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Thursday, July 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 26.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 26, edition 000580 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











































  4. 20 years after Disabilities Act, why are we still struggling? - By Lisa A. Goldstein

























The contrived drama over the CBI's so-called inquiry into the alleged 'false' encounter killing of notorious gangster and gun-runner Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauserbi five years ago, which has culminated in the agency filing a chargesheet against Mr Amit Shah, the former Minister of State for Home in the Gujarat Government, apart from other accused in the case, was not without purpose. For those sections of the media which pursue a perverse agenda of demonising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and defaming the BJP, this was another opportunity to indulge in Goebbelsian propaganda. Ethics and norms were cast aside as stories planted by the CBI and 'sources' in the Government — in all probability media managers of the Congress — were showcased as 'investigative' reports. For the Congress, it was an opportunity to unleash yet another round of vitriolic and slanderous attack on the BJP, Mr Modi and the Government of Gujarat. For the CBI, and this really is the most worrisome part, it was business as usual to spit and scoot, regardless of the consequences of its actions by way of the agency's image suffering enormously in the popular perception.

Whether or not Mr Shah and the others who have been named as accused in the case by the CBI are guilty of the crimes they have been charged with is something that will be decided by the courts, provided the chargesheet leads to the framing of charges and trial. Mr Shah has an impressive track record as a Minister and a legislator; prima facie there is no reason to pronounce him guilty as is being done by sections of the media. A chargesheet, we must remember, is not evidence, nor can alleged statements and confessions be confused with proof that can withstand judicial scrutiny. It is tragic that media has chosen slanderous commentary over neutral reportage of facts, which is of a piece with the outrageous assertions by spokespersons of the Congress who seem to believe they have come to supplant the country's justice system. It's a shame and a pity that the Congress should have elected to lower the bar to a level that allows its spokespersons to indulge in mud-slinging.

As for the CBI, the agency has once again lived up to its reputation of being amenable to political pressure. The agency was expected to conduct its investigations into the alleged 'false' encounter as the Central Bureau of Investigation; it chose to go about its task as the Congress Bureau of Intimidation. Nothing illustrates this point better than the fact that it had prepared its chargesheet against Mr Shah even before summoning him for questioning, that too without giving him adequate advance notice. Since the CBI had decided to frame him, irrespective of what he may or may not have told the agency, Mr Shah really cannot be faulted for not turning up for a sham question-answer session as part of a bogus investigation. The CBI is welcome to contest this point, but it cannot deny its past: At the behest of the Congress it has made a mockery of its charter by letting Ottavio Quattrocchi walk free along with his loot; it has amazingly sought permission to close disproportionate assets cases a week after telling the Supreme Court it has sufficient evidence to move ahead with prosecution; and, it has quietly, slyly, dropped charges of corruption against individuals close to the Congress high command. The list is endless. Given its history, can the CBI be remotely trusted with a free and fair inquiry?








Parliament and state Assembly proceedings have been often disrupted by members for silly reasons, but none could be more ridiculous than a routine delay in reconciliation of some treasury accounts by the Bihar Government. However, for an Opposition desperate to pick holes in the exemplary performance of the Nitish Kumar-led NDA Government in the State, a CAG observation to that effect was sufficient fodder for its members to run amok inside and outside the legislature — throwing chairs and smashing flower pots. Many of them were later suspended for their unruly behaviour, but by then they had made a shocking spectacle of themselves, being dragged by the security staff in the Assembly complex and forcibly evicted. Even if the cause were genuine, the conduct pf the legislators would have still been reprehensible, but here the Opposition had picked on a relative non-issue: Delayed reconciliation of accounts which, though undesirable, is applicable to all State Governments and even the Union Government. It's a problem that several Union Ministries and State treasuries have to cope with, and is as common as 'adverse' observations by the CAG. There would be many Ministries that have yet to submit reconciled accounts. How this becomes a "multi- crore scam" — as the Opposition in Bihar has alleged while holding the legislature to shameful ransom — defies explanation.

The Opposition thought, and wrongly so, that it had the State Government on the mat after a High Court directive asking the Central Bureau of Investigation to study the CAG's observation; the Congress and the RJD legislators believed this would cause discomfiture to the JD(U)-BJP Government. Their unbecoming conduct was supposed to pressure the Government to quit. However, their tamasha proved to be in vain, as the High Court has since cleared the air and stayed the probe after the State Government's counsel informed the Bench that the CAG's observations could not be probed by any agency till such time the Public Accounts Committee of Bihar had studied the report. And thereby hangs the tale of the Opposition's misplaced optimism and crass opportunism. Even though the Congress and its allies know that they have lost the plot, they believe that by continuing to rake up the issue they will be able to keep the 'scam' alive. With Assembly election due later this year, the Opposition thinks it can use fiction as fact to mobilise votes, but forgets that the people of Bihar have made up their minds to judge the NDA Government's performance on its track record of delivery and not bogus claims of corruption.








The Karnataka Lokayukta, who had resigned on the ground of the State Government's alleged indifference to corruption and the fight against it only to withdraw his resignation later, has observed that the CBI has "a poor record of convictions". At present, the Lokayukta is seized of the inquiry into the alleged illegal mining scam which has been going on for decades under successive Governments in the State. He felt that if the mining scam was to be taken away from him and given to some other agency, and the objectives of the agency were the same as his, he would have no objection. But if it was done for collateral reasons, he would certainly not agree.

Commenting on the Opposition's demand for a CBI inquiry, he said that it could have been motivated by collateral reasons. He added that the CBI "has closed many cases which ought to have ended in conviction… People are aware of those cases." Even if one has been a judge in the highest court of the country, it does not automatically imply that one is fully aware of the ground rules and regulations governing the CBI and other related facts.

His contention about the conviction record is best refuted by a communication sent by the director of CBI to the Government in April 2009 which says that while the national conviction rate in trial cases is below 43 per cent and has even touched single digit in some States, the CBI's conviction rate, at 70 per cent, is one of the highest in the world.

There is a mistaken impression that the CBI is an autonomous or independent body. It has become fashionable to bash the CBI for any reason, whether valid or otherwise. The CBI cannot either investigate a case or function in any State without the consent of the State Government.

The CBI cannot draw a roadmap for its own functioning as it is not a constitutional body like the Election Commission of India or the judiciary. The harsh reality is that arresting those responsible for committing the crimes being investigated by the CBI, including corruption, is the last priority of any Government, notwithstanding the proclamations of the high and mighty regarding zero tolerance towards corruption.

The plain truth is that no Government, irrespective of the party in power, wants an independent investigating agency or, for that matter, any independent institution which may not be willing to toe its line. The Government has more than one way to disable any independent functioning. It is not only through checks and balances but through delays and manipulations exercised in different ways that it can do so.

An eminent jurist says, "On the Jagdish Tytler drama and the trauma accompanying it, the more important question is the general one, of whether or not it isn't time the CBI is made institutionally independent of pressures and pulls from within the Government and without. I believe we must have in place an Independent Bureau of Investigation instead. But this can only be done through a law expressly enacted by the Parliament."

At present, the total strength of the CBI's staff is 5,900 with 30 per cent vacancies at any given time. In Delhi alone, there are a total of 1,389 CBI cases pending in courts of which pendency in the six courts of special judges is at 927. Of these, 171 cases have been pending in courts for more than eight years, 51 cases for more than 15 years and 39 cases are awaiting closure for more than 20 years. Additionally, chargesheets have not been framed in 119 cases dealt with by the CBI, as per a Delhi Cabinet note.

Coming to the overall pendency figures, of the total number of 1,557 cases under investigation in CBI in 2006, only 157 were over two years old while of the total number of 6,414 cases pending trial in the courts, 2,300 were over eight years old and 198 were over 20 years old.

According to the annual report for 2007-08 of the Delhi High Court, 3,32,141 cases came up for trial and each case received a hearing of five minutes — four minutes and 55 seconds are the precise figures. Each minute of the court's time cost an astounding Rs 6,327 which boils down to Rs 19,93,180 for every working day.

All listed cases cost the court an average of Rs 1,300, even if many were adjourned immediately. The report, released by the then Chief Justice, shows that Delhi High Court disposed of 56,612 cases, including 47,017 that were filed in the same year. The High Court worked with 32 judges, much below its sanctioned strength of 48.

The then Chief Justice added that at the present rate of disposal, it would take 466 years for the High Court to clear its backlog of cases. The report shows that the rate of disposal of criminal cases in 2007-08 can be worked out to be 0.5 case per day. Launching the new litigation policy in July this year, the Union Law Minister said, "There are over two crore cases pending in Indian courts, 70 per cent of them involving the Government as either petitioner or respondent." Explaining the spirit behind the move, the Minister stated that there were several instances of frivolous petitions being pursued by the Government, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer and burden on the judicial system.

Surely, for the collapse of the criminal justice system the CBI is not responsible. Any effort made to promote integrity and bring about a corruption-free public life is welcome. But unfortunately, the credibility of politicians in India is at its lowest ebb.

Whether it is with theUnion Government or the State Governments, the first priority is political survival — and pulling down others. In some cases, the Governors, who themselves are far from being models of probity, have joined issue with parties in power in the States. In some cases, Governors have refused to accord sanction for the prosecution of corrupt politicians against whom the courts have ordered an investigation by the CBI.

The solution is to grant constitutional status to the CBI and give the wherewithal to the judiciary, including manpower and equipment, to ensure that no case remains pending beyond six months or a year.

This writer has had the opportunity to interact with two Prime Ministers on the issue. While one of them was willing but had no political support to do this, the other objected to it, wondering why he should give his powers away. What the leaders and those in power have to do is incredibly simple. Whether or not they have the will to do the same is, however, another matter.







This refers to the report "Krishna takes Pak line, berates Pillai" (July 22). Nothing is more shocking than Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna's uncalled-for admonition of Home Secretary GK Pillai for his comments on the ISI's role in 26/11 on the eve of the recent Foreign Minister-level talks in Islamabad. Mr Krishna needs to be told that there was nothing wrong about Mr Pillai disclosing that the ISI coordinated the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack "from the beginning till the end". What Mr Krishna's subsequent bluster shows is that he deliberately kept his silence when Mr SM Qureshi equated Mr Pillai's remarks with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafiz Saeed's anti-India hate speeches. One can easily infer that his behaviour was aimed at pleasing both the US and Pakistan.

Further, the media in both India and Pakistan is of the view that the Pakistani Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI boss, Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, were behind sabotaging the dialogue. In order to deflect attention from the ISI's role in terrorist activities, they forced the weak Yousuf Gilani-led Government to put the Kashmir issue on the top of the talks agenda. The military-militant collusion in Pakistan is the worst stumbling block in improving relations between the two countries. The ISI and the Army have used terrorist groups like the LeT to achieve their dubious objectives in India and Afghanistan. Even the world community has accepted this for a fact and a report by a UN-appointed independent panel to probe the killing of former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto has exposed its links with the terror group. In the recent past, the ISI has intensified its anti-India activities. Its complicity has been proved along with that of the LeT in violent protests in the Kashmir Valley. The arrest of many members of the outlawed separatist outfit, Babbar Khalsa, has revealed its ugly designs of reviving terrorism in Punjab.

It is sad that India has not learnt its lessons from the Sharm el-Sheikh fiasco. Softening its stance on the ISI's role in anti-India activities would be suicidal. It will certainly weaken India's case against cross-border terrorism. Defending its own interests in any talks with Pakistan must be the leadership's only priority.








Senior General Than Shwe's visit to New Delhi ahead of the general election in his country is politically significant. In the past, India has called for expediting the national reconciliation process and make it broad-based. But our larger interest lies in doing business with Myanmar

When Senior General Than Shwe, Myanmar's head of state and the most powerful leader, visits New Delhi shortly, he will receive a warm welcome and the utmost attention. Our leadership recognises the importance of Myanmar as an immediate neighbour, as a member of sub-regional cooperation arrangements, and as our gateway to South-East Asia. Myanmar realises the vital significance of India. Both countries have invested heavily in their 'multi-faceted' relationship. It is now time to take stock of them at the highest level and develop a blueprint for future.

This would be Gen Than Shwe's second visit to India. He first visited India in October 2004, during my tenure as Ambassador to Myanmar. That was seen as a 'historic' visit, the first at the head of state level after Gen Ne Win's visit to India in 1980.

Recent years have witnessed India-Myanmar relations being moulded by a fine balancing of strategic, political, security and economic interests. They have been strengthened by each country's need for the other's understanding, support and cooperation in a variety of fields. Visits at VVIP level have enriched bilateral dialogue. President APJ Abdul Kalam visited Myanmar in 2006. This was followed by Vice-Senior General Maung Aye's visit to India in 2008 and visit to Myanmar by Vice-President Hamid Ansari last year.

The political context of Gen Than Shwe's visit is significant. Having traversed various stages — convening of National Convention, drafting of Constitution, and holding of a referendum — the country now awaits the crucial national election. While dates are yet to be announced, the election is expected later in the year. Some have spoken of Septemer 10, 2010 as the likely date. Assuming that it is indeed held in 2010, the election would be different from that of 1990 which had resulted in an overwhelming victory for National League for Democracy. This party would not be a participant in the coming election. Its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, would not be a candidate. Although Myanmar leaders have promised that the election would be free and fair, in fact it is likely to be well controlled. Whether the election leads to a truly civilian Government or a 'civilianised' version of military Government remains to be seen. Even after the election, the Generals are expected to remain in charge.

India's approach to democracy in Myanmar needs to be appreciated. India has often called on Myanmar to expedite the process of national reconciliation and make it 'broad--based' in order to include all sections of society, including Ms Suu Kyi. In the same vein, ASEAN has stressed the importance of national reconciliation and free and fair elections. It is for the Government of Myanmar, in its wisdom, to accept or ignore friendly advice. India is hardly in a position to do more because it is not in the business of exporting democracy.

A key outcome of Gen Than Shwe's 2004 visit was the categorical assurance given by Myanmar that it would not permit its territory to be used by any hostile elements for harming India's interests. It had also assured India that whenever information about hostile activity came to its notice, it would not hesitate to take appropriate action. Whether Myanmar has been able to provide full satisfaction on this score remains unclear, but the absence of public polemics would indicate that the Myanmar side has perhaps provided considerable satisfaction. This subject is likely to figure again. Further endeavours might be needed to ensure Myanmar's fullest cooperation for protecting security interests in our border region.

Myanmar's main expectation would be to expand the basket of development projects that are being executed with India's generous assistance. In recent years, the basket has already grown in size and range: 'Connectivity' projects creating new road, railway and telecom links; multi-modal Kaladan transport project with long-term implications for development of our North-East; and power, energy and IT projects.

It's time to move beyond the infrastructure sector and start helping Myanmar in setting up cement plants, fertiliser factories, tyre manufacturing units, etc, to enhance the impact of India-assisted development in the region west of Irrawaddy. It remains to be seen whether, after Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Myanmar will become a major recipient of our line of credit assistance running into millions of dollars.

Talks in New Delhi would also focus on how to re-energise bilateral trade which has been growing rather slowly. It reached $ 1.15 billion mark in 2008-09, with trade balance staying heavily in favour of Myanmar. Our appetite for Myanmar's agricultural and forest products, especially pulses, is large, but it should fuel our quest for a much bigger share of Myanmar market. Through pro-active business promotion, incentives to private sector and a new offer of lines of credit, India should at least double its exports (presently standing at only $ 221 million) in near future. Dominant presence of Chinese goods in the Myanmar market place needs to be countered aggressively. This is a challenge India Inc must accept now.

Our leaders might find Gen Than Shwe to be a shy and reserved man. But while spelling out his vision for Myanmar, he is highly articulate. To him, development merits priority over democracy. About India, he holds friendly sentiments. He feels close to India perhaps because he studied its history and geography as a school boy. Later, as General and leader, his world view has included India as a key player.

Critics and victims of the military Government are entitled to view it in a negative light. But those who have had first-hand knowledge of men and matters in Myanmar are also entitled to present an alternative perspective. Some of them are aware of General Shwe's deep and genuine commitment to Buddhism. His politics is one reality; his spiritual inclination is another. On his last visit, he spent many hours meditating under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. It is unlikely to be different this time.

 The author is a former Ambassador to Myanmar.







Nobody's planning to attack Iran right now

How do you know someone has no idea what they're talking about? Answer: They predict that Israel is about to attack Iran. From the perspective of people in Israel who are closely following these issues, this idea is ridiculous. Understanding why this is so tells us a great deal about the situation.

First, it is too early to consider such an option in strategic terms. As long as Iran has not completed its effort to obtain nuclear weapons, the less there is to be gained by destroying uncompleted facilities or processes that are not yet at their full capacity. The earlier one attacks, the easier it is for the Iranian regime to rebuild.

Second, the whole Israeli strategy has been based on winning the maximum amount of Western support against the Iranian nuclear programme. Israel worked hard to encourage the US and the Europeans to put tough sanctions on Iran. Now we are in the sanctions' era and these Governments want to see whether the sanctions are going to have any effect.

Clearly, they are hurting the Iranian regime. People often don't understand the purposes for imposing international sanctions. Ideally, the goal is to change the behaviour of the targeted regime. But that's not all. Sanctions are supposed to reduce the ability of an enemy regime to do what it wants to do. The fewer assets Iran has, the less it can put into military efforts.

In addition, the pressure of sanctions is to open up splits within the regime's leadership and between the regime and the population. The people ask: Why are we suffering? Because of bad leadership and policies. Other members of the elite ask: Why are the top rulers and their policies leading us toward the regime's downfall and the loss of our wealth and power? This is happening to some extent in Iran today.

Moreover, sanctions are intended to isolate the regime, so that it loses allies and trading partners. This is happening to a lesser extent, because the US Government is in effect making a deal with Russia, China, Turkey, and Brazil to break the sanctions in exchange for giving them formal support.

Will sanctions stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Almost certainly, the answer is 'no'. Yet, from Israel's standpoint, this effort must be given every chance. Only if the Western countries are satisfied that every diplomatic and sanctions-related effort has been fully tried — and very probably not even then! — would they support military action.

A third factor is a fundamental reality of international affairs: There is no compelling reason for Israel to act now and it has other problems to deal with. Iran's obtaining a deliverable nuclear weapon is at least two, probably three, and perhaps four years off. Why do something now? There's no motive to do so. The idea that something must or will be done immediately is a fiction among those who really don't know much about the situation but perhaps have a thirst for action, a hunger for some decisive event that will easily and neatly solve the whole problem with one blow. Leaders want to postpone tough decisions where the possibility of a catastrophic mistake as long as possible and one can hardly blame them.

Fourth, even if Israel wanted to attack now, which it doesn't, such an action would not enjoy US support and cooperation. During the current period, US-Israel relations are very shaky, despite the fact that they are all right at this particular moment, though for how long is an open question. The Obama Administration tends to oppose the use of force, deplore unilateralism, dislike taking a strong lead, and seeks to distance itself from Israel more than was true for its predecessors.

If the decision of a lowly local zoning board in Jerusalem to build a few apartment buildings set off a huge storm in bilateral relations, what would an Israeli attack on Iran do?

Don't forget, too, that US troops are in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with periodic hints from the US side that precipitate Israeli action could endanger them. Yet two or three years from now, those soldiers, or almost all of them, will be gone from the region. If that is going to coincide with Iran getting nuclear weapons, all the more reason to wait.

Finally, there are an increasing number of voices in the Israeli political, military, and intelligence establishment arguing that Israel should not wage a preemptive attack on Iran at all for a variety of reasons. When one adds up all these factors, it is rather clear that no such attack is imminent.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.






 The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has had an adverse impact on relations between the US and the UK. This was most evident during David Cameron's visit to Washington

Comparing how the American and British Press are covering British Prime Minister David Cameron's first visit to the US makes for some amusing reading.

The front page of The Washington Post is divided between the first instalment of an investigative series on the achievements and failures of the American intelligence community post-9/11 and the latest news on the oil leaking from the contraption BP devised to try to stop the gusher.

It's no wonder: There is nothing that worries Americans more than the horrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the inability of their President — or anyone else, for that matter — to do anything about it. And just who caused the spill? BP. And what does that stand for? The P obviously stands for "Petroleum," but what about that B? Oh right, "British." And the man who just met with US President Barack Obama is the British Prime Minister? Aha...

So in the US the visit was reported in the context of the BP oil spill. Americans' hatred for that company and, by extension, for Britain has become so intense that BP and the spill consumed Mr Cameron's entire visit to Washington. On that issue, Mr Obama was on Mr Cameron's side. After all, if compensation claims bankrupt the company, there will be no company left to pay any claims. Americans now must protect the British oil company if they want to get anything from it. The most conservative estimate of damages is currently $ 4 billion.

On top of that, Mr Obama's countrymen found another outlet for their rampant British-bashing in the scandal over the release of the Lockerbie bomber last year. In 1988, Libyan terrorists blew up a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing the 280, mostly American, passengers. The mastermind behind the terrorist attack, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, is terminally ill, and he was released by a Scottish court on compassionate grounds so that he could return home to die.

Where does BP come in? It just so happens that the US Senate is looking into charges that BP had lobbied the autonomous Scots to set the terrorist free so that BP could sign a lucrative oil contract with Libya. And al-Megrahi is still alive, almost a year after his release.

