexpected ailments in future and a possibility of health premiums increasing significantly.


Almost all health insurers provide a cashless facility to customers, either directly or through third party administrators (TPAs), where the customer undergoes treatment without bearing any expenses and the insurer settles the claim directly with the hospital. This has led to the creation of "network hospitals". Based on the MoU between the health care provider and the insurer/TPA, cashless service is provided to the customer. The last decade has seen a steady increase in this "network" to cater to different categories of customers and ensure a fairly good geographical spread and a mix of hospitals providing tertiary and secondary care as well as premium and non-premium facilities.


However, health care costs are increasing at an alarming rate. Since increasing premiums from time to time, in keeping with rising claims, would make health insurance unaffordable for and inaccessible to the common man, the focus of insurers today is on a more efficient claims management mechanism.


One area of concern is the steady increase in the treatment costs of hospitals and lack of standardisation, both in terms of treatment procedures and cost of treatment. Experience has shown that there is lack of uniformity in the claims paid by TPAs for the same types of diseases, with hospitals claiming widely different rates for similar treatments and durations of hospital stay.


The Eleventh Report of the Committee on Public Undertakings in its report titled "Health-insurance: A horizontal study" has noted that the unregulated mushrooming of health service providers across the country has resulted in escalation of health care costs. The committee also emphasised the need for fixation of standardised and properly graded pricing, evolution of uniform treatment protocols and accountability of health service providers for successful functioning and healthy growth of health insurance sector in the country.


Non-standard billing, with cost of treatment for the same ailment varying significantly across health care providers, necessitated a thorough study of the existing arrangement with network hospitals which offer cashless access to the customer.


The PPN initiative marks a major step in claims control in view of escalating and uncontrolled billing by providers.


PPN will lead to a standardisation of the cost and protocols of medical treatment. It would also help in reducing the cost of treatment which will ultimately benefit the customer, by not exhausting the entire sum insured in a single stay at the hospital. PPN seeks to arrest undue increase in healthcare costs and also assists in controlling fraud.


PPN has around 131 hospitals in Delhi NCR, 74 in Mumbai, 65 in Chennai and 58 in Bangalore. The insurance industry, health care providers and industry bodies are in discussion to extend this network and spread it to other centres in India. There is a clear understanding of the dire need for all stakeholders including the consumers to respect and maintain the integrity of the system if we desire to achieve the goal of bringing quality health care to all at reasonable rates, thus making health insurance available at an affordable premium.


Dr Pervez Ahmed

CEO & MD, Max Healthcare Institute Ltd

Superior technology, infrastructure and expertise raise costs but are incorrectly seen as inflated bills. Differential pricing of insurance, co-pay, etc are ways to cut losses


I find it paradoxical for the health care industry to be involved in the current imbroglio over the cashless mediclaim facility considering that ultimately all of us are on the same side with respect to customer satisfaction at affordable rates.


Moreover, corporate hospitals, besides introducing specialised treatments and structured work processes, brought the much needed transparency in an industry where malpractices were not unheard off.


It is, therefore, highly ironical that today, the same corporate hospitals are standing in confrontation, accused of overcharging and lack of transparency. In retrospect, I'm sure all concerned will view these unilateral decisions by certain insurance providers as a knee-jerk reaction to an issue that could have been easily resolved.


From the perspective of a health care provider, it is essential to mention that health care in India is coming of age and today we have the technology, infrastructure and expertise to treat highly complicated diseases which could only have been treated abroad earlier.


However, this progress, besides the usual inflationary measures, has added to the cost of treatment of the same diseases compared to what it was 30 years ago. This may have been wrongly construed by some as overinflated bills.


Even then, if stakeholders come across proven cases of "unsubstantiated overcharging", these should be individually addressed, thus causing minimal inconvenience to customers.


As per data released by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) on claims for the financial year 2008-09, tertiary care hospitals, which account for 7 per cent of claims, take 40 per cent claims value, while the balance 93 per cent constituting of smaller nursing homes/hospitals take 60 per cent claims value.


Furthermore, data proves that in 95 per cent or more cases, there is no departure from standardised medical care that translates into over-billing.


Having said that, public sector insurers are an important part of the health care value chain and are valued partners, and we do agree that their losses are unsustainable.


Also, while we do not have either experience or expertise to advise the insurance companies to work together on how to cost and price their products to run their business efficiently, we do believe that certain steps could be taken by the insurers.


Measures such as differentially pricing insurance products on the basis of hospital category, pricing group insurance schemes appropriately, starting small amounts of co-pay in group insurance, etc. could have been tried to stem the losses.


However, more than dissecting the current situation it is imperative for clinicians, insurers, third party administrators (TPAs) and the government to develop a methodology of working out a different pricing structure of procedures based upon an easy, identifiable process.


An India-centric solution is the need of the hour so that the "ills" that have occurred in health care in certain developed nations do not occur in the country. Hence, understanding the structure of the health insurance delivery system, service and underwriting gaps, process problems, expectations, etc. in order to tackle the rising cost of health care is immediately required.


I would conclude by saying that as an important stakeholder in the delivery of healthcare, both at a preventive and curative level, we are obliged to work in closed concert with the peer institutions to ensure health insurance consumers get full value, and in the long term collectively work together to address proactively the drivers which are known to influence health care costs.


Hence to control costs, we look forward to greater transparency in terms of mutual knowledge of client and service portfolios, protocols, tariff structure, service delivery promises made to customers and seamless communication between all stakeholders.









SHOULD India create a sovereign wealth fund? The debate has been on for the last four years, with those in favour hitting a wall broadly in the shape of the redoubtable former RBI governor Y V Reddy. Mr Reddy's opposition notwithstanding, there is merit in the proposal, provided we can devise an institutional mechanism that can deploy the funds with integrity and flexibility. Despite running a current account deficit year after year, India has foreign exchange reserves of around $280 billion. The practice at present is to invest these funds in sovereign debt instruments of the world's strongest economies, reshuffling the portfolio to minimise exchange rate losses. The return on such assets is ridiculously low, and is slated to remain low for some time. The opportunity cost is huge. When the private sector borrows $1 billion abroad and brings the money home, and the RBI buys up the dollars, releases rupees and then sterilises the rupees so released by selling government bonds, the following things happen. The economy would have borrowed $1 billion at the commercial rate available to the borrowers, but has no additional resources for investment and will earn a paltry return on the $1 billion transferred out. It makes far more sense for a part of the foreign exchange reserves to be held in the form of claims on production assets that have the capacity to yield high returns. Higher returns normally come with higher risk. And it would be a terrible mistake to deploy forex reserves in a risky fashion. However, if the size of the portion of forex reserves that are used to buy claims on production assets is sufficiently large to afford diversification of risk across sectors, economies and types of claims, the risk can be mitigated to a significant extent.


The catch is the integrity challenge. Can we have a fund like Temasek or the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, professionally managed, picking winners, tolerating some losses? To answer in the negative is far too cynical, and ignores innovations like the new pension system, where retirement savings are being managed by competent professionals in a competitive framework.







THE draft takeover code has a number of goodies for small investors. One such goodie is the 'fairness opinion' that requires Indian companies that become buyout targets to seek a second opinion to assess if the terms of the deal are in the interests of shareholders. Once incorporated in the final code, the board of directors of the target company will necessarily be required to ask an investment bank to evaluate the bid — possibly rival bids — and disseminate its recommendation to shareholders to help them take an informed decision regarding the future course of action. The use of outside counsel to offer a fairness opinion on a bid (read: price) is common practice in advanced Western markets where the takeovers are common, thanks in part to leveraged buyouts (buyouts financed by taking on large debts). But is noticeably absent in India. There are two reasons for this, apart, of course, from the lower level of M&A activity in India. One, because our overall levels of corporate governance are pretty low and, two, because the boards of directors are usually packed with promoters' nominees who have little incentive to do anything that might go counter to their benefactors' interests. Retail investors are often clueless about the merits of the open offer that follows once the stake of the acquiring company in the target company reaches the level (trigger point) specified in the takeover code. Contrast the situation in India with what happened in the context of the Kraft takeover of Cadbury where the Cadbury board initially came out against the bid, forcing the US company to revise its bid.


The fairness opinion is an attempt to keep in step with global best corporate governance practice. It will bring in transparency and together with hike in the compulsory open offer to 75% and pricing changes proposed in the draft code — under which both promoters and retail shareholders will be offered the same price — will reduce the scope for sweetheart deals between unscrupulous promoters and the acquiring company. A side benefit would be an end to litigations by minority shareholders and investors over perceived attempts to trample over their rights. Fairness, it would seem, in more ways than one.









AS NICKNAMES go, you can't get more aggressively alliterative than Boom Boom as Shahid Afridi came to be known after scoring the fastest century on October 4, 1996, in what was then termed as instant cricket. Today, of course, ODIs are no longer the fastest form of cricket, thanks to Twenty-20 (T20), which is made-to-order for prime-time TV viewing. And it's not just Afridi's batting which is Boom Boom. Even his decision to retire from Test cricket after captaining Pakistan for the first time in the ongoing Test series against Australia was made in superfast fashion. Within minutes of losing the first Test last Friday at the neutral venue of Lord's in England, Pakistan's newest captain announced on the BBC Test Match Special radio programme that he would be retiring from the longer version of the game and would focus on ODIs and T20 since "I am no longer capable of playing Test cricket". That Afridi hates hanging around was demonstrated in both the manner in which he got out — after scoring a rapidfire 31 off 15 deliveries in the first innings at Lord's with two sixers and four fours, he was caught while trying to hit the ball out of the park — and the speed at which he announced his resignation from Test cricket!


Americans especially find it difficult to understand how viewers can watch a five-day cricket match. Which could be why the CNN online version headlined the Afridi decision as Boom Boom quits Test cricket. That Test cricket is testing not just the patience of some viewers but players is indicated by the fact that hard-hitting batsmen like England's Andrew Flintoff have decided to play only ODIs and T20 cricket. And West Indies captain Chris Gayle was even quoted as questioning the relevance of five-day cricket on the eve of last summer's Test series in England. From an individual nickname, Boom Boom could even become a collective noun signifying aggressive batting at its rapid-fire best!






THE history of dismantling of administered price mechanism (APM) in the fuel sector offers an unusual window to the hypocrisy of political parties. Depending on political expediency, each party has both supported and opposed this reform at different points in time. The only significant exception is offered by the left-wing parties, which have never met a control they did not like.


Beginning with the members of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), it can be safely assumed that they currently support the dismantling of the APM. From media reports, there seems no substantive opposition to this move within the UPA.


But looking at the history, it was the United Front government of prime minister I K Gujaral that had initiated the original action to introduce the reform in 1997. In November that year, the Gujaral government sent the notification detailing the dismantling of the APM with end of March 2002 as the deadline. As the supporter of the Gujaral government from outside, the Congress was then on board on the reform.


In the event, the Gujaral government was shortlived and was succeeded by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in March 1998. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and finance minister Yashwant Sinha, the NDA took the cause of systematic reforms. In Budget 2001, Mr Sinha announced his intention to honour the deadline for dismantling the APM set by the Gujaral government.


And, after much groundwork with active help of the then-petroleum minister Ram Naik, he prepared a detailed roadmap of deregulation, got the Cabinet approval and announced it in the 2002 Budget speech. The APM was effectively dismantled with both petrol and diesel prices deregulated and the oil pool account abolished effective April 1, 2002.


According to one report, petrol prices rose 22% and diesel prices 27% in fiscal year 2002-03. Private domestic and foreign players such as Reliance and Essar Oil showed great keenness to enter the downstream marketing of oil on a substantial scale. Reliance alone proposed to open more than 5,000 outlets relative to the existing total of 20,000 public sector outlets countrywide.

But that was not to be. In May 2004, the NDA lost the election and the UPA came to office. One of the early decisions of the new government was to cancel the 2002 notification and to revert to the bad old days of the APM. The Congress, which had supported the United Front government when the latter issued the original notification, now danced to the tune of its Communist allies and the socialists within its own house. Foremost among the latter was Mani Shankar Aiyar who, as the newly-appointed petroleum minister, led the charge to reinstate the APM.


For the rest of its first term, the UPA held a tight lid on fuel prices. Mr Aiyar departed as petroleum minister in January 2006 but that made no difference. Skyrocketing crude prices in 2008 also made no serious dent in the domestic petrol and diesel prices. The losses of the public sector oil companies — IOC, HPCL and BPCL — mounted, but the government made no significant change to the policy. It routinely gave the necessary guarantees on the public debt the oil companies floated to cover their losses.


BUT fortunes turned yet again. The left parties split from the UPA in the 2009 election and received unprecedented beating at the hands of the electorate. The Congress, on the other hand, came back much stronger. In parallel, the debt from the losses in the fuel sector kept mounting. With social sector expenditures having been raised dramatically and expected to continue to rise in the foreseeable future, resurrection of the APM reform became an attractive and feasible option. So, prime minister Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee have gathered courage to begin dismantling the price controls yet again


The BJP, which had once spearheaded the reform and whose former finance minister Yashwant Sinha described the 2004 decision by the UPA to reinstate the APM as 'a matter of great pity' in his 2007 memoir, now opposes it. Ironically, explaining her call for shutting down India for a day to protest the reform, BJP's Sushma Swaraj has said, "We gave the call for the Bharat Bandh mainly to shake the UPA government out of its slumber." One wonders who is awake and who is in slumber here!

The electorate is often sensitive to price hikes, especially when a clear finger can be pointed at the government for having caused it. In the US, no president would dare advocate a substantial increase in tax on petrol even though that would be the most effective measure to curb carbon emissions. The US public accepts price increases if they result from a rise in the international price of crude but not if the government causes it through tax hikes.


Seen in this light, it is not surprising that the BJP, which is currently without a clear agenda with which it could lure voters back to its fold, has chosen to seize the opportunity offered by a government policy initiative leading to petrol and diesel price hikes.

For its part, the UPA government will need to stay the course and see the reform to its logical end. Strikes and bandhs no longer have the salience they once had. Moreover, there would be many quiet leaders within the BJP who recognise the merit of the reform.

Indeed, when invited to comment on the latest UPA effort at deregulation by ET, the former NDA petroleum minister Ram Naik actually complained that while he had deregulated both petroleum and diesel prices, the UPA had left the control on diesel intact. He questioned the timing and some of the details of the reform but not the reform itself.


The author is a professor at Columbia University and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at    the Brookings Institution)








HIGH-quality external auditing is a central component of sound corporate governance, yet what determines audit quality? We study events surrounding ChuoAoyama's failed audit of Kanebo, a large Japanese cosmetics company whose management engaged in a massive accounting fraud. ChuoAoyama was PwC's Japanese affiliate and one of Japan's Big Four audit firms. In May 2006, the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA) suspended ChuoAoyama's operations for two months as punishment for its role in the accounting fraud at Kanebo.


This action was unprecedented, and followed a sequence of events that seriously damaged ChuoAoyama's reputation for audit quality. We use these events to provide evidence on the importance of auditors' reputation for audit quality in a setting where litigation plays essentially no role. We find that ChuoAoyama's audit clients switched away from the firm as questions about its audit quality became more pronounced but before it was clear that the firm would be wound up, consistent with the importance of auditors' reputation for delivering quality. The evidence provides support for the view that auditor reputation is important in an economy where the legal system does not provide incentives for auditors to deliver quality. Auditors' reputation for delivering quality is extremely important. A substantial number of clients dropped ChuoAoyama as the extent of its audit quality problems became apparent, but before it became clear that the firm would be forced out of business.








Amit Mitra

Secretary General Ficci

Industrial recovery is still slow


SINCE December 2009, the index of industrial production (IIP) has seen some extraordinary growth rates that were beyond anyone's expectations. Is this a real turnaround? A close analysis of IIP numbers would show that while recovery has started, a real turnaround is still some months away.


Before analysing the IIP numbers, let me first state that IIP itself suffers from multiple problems, acknowledged by the government. In fact, in 2008, the then-finance minister P Chidambaram had questioned the reliability of IIP when it had dipped sharply. So, IIP in itself, due to its inherent limitations, may not be a comprehensive indicator of industrial activity, let alone economic activity.


Focusing on statistics, in April-May 2010, IIP witnessed a decent growth of 14% but this did not cover some vital sectors. Only one sector, machinery and equipment, alone contributed 37% to this high growth. Transport equipment, metal products and mining contributed another 32% to IIP growth. This implies that around 70% growth of IIP was a result of high growth in just four sectors out of a total of 19 sectors.


First, in a number of important sectors, employing tens of millions of workers, like textiles, apparel, wood, chemicals, etc, the growth is nowhere close to the IIP growth figures. Secondly, the core sector, vital to industrial production, is not growing even at half the growth rate of the IIP. The core sector growth is a good barometer of economic momentum as it includes important sectors such as steel, cement, etc, which have strong linkages to construction and infrastructure. Third is the low base effect. Manufacturing sector achieved one of its highest growth rates of 19.4% in April 2010 over a low base of 0.4% in 2009. Even the capital goods sector's high growth of 72.8% in April 2010 was over a negative base of 6% in 2009.


In a nutshell, despite these seemingly-staggering IIP numbers, recovery of industrial production is still uneven and slow, particularly in labour-intensive and vital infrastructure-related sectors. Therefore, a hasty withdrawal of fiscal stimulus or further monetary tightening at this point could hurt the growth process.


Dharmakirti Joshi

Chief Economist Crisil

The index doesn't capture true picture


THE index of industrial production (IIP) grew at over 15% between January and April this year. This was much higher than the industrial growth trend rate during the decade. Even in the boom years of 2003-04 to 2007-08 when the overall economy was growing at a near 9%, the average IIP growth remained at 9.4%. During this period, domestic demand was strong, exports were booming and the global economy was healthy. Today, the post-crisis global growth scenario is fragile and domestic private consumption demand in India is yet to lift convincingly. The over 15% growth in IIP clearly overstates the growth momentum in industry.


One must keep in mind that the IIP growth rate is reported on a year-on-year basis. During January-April 2009, IIP growth was at 0.7%, much below the trend rate. So, the weak base of last year statistically raised the growth in the first four months of this year to over 15%. The year-on-year growth did not reflect the weakening month-on-month growth momentum and was clearly not a reflection of what lay ahead.


Another issue that pertains to IIP data relates to its representativeness. The year 1993-94 is taken as the base to compute IIP and it includes items like typewriters that have a much lower significance in industrial production today. This implies that IIP may not accurately capture the overall industrial activity. When IIP growth was weak last year, it was argued that it was understating industrial growth as IIP did not adequately capture industrial performance. GDP and WPI have already moved to the new base of 2004-05. It is high time IIP did too.


The IIP growth will settle at an average of 9% in 2010-11. This implies that IIP growth will slip further in the coming months as the weak base effect wears off. The process of reversion of industrial growth towards its trend rate has already started in May 2010 with IIP growth declining to 11.5%. As there was no need to be exuberant when growth was over 15%, there is no need to be concerned now, when it is decreasing to sustainable levels.







THERE has been some debate on the value addition by credit rating agencies (CRAs) as they did not predict the crisis and, in fact, perpetuated the same by providing favourable ratings to otherwise low-rated instruments to enhance their own profits. The apparent conflict of interest justifies the need to revisit the concept of credit rating and its implementation.


The purpose of credit rating is to bridge the information asymmetry between the issuer and investor of a financial instrument. While the issuer might know that it may or may not be able to service the instrument, the investor may not be in a position to take an informed decision. This is where the CRA provides an unbiased view on the state of the entity and its ability to meet its commitment on time. While some large firms may have inhouse expertise to do so, most investors would need this opinion from a neutral party.


CRAs do walk the razor's edge. They clarify that they are paid by the companies they rate and that ratings are only opinion and not predictions of the risk of a given instrument. Often investors use, unwisely, this rating as the only basis for an investment decision. CRAs do work on the basis of reputation and, hence, have to retain their credibility.

There are basically two reasons why rating agencies have not been spot-on during a crisis: the agency does not understand the product that it rates, as with derivatives, and, more seriously, a favourable rating is provided to large clients in return for a healthy fee. This conflict of interest may arise whenever there is an implicit principal (client)-agency model. However, what has transpired during the crises was more of an exception than a rule. This is an issue that has to be addressed as it falls within the purview of the administration of the process of credit rating, and not the rating concept per se.


There is simply no alternative signal available to the market about the worthiness of a financial instrument. Such signals are used by a multitude of players for taking decisions. Provident and pension funds make their investment guided by this rating to comply with their requirement to avoid high risk. Even large investment houses with inhouse expertise would like to have an additional credible and independent opinion. At the retail level, credit rating bridges information asymmetry.


However, given all ratings and CRAs are not infallible, there is scope to strengthen the systems. Internally, they need to hone skills in the products being evaluated. Internal systems must be tightened as CRAs can be viewed as the first tier of regulation in the rating system hierarchy and, in a way, are selfregulatory bodies.
   The rating process has to be unbiased and should be driven by an external rating committee approach so that the final decision actually vests with a panel of experts who have no business consideration of CRAs. Another step would be to ensure that the analysts do not have an interest in the company they are rating. Also, consultancy/advisory and credit rating businesses (where they exist) should be totally separated. The so-called Chinese walls are really quite porous.


At the macro level, the overall environment under which the CRAs function must change. The regulatory processes need to be firmed up, their compliance ensured. A greater level of disclosure on the different businesses that are being carried out, the fees being received, adherence to good corporate policies, the revelation of the internal code of conduct, etc. Periodic process and compliance audit is strongly recommended in accordance with the Iosco Code. This will not only help bring about better self-regulation but also instill confidence within the market players.

There should be wide-scale publicity given to the performance of rating companies in terms of incorrect rating. The main performance parameter of a CRA is stability of its ratings and by making its performance public, they would be forced to perform better as their credibility would be at stake.


While there is a view expressed that in developed financial markets, ratings should be optional, the Indian market is not mature enough on account of the existence of information asymmetry and, hence, would need CRAs. Even in developed markets, companies would still go for rating, as it would embellish the credibility of the instrument.


It is, therefore, clear that we do need a credit rating as there is no other signalling mechanism today that is available to all investors. CRAs do play an important role in assessing risk and its allocation, and also help to allocate capital efficiently across all sectors of the economy by pricing risk appropriately. The rating agencies have generally acquitted themselves quite well in the past and while there were serious deviations during the crisis times, these were exceptions rather than a rule. More importantly, the CRAs need to reiterate to the users of the rating the fact that ratings cannot and should not be the sole indicator used for taking investment decisions.

 (The author is managing director and    CEO of CARE Ratings)








BILL Gates Sr, father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, was once asked on a public TV programme about how he had brought up the world's wealthiest entrepreneur. "I always say he had a great mother," Gates Sr replied.

Then, in a more thoughtful mode, he recalled that his son was so headstrong and rebellious that the parents had to consult a counsellor.


After meeting with junior, the counsellor advised the parents that in the ongoing 'war' with their son, he was going to win! So, how did one react to such advice?


Not by asserting one's parental authority or by trying to curb the child! "Eventually, it all worked out," Gates Sr said. "Part of the trick lay in taking one's kids seriously."


This led to a surge of self-confidence, the younger Gates said, which helped while building up a company as a 21-year-old dropout from Harvard and selling software to people twice or thrice his age. In his book Outliers, writer Malcolm Gladwell offers a different take: not just talent, timing — being at the right place at the right time — is everything, he says.


That almost sounds like astrology: one has to be lucky enough to go to the one private school in Seattle that has a new computer linked to a larger machine downtown. That means one can learn programming without being bogged down in the laborious punch-card process used for programming computers just a year or two earlier. Gates had thousands of hours of programming experience by the time the new Altair came out and was able to take full advantage of the ensuing PC revolution.


But he was also a more tenacious businessman than a longtime friend, who became an embittered rival. (He lost out in the crucial deal to IBM despite having developed the original PC operating system. In his book, They made America, renowned editor Harold Evans suggests that IBM and Gates may have connived to deprive Gary Kildall of untold riches and credit for a seminal role in the PC revolution.)


On his part, Gates merely says, "Success is a lousy teacher; it seduces smart people into thinking that they can't lose." Also, "instead of buying planes and playing around like some of our competitors (a jab at Kildall who reportedly flew off when IBM came calling), we've rolled almost everything back into the company."

But even Gates didn't catch the true potential of the Internet on its debut. That's the story of the company that says, Do no evil.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Railway minister Mamata Banerjee behaves as the epitome of the absentee landlord created by the East India Company under the Permanent Settlement in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency to maximise land revenue collections. Under this scheme, if there was an "accident", the people had to lump it and comply with the extortionist tax demands anyway; if the rain gods smiled, the absentee zamindar — the revenue collector for the Company — made a killing over and above what he was required to surrender to the British trading house. This helped to enhance his grandeur and improve his fortunes. Even a child in West Bengal can see the parallel. The Trinamul Congress leader thought the fief of the railway minister was large enough for her to dispense favours left, right and centre to her constituency, state of Bengal, in order to win it over in preparation for her coronation as CM one day. The planning was perfect and "Didi's" image as benefactor of Bengal would have grown as she would go about setting up railway production and maintenance hubs in the state, and make available jobs and contracts for the deserving and the undeserving. However, it has been raining accidents since "Didi" took charge, and like the ryots (tenants) of old, it is the people — the train passengers — who must bear the brunt. In the raj of the present minister, the railways' attitude to safety concerns appears singularly cavalier. Ms Banerjee forgets that the people the railways serve are mostly poor. Her inability or unconcern hurts the poor the most. Given its coverage, the most extensive in the world, the railway system — along with the postal service — ought to be the pride of India. It binds the country together. It makes mobility possible at an affordable price to the remotest corners. Many goods will not be worth producing if the railways weren't around to ferry them to their destination. It is not far-fetched to say that the railway is on the same scale of importance as agriculture for the country's economic well-being. And yet Ms Banerjee has seen to it that it is acquiring a dubious reputation for safety under her stewardship. Fourteen months, 200 accidents, over 400 deaths, and more than 600 injured. How is that for a record? The minister is not expected to be all over the place to prevent accidents, but she is expected to be at the national headquarters of one of the country's most vital national assets — to give the ministry leadership, direction, focus, goals, and a mission that accords with the aspirations of the people and the needs of the economy. But few can recall when Ms Banerjee was seen in New Delhi's Rail Bhavan last. On the other hand, everyone can recollect when she was stomping on the streets of Kolkata raising slogans against her political opponents. Railway accidents have suddenly become a rising concern because there isn't anyone around at headquarters to direct the upgrading and maintenance of rolling stock and tracks, and enforcing strict codes to cut out avoidable accidents. If "Didi" can't shape up, she must ship out. It's as simple as that.







