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Saturday, July 24, 2010

EDITORIAL 24.07.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
 

EDITORIAL

month,  july 24, edition 000578 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. SMOKE SIGNALS FROM US
  2. NEAT, CLEAN AND FRESH
  3. WHY IPL BOWLS OUT CWG - ASHOK MALIK
  4. SERENDIPITY'S WORST ENEMY - AJIT BISHNOI
  5. TERRIFYING HOBGOBLINS IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY - ARUN LAKSHMAN
  6. NOW, JEHAD WITH SOUTHERN SPICE -WILSON JOHN
  7. MARXIST-MULLAH NEXUS BEHIND IT ALL - OOMMEN CHANDY

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. JUST STOP REFUDIATING
  2. PRIDE OF INDIA? - GAUTAM BHATIA
  3. AN EXCITING PROSPECT
  4. ADDRESS BASICS FIRST - AJAY VAISHNAV
  5. EDUCATIONAL SPACE MATTERS - KANTI BAJPAI

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. WHISTLING IN THE DARK
  2. KHAKIS OVER CIVVIES - BARKHA DUTT
  3. DON'T DRIBBLE PAST THIS EPISODE - NAMITA BHANDARE

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THE DREAM LIVES
  2. POLITICS OF SLIGHT
  3. PULSES HEARTBEAT
  4. THREE CLEVER BY HALF - SHEKHAR GUPTA
  5. KEEPING UP THE ACTS - M R MADHAVAN
  6. A DREAM - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
  7. UNVEILING THE TRUTH - SEHBA FAROOQUI
  8. THE ARITHMETIC OF DAL, ATTA AND RICE - T. NANDAKUMAR
  9. PRINTLINE PAKISTAN - RUCHIKA TALWAR
  10. FEEDING BOTH THE PRISONER AND THE JAILER - RAMI G. KHOURI

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. SOUND BANKING
  2. FOR HIGH YIELDS
  3. FM GIVES IN TOO EASILY ON GST - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. FORECASTING INFLATION ACCURATELY - NIRVIKAR SINGH
  5. FMCG WELCOMES RAINS - LALITHA SRINIVASAN

 

THE HINDU

  1. A DEADLINE TOO FAR
  2. VULNERABLE TO TORTURE
  3. BRITAIN: REDEFINING ITS GLOBAL STATUS - HASAN SUROOR
  4. AGAINST ABUSE OF THE CONTEMPT POWER - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
  5. AMAZON DEFORESTATION IN DRAMATIC DECLINE - DAMIAN CARRINGTON
  6. WTO URGES COOPERATION IN NATURAL RESOURCES TRADE

 

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. HOCKEY: ALREADY A MESS, HITS NEW LOW
  2. BURQA & PREJUDICE - FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. WHEN RTI PROVED LETHAL - ANTARA DEV SEN
  4. ARTFUL GIFT EXCHANGE - KISHWAR DESAI

 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. DISCORDANT VOICES
  2. IT'S KAYANI'S PAKISTAN
  3. MURALI'S MAGIC
  4. INDIA, CHINA — A NEW PARTNERSHIP - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. RESERVATIONS ABOUT 'RESERVATION' - BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER
  6. ARE GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS SAFE? - SUMAN SAHAI
  7. PUNJAB IN FAVOUR OF BT MAIZE - JANGVEER SINGH

 

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. TAX REFORM NEEDS AGREE-CULTURE

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. 'CAUSE I'M THE TAXMAN - T N NINAN
  2. BJP - LOSING, LOSING, LOST? - SURJIT S BHALLA
  3. DELHI, THE TWO-FACED CAPITAL - SUNIL SETHI
  4. DIPLOMACY UNDER FIRE - K NATWAR SINGH
  5. SOCIETIES AGAINST THE STATE - V V
  6. THE MUSLIM-YADAV CARD - ADITI PHADNIS

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. GOOD, CAN DO BETTER
  2. INCREDIBLE INDIA
  3. STRIKE WHILE IT'S HOT
  4. ASIAN CENTURY: COOPERATION OR CONFLICT?
  5. IMAGINING INDIA  - NANDAN NILEKANI
  6. 'AUTO PARTS DEMAND SET TO EXPLODE'  - APURVGUPTA
  7. THE RISE OF THE REST IN LATAM  - RITWIK BANERJEE

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. HOCKEY: ALREADY A MESS, HITS NEW LOW
  2. BURQA & PREJUDICE  - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. IAS COUPLE MIX WORK, PLEASURE
  4. WHEN RTI PROVED LETHAL - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
  5. ARTFUL GIFT EXCHANGE  - BY KISHWAR DESAI
  6. THE MORAL NATURALISTS  - BY DAVID BROOKS

 

THE STATESMAN

  1. GRACEFUL GIANT
  2. VALID GROUSE
  3. KREMLIN'S MIGHT
  4. CODE OF MANAGEMENT - BY ANUPRIYO MALLICK

 

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. IT'S A FRIENDLY WORLD
  2. IN DIFFERENT GARB - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. SHAME ON BOTH SIDES
  2. ANOTHER RECORD DEFICIT
  3. BIG BANKS' OWN PICK-POCKETS
  4. A MILLION FORECLOSURES: FAIRNESS?
  5. LET THE SUN SHINE IN
  6. 'JACKPOT INJUSTICE'

 

I.THE NEWS

  1. KAYANI'S EXTENSION
  2. AT LAST
  3. TRAINS TO NOWHERE
  4. MORE OF THE SAME - ARIF NIZAMI
  5. RESISTANCE PERSONIFIED - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
  6. POVERTY AND PRAGMATISM - DR SANIA NISHTAR
  7. MYSTERY OF GHAZALI'S GRAVE - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  8. CORRECTING A FALSE START - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  9. AFGHAN TRANSIT TRADE - NAUMAN ASGHAR

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MUCH-DESERVED EXTENSION OF GEN KAYANI
  2. GILANI RIGHTLY FOCUSES ON ECONOMY
  3. RAIN-RELATED EPIDEMICS ARE NOT FAR AWAY
  4. INDO-JAPAN TALKS FOR N-DEAL - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. PAX AMERICANA, A DREAM SHATTERED BY AFGHANS - DR S M RAHMAN
  6. THE 'FRONT-LINE STATE' SYNDROME - KHALID SALEEM
  7. WHO'S AIDING JUDAISATION? - NICOLA NASSER
  8. PLANNING TO FIELD A SMALL ARMY IN IRAQ - WARREN P STROBEL
  9. INDO-PAK TALK, TALK, TALK..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. LESS OPINION AND MORE NEWS NEEDED AT THE ABC
  2. DELAYING THE INEVITABLE DEBATE

 

THE GUARDIAN

  1. UNTHINKABLE? BUSH TESTIFIES TO CHILCOT
  2. ECONOMY: REASONS TO BE FEARFUL
  3. SUMMER HOLIDAYS: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. WHY THE INVESTIGATIVE SECRECY?
  2. FARM POLICY NEEDS MORE SCRUTINY

 

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. DEADLY RINGTONE
  2. NO HELP FROM WASHINGTON - NICOLA NASSER
  3. JAPAN, RI IN PROMOTING PEACE AND SECURITY - KOJIRO SHIOJIRI
  4. FOOD SECURITY BEYOND PRODUCTION ISSUES - SUBEJO
  5. PATRIARCHY WITHIN THE DOMESTIC WORKER PROTECTION - AGUS PRATIWI

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

SMOKE SIGNALS FROM US

NO REASON FOR INDIA TO FEEL REASSURED


There have been interesting developments in US-Pakistan relations over the past few days that indicate a further churning of policy in Washington, DC. The US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, during her recent visit to Islamabad for the so-called US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, did not mince words while making it abundantly clear that America believes a section of the Pakistani establishment is sheltering Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda terrorists. She then told BBC in an interview that the consequences of a terrorist attack on America emanating from Pakistan would be "devastating", reviving memories of Gen Pervez Musharraf being threatened with his country being "bombed back to the Stone Age" by Mr Richard Armitage, the tough-talking Deputy Secretary of State of the Bush Administration. On the eve of Ms Clinton's visit, US Special Representative for AfPak Affairs Richard Holbrooke said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Pakistan remains the epicentre of terrorism and went on to explain how the country has become a seething mass of jihadis on the rampage. Now we have the US imposing sanctions on the Haqqani network and key members of this faction of the Taliban, as demanded by Gen David Petraeus, who has replaced Gen Stanley McChrystal (he had to resign following the furore over his description of the Obama Administration as a bunch of "wimps") as the top commander of American forces in Afghanistan. By itself this would not have meant much, but the sanctions are noteworthy because the Pakistani establishment, more specifically the Army led by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been trying to cut a deal with the Haqqani network to become Islamabad's proxy in Kabul after the exit of American troops in the summer of 2011. Pakistan's 'good' Taliban, it appears, do not find favour with the Americans. More important, Gen Petraeus has shown (contrary to expectations in the barracks of Rawalpindi) that he is no pushover and will fight the war in Afghanistan his way, as he did in Iraq. Add to this the possibility of a rethink on the pullout of American troops — Ms Clinton indicated that the US soldiers won't just pack-up and leave — and the possibility of yet another AfPak policy emerging from Washington cannot be ruled out entirely.

Yet, irrespective of whether or not the Obama Administration recalibrates its AfPak policy, the fact remains that Pakistan is not necessarily impressed by either harsh words or tough action. Instead, it persists with its policy of propping up the Army as the main front of the Government: Nothing else explains why Gen Kayani should have got a three-year extension, his second, courtesy a Prime Minister eager to oblige the men in khaki. An extension for Gen Kayani, who once famously described the Pakistani Army as "India-centric", also means an extension for Gen Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, who has been plotting cross-border terror attacks with deadly results. Curiously, Ms Clinton called on Gen Kayani — a departure from protocol — and later the Army spokesman said they discussed "issues of mutual interest". Was the extension discussed during the meeting? Which brings us to the question: Is the Obama Administration playing a devious game, pretending to be tough on terror while collaborating with the primary patron of terrorists? For all we know, the statements and sanctions could be meant to create an elaborate smokescreen meant to mislead India. It wouldn't be the first time either.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT

NEAT, CLEAN AND FRESH

THERE'S MORE TO FILMS THAN FLESH AND GORE


Bombarded by a dose of violence and sex in films like Gulaal, Dev D, Rajneeti, Kaminey and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, to name just a few, Hindi film buffs must be yearning for the innocence of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee or a Basu Chatterjee movie. Of course, since our movies mirror to a great extent our social milieu, the 'hard-hitting' films cannot be wished away, and in a way they do serve a purpose — that of arousing revulsion to distasteful realities. But it would be naive to assume that such projections can actually change the ground situation, not least because evil is sufficiently glamourised for the vulnerable to be drawn towards it. In any case, their presence does not prevent other forms of cinema from flourishing. Recall how Gol Maal starring Amol Palekar, Chupke Chupke featuring Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan and Khubsoorat starring Rekha went on to become hits when action films ruled the roast. And, when Big B was at the peak of his action era, he acted in the soft movie Kabhi Kabhi, crooning away Mukesh numbers and sweeping the audience off its feet. So, connoisseurs of films that portray neither violence nor sex need not lose heart. Even today, in the midst of all the gore, we have had an Atithi Tum Kab Jaogey, not to mention 3 Idiots and 3 My Name is Khan. And, a film like Ishqiya, despite a dose of sex and violence, is really a nice film with a likeable villain. All of them have done well at the box office. Quality light hearted films have always struck a positive chord with the viewer, though there was a period when cheap slapstick comedy promoted by the Govinda-Karishma Kapoor pair was billed as entertainment. Of course, light-hearted films are not merely about clean fun. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was brilliantly satirical, exposing the public-private nexus of the corrupt, while Choti Se Baat presented the painful dilemma of a middle class youth struggling with his class diffidence. These are just a few of the several films released in the 1970s and 1980s that went on to redefine Hindi films.


Should not clean movies also translate into innocent love, the kind you saw in Noorie and Ek Dooje Ke Liye? Can GenNext relate to the sacrifices the protagonists made in such films? Perhaps not. After her son's death, the heroine in 3 My Name is Khan has no hesitation in separating from her husband whom she wrongly holds responsible for the incident. Had the film been made three decades ago, the two would have bonded even more strongly in the face of the tragedy. Again, in Dev D, neither the protagonist nor his lover shows the courage to counter opposition; both lead separate, wasted lives. One Mr Rocket Singh showed conviction in building a business ethically and honestly, fighting tremendous odds, and he failed miserably at the box office.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT

WHY IPL BOWLS OUT CWG

ASHOK MALIK


In the final analysis, the success of a sports event is determined not by what it does for sponsors, showbiz add-ons, the real estate industry or even fans — but by its legacy for sportspersons. Does it create conditions conducive to the nurturing of young talent? Does it free athletes from the tyranny of petty officials, give them a larger ambit in which to show their wares, to excel and earn a dignified wages?


As the 2010 Commonwealth Games rolls inexorably towards becoming Delhi's greatest all-purpose fiasco, it is worth asking if the smarmy officials who have colonised the Indian Olympic Association and its affiliate bodies for decades are going to leave future generations of sportspersons any sort of a legacy. State-of-the-art stadia have been built in India before, in 1982 for the Asian Games for instance. In the intervening 28 years, India has certainly won more medals in global and regional events. It now averages at least a medal every Olympics. This must rank as some sort of an incremental gain given that, outside hockey, India won only one Olympic medal between independence and 1996.


Yet, anybody who argues the Asian Games provided an infrastructural framework that introduced a new culture into Indian sport, or made it possible to make pursuing a sports career viable for those who were up to it, is living in a fool's paradise. Almost any medal that India gets in a global event is courtesy the drive and passion of the individual achiever, and his or her personal coach and family. Far from being because of the system, this is often in spite of the system.


Mr Suresh Kalmadi, president of the IOA, has failed in his basic mandate of making India pulls it weight (or even half its weight, given its massive population) in global sport. Is the IOA an event management company — and a shoddy one at that — or is it focussed on giving that outstanding teenaged archer in Rajasthan, that brilliant young track star in Jharkhand, and that freakish volleyball prodigy in Kerala the right nudge and coaching experience? Everybody knows the answer.

 

The organising of the Commonwealth Games is a scandal waiting to explode. It has become a money-making racket for several people, including those in civic agencies in Delhi. However, at the centre of the Commonwealth mess is the IOA, which more or less runs the Organising Committee that is meant to deliver the Games. It is perennially short of cash. It arm-twists Union Ministries to force public sector companies to part with sponsorship money. It approaches the Board of Control for Cricket in India for a grant. It tears up tenders and nominates vendors, justifying this sleight-of-hand as necessary in the 'national interest'.


After the Games close, Mr Kalmadi and the IOA will saddle the country with account books that will make the Indian Premier League scandal look like a pre-Diwali cards party. It is pertinent to consider young cricketers are desperate for the IPL to overcome its current problems and flourish in 2011. However, young sportspersons have no such sentiment for the Commonwealth Games and the IOA. Why?


"The IPL has been a boon for the neglected first-class cricketer in India," says a franchise official, "he never had it so good." India has the most brutally Darwinian cricket system in the world. Barely 40 cricketers are given annual central contracts by the BCCI. Yet, each State must have a thousand cricketers — more in bigger States like Maharashtra and Gujarat, fewer in smaller States like Tripura — playing various age-group or club tournaments and dreaming of the India cap.


Much talent just disappears in the cracks. A situation where State officials and selectors can pick and choose at whim is always prone to corruption. Some years ago, a former Test cricketer was appointed chief selector of the Delhi under-22 team. In four matches, Delhi could field 44 different cricketers; the chief selector fitted in 38. Sacked amid charges of bribery, he then became a dissident and started to appear on television programmes criticising the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association for being "unprofessional" and "anti-cricketer".


In the late-1980s, Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai) and Ravi Saraf (Kolkata) were sent together to England on a BCCI scholarship for India's two best schoolboy cricketers. Tendulkar ended up in the Indian team; Saraf never made it to even the Bengal Ranji Trophy XI. The selectors showed no interest in him, and he lost interest in the game.Today, a Saraf would have eight (10 from 2011) alternatives to the Bengal Ranji Trophy squad. It's already happening. Wriddhiman Shah was being given a hard time by Bengal selectors and Ashok Dinda had actually been dropped by them. Good performances in the IPL forced them back in contention. Manpreet Singh Gony became a Ranji Trophy regular for Punjab only after bowling impressively for the Chennai Super Kings.

The most egregious example is that of Amit Mishra, the leg-spinner who, in 2008, took five wickets against Australia on his Test debut. For eight years before that, Mishra had been playing for Haryana in the Ranji Trophy. He was forced to move from his native Delhi because he'd found it impossible to break into the DDCA. His obvious skills weren't good enough for the Delhi selectors.


Over three years, Mishra has become a star for Delhi Daredevils. At IPL games, DDCA selectors are increasingly asked why they forced him to migrate and didn't give him the break that he so desperately wanted. Embarrassed silence follows.


"After the IPL, there is a new professionalism to the game," admits a BCCI official, "even the fielding in Ranji Trophy games is getting better." The commercial construct of the game too has been transformed. "Today, every other cricketer, a Pradeep Sangwan or even a good under-19 player, has a manager and negotiates through an agent," exclaims a franchise executive.


Admittedly, this trend will drive more and more young cricketers towards a T20-only career path. The lure of the IPL and potential copycat leagues could result in a long first class career and a place in the Indian Test team not being the obsessions they were for previous generations.


Is this the fault of the IPL though? For all the dubiousness of its administrators, the League has opened new avenues for Indian cricketers and freed them from the oppression of almighty 'honorary' selectors and officials. It is time for conventional cricket officialdom to catch up. As for Mr Kalmadi and the IOA and its affiliates, forget it.

 malikashok@gmail.com

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT

SERENDIPITY'S WORST ENEMY

AJIT BISHNOI


An enemy is an agency that acts against one's interests. Most of us fall in this category when it comes to peace of mind. Do we promote peace when we seek attention any which way? How many of us try to earn it in the true sense of the term? What puts us in most difficulties? Our wagging tongues! But we rarely manage to keep them on leash.

 

Lust undermines peace of mind like no other quality, but we won't part company with it. Are we not forever chasing guilty pleasures? Greed keeps us forever dissatisfied but we don't try to curb it. How do we explain a businessman, who is doing very well, taking big risks in order to make more money? Anger is a sworn enemy of peace, but our friendship with it is enduring. Jealousy and peace cannot coexist but we refuse to part its company. Pride is a known adversary of good interpersonal relationships but we inculcate it assiduously.

What is fame that we seek so desperately? Does it give us any benefit in terms of peace of mind? Fame turns the spotlight on us, and others can see our faults. Only god is faultless; hardly any human being can qualify for that status. In earlier times, the devout would leave home and head for the serenity of forests where they would pursue a lasting relationship with god. But a modern man always wishes to be in the thick of things. Even birds prefer freedom to a life in a cage where they can get constant attention.


Yet we are obsessed with finding peace and some of us even visit doctors and psychologists in its quest. "Doctor! I want peace anyhow," is our refrain. What can a poor doctor do when we are our own worst enemies? We become insecure without attention, whereas true peace of mind lies within. The mind is the critical factor in connection with peace but we do not keep it pure and forget about meditation and a connection with god. Why should anyone not seek peace if their material needs have been met? Isn't peace vital for happiness? Therefore, if we really value peace, we have to change tacks and look for it within. We will then realise that peace is not expensive though it does come at a price.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TERRIFYING HOBGOBLINS IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY

ARUN LAKSHMAN

 

Kerala's descent into Talibanish hell has been encouraged by the Malayali pseudo-liberal intellectual elite and an ostrich-like government who combined to allow all kinds of fanatical criminals to run amok. Occasionally, like this month's Joseph incident, there are protests.


Call it Islamic fundamentalism; label it Talibanism or downright terrorism, the state which appears on tourist brochures as "God's Own Country" has been the happy hunting ground of bigoted street fighters for about a decade now. But a combination of factors, not least important among them the political correctness of pseudo-secularists and bureaucratic inertia, blocked the story of Kerala's' downslide to medievalism from the national consciousness.

So, unlike the Bangladeshis, who identified Talibanism as their chief enemy and rallied against it as a nation in the 2008 election, the Malayalis behave like ostriches in the sand. Ignorance is bliss, but only for a while. On July 4, the people of Kerala and India saw terrorism in their state in veritable full frontal nudity when a humble teacher in Ernakulam district's Thodupuzha New Man College had his right hand severed by fundamentalists. His perceived fault? TJ Joseph, who taught Malayalam language, had set a question paper for his students in which Prophet Muhammad was allegedly 'insulted'.


It was a Sunday morning and Prof Joseph has gone to church with his 88-year-old mother and a sister who is a nun in New Zealand. When he was on his way back home his car was waylaid in public by a group of sword-yielding fanatics. They smashed the windows of the vehicle and dragged the professor from the driver's seat and forced him on to the ground. Then, as passersby watched horrified, they chopped off his right palm using an axe. To deepen the confused mortification of the onlookers, they exploded a smoke bomb and made good their withdrawal.

After the assailants left, Joseph's hapless mother and sister began shrieking for help. Some people collected and rushed him to a nearby hospital where he underwent a major surgery for 12 hours. Eventually, his palm was rejoined to the hand. When I contacted the doctors who had carried out the surgery, they told me that several weeks would pass before the performance of the hand can be ascertained. "There has been a lot of loss of blood and tissue", they pointed out.


That is something like the state of Kerala's psyche following the macabre incident. It is not as if just a handful of crazy goons from the so-called Popular Front of India (PFI) were responsible. Every Malayali and Indian who has encouraged the growth of the PFI over the past decade by advancing vote-banking rhetoric or simply looking the other way has contributed to this horrendous crime. In many ways, Kerala's future is doomed by ISI-backed Islamic fundamentalists who manipulate the democratic system and I had stressed this fact as far back as November 6, 2005 in an article in The Pioneer.


Back then, I had strived to raise the hackles of the national leadership and intelligentsia by outlining how the so-called National Development Front (NDF), the previous avatar of the PFI, was thriving. It had a 100-acre exclusive zone (of which only 25 acres was legal) in Manjeri, Malappuram district, named "Green City". It was guarded by armed volunteers and totally inaccessible to the law. I'd quoted intelligence officials who told me of the suspicious activities that go on there, but were powerless to act against because of some "secular" godfathers in Thiruvananthapuram and New Delhi.

The NDF was formed by a group of Students' Islamic Front of India (SIMI) activists in the early 1990s. It was then known as the National Defence Force. It later took the name of National Development Front and merged in 2006 to form the PFI. It now wields influence in mainstream political parties. Its cadre doubled as workers of parties even far removed from the Islamic cause, including Kerala Congress which has Church links. I had asserted: "the soft nature of the Indian State is the direct breeder of terror. Also, the policy of appeasement followed by both the Congress-led UDF and the CPI (M)-led LDF has led to the growth of this hydra-headed monster — Islamic fundamentalism.


Today, after the Joseph incident, journalists like me who placed professionalism over correctness, feel no joy at being vindicated. Kerala society, shaken out of its torpor and facing the fact that the way of life they had long sworn by is a thing of the past, is now in deep introspection. The same political parties who had advocated for the release of Abdul Nasser Maudani (aka Madani) and even sent emissaries to the Tamil Nadu government seeking his release, are now issuing solemn statements in condemnation of the perpetrators of the attack. Not only do they expect the people of Kerala to have short memories (i.e. forget their earlier role which helped the ISS, then NDF and now IPF grow to such menacing levels) but also recognise that Joseph had actually provoked the fanatics by framing a question paper with a blasphemous slant. The latter policy, astute enough but one which the politically sensitive Malayali people will see through easily enough, is aimed at keeping the Muslim vote bank intact.


Joseph had been suffering the wrath of the fanatics since March this year, but nobody came to his help. This makes all Malayalis hang their heads in shame. Shortly after the question paper's contents became known, Muslim hardline organisations around Thodupuzha and Muvattupuzha went on a rampage destroying shops and establishments. They called for the arrest of the professor and even attacked the old Sreekrishna Swami temple. Pressure, both direct and indirect, was exerted on the college and its authorities obliged by suspending Joseph. Even the police registered a case against him for "creating religious conflict." Prof Joseph absconded and the police took into custody his son Mithun, an engineering graduate, and his brother-in-law and inflicted custodial torture on the duo. Finally Prof Joseph surrendered and was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. He got bail on the sixth day from the High Court of Kerala.


What should the Indian State do now? The PFI was formed by merging the NDF and two other like-minded groups — Manithat Neethi Parisari (MNP) and Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD). After that they constituted a Taliban court in Erattupettah in Kottayam district, the base of two important terrorists owing allegiance to the SIMI. They operate a Taliban court in Erattupettah called Darul Quada or God's abode. This cocks a snook at the Indian education system and counters the secular nature of the Constitution. The brainchild behind the indoctrination is Eaasa Moulavi, a front-ranking scholar of the Popular Front, often considered the brain behind this Taliban-like outfit.

 

Sources in the state police say that several CDs were seized from PFI activists depicting al-Qaeda forms of torture on dissenters —chopping off of hands, plucking out ears, eyes and cutting off noses are some of the barbarisms now routine. The police have inferred that the PFI leadership is using these films to steel the resolve of their cadre for jehad.


How many articles in nationalist newspapers like The Pioneer are necessary before the powers that be in Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi wake up to the problem of home-grown Islamic terrorism in general and the Kerala version in particular? Actually there is reason to believe that nothing would happen. Each Joseph-like incident is followed by the all-too-familiar shedding of crocodile tears, trading of blame and then return to normalcy. Resultantly, Kerala is on the brink of collapse as a modern province.

 

 The writer is a columnist


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THE PIONEER

OPED

NOW, JEHAD WITH SOUTHERN SPICE

WILSON JOHN


On July 4, the name 'Kerala' jumped out of tourist brochures to grab space in the popular conscious as the latest safe haven for global jehad. A Saturday Special focus


Largely ignored by intelligence and security agencies as a potential terrorist haven, Kerala has emerged as one of the key hubs of extremist and terrorist activities in the region. Several groups advocating extremist ideologies and activities have had a relatively free run in the state, primarily because of political complicity and operational laxity on the part of the state as well as federal police and intelligence agencies.


The recent gory incident of a professor's arm being hacked for setting a question paper which, allegedly, denigrated Islam, in Ernakulam district has stirred the police as well as the political parties to take action against an extremist alliance. But there is hardly any concern over the Popular Front of India (PFI)'s rapid growth and the possibility of it turning the state into a terror sanctuary. This attitude is reflected in the lack of action on the ground to detect, destroy and deter not only extremist groups and alliances like PFI but to set up a robust intelligence and counter-terrorism mechanism in the state.


The fact that the National Investigating Agency (NIA) was reinvestigating many of the recent terrorist incidents in Kerala and unearthing damning details about the network of terror and extremist groups raises questions about the will and capability of the provincial intelligence and police agencies. The conduct of the politically-connected Kerala Inspector-General, Tomin J. Thachankary, not only for corruption but also for his mysterious meetings with terrorists in Qatar, only magnifies this question mark.


Before looking at the growth and clout of extremist alliances like PFI — comprising Karnataka Forum for Dignity, National Development Front (Kerala) and Manitah Neethi Pasarai (Tamil Nadu) — it would be quite useful to investigate the global linkages that groups and individuals in Kerala had with the global jihad movement. To understand this hidden thread of associations, and why we should we really be worried about Kerala, the story of two terrorist leaders — CAM Basheer and Thadiyantavide Nazeer — can be useful.

Basheer, from a middle-class family in Aluva (Ernakulam), studied at the Aeronautical Engineering College in Chalakudy, not far from his home town, and did a course from a flight training institute in Bangalore before joining the Mumbai international airport. He became a member of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as a college student and rose to become the group's state president in 1987. It was in Mumbai that Basheer began advocating violence as a means to protest discriminations against Muslims in India. In 1991-92, when the country was caught in the maelstrom of violence over the disputed mosque in Ayodhya, Basheer began organising rallies and protest marches in Mumbai. After the demolition of the mosque in December 1992, Basheer was among those who began planning a violent revenge. His name cropped up first in a terror plot in Ahmedabad in 1992, then in the 1993 anniversary bombing of trains in north India, but it was the Mumbai blasts of 1993 which forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia.


Basheer's association with the three main accused in the first serial train bombings in India in December 1993 reveal the emergence of a terrorist network stretching from Saudi Arabia to Kerala. Of the three accused, Dr Jalees Ansari, Abdul Karim Tunda and Azzam Ghouri, the last one fled to Saudi Arabia and met up with radical Indian Muslims, including Basheer, who had by then become a key functionary of LeT which had substantial support in mosques, charity organisations, educational institutions and the royalty in Riyadh. Basheer and others were influenced by the senior LeT functionary and brother-in-law of the group's founder Hafiz Saeed, Abdur Rahman Makki, who for several years studied and taught Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia. Basheer and Ghouri set up the first LeT cell in Saudi Arabia to recruit Indians, particularly those from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, to carry out attacks in India. Basheer was responsible for raising funds and facilitating the training of recruits while Ghouri was instrumental in recruiting new cadres and establishing operational cells in India, particularly in the southern parts.


Two close associates of Basheer were Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, the Indian-born Saudi national, said to be the Chief Financial Officer of LeT with extensive contacts in Saudi Arabia and other west Asian countries, and Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, who runs a flourishing automobile components dealership and several internet cafes in Muscat.


Of the many Indians, including Malayalis, who came into contact with Basheer, was Sarfaraz Nawaz, a key SIMI leader. Nawaz, from Ernakulum, had joined SIMI in 1995 when he was studying at Nadwat-ul-Ulema in Lucknow. He subsequently went to Delhi and worked as SIMI's office secretary before moving to Muscat, where he met al-Tooti and Basheer. The trio either funded or facilitated several terrorist attacks and the birth of Indian Mujahideen (IM). The serial bombings carried out by IM in 2008 were funded by the Basheer-Tooti network. Nawaz had reportedly sent a substantial sum of money through hawala channels to some of his former SIMI colleagues, including another Malayali named Thadiyantavide Nazeer.


Nawaz, in fact, had close contacts with Nazeer and was said to be greatly influenced by Nazeer's call for jihad during the latter's speeches at various mosques and meeting places. Nazeer is a LeT recruit and has admitted to being influenced by jihadi ideologues like Hassan al Banna, Syed Qutb and Mawdudi. Nazeer, alias Haji Ustad, alias Umar Haji, had indoctrinated about 185 Keralites to pursue terror activities and was looking for training facilities in Kashmir and Pakistan. Four of his men were killed in an encounter in Kashmir early October 2008. Nazeer had escaped to Bangladesh after the Bangalore blasts with the help of one of LeT's Bangladesh contacts, Mubashir Shahid. He was arrested in December 2009 following the disclosures made by LeT leader in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, one of the main accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.


Nazeer's LeT handler in Bangladesh was Khurram Khaiyam, alias Faisal, who along with Nazeer, was integral to the LeT's plans for serial attacks in India, and in Bangladesh, in 2009 and 2010. The plan was to create a team of Indian terrorists hiding in Bangladesh, brief them about specific targets, and facilitate their movement across India. Headley's visits to several Indian cities were primarily to locate the targets for the new terror team which even had a name, Deccan Mujahideen, a title which closely resemble that of Indian Mujahideen which carried out the 2008 serial attacks in Ahmedabad, Delhi and Bangaluru. There were several others in the network who have not been caught, many of them were from Kerala and worked in the textile sector in Bangladesh.

 

Extremist groups like PFI and others currently operating in Kerala are offshoots of SIMI which, after its ban in 2001, has transformed into networks of modules engaged in establishing a jihadi landscape in India. Basheer and Nazeer are two wheels of this juggernaut which must be stopped before it turns a paradise of coconut lagoons and verdant forests into a bloody battlefield.


 The writer is senior fellow/vice-president, Observer Research Foundation

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MARXIST-MULLAH NEXUS BEHIND IT ALL

OOMMEN CHANDY


The CPI(M) has always colluded with communal elements to secure its political hold among Muslims. This cynical policy has led to the growth of the PFI and worse may follow as the police have been totally emasculated

Kerala is now in the news both nationally and internationally after a college professor's right palm was chopped off by a group of people when he was returning home from Sunday Mass on July 4. The finger of accusation is pointing towards the Popular Front of India (PFI) and almost all news reports and police versions corroborate this.

My personal opinion and that of the Congress party is that the state government should take stringent action against this group and the government should take all our efforts to flush out terrorism from the shores of Kerala. However this does not mean that the Muslim as a community has to be tormented. This is a handiwork of a few criminals in the community and for this the entire community should not be put in a corner.


The major reason for the growth of this kind of terrorism in a state like Kerala is the policies formulated by the Left front government to appease a section of their vote bank and the inefficiency of the present administration to curb the menace of terrorism. It may be recalled in this context that the mother of all terror activities in the country was a camp conducted by the erstwhile activists of the Student's Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in Panayikulam, Aluva on August 15, 2006. Acting on a tip-off, the police had raided this camp and had seized several incriminating documents and arrested several people who had organised the camp and had taken part in the full-day camp.


However all those apprehended were let off following political pressure. Soon afterwards there was a series of bomb blasts in several parts of the country — from Bangalore in the south to Delhi and Rajasthan in the north. When some culprits were apprehended by the police and the central agencies in these areas, the arrested people spilled the beans that the planning was held at Aluva. This in itself shows how callous the LDF government is and the extent of their mistake in leaving dreaded terror operatives who had a mission to break and destroy our motherland.

The Kerala Police has competent officers who have knowledge of good techniques to crack criminal cases, but they are helpless under constant interference from the top. When the shocking news broke about four youths from Kerala were shot dead by the armed forces while they were trying to cross into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the people of the state were dumbstruck. They failed to understand the level of terror which has reached our shores. Further investigations revealed that they had taken part in a camp conducted by the erstwhile operators of SIMI in Wagamon in Idukki district. How could this have happened right under the nose of the government?


The government pretends to be shocked. Even if we accept that is genuine, then it is admission of their incompetence. How could they not have received intelligence of such activities? Actually, the police and administration have become toadies in the hands of the CPI(M). So much so they have forgotten their original purpose. How can such a deeply politicised and ineffective force take on the forces of terrorism?


The state CPI(M) cannot wash off its hands off the terror menace after what everybody saw them directly abetting the dreaded Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative, Thadiyantavida Naseer. This man had become a national enemy in the country following his involvement in the Bangalore serial blasts and the 26/11 Mumbai strike. When he was finally apprehended in Bangladesh by the central forces and interrogated he said that he was arrested by the Kochi Police during an attempted murder of an individual, but he was let off soon. This is another classic case of how callous is the Left administration even in cases related to the security of our motherland.

The CPI(M) is now seen distancing itself from the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was its silent partner for the past several years in the interest of vote bank politics. The Communists had made clandestine deals with the Jamaat-e-Islami in the last Assembly election to ensure the defeat of senior leaders of the Muslim League like PK Kunhalikutty and Dr MK Muneer. The CPI(M) had also got the support of this organisation in the last Lok Sabha election.


The UDF and the Congress in Kerala do support the state government in all its actions to curb terror and terror activities and to flush out all terror modules from the state. There are reports that Taliban model courts are prevalent in the state and one such court was also instrumental in the Joseph incident. This cannot be tolerated in a civil society and the government should crush this type of activities with an iron hand. The Congress and the UDF will give total support to the government in removing this menace.


This should not be considered as an action against a community. Just as formulating a question paper which was considered blasphemous to the Muslim community is the handiwork of one man alone (Prof Joseph) and not the entire Christian community, these terror activities are the handiwork of a few criminals belonging to the Muslim community.

 The writer is former Chief Minister, Kerala, and Leader of Opposition

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

JUST STOP REFUDIATING

 

Sarah Palin didn't become US veep. But love's labour's not lost. Her creative horizons go beyond Russia as seen from a window in Alaska. Like Cleopatra in an Elizabethan tragedy, she has "immortal longings" in her. For, when coining words, Palin can give measure for Shakespearean measure. When she marries 'refute' and 'repudiate' to create the phonetic wonder of "refudiate", we're awed. As she tweets, she's a wordsmith who celebrates English a "living language" by joyfully massacring it. And there's no taming of the (linguistic) skew.


This merchant of Venus isn't only heir to a literary giant. She's also a true successor to Bush. After Bushisms, we should prepare for Palinisms. Let's admit it. We've all been missing that terminological Terminator who turned Greeks into "Grecians" and warned that growth needed "terriers and bariffs" to be torn down. Bush's anti-protectionist conflation of tariff barriers did elate Doha-wallahs. His pet terrier, Barney, didn't think it doggone good though. Call it a terrier-torial instinct.


Politicians aren't necessarily malapropped. In fact, moving from words to deeds, they're often well-propped, be they spouses turned CMs (Rabri Devi) or PMs putting up a brave Third Front (Deve Gowda). Rarely maladjusted, netas are karma chameleons. Nitin Gadkari, for one, has gone from Congress-affiliated trade unionism in Nagpur to RSS-affiliated BJP chiefdom. In rajneeti, you can be Hand-in-glove, and Lotus-eat it too. Must Gadkari INTUC it or leave it? The query misunderestimates all netas. Theirs is a trade-linked union: they unite when perks and privileges are threatened. There, you're either with them or against them. Bellary's brothers extract gains from such solidarity, even wanting all barriers (terriers?) dismantled between the political and mining trades. That way, politicos can stop accusing one another of having iron (ore) in the soul and together put mine over mutter.


Only, who wants boring uniformity? Politics is the shape-shifter's Disneyland. That's how the Marxists, Mamata or Mulayam both befriend governments and play opposition. Opposition membership itself is a feting of the infinite elasticity of political identity. Else, a Congress MLC couldn't become top sports icon and drama queen. Twirling and hurling flowerpots in front of Bihar's assembly, this firebrand athlete took political protest to such Olympic lengths that professional discus-throwers and weightlifters stand shamed. And such was her operatic fury that 'marshal' law wasn't reimposed till she fainted! Pure theatrics. The Bard would've been inspired into penning a career-best play. Whether titled The Feigning Of The Shrew, Much Ado About Pot-ting or The Comedy of Terrors, the lead role would definitely go to Bihar's Tempest.


With reason. Actors are increasingly becoming wedding singers, fitness instructors and (land-owning) farmers. At this rate, the acting trade will soon see shortage of virtuoso hysterics found in abundance among netas, who are experts at giving bhashans, throwing punches (and projectiles) and shedding croc-a-dime tears. And if politicos outdo stage performers, Palin can draw fuller houses in mangled angrezi than Shakespeare dared do. Let's not refudiate Palinism as a new literary genre. All's well that bends well.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

PRIDE OF INDIA?

GAUTAM BHATIA

 

When questioned about the cultural and technological stagnation that came with socialism, a bureaucrat in Nehru's time once remarked that all the best work had already been done in the West, and we merely had to pick ideas for our own use. At a time when Indian inventiveness and productivity were state-controlled and highly suspect, borrowing made a lot of sense.


Sadly, even in today's era of open economic borders, we still remain unconvinced that the Indian mind is capable of producing anything of real value. The new Terminal 3 at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport is cited as the eighth-largest in the world, and comes loaded with other enthralling statistics: a floor area of over six million square feet, the equivalent of 20 malls, 92 automatic walkways, 78 aerobridges and 168 check-in counters. In every respect, the building showcases all the high-tech skills of construction and automation, and all the customer satisfying conveniences that say that the building belongs to the new century.

Certainly, the successful completion of a large and complex structure like an airport is to be commended. But is the satisfaction of statistical demands the only way to go?


What makes London's Heathrow airport a traveller's nightmare is the unfortunate mile after mile of mind-numbing anonymity that goes with the experience of moving 40 million people annually. Jakarta airport may not be in the same league, but its thoughtful, extremely Indonesian layout provides precisely the opposite experience. You move past courtyards of plantations that induce a quiet intimacy and a background of such calm that the trials of long distance travel are subdued and annulled.


But Jakarta and London are specific to the identities of the two very different places. Unfortunately the grand design of infrastructure in India is still based on the bureaucrat's belief that the best work has already happened in the West. Terminal 3, though built in Delhi, was designed by American architects, and managed by MGF, a Dubai-based construction consortium. It uses tempered glass, a steel frame, and aluminum cladding all shipped from abroad. However, as a concession to India, Indian labour was employed in its erection. World class it is, because it's conceived and built by the world.


The various venues for the upcoming Commonwealth Games reveal a similar story. Peddle Thorp, an Australian architecture firm, has designed the indoor stadium for badminton and squash; the new, aquatic centre is the brainchild of a foreign company that specialises in water sports facilities; the refurbishment of Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, which now looks like a space ship, was carried out by the German engineering firm of Schlaich Bergermann and Partners. The food concessions at the Games Village are being handled by another Australian company. In almost all facilities, the foreign hand can be felt from conception to realisation, catering to management. Enthralled by the scale of the endeavours, the shine and sparkle of steel and glass, as Indians we have stood by proudly to watch from the sidelines.


Foreign technology and inventiveness on Indian soil is certainly not new, especially in a country that has had a long history of direct imitation and mimicry. In the 1970s, it was a matter of Punjabi pride that the world's most successful innovations could be copied in Ludhiana. Grimy workshops filled with labour were kept busy producing German machine parts, American denim, and other sundry items picked up in European markets. Indian businessmen travelled abroad to European industrial fairs and American specialty stores merely to buy items that could be duplicated in India at a fifth of the cost. Today, things remain much the same, only the scale of the borrowing has changed; as an open society we need no longer secretly copy and produce, but invite the original inventors to participate in a global bid.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

AN EXCITING PROSPECT

 

By unveiling a tablet access-cum-computing device priced at just Rs 1,500, the human resources development (HRD) ministry has tickled the imagination of private companies to produce similar computers at even lower prices. The low-cost computer, a product of the government's effort to provide quality e-content to school students, was designed by experts at the IITs in Kanpur, Kharagpur and Madras, and IISc Bangalore. The device is revolutionary in several ways. First, it brings the prospect of providing each and every child with a computer closer to realisation. If this were to happen, it would change the way classrooms operate and enhance the quality of teaching significantly. Not only would it ensure that all students have access to the advantages of the internet, it could even help overcome infrastructure deficiencies by making possible e-classes via Web video conferencing something that could address the problem of poor quality or absent teachers.


Second, low-cost computers can go a long way in bridging the technology divide. It is a fact that people in rural areas of the country have been left untouched by the IT revolution. The primary reason for this is affordability. IT companies have simply not found it profitable to extend their services to these areas. But with the HRD ministry showing the way, a viable business model can be evolved around mass-producing inexpensive computers. This in turn has the potential to galvanise rural economy by providing rural youth with hitherto unheard of opportunities and making them a part of the globalised world.


If computers can be produced with price tags of less than Rs 1,000 something that the HRD ministry is aiming for it could make mitigation of social inequality through education effective. Thus, the benefits are truly worth the investment.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

ADDRESS BASICS FIRST

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

Can India achieve inclusive education with cheap computing devices, when a quarter of our 136 million primary school students (classes I-V) drop out every year for their inability to pay fees? Unfortunately, this is what our human resources development minister Kapil Sibal thinks. The role of technology in furthering the cause of education in India is a far-fetched idea when we fail to fulfil even the basic conditions of schooling. When most of our government-run schools in the villages don't even have basic infrastructure such as furnished classrooms, blackboards and toilets, our officials are itching to bring in subsidised computing devices. These devices cannot compensate for our crumbling education infrastructure and absenteeism of teaching staff.


Look at the issue another way. Let's say the government actually succeeds in distributing low-cost computers to kids across the country, itself a charitable assumption. Computers are of little value without internet access. But how far is the internet available in backward and remote areas? Do they even have electricity, which needs to be at least intermittently available in order to power computers? Can we ensure maintenance of millions of computers across the country?


Many of the problems in the Indian education system are a result of political and administrative negligence. They cannot be addressed through technical fixes, which offer a convenient and superficially plausible short cut when we are unable to address the real problems affecting education. It's one thing to bring together IIT students and technical experts and have them rig up a cheap computer. It's quite another issue scaling this up so that the devices can be widely distributed throughout the country and loaded with useful educational software.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

REBOOTING INDIA

EDUCATIONAL SPACE MATTERS

KANTI BAJPAI

 

Space matters. Modern Indian spaces are abominable. This does not seem to bother us very much. It should. We need a space revolution, and this needs the collaboration of architects, town planners, the government, more broadly and, of course, citizens.


Let me focus on a space that i am more familiar with: universities and schools. The HRD ministry is working hard to expand and improve the Indian educational system. The government has passed the Right to Education (RTE) Bill and has unveiled ambitious plans to expand the university system. Both initiatives deal with space the RTE does refer to the provision of appropriate spaces for schoolchildren, and the expansion of the university system will entail the construction of new teaching and research spaces. The sensitivity to space though is mostly a quantitative one. The quality of spaces matters greatly as well.


It is a wonder that India's youth go off to learn every morning with such cheer a testimony to the resignation as much as the resilience of our young people when our educational spaces are so dilapidated, dingy, ugly and uncomfortable. I refer here not to village schools and mofussil colleges and hole-in-the-wall private institutions in the lanes and bylanes of tiny provincial towns. I refer to educational institutions in the six big metros and the second and third tier cities of India which are home to hundreds of millions of citizens.


How can students and teachers focus on first-rate learning in environments such as these? Learning requires appropriate spaces. Human bodies need elbow room. They give off heat so there needs to be space between them. Their chairs and desks have to be of a certain size. Classrooms need access spaces the doors and aisles must be big enough. The acoustics are vital. A teacher, standing in front of a class for five-six hours a day cannot shout her way through every session. She is a teacher, a facilitator and a guide, not a sergeant major barking orders.