Mr Cameron played no part in the alleged deal. Indeed, on this point he is in total agreement with the Americans. Earlier, when Mr Cameron's Conservative Party was still in the Opposition, he said that the Lockerbie bomber must die in jail. He reaffirmed his position during his talks with Mr Obama. When it comes to the Lockerbie bomber, both men "violently agreed," according to Mr Cameron.

Mr Cameron's first visit to the US was as stormy as it was successful, considering the circumstances. It depends on how you look at it, though. American commentators are focussed on the extent to which Mr Cameron helped BP and America, while Britons have different concerns.

For over half a century, British Prime Ministers never considered going anywhere but Washington for their first foreign trip. Their "special relationship" and their role of serving as the backbone for the "Atlantic solidarity" dictated it. Britain has been the gateway between the liberal Anglo-Saxon world and the over-regulated world of continental Europe.

So just what happened in America this time around? What did Mr Obama and Mr Cameron talk about, the latter in his role as lobbyist for the disgraced British company? Just how far does the special relationship extend?

America and Britain have a long and complex history. There is the concept of America as an alternative to colonialist Britain; the special relationship forged in the World Wars, which Britain would not have won without America's support; and a tired Britain's loss of its empire, translated into America's rise to global preeminence in the post-war period. In some sense, victorious England found itself in the same position as defeated Japan, as both countries were left without a coherent foreign policy and both were forced to accept a secondary role in the world.

The British pinned their hopes for a revival of the British spirit (and greater British influence in the world) on Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. In their private conversations, the British speculated about the hidden agenda behind the role Mr Blair assumed as an unquestioning ally of the US: To civilise the Americans, to create an alliance of equals without parallel in the world. That was why he committed British troops to America's foreign escapades. But Mr George W Bush got in the way, and Britain failed to regain its great power status.

Mr Cameron comes from another party, and so there were expectations that he would offer a fresh perspective on Britain's role in the world and the meaning of the special relationship. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has made that all but impossible now.

But is the oil spill completely to blame? Ask the Republicans and other neo-cons who oppose Mr Obama, and they'll tell you that Mr Obama simply has no idea what to discuss with the British Prime Minister or any other Europeans. They refuse to send more troops to Afghanistan (Mr Cameron promised that the last British soldier would leave by 2014). Europe does not see eye-to-eye with America on the financial sector and the economic crisis. They ask Mr Obama, who needs Europe? What difference does Europe make to the world? What say does it have? Simply put, Mr Obama has no Europe policy and Atlantic solidarity is on its way out.

And to cap it all off, there is the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a real pity. So, what can one expect?

-- The writer is a Moscow-based senior political affairs analyst.







The story of Gilgit-Baltistan is that of a free nation which passed under Pakistani occupation soon after its people failed to maintain their control over its land and resources. In the fall of 1947, just a few weeks after its soldiers revolted against the Dogras and ousted forces loyal to the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, the region was declared a free republic.

Fearing reprisal from the Dogra forces, the local military command asked Pakistan to provide diplomatic support. Pakistan did not waste much time advancing its political agenda in the region. Within a few weeks, it entered its forces and established direct control over Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the strategic location of the region, nestled between the four nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and India, besides its unique natural resources that make it valuable.

Gilgit-Baltistan has a history of thousands of years of exploitation of its ravines as battlefields by colonial and imperial forces. After 63 years of Pakistani presence, the position is no different. The province has become a military garrison and staging post for militants and Pakistani secret service agents. Today, there is one Pakistani soldier for every 25 local habitants.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have since faced humiliation, suffering and political and emotional exploitation at the hands of their Pakistani rulers who treat them as captives and their land as a colony. Their story of freedom and self-determination has been transformed by Pakistani rulers into one of subsistence and marginalisation.

Gilgit-Baltistan is known for its matchless geographical wonders. It has the highest number of tallest mountains in the world including Chogori, otherwise known as Mount Godwin-Austen or K2 — the second tallest peak in the world. The stunning mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Ladakh and Hindukush converge here. The mighty Indus flows for the length of over 700 kilometres, bisecting the region. The land is abundant in deep blue lakes, white sand dunes, the longest glaciers in the world and the deepest mountain ravines. Yet its natives fail to benefit from its resources since the region's revenue fills the coffers in Islamabad.

For Pakistanis, Gilgit-Baltistan is like a summer camping ground. They can be compared with the Mongols of the ninth century who conquered China but failed to see its variety of resources and the worth of its people. For them, China was only good for grazing pastures for their horses. Pakistani rulers share the same approach towards Gilgit-Baltistan.

Even in the 21st century, which is considered the era of globalisation and enlightenment, the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to live in the Stone Age. The occupiers have deliberately neglected to develop the land according to the needs of its natives. Even today, a majority of them live below the poverty line and there are neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the urban ghettoes where residents lack access to electricity, schools, basic healthcare and clean drinking water. Given their immanent ethnic, linguistic and religious differences, Pakistani forces continue to torture and humiliate the natives while plundering their assets. When it comes to administration, the Pakistan Government has followed the policy of oppression they inherited from the British and the Dogras.


When assessed as a cultural, political, economic and environmental disaster, the situation has reached a point of no return. The recently promulgated self-governance and empowerment package has only sealed the fate of the natives and can be termed as an institutionalisation of slavery. The package has further facilitated Pakistani access to local resources and plunder will now continue without resistance. This fall, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan will be marking the 63rd year of the occupation of their land. Although time is running out, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan must rethink their options and implement strategies to save their unique environment, cultural identity and economic resources.

 The writer is member, Board of Directors, Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress, Washington DC.








THERE is nothing startlingly new in the report on the economy released by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council ( EAC). The EAC has taken a slightly more optimistic view on growth than the finance ministry, which has traditionally tended to conservatively estimate growth. At 8.5 per cent for the current year and 9 per cent for the next fiscal, the EAC's numbers are better than the numbers projected in the budget, but are somewhat less than more optimistic forecast by others, including the International Monetary Fund.


Lest that be taken as a sign that all is well with the economy, the EAC has flagged some issues of major concern. Inflation, not surprisingly, heads the list. In the strongest signal yet to the Reserve Bank from the government, the EAC has said the monetary regulator needs to get cracking on containing inflation by raising interest rates and tightening money supply.


The other issues noted with concern by the EAC are the government's growing fiscal deficit, which it said is getting beyond " acceptable limits", the laggard performance of agriculture, and the persistent failure to bridge infrastructure gaps.


These are issues which have been plaguing the Indian economy for decades. The meeting of the National Development Council ( NDC), which followed on the heels of the release of the EAC report, noted the same issues. What was absent was any concrete move forward on tackling these roadblocks to sustained growth.


Technically, the NDC is the highest policymaking body in the country, comprising both the Centre and the states. But far from generating any innovative ideas to tackle these problems, the NDC's deliberations were marked by the familiar blame game played out by the Centre and the states, with each accusing the other of making the price situation worse.


It is not as if there is a shortage of good advice. There is plenty of it in the EAC report itself, especially on controlling inflation in food articles. The EAC has urged the Centre to use the country's buffer stocks of grain in a strategic and targeted manner to control the surge in prices, while asking the states to develop alternative distribution mechanisms in addition to the overburdened and faulty public distribution system, in order to ensure that this stock, released at below market prices, actually reaches consumers. But there was no reaction to this to be seen at the NDC meet. There is not much point in the government having highly qualified and capable advisers, if it is not prepared to listen to them.



IN a society where everything is seemingly up for sale, the judiciary and the media were two pillars of our democracy that were relatively untouched by the spectre of corruption. On both counts, as is evident from reports emanating from various courts, as well as media houses, law officers and journalists have fallen well short of the high standard of propriety expected of them.


In the recent past, publication of what is now being termed " paid news" has become so rampant that the Press Council of India was pressured into instituting an inquiry into the phenomenon.


Unfortunately, even though the report is ready, its publication has been deferred at the behest of media heavyweights who feel that doing so may " hurt their credibility", according to Indian media watchdog The Hoot . This is most unfortunate. Paid news is an evil that needs to be rooted out of the media sphere — it is reprehensible and goes against the very fabric of fair and objective journalism that all media houses are expected to practise.


No media outlet can be free of bias or opinion — indeed, the very strength of a free and fair press in any democracy is the heterogeneity of ideas and opinions. But to instill that bias or opinion in a reader's mind by accepting money from interested parties is immoral and irresponsible, even criminal, on part of those in the news business.


On a positive note, though, media houses have begun to introspect on " paid news" and its ramifications on media credibility as well as the very future of any media house. This introspection is a no- brainer, really. It has to be eliminated, and it has to be eliminated quickly; merely pushing the issue under the carpet won't do.


Publishers would do well to recall the old dictum that journalists were taught to live by — credibility's all you got. It may be old school, but it works.








IF THE Belgaum agitation is taken seriously, India's federated states will never acquire territorial integrity. The essence of Maharashtra's claim is that all the border villages in neighbouring Karnataka, where even a bare majority speak Marathi, should be handed over to become a part of Maharashtra. Over 60 years, these demands have been accompanied by violence, threats and the emergence of pan- Marathi fundamentalist nationalism.


Belgaum is in the news again because Maharashtra politicians resent an affidavit by the Union of India in 2010 refusing to accept Maharashtra's claims to Karnataka's border villages. In 2004, Maharashtra filed a case against Karnataka in the Supreme Court, effectively claiming 865 villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Bidar and Gulbarga in Karnataka on the basis of alleged linguistic majorities in these villages. In Karwar, the claim for 301 villages is based on the assertion that Konkani is a dialect of Marathi. Maharashtra's claim rests on four principles: ( i) the villages as a unit ( ii) geographical contiguity ( iii) linguistic majority and ( iv) wishes of the people.



Shorn of pretences, if Maharashtra's claim to annex border villages in neighbouring states where there is a Marathispeaking majority was to be applied as a principle, inter- state border claims would never stop and be resurrected each time border villages show linguistic change.


Movements of people across borders would be encouraged and villages colonised to create linguistic majorities to facilitate their annexation. Taken to its illogical conclusion, Indian federalism is invited to permit its states the indulgence of cross- border conquest by linguistic head- count supported by noisy, even violent, politics.


It is really not necessary to go into historical controversies over recognising linguistic federalism in India. Before independence, the cause of linguistic federalism was espoused by the Congress's sessions in 1920 and 1927, the Nehru Committee Report ( 1926) and the creation of Sindh and Orissa on a linguistic basis in 1936. After independence, the Dar Commission and the JVP Committee of 1948 suggested status quo and caution unless " public sentiment was insistent". This was not intended to be, but became, an invitation to agitation. In 1954- 55, the States Reorganisation Committee ( SRC) recommended a basis for linguistic federalism, including separate states also for Vidarbha and Telengana — demands for which continue today. But the SRC did not elevate " linguistic ( and cultural) homogeneity as an exclusive and binding principle overriding all other considerations, administrative, financial or political". Even if the ' wishes of the people' were ascertainable, they were subject to the " larger national interest". Linguistic federalism was not an absolute or exclusive basis for federalism.


Indian federalism permits new states to be created out of old ones with the scantiest of consultation with state legislatures ( Article 3). The absence of territorial integrity was never visualised as permanent.


The territorial integrity of these new states was intended to be respected.


These provisions were to creatively enable a multi- cultural nation to emerge from an alien empire and 550 odd princely states. The basis of these revisional endeavours have been founded on language, culture, administrative convenience and people's demands.


The defining moment was 1956 when the SRC effectively responded to Potti Sreeramulu's fast to death in 1954, overruled Nehru's cautionary reserve and enabled Parliament to create Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka ( then Mysore) on a linguistic basis. Later exercises were based both on language and culture to enable the creation of Gujarat and Maharashtra ( 1960), Punjab, Haryana ( 1966) Himachal Pradesh and the North Indian States ( 1971), Sikkim by accession ( 1975), Goa ( 1987) and the tribal states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh ( 2000). Tribal areas have been designated within states to enable autonomy for these areas ( Constitution's 5th- 6th Schedules). Union territories have been created for Delhi, Chandigarh, Pondicherry and various islands. Questions loom large as to whether UP should be broken into several states, states of Vidarbha and Telengana be created and a mountain state be created out of Bengal.



Nobody visualised continuing border disputes. Maharashtra's border claims are a way in which an uncompromising and fearful Marathi politics reinforces itself. Over 1955- 56, Maharashtra's agitation led to 105 deaths by police firing.


Around that time, C. D. Deshmukh resigned as finance minister in support of Maharashtra's claim. Many methods to resolve these disputes were tried: the use of the western zonal councils ( which failed), committees from the warring states ( which failed) and examination of commissions headed by serving or retired judges ( which succeeded).


The Justice Wanchoo ( 1952) and Justice Mishra Commissions ( 1953) split Bellary to give three districts to Andhra Pradesh and the rest to Karnataka. The case was decided on its facts and hardly authorises compulsory splitting of districts by villages, a view rejected by the Union in 1966. This is equally true of Justice Shah's efforts on Punjab and Haryana. The fact remains that the Belgaum dispute was referred to the formidable ex- Justice M. C. Mahajan, who received 2,240 memoranda and spoke to 7,572 people, visiting 17 places, rejected the village unit formula, relying on panchayat boundaries.


Interestingly, what the Commission presented was that between 1951 and 1961, the Marathi majority in Belgaum slipped into a minority, or bare majority in various areas, and increased in others — with Maharashtra adding and subtracting their claims based on the 1961 census.


Demographic movements are inevitable.


A right to movement and to settle in any part of India inheres in all persons and communities. The Marathi speaking majority in 1951 in some areas had been reduced in 1961 ( 46 per cent). Unhappy with Mahajan's report, Maharashtra resorted to agitational protest.




In determining these questions, do we go to the census of 1951, 1961, 1971, 2001 or 2011? Nothing could be more absurd than redrawing state boundaries after each census! The present agitation arises because of a Counter- Affidavit of 2010 by the Union of India reiterating its stand that " language ( is) not the sole criteria" for determining boundaries and " the transfer of certain areas to Karnataka was neither arbitrary nor wrong". Marathi politics tries to reinforce a false pernicious identity through uncompromising agitation. In 1996, 10 ladies from Belgaum started a hunger strike on the issue. Chief ministers of Maharashtra have kept the issue alive between 1997 and 2002. The Supreme Court case was filed in 2002. The Supreme Court cannot and should not determine these matters and strike down the 1956 and 1960 Reorganisation Acts to unsettle settled demarcations, open a Pandora's box and create new border tensions.


The claim on Belgaum and other areas is part of a pan- Marathi nationalism. The obverse of this agitation is the campaign to threaten non- Marathis in Mumbai so that even film stars have been coerced into submission.


The Shiv Sena and the MNS claim to be trustees of the Marathi cause to the hilt.


Chief minister Ashok Chavan was anxious not to miss the bus and made the absurd suggestion of making the disputed areas a Union Territory. The agitation will continue in the monsoon session of Parliament. If Chavan's suggestion is talked through, is there a case for Mumbai becoming a Union Territory to make it available for all? India has a rich multi- lingual and multicultural federalism. Freedom of movement has enabled workers and business to travel to all corners of India. New states may and will be created to make Indian federalism more manageable. These border disputes which are fuelled by politically inspired jingoism must stop — now!


( The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer)









THE JOB profile of the Union home minister has never included the word " diplomacy". Palaniappan Chidambaram knows it better than any of his predecessors, including that old hawk Lal Kishen Advani. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to send Chidambaram to Pakistan to do some plain speaking to his counterpart, Rehman Malik, the idea was to convey the message that henceforth, at least as far as Indo- Pak ties were concerned, domestic politics would dictate diplomacy.


After the fiasco of foreign minister S. M. Krishna's Islamabad visit last week, in hindsight, it appears that whoever advised Manmohan Singh to draft Chidambaram in the new diplomatic offensive must be an expert in innovative disruptions. After all, never before has a visit by the home minister preceded that of the foreign minister as part of confidence building measures.


North and South Blocks stand barely 100 metres apart on the Capital's Raisina Hill, but it appears that the disconnect between the two imperial era buildings that house the foreign and home offices is too wide.


Dealing with a hostile and ever unpredictable neighbour like Pakistan would tax the most suave of diplomats.


Seasoned foreign office mandarins have told me that to be part of a dialogue team with Pakistan is akin to inviting distress.


This was quite evident last week when officers on either side of Rajpath were engaged in blame game for the disastrous visit of foreign minister Krishna to Pakistan. Bureaucratic turf fights are nothing new but at issue now is the conflict between diplomacy and domestic politics which is now fodder for the media.


Chidambaram's trip to Islamabad was disruptive innovation at its best, aimed at bypassing the conventional dialogue mechanism which was stuck in the past.


The home minister landed in the Pakistan capital with a mandate from the government to address the concerns of the home constituency.


What he told them was bitter, yet true, of the clear involvement of their defence officials in the many terror attacks on India, particularly 26/ 11.


These weren't just dossiers compiled by the investigating agencies but revelations made by David Headley to Indian investigators in the presence of FBI officers in Washington. Chidambaram's plainspeak had put the Pakistan establishment on the defensive and interior minister Malik was condescending enough to tweet that " Chidambaram was a very intelligent politician". It was widely believed that Chidambaram's triumphant return to New Delhi would be followed by a final assault on the Pakistan establishment.


So were home secretary G. K. Pillai's comments on the day G. K. Pillai when Krishna was to leave for Pakistan part of the disruptive agenda? Shortly before Krishna arrived in Islamabad, the Indian media quoted Pillai saying that from the confessions of Headley, it was clear that Pakistan's ISI was behind the 26/ 11 attack. His remarks are now said to be the reason for the talks getting stalled even before they could begin.


Back in India, a red- faced Krishna says that everything Pillai said was right, but its timing was the reason the talks failed.


Pillai, an upright civil servant whom any bureaucracy would be eager to embrace, is now said to be so downbeat that he contemplates putting in his papers.


Why didn't the mandarins in the foreign office pick up the signal — that his exercise was meant to bring Pakistan back to the unfinished agenda of the home minister's visit? But our diplomats refused to pick up the signals.


They converted Krishna's visit into just another aimless bilateral engagement.


It gave Pakistan a chance to pay back by disrupting the conventional dialogue. Pakistan foreign minister S. M. Qureshi even questioned Krishna's authority to take decisions. Krishna's humiliation was complete.


It is the first time that there have been two high profile ministerial visits to Pakistan. It is also the first time it has led to domestic political crises of such magnitude and divided the cabinet and the bureaucracy right down the middle.


The decision to send Chidambaram to Islamabad cannot be faulted and is among the boldest and most innovative steps that this government has taken.


But it failed because one side kept up the pressure while the other preferred the status quo.


At the SAARC heads' meeting in Bhutan a couple of months ago, the prime minister, in hindsight it appears, rather unwisely said that we will continue to talk no matter what happens.


The foreign office seems to have adopted that credo and chooses to walk the talk all the time, unmindful of the vast quantities of yolk that accumulates on its face.


About time govt started headhunting


THE GOVERNMENT is forever so busy firefighting that most would think it has little time for anything else.


Wrong. Even as a civil war rages in the establishment, the government is doing some serious headhunting.


There are vacancies in the Central Vigilance Commission, the anti- corruption watchdog, but the government seems in no hurry to fill these — something that runs against PM Manmohan Singh's policy of transparency in government.


The three- member CVC has been reduced to single member since last November, when commissioners Ranjana Kumar and Sudhir Kumar retired.


Chief commissioner Pratyush Sinha is due to retire in September. Vigilance commissioners are appointed by a panel consisting of the prime minister, the Opposition leader and the home minister.


In the Vineet Narain case of 1993, the Supreme Court had directed that the responsibility for efficient and nonpartisan functioning of the CBI be transferred from the government to the CVC, which reviews all cases under the CBI that involve public servants.


Herein lies the catch. In the absence of a full- fledged CVC, its work is suffering — files involving corruption and action against many senior officers are kept on hold.


The standoff has resulted in some multi- crore defence deals, which are normally vetted by the CVC, being put in cold storage. Strangely, while the Election and Information Commissioners have fixed tenures of five years, the VCs is just four.


The government now plans to amend the CVC Act to increase the commissioner's tenure to five or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier.


Sinha will turn 65 only next July. The Opposition has a chance to drive a hard bargain and it is to be seen if the government will yield.


If it does, Sinha will stay on for another year.



IN HIS nine months as BJP President, Nitin Gadkari promised so much and delivered so little. His sudden eagerness to prove his credentials, therefore, can't be faulted. The party chief took office promising to take the BJP back to its roots, but chose to sit back in the hope that everything will fall into place, eventually.

Though officebearers were appointed more than six months ago, none was assigned duties. When he finally got down to it last week, the exercise turned out to be a damp squib. The allocation of duties is emblematic of the confusion that reigns in the party.


The usual suspects responsible for dragging the party from its commanding heights of a decade ago find themselves on the rewards list.


Heading the list is Bangaru Laxman, who is in charge of the election cell in pollbound Tamil Nadu. He is the former party chief best remembered for his role in a sting video, taking money from an undercover journalist.