Long experience has taught me never to say: "Things are so bad that they cannot get worse". For, usually they do. Even a cursory glance at some of the recent developments in the country would show how sustained, and sometimes sharp, is the decline in the norms without which there can neither be anything like healthy democracy nor governance worth the name. Let us begin with the deterioration of the terms of political discourse. The dismal trend had begun in the late Sixties of the last century during the power struggle within the Congress Party that eventually led to the 1969 split. Subsiding somewhat two years later after Indira Gandhi's metamorphosis from goongi gudiya to goddess Durga it escalated fast due to the events culminating in the hammer-blow of the Emergency. Neither the sudden rise of the Janata and its equally sudden collapse nor Indira Gandhi's return to power made any difference to unbecoming and unseemly exchanges among political rivals.


Fast forward to the present day, and the appearance on the national stage of Nitin Gadkari, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) new president. It is astonishing that he has managed to lower the already distressing standard of public discourse to such a shocking degree in so short a time. Barely two months ago, he likened the two Yadav stalwarts, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, to "dogs" busy licking "Sonia Gandhi's soles". His rage against the twosome may be understandable — because the two leaders had reneged on their earlier commitment to vote for the BJP-Left Front cut motion but staged a walkout instead, thus letting the government win — but not at all his manners and lack of civility.


Various Congress spokespersons reacted to Mr Gadkari's offending utterances differently. None of them descended to his level. However, there seemed little point in the suggestion of one of them to the BJP to "take pity" on its new chief and consign him to some "mental asylum". All of a sudden Mr Gadkari tried to make amends of sorts, and many of us started believing that his regrettable lapse was a stray aberration. How wrong we were! Soon enough he plumbed much lower depths of what can only be called vulgarity over the issue of the execution of Afzal Guru, sentenced to death for the terrorist attack on Parliament, whose mercy petition has been pending for five years. In all fairness, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is vulnerable to legitimate criticism on this score. The BJP has indeed been attacking the UPA and accusing it of "playing votebank politics". Others, including eminent jurists, have described the procrastination over Afzal Guru's mercy petition as "inhumane". But Mr Gadkari has his own style. There is no point repeating all he has said about Afzal Guru being the Congress Party's "son-in-law" because it has given him its "daughter" for these are well known. In the Indian milieu these words have a very ugly connotation. Yet, declaring that he would repeat them any number of times, the BJP chief went on to imply that Congress leader Digvijay Singh was "Aurangzeb ki aulad (offspring)". Ironically, this is the worthy the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has handpicked to reunite and reinvigorate the Saffron Party so badly battered in the 2009 general election.


Another dreary development is the staggering mining scandal in Karnataka. Its gargantuan dimension is matched only by its brazenness. Chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has publicly admitted that 30 million metric tons of illegally mined iron ore has been exported, equally illegally, during the last seven years. Of this seven million tonnes performed the vanishing trick in just one year. Once again details are superfluous because investigative news reports have documented them fully. A far more damning exposure has come from Justice Santosh Hegde, the state's Lok Ayukta, who was at first forced by the state government's stonewalling to resign. Having withdrawn the resignation he has spoken out. His message is clear: The loot by the mining mafia has gone on during the tenure of five successive chief ministers, belonging to the Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, and, of course, the BJP. He has also underscored that each of these parties is now adopting self-seeking strategies. The Congress and the JD(S) are demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry; Mr Yeddyurappa intriguingly insists on the inquiry being conducted by the Lok Ayukta whom he had earlier driven to despair. And, of course, the chief minister is both unwilling and unable to ask the Reddy brothers of Bellary to resign.


Indeed, the phenomenal clout of the Bellary brothers is one of the several factors that have made the Karnataka mining scandal the worst in the country's mineral-rich states. Remarkably, its second distinctive feature is that it has no geographical or political boundaries. The collusion between the BJP Reddys of Karnataka and the Congress Reddys of Andhra (also rich in iron ore) is complete.


The third feature of the Karnataka political shenanigans that has a bearing on democratic norms is that the state governor and veteran Congressman H.R. Bharadwaj has unhesitatingly jumped into the act, inevitably drawing flak. Leave aside the BJP's angry reaction. Many independent observers also hold that he has "overreached" himself. He has a point, however, when he says that he has a "constitutional duty" to act when humongous corruption takes place. But his duty requires him, in Walter Bagehot's famous words, only to "caution, warn and advise" the chief minister, and to keep the President and the Prime Minister informed. It is no part of his function to go public and join a campaign against the state government. As for unacceptable corruption, has anyone in New Delhi done anything about the loss of Rs 60,000 crores in the G-2 Spectrum scam?


Finally, why is no one protesting against the indignity the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) MLAs are inflicting on the legislature by using the chamber as their eating and sleeping place? Nothing better is expected from Mr Gowda and his cohorts. But has the top leadership of the Congress lost all control over its Karnataka unit?









I live in France, but because I have family in England and Belgium, I travel frequently. And so, on the occasions when I have to fly rather than take the train, I do everything to get through the hell of British airport security with the minimum of fuss. I never wear a belt. I usually check bags and often board empty-handed.


Indeed, my main concern when travelling is usually my wife. She's a Belgian citizen who also travels frequently. She claims that airport security is worse in Britain than anywhere else in the world and she sees it as her duty to point this out. Given this, I have asked her, when travelling with me, to keep her thoughts to herself.


So I was surprised, a few months ago, to see the light flash on as I walked through the metal detector at Gatwick. A man waved a cattle-prod detector over me to no avail and then ordered me to remove my shoes. No please or thank-you. The shoes were put in the X-ray machine. They came out the other side. That's when I made the mistake.


"Are you now sure that they don't contain a bomb?" I asked. Now I know what you're thinking. Silly ass. Deserves all he gets. Well, perhaps. But, read on, for this story is more about the exercise of power than the banning of words.


Back to Gatwick, where pandemonium had broken out. The woman who had passed me my shoes grabbed them back and shouted for a Mr Happe. He did not appear. She yelled again, much louder. A man who looked like a larger version of Charles Clarke appeared, loomed over me and demanded that I repeat what I had just said. I did so. Did I detect the traces of a smile around the edges of his mouth? Then he asked me to tell him, for a second time, exactly what I had said. I did.


Instantly Mr Happe's demeanour changed. He said that as I had now mentioned the word "bomb" three times, he was allowed to call the police. He took both my ticket and passport and those of my wife and marched off to a telephone.  


After 10 minutes he returned and joyfully informed us that I had been banned from flying and the police were on their way. Another 10 minutes passed, then five — yes five — policemen appeared, all armed to the teeth. They had sub-machine guns, side-arms, flak jackets, pepper sprays, batons, radios and tasers. As there was not a centimetre of room left on their belts, some of the kit was hung from webbing over their chest. My wife and I were surrounded, separated and taken to separate interview rooms.


These rooms were small and windowless with no air-conditioning. The policeman behind the desk asked me if I knew why I was there. I told him that I did not. He said that I had made three statements about bombs. I replied that I had only asked one facetious question about my shoes and then been ordered to repeat it. He asked me if I knew how serious the fight against terrorism was. I answered that I did. He asked why I had made the statements. I reminded him that I had not. He told one of the other policemen to take my details, while he went to consult a superior.


The superior followed the same routine. He asked me if I knew how serious terrorism was. He asked me why I had made statements about bombs and told me that I was going to be given a Stop Notice, which turned out to be a notice to say that they had stopped me. Another 15 minutes passed and two men from Special Branch appeared. One who looked like a maths teacher and another who might have been in charge of PE. The maths teacher had my passport, which to him was not a travel document but a prop. He picked at the lamination, he held a page to the light and scrutinised my photo. Still me. The PE teacher asked if I travelled a lot and where to. I told him that I went to the UK and Belgium and had holidayed in Switzerland, Syria and Ethiopia. They asked me why we had gone to such strange countries. I told them that my wife is an anthropologist and regularly travelled to countries they thought strange.


They rallied. Had I ever been in prison? Never. Had I ever been charged? Never. Had I ever been arrested? Never. They announced that they did not believe me and that I was to have a deep check. This involved not rubber gloves but a great deal of talking into microphones and long pauses. I think computers from Interpol, GCHQ and the Pentagon were consulted. I was given one last chance to admit my guilt before the search began. I turned it down.


I was clean. And when I was finally allowed out of the interview room, I saw Mr Happe talking to the police. He looked worried. He had expected me to be in a cell by now, but was being informed by a Special Branch team that I was innocent and that as far as they were concerned, I could go. Mr Happe turned slightly red in the face. I wondered if he was going to have a seizure. Then he came over. Well, he said, unfortunately the gentleman still can't fly today; the "carrier has refused carriage" because the police were involved. But how did the carrier know, Mr Happe? Did you tell them, knowing they would ban me from flying? Yes, Mr Happe had.


But the tale doesn't end there. The next morning I was back. I was wearing exactly the same clothes as before, bar a change of shirt. I approached the metal detector with an air of trepidation. It did not beep. It did not flash. Was it faulty? Was yesterday's faulty? Was it a trick? No! No one stopped me. No one arrested me. I walked through as clean as a whistle.


Now I ruminate. Almost 10 people. Just for me. For two hours. Not to make anyone safer. Just to remind me who's the boss. I only hope that nobody took advantage of my stripping Gatwick security of its finest and committed a real crime.








India-Pakistan meets are like Passion Plays — the plot familiar, the characters fresh. The audience is supposed to suspend disbelief and watch the tragedy. The performance in Islamabad on July 8-9, between the two foreign ministers, merits deeper examination.


Henry Kissinger says, in his book Diplomacy, that "statesmen need luck as much as good judgment". S.M. Krishna, suave and well groomed, was hand-picked for the external affairs post, as were many of his predecessors — to mask the exercise of policy making in the Prime Minister's Office. His dispatch to Pakistan was a mission impossible. He was to allay the suspicions of the Indian public that New Delhi was returning to the negotiating table without adequate action by Pakistan against the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. At the same time he was to shepherd the talks towards comprehensive dialogue. The ill-luck that dogged the minister's journey was the upsurge in civil disturbances in the Kashmir Valley; Pakistan Army's rising expectation of likely US withdrawal from Afghanistan and ascension of Pakistani allies in the ruling order in Kabul; and finally the David Headley confessions.


Were home secretary G.K. Pillai's Headley revelations a day before Mr Krishna's visit a blundering stumble or a deliberate attempt to play to the Indian gallery? Mr Krishna's own arrival statement reiterating a desire to obtain answers from Pakistan on Headley seemed to confirm the latter conclusion. Considering that Headley impugned no less than the heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, such a public focus on this issue was bound to invite Pakistani Army's wrath, undermining whatever the two foreign secretaries had finalised on June 24 in Islamabad.


Foreign secretary N. Rao advised, after the visit, that Pakistan needs to introspect. Perhaps so does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Time and again he has articulated his vision for peace with Pakistan. The reasoning is debatable, his vision is not. Firstly, he contends that India cannot be great unless it settles with Pakistan; secondly there is no option but to talk. He also often quotes former US President Ronald Reagan's dictum: trust but verify. This needs to be collated with Kissinger's explanation that Reagan's success sprang from a fortuitous convergence of personality and opportunity; a decade earlier, he would have seemed too militant; a decade later, too one track.


Opportunities for lasting peace are transient. Careful preparation by the diplomats and ministers a necessary precondition. Both at Yekaterinburg and Thimphu, leaders ordained half-hour of televised spectacle to trump the deep schisms, like lovers defying the khap panchayats.


De-classified British papers have a note by T.J. O'Brien, British High Commissioner in India on his meeting with Sardar Swaran Singh, the then external affairs minister, who tells him on April 19, 1966, that "India would always talk about Kashmir within the terms of the Tashkent Agreement and would always consider anything new the Pakistanis had to say, but that the willingness to talk did not imply the slightest modification of India's basic position".


Forty-four years later that would still be India's starting point. Why then the panic to negotiate? A rising India, the status quoist power, is going to increase the differential of power with Pakistan. With gross domestic product doubled to almost three trillion by 2020, or before, the defence budget at two per cent of that total would be over $60 billion. We need to modernise our Navy, increase the punch of the Air Force and the mobility of the Army. We also need to douse the fires of Maoism and civil disturbance in the Valley. What is on offer to Pakistan would depend on when they ask. The one left behind in Islamabad involved incremental resumption of dialogue, beginning with confidence building steps and then onto core issues as Pakistan moved on the terror issue. The Headley charges galvanised the Pakistani Army to scuttle the process. Pakistan pitched for a full and time-bound resumption of a comprehensive dialogue with action on terror linked to movement on Kashmir and Siachen. This was back to terror as instrument of state policy. It was justifiably rejected by the Indian side. Unfortunately no one had prepared for that eventuality. Media had been told good news was around the corner. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's charge of calls to Delhi may be valid as apparently a close aide of Dr Singh, a junior diplomat with limited diplomatic experience, was peppering the delegation with calls, unmindful of the ISI tapping.


Whither next is the issue, particularly when Mr Qureshi has rejected coming as a mere tourist. Mr Krishna had mindfully carried a chadar for the Lahore shrine of Data Ganj Baksh, the Sufi shrine attacked by suicide bombers. It was a signal to the Barelvis, 70 per cent of Pakistanis, that India shared their grief. Unfortunately, the Islamabad fracas stole the limelight. Perhaps Mr Qureshi needs to come as a pilgrim to Ajmer to exorcise the demons that have risen from the Army GHQ in Rawalpindi and seized his soul.


- The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry








Whenever we hear of new water conflicts between states we groan in trepidation. We feel that such rows will be shrill, emotional, long-winding and complicated — in short, insoluble.


But the good news is that water conflicts are eminently soluble — all you need is to be rational and commonsensical. Is this too tall a demand?


The most recent conflict revolves around the Babli barrage being built in Godavari river by Maharashtra.


The Andhra Pradesh Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu was arrested recently, along with fellow MLAs, when he attempted to visit the project site. Now the issue has become one of Andhra pride vs Maratha determination.


But it is wrong to believe that Babli issue cannot be solved. India negotiated several settlements with Pakistan over water with mediators. Can't the states talk to each other and resolve issues when India and Pakistan can?


Let's analyse the Babli issue first. Maharashtra constructed the small barrage to pump about 2.7 tmc (80 million cu.m) to supply drinking water to farmers of Babli villages and residents of Dharmabad taluk of the backward Nanded district.


According to the state, such small structures do not require Central Water Commission (CWC) permission and on top of it, the barrage is supposed be well within their allocated quantum of water from Godavari. Drinking water is obviously a priority.


Andhra Pradesh's contention is that Babli dam is being constructed within the water impounded area of Sri Ramsagar dam. It is actually within the reservoir of Sri Ramsagar and therefore the construction is illegal and unethical.


Political parties of Andhra Pradesh are also promoting the much larger fear that Babli can effectively suck 60 tmc of water, half of Sri Ramsagar, and during critical times there may not be water for irrigation. So the entire Northern Telangana might become a desert and this might even spread to the Godavari delta.


Before we speak about solutions to this vexed row, we also have to take a quick look at some outmoded ideas of water management and the questions provoked specifically by Babli.


We are still stuck with old concepts of water management, which actually evolved when water itself was not the issue, but the huge investment to construct dams was the problem. Now that governments have money, water has become the big issue.


Secondly, every Indian politician repeats the outdated idea that water flowing into the sea is waste and every drop of water in a river should be used. Let it be made clear that water going to sea is not waste and it is not possible and wise to use every drop. Rivers have to flow into sea and that is good for people and ecosystems on which we depend.


Water allocated from one river basin to each riparian state is now based on the principle called "70 per cent dependability". But rivers are natural systems and there are fluctuations in quantity of water from year to year. This is a fact. But there is no mechanism now to share water equitably during lean years.


When water allocations were made, usually in mid-1970s, the technology was less sophisticated in terms of lifting water and transporting it long distances. Now technology has advanced so much that the upper riparian state can draw water in large quantities without even constructing large dams. This is the root of Andhra Pradesh's fears.


The Babli controversy also poses a few questions which will have implications for many other states.


Is it right for upper riparian states to construct their own dam and well within the water-impounded area and is it justified for the lower riparian state to object to small dams if they are explicitly for drinking water?


Also, since small dams do not come under the preview of the CWC, how many such small dams can the upper riparian state construct and what is the mechanism to prevent their misuse?


In our times, all water conflicts should also be seen in the context of climate change, an invisible but real dimension which is going to get more important in the future.


We should look at Babli in this broader context and think about a solution. Certainly there is one, but it requires first an atmosphere of dialogue. So before we get into the technicalities of the issue, we should de-politicise and de-emotionalise the issue. Let us make it clear that it is not Andhra vs Maharashtra. Once this is done, there are five steps that could help in addressing the Babli issue:


*w A dialogue between two states based on facts and trust. This may sound commonplace but that is the basic foundation.
* Andhra Pradesh should clearly articulate what specific measures are required to stop "illegal" pumping by Babli barrage and who should be ensuring that violations do not take place.
* Maharashtra can gain much by being transparent about its intentions on constructing the barrage. If the purpose is only for drinking water, Andhra Pradesh in general and Telangana region in particular will not object.
* A civil society initiative from both the states to mediate a solution could be another effective option.
* Setting up of a permanent mechanism to solve such future conflicts over Godavari basin.


And lastly, let us not forget that we are all from one country, and we all live in one river basin, Godavari. People of the states have to live side by side. Whatever we might do, we cannot change geography.


 Dr Biksham Gujja, a water managementexpert, works with WWF-International as asenior water policy adviser.







The Bible has been used — and misused — in various ways. For over a billion bhakts worldwide it is sacred scripture providing sustenance and strength for their pilgrim path. Yet, even among these, one often finds fundamentalists whose methods of reading and interpreting scripture are, at best, naive, at worst, suicidal. Consider this case.


A fanatic sought God's will by randomly reading scripture. He pledged to strictly follow the first three verses he read in the Bible. The first verse his eyes fell upon read: "Judas went and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5). The second was: "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), and the third: "Do quickly what you are going to do!" (John 13:27). I know not what the guy did, but I'm wary of cut-and-paste approaches to the Bible.


Science, by contrast, functions through analysis and experimentation. Sadly, some believers fear science and label it as a "foe of faith". These get elated when godmen claim to have "proved" God's existence and get deflated when scientists brag that scripture has been "disproved". It's sheer nonsense to claim to "prove" God or "disprove" scripture.


The Bible says: "Great are the works of God, studied by all who delight in them" (Psalm 111:2). Many eminent scientists were devoted to scientific research and simultaneously are firm believers in God — Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur, Planck and Mendel, among others. For them, religion and science did not uneasily coexist as foes but complemented the truths and corrected the extremes of each other. Attempting to wed science and religion, Pope John Paul II said: "I don't think that science should become religion or religion science; both, religion and science, must preserve their autonomy and distinctiveness. But, science can purify religion from error and superstition; while religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes".


The hostility between science and religion was fuelled in 1859 by Darwin's Origin of Species that seemed to undermine the creation myths in the Book of Genesis. Today, too, many seek an "either-or" answer to the questions: Have we descended from Adam or from apes? Should we trust genetics or the Book of Genesis? I believe that a "both-and" answer is nearer the truth than an "either-or" one. The scientist normally explains the "what" and "how" of things, while the religionist explores the "why" and "whence-whither". Both these must realise that there are "gaps" in their knowledge since human beings are limited and can only express reality "as they see it" and not "as it really is".


While evolution might account for the physiological and genetic progression in animal species, it fails to account for the development of self-reflection, freedom and morality that marks out wo/man as far superior to apes. This is not to say that apes aren't clever. But, one certainly can't prosecute an ape for rape, much as one can't expect a dog to assume brahmacharya or a cat to undertake Friday fasting.


In India, Sri Aurobindo Ghose's great contribution to the evolution debate was to introduce the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought. He spoke of "involution" as the primal energy of creation that emerged from a timeless, spaceless, ineffable, immutable reality and of "evolution" as an ongoing process by which man continues to undergo mutations until "supramental transformation" is achieved.


Common to Ghose's vision and the Genesis stories is the truth that Creation is a perennial process in which wo/man is not a mere spectator, but a participant with all other creatures. Genesis further stresses that human beings are partners with God. So, we will have to live with the humble acknowledgement well worded by Thomas Carlyle: "I don't pretend to understand the universe; it's a great deal bigger than I am".


Francis Gonsalves is the principal of theVidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted at [1]







SINCE accountability, efficiency and morality have been erased from the political lexicon, to demand Mamata Banerjee's resignation would be futile. Particularly after the last two "resignation dramas" performed by ministers who have less political clout than the Trinamul supremo. Stray reports suggest Mamata may exit Rail Bhawan: not from any shame over the lack of supervision that has contributed to her disastrous safety record, but because an inability to keep train travel safe in her home state might derail her ambitions of attaining her own brand of nirvana ~ Writers' Buildings. Yet she should not be singled out. We must be charitable, accept Pranab Mukherjee's view that accidents cannot be prevented. Similarly, it is pointless blaming the finance minister for back-breaking price rise, the home minister for the raging insurgencies, the external affairs minister for Pakistan rubbing our nose in the dirt, the defence minister for the forces losing their ethos, the sports minister for the CWG mess, etc. The tragedy playing out on the national stage is that quality governance no longer counts with UPA-II, with the Prime Minister failing to either inspire or "discipline" his ministers. When Dr Manmohan Singh addressed his maiden press conference as finance minister he lamented that "too much politics has been played with the economy" ~ under his "watch" from Race Course Road that cancer has spread. Scandals have not come in the way of Raja continuing to rule over the telecom sector, Praful Patel pulverising civil aviation, and what "new" can be said of Mamata's non-functioning. After a previous crash she indicated she could quit ~ provided one of her minions was allotted her portfolio. Has the Prime Minister surrendered authority over ministerial appointments/duties? Developments on the Mamata front might offer some insight. 
Still, there is a grain of truth to what Pranab babu said. So what must come under focus is the virtual collapse of the administrative apparatus ~ across the board. Which government welfare scheme "delivers", which defence acquisition is devoid of kickbacks, why have anti-collision devices not been installed on all major trains? Are senior officials so obsessed with keeping their political boss happy that "Yes, Minister" has its own Indian connotation? A combination of keeping the UPA intact and being mantriji's chamcha has caused governance to crumble. All that keeps the present dispensation in place is public apprehension that possible alternatives appear in matching disarray. 




IN a little over six months, the shutters are down at Visva-Bharati again. The midnight lathicharge to lift the students' gherao of the Vice-Chancellor and the virtual siege of the central office has served to exacerbate the crisis. The authorities do have a point when they claim that there is no option but to raise fees if the university has to make ends meet. Equally, there is substance in the students' argument that a fair percentage of the taught belong to a segment that is barely above the poverty line. And there is no denying that a ten-fold hike in fees will hit the students really hard. Just as the students are yet to accept the plea that resource generation is imperative, so too has this central university been remarkably insensitive to the hardship this increase will cause to students and boarders, irrespective of the income group of their families. If, for instance, admission fees for the undergraduate level are increased from Rs 660 to Rs 6600, the hike is as arbitrary as it is exorbitant. The fees will be higher for post-graduate studies and higher still for research, almost bringing this central university at a par with money-spinning private colleges.  Regrettably, thus far, there has been more evidence of stubbornness than of an effort to reach a compromise. In the event, both sides have once again trashed the legacy of Tagore ~ the students by resorting to the nightlong gherao and the authorities by allowing the police to resort to a midnight lathicharge. Even the Adhyapak Sabha, the entity of the faculties, has condemned the police action. The spurious pride over a legacy is in tatters. A dispute on the campus has degenerated to bullheaded egoism on both sides of the divide. 

 It would not be taking sides with the students to suggest that there are two issues that authorities must address. The first is to reflect on the UGC's refusal to increase the funding because of poor or/and injudicious utilisation. It is quite obvious that having been let down by the regulatory authority, the university is now intent on tapping a seemingly convenient source ~ students' fees. The other issue is the all too visible profligacy  ~ an artificial garden to please the Acharya when in Santiniketan (which is but once a year, if at all) and the Rathindra Atithishala. Its occupancy is minimal throughout the year, but the building is resplendent even when the town is plunged in darkness. It devolves on the UGC to standardise the fee structure. Learning has been the worst casualty amidst this chaos.




THE accretion of the RSS strength has been in direct proportion to the recent downturn in the fortunes of the BJP. The potential party of governance has been in a rough patch since the 2004 parliamentary election. As a report in this newspaper suggests, the parent organisation of swayamsevaks has become so unwieldy as to be an open sesame for elements who may not be particularly influenced by the Hindutva ideology. It is a curious feature of Indian politics that the contagion that has afflicted the CPI-M also appears to have affected the far Right. In its anxiety to expand and make its presence felt, there is apparently no screening committee either in the RSS or the CPI-M. The RSS has ceased to be a well-knit organisation, if not somewhat unmanageable. The CPI-M too has lost control over its cadres. Of particular concern to the RSS must be the emergence of the "invisible swayamsevaks" over which the leadership of Mohan Bhagwat has little or no control. Their acknowledged proclivity for violence has sinister implications both for the Sangh and the BJP.  The lumpen knows no ideological frontier, and he is driven largely by muscle-power. The CPI-M has realised only recently that loyalty can be up for sale not least at public meetings. In-house misgivings that these faceless cadres are a threat to the credibility of the RSS are not wholly unfounded. Altogether, it is a measure of the extent to which the RSS has lost control over the new entrants to the ranks of perceived swyamsevaks. Their commitment to the ideology is at best notional. Much as the RSS increasingly oversees the functioning of the BJP, the internal disorder within the Sangh calls for attention no less. It is beside the point whether the RSS agenda is agreeable.


To the extent that it has shifted its focus to the political radar, its standing as an ideological ombudsman and a fanatical socio-religious entity may arguably have been denuded. Small wonder that the Congress has taken the issue beyond the standard discourse between secularism and professional fundamentalism.

The party has lobbed the ball in the RSS court with the decidedly serious charge that a section of the swayamsevaks have links with Hindutva terror groups. Indeed, this mirrors the Sangh perception that the "invisible swayamsevaks are inclined to violence", a euphemism for terrorism of the far Right. It is unlikely that the RSS will respond to the Congress charge. The BJP is still astute enough to clear the air.