If there are more than 30 students in the room, as in university lecture theatres, then sound equipment is vital. Sound equipment requires further investment in acoustics and in power backups. The furniture in the room must be adaptable. A teacher, even at the university level, may wish to rearrange the students into smaller discussion groups or sit in a circle with students to encourage the exchange of ideas. The classroom must be cool enough for students to focus on matters of the mind rather than the heat and smell of each other's bodies. The room needs sufficient and reliable light so that one can write comfortably and read what is on the board. Bright classrooms can be challenging spaces for computer screens. How does one provide lighting for both concerns?

Educational spaces are not just teaching spaces. One of the biggest cruelties we practise on young people is the toilets we force them to use in educational institutions. The textbooks preach the importance of personal and social hygiene, but the educational environment teaches them something else. Schools, colleges and universities have the filthiest toilets anywhere in India. This raises the larger issue of the cleanliness of the education space the corridors, grounds and staff rooms. These too usually reek and are littered with rubbish.


Educational institutions need recreational spaces as well. These spaces might be indoor or outdoor. But they require thought. Indoor spaces need to be furnished properly. Their location matters. They won't be used if they are located in the wrong place. Outdoor spaces also need to be configured properly. Plantation is important. The outdoors must be tended and cared for. A garden or playing field that is a dust bowl will not attract.

There is a great deal more one could say about educational spaces about libraries, walkways, cafeterias. Is anyone interested? After two decades in the Indian school and university system, my sense is no. The government, educational managers, teachers and, alas, parents and students are insensitive to space. The Indian educational experience is the worse for it. We can pay teachers better, provide cheap computers and build new buildings as much as we want, but shoddy spaces will produce shoddy education.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

WHISTLING IN THE DARK

 

Corruption, according to no less than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a speech last year, is tarnishing India's image, hurting its economic growth and squashing the government's efforts to build an equitable society. This ties in with the 'murder' of Gujarat's Right to Information (RTI) activist Amit Jethwa. Clearly, someone has an interest in throttling the voices of those who are brave enough to speak up against dishonesty at the highest level. Jethwa, according to reports, had filed several Right to Information (RTI) cases against the illegal mining lobby in the Gir lion sanctuary. This brought him into collision with his friend-turned-foe BJP MP, Dinu Solanki. Jethwa's father has accused Solanki of plotting his son's murder.

 

That RTI activists in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country are feeling the heat is well-known. At an activists' meet in Ahmedabad in March, many talked about getting death threats from corrupt politicians and government officials. An incident like Jethwa's murder, however, is not new to India. Remember National Highway Authority of India's Satyendra Dubey and Indian Oil Corporation's Manjunath Shanmugham? Both were killed because they stood up to corrupt officials and contractors. In recent months, activists Satish Shetty and Datta Patil, who exposed many land scams and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in Maharashtra, were also murdered. After the death of Dubey and Manjunath, there was much soul-searching about how to p rotect the whistleblowers. The Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill, 2009, was drafted but it is not a law yet. As per the draft law, any person can make a complaint on corruption against any central government employee or institution to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The CVC will have the power to investigate and provide security to the whistleblower. Information activists also feel that a similar kind of provision could be weaved into the existing RTI law. The other important exercise could be to appoint an effective Lokayukta. Gujarat, like many other states, doesn't have one.

 

As India develops and people become more aware of their rights, there's bound to be a clash of interests. The people will use laws like the RTI to demand what's due to them and put pressure on the authorities to deliver. But the meaning of such positive developments will be lost if they are constantly exposed to the dangers of clashing with the corrupt.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

KHAKIS OVER CIVVIES

BARKHA DUTT

 

As provocative, bumptious and aggressive as Shah Mehmood Qureshi can be — Pakistan's foreign minister was not quite the loose thread that pulled at the fabric of the Islamabad talks and left both countries embarrassingly exposed and without any fig leaves to hide modestly behind. A dead-end was always the destination for these talks if you look carefully at how the journey has been mapped and at the fact that like victims of an obsessive compulsive disorder, India and Pakistan seem destined to repeat the same fatal mistakes over and over again.

 

The truth is that as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh steers his brave vision for peace through a minefield of obstacles — terror threats, inflammable public opinion, a sceptical party cadre and the shadow of 26/11 — his government seems to be crafting its Pakistan policy on the go. Yes, a certain level of inventiveness and imaginative flexibility may be an essential skill for a dynamic as complicated as the one between India and Pakistan. But the present template for talks is weighed down by far too many contradictions. It is destined to collapse under the weight of its own paradox. Add to that certain fatal flaws, stir up the pot and you have a recipe for a very stale dish.

 

Take the joint press conference between the two foreign ministers. Of course, it was preposterous and offensive for Qureshi to draw any sort of equivalence between the hate-mongering Hafiz Saeed and one of India's top-ranking bureaucrats. But, while the entire debate got framed in terms of national pride and whether SM Krishna should have stepped in more forcefully, what about the more fundamental question: why was there a joint press conference at all?

 

One would think history had provided enough lessons to both countries for them to be more educated about the perils of such an event; especially when there is nothing significant to say. Think Agra; think Sharm-el-Sheikh — and yet, the two countries still get bizarrely fixated with that subcontinental peculiarity — the 'joint statement'. Then they spend hours arguing about how to present a united front, either in appearance or text, which, of course, swiftly collapses under the scrutiny of their individual domestic constituencies. Diplomats on both sides never tire of lecturing to the media on how the India-Pakistan dialogue is a "process, not an event". Why, then, do they feel the need to create a sordid drama every time by pushing the joint presser or joint statement as a barometer of progress? It's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

But there is also a deeper contradiction in our approach to the dialogue with Islamabad. There are two dimensions to the home secretary's comments on the David Headley interrogation report: when he chose to speak and what he said. That the timing was problematic has now been acknowledged at the highest levels of government. But it's also stripped away the semblance of a united, cohesive response to Pakistan. Delhi's power corridors are echoing with conspiratorial whispers and theories.

 

Was the foreign ministry even shown the details of Headley's confessions by the home ministry? Why did Krishna first defend the home secretary and then go on record to criticise him five days later for speaking out of turn? Where does the PM's office stand in the imbroglio? It may be great gossip in power circles, but in real terms it's a high-risk turf war that underlines the confusion over who is driving our Pakistan policy.

 

But let's look for a moment at what the home secretary said, instead of why he said it. His comments on the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai attacks were underscored by the National Security Adviser later in the week, albeit in more nuanced and general terms. But once India raises questions about the role of Pakistan's "official establishment" in terrorism, what does that do to the present template of the dialogue? India's stated position is that while all issues,  including Kashmir and Balochistan are on the table, justice for 26/11 is a priority. Unofficial briefings after one round of talks in Delhi even quantified that 80 per cent of the talks were about terrorism.

 

If that's the case, is there any point talking to Shah Mehmood Qureshi? Do we really believe he is empowered to take action against sections of his country's military or intelligence apparatus? If Pakistan's army chief — who has just driven home his influential indispensability with a three-year extension — can be part of the strategic dialogue with Washington, what stops us from talking directly to the people who matter? In the past, Pakistan's ISI chief Lt. General Shuja Pasha met with the three Indian defence attaches at the high commission in Islamabad and is believed to have suggested as much.

 

Speaking from a position of utilitarianism, is it really India's job to strengthen the civilian government in Pakistan, as is often argued? Or is it in our interest to talk to those in Pakistan who really frame and control India policy? After all, if we could be so dazzled by General Pervez Musharraf even in the aftermath of Kargil, why can't we build new channels of contact with the military in Pakistan. To me it seems a useless sort of political correctness to keep engaging with everyone in Islamabad but those who count.

 

Islamabad too needs to review its fixation with resuming the composite dialogue. There is an extraordinary expenditure of energy over the nomenclature of talks. The fact is that talks between India and Pakistan no longer stumble and fall over eight different issues. Even Kashmir was close to an acceptable, plausible resolution formula had the Mumbai attacks not taken place. The composite dialogue may well be beside the point, if not nearing redundancy. India and Pakistan need someone to break the pattern, not repeat it ad infinitum. To start with, eliminate the joint press conference. That may mean, round one — to peace.

 

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

DON'T DRIBBLE PAST THIS EPISODE

NAMITA BHANDARE

 

We will probably never know the whole truth about what provoked 31 Indian women hockey players to sign a letter backing charges of sexual harassment against their coach, MK Kaushik. But if hockey's sleazy story taught me one thing, it is this: women athletes are expected to wash their coach's clothes.

 

Athlete Ashwini Nachappa says on national TV that this was 'mandatory' for athletes. Nobody blinks an eyelid or denies the charge, least of all coach Kaushik who quit after the charges were made public. Nachappa's revelation is so stomach-churning that all conspiracy theories (coach is a good man who is being targeted, complaints are dicey, case is not strong, scandal is timed to skew the Hockey India elections etc) fly out of the window.

 

Is this what our national women athletes have been reduced to? Washing the dirty linen of their coach after hours and off the field? More than the charges — making lewd comments, calling players to his hotel room and being seemingly oblivious to team videographer's pornographic photo display — it's the reactions that are astounding.

 

On one side you have the country's sports establishment. Our head of the Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi is uncharacteristically silent. Hockey India President Vidya Stokes, seeking re-election at 82, says the coach has resigned 'in order to clear his name'. Former India captain and inquiry committee member Zafar Iqbal says the charges are 'weak'. And Sudharshan Pathak, another committee member, says she is surprised that no allegations have previously been levelled against the coach.

 

Two things are apparent. The first, this is not a 'sex scandal', it is sexual harassment and should be investigated by an unbiased body, not the hockey boys' club cronies. And, second, as with all sexual harassment, this too is about the balance of power.

 

There is a third aspect that isn't so obvious. Workplaces tend to be male-dominated. But in sport, particularly in Indian sport, the balance is completely out of whack. All players (with the exception perhaps of cricket A-listers) play second fiddle to officials. For athletes, survival is about subservience. Getting into the team brings with it college admissions, jobs, a livelihood. But the centre of the system is the coach, not the player. He (and it is nearly always a he) has absolute power; who stays, who goes.

 

For women players, many from poor families, this power equation makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. We don't even know who these players are, what their names are, what they look like, what they dream of. Apart from an occasional Chak De, they remain absent from mainstream imagination. Sometimes talent will erupt and a Saina Nehwal, MC Mary Kom or PT Usha will break through. But we don't see the daily humiliations — or we do, when a star like Usha breaks down after being invited to an athletics meet in Bhopal where officials were too busy to either receive her or arrange for half-way decent accommodation.

 

When sexual harassment happens on Wall Street or international publishing, we seem to be programmed to respond in a set way: 'She dressed provocatively', 'she was denied a promotion', and, the latest, it was 'consensual flirting'. But in sport, where in the words of senior sports writer Sharda Ugra 'women's sport is secondary to everything else in this country', the problem is worse.

Women athletes simply do not have the redressal mechanisms that women in the organised sector are slowly beginning to have. They lack education, support and, most important, savvy. Helen Mary, former Indian goalkeeper who says she quit because of harassment by Kaushik, could not even begin to articulate words like pornography or sex, referring instead to 'nonsense things'. What chance do women like these have against a mighty sports establishment?

 

The truth about sexual exploitation in women's sport will probably never emerge. But a starting point could be, as former Indian Hockey Federation president K.P.S. Gill suggested, a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry. The irony seemed to escape everyone. Gill, alleged bottom pincher, was the only person who had come forward to try and restore some semblance of dignity to the girls.

 

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE DREAM LIVES

 

It started as a dare. When MIT Media Lab visionary Nicholas Negroponte promised to bring affordable computing to children in developing countries with the One Laptop Per Child project, India's HRD ministry rejected the idea. We didn't need the largesse, because we had the smarts and economies of scale to make a $10 laptop, it claimed. Of course, India's $10 boast was laughed off, especially after the ministry unveiled a pointless little device that would need a projector to be used, the price of which soared to $54 anyway.

 

Now, the unfazed HRD ministry has relaunched its "computing-cum-access device", with help from IIT Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. If nothing else, this further refined $35 device is a feat of ferocious cost-cutting (helped by the fact that hardware costs continue to fall — the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively in an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.) Entirely open-source based, it has a browser, a pdf reader, an open office suite, video-conferencing and multi-media capabilities — which, if they all function adequately, means a lot in a time when most digital transactions are migrating to the Web. Of course, the same questions linger — is a dinky personalised device the best way to ensure that all India's children can keep up with the "digital natives" of their generation around the world? Can a simple infusion of technology bridge educational disparities?

 

But whether this remains an ego project or becomes widely used, the $35 device is a reminder of India's own mojo. As Pranav Mistry (of the wondrous Sixth Sense wearable computing device) has said, unlike lavishly funded labs in the West, ingenuity in India is driven by the need to stretch every rupee — technological experiment is tempered with a strict economy. More power to that.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

POLITICS OF SLIGHT

 

The omens for the monsoon session of Parliament are clear. On Friday, senior BJP leaders pleaded their inability to keep a luncheon appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, citing the CBI summons to Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah. Shah was being sought to be interrogated in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case of 2005, and the BJP alleges that the summons have been timed to divert attention from other issues. The Congress countered the charges, saying that the BJP was using political pressure by its top leaders to unduly influence investigations.

 

The incident serves to show that gradually one avenue after another for engagement between the government and opposition is shutting down. It's no longer in the nature of parliamentary experience to have sustained exchanges. Measured debates are now primarily reserved for the grand occasion — the vote of confidence, or a cut motion, or an important bill — or they take place after an extraordinary amount of coordination. Of late, the treasury benches also have been disinclined to initiate floor coordination. The opposition has been equally keen on the riveting, and easier, options of walkouts. This is why the BJP's RSVP to the prime minister is so unfortunate. If the assumption is that the air has to be completely rid of contentious issues for government and opposition to have a civil exchange, it is flawed. It's in the nature of competitive politics that the relationship between government and opposition will be adversarial. And, through numerous institutions and conventions, parliamentary democracy counts on each to keep the competitiveness constructive.

 

The recent record of political parties instead using rebuff and slight to make a point manifests itself directly in the number of hours wasted in each session of Parliament and in the swiftness with which bills are passed. MPs argue that the situation is not so grave and that, away from the public glare, there's a lot of working together, for instance on committees. That is valid. But a public engagement between government and parties too is crucial if there is to be a big conversation in which the people gain clarity on key issues.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PULSES HEARTBEAT

 

Crops are grown outside our towns. Anger over food prices grows in our towns. Put these two facts together, and you can figure out exactly how divorced, sometimes, the justifiable concern about food inflation is from the cold realities of agriculture. It is not as if we can really blame ourselves for blindness, either; the unreformed, statist nature of price discovery in agriculture insulates us, as in no other sector, from the producer, causing us to think of prices as determined by an unfeeling bureaucrat somewhere rather than dependent on supply, demand, and the monsoon.

 

Of course, the truth lies in between the two. No matter how heavy-handed the policy regime, economic laws win out. Over the year till July 2010, the area under cultivation for pulses has jumped by 13 per cent, according to agriculture ministry figures. Why? Not because someone in Delhi decreed it be so, but because the price of dal has jumped up. This is true, too, in broadly similar measure, for sugarcane; but pulses are particularly interesting because they are specific to India, with both the export market and possible import avenues vanishingly small in comparison to domestic production and demand. Yet, even here, the system of controls and price-setting that marks our agricultural policy have shown itself ineffective in comparison to the simple price signal that we call "food inflation". As explained elsewhere on these pages today, a discussion of food prices that ignores the farmer's profit-and-loss calculation is doomed to failure.

 

The demand and supply calculus for pulses, in particular, is only going to get worse. The government expects production to rise by 6 per cent by 2011-12, true; but domestic demand, too will rise — and by about 9 per cent. The production gap will just increase, and there's nothing any price-setter in government can do about it. We are faced, thus, with the prospect of dal being permanently more expensive — unless, of course, we genuinely free up agriculture, which would greater permit research and development. New varieties of pulses have been few and far between, if not non-existent, for decades. That cannot be allowed to continue. Of course, policy here will be complicated by the fact that pulses are practically never the main crop for a farmer; they're usually a sideline, the alternative crop. Backing the large-scale commercialisation of an alternative crop is something for which we don't have a precedent. New ideas, therefore, will be welcome. Maybe we need to look abroad, to satisfy Indian demand for dal through production elsewhere — perhaps Burma. Either way, unless we do something soon, we had better resign ourselves to pricier dal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THREE CLEVER BY HALF

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

Just about a few months back ('Pak daydream, wake-up call', IE, March 20) I had written that the Pakistani establishment suffers from periodic bursts of delusion, about once in eight years or so. Something does happen in their circumstances that they convince themselves that they are "winning". What they are winning, of what consequence that victory will be or how durable, they get too excited to ask themselves. They are going through one such phase now. They think that they have the key to global peace and security and control the political fate of Barack Obama and David Cameron. That's indeed a serious turnaround for a nation that was until the other day being described as a failing state. The one difference from the past is that usually they think they are "winning" something against India. Now that they think they have the entire world, particularly that weakling Obama, at their mercy, that feeling is headier than ever. That is when they begin to blunder.

 

The Islamabad disaster of last week, particularly Shah Mehmood Qureshi's utterly supercilious handling of the joint press conference with S.M. Krishna, is to be seen in that light. Whatever the merit of G.K. Pillai's statements on the eve of this meeting, it did not serve anybody's purpose, least of all Pakistan's, that Qureshi drew a comparison between him and internationally acknowledged terrorist Hafiz Saeed. But Qureshi just felt smart saying that. In the process, he ruined his own engagement. If his government was so angry with Pillai he could indeed have made a mention of it at the press conference as something he brought up with Krishna at the talks, and the visit would have looked less like a disaster. But that would have been out of character with the overly cocky and socially superior style of the typical Pakistani interlocutor in an engagement with an Indian counterpart.

 

If this is another of those periods of "we are winning" euphoria, Pakistan's problem is further compounded by the arrogance which transcends the negotiations through our 63-year history. More often than not, there has been a social, cultural (which includes political culture), even generational gap between Indian and Pakistani negotiators. Krishna may be a Fulbright fellow and a sharp-dresser, he is 78, speaks haltingly, has slow reflexes and an almost-too-measured tone of the old-style Indian politician. Qureshi is a much younger, Cambridge-educated feudal type whose biggest turn-on is playing to the gallery. Funnily, while Krishna is genuinely urbane, socially, but draws his political power from his rural base among the peasant middle caste of Vokkaligas, the very anglicised Mr Qureshi is actually the custodian (Sajjada nasheen) of his ancestral dargah (Bahauddin Zakariya) in Multan, from which last year he collected Rs 6 crore in tributes from the faithful. The two personalities could not be more mismatched. This is just the kind of equation where the too-clever-by-half Pakistani interlocutor would get carried away. As Qureshi did.

 

The problem existed in the sixties as Sardar Swaran Singh engaged Bhutto in protracted negotiations over Kashmir. Even God would have struggled to find a more mismatched pair. One, almost an upper-class Englishman, and the other, a salt-of-the-earth Punjabi politician. One, probably the richest feudal in the subcontinent, and the other, a small-town product of grassroots politics. It was also one of those periods when the Pakistanis thought they were "winning" as India was so punch-drunk from the war against China, a collapsing economy and food shortages. Bhutto would complain endlessly how irritated he got with Swaran Singh, and not only for what he saw as his stalling, dilatory tactics but also for the way he spoke English. Every time Bhutto, the brilliant lawyer, thought he had reached what mathematicians would call the QED point, mainly on the argument that if Kashmir was a Muslim-majority state and if people wanted to go to Pakistan why should India not let them go and thereby complete the process of Partition, Swaran Singh's deadpan response, in his heavily Punjabi-accented English, would be, "But what to do, India is a seculiar country." And there were other gems like the matter having been referred to the "skuirty" council. Bhutto and his clubby hangers on laughed a lot behind his back, but the fact is that Swaran Singh was a brilliant negotiator who understood his brief very well and conceded nothing in a phase when India was at its weakest. What also helped was that those days there were no live televised press conferences after each round of talks.

 

Barring exceptional periods, like Indira Gandhi and Bhutto at Shimla, their offspring at Islamabad and Gujral and Sahibzada Yaqub Khan in 1989, the same mismatch has continued. And it has continued to confuse the Pakistanis. When Musharraf came to Agra he had been warned by his briefers that Vajpayee took a long time thinking and that he would need to be patient. Musharraf came out exasperated from the first round and told his entourage Vajpayee took for ever replying to anything. One of them said that maybe his mind takes time processing the information, and another suggested that maybe his processor is a 286 and not a Pentium. The same superciliousness of the English-speaking Pakistani social class was evident again. Of course in a conversation some years after he had ceased to be prime minister, Vajpayee once told me how exasperated he was with Musharraf's cocky, immature ("waahiyat") style. "He would take out a new draft of the joint declaration from his pocket, make a few changes in long-hand as we talked, and then say, OK, we agree, so let us sign. "And then when I would say, arrey bhai General Sahib, I have a cabinet, I have to discuss with my colleagues, he would say, but I am president, you are prime minister, who else do we need to consult?" That, incidentally, was another time when the Pakistani establishment thought it was "winning" as it believed India was so rattled by the then prolific "fidayeen" attacks that it was suing for peace. Musharraf's cocky grandstanding at Agra destroyed that peace process as much as Qureshi has done in Islamabad this time.

 

The generational gap in the three odd pairs of negotiators I have mentioned was evident. In two cases the Indian was 20 years older than his Pakistani counterpart, in one 24 (Krishna 1932, Qureshi 1956).

 

There are lessons in this episode for India and Pakistan because they are fated to keep arguing and negotiating for a long time still. For India, the diplomatic and internal security establishments will learn to work in harmony as they have never needed to do in the past. On foreign policy, and particularly Pakistan-centric issues, the only other ministry that mattered in the past was defence. Now the home ministry is a key player and somebody needs to build bridges between North and South Blocks. For Pakistan, the lesson is the old one, but it is not likely that they will learn.

 

I had said in that National Interest column that Pakistan's greatest tragedy is that its strategy is often made by brilliant tacticians, so it wins numerous small battles, but loses the big ones. For all the smartness of its foreign educated political and diplomatic class and the dash of its first class army, it has lost half of its people and territory, has less of Kashmir than it did at ceasefire in 1948 and a proud and ideological Islamic republic is now seen as a global migraine. For evidence that the essential nature of that establishment is not about to change soon, do not look at Qureshi's overly dramatised TV talk. Look only at the three-year extension to Kayani.

 

Postscript: I met Qureshi for the first time in 1992 in Islamabad. He was then finance minister in Nawaz Sharif's provincial cabinet in Punjab. Pakistan was then caught in several centre-state disputes, the stuff of usual democratic governance. Qureshi asked me if I had read the Sarkaria Commission report on Centre-state relations in India. I said the report was too thick for me to read, but I had done a story on how its implementation was delayed with an interview with Justice Sarkaria. Qureshi asked if I could send him a copy of the report, which I did at once on my return. All I can say is that in 1992 Qureshi looked genuinely curious about Indian democracy, even respectful, and a lot more measured than his current arrogant style.

 

sg@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

KEEPING UP THE ACTS

M R MADHAVAN

 

The monsoon session of Parliament will be held from July 26 to August 27. The UPA government has not been able to meet its legislative targets in the last couple of sessions. The government had planned to pass 27 bills and introduce 64 bills in the budget session; it managed only to pass six and to introduce 28 bills.

 

A few bills had been identified as priority items in the President's Addresses to Parliament in 2009 and 2010. The land acquisition amendment and the rehabilitation bills appear to have fallen prey to coalition compulsions, at least till the Bengal elections. The newly constituted National Advisory Council has made some recommendations on the food security bill and the communal violence bill. These bills will likely be re-drafted, and thus, are unlikely to be introduced this session.

 

A few months after the UPA government was formed, the law minister stated his intention to introduce the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill. During the last year, issues related to the appointment and conduct of judges have cropped up. Controversies include those regarding disclosure of assets, impeachment motions against two high court judges, and the corruption charge in the Punjab and Haryana high court. Indeed, some press reports indicate that the inquiry committee looking into the case of Justice Sen of the Calcutta high court may be close to finalising its report. If this committee submits the report soon and finds cause for removal of the judge, we may witness the rare case of the removal motion being debated in Parliament.

 

The education minister had introduced four bills related to university education, which addressed the entry of foreign universities, prohibition of capitation fees, establishment of education tribunals and setting up a system of agencies that would provide quality ratings to all courses and institutions. These bills are being examined by the standing committee. Other possible bills include those recognising new IITs, IISERs, and recasting the Distance Education Council. The ministry has also planned a new law that combines into a new regulator the regulatory powers of bodies such as UGC, AICTE, and the Bar Council.

 

The trajectory of the Women's Reservation Bill is difficult to guess. The nuclear liability bill is being examined by the standing committee, which is scheduled to submit its report on the second day of the session. If the committee submits the report in time — reports indicate otherwise — the bill may be taken up for discussion. It would be interesting to see the committee's recommendations on the contentious issues.

 

In the last session, the government had planned to introduce the Biotechnology Regulator Bill. Given the fracas over permitting Bt brinjal, it is important to institutionalise mechanisms for permitting and regulating biotechnology including genetically modified organisms.

 

Three ordinances have been issued since the last session, and these need to be ratified. The first ordinance replaces the Medical Council of India with a board of directors for one year. This step followed the arrest of the MCI president on corruption charges. The second ordinance followed the row between SEBI and IRDA over the regulation of unit linked insurance products. A new mechanism has been set up to resolve inter-regulator issues. The third ordinance declares that any enemy property will remain with the custodian even if the status of the original owner changes or the legal heir is an Indian citizen.

 

Every Parliament session is an opportunity for the government to further its legislative agenda. The UPA has not fully utilised earlier sessions. We hope this session is used fruitfully by both treasury and opposition members to fulfil their parliamentary responsibilities.

 

The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

A DREAM

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI

 

Post-Inception, dreams are totally cool. So, I will abandon my inhibition and write about a dream I frequently have.

 

In the dream I am part of a news TV talk-show audience. I am sitting roughly in the middle of the last but one row, sandwiched between a citizen from South Delhi who thinks India is a soft state and another South Delhi resident who thinks India isn't a real democracy, and I look utterly unremarkable, exactly the kind of chap hosts should ignore.

 

But here's the thing: the host suddenly comes to me and asks, sir, what do you think? When I recall the dream I can never remember the talk-show topic. But I remember this: After the host asks the question, I say nothing. Nothing. Scary, huh? A news TV host asks you a question, you answer even if you are the PM. But I don't. For a while, anyway.

 

The host looks quizzical, there's a murmur in the studio. The host repeats the question, sir, what are your views? I say, nervously and apologetically, er, uh, um. Yes, yes, the host says encouragingly. I have no views, I say. In my dream, when I say this, I think, that's it; I am out of the picture now. But that's not what happens.

 

The host says, with considerable interest, sir, you have no views? Is that what you are saying? I reconfirm, haanji, I have no views. The host looks, no, not disgusted, but delighted. Going to the floor of the studio, and addressing the panel, the host says, now here's something our politicians have to think about: how do you address a citizen with no views? What have we done for that minority section of our society that has no views? Other members of the audience are looking at me enviously. The audience members to my right and left, I can tell, are awfully angry. The India-is-a-soft-state citizen hisses, go to Pakistan and try and have "no views". The India-isn't-a-democracy citizen whispers, you must be from IB (Intelligence Bureau).

 

But the action is on the floor and panellists are addressing me. The Congress leader tells me, sir, my party has always been with the minorities, and let me remind you that on several issues our party has appeared to have no views. And, he adds, on some issues our leaders have publicly had so many views, that it is as good as having no views. There's applause, but before that dies down, the BJP leader has begun speaking. Our party has no truck with pseudo-no view-ism, he says. But, he adds while pointing at me, that gentleman is a true nationalist. Please explain, the host asks. He (me, that is), says the BJP leader, is just like our former PM. He doesn't say anything for a long time and when he says something it appears he still hasn't said anything. There's applause.

 

The CPM leader has been silent, but with a smile on his face. As the applause dies down, he gives me a withering glance and says, he has no views because he's a consumer, not a citizen. He buys luxury cars, luxury villas, invests in IPL teams…. I want to say I don't have money for any of these, but in my dream I am unable to speak.

 

The host — thank God — says we are running out of time and ends the show by thanking me for introducing a new level in national discourse.

 

But that's not when my dream ends. I dream that as I come out of the TV studio, my phone is constantly ringing. All other news channels want me. But I have no views, I tell them. That's what we want, they say. Come to our prime-time talk show, and tell our viewers you have no views; people want that desperately. The head of a big PR firm calls me and tells me they can make me a news TV star.

 

Then a headhunter calls me. I represent a group of investors who are setting up a news channel, would you like to be the editor-in-chief? Me, I ask? But I have no views. Ha, ha, exactly, the headhunter says. We're going to call the channel No Views TV, NVTV, and you will be our face. Think, he says seductively, editor-in-chief, NVTV, which says nothing on anything.

 

I don't know why, but that's when I wake up.

 

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

UNVEILING THE TRUTH

SEHBA FAROOQUI

 

It would not be entirely correct to assume that the animated discussion these days on the subject of the burqa necessarily reflects a concern for the rights of Muslim women. The current discourse partly serves to reinforce the stereotype of the "backward" Muslim. Nevertheless, this has emerged as a controversial issue wherein, ultimately, conservative and right-wing agendas are being pursued. The rights of women have no place in these agendas.

 

It would be worthwhile to view the issue of the burqa within a larger social and historical context. Patriarchal societies, across time and space, have had a long tradition of making women conceal their faces (especially in public places or in the presence of "strangers") through the use of the veil. The nature and style of the veil has of course varied from society to society. There are references to the veil for instance in Shakuntala, and to its use by women of the aristocracy in Europe in the nineteenth century, in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. In several parts of north India even today the custom of covering the face with pardah or ghungat is quite widespread, and not confined to any particular religious community.

 

The use of the typical robe-like burqa covering the entire body from head to ankle, with two small openings for the eyes, seems to have become prevalent in parts of the Indian subcontinent only during the 19th century. There are hardly any visual representations of this form of the burqa earlier. By the beginning of the 20th century this type of burqa was worn quite extensively by Muslim women in large and small urban centres. There was a tendency for older women to wear a heavy white-coloured burqa while relatively younger women wore a lighter black burqa . Then, by the 1960s and early 1970s young Muslim women, particularly those who had had access to higher education, often preferred not to wear the burqa — usually covering their heads with a dupatta (the portrayal in Mere Mehboob notwithstanding). In other words, not wearing the traditional burqa had become quite acceptable among several sections of Muslims in India.

 

This trend was not specific to India alone. In fact during the course of the 20th century, an increasing number of Muslim women in several countries of Asia and Africa (countries which had a predominantly Muslim population) did not wear any kind of burqa or veil. Prominent among these are Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. Even in Indonesia and Malaysia one mainly comes across a covering for the head. In our subcontinent, we are familiar with images of Benazir Bhutto, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina covering their heads with a dupatta or pallu. Thus, one cannot regard the use of the traditional burqa as a universal practice in Muslim societies.

 

The political developments of the 1980s and 1990s in the Indian subcontinent contributed to a revival of the burqa, or at least a growing emphasis on its use in the way in which Islam was perceived by some sections of Muslim societies. To some extent this trend was set in motion after 1979, when the mass upsurge against the hated regime of the Shah of Iran took a right-wing turn and culminated in the establishment of a conservative religious orthodoxy in that country with far-reaching ideological consequences. The more important development was the coup of Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan. This resulted in an ultra-reactionary regime which was fully backed by the United States. Against the backdrop of the events in Iran, which more or less coincided with Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979, the Zia regime became the main instrument of the United States to thwart progressive and democratic movements in this region.

 

In Pakistan itself, Zia unleashed a reign of terror against all progressive and democratic forces, brutally suppressing the rights of the people. In order to provide an ideological basis for his actions, he attempted to reshape Islamic practices in a manner that would suit the political agenda of his military regime and that of the US. Women obviously became the main victims of this reinterpretation, which in its extreme form was manifested in the Hudood Ordinances of 1979. These measures were a major setback for the movement for women's rights in Pakistan, and had an adverse impact on the entire subcontinent.

 

Overlapping with these developments was the growing communalisation of Indian politics during the 1980s and 1990s. The phenomenon is too well known to require elaboration. Suffice it to say that in this situation the Muslim minority in India felt increasingly threatened and insecure. The riots which followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, particularly the anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai, led some sections of Muslim society to adopt, in a very forceful manner, specific modes of dress and other outward symbols as an assertion of identity. In Mumbai, for example, quite a few college-going girls from affluent Muslim families took to wearing the burqa. This trend, which is also the result of processes at work in the neighbouring region (as well as internationally since 9/11), suits the agenda of conservative sections from which it finds support and encouragement.

 

The issue of the burqa cannot be understood without referring to the larger context. At the same time it needs to be noted that the current preoccupation with it in the media is essentially due to the attempt by the Sarkozy government in France to ban the burqa in public places. The right-wing Sarkozy government is not a great champion of women's rights, and the politics of burqa in France has to be related to the complex situation in that country rather than using it to label Muslims in India as being generally backward, or as a pretext to push Muslim women into seclusion.

 

The writer is the general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association, New Delhi

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE ARITHMETIC OF DAL, ATTA AND RICE

T. NANDAKUMAR

 

During the last six months, much debate has focused on the "price rise" in agricultural commodities, especially in the price of food. Some of these discussions have been educative, some interesting and some full of drama. It is true that food inflation affects most families, particularly the poor. Therefore, the attention it gets is both justified and necessary.

 

Almost every discussion on the subject has displayed comparative prices between particular periods, mostly 2004-05 and currently.

 

For a moment, recall June/July of 2009. We were facing one of the worst droughts of post-independent India. There were demands that this be declared a "national calamity', there were apprehensions that there could be a severe shortage of food and imports may have to be resorted to on a large scale, and there was distress among the farmers. The impact of this drought is not over yet.

 

My purpose here is not to analyse the reasons for price rise or suggest solutions at this stage. Let the debate continue on RBI's interventions, steps to reduce the cost of intermediation etc — but let us also look at some of the issues through the eyes of an arithmetician.

 

Consider, for instance the comparison of prices between 2004-05 and 2010. Are we suggesting that the prices (retail, mind you) should remain the same? Are we expecting the farmer to produce, even in a drought year, foodgrain and vegetables at the same cost as he did five years ago? If not, what is the increase we are willing to pay?

 

Take atta for instance. Assume, as some have said, that prices have gone up from Rs 11 to Rs 14. It is well understood that minimum support prices, or MSPs, for these commodities set the "floor" price for cereals in the market. The MSP for wheat was Rs 640/quintal in 04-05, and it is Rs 1100/quintal in 09-10. If the farmer is paid Rs 1100 per quintal of wheat in a Punjab mandi, the cost of acquisition comes to Rs 1300 in Punjab itself (including taxes and commissions, labour, cost of gunny bags etc). Add freight to the destination and additional handling charges. Add conversion charges and process losses for the flour mill, and packing and retailing costs by the retailer to get the retail price. Also remember that wheat gets sold in May and June from the farms and there are holding costs.

 

Reverse this logic: if we want atta to be sold in Delhi at Rs 11 per kg, the farmer will get less than Rs 700 per quintal of wheat!

 

Take rice. Prices, reportedly, have gone up from Rs 15 to Rs 35 per kg (subject to the caveat that price comparisons for rice can go terribly wrong, since there are many varieties of rice). In the case of rice, there is a conversion rate of 65-66 per cent from paddy to rice. This ratio takes into account a high incidence of brokens (about 20-25 per cent). The retail price of rice, with less than 5 per cent brokens, de-stoned, cleaned and sold in a neatly packed polythene packet in an air-conditioned store will factor in all these costs. There are the usual taxes, charges, handling and packing in gunny bags involved. In addition, is the transport to a rice mill and milling charges. An MSP of Rs 1000/quintal for common fair average-quality paddy will mean a price of about Rs 1750/quintal at the mill gate itself.

 

Conversely, if our expectation is Rs 15/kg of rice at the retail outlet, the farmer has to sell paddy at less than Rs 650/quintal. Is it our case that the farmer needs to be paid only this much in 2009-10 — against an MSP of Rs 570/quintal?

 

Take the curious case of pulses. Take tur dal for instance. It is well known that pigeon pea (tur) is cultivated in rain-fed regions without irrigation facilities by resource poor farmers. Productivity is low due to water stress, low or no application of fertilisers (due to water stress), pest damage etc — and if you talk to farmers in Uttar Pradesh, they will talk about the blue bull menace as well. India imports about 3 million tons of dal. It is impossible to get tur dal or any of our preferred dals in those quantities in the global market. We buy dal in the market in split, cleaned and packed condition. No brokens, no stones, no discoloration, no chaff. The farmer sells whole tur, separated from the pods, cleaned and dried. The dal mill processes the dal, involving two steps: de-husking and splitting the seed. Calculations show that there is a loss of at least 20-25 per cent in this process. This means that, dal prices at the mill gate will cost upwards of Rs 45 per kg for whole tur bought at the MSP of Rs 3000 per quintal. Add other costs and taxes to get retail prices.

 

Conversely, if tur dal prices have to remain at Rs 22/kg, the farmer will have to sell whole tur in the mandi at about Rs 15 /kg.

 

Just ask any farmer in the country whether he is willing to produce at the above prices! Forget cost plus 50 per cent as advocated by the National Commission for Farmers, these prices will not cover even his costs!

 

Let us not ignore this basic arithmetic and disincentivise farmers; let the debate focus on the farmers' well-being as well!

 

The writer is a former agriculture and food secretary

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PRINTLINE PAKISTAN

RUCHIKA TALWAR

 

Hillary comes visiting

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Pakistan this week. The News reported on July 18: "Clinton called for 'additional steps' from Pakistan against terrorism... Should an attack against the US be traced to Pakistan, it would have a very devastating impact on our relationship,' she added. President Asif Zardari, as reported by Daily Times, tried to rub it in the US' face that Pakistan wants to be respected by them: "President Zardari emphasised the support must be based on mutual respect and trust... Zardari said isolated incidents of terrorism should not be allowed to derail the dialogue for (Indo-Pak) peace process."

 

Daily Times also reported American efforts to salvage the Indo-Pak dialogue process. "Clinton is believed to have talked to S.M. Krishna as well as Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the telephone... Immediately after Clinton's pep talk, Qureshi reportedly called Krishna... Media reports suggest Qureshi's call came after he received a rap on his knuckles for his personal attack on Krishna from PM Yousaf Raza Gilani... Clinton... also 'disapproved' of the tone and tenor of Qureshi's language and behaviour..."

 

An article titled 'Hillary's iron fist in a velvet glove' in Dawn on July 19 stated: "Clinton went about with her usual charm offensive... And where she had cheerful news for Pakistan on new projects, a vivid message running through her activities was that of a clear distrust and divergences over the issues that were close to Islamabad — the civilian nuclear cooperation with China, water disputes with India and Kashmir." Daily Times made it plain:

 

"Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited. It is not going to be eliminated overnight,' Clinton said..."

 

Clinton identified the sticking points in Indo-Pak talks, suggests a report in Daily Times on July 19: "Pakistan and India will have to undertake bold steps... to resolve Kashmir... the US supports the negotiation process, and likewise, trade needs to be boosted... India considers anti-terrorism on the top of its agenda and Pakistan puts the Kashmir issue atop the negotiations' agenda."

 

Strictly, Af-Pak trade

 

The Pakistani papers focused on the exclusion of India from trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Dawn reporting on July 18: "Coinciding with the presence of Hillary Clinton, Pakistan and Afghanistan finalised the new Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), allowing Afghan trucks to carry export goods to Wagah border for onward destination to India. Pakistan would also be able to take its trucks through Afghanistan to Central Asian Republics but Indian goods would not be allowed to pass through Pakistan's territory via land route."

 

The News added: "The Afghan transport units, on return, shall be permitted to carry goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan under the same expeditious procedures and conditions as Pakistani transport units would carry."

 

Explaining India's exclusion, Pakistan's commerce secretary told Dawn on July 19: "Pakistan's trade with India is a bilateral issue. Neither Islamabad had given the most favoured nation status to New Delhi nor did trade with India take place through Wagah, except for some items..."

 

Killed under the statuette

 

A brazen act of religious intolerance in Pakistan's Manchester, Faislabad, featured prominently in the newspapers this week.

 

Dawn reported on July 19: "Two Christian brothers accused of distributing blasphemous material were gunned down on the premises of the sessions court ..." The deceased were produced in court by the local police and were gunned down by assailants in the court premises, in the presence of the police. The News added on July 20 that the SP and DSP were suspended on "account of negligence of duties" and that departmental proceedings were ordered against them.

 

The incident warranted President Zardari's attention, Dawn reported on July 22, stating he "asked the Punjab authorities to investigate the murder and a controversy over demolition of a historic Hindu temple in Rawalpindi... President's media adviser and MNA Farahnaz Ispahani submitted an adjournment motion to the National Assembly's Secretariat seeking a debate "on the subject of rising persecution of minority communities of Pakistan."

 

Kayani the Indispensable

 

Daily Times reported on July 23: "In a dramatic development, PM Yousaf Raza Gilani announced an extension of three years to army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who was due to retire on November 29 this year. Gilani praised his 'remarkable' role in the war against terrorism and the objectives achieved by the army under his leadership in militancy-hit areas..." Dawn analysed the move: "The extension... is the second one given to a military general by a civilian government... according to defence analysts. The first such extension was given by former president Iskandar Mirza to Gen Ayub Khan."

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FEEDING BOTH THE PRISONER AND THE JAILER

RAMI G. KHOURI

 

I was intrigued to see several recent calls for bids by the US Agency for International Development for programmes that would, among other things, train young Arabs how to better use the Internet and other digital technologies for political activism, advocacy, greater transparency and accountability, and other such democratic practices. ecretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly stressed Washington's commitment to such programs as part of President Barack Obama's call for greater engagement between the United States and Islamic societies.

 

Two important questions come to mind, which I hope the US government is pondering seriously. The first is about the actual impact on the political culture of young Arabs and Iranians who use the new media. The second is about the most appropriate way for the United States, or any other foreign party, to promote this sector.

 

We are witnessing a continuing social revolution in how youth throughout the Middle East use Web sites, cellphones, chat systems, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other rapidly evolving new media. Millions of young people communicate with each other digitally, express their views and identities, and sometimes mobilise for causes as disparate as promoting a new movie, arranging a dance party, sharing photos or bemoaning a tired old dictator. In some countries like Iran and Egypt, we are told, tens of thousands of bloggers are at work expressing their independent views and challenging the established order.

 

But what do young people actually do, or aim to achieve, with the new media? Are the new digital and social media a credible tool for challenging established political orders and bringing about political change in our region?

 

My impression is that these new media today play a role identical to that played by Al Jazeera satellite television when it first appeared in the mid-1990s — they provide important new means by which ordinary citizens can both receive information and express their views, regardless of government controls on both, but in terms of their impact they seem more like a stress reliever than a mechanism for political change.

Watching Arab pundits criticise Arab governments, Israel or the United States — common fare on Arab satellite television — is great vicarious satisfaction for ordinary men and women who live in political cultures that deny them serious opportunities for free speech. Blogging, reading politically racy Web sites, or passing around provocative text messages by cellphone is equally satisfying for many youth. Such activities, though, essentially shift the individual from the realm of participant to the realm of spectator, and transform what would otherwise be an act of political activism — mobilising, demonstrating or voting — into an act of passive, harmless personal entertainment.

 

We must face the fact that all the new media and hundreds of thousands of young bloggers from Morocco to Iran have not triggered a single significant or lasting change in Arab or Iranian political culture. Not a single one. Zero.

 

This is partly because the modern Middle Eastern security state is firmly in control of the key levers of power — guns and money, mainly — and has learned to live with the digital open flow of information, as long as this does not translate into actual political action that seeks to change policies or ruling elites.

 

How should interested foreign parties engage in such an environment?

 

The first thing is to rid themselves of some nagging blatant contradictions that largely nullify their credibility, and, in fact, make them look pretty silly. One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

 

Feeding both the jailer and the prisoner is not a sustainable or sensible policy. I would not be surprised if some wise-guy young Arab soon sends a tweet to Hillary Clinton saying, "you're either with us, or you're with the security state."

This is an awkward and untenable position for any foreign government that wants to promote political activism and pluralism in the Middle East. It damages Western government credibility, leads to no significant changes in our political cultures, and often discredits the local activists who become tarred with the charge of being Western lackeys.