He was forced to resign in disgrace.

Election Commissioner S. Y. Quraishi said recently, on record, that Tamil Nadu was one state where money power played a big role in elections.


Old habits die hard, more so in politics. It is to be hoped that in his eagerness to raise election funds for the party, Bangaru will every now and then look over his shoulder to make sure the cameras aren't running.


Ananth Kumar is in charge of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, both states where the party is in power, with the latter also being poll- bound. With Nitish Kumar upping the ante, I expected Gadkari to send someone with the common touch to deal with the delicate JD( U)- BJP relations.


Gadkari is nothing but naïve if he thinks that Ananth is the man to repair the bruised relations.


Venkaiah Naidu gets charge of Maharashtra and Delhi though try as I can, I am unable to figure out what exactly is expected of him. One appointment, however, cannot be faulted. There's none more suited than Hema Malini to head the culture cell.








The resignation of Gujarat minister of state for home Amit Shah was due, given serious charges against him being investigated by the CBI. But it may not ease matters for the Narendra Modi government or the BJP. Shah's refusal to accept the summons issued by the CBI for so long is a clear case of subverting the due process of law. That the CBI has been forced to dispatch teams to locate and arrest a senior politician, who was responsible for maintaining law and order in the state, shows the government in a poor light. What message was the minister, duty-bound to protect the Constitution, sending out to the public by refusing to cooperate with a process that was set in motion by the Supreme Court?

The BJP has painted itself into a corner by making the case against Shah a political issue. Shah has been chargesheeted, along with 14 others including senior police officials, of conspiracy and murder in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. There's considerable evidence that Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi, and another eyewitness Tulsidas Prajapati may have been murdered in connection with an extortion racket that involved politicians, police officials and businessmen. Shah may well be innocent of the grave charges against him, and is entitled to the due process of law. But that process is imperilled when Shah refuses to appear before the CBI and the BJP chooses to run a strident political campaign around the issue.

The party's explanation that its protest is directed at the government's "motivated use of the CBI", without bothering to offer any detailed refutation of the charges against Shah, is unlikely to find many takers. The allegation that parties that gain office at the Centre tend to use the CBI as a political tool isn't entirely untrue. But to raise this in the context of the Shah case is to miss the plot. The BJP is unlikely to find the support of other opposition parties if, in order to highlight the politics of CBI investigations, it says Shah shouldn't be investigated at all.

The BJP had managed to build considerable opposition momentum on the price rise issue. Even the Left parties had come on board a joint opposition platform to protest inflation. The BJP needs to focus on substantive issues if it wants to close ranks with other political parties and put the government on the mat. A strident stand on the Shah issue, on the other hand, would dissipate the opposition's momentum and make it easy for the government to split its ranks.






As a pioneer in online book retailing,'s reporting more e-book sales than hardcover book sales over the past quarter is significant. Currently, the e-book market is still tiny compared to the print publishing market; less than 1 per cent of it in the US. But the rate at which e-book sales are accelerating Amazon sold thrice as many e-books in the first half of this year as it did in the same period last year is an indicator of the changes that are likely to occur in the industry over the next decade. In India, although the e-book market is languishing because of high price points and the lack of wi-fi penetration, a rapidly proliferating number of e-book readers in the market including planned Indian and Chinese products - are bound to result in price drops. When it comes to e-book retail, similar competition, including Google's entry into the market, is likely to benefit the consumer.

Factor in the 3G auction and what it signifies for connectivity in India, as well as the cross-platform availability of e-books across readers, some cellphones and computers, and the landscape is bound to change in a decade or two. One of the biggest consequences of this, if properly implemented, could be its role in spreading literacy and access to the printed word. Although internet penetration in India is still abysmal, it can only improve in future. Given the proven success of the community information centre model for providing internet access in such areas and the low capital costs of setting up these centres compared to the larger costs and logistical difficulties of providing access to a comparable range of printed works, the potential is immense.






Spain voted against banning the burqa just five days ago in poignant illustration of the appalled fascination, dilemma and doubt traditionally suffered by Europeans faced with the Muslim. Back in the early 1900s, Lawrence of Arabia would depict Muslim Arabs as stereotypical "Semites...they had a universal clearness or hardness of belief, almost mathematical in its limitation...(they had) no half-tones in their register of vision...a dogmatic people, despising doubt, our modern crown of thorns". That was Lawrence's famously wise and autobiographical Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Nearly 100 years later, it sounds incredibly inflexible, breathtakingly self-satisfied and damningly judgemental. But by that reckoning, a Lawrence alive today should be heartened that Belgium and France first and second respectively in Europe to ban the burqa embraced the "crown of thorns".

In doing so, they are the only ones of the 27-member European Union decisively to repel a people Lawrence insisted "could not look for God within...they were too sure that they were within God". Spain still dithers about the need to ban the burqa, relegating the debate to its post-summer break parliamentary session. Italy is resolute a ban is the way forward but needs time to prepare legislation. Britain and Germany have publicly stated their unwillingness to outlaw the veil.

What value, if any, of a ban on the burqa in a European country? Huge numbers are not disenfranchised. The French interior ministry estimates that at least 400 women, and at most 2,000, of a total population of five or six million Muslims wear the burqa or the niqab. This means the ban will affect a maximum of just 0.003 per cent of the French population. In Belgium, just about 30 women wear burqas, of a Muslim population of around half-a-million, which means the country's three-month-old ban has negligible effect except for a "gotcha" feeling of European one-upmanship on the "Semite". Of Spain's 47 million inhabitants, about one million are Muslims from north-west Africa where the burqa is almost as much a curiosity as in Europe. Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Commission of Spain, recalls last seeing a burqa-wearing woman in Spain 10 years ago in the southern city of Marbella, where the Saudi royal family has estates.

Nevertheless, Europe's two-country burqa ban and Spain's and Italy's plans to follow through are important. In any home, in any cultural setting, it is the host's sense of well-being that underwrites that of the guest. Nation-states are not dissimilar. They can generally be relied on to behave alarmingly like individuals, displaying the same mix of impetuous hospitality and indignant alarm on taking in a guest and finding them wanting in the dharma of mannerliness.

This partly explains the results of last month's survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre's Global Attitudes Project. More than 80 per cent of French citizens supported the burqa ban, as did 71 per cent of Germans, 62 per cent Britons and 59 per cent Spaniards. Policy-making by opinion poll is a dangerous business and it was famously said that such surveys merely measure the public's satisfaction with its own ignorance. Even so, the burqa has become so potent a symbol of a dreaded emerging anti-western "Eurabia" that banning it is a relatively anodyne yet powerful step. It is an essential measure for a Europe that must reject the notion that it is senescent and ripe for cultural takeover.

Outlawing the burqa then is all about sending a message, not safeguarding women's rights or strengthening administrative efficiency. A ban in countries where the burqa is barely the norm is easy feel-good politics but essential legislative symbolism. It is in Syria, which banned the burqa last Monday despite its 87 per cent Muslim population, that the new policy denotes substantive change. This is of a piece with Tunisia forbidding civil servants to wear the niqab, Turkey's headscarf ban in universities and public offices and Egypt's highest ranking Muslim cleric prohibiting face veils at Al-Azhar University last year.

But the burqa in absentia is likely to come in handy for Europe. It will strengthen the idea of "Euroislam", a belief system that started in the sands of Arabia but is watered by Europe's democratic and liberal values and is already being fed by French initiatives such as the European Institute for Human Sciences. For 20 years, this oddly named theological college in Burgundy has trained indigenous imams in the heart of what the French call La France profonde or deepest France. In a flatteringly imitative move across the English Channel last year, prominent white British converts to Islam established the Cambridge Muslim College to develop "cultural mediators" of the Euroislam kind.


In a strange sort of way, Europe's hard line on the innocuous burqa points the way forward for countries like India that struggle to modernise and move to a Uniform Civil Code while taking along disparate minority groups.

What of the backlash? In 1920, Lawrence, the British Army officer who became famous in his lifetime and arguably more so when fictionalised onscreen for his role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, observed that "rebellions can be made by 2 per cent actively in the striking force and 98 per cent passively sympathetic". Three years later, the Empire formally ended leaving the Ottoman better known now as a piece of furniture. QED.




Q &A



IIT Kharagpur alumnus and London School of Economics fellow, Amitava Bhattacharya, 43, gave up his job as software engineer, returned home from the US to try something different. He started in 2000, an NGO that, since 2004, has helped Bengal's folk artistes make a living from their art. He spoke to Shreya Roy Chowdhury :


Banglanatak dot com launched a project 'Ethno-magic Going Global' in 2004. It covers 3,200 artistes specialising in six art forms from West Bengal. These include chau, jhumur (folk music-dance from Bankura and Purulia), patachitra (folk style of painting practised in Medinipur), gambhira, domni (folk theatres popular in Malda) and baul-fakiri (from Nadia). We formed self-help groups linked with banks, trained them through a series of workshops. The musicians, for instance, trained with violinist Sabina Rakcheyeva and Oud-player Attab Haddad from London and pianist Kathleen Tagg from New York. We then showcased their works in festivals.

What's being done to document folk culture?

Documenting oral traditions is a major part. We've compiled 740 baul-fakiri songs in a book and now are working on audio documentation in CDs. We have jhumur, another oral tradition, pater gaan, which are part of the patachitra songs, and Bangla qawwali a tradition we lost about 120 years ago. Did you know fakirs sang Bangla qawwali? Also, baul-fakiri, dhol, madol, clarinet and dhamsa, folk traditions from Purulia, Bankur and Nadia have been combined in an orchestra. Banglanatak's Folk Orchestra is an attempt to get inter-forms. Typically, baul and jhumur groups have six-seven members and chau ones have 24. We are putting artistes from different folk forms together and have trained people to arrange.

Installation artistes from England have interacted with patachitra artistes. These new media artistes have a new way of thinking how to use space. And patachitra artistes decorate pandals, which too is usage of space.

How do they generate revenue?

There's scope for cultural tourism. These can be community-owned enterprises. If tourist money is generated, it'll go directly to the villagers. Point is artistes should be hired directly. During Durga Puja, last year, 710 artistes performed for four days and earned Rs 21.2 lakh. Money is generated from local festivals of which there are many. And performance artistes can perform at the national and international levels too.

What has been the response so far?

Excellent. There were about 20 patachitra artistes in 2004. Now there are over 350. People who'd left patachitra to pull rickshaws are now coming back. Resource centres are under construction now the idea is to get the younger generation trained in the art. In the early days, 2006-07, we got the elderly crowd at the shows. Typically, folk is regarded as old, traditional, but it can also be interesting. Getting the youth interested is very important because that is creating new audiences. Now, 2009 onwards, the average age of the audience is between 30 and 35. So the young are coming in droves now.


At our show at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi, all 425 seats were occupied and people were standing. The G D Birla Sabha Ghar in Kolkata was packed. But the highest so far was at our festival held in Golf Green, Kolkata 3,500 people. And at the Sufi fest in Murshidabad, there were over 20,000 people.






Organisers of public functions, especially in Tamil Nadu, are fixated with the presentation of colourful shawls to dais-seated VIPs. So, it becomes imperative to study the blunders that may be committed during such ceremonies. And that's not because their consequences often keep the audience in unrestrained titters.

Regretfully, of all the paraphernalia for such stage-managed functions, the last to arrive are the shawls. Moments after the illustrious personage bends as if to be knighted and receives the shawl across his shoulders, his sharp eye might detect a price tag somebody forgot to remove. Coming close on the heels of a citation about his "invaluable" services to politics, humanity, literature, art and the like all of which apparently cannot be measured by any yardstick visible proof of the measly amount spent to reward him will make his heart bleed.

Then, unlike in matters of matrimony, no planning goes into matching the physical characteristics of the person receiving the shawl with those of the person presenting it. Which is a pity. If the dignitary to be honoured happens to tower like a near-seven-foot basketball shooter playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, it becomes a tad awkward if the person honouring him has the diminutive frame of a jockey riding a Kentucky Derby Also Ran. The latter will have to perform a frog-like vertical leap, an Olympian feat. The situation can be further aggravated if the shawl-recipient chooses not to stoop, to send a contemptuous message that the petty individual before him cannot scale the heights of fame that he has.

Mr Impatient is yet another ill-suited person chosen for shawl presentation. Anyone who's rushed out of his mother's womb prematurely shouldn't be given this job. For, he's sure to unfurl the apparel with indecent haste and fling it around the recipient's shoulder in the manner that a Kerala fisherman casts his net in the Kozhikode backwaters. Speed cannot be the essence of this ceremonious contact. Else, the shawl going off target might engulf the celebrity's head as well. That would make him look like a recently covered VIP bust or statue at a traffic junction, its date of unveiling depending on the vacation of a stay order obtained by a rival camp.

Again, draping a shawl around a media-crazy recipient is more taxing than threading a moving needle. Visualise this scene. While an unfolded shawl approaches him, this dignitary weaves to his left and to his right like a child unwilling to offer the prized locks on his head to the hairdresser's scissors. Not content with head-swivels, he also prances on the floor, demonstrating skilful steps you don't find in popular shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' or 'Nach Baliye'. This strenuous exercise, so vital to him, is in fact to give full, uninterrupted view to the battery of scribes and cameramen present on the scene to record the action before and after the shawl-giving ceremony.

But few dilemmas can make gentlemen throw in the towel more regretfully than throwing a shawl over a statuesque lady's shoulders. This business can be ill-fated if a suspicious, shrewish wife happens to be seated in the front row. Keeping a deferential distance from the lady, who'll doubtless droop like a flower while being draped with the shawl, can pose a huge challenge. Imagine the hazards if the recipient not only wears her hair in a cylindrical upsweep but is also (heavens forbid!) as beauteous as her bouffant! Shawl presentation, then, can be a worse ordeal than hotfooting over a knife's edge. Many a man valiantly embarking on such a rash venture will develop cold feet en route and end up simply presenting the shawl folded, like a harmless bouquet. For, faced with the Wife's Commandment: "Thou shalt not look at any other lady", who dare say: i shawl?









In Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee the central government has its ablest midwife to deliver a new taxation regime for the country. Mr Mukherjee's ability to concede ground in order to achieve the larger goal was amply on display this week over the rollout of a uniform goods and services tax (GST), arguably India's most ambitious reform that has been 30 years in the making. A dual structure of the tax as well as an initial divergence in the treatment of merchandise and services are a small price to pay if the system gets off the ground next April. The tax rates proposed by Mr Mukherjee ought to achieve the holy grail of a unified 16 per cent levy on all forms economic activity three years hence. Again by keeping alcohol and energy out of the new tax structure, the finance minister has addressed the states' misgivings about their declining power over duties and the resultant loss of revenue. Finally, Mr Mukherjee has agreed to underwrite any losses the states might incur because of the shift.


The 13th Finance Commission has estimated that the switch to GST will knock 1.22-2.53 per cent off retail prices and bump up economic growth by 1.5 percentage points a year, leading to better tax collection at all levels. The GST's charms are, however, not limited to the immediate revenue gains for the government. Subsuming the plethora of


duties levied by the Centre and states into a single tax should radically alter India's economic landscape. The tax eliminates the cascading incidence of central, state and local levies. And the system is self-policing by taxing only the added value.


That a single tax on output and services is better is established by the feeble protest from states, which stand to lose a chunk of their discretionary powers. The value-added tax ran into more opposition, delaying its imposition by over a decade. Its eventual success will help pave India's transition to a uni-tax in April 2010. The delay in adopting the GST has more to do with legislative and administrative logistics than with ideological differences. When it comes into force, the GST will mark a turning point in our journey to a rules-based tax system. Discretionary taxation by states like those on entry or purchase of goods and easy-to-collect revenue like entertainment and luxury taxes must yield to a more formulaic approach. The assumption behind lower rates and fewer exemptions is more people pay taxes if they are reasonable, and stable. The GST is a game changer, and it is overdue.







Have you ever felt like wearing your feelings on your sleeve, or on more intimate parts of your body? You are clearly not alone for a host of celebrities are letting it all hang out by way of tattoos on their highly valuable selves. The beauteous Angelina Jolie has covered herself in etchings as also the droolicious David Beckham. In the case of more run-of-the-mill souls like us, the tattoo is often to do with proclaiming our fondness for the spouse or children.


But this opens up new vistas for writers who want the world to understand their message. Why bother to sit around at the computer for hours on end crafting the matchless prose? Just nip around to the nearest tattoo parlour and morse code your feelings to the world. If celebrities can tell us through the medium of their skin that amor vincit omnia or love conquers all, perhaps we have a thing or two to tell the world. For example, we could present others with our right arm bearing the legend quo vadis (whither thou goest?). This may elicit a call from the onlooker to your shrink. This may be a little ab absurdo, but it is ours to ad arbitrium or at our will. But we want to know why people chose dead languages to etch on what will become dead skin? Could they not do so in normal everyday parlance? And while we are at it, why do people prefer eagles and thunderbirds on their biceps to a red robin?


The answer is simple: you want to be seen to be interesting hence the beholder will have to rush to a dictionary of Latin or Sanskrit to understand your body language. If you were to say things upfront on a visible part of your anatomy like 'the truth shall set you free' don't blame anyone for moving several guilty paces away from you. But if you were to put it as veritas liberabit vos, perhaps, you'd get a few eyeballs. But then, who are we to ink things over, we're just the vox populi.







The UPA government is likely to be on the backfoot during the monsoon session of Parliament not because the Opposition is cohesive and strong enough to put it on the mat but due to its own contradictions and limitations. The government has given enough fodder to its adversaries to trip it up.


Even though the price rise is a significant issue that touches the aam aadmi the most, it will be surprising if any meaningful debate on the subject will be held since the Opposition as well as the treasury benches may spend more time deliberating on other matters. This will be a sad commentary and unsatisfactory responses from both sides on such an important subject will certainly have its implications when the elections are held.


As things stand, Parliament is expected to be more occupied with disclosures of financial scams, corruption, the Bhopal gas leak case, the failed talks in Pakistan, the problem in Kashmir, railway mishaps, illegal mining in Karnataka, the Bihar polls and the impending Commonwealth Games fiasco. In addition, there will be heated exchanges on how various government functionaries have made it routine to pass comments on their colleagues while their own performance in some instances leaves much to be desired. One case in point could also be that of Foreign Minister SM Krishna lashing out at Home Secretary GK Pillai for his 'avoidable and uncalled for' remarks on the eve of the foreign ministers' meet in Islamabad recently.


Pillai appears to be determined to go down in history as the most talkative home secretary given that none of his predecessors has been too eager to please the media with statements and left the talking to the political heads.


The Bhopal gas tragedy debate is likely to focus more on how Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide chief, was allowed to leave the country rather than on what happened to the $470 million deposited in the Reserve Bank of India in two separate accounts in February, 1989, under the operation of the Registrar of the Supreme Court.


Similarly, there may be questions on how A Raja is continuing as a minister despite allegations of irregularities against him. His name may figure during the mention of illegal mining in Karnataka where the Reddy brothers may feature and, in retaliation, the BJP will talk about alleged corruption at the Centre.


There is likely to be a ruckus in the House with the Bihar parties sparring on the floor in the run-up to the October elections in the state. Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan will not allow Nitish Kumar and the BJP to get away unscathed. Similarly, business may be stalled with the Left parties baying for Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee's blood and holding her responsible for the increasing accidents.


The Maoist issue could pit Home Minister P. Chidambaram against some others and it is possible that the support he expects from his colleagues may not be as strong given the criticism of the Centre's Maoist policy by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh whose claim that his views were those of the party has not been contested by anyone so far.


The government's desire to introduce the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and several other important legislative matters may not be fulfilled. The budget session where the government was forced to solicit support of even its adversaries to get the cut motion through is likely to be replicated as far as poor political management by the Congress goes both on the floor of the House and outside. This will take place in the backdrop of speculation that relations between the government and the Congress are not as cordial as they used to be.


The session will also lead to the celebration of Independence day when PM Manmohan Singh, while unfurling the tricolour for the seventh time, will become the longest serving head of government after Nehru and Indira. But the monsoon session will be a huge disappointment. Between us.







How do you become an academic and a scholar? Usually, those who aim to research and teach are privileged with a formal education and spend their lives in academia. This was the path taken, for instance, by historians like Jadunath Sarkar and RG Bhandarkar. Sarkar began life in a village, then studied and taught at Presidency College. Bhandarkar took the regular exams and taught at Elphinstone and Deccan College. Both wrote for English-reading audiences. This made them widely known.


It is virtually impossible to come across a scholar of international stature who had neither access to a regular education nor libraries. Dharmanand Damodar Kosambi (1876-1947), a self-taught man who became a scholar of Pali and Buddhism, is in this sense unique. Obscured by the fame of his historian son D.D. Kosambi (1907-1966), Dharmanand also remains little known outside Maharashtra because he preferred Marathi to English. His local renown will now become widespread because his granddaughter, Meera Kosambi, has recently edited and translated his writings into English (Dharmanand Kosambi, The Essential Writings, Permanent Black, 2010).


What these writings reveal, described so well in her introduction, is a man of phenomenal intellect with a matching capacity for austerity. Kosambi the Elder scripted for himself "a trajectory of intellectual and ideological adventure" that transported him, in his search for knowledge about Buddhism, from an impoverished rural Goa to various places in India, Nepal, Ceylon, Burma, Russia and America.