THE naming of Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy, a sociology professor, Nandini Sundar, and several others by the police for their alleged links with the Maoists is fraught with unforeseen consequences. Yet, the turn of events was not unexpected. In fact, Mamata Banerjee had warned a few weeks ago that West Bengal would "burn" if the author, Mahasweta Devi, winner of Jnanpith and Magsaysay awards, who is known for her Maoist sympathies, was arrested.  Her concern could have been related to the view of the Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, that intellectual support for the Maoists has made the task of dealing with them "very difficult" as it confused the ordinary people.

The pro-Maoist arguments of the Left intelligentsia are that the tribals have risen in revolt under the Maoists against an insensitive government, acting in league with  rapacious multinational corporations which are grabbing tribal land and committing human rights violations. However, the veracity of these allegations is in doubt. It isn't certain whether the tribals are assisting the Maoists out of fear or ideological conviction. Nor is it clear whether the tribals will like to remain for ever as remote and exotic anthropological specimens, living in the forested areas and refusing to join the mainstream of national life.

Self-appointed publicists

Since the anti-government position of the Maoist sympathizers is indistinguishable from the standard propaganda of the insurgents, the intellectuals can be seen as self-appointed publicists for the rebels. The only difference between them and the Maoists is that the intellectuals condemn the violence perpetrated by the insurgents. However, they also condemn the violence of the State, thereby giving the government and the rebels the same status. What such a stance does is to give the latter a legitimacy which they do not deserve because in the eyes of the State, they are outlaws. To the intellectuals, however, the rebels derive their legitimacy from the fact that they are fighting for the oppressed even if this is a moral position and not a legal one.
It is for this reason that Arundhati Roy has said that the battle being waged in the tribal heartland is for the "soul" of India. There is little doubt as to which side she would like to see as the winner. If Mao Zedong's observation that a country is divided between the "camp of the people" and the "camp of the enemies of the people" is applied to the present situation, then it is obvious that the Maoist sympathizers are in the first camp. As such, they can be accused of rejecting Indian democracy.

 To an extent, their outlook is no different from that of all Communists, including those who function in mainstream politics. Since a "bourgeois" State is supposed to stand for the capitalists, it is essentially anti-people in their eyes. Hence, the formal agenda of all Communist parties is to overthrow it. The difference between those who are operating underground like the Maoists and the others is about the means ~ whether the state should be ousted violently or through peaceful agitations. 

However, the Maoist recourse to violence places their sympathizers in an invidious position. The point will become clear if the word, Maoist, is replaced by the word, jehadi. The Islamic terrorists, too, can offer convincing, if one-sided, arguments in support of their cause. They, too, are fighting for the "soul" of their faith in order to save it from Muslim rulers who do not adhere to the Shariat. Instead, they have adopted western-style forms of government. The jehadis also claim to be voicing the demands of the "oppressed" Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and elsewhere, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where the "infidel" Americans operate with impunity.

Yet, there are few intellectual sympathizers for the Islamic militants although their concept of an authoritarian theocratic state observing the Shariat is no different from the Maoist aim of establishing a proletarian dictatorship, adhering to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. The reason why the Islamists do not arouse much sympathy is apparently because of the fact that theirs is a religious crusade which is equated with medievalism while Communism has a progressive, romantic aura because of its supposed concern for the poor and its history of fighting 19th and 20th century autocracy.

Leftists and Tibet

IT is the same reason which has kept the Left-wing activists away from the Tibetan issue. One would have thought that the invasion of a country and the suppression of an entire people would have been cause enough for those who are so upset with the plight of the tribals to side with the Tibetans as well. But the religious angle exemplified by the presence of the Dalai Lama, who was called a "cunning fox" by the editor of the magazine which publishes Arundhati Roy's articles, keeps the bleeding heart liberals at bay. India's "occupation" of Kashmir can be criticized, but not China's of Tibet. And the  more important reason is that the "liberation" of Tibet from the medieval monks has been the handiwork of China, which is now the sole remaining fatherland of the Leftists, now that the Soviet Union has withered away.

Where the jehadis are concerned, if their sympathizers face the danger of being put behind bars even if they only bemoan the plight of the Palestinians and the human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay, there is no reason why those who virtually act as the public relations agents of the Maoists should escape the same fate. Yet, there will be howls of protests if the "bourgeois" State even contemplates such a step. It can be argued, of course, that as long as the intellectual supporters of the Maoists confine their criticism to the human rights violations as, for instance, in Kashmir, they cannot be considered culpable in any way. But they will be treading a thin line if they see the government's anti-Maoist drive as a fight between angels and devils with the jungle warriors symbolizing the former.

What has to be clarified, therefore, is that there can be no compromise with a group which violently confronts the state. It is the duty of a government to put down those seeking to overthrow it by violent means even if they claim that their cause is just in terms of their ideology. In doing so, the government has to abide by the letter and spirit of the law and try its best to avoid collateral damage. But what is undeniable is that in a country where elections take place on the basis of universal adult franchise, it is the rebels who are the enemies of the people.


(The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman )









A spectre has come to haunt public life in India — the spectre of street politics. For most politicians in India, what ultimately matters is how they perform in the street plays. Mamata Banerjee's annual rally in Calcutta on July 21 has become as much a citizens' nightmare as the endless street shows of her rival, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Given her recent electoral successes, her lieutenants will leave nothing to chance to make Wednesday's show a spectacular one. The worrying thing is that the tendency to use the street and hold public life to ransom is increasingly becoming the all-important thing in Indian politics. And the tendency cuts across political parties and their leaders. Ms Banerjee is a member of the Union cabinet, holding charge of a major ministry like the railways. But the responsibilities that go with a public office do not seem to deter the politicians' antics on the streets. Take the case of N. Chandrababu Naidu. As chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, he behaved like the chief executive officer of a corporate entity. It seemed that he, for a change, equated political power with governance. But, once out of office, he shrank into a street politician. His arrest last week during a road show is a telling commentary on the state of Indian politics.


This reduction of politics to inane street shows is certainly not what democracy is about. The irony is that, for all the disruptions these cause to public life, they are sought to be defended in the name of the people. If anything, they violate the people's basic rights and are often organized with open disregard for the law. Worse still, ordinary, law-abiding people feel helpless in the face of their leaders' show of strength in public. It is almost a case of their own leaders holding them to ransom. There must be something seriously wrong with a political culture that makes the people fear their leaders' tactics. The dominance of the politics of the street is also taking its toll on other institutions on which democracy is supposed to be built. If street shows are all that matter, dialogue and debate cannot be of much importance. The decline of debates in the state legislatures is thus directly related to the rise of the public spectacles. But the worst consequence of this brand of politics could be a crisis in governance. Sadly, the politicians seem to love their antics too much to bother about that.








A resolution to create an Upper House was passed unanimously in the Assam legislative assembly. This move can only be viewed with amazement and derision. Anyone familiar with the debates surrounding bicameralism, in India and elsewhere, is aware of the theoretical fragility that informs the origin and the existence of an upper chamber, however constituted. The provenance of bicameralism is rooted in the peculiarities of the British political system. There the House of Lords exists to represent the separate interest of the Crown, and the House of Commons is elected through the popular vote. The hereditary and aristocratic character of the House of Lords has been diminished ever since elevation to the peerage became a source of patronage by the ruling government. In the United States of America, the Upper House was created to represent the interests of the various states with every state sending an equal number of representatives irrespective of the size of the state. The makers of the Indian Constitution derived the Rajya Sabha from the US model, but the number of members coming from each state was made a function of the size of the electorate. One consequence of this was the fact that the bigger states like Uttar Pradesh sent more members to the Rajya Sabha than a smaller one. An element of imbalance is thus inherent in the way the Upper House in India is formed. This has made many commentators raise serious intellectual and theoretical arguments against bicameralism.


There are practical considerations as well. One of the reasons why most states did away with the legislative councils that served as the Upper House at the provincial level was that they were found to be useless bodies, which were a mere drain on the exchequer. Moreover, as is clear in the case of the Rajya Sabha, political parties and the State use nominations to the upper chamber as instruments of extending their patronage. Many unworthy elements make their way to the Upper House through this route. It is also noteworthy that individuals who cannot get themselves elected by popular vote seek election to the Rajya Sabha. This is, in fact, a violation of the norms of democracy. Keeping in mind these considerations and those placed in the previous paragraph, the decision of the Assam legislature is quite incredible.









If Harvard and Wharton had not been charmed by the Lalu Prasad of popular folklore a few years ago and had, instead, wanted to study how real change was possible within the government of India, they would have looked at a fascinating experiment in New Delhi called the ministry of overseas Indian affairs. Few people — even within the government, leave alone those outside it — are aware that this full-fledged ministry is run out of just one floor of a building in the capital's diplomatic area of Chanakyapuri with a full-time staff of merely 29 people of the rank of section officers and above.


Since the 1960s, when Indira Gandhi tried to enforce belt-tightening within the administration, efforts have been made and unmade to cut waste, frown upon bloated bureaucracy and ensure a small but result-oriented government. But with each such effort, the government has only become bigger and arguably less efficient. The commissions set up for administrative reforms have also had mixed results.


What makes the MOIA experiment truly fascinating in the backdrop of half-hearted efforts to improve governance all over the country is that, of its 29 permanent posts, three positions of under-secretaries have been lying vacant and one man has been holding the dual job of both the joint-secretary-level posts that exist in this ministry. There would be few other examples anywhere in the world of a ministry being managed with 25 officers, half of them mere section officers or under-secretaries.


Bear in mind that this is a ministry which has become a clearing house for everything to do with six million people worldwide of Indian origin, a majority of whom are insufferably demanding and think that they have a greater claim on India and its resources because of their non-resident status, and a broad picture emerges of the workload that burdens the MOIA.


The story of this ministry becomes all the more fascinating because of its leadership in the last four and a half of the MOIA's six-year existence. Vayalar Ravi is one of the Congress's grassroots leaders, having won the popular mandate by successfully contesting for both the state assembly and the Lok Sabha several times. As a trade union leader, he once controlled some of the most powerful unions in his home state of Kerala where he was home minister. He was one of the founders — along with the defence minister, A.K. Antony — of the Kerala Students Union, the Congress's student wing, which played a huge role in unseating the first communist government in the state in 1959.


Ravi is also a most unlikely candidate, both by temperament and by ideology, for introducing corporate-style management into the running of a ministry or demanding strict accountability in its working. But the MOIA's "Result Framework Document for 2009-10" is a model even for Western governments, which hold accountability as sacrosanct, to go by. Complete with charts and tables, which list key objectives of his ministry, success indicators and targets, it provides a guide in tangible terms to what is being achieved in the MOIA.


This ministry is a case study for administrative reforms because its short history tells a tale of what ails Indian civil service today. In six years, this ministry has had five secretaries, the average incumbency having been 14 months as against three years in most other ministries at the Centre. Why? Because the MOIA has one of the smallest budgets within the government.


Increasingly, government secretaries from the Indian administrative service want to secure their future as they hurtle towards retirement, and sadly, they often do so by offering patronage that will ensure post-superannuation careers: an Indian variant of the 'revolving door' in the American system. The MOIA offers virtually no opportunities for either patronage or benefaction of the kind they seek, and its small budget means not having the power to be profligate with taxpayers' money. As a result, IAS officers who have just become secretaries go to the MOIA, using it as a parking place and quickly migrate elsewhere in Delhi at the first opportunity. What this has meant is that the functional leadership and responsibility of the MOIA has been with Ravi as minister and the small team down the line, which has been his core group.


When this ministry embarks on global enterprises, such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an annual gathering of overseas Indians, or mini PBDs in cities like Singapore and New York, it overcomes its small size and limited facilities by outsourcing the job of organizing the bandobast for these events while retaining intellectual control over the proceedings. It is remarkable that even in doing so, the MOIA has done what many others in the capital would have thought impossible. It has secured peace between two organizations to which such work is outsourced — the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which are perennially at each other's throats. As a solution to their rivalry, Ravi ruled that FICCI would handle the PBDs for three years in a row, and for the following three years the job would be given to CII.


Colloquially, this ministry is credited with having coined the term, 'Bollygarchs', a reference to the Indian-origin billionaires overseas whose number is on the rise. The Bollygarchs may be happy to be symbolically traced back to Bollywood, but are unlikely to be as pleased to be linked to the Russian oligarchs, whose rise parallels in time with the rise of the super-rich Indian diaspora.


An unfortunate result of India's economic reforms has been the impression that the government is now for the rich, who have been unfettered by the liberalization. It is an impression that has been strengthened by the celebrity media coverage of the Mittals, the Mallyas and others from the corporate world, some of whom have strayed into national politics.


In such an environment, Ravi has managed to keep his ministry loyal to the values and style of the Indira Gandhi era when the late prime minister sought to identify her government as one which empathized with the underprivileged and sought to be the guardian of their interests. The story of how Ravi pursued every concerned minister without respite until the Union cabinet agreed last year to create an Indian community welfare fund for expatriate labourers in distress is a remarkable example of a member of the council of ministers still standing up for the voiceless. The fund was created to provide shelter, medical care, air passage for repatriation and legal assistance for abused Indian workers overseas and for airlifting their bodies in the event of death.


The welfare fund administered by the MOIA went into operation through Indian missions from January this year, but is confined to 17 countries to which emigration clearance is required when poor and often illiterate workers go to take up jobs, mostly as labourers. It is not available in the United States of America, for instance, where Indians are better off compared to the construction workers who toil in Saudi Arabia.


Similarly, in several countries that are notorious for their low level of labour protection, the MOIA has got local governments to commit themselves to bilateral memoranda of understanding to ensure some form of welfare for Indians at the lowest strata of social order. It is a measure of the difficulties in improving the lot of Indian labour in countries like the United Arab Emirates that only MoUs have been possible with them and not agreements, but at least that is a modest beginning.


The biggest longer-term contribution of this young ministry towards institutionalizing the role of eminent people of Indian origin in building a 21st-century India may lie in having created a global advisory council of overseas Indians to periodically interact with the prime minister, senior cabinet ministers and the foreign and finance secretaries. Among its 25 members are Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, management expert Rajat Gupta, industrialist L.N. Mittal, diplomat Kishore Mahbubani and academician Jagdish Bhagwati. The MOIA hopes that the council, which has met a few times since it was set up last year, will "serve as a platform for the prime minister to draw upon the experience, knowledge and wisdom of the best Indian minds wherever they may be based".







A writer deplores, as I do, British readiness to adopt American slang. But, he goes on, "the import of US technical neologisms for devices or processes invented in the USA (e.g. software, podcast) and which have no traditional British equivalent are perfectly legitimate".


What's wrong there? Muddled wording, for a start. Presumably it's the devices that were "invented in the USA": the neologisms are already defined as "US". But that clearly implies that it's also the devices "which have no traditional British equivalent" — which just as clearly isn't what the writer intends. Next, the grammar. One error sticks out: singular subject, the import; plural verb, are. Ouch. There's another, harder to spot: and which, in place of simple which. Quite a lot for one sentence. Still, it serves a purpose: muddle apart, it neatly displays two distinct levels of error.


We all know that a singular subject doesn't take a plural verb, or vice versa: no one says man walk or men walks. You may hear phrases like we was walking, but even those who use them know they're wrong. The error is not rare, even in the grandest newspapers, especially when a singular subject is separated by a host of plurals from its verb. Nor, though spreading, is it recent: Fowler denounced it a century ago.


True, there are exceptions. Politics is or politics are? It depends on the context. Collective nouns — the crowd is or are? It's up to you. But listen to the sense (unlike the officials avowing that the government are united, as if unity sat well with a plural verb). And some such nouns, used in their root sense, not metaphorically, need a singular verb: a swarm of taxmen are after him, fine, but a swarm of bees is.


So much for the blatant error. But there's another sort, as in that and which above: the grammarian's error. At school I was taught to shun phrases like a man much hated, and who deserved it. Let it read who was much hated, and who, or a man much hated and one who; or simply be recast as, say, much hated, and deservedly. I stick to this rule, but I wouldn't die for it. There are many such 'rules', and some don't deserve the name: split infinitives, eg, are to be avoided, yet sometimes one is justifiable, even necessary. Quite often I'm uncertain where to draw the line.


But then I'm not a member of the 'English Academy' whose birth I wrote of four weeks ago, and whose sponsors' prose supplied the sentence quoted in my first paragraph above. The sponsors, a body called the Queen's English Society, are not wholly happy with the reception their 'academy' got. To their website, its critics are "beasts of prey".


The "lions", it seems, were linguists and the like "defending their territory", who "could not tolerate" the upstart QES encroaching on it (to be exact, "on their own game", but let's not mix our metaphors before we have to). Far worse were the "common curs" who "maul and massacre the language" and "ain't not going to 'ave no smart git tellin' 'em wot they've got to say" — and evidently told the QES so in crude blogspeak.


In between came the "scavenging rooks" who "scrabble around to find some comma or hyphen" misplaced in QES prose and "crow, 'these people think they know it all yet they have made a mistake themselves, caw, caw, caw!'" Your wordcager? It was, for the record, five unneeded commas, three missing ones and a sentence of wild obscurity that I noted in a dozen short lines of QES English, but so be it. And it's nice to see the QES admit that its folk "are human and even they are not above making mistakes". As "even" they prove again in the sentence I've cited. And as — I indeed said so — we are all, but we don't all pose as an academy.


But enough. Too much study of the infelicities and plain errors of even the best writers, let alone would-be academicians, are apt to lead one into follies of one's own. Isn't they? Or do I mean aren't it?




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





The state BJP government's insistence on pressing ahead with the bill to ban cattle slaughter can only be termed as mulish. Despite the widespread popular opposition to the bill, the government has rushed through the legislation in both the Houses of the state legislature, taking advantage of the crisis into which the Houses plunged over the past few days. The pleas emanating from a wide spectrum of public opinion including the civil society, intellectuals, ordinary people, not to speak of the Opposition, have been brushed aside by the government which is pursuing an obsolete agenda which many have termed anti-people. The basis for the bill is as yet not established. The argument that slaughtering cattle for beef is endangering cows in the country is too facile. Even if one buys the argument that the cattle population, indeed, is dwindling, it is not the meat industry that is responsible for such a denouement. The demands of intensive agriculture meant that tractors replaced cattle for draught power for tillage and carriage. The burgeoning dairy industry replaced the native cows so revered by the state government with cross-bred milch animals. It is a measure of the woolly thinking of the government that these factors are not discussed about.

Indeed, if the bill becomes law, slaughter of cattle of any kind would attract draconian punishment. Farmers who have traditionally sent their aged and unproductive cattle to abattoirs cannot do so any more, nor can the marginalised communities in villages use dead cattle for food, as the law forbids transport, sale or possession of cattle meat. The crisis in agriculture is already witnessing an unrelenting suicide spree by thousands of small and marginal farmers. This harebrained law will place on our exploited farmers the completely needless burden of having to look after aged cattle.

Beef is food of a majority of extremely poor people. It is the cheapest protein available to the economically vulnerable sections of society. The other meats available in the market are unaffordable for a large part of our population. If the government is serious about passing its cretinous law, it also has the moral responsibility of providing the people with an alternative. It will be expected, for instance, to supply mutton or poultry for the poor at the current price of beef. If that is not possible, indeed it is not, the government has no moral right to press on with this legislation.








US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said that al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban head Mullah Omar are in Pakistan and that elements in the Pakistan government are aware of their whereabouts. This is not the first time that Clinton has drawn attention to Pakistan's complicity in the terrorism in the region. In May, she had stated that Pakistani officials know more about bin Laden's whereabouts than they let on to the US. She has also pointed out that most of the attacks on US troops in Afghanistan are emanating from Pakistan. While Clinton is right in the substance of her allegations, she is downplaying the magnitude of the problem. Knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts might be restricted to elements in the Pakistan government but the support he and others of his ilk are getting is far more widespread from within the Pakistani establishment. In fact, Pakistan has made no shift away from its long-standing use of terrorism to further its foreign policy goals.

An important component of President Barack Obama's Af-Pak strategy involves extending $7.5 billion civilian assistance and $2.8 billion military aid to Pakistan over the next five years conditional to its support to the US on the war on terrorism. As part of that strategy, Clinton unveiled a $500 million aid package to Pakistan during her visit. As her statement reveals, there is little to indicate that this extension of carrots is working.

The Pakistani government's continuing support for terrorism stems mainly from the short-sighted pigheadedness of its rulers. They don't seem to realise that extremism is as much a threat to them as it is for the rest of the world. However, there is another reason and that is the US policy of rewarding Pakistan despite its role in fostering terror. For decades India has complained that US aid to Pakistan has encouraged the latter's bellicosity vis-a-vis India. Recent evidence too has revealed that US aid is being diverted to fund terrorism. So why is Washington then still treating Islamabad with kids gloves? It can ask the ISI to severe links with the terrorists. The question is whether it has the political will to do so. Will shaking out information bring out its own dirty role in the ongoing war?







Unlike India, which exports foodgrains and keeps its own people hungry, China imports agricultural products.


There can be nothing more disappointing. After 63 years of Independence, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has also expressed its helplessness in feeding the country's hungry.

The hungry must live in hunger. That's the clear verdict. 

For a country which has the largest population of hungry in the world, and given that half of all children in India is under-nourished according to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06), I was expecting Sonia Gandhi to spell out a time-bound programme to make hunger history. But from what we read in newspapers, the NAC recommendations will not make any significant difference to the life of millions of hungry and malnourished.
From what I gather, Sonia Gandhi did probably make the effort. But it is her NAC team which failed to match her enthusiasm. If the NAC members had made meaningful suggestions, there is no reason why the NAC wouldn't have made the right recommendations.

Promising to provide 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3/kg to below the poverty line population, and ensuring 25 kg of grains to the APL households in 2000-poorest blocks in the country, is actually a clever move to move away from universalisation of food entitlements.

I have never been in favour of a universal food entitlement approach. The middle class is capable of feeding itself. If they can buy swanky cars and consumer durables at the drop of a hat, they can also meet their food requirements.

The challenge is to feed the hungry. According to ICMR norms, each able-body adult needs a minimum of 14 kg a month. Given that an average family comprise five members, each household would need 70 kg of grains. By providing 35 kg only, we are ensuring that the hungry remain perpetually hungry.

They continue to sleep with an empty stomach. In any case, this much quantity was being made available to them earlier too. The purpose of bringing in a National Food Security Act (NFSA) is not to simply legitimise what was being delivered through the public distribution system (PDS) all these years.

The argument against increasing the food allocations is that the annual procurement on an average is around 50 million tonnes and by promising more than 35 kg per household, the government will fail to provide the entitlement. Well, in my understanding this is merely an apology.

Although food production in India remains stagnant over the years, and even then much of the procured foodgrains rot for want of proper storage, the fact remains that given an attractive price, Indian farmers are capable of doubling production. 


Let us look at China. Its population is approximately 200 million more than that of India. Against India's foodgrain production of 230 million tonnes, China produces 500 million tonnes of foodgrains. Even with more than double food production, it imports huge quantities every year to meet the domestic needs. Unlike India, which exports foodgrains and other agricultural commodities by keeping its own people hungry, China has emerged as a major importer of food and agricultural products primarily to feed its teeming millions.

In India, the average per capita availability of food grains is less than 500 gm a day. On the other hand, China provides six times more at 3 kg per day. No wonder, while India is trying to ride the high-growth trajectory with empty stomachs and emancipated bodies, China is building a healthy nation knowing well that a well-fed population is not only a political necessity but makes strong social and economic sense.

Also, agriculture and food security is the first line of defence against insurgency. Resurrecting agriculture therefore should have been the first step to ensure long-term food security.

I expected Sonia Gandhi to have over-ruled the mandarins of the Planning Commission, as well as from the food and agriculture ministry to lay out a blueprint for feeding the country for all times to come by incorporating measures like extending sustainable farming practices which do not acerbate the environmental crisis, and also making agriculture economically viable; by redesigning trade and development policies that do not open the floodgates to highly subsidised agricultural commodities, and also shifting the focus from corporate agriculture back to making small farms profitable and environmentally sustainable.

Local production and local procurement is the key to any successful food security initiative. The proposed NFSA therefore should be overarching enough to incorporate suitable policies and plans that not only cuts into the domain of the ministry of food and agriculture, but also extends to ministry of environment and forests as well as the ministry of science and technology.

Knowing that enhancing production remains outside the ambit of the NFSA, merely making a mention of it will not help. If the objective is to simply create a new position of food commissioner (with the rank of a supreme court judge) at the national level, and a series of state commissioners (with the rank of a high court judge), then the basic objective of feeding the hungry is lost.








A majority of Indian politicians and planners are unable to look beyond a few economic sectors.


Indian economy continues to shine amid global slowdown. Its GDP growth clocks at 7.4 per cent in 2009-10 which makes Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee optimistic to say that India would hit two digit growth in 2012. India has witnessed 9 per cent growth consecutively for four years from 2004-05 to 2007-08.

Thanks to the stoicism of the majority of Indians who cut their food intake due to inflation, breath contaminated air, drink polluted water, eat tonnes of spurious food and medicines, pay exorbitant price for basic amenities like health, housing and education. All for the sake of GDP growth! The economic paradox in the country is due to the majority of Indian politicians and planners' inability to look beyond a few economic sectors. India's vast potential in its multiple sectors is not yet explored.

In spite of global slowdown, the demand for Indian handicraft is growing due to its high value addition. The Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO) estimates India's export of gift items has increased by 20 per cent. Transparency in handicraft trade will benefit 47.61 lakh Indian craft makers and many more people involved in this profession.

Yoga industry

Twenty years back nobody had imagined Indian yoga could become a vibrant economic sector. Today, more than 30 million people practice yoga in the US. NAMASTA, the US-based organisation for mind-body professionals estimates there are about 70,000 yoga teachers in North America. According to 'Yoga in America', yoga market is worth $3 billion per annum. India can become the out sourcing hub for yoga products.