 

The antidote is simple, but humbling: lower the contradictions in Western policies towards Middle Eastern governments and activists, and grasp more accurately the fact that young people use the digital media mainly for entertainment and vicarious, escapist self-expression. Like I said, the United States and other Western governments should apply more honesty and intellectual rigor to their assault of our digital world than they did in their military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The writer is editor-in-chief of the 'Daily Star', Beirut

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SOUND BANKING

 

Banks are posting robust results in the quarter ended June this year, largely on the back of strong credit growth, led in particular by the telecom sector. Both public and private sector banks have also benefited from low-cost wholesale deposits as the cost of funds remained stable in the quarter. Similarly, the growth momentum in fee-based income remained healthy because of the pick-up in credit disbursement and the spurt in retail and corporate borrowing. The credit growth during the quarter stood at an impressive 20.2% as compared to 17.3% in the quarter ended March. However, deposit growth has not kept pace as it decelerated to 13.9% during the quarter from 16% in the previous quarter. Net interest margins, the spread between interest earned and interest expended, of banks that have reported their quarterly results so far have increased sequentially as lending rates did not change and bulk deposit rates remained very low. As a result, banks with larger components of wholesale deposits benefited from the sharp downward re-pricing of rates. For the Street, the 14-share Bankex, has performed in line with Sensex during the YTD period as well as for the quarter ended June this year. Credit growth is expected to remain robust in the near and medium term and is likely to come from India's low credit penetration, large-scale infrastructure investment requirements, companies reconsidering large mergers and acquisitions, and revival in demand for working capital and capital expenditure. Even secured retail credit will pick up because of a steady increase in auto and housing sales, attractive interest rates and improved job prospects across all sectors. The results have once again proved that a stable retail deposit base and a prudent regulatory environment were the main factors for the resilience of India's banking sector after the global financial slowdown.

 

Going ahead, however, there are concerns that a tighter monetary policy and further rate hikes may see the cost of funds going up for banks. Analysts expect margins of banks to be somewhat affected in the near term due to the lag effect on asset re-pricing. However, in the long term as credit offtake picks up and liquidity conditions improve, margins will improve towards the later part of the financial year. Also, considering the slow deposit mobilisation and tight liquidity, there could be an upward pressure on retail deposit rates and banks could raise deposit rates in the second quarter of this financial year. Pressure on asset quality remains a concern as a recent research note from Standard & Poor's shows that non-performing loans of banks increased moderately from their historical lows. The gross NPLs for S&P's portfolio of rated Indian banks increased to 2.5% as of March 31, 2010, from 2.2% a year ago. Banks should make a small note of this

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FOR HIGH YIELDS

 

As the southwest monsoon gathers steam across India, sowing of kharif crops has gained strength with pulses, sugarcane and cotton emerging as the big gainers. The last data from the agriculture ministry show that until July 23, pulses' acreage has risen by 13.21%, sugarcane's by 13.25% and cotton's by almost 18%. Another common thread is that all the three crops saw a sharp spike in prices last year. While the price of pulses almost doubled from the previous year's, sugar prices jumped to Rs 47 per kg in the retail markets by 2009-end (easing subsequently as the government took stern measures). Cotton flared up by almost 54% in 2009-10. Perhaps the positive price signals did help boost the output in these crops. But this is only one part of the story, at least in the case of pulses. The leguminous crop is one of the biggest sources of protein for poor Indians. Production has remained well-short of demand and, if officials are to be believed, availability will remain a problem for the next 2-3 years. Production is expected to rise to around 15.73 million tonnes in 2011-12, an increase of almost 6%, while demand is expected to increase from 18.29 million tonnes in 2009-10 to around 19.91 million tonnes in 2011-12, a rise of 9%. This swelling gap between demand and supply can be met either through imports or by raising domestic production. Of the two, the first option looks unsustainable in the long-run because not many countries grow pulses. In fact, of the almost 4 million tonnes of global surplus, India already snaps up more than half. The only alternative is to raise domestic production. And fast.

 

A beginning has been made by increasing the MSP for the 2010-11 crop season by almost 15%. This, along with the hike in sale price, should give adequate incentive to growers to plant more pulses. But hiking the MSP could spin retail prices out of control unless balanced with strong R&D input for developing new varieties. Strangely, not much is being done in this direction. Initiatives like the technology mission on oilseeds and pulses and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana do provide necessary support for growth of pulses, but the big push has to come from the R&D side. New, high-yielding varieties of pulses, which consume less water and fertilisers, should be made available to farmers. Growers and companies should be encouraged to scout for farmlands abroad to grow pulses because competition from cereals, sugar and oilseeds is intense within India. Pulses have long been regarded as an alternative crop but it is time they are truly brought into the mainstream of Indian agricultural policy

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FM GIVES IN TOO EASILY ON GST

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

It would be apparent to even a casual observer of India's political economy over the last two decades how difficult it is for the political process to implement the agenda of economic reform. The power of vested interests is strong and a majority of politicians across the ideological spectrum still remain unconvinced about the need to keep up to speed with reform.

 

That leaves reforming politicians limited room for manoeuvre. And they must choose wisely before spending precious political capital to get things done. It makes eminent sense, therefore, to line up behind those reforms that truly have a game-changing potential for the economy. The overhaul of India's archaic indirect tax system (rendered terribly inefficient by multiple and cascading taxes) and its replacement with a new goods and services tax (GST) is one such game-changing item.

 

Interestingly enough, unlike many other big ticket reform ideas, the introduction of GST is not likely to evoke much populist protest or popular unrest on the streets. It isn't like the decontrol of fuel prices that prompted a debilitating nationwide bandh. It isn't even like discussing FDI in retail, something that evokes howls of populist protest on behalf of the kirana store owners. On the contrary, if implemented at a uniform and reasonable rate, it should gather widespread popular support for easing the tax burden on the aam aadmi and aam business.

 

That is why its is disappointing to watch the Centre succumb to the narrow interests that are blocking the rollout of a perfect GST. It seems that state finance ministers who have consistently objected to the very sensible recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission on GST have finally won their battle against the Centre. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has conceded ground on three crucial principles that should never have been up for negotiation. First, the need to have one rate. Under the compromise there will be three, one for goods, one for services and one for essential goods. There will now be lobbying and rent-seeking to get goods included in the essential list that are taxed at a much lower rate. Second, the need to do away with all exemptions, which if present, would only encourage lobbying and rent-seeking from those seeking further exemptions. Under the compromise offered by the FM, 99 items will be exempt from GST. And third, the need to have a reasonably low rate in order to increase compliance. The finance commission had recommended a revenue-neutral rate of 12%. The FM has promised a final rate of 16%, to be converged on in three years time.

 

Principles aside, there lies a great risk at the point of rollout. In the first year of implementation, the FM proposes to levy GST at 20% on goods (10% for Centre and 10% for states). Unfortunately, this isn't much lower than the total incidence (around 25%) of the complicated indirect tax system we have at present. So, the GST will get a bad advertisement in its very first year. What is worse, the 20% rate may encourage people to continue evading indirect taxes just like they do under the current system. If that were to happen, the game-changing potential of the GST may be lost in its very first year, never mind if the rate comes down a couple of percentage points a year later.

 

There may be yet another problem. If compliance does not increase substantially, there is every chance that neither the Centre nor the states will see a sudden buoyancy in revenues. That will make the states, in particular, very reluctant to consider cuts in the GST rate. The FM may not even be able to convince the states to move down to his 16% target rate within three years. In India, path dependency is strong and if the GST gets off to a bad start with the aam aadmi, aam business and governments, its entire purpose could be defeated very soon.

 

It would have been so much more appropriate for the finance minister to have insisted on a 12% rate, and given a more generous 7% of that to states. Incidentally, that is the rate now prescribed for essential goods. The states would have had only one legitimate reason to protest—potential revenue loss. For this, the FM should have thrown his grand bargain on the table offering to compensate states for losses. Incredibly, he has handed out this carrot even while compromising on key principles.

 

If any further compromise was required, the Centre could have left open the option to raise the 12% rate sometime in the future, should revenue targets have fallen short—according to all the studies available it would not fall short at this rate. Still, the offer to raise rates in the future from a low base would have been a better path to compromise than setting the rate high initially and then bringing it down—something that is likely to be constrained by path dependency.

 

But it seems, after all, that pressure from 25-odd state finance ministers was too much to bear for the wily veteran, Pranab Mukherjee.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FORECASTING INFLATION ACCURATELY

NIRVIKAR SINGH

 

Inflation has recently been a headline issue in India. Spikes in inflation seem to have taken policymakers by surprise and a full understanding of the drivers of inflation in the country is hard to come by. Difficulties in modelling the process that determines price rises are compounded by deficiencies in measurement. No inflation measure is perfect, but India uses several measures, all of which have problems. One can quibble over the weights given to different commodities in the basket used to create an index of prices. There are also challenges to the way that changes in the index are used to create an inflation measure.

 

The headline inflation rate is constructed from the WPI, which is calculated every week. The weekly inflation number is obtained by calculating the percentage change in the WPI from a year ago. This means that there is a lag in how changes in the inflation rate are reflected in the headline numbers. If inflation was high for nine months, but has moved downwards sharply for three months after that, the reported inflation rate for the whole year will be higher than the most recent trend. Using the year-on-year measure of inflation as a guide to policymaking can lead to inadequate responses when the inflation rate changes suddenly.

 

One way that policymakers can get additional guidance, besides looking at the history of inflation, is to find out what people expect inflation to be. If people expect inflation to go higher, they may decide to spend more now, creating a self-fulfilling expectation. What matters for economic activity are expectations across the population. In the absence of large surveys (which can be expensive), one has to make do with smaller polls. Since 2007, RBI has conducted a quarterly poll of experts, asking them to forecast various aspects of overall economic activity, including annual WPI inflation, calculated on the basis of quarterly figures (e.g., from the first quarter of fiscal 2008-09 to the first quarter of fiscal 2009-10).

 

RBI faithfully reports each round of forecasts, of which there have been 11 so far. The number of experts asked has increased from around 30 to close to 50, while the number of responses has grown more slowly, from about 20 towards two dozen. Individual identities are not revealed and it is not known how the set of respondents varies from quarter to quarter. Individual forecasts are also not reported, but the range, average and median (middle value) are all made public.

 

I decided to see how good the inflation forecasts are. To do this, I used the median forecasts for the last nine rounds, for which I could get the data. Forecasts are made for one to four quarters ahead in each round. Then I calculated the year-on-year WPI inflation for each quarter. My calculations may be a bit rough and ready, but they are revealing.

 

First I asked whether the one-quarter-ahead forecast did a good job of predicting the actual inflation rate. Since nine months of relevant data is already available in making a quarter-ahead forecast, the experts should do very well, knowing 75% of the result. But the forecasts explained only about 80% of the variation in the actual inflation rate over the eight quarters for which I estimated the relationship between forecast and actual. This is hardly above 75%. The differences between actual and forecast inflation rates were sometimes as large as 3 or 4 percentage points in particular quarters.

 

The results with the two-quarter-ahead inflation forecasts were even less encouraging. The half-year-forward prediction, with half the data already digested, explained less than 30% of the variation in the actual inflation rate. Forecasting inflation two quarters ahead seems to be a chancy exercise. To be fair to the experts, their one-quarter-ahead forecasts did much better than simply using last period's inflation to forecast a quarter ahead. So they were clearly able to bring some useful information to bear on their predictions, beyond what the immediate past could tell us. But clearly, they had trouble seeing a few months further ahead.

 

What does all this mean for policymakers? It could be that the period I've looked at was exceptionally unpredictable, with a global financial crisis to deal with. In general, forecasters can do nothing if what they are forecasting is mainly determined by random outside shocks. Here, we do not know how the forecasters came up with their own predictions. It would be nice if one could validate the accuracy of individual forecasters and see if someone's model or judgement is consistently better. That is not possible to tell from the median forecast of a possibly changing set of unknown individuals. Policymakers can surely change the rules of the game to encourage more accurate forecasts—that could be useful all round.

 

—The author is a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FMCG WELCOMES RAINS

LALITHA SRINIVASAN

 

After last year's poor monsoon, FMCG majors were praying for rains to improve their margins this fiscal. If the IMD's forecast for rainfall, revised to 102% of the LPA, holds true, prices of agri commodities will cool down, benefiting FMCG companies. So, FMCG majors expect both rural and urban India to drive demand.

 

The majors are now planning to revisit their pricing strategy to gain market share in an overcrowded category to start with. In fact, many were waiting for rains to decide on their pricing strategy in the second quarter of the FY as the monsoon plays a crucial role in consumption and demand. As a second step, many FMCG companies are beefing up their distribution network in both rural and urban India, expecting greater demand for their products. For instance, Godrej is planning to enhance its penetration level in the rural market to pump up volumes, according to Adi Godrej, chairman of the Godrej Group. Like Godrej, Dabur is also planning to increase its penetration in rural markets. With sugar prices coming down, Dabur plans to improve their margins this fiscal. Meanwhile, other majors such as Marico and Emami are evaluating their growth opportunities after the monsoon.

 

Due to a good monsoon, Indian dairies are reporting a rebound in milk procurement volumes this year. Surplus stocks have led to wholesale prices of skimmed milk powder falling from Rs 150-155 per kg in May-June to Rs 120-130 in northern markets. As milk prices cool, Amul and others are expected take price cuts. Generally, companies use price hikes to protect margins, a measure not required in the absence of inflationary pressures on the input side. With the fall in input costs, many FMCG companies are expected to revise their pricing strategy. Industry captains are optimistic about the sector's performance this fiscal as compared to last year. Anticipating increased demand for their products this fiscal, many FMCG majors are drawing up fresh game plans to gain mind and market share. As competition from regional and MNC players is heating up, the FMCG sector will soon witness higher levels of penetration and revised pricing strategy.

 

lalitha.srinivasan@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A DEADLINE TOO FAR

 

Another international conference on Afghanistan — the ninth so far, and for the first time held in Kabul — has ended with the pious refrain that Afghans should take charge of their country. Once again, it is clear there is little sincerity about it. President Hamid Karzai, whose chances of political survival without international help are slim, set a self-servingly generous deadline of 2014 for the foreign troops to withdraw. The conference, representing 70 countries, made no formal commitment to Mr. Karzai's deadline, and chose instead to endorse his call in general terms. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to begin scaling down troops as promised from July 2011 — but set no firm date for complete withdrawal. Despite domestic pressure on European leaders to end the Afghan misadventure, the NATO secretary-general was vague about the timetable, stating that "conditions, not calendars" would determine when foreign troops would hand over to Afghan forces. The only acceptable deadline for foreign powers to leave that country is immediately. The longer they stay, the more appalling will be the bloodshed and the illfare. All the experimentation with 'surges' and 'democracy-in-a-box' has led only to increasing civilian casualties at the hands of the U.S.-led NATO forces. And each civilian death has increased support for the Taliban to a point where Mr. Karzai himself now believes there is more political traction in reaching out to the militants. Persisting with this unjust and unwinnable Afghan war is turning out to be President Barack Obama's Great Folly.

 

The international conference missed a real opportunity to discuss a way forward in Afghanistan — through a paradigm shift. Writing in this newspaper in September 2009, the diplomat Chinmaya Gharekhan, formerly India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, asked the international community to focus on restoring Afghanistan to its long-lost tradition of neutrality — where other countries pledge non-interference in its affairs, and it pledges non-interference in theirs — along the lines of the July 1962 Neutrality of Laos Declaration. This is an eminently sensible suggestion, considering that Afghanistan has been reduced to rubble mainly by the competing strategic objectives of international and regional players. Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, India have been only too willing to participate in these mutually undermining games. A neutrality declaration will help liberate Afghanistan from the military occupation and tutelage of foreign powers. It may also pave the way for an Afghan solution to national rebuilding — one that will hopefully reject the Taliban.

 

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THE HINDU

VULNERABLE TO TORTURE

 

Amnesty International (AI) has dubbed the tendency of European countries to rely on mere diplomatic assurances against the use of torture to deport, expel, or extradite persons as a violation of the principle of non-refoulement that prohibits the transfer of people to places where they risk facing torture. The danger of dilution of this important post-war democratic guarantee is ominous for the world's refugees and other repatriates fleeing violence and poverty in conflict zones. Western nations that were in the forefront of the struggle for universal human rights standards in the 1950s and continue to hold them up as the only enduring prospect for geo-political stability in the 21st century should review their recent retrograde policy stance which is a part of their current global counter-terrorism strategy. An AI report documents growing evidence, since the 9/11 bombings of the twin towers, of a number of European countries deporting terror suspects on the basis of mere diplomatic assurances that they would not be tortured. The complicity of many European states in the notorious Bush era legacy of renditions of terror suspects from the United States military base in Guantanamo Bay is a class apart. In an extremely reassuring contrast, the European Court of Human Rights and courts in individual European countries have ruled that, notwithstanding the assurances from authorities in the recipient states, the risks of ill-treatment are not mitigated.

 

Against such categorical and overwhelming judicial interpretations, states should honour their international obligation to prosecute those suspected of terrorist offences rather than shirk their legal responsibility under the pretext of potential threat to national security. Given their non-binding character, the Amnesty report argues, diplomatic assurances are unenforceable and promises of humane treatment of select individuals from states with a record of torture must necessarily be suspect. Equally, the effectiveness of sporadic monitoring of the situation would have to be weighed against the reality of secrecy surrounding acts of cruelty, routine official denial of involvement, failure to investigate allegations, and the consequent impunity the perpetrators enjoy. The relative advantages of an effective law enforcement machinery, transparency and accountability place the onus squarely on advanced democratic states to show leadership in combating terrorism and crime without putting suspects in jeopardy of torture abroad.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

BRITAIN: REDEFINING ITS GLOBAL STATUS

THERE IS A GROWING VIEW THAT BRITAIN MUST NOW ABANDON ITS SEARCH FOR A POST-RAJ ROLE AND LEARN TO LIVE BY THE NEW WORLD ORDER IN WHICH THOSE IT ONCE GOVERNED ARE MASTERS.

HASAN SUROOR

 

British Prime Minister David Cameron is set to visit India soon, maybe as early as next week, seeking an "enhanced" relationship — a nice-sounding resolve even though few in London or New Delhi appear to know how it would translate into action. The visit is less about outcomes (the two countries don't have major issues to resolve, so any outcome would be hailed as a success) and more about symbolism as the new administration sets out to rebrand the British foreign policy amid a raging debate over where Britain fits in the "new" world.

 

Britain's global status, long in decline, has plummeted to a new low, partly because of the broader shift of power from the West to the East and more specifically because London has simply run out of steam as an international power.

 

The view that Britain has failed to find a role for itself on the global stage since the loss of the empire may have become a bit of a cliché but it is a cliché that can do with some repetition. Britain ceased to be taken seriously long ago even by its erstwhile colonial subjects (more than a decade ago, an Indian Prime Minister dismissed it as a "third-rate power") but till recently it had enough energy to punch above its weight and get away with it. Now it is too exhausted even to pretend that it is anything other than a "small island off the coast of Western Europe" as one academic put it.

 

It might have taken Britain a "long time to die," in the words of Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's former Ambassador to the United Nations. But finally the show — as we used to know it — seems to be drawing to a close.

 

Indeed, there is a growing view that Britain must now abandon its search for a post-Raj role and learn to live by the new world order in which those it once governed are the new masters. But, in refusing to read the writing on the wall, old colonial powers can be like ageing ballerinas who are often reluctant to acknowledge that their glory days are over and time has come for them to leave the stage before push comes to shove.

 

Thus, like the ageing ballerinas determined to go on and on, Britain's hunt for a new "role" continues though, as Oxford academic Timothy Garton Ash noted recently, most people in Britain don't even "notice there's a hunt on anyway."

 

"They are too busy watching their compatriots lose at football, or tennis or cricket. Role-hunting remains very much an elite sport: the polo of British politics," Mr. Ash wrote in The Guardian in a swipe at the successive governments and policy wonks' obsessive "role-hunting."

There was, he said, a "persistent strand of self-delusion" in British policy elite's claims about Britain's role often "nicely punctured by memorable jibes" such as the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's remark that its much-touted relationship with America was so special that "only one side knows it exists."

 

Defining or redefining Britain's "vision" of its place in the world has become a default instinct of every new administration. Labour, when it came to power in 1997, declared that it wanted Britain to be a global force for good by pursuing an "ethical" foreign policy and through "liberal intervention" in resolving conflicts. Another of its big ticket policy resolves was to put Britain "in the heart of Europe" in the words of Tony Blair.

 

And what was Labour's legacy when it left office 13 years later? A continuing civil war in Iraq and an open-ended insurgency in Afghanistan. As for Europe, far from Britain being anywhere near its "heart," their relations took some heavy blows, mostly over Iraq, and also over Britain's resistance to fuller integration with the European Union. Even the "special relationship" with America is no longer so special (that is, if it ever was except in the sense of London playing second fiddle to Washington) as the Obama administration focusses its energies on Asia and elsewhere.

 

So much so that it has become rather unfashionable to mention the "s" word. Mr. Cameron has, in fact, admitted that he sees Britain only as America's "junior partner." The Conservatives are trying to make a virtue out of necessity, saying they want to make foreign policy less America-centric and, instead, cultivate the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America. Foreign Secretary William Hague has been talking up his plans for a "distinctive British foreign policy" that would see it focus more on new centres of global power such as China, India, Brazil, Chile and the Gulf states.

 

"We're getting on with that straight away. Many Ministers will be visiting India in the coming months to strongly signal to India that we want to elevate that entire relationship," he said in a newspaper interview describing his plans as the biggest change to foreign policy for a generation.

 

The era of Britain seeing its every decision in terms of its effect on America and Europe was over, he declared arguing that London needed to be more pro-active in pursuing its foreign policy aims instead of always reacting to events. And he had Napoleon on his side, he said quoting the maxim that the side that stayed within its "fortifications" was beaten — and the country that was "just reactive" was in decline.

 

Impressive, though, the rhetoric is, it is hard not to see that there is more froth than substance in Mr. Hague's brave assertions. In the absence of the nuts and bolts of his new policy, even a lay observer can see that the so-called "distinctive" policy is anything but "distinctive." To portray the new focus on India and China as something "distinctive" for which they should perhaps be grateful to Britain is patronising nonsense. The fact is no country with a semblance of a coherent foreign policy and which does not wish to be isolated can afford to ignore these new, emerging powers.

And, by the way, the wooing of New Delhi and Beijing started much before Mr. Hague came on the scene. It was under the previous Labour administration that Britain established a "strategic partnership" with India — followed by a procession of ministerial and high-level business delegations of the sort Mr. Hague says would be heading for New Delhi soon. The problem is not that Mr. Hague is trying to pass off old wine in a new bottle but that he (and indeed the entire British establishment) believes that Britain's foreign policy still matters to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it doesn't. This brings us back to the point that Britain's ruling elite still suffers from a "persistent self-delusion" about the country's role beyond its shores. They are yet to "get it'' that much of the world no longer sees Britain as a great power and doesn't share its perception of itself.

As Mr. Ash says: "Roles, like identities, are an amalgam of who or what you think you are and what other people take you for. I may be convinced that I'm the finest opera singer in the world, but if no one else thinks I am, then I'm not.''

 

This is something that is yet to sink into the British ruling psyche. Once it could buy influence abroad through generous financial handouts but the recent economic crisis has left the country so broke that it is no longer in a position even to do that. The Department for International Development is under growing pressure to review its commitments despite the government's promise to protect overseas aid from the austerity measures forced on other departments. And with the Foreign Office facing deep spending cuts, the era of Britain's high-profile diplomatic presence that reflected its status as a world power is over. Embassies and consulates in a number of countries are to be closed at a time when, more than ever before, Britain needs these symbols of power to be more visible.

 

So, what can Britain do? "The answer is stark: not much, given the state of our finances," wrote Michael Binyon, columnist of The Times, after attending a Chatham House conference on foreign policy.

Meanwhile, as a once great imperial power slowly dies on its feet it can draw some comfort from a new study that ranks Britain as the best country for the dying with its vast network of hospices and end-of-life care homes. It has prompted some cheeky comments about the country's own health — reminiscent of the jibes it suffered in the 1960s and 1970s when it was dubbed the "sick man of Europe."

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

AGAINST ABUSE OF THE CONTEMPT POWER

THE BEST ANSWER TO ABUSE OF JUDGES IS NOT FREQUENT OR FEROCIOUS CONTEMPT-SENTENCING BUT FINE PERFORMANCE.

V.R. KRISHNA IYER

 

When judges themselves are guilty of flaws, shortcomings or violations, public criticism is the only way judges can be corrected

The Bench is a sacred seat and divinity is incompatible with arrogance, pride and vanity

 

'We, the People of India' made the Constitution and the sovereign republic of India, and all power exercised by the three instrumentalities of state function under the Constitution. Its Preamble speaks of justice — social, economic and political — as a fundamental privilege of the people. Social justice and equality before law are of more value to the common masses, while the higher classes are often allergic to the under-privileged and the have-nots.

 

The judges of British vintage are class-conscious, as Professor Griffith of London University explained in his book, The Politics of the Judiciary. Their perspective is prejudicial to the majority of Indians who are poor and do not enjoy human rights though they are mandated in the Constitution as a fundamental right.

 

The judiciary as a class must reorient its basic philosophy to suit a socialist secular democratic republic. This transformation is essential if fiat justiciais to be a paramount principle of governance in India as emphasised by Jawaharlal Nehru in his tryst-with-destiny speech as India became independent.

 

Lord Justice Scruttin said in an address delivered to the University of Cambridge Law Society on November 18, 1920: "Where are your impartial Judges? They all move in the same circle as the employers, and they are all educated and nursed in the same ideas as the employers. How can a labourman or a trade unionist get impartial justice? It is very difficult sometimes to be sure that you have put yourself into a thoroughly impartial position between two disputants, one of your own class and one not of your class." ( 1 Cambridge Law Journal, Page 8).

 

The Constitution gives you power. And all public power is held as a trust. If you breach this trust you pay for it: by facing responsible criticism. When there is justice, which is your professional-fundamental duty, criticism loses its sting. And the Preamble to the Constitution spells it out. Social, economic and political justice is your basic obligation, which you have to fulfil without fear or favour. If you fail here, you disrobe yourself and deserve correctional criticism.

 

The judicature is a noble and never a nocent institution. If you goofily debunk and unjustly bring the judiciary into disrepute, you judges commit contempt and get punished. The court is a magnanimous institution, majestic and glorious, and it sustains the confidence of the nation. But if the judiciary behaves as an elite upper sector and denies the rights of the common masses, criticism is what you earn. Remove those judges who conduct themselves with a sense of contempt for social justice and human rights: that is the fascist, authoritarian way.

 

"Small is beautiful," said Gandhiji. You sneer at the slum-dweller, the ill-clad and the illiterate. You are not pro-people. Remember the Roman adage: "Whatever touches us all should be decided by all." Then you as a member of a class-conscious sector must be denounced.

 

Above the Executive and Legislature is the Judiciary to guard the values of the Constitution with integrity, fearlessness, frankness and fraternity. That is your institutional glory. No one shall darken your bright image. The little poor seek your compassionate protection. You are the wonder of democracy. I salute you as the humanist defender of people's constitutional rights. When you fail to function, sharp criticism is the only corrective. The question then arises: have the people a right to criticise you, and if so, when does it become contempt of court, and what are the limitations to this freedom of expression?

 

This has become a critical issue. Judges as an instrumentality under the Constitution have vast powers under Article 141 to 144. When the Executive misuses its powers, the court can strike down its actions. When the Legislature commits excesses beyond the Constitution or otherwise defaults, the court can declare it void. When judges themselves are guilty of flaws, shortcomings or violations, public criticism is the only way judges can be corrected.

 

Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court observed: "'Judges as persons, or courts as institutions, are entitled to no greater immunity from criticism than other persons or institutions. Just because the holders of judicial office are identified with the interests of justice they may forget their common human frailties and fallibilities. There have sometimes been martinets upon the bench as there have also been pompous wielders of authority who have used the paraphernalia of power in support of what they called their dignity. Therefore judges must be kept mindful of their limitations and of their ultimate public responsibility by a vigorous stream of criticism expressed with candor however blunt."

 

After all, judges are human and may commit mistakes and blunders. Either a Performance Commission or vigilant, vibrant public criticism, dignified and responsible, should correct judicial wrongs. With large powers and a considerable level of immunity, judges are apt to turn noxious and culpable at times. Generally the robed brethren maintain a high order of conduct. Even so, aberrations do happen. Therefore, criticism becomes necessary in a democracy. The Constitution insists that judges should be of good behaviour. The Bench is a sacred seat and divinity is incompatible with arrogance, pride and vanity.

 

Hugo Black, a great judge of the U.S Supreme Court, observed: "Judges are not essentially different from other government officials. Fortunately they remain human even after assuming their judicial duties. Like all the rest of mankind they may be affected from time to time by pride and passion, by pettiness and bruised feelings, by improper understanding or by excessive zeal."

 

Indian judges belong to an elite class like their English counterparts, and can be relieved only by impeachment which is a political operation beyond the pragmatic capabilities of the masses. Therefore, a Performance Commission is an essential instrument to receive complaints about judges and investigate them. Their dignity and decorum never allow frivolity or private motives to affect the functions of, or inflict injury on, judges. Transparency and accountability are democratic attributes. In spite of this, vulgar elements in public life misuse free speech and abuse judges irresponsibly and with a sense of revenge. They deserve to be punished by the punitive use of the power of contempt. This power is wide.

 

Lord Denning in his Family Storyhas recorded what Lord Shawcross said about one of his judgments: "Denning is an Ass." The Times (of London) published this. In spite of it, Lord Denning declined to take contempt action since he took the view that he would disprove it not by contempt proceedings but by means of his performance. Of course, he was the best judge of the Commonwealth.

 

This is an example for judges in India, too. The best answer to abuse of judges is not frequent or ferocious contempt-sentencing but fine performance. Of course, rare cases may deserve contempt impeachment. Bad judges deserve to be censured by a Performance Commission with access to every citizen. How many judges in our High Courts are good by the canon laid down by Douglas? He wrote: "… [T]he law of contempt is not made for the protection of judges who may be sensitive to the winds of public opinion. Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate."

 

 The weakness of many judges who escape through contempt power but should not, was portrayed by Lord Goddard: "A judge of first instance need not necessarily be a consummate lawyer. He should be a man of even temper and one who can be trusted to display and continue to display courtesy to the litigants and bar; in short, if I may use a much-abused expression, he should be a gentleman. A sense of humour … is always an asset, but a constant joker is anathema. Another quality devoutedly to be wished for is the ability to keep reasonably silent while trying a case. A garrulous judge is a misfortune; he maddens the bar and slows up proceedings, but, unhappily, it does happen that a somewhat taciturn barrister becomes surprisingly talkative once he is seated on the bench…. The public expression of what some would call strong convictions, and others prejudice, are best avoided by those who desire to become judges."

 

And here is a statement by 'Learned Hand:' "The larger part of my official life I have been in a court where three sit together, and that seems to me of immense advantage; indeed, I know it is an immense advantage. The joint judgment of three is worth much more than three times the judgment of one, unless he is a genius."

 

But how many of our learned brethren will qualify to be on the Bench if this test were a condition for elevation?

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

AMAZON DEFORESTATION IN DRAMATIC DECLINE

INCREASED USE OF SATELLITE DATA AND NEW TACTICS TO DETER LOGGERS HAVE LED TO THE DROP, SAYS THE BRAZILIAN ENVIRONMENT AGENCY, IBAMA.

DAMIAN CARRINGTON

 

Large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest fell dramatically last year, according to official figures released on Friday.

 

Data from satellite sensors making fortnightly detections of only larger areas of forest destruction (greater than 25 hectares) was 1,500 km {+2} between August 2009 and May 2010, compared with 3,000 km {+2} in the same period a year earlier. The Brazilian environment agency, Ibama, which is responsible for protecting the forests against illegal logging, said the drop was due to the increased use of satellite data to spot the felling of trees and new tactics to deter loggers, including ending their ability to hide under cloud cover.

 

The full figures for the year and all deforestation will be published on July 31. The areas of forest destruction are expected to be 5,000 —6,000 km {+2} , down from 7,500 km {+2} the previous year, and from 27,000 km {+2} in 2004.

 

"We are winning another victory over deforestation in the world's largest and most important biome," Luciano Evaristo, director of environmental protection, told this reporter, who had been flown to Brazil by the Brazilian government for the announcement. "Before [satellite data] we were looking blindly. But in 2010, all 244 actions were based on smart geo-processed data." But Evaristo agreed with critics of the government that Ibama remains understaffed, with 700—800 enforcement officers on the ground at any one time across the vast country, which is nearly four times the size of western Europe. "I wish we had 4,000," he said, adding that the satellite data was making the work of officers more effective.

 

The reasons

 

The ecologist Philip Fearnside, at the National Research Institute for the Amazon in Manaus, said the decline is partly due to control measures, but also due to a drop in demand as soy and beef consumption fell and the appreciation of the Brazilian real against the U.S. dollar made export more expensive to foreign markets. "Deforestation is not under control," he said. "Prices of commodities will go up after the global recession. When that happens you discover you do not have control." Evaristo rejected that argument: "The figures for 2010 show high commodity prices do not lead to an increase in deforestation." The environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, said: "I think several factors can explain [the drop]. We now share the responsibility with 17 ministries." Ibama has adopted new tactics in the fight against deforestation. Only 0.32 per cent of the 250,000 fines issued by Ibama over the last 20 years have been paid. "It is true, thanks to the Brazilian legal system," said Evarista, blaming three different appeal systems.

 

Ibama seizes the tools and equipment of suspected illegal loggers while the legal process plays out, and also blocks their access to government credit, which is proving highly effective.

 

The ranchers can no longer hide under clouds either. Until recently, only visible light satellite images were taken. "The ranchers knew Ibama was much less active on the ground during the cloudy season," said the satellite data manager George Ferreira. Now, radar surveillance means the felling of trees can be spotted from space, rain or shine, day or night.

 

 Raquel Taitson, an armed enforcement officer who has been attacked with an axe and had to escape being run down by a car, said she is driven by the desire to protect the forest. "My father is usually more scared than me, so usually I don't tell him. But we need more officers. We also have other tasks, such as controlling animal trafficking and illegal fishing." A study published last week by the influential Chatham House think tank said illegal logging dropped by between 50 and 75 per cent across Cameroon, Indonesia and the Brazilian Amazon over the last decade. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

WTO URGES COOPERATION IN NATURAL RESOURCES TRADE

 

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday called for closer international cooperation in the global trading of natural resources. In the World Trade Report 2010 that focuses on natural resources, the WTO said the tension between rising demand for natural resources and their scarcity and exhaustibility is a challenge facing modern society.

 

This tension is likely to increase, especially due to the recovering global economy, spreading industrialisation and the rise of emerging economies, according to the report released Friday in Shanghai. "Fears of inadequate access to supplies in resource-scarce countries and of inappropriate exploitation in resource-rich regions could lead to trade conflicts or worse," it said.

 

Adequately defined rules for international cooperation, built on a shared perception of gain, would help to avoid such conflicts, the report said. "I believe that there is not only room for mutually beneficial negotiating trade-offs that encompass natural resources trading, but also that a failure to address these issues could be a recipe for growing tensions in international trade relations," Pascal Lamy, WTO' s Director-General, wrote in the foreword.

 

The global trade of natural resources expanded by more than six times to $3.7 trillion, in the ten years through 2008, it said. — Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HOCKEY: ALREADY A MESS, HITS NEW LOW

 

While ripples from the sexual harassment charges levied against her coach by a woman hockey player continue to spread, the fact that Indian hockey is back in the limelight for all the wrong reasons comes as no real surprise. The national game has not exactly been in the pink of health for the last couple of decades, but this latest embarrassment marks a new low, not just for hockey but also for all those associated with it — particularly in an administrative or managerial capacity. In a sense, there is a wider issue that has come to the fore — of women athletes being vulnerable or susceptible to exploitation. The Rucika Girihotra molestation case was one such story laid bare in its full horror, but other examples abound. Given the sensitivity of the matter, the government — since the two individuals involved are Sports Authority of India employees — and the hockey establishment moved quickly to show they were taking action. For his part, the coach, who has been associated with women's hockey for over a decade, has stepped down already, vowing his innocence. While the matter looks set to play out its natural course with a five-member inquiry committee set up to investigate the veracity of the allegation submitting its 30-page report to the sports ministry and the SAI, it is clear that coach M.K. Kaushik will have nothing to do any longer with the team he has been associated with for a long period of time. In a sense, it could also be termed a demonstration of player power, as Kaushik and his wards had apparently been at odds for long, and with his exit they will now have a new face at the helm.


While this sordid drama is being played out on one stage, men's hockey in India continues on its unhappy way. With the Delhi high court having upheld the contention of the Indian Hockey Federation that its dissolution by the Indian Olympic Association was wrong in law, the body now nominally in charge of the sport — Hockey India — appears to have no locus standi either, though it is conditionally recognised by FIH, the international body that runs the sport. Thus we have the odd scenario of one group, the IHF, conducting the senior men's national championship but unable pick an India team as it is not recognised by the FIH; and the other group — Hockey India — stymied by the high court from running the game within the country, but authorised to select national representative teams. If it was not such a tragedy for the sport, this would almost be a comical state of affairs, but then it has been so over the years. Close to three decades ago, Indian hockey went through a very similar upheaval, with one faction supported by the FIH and another working against its interests — both groups being headed by powerful individuals. That the power struggle and India's slide down the ladder came almost together is no coincidence: clearly, history holds no lessons for those tasked with administering the sport. The senior men's team had a dismal World Cup not very many months ago in Delhi — India only finding a berth in the event by virtue of being the hosts — and where the focus should be on setting things right, all available energy and initiative is being squandered in internecine battles. Every sport is quick to point fingers at cricket when it comes to a share of the limelight and/or funds from the market. Maybe they should all be taking a few lessons on how to keep their own kitchens clean — or at least acting effectively when needed — which could then start to make a difference in their own fortunes. Till such a time, however, we are condemned to further unedifying spectacles as the one now on public display.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

BURQA & PREJUDICE

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "Dusassana and Bros.: Second-hand Saris"

From The Signboards of Despair by Bachchoo


One has always thought of the French as tolerant people — give it some consideration: pretentious émigré Spanish painters, pop-singers with massive inferiority complexes about Americans, armies that have perfected the art of retreat, preposterous definitions of "intellectual", Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de... and so on. Plenty to tolerate. Now a sudden burst of Continent-shaking intolerance aimed again, as with Joan of Arc, at women of faith. (To be fair, the French did blame that barbecue on cross-Channel influence and to this day maintain that the best thing the British ever cooked was poor Joan.) This time it's burqas. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has set his mind on banning them from public places in the Republique.


No more will women of the faith, whose traditions and menfolk interpret the injunction to modesty in the Quran as an order to hide one's body and face from the public, be allowed to venture abroad wearing burqas.
Mr Sarkozy's prejudice will undoubtedly encourage other nations in the European Union to follow suit and come out, so to speak, against the cover up. I refer to it as a "prejudice" rather than as a judicious measure because I don't buy Mr Sarkozy's argument that banning the burqa is a blow for freedom from male oppression. It may very well be that the women of Paris, Marseilles or Aix who want to walk about in burqa have not been coerced by anyone and have chosen to so do. Mr Sarkozy's feint is prejudice wearing the blind burqa of progress.


England stands firm. And so it should. The minister for the environment (who better?) in the new coalition government of liberal conservatism, one Caroline Spellman, has said she rejects the idea that the burqa oppresses women. On the contrary, she asserts, it can, when it is what they want to wear, be a symbol of and factor in their "empowerment". She will, as a consequence, work within the Cabinet to resist any move towards the banning of the burqa, even though a newspaper poll has this week said that 67 per cent of the British population would go with the French and favour its outlawing.


On balance, I think there is merit in Ms Spellman's argument, even though I find that the concept of "empowering" is difficult to understand. I have always thought that armed bodies of human beings with a common purpose or with uniform brainwashing were the "empowered". The rest of us have to rely on conscience and not being caught.


But even if the idea that the burqa "empowers" women by allowing them to cover their faces in public if they so choose, or because their husbands would beat them with a stick if they didn't comply, were not true, it is surely part of British tradition to allow people to cover their faces as and when they have or want to.
Think, for instance, of the Phantom of the Opera. This poor gifted individual was maimed for life by being caught up in a fire in a theatre. Where would he be without the mask that Andrew Lloyd Webber's designers suggested he wear? Could he go about stalking sopranic virgins from the rafters of opera houses without it? We do not have to believe, with the gullible musical theatre-goer, that Phantoms of the Opera exist and stalk the empty playhouses, but we must surely, in a democratic society, fight for these disfigured folk to wear masks?
Unlike the French, we in Britain don't publicly denounce and reject everything American while sneakily adopting it. We have a much more sophisticated attitude to fattening food and destructive culture.Think of the person called "Batman". You and I and perhaps a billion others know that he is really Bruce something or other.
Can you in your wildest dreams imagine an American statute, applicable in Gotham City, which bans people from wearing Batmasks? Or his very good young friend (sic) Robin from hiding the shape of his eyes behind the masquerade mask?


US President Barack Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, giving rise to the idea some Americans hold that his sympathies lie with the faith of his forefathers, would never dare to ban Batmasks or the Robin masquerade ones, would he? There'd be bigger riots than the ones against the Vietnam War. Go on Mr Obama, make my day!


Hiding one's flaws is a fundamental human right. Hiding one's true identity from state agencies is, arguably, not. If, for instance, a terrorist were using a false passport to get into a country he or she was about to bomb, that wouldn't be right and if the state against which the atrocity was to be perpetrated, penetrated the falsehood and discovered the forgery, that would be fine and dandy. Mr Sarkozy would argue that people with wicked intentions could hide their identity in a burqa. Possible, but surely today there are ways of detecting who's who from eyeball tests?


My suggestion is that if a policeperson is posted at every corner of every city with an eyeball-detecting machine connected to a central computer of eyeball identities and he or she asked every burqa-nashin to stare into the above-said machine, the problem would be solved. (This idea is copyright, please note!)


The problem would arise when the more fundamentalist women demanded that even the slits of the burqas be closed, so no light can pass in or sight can look out. That could very well be the wish of the burqa women who want to empower themselves even further. Being deprived of sight in public places they would have to resort to guide dogs on leashes who would be trained to walk them around.


But in today's Britain that would pose another problem. In a northern town this week "devout" Muslim bus drivers refused to take guide-dogs and the blind people they were guiding onto public buses. Dogs, they said, were unclean. There is a case to be made for blind people not being allowed on public transport and thereby walking the streets with their dogs, getting exercise and working off the excess weight they put on by eating cheap fast foods. It's a sort of blind slimmers' "empowerment", I suppose.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

WHEN RTI PROVED LETHAL

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Earlier this week, Amit Jethwa was shot dead in front of the Gujarat high court. He was in his thirties, a caring, law-abiding citizen, committed to the environment, humanity and animal life. And like most dedicated souls, he believed that he could stem the rot in the system and make a difference by diligently using democratic tools of empowerment. He relied heavily on the Right to Information (RTI) Act to plug the holes in the system. Till the holes got him.


Amit Jethwa was fighting against illegal mining in the Gir forests, which hosts the world's last Asiatic lions. But he was up against the mining mafia, the forest department and politicians involved in the racket. Not an easy fight for a lone ranger. Besides, he had made enemies by campaigning against corruption. He had even got a Lokayukta placed in Gujarat.


But he was losing faith in civil society. Barely a week before he was gunned down he had told a reporter about his disenchantment. "I know how risky it is for me and my family to wage a war against the mining mafia", he lamented. "Without the support of people nothing is possible."


Which is precisely where the power of the RTI lies. In the hands of the masses, it is a potent tool to chisel democracy with. But in the hands of a lone passionate soul, it may be a dangerous weapon ready to explode in your face.


Information is power only when you are allowed to use it. It works wonders in a free society, where people have justiciable democratic rights, where governance has not failed as miserably as in our country. The right to information can be a human right only where there has been a certain level of development, where certain democratic freedoms are protected. If the state cannot protect your right to life, it's best not to exercise your right to information too much.


Are we shocked that Amit Jethwa was killed in public, in broad daylight, in front of the highest seat of justice in the state? Yes. But should we be? The state is Gujarat, where human rights are routinely violated, where you could be killed for convenience. Even as this activist was being gunned down, chief minister Narendra Modi's close aide Amit Shah, the junior home minister accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, was audaciously dodging the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). This is also the state where thousands were killed in the name of religion, and investigations into the murders so mired in corruption that the Supreme Court had to shift some cases out to other states for a fair trial.


So maybe we should not be shocked that Amit Jethwa, an activist who fought powerful people for the right and the good, was killed so brazenly in front of the Gujarat high court. We should be shocked at our own impotence. At the way certain states can function as barely veiled banana republics, denying democratic rights and freedoms to Indian citizens.


But Gujarat, drowning as it is in the depths of deprivation, is not the only state to deny democratic rights and freedoms to citizens. Killers with political clout routinely go free everywhere in India. And RTI activists have been killed, attacked, and hounded around the country ever since the national RTI Act was passed in 2005.
Let's look at some of the cases this year. In January 2010, Satish Shetty, 39, was hacked to death in Maharashtra. The activist had been battling land scams and government corruption, had received death threats and asked for police protection — which he didn't get — and was killed while taking his morning walk.
In February, also in Maharashtra, RTI activist Arun Sawant was shot dead near the Badlapur Municipal Office in Thane for fighting administrative corruption. Meanwhile in Bihar, RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was gunned down in front of his home in Begusarai. A tireless crusader against corruption in welfare schemes and the local government, he was called "Khabri Lal" for his dedication to information. Meanwhile in Gujarat, Vishram Laxman Dodiya, who had filed an RTI petition regarding illegal electricity connections by Torrent Power, was murdered.


In April, RTI activist Vitthal Gite, 39, was killed in Maharashtra for exposing village education scams. And in Andhra Pradesh, Sola Ranga Rao, 30, was murdered in front of his home for exposing corruption in the funding of the village drainage system.


In May, Dattatray Patil, 47, was murdered in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. A close associate of activist and RTI guru Anna Hazare, his fight against corruption had got some of the area's top policemen removed and action initiated against local municipal corporators.