It has been said that our lives are irrevocably shaped by the cards we are dealt in childhood. The frail and mentally impoverished Dharmanand, a Gaud Sarasvat Brahmin by birth, seemed destined to spend his life tending the family's coconut grove in village Goa. But his passion for reading, which developed around the time he was married off at age 14, spurred him out of domestic disenchantment into a life filled with an almost incredible severity of self-teaching. Reading material wasn't readily available. So, every month he travelled to Madgaon to borrow it from friends and relatives. In a Marathi magazine, Bal-Bodh, he first read about the Buddha. Later, travelling to learn Sanskrit in Poona, he read a Marathi translation of Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia (which also influenced Gandhi and Nehru). For Dharmanand, this book on the Buddha became a religious text: "I have still not forgotten how," he says, "while reading certain portions of it, my throat would constrict and tears would stream down my face."


Roughly half of Kosambi's Essential Writings comprises an unusually moving autobiographical narrative: 'moving' in both senses, because this is an Indian Pilgrim's Progress crafted to inspire disadvantaged people to carve out extraordinary paths; and because his self-abnegation in the cause of replicating the Buddha's suffering for self-enlightenment leaves one close to tears. The almost penniless Dharmanand, after studying Sanskrit in Varanasi, walks virtually barefoot to Nepal in February 1902 because he has been told that knowledge of Buddhism might be acquired in the vicinity of Kathmandu. Reaching the promised land exhausted, he finds only sadhus who tell people's fortunes by throwing dice.


Filled with sorrow, his search resumes, taking him towards Bodhgaya, and then, by begging for money in the prescribed manner of the true bhikshu, to the doorstep of the Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta. Supplication here results in sponsors who send him to Colombo, where he finally acquires direct knowledge of Buddhism. Now Dharmanand becomes a monk, subsisting daily on begged food, which must be consumed before noon. Through all his trials and tribulations he neither loses his sense of humour nor his aversion for unappetising food: in Kashi the dal was, as he nicely puts it, swimming in Ganga water.


The pilgrim then becomes a missionary. Forsaking the monk's cowl, Dharmanand repays his debt to Calcutta, introducing Pali into the curriculum of the National College and teaching at the university. The restlessness of the truly zealous overtakes him again: he gives up a bhadralok's salary to be closer to Marathi-speaking regions where he may spread knowledge of the Buddha. He lectures in Baroda, introduces Pali to Bombay University, and writes copiously in Marathi on Buddhist texts and ahimsa. His itinerant narrative ends at Harvard, where over three spells he helps prepare a critical edition of Buddhaghosa's Visuddhi-magga.


Paradoxically, the journey to capitalist America opened Dharmanand's mind to socialism. At Liverpool, a Dutch accountant introduced him to Marx's thought and bought him books on socialism that he followed up with others in America. In his later writings, Dharmanand consistently sought to trace socialism's compatibility with ancient Indian thought.


Dharmanand's writings on Buddhism made him a celebrated figure across Maharashtra: they comprise the second half of his Essential Writings. The most unusual here is a play, Bodhisattva. In it he enlists the past for present social reform. Yashodhara is shown marrying Bodhisattva knowing full well that celibacy for a protracted period is the condition of their marriage.


A critique of child marriage, and the difficulties faced by couples married before their time, is implicit and links with what Gandhi said of his failed attempt to teach Kasturba, whom he married when she was 13: he was anxious to teach her, but lust left him little time, and later public life left him none. Dharmanand worked with the Mahatma and must have known this. Sensing and espousing the connections between Buddhism, socialism, and Gandhianism, it was in Gandhi's Vardha ashram that he chose to die in 1947 — voluntarily, by giving up food. In his tribute to Dharmanand, Gandhi said: "May God inspire us all to walk in his footsteps."


Pay and promotions provoke rather more passion among academics now than the disinterested quest that so nobly motivated Dharmanand. In a consumerist world where socialism and Gandhian principles are thoroughly dead, it is difficult even to imagine a life of the kind lived by Dharmanand Kosambi, let alone live it.


India has produced outstanding and committed scholars. And then there is Dharmanand, the only scholar-sage that Indology has known.


Nayanjot Lahiri is a member of the Delhi Urban Art Commission


The views expressed by the author are personal







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.











As the monsoon session of Parliament commences today, it is an understatement to say that the UPA government has its basket not full, but overflowing. Part of the reason for the steep mountain of pending legislation is the fact that the government has failed to utilise the previous two sessions to even come close to fulfilling its legislative targets. Indeed, the treasury benches must take their share of the blame for the fact that of the 27 bills that were meant to be passed and the 64 to be introduced in the budget session, an abysmally low six have been passed while a mere 28 have been introduced. That should not give Parliament any reason to feel contented, let alone complacent.


Also part of the reason why India's legislative engine has practically run aground is the conduct of the opposition. Walk-outs and obstructionism do not engender the civilised, rational debate that members are supposed to hold on important issues before the nation, which MPs are elected and paid for. At a deeper level it also misrepresents their role in deepening democracy — and it feeds a dangerous cynicism about politics.


There is enough on the agenda to keep the monsoon session hectic. The land acquisition amendment is captive to coalition politics, but its necessity cannot be overstated. The food security bill is likely to be re-drafted but should invite informed discussion. Then there is the judicial accountability bill. The HRD ministry's foreign universities and other bills are being examined by a standing committee. The standing committee looking into the nuclear liability bill is expected to submit its report on Tuesday. However, nobody would hazard a guess on the fate of the women's reservation bill. The volume of pending legislation is staggering, and past experience is not encouraging. Yet, if the treasury and opposition benches both inject some sobriety into the proceedings, the monsoon session can come good. For that, each day's business from today has to count.







Sohrabuddin, from whose possession a large cache of AK 47 rifles were found, same Sohrabuddin whom police of four states were looking for, Sohrabuddin who attacks police, Sohrabuddin who maintains connections with Pakistan, who raises eyes on Gujarat, then what will my police do?"


So thundered Narendra Modi in his campaign speech, as he twisted the facts of an encounter killing that the CBI now alleges was engineered by his own minister of state for home, Amit Shah. Sohrabuddin is alleged to have been framed with the active aid of the state police, and his religious identity later used for the lowest political ends by Modi (his own government admitted in court that there wasn't a shred of proof linking Sohrabuddin to terrorism). Shah also is alleged to have instructed the police to kill Sohrabuddin's widow, Kauserbi, and burn and dispose of her body. These are serious charges and they demand sober investigation.


Shah's reflex action was to duck and hide — the home minister of Gujarat cowering in the face of scrutiny speaks volumes. However, it didn't take Narendra Modi and BJP long to aggressively repudiate the CBI's findings. The CBI was being strung along by the Congress, it was simple political rivalry and an attempt to "put obstacles in development work" in Gujarat by a government that had failed in Islamabad, in Srinagar, and with the Maoists, claimed Modi. While the CBI admittedly has a less-than-stellar record in terms of political manipulability, it is an entirely different and dangerous thing to shield possible criminality by reducing all pursuit of justice to a question of politics. If they are so confident in Shah's innocence, why would they block the investigations, given that the Supreme Court will vet the CBI's findings? Instead of cutting loose from Amit Shah, the BJP has chosen to brazen it out, and cast the entire investigative and legal process as a sham. If, in the face of all evidence, it uses the Sohrabuddin murder to polarise the political climate, that is a deeply distressing statement on a party that is supposed to responsibly shape national discourse.







After news first emerged that David Headley had made multiple visits to India to recon possible targets for Pakistan-based terrorists, India's security mechanism clicked into overdrive. Sadly, its first, knee-jerk responses left much to be desired. They were too blunt — which meant that they were both ineffective and collaterally damaging, inconveniencing many if not most regular travellers of precisely the sort that an India slowly opening itself to the world needs. If that was Headley's, and Lashkar-e-Toiba's eventual aim, to put up roadblocks in the highways between this country and outside world that have become a crucial source of its growing prosperity, then the home ministry's immediate reactions will have helped them along.


Fortunately, the medium-term reaction looks like going in a more useful direction. The basic big idea is that the home ministry will build up a centralised database of all visitors, one that will be continually updated in real-time with links to foreigners' registration offices, immigration checkposts, and visa-issuing authorities abroad. The theory is sound: a system this comprehensive will allow for more targeted scrutiny of visitors of concern, and should allow for alarm to spread through the network if someone with Headley's profile comes visiting repeatedly. The plan is to eventually update this with biometric information and with data from airline databases. The entire project is expected to take four years. As a first step, three new visa-issuing systems will be set up in Islamabad, Dhaka, and London.


However, the spirit in which this system is implemented will determine whether it is, in the end, as effective as it could be, or as problematically choked with meaningless red tape as what we've got now. There is absolutely no doubt that more, finer, and better organised data will give India's immigration authorities the space to simultaneously ensure that visitors are inconvenienced less while those with suspicious connections are watched more carefully. But only if the ministry and visa-issuing stations abroad want it to be so; the tools will only do what the workmen wish them to. There is nothing in this system that automatically ensures that, in the absence of political and bureaucratic will, the blanket refusals of visas will stop, or even that harassment of hotels and travel agents will not start. Putting the infrastructure in place is nevertheless a start. And it is good to hear that the home ministry recognises that there's work to be done.








The next credit policy announcement will be made on July 27. The Reserve Bank of India is expected to raise interest rates again as inflation did not come down as expected. While food inflation did decline as predicted, the culprit this time is the rise in non-food, non-fuel inflation. This measure of inflation is sometimes referred to as "core" inflation, or the inflation rate that can be impacted by monetary policy and the one that predicts headline inflation. If the decline in food inflation had done the job of bringing inflation down, it might have been sufficient to have blamed inflation on food shortages, the drought and sugar policy, but the rise in non-food, non-fuel inflation is a serious issue. Unless this is brought down, there is a danger of kicking off a spiral of inflation.


Addressing the rise in core inflation is not easy. In a more normal context of overheating or rising output demand, and a good transmission mechanism of monetary policy, it could have been argued that monetary tightening was the obvious answer. But when the latest trends in output growth have started faltering and are showing low month-on-month growth (seasonally adjusted), and when the transmission mechanism of monetary policy is weak, rising interest rates will be very unpopular. Further, a small increase in interest rates will not be enough to control inflationary expectations. The RBI has been very slowly raising rates by 25 basis points at regular intervals after the crisis. It will have to continue doing so until inflationary expectations decline. It will have to be cautious in the path of monetary tightening as it is likely to cause pain to an economy barely recovering from a recession. However, there is little choice today but to tighten.


Some countries have tried to assure their citizens that inflation will be under control by pegging their exchange rates to, say, the dollar, given that the US has low inflation. Many developing countries have used their exchange rate policy to control inflation. But as economies become big exporters and importers and large sums of money flow in and out of the country, it becomes increasingly difficult to peg. This normally results in giving up attempts to manipulate one's currency and then the currency is allowed to float. This means that the currency becomes far more volatile than under the regime when it was pegged. This creates a problem for price stability as prices of goods and services that can be traded move much more, not only with international prices, but also with the exchange rate, both of which are now volatile. These prices also feed into other prices, such as the cost of transport, as raw materials and inputs, and into the cost of living.


The country now has to create another mechanism to control prices. Inflation control is often done by putting a focus of money and credit supply in the economy on how prices move. When this is done in a formal framework, it is known as inflation targeting. It helps anchor monetary policy, or keep expectations of inflation low. Wage negotiations and prices that are often determined by inflationary expectations are influenced by the commitment of the central bank to control inflation. Various mechanisms are put in place to make the commitment credible.


This issue is relevant for India today as the RBI has allowed the rupee to move flexibly for one and a half years now. The question that it now needs to address is that once the rupee is no longer pegged to the dollar what will anchor the rupee? How will people believe that the rupee is not going to lose its value through inflation in the next few years? Why should wage negotiations in 2010 not assume a 10 per cent increase in the cost of living for next year?


Economic theory offers two choices to the RBI. The first choice is to go back to pegging the rupee to the US dollar. This path appears to have been abandoned as it became increasingly difficult for the RBI to keep the volatility of the rupee-dollar rate low. The size of the foreign exchange movements became too large and the amounts needed to manipulate the rupee too large. The distortions it was causing in the economy were too painful.


The second choice for the RBI is to move towards explicitly targeting inflation. To do so it would have to get away from any functions where inflation control may have an explicit conflict with those functions. Debt management of the government and the subsequent responsibility of keeping the interest burden of government debt low may be one such function. Currency manipulation in the interest of boosting exports is another such objective from which the RBI will have to clearly step away. While any policy that the RBI has on monetary objectives will no doubt give a positive weight to output, a weak currency which is unambiguously inflationary cannot be a policy objective. Indeed, in India today the exchange rate is the most important channel for transmission of monetary policy. Monetary tightening raises interest rates, these in turn lead to higher capital inflows which make the rupee stronger. A stronger rupee reduces prices of tradables. Keeping the rupee weak prevents price rise control.


Second, to make its commitment to low inflation appear credible, the RBI will have to explicitly state which inflation rate (for example, the Consumer Price Index or Wholesale Price Index) it is targeting so that it can demonstrate itself as being willing to be accountable for deviations from the targeted rate. At the moment there is considerable confusion on what is the rate the RBI targets. This confusion will have to go and the RBI will have to make its commitment clear.


Finally, the RBI will have to address all the difficulties that have made the monetary policy transmission mechanism in India weak. Instead of preventing the development of bond, currency and derivatives markets which would have reduced the RBI's ability to manipulate the exchange rate, it now needs to turn that policy on its head and take the lead in pushing for financial sector reform.


Under the present circumstances, the RBI may have to raise interest rates by a large amount before interest rates in the market and demand for credit get impacted. But if the RBI is to give India a low and stable inflationary environment in future, it will have to work hard at improving the monetary policy transmission mechanism, thus making a credible commitment to low inflation.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public


Finance and Policy, Delhi







Most political pundits, in hindsight, called Mulayam Singh Yadav's tie-up with Kalyan Singh in the 2009 Lok Sabha battle a "kiss of death". It was clear that after 20 years of rock-solid support, large sections of Muslims had jettisoned the Samajwadi Party in favour of the Congress and the BSP.


Out of the blue, 15 months later, Mulayam Singh Yadav issued an absolute apology to the Muslims, setting off more speculation. But why and in whose interest was this alliance forged in the first instance?


The perpetuation of family interest (the desire to see his son Akhilesh Yadav at the helm in Uttar Pradesh) and Yadav loyalties was one of the reasons for the wrestler-turned-minority-messiah to seek this apology.


After a perilous drop in vote-share in the Domariyaganj by-elections, Yadav had to withdraw and regroup, and reinvent his strategy in the face of further impending marginalisation. The second reason was that an influential section of the Muslim clergy had begun flexing their ageing muscles on sensitive issues like Babri Masjid and trying to corner the Centre on Wakf amendments, reservations based on the Ranganath Mishra report and the Right to Education Act's impact on madrasahs.


Unable to reconcile with the demographic changes of a young India, some ulema are trying to spoil the secular fabric with irrelevant fatwas and other antics. Inept at nuanced dialogue, they resort to polemic, which fuels right-wing forces at the cost of the silent majority who have repeatedly shown the door to communal forces in the last two elections. These vocal few have always been Mulayam's votaries and he hopes that they will redeliver the Muslim masses to him but, alas, the imponderables he has to contend with are just beginning.


Mulayam Singh and a section of clerics share a distaste for the English language and use of computers, which is at direct loggerheads with the aspirations of young minority students whose sole desire is to find suitable employment. Bereft of Muslim leaders who abandoned him because of the Kalyan Singh bear-hug, he is banking on rabble-rousers to drum up support, while the important fact he hasn't fathomed is that the IT/ ITES industry is the only sector which has over 12 per cent minority employment unlike all other sectors where minority employment is below 4 per cent.


Every mofussil Muslim mohalla and qasba has small English-medium schools coming up to cater to the increasing demand from the relatively poor artisans and small shopkeepers who want their wards to succeed unlike themselves.


Linked to all this is the impending decision of the special bench of the Allahabad high court on the Babri Masjid title suit. With the VHP and Bajrang Dal getting more strident as the final decision nears, the chance to play political havoc with tenuous Hindu-Muslim amity is something that Mulayam Singh is quite experienced at. The Sangh Parivar and its offshoots in all probability will relaunch the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in case of an adverse verdict. Although the national consensus since 1994 is for a solution through a judicial verdict, the emergence of self-appointed custodians on both sides is a pointer that an emotive pot-boiler will present itself soon.


The BJP, with its dwindling fortunes, will size up these developments as the media enlarges its coverage of the Hindu terror outfits. Mulayam's fortunes have been always linked with the BJP's rising graph. Both excel at identity-based politics. Seeking to entice its core constituents once again, the Congress will have to make some deft political moves to avoid falling between two stools again.


As Lincoln said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Narasimha Rao is gone, and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi cannot afford to let the secular vote slip away again. The majority of the nation will accept the judicial verdict whichever side it favours. Mulayam Singh's problems will get more acute as his English-educated engineer son, Akhilesh Yadav, knows that the 8 per cent Yadavs will need the 16 per cent Muslims if he is to ever sit in the UP chief minister's chair, therefore the apology. With few takers for his apology at present, Mulayam will have to go beyond his clan. At 70-plus years, this may be his last chance to revive his party's fortunes.


The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper 'Daily Siyasat Jadid'








In the second general election in 1957 something so startling happened that it instantly became an international sensation. In Kerala — at that time called India's "problem state" by one and all — the undivided Communist Party of India won the state assembly poll, thus becoming the first-ever communist formation anywhere in the world to come to power through a free and fair election. The surprise and excitement over this soon yielded place to worry — more in the outside world than within the country, at least initially.


  A professor at Singapore University wrote a learned tome forecasting that Kerala would be for the Indian communists what Yenan was to the Chinese Communist Party. From their bastion in the southwest corner the Indian "Reds" would sweep across their country just as Mao's followers had done in theirs, starting from the caves of Yenan. At Nehru's press conference, a visibly alarmed foreign correspondent asked what he would do if, as seemed likely, the communists won the parliamentary election, too. "If that misfortune overtakes us, we would cope with it. You need not be worried unduly", he replied.


 During his election speeches, particularly in Kerala and West Bengal, he had sharply attacked the communists for their penchant for violence and for being "guided from outside". In one these speeches that I covered, he went so far as to declare that the communists were "absolutely and completely out of place in India." But after the electoral verdict in Kerala went in their favour, he took the position expected of him: that he and his government would cooperate with the first non-Congress state government as long as the communist ministry, headed by the much-respected EMS Namboodiripad, acted according to the Constitution. On this score, EMS (as he was popularly known) could not have been more accommodating. In Nehru's own words, the chief minister had "put on the most proper and decorous constitutional clothing". At the prime minister's suggestion that plantations owned by foreigners should not be nationalised, EMS retracted from the promise he had made during the election campaign.


 However, Nehru's attitude towards Kerala's communist ministry was not shared by several of his senior colleagues in the government and the party, indeed by the entire Congress right wing. Govind Ballabh Pant, Union home minister, was acutely suspicious of communist designs, and immediately sent a "warning" to Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) against its decision to commute death sentences and release all political prisoners. Even more hostile to the communist ministry was Kerala's governor, K. Ramakrishna Rao, a conservative Congressman. The divergence between the prime minister and the right wing increased. Some of the Kerala ministry's actions, such as supporting the plantation workers during their illegal strike displeased even Nehru.


 The crunch came, however, over the two main planks of the communist government's essentially moderate agenda. The state assembly passed an Education Bill and a Land Reforms Bill, which touched off a rising tide of opposition to the Namboodiripad government. The church, the Muslim League and the Nair Society all owned a large number of lucrative private schools and colleges as well as large landholdings. They formed a joint front and started a virulent agitation not only to get the controversial bills withdrawn but also to overthrow the communist government. Nehru wanted to resolve these differences through persuasion and the legal process. For example, when the Education Bill reached the president for his assent, he referred it to the Supreme Court for its advisory opinion. The communist ministry denounced this and even criticised the president. This annoyed even Nehru. But he continued to resist suggestions for Central intervention in Kerala. However, the Congress unit in the state had jumped on the joint front's bandwagon despite Nehru's advice to the contrary.


 To cut a long and complicated story short, a stage arrived when law and order in Kerela seemed to spin out of control. Violent crowds went on the rampage. The police resorted to firing. Heated rhetoric on both sides escalated. There was absolutely no meeting ground between the communist ministry and the joint front — which rejected Namoodiripad's offer, made on Nehru's advice, of discussion on the entire Education Bill, not just its disputed clauses.


 Slowly Nehru came to the conclusion that the only way out of the disastrous situation in Kerala was for Namoodiripad to put the two bills to the test of public opinion and therefore hold fresh elections. To persuade EMS he invited the chief minister to Mashobra near Shimla where he was holidaying. Namboodiripad declined the PM's advice, and argued that to force a fresh election on the only non-Congress government in the country was "discriminatory", and could only lead to the conclusion that this would be the fate of all state governments other than those of the Congress.