Similarly, the pilgrim tourism potential of India has not been tapped fully. Nearly 20 crore people visit pilgrim places every year, which triggers a gamut of economic activities like transport services, sale of handicraft, hotel and restaurant chains and above all communal harmony.  It is the Muslim artisans who make a large number of religious artifacts for Hindu temples and vice versa. In the 12th century AD, the Gajapati King of Puri allotted one village named Pipli to Muslim appliqué craftmen who used to make appliqué umbrellas for Lord Jagganath temple. Today the appliqué work is very popular in international craft bazaars. Recently Sri Lanka had sought India's assistance to develop sites like Warangatota, Sitakotuwa, Sita Eliya, Yudhaganapitiya, Dunuwila, Chilaw, Ramassala and Ramboda which are associated with the Ramayana. Integration of Ramayana sites will immensely benefit both India and the island nation.

Forests in India are the biggest livelihood provider. Forest dwellers worship nature, make all utility and decorative items from bio-degradable material. With the passage of time those hand crafted items have taken the shape of art forms for value addition. The iron and wood craft of Bastar, dhokra craft of Orissa and Chhattisgarh, the bidri craft of Karnataka, Warli paintings of Maharashtra and ragged dolls of Jhabua, etc have good demand in international craft bazaars.

The export of natural honey products has increased from Rs 60.92 crore to Rs 93.30 crore in 2007-08. There are hundreds of minor forest products which can improve the living condition of tribal.

Foreign tourists happily pay a wildlife package of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh for sighting tiger in a forest. Madhya Pradesh government makes arrangement for a trip to the tiger kingdom.

Agriculture has tremendous unseen potential. Seabuckthorn is a kind of shrub which grows abundantly in Ladakh region. Its bark, leaves and fruits have multiple byproducts like medicine, fuel, cosmetic for skin care, soft drinks, jams, etc.

Unfortunately, 5 per cent of its potential is harvested every year. There are hundreds of medicinal herbs, plants and animals which have disappeared due to the entry of hybrid varieties. The nomadic Gujjar and Bakriwala communities in Kashmir have lost at least a dozen rare indigenous species of sheep, goats, horses and almost seven species are on the brink of extinction due to the introduction of crossbreed species. A few years back, in Bhadrak district of Orissa, cross breed jersey cows were given to villagers against bank loans. The villagers were not knowing how to maintain those delicate breed. The cows gave less milk due to lack of care and the villagers blamed the bankers for cheating them.

Today the indigenous cows return to dry Vidarbha region for their adaptability and less maintenance cost. Planners must take extra steps to discover economic potential which are lying unnoticed.







Mum is probably adding vinegar to the heavenly banquet.


One of the biggest challenges, a bride faces, is to put her individual stamp on the culinary union of two guts. Twenty six years ago, this bride had to redefine the line of control, between Tamil Christian and Anglo-Indian cuisines. Post-engagement, every special meal was a romantic adventure with the exclamation 'different, but delicious,' but post-wedding, it was risky business. In choosing the menu for 3 square meals a day, the two already hyphenated identities were in danger of losing their original flavours.

The first year was a tightrope walk between bread and rice, kurma and stew, salads and pachidis and between tomato puree and tamarind paste. The mothers-in-law took their roles as defenders of their culinary legacies and as preservers of origin and identity very seriously. They religiously added their incantations to the cauldron of culinary mumbo-jumbo. I was determined to learn and blend both to make my own stew pot or kurma chatti!

My mum-in-law was flattered by my decision to inveigle my way to my husband's guts, (because that is where a large part of his heart lay), through a smorgasbord of flavours. She whipped me under her generous belt and made a devotee out of me. I soon learnt the tricks of the trade and used terms such as vindaloos, stews, pishpash, thin dol, pepper water and fugaths with cultured ease. In turn, I wooed her and her son with the piquancy of Madras fish curries, the delicate flavour of asafetida in sambar and the incredible lightness of idlis and drumstick sambar.

Cooking, as I soon discovered was not only a cultural celebration but also a personal and intimate way of establishing your unique identity or flavour. Mum-in-law's masala chops, brinjal cutlets, tomato sambal or chicken vindaloo were inimitable like her. They had heat and texture, colour and flavour. They were flavourful concoctions of fancy herbs or heady amalgamations of indigenous spices. In the middle of all this stood Wilson, mum's Man Friday. Maker or master of synthetic vinegar, he gained a cult status with his band of believers. Quintessentially Anglo-Indian, it was a Black and White affair. 'Black', this High Priestess of soul food proclaimed, "for curries and white, for table use." God spare the heretic who defied the doctrine of a 'dash of vinegar.'

Till recently, this 92-year-old matriarch sat in a wheel chair, her memory in tatters. The one thing that jogged her memory was a recall of her vindaloo recipe. When we got to the part of the hallowed incantation, 'a dash of vinegar' she would guffaw with much delight. Mum is somewhere beyond the blue probably adding her dash of vinegar to the heavenly banquet. Every time I add a dash of vinegar, I smile at the memory of those early days when mum worked her charm into her cooking and into the willing neophyte at her altar. She had, in turn, become my personal dash of vinegar, that little something that added a zing to things, that made the drabbest, blandest and most ordinary situations, come alive. On my kitchen shelf are two sentinels, Wilson, in black and white, paying homage to mum and her 'dash of vinegar.'









Religiously inspired misogyny seems to be running amok. Last week Gaza's Hamasgovernment issued an order banning women from smoking water pipes (shisha in Arabic, nargila in Hebrew) in public places. "It is inappropriate for a woman to sit crosslegged and smoke in public," Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, announced. "It harms the image of our people."

Apparently motivated by a strange combination of prurience and religious fervor, Hamas has singled out women for censure since its 2007 takeover of Gaza. In addition to the fairly straightforward female dress code in courthouses, schools and universities that demands the hijab and full-length dresses, Hamas has also issued surprisingly idiosyncratic decrees. These reportedly include a ban against women riding on motorcycles with their husbands, getting their hair cut by a male hairdresser, and walking on the beach without a male chaperon who is a family member. It is unclear why of all possible female "transgressions," these have been singled out. Perhaps they are the personal favorites of the Hamas functionaries who decide such things.


Meanwhile, Iran's deadly hatred for women hardly needs qualification. The story of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a poor, 43-year-old mother of two who's been jailed since 2005 for alleged adultery – and initially facing death by stoning – is just the most recent in a litany of religious violence directed against the fairer sex by the Islamic Republic. According to Iran's Muslim-inspired penal law, which already punished Ashtiani with 99 lashes, the rocks used in her stoning must be big enough to inflict pain but not large enough to kill her, at least not immediately. World outrage has so far managed to delay Ashtiani's stoning. But it is unclear for how much longer.

Nor is Islam the only religion with clear misogynistic tendencies. Just last week the Vatican issued long-awaited revisions to its internal laws aimed at facilitating discipline of sex-abuser priests. But the Catholic Church also used the opportunity to lash out at women. Seemingly oblivious to simple moral distinctions, the Vatican equated the sexual molestation of children with the ordaining of women as priests. Both offenses were deemed graviora delicta (grave offenses), a category reserved for heresy, apostasy and schism. A clergyman who ordains a member of the opposite sex is just as worthy of defrocking as a priest who rejects the Trinity or who is a pedophile.

One can, perhaps, understand the male-controlled Church's concern over the threat presented by women, especially in light of a recent poll by The New York Times and CBS showing that 59 percent of US Catholics support the ordination of women while 33% oppose it. But to distort simple moral reasoning in order to defend male hegemony is incomprehensible.

And even if the church is concerned that introducing women to the clergy could weaken celibacy, how could consensual sex between two adults possibly be compared to pedophilia? 

JUDAISM, TOO, is not immune. Recent examples of misogyny here include the obsessive segregation of women on buses. In Beit Shemesh and Mea She'arim, supermarkets and the post office have separate hours or queues for men and women. Sometimes this segregation is brutally enforced and the immodest dress of women is blamed for various societal ills.

At the Kotel, women who attempt to pray or carry a Torah scroll are regularly attacked either verbally or physically. The May 2003 High Court ruling that forbids women to read from the Torah or to lead prayer groups at the Kotel is based on a "blame the victim" reasoning that such activity is liable to incite (male) violence.

Therefore, due to the inability of police to ensure their safety, women should be prevented from engaging in such activity.

The French parliament's vote last week to ban full-length veils in public places is a commendable move to curb misogynistic religious extremism that clashes with liberal sensibilities. When possible, a "responsible adult" in the form of secular, level-headed legislators needs to step in and stop the insanity. This is especially true when moderate religious elements that undoubtedly exist in Islam, Catholicism and Judaism are either unwilling or unable to stem the tide of extremism.

Sadly, women in Gaza and Iran will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future. And there are no signs of change in the Catholic Church. But perhaps Israel can learn something from the French and protect the right of women to pray at the Kotel.








A persistent discussion about the politicization of Israeli archeology.

Talkbacks (7)

At a recent International Geography Conference in Tel Aviv, Deborah Cvikel of the University of Haifa's Recanti Institute of Maritime Studies unveiled her latest work on 19th-century naval battles off Acre.

In the course of her study she had carried out groundbreaking research, alongside Dr. Ya'acov Kahanov, on a shipwreck inside the ancient harbor of Acre. It is postulated that this wreck may be related to the naval bombardments by the Egyptians in 1831 or British in 1840.

The unique research into maritime archeology being pioneered at the University Haifa is part of the larger interest archeologists inevitably express in the Holy Land and its long history. But since the 2007 dustup over the granting of tenure to Nadia Abu el-Haj at Barnard, there has been a persistent debate about the supposed politicization of Israeli archeology. The infamous case of Haj concerned the typical circle: Anti-Israel polemics passed off as scholarship, condemnation by pro- Israel supporters, accusations of freedom of speech being threatened and finally the legitimization of the anti-Israel polemic in the name of protecting free speech.

According to one interpretation, archeology in Israel is not a discipline or a science but rather purely political. The sites chosen to be excavated and illuminated, according to one critic, "have been selectively co-opted by the Israeli government in order to strengthen its claims to the land." Yael Zerubavel of Rutgers noted in 1995 that "archeology thus becomes a national tool through which Israelis can recover their roots in the ancient past and the ancient homeland."

Keith Whitelam's pretentious 1997 The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History argues that Israel was "invented by scholars in the image of a European nation state; one that resembles the State of Israel created in 1948." Terje Oestigaard of the University of Bergen claims in Political Archeology and Holy Nationalism that Israel's interest in its history is akin to "the distortions and false claims made by the Nazi archeologists." Comparing Israel to the Nazis is par for the course of scholarly anti-Israel hate speech. Disparaging Israel's connection to the land has even spawned an entire school of archeology called the Copenhagen School, populated by such scholars as Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas Thompson.

Another critic is Knox College's Danielle Steen Fatkin, author of National Building and Archeological Narrative in the West Bank (2002). A recipient of an Albright Institute fellowship (funded partly by the US National Endowment for the Humanities), she carried out research in Israel but her most recent work has been in Jordan. The same scholar who condemns Israel's "national mythologizing run amok" waxes eloquent about how "developing a coherent national identity is vitally important not just for creating at least a fiction of Palestinian unity, but important also for the presentation of Palestinian needs to the international community."


Fatkin's Web site refers to her interest in "Roman religions, especially Judaism."

Anyone who thinks Judaism is a Roman religion cannot be faulted for finding only Palestinians in the Land of Israel.

ALL THIS pseudo-research about nation-building and its supposed parasitic relationship with the scholarly creation of a "mythical" Jewish past is all caught up in the "post-structuralist, anthropological, Marxist interpretation" of nonsense.

But it is worthwhile to examine the critic's claims.

Those who want to find evidence for the politicization of archeology theoretically have to look no further than at what is being excavated. Examining a list of recent excavations in Israel, one can view any excavation focused on Iron Age (1300-600 BCE) as being biased toward "Israel" since it is in this period that the Jewish monarchy of David and Solomon is believed to have existed.

The Antiquities Authority and foreign funders are all accused of conspiring to dig right through Islamic era relics to find the evidence for Jewish settlement in older periods. One gets the picture of savage archeologists throwing aside Ottoman stonework, smashing Ummayid buttresses and bashing through Mameluke decorations to get to the mother lode of addictive Hebrew artifacts that may or may not exist underneath.

The evidence is misleading though. One list of 27 excavations from 2003 supposedly shows that "very few" excavations deal with the Islamic/Ottoman periods.

True. However the excavations don't deal with a search for Jewish relics either, rather nine deal with the Byzantine era (330-630 C.E.) sites and 12 with the Bronze Age, the period of the Canaanites (3500-2300 BCE). An examination of sites being explored in 2004 shows that numerous Roman, Nabatean and even Neolithic (9500 BCE) sites were being examined.

A Foreign Ministry document lists 16 sites accepting volunteers from 2009.


Among them were Ein Gedi, Omrit (site of a possible Herodian temple), Bethsaida (site of a Jesus miracle), Ashkelon (Canaanite, Islamic and Crusader periods), Mount Zion ("we will be digging the early Islamic levels"), Tel Hazor ("the Canaanite period will be explored"), Kfar Hahoresh (9,000-yearold village), Tel Dor (major Canaanite-Phoenician-Hellenistic-Roman port) and Hippos (site of a Roman building). An examination of the topics presented at Israeli tour guide schools finds no overemphasis on the Jewish history of Israel. In a similar vein, the country's national parks include a disproportionate number of Crusader, rather than Jewish, sites such as Ein Hemed, Castel, Yehiam, Belvoir, Apollonia and Tel Afek.

More could be done to examine sites that relate to the Ottoman and Mameluke periods, especially the very interesting khans and flour mills that exist in varying states of decay. Some of the Arab sites, such as sheikh's tombs, are of interest as well. But disinterest in the 13th-19th centuries doesn't add up to bad archeology.

Is it wrong for a country to have some interest in the past that relates to the people currently living in it? The Irish might be able to answer that.

No fans of Israel, the Irish were accused by Janis McEwan in Archaeology and Ideology in Nineteenth Century Ireland: Nationalism or Neutrality? of manipulating archeology to fashion a national past. Many other nationstates have been accused of politicizing archeology by daring to be interested in their own past, such as the French interest in the Gauls and the Danish, Italian and Slovene interest in themselves. Thus the deconstruction of archeology is part and parcel of the wider European attempt to deracinate Europeans from themselves, to eradicate all forms of nationalism and anything connected to it. Jewish history should not be forced to suffer on account of that European trend.


The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.








Extremists in America force many to examine its policies more closely.

Talkbacks (21)

A seismic shift in American politics has occurred over the past decade that has created a gap so wide and so bitter that America is a nation of growing polarization where issues once embraced by both sides are now being challenged.

In the shift, the far right has embraced Israel as a means of separating itself from Democrats, causing many Americans to question what, until then, has been unquestioned loyalty.

Although Israelis have always enjoyed support from both mainstream political parties, the extremists in America who are using support of Israel as a litmus test are forcing many to examine its policies more closely.

Israel has become a flagship platform issue for far-right groups like the Tea Party, which has come under attack from groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which has accused it of being plagued by bigots and racists.

For the first time, many Americans are saying they support Israel, but question the occupation of the West Bank, its exclusive claim to Jerusalem and the conduct of its military.

CAN AMERICANS support Israel's security and still criticize its policies? It's a question now being raised in the heated race for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, where the public's rock-solid support for Israel is coming apart at the seams.

Joe Sestak is the Democratic candidate who defeated longtime Israel champion Arlen Specter in last May's primary. Specter had switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Sestak is no left-wing extremist and represents the American mainstream. He supports Israel, but he is critical of some of its policies, including its use of "collective punishment" – a policy that challenges international laws and human rights.

While Pat Toomey, his Republican opponent, has made Sestak's questioning of Israel a priority attack issue, Sestak has stood firm, insisting he supports Israel but making it clear not all of Israel's policies are acceptable. He has responded to Toomey by tying the Republican to the hated bankers on Wall Street and the nation's economic decline.

Toomey's allies, like the Emergency Committee for Israel, have accused Sestak of donating to a Hamas "front group," pointing an accusatory finger at his speech to a dinner hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.

The accusation is outrageous. Sestak was accompanied to the dinner by Pennsylvania Governor and Democrat Ed Rendell, who is Jewish, showing there is no place for Islamaphobia in American politics.

Yet Islamaphobia is the cornerstone of right-wing ideology. The more groups like the Tea Party wrap themselves in Israel's flag, the more Americans start to question Israeli actions, including the killing of a dual American-Turkish citizen aboard the Gaza flotilla in late May.

For many voters, Israel is becoming a point of division. The election will be decided on other, more important issues, such as the deteriorating economy and the need for jobs.

The Sestak-Toomey fight over Israel will force voters to take sides. Sestak may have issues with Israel, but is popular on many other mainstream American issues that are more important.

IN THE past, most American voters have not distinguished between Israel's interests and the interests of the US. They have supported Israel even when its policies have crossed the line.

That has come from the imbalance in how Arabs and Israelis manage public relations. The Arabs fumble through public relations on emotion and chance.

Israel manages public relations through a sophisticated strategy that is well funded.

American perspectives are built on decades-long exposure to sophisticated pro-Israel marketing strategies in the news media and entertainment. The book Exodus set the tone in the American mindset in the 1960s and has been reinforced by years of solid PR.

But that glass ceiling is breaking across many fronts as issues that hit close to home trump even the best PR efforts.


Earlier this year, Gen. David Petraeus said that American policies regarding Israel have put the lives of American soldiers in jeopardy.

In prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he stated, "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in Centcom's area of operations and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."

The more American extremists embrace Israel, the more they undermine its standing, regardless of who wins the Pennsylvania election.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.








Northern Cyprus shares features with Syria; resembles 'open-air jail' more than Gaza.

Talkbacks (33)

In light of Ankara's recent criticism of what it calls Israel's "open-air jail" in Gaza, this week, which marks the anniversary of Turkey's invasion of Cyprus, has special relevance.

Turkish policy toward Israel, historically warm and only a decade ago approaching full alliance, has cooled since Islamists took power in 2002. Their hostility became explicit in January 2009, during the Israel- Hamas war. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan grandly condemned Israeli policies as "perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction" and even invoked God ("Allah will... punish those who transgress the rights of innocents"). His wife Emine Erdogan hyperbolically condemned Israeli actions as so awful they "cannot be expressed in words."

Their verbal assaults augured a further hostility that included insulting PresidentShimon Peres, helping sponsor the "Freedom Flotilla" and recalling the Turkish ambassador.

This Turkish rage prompts a question: Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts: • Turkey's invasion of July-August 1974 involved the use of napalm and "spread terror" among Cypriot Greek villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast, Israel's "fierce battle" to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and entailed virtually no civilian casualties.

• The subsequent occupation of 37 percent of the island amounted to a "forced ethnic cleansing," according to William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, the Jews, in 2005.

• The Turkish government has sponsored what Mallinson calls "a systematic policy of colonization" on formerly Greek lands in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots in 1973 totaled about 120,000 persons; since then, more than 160,000 citizens of the Republic of Turkey have been settled in their lands. Not a single Israeli community remains in Gaza.

• Ankara runs its occupied zone so tightly that, in the words of Bülent Akarcal, a senior Turkish politician, "Northern Cyprus is governed like a province of Turkey." An enemy of Israel, Hamas, rules in Gaza.

• The Turks set up a pretend-autonomous structure called the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."

Gazans enjoy real autonomy.

• A wall through the island keeps peaceable Greeks out of northern Cyprus. Israel's wall excludes Palestinian terrorists.

AND THEN there is the ghost town of Famagusta, where Turkish actions parallel those of Syria under the thuggish Assads. After the Turkish air force bombed the Cypriot port city, Turkish forces moved in to seize it, thereby prompting the entire Greek population (fearing a massacre) to flee. Turkish troops immediately fenced off the central part of the town, called Varosha, and prohibited anyone from living there.

As this crumbling Greek town is reclaimed by nature, it has become a bizarre time capsule from 1974. Steven Plaut of the University of Haifa visited and reports: "Nothing has changed... It is said that the car distributorships in the ghost town even today are stocked with vintage 1974 models. For years after the rape of Famagusta, people told of seeing light bulbs still burning in the windows of the abandoned buildings."

Curiously, another Levantine ghost town also dates from the summer of 1974. Just 24 days before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Israeli troops evacuated the border town of Kuneitra, handing it over to the Syrian authorities. Hafez Assad chose, for political reasons too, not to let anyone live in it.

Decades later, it too remains empty, a hostage to bellicosity.


Erdogan claims that Turkish troops are not occupying northern Cyprus but are there in "Turkey's capacity as a guarantor power," whatever that means. The outside world, however, is not fooled. If Elvis Costello recently pulled out of a concert in Tel Aviv to protest the "suffering of the innocent [Palestinians]," Jennifer Lopez canceled a concert in northern Cyprus to protest "human rights abuse" there.

In brief, Northern Cyprus shares features with Syria and resembles an "open-air jail" more than Gaza does. How rich that a hypocritical Ankara preens its moral plumage about Gaza even as it runs a zone significantly more offensive. Instead of meddling in Gaza, Turkish leaders should close the illegal and disruptive occupation that for decades has tragically divided Cyprus.

The writer ( is director of the Middle East Forum and a Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.








If mutual tolerance is a prerequisite for the ending of exile, I think I'll be going foodless for many more Tisha Be'avs to come.

Talkbacks (2)

Staying out of the summer heat on Tuesday, trying to forget the fact that I was neither eating nor drinking, I was reminded again of how disagreeable food deprivation is.

Rather than inducing a deeper spirituality, fasting just tends to make me mournful – which, I suppose, is the objective on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, marking as it does a slew of Jewish tragedies over the ages, chief among them the destruction of both Jewish Temples, in 586 BCE and 70 C.E., and the exile of the Jews from Zion.


Fasting does, however, indubitably prompt a measure of reflection, seeping in, as it were, to fill the space generally occupied by physical gratification.

And one of the things I reflected on during Tisha Be'av was how crucial to our lives and pleasure food and drink are, and how blithely most of us take their provision for granted.

How many of us, I wondered while shutting a mental door on the image of a tall glass of iced tea, could easily grow a cucumber or milk a cow (were one available) if vegetables and milk products suddenly vanished from our supermarkets? Food for thought, certainly. And for gratitude that we are able to buy our fill of milk and cucumbers.

BUT in the knowledge that fast days were instituted to go beyond this type of speculation, I turned to see what the opinion columns had to offer on the subject – and found that rabbi and author Emanuel Feldman, whose thoughtful comments I have always appreciated, had written a July 19 Jerusalem Post column entitled "Why I like Tisha Be'Av."

"That's going a bit too far," I thought, while allowing for his view that without this day, we Jews might forget some "essential things about ourselves," such as the spiritual centrality to Judaism of the Land of Israel; the impenetrability of the "rock" of Zion in the face of its enemies' attempts to destroy it; and the ability of the Jews, uniquely among the many over the ages who have held this land, to make it flourish.

"Beneath the mourning and the fasting," concluded Feldman, "there dwells a deep solace: I am a proud part of the indestructible signpost and rock that is called Zion."

Well, I thought, if a foodless day can help instill that kind of Zionist pride at a time when many Jews worldwide would shudder at the mere thought of being labeled Zionists, I'll go hungry any time.


Provocative headline No. 2 presented itself over Anshel Pfeffer's July 16 column inHaaretz, proclaiming: "Exile is over. Celebrate the Ninth of Av" – "a date," Pfeffer said, "that has lost any relevance beyond the historical."

"For a decade now," he went on, "there has not been one Jew around the world," even in Iran, "who was not free to return to Zion" (albeit, in the Iranian case, at a price). Why mourn an exile that no longer exists? Moreover, Pfeffer pointed out, "for the first time in the history of the Jews, a majority of them are choosing not to live in an independent
Jewish state in Zion – of their own free will."

Turning to the issue of the destroyed Temples – "the other reason for the day of lamentations" – this, wrote Pfeffer, "was canceled 43 years ago [following the Six Day War], when then defense minister Moshe Dayan, "far from securing the entrances to the Temple Mount for the sappers who would arrive shortly to blow up the mosques, making way for the Third Temple... ordered the Israeli flag removed from the mount and assured the astounded Muslim Wakf officials they would have full control of the area...

"The only reason that the third temple has not been built," stated Pfeffer, "is that a majority of Israelis simply are not interested. Secular Jews have no affinity to a priestly caste sacrificing heifers and goats, while the great majority of religious Jews are not very eager themselves.

"The concept of the temple is too distant, and the heavy price Israel would pay for any attempt to remove the mosques does not seem worth it.

That is our democratic decision, not a matter for the Messiah.

"The exile is over," Pfeffer declared, "and the temple has not been rebuilt because we don't want to do it."

WITH all due respect to the Haaretz columnist, great stretches of the democratic, liberal Western world – including, sadly, many Jews – are currently united in ongoing, active hostility against Israel.

The question of whether our state has a right to exist is being seriously debated on university campuses, and there is a madman in Teheran uninterested in any debate at all.

At home – more seriously, many hold – the fabric of Israeli society is showing rents and divisions that threaten to defy repair.

Can Pfeffer really so readily take for granted the continuance of the Jewish nation in its ancient homeland? Is he sure that the exile he confines to the pages of history has not merely been interrupted? The Jews have been driven out of this land twice.

Unthinkable as it may be to those of us who have tied our fortunes to it, we could lose it again.

As the Post reported on July 20, documentary filmmaker Yaron Kaftori's new movie2048, which portrays a future without a Jewish state, was set to be screened – on Tisha Be'av – at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. At the film's premiere in Jerusalem, it won a "shockingly" warm reception. "I got the same reaction from the left wing and the right wing, the religious and non-religious, Kaftori said.

"Everyone could identify with one part of it."

THE effort of mourning our lost Temples and even our tragedies can be strained.

As Pfeffer notes, "the concept of the temple is too distant." And the Holocaust, the overwhelming Jewish tragedy of our time that some say should be included in the lamenting on Tisha Be'av, has its own memorial day – lengthy and agonizing enough. Outside that, it's hard to summon up the emotional energy.

But if there was one present and compelling reason to go without the comfort of food and drink during a 24-hour-plus fast amid the scorching heat of summer, it was the classic explanation our sages give for why the Second Temple, in particular, was destroyed and our people driven out of Zion: sinat hinam.

Generally translated as "baseless (or gratuitous) hatred," it means one person loathing another for no reason other than because he has a different ethnicity (for example, Ashkenazi or Sephardi); follows a different religious practice (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform); or adheres to a different political agenda (left-wing or right). Or maybe simply because he inspires jealousy on account of some attribute or possession.

I remember a pompous and self-satisfied Jewish student from my university days sneering at Jews of a denomination he despised as being "worth less than stones."