Besides murder, there are failed murder attempts, violent threats and fake police cases. Take Maharashtra.
In March, environmentalists Sumaira Abdulali and Naseer Jalal were ruthlessly attacked by a politically backed sand mafia in Raigad, and survived only because journalists accompanying them used their influence and mobile phones. None of the accused were arrested. In April, Abhay Patil, advocate and RTI activist, had a mob clamouring for blood at his door. Apparently, they wanted him to withdraw all complaints of corruption against MLA Dilip Wagh. When his wife, a police constable, called the cops for help, they asked her to come to the police station and lodge a complaint. Later, she faced fake charges and was suspended, allegedly at the behest of home minister R.R. Patil. Then in July, Ashok Kumar Shinde was attacked for his RTI and Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against a corruption racket in the Public Works Department linked to the Bombay high court.
Worse than physical assault is abusing the law to attack activists. Take the case of E. Rati Rao, senior scientist, activist and journalist, in Karnataka. In March she was charged with sedition and attempting to cause mutiny or communal discord for protesting against "encounters" and atrocities on dalits, tribals, Muslims and other minorities. Meanwhile, in distant Orissa, another activist-journalist, Dandapani Mohapatra, was targeted by the police, his home raided and his books and magazines confiscated without a warrant. He was labelled as a suspected Maoist.


Activists fighting for our rights cannot win without our muscle. Once an RTI activist is killed, civil society must force the police to investigate not just the murder but all that he was unearthing. Only then will we be able to stop this murderous silencing of activists.


By not protecting RTI activists, by allowing cases of harassment they file to be closed without punishing the perpetrators, the state is failing to uphold the spirit of the RTI Act. And weakening the spirit of democracy.

 

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.


She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

ARTFUL GIFT EXCHANGE

KISHWAR DESAI

 

Indian cinema is back in the news here folks, with Yash Chopra getting an honorary degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) University this week. Looking at him really gets us all nostalgic once again, doesn't it? Yashji is the quintessential Hindi cinema representative — having started as an assistant director and ending up with both a film production house as well as a dynasty to keep it going. I still remember seeing Waqt for the first time aeons ago — an astonishing lost-and-found story packaged with marvellous music. My favourite scene was Balraj Sahni singing Ai meri zohrajabeen, tujhe maloom naheen… The film may have seemed unbelievable and yet it was firmly grounded in the Indian psyche. A unique combination of factors that Yashji was able to exploit in all his movies.


While Yashji's films may have stretched our credibility — he gave a particular identity to Indian cinema and developed it as a genre as well — in later years this would manifest itself through Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai made under his banner. Again these were films that defined a whole generation growing up in India — and their changing attitudes towards romance.


Yashji, like Raj Kapoor, also opened up the world to Indian audiences; in the early years he had already begun shooting scenes abroad — the Switzerland government has officially acknowledged his promotion of that country thr­o­u­gh an award and apparently a la­ke in Switzerland is informally kn­o­wn as the "Chopra Lake" since it has featured so prominently in Ya­s­hji's films… I think it is about time we formally renamed it, as well!
The degree from Soas is very well deserved as Rachel Dwyer (who wrote his eponymous biography) was the guiding force behind it. Is it just my imagination or are we in the UK pushing really hard to give Indian cinema a higher profile?


The fact is that even though we are pulling out all the stops to make the majority population aware of the charms of Indian cinema, we still have a long way to go before we gain the same respect that Chinese cinema seems to have attained. Or even Iranian cinema. This is a paradox we all need to crack. And quickly.

 

MEANWHILE, I am just back from Birmingham which, I have to say, was a marvellous spin: out on the train in the morning and back smoothly in the evening, with ple­n­ty of coffee and croissants in be­t­w­een as energy fuel. And why Bir­mingham? Well, I had applied for my "indefinite leave to stay visa" which is what you get when you marry a British citizen. Having lived in India for most of my life, I have a built-in fear of government offices and red tape, and so was quite anxious about how the day would go. Quite shockingly it turned out to be amazingly zippy.


Of course, I was reminded of the time when I stood in a queue to get my Indian passport renewed in New Delhi not very long ago and found that when I finally reached the top of the line the window was slammed down in my face. Memories like these make one rather shaky at going to a repeat performance. I was quite prepared to face a barrage of menacing bureaucrats determined to block every move I made towards getting the visa.
But the whole process turned out to be fabulously simple right from the start: all phone calls or queries were always answered by very polite UK Border Agency officials. I even got several reminders about my Birmingham appointment on my mobile phone. And even when I went for my "Life in the UK Test" (yes, everyone has to give that test now) I found it was well organised and swift. I even enjoyed studying for the test — as it gives you information that I am sure many born and bred Britons would have no idea about!
On the date that I needed to go for the final interview the only centre which had a free slot was in Birmingham. I went there in trepidation, but fortunately the centre itself was clean, comfortable and unthreatening. I began to calm down because it wasn't overcrowded and appointments were properly spaced out so that everyone could be attended to. (Of course, many visas are dealt with through the post, as well — but because I was travelling I couldn't go for that option). Hopefully the Indian government will one day introduce similarly people-friendly systems so that anyone can go personally and get their passports and visas updated without being armed with a VIP recommendation, or be prepared to be booted out. If the government actually seems to work for you — and not against you — dealing with the bureaucracy can actually become a happy experience. It will also save an enormous amount of time. Errr… isn't that why we pay our taxes?

 

ONTO MORE important things. Such as what gift does one give to the President of the United States of America? I am sure we all wake up every morning worrying about these matters — but this time it was the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, who was mulling it over. Being the girl with a dolphin tattoo (on her ankle), we always knew she could surprise us, and she did. On Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the United States she sent with him a rather whimsical painting by Ben Eine, an East End street artist, "Twentyfirstcenturycity". The artist has confessed to being arrested around 15 to 20 times for vandalising walls with graffiti. But this probably has enhanced the value of his work more than the fact it was presented to the US President. I don't know very much about modern art, but I am pretty sure that if you've been arrested a few times it can only be a good career move.


The painting is a colourful arrangement of letters — and definitely helped to redefine the relationship between the US and UK. We now learn that US President Barack Obama has retaliated with a painting of a US artist. The gestures are obviously indicative of a more youthful approach and also a much more balanced one. The last time former British Premier Gordon Brown had given a very carefully thought out present of a penholder made from the timber of the Victorian anti-slavery ship, HMS Gannet, and received in turn a set of DVDs from Mr Obama — which didn't play on a UK system anyway.


Is there a lesson to be learnt in all of this? Can we be intensely rela­xed when exchanging gifts with the US President? Yes we can!

 

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DISCORDANT VOICES

COHESIVENESS IS VITAL FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

 

The principle of collective responsibility has repeatedly come under strain in the present dispensation of Dr Manmohan Singh, taking something away from the credibility and effectiveness of the government. The unseemly game of one-upmanship between Union Home Minister Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was evidently behind the ill-timed remarks of Home Secretary Pillai linking the ISI to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008. Equally, the manner in which Mr Krishna openly rebuked Mr Pillai bared the tense relationship between the two key ministries. But this whole unpalatable episode was no one-off case.

 

One can hardly forget the manner in which Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had slammed Mr Chidambaram's policy on handling Left-wing extremism three months ago, calling him 'rigid' and a man given to "intellectual arrogance." This invited a stern directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that only the Home Ministry would henceforth articulate on the Naxal issue but recently Mr Digvijay Singh stuck to his line of criticizing the handling of the issue, fuelling suspicions that the party and the government were not on the same page. Some months ago, the ebullient Shashi Tharoor was in the thick of controversy over his outspoken 'twittering' and had to quit, while another Union Minister Jairam Ramesh too had to be 'disciplined' for talking too much. Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee had stirred a hornet's nest when she stayed away from the Cabinet meeting at which the issue of imposing President's rule in Jharkhand was to be taken up, despite being in the Capital. It is also common knowledge that the Prime Minister was unhappy with Telecom Minister Raja sometime ago because of allegations of corruption against him flying thick and fast but was unable to replace him due to the DMK's refusal to allow its key minister to be changed.

 

All this points to loose accountability and lack of collective responsibility. It is indeed not our case that there should be no internal democracy in the ruling dispensation. Healthy debates within the Cabinet and the government are necessary and vital. But once a decision is arrived at, there must be an honest thrust towards implementing it.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

IT'S KAYANI'S PAKISTAN

THE GENERAL WILL CONTINUE TO RUN THE SHOW

 

Very few observers of the Pakistan scene were surprised when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced during his brief televised speech on Thursday a full-term (for three years) extension in service for Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Ashfaque Parvez Kayani. The significant decision, made public now, had been taken over a week ago with the consent of all top Generals. More than General Kayani, it was Gilani who wanted him to continue to head the most powerful institution in Pakistan beyond the date of his superannuation in November this year. The reason is that Gilani's position will remain as secure as it has been in General Kayani's Pakistan. Therefore, he employed a former Army Chief close to General Kayani to persuade him to agree to his proposal. President Asif Ali Zardari — who is surrounded by many controversies and has lost much of his powers, including that of appointing a new Army Chief and granting an extension to the incumbent COAS — had no choice but to accept what Gilani had proposed.

 

There are clear indications that Gilani was not alone in supporting Kayani. Despite the denial by Washington DC, General Kayani's continuance also suits the US interests in the Af-Pak region. The Americans were not sure if the General who would have replaced General Kayani would continue the operations against Al-Qaida and the Taliban as vigorously as is the case today. The man who cannot be happy with the development is Lt-Gen Khalid Shamim Wyne, next in line. How Lt-General Wyne plays his cards in the days to come will be interesting to watch.

 

Significantly, the extension order for General Kayani comes after a similar decision was taken in favour of the ISI chief, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and a few other top army officers. India has to get ready to deal with the man who played the key role in derailing the Foreign Minister-level talks between New Delhi and Islamabad on July 15. He is a shrewd operator as he believes in running the show with remote control.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MURALI'S MAGIC

THE SRI LANKAN BOWLING LEGEND WILL BE MISSED

 

An English offspin bowler is credited with the lament that there was not much point in glaring at Viv Richards because then Richards would hit him even harder. Slow bowlers, he meant to say, could do little against the gods of cricket, the batsmen. Cricket, after all, is a spectator sport dominated increasingly by big hits, short boundaries and fast and furious pace. Muttiah Muralitharan, described variously as the god of spin and the world's greatest bowler, is not known to have glared at batsmen. On the contrary the gentleman from Sri Lanka would generally greet them, after every delivery, with his toothy grin. And yet he turned the ball so much and tormented the batsmen so regularly with his 'doosra' that batsmen looked upon him as a smiling assassin. It would of course be a miracle if another bowler, slow or fast, ever manages to catch up with his haul of 800 wickets in Tests. It is remarkable that the second highest wicket-taker after him, Shane Warne, has as many as 92 fewer wickets credited to him while the kitty of the third highest, our very own Anil Kumble, is almost two hundred short of Murali's tally.

 

Cricket writer Peter Roebuck once described offspinners as 'lightweights who are not to be taken lightly'. It requires tremendous control and concentration, focus and fitness besides cunning to succeed as a slow spin bowler. It also calls for nerves of steel and fighting spirit, both of which the Sri Lankan bowler displayed in abundance. Criticised for his bowling action and called for chucking, Murali fought back and forced the International Cricket Council to conduct tests on him and admit that his bowling action, aided by a supple shoulder and a flexible wrist, was legitimate. When he announced his retirement from Tests at Galle, he still required 8 more wickets to break the 800 barrier. Most other bowlers would have been tempted to play the entire series before hanging their boots. But the gentle Sri Lankan, who at the age of 38 looked as hungry for wickets and as dangerous as ever, picked up the required 8 wickets and gifted his country yet another victory.

 

Murali has picked up 10 wickets in a Test 22 times, twelve more than Shane Warne. He took five-wicket hauls as many as 67 times—another staggering record unlikely to be broken. Before his debut Sri Lanka had won just two of the 38 Tests it had played. Since then Sri Lanka has won 54 Tests, aided in no small measure by Muralitharan's bowling. Batsmen will not miss him but Cricket will.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

INDIA, CHINA — A NEW PARTNERSHIP

BOTH WILL NEED EACH OTHER'S MARKETS

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

Comparing India with China has become commonplace in international circles because they are the two big rising economic powers of Asia today. In fact, they were the two great powers in the past also, and it is not surprising that they are rising again after a gap of a few hundred years. But the comparison is mainly in terms of the growth rate - both are growing faster than many other countries in terms of GDP. India's growth rate in the next one year is supposed to be around 9 per cent (if this year's monsoon is good) and China's around 10 per cent. Both have come out of the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. The comparison should not be stretched too far because China is far ahead of India in many ways, and India is ahead of China in giving people personal freedom, the right to information and a democratic set-up.

 

Many in India from the educated middle class value individual freedoms and want to be able to express themselves. Educated and well-placed Indians are often heard saying that they would never want to settle abroad and they have everything they want in India. It is the not-so-privileged who want to migrate and settle abroad. In China, most people prefer being in China than anywhere else and this is borne out by the fact that reverse brain drain is taking place today.

 

To the "am admi" in India, however, it is hardly important whether he or she has individual freedom as long as there is enough to eat and children are properly educated and have access to good medical care when ill. China is ahead in this respect and grants its people the basic creature comforts, and the people seem quite satisfied with it. They are able to work and live in peace and earn a decent living, indulge in good food, have cars, ensure a good future for their children, etc. It is a much more uniform society than ours, and people do not have so many identities (caste, regional, religious and class) like we have. They speak the same language also and the task of the government becomes easier in giving primary education and skill training to all.

 

If the general public is well fed and employed and poverty is only at 8 per cent of the total population compared to our 37 per cent, then we are not comparing two similar entities. India has to resolve many complex problems before it can enter the league of China and other middle income countries of the world where stark poverty has been eradicated. Many scholars point out that China has higher inequality of incomes than India but that is hardly important when the inequality of opportunity is so great in India. A poor man's son has no chance of making it big unless helped by sheer luck or a miracle. No one is able to come out of the shackles of underprivileged childhood and schooling easily. It is a shameful fact that India still has over 60 million child and bonded labourers. It is equally shameful that we still have a huge amount of trafficking in women and children.

 

There is rampant corruption in India and also in China, but the corrupt are punished by death in China. The authoritarian regime is intolerant of graft.

 

China has economic power and military might and it plays its card well in the international fora. Just before the G-20 meeting in Toronto, it announced flexibility of its currency's exchange rate, a problem that all countries were going to address. Its yuan may be allowed to float and not kept artificially low in order to facilitate its exports in the future. In fact, it may become an international reserve currency since it is already accepted in a large part of the ASEAN area. Its trade surplus is growing and it seems to be marching ahead in both manufacturing and services sectors.

 

In its quest for becoming a super power, it has made all the Chinese people very proud and they are working together to make the dream a reality. That kind of national pride is missing in India. Despite promises, the government has also not been able to control runaway inflation or the spread of Maoist activities or the problems in Kashmir.

 

China does not only have high economic growth but also public policies which are properly implemented though the number of protests has been growing in recent months. Wage protests are becoming more common and the Chinese labour force seems comfortable enough in their villages (thanks to the $585 billion stimulus package that gave subsidies to the rural population for buying appliances) and not wanting to move to factories in large numbers as before. China will experience a rise in wages in the future. But it does not mind that. It is interested in giving more purchasing power in the hands of the people. China has overtaken the US as being the world's largest car market.

 

With the global economic crisis far from being over and the EU experiencing huge sovereign debt problems and facing slack demand and falling prices or deflation as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said in Toronto, there is strong likelihood that China too may face receding exports. It is already preparing for such an eventuality and, being a big country, it is going to shift its focus from an export-led growth strategy to boosting domestic demand as an engine of growth. Already in tourism, China hardly relies on foreign tourists for revenue; the Chinese are avid consumers of their own beauty and historic spots. Anyone going to the Great Wall in Beijing will bear witness to the hordes of local tourists. They also are steeped deeply into their own culture, having never been colonised by the British. There are not many Anglophiles and pro-American scholars in China, and their model for growth and reforms is their own.

 

Thus, China is quite a unique country which is all set to be a dominant player in the world arena. The same cannot be said about India. But both India and China will need each other's markets and labour in the future. With rising wages, India can become an important outsourcing partner for China and more Indian finished goods can be sent to China in the future. India and China can have many complementarities which may emerge in the course of the next few years. It will be to our mutual advantage to explore these and in India's case, it could mean faster poverty reduction if growth with equity is the chosen path.

 

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THE  TRIBUNE

MIDDLE

RESERVATIONS ABOUT 'RESERVATION'

BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER

 

A new law in which females are going to get reservation in the Legislative Body  of  animal kingdom is in the offing, and this means a complete upheaval," twittered the sparrow, acutely aware of its responsibility as a little bird as a harbinger of news.

 

"Twittering gets one in trouble," said the jungle babbler.

 

"Oh yeah!", and "what does babbling do?"

 

"O.K.! No sparring," said the babbler, and then getting serious,  said: "Let us  assess the  impact  of  the new law on the jungle-mates."

 

Both flew towards the deep forest and came upon wolves, wild dogs and hyenas.

 

"Have you heard of the latest law?" the sparrow quizzed the  wolves.

 

"Yes", he snarled, but it makes no difference to us. We follow the "Law of Packs".

 

The hyenas nodded in unison, laughing hysterically, while dogs wagged their tales meekly.

 

The birds then confronted the elephants, who were mirthfully spreading water on each other. They replied that they had no time to be concerned about such affairs.

 

The rabbits said that their female folks were too busy producing litters to consider such issues.

 

The horses and antelopes did not acknowledge their chirpy question, as they were too busy necking.

 

The zebras said: "Why should we be bothered. We have complete gender equality and wear unisex striped clothes".

 

They then met the hippopotamus and crocodiles sunning themselves with their mouths ajar and they simply yawned away the question.

 

"But this law is certainly going to affect us all. Maybe these animals we talked to are ignorant. Let us meet the king", chirped the birds.   They then flew in search of the lion and found him basking in the sun.

 

Noticing the birds, the king stretched himself, half opened his eyes and gruffly asked: "Yes?"

 

"Oh King! we ask you, what will happen to the kingdom, when  reservation for females is introduced?"

 

"Who is making this law?" asked the king.

 

"The Law Makers", replied the birds.

 

"Who are the Law Makers?" asked the king.

 

"Er! We do not know exactly, but it has to be My Lord", replied the birds.

 

"You are wrong," replied the lion half dejectedly, "the writ of the lioness runs," he said winking naughtily at the birds, "I only sign the decrees."

 

"But, let me tell you, I have no reservations about reservation".

 

"Oh king, this law promises gender revolution and yet, no one is concerned?  Isn't it awful?"

 

"It is much ado about nothing", replied the king, "but I know some people who will be affected since I know the kingdom,  like the back of my paw."

 

"Please tell us", chirped the birds.

 

It is going to affect the simians and their likes and some animals in "Swine land".

 

"Swine land?" asked the birds.

 

 "Yes", replied the king, "because that is where all male chauvinists come from."  Saying this, he went back to his siesta, leaving the birds bewildered.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ARE GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS SAFE?

SUMAN SAHAI

 

GM crops are promoted as the answer to global hunger, to combat climate change, to produce renewable energy; it appears that if there is a problem anywhere, GM crops have the answer. Apart from this hyperbole, a fundamental question remains: does GM technology produce safe foods or should we be apprehensive about negative health impacts?

 

There is a substantial body of scientific data that demonstrates that the process of genetic engineering itself can cause changes in the cell that can lead to new and unpredictable changes in it.

 

Adverse health effects from GM food can result from the over-expression of an existing protein or activation of a dormant toxic substance, resulting in cell products that could be dangerous to human and animal health.

 

In addition to this, the genetic engineering of plants may result in the expression of totally new substances, which are not found in the natural plant species or, genes brought in from plants having known allergy provoking properties would bring the allergenic property along with them into the new transgenic plant.

 

The mere act of inserting alien genes into the chromosome of the host plant can create unintended effects and the formation of new and unknown toxic or allergy provoking compounds which are almost impossible to analyse and detect.

 

This can be a special problem in the case of plants like brinjal, which belong to the Solanacea family. This plant family to which nightshade, dhatura and tobacco (all highly poisonous) also belong has several natural toxins.

 

The chance of natural toxins being recreated through genetic engineering is high and therefore the genetic engineering of plants of this kind is more risky and more likely to produce foods that could be a threat to human health. Our regulatory system for GM crops have no provisions to conduct specific safety tests of this kind. Such tests, for instance, were not done for Bt brinjal.

 

It is known that allergenic proteins can be transferred by genetic engineering from one organism to another. The potential for development of toxic or allergic reactions to GM foods is likely to increase with advances in the scope and range of genetic modifications, increasingly radical transgenic combinations and the introduction of a greater variety of GM foods into the market, the last resulting in an increased exposure among people to foods carrying novel proteins.

 

With the widespread penetration of GM food in the market, food-allergic people will have to contend with new sources of allergens. The danger will be compounded by the difficulties of implementing labeling in India and making such labels intelligible to a large section of Indian people, particularly in rural areas. Allergic consumers will not even know what to avoid, resulting in a great risk to their health.

 

Children will be particularly vulnerable because their young immune systems will be less able to fight the allergen and also because their exposure to such novel proteins will be of longer duration, increasing their risk. The use of GM food products as food additives and processed foods, including baby foods, will lead to earlier exposure, especially for infants either directly or via breast milk. Maternal dietary food proteins are regularly detected in breast milk, and cow milk.

 

A particularly controversial area in the application of GM technology has been the use of marker genes which are introduced along with the gene for the desired trait as part of the gene construct that is inserted. The marker gene is just that, a marker to identify if the gene transfer has been successful.

 

Historically, the most common marker genes have been those that code for resistance to antibiotics. The concern is that these genes could find their way into pathogenic microbes, potentially compromising the clinical efficacy of antibiotics used in human medicine or livestock production. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in human medicine is a large enough risk for giving rise to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

 

Testing can be done when the protein created by the foreign gene is known but problems arise when the toxicological hazard results from newly formed proteins which can not be predicted. It is not possible to test for what you do not know and the hazardous proteins can remain undetected. The problem is made worse by the fact that induction of food allergies by increasing dietary exposure may be difficult to detect because of low frequency in the population to start with and because years of ingestion may be required to provoke an allergic response. This has special implications in the case of proteins where allergies are likely to show up years later.

 

There is plenty of evidence about the health dangers of GM foods, from animal tests.

 

Studies done at the Russian Academy of sciences, on rats fed with GM soya showed high rates of mortality, severe stunting of pups and high levels of sterility in the surviving litter. The startling results showed that 36% of the litter born to emales fed GE soya were stunted at the age of two weeks, by the third week over 55% had died. The mortality was six to eight times higher than in the control group which had been fed non GE soya.

 

Data on the health damage caused by eating GM foods comes from Monsanto's own labs. Results from a secret study conducted on their GM maize Mon 863 which were accidentally leaked, showed that rats fed on Mon 863 developed organ abnormalities, changes in the blood profile and collapse of the immune system.

 

Earlier studies on rats have also shown that rodents appear to be averse to GM foods and reject them in laboratory tests. When the first genetically altered tomato "Flavr Savr" was fed to rodents in the labs in 1994, data revealed that many of the rats developed lesions in the stomach. Seven of the forty rats that were fed with GM tomatoes died within two weeks. There have been numerous other reports of stomach lesions in rats, false pregnancies in cows, excessive cell growth and damage to animal immune systems, following feeding studies conducted with GM foods.

 

Adequate testing procedures for allergenicity are not available in India. At present food toxicity is tested merely by the chemical analysis of nutrients and known toxins. This may fail to uncover several categories of toxins and allergens. This means that animals and humans could be exposed to allergens which are not being detected. Before any further commercialization is allowed, testing procedures of sufficiently stringent standards should be put in place.

 

Dr Suman Sahai, trained in genetics, is the chairperson of the Gene Campaign, She has served on the faculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg. She can be contacted at mail@genecampaign.org

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PUNJAB IN FAVOUR OF BT MAIZE

JANGVEER SINGH

 

IF BT seed manufacturers are in need of a success story in India, they need not look further than Punjab. BT cotton has succeeded in replacing the entire traditional cotton varieties in the State and is now grown in around 99 per cent of the available area in four districts of the State.

 

In fact, policy-makers in Punjab are looking at genetically modified (GM) seeds to usher in another agriculture revolution in the State. Production levels from existing seeds have peaked and it is in this context that Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal has asked the Centre to consider allowing Punjab to introduce BT maize.

 

 

Punjab wants to divert area under paddy cultivation due to the crops' effect on the water table. BT maize, which is being cultivated worldwide, is being touted as a replacement that will offer the same profit levels as derived from paddy without problems of water depletion.

 

None of the present alternatives, including hybrid maize being grown in a small area in Punjab, can compete with paddy in terms of profitability. Punjab State Farmers Commission Chairman Dr G S Kalkat says hybrid maize is at present yielding three tonnes per hectare and this can be increased to seven to eight tonnes per hectare with introduction of BT maize.

 

While this is a decision that has to be taken by the Union Government, BT maize oil is already being sold in India.

 

 Dr Kalkat said BT cotton had already proved to be a success in the State within three years of introduction.

 

Whatever problems had occurred earlier were because some farmers had been bringing in uncertified seed from Gujarat. Farmers were now reaping one and half times more than what they got from traditional varieties.          

 

 Mainstream farmer unions, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), are also in favour of BT seeds. Rajewal says farmers in Punjab are happy with BT cotton.

 

"They have completely ignored those who have been running a sustained campaign against the introduction of GM seeds", he says, adding farmers are willing to try out BT maize also in case the Centre approved it.

 

 There are a few farmers' bodies, including the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), that are against BT cotton and also introduction of BT maize. The organisation feels that though farmers may have benefited initially, they will be at a loss in the end.

 

 Punjab Kheti Virasat Mission head Umendra Dutt, who has earlier led a campaign against BT brinjal in the State, says it is strange that the Punjab government is adopting a pro active approach on BT maize when there was no demand for its introduction in the State. After the initial hype, productivity of GM seeds, including BT cotton, is coming down.

 

He claimed that there were also instances in Muktsar and Ferozepur districts where the American Bollworm pest had become resistant to the BT gene. The KVM says issues of productivity increase as well as pest control should be addressed but it was not necessary to give control to the corporate sector for doing so.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

TAX REFORM NEEDS AGREE-CULTURE

THE MOST SWEEPING TAX REFORM SINCE INDEPENDENCE REQUIRES ALL STATES TO AGREE TO TRANSITION TO A UNIFORM GOODS AND SERVICE TAX

 

Afive year journey is coming to an end. It will mark the most sweeping tax reform that the country has seen since independence. This is the journey to a consensus among all 28 states of the nation. This consensus has been built painstakingly, through an empowered committee consisting of Finance Ministers of all the states, and chaired by the FM of West Bengal, Dr Asim Dasgupta.

 

The consensus that we are approaching is a tacit agreement by all states to voluntarily surrender their right to tax their residents. In exchange for this sacrifice, they will get a share of a new nation wide tax, called the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST regime will truly unify the country as a common economic market, and eliminate several inefficiencies. This is the most sweeping tax reform since independence. Hence this unanimous agreement that the states are about to conclude is historic.

 

It is not a trivial matter that in a federal polity such as India, we have got consensus among unequal and dissimilar states, many of whom are ruled by political parties of all hues (Unfortunately this camaraderie and spirit of cooperation around GST does not extend to other spheres. The spirit of oneness of purpose is lacking inside state legislatures. There members mostly fight each other, sometimes with furniture or flower pots. But that's a different story).

 

We should also not underestimate the difficulty of having achieved this agreement amongst states. State government impost all kinds of taxes, most notably the sales tax (now called the value added tax or VAT). They also impose entertainment tax, stamp duty (on sale of assets), octroi or entry tax, and others. In addition cities or village councils have taxes on property. There is often a multiplicity of rates, and different states have different golden geese. Thus Sikkim might get most revenues from lottery, whereas Punjab might get from mandi taxes from wheat and rice. Maharashtra gets a huge portion from octroi.

 

Now imagine all these disparate states giving it all up, for a promise to get a predetermined formula share from GST. That's the grand bargain they are about to strike. Ideally the whole country will have one rate of tax on the purchase of all goods and services, from clothes, shoes, haircuts, motor cars, steel or cement. But that ideal is still a holy grail. As a compromise, the Finance Minister of India (who is just an interloper to meetings of the Empowered Committee), has offered that instead of just one uniform rate, the country will have three rates. Certain items will be kept out of the GST ambit. These are petroleum, real estate, electricity and liquor.

 

Unfortunately these are big items of expenditure, and their exclusion can cause great distortion. But let's not pooh pooh the achievement of the consensus. For the time being think of this as a political price to pay for getting unanimity. The next big step to sealing the consensus is a constitutional amendment, to article 265. Unless this amendment is passed by two third majority in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, GST cannot be rolled out. Furthermore this amendment has to be passed in at least 15 major states' assemblies by a simple majority. Only then would have crossed the rubicon.

 

This will need an unprecedented cooperation across political parties (since no single party has the numbers). But most of the hard work has been done, political compromises have been struck. So passage is imminent. If only the bargainers had used this consensus to also include an important piece of tax reform, which also requires a constitutional amendment. This is the right of government to tax agricultural income, which accounts for about 18 percent of national income. That income still remains untouchable, and must wait for another tax revolution. Till then let's raise a toast to the GST.

 

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

COLUMN

'CAUSE I'M THE TAXMAN

I DON'T KNOW WHO WOULD WANT TO CELEBRATE THE CREATION OF THE INCOME TAX, OTHER THAN THE TAX OFFICIALS THEMSELVES

T N NINAN

 

You may not know this, but today is Income Tax Day. Before you start doing cartwheels, let me clarify that they are not going to announce a special rebate for all those who file their taxes honestly and in time; instead, they are going to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the income tax in India. The coming year will be marked by the release of commemorative stamps and coins, and all future July 24ths will also be Income Tax Days — or so an unsolicited e-mail informs me.

 

 I don't know who would want to celebrate the creation of the income tax, other than the tax officials themselves (who must be the guys who doubtless have thought up this one). Most official "days" that are not honouring people (martyrs, mothers and fathers, for instance) are to mark the battle against an evil (Leprosy Day, for instance), or to promote something worth promoting (as with World Environment Day). But income tax?

 

You could say that the income tax should be celebrated because taxes are unavoidable, and the income tax is better than other forms of taxation because it is usually progressive (those who earn more pay more). But others will argue the opposite: that taxing income is an impost on you for making a contribution to the economy, whereas tax should be on what you consume, not produce (hence a tax on expenditure).

 

But my complaint is not about the income tax itself (which in India now has perfectly reasonable rates, thanks to Mr Chidambaram's 1997 Budget), but about the guys who administer the tax — who are the people doing the celebrating. If the Central Board of Direct Taxes bestirred itself to do a survey on how taxpayers view the taxman, it might find that taxmen are among the most abhorred of all the people who occupy government offices (next only to policemen, perhaps).

 

Talk to anyone who has faced a tax official and you will almost certainly get a volley of complaints — usually about corruption and about irrational tax demands. On the few occasions when I was called to appear before the taxman (many years ago, fortunately), I was asked variously to provide a job for the official's nephew, to buy his wife's painting, and so on; so I outsourced all future interviews to my chartered accountant, with strict instructions that no money was to change hands. The result, of course, is that routine tax refunds get inordinately delayed, or you get strange notices on matters many years old. I once told the revenue secretary in the finance ministry that he was presiding over the most corrupt department in the government; he responded by asking whether newspaper owners didn't make money by dishonest means! When that attitude prevails, don't expect change.

 

What you probably don't know is that the tax guys actually have a "citizens' charter". This flowed from an initiative in the late 1990s, when the government decided to take a leaf out of the John Major government's book in Britain. Every government ministry and department was asked to prepare a citizens' charter, and you can see them at goicharters.nic.in. The Central Board of Direct Taxes has a charter too, dated July 24 (note the date) three years ago, and while it promises many good things (among them, timely refunds), it does not promise that the taxman will deal with you honestly. In fairness, it has delivered substantially on one promise (to use "non-intrusive and automated techniques" to ensure compliance), but I doubt that anyone who has been "intruded" upon for whatever reason will want to join the celebrations today.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BJP - LOSING, LOSING, LOST?

WE ELECT WHO WE ARE, BUT THE REALITY IS VERY DISTURBING

SURJIT S BHALLA

 

The Food and Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, gets appointed to be head of the International Cricket Council. He boastfully announces that the UPA coalition has given him too much work and, therefore, it should give him more junior ministers to do his daily hard work. Meanwhile, food prices have erupted all over the country, now for more than 15 months or so. It has been raining double-digit inflation in food, and for some articles, the inflation is above 15 to 20 per cent each year for three successive years. In the first year, the government said that it was helpless because world prices of wheat, rice and peanuts had all exploded because of the nasty shenanigans on Wall Street. True. There was a world crisis and oil had shot up to $147 a barrel. We couldn't and the people didn't blame the government.

 

The next year, 2009-10, international food prices collapsed as the world spiralled into a recession. The speculative froth was off, and food prices began to reflect fundamentals as international prices of the most-traded agricultural commodities — wheat, sugar and rice — halved. In India, food prices continued to shoot up. What did the UPA government do? It pointed to the bad monsoon for being responsible for food prices rising and rising. Yes, of course, but couldn't we release the massive amount of foodgrains that the government keeps in stock for precisely such an occasion? This would bring down food prices and especially help the aam aadmi. Not some ordinary person but the God that all Congressmen (and women) are required to worship every morning. After all, we have to pray to those who brought us to power.

 

 The massive amount of stock foodgrains could not be released because of administrative problems, inefficiencies in government administration, and the fact that some of the government food was rotting and not even fit enough for rats to eat. But haven't we been running the Public Distribution System (PDS) for the last 40 years? What happened to the much-vaunted IAS bureaucracy, and Nehruvian planning? We have a drought and we cannot release food in the godowns to the poor?

 

We cannot and there is nothing the aam aurat can do about it. So, go fly a kite and anyway, what can you do — elect the BJP? (More on that below.) So, can we import some foodgrains please, especially since international food prices are so favourable? No we cannot? Why? The UPA skipped these questions and it was easy to do so because nobody in the government is required to have a press conference, least of all the real boss, Sonia Gandhi. One possible explanation is that our Food Minister Mr Pawar was busy trying to get himself elected to be head of the International Cricket Council. But that is a non-sequitur because nobody really believes, or should believe, that a minister is required to be a clerk and place orders to import food, or be the captain of the ship to bring the food to our shoes, or be the driver of the truck to bring the food to the shops, or be the shopkeeper who sells you the food in ration shops.

 

What we have here is massive incompetence. But let us not be too harsh on the UPA government. While it could have been importing and releasing food, and it could have been making the foodgrain stock release system responsive, it has been working on something far bigger, and far more important for not only the poor of India but the poor of the world. It has been working on a shining path for the future, a path that was lit up by other believers in aam aadmi like Stalin and Mao and Castro. It has been working on a food security Act, an Act that would bestow the right to have food on every person, as long as food is available in government foodshops. But this is not the only grand design of the beloved and much-loving Congress party. The next Act is the Happiness Act for the aam aadmi, also known by its acronym Haaa. This Act will be passed on International Happiness Day and the whole world will be watching.

 

But there are aspects of the government, the non-political aspects, that are working in a positive direction. The UPA was brave enough to accept that it committed a grievous error when it reversed its own mistaken policy of administering oil subsidies. From now on, oil prices will go up as well as down. (Or so we hope.) A new tax system will be in place within a year, a system that should considerably improve government finances and India's economy. One should give credit where it is due — but not the losing, losing, lost BJP.

 

The saffron party's response to food prices going up and fuel price reform? It calls for a bandh and disrupts work around the country. It protests the freeing up of fuel prices, thus going against the very policies the party itself had followed. As a means of bringing food prices down, it wants to bring back the essential commodities Act, something the party had rightfully dismantled when it was young. To continue leading itself down its chosen garden path to destruction and rank stupidity, the party now wants to stop all talks with Pakistan. Again, the BJP under Atal Behari Vajpayee's prime ministership had persisted with peace talks through all shocks and surprises. And instead of being forward-looking and unifying, the party wants to continue with the divisive politics of its junior, rabble-rousing members.

 

So, the next time you wonder about how the Congress party can get away with arrogance and gross incompetence and feudal politics, and hurt the very poor policies, and still retain popularity and even have visions of being at the Centre for generations to come under the leadership of one family — stop wondering. Just look at the BJP.

 

The author is the chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm. Please visit www.oxusinvestments.com  for an archive of articles etc.;

comments welcome at: surjit.bhalla@oxusinvestments.com

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DELHI, THE TWO-FACED CAPITAL

POISED TO SCALE NEW HEIGHTS AS A WORLD-CLASS METROPOLIS, IT ALSO APPEARS TO BE FALLING APART

SUNIL SETHI

 

Delhi, the national Capital, was always a double-faced place but in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, it is acquiring a schizophrenic persona. Poised to scale new heights as a world-class metropolis, it also appears to be falling apart. Soaring stadia with lights ablaze, swank villages for 8,000 athletes with private ice cream parlours, a metro burrowing its way to far corners and the T3, touted as the eighth largest terminal in the world. Ok, we got the message.

 

 Why is it then that every time I enter the city, leave the house, try to catch an appointment in the suburbs or accomplish a day's jobs, I am beset with nightmarish traffic jams, long painful power cuts, waterlogged roads, (and) dangerously incomplete pavements, literally strewn with stumbling blocks? An accurate indicator of the city's brand-new but instantly collapsing infrastructure was in the newspapers this week — the opening of the municipality's Rs 650-crore new headquarters (grandly called a civic centre) with leaking roofs, walls soaked from seepage and a basement car park swimming in ankle-high water. Opposition councillors caused a ruckus, brought in the press and an inquiry has been ordered. If that's the state of the new HQ, it's no wonder that the vast municipality refuse dump at the end of my street is exactly as I have always known it — a stinking mountain of garbage that takes days to clear. The only new aspect to this putrefying mass is that it has now assumed the proportions of a minor Himalayan peak.

 

Delhi is savvy, sexy and smart — that's if you listen to adherents such as Commonwealth Games organisers, the city's well-insulated ruling elite and its motherly chief minister (who, every time I turn on the car radio, is exhorting children to study harder and parents to keep calm during stressful school exams or elaborating on some tree-planting drive in adverts). Delhi is also progressive and rich — highest per capita income amongst small states and well-above-average social and quality-of-life indicators. Day-to-day life here, however, is not what it's cracked up to be.

 

Despite massive investment and higher levies (rates for power, water and property tax are all up) and the 70-day race to complete preparations for the Commonwealth Games, there is no evidence that Delhi's roads are less congested, electricity or water supply better managed or the Jamuna river less of a sewer than before. Is it that Delhi can't cope with its embarrassment of riches? Sheila Dikshit has actually announced prizes — by way of an extra month's salary — for officials if building works are finished on time. The city's coffers may run deep but its management is stuck in a quagmire of mismanagement and sloth.

 

A burgeoning metro and a fleet of low-slung, air-conditioned buses have made no appreciable difference to its clogged arteries. Long the motor vehicle Capital of India, the city continues to add 1,000 cars a day to its streets. Privatisation of power has not reduced shortages — outages were long and frequent through the summer months with markets covered in a miasma of generator fumes. Prices of diesel on the black market rocketed as supplies ran out. And come the first monsoon showers, sections of the city routinely grind to a halt as roads begin to resemble rivers in spate.

 

Where do the funds go in one of the richest places in the country? Mostly into the pockets of the Hydra-headed government, the multiplicity of agencies assigned to the same job. A case in point is the decades-old project to clean up the Jamuna, Delhi's main waterway. The Commonwealth Games should have been the perfect moment to restore it as the city's central showpiece, a sign of the Capital's overall prosperity and health. Despite crores of rupees spent, noisy public campaigns, endless committees and judicial interventions, it remains a parched eyesore and repository of much of Delhi's filth. Reason: there are 13 central and state bodies involved in its proposed transformation.

 

Like the ambitious overreacher who falls flat, Delhi talks big. The more things change, the more they remain the same

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DIPLOMACY UNDER FIRE

EVEN THE THICKEST DIPLOMATS COULD NOT HAVE MISSED THE POINT THAT KRISHNA MADE AT THE KABUL MEET

K NATWAR SINGH

 

To pillory External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is grossly unfair. He is a decent, polite, soft-spoken, and non-combative person. He conducted himself with restraint in Islamabad. He stuck to his brief and, being the sensible man that he is, he did not emulate the brashness of his Pakistani counterpart, whose rhetorical excesses do not contribute to the enhancement of civility.

 

Our American friends seem to have learnt no lessons from the Vietnam folly. Nor from their failed invasion of Iraq, in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. They are now caught in an un-winnable combat in Afghanistan. Seventy plus luminaries met in Kabul earlier in the week for a day, pledged billions of dollars to rescue Afghanistan and its people from their cruel fate. The leaders pledged to transfer security and finances to the Hamid Karzai government by 2014.

 

 Will President Karzai or his government be around in 2014? I, for one, certainly hope so. President Karzai has his plateful of woes — Taliban, Al Qaeda, corruption, civil war, abject penury, Nato and Pakistan. His speech was peppered with idealistic phrases. He would lead his "people from poverty to prosperity and from insecurity to stability". Not only that. He excelled himself and was almost lyrical, "Our vision is to be the peaceful meeting place of civilisations... Our location in the centre of the new Silk Road makes us a convergence point of regional and global economic interests." If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. If tulips were watches, I would hang one by my side. I wish you luck and success, Mr President. You need both.

 

The unpleasant truth is that a diplomatic jamboree of 70-odd ministers, 700 advisers and security personnel cannot in one day come up with a solution for so intractable a problem as Afghanistan (there always is plenty of surface conviviality and fake sincerity). The Nato troops cannot cut and run. US President Barack Obama has sacked one General. Let's see what General David H Petraeus produces. The unfortunate reality is that the Americans simply do not have an adequate understanding of Asia, with the exception of Japan. Yet, they call the shots.

 

I read S M Krishna's speech at the Kabul meet with much interest. His candour could not have gone unnoticed. He said, "The international community must learn lessons from past experience at negotiation with fundamentalists and extremist organisations, and ensure that any peace process is conducted in an inclusive and transparent manner." Even the thickest diplomats could not have missed the point Krishna made.

 

A word about Hillary Clinton. She has turned out to be an asset to Mr Obama. She is on the ball, intellectually from the top drawer, does her home work, has immense energy, is amiable, conscientious. She has what one of the country's very good men, Benjamin Franklin, said about an accomplished diplomat: "Sleepless tact, immovable calmness and a patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunder can shake."

 

When it comes to India and Pakistan, she finds herself between a rock and a hard place. George W Bush was not a complex personality. For him, India came first. For Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton, Pakistan is an old, trusted friend, a natural ally and an invaluable strategic partner. India is in a different league and indispensable for world peace and security. India is not, never has been and never will be, a camp follower. Thanks to Mr Bush, America has finally seen the light. No hyphen, no India- Pakistan, only India and Pakistan and in that order.

 

When Mr Obama visits India later in the year, he will be surprised at the warmth of his welcome. In December 1959, President Eisenhower was greeted by a million Indians at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi. I have no doubt Mr Obama will be greeted by an even larger audience.

 

* * *

The Commonwealth Games are 70 days away. Comparisons with China (Olympics) and South Africa (World Cup) are inevitable. I am confident that the Games will be a success. What I can't stomach is the unseemly whining — "What a pity, Queen Elizabeth will not be opening the Games." So what? "Holt the wonder 100-metre runner has dropped out." So he has. Should that be a cause for despair? Certainly not. It would have been a pleasure to have him at the Games, but his not coming should not reduce the organisers of the Games to a state of demoralisation. This is unseemly for a great country like India.

 

Tailpiece
Is diplomacy passé ? Not quite. It is nonetheless under sustained onslaught — too many, too frequent summits of heads of state/government, and constant gatherings of G20, G8, G15 foreign and finance ministers make life very difficult for professionals. So often they have to cater to the whims and vagaries of their political bosses, who more often than not make easy things difficult and difficult things impossible.

 

Summitry has now become chronic. Diplomats have to make the necessary adjustments. They have one major advantage — their bosses come and go; they stay for 35 years in their jobs.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

SOCIETIES AGAINST THE STATE

V V

 

It is said that the history of peoples who have a history is the history of class struggle. It might be said with as much truthfulness, that the history of peoples without history is a history of their struggle against the state.
—Pierre Clastres (1934-1977),French anthropologist,Society Against the State (1974)

 

Paul Scott, one of the most distinguished social scientists writing today — who combines political science, history and anthropology in a multi-disciplinary approach to study primitive societies — has this quote as the epigram to his book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland South East Asia (Yale University Press, Orient Blackswan reprint, Rs 799). Closely associated with the Agrarian Studies programme at Yale University, Professor Scott has provided a novel approach to the study of the history of modern Southeast Asia which he describes as "anarchist", by which he means an argument against states rather than a programme of its own. Professor Scott's theoretical framework is heavily based on the work of Pierre Clastres who had stated in his path-breaking work among primitive tribes of Paraguay that "primitive societies are societies without a state… that in these societies, something was missing — the state. Consequently, these societies are incomplete; they are not quite true societies; they are not civilised; their existence continues to suffer the painful experience of a lack — the lack of a state —which they will never make up… ".

 

 Hence the questions: Is society inconceivable without the state, or is the state the destiny of every society? This is the theme that runs through the entire book that is directly relevant to us with the rise of the Naxalite movement where tribals and peasants have opted out of the system.