Still Nehru remained reluctant to use the Centre's extraordinary powers to get rid of the communist state government even though he was displeased by its ways. However, those who had hitherto failed to make him change his mind gained sudden and substantial strength. For Indira Gandhi, who had just become Congress president, favoured their point of view. It was she who persuaded her father to overcome his qualms. How sharp the arguments between the two must have been is best indicated by a letter she wrote him on June 20, 1959 while living under the same roof: "Papu... There is no point calling the agitation (in Kerala) communal. It is communal only in so far as everything in Kerala is communal, including the communists. The communists very cleverly played the Nairs against the Catholics & now are trying to play the Ezhavas against both."


 Just over a month later and only four days short of 51 years ago, Kerala went under president's rule. Yet during the tense, prolonged and sometimes bitter confrontation leading to this denouement, there was a hilarious interlude. On the way back home from Mashobra, EMS addressed a press conference in Delhi to explain his point of view. One questioner asked him what the prime minister had served him for lunch during their discussions. "Exactly what a good Kashmiri Brahmin should offer a good Namboodiri Brahmin from Kerala: fish, meat and chicken", he replied.


The writer is a senior Delhi-based political commentator








The prime minister of India has described legal education in India as a "sea of institutionalised mediocrity with a few islands of excellence." The first generation of legal reforms saw the birth of 14 national law schools. The need now is to weed out mediocrity and inefficiency from our legal education system. The idea is to improve the quality of legal education delivered in law schools and other law universities, to raise them to international standards.


The Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, better known as the Yashpal Committee, defines a university as a place where "new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. It is a unique space, which covers the entire universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities. Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge." Is legal education merely about producing lawyers to practise in courts? Is it merely to produce lawyers to meet the demands of trade, commerce and industry? Isn't there an urgent need to align the legal profession with increasing internationalisation, warranting the study of other legal systems and practices? Isn't there a need to associate legal education with the concepts of governance, accountability and transparency?


Consider the following: lawyers in developed societies generally practice within politically stable and economically viable societies with fairly well developed legal systems.


On the other hand, lawyers in developing societies work in a difficult and increasingly unstable environment surfeited by political instability, depressed economies, ethnic and religious tensions and inefficient legal systems that have been unable to insulate themselves from partisan and ethnic pressures. These conditions present frustrating challenges for lawyers and inevitably make it difficult for them to check the excesses of government officials and well-connected private citizens who easily manipulate the legal system to achieve preordained outcomes.


Kenneth Kaunda, the erstwhile president of Zambia said that "the lawyer in a developing country must be something more than a professional man, he must be more than the champion of fundamental rights of the individuals. He must... in the fullest sense be part and parcel of the society if he is to participate in its development and the advancement of the economic social and political well being of the members; the lawyer must go beyond the narrow limits of the law."


The solution today is to innovate and provide autonomy to our law schools so that they are able to concentrate on their primary function of research and development. Teacher and students must come together and must learn to innovate and discover new methods of disseminating knowledge with a special emphasis on engagement with social problems and movements. Our system must be so designed that not one deserving student is not denied admission after he has secured an admission to a educational institution of his choice.


The challenge is how to take mediocre institutions — which are too many in number — to improve their performance towards achieving some degree of professionalism and academic excellence in the shortest possible time.


For promoting competitive excellence in a global context in national law schools, the idea must be to promote autonomy and competition amongst the law schools apart from the obvious solution of improving the finances. The shortage of teachers can be addressed through innovative methods such as including more visiting and adjunct teachers, contractual engagement of professionals etc.


The emphasis must be to create and harness a research environment in the existing law schools. Our law schools must be capable of producing leaders of the country who not only to learn the practice of law but to transform law and legal institutions to maximise justice in society and to put legal education at the centre for better governance under democracy and rule of law.


The late Justice Chagla said that "the legal profession is a great calling and it is a learned and noble profession. Remember always that it is a profession. It is not a trade or business. The distinction between the two is deep and fundamental. In business, your sole object is to make money... In the legal profession making money is merely incidental. You have traditions to which you have to be true. Like an artist there has to be a passionate desire to attain perfection. Service to society and your fellow men has to be the dominant motive underlying your work."


We must understand that no institution can survive without regular, timely reforms, without which it will become obsolete. Judicial reforms do not simply mean procedural and substantive laws, but also corrective endeavors aimed at strengthening and systematising legal mechanisms.


Legal education is a vital link in the creation of knowledge concepts as well as in the application of such concepts in society. The need for trained law personnel in academia, litigation, corporate practice, government and civil society has increased significantly over the last few years and it is estimated that the demands for such trained personnel will rise far more exponentially in the years to come. The role of a modern lawyer is to understand the multiplication of these laws, different traditions and cultures and in the process to get acquainted with the unfamiliar legal systems of the world. In this effort, lawyers and legal scholars need to learn to appreciate the similarities and differences between various world systems. Post liberalisation, the entire concept of legal education has changed. Today, legal education has to meet not only the requirements of the bar and the new needs of trade, commerce and industry but also the requirements of globalisation.


"All technological advancements we have today are the outcome of scientific exploration of scientists of earlier centuries. At no time, man was beaten by problems. He strives continuously to subjugate impossibility and then succeeds." Our agenda of reforms in legal education is one such journey of exploration which should break down limiting frontiers.


The writer is union minister for law and justice







The Obama White House is too white. It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.


But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand "the slave thing," as a top black Democrat dryly puts it. The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him. Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.


The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn't bother to Google, they weren't familiar enough with civil rights history to recognise the name Sherrod. And they didn't return the calls and email of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong. Charles Sherrod, Shirley's husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the '60s. As Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted video clip of Sherrod that caused her firing. "I've known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there's not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies," Lewis said.


We may not have a "nation of cowards" on race, as Attorney General Eric Holder contended, but we may have a West Wing of cowards on race. It seems Obama feels that he and Michelle are such a huge change for the nation to absorb that he can be overly cautious about pushing for other societal changes for blacks and gays. At some level, he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn't have to deal with race further. But he does. "Who knew that the first black president would make it even harder on black people?" asked a top black Democratic official.


It's the same impulse that caused Obama campaign workers to refuse to let Muslim women with head scarves sit in camera range during a rally. It's the same impulse that has left the president light-years behind W. on development help for Africa. In their rush to counteract attempts to paint Obama as a radical/Muslim/socialist, Obama staffers can behave in insensitive ways themselves.


"The president's getting hurt real bad," Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina told me. "He needs some black people around him." He said Obama's inner circle keeps "screwing up" on race: "Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don't think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite."


The president shouldn't give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.







When I first heard on Thursday that Democrats in the US Senate were abandoning the effort to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases that cause global warming and promote renewable energy that could diminish our addiction to oil, I remembered something that Joe Romm, the blogger, once said: The best thing about improvements in health care is that all the climate change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.


\Alas, so are the rest of us. I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one GOP senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill. But the truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilised to press for this legislation. We will regret it.


We've basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature's operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. You cannot sweet-talk Mother Nature. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we're doing.


Since I don't have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and emails that came across my desk in the past few days:


n Just as the US Senate was abandoning plans for a US cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: "BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. ... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step."


n As we East Coasters know, it's been extremely hot here this summer, with records broken. But, hey, you could be living in Russia, where ABC News recently reported that a "heat wave, which has lasted for weeks, has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years." The BBC reported that to keep cool "at lakes and rivers around Moscow, groups of revellers can be seen knocking back vodka and then plunging into the water. The result is predictable — 233 people have drowned in the last week alone."


n A day before the climate bill went down, the CEO of one of the nation's biggest utilities e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear.


n The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted: "Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible 'conspiracy theory': the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their PR skills, while wondering, as always: "Have they no grandchildren?"







RBI faces a genuine dilemma as it gets set to unveil its credit policy for the first quarter of 2010-11 on Tuesday. Inflation remains a serious concern even though food inflation has moderated in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, there is some evidence of rising 'core' inflation in non-food sectors that RBI must worry about more than it does about food inflation. The case for a rise in the interest rates would have been a lot easier to make had output really been racing ahead. But seasonally adjusted, month-on-month data shows that industrial production actually declined in May 2010. The year-on-year statistics will only capture the decline with a lag. But the fact that industrial production is not as robust as some observers may like to believe, ought to worry RBI as much as rising inflation does. The domestic scenario must also be analysed in conjunction with what is happening globally. We now know well that India is not decoupled from events that happen elsewhere in the world. On this front, there is further reason for concern. The recovery in the West has been very slow and there is still every possibility of a double dip before a final recovery. Europe continues to remain a weak link in the global economy and the debt crisis there may have ebbed but has not ended. If there is another recession in the West, it will take a toll on growth in India.


RBI must, therefore, weigh all the scenarios carefully before taking a decision. It is not an easy call. But as we have argued on occasion in these columns, it is probably better to lean in favour of a more lenient monetary policy than a tighter one, at this point in time. Over the medium term, there is little option but to raise rates gradually, but right now addressing the downside risks to growth, both domestically and internationally, should be of primary concern. It is unfortunate for RBI that it has been left to deal with the after effects of a problem that were not of its own creation. Inflation rose out of the food sector and had everything to do with supply-side constraints, not demand-side excesses. But the government has been slow to address the supply-side constraints. And unless the government is able to decisively address these constraints in the food sector, RBI is more likely to continue to face dilemmas on monetary policy on a periodic basis







On the occasion of the recent World Population Day, we took note that it is only if education and skills enhancement really take off in India that it will get to celebrate the upcoming demographic juggernaut. To his credit, the Union education minister Kapil Sibal has been tackling this 'enormous and gargantuan' challenge at breakneck, if controversial, speed. Under his watch, for example, the right of children to free and compulsory education was finally enacted into a law. And the latest salvo fired from his armoury is the $35 laptop. The idea of low-cost laptops transforming educational outreach in developing countries is not new. It was MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte who really popularised it in 2005—if children at the 'bottom of the pyramid' could be blanketed with cheap laptops, they would leapfrog into literacy, and digital literacy at that. Between resistance from IT majors to lesser-than-expected enthusiasm from governments, the idea has taken some time to implement. But this doesn't mean that those who argued that the laptop monies would be better spent on lavatories were right. First, the either-or syndrome specialises in creating impasses. Second, not every good idea yields result in a heartbeat. The laptop launched by Sibal on Thursday has been designed by folks from India's premier technology institutes, keeping in mind the needs of students. As a bonus, it looks good and can be charged via a solar panel.


\Taking note of the fact that by 2050, the percentage of people aged over 65 will be 67% in Japan, 53% in Germany and 39% in the US, while only 19% of the Indian population will be aged over 60, the point that Sibal made recently was that educating and training the Indian workforce was actually a global concern. Yet, such are the systemic deficiencies in the Indian training system that only 5% of the workforce has some kind of certification as compared with over 85% in the developed countries. In order to bridge this gap, Sibal is aiming at getting at least 30% of India's school children into higher education over the next decade as compared to the current 12.4%. Cheap laptops will, no doubt, help achieve this objective. The only cautionary note we would add is on the question of subsidies. Given that this distribution framework is currently riddled with inefficiencies, it should not be taken as a given in the laptop context. To take the example of the one technology where India has enjoyed unparalleled leapfrogging advantage, would mobile phone usage really have exploded here, if its spread had been left to non-profit or public providers?









There was an impression that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had sprung a nasty surprise to many by delivering the controversial Ordinance that removed all legal confusion as to who would regulate the Ulips. The surprise was delivered on two counts: first, the finance minister suddenly decided that Ulip was a core insurance product and must be regulated by


Irda. Second, he chose to form a new committee of regulators under law to resolve all future disputes regarding hybrid financial products where there was jurisdictional confusion as to which regulator must have a decisive say.


Newspaper reports even suggested some officials of the department of economic affairs (DEA) were not kept in the loop in regard to the Ordinance, which came on June 18. The subtext of this suggestion was that the finance ministry itself was divided on the Ulip issue, with the DEA officials aligned with Sebi and the department of financial services (DFS), which administers banking and insurance sectors, supporting Irda. Since the Ordinance ruled in favour of Irda, it was assumed that DFS was in the loop and DEA ignored.


A closer reading of the sequence of events shows that Pranab Mukherjee, a stickler for rules, had followed strict procedures to arrive at his decision on the Ordinance. Even if you disagree with some aspects of the new law, where corrections are being carried out, the finance minister cannot be accused of not following due procedure. If anything, the finance minister was justified in being a bit disappointed that he was not made aware of the gravity of the Ulip crises by senior DEA officials.


For instance, it has now come to light that Sebi had sent a note to DEA officials well in advance that it was going to ban private insurance companies from selling Ulips, the decision which eventually precipitated the stand-off between Sebi and Irda.


The question to ask is why the DEA officials did not bring the seriousness of the matter to Pranab Mukherjee's attention? Was there some other motivation on the part of DEA officials? Did they want a crisis to erupt between Sebi and Irda so as to generate a debate over the need for a more empowered inter-regulatory body such as the Financial Stability Development Council (FSDC)? If this was the plan, then things clearly seemed to have backfired on the DEA.


Pranab Mukherjee is too seasoned a politician to get trapped by bureaucrats. By passing the Ordinance, Pranab has killed many birds with one stone. For instance, it was originally envisaged that the FSDC would play a much bigger role and would also handle inter-regulatory disputes arising out of legal confusion over jurisdiction. Clearly, this role will now be handled by the new committee to be chaired by the finance minister. Pranab Mukherjee has also assuaged RBI by deciding to make the central bank governor the vice-chairman on the committee. All other regulators will be members, at one level below the RBI governor.


This shows Pranab is flexible and open to amendments which are sensible and rational. He has also said the new committee will step in as a last resort mechanism after the regulators and the high-level committee on capital markets are unable to resolve a dispute. This will keep the pressure on the regulators to amicably resolve all issues among themselves and not play into the hands of bureaucrats in the ministry of finance. There is some merit in the finance minister's logic that disputes on market-sensitive financial products cannot wait for courts to resolve. They have to be quickly sorted out. The only criticism, somewhat valid, is that tomorrow some whimsical finance minister can become more proactive than is necessary. That may happen in a rare situation but there are enough checks and balances in the system to ensure no hanky panky is allowed.


As for the Ordinance itself, the law minister Veerappa Moily had endorsed an opinion in the middle of May drafted by law secretary TK Vishwanathan that the joint committee was the best way to resolve the Ulip and all such future disputes. The law ministry also considered whether the Ulip dispute could be resolved by using existing powers the government had under the Sebi Act and Irda Act. Vishwanathan officially concluded that it would be improper to nullify the Sebi order on Ulip, which had the effect of law, by another order. It could only be done by an appellate authority or the Supreme Court. This, of course, would have taken time.


The finance minister's team, which included the DEA secretary Ashok Chawla, formally discussed the law ministry's recommendation in early June. Later, Ashok Chawla officially endorsed the need for the new joint committee mechanism under law and moved the matter to the DFS for a formal drafting of the Ordinance.


This suggests that the Ordinance went through an elaborate set of procedures and discussions. It was not sprung as a surprise as is being suggested by sections of the finance ministry bureaucracy. It appears some serious turf games were indeed being played within the finance ministry over issues relating to financial products. For Pranab Mukherjee, they were just par for the course.







A monetary policy review normally attracts less attention than the first annual statement of policy for the forthcoming year, but Tuesday's first quarter review is drawing heightened interest in RBI's stance and its situational perception, given the 'unusually uncertain' global economy (as Ben Bernanke has articulated) and the unanticipated, persistent liquidity shortage that our domestic banking system has experienced since June. That RBI will continue with its 'baby steps' tightening approach is now virtually a consensus among interested observers, raising the LAF repo and reverse repo rates by 25 bps, while keeping the CRR unchanged, to achieve a balance between anchoring inflationary expectations and enabling credit delivery to productive sectors and hence growth.


But will it continue with the pattern of symmetrically increasing the rates, as it has done since November 2008? Or it might introduce a slight variation in the process, differentially increasing the repo and reverse repo rates, in order to narrow the LAF corridor, from the current 150 bps to, say, 125 bps and then 100 bps?


India is one of the increasing number of countries with a corridor type of policy, with standing facilities for both credit and deposit from the central bank, rather than the more conventional one based on open market operations. The width of the LAF corridor is based on the following considerations: first, what optimal level of money market volatility is consistent with money market objectives and yet enables sufficient price discovery? And, second, a view on liquidity, based on which end of the corridor becomes the operating rate and the main transmission channel for monetary policy.


The general principle in managing the width should logically be a narrowing during a tightening phase and a widening during an easing one, a principle consistent with the idea of fine tuning policy rate increases to have the desired impact with a smaller policy move. Ideally, overnight repo rates should be aligned to an operating band closer to the direction of the policy stance, e.g., the upper band during a tightening phase.


The corollary is obviously an estimation and projection of the appropriate level of system liquidity; too much would keep overnight rates near the bottom, requiring larger increments to push the overnight rate up to the policy rate target. The operative rate remains the repo rate, given the liquidity shortage, and it is the repo rate that is likely to be the predominant operating rate for most of FY11, given our expectations of liquidity. If this does indeed turn out to be the case, then the repo rate would be the effective 'neutral' rate, rather than a rate mid-point in the corridor, should liquidity ease gradually over the next couple of months.


This is obviously a simplified and abstract, if not simplistic, view of the decision process. In real life, money market conditions, the government's borrowing programme, demand for bank and other credit, capital flows from abroad, growth of broad and reserve money aggregates, will all combine to determine the policy instruments.


What change in the operating environment might motivate such a move and will it have a material impact on the policy signals that it would seek to transmit to markets? A brief overview of the current economic situation might provide the context. It is now the increasing consensus that global economic recovery in developed countries will remain moderate, if not actually contract in a double-dip recession. This moderation will increase in 2011-12, as fiscal streamlining begins. China is attempting a moderation of its growth rate, and Asian and ancillary economies dependent on China for a large part of their economic activity will also consequently slow.


At the same time, domestic non-farm economic activity, both manufacturing and services, remains strong and is backed by robust demand, which might increase if the monsoon rains coverage results in expectations of a good kharif harvest. Anecdotal evidence suggests that corporates have revived their capex plans and will soon begin to increase demand for credit. Inflationary pressures will gradually increase, even as the locus of price increases shifts from food to greater demand led 'core' inflation, particularly as excess capacities begin to shrink.


In other words, while domestic demand conditions warrant tightening, global uncertainty makes it prudent to extract the largest possible impact from the minimum possible rate increases. Our view based on all this? The likelihood of a 25-50 repo/reverse repo rate increase, as a signalling device, both of a tightening (via the repo rate) and of a more efficient transmission mechanism via the shorter end of the yield curve, through more stable money markets.


The author is senior vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views








The rural development ministry's initiative to enter into talks with the I&B ministry for having a dedicated television channel, though unique, does leave many unanswered questions about the government's ability to disseminate information about social programmes. With the exception of Krishi Darshan (Doordarshan's programme focusing on agriculture), most of the 17-odd channels owned by state-run Doordarshan have only managed to have a marginal impact on the rural masses despite boasting wide outreach.


Due to a financial crunch and a government ban on recruitment, Doordarshan faces shortage of staff for creative programmes, which makes an additional channel a questionable idea. As for finance, this may not be difficult given that the rural development ministry receives close to Rs 80,000 crore for implementing mega-flagship programmes like NREG. But given the electronic and print media boom in rural and semi-urban areas, the ministry would be well advised to exploit existing platforms that have already created a key market for themselves. Although the popular Krishi Darshan has managed to raise Rs 100 crore every year, the same success has not been replicated in other programmes. By contrast, the popularity of regional channels is based on the fact that they address local needs, remain low-cost and engage with local talents.


The I&B minister Ambika Soni has often reiterated the need for an effective multimedia communication strategy to cater to the needs of every section of the society in local languages and in an interactive manner. Her ministry has an ambitious plan to set up about 4,000 community radio stations over the next two years. But due to a rigid policy regime, not many community-based organisations have taken interest in this project. There is a lesson to be learnt here. The rural development ministry needs to tap the huge local talent pool to improve the existing social sector programmes being broadcast through Doordarshan or All India Radio. Tie-ups with local TV channels could definitely help expand the outreach of various flagship programmes. In the current dynamic scenario, getting an appropriate platform is not sufficient by itself. Interactive programming is also of paramount importance. So the rural development ministry must ensure that allocations for enhancing knowledge about various social sector programmes should focus on formulating a comprehensive communication strategy, which takes into account the ground realities.








Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's latest proposals on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) might not quite meet the standards set by the Centre itself six months ago. At that time, a strong case was made out for a single tax rate over a wide base, with very few exemptions and a relatively low tax threshold. However, with a view to reaching a consensus with the States and bringing all of them on board, Mr. Mukherjee has adopted a pragmatic approach. The idea clearly is to embark on this important tax reform even if, in the first instance, it meant moving farther away from the ideal than earlier envisaged. The new proposals reflect the recommendations of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers in its first discussion paper last November. There will be a dual structure: a Central GST and a State GST. However, over a three-year period, the two separate rates will converge in stages into a single GST. The Finance Minister has now proposed three separate rates: 20 per cent for normal goods, 12 per cent for merit goods and 16 per cent for services. The Centre has rejected the States' plea to set a high exemption threshold of Rs.1.5 crore for goods, preferring to have a much lower and uniform exemption limit of Rs.10 lakh for both goods and services.