That's sinat hinam.

AS LONG as there is brutish, baseless hatred in our society, you could say that we are still in exile – from our true selves, from the acceptance that the "other" deserves, from our potential as human beings.

"Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country's political landscape," wrote David Weinberg in an August 2, 1998 Post op-ed. "The prevailing culture is kassah – unbridled, untamed confrontation."

And, one might add, no little amount of sinat hinam.

"Tisha Be'av was never supposed to be an eternal day of mourning," Pfeffer noted, citing the Jewish belief "that one day, exile would end..." and a fast day no longer be needed.

But if mutual tolerance is a prerequisite for the ending of exile, I think I'll be going foodless for many more Tisha Be'avs to come.







That the government has allowed conversion to be hijacked by its most retrograde and stringent interpreters is perplexing.

Talkbacks (1)


As I write these words in the hours before Tisha Be'Av, I feel a sense of great sadness. As a lifelong Zionist devoted to the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, I am filled with sorrow regarding recent developments that threaten to undermine both the liberal and democratic ethos of its founding leaders and the relationship between American Jews and Israel.

The arrest of Anat Hoffman for carrying a Torah scroll publicly at the Western Wall last week as she participated in the Rosh Hodesh prayers held monthly by "Women of the Wall" as well as the proposed Rotem conversion bill that would have granted a Haredi Chief Rabbinate exclusive oversight over all conversion matters had left hundreds of thousands of Jews with feelings of sorrow and anger. These acts were tantamount to a declaration of war by zealots in governmentally sanctioned positions of power against liberal religious Jews in particular and Diaspora Jewry in general.


Admittedly, my gloom has been in part lifted by the tactical decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Chairman of the Jewish Agencyfor Israel Natan Sharansky to delay consideration for the time being of the Rotem bill in the Knesset.

The outrage of passionate Diaspora Zionists as well as the vast majority of Israelis themselves who refuse to surrender to fundamentalist control over the Jewish State has awakened the leaders of Israel to the potentially destructive impact this bill would have on the fate of the Jewish people.

Those guiding Israel's future clearly understand that Israel is not only under attack from so many external enemies but that it faces another danger as well: the disquieting reality that the presumed continuity of American Jewry's faithful support of the state is challenged by an emerging generation of young Jews increasingly distanced from or disinterested in a State of Israel that they perceive as not fully committed to democracy and free religious expression.

WHY ARE we distressed by Hoffman's ignoble detention? It is not simply because so many of us view her act of carrying the Torah and engaging in Jewish prayer with her sisters at the Wall as completely consistent with an egalitarian Jewish religious viewpoint. Our anger has arisen because her arrest runs completely counter to a democratic ethos enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence that proudly proclaims, "The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex" and asserts that Israel "will guarantee freedom of religion" and "conscience" to its inhabitants.

Her seizure challenges the sense many of us have that the State of Israel champions religious freedom and unfortunately confirms what is undoubtedly true – the Western Wall is not actually the most potent historical symbol of the national sovereignty of the Jewish people in our historic homeland.

Rather, it is essentially a Haredi synagogue and all Jewish persons of religious conviction who do not share their ultra-Orthodox beliefs must be prepared to surrender their own as a pre-condition should they wish to worship there.

In the case of the bill proposed by MK Rotem, I do not doubt that he is well-intentioned in his desire to offer a bill that seeks to resolve the heartbreaking dilemma confronted by hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live as Jews in the Jewish State while being ineligible for marriage because their status as Jews is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. Rotem is rightfully concerned about the decision issued several years ago by the highest Haredi legal authority in Israel to annul conversions conducted under Orthodox authority in Israel itself – a judgment that places the conversion to Judaism of more than 40,000 Israeli converts in a state of limbo and makes the alternative of conversion to Judaism on the part of hundreds of thousands of other non-Jews now living in Israel virtually impossible.


AS A scholar of Orthodox Judaism, I am perplexed that the government has allowed a rabbinic tradition of such openness and flexibility on the issue of conversion to be hijacked by its most retrograde and stringent interpreters. Sadly, I believe it is due to the corrupting enmeshment of religion and state.

As a result, Rotem's "so-called solution" was and is not a solution at all. His bill only exacerbates the problem by tightening the control the haredim have over matters of Jewish status. The bill completely disenfranchises liberal streams in the Jewish religious tradition by denying their rabbis as well as most Modern Orthodox rabbis the authority to perform legally recognized conversions and withdraws even the limited legal gains that the non-Orthodox streams have made on this matter by overturning a Supreme Court ruling that all Jews converted by rabbis from all streams of Judaism are eligible for citizenship.

For Jews in both the Diaspora and in Israel who are committed to Israel as both a democratic and a Jewish state, these episodes call into question whether the state itself actually possesses those commitments. The impediments and restrictions placed before non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism by the Israeli government are matters of serious concern because they reveal that the State employs coercion and imposes a limited range of acceptable practices on Jews who have diverse conceptions of Jewish religious authenticity.

This struggle for Jewish religious freedom is a principled fight for justice that expects the state to be impartial in defining authentic religious Judaism. It is high time that the legitimacy and authority of different branches of religious Judaism be affirmed in Israel. This will surely enhance and strengthen the commitment significant numbers of American Jews feel towards the Jewish state.

This desired outcome needs to be impressed with all candor upon those who are our Israeli sisters and brothers, and divisive fights such as those brought on by the Rotem bill should be avoided at almost all cost just as room for the type of religious expression Anat Hoffman and Women of the Wall seek should be protected by the government as the State of Israel strives to fulfill its mandate as a democratic and Jewish nation.

The writer is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.








A good year and better times on the horizon.

Talkbacks (5)


The period that follows Tisha Be'av is an active time for many. Vacations and trips temporarily delayed are now pursued vigorously. Purchases also delayed because of the three weeks, the nine days and Tisha Be'av itself are now completed and life returns to a sense of normalcy. However, there is also the beginning of an upbeat mood, because glimpsed now over our calendar's horizon is the arrival of the new year and its attendant holidays of solemnity and joy.

I have always felt that the wonder of Tisha Be'av is that the Jewish people somehow continued after its destructive occurrences. The rabbis taught the people to believe that the destruction of the Temples and even the exile was not the final chapter in the story. They created a post-Tisha Be'av world that, while still looking backward and never forgetting what had occurred, basically looked forward to create the conditions of Jewish survival, growth and dynamism.

This remarkable achievement is unique in human history and is testimony to the covenant of eternity that controls our destiny and shapes our lives. The Mishna and the Talmud, the basic books of Judaism and Jewish life, were created after the events of Tisha Be'av. The customs and folkways that have bound Jews together and to their tradition were created and strengthened after the destruction of the Temples. Resilience became the watchword of Jewish life.

In 1263, Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Ramban) argued against the Church in front of King James of Aragon that Jewish survival over the past millennia was sufficient proof of the uniqueness of the Jewish people and of its covenant with the creator. "One sheep surrounded by 70 wolves!" he shouted to his adversaries who sought to deny the right of Jewish existence and the role of Judaism in world society. Almost 800 years later the same statement can and should be made with even greater emphasis. It is simply Jewish survival and resilience that puts the lie to the delegitimatization campaign that is currently being viciously conducted against us.

ACCORDING TO the script of natural history, we should no longer be here, there should be no great concentrations of Torah students and observant Jews present and there certainly cannot be a thriving Jewish state in its ancient homeland. I think that much of the bitterness and frustration that fuels its hatred, bias and bigotry against Jews and especially the State of Israel is that there apparently is no real "final solution" to the "Jewish problem."


Some truly believes that if there were no Israel and no strong Jewish community, universal utopia will have arrived. And they therefore are angry with us for not accommodating this wish, which they believe would be so beneficial for the general good of humankind. It is the resilience of the Jew more than anything else that so frustrates our antagonists and has done so for so many centuries.

There are elements within the Jewish people that seemingly are willing to accommodate the wishes of our enemies, all in the name of piein- the-sky humanistic, utopian ideals that never have any true relation to facts on the ground or the reality of life. Their Jewish resilience has deserted them, replaced by a vague hope for universalism and a conviction that the lamb can truly lie down with the lion and not become lamb chops. This misplaced "goodness" and peace mongering at all costs has exacted a heavy toll of lives and stress in the Jewish and general world over the past many decades.

The Jewish people, in the main, has rebuilt itself after the indescribable tragedies and disasters of World War II. A Jewish state exists, the Soviet Union disappeared and more than a million Soviet Jews have reattached themselves in one degree or another to their people and heritage. There simply has never occurred such a string of events to a people after such a tragedy as was the Holocaust.

The world knows about Tisha Be'av but is ill acquainted with after Tisha Be'av. Jews see the good new year and better times on the horizon. It is not the memorials, important as they are, that will sustain our existence. It is the continued physical and spiritual growth of our nation and its institutions of learning, government and compassion that will once again prove our resilience to still be present within us.

The writer is a rabbi, author, essayist and popular historian.










A university lecturer calls the naval commandos who raided the Mavi Marmara cold-blooded murderers. Another lecturer refuses to permit a student returning from reserve duty to enter the classroom in uniform. A third tells his students that he does not believe reserve duty in the territories justifies absence from class - but he is prepared to excuse the absence of students who attend a protest at a checkpoint.


Yet another lecturer calls for a boycott of Israel because of the occupation. His colleague calls for an academic boycott of Israeli universities, including the one that employs him. Another lecturer's students claim he silences them when they disagree with him.


Or the details could be changed: Perhaps one lecturer calls soldiers who evacuate settlers "Nazis." Another forbids a Muslim student from entering the classroom because she is wearing a veil. A third gives no special consideration to a student called up for reserve duty to evacuate a settlement outpost, but does so for a student who is absent because he went to help thwart an evacuation. And a fourth calls for a boycott on Israel or its universities because the "treasonous" government is prepared to give up parts of the homeland.


What all these scenarios have in common is the pretension that they are protected by academic freedom. But their true common denominator is that they have nothing at all to do with academic freedom. Some of these incidents are protected by freedom of speech, not academic freedom. Others contravene academic freedom.


Let's take criticism of the government: In a democracy, freedom of expression and criticism must be zealously guarded. But what does this have to do with academic freedom?


Indeed, the claim of academic freedom in these matters is somewhat arrogant, as if the faculty were above the people. After all, in a democracy, the voice of a professor is equal to the voice of every other citizen, and rightly so. The pretension of wrapping political critique in academic garb will end up curtailing the right to criticize - as if people who do not enjoy academic freedom should not express their opinions.


Academic freedom goes beyond freedom of expression, and is intended to respond to the needs of the academic community. It is the freedom to study, publish and teach. This is the only way the search for scientific truth can be protected. That is how academics differ from employees of any other institution.


But no one has a monopoly on truth. Thus to protect the search for truth, academics must not suppress the opinions of others, whether students or colleagues - because they too are entitled to academic freedom. Neither may academics force their opinions on others or do harm those whose opinions differ from theirs. The power of academic discourse lies in persuasion, not coercion.


But the greatest threat to academic freedom is the academic boycott. This weapon - even if those who preach it are trying to target government policy - strikes a mortal blow at the freedom to research and develop, because it cuts the scholar off from sources of funding for his research and from colloquy with colleagues, which is essential to academic research.


Nor can we ignore the fact that those who call for a boycott will not be harmed by it themselves. They will enjoy the best of both worlds - both the rights conferred by belonging to the boycotted university and the right to exemption from the very boycott they advocate.


The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Tel Aviv University









President Barack Obama's campaign of wooing Israel reflects a fundamental about-face in U.S. policy in the Middle East. U.S. priorities have changed: At the top are the intensifying problem of Iran and concerns about the change of leadership in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Under such circumstances, Israel is perceived as a "vital ally," in the words of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, and not an obstacle to warmer ties between the United States and the Muslim world, as was the view at the start of Obama's tenure.


The Americans have a supreme interest in the Middle East; it's an available and inexpensive supply of oil that powers the economies of the United States and its allies. Protecting it depends on preserving "stability," which relies on totalitarian regimes whose survival depends on the United States. In turn, defending these regimes provides important markets for the U.S. defense industry.


Since taking responsibility for the defense of the Middle East from Britain, and with the announcement of the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957 following the Suez Crisis, the United States has fought off every element that sought to undermine regional order and threatened the oil supply - from Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Soviet patrons to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.


Israel has played a varying role in American strategy. Sometimes it was seen as an asset, other times as a burden. During the best of times the Americans highlighted the "special relationship" and the "shared values." In bad times they picked on Israel over its Dimona nuclear reactor, and later over the settlements. This approach is commonplace for them: When the Americans needed China against the Soviet Union, they ignored both Mao's human rights violations and Taiwan. When China was perceived as an economic threat, the United States announced that it was selling arms to Taiwan, officially hosted the Dalai Lama, and acknowledged that there was censorship in Beijing and opponents of the regime were being persecuted.


In relations with Israel, the settlements play the role that Taiwan and Tibet play in relations with China - a permanent problem that is emphasized or ignored depending on need. Are they angry with the prime minister? They remember Sheikh Jarrah and Yitzhar. Do they need Israel, or do they want to caress it because of yet another bit of pseudo-progress in the peace process? They back off the Judea and Samaria planning committee.


When Obama came into office he assessed that the United States had been weakened in the Middle East and hoped to reach an agreement on sharing influence with the regional power, Iran. So he cooled toward Israel and pulled out of the closet the well-worn club called settlements. But that didn't work. The Iranians waved off Obama's goodwill gesture, and the Arab states ignored the Palestinian issue and made it clear that blocking Iran was more important. As the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington said at a conference last week: "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster, but Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster."


This is the reason for the turnabout in Obama's approach. Instead of "beat on Israel and gain the applause of the Muslims," the stance on Iran is toughening. Sanctions on Tehran have become tougher, and the rhetoric has become more blunt. Israel has moved from being a burden to a welcome partner, perhaps because there is no choice in view of the expected instability in Cairo and Riyadh with the changes at the top.


Cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces has become closer and the Americans have opted to emphasize it, unlike their tendency in the past of playing it down. Israel has become a hit in Washington to the point where Shapiro, who praised the defense relationship, went as far as to mention two presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, for supporting a Jewish homeland decades before Herzl. Zionism was born at the White House, and we had no idea.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scored a diplomatic achievement. During his first meeting with Obama he tried to convince him that the Iranian threat was paramount, and Obama demanded that he not build in East Jerusalem. Now the president declares that Iran's nuclear program "has been my number one foreign policy priority over the course of the last 18 months," and made no mention of the settlements as he sat next to Netanyahu.


This did not happen for nothing: Netanyahu promised in return that within a year he will have a permanent settlement, and is signaling that the weight of the blow on Iran will be reflected in the extent of the concessions Israel makes. And if this belated love also helps Obama and his party in the upcoming congressional elections, the deal will be worthwhile in his view.









Without minimizing the impressive technological achievements of the engineers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, there is concern that the defense establishment is feeding the public with illusions. Following its successful test of the Iron Dome system, the defense establishment has been sending the message that now, the rocket problem that threatened the country's citizens has been solved, and the nightmare faced by residents of the south and north will not recur.


In an interview with Israel Radio's Reshet Bet, Yossi Drucker, who heads Rafael's air-to-air division and was in charge of developing the anti-rocket system, said Iron Dome provides a solution to "all the threats that have ever been fired at the State of Israel from Lebanon and the [Gaza] Strip." And it seems his words fell on attentive ears: Sderot Mayor David Buskila hastened to declare that "the success of the tests is very welcome news for residents of Sderot and other communities near the Gaza Strip, who for more than eight years have been hoping for this moment ... The system will give a welcome sense of security to area residents."


The truth, regrettably, is far from what Drucker promised, and could dash Buskila's hopes. Iron Dome does not provide a solution to "all the threats," and in particular, it is not capable of protecting Buskila and the residents of his town: Due to the short flight time of Qassam rockets fired at Sderot from, say, Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip, Iron Dome will have difficulty intercepting them.


There is general agreement - which the people at Rafael don't dispute - that the system is designed for rockets with a range of more than 4.5 kilometers. And the distance from the outskirts of Beit Hanun to Sderot is less than 4 kilometers. Perhaps this assessment is mistaken. But my requests to the defense establishment for details of the rocket ranges against which Iron Dome was deployed in the latest tests were not answered.


Another issue that raises questions about Iron Dome's ability to solve the problem of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets is the system's high cost. In an interview yesterday with the CBN News website, Drucker acknowledged that the price of one Iron Dome missile comes to $100,000. Since the cost of a Qassam is just a few dollars, it is clear that from an economic standpoint, the mere accumulation of several thousand rockets by Hamas will be enough to defeat Israel.


In the north, the situation is even more acute, since Hezbollah already has about 50,000 rockets. Thus after several interception attempts, the stockpile of Iron Dome missiles is liable to run out, while the other side will be able to continue shooting thousands of rockets.


The defense establishment's contention that Iron Dome will only intercept rockets aimed at populated areas, thereby saving many Iron Dome missiles, is also problematic. First of all, to calculate the rocket's trajectory and decide whether it will fall in a populated area takes time. Even if the time involved is relatively short, this will expand the minimum range of the rockets the system can intercept.


Another problem stems from the possibility of improvements in the rockets' accuracy. Uzi Rubin, who headed the Defense Ministry program that developed the Arrow anti-missile system, contends that the Iranians have already managed to make their rockets accurate to within a few meters through simple and inexpensive means. If the Iranians transfer this technology to Hamas and Hezbollah, the entire subject of selective fire will become irrelevant, since all the rockets will be aimed at populated areas.


While elation at this technological achievement is justified, we must remember that Iron Dome does not provide

a solution to "all the threats." Far from it. And those who attempt to present it that way are both doing an injustice to the truth and deceiving the people who rely on them for their safety.







In developing "Iron Dome" and the system that is supposed to function one aerial floor above it, "Magic Wand," Israeli governments acknowledged that they had been mistaken in setting priorities and earmarking resources for the defense establishment.


Tests of the "Iron Dome" system to intercept short-range rockets ended on Monday. The Defense Ministry timed the announcement to coincide with the evening television newscasts, and it was indeed an impressive display: From one side an attacking Qassam or Katyusha rocket sailed in, and from the other side, a defensive projectile shot out, smashed the attacker and scattered the debris so that it would not hit the intended military or civilian target. The tests, according to the official announcement, also demonstrated a capability of intercepting salvos of rockets.


In itself, this is a positive development: Some defensive capability is better than total helplessness. Israel was slow to comprehend the potential for damage of rockets fired from Lebanon and Gaza. It belittled the impact of what Ariel Sharon's bureau chief called "flying objects."


The result of this disregard was evident in the eight years of deadly harassment of the Negev, which ultimately drew the Israel Defense Forces into a big operation in Gaza, and in the month-long rain of ordnance on Israel from Lebanon four years ago.


In developing "Iron Dome" and the system that is supposed to function one aerial floor above it, "Magic Wand," Israeli governments acknowledged that they had been mistaken in setting priorities and earmarking resources for the defense establishment. But this was only a grudging admission. Despite the completion of development and the announcement that the system is operational, there is still no intention to deploy the first two batteries, which will be ready in the fall, to protect Sderot and other communities in the south.


If the IDF's operation a year and a half ago, which began in Hanukkah 2008, was code-named "Cast Lead" because of its coincidence with the holiday, it seems the plan not to deploy the batteries deserves the code name "Hanukkah Candles." The launchers, rockets, radar and command vehicles of "Iron Dome" will evidently be for show, not for use.


This decision is baffling. It broadcasts doubt within both the government and the IDF that "Iron Dome" can actually move from television to the gritty reality of clashes with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It upsets residents of the south and could also puzzle Washington, which contributed more than $200 million to the program.


It is unclear whether the Katyusha and Qassam launchers who watched the test footage believed what they saw. But it is now fairly clear that those who are supposed to equip themselves with "Iron Dome" and deploy it still do not believe in it.










A small story from the Wild West. Two months ago, D., a lieutenant in the reserves, completed 30 days of service in the Hebron area. As part of protecting the residents, his commanders ordered him to assign two guards to a place called "Caleb's Field" every evening until the morning.


D. was not thrilled with the mission. The place is a vineyard with a private winery, surrounded by a "smart" fence. Next to it is a facility of the Mekorot Water Company, guarded by a private security firm, and the reserve unit was shorthanded. Why, D. asked, didn't the winery's owner also hire guards from a private firm? Not the same situation, he was told. This owner has been harassed and needs special protection. D. was even given the owner's cellphone number to coordinate the guard duty.


The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office said the army carrie out guard duty in Judea and Samaria "according to security needs," and that there has been no permanent post at Caleb's Field. But a senior security source told Haaretz that matters are a little different. Guarding the winery at night is improper, and it has been stopped, he said. Asked how a junior officer would deal with the settler's firm demands, the source replied that he expects an IDF officer to stand up to pressure.


D. tried, and indeed protested the use of his soldiers for private needs. He was so troubled by it as a matter of principle that he didn't even bother to look into the winery owner's identity. Too bad, because that is significant. The Web site of the Jewish community in Hebron depicts him as a respected vintner, and recounts the history of the "rioters' attacks" on his land.


The vintner is Menachem Livni of Kiryat Arba, defendant number one of the Jewish underground, who in 1984 was convicted of murdering three Palestinian students, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession and transport of a weapon, terrorist activity and deliberate damage to army property. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after less than seven years.


In June 2003, Livni aimed an M-16 rifle at a Palestinian truck driver, and when he failed to stop, shot at his tires and a headlight, demanded documents, left the scene and did not report the shooting. He was convicted, given a suspended sentence of four months, appealed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Edmond Levy, who refused to accept his appeal, wrote that his behavior "threatens the foundations of society." Despite all this, the army for a long time obeyed his demand for protection of his private vineyard and winery. Now that the guarding has stopped following D.'s complaint, Livni is surely disappointed.


The settlers are accustomed to assuming that the army is the contractor that carries out their goals in the territories, and they know that the boundaries between them and the military were breached long ago. No wonder, therefore, that they are stunned when a body charged with maintaining security suddenly acts against them. Both the state and the public have gotten used to their undisputed rule. In 1984, the attitude toward the detainees of the Jewish underground was mixed. Now, the support for Chaim Pearlman from the settlement of Tekoa, who stands accused of murdering Palestinians, is drowning out the shock at the deeds attributed to him. They are accepted as a legitimate part of the struggle for survival in the Wild West of the territories.


That's why ever since the arrest was made public, spokesmen for the extreme right have been attacking the Shin Bet's Jewish Division and depicting Pearlman as the victim of an improper interrogation. Their desire to weaken and even destroy the Jewish Division is understandable. What is less understandable is the impression this charade, which cynically uses liberal terminology, has made on the human rights purists on the left.


This is dangerous confusion. In the current reality it is virtually impossible to catch and convict Jewish terrorists. In contrast to the Palestinians, they are heavily protected legally, politically and personally, while their interrogators have to use wile and artifice. The court, not rightist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, will judge whether the evidence against Pearlman was obtained legally, and in bad times the priorities have to be clear: The vineyard owner is the real danger to democracy, not those who guard him.




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




When Goldman Sachs released its first-quarter results in April, its strong profits were overshadowed by news of a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the firm of fraud in a sale of mortgage-related securities. When it released its second-quarter results on Tuesday, its plunging profits — down 82 percent from the same period a year earlier — overshadowed the $550 million it paid to settle the S.E.C. case last week.


The settlement was the least of the reasons for Goldman's profit decline, which started with volatile markets,

followed by a $600 million hit to pay a British tax on bankers' bonuses. And despite all that, Goldman still reported a second-quarter profit of $613 million and its bankers' outlandish paydays seem assured.


In the first half of 2010, Goldman set aside $9.3 billion — 43 percent of its revenues — to pay salaries, benefits and year-end bonuses. In what passes for pain at Goldman, that's down from $11.4 billion and a payout ratio of 49 percent in the first half of last year.


Two big issues jump out of the rich mine of data in the Goldman report.


First, the $600 million that Goldman paid to British taxpayers is a stark reminder that it is past time for the United States to tax the banks that have gone on to tremendous paydays after being bailed out; $12.9 billion was funneled to Goldman via the bailout of the American International Group alone. Why is Britain ahead of the United States on this score? When will American taxpayers see similar payback?


Next is the more disturbing question: Did the S.E.C. let Goldman off too easy? As has been widely noted, the $550 million settlement, which has been approved by a federal judge, is chump change compared with Goldman's bonus pool, and less even than Goldman's depressed second-quarter profits.


In general, however, S.E.C. penalties are related to the amount of victims' losses, which the agency estimated at $1 billion. A settlement of over half the estimated losses is substantial. And that's not all the S.E.C. got.


Goldman did not admit or deny the allegations, but it did acknowledge it made a "mistake" by not disclosing to investors that a hedge fund participated in selecting the securities in question, while intending to bet they would default. Goldman also said that its marketing materials were "incomplete," that it "regrets" the oversight and that it won't make the same mistake again.


Gotcha? No. Significant? Yes. By getting Goldman to admit to improper conduct, the S.E.C. is signaling to Wall Street that a lack of meaningful disclosure is unacceptable — even when the other parties are deemed to be "sophisticated" investors. If that principle had been operative before the financial crisis, many banks, pension funds and municipalities might have avoided the toxic investments that proliferated during the boom and crashed in the bust.


Nor is the S.E.C. settlement with Goldman necessarily the last word. The agency said last week that it continued to investigate any wrongdoing in other mortgage security deals by Goldman and other banks.


It seems clear that one of the reasons Goldman settled was to end questions about its practices. If the S.E.C. keeps up its new investigative and enforcement rigor, that might not be so easy to do.






It is easy to understand why the results of a modest-size scientific study in South Africa were met with ecstatic applause on Tuesday at an international AIDS conference in Vienna. Researchers have shown that a vaginal gel could cut a woman's risk of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, by almost 40 percent.


The gel is not perfect. But for the first time in the fight to control the global epidemic, it offers women a way to protect themselves even without the cooperation of their male partners. That is a potentially huge breakthrough.


Women make up half of the 33 million people who are H.I.V.-positive around the world and 60 percent of the new cases in sub-Saharan Africa, where sex is the primary mode of transmission. Even a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in their infection rate could help slow the epidemic. If further developments yield a more potent gel, as seems likely, the impact could be substantial.


The new study's findings are particularly heartening after six other microbicides failed in clinical trials over the past 14 years.