 

That "all civilised peoples were once savages" and every society has had to pass through stages which led from savagery to civilisation is now an accepted fact of history. But there are still a great many left who are "without a history". The people that Scott has worked on reside in an imaginary country called Zomia, a region as big as Europe and straddles both South China and several mainland Southeast Asian countries.

 

This autonomous region is spread over Yunnan, parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, extending up to Northeast India. The area covers 25 million sq km, populated by 100 million people belonging to minority groups that have a bewildering ethnic and linguistic diversity. They have never been fully incorporated into nation states and with the march of technology, it is becoming more and more clear that the "integration" might never really happen.

 

Scott puts it spot on: "Since 1945, ...the power of the state to deploy distance-demolishing technologies — railroads, all weather roads, telephone, telegraph, air power, helicopters, and now information technology — so changed the strategic balance of power between self-governing peoples and nation-states, so diminished the friction of terrain... that the so-called self-governing societies are no longer viable without state support."

 

But look at the question from the "other side": Do the people of Zomia want the state to intercede on their behalf, to provide them the benefits of progress? It isn't an easy question to answer simply because they cling on to their ways of life at all costs. As against this, they know that a price has to be paid for this — enslavement, conscription, taxes, and disruption of their established ways of life. So, they keep the state at arm's length and they can do this because of the physical terrain with which they are familiar and the "outsiders" are not. Besides, their mobility, kinship patterns, ethnic identities help strengthen their independence against the upholders of the state system, who are, according to the people of Zomia, "barbarians".

 

Scott weaves a great deal of Chinese history under the Ming and Qing dynasties to show how repeated attempts to civilise the peoples of Zomia had failed because of the fierce resistance put up by them. Much the same happened against the Thai and Burmese "rebels" despite repeated military expeditions to suppress them. These attempts to win them over only resulted in thousands of refugees and their complete alienation from the state.

 

Scott also reminds us there are two reasons why the state goes into regions that were hitherto closed to them: development and "ethnic identities". The question of development and for whom will always be debatable, but identity is a more complex question. But, as Scott rightly points out, "all identities, without exception, have been socially constructed: the Han, the Burman, the American, the Danish, all of them. Quite often, such identities, particularly minority identities, are first imagined by powerful states, as the Hans imagined the Mia, the British imagined the Karen and the Shan, the French the Jarai. Whether invented or imposed, such identities select, more or less arbitrarily, one or another trait, however vague — religion, language, skin colour, diet, means of subsistence — as the desideratum". These prejudices are then stigmatised and institutionalised.

 

The Art of Not Being Governed is a deeply researched work based on extensive field work, but it is not a typically academic work that renders a subject incomprehensible or boring, or both. Above all, it raises a hugely relevant question on the fundamental conflict between "an expanding state" and "self-governing peoples" who only want to be left alone.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE MUSLIM-YADAV CARD

MULAYAM SINGH IS DESPERATELY TRYING TO REVIVE THE OLD ALLIANCE

ADITI PHADNIS

 

Jijeevisha is a Hindi word describing the will to live. It is much in use in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the context of the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

 

The past few months haven't been kind to Yadav. He thought his party was sinking because of Amar Singh, his former general secretary. But although he dropped Singh, the condition of the SP has not improved. In the last electoral test, the by-election for the Domariaganj assembly seat in June, the SP was No. 4. To Yadav's discomfiture — and that of his colleagues who had been saying that only when Singh was thrown out would SP's fortunes improve — an unknown party, the Peace Party, supported by Singh, came third.

 

 Earlier this week, Yadav apologised to the Muslims for having tied up with Kalyan Singh. This has softened the Muslims towards him but has deeply angered the Lodhs, the caste that Kalyan Singh represents. The feeling among the Lodhs is: He can't use us and throw us away. Kalyan Singh contested the 2007 assembly elections as an independent candidate but was supported by the SP. His son Rajvir lost the election from home turf Dibai by 1.5 lakh votes to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In 2009, Rajvir formally joined the SP. But he left the party 11 months later. When Yadav began talking as if his biggest mistake was to have tied up with Kalyan Singh, it was the Muslims he was speaking to. But the Lodhs were listening as well. The revenge will not take long coming. It won't be dramatic but it will decimate the SP vote bank — in assembly constituencies, 3,000 to 5,000 votes can represent the gap between victory and defeat. And if the Lodhs turn away from the SP in every constituency, well, the SP is going to face serious haemorrhage.

 

The short point is that unless Yadav can get his act together in UP, small challengers like the Peace Party and Kalyan Singh could spell devastation for his plans of challenging Mayawati.

 

The Peace Party of India (PPI) was started by bureaucrat — he was selected for the allied services and worked as a customs officer — Dr Mohammad Ayub, who is actually a trained surgeon. He gave up his government job and started a hospital in his hometown Gorakhpur. The PPI was launched in 2008, not necessarily as a party for Muslims, but for professionals. Chartered accountants, doctors and lawyers are its members. The party has units in 35 districts in UP but is important only in eastern UP. In Domariaganj, it fielded a Brahmin. So you could possibly call it a very small, professionals' version of the BSP in its "sarvajan samaaj" mode.

 

The PPI is going to nibble away at Congress and SP votes, but it is the SP that is most worried. Hence Yadav's "apology" and his plans to launch Azam Khan as the next SP star. Azam Khan was deposed by Jayaprada from Rampur in the run-up to the 2009 general election and left the party. He has returned and is likely to get a hero's welcome. This will be another move to placate the Muslims. A meeting of the Ulema Council (the body of clerics from Azamgarh, formed after the Batla House encounter in 2008, which contested the 2009 elections) has also been sought by Yadav and could endorse him.

 

The thing is, UP is quite content with Mayawati. Sure there is corruption, but it isn't of the scale that prevailed during the Yadav regime when even the water carrier in the SP was extorting. Considerable development is taking place in villages, especially for the Dalit community. While Mayawati has denied naming her brother Anand as her political heir, it is quite clear that he is the single-point source of advice when it comes to money matters. But Mayawati retains the veto power, something Yadav had lost towards the end of his last tenure — although he was warned about the activities of his brothers and cousins, he did not act. So, while there is no wave in Mayawati's favour, levels of disapproval are low.

 

But on the other hand, Yadav is the only street fighter now left in UP. The Congress is too refined to oppose Mayawati (did you notice how the Congress reacted to UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna's criticism of the chief minister some months ago? It was as if Bahuguna had made an indecent suggestion). The BJP is too old. That leaves only Yadav.

 

What Yadav is trying to do is to revive the Muslim-Yadav combine in UP that served his colleague Lalu Prasad so well in Bihar for so long. Such an alliance will give him leverage to get other castes on the bandwagon too, although at this point, it looks difficult — he has dispatched a colleague, Manoj Pande, to placate the Brahmins, but they are now looking to the Congress.

 

There are reports that Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam's son, and Amar Singh had a meeting in London recently to see if a patch-up was possible. When discussions turned to financial matters, talks broke down. That relationship might be hard to repair. But, at a time when everything seems to be going against him, Mulayam Singh Yadav is not ready to throw in the towel. Not yet.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOOD, CAN DO BETTER

EAC GIVES THUMBS-UP TO ECONOMY

 

THE Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (EAC) has given a thumbs-up signal on the state of the economy. Though it has stopped short of echoing the optimism of the IMF — that projected a GDP growth of 9.4% in 2010 — it expects the Indian economy to grow 8.5% in the current year and achieve a sustainable 9% growth soon. On the macro front, the EAC sees many pluses: a strong rebound in crop output enabling the farm sector to grow 4.5%, industry growing at close to 10% and services at 8.9%. Even better, it expects investments in fixed assets to recover strongly, riding on a recovery in savings to 34.3% in 2010-11 and further to 35.5% in 2011-12. The external payments situation is expected to remain comfortable despite the possibility of a near-3% current account deficit as capital flows remain strong.


 The EAC's optimism is, however, tinged with caution. Its caveats are both on the external and domestic front. On the external front, it warns that recovery in advanced economies is likely to be weak in 2010 and to a large extent in 2011. Besides, large fiscal deficits and high debt ratios affect sentiment and growth adversely. On the domestic front, the outlook flags two main issues, the high level of government deficit and persistent inflation — inflation rates are more than twice the comfort level — which if allowed to continue could jeopardise our growth prospects. Calling the fiscal deficit 'beyond acceptable limits', the EAC has again urged better targeting of subsidies, and rationalisation of food and fertiliser subsidy. As in its previous report, it has underlined the need to rein in high inflation and has thrown its weight in favour of monetary policy tightening, even as it has recommended that the government release available food stocks to dampen prices. The outlook carries a detailed discussion on the policy options to tackle food inflation, particularly for wheat and rice. Cotton comes in for special mention, though the mechanism suggested to deal with price volatility and its fallout on the textile industry smacks of extensive state intervention and is likely to result in a suboptimal solution. All in all, the verdict is good; can do better.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INCREDIBLE INDIA

GAME-CHANGING LOW-COST PC

 

IT PROMISES to erase the phrase digital divide from collective memory, and how. The personal computer unveiled by HRD minister Kapil Sibal on Thursday is a sleek touchscreen device that's Wi-Fi enabled for internet access and has all the regular applications available on PCs. And it costs an incredible Rs 1,500! The path-breaking innovation points at a world of possibilities for dramatic, technology-aided development and universal access to information and knowledge. Being wired and connected would be doubly advantageous for a youthful society like ours. But in tandem, what's required is governance reforms to shore up social and physical infrastructure, particularly in the rural hinterland. Without quality power supply, modern roads and housing, our human resource potential would remain unrealised and suboptimal. Also, to leverage the huge societal potential of efficient but lowcost computing, the general neglect of public education — teacher absenteeism, lack of basic facilities et al — particularly at the primary and secondary levels need to be set right. Nevertheless, the tablet PC, developed by teams at the famed IIT, is remarkable for cost-effectiveness and is a feather in the cap for India's technological prowess.

 

The tablet PC is ultra power efficient as well, requiring just 2-watt supply or battery backup via solar cells. The device has no hard disk, and instead makes use of a 2-GB memory disc, the storage capacity of which can be upgraded. Further, users would have access to Microsoft Office suite-equivalent applications with open-source Linux software. Reportedly, the government is keen to subsidise half the computer's cost for institutions. So, for schools and colleges, the PC would be available for Rs 750. With scale economies, it should be possible to reduce overall costs to, say, Rs 1,000. And after discount, the PC could be available for as low as Rs 500! Ubiquitous computer and internet access would have much scope for proactive policy. The National Mission on Education through information and communication technology now needs to fast-forward development of high-quality e-content.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STRIKE WHILE IT'S HOT

INDIA CAN RIDE THE HEAT WAVE

 

AS TEMPERATURES soar and the western world reels under a heat wave, India can be thankful for small mercies, at least. So what if the mercury touches the 40° C mark routinely during Indian summers, at least peak electricity demand in New Delhi, for instance, goes up to a mere 4,660 mw. New York City, on the other hand, with temperatures hovering at a relatively balmy 33° C, notched up a peak demand of 12,963 mw this year and denizens sought cold comfort in the form of beer, baths and beach outings. In this scenario, India could — with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning — murmur, "How do I benefit? Let me count the ways…" With our firsthand knowledge of beating the heat, we could offer the west some cool ideas. Of course, drought and shrivelling crops theoretically spell opportunity for India's heat-resistant and low-water-consuming farm products — if Europe could bring itself to look Indiawards — but let's start closer home. The west unthinkingly oscillates between heating and airconditioning, forgetting that basic low-cost, simple home cooling accoutrement: the ceiling fan. A few bright sparks in the west have invested in table fans, but obviously these are not as effective. Indian companies have already begun exporting ceiling fans to the US; they should now seriously consider expanding to include Europe.


With even Russia experiencing its hottest summer in 29 years with temperatures hitting 35° C, it's time for India to strike. In Germany, panicking citizens not only have to face the prospect of disrupted high-speed train services but also shrinking french fries due to heat-struck smaller potatoes! Across the west, people are complaining of the stifling heat in buses and trains as windows do not open. Delhi, in the first flush of Commonwealth Games fervour, had also imported such ideas for the design of its new 'green' buses; soon good sense prevailed and windows were modified. The west should consider such jugaad, or improvised, solutions — else, hire Indian consultants.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

ASIAN CENTURY: COOPERATION OR CONFLICT?

THE DREAM OF AN ASIAN CENTURY CANNOT BE REALISED TILL INDIA, CHINA AND JAPAN ARRIVE AT A MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING AND ABANDON THE PATH OF RESOLVING HISTORICAL DISPUTES THROUGH MILITARY COMPETITIVENESS, SAYS C P BHAMBHRI

 

 STATESMEN, public policymakers and transnational financial institutions and reputed credit rating and fund-giving agencies of the advanced capitalist countries are asserting that the erstwhile underdeveloped Asia has left behind its status of the Third World. The 21st century has been heralded as the age of Asia that is marching forward, and the rate of economic growth of emerging Asian giants like China and India is much more than that of the US and EU. A few important facts can be mentioned to substantiate the argument that the Western capitalist countries are looking at Asia much more closely.

 

First, General Motors Corp managing director stated on July 5, 2010, that 'We know that to remain a global leader, we have to maintain our commitment to expanding GM's presence and success in critical markets such as India and China'.

 

Second, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank had always been acting as 'watchdogs' of the fate of Asian economies, and in the first decade of the 21st century, these two institutions have become quite euphoric about the rate of economic growth and bright future of Asia. The IMF has projected 9.4% growth for India during January-December, and it is second only to China's at 10.5%. The IMF has projected that the world's rate of growth during 2010 may be 4.6% and global economies have been pulled out of the grand recession of 2008 because China and India have performed quite well.

 

Third, the erstwhile Asian markets that were completely dependent for investments and aid for trade on the Western capitalist countries have now become global players and they are not only making investments in the US and European markets, but are also actively engaged in acquisitions of Western companies. Thus, it has become appropriate to describe the present situation as being Asia's century. It has led even World Bank president Robert Zoellick to declare that '2009 saw the end of what was known as the Third World'.
   The other perspective is that Asians are plagued with serious domestic challenges of the eradication of mass poverty. Not only China and India, but many Asian countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal et al are tied down with violent domestic social challenges, and in many Asian countries, social unrest has spread to an extent that the institutional authority of the state is under siege.

 

The majority of the nation-states of Asia still have to establish their legal authority over their socially-discontented and volatile sections. If on the one hand, emerging Asian countries are facing serious challenges arising out of conflicts and acute social divisions within their own societies, on the other, the whole continent of Asia is engaged in inter-state bilateral and multilateral disputes that have many a time led to actual war or war-like situations.

 

The idea of peaceful co-existence and mutual cooperation talked about by Jawaharlal Nehru and Chou-en-Lai in the 1950s was abandoned by both India and China in the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Both the countries still have a high level of mutual distrust, even compete lack of confidence. The reality is that both are competing against one another for extending their areas of influence around the world. It deserves to be clearly stated that Asia is confronted with a serious challenge from nuclear weapon states like China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
   This dangerous nuclearisation of Asia is sufficient evidence to substantiate the argument that Asian countries are competing against one another and are taking recourse to military power for resolving their inter-state bilateral disputes, many of which have been inherited from their colonial past.

THE EU took shape only after forgetting the memories of their past mutual conflicts and wars. After WWII, Europe was divided into hostile Cold War blocs, and with the end of Cold War, moves started for establishing unity in highly-diverse Europe. The moral of this story is that possibilities of peaceful co-existence with a spirit of mutuality and reciprocity cannot be achieved in Asia because its countries are guided by the spirit of distrust and the historical memories of the colonial phase of its history has not faded out of Asia.

 

The best example of mutual distrust among Asian countries is provided by Shanghai Cooperation Organization that consists of members such as China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Countries like India and Pakistan that have legitimate stakes in Asian cooperation have been kept out by China, the originator of the idea of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

 

The idea of an Asian age cannot become a reality unless India, China and Japan arrive at a level of mutual understanding and abandon the path of resolving historical disputes on the basis of military competitiveness. This is a time of great opportunities for Asia if India and China can come to terms with one another with a spirit of accommodation and cooperation.

 

China and India reciprocate negatively to any action by any of the countries perceived to be a challenge to their security. India reacted very strongly against China when it vetoed the loan for Arunachal Pradesh, which was to be approved by the Asian Development Bank in 2009.

 

China and India have not reached a state of mutual trust where they can bury their border disputes inherited from the past. India scrutinises every action of China when it supports the building of the armed forces of Pakistan. The Chinese defence minister stated on June 16, 2010, that 'Cooperation between the Chinese and Pakistani armed forces is exemplary and has been fruitful'. Further, the level of distrust between two large counties of Asia increased when China raised the level of military cooperation with Pakistan or when it laid claim on the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

 

 The above narrative highlights that unlike the idea of an American century or the age of European unity, Asia cannot graduate to the levels of stable Western centres of power because the growing economic power of Asian countries is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for Asians to emerge as a centre of power.

Asian countries are saddled with serious domestic problems of poverty, inequality and social strife. And with mutual relations among these countries being based on distrust and conflicts, Asia has miles to go before it can become a real centre of power in the global context.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CITINGS

IMAGINING INDIA

NANDAN NILEKANI

 

THE evolution of IT worldwide has given us a whiff of its potential. Since the invention of the transistor, technology has evolved to astonish even its most optimistic champions. Computers and other forms of digital technology are becoming more powerful, smaller and cheaper every year — and more ubiquitous… But while these electronification trends triggered dramatic change in the US and Europe — we have seen them evolve in these countries mainly as another layer over traditional models, complementing fixed-line telephones, dead-tree content and established ways of doing business.

 

India is different. For all the benefits India has seen from expected trends in mobile phones, electronic voting and modern stock exchanges, there is a lot more that is likely to unfold around our technology revolution in the next decade. As virgin territory, India could be testing ground for something far more radical. The trends towards this are already obvious: mobile phones are set to pass the 50% penetration mark and many mobile operators hope to cover 95% of the population in a few years. Falling prices for handsets has helped make them popular, as the price has come down from around Rs 15,000 for the cheapest handset in the early 1990s to less than Rs 700 today. And even as mobile telephony gets more sophisticated and networks move from 2G to 3G, high-bandwidth and wireless connectivity will allow us to transmit both voice and data with ease. The second implication of the rise of increasingly low-cost technology is that it will be possible to put an electronic device into the hands of every citizen and in every village.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET I N T E R A CT I V E

'AUTO PARTS DEMAND SET TO EXPLODE'

APURVGUPTA

 

 INDIA is turning out to be an attractive destination as a global outsourcing hub and manufacturing base for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), especially after the global economic downturn. Setco Automotive, one of the largest manufacturer of clutches for medium and heavy commercial vehicles (M&HCV), has doubled its capacity in the last two years to cater to the demands of the industry that is showing signs of recovery. Harish Sheth, chairman and managing director of Setco Automotive, says he wants to leverage the Automotive Mission Plan (AMP), 2006-16, to make India a preferred destination for design and manufacture of auto components.

The Indian auto components industry, that feeds the requirements of passenger cars, tractors and commercial vehicles, has both organised and unorganised players. "Of the Rs 3,000-crore market for clutches, the commercial vehicles segment alone accounts for a third. The demand in countries such as the US, Europe and Japan is stagnant compared to India. Apart from this, lower labour costs also make India an attractive global outsourcing hub and manufacturing base for OEMs," he said.

 

The finalisation of the AMP to make the country a preferred destination for design and manufacture of automobile and automotive components has led top commercial vehicle manufacturers to set up base here. The plan envisaged an investment of $40 billion and provided a road map to help transform India into a global automobile player. The turnover of the automobile industry is expected to rise to $145 billion by 2016. The AMP proposed a 25-point plan that included making India a manufacturing and export hub for small cars, multiutility vehicles, two- and three-wheelers, tractors and components.

 

Changes in the global economic scenario have led to a major transformation in the industry. Global auto companies suffered a setback in 2008 following the economic downturn triggered by the subprime crisis in the US. While developed economies like the US are yet to come out of the woods, India is well on its way to recovery. Multinational companies are focusing on India and the effort will be to release a new AMP that will be operative till 2020, Mr Sheth said.

 

"We are the largest manufacturer of clutches for M&HCVs in India, catering to both OEM and replacement markets. We have two manufacturing facilities in India and operate through two fully-owned subsidiaries in the US and UK. The research and development base is located in UK."

 

 Setco meets 75% of the M&HCV clutch demand in India at the OEM level. Currently, there are five players in various segments of the organised market: Setco, Clutch Auto, Ceekay Daikin, Valeo and Luk. The demand for clutches comes mainly from sales to OEM, sales to original equipment spare part division (OES) and the independent after-market (IAM).

 

According to him, future demand from trucks also augurs well for sustaining Setco's growth potential. The introduction of new-age trucks will shift this market towards organised players offering premium, branded clutches. Setco's clientele include major OEMs such as Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Eicher Motors, AMW and other global players entering India as well as other OEMs in US and Europe. "These Indian M&HCV manufacturers account for more than 95% of the total market. Sales to OEMs account for about 40% of the company's topline," he said.

 

Currently, commercial vehicle makers are targeting doubling their production and sales over the next five years. This is expected to result in the growth of clutch segment by almost three times. The replacement market, dominated by the unorganised sector, also offers potential for growth.

The company, that has almost doubled its capacity in the last two years, now claims that it is gearing up to meet the surging demand. It is also eyeing the export market. "Exports offer higher margins. They account for about 6% of the company's topline. This is expected to rise to 15% by 2012. The company and its overseas subsidiaries currently derive 90% of sales from clutches." The company is also in the process of diversifying into higher-value products in the value chain. It has begun promoting its hydraulic products (for the construction equipment industry) as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

THE RISE OF THE REST IN LATAM

RITWIK BANERJEE

 

FAREED Zakaria in his much-acclaimed book The Post-American World argues that the great story of our times is the 'the rise of the rest'. Foremost among the rest are India and China, two economies that have made rapid strides towards the status of economic powerhouses. This post-American phenomenon is characterised by a number of unique features, the most important among these being the influence that the rest have begun to wield in US' erstwhile backyard.

 

China realised fast that energy security would play a crucial role in order to attain economic power. While India continued to rely and focus on west Asia for its energy requirements, China avoided the complications of dealing with the turbulent region by focusing on a different, less-traversed corner of the world to ensure its energy security: Latin America. China's overarching objective in the region has been to lock energy supplies in the coming years.

 

It has doubled development funds for various energy projects in Venezuela to $12 billion, provided Ecuador with $1 billion to develop hydro power and has lent Brazil's oil companies $10 billion for development. The overarching objective has been to lock China's energy supplies in the coming years.

 

China has wielded influence in Latin America by competing with the major lenders in Latin America that are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For example, the total financing by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), a prominent development bank, in Brazil for 2008 was around $11.2 billion; a single deal signed recently between China and Brazil involving a loan grant of $10 billion for a Brazilian national oil company in exchange for China receiving one lakh barrels of Brazilian oil a day almost equals IADB's total financing in 2008.

 

The Venezuelans have probably struck the most extensive cooperation agreement with the Chinese. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez extended an invitation to the Chinese National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) to explore the Ornico belt, an area with a rich endowment of oil resources. CNPC has invested resources worth $300 million for using Venezuela's Orimulson fuel in Chinese power plants. Venezuela, in exchange for an increase in development funds from $6 million to $12 million, is expected to double its daily shipment to China to one million barrels. China has entered agreements such as these in Colombia, Argentina and Mexico as well in order to meet growing domestic demand.

 

When Argentina collapsed financially in 2000-02, its ripple effects shook all of South America. As the US withdrew its investment in the region, China seized the opportunity to make its presence felt even more by assuring $10 billion to Argentina in a strategic and economic move. This supposedly helped Argentina have reliable access to Chinese currency, which is in high demand in Latin America, which in turn helped pay for Argentina's import bills.

 

China's role in Latin America was initially limited to simple commercial agreements but has now widened to direct investments, joint ventures and military ties. China has established military relations with all the major Latin American countries. Concurrently, China's trade with Latin America has been growing exponentially and has eclipsed Indian trade in the region greatly. For example, China's export to Brazil, the most important Latin American country as far as trading relations are concerned, was $20 billion while that of India was $4 billion. Given the current trends, this gap is only set to widen manifold.

One important reason for this widening gulf has been China assuming the role of the manufacturing hub of the world with India dominating the services sector. However, India has focused on English-speaking countries and has not been successful in penetrating the Latin American market.

 

Latin America accounts for 5% of world trade but India has an insignificant part of this share. Of India's global exports, roughly 3.5% goes to this region and 3.28% of India's global imports come from this region. Exports rose from $478 million in 1996 to $6172 million in 2008-09. This steep rise in export has been accompanied by a matching increase in imports, rendering India's balance of trade negative.

 

India can take a leaf out of China's strategy books and engage with Latin America in a comprehensive manner with a long-term vision in mind. Given the limited opportunities for exporting services to Latin America, India should concentrate on exporting goods to the region. In any case, economists have argued that India has, in the long run, to shift from its current service-centric export model to one where manufacturing will have to play a central role. An area of potential involvement in the region is in the development of alternative energy. Latin America, led by Brazil, has been a principal proponent and developer of ethanol and related technologies. Cooperation in sustainable energy with Latin America will ensure, in the long run, clean energy security in the years to come.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HOCKEY: ALREADY A MESS, HITS NEW LOW

 

While ripples from the sexual harassment charges levied against her coach by a woman hockey player continue to spread, the fact that Indian hockey is back in the limelight for all the wrong reasons comes as no real surprise. The national game has not exactly been in the pink of health for the last couple of decades, but this latest embarrassment marks a new low, not just for hockey but also for all those associated with it — particularly in an administrative or managerial capacity. In a sense, there is a wider issue that has come to the fore — of women athletes being vulnerable or susceptible to exploitation. The Rucika Girhotra molestation case was one such story laid bare in its full horror. Given the sensitivity of the matter, the government — since the two individuals involved are Sports Authority of India employees — and the hockey establishment moved quickly to show they were taking action. For his part, the coach, who has been associated with women's hockey for over a decade, has stepped down already, vowing his innocence. While the matter looks set to play out its natural course with a five-member inquiry committee set up to investigate the veracity of the allegation submitting its 30-page report to the sports ministry and the SAI , it is clear that coach M.K. Kaushik will have nothing to do any longer with the team. In a sense, it could also be termed a demonstration of player power, as Kaushik and his wards had apparently been at odds for long, and with his exit they will now have a new face at the helm. While this sordid drama is being played out on one stage, men's hockey in India continues on its unhappy way. With the Delhi high court having upheld the contention of the Indian Hockey Federation that its dissolution by the Indian Olympic Association was wrong in law, the body now nominally in charge of the sport appears to have no locus standi either, though it is conditionally recognised by FIH, the international body that runs the sport. Thus we have the odd scenario of one group, the IHF, conducting the senior men's national championship but unable to pick an India team as it is not recognised by the FIH; and the other group stymied by the high court from running the game within the country, but authorised to select national representative teams. If it was not such a tragedy for the sport, this would almost be a comical state of affairs. Close to three decades ago, Indian hockey went through a very similar upheaval, with one faction supported by the FIH and another working against its interests — both groups being headed by powerful individuals. That the power struggle and India's slide down the ladder came almost together is no coincidence. The senior men's team had a dismal World Cup not very many months ago in Delhi — India only finding a berth in the event by virtue of being the hosts — and where the focus should be on setting things right, all available energy and initiative is being squandered in internecine battles. Every sport is quick to point fingers at cricket when it comes to a share of the limelight and/or funds from the market. Maybe they should all be taking a few lessons on how to keep their own kitchens clean which could then start to make a difference in their own fortunes.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BURQA & PREJUDICE

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "Dusassana and Bros.: Second-hand Saris"

From The Signboards of Despair by Bachchoo 

 
One has always thought of the French as tolerant people — give it some consideration: pretentious émigré Spanish painters, pop-singers with massive inferiority complexes about Americans, armies that have perfected the art of retreat, preposterous definitions of "intellectual", Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de... and so on. Plenty to tolerate. Now a sudden burst of continent-shaking intolerance aimed again, as with Joan of Arc, at women of faith. (To be fair, the French did blame that barbecue on cross-Channel influence and to this day maintain that the best thing the British ever cooked was poor Joan.) This time it's burqas. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has set his mind on banning them from public places in the Republique.

 

No more will women of the faith, whose traditions and menfolk interpret the injunction to modesty in the Quran as an order to hide one's body and face from the public, be allowed to venture abroad wearing burqas.

 

Mr Sarkozy's prejudice will undoubtedly encourage other nations in the European Union to follow suit and come out, so to speak, against the cover up. I refer to it as a "prejudice" rather than as a judicious measure because I don't buy Mr Sarkozy's argument that banning the burqa is a blow for freedom from male oppression. It may very well be that the women of Paris, Marseilles or Aix who want to walk about in burqa have not been coerced by anyone and have chosen to so do. Mr Sarkozy's feint is prejudice wearing the blind burqa of progress.

 

\England stands firm. And so it should. The minister for the environment (who better?) in the new coalition government of liberal conservatism, one Caroline Spellman, has said she rejects the idea that the burqa oppresses women. On the contrary, she asserts, it can, when it is what they want to wear, be a symbol of and factor in their "empowerment". She will, as a consequence, work within the Cabinet to resist any move towards the banning of the burqa, even though a newspaper poll has this week said that 67 per cent of the British population would go with the French and favour its outlawing.

 

On balance, I think there is merit in Ms Spellman's argument, even though I find that the concept of "empowering" is difficult to understand. I have always thought that armed bodies of human beings with a common purpose or with uniform brainwashing were the "empowered". The rest of us have to rely on conscience and not being caught.

 

But even if the idea that the burqa "empowers" women by allowing them to cover their faces in public if they so choose, or because their husbands would beat them with a stick if they didn't comply, were not true, it is surely part of British tradition to allow people to cover their faces as and when they have or want to.

 

Think, for instance, of the Phantom of the Opera. This poor gifted individual was maimed for life by being caught up in a fire in a theatre. Where would he be without the mask that Andrew Lloyd Webber's designers suggested he wear? Could he go about stalking sopranic virgins from the rafters of opera houses without it? We do not have to believe, with the gullible musical theatre-goer, that Phantoms of the Opera exist and stalk the empty playhouses, but we must surely, in a democratic society, fight for these disfigured folk to wear masks?

 

Unlike the French, we in Britain don't publicly denounce and reject everything American while sneakily adopting it. We have a much more sophisticated attitude to fattening food and destructive culture.Think of the person called "Batman". You and I and perhaps a billion others know that he is really Bruce something or other.

 

Can you in your wildest dreams imagine an American statute, applicable in Gotham City, which bans people from wearing Batmasks? Or his very good young friend (sic) Robin from hiding the shape of his eyes behind the masquerade mask?

 

US President Barack Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, giving rise to the idea some Americans hold that his sympathies lie with the faith of his forefathers, would never dare to ban Batmasks or the Robin masquerade ones, would he? There'd be bigger riots than the ones against the Vietnam War. Go on Mr Obama, make my day!

 

Hiding one's flaws is a fundamental human right. Hiding one's true identity from state agencies is, arguably, not. If, for instance, a terrorist were using a false passport to get into a country he or she was about to bomb, that wouldn't be right and if the state against which the atrocity was to be perpetrated, penetrated the falsehood and discovered the forgery, that would be fine and dandy. Mr Sarkozy would argue that people with wicked intentions could hide their identity in a burqa. Possible, but surely today there are ways of detecting who's who from eyeball tests?

 

My suggestion is that if a policeperson is posted at every corner of every city with an eyeball-detecting machine connected to a central computer of eyeball identities and he or she asked every burqa-nashin to stare into the above-said machine, the problem would be solved. (This idea is copyright, please note!)

 

The problem would arise when the more fundamentalist women demanded that even the slits of the burqas be closed, so no light can pass in or sight can look out. That could very well be the wish of the burqa women who want to empower themselves even further. Being deprived of sight in public places they would have to resort to guide dogs on leashes who would be trained to walk them around.

 

But in today's Britain that would pose another problem. In a northern town this week "devout" Muslim bus drivers refused to take guide-dogs and the blind people they were guiding onto public buses. Dogs, they said, were unclean. There is a case to be made for blind people not being allowed on public transport and thereby walking the streets with their dogs, getting exercise and working off the excess weight they put on by eating cheap fast foods. It's a sort of blind slimmers' "empowerment", I suppose.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IAS COUPLE MIX WORK, PLEASURE

 

No one knows the art of combining work and pleasure better than our bureaucrats. Babus taking their spouses or children abroad along with the official contingent is not uncommon. And when both partners are part of the bureaucracy, it is even easier, though not more ethical. Among a delegation of finance officials bound for the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Atlanta, to attend a public budgeting and fiscal management course, were two finance secretaries, Ms Vasudha Mishra and Mr T. Satyanarayana and three other officials from the finance department. Also tagging along was Mr Rajeev Ranjan Mishra, husband of Ms Vasudha Mishra. What an irrigation secretary will do in a budgeting and fiscal management course is a matter of much speculation, but no one dared say a word as it was none other than the Chief Minister who approved Mr Mishra's inclusion. And the taxpayer can't grumble either as it is the World Bank that is footing the bill!

 

WHEN VEGGIE CM SANG PRAISES OF EATING FISH

 

Is our vegetarian Chief Minister becoming a fishitarian? Not really, but he surprised many recently when he seemed to be urging the merits of including fish in one's diet. At the inauguration of Infish-2010, the fish Festival held at the Necklace Road in Hyderabad, Mr Rosaiah referred to a banner which extolled the virtues of a fish diet. "The banner says that fish is good for heart and health with low cholesterol. It is good for longevity of life. If it so good, then people who do not take fish should consider changing their food habits," said the CM who has been a strict veggie for all of his 78 years. "In West Bengal, fish is considered as a vegetarian food item. Even vegetarians eat fish in Bengal," he continued, but made it plain that he was not going to succumb to the lures of fish. "I am from an orthodox family of vegetarians and cannot change my food habits at this age. But if fish is really so good for health, maybe people should reconsider their food habits." With even the humblest vegetable costing an arm and a leg these days, it may be a good idea to expand one's food choices to include something so healthy.

 

SUJANA STAYS OFF HIS OWN TREAT

 

For industrialist-recently-turned-politician, Sujana Chowdary, the newly elected Rajya Sabha member from the Telugu Desam, throwing a party for its legislators is not news. What is news is that he shifted the venue of the party from a five-star hotel to a four-star one. And why? Apparently to appease his boss. When Mr Chowdary conveyed to Mr Chandrababu Naidu his desire to host a party for legislators at a five-star hotel, Mr Naidu agreed since it is accepted practice for new inductees into the Rajya Sabha to host a bash of this kind. However, Mr Naidu said it would be better if the venue was downgraded by one star. Hence, the partygoers headed to a four-star hotel adjacent Road No. 1, Banjara Hills. And while many, including actor Balakrishna, graced the occasion, the man responsible for the shift in venue did not turn up.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

 

WHEN RTI PROVED LETHAL

BY ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Earlier this week, Amit Jethwa was shot dead in front of the Gujarat high court. He was in his thirties, a caring, law-abiding citizen, committed to the environment, humanity and animal life. And like most dedicated souls, he believed that he could stem the rot in the system and make a difference by diligently using democratic tools of empowerment. He relied heavily on the Right to Information (RTI) Act to plug the holes in the system. Till the holes got him.

 

Amit Jethwa was fighting against illegal mining in the Gir forests, which hosts the world's last Asiatic lions.

 

But he was up against the mining mafia, the forest department and politicians involved in the racket. Not an easy fight for a lone ranger. Besides, he had made enemies by campaigning against corruption. He had even got a Lokayukta placed in Gujarat.

 

But he was losing faith in civil society. Barely a week before he was gunned down he had told a reporter about his disenchantment. "I know how risky it is for me and my family to wage a war against the mining mafia", he lamented. "Without the support of people nothing is possible."

\

Which is precisely where the power of the RTI lies. In the hands of the masses, it is a potent tool to chisel democracy with. But in the hands of a lone passionate soul, it may be a dangerous weapon ready to explode in your face.

 

Information is power only when you are allowed to use it. It works wonders in a free society, where people have justiciable democratic rights, where governance has not failed as miserably as in our country.

 

The right to information can be a human right only where there has been a certain level of development, where certain democratic freedoms are protected. If the state cannot protect your right to life, it's best not to exercise your right to information too much.

 

Are we shocked that Amit Jethwa was killed in public, in broad daylight, in front of the highest seat of justice in the state? Yes. But should we be? The state is Gujarat, where human rights are routinely violated, where you could be killed for convenience. Even as this activist was being gunned down, the Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi's close aide, Mr Amit Shah, the junior home minister accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, was audaciously dodging the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). This is also the state where thousands were killed in the name of religion, and investigations into the murders so mired in corruption that the Supreme Court had to shift some cases out to other states for a fair trial.

 

So maybe we should not be shocked that Amit Jethwa, an activist who fought powerful people for the right and the good, was killed so brazenly in front of the Gujarat High Court. We should be shocked at our own impotence. At the way certain states can function as barely veiled banana republics, denying democratic rights and freedoms to Indian citizens.

 

But Gujarat, drowning as it is in the depths of deprivation, is not the only state to deny democratic rights and freedoms to citizens. Killers with political clout routinely go free everywhere in India. And RTI activists have been killed, attacked, and hounded around the country ever since the national RTI Act was passed in 2005.

 

Let's look at some of the cases this year. In January 2010, Satish Shetty, 39, was hacked to death in Maharashtra. The activist had been battling land scams and government corruption, had received death threats and asked for police protection — which he didn't get — and was killed while taking his morning walk.

 

In February, also in Maharashtra, RTI activist Arun Sawant was shot dead near the Badlapur Municipal Office in Thane for fighting administrative corruption. Meanwhile in Bihar, RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was gunned down in front of his home in Begusarai. A tireless crusader against corruption in welfare schemes and the local government, he was called "Khabri Lal" for his dedication to information. Meanwhile in Gujarat, Vishram Laxman Dodiya, who had filed an RTI petition regarding illegal electricity connections by Torrent Power, was murdered.

 

In April, RTI activist Vitthal Gite, 39, was killed in Maharashtra for exposing village education scams. And in Andhra Pradesh, Sola Ranga Rao, 30, was murdered in front of his home for exposing corruption in the funding of the village drainage system.

 

In May, Dattatray Patil, 47, was murdered in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. A close associate of activist and RTI guru Anna Hazare, his fight against corruption had got some of the area's top policemen removed and action initiated against local municipal corporators.

 

Besides murder, there are failed murder attempts, violent threats and fake police cases. Take Maharashtra.

 

In March, environmentalists Sumaira Abdulali and Naseer Jalal were ruthlessly attacked by a politically backed sand mafia in Raigad, and survived only because journalists accompanying them used their influence and mobile phones. None of the accused were arrested. In April, Abhay Patil, advocate and RTI activist, had a mob clamouring for blood at his door.

 

Apparently, they wanted him to withdraw all complaints of corruption against MLA Dilip Wagh. When his wife, a police constable, called the cops for help, they asked her to come to the police station and lodge a complaint. Later, she faced fake charges and was suspended, allegedly at the behest of home minister R.R. Patil.

 

Then in July, Ashok Kumar Shinde was attacked for his RTI and Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against a corruption racket in the Public Works Department linked to the Bombay high court.

 

Worse than physical assault is abusing the law to attack activists. Take the case of E. Rati Rao, senior scientist, activist and journalist, in Karnataka. In March she was charged with sedition and attempting to cause mutiny or communal discord for protesting against "encounters" and atrocities on dalits, tribals, Muslims and other minorities.

 

Meanwhile, in distant Orissa, another activist-journalist, Dandapani Mohapatra, was targeted by the police, his home raided and his books and magazines confiscated without a warrant. He was labelled as a suspected Maoist.

 

Activists fighting for our rights cannot win without our muscle. Once an RTI activist is killed, civil society must force the police to investigate not just the murder but all that he was unearthing. Only then will we be able to stop this murderous silencing of activists.

 

By not protecting RTI activists, by allowing cases of harassment they file to be closed without punishing the perpetrators, the state is failing to uphold the spirit of the RTI Act. And weakening the spirit of democracy.

 

- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted

at sen@littlemag.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ARTFUL GIFT EXCHANGE

BY KISHWAR DESAI

 

Indian cinema is back in the news here folks, with Yash Chopra getting an honorary degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) University this week. Looking at him really gets us all nostalgic once again, doesn't it? Yashji is the quintessential Hindi cinema representative — having started as an assistant director and ending up with both a film production house as well as a dynasty to keep it going. I still remember seeing Waqt for the first time aeons ago — an astonishing lost-and-found story packaged with marvellous music. My favourite scene was Balraj Sahni singing Ai meri zohrajabeen, tujhe maloom naheen… The film may have seemed unbelievable and yet it was firmly grounded in the Indian psyche. A unique combination of factors that Yashji was able to exploit in all his movies.

 

While Yashji's films may have stretched our credibility — he gave a particular identity to Indian cinema and developed it as a genre as well — in later years this would manifest itself through Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai made under his banner. Again these were films that defined a whole generation growing up in India — and their changing attitudes towards romance.

 

Yashji, like Raj Kapoor, also opened up the world to Indian audiences; in the early years he had already begun shooting scenes abroad — the Switzerland government has officially acknowledged his promotion of that country through an award and apparently a lake in Switzerland is informally known as the "Chopra Lake" since it has featured so prominently in Yashji's films… I think it is about time we formally renamed it, as well!

 

The degree from Soas is very well deserved as Rachel Dwyer (who wrote his eponymous biography) was the guiding force behind it. Is it just my imagination or are we in the UK pushing really hard to give Indian cinema a higher profile?

 

The fact is that even though we are pulling out all the stops to make the majority population aware of the charms of Indian cinema, we still have a long way to go before we gain the same respect that Chinese cinema seems to have attained. Or even Iranian cinema. This is a paradox we all need to crack. And quickly.

 

MEANWHILE, I am just back from Birmingham which, I have to say, was a marvellous spin: out on the train in the morning and back smoothly in the evening, with plenty of coffee and croissants in between as energy fuel. And why Birmingham? Well, I had applied for my "indefinite leave to stay visa" which is what you get when you marry a British citizen. Having lived in India for most of my life, I have a built-in fear of government offices and red tape, and so was quite anxious about how the day would go. Quite shockingly it turned out to be amazingly zippy.

 

Of course, I was reminded of the time when I stood in a queue to get my Indian passport renewed in New Delhi not very long ago and found that when I finally reached the top of the line the window was slammed down in my face. Memories like these make one rather shaky at going to a repeat performance. I was quite prepared to face a barrage of menacing bureaucrats determined to block every move I made towards getting the visa.

 

But the whole process turned out to be fabulously simple right from the start: all phone calls or queries were always answered by very polite UK Border Agency officials. I even got several reminders about my Birmingham appointment on my mobile phone. And even when I went for my "Life in the UK Test" (yes, everyone has to give that test now) I found it was well organised and swift. I even enjoyed studying for the test — as it gives you information that I am sure many born and bred Britons would have no idea about!

 

On the date that I needed to go for the final interview the only centre which had a free slot was in Birmingham. I went there in trepidation, but fortunately the centre itself was clean, comfortable and unthreatening. I began to calm down because it wasn't overcrowded and appointments were properly spaced out so that everyone could be attended to. (Of course, many visas are dealt with through the post, as well — but because I was travelling I couldn't go for that option). Hopefully the Indian government will one day introduce similarly people-friendly systems so that anyone can go personally and get their passports and visas updated without being armed with a VIP recommendation, or be prepared to be booted out. If the government actually seems to work for you — and not against you — dealing with the bureaucracy can actually become a happy experience. It will also save an enormous amount of time. Errr… isn't that why we pay our taxes?

 

ONTO MORE important things. Such as what gift does one give to the President of the United States of America? I am sure we all wake up every morning worrying about these matters — but this time it was the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, who was mulling it over. Being the girl with a dolphin tattoo (on her ankle), we always knew she could surprise us, and she did. On Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the United States she sent with him a rather whimsical painting by Ben Eine, an East End street artist, "Twentyfirstcenturycity". The artist has confessed to being arrested around 15 to 20 times for vandalising walls with graffiti. But this probably has enhanced the value of his work more than the fact it was presented to the US President. I don't know very much about modern art, but I am pretty sure that if you've been arrested a few times it can only be a good career move.

 

The painting is a colourful arrangement of letters — and definitely helped to redefine the relationship between the US and UK. We now learn that US President Barack Obama has retaliated with a painting of a US artist. The gestures are obviously indicative of a more youthful approach and also a much more balanced one. The last time former British Premier Gordon Brown had given a very carefully thought out present of a penholder made from the timber of the Victorian anti-slavery ship, HMS Gannet, and received in turn a set of DVDs from Mr Obama — which didn't play on a UK system anyway.

 

Is there a lesson to be learnt in all of this? Can we be intensely relaxed when exchanging gifts with the US President? Yes we can!

 

- The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE MORAL NATURALISTS

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Washington, Connecticut

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Most people think it is a gift from God, who revealed His laws and elevates us with His love. A smaller number think that we figure the rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and choosing a philosophical system to live by.

 

Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that we have moral sentiments that have emerged from a long history of relationships. To learn about morality, you don't rely upon revelation or metaphysics; you observe people as they live.

 

This week a group of moral naturalists gathered in Connecticut at a conference organised by the Edge Foundation. One of the participants, Marc Hauser of Harvard, began his career studying primates, and for moral naturalists the story of our morality begins back in the evolutionary past. It begins with the way insects, rats and monkeys learned to cooperate.