To assuage the States' concerns over loss of financial autonomy, it is proposed to leave out petro products and electricity from the ambit of the GST. That would provide the States autonomy to levy taxes on these high-yielding items. Besides, the Finance Minister has promised to compensate the States for possible revenue losses on account of the introduction of GST. Even after all the flexibility shown by the Centre on critical issues raised by the States, it is still not clear whether the deadline of April 1, 2011, for introducing this tax will be met. There is very little perceptible movement in respect of almost all the legal and administrative steps that need to be taken before the GST could be put in place. An up-to-date technology platform is a vital prerequisite. There have so far been few concerted attempts at educating the public on the new tax. There ought to be a greater sense of urgency than what has been in evidence so far in taking the necessary legal steps — for instance, getting the Constitution amended to enable the States to levy a service tax and the Centre to tax goods beyond the factory gate. The existing VAT laws and also some others like the Central Excise Act, 1944 and the Finance Act, 1994 have to be repealed or amended. In the circumstances, even the new time frame for the GST seems unrealistic.






The revised national policy that promised the small traders on the roadside and mobile vendors in urban areas better access to space and an end to their harassment by civic authorities appears to be moving all too slowly towards implementation. One year has passed since it was announced and only a handful of cities have taken follow-up action. Even its original version (2004) met with a lukewarm response. This apathy towards street vendors is in sharp contrast to the enthusiasm shown for the cause of the organised segment, which constitutes hardly five per cent of the retail trade. More than 10 million people across Indian cities earn their livelihood through street vending, which is easy to enter and needs very little capital. Despite its useful role, street vending is yet to be legally recognised, often branded by the local bodies as an "encroachment." This makes the vendors vulnerable to frequent eviction and to exploitation by the law enforcers. In order to protect them, the policy recommended a registration system for vendors and demarcation of city spaces for vending, apart from the setting up of town committees with vendor participation. These suggestions when acted upon would put all vending activity on a protective and regulatory legal framework. In implementing the new policy, care must be taken to ensure that the system does not restrict entry and the regulations are not burdensome.


The National Association of Street Vendors of India has pointed out that over 100,000 applications for licences remain unprocessed since 2007. Cities such as Surakarta in Indonesia have shown that co-opting street vendors in urban development could be mutually beneficial. The local government there worked with the vendors, earmarked new places for trading, issued free trade permits and provided tax exemption for the first six months. Soft loans and training were also arranged to improve their business. In the process, the city recovered valuable urban spaces that were encroached upon and the street vendors in turn were able to trade freely. Closer home, Bhubaneswar has taken a few pioneering initiatives. It has created 52 exclusive vending zones near the existing areas frequented by the vendors. More than 2,000 vendors have been rehabilitated in these markets without much dislocation or loss of earnings. Such progressive measures can be easily adopted by other cities and scaled up where necessary. The street vendors are a valuable part of city life and the state must ensure that they are not excluded. Policies conceptualised to support their livelihood must be implemented without any further delay.










Something that cannot work, will not work. This is a tautology applicable to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which cannot meet the objectives for which it was enacted. There are several reasons for this.


First, the Act does not rule out educational institutions set up for profit (Section 2.n.(iv)). The protagonists of such institutions cite Article 19.1.g ("All citizens shall have the right to practise any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business"). However, they fail to realise that the Article is regulated by Article 19.6: it is because of the provisions in Article 19.6 that no one in the country can set up a nuclear energy plant, or grow narcotic plants, or build satellites, unless approved by the government.


P.N. Bakshi, a member of the Law Commission, in his book on the Constitution of India says: "Education per se has so far not been regarded as a trade or business where profit is a motive." Yet, the TMA Pai Foundation vs Government of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court in 2003 said it is difficult to comprehend that education per se will not fall under any of the four expressions in Article 19.1.g. Therefore, appropriately, the model Rules and Regulations (R&R) for the RTE Act say in Section 11.1.b that a school run for profit by any individual, group or association of individuals or any other persons, shall not receive recognition from the government. However, this Section will not be binding on the States as it is not a part of the Act. If the Government of India were serious about the issue, it should have made this a part of the RTE Act.


The common-sense resolution of the discrepancy between the TMA Pai Foundation judgment and the model R&R for the RTE Act could lie in the fact that education is a generic term. We need to distinguish between the minimum quantum of education that a citizen should have in order to be able to discharge his or her responsibilities and claim rights, and the subsequent education geared to train him or her for a profession such as medicine or engineering.


As regards the first category, it is now virtually universally recognised that 12 years of school education beginning at the age of six, preceded by appropriate pre-school education, is a minimum requirement. Therefore, in virtually all developed countries, a vast majority of children including those of the rich and powerful go to government schools for 12 years of totally free education. The RTE Act is unconcerned about the four most important years of school education – that is, from Class IX to Class XII.


The second category would include three sub-categories: (a) higher education that could lead to a technical diploma, a first university degree in broad areas such as the liberal arts, science or commerce, or post-graduate education in these areas; (b) education leading to a university degree, in a common profession of prime public interest that would cater to the basic needs of society, such as medicine, engineering, law, or management; and (c) education leading to training in specialised areas (which could vary with time), such as flying, catering or hotel management, which does not lead to a degree but is a prerequisite to join the profession at an appropriate level.


It stands to common sense that the first category should be totally free with no hidden costs whatsoever. In the second category, in the public interest and to ensure that quality is maintained, education in sub-categories (a) and (b) must be in a non-profit organisation. The selections should be made on merit in a means-independent way which would imply that appropriate fees could be charged from those who can pay. Those who cannot pay must be able to continue their education through freeships or scholarships, or bank loans arranged by the institution.


There is no argument against education in sub-category (c) of the second category being provided for profit, for the employers will ensure quality in the institutions providing such education.


The judgment in TMA Pai Foundation would appropriately apply to sub-category (c). There is, therefore, a strong case to ensure that Section 11.1.b of the model R&R of the RTE Act is made mandatory for all schools without exception, through an amendment of the Act.


There is the argument that if people can pay for the education of their children they should have a right to have their own schools where the fee charged would be determined by them or the authorities of the school they set up. Indeed, according to the Constitution we cannot ban such schools, which will essentially be the de facto profit-making schools of today where almost exclusively the children of the rich and powerful go. However, the government will be within its rights to say that such schools would not be recognised as they would violate the principle of equity in regard to the minimum education that every Indian citizen should have.


The RTE Act and its R&R fail on many other counts. These are some of them:


•Experience tells us that no government school is likely to function well (or as well as the government schools did till about 1970) unless children of the rich and powerful also attend such schools. Further, it is a myth that private – de facto commercial – schools provide better training than, say a Central School of the Government of India or trust-run schools which are truly not-for-profit.


•The Act places no restriction on the fees that may be charged by unaided private schools ostensibly set up as a Society or Trust but, de facto set up to make money for the investors, just like a corporate company. If they are truly set up not to make any profit they should not be charging any fees, and the fees paid by the children should be reimbursed by the government. They could then function as a part of the common school system in which children of the neighbourhood would have to go irrespective of their class or status.


•Why should unaided private schools have a system of management with no obligatory participation of parents, unlike other schools that require the formation of a school management committee in which parents will constitute three-fourth of its membership?


•Why do we have only 25 per cent poor children in private unaided schools? Why not 10, 20, 40, 60 or 80 per cent? Would it not create a divide amongst the children of the poor, leave aside a greater divide between the children of the rich and the poor?


•No method is prescribed for selecting the 25 per cent poor students for admission into unaided private schools. Selection by lottery would be ridiculous. In the absence of a viable provision, the private unaided (de facto commercial) schools can choose the 25 per cent poor children in a way that the choice would benefit the school.


•There is nothing in the Act or its R&R that will prevent unaided private schools from charging students for activities that are not mentioned in the Act or its R&R. Examples would be laboratory fee, computer fee, building fee, sports fee, fee for stationery, fee for school uniform, fee for extra-curricular activities such as music, painting, pottery, and so on.


•Norms for buildings, the number of working days, teacher workload, equipment, library and extra-curricular activities are prescribed only for unaided schools, and not for other schools including government schools. Only an obligatory teacher-student ratio is prescribed both for government and unaided schools. This means that as long as the teacher-pupil ratio is maintained, the school would be considered as fit. Thus, even if a government school has 12 students in each class from I to V, it will have only two teachers.


•Two arguments often given for continuing to have, or even encouraging, private unaided schools is that the government has no money to set up the needed schools, and that government schools cannot be run as well as private schools. Both these are deliberate lies. There have been excellent studies and reports that show that the government can find money to adopt a common school system with a provision of compulsory and totally free education up to Class XII in the country over the next 10 years. Further, even today the best system of school education in the country is the Central School (Kendriya Vidyalaya) system run by the government. The country needs 400,000 such schools, and India can afford it.


The RTE Act and its R&R are destined not to work. We should recognise that if we do not take appropriate care of school education, agriculture and left-wing extremism – and all the three are related – we may be creating conditions that would encourage internal turmoil.


( The writer is former vice-chairman, National Knowledge Commission.)









The struggle for an effective and equitable Food Security Bill (FSB) has received a setback with the disappointing proposals put forward by the National Advisory Council. There is a disturbing disjuncture between what is being claimed and the actual implications of the proposals. Indeed it may be said that the NAC proposals create new discriminations.


The most basic requirement for a legal guarantee for food security is the replacement of the present targeted system by a universal system of public distribution. India had such a system till the advent of neo-liberal policies in the 1990s when targeting started. The NAC proposal actually expands the sphere of targeting in at least four ways.


Geographical targeting: According to the proposal, "…initial universalisation in one-fourth of the most disadvantaged districts or blocks in the first year is recommended, where every household is entitled to receive 35 kg per month of foodgrains at Rs. 3 a kg." This will translate into around 150 districts out of 640. This proposal actually introduces a new discrimination among those who are equally poor, on the basis of where they were born and where they live. For example, an unorganised worker in the construction industry who does not possess a BPL (below poverty line) card, would in the 150 districts selected be eligible for the entitlement. But if she lives in a village outside these selected districts, even though she may be in the same economic category she will not be eligible. This is legally sanctioned discrimination based on geographical location, and can be challenged in a court of law.


Also, who will determine the list of districts? Will it mean that some States, for example Kerala, may be left out in the first year altogether as was done in the case of the National Rural Health Mission, in this case because they do not fit the definition of "most disadvantaged"? Thus the question of identification of the "most disadvantaged" may itself be discriminatory against States. The NAC is overlooking the fact that the "most disadvantaged people" often live in the "least disadvantaged districts."


New category of socially vulnerable groups: What happens in the remaining districts? Will the "initial universalisation" be extended to them over time?


The proposal says: "In the remaining districts/blocks… there shall be a guarantee of 35 kg of foodgrains per household at Rs. 3 a kg for all socially vulnerable groups including SC/STs…" This means that unlike in the 150 districts where all households will have access, in the rest of the districts, which form the majority of rural India, it will not be universal but targeted for socially vulnerable groups. Who will be included, apart from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes? What about the minorities and the most backward castes? Will occupation be a criterion for inclusion in the category of socially vulnerable groups? Will the 77 per cent of the workforce in the unorganised sector with a spending power of less than Rs. 20 and who are plagued by fluctuating incomes, be included? In any case, by differentiating between the 150 districts and the rest of India, by introducing the category of socially vulnerable groups, the NAC has retained the APL/BPL divide, albeit with a different name and different criteria.


Targeting out others: The proposal says that for all others (other than the category of socially vulnerable groups) the guarantee will be 25 kg "at an appropriate price." This is the crux of the issue — lower entitlement at a higher price. In fact, the issue of differentiated allocations and higher prices for the APL sections is what the Planning Commission has been pushing for — except that the Commission has been more forthright about its aims than the NAC. In a discussion paper for the Empowered Group of Ministers looking into the food security legislation, the Commission said: "We can give the APL sections a legal entitlement [later it was specifically mentioned as 25 kg] but at a non-subsidised price. We should calibrate an APL price linked to MSP [minimum support price given to farmers for foodgrain] in such a way that the annual APL offtake is around 10 million tonnes or so. If there is excess grain availability, as at present, there can be a discount from this price to encourage a larger offtake. If not, the discount should be withdrawn." It is precisely this utterly cynical manipulation by the Planning Commission of a popular demand to suit government requirements that the NAC wants to project as universalisation. This is unfortunate, to say the least.


Category to be excluded: The proposed law will legally exclude certain categories, the details of which are yet to be worked out. If this means the income-tax paying category, there can be no objection to it. But more details are required.



The NAC has not suggested any time-frame for implementation except for the 150 districts. The proposal says that the "differentiated entitlements… would progressively be expanded to all rural areas in the country over a reasonable period of time." Who will define "reasonable"? It has been reported that the NAC's thinking is guided by the pattern set by the staggered implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This is a misplaced comparison. First, for the NREGS the Left parties had ensured that there was a fixed time-frame of five years with no switch-off clause. Equally important, the NREGS was a new work-based right that required a certain amount of experience in implementation. The PDS not only exists but the infirmities in the targeted system in different States have had a negative impact on food security rights. People all over the country are affected by food inflation and the consequent food insecurity. Thus there is no basis for any staggered implementation as far as an urgent issue such as food is concerned, more so since India has huge buffer stocks.



There is no mention of the Antyodaya category. Elimination of this category would mean 2.5 crore families being deprived of their existing entitlement of wheat at Rs. 2 a kg and having to pay Re. 1 more. This is unacceptable. In States such as West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand, BPL card-holders get rice at Rs. 2 a kg, and in some States at Re. 1 a kg. These States have also expanded the numbers of the BPL population. Surely a Central Act must expand on existing entitlements and not detract from them. If the State governments implement the pricing suggested by the NAC of Rs. 3 a kg, crores of families will find that the Central Food Security Act actually increases their foodgrain costs. State governments are already facing a severe resources crunch. This will make it more difficult for them.


Urban poor

As far as the identification and categorisation of the urban population is concerned, it is clear that targeting is going to be the basis. Households eligible for 35 kg at Rs. 3 are to be identified on the basis of criteria developed by the Hashim Committee. Oddly, the NAC has accepted the recommendations of the Hashim Committee even before the Report has been written. Usually one would like to examine recommendations before accepting them — for which they have to be written in the first place.


The urban poor have been neglected in the proposals. There are no recommendations to give a legal backup to nutrition schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and midday meal programmes, nor are any other essential commodities included in the ambit of the food security system.


The NAC has compromised on the basic issue of universalisation. What it is suggesting is a differently targeted system. An opportunity to take the struggle forward into official institutions such as the NAC has been lost. The NAC should have held out in the knowledge that in any case what it is suggesting may be further whittled down.


( Brinda Karat, MP, is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).)











Where have all the social networks gone? Of course, this is exactly the right time to be asking this question. Haven't I noticed that Facebook is now claiming 500 million users, in the manner of Doctor Evil in Mike Myers's Austin Powers movies? Haven't I noticed that Twitter is getting its very own data centre, all the better to spread "unimportant trivia" (Copyright all tabloid papers)?

Well, yes, I have. But my question is actually about the broader subject.


What I'm really asking is where all the new social networks have gone. In the past two years, especially as Twitter has risen over the media horizon like a sunrise, barely a week has passed without a new network culled from the web 2.0 name generator - take a verb ending in -er and remove the "e" - being announced, often with a press release smelling ever so slightly of desperation that another "me-too" product could become the "us-instead" replacement.


To which the response is always: that hardly ever happens. Despite the insistence of web executives everywhere that rivals online are "only a click away", you actually have to screw up royally to turn a successful service into one that people leave in droves. (So congratulations to the former managers at MySpace and Bebo: you deserve your place in those MBA case studies of the future.)


Look around, though, and sites such as haven't taken off. True, services such as FourSquare and Gowalla seem to be on the rise — although people haven't quite grasped the threat that they can pose to users. So we're back at the original questions: where are all the new social networks? I think they're gone. Done, dusted, over. I don't think anyone is going to build a social network from scratch whose only purpose is to connect people. We've got Facebook (personal), LinkedIn (business) and Twitter (SMS-length for mobile).


Today the technology scene has echoes of the post-dotcom boom exhaustion of 2002-4. Then, the ideas which sank on the reefs of too-slow internet connections and too-few internet users had to wait for computers to catch up. Digg in 2004 and Google Maps in 2005 heralded much of the expansion, showing how a mashup of information meant new possibilities, and the whole "Web 2.0" concept began to germinate.


Now we're waiting again for mobiles, and especially smartphones allied to mobile networks, to catch up with what ambitious startup companies want to do. Apple's insistence in 2007 that iPhone users should have unlimited data plans yanked the entire mobile business forward about 10 years, and briefly showed us how everything should be working by 2012. No surprise that in recent months the mobile networks, unable to invest fast enough, have been rowing back on the "unlimited data" commitment, taking us back to 2007.


The next big sites won't be social networks. Of course they'll have social networking built into them; they'll come with an understanding of their importance, just as Facebook and Twitter know that search (an idea Google refined) and breaking news (Yahoo's remaining specialist metier) are de rigueur. Nor will they be existing sites retrofitted to do social networking, despite the efforts of Digg and Spotify.


So what will they be? No idea, I'm afraid. If I knew that, would I be here writing? Hell, no — I'd be off making elevator pitches and vacuuming up venture capital. Which brings us to business models. Facebook makes its money not just by sucking up ad impressions from the rest of the internet, using its remarkably detailed targeting ability; it also gets a cut from virtual transactions using its own virtual currency. LinkedIn, similarly, can precisely target its executive base. Twitter is different again, selling its user-generated content for big money to Google and Microsoft's Bing, as well as experimenting with direct payment for its EarlyBird sales system and "promoted tweets". The point being that "ad-supported" isn't the only game for startup revenue. The big sites of the future won't necessarily be about ads as a way to make money, and they won't be about social networks. Now, hunker down and wait. Or get out there and build it.


© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







The Open Page, a longstanding weekly feature of TheHindu, is meant to give its readers opportunities to write on a variety of subjects of their choice. It has proved extremely popular, particularly after it went full page on March 14, 2010, on a suggestion made in this column. The suggestion came in response to the expressed wishes of a number of enthusiastic readers. They wrote on an impressive range of subjects relating to the social, political, economic, and cultural lives of the people. Many of these contributions addressed the issues with fresh insight and a progressive outlook. The number of letters to the editor that have come in testifies to the spontaneity, the liveliness, and the élan of the Open Page.


Way back in 1978, when TheHindu introduced the 'Open Page' as one of three special features, along with 'Outlook' and 'Special Report,' to commemorate the newspaper's birth centenary, the one-page feature was also termed the reader's page. The first Open Page was published with a four-line highlight at the top, which read: "How do people react to events, ideas, developments? TheHindu seeks, in this monthly feature, to provoke public discussion on key topics of current interest, to promote purposeful thinking. This page is open to you" (quoted in Rangaswami Parthasarathy's educative A Hundred Years of The Hindu: The Epic Story of Indian Nationalism, Kasturi & Sons Ltd. 1978, Madras).


These terms of reference remain relevant today. Given the lively response from readers to the contents of the Open Page over the past four months, the feature is clearly living up to its claim "to provoke public discussion ... [and] promote purposeful thinking" among tens of thousands of readers.


A variety


Of the approximately 80 articles (many of them have been accompanied by illustrations, photographs, and cartoons) published in this page up to July 18, 15 probed issues relating to women and children. Eight dealt with problems relating to the environment and wildlife. Issues relating to education and linguistic chauvinism accounted for five articles each. There were four articles on the plight of senior citizens and the same number on Bt. Brinjal. A few articles highlighted problems ranging from the quality of TV serials to the justness or otherwise of capital punishment, from understanding Mahatma Gandhi to confronting Maoists, from eulogising Super Moms and Super Grandmas to ensuring communal harmony in a pluralist society. Most of the articles were eminently readable because they touched upon the contemporary concerns of large sections of the people. The mix included some light articles, human interest stories, humour pieces, and interesting tales that people like to read in addition to the heavy stuff. Some writers wrote sensitively on people who suffer deprivations, such as housemaids and Dalits. Recent incidents of barbaric 'honour killings' and corporal punishment inflicted on schoolchildren were taken up for earnest discussion.


Interestingly, not just the articles on serious subjects, but also those written in a lighter vein won the appreciation of readers who wrote letters to the editor or to the Readers' Editor. Thus recent Open Page articles have generated discussion on everything that serious newspapers write editorials about.


The subjects covered included the entry of foreign universities, 'honour killings' of young couples, the flourishing of khap panchayats, which nullified weddings between consenting adults, the continuing practice of corporal punishment in schools and the resultant tragedies, gender discrimination in fixing wages, the ill-treatment of house maids, child abuse, linguistic chauvinism, communalism, casteism, and terrorism. The theme of changing social values in relation to the indiscriminate use or abuse of modern gadgets such as mobile phones, the 'cultural shocks' that modern society has often to face, and the increasing isolation of senior citizens from the rest of the society have also provoked thoughtful discussion.