The gel was tested in 889 women for up to two-and-a-half years in two South African communities, one rural and one urban, where the virus is running wild. Half of the women were randomly assigned to use a gel containing an antiretroviral drug, the other half were given a placebo gel. All were instructed to apply the gel within 12 hours before and 12 hours after intercourse.


Those on the medicated gel were 39 percent less likely to contract H.I.V.; those who used it most regularly were 54 percent less likely. The only discouraging note was that effectiveness seemed to wane over time, possibly because women became less diligent in their use.


The new gel seems destined to take its place alongside condoms and male circumcision as proven techniques for reducing transmission. But not just yet.


The gel's effectiveness will need to be confirmed in a larger clinical trial already under way. Ideally, more potent formulations will be found to boost its protective powers. To get women to use it regularly, marketing experts will have to find ways to make the product more colorful, more appealing, even sexy.


Other good news came from a new study in Malawi showing that if schoolgirls and their families received small monthly cash payments, the girls had sex later, less often and with fewer partners — and were less than half as likely to be infected with the AIDS or herpes viruses — than girls who got no payments. The small payments made it less likely that impoverished girls would agree to sex in return for gifts or money.


Slowing the spread of H.I.V. will require multiple approaches. The challenge will be to find enough money at a time of limited resources when AIDS financing has flattened out. Prevention should save money and many lives. All efforts to support the most promising leads should be pursued.








Boston, Chicago and San Francisco set a welcome example earlier in the decade when they abandoned counterproductive policies that often barred former offenders from municipal jobs, no matter how minor their crime nor how distant in the past. Connecticut, New Mexico and Minnesota have recently passed laws protecting the employment rights of former offenders. Other states should quickly follow.


City governments recognized years ago that discrimination against former offenders had rendered a huge portion of the urban population unemployable. The records also are notoriously unreliable, often flagging people who were falsely arrested or tried but found innocent of a crime.


Boston responded in 2006 with an exemplary nondiscrimination law that covers municipal hiring and hiring by companies that do business with the city. The city does not conduct a criminal record review for applicants, except for sensitive jobs: police officers or those required to work with children, the disabled or other vulnerable people.


The records search also comes at the end of the process, when the applicant has been deemed qualified and is about to be hired. If the city decides to revoke its provisional offer based on a criminal record, applicants get to challenge the reports.


A law pending in the Massachusetts Legislature would give job applicants statewide access to criminal background reports that have been used to deny them employment. It would exclude from reports felony offenses more than 10 years old and would create a board to investigate the misuse of information on record.


A new law that takes effect in Connecticut in October bars government employers or licensing agencies from looking into a prospective employee's criminal history in connection with most jobs until the person has been "deemed otherwise qualified for the position." It also requires the agency to take into account the relationship of the crime to the job, the extent of the applicant's rehabilitation and the time that has elapsed since the conviction or release.


Confining people with criminal convictions to the very margins of society is unfair and self-defeating. These sensible new laws recognize that.







Pity poor serpentine, the official state rock in California. After 45 years, it is in danger of being dethroned.


Serpentine is a green or black rock that can be polished to a high sheen, making it useful for ornamental work, jewelry and decorative items. But serpentine also was enshrined originally to help promote the mining and commercial use of asbestos. These days, asbestos symbolizes a public health catastrophe. So the pick axes are out for serpentine.


Like many states, California has many state symbols, including the official state dirt, which the official Web site says "acknowledges the importance of soil." Do not laugh. This is important.


After a bill was passed by the State Senate to defrock serpentine and not to look for a replacement (because most rocks can cause health risks in one way or another), overheated partisans emerged to either champion or disparage serpentine.


Health advocates point out that serpentine often contains asbestos, which can cause cancer and respiratory diseases if the rock is disturbed and the dust inhaled. (Like if you beat your pendant to smithereens.)


Geologists say serpentine is integral to our understanding of geology and plate tectonics and hosts gorgeous wildflowers and many rare species of plants that grow only on serpentine lands. It also allows slippage along active faults and reduces the hazard of large earthquakes. And it combines chemically with atmospheric carbon dioxide, putting it on the right side of the battle against global warming.


It's hard to decide which is sillier: naming a state rock, or un-naming it. To our minds, Californians have other worries, starting with a crippled economy. Or maybe they could just name an official state risky home loan.










So how do you turn one of Hitler's favorite plays into a production that New Yorkers can love?


You balance a Jewish moneylender's ugly urge to physically cut his enemy's heart from his body with a Christian merchant's ugly urge to symbolically cut his enemy's soul from his body.


You acknowledge that this is the only Shakespearean play that has jumped its category, morphing from "a

comical history" into a disturbing drama. You realize that such a scalding tale of money, religious faith and bad faith in relationships — the same elements roiling today's world — cannot have a festive romantic comedy finale.


And you let Shylock — written as a comic villain three centuries after Jews were, in essence, expelled from England and then allowed back only to do the dirty work of usury — evolve into an abused and damaged man. After his daughter runs off with his ducats and diamonds to marry a Christian and convert, he wants revenge.


"The play has a very dark heart," says Daniel Sullivan, the director of "The Merchant of Venice" now at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, starring Al Pacino. "It's simply a matter of allowing that heart to bleed through the rest of the play."


After the Holocaust, he said, there's no way to play it as a comedy.


The last time the play was produced at the Delacorte was in 1962, when George C. Scott starred as Shylock. The New York Board of Rabbis protested, calling Shylock "an amalgam of vindictiveness, cruelty and avarice."


Joseph Papp, who was Jewish, fended off the rabbis and told Scott to "go all the way" because the audience would understand biblical wrath. Papp quoted from "King Lear": "Anger has a privilege."


Sullivan speculated that Shakespeare wanted to follow up on the success of Christopher Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta." "But that was a poisonously anti-Semitic play and Shakespeare could not do what Marlowe did," the director said. "He created a human being, for better or worse, who continues to nettle us."


Portia dresses up like a man to play a lawyer, and cleverly rebuts Shylock's demand for a pound of flesh in return for Antonio defaulting on his debt. She informs Shylock that he's not allowed to shed a drop of Christian blood while he exacts his pound, so he's stymied.


She also notes that since he is "an alien" who schemed to take the life of a Venetian, he must forfeit his property and fortune. When Antonio demands that Shylock convert to Christianity, the moneylender responds: "I am content."


But Sullivan didn't buy it. So he added a searing baptism scene, where Christian church men tear off Shylock's yarmulke and push him into the water as the priest prays in Latin and makes the Sign of the Cross over him. Shylock's frightened Jewish friends huddle on the side in the dark.


"He's broken, and the baptism is the thing that revives him," Sullivan says. Pacino, mesmerizing as Shylock, rejects his friends' entreaties to hurry away. He puts his yarmulke back on and deliberately walks past the Christians, who ominously track him offstage.


"Are they following him to do him harm?" Sullivan muses. "My feeling is they probably are. I don't think he survives."


He recalled that a friend of his appeared in the play at a Shakespeare festival in Utah and when Shylock said he would convert to Christianity, Mormons in the audience broke into applause.


"I realized that's what Shakespeare's audiences must have done," Sullivan said.


He set the play in turn-of-the-century Venice, at the advent of electricity, traders and stock markets.


The customary happy ending is replaced by depleted lust and aching questions. The text is the same, but body language and emphasis imply power struggles and disillusionment in love.


"The last act has always been problematic," the director said, "because it's always been this 'Hurray, the wicked Jew has been defeated' celebration."


In this version, after successfully masquerading as a man in Venice, Lily Rabe's Portia returns to her sumptuous

estate in Belmont and realizes she can't have it all as a woman. One of Shakespeare's most sparkling heroines

finds herself tied to a callow, bisexual, disloyal, tippling fortune-hunter.

Portia, her handmaiden, Nerissa, and Shylock's daughter, Jessica, don't trip off into the sunrise. Haunted by the

harrowing events in Venice, the women go off separately to contemplate their flighty husbands and wonder: Is that all there is?


Everything is transactional. Obsession with money can trip you up. Obsession with love can let you down. And what could be a more modern message than that?









The hour is late, but there is still a sliver of time to pass a serious energy bill out of this Congress. To do so, though, would require President Obama to rustle up votes with a passion that he has failed to exhibit up to now, and, more importantly, it would require at least seven Republican senators to put the national interest above party and politics. Yes, I know that is all unlikely. You can laugh now. But just remember this: If we don't get a serious energy bill out of this Congress, and Republicans retake the House and Senate, we may not have another shot until the next presidential term or until we get a "perfect storm" — a climate or energy crisis that is awful enough to finally end our debate on these issues but not so awful as to end the world. But, hey, by 2012, China should pretty much own the clean-tech industry and we'll at least be able to get some good deals on electric cars.


The energy bill now being discussed in the Senate — which would raise energy-efficiency standards, require utilities to get 15 percent or more of their power from renewable sources, like wind and solar, and create a limited cap on carbon emissions from power plants — is already watered down just to get 53 or so Democratic votes. But at least it gets us started on ending our addiction to oil and mitigating climate change. Unfortunately, right now it is not clear that a single Republican senator will even vote for this watered-down bill.


That is pathetic. Rather than think seriously about our endless dependence on oil, the G.O.P. has focused its energies on making "climate change" a four-letter word and labeling any Democrat who supports legislation that would in any way raise energy prices to diminish our dependence on oil as a "carbon taxer."


Unfortunately, Obama and the Democrats never effectively fought back. They should have said: "O.K., you Republicans don't believe in global warming? Fine. Forget about global warming. That's between you and your beach house. How about this? Do you believe in population growth? Do you believe in the American dream? Because, according to the U.N., the world's population is going to grow from roughly 6.7 billion people today to about 9.2 billion by 2050. And in today's integrated world, more and more of those 9.2 billion will aspire to, and be able to, live like Americans — with American-size cars, homes and Big Macs. In that world, demand for fossil fuels is going to go through the roof — and all the bad things that go with it.


"If we take that threat seriously now and pass an energy bill that begins to end our oil addiction, we can shrink the piles of money we send to the worst regimes in the world, strengthen our dollar by keeping more at home, clean up our air, take away money from the people who finance the mosques and madrassas that keep many Muslim youths backward, angry and anti-American and stimulate a whole new industry — one China is already leapfrogging us on — clean-tech. Nothing would improve our economic and national security more, yet Republicans won't lift one finger to make it happen.


"They would rather we send more Americans to fight terrorism in the Middle East, let petro-states hostile to our interests get richer and let China take the lead in the next great global industry than ask Americans to pay a little more for the gas they use or the carbon pollution they put into the air. If OPEC, China and Russia could vote, they would be 100 percent supportive of the Republicans.


"How about we stop honoring our soldiers and our military families and start helping them? Nope. The Republican view of fighting the war on terrorism is that rather than ask all of us to make a small sacrifice to weaken our foes and buttress our troops, we should ask only a few of us to make the ultimate sacrifice. And that's called being tough?"


It gets worse. As Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defense Fund, notes: U.S. utility companies today "are sitting on billions of dollars in job-creating capital — but they will not invest in new energy projects until they have certainty on what their future carbon obligations will be. In just one state, Indiana, there are 25 power plants 50 years old or older. The fleet needs to be modernized, and Senate paralysis is keeping it from happening. A recent study from the Peterson Institute projects annual investment in the sector in the next 10 years would rise by 50 percent as a result of climate legislation — an increase of nearly $11 billion a year." That's new employment from a private sector stimulus.


Can you imagine how high the stock market would soar and how easy a compromise with Democrats would become if Republicans offered an energy policy consistent with their values and our interests? What if the G.O.P. said: We will support a carbon tax provided one-third of the revenue goes toward cutting corporate taxes, one-third toward cutting payroll taxes for every working American and one-third toward paying down the deficit. The G.O.P. would actually help us get a better energy policy.


Surely there are seven Republican senators who can see this. Aren't there?








IT'S no surprise that in recent years some on the left have embraced the term "progressive" as a substitute for "liberal." The right has so demonized "the L-word" that during a Democratic debate in 2007, Hillary Clinton, asked by a voter whether she was a liberal, said that she preferred to identify herself as — of course — a "modern progressive."


But she doesn't have as much company as you might expect: a recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that only one in four liberals would go by the label "progressive," while 17 percent rejected the term and 57 percent were "unsure." Even stranger, 7 percent of conservatives considered themselves progressives, and nearly half said they were unsure if the label applied to them.


Why is America so unclear on what progressive means as a political position? "Progress," it would seem, is pretty meat-and-potatoes as words go — moving ahead, we assume. Shouldn't it be clear who is committed to moving ahead?


Part of the problem with "progressive" comes from the bastard nature of English vocabulary. We know what transgress, aggressive and progress mean. But if someone asked us, "Gress much?" we'd draw a blank. Gress, like "mit" in transmit, isn't a word. Gress comes from Latin gradus, for "go," and thus "progress" breaks down as "forward-go." Or at least it did to an Ancient Roman. Latinate words' meanings are often less immediately precise to us than those from English's original Anglo-Saxon rootstock. If our word for progressive were something like "go-forward-ive," Gallup pollsters would find people less ambivalent.


But only somewhat less. Even when words' meanings start out clear, they drift like the blob in a lava lamp, inevitably distorted by the vagaries of human cognition and cultural evolution. "Liberal" is a case in point. On this page last year, the writer Timothy Garton Ash called for liberalism to reclaim its traditional meaning as "liberty under law, limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress."


But this would hardly clarify things: few on the left or the right would disavow "liberty under law" or "some version of individualism and universalism"; and Mr. Garton Ash's espousal of "markets" brings to mind today's conservative. This antique meaning of "liberal" is of little use in our modern politics.


We must simply accept that liberal, as the result of a particular coalescence of positions that drifted together under its name in the 1960s, is associated with an espousal of "big government" and of possibly envelope-pushing social values. The word has morphed, via the same process that makes it seem odd to us that King James II is said to have described St. Paul's Cathedral as "amusing, awful and artificial," all of which were compliments in the 17th century. Liberal is about as likely to regain its original meaning as awful is. "Wow, 'Mad Men' is awful!" — dream on.


Politics is fertile ground for this sort of linguistic shape-shifting. Both "radical" and "reactionary" are now useful more as epithets than as descriptions. Radical, from the Latin "radix," technically refers to a commitment to root-and-branch transformation. However, because upending is commonly associated with anger and destruction, "radical" has acquired a miscreant odor that will never wash off. "Reactionary" is similar. A reaction can be positive or negative, but "reactionary" has come to be associated with only the latter kind, and implies a tantrum.


Likewise, the label "black conservative" has far less to do with an adherence to the politics of William F. Buckley than to something much narrower: a lack of interest in stressing racism as an obstacle to success. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, preaches black self-reliance and propounds traditional codes of behavior, but because he also denounces whites as racists, he does not appear on lists of black conservatives. On the other hand, I am often called a "black conservative" because, despite being a pro-choice Obama voter who opposes the war on drugs, I consider racism an inconvenience to be conquered.


As for that 7 percent of conservatives who told Gallup that they consider themselves progressive: now that liberals seem to have rejected their rebranding, is it so counterintuitive that conservatives might embrace the label in its "go-forward-ive" sense? After all, conservatives do not typically see their views as urging us backward. Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian economist revered by American conservatives, argued that democratic socialism threatened a form of brutal tyranny that all supporters of a free society would view as primitive and unenlightened — retrogressive, as it were.


Thus to deny "progressive" to the right is inaccurate and even disrespectful. And, instead of messing around with rebranding, the political left would be best advised to stick with "liberal" — and to hunker down and defend the positions to which the word now refers. They'd better hurry, since the nature of words is such that "liberal" will have an entirely different meaning sooner than they think.


John McWhorter, a lecturer at Columbia University and contributing editor at City Journal, is the author of "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: Untold Stories in the History of the English Language."








Cape Town


HAVING met President Obama, I'm confident that he's a man of conscience who shares my commitment to bringing hope and care to the world's poor. But I am saddened by his decision to spend less than he promised to treat AIDS patients in Africa.


George W. Bush made an impressive commitment to the international fight against AIDS when he formed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program. Since 2004, Pepfar has spent $19 billion to help distribute anti-viral treatments to about 2.5 million Africans infected with H.I.V.

Thanks to these efforts — and similar initiatives, like those spearheaded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — the number of African patients with access to AIDS drugs jumped tenfold from 2003 to 2008. Since 2004, the AIDS-related mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped 18 percent.


Yet President Obama added only $366 million to the program this year — well below the $1 billion per year he promised to add when he was on the campaign trail. (Pepfar's total budget now stands at $7 billion.) Most of the countries in Pepfar will see no increase in aid.


Under the Bush administration, about 400,000 more African patients received treatment every year. President Obama's Pepfar strategy would reduce the number of new patients receiving treatment to 320,000 — resulting in 1.2 million avoidable deaths over the next five years, according to calculations by two Harvard researchers, Rochelle Walensky and Daniel Kuritzkes. Doctors would have to decide which of the 22 million Africans afflicted with H.I.V. should receive treatment and which should not.


President Obama has also proposed to cut America's contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (which had been increasing each year since 2006) to $1 billion in 2011, down from $1.05 billion this year. The fund, less than a decade old, has spent nearly $20 billion helping treat the worst diseases of the developing world. And it has become the premier model for results-driven aid; financing for projects is supplied incrementally, as programs show tangible progress — for example, in the number of AIDS-treating drugs dispensed. President Obama's plan to decrease support is deeply distressing; American financing for the fund should be increasing.


During my life, I've witnessed amazing advances in medical science. New treatments turn H.I.V. infection from a death sentence to a manageable illness. The cost of treating it is a small fraction of what it was 10 years ago. Meanwhile, more and more African nations have invested in the public health infrastructure needed to distribute AIDS drugs.

I appreciate that tough financial times require the United States government to cut spending. But scaling back America's financial commitments to AIDS programs could wipe away decades of progress in Africa.

As the 18th International AIDS Conference is held this week in Vienna, President Obama should reconsider his commitment to fighting the disease. Surely the richest country on the planet can find the means to fight this scourge.


Desmond Tutu is the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and honorary chairman of the Global AIDS Alliance.









And that's precisely what has happened since plans to build a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site became public in May. Critics have launched demonstrations, protested at public hearings and called for an investigation into the finances of the center's promoters.


Among the most vehement opponents are families who lost loved ones on 9/11. Some say the center would defile sacred ground. Their anguish is almost palpable. But that doesn't make them right.


In fact, allowing the center to go forward honors the values that the terrorists sought to destroy. It also undermines al-Qaeda's attempts to convince Muslims that the United States is at war with Islam, when in fact the USA is the home of religious freedom, including freedom for peaceful Muslims to practice their faith.


To the protesters' frustration, the responsible authorities in New York see this reasoning clearly. The project is inching forward. But given the passion of the arguments, it's worth taking a moment to separate fact about the proposal from fiction.


The project's promoters, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, have said that they want to build a cultural center dedicated to interfaith tolerance, a place patterned after YMCAs and Jewish community centers. The facility would have a floor devoted to prayer but would not be a mosque (though a mosque, too, would be acceptable).


Why this particular, sensitive location? Rauf has been the imam of a mosque in nearby TriBeCa for years, Khan says, and they were looking for space in the neighborhood. One of their congregants, a developer, found the building, which was damaged on 9/11, and purchased it last year for about $4 million. They'll need $100 million more for development and plan to raise it from public contributions and government bonds.


Hoping to get community buy-in, the backers sought approval for the project and ideas from a local community board. And, despite loud protests, the board approved their plans 29-1, with 10 abstentions.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pointed out the fundamental but too-easily forgotten values that are at stake. "The ability to practice your religion is ... one of the real reasons America was founded." It's one of the core personal freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.


The source of the money to build the center is a major point of contention for 9/11 families, some of whom suggest that terrorist funds may be used. There is no evidence that Rauf or his organizations have links to terrorism, and religious institutions aren't required to reveal the sources of their donations. Even so, Rauf would help his cause by disclosing all contributors as fundraising moves forward. While asking for sensitivity to his dream, he could demonstrate sensitivity to those who lost so much on Sept. 11, 2001.


Defenders of the proposed center are not only doing what's right, they also are doing what's smart. In the U.S. attempt to counter al-Qaeda propaganda, what better symbol of America's tolerance than a Muslim center in sight of Ground Zero?


Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11 and is a leader of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said it best: "This building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans ... recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent."








The proposed mosque near the site of the 9/11 mass murder is a continuation of Islam's violent history, which promotes destroying prior cultures and building on the ruins.


The gullible, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, swallow the lie that this latest memorial to the concept of "convert or die" is different because ... well because its chief promoter, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, says it's different.


Rauf — who tells U.S. media that funds for this atrocity will be raised in the United States but tells London's Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that donations will also come from Arab and Islamic countries.


Perhaps the same Saudis who financed the 9/11 terrorists and build schools around the world in non-Muslim countries to spread the most violent strain of Islam?


We don't know, because this Islamic holy man won't tell us. And Bloomberg doesn't even think we should ask.


It's said opposition to the mosque unfairly slanders Muslims who haven't committed terrorist acts. Tough. I've seen the mass celebrations in Muslim countries over 9/11 and still await anything more than whispered pro forma denunciations of terrorism by Muslim leaders.


After World War II, collective guilt was rightfully assigned to the people of Germany and Japan, even though not all were guilty of supporting terrorist governments. Muslims have given precious little reason to evade the same charge.


My German-born parents — my Jewish father and Protestant mother — subscribed to the idea of collective German guilt even though my Protestant relatives opposed and hated Hitler.


My father, who recognized the evil in Nazism early on, never forgave his sister Lotte, who refused to acknowledge the facts and who (as reported by her neighbors) waited docilely to be rounded up for shipment to the Auschwitz gas chambers. All his life, in sadness mixed with anger, he spoke of the millions who refused to see until it was too late.


Bloomberg and the other supporters of this mosque are spiritual heirs of Lotte and those millions of victims, seemingly ready to accept their fate. Those with a firmer grasp of history will oppose this mosque as a warning of what is to come.


Peter Gadiel, whose 23-year-old son, James, was killed on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11, is

president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America.








EAGLE PASS, Texas — For 30 years I've lived on the Texas-Mexico border overlooking the Rio Grande. My hometown and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, are more than sister cities. They function like suburbs to each other. There is no feel of an international border between foreign countries.


Piedras Negras is pushing close to a quarter-million inhabitants, while our sleepy little Texas town is about 23,000. Visitors from Mexico like our first-run movies and cheaper gas. We always take out-of-town visitors to their elegant restaurants for a taste of Mexico. (Or at least we did. More on that in a minute.) Our mayors dine together regularly and push for open borders.


A few months ago, El Restaurante Moderno in Piedras, known locally as "Modernos," closed its doors, another victim of Mexico's raging drug wars. Its quirky elegance and four-star menu had served four generations of luminaries and film stars. John Wayne dined there regularly in 1960 during the filming of The Alamo and was much revered, if you judge by the autographed photos in the bar. Nacho Anaya began working there not long after he invented his "specialty," which became known as the nacho.


The world that was


An easy stroll from the international bridge, Modernos provided an ambiance of tropical elegance and Old World charm. The rear entry opened on a floor-to-ceiling mirror that stretched forever. It was a place of whimsy. One could order anything from frog's legs to cabrito (roasted baby goat), then top off the meal with bananas flambeau, prepared tableside. It was entirely feasible to take a lunch hour to drop across the border and dine in elegance in a foreign country. A wandering photographer memorialized thousands of fiestas since its opening in 1918. Modernos characterized the otherness, the exotic charm that was México.


And I stress the word was. The Mexico I've known for most of my life is dying away, or rather slowly being killed. You might have read about it in this newspaper, or seen snippets on CNN: Drug wars, incessant violence, kidnappings and Al Capone-like retribution. So distant. So other-world.


Yet I live in the U.S., and my world is changing, too.


So far away from the fracas, our national media focus on drug smuggling or illegals entering our country and only sporadically cover the encroaching drug violence. Mexico's President Felipe Calderón marginalizes the murders by citing the 22,900 deaths since 2006 as 90% narcos, 5% law enforcement and, "only" in his words, 5% civil population, despite Mexican headlines so lurid as to be almost incredible. There have been multiple beheadings — the latest form of terror and intimidation.


In the USA earlier this month, President Obama gave a much-awaited speech about immigration, but he said not a word about the blood wars consuming a country just south of the border.


Yet the violence keeps inching closer.


In December, local officials — Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster and Piedras Negras Mayor Raúl Alejandro Vela Erhard, Coahuila state Attorney General Jesus Torres and other Mexican officials — were toasting one another in a restaurant in Piedras when it was sprayed with bullets. One of the diners, a woman who had gone out to her car for something trivial, was killed. In April 2009, the Piedras police chief was slain. Now armed gangs fight it out along the streets.


Piedras Negras seems to be catching up with Juarez — the northern city across the border from El Paso — as a focal point in the war between the Zetas and the Golfo/Sinaloa drug cartels for this smuggling corridor. (Just weeks ago, stray bullets from an AK-47 shootout in Juarez pocked the El Paso City Hall.)


What's difficult to explain to Americans who haven't lived in a border town is that those who do see Mexico's

problem as our problem, too. Not just for fear that the violence will seep across this man-determined boundary (which I suspect it will), but the despair that as my Mexican friends lose their way of life, I'm also losing mine. As Piedras is lacerated, Eagle Pass winces in pain.


Violence and the economy


Terrorist violence continues to escalate in Piedras. A few weeks ago, an incendiary device was thrown over the fence into the parking lot of the Zocalo newspaper; the threatened newspaper has fallen silent. A Canadian tourist died in a carjacking a bit farther inland. These spasms of violence have all occurred after the Mexican military stepped up its presence. Just last year, the military deployed more than 3,000 troops in the state of Coahuila to assist federal, state and local law enforcement. But these youths are poorly paid and easily suborned.


The human toll is substantial, but the economic damage has been widespread, too. When the U.S. government began requiring its citizens returning from Mexico to carry a passport (unrelated to the drug wars), the economy took a hit. But when reports of violence began to percolate through U.S. media outlets along the border, tourism dried up. The feeling in the region is that if the totality of this strife gets out, Mexico's government will collapse without the tourism it subsists on. Yet unless the world takes note, and the United States treats this as the plague that it is, this war might never end.


The wider, grimmer world of terrorism and beheadings, of a populace held hostage by lawlessness and corruption, isn't half a world away in foreign deserts. It's here, just a few hundred yards from my backdoor. It's time the leaders in Washington and, yes, my fellow citizens understand that this isn't some distant problem in some faraway land.