 

By the time humans came around, evolution had forged a pretty firm foundation for a moral sense. Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia argues that this moral sense is like our sense of taste. We have natural receptors that help us pick up sweetness and saltiness. In the same way, we have natural receptors that help us recognise fairness and cruelty. Just as a few universal tastes can grow into many different cuisines, a few moral senses can grow into many different moral cultures.

 

Paul Bloom of Yale noted that this moral sense can be observed early in life. Bloom and his colleagues conducted an experiment in which they showed babies a scene featuring one figure struggling to climb a hill, another figure trying to help it, and a third trying to hinder it. At as early as six months, the babies showed a preference for the helper over the hinderer. In some plays, there is a second act. The hindering figure is either punished or rewarded. In this case, eight-month-olds preferred a character who was punishing the hinderer over ones being nice to it. This illustrates, Bloom says, that people have a rudimentary sense of justice from a very early age. This doesn't make people naturally good. If you give a three-year-old two pieces of candy and ask him if he wants to share one of them, he will almost certainly say no. It's not until age seven or eight that even half the children are willing to share. But it does mean that social norms fall upon prepared ground. We come equipped to learn fairness and other virtues.

 

These moral faculties structure the way we perceive and respond to the world. If you ask for donations with the photo and name of one sick child, you are likely to get twice as much money than if you had asked for donations with a photo and the names of eight children. Our minds respond more powerfully to the plight of an individual than the plight of a group.

 

These moral faculties rely upon emotional, intuitive processes, for good and ill. If you are in a bad mood you will make harsher moral judgments than if you're in a good mood or have just seen a comedy. As Elizabeth Phelps of New York University points out, feelings of disgust will evoke a desire to expel things, even those things unrelated to your original mood. General fear makes people risk-averse. Anger makes them risk-seeking. People who behave morally don't generally do it because they have greater knowledge; they do it because they have a greater sensitivity to other people's points of view. Hauser reported on research showing that bullies are surprisingly sophisticated at reading other people's intentions, but they're not good at anticipating and feeling other people's pain. The moral naturalists differ over what role reason plays in moral judgments. Some, like Haidt, believe that we make moral judgments intuitively and then construct justifications after the fact. Others, like Joshua Greene of Harvard, liken moral thinking to a camera. Most of the time we rely on the automatic point-and-shoot process, but occasionally we use deliberation to override the quick and easy method. We certainly tell stories and have conversations to spread and refine moral beliefs.

 

For people wary of abstract theorising, it's nice to see people investigating morality in ways that are concrete and empirical. But their approach does have certain implicit tendencies.

 

They emphasise group cohesion over individual dissent. They emphasise the cooperative virtues, like empathy, over the competitive virtues, like the thirst for recognition and superiority. At this conference, they barely mentioned the yearning for transcendence and the sacred, which plays such a major role in every human society. Their implied description of the moral life is gentle, fair and grounded. But it is all lower case. So far, at least, it might not satisfy those who want their morality to be awesome, formidable, transcendent or great.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

GRACEFUL GIANT

MURALI SCORED 800% FOR DIGNITY

 

WHEN Freddie Trueman was asked if anyone would better his record 307 Test wickets haul he averred that whoever did so would be "bloody tired". His tally was overtaken long ago, his observation has just been proved invalid. For when Muttiah Maralitharan lived out his dream of 800 wickets, his celebration was as enthusiastic as when he bagged his first. His eyes burned as "hot" as Fiery Fred's language, his grin was as infectious as ever. It was his own brand of inoffensive passion that was ever so endearing; even at the age of 38 and after 133 Tests and 337 ODIs (he is top wicket-taker in that version too, 515 victims) there was a spring in his run up, his deliveries as tantalising as when he first hit the international stage 18 years ago. Maybe he is, as Trueman predicted, a tired man hence his decision to retire from Tests, and conserve his energy for the World Cup in the subcontinent next year. The comparison between the Sri Lankan spinner and the Yorkshire-and-England speedster might appear strange, yet there is a powerful commonality ~ both bowled to win, records were an appended bonus. That is what elevates Murali's swansong to the lyrical, his final eight wickets raised his tally to 800: as significantly, they contributed handsomely to Sri Lanka's triumph when the trumpets blew him a farewell fanfare.


Just about everyone of his contemporaries, many a great bowler among them, has lavished praise on the man who re-wrote cricketing saga and about whom so much more will be said and written over the next few days. Of particular relevance was Bishen Bedi's tribute to Murali's personal qualities ~ having being a most severe critic of his bowling action. Those qualities were in full flow at the presentation ceremony after the Galle Test. Murali held the cricketing world in rapt attention, an "international microphone" was at hand, but he rose above re-opening the controversy of being "called" by two Australian umpires. It was a lesson in propriety for Darryl Hair and Ross Emerson who even a few weeks ago sought to degrade his success. Equally telling, a newspaper report points out, Murali has cautioned schoolboy admirers against adopting his action because it was the result of a physical aberration. What more could one expect: the man who mesmerised the world strode away from the limelight reconfirming that cricket remains a gentleman's game. That elegance, as much as the 1315 or more international wickets, will be his treasured legacy.

 

VALID GROUSE

SMALL SCREEN, BIG IDIOTS?

 

THE Home Minister has every reason to feel aggrieved after a TV channel put an unwarranted and unsubstantiated "spin" on his drawing attention to the chronic time lag between a disaster and effective response; and his portraying that by referring to the recent train smash in West Bengal. Exemplifying the tendency of the current crop of newscasters to confuse the presentation of fact with their own amateur comment and loaded questions, their deliberately "hyping" the presentation so that it "sells" ("paid news" in reverse?) and overdoing the political reading-between-the lines, Chidambaram's observation was interpreted as a criticism of the railways. He was speaking about the time taken to despatch a unit of the National Disaster Response Force to the accident site, not the movement of an accident relief train of the railways. But conveniently the channel projected it as adding to the waves of criticism now pounding Mamata Banerjee. At best a paucity of professionalism or the penchant for mirch masala, at worst sheer mischief.


A disturbing feature of the domestic electronic media is that it permits unfettered use of a powerful instrument to inexperienced, hardly knowledgeable, smart-alecs. Competitive, irresponsible sensationalism is threatening to saturate the airwaves. Since the trend was set by some of the big names on the small screen, in-house remedial measures are unlikely. Of course politicians, and some officials too, exacerbate the situation by rushing to the cameras without having thought out what they want to say; offering a reaction when virtually ignorant of the action. No wonder human tragedy is politicised, and motives are ascribed to simple truths. What that needless controversy has done is deflect attention away from the reality that disaster management is pathetically ineffective, despite there being no let-up in rail, air, road and industrial mishaps, and as floods continue to swallow lives. True, as the home minister says there is need for quicker mobilisation of response teams and airlifting them to trouble spots. Existing resources are meagre, police and fire services are still the first to respond. The presumably specialised national agency has yet to acquire a modicum of credibility. That will be attained by its action on the ground ~ not full-page advertisements in the newspapers patting itself on the back.
 
KREMLIN'S MIGHT

A THROWBACK TO THE KGB ERA? 

 

THIS week's tightening of the screw in Moscow is almost a throwback to the chilling era of the KGB. Parliament has passed a piece of legislation that arms the present incarnation, called the FSB, with sweeping powers, even to interrogate suspects for crimes they may not have committed. Small wonder why the Bill, within 48 hours of its passage on Monday, has provoked robust criticism from the human rights lobby. The timing of the legislation is no less significant than the crippling provisions. It has been passed in the Upper House with remarkably urgent despatch ~ within months of the explosions in Moscow's Underground. That outrage in March was spearheaded by the Black Widows, whose husbands had perished in the Chechen conflict. Indubitably, if without acknowledgment, it was a major setback for the Medvedev-Putin dispensation not least because the ravaged Metro runs in the periphery of the Kremlin. So mortally formidable an expression of women's power against the State has scarcely been recorded in Soviet history. The FSB now reserves the right to judge if people are planning to commit crimes or obstruct the agency's operations. A person can be warned if he/she is "on the boundary" of committing an offence. It is a form of psycho-analysis that could lead to fines, if not jail terms though the legislators have stopped short of declaring Russia a police state.  


The provisions make it quite obvious that the Bill is designed to rein in the insurgents from the North Caucasus. But misgivings that it might be invoked to stifle even the faintest opposition to the Kremlin are not wholly unfounded. The "prevention techniques" of the KGB are set to be renewed. Though this method was never able to curb ordinary crime, it was standard prescription to suppress dissent in the former Soviet Union. President Dmitry Medvedev, who is known to be an advocate of a free and open society in Russia, is expected very shortly to sign the bill into law. He seems to have effected an ideological turnaround by justifying the contemplated crackdown on dissent ~ "Every country has the right to improve its legislation." There is little doubt that the Bill has been scripted by Vladimir Putin, the former head of the FSB and now the Prime Minister. The reversal of roles has been theoretical at best; it is Putin who still calls the shots.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

CODE OF MANAGEMENT

BLEND THE TRADITIONAL WITH THE CONTEMPORARY

BY ANUPRIYO MALLICK


THE culture and character of a country are based on its social, political and economic environment. From that culture springs the national ethos, which prescribes a code of conduct for its citizens and creates the context for business ethics and values. 


The Indian ethos and wisdom, a legacy from its ancient past, envisaged a socialist pattern of society, with an accent on re-distribution. It has always been a champion of renunciation and rectitude, rather than accumulation and aggrandisement. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that it was difficult, but not impossible, to be an honest businessman; but it was impossible to be honest, and also, amass wealth. 


Considering the contemporary commercial scenario, certain issues call for reflection. The media all too often carries reports of financial scams and scandals. Even the world of sports is tainted with treachery, perversion and political skullduggery. Where is the scope for relief and redemption?

 
The distressing scenario makes it imperative that basic ethical norms should form part of a professional career.

Perhaps, the curriculum of management education could be restructured to reflect its national culture and character.


Ethics and values must find a place in the art and science of management. The ability to do the right thing and, what is more important, doing it every time (even when no one is watching) is the noblesse oblige in the managerial milieu. It must become the hallmark of a professional manager.


Three facets

EVERY man has three facets ~ the gross or physical (sthoola) the subtle (sookshma) and the casual (kaarana). While the physique is strengthened through food, the mind is purified by pure desires. The "casual body" represented by the antahkarana (conscience) is sanctified by sacred thoughts. The inherent divinity of man is thus manifest and the fullness of life achieved. It is this sense of unity that has been the core of India's traditional culture. It has sought to promote the well-being of all as a cardinal faith. When Indians realise the value of this heritage, they will make their lives meaningful.


Every country has developed its institutions and way of life on the basis of its cultural traditions, its system of values, and its historic circumstances. These institutions and value systems cannot be transplanted to other countries whose history, culture and circumstances are different. For instance, the management patterns in the United States and Japan are different. In America, the management pattern is based on a competitive and profit-oriented system. The equation between the management and workers is based on "hiring and firing". Money and profits are more important than human values. By emulating the American management model, we in India are encountering difficulties and are not reaping the benefits we expected.


In Japan, the management pattern is different. The workers have a high sense of discipline and even when they have grievances, they do not resort to strikes which affect production. Relations between the management and workers are generally cordial and cooperative. This has helped Japan to progress. 


There are certain features that are common to all business organisations in any country. These relate to such matters as accounts, production procedures, and maintenance of statistics, materials management and the like. But as regards business ethics and human relations, we in India have to choose our patterns in keeping with our culture, traditions and conditions. MBA institutes need to attach special importance to cultural and ethical values. 


Priority must be given to the country's ethos and values. The course curriculum should cover matters such as the economic environment, with due emphasis on personnel management. It doesn't make sense to emulate the management practices of another country.  This can lead to a waste of resources. And this is precisely what is happening in many countries, including India. What is beneficial for one country need not necessarily be beneficial for another. The parameters ought to be the circumstances, the individual attainments and the specific requirements of our country.


Different values

THE attempt to combine different sets of values may result in the loss of values of the less developed country. There is a story which illustrates how listening to the views of all and sundry can reduce one to a laughing stock. A fruit vendor put up a signboard which read: "Fruits are sold here." A passerby told the shopkeeper the word "here" in the sign board was superfluous. The vendor got the word erased. Another person remarked that there was no need to announce that fruits were being "sold" as that was obvious.  Accordingly, the word "sold" was erased. A third man said that there was no need to mention that "fruits" were being sold, as that was visible to everybody.  Eventually, all that remained was a blank board. Yet the designer advanced a bill both for the art-work and the erasure. The fruitseller realised the folly of acting on the opinions of every passerby without relying on his own judgment.


In the sphere of business management, a similar situation has developed in India. By following the advice of other countries, India has harmed its economy and finances.


The pursuit of money as an end in itself is making people greedy. Many farmers are switching over to profitable crops. This is not the kind of management we can afford. We should be concerned with "man management". The proper study of mankind is man. The management institutes should offer a mix of Indian culture and values on the one hand and such conventional disciplines as production, accounts, finance and personnel on the other. If the spiritual aspect is neglected in management education, man is reduced to an artificial, mechanical being with no genuine human qualities.


THE culture and character of a country are based on its social, political and economic environment. From that culture springs the national ethos, which prescribes a code of conduct for its citizens and creates the context for business ethics and values. 


The Indian ethos and wisdom, a legacy from its ancient past, envisaged a socialist pattern of society, with an accent on re-distribution. It has always been a champion of renunciation and rectitude, rather than accumulation and aggrandisement. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that it was difficult, but not impossible, to be an honest businessman; but it was impossible to be honest, and also, amass wealth. 


Considering the contemporary commercial scenario, certain issues call for reflection. The media all too often carries reports of financial scams and scandals. Even the world of sports is tainted with treachery, perversion and political skullduggery. Where is the scope for relief and redemption?


The distressing scenario makes it imperative that basic ethical norms should form part of a professional career. Perhaps, the curriculum of management education could be restructured to reflect its national culture and character.

Ethics and values must find a place in the art and science of management. The ability to do the right thing and, what is more important, doing it every time (even when no one is watching) is the noblesse oblige in the managerial milieu. It must become the hallmark of a professional manager.


Three facets

EVERY man has three facets ~ the gross or physical (sthoola) the subtle (sookshma) and the casual (kaarana). While the physique is strengthened through food, the mind is purified by pure desires. The "casual body" represented by the antahkarana (conscience) is sanctified by sacred thoughts. The inherent divinity of man is thus manifest and the fullness of life achieved. It is this sense of unity that has been the core of India's traditional culture. It has sought to promote the well-being of all as a cardinal faith. When Indians realise the value of this heritage, they will make their lives meaningful.


Every country has developed its institutions and way of life on the basis of its cultural traditions, its system of values, and its historic circumstances. These institutions and value systems cannot be transplanted to other countries whose history, culture and circumstances are different. For instance, the management patterns in the United States and Japan are different. In America, the management pattern is based on a competitive and profit-oriented system. The equation between the management and workers is based on "hiring and firing". Money and profits are more important than human values. By emulating the American management model, we in India are encountering difficulties and are not reaping the benefits we expected.
In Japan, the management pattern is different. The workers have a high sense of discipline and even when they have grievances, they do not resort to strikes which affect production. Relations between the management and workers are generally cordial and cooperative. This has helped Japan to progress. 


There are certain features that are common to all business organisations in any country. These relate to such matters as accounts, production procedures, and maintenance of statistics, materials management and the like. But as regards business ethics and human relations, we in India have to choose our patterns in keeping with our culture, traditions and conditions. MBA institutes need to attach special importance to cultural and ethical values. 
Priority must be given to the country's ethos and values. The course curriculum should cover matters such as the economic environment, with due emphasis on personnel management. It doesn't make sense to emulate the management practices of another country.  This can lead to a waste of resources. And this is precisely what is happening in many countries, including India. What is beneficial for one country need not necessarily be beneficial for another. The parameters ought to be the circumstances, the individual attainments and the specific requirements of our country.


Different values

THE attempt to combine different sets of values may result in the loss of values of the less developed country. There is a story which illustrates how listening to the views of all and sundry can reduce one to a laughing stock. A fruit vendor put up a signboard which read: "Fruits are sold here." A passerby told the shopkeeper the word "here" in the sign board was superfluous. The vendor got the word erased. Another person remarked that there was no need to announce that fruits were being "sold" as that was obvious.  Accordingly, the word "sold" was erased. A third man said that there was no need to mention that "fruits" were being sold, as that was visible to everybody.  Eventually, all that remained was a blank board. Yet the designer advanced a bill both for the art-work and the erasure. The fruitseller realised the folly of acting on the opinions of every passerby without relying on his own judgment.


In the sphere of business management, a similar situation has developed in India. By following the advice of other countries, India has harmed its economy and finances.

The pursuit of money as an end in itself is making people greedy. Many farmers are switching over to profitable crops. This is not the kind of management we can afford. We should be concerned with "man management". The proper study of mankind is man. The management institutes should offer a mix of Indian culture and values on the one hand and such conventional disciplines as production, accounts, finance and personnel on the other. If the spiritual aspect is neglected in management education, man is reduced to an artificial, mechanical being with no genuine human qualities.

 

The writer is Professor, Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management, Kolkata

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IT'S A FRIENDLY WORLD

 

Barack Obama, the man who has the most important job in the world, rules over a nation of more than 300 million people. But one of his countrymen, a 26-year-old billionaire called Mark Zuckerberg, has an even more exalted empire to run: one with 500 million subjects (and still counting) from every nation across the whole wide world. If Facebook were a country, then, with more than half a billion inhabitants, it would have been the third largest in the world. But that says next to nothing of its fabled powers. Facebook has already captivated 35 per cent of the world's internet users (that's 8 per cent of the global population) with the promise of much more than 15 minutes of fame: it confers nothing short of immortality on those who devote hour after precious hour of their lives to it — recently, users got messages urging them to reconnect with long dead friends whose profiles had not been deleted from the social networking site. On a less sinister note, Facebook is the cyber mirror on the wall before which one must preen, resplendent in the daily trivia of one's all-important life, fishing for compliments, sympathy, or even a smiley (that would do just as well). So the prospect of a morning at the dentist's, woefully announced on Facebook, may elicit a great many hugs and kisses. But such unexciting news can also assume epic significance for, say, one's vilest enemies, or less dramatically, for burglars waiting for a chance to break in. As a thief-turned-Methodist-minister recently explained, having 900 friends on Facebook means that many nosey people keeping a tab on every petty detail of one's life.

 

\Yet, in its earliest avatar, Facebook was designed by Mr Zuckerberg and his friends as a dating site only for the students of Harvard University. After its huge popularity among the young, it was opened to the public in 2006, and that, in a way, diminished its value for many overnight. Since then, privacy and safety concerns have increasingly plagued Facebook. So by shedding its elitist membership policy to become inclusive, Facebook actually risked virulent opposition from its own patrons. That, perhaps, is one of the first lessons of democracy — in order to make half a billion friends, one has to make as many, or even more, enemies.

 

Apart from contributing a new vocabulary to the English language — the Oxford University Press recognized 'unfriend' as 'The Word of the Year' in 2009 — Facebook has transformed society and politics. (Mr Obama launched a spirited campaign on it while running for the presidency). Yet, it also has deadening potentials. Addiction to Facebook can lead to doom, sometimes with a comic twist. A burglar (once again) in West Virginia could not resist checking his account from a house he had broken into. The poor chap was traced back by the police from the information he had left behind. He was caught in the trap laid by the temptation to be 'always on'. That may, perhaps, be a good reason to unfriend Facebook forever.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

IN DIFFERENT GARB

THE PEOPLE'S POLITICIAN AND THE POWER OF DRESSING

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

No one could have accused Mamata Banerjee of dressing down last Wednesday like the legendary cartoon of a dinner-jacketed Deshapriya Jatindra Mohan Sengupta demanding the obligatory khadi dhoti-kurta ensemble above the caption, "Bearer, meeting ka kapra lao!" On the contrary, she dressed up as befits New Delhi's anointed for the chief ministership.

 

Surprisingly, our people's politician is acutely sensitive to sartorial messages. It's "meeting ka kapra" round the clock for her, but Wednesday was a gala occasion when Centre and public had to be assured that no refugee colony frump would rule the Writers' roost. She once draped a burqa to offer namaz at the start of Ramazan though it's another matter whether Muslims (25 per cent of West Bengal's population), who suffered most at Nandigram, found the gesture by a woman and a Hindu to boot acceptable. There was also that famous strip of red rag to signify a supposedly close encounter with death at the hands of her enemies.

 

She is also quick with sartorial jibes. "One doesn't become a gentleman only by sporting a dhoti!" she snorted in the Indian Chamber of Commerce only two months before Jyoti Basu stepped down, and the captains of business and industry who filled the hall knew enough Bengali to understand the barb and giggle, if a trifle uneasily. They were torn then between the Left Front to which they were heavily committed and Trinamul's rising star, and in view of the outcome of the following year's "now or never" (Mamata's phrase) election, were wise to be guarded. Now, with even professional goondas reportedly abandoning the Communist Party (Marxist) for the Communist Party (Mamata), there is less need for circumspection. Magnates and mastans follow the rising star.

 

So does the Centre. It has raised no question of even moral responsibility for a series of deadly railway mishaps in unprecedented quick succession. True, one minister cannot be blamed for the shocking deterioration over the years of spares, maintenance, training and discipline that reflects the low priority given to public facilities used mostly by the poor. But some show of concern would have been in order instead of tortuous conspiracy theories that insult the victims. Yet, Congress luminaries rushed to her defence and fully supported Wednesday's rally. Didi must be laughing in her sari end at Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's further discomfiture at the Union government's insistence on today's tripartite talks on Darjeeling. They will boost the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha at the Left Front's expense with what ultimate cost to West Bengal's geography no one can tell.

 

It took that tough Marxist with a beguilingly pleasing manner, Nirupam Sen, to acknowledge that West Bengal is poised uneasily on the cusp of change. But despite Wednesday's massive crowds, one misses the expectant exuberance that swept Calcutta in March 1967 when the United Front ended 15 years of Congress rule. Irrespective of political commitment, there was then a sense of Wordsworth's "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very heaven." The wave didn't begin or end in Bengal. Other states also exploded into novel experiments, political stalwarts lay felled by the roadside. George Fernandes became "George the Giant-killer" after defeating S.K. Patil; an unknown cyclist called J.M. Biswas vanquished Atulya Ghosh. Whatever happened to Biswas? One hopes he was spared George's pitiable fate. The hope that the United Front kindled soon petered out in vicious squabbles but there was no political retreat: 1967 ushered in the era of coalition governments.

 

West Bengal experienced another catharsis 10 years later. India had survived the trauma of the Emergency; West Bengal emerged unscathed from Dharma Vira's mischief. Basu sounded a reasonable man then, intent on building on what he had inherited. No one could have foretold that the gruesome Sain murder had already set the trend for Marxist brutality or that the Left Front would destroy almost every institution of State. Bhattacharjee came too late and faced too much opposition from the cadres to redeem the original promise. Madam Mamata's actions at Nandigram and Singur crushed all prospect of a revival under Left Front rule.

 

The fear now is that she may have crushed all prospect of a revival anyway. Mamata Banerjee has been a spoiler all along, never a creator except in mobilizing people and bestowing fancy names on trains and stations. Her rumbustious speeches have voiced many genuine public grievances but rarely indicated solutions or given any hint of a vision beyond populist posturing. Some may see a golden lining in her efforts to recruit as many retired bureaucrats as will heed her pleas, presumably calculating that their administrative experience will lend gravitas to her motley crew of dissidents, malcontents, rebels, ideologues and opportunists. Some may welcome enlisting Sam Pitroda as a sign of pragmatism. But what precisely is Pitroda's expertise? It seems rather a tall order to expect one man, however gifted, to preside over the next phase of railway expansion and also turn Calcutta into London whose streets, Didi seems endearingly to believe with Dick Whittington, are paved with gold.

 

It would be nice to hope that Banerjee's silence on any other objectives is explained by Talleyrand's dictum that speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts. Lee Kuan Yew was dismayed when, visiting India before the 1996 elections, he found Lal Krishna Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee denouncing Narasimha Rao's reforms. "Oh God!" he told me, "This is back to Square One again. It's going to be one step forward, one step back!" Advani knew Lee had got him wrong. But as he explained afterwards, he thought it wiser not to commit himself publicly to liberalization while the Bharatiya Janata Party was debating the merits of swadeshi versus multinationals. Nor could he admit, even to himself, that India's Opposition must oppose, irrespective of merit or logic.

 

Oh yes, Didi speaks now of "development, not destruction". But even she must know you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Agriculture must lose some land if an industrialized West Bengal is to generate jobs for its unemployed. Objecting to industry would be, as Sen told the assembly, "like cutting the branch of the tree on which they are sitting". It's a pity that did not occur earlier to the Left Front. It's a pity it suborned education and politicized the police and administration during 30 years in power. It's all very well for Didi to urge bureaucrats not to sign files when asked to: they have got into the habit of signing files only when ordered to! As for her promise that there will be no vendetta, nationally, the civil service has not recovered from the Janata government's witch- hunting.

 

All this is still hypothetical. New Delhi's blessings notwithstanding, Trinamul's ascent may not be so easy. The Left Front's setbacks are mainly in urban areas. The Marxist bastions are in the countryside where party cadres, backed by peasant beneficiaries of land reform, will fight tooth and nail not to be dislodged. West Bengal can expect many more Nandigrams with the Marxists opposing industrialization — and, indeed, every Trinamul venture — to pay Didi back in her own coin. As that Indian Chamber meeting where all the moneybags who paid court to Basu bowed to Mamata Banerjee showed, Trinamul is just as vulnerable as the Marxists to the blandishments of traders.

 

After last Wednesday's chic appearance, she must be pondering what apparel will best combine concern for the Maoists with administrative ambition at Lalgarh on August 9. Bhattacharjee's crumpled dhoti doesn't stand a chance. But whatever Mamata wears, Basu was not wrong in telling her she is only repeating what the communists did in the Fifties and Sixties. It's plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, the more things change the more they are the same. Fashion sense distinguishes this CPI(M) from the other one.

 

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SHAME ON BOTH SIDES

 

When Shirley Sherrod spoke the words that a conservative blog-site agitator and Fox News ran with to smear her, she was in the midst of describing her passage from the angry prejudice of her youth in rural Georgia's brutal segregationist era, to the reconciliation that drew her to help a white farmer save his farm from foreclosure.

 

But an out-of-context snippet of Mrs. Sherrod's inspiring personal journey, described in a 43-minute speech that would make any compassionate person rejoice, was quickly and brutally twisted for political reasons. Then Mrs. Sherrod was hastily and wrongly fired by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak from her job as chief of the department's rural development office in Georgia.

 

The end of this shameful episode is now known better than the beginning of it. President Obama has apologized to her. Mr. Vilsak has offered her a better job. And Fox News has stood glibly by, condemning the White House for running too quickly to put out a fire that its own arsonist talking heads maliciously and recklessly fanned into a political bonfire.

 

The actions of both sides reveal lessons worth noting. One concerns faux news and the arrogant and cruel deceit of exploiting racism for political advantage. The other illustrates the consequences of running so fast and in such fear from right wing propaganda mudslingers, the McCarthyites of our day, that the White House failed the test of due diligence and fairness to a powerless African-American woman who was brutally maligned, and who deserved far better treatment.

 

The speech that Mrs. Sherrod gave at an NAACP event in Georgia described what few white Americans have only read about. A relative was lynched by a sheriff. Her father, a farmer, was murdered by three white men who, despite witnesses to the crime, were not indicted by an all-white grand jury. She and her family lived in fear after a cross was burned in their yard.

 

From this background, she rose to become an employee of the Agriculture Department whose job was to arrange aid to qualifying farmers. She admitted to her audience that 24 years ago, one farmer's seeming arrogance elicited lingering prejudice in her, making her less disposed to give him the "full force" of all the help she believed black farmers needed.

 

But, she told her audience, that white farmer ultimately caused her to see that white farmers faced the same circumstances as black farmers. God taught her, she said, that "there is no difference between us. ... I've come to realize we have to work together."

 

The farmer's family confirmed her story. "She's a good friend," Eloise Spooner told The New York Times. "She helped us save our farm."

 

The full story of her speech was not explored until after the snippet taken from it by blogger Andrew Brietbart was so maliciously exploited by Bill O'Reilly on his prime-time show on Fox News, "The O'Reilly Factor." Without checking the background and full speech, he said she should be fired. That led other Fox News hosts to beat the drums to fire her.

 

The Department of Agriculture failed, as well, to check out the story, to ask Mrs. Sherrod about her speech, or to get a tape of her speech. Mr. Vilsak has said he acted alone in dispatching an official to demand that she resign. Mrs. Sherrod said she was told the White House wanted her to resign.

 

Regardless, it seems clear that the Obama administration caved with checking the facts out of fear that the Fox hoopla would inflate the story the way it did with Mr. Breitbart's contrived tapes that wrongly hung Acorn, the national community organizing group, over the actions of isolated incidents in just a couple of offices.

 

If it weren't crystal clear before, the faux news organization's agenda should be fully transparent by now. It will spare no effort to inflate undocumented stories to pitch its slanted views. And sadly, the Obama administration has turned and run, gun-shy when it should be willing to fight the propaganda deliberately spewed to weaken it.

 

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Chicken Whisperer visits Fort Oglethorpe

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

ANOTHER RECORD DEFICIT

 

What would happen to you if you constantly spent much, much more than your income?

 

Don't think about it! The bad results would be too horrible.

 

But why is it that some in government — and some of the rest of us, too — think our federal government can constantly spend much, much more than even high taxes produce, without suffering terrible consequences?

 

"We" already owe about $13.2 trillion in federal debt. We have to pay billions of dollars in interest on it. But a majority of our officials are making it worse.

 

Look at this: President Barack Obama's current budget calls for spending well over $3 trillion! But the expected taxes won't come close to covering that amount.

 

Do you want to raise taxes? Do you think taxes are "too low"?

 

Current taxes are expected to produce something over $2 trillion for federal programs this year.

 

But the White House said Friday that our deficit this year — what we spend beyond the taxes collected — will hit a record $1.47 trillion!

 

Where will the federal government get that much money beyond high taxes? It will borrow money on which we will have to pay more interest.

 

As that cost is added to our national debt — already more than $13 trillion — we will be headed into deeper financial trouble.

 

With millions of Americans unemployed — about 10 percent of our wishing and willing would-be workers —

we are obviously in serious economic recession.

 

High taxes and higher spending, assuring higher national debt, will make it harder for our people to create more jobs to pay taxes to reduce debt and pull us out of recession.

 

Do you believe that every spending item in the budget is "absolutely necessary"?

 

Or do you believe we would be much better off if 2010 spending were reduced, reducing red ink and heading off pressures for higher taxes?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

BIG BANKS' OWN PICK-POCKETS

 

Americans rightly blame Wall Street's and big banks' reckless gambling in derivatives and other exotic, and often toxic, investments for the financial implosion that has wrecked the economy and spurred long-term unemployment. A report issued Friday by the Obama administration's special master for executive compensation, Kenneth Feinberg, confirms what we have suspected about the extent of bankers' greed that drove them to make those risky investments.

 

With the financial system about to go over the cliff in late 2008, a group of 17 of the nation's largest financial institutions that had already taken hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP funds to avoid collapse quickly paid some $2 billion in mind-boggling bonuses to the group's 600 highest-paid executives. His study showed that nearly 80 percent of that money ($1.58 billion of the $2.03 billion in question) was unmerited.

 

His criteria for that judgment: The bonuses were either overly generous exit packages, or there were no clear performance guidelines or other rationale for them.

 

Taxpayers might assume that there would be a claw-back provision to get back bonuses awarded under such questionable circumstances in the review period — from October 2008, when the first bailouts were issued, until February 2009, when the stimulus bill took effect. But that's not the case.

 

Neither Mr. Feinberg nor the administration has legal grounds to demand reimbursement. Their case is diminished, as well, by the quick payback of TARP funds by 11 of the 17 banks. Indeed, it has been clear for some time that the reason for the banks' rapid repayments of TARP aid was to eliminate the prospect of a demand for reimbursement of bonuses.

 

Even among the six banks that have not repaid their TARP loans, there apparently is little Mr. Feinberg can do except point out the excesses and hope Congress will come up with stiffer rules for banks. The most egregious bonus was the $100 million payout given by Citigroup to Andrew Hall and another trader in the bank's Philbro energy trading section. Mr. Feinberg's criticism of that bonus when he uncovered it, however, did prompt Citigroup to sell the Philbro unit to Occidental Petroleum last fall.

 

European banking regulators may point the way to put outsized bonuses under some regulatory guidelines. They adopted tough new standards earlier this month to rein in such abusive pick-pocketing of banks by their executives. Congressional banking overseers should follow suit.

 

Common bad cooking habits of young, single professsionals.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A MILLION FORECLOSURES: FAIRNESS?

 

It was in the name of "fairness" to low-income Americans and those with poor credit that Congress pressured banks in recent decades to relax lending standards for home mortgages.

 

But decide for yourself how "fair" that wound up being to the people who were to be helped by easier credit.

 

A foreclosure listing service, RealtyTrac Inc., has released data showing that this year alone, more than 1 million U.S. households — representing several million individuals — will lose their homes to foreclosure. (There are usually only about 100,000 foreclosures per year.)

 

Of course, not all of the borrowers who are losing their homes this year were poor credit risks. Some were gainfully employed and took out loans that were reasonable, given their income. Some had the misfortune, however, to lose their jobs, and then they fell behind on their payments.

 

But in too many cases, the homes being foreclosed were purchased by people who got far larger loans — and a lot more house — than their income and credit history justified. Often, they also got adjustable-rate mortgages whose rates were "adjusted" upward, eventually making their payments unaffordable.

 

There were many warnings that the looser lending standards were setting up millions of Americans for foreclosure, but those warnings went unheeded in Washington. Now, as lots of people are suffering the pain of foreclosure because of bad policies pushed by Congress, we doubt many of them think that is very "fair."

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Chicken Whisperer visits Fort Oglethorpe

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

LET THE SUN SHINE IN

 

Sometimes, government has a legitimate reason not to make certain information public. It would be disastrous, for instance, if Washington revealed specifics of our nation's military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. And local governments risk scaring away economic development prospects if they divulge too early that a particular company is interested in investing in the area.

 

But with a few exceptions, the government's business should be conducted in the open, and government information that is not covered by those exceptions ought to be available within a reasonable period of time after it is requested. Most certainly, political considerations should not delay the release of information.

 

But the Obama administration has been delaying release of publicly available records depending on the political views of those who request the records.

 

The Associated Press went through 1,000 pages of government e-mail and found that requests for federal

records were routed through top political advisers, and that government officials looked closely at the political viewpoints of the people or organizations seeking the information.

 

"(I)n July 2009, (the Department of) Homeland Security introduced an uncommon directive requiring a wide range of information to be vetted by political appointees for 'awareness purposes,'" the AP reported. "These special reviews at times delayed the release of information to Congress, watchdog groups and the news media for weeks beyond the usual wait ... ."

 

The breadth of information requests that had to go through political filters is astounding.

 

"Anything that related to an Obama policy priority was pegged for this review," the AP reported. "So was anything that touched on a 'controversial or sensitive subject,' that could attract media attention or that dealt with meetings involving business and elected leaders. Anything requested by lawmakers, journalists, activist groups or watchdog organizations had to go to the political appointees."

 

Federal workers had to specify "Democrat" or "Republican" if a member of Congress asked for public records, and the White House itself reviewed a number of the information requests. Ironically, even the AP's request for e-mail to investigate the review policy was subjected to political review.

 

Does that sound like the "open" and "transparent" administration that Mr. Obama has pledged?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

'JACKPOT INJUSTICE'

 

It is a sad reality that lawsuits are sometimes necessary to secure justice for someone who has been wronged. But all too often, frivolous or even fraudulent lawsuits are filed, and sometimes they result in a gross injustice.

 

A Los Angeles judge has dismissed a $2.3 million judgment against Dole Food Co. The judge found that a U.S. attorney had fraudulently recruited some Nicaraguans to claim they had worked for Dole when they had not. The supposed "workers" alleged that they had become sterile from exposure to pesticides at Dole plantations in Nicaragua, and they won the big judgment in 2007.

 

The ruse involved phony lab tests and threats against whistleblowers. Even the judge in the case has said she feels threatened over the decision she rendered.

 

"There was massive fraud perpetrated on this court," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney wrote.

 

The judge "noted that while there had been perhaps 3,000 to 5,000 workers on Dole plantations in Nicaragua from 1973 to 1980, suits were filed by more than 14,000 plaintiffs," The Associated Press reported.

 

The purpose of lawsuits ought to be to provide real justice, not "jackpot injustice."

Common bad cooking habits of young, single professsionals.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KAYANI'S EXTENSION

 

The extension granted to Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who had been due to retire at the end of November this year, will have created disquiet among militant outfits based in the north. There had been speculation that some of these groups were hoping the exit of General Kayani would mark a relaxation in the fierce onslaught launched against extremists since early 2009 – with the military action for the first time raising hope that the Taliban forces could indeed be defeated. General Kayani's determined offensive has won him praise from across the world. It has also been instrumental in persuading nations to adopt a 'softer' approach towards Pakistan and convincing them that this change merits assistance in the form of cash and projects intended to facilitate development. The announcement made by the prime minister, in a three-minute address to the nation, had as such not been entirely unexpected. There had been conjecture for some time that General Kayani – who would otherwise have served a shortened term in office because of the prolonged time spent as army chief by his predecessor General Musharraf – would indeed be granted an extension. As anticipated, national security interests have been cited by the PM as the key factor in the decision.


However, nothing in our country's politics is thought quite as simple as it seems. The long history of military rule means the extension takes on a somewhat mixed hue. It may appear in some ways to be a further relegation of authority to the military by the government. Some say the COAS had indeed been seeking just such an extension, or even that there was a threat to the government if this was not granted. The truth behind these rumours -- and they are rumours -- is impossible to establish – but the fact that they exist is disquieting in the context of democracy and the need to strengthen it. If Pakistan is to find the political stability it so desperately seeks it is important for the role of the military to be reduced as far as politics go. It is, of course, a fact that General Kayani has been trying to do just this. He has tried to ensure that the military's role remains that of a purely professional body. But even so, speculation cannot be stopped. What is important is that our institutions learn to co-exist and function cohesively together. They have consistently struggled to do so. General Kayani has been making a valiant effort to put the military's role back on track. We must hope he can succeed in this, so that by the end of 2013 Pakistan can emerge as a country with a brighter future in front of it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

AT LAST

 

The crisis caused by the formation of the lake at Attabad in January this year may be reaching a solution, and not a minute too soon. The spillway that has been constructed is not draining the lake as had been anticipated and a more radical solution is required. The government has now been concluded that blasting is the only realistic and practical way forward. The plan is to use controlled blasting to reduce the level of the lake from its current 111 metres to 30 metres, a drop of 80 metres which may be somewhat ambitious. Reports say that this will happen within the next week and restore most of the agricultural land and residential areas and re-open the key transport route to China – the Karakoram Highway. Additionally a fast load-carrying ferry service on the lake will be established and a feasibility study conducted into the possibility of a bypass around the vulnerable 'slide areas'.


These decisions come hard on the heels of the presidential visit to China, during which Chinese assistance in resolving the problem was sought – despite an initial offer of help from the Chinese in the immediate aftermath of the January landslide being refused. Restoration of the link is of considerable importance to China as it has invested heavily in the upgrading of the Karakoram Highway and is looking to the development of a possible future rail link between Kashgar and Gwadar. The economy and transport infrastructure of the area has been devastated by the landslide. It is to be hoped that matters now will proceed expeditiously. This situation has dragged on far too long. The summer is far advanced and it will not be long before temperatures start falling again and working conditions all the more difficult. Local commentators wonder why this decision was not arrived at months ago, and it is hard to disagree with them.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TRAINS TO NOWHERE

 

The maps of our country display an extensive network of tracks zigzagging across districts and provinces from north to south. Anyone surveying such a map would be forgiven for imagining the train services here meet a vital need. However, the recent measures announced by the railways ministry indicate a total indifference towards rail services. Six more trains have been taken off the tracks; others are set to disappear. An analysis of Pakistan's economic plight indicates that one of the key components of the steady decline has been the rapid deterioration in the running of giant entities such as PIA and the railways. These organisations should be bringing in huge profits; after all they have a monopoly on routes and services and people in most cases have no option but to use them. The fact that despite this they have turned into huge burdens on the exchequer, draining resources and dragging down the state, is a testimony to the degree of inefficiency and mismanagement that has reduced them to this.


Through the early years of Pakistan, the railways were a proud part of national life. This indeed remains true in India, which has been able to build and expand its portion of the same network. The rapid decline we have seen, with financial constraints now forcing trains to be suspended, is tragic. Even today, as is the case in other countries, trains have great potential to serve needs. We must try and assess why we have failed in this. The reduction in the number of trains, including those offering key services between major cities, is not a matter to be taken lightly, given the impact it will have on people's lives.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

 

 MORE OF THE SAME

ARIF NIZAMI


Pakistan has been at the epicentre of hectic diplomatic activity in the past few weeks. However, as they say, no matter how much things change they remain the same. Parleys between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart, S M Krishna, failed to break any fresh ground.


Talks with Ms Hillary Clinton resulted in the US secretary of state arm-twisting Islamabad into signing an unequal transit trade agreement with Kabul and the sop of $500 million's project assistance. The fine print that this money was part of the assistance already pledged under the Kerry Lugar Bill was conveniently swept under the carpet.


Shorn of diplomatic verbosity, the wide gap between Islamabad's wish list and the demands of the West, with India Pakistan's perennially estranged neighbour, has not narrowed a bit. The only silver lining is Islamabad's markedly improved relations with Kabul.


Shah Mehmood Qureshi, visibly disappointed and sombre at the joint press conference with his Indian counterpart, looked more like a jilted lover than the foreign minister of Pakistan. Had he taken too seriously the bombastic claims of his predecessor, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, that a Kashmir solution had virtually been clinched under Musharraf?


It is naive on our part to expect New Delhi to start meaningful talks on Kashmir on Washington's prodding. Striking a sympathetic chord with the West, India's priority remains engagement of Pakistan on terrorism and trade. S M Krishna or any member of his team need not have been on the cell phone with New Delhi during the talks, as claimed by Mr Qureshi, for instructions on this count.


On the contrary, in the talks it was Islamabad that was ill prepared and was caught on the wrong foot. New Delhi has exploited to the hilt the testimony of David Haedley, a maverick of half-Pakistani, half-American descent who has been working as a mole for the Americans and later ostensibly for the Taliban. In sharp contrast, Islamabad failed to walk the talk by providing any concrete evidence on RAW's alleged involvement in Balochistan.


The much-hyped second round of strategic dialogue with the US also proved to be a damp squib. It ended with a litany of oft-repeated demands and statements from the US secretary of state. As on her previous visit, she repeated her claim that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan and elements in the Pakistani government are aware of his whereabouts, a charge predictably denied by the prime minister. Ms Clinton also wanted tougher action from Pakistan to combat militants and expressed her apprehension that another terrorist attack on US soil will be devastating for Pakistan-US relations. Who doesn't know this?


Predictably, the US secretary of state reiterated Washington's stance that Islamabad is not entitled to civilian nuclear technology a la New Delhi, on the pretext that it was not a responsible nuclear state, thanks to the so-called A Q Khan network. Similarly, market access that is available to some other South Asian countries and is a long-standing demand of our textile industry remains unavailable to Islamabad.


It is obvious that the "trust deficit" between the US and Pakistan acknowledged by both sides remains high. On one side, Washington wants Islamabad to "do more" while on the other it implicitly blames elements within the Pakistan military of being complicit with the terrorists.


It wants Pakistan to forgo its present strategic paradigm and launch an attack against Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan. However, it is unable to play any mediatory role between India and Pakistan, apart from facilitating a fruitless dialogue between the two adversaries. The collateral damage inflicted in the tribal areas, owing to the constant drone attacks has made the onerous task of winning hearts and minds even more difficult with US approval ratings in Pakistan stubbornly remaining at an all-time low.


The country's economy is in dire straits, and our policymakers have little option but to follow US diktats. The only stumbling block, or, rather, a balancing element, is the military that adheres to its own version of India-centric policies.


Pakistan Afghanistan transit trade deal signed under the matronly gaze of the US secretary of state is an unequal treaty. While advantageous for Kabul, it has few benefits for Islamabad. Getting access to Central Asia is easier said than done, thanks to the large swaths of Afghan territory controlled by the Taliban.


Access to Central Asia through war-torn routes in Afghanistan is also expensive, if one has to pay all the warlords on the way. Afghan trucks plying to Wagah and Karachi would not only be financially detrimental to the local trucking industry but could also serve as a fresh source for drugs and arms smuggling.


Ominously, on the eve of the strategic dialogue, speculative stories appeared in the media about COAS Gen Kayani, whose term was to end in November this year, being granted an extension by the prime minister. One newspaper came up with the fantastic claim that the US secretary of state has pleaded for the army chief's tenure be extended for the sake of continuity in the war on terror.


Such a demand coming from Washington would be construed as a blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. Despite the closeness of relations between Islamabad and Washington the decision to grant an extension hopefully has been taken because of the pivotal role Pakistan is playing in the war on terror, rather than on the basis of US demands.


Now that Gen Kayani's term as COAS has been extended for another three years for the sake of "wider national interest," more speculation in the media will be counterproductive. Although military strongmen giving themselves extensions has been he norm, it is the first time that such a step has been taken by a civilian government.