They suggest solutions


Many contributors to the Open Page do not stop with highlighting the problems. They propose solutions as well. This suggests that readers are not less committed than media pundits to resolving troubling issues through a process of social change and reform that has been delayed for too long in India. For instance, Anandita Gupta ("Employing women: going beyond quota," Open Page, March 14, 2010) writes "… the question is not which class of women will benefit from a higher number of women representatives." The question is: will it really empower women. In her opinion, a seat in the legislature does not automatically ensure that the interests of the group/section/community of that person are made safe. The article refers to the continued oppression of women and instances of gang rape of Dalit women. Ms Gupta's clear-sighted formulation is that women's empowerment means "giving the power to women to say no to what she does not agree to and giving her the freedom to exercise her fundamental rights as a citizen of India." She then spells out measures that, "if implemented in their true spirit, would empower women the way we would like them to."


The measures include the sensitisation of judges towards cases involving women, the formation of a separate cell to investigate cases involving women, the enactment of stronger laws to deal with atrocities against women, and steps to sensitise the police to woman-specific problems. Although Ms Gupta's stand on reservation for women in legislatures may sound cynical, her article displays a practical approach to the real, long-pending problems ordinary women face in their day-to-day life.


Issues before society

Another subject that has caught the attention of discerning readers is premarital sex and live-in relationships. There have been three Open Page articles on the subject in the last four months. Dr. Meena Chintapalli, a Texas-based paediatrician, offers this surprising generalisation in "Ever thought about the child caught in crossfire?" (Open Page, April 18, 2010): "Encouraging sexual relationships with the co-living prior to marriage leads to what the western society is now regretting. The guy loses interest in the girl he has a relationship with, as another girl attracts his attraction for whatever reason. The girl tries to save the relationship by getting pregnant. The guy walks out of the life of the child and the mother. The mother looks for another support and that man will not accept this child and this child will not accept the new guy. Anger builds up and this leads to emotional and physical abuse as well. The child grows up with insecurity and the mother loses interest in the child as a result of the failures and depression." Noting that the affected children suffered from abnormalities of different kinds, Dr Chintapalli cautions Indians against similar occurrences.


"People of the same gotra do not necessarily have the same origin" (Open Page, July 4, 2010) by M.V. Anjaneyalu challenges the contention of the khaps that same-gotra marriages cannot be validated on the ground that the man and the woman involved have the same origin. The writer punches holes through this pseudo-theory by pointing out that people of a gotra are descended from families of different origin. "Moreover," he writes, "the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents."


Another article that has triggered reader interest is by K. Alagesan. "We are casteless, give us our due" (Open Page, July 4, 2010) looks at the couples "who have chosen to lead a life away from the casteist social order" to make out a case for doing a census of inter-caste couples. Referring to the contradiction between the Constitution envisaging a casteless society and the social order remaining caste-ridden, he asserts that inter-caste marriage is the only remedy. "Crores of people," he claims, have married across castes and discarded the oppressive caste system, but intolerant of this, caste forces have ostracised such couples. Mr. Alagesan presses for a separate reservation of 0.5 per cent for the sons and daughters of inter-caste couples, as recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, headed by Justice M. Venkatachalaiah, in 2000.


Strengthening the bond

The Open Page is a vital, increasingly important part of the newspaper. Making it a full page has attracted a big response. It strengthens the bond of trust between the newspaper and its readers. It helps the newspaper learn from its readers, many of whom bring to the table fresh insights and ideas. TheHindu's Chief News Editor, P.K. Subramanian, who selects the articles from a large inflow and edits them on his own time, mostly at home, and a small team that helps him put together the Open Page, as well as thousands of the newspaper's readers deserve the credit for this enthusing work in progress.








The Monsoon Session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, comes at a time when different parts of the country have become the site of multiple political contestations. These are likely to have their echo in Parliament and in the political activities of members outside the House. To that extent, an effort by a party or group of parties to mount a sustained political offensive against the government is likely to lack the needed edge. Ordinarily, the ruling side could have been brought under considerable pressure on the three issues of runaway inflation, the talks with Pakistan, and the government's inability to demonstrate that it has a credible strategy against Naxalism and Naxalites that goes alongside providing development goods to the tribal belt in central India that has spawned the present version of the Maoist insurgency. Cornering the government is now less likely than it may have been a couple of months earlier. Thus, the boycott of the Prime Minister's pre-session luncheon meeting by the BJP, the main Opposition party, appears to be a sign of peevishness by a single party, not the harbinger of a concerted anti-government strategy by a collection of parties. It is noteworthy in this context that even the BJP's NDA allies have not seen it fit to back it on the question of the Gujarat minister of state for home being chargesheeted by the CBI in the Sohrabuddin murder case, which is the issue on which BJP declined to break bread with the Prime Minister in protest.

In Andhra Pradesh, TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu is girding his loins to take on the Congress, using as his platform the Babli barrage issue. Mr Naidu desires to involve the lower riparian states locked in controversy with their upper riparian counterparts. His planned actions are likely to probe the alliance system in Tamil Nadu, which supplies a key Congress ally, the DMK. Another important UPA constituent, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, is under fire for mismanaging the railway ministry and allegedly being in cahoots with the Maoists. If this is bad for the ruling coalition, Trinamul's long-running violent battle with the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal weakens the Opposition as far as the Congress in Parliament is concerned. Apart from the messy Sohrabuddin affair in Gujarat, the BJP is on the backfoot on the issue of the mining mafia in Karnataka, with Opposition parties in the state gunning for the chief minister. In Bihar, the NDA government led by the JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar, who has in recent years earned something of a name for fostering development in a state many thought had retired to the stone age, has suddenly come under fire from the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India for dodgy accounting to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees, triggering a rare unity of Opposition parties in the state.

Since several parts of the country are caught up in strife in which the issues thrown up have a national dimension, these may be expected to consume parliamentary time. To that extent, an anti-government focus may be hard to develop in the Monsoon Session. The government has already been assured the support of the Samajwadi Party, RJD and Bahujan Samaj Party. These entities don't have a smooth relationship with the Congress these days, but each has its compulsion to back the bills before the House. On the other hand, given the current political developments in Karnataka and Gujarat, it is to be seen if the NDA parties — notionally the main Opposition — can cohere and not let internal contradictions consume them. Although in a parlous state, it will be a pity if the Opposition is unable to pin down the government on the price issue and on talks with Pakistan.








Understanding Indian politics is extremely difficult without comprehending the politics of the Indian National Congress. The issues crop up again and again related to the views of the left, right and centre within the party, making the picture confusing because each of the groups upholding the views claims that they speak for the party as a whole. The latest statement of Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is a case in point. It is, of course, not surprising that every group will try to speak in the name of a party as a whole, but for understanding the evolution of the party position one has to go much beyond such pronouncements and analyse the objective realities that give rise to these different views.

Unlike other political parties in India or any other country, the Congress is more like a platform and has been like that throughout the history of the Indian national movement. It never had a unified view because it allowed different social groups and political forces the full scope of debate and controversy within the party itself as a sort of a mirror image of what went on in the country at the national level. The party had representation of the working class, the peasantry, big and small farmers and petty entrepreneurs, besides of course being represented by the big businessmen and landlords.

On regional and local levels, the Congress had representation of different castes, linguistic, ethnic and cultural groups. Although the conflicts of these local groups did get reflected in national politics, in most cases local issues dominated local politics, giving the impression from the all-India perspective of the fractured politics of India.

At the national level, however, the views have been more consolidated under different groups representing different perspectives in national politics to form themselves into the left, right and the centre. In spite of many attempts by the leadership to impose a semblance of unity in the Congress position on different issues, these differences could not be suppressed and the Congress will always have a left, right and centre position on different subjects, contesting each other in national politics. The likes of Mr Singh speaking in the name of the left have always been and would always be contesting the likes of P. Chidambaram presented as the right in national politics together with the centrist position of the party leadership.

In a sense, this position of a pl­atform for all different points of views gives the strength to the Congress as an all-India na­t­ional organisation. Throughout its history the Congress' leader­s­hip has tolerated all these internal differences without trying to suppress decadence. Even at the height of the Congress movements the left wing represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, with his large support based among the young people of India, and the right wing represented by conservative forces led by Rajendra Prasad and Acharya Kriplani, no attempt was made to suppress political differences. A national Congress position emerged under a national leadership projecting the view of the national Congress based on the relative strength of different social forces.

It is therefore, not surprising that the current leadership of the Congress allows all these diff­e­r­ences to remain open to crop up on different issues. Mr Singh's position on Naxalism has the support of a large numb­er of Congressmen even if not of the leadership. The positions taken by Jairam Ramesh on en­v­i­ronmental issues which are ul­timately dividing business in­te­rests in India as well as abroad will continue to create conflict which might often embarrass the international position taken by the government in understandings reached with industrial countries. And then we have Mani Shankar Aiyar, speaking in the name of the common people in India, whose potential support base is huge among the poor, vulnerable and the unemployed who constitute more than three-fourths of our country. These differences cannot be and should not be suppressed for not destroying the national image of the Congress.

Indeed, a skilful handling of these different conflicts and the groups represented by them has been a major achievement of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ably supported her. It has been possible for them to maintain the image of a leftist leadership under Mrs Gandhi and that of a centrist leadership under Dr Singh.

There is often a misunders­t­a­nding in the media and political circles about the politics of Dr Singh. He has been a champion of neo-liberal economic policies, pushing the cause of economic growth in the formulation of his most of the economic policies. At the same time he is clear-sighted enough to combine this neo-liberal policies with effective and visible steps to protect the common people through employment, social security and subsidisation policies for helping them. In this, Dr Singh has followed the minimum needs strategy of Robert McNamara, the World Bank's president in the 1970s. That made huge political sense in a liberalising economy, where high investment rate of the rich, promoting a high rate of growth was supported by a visible programme of looking after the poor that were left behind.

In a very practical sense, Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh complement each other, one looking after politics of the party and the other administration of the government supported by both the left and the right within the party.
I am posing the issues of national politics in this way so that the debates and con­tr­o­v­e­r­s­ies in the party and in the co­u­n­try are sharpened, so that a pro­per analysis can be made of the occ­asions when the left and the right forces successfully assert themselves. These analyses can be extended to the foreign policy areas, which should be able to explain the changing foreign policy stances of the Congress. They are often pro-American, whenever the rightist forces take over the leadership. But they are also often deviating from the position of US interest, as a vast majority of Indians, especially the Islamic population cannot blindly support the US position on different issues.

Once these issues are raised, the questions in terms of the left, right and the centre within the Congress can be openly discussed so that an effective debate can be started on the nature of the Indian politics and the support of the different social groups.


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








The nation witnessed a high-voltage political drama between the time the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) issued its first summons on Thursday morning to Amit Shah, Gujarat's minister of state for home, and the time when he appeared before the media all guns blazing on Sunday afternoon.


We could have done without it. The CBI wanted to question Shah for his alleged involvement in the apparently fake encounter involving the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauserbi, and a witness, Tulsi Prajapati. The Supreme Court had handed over the investigation to the CBI in January this year. Shah did not answer the summons and then went into hiding until he resurfaced on Sunday, by which time the summons had become a charge-sheet.

What should have been treated as a law and order issue instead became an opportunity for the nation's two major political parties to make spectacles of themselves on national television. For the Bharatiya Janata Party, this was an ideal time to take the high moral ground and instruct the minister to follow the law. This would have given them an advantage when they made their claims that the charges against Shah had been fabricated.

Instead, the BJP jumped the gun and blamed the Congress for manipulating the CBI and then, rather churlishly, turned down a lunch invitation from the prime minister. The Congress answered the BJP's bluster with some bombast of its own and the whole thing turned into a slanging match.

There are a few larger problems here. As minister of state for home, Shah should have been upholding the law. Instead, for a while it seemed as if he was running away from it. The CBI is certainly not pure as the driven snow. It has been used by all parties in power, not least the Congress. But in this particular instance, it has been acting under the direct control of the Supreme Court. Blaming the Congress is not just misguided on the part of the BJP, but somewhat foolhardy. Shah has been declaring that he has full faith in the judiciary, but the party's stand is at variance with this assertion.

Our politicians — whatever their ideologies — need to understand that they are not above the laws which they have sworn to uphold. In India, you are still innocent until proven guilty and every accused has a chance to defend himself. But, sadly, Shah's behaviour was not the dignified or appropriate response for a responsible minister.






The public spat between Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart SM Qureshi receded into the background as the focus shifted to the clash between the ministry of external affairs (MEA) and the home ministry (HM).


Home secretary GK Pillai had apparently queered the pitch for talks by his remarks on the ISI's direct involvement in the Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008, based on David Headley's disclosures.


For a while, it seemed as if Qureshi would have the last laugh as two cabinet ministers were apparently at war over Pakistan, but this was never quite true. On one day we were told that home minister Chidambaram and Krishna had it out at a cabinet meeting. The next day we saw pictures of foreign secretary Nirupama Rao walking over to Pillai's office for tea and snacks. It made for interesting headlines for a few days but there was really nothing at the heart of it.


For one, it was not as if that Chidambaram and Krishna differed on how to deal with Pakistan. They may have had individual variations on the same theme which are not necessarily antithetical. What did prime minister Manmohan Singh do? Did he tick off Krishna for the faux pas, as was reported? Or did he gag Pillai indirectly by creating the post of an official home ministry spokesman? Are cracks showing up in Singh's UPA-2 government?

The speculation among people with the so-called ringside view is that this is indeed the beginning of the end of the UPA edifice, with ministers and bureaucrats talking at each other. What is more likely is that this is business as usual inside the government, where different voices are magnified in the media but are really nothing more than the proverbial storm in a tea cup. Of course, minor gales could turn destructive as well. Luckily, not this time.







The human resources ministry's draft bill on allowing foreign universities makes welcome departures on two important areas: it does not shove a flawed reservations policy down unwilling throats; it also allows these universities, set up with private, public or private-public funding, to have foreign nationals as vice-chancellors.

The draft bill, as reported in the press, calls for setting up 14 "innovation" universities of world-class standards. They will be allowed to create their own admission procedures — the only restraint being that 50% of the students must be Indian nationals. Though these universities are expected to have their own plans for affirmative action, the abandonment of Indian-style reservations for various categories of allegedly disadvantaged sections will ensure that merit get a leg up.


The provision for having a foreign national as boss is also excellent, since this will bring a fresh mind untainted by our political legacies to take a call on what constitutes affirmative action, what constitutes merit. The recent controversy over the appointment of a vice-chancellor for Mumbai University shows how far gone we are in terms of the politicisation of our academic institutions. It is best to start out with a clean slate with foreign universities.


It remains to be seen, though, whether the bill will see the light of day in its present form or will be mauled by political compromise.








The deadlock over a government proposal to modernise madrasas, or traditional Islamic schools, illustrates how a 'minority mindset' imposed by the ulema and politicians could draw Muslims deeper into the morass of conservatism, poverty and unemployment.


There is a yawning gap between the Muslim educated in modern classrooms and their more numerous counterparts educated at madrasas, khanqahs, Urdu medium schools or simply nowhere. This gulf has widened rather than diminished over time.

Since taking over as the human resources development minister in May, Kapil Sibal has been driving reforms in all areas of education. Among his initiatives is a renewed push for the 2004 madrasa modernisation scheme, which aims to include the teaching of modern subjects in the largely theological curriculum and centralise the management of the thousands of Islamic seminaries spread all across India.

While as the minister of education, Maulana Azad too tried to establish an all-India madrasa board to stabilise religious education with a proper scale for teachers and a proper examinations for students, he faced utmost resistance from Mufti Atiq-ur-Rehman Usmani, Maulana Shibli Nomani and Maulana Hifz-ur-Rehman, all close associates.

Reforms in education are a must for the community as Muslims are languishing in their ghettoised slums with literacy rates at low levels (41.27% against the national literacy rate of 63.07%).

Muslim women have just a 21.66% literacy rate as against the 40.54% amongst the non-Muslim women, according to surveys carried out by Friends for Education.

There are less than 2% Muslims in government jobs. Of the 479 judges at the all-India level, only 30 are Muslim, that makes it just 6.26%. In the IAS, the Muslim percentage is a mere 2.27%. Of the 3,284 IPS officers, just 120 are Muslims (3.65%).


In Central government ministries, the figures are pathetic. Of the 59 secretaries in the home ministry (joint secretaries, directors, advisors, etc), the percentage of Muslims is zero. The situation isn't different in the labour, power, defence, finance, external affairs, personnel, public, pensions and grievances ministries. Of course, the HRD and information and broadcasting ministries do have an officer each out of 26 and 33 respectively, making it 3.44%. Of the total 426 officers in all the ministries, only nine are Muslims, which means a meagre 2.11%.

Changes are urgently needed to improve the state of the community. As far as modernisation of madrasas is concerned, Atyab Siddiqui, legal advisor to Jamia Millia Islamia and a constitutional expert on matters pertaining to the Muslim community, says: "It's a big step for Muslim education." The scheme will enable students from various parts of the country to seek jobs of their choice, he says.

Modern education will provide Muslim youth from these seminaries a progressive socio-political outlook as well as help them find jobs and assimilate into the Indian success story. But the consensus deadline passed in August, and there is still no agreement on reforming madrasa education.

Why do madrasas dither on reform? Many madrasas find the teaching of modern subjects such as science and mathematics alongside the Koran too much of a dichotomy. Sections of the ulema and politicians belonging to the community also view the move as government intervention that will dilute the essentially theological nature of the madrasas.

The madrasa managements think that by accepting government grants their autonomy will end and they'll have to toe the government line and so on and so forth. However, the main reason is that their oil-dipped Arab grants might not be pocketed by them if the government comes forward.

The Muslim leadership has lost its voice and utility and is taking the community back to the dark ages that one could see in the Arab nations before the advent of Islam. Most of the leaders play votebank politics to gain state patronage for themselves and their coteries. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards.

They are irresponsibly petty-minded and possess a narrow outlook out of tune with reality. The rest of Muslims get mere rhetorical lip-service about their social and economic needs and exhortations about the will of God. Indian Muslims are kept in thrall to clerics and ill-educated youths, whose militancy has done little to free Muslims from the begging bowl.

The madrasa modernisation scheme was proposed in 2004 by the newly set-up national monitoring committee for minorities education. It provides for setting up an All-India Madrasa Board to monitor the implementation of the modernisation programme as well as help them upgrade infrastructure and facilities. India cannot progress unless Muslims progress.








Every newspaper in the country, every TV channel and almost all political parties have been gunning for Mamata Banerjee. Reason: she is the absentee railway minister, and the Sainthia station accident is only the latest in a long list of accidents that have happened while she has been head of the ministry. The fact that at least 60 people have been killed 90 injured, makes the scale of the accident truly horrific.


What makes it worse is Didi's reaction to the tragedy: no contrition, no expressions of sorrow, except the most mechanical, no owning up responsibility, no determined resolve to avoid future incidents. Instead, she launched into shrill attacks on the CPM, accusing it of deliberately causing the accident to scuttle her chances in future Bengal elections. If Mamata had any supporters outside the Trinamool Congress, they will have surely disappeared now.


Yet should the railway minister take all the blame? In  attacking Mamata Banerjee alone, we are in danger of protecting a whole lot of other people, some of them far more directly responsible for accidents of the Sainthia kind.


Study the comments about Banerjee's neglect of the ministry. Who do they come from? The railway unions have complained of a large number of vacancies not being filled up. The insinuation here is that the Uttarbanga Express ploughed into the stationary Vananchal Express because of this staff shortage.


The first mantra of every union is to ensure that none of its members gets sacked, however redundant that person may be. So employers, faced with over-staffing, often keep posts vacant as a way of countering overstaffing. The railways are not only the biggest employers in the country, but the staffing is bloated. But since it can't sack people, the only remedy is to not hire people when vacancies arise.


Even if we accept for a moment the union's understaffing argument, are we to understand that locomotive drivers and their assistants are hired by the railway minister? That's a remarkably stupid asumption, but it serves railway officials well. We all know the railways have a massive organisation with the chairman of the Railway Board at the top of the heap, and several members in charge of divisions like engineering, traffic, finance and so on.


Below that each regional railway division (Western, Central, etc) has a GM in charge. Wouldn't the job of recruitment be at this level rather than the minister's? Isn't it their job to get the anti-collision devices bought and installed on trains?


Here there is another point to consider: whenever president's rule is imposed on a state, it is noted that the state runs better because politicians are absent and civil servants and technocrats have a free hand. Why isn't Mamata Banerjee's absence from the ministry then not considered a blessing in disguise?


You can blame Mamata for her failure in providing the leadership which any entity needs. Like all previous railways ministers she has pressed ahead with populist measures while ignoring the unglamorous actions that should have been taken. Populist measures include the introduction of new trains; the unglamorous measure includes the renewal of old tracks. 

There is no doubt that Banerjee should be shifted from the railway ministry and a full-time minister should take her place. But let us not overlook the point that the whole system is at fault; if it is left as it is, accidents will continue to happen month after month.









Walking to school with the kids today. Breathtaking autumn morning here in my hometown. Fall colours, fresh air, crisp temperatures. My favourite time of the year.