An era of leisurely elegance has been slaughtered, and among the victims is my favorite restaurant.


Carol Cullar is executive director of the Rio Bravo Nature Center Foundation in Eagle Pass. Her short fiction and poetry appear in various literary journals.








There has been no shortage of debate within military circles about revamping the rules of engagement and redefining what should be allowed by U.S. forces in the field. But the military has been mum about a YouTube video made by U.S. troops in Afghanistan lip-syncing the lyrics of Lady Gaga's Telephone that quickly went viral. "This is what people do with (their) free time in Afghanistan," one of the troops wrote on his Facebook page.


The Lady Gaga video spawned copycats across the world. When Israeli soldiers posted a video of them dancing to Ke$ha's TiK ToK, it landed them in hot water after Palestinians complained they were on occupied land. A few Palestinians responded not by throwing rocks but by posting their own dance video, also set to Lady Gaga, which involved simulated pat-downs and intrusive searching.


What we sometimes forget as casual observers of the war is just how much down time there is between actual fighting. Even in the blood-soaked peaks of Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, as documented in the movie Restrepo, U.S. soldiers face a significant amount of idle time, which they pass by killing the occasional cow, playing chess, or gyrating to Samantha Fox's Touch Me.


With the war entering its 10th year, combat stress and fatigue have naturally compounded. June was the worst

month on record for Army suicides, with one per day. Morale, too, has taken a hit as troops are increasingly told to hold their fire to protect civilians. But what is needed is not looser rules of engagement but rather better ways for soldiers to blow off steam. The dance videos are not actively encouraged by the Pentagon brass, but perhaps they should be. Maybe even deploy karaoke machines and dance-instructional videos? Soldiers need to find "creative ways" to fill downtime, said Rob Diamond, a Navy vet who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Blowing off steam is critically important."


Not just boredom but also the daily trauma of wartime, which, as President Obama pointed out recently, "you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure." The Department of Veterans Affairs recently decided to relax the requirements for war vets with post-traumatic stress disorder to get compensation and medical care — a rule change long overdue. (To ease back into civilian life, vets are even playing paintball.) The Defense Department also ruled against its own commissioned health study that urged a ban on cigarettes in combat zones. Both are sound moves.


Stress relievers are critical to keeping morale up and casualties down. It's not a stretch to assume that scandals involving civilian casualties become more likely because soldiers are wound up too tightly. (That comes across in the Rolling Stonearticle on now-retired general Stanley McChrystal, which documents troops' skepticism of the hold-your-fire commands.) U.S. troops want the rules of engagement loosened, something Gen. David Petraeus hinted he might change.


But more important is finding healthy and constructive ways to soothe troops' nerves. There's no booze and few creature comforts. Girly mags are discouraged (well, at least none is sold on bases). Even Lucky Strikes are considered too risky by some military higher-ups. This is not a plea to build more Burger Kings in our bases. Nor is it to reduce war to an episode of Glee. But it is far better to let troops blow off steam by, say, posting a silly dance video on YouTube than by slaughtering a cow or endangering civilians. The Israeli troops were scolded for their routine; the American ones should be commended. ("I'm going to be Famous!!!" one of the soldiers posted on Facebook.)


This kind of video shows the human side of our soldiers. Heck, it even might win a few hearts and minds along

the way.


Lionel Beehner is a 2010 fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.









County Mayor Claude Ramsey tinkered with but finally dismissed the idea of retirement before the last election cycle. He had worked too hard with other officials over the previous decade to build an industrial park that could entice an automotive plant here. He believed the county was on the verge of achieving that goal, and he wanted to see it through. It was, and he did.


This time around, he is seeking another term — it would be his fifth — to see the Volkswagen plant and its supplier plants off to a good start, and to negotiate for and nurture the pending wave of related development. He deserves another term to accomplish that mission. Voters here would do well to give it to him.


Certainly Mr. Ramsey stands head and shoulders above his novice opponent, Richard D. Ford, in terms of his irreplaceable accumulated knowledge about all the moving parts in county, regional and state governments. He knows how the departmental pieces, funding mechanisms and key players fit together, and what it takes to shepherd along the coordinated efforts require to nurture and grow the development that he has helped seed. In fact, he is such an integral cog in the momentum machine that the county has created with city and state development officials that county voters would harm their interests to turn him out.


There may be grounds for some dismay that the city, county and state governments have had to create such large packages of tax incentives to attract billion-dollar investments from companies like Volkswagen, Alstom, Wacker Chemie and VW-related supplier plants. But they have to offer incentives for smaller companies, as well. And as long as partial tax-abatement, site and infrastructure incentives remain the customary tools — in the United States and abroad — for securing new development and job growth, that model isn't likely to change.


Mr. Ramsey is equally concerned with the related need to develop more competitive schools to create the quick-minded, educated and trainable workforce that new and innovative employers need. He rightly considers improved education standards and better educated students as the other essential criteria to improve job opportunities for rising young people, and to improve the general quality of life and economic prosperity that all citizens seek for their families and communities.


Mr. Ramsey has long advocated better public schools and increased support for them. The tax increases that have occurred on his watch were mainly driven by school needs and the long, pernicious decline in the state's crucial education funding for metro-area schools vis-à-vis the increasing amounts given to rural areas under the state education funding formula.


Mr. Ramsey can't fix that still inadequate formula on his own, but he served as a crucial advocate for the partial upgrade of $12 million in new state funding that Hamilton County schools received before the current recession stalled that effort at midpoint.


The county mayor's fiscal stewardship has been notable across the board. Under Mr. Ramsey's administration, the county has attained a triple-A bond rating from all three national credit rating agencies. In Tennessee, only one other county has achieved that. It's even more extraordinary that county government elevated that rating, which lowers its interest costs on capital bonds for infrastructure projects and debt management, while funding a series of new schools and the county's share of infrastructure and incentive costs for VW and other industrial development.


Mr. Ramsey does expect to continue construction of needed new schools in a couple of years after paring current bond debt. He can also be expected to continue his advocacy for improved health and exercise habits for county residents, and to continue partnering with the city to improve the community's parks, walking trails and recreation facilities.


For all these reasons, and more, Mr. Ramsey has earned, and deserves, another term. We strongly recommend his re-election.







While this page does not endorse Zach Wamp's candidacy for governor of Tennessee — Bill Haslam earned that endorsement for the upcoming Republican primary — we can wholeheartedly support the congressman's zeal to vote. Mr. Wamp, with family in tow, showed up at his assigned polling station on the first day of early voting last week to cast his ballot in the Aug. 5 election. The event was a carefully calculated photo opportunity for the candidate, of course, but his appearance at the voting station can also serve as a helpful reminder to the general public.


The message, intended or not, is that it is important to vote when you have the time. It is not necessary, thanks to early voting schedules, to wait until Election Day to cast a ballot. If you do, unexpected events might make it difficult to vote in the state primary and county general election. Mr. Wamp obviously will be busy through Aug. 5. Voting last week when he had or made the time to do so obviously serves a political purpose, but it also fulfills his duty as a citizen.


Agree with him or not on other practices and policies, his example in getting to the polls is one to be emulated. Hamilton County and other Tennessee residents can do so with relative ease through the end of the month.


Early voting stations here are open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the Brainerd Recreation Center at 1010 North Moore Road and at Northgate Mall next to the Science Theatre. Voters also can cast an early ballot at the Hamilton County Election Commission office at 700 River Terminal Road off Amnicola Highway. It's open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The early voting period concludes on July 31.


The early voting option fills a need. Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of elections for Hamilton County, said that 3,830 voters — a majority of them in the Republican primary — had voted early in the Aug. 5 election by late Tuesday afternoon. "It's a good start for the first three days of balloting. By comparison, about 4,400 ballots were cast during the entire early voting period in May," Mrs. Mullis-Morgan said.


Clearly, the convenience of early voting has proved immensely popular here and elsewhere, and understandably so. The process is simple. Registered voters need only appear at a voting site at an appropriate time. Tennessee does not require a photo ID, but election workers say a driver's license or voter registration card will expedite the process.


The initial brisk pace of balloting so far indicates a welcome embrace of the early voting process, as well as a gratifying interest in who will serve citizens in public office. It also directly affirms continued adherence to democratic government. All are welcome







People who are old enough to remember World War II will recall that many young Americans of military age volunteered or were drafted into military service. There were about 16 million of them.


And there were terrible casualties in the European, Asian and African theaters of operations. Daily, there was "bad news" of "hometown" folks dead or wounded in battles. It seemed the war would never end.


For Americans directly, World War II began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. It didn't end till U.S. atomic bombs defeated Japan in August of 1945.


In one way or another, World War II affected nearly everyone: those called into military service, those working in factories making war materials, and those at home who were anxious about the safety of their loved ones away from home.


Today, however, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are quite different, smaller, but terrible nonetheless for many people. Just think: We have been at war in the Middle East more than eight years. There are continuing deaths and injuries, great expenses — with no end in sight.


Because casualties do not affect everyone every day, most of us go on about our normal business without personally feeling the impact of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


But reports come almost daily of casualties among Americans and foreign civilians — sometimes from military action, sometimes in some distant place where a suicide bomber murders a large number of people indiscriminately in a public place.


In World War II, newspapers almost every day reported some members of our armed forces "killed in action." The impact "struck home." Today there are fewer casualties, for which we thankful. They do not strike "us all," but the terrible impact surely hits the families whose loved ones have been struck by foreign enemies.


In today's wars, there are few "front lines," as there were in World War II. Today, we have battle deaths in places whose names we do not recognize, where military operations are not specified and our objectives are unclear.


Thousands of Americans are engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight, without distinct goals except to say we hope for peace and avoidance of enemy success.


These are hard wars for many of our fellow Americans to fight, at high cost, to avoid worse consequences. We must remember and support our fellow Americans who face these awful challenges every day.

Subscribe Here!

What unites Spielberg, Springsteen and Dobbs?






With national unemployment about 10 percent and our country in a serious economic recession, we in the Chattanooga area surely appreciate our good local job news.


We are joyfully looking forward to the fact that Volkswagen soon will provide about 2,000 local jobs. There are several other companies in Chattanooga and in communities close by that are planning new economic opportunities for our people.


For example, the Wrigley Co. is planning to add 40 or 50 jobs to its operations making popular Life Savers candy. Wrigley came to Chattanooga five years ago.


New businesses, with jobs many and few, add to us beneficially.


We welcome them and encourage their successes — as we invite more local enterprises by creating a positive economic atmosphere.






Mayor Claude Ramsey says he has been blessed by his years of service to Hamilton County. Fortunately, the blessing is mutual. Hamilton County has benefited mightily from his constructive leadership and ability during his time in office.


We think of his determined efforts — combined with the efforts of many other leaders — to attract major employers to Enterprise South industrial park. There have been disappointments at times as some big manufacturers chose other locations. But ultimately, there was wonderful success when Volkswagen announced plans to build a manufacturing plant at Enterprise South, bringing thousands of direct jobs to the plant and thousands more jobs in allied industries.


Today, Mayor Ramsey remains focused on job creation and new prospects for economic development. But he also has his eye on education, as well as on ways to encourage Hamilton Countians to lead fit, healthy lives.


Mayor Ramsey is grateful to have the opportunity to serve, and we are grateful that his service has been so productive. It should continue for another term in office.








All of us are vitally interested in assuring good medical care. It's important. It's also expensive, whether we pay for it directly, through employer or private insurance, or through huge taxpayer-financed government programs.


We want everyone to have whatever good medical care is really needed. But there unfortunately are many medical scams.


There are stories in the newspaper from time to time about varied health-care frauds. One recent report said there were 94 cases involving Medicare scams totaling a quarter of a billion dollars!


We want sound medical programs with reasonable financing. But medical scams cost all of us, and do not improve our health.


We need to be on watch against medical scams and support law enforcement efforts against the crooks.

Subscribe Here!







It's not a good thing that many Tennesseans — like many Americans in general — cannot find the jobs they need in the current recession.


Neither is it a good thing that proportionately fewer Tennesseans have college degrees than residents of many other states have. While not everyone needs a college degree to achieve professional success in life, it is generally understood that advanced technology and competition from an educated work force in other countries mean more Americans will need a college education.


But there may at least be an educational "silver lining" to the bad economic situation: With job prospects fairly dim right now, more people in the Chattanooga area are pursuing valuable additional education.


Both UTC and Chattanooga State expect to break their enrollment records this fall, as many people consider new careers and a high percentage of high school graduates head to college. UTC may see an enrollment jump of 3 percent, while Chattanooga State is anticipating enrollment growth of roughly 10 percent. UTC had about 10,500 students last fall. Chattanooga State had about 9,400 students.


"Numbers are up because the economy is still down," Jeff Olingy, a spokesman for Chattanooga State, told the Times Free Press. "People are looking for opportunities to reinvent themselves."


Though we would obviously like to see lots more jobs available immediately, additional education will be a long-term career benefit to people who are returning to school as well as to recent high school graduates. That may not be not much comfort to those who can't find work now, but individuals who seek extra training and education will reap rewards later.


Subscribe Here!

What unites Spielberg, Springsteen and Dobbs?







As Maud de Boer Buquicchio, the deputy-secretary general of the Council of Europe, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview last May, the European Count of Human Rights' 2009 ruling on the case of Turkish woman Nahide Opuz was a historic judgment not only for Turkey but for Europe as well.


Opuz and her mother, from Diyarbakır, ran from Opuz's husband, who, for more than a decade, had made her life and that of her mother living hell. They had gone to the police and started several court cases, but they had all been discontinued because Opuz and her mother were forced to withdraw their complaints. In 2001 Opuz was stabbed seven times but her husband was only forced to pay the equivalent of 385 euros. They ran away. But her mother was shot dead by her husband who was sentenced to life imprisonment but released pending appeal. Opuz then applied to the court that found Turkish government guilty of failing to protect Opuz and her mother from domestic violence.


"This is a historic judgment, and I use the word advisedly. It has the potential to make a difference for hundreds of thousands of women victims of domestic violence in Europe," said de Boer Buquicchio, in the June 18, 2009, speech she delivered a week after the judgment of the court was released.


"But I repeat the word potential because the effect will not be automatic. It is now for the whole of the Council of Europe to make full use of the judgment and step up its work on the protection of women against domestic violence and this applies to all our member states, not just Turkey," she warned.


Time has proved her right. Sıdıka Pilatin form the eastern province of Van, was allegedly beaten by her husband

after a court decided she could return home from the women's shelter where she was staying. The whereabouts of her husband, who cut her face and ear with a knife in an attack last year, is unknown. The husband was placed under a restraining order after last year's assault but the local family court in Van removed the restraining order allowing Faruk to collect his wife from the shelter house she was staying after hearing him testify that he would never repeat his actions. Pilatin's story shares a lot of similarities with that of Opuz. The difference is that, unlike Opuz' mother, Pilatin is alive and there is an international judgment that binds Turkey to take every precaution to protect her life.


Interestingly, the Turkish government did not appeal the court's judgment in 2009, meaning that it had accepted that it was guilty. Yet Pilatin's case shows that it is still making the same mistake.


Security officials should do their utmost to find the husband while Sıdıka Pilatin should be immediately put under state protection. The next immediate step should be holding a seminar with local authorities, especially the judiciary, to make them familiar with the Opuz case judgment, as well as Pilatin's case in order to avoid making the same mistakes.








The government is busy these days with the planning of "special units" that will fight the outlawed terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on the country's "border areas." But, alas, the PKK's recent attacks were all over the county, even in Istanbul.


Meanwhile, our "military experts" are speaking on TV, explaining how we should take bolder steps in "the war on terror," such as military operations in northern Iraq. But, well, haven't we already tried that, for more than a decade?


The irony is that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has actually been the bravest one ever with regard to the Kurdish question. Its "Kurdish opening," started a year ago, was initially promising, but now it seems we are back to square one. We are again talking about the same "military solution" that has proved ineffective – and disastrous, with a death toll of 42,000. How did we get here?


A tale of two worlds


In a nutshell, the AKP do not go as far as it should have in order to win over the Kurdish nationalists. But it went far enough to enrage the Turkish ones.


Let's look at how this happened. The AKP has been popular among the Kurds from the beginning and received a great election victory in the Kurdish Southeast in 2007. Soon after, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initiated the Kurdish opening, which rested on two legs. The first was to win more Kurdish hearts and minds through reforms and gestures on cultural rights, such as starting a 24-hour official TV channel in Kurdish or allowing Kurdish institutes to be formed in universities.


The second – and more fragile – leg of the "opening" was the disarmament of the PKK. The government apparently engaged in a covert dialogue with the organization, and hence came the "Habur affair." This started when about a dozen PKK members came down from the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, a military base of the organization, and entered Turkish territory from the Habur border gate. These unarmed but uniformed men were briefly questioned by officials, who were willing to let them go, and were then greeted by thousands of relatives and fans. When they reached Diyarbakır, hundreds of thousands welcomed them with fanfare. For these Kurds, their victorious fighters had returned with a victory.


For the rest of Turkey, though, this proved to be shocking and enraging. The county has sacrificed more than 7,000 soldiers to the war on the PKK. The "concession to terrorists" was utterly unacceptable to these "martyr families," and the millions who share their feelings. Protests grew, and public support for the AKP, according to polls, dropped to its lowest point ever.


Hence, new "Habur affairs" proved to be impossible. For worse, soon, the PKK restarted violence. (Some think in collaboration with the "deep state," which was happy to have the war going and see the AKP fail.) The government reacted by cracking down on the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the terrorist organization. Even dozens of elected mayors in the Southeast were arrested by the police, which was clearly a mistake. The PKK responded with more violence, and that is how we got here.


What really happened, I guess, was that in the aftermath of the "Habur affair," the AKP realized that making a deal with the PKK is simply not acceptable for the majority of Turkish society. So it wanted to proceed only with the first leg of the "Kurdish opening" (i.e., cultural rights), by excluding, and even cracking down on, the PKK.


But this plan obviously did not work. The PKK simply does not allow anybody to "solve the Kurdish question" without accepting it as a partner. That is too bad, but it is also a reality. The wishful plans for "winning the Kurds while defeating the PKK" do not help much, because the PKK has many fanatical supporters among the Kurds that we want to win. Its political parties routinely get 5 percent of the votes in every election. There is no way to uproot such a popularly rooted terrorist organization.


Sabotaging peace

Thus, the only way out of Turkey's decades-old nightmare seems to be a deal with the PKK, perhaps a bit similar to the one the British government made with the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, in the late 9190s. Such a deal should preserve the "indivisible unity" of Turkey, but also introduce de-centralization and multiculturalism, which are anathema to the Kemalist mind, but quite familiar to an Ottoman one. It should, to the pain of many, also open a way for today's terrorists to become tomorrow's politicians.


The AKP is the closest among Turkish political parties to being able to pull off such a gigantic "Kurdish opening." But it can't go that way when there is less than a year to general elections and the PKK is on a rampage. (By the way, the PKK probably does this to make the AKP lose the elections. Erdoğan's party, after all, is its only rival among the Kurds.)


So, things do not look very promising. But my California-based academic friend Aleda Elsu was still hopeful when I talked to her the other day about all this. "It is only normal for extremists to sabotage peace," she said, "especially at times when there is a better hope for peace."


The only problem is that the "extremists" in this case are almost the mainstream on both sides. And none of them are willing to change much







When I first started writing about aviation, I also started dreaming. I dreamed about Turkey having an airline company that complied with world standards, about Turkey producing an aircraft that fit into an unprecedented category in the aviation market, about the cities of Turkey being connected to each other with propeller planes and about seeing amphibians fly over our coasts.


Turkish Airlines, or THY, became a world-renowned brand, but we still could not produce our own airplanes. My Turboprop plane dream came true when ATR72 was launched in the market. Today, BoraJet successfully flies to many destinations from Gazipaşa to Siirt, and Nevşehir to Zonguldak.


Amphibians were first launched in the Turkish market in the 1920s. An Italian company, Aero Espresso, used to fly from Istanbul's Büyükdere port to Greece's Pireaus port and then to Brindisi in Italy. But there were no amphibians on our seas for the following 60 years.


I have the picture of the Renton Airport in Seattle, U.S., before my eyes, where the Boeing 737 production line is hosted. Hundreds of amphibians … One takes off as the other lands, no fuss about flight plans. Anyone can fly wherever they want to, as long as they do not violate naval aviation rules.


Now a young entrepreneur, Kürşad Arusan, who grew up in the U.S. in aviation circles, is going to connect our coasts with each other.


Arusan, who has been a manager in many airline companies in the U.S., recently founded Seabird. The company is now waiting for permits from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation of Turkey.


Naval aviation calls for considerable experience and good organization skills, therefore, the company is collaborating with American Keen Borek Airlines which owns the biggest Twin Otter flotilla with 42 airplanes. Pilot and maintenance services will be provided by this company.


Twin Otters produced by Canadian de Havilland have a capacity of 19 seats and can easily land at a wave height of 1.5 meters, and also can fly at night in bad weather conditions.


The company's Istanbul headquarters will be at Kalamış Marina and Haliç (Golden Horn) and the flights will take off from these locations. The firm is also planning to open another headquarters building in İstinye.


It will take an hour and twenty minutes to fly from Istanbul to the Çeşme-Alaçatı district of the western province of İzmir, and will take an hour and a half to the Bodrum district in the southern province of Muğla. The one-way tickets will start from 225 Turkish Liras and gradually rise to 500 liras. The passengers will be able to buy tickets from Seabird's website,


The airplane cabin, which has enough room for the passengers to stand up, was designed to have a 16-seat-capacity in order not to compromise comfort. On board, passengers will be offered small treat packages and a beach bag.


Twin Otters, which were recently put back into production, can land and take off on 300 meters on sea, and 750 meters on land. The floats that are used for naval landing can easily be removed one day and be replaced by wheels.


Seabird plans to connect skiing centers to Istanbul during winter by putting sledges under wheels. The new flight destinations during winter will be Uludağ (in the western province of Bursa) and Kartaltepe (in the northern province of Kocaeli). The company will also offer air-taxi services.


Already receiving considerable demand, the airline plans to acquire a three-airplane flotilla by the end of this summer. When the winter operations are settled the target is a 10-airplane flotilla in two years.


Arusan is 38 years old and has been an aviator for 14 years. He went to the United States in 1987 with a football scholarship and studied business administration at Harris-Stowe in St. Louis. He started his career in the sector in 1996 as a baggage loading employee at TWA Airlines. He then worked at the counter, and then as a security coordinator.


He attended the opening of the Miami line of THY in 1999. He first became the general manager of AirTran and Delta, and between 2006 and 2009 of USA3000 Airlines which had a 14-airplane flotilla.








I regret for having to devote this space to a reply to my column neighbor Mustafa Akyol's "reply to my reply to his reply to an op-ed I wrote" last week ("Would Mr. Erdoğan kindly care for this Muslim woman?," July 8, 2010).


When I wrote that piece, I was hoping that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could perhaps explain the distasteful discrepancy between his selective caring for Muslims and Turks who suffer all around the world and his muteness on the tragedy of an Iranian woman of Turkish descent who was awaiting execution by stoning under a Sharia ruling.


Instead, Mr. Akyol appeared on the scene in defense of the Islamic cause with the generously common rhetoric Islamists and post-modern Islamists share to, borrowing Mr. Akyol's description, 'whitewash Islam' i.e., the Islamist's reflexive habit of going for a literalist interpretation of the Koran when in question are commandments like abstinence from pork and alcohol and his apologetic inclination toward a figurative interpretation when he thinks 'the cause' needs to look pretty to western friends.


Islamist Muslims (Muslims with a political agenda for the advancement of Islam both regionally and globally) have that bad habit: The perpetual feeling of fear that the western powers they need as tactical (not strategic) allies may view them with suspicion because a Muslim with a literalist interpretation of most verses of Islam's holy book may do the same with other verses – verses that, for instance, command amputations, lashes, two women equal one man jurisprudence, sexually discriminative inheritance laws and, most importantly, hostility against other monotheistic religions, especially Judaism.


In his weekend piece, Mr. Akyol accused me for having an ad hominem attack on him probably because I asked him a few theological questions on subjects the Islamists prefer to bury deep under ground – and wrote that I did not believe Mr. Akyol was a jihadist. I was wrong to expect a more powerful text from him since his comrades have been 'spinning better' – an essential effort in Islamists' global ambition to play the modern day, Muslim Trojan Horse at the gates of western civilization.


To maintain the fine ethos of our intellectual debate I would rather expect Mr. Akyol to answer my questions without dancing around them or distracting from the essential ideas and behaving too prickly and fabricating friendships between myself and people like Geert Wilders with whom I have never met or exchanged a word, electronically or verbally. But I don't take that as an ad hominem attack. I am merely sorry for the shallow run-away demagoguery in which Mr. Akyol claimed I labeled his logic as "anti-Semitic," something I never thought or claimed.


But Mr. Akyol did not disappoint me with his (OK, non-anti-Semitic) logic when he commented on some of the verses I mentioned (5:13, 5:14, 5:51 and 5:82). This is 5:51: "O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk." Mr. Akyol hoped to 'whitewash' 5:51 with 60:9: "God merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you in religion, and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion."


I am not going to ask Mr. Akyol why does 5:51 exist in such plain language if its real intention was what is commanded in 60:9. But since he recommends me to "get a fair sense of Islam," I am going to ask him a couple of other questions, hoping that he might perhaps help:


This 60:9 reminds me of some episodes in recent political history! Why did the majority of the 'devout' Justice and Development Party, or AKP, parliamentary deputies vote in 2003 for the opening of a northern front (and later for the opening of Turkey's airspace for U.S. bomber aircraft) in George W. Bush's war on Iraq and ally with their 'Christian' American friends "who fought Muslim Iraqis, killed them, driven them from their homes and supported their expulsion?"


Why are Muslim Turkish soldiers part of a Christian alliance fighting, killing and driving Muslim Afghans from their homes? Is that halal? Does 60:9 command that Muslims can ally with Christians against other Muslims if these other Muslims chose to terrorize? Is 60:9 one of the verses that is not applicable to 21st century politics?