President Mohammad Ayub Khan promoted himself from general to field marshal, whereas Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf as presidents gave themselves extensions as army chiefs.


Islamabad's regional security environment has markedly improved as a result of better relations with Kabul. The process started after Musharraf's exit from power, has now culminated in Gen Kayani and his ISI chief facilitating a dialogue with the Taliban. Pakistan's neutrality in the controversial presidential elections held last year in Afghanistan and Karzai losing faith in the Nato forces' ability to defeat the Taliban has helped tip the balance in Islamabad's favour.


Relations with Afghanistan have improved to the extent that Kabul has agreed to send Afghan military officers for training to Pakistan--a proposal which Karzai had been vehemently resisting till recently. India, which has invested heavily in Afghanistan and has a vast intelligence network along the border with Pakistan, is visibly upset over these developments. The virulent anti-Pakistan propaganda in the Indian media on this count is clear indication of New Delhi's withdrawal symptoms.


A key conference on Afghanistan led by Hillary Clinton and chaired by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and attended by 80 countries and organisations, including India and Pakistan, has endorsed Karzai's plan for talking with those Taliban who are willing to renounce violence. Obviously, this is a window of opportunity for Pakistan. But it has to tread cautiously, lest it is accused of treating Afghanistan as its backyard.


The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

RESISTANCE PERSONIFIED

FAROOQ SULEHRIA


Afghan leader Malalai Joya is resistance personified. She is the most vocal critic of both US occupation of Afghanistan and the ruling warlords. At the same time, she speaks dismissively of the Taliban: "Their violence is no resistance". However, Malalai Joya hardly grabs headlines in the Pakistani media that often glorifies the mindless violence of the Taliban. But she is a household name in Afghanistan and a known figure internationally. She was called "Afghanistan's most famous women" by the BBC a few years ago. Last April, she was ranked among the 100 most influential people of the world by Time Magazine.


But Time asked Dutch-Somalian author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is known for her Islamophobic views, to make the announcement. Now settled in the US, Hirsi Ali distorted Joya's image in her malicious announcement by saying: "I hope in time [Joya] comes to see the US and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country".

A furious Joya reacted strongly. In her counter-statement, she said: "Time has painted a false picture of me and does not mention anything at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact, everyone knows that I stand side-by-side with the glorious antiwar movements around the world and have proved time and again that I will never compromise with the US and NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots in Afghanistan".


Joya earned a mark back in 2003 at the Loya Jirga (Greater Assembly) convened to ratify Afghanistan's new constitution. Unlike the US-sponsored, clean-shaven fundamentalists, Joya was not nominated by Karzai. She was elected by the people of the Farah province to represent them at the Loya Jirga. The Jirga was chaired by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi who, at the very outset, told the women delegates: "Even God has not given you equal rights because under His decision two women are equal to one man".


Joya had bravely organised underground girls' schools in Herat when the Taliban's terror drove millions into exile. Mojaddedi's patriarchal admonition could not intimidate Joya. She stunned the Loya Jirga and the press members present to cover the occasion by delivering a three-minute, hard-hitting speech, exposing the crimes of the warlords running the Loya Jirga. A befuddled grey-bearded Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, on hearing Joya, screamed in anger and called her 'infidel' and 'communist'. Others also shouted at her. But before she was silenced by an angry mob of warlords, with her single, but timely, act she had electrified Afghanistan.

When she criticised the warlords at the Loya Jirga, even 'Viceroy' Zalmay Khalilzad -- the then US envoy to Afghanistan -- was upset. "Joya", Khalilzad chided, "had overstepped the framework of politeness".


She wrote a letter to Khalilzad, saying: "If these criminals raped your mother or daughter or even your grandmother, or killed seven of your sons, let alone destroyed all the moral and material treasure of your country, what words would you use against such criminals and puppets that will be inside the framework of politeness and respect?"


In the meantime, three fateful minutes at the Loya Jirga changed the course of Joya's life. In her native province of Farah, locals wanted her to represent them in elections. It does not merely take guns and dollars to contest an election in Afghanistan. Joya had none. Still, she contested and was elected to parliament in 2005. Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad immortalised Joya's courageous election campaign and subsequent victory in her documentary "Enemies of Happiness". Aged 25, Malalai Joya was the youngest Afghan MP. More importantly, she proved herself to be the bravest MP. On the floor of parliament, she emerged as the strongest critic of US occupation and the Taliban- and mujahidin-dominated Karzai regime.


Hence, at almost every parliamentary session she attended, she had her hair pulled, was attacked physically and called names by her 'Islamist' colleagues. She was even threatened with rape on the floor of the house. In one case, the warlords bussed in thousands of men to Kabul to march and demand "Death to Joya". Niaz Mohammad Amiri, a member of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Wahabist party, would never miss an opportunity during parliamentary sessions to call her a prostitute. Flyers were distributed calling her prostitute, communist and anti-Islamic.

"Among the worst was a leaflet that showed a photograph of me without my headscarf, falsely saying that the picture was taken at the Loya Jirga. Underneath was the awful slogan: she took off her scarf at the Loya Jirga, she'll take off her pants in parliament", Joya noted in her book Raising My Voice that has recently come out. Once she was abroad on Valentine's Day. It was propagated that she was abroad to celebrate Valentine's Day. In her two years in parliament, she never once had the chance to complete her speech without her microphone switched off. But even her half-delivered speeches were hard to tolerate.


Hence, she was suspended from parliament. Her suspension has been widely criticised. From Noam Chomsky to Naomi Klein, a host of noted people have signed the petition for her reinstatement. She now leads an underground life. To hide her identity, she wears the burqa which she otherwise hates. In view of her previous experience, she has decided not to contest elections scheduled for September this year.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

 

 

POVERTY AND PRAGMATISM

DR SANIA NISHTAR


Some of the statements in the wake of the recent meeting of Friends of Democratic Pakistan and strategic dialogues aimed at defining areas of priority for the use of incoming bilateral assistance from the Untied States have been positive and encouraging, including the bold admission by the secretary of state that "We have not done a good job of connecting our partnership with concrete improvements in the lives of Pakistanis -- with this dialogue we are working to change that". However, when such statements are accompanied by others from the Pakistani side, which label these dialogues "transformational" in relation to breaking new grounds in poverty reduction they usher in expectations, which must be analysed in the right perspective. Within this context, the comment attempts to explore where the country stands with regard to poverty eradication, the extent to which such expectations are justified, the prerequisites for leveraging the potential within development assistance and the impediments that exist in Pakistan in this regard.

 

Aid must not be viewed as a magic bullet. However, experiences from many countries, especially in the post-World War II setting, show that when it is deployed in the appropriate context and is strategically harnessed it can be a catalyst for change and can help build productive assets and strengthen institutions with a sustainable knock-on effect on poverty eradication. There are many factors which stand in the way of enabling that in Pakistan. This package cannot be regarded a Marshall Plan for reasons argued in these columns on April 29, 2009. These constraints must bring to bear to temper our expectations vis-à-vis the impact on poverty. Four points are being outlined in this regard.


First, it must be appreciated that several conditions play a significant role in reducing poverty and improving development outcomes. Of these sustained growth, with resulting increase in employment, per-capita income and physical, human, and technological capital are the most important. Sound, consistent and effective policies, good governance, and an environment where peace, security, law and order and justice attract investments are critical for enabling such a transformation. In such an environment sizable poverty reduction becomes achievable when a redistributive hand of the government ensures economic opportunities for the poor -- land rights and access to financial services -- and where impartial oversight attempts to counter organised vested interests and disparities of power, money and resources, to a certain extent. Good governance is the critical enabling factor in this entire equation. Pakistan's constraints with regard to internal security, law and order and governance place it in a position of disadvantage. The latter also undermine the potential impact of traditional targeted interventions -- subsidies, income support, safety nets etc. -- whether they are financed with indigenous revenues or external aid. It is no wondering, therefore, that more than a quarter of Pakistan's population is below the poverty line of $1 a day, the current controversy over poverty empirics notwithstanding.


Secondly, in addition to being critical for national development, the quality of governance also determines the extent to which aid can be effective, per se. To put this statement in perspective, the key inference of an important aid effectiveness monitoring survey with generalisable conclusions should be brought to bear. Two rounds of surveys (in 2006 and 2008) were conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to measure the impact of the Paris Principles on Aid Effectiveness. The two monitoring rounds pertinently pointed out that "In order to change practices in international aid, there is the need to shape deep seated behaviours; these changes in the process of development and the nature of aid relationship require time-focused, attention and determined political will. It is not easy to change laws, regulations, practices and mindsets". The results drive home the point that when there are underlying systemic constraints, the impact of aid is seriously diluted and that the effectiveness of governance in its own right is an important determinant of aid effectiveness.

Thirdly, lessons from the past should be factored into planning as the purse strings are loosened. It is critical that we don't repeat past mistakes. There have been 'three decades of surges' in aid in Pakistan in the 1960s, 1980s and 2001-to-date, each time with a strong correlation between geo-political motivations and the volume of aid channelled. On every occasion development assistance is packaged alongside a more substantial chunk of military assistance. Each time, Pakistan enabled its allies to pursue foreign policy objectives but failed to use aid as a strategic input into the system, when viewed from the development and governance perspective. Productive assets, which could generate resources necessary to pay back loans and capacity to mobilise domestic savings and raise revenue, were not built. Grants were used to repay debts. Systemic governance constraints also remained unaddressed. As a result, Pakistan's debt burden and fiscal deficit increased, which is now having a domino effect in many spheres. From these insights some common sense lessons are evident -- in particular, the risk of integrating development and foreign policy objectives, the cost of inattention to substantive long-term investments in productive assets, and the short-sighted approach to the use of development assistance.


This time there appears to be an effort not to repeat past mistakes from both sides. But there is just too wide a gap to bridge and too many systemic hurdles in the way. There are some allocations which can be system-strengthening, as in the area of water and energy, but their impact could be mitigated by institutionalised graft and pilferage. Both sides have expressed an interest in negotiating bilateral investment, through the Friends of Democratic Pakistan channel with public-private partnerships as a modality, but sophisticated institutional capacity and consistency in policy direction are needed to make use of these channels -- both of which are non-existent in the country. The new envelope is trying various funding approaches (support for indigenous civil society, programme-, project- and sector-wide approaches, on-budget support and a new multi-donor trust fund) in an attempt to circumvent existing public finance management bottlenecks, but the latter are far too pervasive with very few in the public sector that are challenging the status quo. In any case, Pakistan's fiscal crunch means the on-budget component will be substantial, channelled through the existing system with antecedent opportunities for collusion very much at play. There will be an appalling crowding-out effect in social-sector allocations, unacceptable by aid effectiveness standards.


Lastly, it should be appreciated that development assistance, 'as aid' per se, is a small component of 'external assistance' that has helped countries make quantum leaps in development and poverty eradication. The example in our neighbourhood is illustrative. At a time when the superpower is signalling goodwill, an astute government should negotiate better market access, get favourable terms of trade and debt relief. They should focus on their strategic relationship with friends to widen the definition of public goods in the domain of technological solutions, ease impediments on development posed by Intellectual Property Rights and get fairer deals in relation to human-resources migration and their working conditions, as the approach can enable earning foreign remittances.


Pakistan should use its strategic position in ways that can benefit its own people, whilst at the same time play a positive role in a globalised world. We need astute capacity, transparent hands, and an unwavering commitment in order to achieve these goals.


The writer is the author of a recently published book on health reform, Choked Pipes. Email: sania@heartfile.org

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

MYSTERY OF GHAZALI'S GRAVE

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


He lies buried in an unmarked grave in the middle of a farmer's field. The first time I visited Tus to visit his grave at the Haruniye, where a small grave-like structure merely said: "a place of remembrance for Imam Ghazali," I was lucky to find a guide who told me of a recent archaeological find that led to conclusive rejection of this place being the burial place of one of Islam's most influential thinkers, whose works have inspired generations of scholars during the last thousand years. The middle-aged tourist guide, busy with a European tourist had then told me to "go over there, to the left of Firdawsi's tomb, pass through the town, and go out to the broken mud wall."


It was a beautiful winter day and the walk back to the famous tomb of Firdawsi was not difficult. However, when I turned left and found myself in the ancient city of Tus, with a few houses on both sides of the road and old men sitting in front of shops, it was suddenly an entrance into a world of previous centuries. Tus, the birthplace of Imam Ghazali and numerous other luminaries of Islam, was a small town unlike any other I had seen in Iran: a feeling of serene silence, a dip in history, a remembrance of times past.


I had then walked through the street until I reached the broken mud wall of the old city which had stood there for at least a thousand years. There were signs of archaeological digging just before the wall. Khurasan's archaeological department had discovered the ruins of an ancient castle and a few workers were restoring that building. It was, however, not until I crossed over the road and went outside the mud wall that I saw a few bricks lying in a vast and empty field that I finally reached an inner state of presence with the Imam.


It was still. The air was clean and there was nothing under the blue sky more enchanting than that empty and field where a few bricks were lying around a hole that someone had started to dig but then abandoned. I walked towards the bricks and found the remains of an old grave with a few bricks lying around it. Someone had written "Imam Ghazali" with small ancient bricks. Other than that, there was no sign. The hole had been left untouched for months, as there were no signs of any new digging or unearthing of the parched clay around it.


But it was an inner certitude, filled with the spiritual presence of a man whose greatest work, Ihya Ulum al-Din, was written at a time when the entire Muslim world was experiencing one of its most difficult situations and the Mongol hordes were just about to overrun the entire eastern lands of Islam in the following century.


On that winter morning, I had spent the first half of the day at that spot, where Imam Ghazali was buried in AD 1111 by a few people who had seen him pass the last years of his life in relative peace and isolation after his famous and celebrated escape from Baghdad, where he held the most prestigious academic position of the time at the Nizamiye.


In his autobiography, Imam Ghazali was to recount the details of how he had experienced a spiritual crisis while teaching in Baghdad and how he had decided to leave Baghdad silently. Scholars have poured over al-Manqid min al-Dalal for centuries to elaborate details of this fascinating man's spiritual travail but what is most amazing is that Imam Ghazali was to write his greatest works after recovery from his spiritual crisis in this relatively small town in the final years of his life, thus leaving behind a legacy that remains one of the most intense and deep encounter of a Muslim sage with the life and times of successive generations; Imam Ghazali and his Ihya remain relevant to our times just as they were to his.


That first visit in 1999 was followed by four others. And thus when I arrived at his grave again on July 21, 2010, it was a sort of returning to the familiar physical and spiritual landscape. Over these years, and during my periodic visits, I saw the development of plans to build a dome over the grave. But today, a few other discoveries were awaiting.


The archaeological department of Khurasan has now built a foundational wall for a planned dome or building. One side of the wall is almost five feet high. But within the walled area, there were the remains of a centuries-old structure which I had never seen before. It was as if the old structure had just emerged from the ground since my last visit three years ago. Made with small bricks of the special kind used for the shrines of revered persons, these remains could have been that of a dome. Scattered around these remains were blue pieces of old decoration, suggesting that the grave was not left unattended at least at some point in history, either before or after the Mongols passed through Tus on their way to Baghdad in 1258.


Was there a proper dome constructed over the grave in 1111, the year of al-Ghazali's death or shortly afterwards and was that building looted, plundered, and destroyed by the Mongols, or were the dome and shrine constructed decades or even centuries after their devastating journey through Tus? All this remains to be determined. The blue of the glazed tiles, the scattered remains of the old structure and many other details around the grave can provide clues, if they are not lost before expert help arrives.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

CORRECTING A FALSE START

THE WRITER, A FORMER NEWSPAPER EDITOR, IS A RESEARCHER AND PEACE AND HUMAN-RIGHTS ACTIVIST BASED IN DELHI

PRAFUL BIDWAI


Both India and Pakistan damaged their international image during their foreign ministers' meeting last week--the first ministerial since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks--by demonstrating mutual antipathy and refusing to begin a productive dialogue. This has disappointed many of their citizens who had hoped for better relations. Ordinary people suffer the most when bilateral relations sour and mistrust prevails.


Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was far more blunt and abrasive than India's S M Krishna. Qureshi undiplomatically said the Indian minister hadn't come to Islamabad with a full mandate and had to consult New Delhi periodically on the phone.


Yet, this wasn't the cause of the talks' failure, but the effect. The talks failed because India and Pakistan couldn't agree on the bilateral agenda and a timetable for discussing issues of mutual concern. This failure is large even by the standards of the volatile, fractious and often tense India-Pakistan relationship.


Regrettably, Indian home secretary G K Pillai set the stage for the breakdown in an interaction with Indian Express journalists. He maladroitly alleged that Indian interrogators had obtained irrefutable evidence from David Coleman Headley, a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative detained in the US, that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had plotted the Mumbai attacks.


The interrogation happened in June. Home Minister P Chidambaram was briefed on it and raised the issue with his counterpart Rahman Malik during his visit to Pakistan three weeks ago. Chidambaram returned assured that Malik "understood the situation and agreed that we should address [it] with the seriousness it deserves." The issue was also discussed between the two nations' foreign secretaries.


Pillai's remarks couldn't have been more ill-timed. Krishna also didn't help matters by announcing in Islamabad: "I am here to see what action Pakistan has taken so far" on Headley's confessions. It's ludicrous to take the confessions of a terrorist collaborator, who is looking to be an approver, as clinching evidence.


Underlying such remarks was India's preoccupation with getting Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups like LeT. True, no Indian government can ignore the scars and trauma of the Mumbai attacks. This concern is understandable, but not to the point of virtually excluding all other issues and risking the talks' failure. That's exactly what happened.


India didn't accommodate Pakistan's concerns, including a structured dialogue leading to progress towards a Kashmir settlement, non-interference in Balochistan, improved cooperation within the Indus Water Treaty framework, and a settlement on Siachen.


All India offered to discuss--besides action against jihadi terrorists--is cross-border confidence-building measures, improved trade relations, and people-to-people contacts. These issues are unarguably pertinent. But it was unrealistic to expect Pakistan to shelve its own legitimate concerns.


Nor did India agree with Pakistan's proposed schedule for secretary- and minister-level meetings. India was apparently apprehensive that Pakistan would use the timelines to resume the "composite dialogue"--as if Mumbai hadn't happened.


In the end, the timelines clashed. Pakistan wanted all outstanding issues addressed in a time-bound manner. India felt the terror issue must first be comprehensively addressed "to inject a degree of normality into the situation," as Indian officials put it. There was no agreement.


There were some sharp exchanges between Indian and Pakistani leaders. But these were badly exaggerated and distorted by the media. An Indian paper alleged that Qureshi had called Pillai a "clone" of LeT leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. In reality, Qureshi only said that Pillai's remarks had come up during the talks and Krishna agreed that they were unhelpful.


But the media declared an irretrievable breakdown--another "Agra." However, both sides have put a relatively positive spin on the outcome. Krishna even said he had confined himself to his mandate and "I am quite satisfied."

Both India and Pakistan must draw some lessons from this episode. The greater lesson for India isn't that it's futile to try to engage with Pakistan--as many hawks argue--but that engagement should be wholehearted and cover all outstanding issues.


Secondly, rigidity on the terrorism question is counterproductive. India must recognise that a civilian Pakistani government that's considered weak and pliant vis-a-vis India will be vulnerable to extremists.


This would be especially unfortunate just when Pakistan's public is outraged at the Punjab Taliban's attack on the Data Darbar shrine. This shrine is an integral part of the Sufi and Barelvi traditions and Punjab's cultural identity. The Taliban's harsh Salafi Islam is hostile to Sufism and shrine-worship and rejects all folk-Islamic traditions.

India must not overreact to Qureshi's abrasive behaviour and put form and optics before substance. India has a huge stake in improved relations with Pakistan and in pressing its concerns with Islamabad patiently. Results from the dialogue process cannot come instantly. But if there's no dialogue, negative outcomes are virtually guaranteed.

The lessons for Pakistan are no less important. Islamabad cannot credibly claim to be a responsible state which acts against jihadi terrorists if it persists with its two-faced strategy--of hunting with the Americans while running with (and shielding) the extremists.


The jihadis have used the support offered by Pakistan's covert agencies to create independent power centres, which now threaten the public. As the jihadis increasingly become uncontrollable, Pakistan will pay for their depredations with innocent blood. It's in Pakistan's interest to put terrorism on the bilateral agenda with India--albeit without being seen to be caving in.


Second, the only way in which Pakistan's civilian government can consolidate itself, and build on its recent gains in getting the 18th Amendment passed, is to loosen the military's hold on power by reining in secret agencies like the ISI. So Qureshi is probably making a mistake in pushing an agenda that could endear him to the army and help his political career.


Qureshi is an ambitious politician, who would like to replace his much-less-articulate fellow-Multani, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Qureshi comes from a far more powerful and more wealthy family than Gilani. But it would be disastrous for him to try and fulfil his ambitions with the army's acquiescence or help. That course, as many Pakistani politicians have discovered in the past, is self-defeating.


Third, no matter how hard Pakistan tries, it cannot deny India a legitimate role in Afghanistan while using that country to gain "strategic depth" vis-a-vis India. India has had historically important trade and cultural links with Afghanistan.


India also enjoys a huge amount of goodwill in Afghanistan because of its well-targeted $1.75 billion aid programme which is far better tailored to Afghan needs than Western assistance programmes, which are typically routed through tiers of outsourcing agencies and middlemen.


It makes eminent sense for both Pakistan and India to get into a non-adversarial relationship in Afghanistan instead of stalking each other there. They should explore such cooperation.


There is no alternative to a dialogue that consolidates and puts real content into the notion of peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial relations. These alone can free the two peoples from the burden of rivalry and allow them to realise the objective of equitable progress with human dignity and rights for all.


In the coming weeks, Indian and Pakistani leaders must engage in introspection and find productive ways of mutually engaging one another.


Email: prafulbidwai1@yahoo.co.in

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AFGHAN TRANSIT TRADE

NAUMAN ASGHAR


Pakistan and Afghanistan are renegotiating their transit trade agreement which was signed in 1965. The revision is not only with regard to Afghan goods' transit to the Arabian Sea but also for the definition of the terms for Pakistan to secure routes to the Central Asian republics through Afghanistan.


During the meeting between President Hamid Karzai and President Zardari in Washington in May 2009, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to begin talks for renewing the agreement. Pakistan is the largest trading partner of Afghanistan and the two countries' trade has grown from $170 million in 2000-01 to $1.49 billion in 2008-09.


India, which has transit trade agreements with Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, seeks the shorter Wagah-Khyber transit route to Afghanistan for access to Central Asian markets.


The majority of imported products booked for Afghanistan are ultimately smuggled back into Pakistan, and this hurts government revenues and causes incalculable damage to the local industries. The government of Pakistan places 17 items on the prohibitive list in 1996. The prohibition proved to be a blessing for the domestic industry. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of Afghanistan's imports through Pakistan's ports travel back to Pakistan.

While Pakistan has agreed to provide facilities to Afghan importers, the Afghan government has refused to facilitate our exports to the Central Asian states. Tariff and non-tariff barriers are imposed on Pakistani exporters. Non-cooperation on the part of Afghanistan deprives our traders of the ability to export fruits, cement, pharmaceutical products, readymade garments and leather jackets to the Central Asian republics. Similarly, hurdles are created for importers who want to import steel aluminium, minerals, industrial raw materials, LPG, and fresh and dry fruits from Central Asia. The Central Asian republics carry out the bulk of their foreign trade through Iranian seaports despite the disadvantage of distance.


The new transit trade agreement, to be finalised after the completion of a review process, will allow Afghan trucks to carry export goods to the Wagah border for delivery to India. In order to check unauthorised trade the cargo will be allowed to be transported in accordance with internationally acceptable and verifiable standards of sealable trucks for a period of three years.


As a quid pro quo, Pakistan will be allowed to use Afghan territory for its exports to vital markets of Central Asia. The agreement stipulates that no Indian export to Afghanistan will be allowed through Wagah but India will be able to carry its goods to Afghanistan using Pakistan's airspace. This is despite the fact that India has not extended Pakistan transit rights to landlocked Nepal.


While Kabul has hailed the agreement, the development has received mixed reaction from Pakistani businessmen because of the negative implications of smuggling for Pakistan's economy. The problem of smuggling goes beyond Afghan transit trade and can be attributed largely to the corrupt custom authorities.

Pakistan also receives benefits from the traffic in transit to Afghanistan over its territory. The government of Pakistan provides various facilities for transit of goods to Afghanistan. These include storage, packing, repacking, loading, unloading at the Karachi port and the dry port at Peshawar. The provision of such facilities and services generates income and employment in Pakistan.

In order to overcome the practice of smuggling, the capacity of the border forces and custom authorities should be enhanced. Skeptics say that the agreement has been signed on the prodding of the US. But they overlook the fact that transit rights are already available to Afghanistan under the 1965 treaty.


The writer is a Lahore-based advocate and teaches international law at Punjab University. Email: naumanlawyer@gmail.com

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MUCH-DESERVED EXTENSION OF GEN KAYANI

 

IN an unprecedented but not entirely unexpected move, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday night addressed the nation over official Radio and Television networks to announce three-year extension in the service tenure of the incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This means that the General would get another full term on expiry of his existing tenure on November 28, 2010 and would be there to take the ongoing war on terror to its logical conclusion.


It is indeed a welcome development that means much for the country in the prevailing circumstances when a full-fledged war against terror is continuing and internal and external players are busy hatching conspiracies against the solidarity and security of the country. General Kayani has proved himself as a thorough professional committed to excellence and the extension would afford him an opportunity to continue with his policies that have helped steered the country out of troubled water so far. The Prime Minister too, in his speech, referred to the success of military operations in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan and cited the continuity in policy as the justification for granting extension to the Army Chief. This is important as the General has good equation and understanding not just with the civilian leadership of the country on the issue of war on terror but also with the military leadership of the coalition partners. The decision was obviously also motivated by the right kind of approach adopted by the COAS during the last two years when he resisted the temptation of meddling in the civilian affairs, allowed the democratically elected Government to smoothly run affairs of the State and concentrated instead on professional issues. He deserves credit for staying away from the politics and taking keen interest in the welfare of the troops as was reflected by his decision to declare the last year as year of soldiers during which a number of steps were taken for the welfare of the soldiers. The Prime Minister must also be appreciated for making timely decision in this regard, forestalling rumours, conjectures and confusion about extension of the incumbent Army Chief or nomination of his successor. It is also a good omen that both the Prime Minister and the President were on the same page on the issue, as was declared by the former that the decision was taken in consultation with the latter. Hopefully, General Kayani would utilize the extended period to carry forward his mission of professional excellence and to help carve out a secure future for the country.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

GILANI RIGHTLY FOCUSES ON ECONOMY

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani's frequent interaction with the manager of his economic team viz Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh is indicative of the fact that the chief executive has started giving due attention to the economic issues on which not only the future of the country depends but future of the Government as well.


This is because the real yardstick of the success or failure of a Government is the level of change in the life of the common man and not entirely the macro level initiatives or achievements. On Thursday too, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Finance Minister where he underscored that the focus of the economic management should remain on protecting the economic recovery, checking the rise of prices and ensuring that the benefits of better economic management are seen and received by the citizens as well as all the regions of the country. This is what we have been emphasizing in these columns that the country has had enough of politicking and it is time that the rulers concentrate on economic situation, which is not quite satisfactory. No doubt, global recession and excessive spending on the war on terror too are to be blamed for the economic downslide but this is not the all and the Government too shares the blame for not pursuing the right kind of policies to put the economy back on track. We fully agree with the Prime Minister that there was a need to check price-hike and benefits of better economic management should be received by all citizens but so far no practical measures have been taken to realize these lofty ideals. Price-hike has become a headache for the common man but regrettably instead of taking measures to arrest the trend the Government is pursuing policies that complicate the problem. What is the justification for frequent increases in power rates, which have made Pakistan one of the few countries of the world having exorbitant power tariff affecting economic growth and pushing more and more people below the poverty line? Similarly, why not the Government is passing on commensurate relief to the consumers when prices of oil fall in the international market? Industrial activity is almost at the standstill because of law and order situation, energy crisis and rising taxes and the growing cost of production are rendering our products uncompetitive. Therefore, we would urge the Prime Minister to task his economic team to come out with a strategy to bring down the cost of production and revive the economic and business activities. We are sure Dr Hafeez Sheikh has the necessary expertise and experience to deliver provided there is no undue interference in his working and instead necessary support is extended to him by all concerned.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

RAIN-RELATED EPIDEMICS ARE NOT FAR AWAY

 

THE nation heaved a sigh of relief over widespread rains received by almost all parts of the country during the last few days, which not only helped overcome the water shortage but also brought down the rising temperature. There were reports of acute shortage of both drinking and irrigation water as fountains turned dry and level of water in reservoirs squeezed to alarmingly low level. Therefore, people offered thanks-giving prayers when Allah Almighty showered his blessings.


However, the rains also brought miseries for the poor and disadvantaged sections of the society merely because of inattention of the successive Governments that failed to carry out proper planning for settlements and drainage. As a result, according to reports, at least 42 people lost their lives due to torrential rains in different parts of the country. It also brought destruction and disturbed normal life as many low-lying areas were inundated and kutcha houses collapsed. But the worst is still to come as it is understood that the stagnant water in cities and towns would breed mosquitoes while mixing of polluted and drain water with drinking water could result in break-out of water related diseases. Apart from long-term measures to rectify the situation, local administration and Provincial/Federal Governments should join hands to address this challenge on a short-term basis as well. The situation can improve a lot if the level of awareness amongst citizens is raised through aggressive campaigns.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

INDO-JAPAN TALKS FOR N-DEAL

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Japan had the first round of talks with India in Tokyo last week aimed at concluding a treaty to allow cooperation between two countries on peaceful use of nuclear power. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada however said that Japan would urge India to make further efforts for nuclear non-proliferation. In 1998, India and Pakistan had detonated nuclear devices and drew flak from US, the West and Japan who suspended economic aid to both the countries. Japan, having seen death and destruction during Second World War when the US had dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has been the most vocal opponent of nuclear proliferation.

Many student organizations and members of civil society had sent delegations to India and Pakistan to make a fervent appeal to India and Pakistan to abandon further development of nukes. Earlier, Japan had declined to sign a civilian pact with India because it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and had barred Japanese companies from supplying nuclear products to India. But seeing that countries of Nuclear Suppliers Group would benefit from multi-billion dollar business from India, Japan does not like to be left behind, and is poised to seal a civilian atomic cooperation pact that will pave the way for the sale of advanced technology by Japanese firms like Mitsubishi and Hitachi.


This means that commercial considerations and greed have won and principles have been sacrificed by those who had taken a principled stand in the past. According to Japan, the talks were exploratory in nature but indicated that if India accepted additional inspections of nuclear material provided by Japan, the deal may be concluded within this year allowing Japanese companies to sell advance nuclear reactors and technology to India. Canada was another country, which had taken a principled stand when India had clandestinely used Canadian technology for detonating nuclear device in 1974. Last year, Canada also signed a landmark nuclear deal with India after Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed to exempt India – a country not a signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has to be mentioned that India remained outside the international nuclear mainstream since it misused Canadian technology and America's peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test. India had refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. India had been cut off from most US civilian nuclear assistance since 1978 and most international assistance since 1992 because of these violations.


With signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal, it was obvious that India could increase from its current production capacity of six to 10 additional nuclear bombs a year to several dozen per year. It goes without saying that India already has enough material for some 60 to 100 nuclear bombs. Defence analysts and commentators had warned that after Indo-US nuclear deal Pakistan would like to match India's capability in the name of minimum deterrence, while China might also reconsider its fissile production halt for weapons. It is a common knowledge that by concluding a nuclear deal with India, the US administration had allowed business and political interests to the detriment of the national security interests of the United States. Besides, creating asymmetry in South Asia, the US-India nuclear trade legislation has granted India the benefits of being a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty without requiring it to meet all of the responsibilities expected of responsible states. There is a perception that the US is trying to build up India as a regional power with the objective of using it to contain China. In the past, America and the West had helped Saddam Hussain's Iraq to make it a force to reckon with. Just like Saddam Hussain had turned against the US, it is possible that India could become a stumbling block to American interests in this region.


America is already bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan; its influence as the sole super power has waned and its allies have started having doubts in its ability to lead the world, because invincibility of the super power was shredded into bits in Iraq, where the US and the coalition of the willing could neither stop the bloodshed nor stem the resistance for years. Today, whatever semblance of peace one can see in Iraq is due to the fact that majority Shiites have been given the right to rule.


In Afghanistan, the Taliban's resurgence is due to flawed policies of the government vis-a-vis neglecting the majority (Pushtuns), and secondly due to the collateral damage that killed innocent people during operations by US, NATO and Afghan forces. As a result, the survivors of those killed in the operations are out for revenge. They are offering stiff resistance and it appears that the US and coalition forces are in for a long nightmare with no end in sight. So far as US policy on Iraq is concerned, it may not have achieved all its objectives in the Middle East but it has been successful in eliminating the threat to Israel by destroying Iraq - the strongest country in the Arab world.


From the very beginning, there was a strong perception that former president Bush's strategy to take on terrorists was wrong, as he had often accused 'Muslim militants of seeking to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world'. He had also described Islamic terrorism as a tyrannical heir to Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler. Such statements pushed even moderate Muslims to the side of the militants. Being the president of the only superpower, it is responsibility of President Obama to ensure that no injustice is done to the smaller countries. He should also understand that being the president of a superpower, he would not automatically have the status of world leader. To improve his image and reclaim America's prestige, President Obama must show flexibility on strategic questions as well as tactics. There is an adage 'Nothing succeeds like success'; and success requires diligence and adjusting course when errors are made. In Afghanistan, America had given more space to India vis-à-vis Pakistan, whereas the latter has given enormous sacrifices during the course of war on terror in areas bordering Afghanistan so that Pakistani soil is not used by the militants against Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the US and NATO troops seem to be demoralized in Afghanistan because they believe that it a not a just war.


In 2008, an investigation by renowned American weekly TIME into state of health of American soldiers in Iraq had revealed combat's heavy toll on their mental health, and observed that military's efforts to treat them with anti-depressants may be making the problem worse. Majority of troops are either suffering from depressions, which will adversely impact their performance in the field of war. On the other hand, American citizens are scared of another 9/11-like attack, and with fear looming large the nation will lose creative faculties, and this phobia can be converted into war frenzy. James Steinberg, once a potential US secretary of state, wrote an article in Newsweek special addition issues-2008 under the caption 'How to lead the world', in which he had given a piece of advice to the next president. He wrote: "To steer the nation in the right direction, you must begin with some core principles. Start by listening….To get off on the right foot; invite respected Islamic thinkers and leaders to an ongoing dialogue to bridge the gap between America and the Muslim world". It is hoped that President Barack Obama would act on his advice to improve America's visage and image.

—The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst based in Lahore.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PAX AMERICANA, A DREAM SHATTERED BY AFGHANS

DR S M RAHMAN

 

The reactionary power propensity represented by Bushes, Dick Cheneys, Rumsfelds, whom Robert Jensen in his article 'N-Weapon abolition requires death of US empire (Dissident Voice, reproduced in the Nation, June 20, 2010) describes as Reckless Hawks, compared to Obama, Bidens and Clintons who are relatively Reasonable Hawks. Hawks nevertheless!! The Reckless lot is 'psychotic, whereas the Reasonable ones are cynical. What is that impels US policy makers – Republicans and Democrats alike to follow Wilsonian security paradigm as against Jeffersonian. Dismayed by the over ambitious, awfully disastrous pre-emptive US doctrine propounded by George Bush and Co,, the new incumbent Obama has been advised by the 'pundits' and statesmen to steer foreign policy a bit different from that of his predecessor. Walter Russell Mead based on the Carter analogy argued in the recent issue of Foreign Policy; "Obama", he says, "needs to reconcile a transcendent Wilsonian vision of US foreign policy, with a competing Jeffersonian world view that focuses on the pitfalls of imperial overstretch" (All the Presidents Dreams by Richard Bart, The National interest, No. 106, Mar-Apr 2010).


Zbigniew Brezezinski – who was serving as Security Advisor to President Carter – a Hawkish policy propeller, just as Henry Kissinger was to Richard Nixon. How to take full control of Eurasia, after the end of Cold War, was Brezezinski's strategic ambition in order to perpetuate USA's absolute control over the world through a Power Chess Board paradigm. He is a bit critical of Obama – perhaps being 'wishy washy' and raising lot of expectations rather than "strategic breakthroughs". He needs to be, "tenacious" and 'energetic' according to him, to be ale to 'realize' the goals he has already elaborated. Left to himself, perhaps, he would have followed what Nixon did in the context of Vietnam under the advice of Henry Kissinger. It was although a painful decision, but he did extract USA from the "Vietnam morass", as the useless war was exceedingly becoming unpopular, besides creating an economic nightmare, entailing colossal budget deficit. Obama's oscillation between 'power' and prudence is due to the mounting pressures of the Hawkish groups – the remnants of Bush era and the Military Industrial Complex, which promotes military interventions, as its market strategy. The 'merchants of death', have led to the transformation for the world, as if it were a replica of Greek tragedy.

At the end of World War II, USA emerged as an undisputed global power, though through act of 'nuclear barbarism' on Japan, not due to military requirements but to convey a message indirectly to "Soviet Union" to accept a step lower than that of USA, in the 'power-pecking order' of the world. Is it not a pathological and a dehumanized sensibility that depicts the US strategic mind set? A military historian has calculated that there were 39 incidents of "nuclear black mail", of which 30 were made by the US officials. This, in essence depicts the so called civilizational face of USA, which Bush was so boastful about in justifying his 'pre-emptive military doctrine', which essentially was predatory in nature, to defend the most exploitative economic system of Capitalism and the West's over accentuating greed to consume disproportional share of the global wealth. What else is globalization?


"Strategic contentment" is not what US and its allies tend to pursue. Despite the affluence and military power, USA had attained, the State Department's policy planning staff in 1947 (as quoted by Robert Jenson) very explicitly conveyed: "To seek less than preponderant power would be to opt for defeat. Preponderant power must be the object of US policy." The 'preponderant power' essentially is that it rules the world and that USA calls the strategic shots and determine the "terms of the global economy, to others, who can not reconcile to the domination, must be prepared to face annihilation. No other system would be acceptable and therefore, throughout the Cold War the myth of Communism was created to make the gullible public phobic about the dreadful ideology. It was not the media onslaught that led to the fall of Soviet Union. The strategic blunder did it, which it committed by invading Afghanistan, not realizing that Afghan territory is predisposed to sucking great empires – sort of eastern version of 'Bermuda triangle' (Analogy made by General Asad Durrani) in his write-up Making Sense in AfPak (Newsletter, issue 8, Thinker's Forum (TFP).


The legacy of military intervention is much deeper into the recesses of US mind. The greatest strategist, Gen George Kennan in his secret memo in 1948, had very forcefully advocated: "The day is not far off when we will have to deal in strategic power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better." Therefore all the rhetoric of Bush, to justify the invasions, like the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and preservation of western values, are the gimmicks, the empire builders use as "icing", on the geopolitical cake they bake, to trample the 'sovereignty' of nations and access of American companies to their resources, exclusively for USA and it allies and not for others. This is what neo-colonialism is all about. At least the old colonialists had some responsibility towards the colonialized but for the neo-colonialists, it is power without responsibility and for the "sufferers", it is "exploitation without redress." It is in this context, one can see how ruthlessly drone attacks are made in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan, without any accountability and "who-cares-approach." The most treacherous weapons like Bunker


Busters were used to break the "will" of the Afghanis, but ironically their physical territory was smashed to pieces but their 'soul' remained intact. They are as adamant to achieve freedom, no matter how ruthless and devastating is what the US military planners have termed 'counter-insurgency', to justify induction of more and more soldiers, for launching a new 'surge'. The US track record of compulsive war mongering is indeed mind-boggling. From 1945 to 1999, the US had conducted all out military interventions against over 70 nations, to serve USA's domination, and cook up enemies to justify the aggression. After the peril of communism receded into the background, the US military mind was in the search of new threats. "Several specters of 'doom' came to the fore: 'rogue states', weapons of mass destruction and most dangerous of all "Islamic terror." (Beyond the war on Terror, by Nafaz Mosaddeq Ahmed, p-11.)


Obama in his NSS (National Security Strategy) is much too keen to contain the fiscal deficit, which is likely to reach $ 1.5 trillion. Containing the deficit requires avoiding 'over-reach'. Good for you Mr. Obama to realize after the debacle and a colossal economic loss. As a face-saving device, he reiterates: "To disrupt and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remains the key strategic objective of the US, which is to be achieved through a 'judicious use of American power both military and civilian." In his NSS, he has narrowed down his ambition by saying that the war is not against Islam but Al-Qaeda." Obama should ponder who created Al-Qaeda? The world cannot be hoodwinked by the gobbledygook or semantic rigmaroles. If 'exit' from Afghanistan is too painful to acknowledge, or 'withdrawal' call it 'process' or whatever. But define it. How and when? The dialogue with the Afghans is the imperative. Evasiveness is moral cowardice.

The writer is Secretary General, FRIENDS.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE 'FRONT-LINE STATE' SYNDROME

KHALID SALEEM

 

The affliction 'do-more-itis' appears to have struck again and the nation is once again reeling. The affable US Secretary of state now on a visit to this blessed land called for 'additional steps' from Pakistan against terrorism. To quote her verbatim "There are still additional steps that we are asking and expecting the Pakistanis to take". Ever since nine/eleven and our infamous U-turn, we have been confronted with this type of rhetoric. It is a different matter that none of the perpetrators was a Pakistani and it was not launched from Pakistan's soil.

What is more, as if the foregoing was not enough, the nation itself appears to have been bitten by the 'frontline syndrome' bug. According to press reports, our revered Prime Minister had reveled in talking at length about the country's role as a 'frontline state' in the war against terror. Pakistan's role, aforesaid, 'has had implications in every sphere of our national life', the worthy Prime Minister was quoted in the media as telling the President of International Crisis Group who had paid a call on him. The Prime Minister was further quoted as having added, "Despite serious constraints, Pakistan remains resolutely committed to take this war to its logical conclusion and root out the threat of terrorism and militancy from its soil".The Prime Minister's remarks (unremarkable otherwise) deserve mention because he appeared somewhat proud of the country's status as, what he called, a frontline state. He also appeared to be a tad vague about the 'war' this hapless land is 'resolutely committed' to take to its logical conclusion. The effort to root out the threat of terrorism and militancy from the country, though, is unexceptionable and understandable, but does it have to be confused with the 'war on terror' that happens to be an altogether different kettle of fish?


The two are mutually contradictory, in a way. The war on terror happens to be an open-ended, long-term venture that threatens to take this country into uncharted territory. Resolute commitment to this end cannot and should not be given out in the same breath as the understandable desire to end inbred terrorism and militancy. This said, there is reason to be amazed at the penchant of our leaders over the ages to proudly project the country as a 'frontline state'. To cite just two examples: in the days of SEATO and CENTO they took vain pride in the country being a 'frontline state' against communism. During the 1980s, the country was once again projected as a 'frontline state' in the Afghan jihad against the erstwhile Soviet Union. And now, why must the leaders crow about being the 'frontline state' in the 'war against terror', that may or not be theirs to own?


It need hardly be emphasized that, with each foray into the forbidden territory, the hapless country has emerged with its fingers burnt to the bone, an outcome not unusual for those that volunteer to retrieve others' irons from the fire. In the perilous minefield of international affairs, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies; only permanent national interests. Only the last-mentioned are worth fighting for. This country has suffered from self-inflicted lacerations in most of its relatively short history. Yet, no history is so short as not to throw up guide-lines to the leaderships that follow on what to emulate and, more importantly, what to eschew. It is also a truism that those that fail to learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.


What brings a queasy feeling to the man in the street is that this is not the end of the game. The more we acquiesce the greater the pressure becomes. A game is being played with very high stakes in the international arena and this country does not have all that much to do with it. And yet it is this country that is in imminent danger of being crushed in the process. Should we not, then, do our sums – put two and two together – and try to find a way out of the morass? The longer we keep on digging the hole, the deeper it is going to get. Have we

not read our history that we keep on getting into the same scrapes time and again?


Having contributed its bit to bringing the country to the present unenviable state of affairs, it is high time that the leadership decide to rest on its 'laurels'. The need of the hour is to look inwards, be introspective and to concentrate on cogent plans to bring the country to an even keel, rather than over-reach in an ambition to be at the frontline of a war that is not ours to win, or even to influence. The name of the game is to count the country's blessings, lower its profile and set its national priorities in order. This country did not initiate the 'war on terror' nor is it in a position to 'take it to its logical conclusion'. Prudence demands that our leadership opt to leave this denouement in the hands of those who are.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WHO'S AIDING JUDAISATION?

NICOLA NASSER

 

Since 1860, when the American Jewish tycoon Judah Touro donated $60,000 — a fortune for that time — towards the construction of the first Jewish settlement outside the old walls of Jerusalem, public and private American funds have aided the creation and territorial expansion of Israel. Israel today is the foremost recipient of US aid. According to a USAID green paper, between 1946 and 2008 Israel has received more aid than Russia, India, Egypt and Iraq. In fact, the US has poured more money into Israel than it did into the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. However, a recent New York Times article adds a new dimension to the story. On 5 July, the Times reported that, over the last decade more than 40 American groups have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, indicating that the US Treasury is effectively aiding and abetting illegal settlement expansion and the Judaisation of Jerusalem.


While the New York Times honed in on the irony of how a US government organ was facilitating the funnelling of private funds into activities and goals that ran counter to official US policy, and as significant as this is, the article failed to mention that the amount of private tax-exempt "donations" pales in comparison to the public funds that Washington has steadily poured into the Zionist project. For example, the US federal budget for 2011 has earmarked $3 billion in aid for Israel, or 42 per cent of the total amount of aid to be allocated to the so-called Near East for that year. It is also interesting to observe that the policies of USAID, an instrument that the State Department uses to pursue the US's objectives overseas, also conflict with Washington's official stances. USAID programmes for the Palestinians effectively exclude East Jerusalem. Its green papers and other official reports and statements make frequent mention of "the West Bank and Gaza" as headings for its activities, but rare are references to East Jerusalem. It is as though, for USAID, East Jerusalem is not an indivisible part of the occupied territories, in spite of Washington's official acknowledgement that it is and in spite of the inclusion of East Jerusalem among the final status issues in the US- brokered negotiating process between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, the occupying power. One cannot help but suspect USAID — and by extension the State Department — of perpetrating a certain calculated deception through its deliberate and systematic omission of East Jerusalem in its programmes and documents.


PA officials in Ramallah expressed outrage at the tax breaks for private US donations to fund Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied territories. One suspects that the sentiment was primarily geared for local consumption, because they were quick to stress that the Palestinians were not ungrateful to the US and urged USAID to keep up its efforts. "The US is the chief supplier of bilateral economic and development aid to the Palestinians, supplying more than $2.9 billion since 1994," wrote the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency (PIPA) on its website in May. "The US helps facilitate the movement of Palestinian people and goods, while improving the security of Israel," it added, as though it and other PA agencies were somehow detached from USAID "efforts" and the policies it is helping to implement. USAID has slated $550.4 million for the PA in its budget next year. The continuation of this aid is contingent on the continuation of the Palestinian Fatah-Hamas rift and the blockade. Nothing is allocated for East Jerusalem and the bulk of the funds are to be spent on "fighting drugs, law enforcement and security programmes". However, the reference to "facilitating movement" is even more suspect, and requires further elucidation in light of the part this aid plays in consolidating the occupation, entrenching Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and promoting the Judaisation of East Jerusalem.

Successive US administrations and the countless shuttle visits by their envoys and emissaries have failed to lift the military barriers Israel imposes in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, to open a "safe corridor" between the West Bank and Gaza, or to open the crossings into Gaza even for the passage of humanitarian assistance. But they have been superbly successful in building "alternate" roads. These are the ring roads planned by the occupation authorities in order to link Jewish settlements that now control 42 per cent of the area of the West Bank, which does not include the area of occupied territory that Israel annexed to the Jerusalem municipality, according to the BTselem human rights centre. The ring roads also serve to carve the rest of the West Bank into cantons densely populated by Palestinians.


The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) reports that USAID funded 23 per cent of the ring road network built by occupation authorities in 2004. Most of this roadwork is located in areas B and C which comprise more than 80 per cent of the area of the West Bank and which fall under the control of the Israeli occupation, which supervises all road works. The donor countries that are supervising and financing the "peace process" had approved the construction 500 kilometres of such roads, at the cost of $200 million, $114 million of which was footed by USAID. Another 120 kilometres is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. Most of this segment will skirt around the Jewish settlements in Greater Jerusalem, creating a wall of paved highway to reinforce the barrier wall severing the West Bank from Jerusalem and to reinforce the tipping of the demographic scale in Greater Jerusalem in favour of Jewish settlers and against its indigenous Palestinians.

The rest of the roadwork, which snakes through the valleys and up the hills and down the ravines of the West Bank, is hailed as an "accomplishment" by the Salam Fayyad government in Ramallah. Indeed, Fayyad goes further to boast of these roads as Palestinian projects that "penetrate" areas B and C and, therefore, "defy" the security partitions of the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords. In fact, neither can USAID claim these roads as one of its "achievements" in facilitating the movement of Palestinians under the occupation, nor can the PA claim them as a subtle victory. As Suhail Khaliliey, head of ARIJ's Urbanisation Monitoring Department, explains, "What happens is that USAID presents this package of infrastructure projects to the PA and essentially says 'Take it or leave it.' So the PA is basically forced to accept Israeli-planned roads it doesn't want." Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, director of the Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, puts it more poignantly: "It's sad that the PA is helping to build its own cantons while the settlers control the main roads."


Last month, Fayyad issued a statement denying that the PA contributed to the construction of a network of roads proposed by the occupying power. Ghasan Al-Khatib, a spokesman for the Fayyad government, added that the PA was doing all in its power to prevent the rise of "an apartheid system" in the West Bank. Unfortunately, realities on the ground belie such denials and assertions.


—The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories.


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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

PLANNING TO FIELD A SMALL ARMY IN IRAQ

VIEWS FROM ABROAD

WARREN P STROBEL

 

Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky. In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance. Under the terms of a 2008 status of forces agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but they'll leave behind a sizable American civilian presence, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, and five consulate-like "Enduring Presence Posts" in the Iraqi hinterlands.


Iraq remains a battle zone, and the American diplomats and other civilian government employees will need security. The U.S. military will be gone. Iraq's army and police, despite billions of dollars and years of American training, aren't yet capable of doing the job. The State Department, better known for negotiating treaties and delivering diplomatic notes, will have to fend for itself in what remains an active danger zone. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, flew to Washington this week for a conference with the State Department on how to transition Iraq from soldiers to diplomats. He and Ambassador Christopher Hill "have built a joint plan to do this transition," Odierno said. "So we are now going to go through this (plan) and brief them on it and tell what they have to do to support this transition." Odierno said that one of the chief responsibilities of the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq is to help facilitate that transfer. The arrangement is "one more step in the blurring of the lines between military activities and State Department or diplomatic activities," said Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research center. "This is no longer (just) the foreign service officer standing in the canape line, and the military out in the field."


"The State Department is trying to become increasingly expeditionary," he said. With public attention riveted on the war in Afghanistan, the coming transition of the U.S. mission in Iraq has gotten relatively little notice by the news media. American troops are pulling out of the country at an accelerating rate to meet President Barack Obama's interim ceiling of 50,000 noncombat troops remaining in Iraq by the end of next month. The stakes, however, could be enormous. The Obama administration has promised Iraqis that the United States won't abandon their country when American troops leave. If it can't keep that promise, U.S. influence in the unstable region could dissipate, despite a seven-year war that's cost more than $700 billion and the lives of at least 4,400 U.S. troops.


Already, however, the State Department's requests to the Pentagon for Black Hawk helicopters; 50 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; fuel trucks; high-tech surveillance systems; and other military gear has encountered flak on Capitol Hill. Contractors are to operate most of the equipment, and past controversies that involved Pentagon and State Department contractors, including the company formerly known as Blackwater, have left some lawmakers leery. "The fact that we're transitioning from one poorly managed contracting effort to another part of the federal government that has not excelled at this function either is not particularly comforting," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.


"It's one thing" for contractors to be "peeling potatoes" and driving trucks, McCaskill told McClatchy. "It's another thing for them to be deploying MRAPs and Black Hawk helicopters." "I know there's a lot of bad choices here," the senator said, adding that she'd choose using the U.S. military to protect diplomats in Iraq. "That's a resource issue." A report July 12 by the bipartisan legislative Commission on Wartime Contracting said that the number of State Department security contractors would more than double, from 2,700 to between 6,000 and 7,000, under current plans.

Planning began in spring 2009, and the transition is being shepherded by teams in Washington and Baghdad that confer in weekly video teleconferences. "This is a major endeavor, and it is without precedent, I believe," said Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, the department's top management official, who's seen 37 years of management challenges. "We've defined what we have to do. And now we have to define where we're going to do it and how we're going to do it," he said in an interview.


The State Department also will have to provide for its own basics, such as food, water and laundry, perhaps through existing Pentagon logistics contract known by the acronym LOGCAP. Kennedy and other officials noted that the department has experience operating aircraft in war zones, through a long-standing, Florida-based aviation wing that's conducted counter-narcotics missions in Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In the interview, Kennedy defended the decision to use contractors to operate military assets. —The CG News

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

INDO-PAK TALK, TALK, TALK..!

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

And as the Indo-Pak talks, start, stutter, sink, then restart, again start, stutter, sink, then restart I have a tale to tell those involved in the talks: One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"


Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test: It's called the Triple Filter Test." "Triple filter?" "That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"


"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..." "All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?" "No, on the contrary..." "So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you're not certain it's true?"


The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued. "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?" "No, not really...." "Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"


The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. Yes, my dear talkers on both the Indian and Pakistan side; is what you are saying passing the triple filter test? Last week both of your delegations were angry because of some loose talk, but before you listened to all the so called loose talk did you ask yourself, whether it was the truth, whether there was any goodness in what was said, and finally whether what was said was useful?


If you didn't and still listened, if you didn't and still jettisoned the talks, then start filtering what you hear from now on. India and Pakistan need peace. We can't afford anything else, so all you good people who are talking towards giving us that peace, see whether what you say from today passes the test Socrates talked about so many hundreds of years ago, if not go back to your homes and do something else..!


Email:bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

LESS OPINION AND MORE NEWS NEEDED AT THE ABC

IN HIS DETERMINATION TO DOMINATE THE NEWS MEDIA, ABC MANAGING DIRECTOR MARK SCOTT HAS MISSED THE ONLY POINT THAT MATTERS.

 

It's the quality and not quantity of content that matters. If it were only the number of hours broadcast, Mr Scott would be the media marvel of our age. He has expanded the corporation's internet sites, launched digital radio and created a dedicated children's TV station. On Thursday night we saw the jewel in the crown he has created, the corporation's new 24-hour news channel. The Weekend Australian wants to welcome it as a tough competitor for breaking stories and objective analysis. But we wonder whether we will be able to, with the opening days dominated by oft-repeated soft stories and journalists interviewing their peers. This is par for the course for Mr Scott. When it comes to managing news and current affairs, he is less marvel than magician, creating only the illusion of enormous amounts of hard news.

 

For all his energy, Mr Scott is not meeting basic requirements of his job. The ABC's charter requires it to inform, as well as entertain us. The corporation's act charges the board, of which Mr Scott is a member, with ensuring "the gathering and presentation by the corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial". But Mr Scott allows his senior news-gatherers to use the organisation as a bully pulpit for their own opinions. We saw this at work on Monday night on Q&A , when host Tony Jones hectored Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop because she stood her ground on Work Choices and made the not unreasonable point that as it was not party policy, there was no point in discussing it. We saw it again on Wednesday night on The 7.30 Report , when Kerry O'Brien did the same thing, less interviewing than attacking opposition Treasurery spokesman Joe Hockey. But what we did not see much of this week was ABC TV's current affairs flagship addressing the biggest issue in the election to date: Julia Gillard's flirtation with reducing immigration. While this newspaper has called all parties to account in the first week of the campaign, it is as if some in the ABC are asking ALP national secretary Karl Bitar to brief them on what questions to ask.

 

The same apparently partisan approach is obvious on many of the corporation's capital city radio programs , which reflect the passions and prejudices of presenters. It may be significant that a surprising number came from the Fairfax press, or commenced their careers condemning capitalism on rock radio JJJ. Deborah Cameron's morning program in Sydney combines a suspicion of business with advocacy of deep-green lifestyles. Madonna King in Brisbane is equally irrelevant for anybody who wants more news and less opinion. Certainly, ABC radio does an essential job in the bush and not all metropolitan announcers are as bad. South Australian Premier Mike Rann's long-running boycott of ABC radio's Adelaide morning show is a feather in the caps of hosts Matthew Abraham and David Bevan. There are times when John Faine on Melbourne local radio sounds like a 1960s socialist, but he is a serious journalist who asks tough questions. Yet even his station is ignored by most Melburnians. The events of Black Saturday in February last year make the point. ABC Melbourne radio did an excellent job in covering the progress of the fires, except for the fact, as revealed to the royal commission, that few people who lived in areas at risk listen to the station. It is easy to invoke the idea of balance, that the ABC offers an alternative to commercial tabloid television and conservative talkback commentators. But the ABC is paid to work for all Australians, not just members of the inner-city intelligentsia who are the corporation's consumers of choice.

 

We also pay the ABC to break news, and lots of it, but the corporation recycles stories across its services. Soft stories from the Foreign Correspondent TV magazine turn up on the radio news flagship AM. The News Radio network is a weekend wasteland, running cheap feeds from European broadcasters. And while The 7.30 Report used to set the agenda for the next morning's news, its MO today is for O'Brien to tell us what he thinks. More often than not, his main interview is with another ABC journalist. It is as if the ABC's editors consider breaking news too hard. Oon June 23, the ABC's Mark Simkin was the first to run the widely anticipated story that Kevin Rudd would be challenged, but then it was business as usual for three hours or so. And while the ABC slept, low-budget pay-TV station Sky News made the story its own. It was an excellent example of the complacency at the heart of the ABC. And corporation chair Maurice Newman knows it. In March, he urged the ABC to avoid "groupthink" and uncritical reporting.

 

To save the ABC's standing as a service for all Australians, Mr Scott must fulfil his role as the corporation's editor-in-chief rather than an MBA-style manager. He must extract productivity improvements from staff so there is more original news content. He must replace opinionated interviewers with young talent, such as political reporter Chris Uhlmann, who understands his opinions are not the story. And Mr Scott should explain to his morning radio hosts that what interests them is not engrossing for everybody. It will take more than magic to pull this off -- the ABC's news culture is deeply entrenched -- it will take a miracle. But it is what the ABC needs, to do the job we all pay for.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

DELAYING THE INEVITABLE DEBATE

 

JULIA Gillard's political instincts are electrifying, but her policy sense is short-circuiting. In delivering her climate change statement yesterday, the Prime Minister sounded like she wanted to get the issue off the agenda, or at least finish her speech so the students protesting outside the room would stop shouting.

 

Understandably so -- there are a mass of issues Ms Gillard would prefer we ignored in four weeks' time and this is one of them. As with the mining resources tax, population policy and asylum-seekers, Ms Gillard has come up with a string and glue solution on climate change, which she hopes will hold together until the polls close on August 21. This is exactly what got her predecessor into fatal strife. Kevin Rudd promised us action on just about everything and ended up so overwhelmed with work he delivered very little.

 

If the Prime Minister has any idea what she will do if she wins, she was not letting on yesterday. She talked about the Rudd government's commitment to its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which would have capped emissions and created a market in permits to pollute. And she told us how she, unlike the Liberals, believes in climate change and wants action. But with the principles out of the way, she got on with the politics. There was money for renewable energy projects, $1 billion over a decade for improvements to the electricity grid and a promise to block new "inefficient" power stations -- she means coal-burning plants, which, nuclear aside, are for now the only economic sources of the enormous amounts of new baseload power Australia will need over the next decade. This is climate change policy on the cheap, which looks like it will cost less than the $3.2bn the opposition promises to give industry to cut emissions. And Ms Gillard's big-ticket promise is even cheaper: an assembly of 150 representative citizens to think about how we can cut carbon. This is necessary, she says, because the Rudd government failed to explain the CPRS to the electorate. She is entirely right. While most Australians worry the world is warming and want something done, few of us understand the science and economics involved. And many wonder what a cap-and-trade system, adopted in isolation after China vetoed worldwide action at Copenhagen in December, would do to energy exports. Rightly so, the US abandoned a similar proposal on Thursday. Australia would have been on its own in the Asia-Pacific if Mr Rudd's plan had passed.

 

Asking ordinary Australians to debate the issue is an improvement on Mr Rudd's April 2008 summit of intellectuals, whose ideas generally involved spending public money. But Ms Gillard's resolution not to allow the debate to be held hostage by a few people with extreme views will be tested if the Greens hold the casting votes in the Senate. Even if her convention reaches a consensus, a general policy statement will not be enough. Changing something this fundamental will create winners and losers, and as the CPRS demonstrated, be immensely complex. Minerals and energy exporters, electricity generators and business in general need to know now, not in a couple of years, what they will pay for their carbon emissions. And whatever the convention thinks, the real policy work will start when they go home. It's called parliament, and it is why we are have elections. Ms Gillard is outsourcing the hard decisions we elect prime ministers to make.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

UNTHINKABLE? BUSH TESTIFIES TO CHILCOT

AS PARTNERS IN THE COALITION OF THE WILLING, ARE WE NOT EQUALLY ACCOUNTABLE TO ONE ANOTHER?

 

Jack Straw was yesterday considering whether to accept an invitation from the US Senate foreign relations committee to explain his role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The committee said the former justice minister was in "a unique position to help us to understand several questions still lingering from this decision". Maybe he is. But surely this principle works both ways: are not George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in a similarly unique position to help the Chilcot inquiry explain a few of those lingering questions about the decision to invade Iraq? The inquiry has already met people like Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq in the aftermath of invasion, and David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, on a visit to both Washington and Boston in May. But these meetings were held in private. They were not treated as formal evidence and no transcripts were made. Such discretion was not reciprocated by Robert Menendez, the US committee chairman, when he summoned Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, and its justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, over the Megrahi release. Both men declined his invitation and denied they had been lobbied by BP. As partners in the coalition of the willing, are we not equally accountable to one another? Surely there is no one in a better position to shed light on our road to war than the people who took the real decisions in Washington. It might even explain one or two of those known unknowns.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

ECONOMY: REASONS TO BE FEARFUL

HOWEVER SUNNY YOUR FAVOURITE ECONOMIST'S DISPOSITION, NO ONE BELIEVES THAT THE ECONOMY IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A 2006-STYLE BOOM

 

Depending on how far you read past the headlines, yesterday's economics news provided either some reason to cheer or ample scope to worry. Heads: only seven of the 91 European banks failed yesterday's mammoth financial health check, or stress tests; and the UK has just enjoyed officially its boomiest economic period since the heady days of 2006. Ah, but then we come to tails: the banks' stress tests were only about as stressful as a visit to a physiotherapist; and however sunny your favourite economist's disposition, no one believes that the economy is in the middle of a 2006-style boom – quite the opposite. Only a committed sourpuss would ignore the positives in yesterday's reports; equally, only a blind optimist would ignore all the other warning signals.

 

Let us start with the banks (as all narratives of this crisis must). What happened yesterday marked the culmination of a huge effort by European regulators to allay investors' fears over the stability of continental banks. Against the background of financial crisis in southern Europe, and with lingering worries over the rubbish assets still held by financial institutions, the idea of putting bank balance sheets through a variety of doomsday scenarios was a highly sensible one.

 

But for such an exercise to succeed, quite a few institutions would have to fail; that is, the tests would need to be pretty demanding. Instead of which, only seven banks – all small – were judged to need a major financial overhaul. UK institutions did well in this health check, as was expected, but investors might have expected perhaps a few more German names on the list of shame. Nor do some of the "adverse scenarios" that banks were put through by regulators seem so adverse. The Greek government IOUs held by many banks were only marked down by 23%; it would have been prudent to have applied a much bigger discount. The safety margin of capital that bankers were required to hold should have been quite a bit higher. All these tests may have done, then, is show that regulators are concerned that investors do not wholly trust their banks – without doing very much to redress their concerns.

 

In the end, banks – with all their loans and deposits – are really just a magnifying glass on the economies they are based in. For the UK, yesterday's soaraway GDP data may have allayed some fears about the outlook here. But it would be wrong to take one set of figures as definitive. In all likelihood, this was a freak result which in any case marks the high-water mark of the UK's recovery. It may ignite debates about whether interest rates should go up or spending cuts can go further. But that would be quite foolish – and short-sighted.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SUMMER HOLIDAYS: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

 

Journalism dismisses this as the silly season. In the wider world, though, summer is most people's favourite

 

Journalism is often accused – and is frequently guilty as charged – of reflexively accentuating the negative not the positive. Yet be fair. Right now in Britain, it is sometimes hard to do otherwise. Economic recovery is halting at best. Important public goods are at serious risk. Job prospects are uncertain. The war in Afghanistan stumbles on. And the world cup wasn't much fun either. Generally speaking, too much cheerfulness would strike a false note amid all this. Yet the middle of a generally good summer is a good time to relax the gloom. The start of the summer holiday season is a chance to restore a more balanced tone that may more accurately reflect the lives that people outside the news-dominated bubble actually lead.

 

Journalism dismisses this as the silly season. In the wider world, though, summer is most people's favourite, especially those people whose school terms have just come to an end for the gloriously stretching next six weeks, so full of possibilities. And with good reason too. Summer is a time of exploration, though it is not necessary to travel farthest to discover most. Summer is the healthiest time of year too, when people eat less and better than usual, take more exercise and have more time too. Rates of everything from heart disease to violent crime fall at this time of year. Summer's warmth, its light and its freedom make it the best and most celebratory – or the least miserable, if you still insist – of the seasons. In many ways – thanks to its festivals, sports and holiday opportunities – summer has all the advantages that the other seasons lack. No poet ever asked: "Shall I compare thee to a winter's day?" No singer ever made a hit record celebrating the return to school rather than its break-up. This year is no exception to that rule.

 

Yet summer sometimes surprisingly struggles to compete with the other seasons for its hold on the imagination. Winter often has greater drama than summer. Spring generates more optimism. Autumn lends itself more naturally to reflection on the passing of the years. It isn't true that summer lacks all drama, optimism or reflection. Few things are more overwhelming than a long summer's day. Nothing seems more timeless than the countryside full of heat. And the amount of reading that takes place in the summer hardly implies that minds are duller at this time of year.

 

If spring is the season of birth, autumn of decline, and winter of death, then summer is the season of maturity. These are our salad days, when we are at our best, and most in our prime. The baby boomer generation may look back on its own particular summer of love, but summers and love have always gone together. In Alexander Pope's poem about summer the hot season and the hot emotions are all wonderfully entwined together. The summer is love and love is the summer. Faced with that exciting thought, even the coalition's spending cuts can wait a while and the Labour leadership contest go hang.

 

Some may continue to feel uneasy, in this still vestigially Protestant culture, with a season that is synonymous with idleness. David Cameron this week proposed lots of new and improving activities for next summer. Yet people who lead busy and stressed lives deserve their downtime. Even so, modern consumer society may not get the best out of everything that summer can offer. Spending lots of money and travelling vast distances to distant lands are not guarantees of the contentment that idleness can offer. Sitting under a distant palm tree may not be as satisfying as sitting under a native oak close to home. It is not hard to wonder whether modern adults, their lives atomised from one another, too often bowling alone, seated perpetually at their computer screens, have lost the art of connecting with the deeper pleasures that summer can provide. But it is a knack which children are born with. Maybe adults should try to relearn it from them.

 

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHY THE INVESTIGATIVE SECRECY?

 

The Democratic Party of Japan's election manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election called for videotaping entire interrogations of criminal suspects to prevent false charges. It is extremely regrettable that the government has decided to postpone the submission of a related bill to the Diet. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba has backed away from calling for videotaping entire interrogations and now calls for a "realistic review" of the present system.

 

Immediately after the inauguration of the Hatoyama administration in mid-September 2009, National Public Safety Commission Chairman Hiroshi Nakai complicated discussions on the matter by saying that if entire interrogations are to be videotaped, investigators should be given new investigative tools including sting operations and plea bargaining. Mr. Nakai is not an enthusiastic supporter of videotaping interrogations. Regrettably, Ms. Chiba has came to embrace a similar stance to his.

 

A Justice Ministry panel, in which the justice minister, the senior justice vice minister and the parliamentary secretary of justice are playing a leading role, released an interim report in mid-June. The report says that since public prosecutors offices handle some 2 million criminal cases a year, including traffic accidents, videotaping interrogations in their entirety would be too costly and troublesome. It recommended that studies be carried out on limiting the scope of interrogations that must be videotaped.

 

Such a change, however, would mean that crucial parts of interrogations could go unrecorded. Justice Ministry officials must remember that false charges are not limited to serious crimes such as murder, arson, rape and kidnapping for ransom. Given that several countries, including Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and France, as well as some U.S. states, are already recording entire interrogations without a hitch, the government's arguments against doing so are not convincing. If the DPJ government fails to make good on its campaign promise, DPJ lawmakers should submit their own bill to the Diet.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

FARM POLICY NEEDS MORE SCRUTINY

 

Income compensation for individual farmers is an important policy of the Democratic Party of Japan. By the end of June, 1,319,277 farming units applied to join the system, meeting the farm ministry's goal of enrolling 1.2 million of Japan's 1.8 farming households in the system.

 

In fiscal 2010, the system applies to only rice production. The ministry plans to cover more crops from fiscal 2011. Farmers whose production cost constantly tops the sale price can join the system. If they agree to reduce the area of rice paddies to grow other crops like wheat, the government pays ¥15,000 per 10 ares (1 are = 100 sq. m.) of rice paddies plus payments according to falls in rice prices.

 

The fiscal 2010 budget for the system is ¥560 billion. If the system is expanded in fiscal 2011, ¥1 trillion will be needed. It is aimed at cutting oversupplies of rice and stabilizing rice prices while ensuring a certain level of income for farmers. The farm ministry estimates that some 1.18 million farming units must join the system if oversupplies of rice are to be cut. It appears that the minimum condition to make the system work has been met. Many farmers in the Hokuriku, Tohoku and Hokkaido regions, which are Japan's centers of rice production, have decided to take part in the system.

 

But it is difficult to know whether the system will succeed in reducing oversupply of rice. It seems that some farmers, who have contracts to sell their rice directly to large distributors or fast food chains, have opted not to join the system. They will increase rice production even if rice prices fall, because doing so will compensate for the price drops. The ministry needs to survey these farmers to ascertain their production plans and their effects on rice prices.

 

The system's mechanism to pay more to farmers if rice prices fall may increase the government's financial burden. Under the system, small-scale farms may choose to continue rice production even if they are in the red. The government needs to delve into the weak points of the system and improve it in order to gain the support of the general public and the opposition parties.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

DEADLY RINGTONE

 

With not less than 180 million customers, the mobile phone business is very lucrative and continues to boom in Indonesia.  Service providers are facing severe competition in offering cheap prices, sometimes at the cost of quality. It is very easy to find people using or showing off their cellular phones almost everywhere, including while they are driving or attending public functions.

 

Very often we don't realize that apart from high cost, death and fatal risks are also waiting the users of the sophisticated invention. There are 9.6 million vehicles in Jakarta and it is very easy to imagine the risks from talking while driving on Jakarta streets.

 

Other people often suffer because of the selfishness of telephone users. They often don't care about very basic ethics such as "do not speak loudly in public spaces" or "do not let your device ring, which can disturb other people."

 

What do you do if your mobile phone is ringing while you are driving? Your answer may depend on who is calling you, but for sure using a cellular phone while driving is not recommended because such activity can endanger the driver and other road users.

 

A photograph published on The Jakarta Post's front page Tuesday shows this situation. A reckless motorcyclist used his cell phone while riding down crowded Jl. Otto Iskandardinata in East Jakarta and could have endangered the rider himself and other road users.

Some people say that they use cell phones while on the road because they need to do so. "I often field phone calls and even make calls while riding… My work demands me to be in many places at the same time and you know how bad traffic can be in Jakarta," a motorcyclist said Tuesday.

 

There is no acceptable argument for tolerating any activity that might cause road accidents that already contribute significantly to the death rate in urban areas.

 

Many countries have imposed strict prohibitions on using cell phones while driving to prevent more traffic accidents. Although there is no data about the traffic accidents sparked by cellular phone use while driving, the police recorded nearly 70 percent of 7,000 traffic accidents in Jakarta last year were caused by human error, including reckless use of cell phones on the roads.

 

Indonesia still has no regulations that prohibit motorists from using cell phones while driving. Our legislators might have forgotten to include such an important ruling when they deliberated on a traffic bill that they passed into law last year.

 

Of course, we responsible motorists don't need to wait until our legislators finish their jobs to revise the law to stop our bad habits of using cell phones while driving, particularly if we really care about the safety of ourselves and other people.

 

If we use cell phones recklessly, it is not just the users who often have to pay the cost but also other people.  Many people speak loudly on their cell phones ignoring other people who are disturbed by the noise. Talking on the phone while driving does not only endanger the life of the speakers but also other people on the streets.

 

We cannot just blame the government for the chaos. We should also ask ourselves: Am I a responsible cell phone user?

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

NO HELP FROM WASHINGTON

NICOLA NASSER

 

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) officials in the government of Mahmoud Abbas often complain they spend more time negotiating with American rather than Israeli governments.

 

This has been particularly true of late. Since Israel's all-out assault on Gaza nearly a year and half ago, Palestinian officials have discontinued all direct talks with the Israelis and have been talking to the Americans.

 

US presidential envoy George Mitchell has been closely engaged in the region since May 2010, but his efforts have not proved fruitful.

 

The Palestinians have had no more luck with the Americans than with the Israelis. They have been consistently asked to accept US-Israeli peace terms that spell disaster and capitulation.

 

Apart from exhausting the Palestinians, and making them edge closer to further concessions, nothing of substance has emerged from talks with either the Americans or the Israelis.

 

The Americans have sold the Palestinians false hopes, giving Israel the time it needed to grab land and change the demographics of their state-to-be. Now, even the fig leaf of good intentions has fallen.

 

In a recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the mercy bullet was finally fired, dealing a deadly blow to fantasies of American help.

 

Palestinian negotiators keep telling us that they have no other option but to negotiate with the Americans. This is not true. The Palestinian people don't want them to do so, and their fighting spirit is alive and well.

 

 When all other options run out, the people will come up with options of their own. It is what people living under foreign occupation have always done, and the Palestinians are no exception.

 

President Abbas used to tell us that the ball is in Israel's court. Now Obama has kicked it back into the Palestinian court.

 

Once again, the White House has made it clear that the ball, the court, the referee and the players should all perform according to American dictates. The peace process has been at best a US-Israeli PR exercise, at worst a political ruse designed to help the Zionists and undermine the Arabs.

 

The whole aim of the peace process has been to create a fifth column in our midst. At heart, the peace
process had no bearing on peace. Fairness was never part of the equation.

 

It is time the Arabs, especially Palestinian Arabs, called it a day. It is time the admission was made that the peace process has done nothing at all for the peace, security and development of this region.

 

Obama was pleased to see Netanyahu, just as George W. Bush was once thrilled to confer with Ariel Sharon. The words the two presidents used in describing the Israeli dignitaries were almost identical.

 

Sharon was called a "man of peace". Now Netanyahu seems to be inheriting the title, no matter that a few days earlier he ordered the massacre of peace activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, no matter that on the same day Obama welcomed him, the Israeli group B'Tselem issued a damning report on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

 

Obama had nothing but praise for the Israeli prime minister. There are no differences between Israel and the US, Obama declared, describing his talks with Netanyahu as "excellent" and his country's ties with Israel as "extraordinary".

 

Washington is as committed to Israel's security as it always was, and the "special ties" as binding as ever, he told US reporters.

 

For his part, Netanyahu said reports about a schism in US-Israeli relations were just rumors.

 

To reward Netanyahu for what he described as "progress" toward peace, Obama accepted an invitation to visit Israel.

 

Does any of this surprise President Mahmoud Abbas?

 

The only harsh words the American president used were in reference to the Palestinians, who he advised to stop provoking and embarrassing the Israelis.

 

The Palestinians should stop thinking of "excuses" to tarry on peace and start talking to the Israelis. Any conditions Obama once made on direct talks seem to have been forgotten.

 

The current US position is that the Palestinians should start talks without preconditions.

 

This is not what President Abbas was hoping to hear. Instead of encouragement, the Palestinians have been admonished and told to behave.

 

A close associate of President Abbas told Al-Quds Al-Arabi that "all signs suggest that the US administration would press the Palestinian authority to hold direct talks" without guarantees or preconditions. This is basically what Mitchell has been trying to do throughout his earlier visits to the region.

 

Now Abbas has to choose. Either he gives way to the Americans, which is what he's done since Annapolis in 2007, or he gives up on the Americans.

 

In the first case, he would lose any remaining credibility. In the second, he will have to step down. He has gambled everything on negotiations, and now any hope of fruitful talks has evaporated.

 

The only option left to the Palestinians is resistance and more resistance. It is a course that is not only long and hard, but calls for national unity. The PLO made it into government as a result of resistance and national unity.

 

Now the lack of unity and resistance threaten to banish the PLO into the wilderness, or turn it into a lackey of the occupational authorities.

 

The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli–occupied Palestinian territories

 

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


THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

JAPAN, RI IN PROMOTING PEACE AND SECURITY

KOJIRO SHIOJIRI

 

It's no big secret that Indonesia and Japan are good friends. We have a long history of cooperation, and in many ways, we have been making positive and constructive contributions to the region and to the world. But I believe that there are still much more we can do together.  

 

While we are quite used to hearing about Indonesia and Japan cooperating in the economic field, we should not shy away from more active cooperation in dealing with common threats to the peace and security of our region and the world.

 

There are many things that can be achieved if Indonesia and Japan work together to deal with issues like international terrorism, post-conflict nation building, maritime security and disaster management.

 

I would like to suggest a way forward in this regard, i.e., building up concrete successful examples of our cooperation in these fields. In doing so, we should start shifting from merely working side by side, to working as an integrated team, thinking together, acting together and sharing responsibilities together in dealing with common threats to the security and prosperity of the international community.

 

Some things are already happening to this end. One example is in the area of disaster relief. In Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta and Padang, Japan has always been working side by side with Indonesia to help alleviate the damage and suffering of natural disasters.  But now, Indonesia and Japan are working together as co-hosts of a multilateral disaster relief exercise called ARF DiREx 2011.

 

The exercise will be held in Manado in March 2011, with participation from many countries, with the aim of improving the disaster preparedness of both civilian and military authorities of countries in the region.

 

This is a concrete example of how Indonesia and Japan have started to "think together" and "share responsibilities together", in addition to just "acting together" in response to a certain event.

 

Another example is the change in the quality of our navy-to-navy cooperation that is starting to be observed.

 

In the past, most of the visits made by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) vessels to Indonesia have been ceremonial in nature, such as the participation by JMSDF (Kashima, Yugiri and Shimayuki) in the Sail Bunaken international fleet review in August 2009.  

 

However, the recent visit by JMSDF destroyers Sawagiri and Ohnami to Jakarta was qualitatively different. As these were destroyers dispatched for anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden, the JMSDF crew was able to share practical and operational knowledge and experience in countering piracy with the Indonesian Navy.

 

As both Japan and Indonesia are archipelagic states, we share a common interest in the safety of navigation of the seas. The benefit to both sides of information sharing and enhanced cooperation in this filed is clear.

 

These are just examples, but notice the qualitative change in the nature of our cooperation. We are not just participating in your party as a good neighbor, but we are starting to plan a party together for everyone in the community to benefit from.

 

Just imagine what we can achieve, if we started to think and act together, in a number of other areas like Middle East Peace, peace keeping, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

 

Why do we want to do so?

 

First and foremost, because Japan and Indonesia share a common interest in the security and stability of our region, and in effectively addressing the new threats we face.

 

Second, because of the fundamental values that Indonesia shares with Japan, such as democracy and human rights, tolerance and the rule of law. We also have a strong cultural affinity towards each other.

 

And third but not least, because the importance of Indonesia as a player in the international community is increasing. Indonesia, as a member of the G20 and a leader of ASEAN, has the strong enthusiasm and commitment to contribute to the peace and the stability of the world community.

 

The point I want to make is that no matter how much the strategic environment in our region might change in the near future, these attributes of Japan-Indonesia relations will never change. This means that the reasons for Indonesia and Japan to cooperate will continue to exist well into the foreseeable future.

 

To put it in simple terms, we, Japan and Indonesia, are "Strategic Partners for Good". This partnership is not just in words, but actual and genuine. Our relations have entered a new era in which we must further deepen our cooperation under a new sense of mission. In this new era, let us think, act and take responsibility, together!


The writer is Japan Ambassador to Indonesia.

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


THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

FOOD SECURITY BEYOND PRODUCTION ISSUES

SUBEJO

 

It was quite interesting to read an opinion article on food safety policies by Indroyono Soesilo, which appeared in The Jakarta Post (July 14).

 

Throughout the article, Indroyono addresses several crucial issues such as the remarkable production progress of main food crops including rice, corn and soybean: A strategy for boosting production and lowering food prices, improvement of the standard of living of farmers, and the importance of increasing household income in improvement of food security.

 

As I have proposed in my previous article at The Jakarta Post (June 24), solving and setting up the new policies on Indonesian food security and safety could not be simply approached from the production issues of conventional staple foods.

 

An improvement on production of rice, corn and soybean has been reported for recent years. However, we likely cannot have too much hope that production of those three commodities will significantly increase at the same time.

 

Among those staple foods commodities, there is high competition. This occurs because they are commonly cultivated on irrigated farming land. It is a matter of choice for farmers to emphasize on water availability, commodity prices and workforce availability.

 

By tracing the agricultural development stage in Indonesia, the main policies are likely still influenced by irrigated farming land bias indicated by much more programs related to rice, corn and soybean production, while the other food crops get less attention.

 

The green revolution and following agricultural development programs, which were mostly focused on wet farming land production, can be evidence of food development bias. Although the government is continually constructing new irrigated farming lands (sawah) mainly in outer islands, due to the rapid conversion of fertile wet farming lands into non-farming purposes in Java, in total irrigated land at the national level is standing at about 12 million hectares and it is going nowhere.

 

Production efficiency and staple food crop productivity to some extent still can be increased.

 

Agriculture developmental programs such as farming area extension, crop variety improvement, improvement of cropping intensity and upgrading irrigation facilities can be the strategies.

 


"Indonesia has been categorized among nations with the highest productivity in terms of paddy production by 5-6 tons per hectare."

 

However, it is not an easy matter. For instance, so far there is no visible progress on the improvement of farming land access, contrary to the average of land ownership per farming household, which been remarkably decreasing overtime.

 

Maintenance of irrigation facilities also does not work well. There have only been very few cases of development of new dams for supplying water for farming activities.

 

Even though limited, there is still the possibility of income improvement by intensification of agricultural input usage and modern technologies, which may increase productivity. By the same rate of product price, if farmers can increase the quantity, the total income received will also increase.

 

Paying high attention to main staple foods is clearly important, however, it cannot solve all problems related to food security and safety in Indonesia.

 

In addressing food security issues, we should also strongly consider the other sources of foods for about 24 million of our inhabitants.

 

Indonesia has very favorable natural resources endowment due to its situation in the tropical region, hence we have a huge variety of food crops including tubers and roots crops.

 

Larger parts of them are traditionally available and simply cultivated by peasants on rain fed and or dry land areas.

 

However, technological progress, investment and utilization of them have been underdeveloped.

 

As definitely told by Indonesian food history, a high dependency on rice has a serious impact on its production.

 

Even though recently we have achieved self-sufficiency on rice production, the risk of food shortage has always been shadowing national food production. We should properly consider the development of alternative foods such as roots and tubers crops.

 

Indroyono's article also proposes lowering food price. This policy likely will increase the suffering of small scale farmers as food producers.

 

Regarding policy strategy for improving household farming income, we are often witnessing something misleading as commonly campaigned by governmental agencies and political parties.

 

Indonesia has been categorized among nations with the highest productivity in terms of paddy production by 5-6 tons per hectare. With land ownership so small, on average less than 0.5 hectares, improvement of agricultural production will not have a significant impact on farmers' received incomes if food price is kept low. It is almost impossible to keep farmers wealthy without changing price policy.

 

Government policies which protect agricultural product price should be appropriately performed. The policy of higher agricultural product price stands strongly on the side of producers, which could improve farmers' income and wealth.

 

The increasing of food prices will of course have a serious impact on some parties, mainly the rural and urban poor.

 

They are traditionally the beneficial parties under the low food price policy. Solving this problem can be done by the government by offering a new scheme for the poor.

 

The scheme can be implemented under social safety net programs through cheap food distribution and other related policies.

 

Increasing food price policies for producers-farmers should be arranged separately with policy directed to rural and urban poor in accessing lower priced foods. Combining those policies will be problematic and will not provide satisfaction for each party.

 

I agree with Indroyono's argument that increasing the household income will possibly improve the household access on food which in turn will also improve their food security.

 

However, only increasing household income will not automatically guarantee the improvement of food security.

 

If there is no improvement of food diversification, which is indicated by a wider presence of food variety over time, household access on food security will not be the case.

 

Food availability refers to the supply side, which is determined by the level of food production, stock level and net trade.

 

In addition to economic capability, the physical availability is always important guaranteeing the people's access on food.


The writer is a lecturer at the School of Agriculture, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, and is a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo. This is his personal opinion.

 

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


THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

PATRIARCHY WITHIN THE DOMESTIC WORKER PROTECTION

AGUS PRATIWI

 

Every morning of the working days, Tyas (not her real name) prepares for work. She works as a seamstress at a boutique in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

While she prepares herself, she also undertakes domestic duties, such as preparing breakfast for her little daughter and her husband, who has an auto repair shop right in front of their home. Tyas must also take her daughter to school.

 

At the same time, Endang (also not her real name), a worker at Tyas' household, cleans household trash using a broom and feather duster. Afterwards, Endang also must prepare the operation of the auto repair shop.

 

The household activity described above is very common in most households, not only in Jakarta, but also in other cities in Indonesia. While two working women, with work in different areas, are undertaking their "serving duties", the husband is enjoying his myth as a master.

 

Domestic work problems need not only be protection working at the other family's household, but also a means to abolish the lame gender relations within the domestic domain. Will the recent struggle for the domestic worker bill (RUU PRT), with its ups and downs of legislation, be a potential as the answer for those needs?

 

Scrutinizing the bill drafted by the government as well as by JALA PRT, an organization promoting the domestic worker protection,  both of them focus on domestic work as merely an employment problem.

 

But, it is more ironic when a representative of Commission IX, without reflecting a willingness to take a role in facilitating this problem, stated that the consideration in suspending the bill is the disparity of household income in Indonesia to pay the domestic worker well.

 

Nevertheless, because both parties consider the domestic work as merely an employment problem, they assume the existence of the "domestic work sector" only when another person enters a household for a domestic job.

 

Then, how should we value and appreciate the role of Tyas in her role as housewife: Preparing the breakfast and taking the daughter to school?

 

Or, in another case, how should we value the domestic work carried out by full-time housewives?

 

Both versions of the bill define the domestic work as a job done by another person in the household of employer without producing goods and/or services for the interests of employer's economic activities.

 

The negation of "economic value" within the domestic works is my major hesitancy of the bill. By carrying out the household duties delegated by the master, anyone, including wives, has produced the economic value, for example, enabling the master to work outside the home and produce an abundant profit for the bosses.

 

The form of economic value is produced not only by another person who works in the household for wage, but also by a wife who works for love and allegiance.

 

Thus, a wife or a husband who devotes themselves to domestic work should also be classified as "domestic workers", especially in enabling single-earning couple households.

 

 The assumption of domestic work as an emerging economic sector also affects the form of employment relations in the bill, which is merely adopted from the conventional labor law.

 

The bill on domestic workers, which adopts conventional employment relations, only recognizes non-nuclear family workers as paid domestic workers.

 

As a result, the fulfilment of rights as a consequence of employment relations is exclusively owned by non-nuclear family workers.

 

It is the root of the unaccommodated problems, the universal problems of all households. That situation is very vulnerable to create rivalry between some interest groups themselves in materializing comprehensive protection for all forms of domestic workers.

 

It is clear from the above explanation that both versions of the bill still have no concept in abolishing the lameness of gender relations in the domestic domain. Moreover, the spirit of making patriarchy history, from the smallest unit of society namely family, is still absent in the bill.

 

If we reflect the bill into Tyas' case above, the household duty undertaken by a wife for her husband is not appreciated as "domestic work" in the bill and, therefore, there are no rights adhering to the wife. The existence of the "unpaid domestic worker" is taken for granted as a dedication from a wife.

 

The emergence of "paid domestic worker" represented by the figure of Endang is caused by the aversion of the husband to contribute his leisure time to domestic work.

 

The answer for the domestic work problems does not lie in the regulation which alienates its waged participants within a particular economic sector, the domestic work sector.

 

The problem should be answered by reconceptualizing home itself through family law reform, which will equalize the role of husband and wife.  

 

If within the equalized gender relations the family is still not able to entirely accomplish domestic work, the state should take over the role in facilitating the accomplishment of the domestic work.

 

It should not increase the domestic burden through an additional expense for a paid domestic worker.

 

Although the proposers of the domestic worker bill have understood that the unaccomplished domestic work is also the problem of low-income families, their willingness to push the government in providing some major facilities alleviating the domestic burden, for example, child care assistance facilities, is absent as well.

 

The facility should not be fully operated by the profitable businesses, which can only be afforded by the middle-class family income. Operating by the state, the facility should be affordable to all, such as for workers' families who live in slum areas.

 

Everyone who is willing to work for the state facility must be guaranteed by state responsibility. Their employment relations are with the state, not with the family units such as in the prevailing situation.

 

The conclusion is that the regulation encouraging the appreciation for the domestic work should eradicate the lameness of gender relations itself. Concretely, the supporters of the bill have to take into account the interdependence nature between the domestic worker bill and family policy reform as well as labour policy reform.

 

By not isolating the domestic work as a sectoral problem of the waged non-family-member workers, the enactment of domestic work will precisely mediate various interests, especially women's interest groups.

 

The imbalanced role of family members in accomplishing the domestic work is the problem of all those groups.

 

The embraced interests should be a trigger to strengthen and re-develop a bargaining position in asking the state responsibility to hold the domestic work in high esteem.

 

The writer is a lecturer and a researcher in feminist legal issues at the Faculty of Law, Padjadjaran University, Bandung.

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

 

 


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