I am so sorry, Mr. Akyol, that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk destroyed your dreams of having an Ottoman Caliph in the year 2010 – which, as I understand, you blame on 'anti-Islamists.' You are right to think that the Caliphate was the political authority in the Muslim world. But I am not going to ask you how would the concept of Caliphate fit into Koranic teachings which strictly forbid associating God with anyone/anything. Nor am I going to remind you of the beauty of a faith with no clergy, or ask you how, in Islam, could a mortal – even a Caliph – speak on God's behalf.


I am not going to mention, either, how your beloved Arabs felt about the Ottoman Caliphate for centuries, or how most Muslim Arabs allied with Christians against the "ultimate authority of Islam."


But I must remind of the not-so-Koranic lives of several Caliphs, including addiction to alcohol a drop of which the Koran strictly forbids. History mentions at least a dozen non-Ottoman and about 10 Ottoman such Caliphs, including Fatih the Conqueror, Sultan Süleyman, Selim II, Murad IV, Yavuz Sultan Selim, Ahmed III, Mahmud II and, most recently, Sultan Abdülmecid. It might be better if we did not speak of certain Caliphs' private lives which were too Hedonistic even at today's standards let alone the standards of "the ultimate authority of Islam."


But do not give up, Mr. Akyol. Mr. Erdogan does not drink alcohol or sport any Hedonistic weakness. He can be your ideal revivalist Caliph in the 21st century. Alternatively, you can always have a post-modern Caliph reign the Muslim world from a predominantly Christian country where he resides.








It was a big success, last Saturday. More than a thousand people gathered in Taksim Square to protest against restrictions on the Internet. Among the demonstrators were nongovernmental organizations calling for freedom of the Internet, representatives of Internet sites and their readers and employees of private enterprises who are negatively affected by Internet censorship. For the first time, more than fifty NGOs, civil initiatives, human rights organizations and online communities managed to form a "Common Platform Against Internet Censorship" ( that will continue to protest against what was called "unlawful and arbitrary efforts to control the Internet."


Three years ago, few people expected things to turn so nasty. In May 2007, the Turkish government enacted Law no. 5651 to regulate publications on the Internet and to suppress crimes committed by these publications. It was a reaction to concerns about defamatory videos available on the popular video sharing website YouTube involving the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. But the law was also meant to deal with the growing number of websites showing child pornography and other obscene content and sites providing information about suicide and drugs.


In the first year after its adoption, the most well-known application of Law no. 5651 concerned YouTube. After several Turkish courts ruled against the site because it showed some amateurish Greek videos bashing Atatürk, the Ankara 1st Criminal Court of Peace issued the final blocking order in May 2008.


At that time, few people took the ban particularly seriously. Many, including myself, thought this was a rearguard action by some old fashioned members of the judiciary that would lead nowhere because everybody, including the government, would soon recognize that in this day and age, the banning of websites does not make sense. I remember Egemen Bağış, the chief EU negotiator, when questioned in the European Parliament on the YouTube ban in 2008, telling the parliamentarians with a big smile that this was a temporary nuisance and that his son had shown him how to circumvent the ban for the time being. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made similar remarks when journalists reminded him that access to YouTube was blocked. "I can get in," he replied, "and you can get in as well."


The whole ban seemed ridiculous, soon to be overhauled by reality and common sense. The mood of many was captured well by a reaction on Internet, saying: "Some pimply teenager in Greece who slapped some rouge on an Atatürk picture and made a silly video must be feeling an incredible sense of power now. Through an act that should have been interpreted as nothing more than a demonstration of immaturity, he's managed to prevent the 75 million inhabitants of Turkey from accessing a site in which Turkey's culture, beauty and music can be shared with millions around the world. How little trust the people behind this continuing ban must have in Atatürk's ability to survive a childish video, and their citizens' ability to decide for themselves what to watch or not." But this was only the beginning.


In January of this year, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, of which Turkey is a member, published a damning report on Internet censorship in Turkey. It was prepared by one of the people who saw the dangers of Law no. 5651 from the beginning, Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, associate professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. According to the report, up until December 2009, access to approximately 3,700 websites had been blocked under Law no. 5651. More about the conclusions of the report and the damage done to the perception of Turkey abroad in my next column.







Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, who is also responsible for Cyprus affairs, said at a ceremony in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus marking the 36th anniversary of the 1974 Turkish intervention in the island, that there either will be a Cyprus settlement by the end of this year, or the "two separate peoples, two democracies and two states," of Cyprus will go their separate ways.


"This way or the other the Cyprus problem will soon be resolved. We have been working hard for a resolution of the Cyprus problem. But, we are not for a settlement at any cost. Turkey never ever aspired and will not foresee a settlement that will provide a return [to northern Cyprus of the Greek Cypriot former residents who fled to southern Cyprus after the Turkish intervention]. There are two separate peoples, two separate democracies, two separate states on Cyprus. There will be either a settlement on Cyprus by the end of this year, or the two states on the island will walk separate ways," said Çiçek in a nutshell explaining Turkey's position regarding the Cyprus talks process which appears to be heading nowhere but yet somehow the hope of a miraculous success somehow cautiously maintained.


Without any doubt from the United Nations Secretariat, the United States to the European Commission pressure is building on the leaders of the two peoples of Cyprus to speed up the UN-sponsored direct negotiations between themselves for resolving the almost fifty-year-old problem of power sharing between their two peoples of the eastern Mediterranean island in a lasting bi-zonal and bi-communal federation.


There is frustration in the international community with the Cyprus talks' process dragging on intermittently since the mid 1960s without a compromise deal. There is frustration in the two peoples of the island. Despite the cautious optimism shared by some that there might finally be a compromise deal soon, vast majority of the two peoples of the island no longer believe the direct talks' process might conclude successfully and a new partnership state might be established on the island.


While in the Turkish Cypriot side stern warnings are being raised that there ought to be a resolution by the yearend or the two "separate states and peoples" should be allowed to walk their separate ways, in the Greek Cypriot side questions are being asked should the current talks end inconclusively like the many past rounds of talks whether the northern Turkish Cypriot part of the island evolve into a Taiwan-like status or with the support of some major international players walk along a process like the Kosovo example and become a full fledged international entity. Furthermore, in either case, would the Turkish Cypriot state find itself a place in the EU?


Such questions, of course, might prod the Greek Cypriot side to give up their much-accustomed intransigence barring creation of a new partnership republic on the island on the basis of political equality of the two sides and undiluted bi-zonality and bi-communality – which requires limitation of the number of Greek Cypriots who may resettle in northern Cyprus and in resolving the thorny property aspect of the problem opting for a global exchange and compensation scheme rather than reinstitution of pre-1974 property rights.


Despite immense Greek Cypriot propaganda and efforts of the domestic opposition to portray new Turkish Cypriot President Dr. Derviş Eroğlu as a hard liner not as pro-settlement as his predecessor Mehmet Ali Talat, over the past few months since the northern April presidential vote, Eroğlu has proved his sincere wish for a just and lasting accord based on political equality of the two constituent peoples and states. He not only has been calling for a speedy process and a timetable for the talks with a vision to strike a deal by the yearend, but to demonstrate his goodwill even agreed to engage in talks on the thorny property issue and presented the Greek Cypriot side a comprehensive proposal on the issue. Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, on the other hand, has been dragging his feet, refusing a timetable for the talks and demanding handling of the property issue together with the refugees and territorial aspects of the problem that together with the 1960 Guarantee and Alliance system ought to be discussed in the presence of guarantor powers Turkey, Greece and Britain, as was the case during the Annan Plan process.


If there will be a Cyprus deal "now or now" it appears that time has come to consider seriously convening a conference of the founding parties of the 1960 republic – that is a conference participated by apart two peoples of the island, guarantor powers Turkey, Greece and Britain – with the UN sponsoring such a conference and some major powers, including the EU and the P5 sitting as observers








If you are a fan of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and accept everything he does without questioning him, then don't read this article. You'll get upset. And if you are an absolute opponent of his please don't read it either, you'll just hate me for nothing. If you are in between these two groups, then let us solve this dilemma together.


Within the next eight or nine months Turkey will pass the most important exam in recent history. First we'll vote for a referendum then general elections. During both there will be votes for Erdoğan. During the referendum people will vote yes or no for the prime minister rather than for Constitutional amendments.


If both obstacles are overcome and Erdoğan is elected for the third time he will be the first person to lead Turkey the longest. Then the ruling Justice and Develpoment Party, or AKP, would obtain the opportunity to change Turkey from ground up.


If he does not get elected then coalition years will start in this country. Former diseases will reappear. Fights will appear due to coalitions with the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, or the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP. What shall we do? Shall we support Erdoğan or not vote for him?


We are in a dilemma. On one hand the prime minister collects applause. On the other hand he scares people. I too face a dilemma. See why.


I do applaud him because…


There are many reasons for me to applaud Erdoğan. Here are some main reasons.


Even if he has not been able to obtain desired results, he is still the first prime minister to take up such an important issue for Turkey. Others only spoke nonsense and took a step back. Even if he has not started the initiative it was worth applauding. He wasn't able to finalize, was insufficient and was not brave enough. But he took on risk and pushed the button. There is no turning back.


In respect to the European Union issue he was the one who took brave steps compared to former ministers. He could not speed things up because of internal and external sources. But he knew to place Turkey in a status as a member candidate.


He broke taboos like the Armenian and Cyprus issues which were called initiatives. He changed deep-rooted ideology. He changed the state's way of thinking. He accepted that it's not only us who can speak the truth and be right but also others.


He was probably the first leader of an administration who listened to Alevi citizens and tried to understand their problems. He openly and loudly defended them saying that they are not to be treated badly.


In external politics he made important changes. He brought Turkey into a strong position that tries to solve problems in the region whereas previously it would only look to the West and not deal with outside issues. Turkey now has become a game player in the international arena being monitored carefully.


He put the economy in the right direction. He knew how to stand up to and get out of issues like unemployment more easily than others did despite the huge international crisis. Even if he did not exactly obtain what he wanted he still was able to position Turkey as one of the world's greatest economies.


He did not behave populist. He did not restrain from speaking his mind even if he faced a loss of votes. He restrained his religious beliefs to a certain extent, especially the headscarf. Instead of taking a step forward he was able to take a step back in politics that were unrealistic. He brought stability to Turkey.


That is why I'd like to vote for Erdoğan.


I am afraid of Erdoğan because…


Prime Minister Erdoğan scares me because of the following…


He doesn't listen to anyone anymore. I think of Erdoğan's first term compare it to his present one only to find a totally different Erdoğan. The Erdoğan who used to listen while looking into your eyes, took notes and gave directions is replaced by a very nervous and persistent Erdoğan.


He used to be a prime minister who liked the media, joked around with opponents, argued and at times asked for their opinion. Today he seems to wanting to destroy a huge media group with its thousands of employees, silence the opposition and create his own media. Friends tell the truth even if it hurts.


He seems to like tension. Even in cases he is right he seems to drag the opposition through the mud with his tone of voice and body language. He lost his former understanding and tolerance. In the past he surely has been hit below the belt by the media and his opponents, but he is unable to restrain from his brisk attitude even though there is no need for it any more.


The secular system and secular tolerance is progressively melting away and getting tenser. Piety is emerging and the pious or those who appear to be pious are becoming more influential and richer. It seems as if one who does not belong to these circles won't be able to find a job. It seems to get more difficult to drink alcohol and not wear a scarf.


In external politics people are at unease about his Iran and Iraq politics, despite all the good things he did. There has been a shift in traditional politics, a derailment. If this course continues Ankara's relations with Washington and Brussels will badly get hurt. And this will heavily be reflected on our country. There may be economic shocks and green Islamic flags may fly on the streets. And this may crack the system.


Struggle with the PKK that started out well, now, as previously, has turned into a security issue only. Even though Erdoğan knows this approach did not lead anywhere in the past, before elections he started to behave as he formerly did.


The society has become sick and tired. It wants changes. Administrations that hold power for more than two terms increase tension in the country immensely. Social fights increase. Changing the administration becomes a mutual target. Then there is no stability left anymore.


That is why I am afraid of Erdoğan.



Now please tell me. Shall we continue with or without Erdoğan? Shall we vote for Erdoğan despite us being fed up with everything or shall we vote against him despite knowing coalitions will bring instability? Shall we use the referendum like a signal flare?


I'll continue tomorrow









In straightforward, devastating testimony, Eliza Manningham-Buller told the Chilcot inquiry how she had warned about what sensible -- but mostly frightened to speak out -- senior Whitehall officials believed in 2003: that the invasion of Iraq would increase the terrorist threat to the UK.


More than once, the former head of MI5 emphasized to the Chilcot inquiry that the invasion exacerbated the terrorist threat to the UK and was a "highly significant" factor in how "home-grown" extremists justified their actions.

"Our involvement in Iraq radicalized a few among a generation of young people who saw (it) as an attack upon Islam," she said.

Manningham-Buller said she was therefore not surprised that UK citizens were involved in the 7/7 suicide attacks in London or by the increase in the number of Britons "attracted to the ideology of Osama bin Laden" who saw the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their co-religionists and the Muslim world".

The invasion of Iraq "undoubtedly" increased the terrorist threat in Britain, she said.

There was no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda – not even the CIA believed that -- Manningham-Buller reminded the inquiry as she pointed to the alternative agenda-driven "intelligence service" set up at the Pentagon by Donald Rumsfeld.

Arguably, she added, it was the U.S. and Britain who, by invading Iraq, "gave Osama bin Laden the Iraqi jihad".

Joint Intelligence Committee assessments warned ministers that an invasion would increase the threat to Britain. If they read them, she said, they would have been in no doubt.

She warned Home Office ministers and officials of the consequences of an invasion but, in a pointed remark, suggested she rarely saw Tony Blair in one-to-one meetings. She added: "The head of SIS (MI6) saw him more frequently than I did".

And what did Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, tell Blair about the alleged weapons of mass destruction threat posed by Saddam? We still do not know.

Manningham-Buller referred more than once to Sir David Omand, the government's security and intelligence coordinator at the time, who gave evidence to Chilcot earlier this year.

MI6 had "over-promised and under-delivered" when it came to Iraq, Omand said.

She was asked what lessons had been learned from the invasion, and replied: "The danger of over-reliance on fragmentary intelligence in deciding whether or not to go to war. Very few would argue that the intelligence was substantial enough to make that decision."

That is a savage indictment of the Blair administration and its advisers who, unlike Manningham-Buller, kept mum at the time.

(Source: The Guardian







The comments from Hillary Clinton that Osama Bin Laden is, in all likelihood, still in Pakistan, are quite obviously intended to keep up the pressure on Pakistan. This indeed has been the focal point of Washington's strategy for years. Islamabad, which again faced demands that it do more against terror from the US Secretary of State on Monday as she co-chaired the second session of the Pak-US strategic dialogue, had perhaps been hoping that some of the pressure would be relieved. While there has been some easing off of the degree of force applied, the US quite evidently believes it would be unwise to lift it entirely. Looking beyond the purely practical, this means it is somewhat unlikely that the aid package announced by the US would serve the primary purpose intended. It is possible the dams and health centres prove useful; however, the main goal behind the projects is to alter the image of the US. This would be a key priority also for the Pakistan government, which continues to face criticism for its close links with Washington. The opposition put in by Ms Clinton to a civilian nuclear deal with China, the US refusal to do a deal on nuclear technology with Pakistan until it can win more international trust and its reluctance to intervene in the matter of water disputes with India will mean that for many the US will remain a hostile force. Indeed Ms Clinton herself referred without reservation to a lack of trust and stressed it would take time and effort for this gap to be filled in.

The strategic dialogue then has moved along a middle road. The manner in which it progresses from this point on is of course crucial. While in an ideal world Pakistan would do well to develop a distance from Washington, in practical terms this is unlikely to happen for now. The leadership's dependence on the US is firmly grounded and there appears to be no willingness to pull out its roots. This rather complicates the messy business of tackling militancy which continues in the north. Some of the anger that fuels it is certainly tied in to passionate anti-US sentiment. Washington has shown some willingness to accommodate Pakistan – by suggesting, for instance, that it may not be entirely averse to negotiations with terrorists who renounce violence. But whether this will be enough to alter the larger picture or make any real difference to the situation is unclear. Only time will tell if this is indeed the case.







Within the next few days, perhaps a fortnight, we may have a reasonably clear picture of how many members of parliament, the Senate and the provincial assemblies are holders of false academic documents. Prime Minister Gilani has come out in support of Javed Leghari, the chairman of the Higher Education Commission, and in doing so tacitly admitted that the government was complicit in harassing the HEC chairman and his family. His brother Farooq Leghari has been released on the orders of the Sindh High Court; and the government generally seems to be moving to a position where it is going – albeit with reluctance – to let the validation of academic qualifications reach its conclusion.

This is all well and good but it is only half of the story – the other half concerns what happens next. Going by what Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan has said in an interview he gave to this newspaper, what may happen next is that the government could seek to promulgate new legislation, though the minister was vague as to its content. He said that there had been contact with several political parties (and that there was 'documentary proof' of this) seeking to lay the matter to rest. Their motivation for this will almost certainly be to protect politicians in the future from the withering blast of the media, as well as perhaps tightening their own internal selection procedures and criteria to ensure that those selected to represent us are less obviously liars and fakers. Considering his statement objectively, it does appear that the fake degree issue has given a severe jolt to those politicians who are self-serving and happy to deceive their electorates – who probably expect to be deceived anyway. We are a long way from having a clear picture of 'what comes next' in this unfolding tragi-comedy. Babar Awans' statement is too vague to be a declaration of intent, but it is indicative of a political class that has felt the chill breeze of accountability on its back. You can expect more of the same, ladies and gentlemen.













We can often see small throngs of people, gathered at a teashop or a market corner, watching talk shows on TV. Many of them are genuinely amazed at the constant emphasis on democracy from government members appearing on such programmes. Their audiences, many of whom wage a daily struggle merely to survive, ask when someone will address the issue of deprivation, which is there in the escalating number of suicides, in the reports of small girls being married off to settle debt, in the appearance of hundreds of candidates to fill a single post whenever jobs are advertised, and even in the suicide bombings.

Democracy, for all its flaws, best represents the will of the people. But when governments fail to make even a pretence of representing this will, they put themselves at great risk. The politicians who do all they can today to ensure their own survival forget that this is impossible unless they can continue to enjoy at least some popular backing. When this backing slips away, there is much greater likelihood of intervention by elements from beyond parliament. When our president harps on this theme, as he has on numerous occasions, he fails to acknowledge that people can firmly hold the doors shut against any such intervention if they genuinely wish to protect the government they have elected. We have seen them do so in Venezuela and elsewhere. In our case people, for the most part, have no loyalty or attachment to a government they feel has let them down. Indeed the deprivation faced by people is leading to greater and greater rage. The time could come when this is directed against the government or against authority in general. As desperation grows, the dangers it poses grow too. Yet even as the clouds gather, our leaders, locked in their own fairytale castles, seem not to realise how grave the threat is and how it could endanger them and the edifice on which they stand.








Poor Americans. This is the fellow that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to stand beside as she tries to squeeze more juice out of a Kerry-Lugar Bill that had its lifeblood squeezed out of it last year by the Pakistani establishment, when it first became US law. The frustration from that reaction still riles the Americans. So much so that Hillary Clinton, who is a role model and an inspiration, can't seem to let go. On every trip she reproduces a Bin Laden outburst that is militarily and strategically irrelevant for the US, but that serves as an enduring cancerous tumour for America's public diplomacy goals in Pakistan.

Still. Mrs Clinton needs to be cut some slack. Her tireless advocacy for health care around the world, and her enduring compassion for South Asians -- Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Muslims, Hindus, men, children, and most of all, women -- is singularly unique among either Democrats or Republicans.

The western media seems as fabulously smitten by Mrs Clinton as I am. The wires, the newspapers and the electronic media all reported Mrs Clinton's announcement of the allocation of $500 million worth of projects as headline news, when really, it represents the fulfilment of only one-third of Kerry-Lugar-Berman's sacred covenant with the Pakistani people. One of the most telling things about that covenant? It was signed by the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. It was, in short, a covenant between the US government and the American people, with the US government acting as a proxy for the Pakistani people.

Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke's decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama's war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn't quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

The second thing that has kept the Kerry-Lugar money from being spent is the government of Pakistan itself. Pakistan has no clarity whatsoever about what its development priorities are. It required the intervention of the military chief back in March to summon the federal secretaries to begin to articulate a wishlist of pet projects this government would like to see come to fruition. Indecision and the absence of any coherent development strategy within Pakistan have meant that the US government has had to try to figure out what Pakistan wants, kind of on its own. This may seem like comedy noire, but it's really not funny at all.

The problem with Pakistani government today is that it doesn't enjoy the competent stability it once used to through the bureaucracy. Today's Pakistan's bureaucracy, while made up of individually brilliant officers, is a collection of inward-looking dinosaurs that cannot see beyond their GOR houses, their I-8 plots and their post-retirement benefits. Those officers, in years past, used to be the eyes and ears of oft-changing governments that would seek the guidance of senior bureaucrats in the federal ministries and at the provincial headquarters. While there's been no discernable change in the quality of governance that democratically elected politicians can render, there has been a severe nosedive in the quality of officers available to either the federal or provincial governments.

Part of the reason for the exodus of top-tier officers during the Musharraf era was the curtailment of powers of district managers, under decentralised local governments. But the decentralisation argument is a red-herring for a much more fundamental shift in Pakistani bureaucracy. While being a CSP or DMG officer was an instrument of social mobility in the 1970s or 1980s, it is now a barrier to the personal and professional growth of officers. Many of Pakistan's brightest officers can afford to be well-paid UN, World Bank and IMF staffers. Many others can do even better at Wall Street and on Madison Avenue. Still others can be brilliant academics. Across the board, since 1999 we have seen exactly this. An exodus of top-shelf talent that might have been able to deal with rents, with incompetence, and with the heat, but not with the disrespect that the military and political class have for educated Pakistanis in the employ of the government of Pakistan.

So how does all this relate to Mrs Clinton's troubles in Pakistan? Simple. No matter how democratically legitimate, when the blind lead the blind, there is a problem of vision. Pakistani politicians are so disconnected from any kind of global narrative that it will be a generation before we produce a Chidambaram, a Krishna or a Mukherjee that can win elections without the help of their gaddi (see: Shah Mehmood Qureshi), or the kindness of the Arbab Ghulam Rahims of the world (see: Shaukat Aziz). The nauseating outburst of the foreign minister on Friday was a demonstration that winning an election does not enable you to win an argument. In short, Pakistan's current political class cannot muster politically legitimate actors that are also competent at statecraft.

Enter the advisory class. This is where the Husain Haqqanis, the Shaukat Tarins and the Dr Hafeez Shaikhs enter the fray. No fake degrees here. Only pedigree. Their problem is of an entirely different nature. They don't have any stake in Pakistani politics -- they enter as unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level, and they leave as unknowns at the thaana kuthchehri and galli-mohalla level. They can talk about all the right kinds of reform, but they can't deliver. More worryingly, their reform-speak is often deluded, because it is devoid of any political rigour. "Let's clip military powers by marketing bold ideas in Washington DC, instead of Rawalpindi." Well. We've seen how that has turned out. "Let's raise taxes!" Sure. Because nobody else has ever thought of that! "Let's improve education." Sure. Because it takes genius to figure out that education is a problem. Advice that is anchored in Rubinomics and Bretton Woods theology has been failing Pakistan for the entire duration of Pakistan's lifetime. This should hardly be a surprise. It never works anywhere.

And that is why Shah Mehmood Qureshi is wrong, again. Perceptions won't change. $500 million worth of pet projects is a supremely sweet gesture. But even $500 billion worth of aid, delivered through Beltway Bandits, NGOs, budget support or otherwise can't change the lives of Pakistanis. Only organic reform can achieve such noble goals. When the strategic dialogue in October picks up where this one leaves, Pakistan will still have no CT strategy, no development strategy, an inflated defence budget, no civil service reform, and no hate-speech legislation. All the money in the world can't change that. And that's not Hillary Clinton's fault. That one's on us.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.








Governance is the prime issue of our country. Most problems, including separatist movements, the energy crisis, law and order, terrorism, inflation, economic backwardness and corruption, are invariably caused, among others, by bad governance. This very weakness has hampered the solution of these other problems, which are getting worse.

It appears that the country is sliding towards anarchy during the tenure of a democratic dispensation in which both major parties and all regional parties are coalition partners. In Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government writ has eroded. Wherever there is any authority, it is because of the writ of the army, not the writ of the civilian government. The people have almost lost their trust in the state and state institutions in the matter of security of their lives and properties. Therefore, they are taking measures for self-defence.

In Balochistan, apart from the Baloch insurgency, the sense of deprivation and alienation among Pakhtuns is on the rise. The incapable and corrupt government in Quetta is least inclined to addressing the important issues which have irreparably harmed the Baloch's trust in the state and its institutions. The state institutions have failed to stop targeted killings of both Baloch and settlers. In response, the settlers have also started thinking of organising and getting armed to defend themselves against the killers.

In Sindh and Karachi, there are armed groups which are killing people and occupying their properties. This situation has pushed individuals and groups to take up arms for survival. The Punjab government has not come up to the expectations of the people and therefore all groups and parties are taking law in their own hands.

At the end of Musharraf's government, the judiciary raised people's expectations. But, unfortunately, after restoration, this institution is stuck in the struggle for self-preservation. The fight over constitutional issues is least relevant to the people's problems. Until now, no benefits of the judiciary's decisions or measures trickled down to the common man. In the lower judiciary, thousands of cases are still awaiting trial while thousands of accused persons, many of them innocent, are languishing in jails. Some incidents are an indication of the people's lack of trust in the law and the state. In Karachi, whenever a thief or dacoit is caught, instead of handing him over to police or judicial authorities, a mob either burns the thief alive or kills him with clubs. The lawyers' community, which played a prominent role in the restoration of the judges and departure of Musharraf, has developed their own negative traits. They seem to be in a fight with the judges and others who don't accept their point of view.

Politicians have now turned their guns on the media. Recently, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution in favour of curbs on the media. The media, instead of raising issues on merit in the best interests of the society as a whole, is busy asserting its power and demanding recognition. The military blames politicians for the country's mess, and the politicians complain of their powerlessness as compared to the power and influence of the armed forces. Because of this confusion, people do not refer their problems to the respective institutions and instead try to solve the problems themselves and try to settle scores with other individuals and groups through the use of force. Educated youth, the future of the nation, do not believe that they will get jobs on merit. They think of bribes and sifarish (right connections) to get employment.

This hopel