Colby tells me that one of his buddies has a rubber turtle in his car. Said it reminds his parents to drive slowly and respect the lives of others on the road. Nice. Made me think about the importance of symbolic reminders — tokens we can strategically place at important places to help us remember what's most important. What matters. What we want to stand for.


One of the simplest tactics I suggest to clients at my leadership workshops is to put your three most important professional and personal commitments on a 3-inch × 5-inch card and post it on your bathroom mirror, so that you see them first thing in the morning. (I know it sounds cheesy, but it works.) This little practice affects your awareness. Radically.


Your awareness then shapes your choices. And your choices shape your results. Extraordinary people are dramatically focused on their best To Do's. It's all they think, talk and dream about.

I recall reading about John Risley, founder of Clearwater Fine Foods — one of the world's largest sea-food companies — who said, "When I want a deal, I think about nothing else but how to get it done. I wake up at night to use the bathroom, I'm thinking about the deal. I'm very focused." And with that rare focus, they get to where they need to be. With fewer detours than the rest of us.


So what Symbols of Glory might you use to keep you in your finest form? What tokens of excellence can you find that will quickly help you get back to your priorities when the crush of daily events clamours for your attention? You deserve to live an extraordinary life. Start by finding your symbols — ones that represent the person you are ready to become.









I have often felt such strong communication in the presence of absolute Love and trust. Not with just vague ideas of words like 'Hey I love you" thrown at each other , but love and trust that is focussed, active and eager at that moment. Which when combined together seem to bring our deeper selves out from our assumed physical containment,  into an energy that mingles and entangles with each other.  And that mingling leads to something ideas so limitless that words and gestures could not have conjured up.


I often do that when I direct. I 'sense' rather than speak about my relationship with actors. I actively try and create a sense of trust and bonding of love not only with my actors, but with everyone on the set.  When the actors are performing, I am losing my identity into them and creating so called 'energy fields' so we all become part of a harmonious 'moment' urging for something to be created beyond ourselves but also through ourselves. 


Not only in my experience with actors like Cate Blanchet, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush and Naseeruddin Shah, with whom I have had experiences where our souls have had the courage to be 'naked' in front of each other for that moment, our senses acutely alive to some deeper and often unknown aspect of ourselves in each other…but also with musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and AR Rahman. With Nusrat most of the communication was done by him looking into my eyes and singing with tears flowing from both our eyes…


Directing is so much like living. Love, trust and faith.









THERE is no mistaking the fact that the charges of murder, extortion,abduction and criminal conspiracy filed by the CBI against Gujarat's just-resigned Minister of State for Home Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case will have far-reaching political consequences. The Congress, which has been in the wilderness in Gujarat for long, is banking on this case to settle scores with the controversial but charismatic Chief Minister Narendra Modi whose protégé Shah is. The party reckons that while the Sohrabuddin case will drag on in courts for years, it will put an end to Modi's dream of making it big in Central politics. The BJP in turn has gone on the offensive, hoping to make a martyr out of Amit Shah by projecting him as a victim of CBI's hounding at the behest of the Congress. Mr Modi 's comment to the media in New Delhi on Saturday that "there is an atmosphere of war against the state" is a signal that he is preparing to play his long-tested 'Gujarati pride' card.


Since Amit Shah has been one of Narendra Modi's closest associates, it would be difficult for Modi to stave off a sense of outrage particularly in the intelligentsia across the country. Predictably, Left and the non-UPA parties would distance themselves from the BJP in the ensuing Parliament session on the Sohrabuddin issue and that would hit the index of Opposition unity, which cannot but be a comforting thought for the Congress. But, at the State level the Congress in Gujarat is so weak that it may fail to capitalize on the issue against the demagoguery of Modi.


Another key aspect of the politics of the case is that the CBI itself has pointed out in the chargesheet against Amit Shah that Sohrabuddin was an extortionist. To that the BJP has added that he was a Lashkar e Tayiba operative. This could give the party a handle to beat the Congress with in seeking to justify the fake encounter as a necessary evil. While this may cut some ice in communally-polarized Gujarat, it is unlikely to make much of an impression in the rest of the country. All in all, a fresh round of dirty politics lies ahead.








IN a nation that ranks 114th in the gender development index among 155 countries, incidents of gender insensitivity not only abound but also rarely raise our hackles. While the status of women in India is nothing to write home about, that of housewives in particular leaves much to be desired. They are often at the receiving end within the family structure, with no value put to their domestic work. It is appalling that even the government nurses similar deep-seated prejudices against women, especially housewives, and that the Census of India clubs them as non-productive workers alongside beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. The apex court, which has of late been making many gender-just observations, has done well to take to task the statutory authorities for their " totally insensitive and callous approach towards the dignity of labour so far as women are concerned."


In fact, the Bench comprising Justice G S Singhvi and Justice A K Ganguly has awarded a suitable compensation while hearing a case under the Motor Vehicles Act and put a significant value to a housewife's worth. It is not the first time the apex court has valued a housewife's contribution. In 2001, the Supreme Court order quantified the housewife's labour also while hearing an accident claim case and put it at at least Rs 3,000 per month. In Kerala, housewives came together and demanded a fixed salary and pension from the government. While it is not possible to calculate the economic contribution of homemakers, it would be equally egregious to negate their role in nation-building and dismiss it as non-productive as the census has so derisively done. Both as wives and mothers they make a priceless contribution to nation-building.


While the Supreme Court Bench has rightly called upon Parliament to rethink the value of housewives, rectify the anomaly of the 2001 census in the ongoing census operations and amend the Motor Vehicles Act that puts the worth of a housewife as one-third of the spouse, even more important is for society to wake up. It's about time the nation that almost deifies the image of mother also began to give housewives their much-deserved due.









AFTER healthcare and the $787 billion financial stimulus, US President Barack Obama has scored another landmark legislative victory: he has signed Wall Street reforms into law despite dogged opposition from pro-business Republicans and corporate America and a sharp plunge in his own popularity. This is the second most significant effort at financial reform after the great crash of the 1930s. The 2008 financial crisis had exposed some dark areas in the US financial system, including laxity by the regulators and poor supervision or complicity by rating agencies.


The financial reform law's aim is to ensure that Americans do not have to again pay for the Wall Street's mistakes. Sounds fine, but this is tricky. Will the US leadership permit large financial institutions to fall should they commit similar blunders, particularly if their failure has repercussions on and beyond the US economy? The Bush administration, which gave the markets a free hand and let sub-prime mortgages pile up, had no alternative but to bail out the troubled banks with the taxpayers' money. The alternative of allowing banks to go down was equally bad or even worse. Americans hated to foot the Wall Street bill. Obama has assumed office with a vow to clean up the system.


It requires courage to take on the mighty banks. To have the law passed is Obama's first success. The new law has a lesson or two for India and other nations. The financial system must be simplified. Consumers of financial products like house loans and credit cards are often required to sign papers which nobody reads or understands. The new US law hopes to make documents simple and procedures transparent, end all hidden fees and penalties. The President will appoint a regulator to protect bank customers. There will be a council of federal regulators to detect risks to the financial system. The aim is to avoid a repeat of 2008.

















INDIA and Japan have started discussions on the possibility of a civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement between the two countries. The two states have decided to fast-track the negotiations for a civilian nuclear deal with a view to signing the crucial accord during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Tokyo by the year-end. This is a significant move as Japan has long been critical of India's nuclear policy. Though India-Japan ties have blossomed in recent years on a whole range of issues, the nuclear issue has been a major irritant in their relationship.


The Indian nuclear tests of 1998 marked the lowest point in bilateral relations with Japan reacting strongly to the nuclearisation of the subcontinent. Tokyo suspended economic assistance for three years as well as put on hold all political exchanges between the two nations. Japan's economic measures against India included freezing of grant aid for new projects, suspension of yen loans, withdrawal of Tokyo as a venue for an India Development Forum meeting, a "cautious examination" of loans to India by international financial institutions and imposition of strict control over technology transfers. Japan took the lead in various international fora like the G-8 in condemning nuclear tests by India and Pakistan while the Japanese Diet described the tests as constituting a threat to the very survival of human beings.


This strong reaction from Japan was in many ways understandable, given that the Japanese are the only people to have experienced the brutality of nuclear weapons and that experience has continued to shape their world-view. Yet, many in India saw the Japanese reaction as hypocritical, given that India's genuine security concerns were brushed aside even as Japan itself enjoyed the security guarantee of the US nuclear umbrella. As many in India see it, Japan's commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in many ways, remains predicated upon its reliance on American nuclear deterrence.


As the major global powers re-evaluated their approach towards India post-Pokharan II, Japan also gradually came on board and the then Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, paid a symbolically important visit to India in 2000, envisaging a "global partnership" between the two states, thereby putting India-Japan relationship on an entirely new trajectory. Yet the nuclear issue continued to constrain this bilateral relationship.


The US-India civilian nuclear energy cooperation pact has, however, changed the nuclear realities and Japan is trying to come to grips with India's new nuclear power status. The Indo-US nuclear pact has virtually rewritten the rules of the global nuclear regime by underlining India's credentials as responsible nuclear power that should be integrated into the global nuclear order. It creates a major exception to the US prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all its nuclear facilities.


Though Japan has supported the US-India civilian nuclear energy cooperation treaty, there remain differences between Japan and India on the nuclear issue. Japan continues to insist that India must sign the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) whereas India has no intention of doing so, given its long-standing concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of these treaties. Current Japanese law allows nuclear exports only to the countries that, unlike India, are either a party to the NPT or allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to safeguard all its nuclear facilities. If India decides to go in for more nuclear tests in the future, the Japanese government of the day would be forced to respond in a manner that may be inimical to India-Japan ties.


The Nuclear Suppliers Group approved of the US-India nuclear pact in 2008 in which Japan went with the consensus that India's nuclear record warranted its support for the deal. There has been a gradual evolution in the Japanese approach towards the Indian nuclear capability. It refused to view the US-India nuclear pact as a danger to the global non-proliferation framework and was not an obstacle to the decision of the NSG to amend its guidelines enabling India to trade in nuclear technology and fuel. But the Japanese government ruled out any civilian nuclear technology transfer to India, at least for the time being, as domestic sentiment in Japan remains strongly anti-nuclear. The issue of civilian nuclear cooperation was also raised when the then Japanese Prime Minister, Hatoyama, had visited India last year. Though Hatoyama was sympathetic to the Indian argument about the desirability of such a deal, he had stressed that India would have to promise that it would not conduct any more nuclear tests.


Since securing the NSG approval, India has signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with countries as diverse as Britain, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Angola and, most recently, Canada. Japan is realising that it is foolhardy not to be part of this larger trend. Given the involvement of Japanese firms in the US and French nuclear industry, an Indo-Japanese pact is essential if US and French civilian nuclear cooperation with India is to be realised. Japanese approval is needed if GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse are to sell nuclear reactors to India. Given the benefits that the Japanese nuclear industry will reap from such a deal, it should not be a surprise that the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry have pulled out all stops in support of the deal.


Though the commercial dimension of the deal is certainly significant, it is the political symbolism that will be more critical once such a deal comes to fruition. It will underline Japan's determination to put Indo-Japanese ties in a high gear. India's relations with Japan have travelled a long way since May 1998 when a chill had set in after India's nuclear tests with Japan imposing sanctions and suspending its Overseas Development Assistance. Since then, however, the changing strategic milieu in the Asia-Pacific has brought the two countries together so much so that the last visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Japan resulted in the unfolding of a roadmap to transform a low-key relationship into a major strategic partnership.


The rise of China is a major factor in the evolution of Indo-Japanese ties as is the US attempt to build India into a major balancer in the region. Both India and Japan are well aware of China's not-so-subtle attempts at preventing their rise. An India-Japan civilian nuclear pact will be critical in signalling that they would like to build a partnership to bring about stability in the region at a time when China is going all out to reward Pakistan with civilian nuclear reactors, putting the entire non-proliferation regime in jeopardy.


The writer teaches at King's College, London.








ANY teacher worth his salt (read salary — salt was once given to soldiers as salary) will admit and reveal that there are some students whose memory sticks on him like a stubborn burr. There are some whose memory lingers like a delicate perfume and there are others whose memory does not fade because it has a remarkable stamina like that of a pest. Here are a few mini ones from the last-named category.


There was an uncouth, shabbily dressed one with a cloth bag slung over his shoulders. As soon as I entered the classroom, he would jump up like an unwound toy, grab the duster, wipe the blackboard clean, dust the chalk from his hands, and resume his seat on the front bench. For the next 45 minutes, he subjected me to a kind of third-degree torment with his never-fading smile which spread from one corner of his wide mouth to the other. Survival became an uphill task for me during the period. Villains smile more profusely than non-villains!


Another from this infamous class always stood just outside the classroom, puffing furiously at his Charminar. The offensive smoke was his smoke-screen. He trailed to the classroom at my heels, and swaggered to the last bench of which he was the sole occupant.


His smoking habit did not make me put up my hackles. What got my goat was his foul way of entering the classroom, smoke still exhaling from his mouth, and sometimes nostrils.


Then there was neatkin, a dandy of sorts, heavily perfumed, who thought that the first seat in the second row belonged to him as if he had inherited it. He often came late and then asked the occupant to shift, make room for him. The entire row of students hopped from one warm seat to another while I stood smiling sheepishly.


The last one's memory lingers like a perfume. She was plumpish with a subtle sense of humour.


Quite often she stumbled into my cabin and asked me to guide her for the forthcoming class test. She took notes. Sooner than later, I realised what was the secret of her scoring. I was evaluating my own work, and rewarding her! I stopped guiding her. She hit back.


During the course of the lecture, she would look at her wristwatch more than it was comfortable for me. I did not mind it. She came out with a brilliant strategy. She looked at her watch and then shook it as if to ensure that it was ticking!











AS expected, the talks between India and Pakistan at the Foreign Minister's level failed, although our government is at pains to tell us that this is not so! Such failures are an oft-repeated phenomenon as we have gone through many similar exercises. The results every time are sabotage by the Pakistan army, either directly as in Kargil, or indirectly, as has happened now. In the bargain, here we are - a potential superpower in the making, which continues to be taken for a ride by Pakistan. When will we learn? It is no solace that Pakistan has been taking the would's sole super power, the United States, also for a ride for decades!


Foreign policies are not made or changed by individual whims and fancies, especially in a democracy. When majority of the populace does not support resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, till it not only abjures state sponsored terror but shows it by its actions, why does our political leadership persist in this charade? It is not that enough wise people have not warned or requested the leadership not to do so, but it seems our hierarchy listens more to emotions and diehard peaceniks than to hard facts. No doubt there is pressure to talk from the US, but it has to be resisted as we have good grounds for not re-starting the so-called peace-dialogue.


While peace should be the goal of all countries, no country does so by shooting itself in the foot! The present government has done so on more than one occasion and instead of learning, it now wants to persist in this endeavour. When perfidy by Pakistan since its formation is well known and documented, one fails to understand the reasons for the persistence of our leaders in continuing to try for peace with a nation that does not want it as a matter of state policy. It is state policy, as policy is made by the power structure in being and in Pakistan, its army calls the shots.The so-called elected leaders know it, but they are not strong or clever enough to change this. It is unfortunate that Pakistan is yet to produce a political entity that can confront the army successfully.


The Pakistani army has its own agenda, where peace with India has no place. It wants to retain its powerful position as Pakistan's sole power center. Any headway in reaching a peace settlement with India would obviously undermine its pre-eminent position and would be opposed. Unless the army's clout is reduced or eliminated, nothing will change. The onus for this lies squarely on the polity of Pakistan, but it can be facilitated by external actions too.


This brings us to the obvious question of how to proceed further. Statements emanating from the political leadership and officials they have made up their minds to carry on regardless. They have obviously not heard the phrase "cutting one's losses" and changing tack. There is a well-known military saying that asks military leaders to "reinforce success, not failures". Even if our political leaders pay little attention to "matters military', surely common sense should lead them to such a conclusion. However, linear thinking continues to be a bane of Indian establishment, where change has little meaning! The need of the hour is to make a drastic change in our foreign policy, as it relates to the India-Pakistan equation.


Till now, India's policy has been to reach out to its neighbours, including Pakistan, so that a friendly atmosphere is generated and problems are solved in a spirit of give and take. While this may be a splendid theoretical exercise, it can only be implemented if there is reciprocity.. In South Asia, India has managed to achieve this with some countries, but it has always been a one-way street with Pakistan. That country only wants concessions from India, with no inputs from its side. This can never be a solution to peaceful coexistence and this policy should, therefore, change.


We do have routine relations, with diplomats functioning at full strength in each other's capitals. There are also frequent meetings of senior bureaucrats and ministers at various multi-lateral fora. The PM also meets his counterpart on many occasions. In addition there are a several military CBM's in place like hot lines between the two DGMO's and agreements relating to flying aircraft in border areas, the conduct of military exercises near borders and so on. This should suffice till Pakistan stops state-sponsored terrorism.


Despite the machinations of Pakistan in destabilising India by sponsoring insurgencies in Punjab earlier and J&K currently, supporting Jihadi and similar outfits for launching terror attacks; flooding India with fake currency and providing support and shelter to indigenous militant groups, the economy of India continues to rise at a fast pace. While the growth rate of India is steadily increasing at 8-8.5 per cent of the GDP, that of Pakistan is stagnating at 2 per cent. Our democracy continues to be commented favourably by foreign countries, while Pakistan continues to earn the dubious honour of being the hub of terrorism and every act of terrorism in the world is linked to it. Our military continues to be apolitical, despite its gross mishandling and down grading by the political leadership and the "committed" bureaucracy, while that of Pakistan is always in a "military coup" mode even when a so-called elected government is in being. We have built and nourished numerous institutions, which are strengthening our democracy, but Pakistan struggles to sustain even rudimentary institutions it has managed to create. Lastly, while India has moved from an "aid receiver" to an "aid giver", Pakistan is perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy and only substantial funds it gets from USA keep it afloat.


The bottom line therefore is to take a much-needed break from any kind of formal negotiations with Pakistan. Let us continue with routine, impersonal and correct relationship with Pakistan, so that the Pakistani leadership - political, civil bureaucracy and military - fully understands that we mean business and we will not succumb to its threats, cajoling and blandishments, or pressure from other countries. This will require not only a drastic change in our policy but also building up our military and internal security apparatus for meeting the challenges posed by the Pakistani army.


(The writer is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army).







Addressing the Army Commanders' Conference recently, Defence Minister A.K. Antony made a strong plea for synergy among the Army, Navy and Air Force as future security matrix calls for a high degree of cooperation and inter-dependence among the services.


Antony also stated in Parliament that the proposal to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), recommended by the Kargil Review Committee, was "under examination", and institutional support and infrastructure had already been created in the form of an Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters to support the CDS "whenever created".


His statement amounts to putting the cart before the horse, as there was no need of creating a "headless" IDS Headquarters years earlier if the proposal for its head (CDS) was to remain "under examination" indefinitely.


Antony knows as much as everyone that the proposal for a CDS has been under consideration since before the Chinese aggression of 1962. Like in all previous wars, the necessity of having a joint head was felt in the Kargil conflict too, though it was a localised operation in a "war-like situation".


In Kargil, air action was delayed for several days due to differences between Army and the Air Force. It was only these were resolved at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that the air action was put through. Similarly, the decision to move the Navy's eastern fleet into the Arabian Sea to send a strong signal to Pakistan, was delayed until the Navy Chief stressed on this in the meeting.


All this has again brought to the fore the necessity of having a joint head for the armed forces. What was heartening after the Kargil war was that the three service chiefs had unanimity. The Kargil Review Committee examined the necessity or otherwise of a joint head and recommended the appointment of a CDS besides restructuring the Ministry of Defence. The issue was then examined by a Group of Ministers, which recommended the creation of a CDS in 2001.


No sooner did this happen than a controversy started between the three services as each service staked a claim on this appointment. It took sometime to resolve this, after which it was hoped the appointment of CDS would come through. Formalities were completed in 2002, but the appointment still hangs fire.


In his book:, "Problems of Indian Defence", defence analyst K.M. Panikkar, says: "The separation of three services under independent commanders is, indeed, an outmoded concept. Division of functions makes sense only if they represent distinguishable strategic mission. Today, this is not possible…."


Modern wars not only call for close coordination between the services but also an integrated command set-up. In the 1965 war, the Army and the Air Force virtually fought independent battles, while the Navy had a very little role. In 1971, things functioned better because of the long preparatory period and a healthy nexus between the service chiefs who had the backing of a strong political leadership.


Both in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, each service had to carry out its own reconnaissance for operational planning. In Sri Lanka, the necessity of having representatives from the three services at each HQs was greatly felt. Until this requirement was met, the conduct of operations suffered.


After Lord Mountbatten came to India as Viceroy, he tried to convince Jawaharlal Nehru that India should adopt CDS system, but Nehru was reluctant. Mountbatten recorded: "I urged him to appoint General Thimayya the CDS right-away as I could see trouble brewing up. He liked Thimayya immensely and was no longer opposed to the CDS provided it got through the Defence Minister, Krishna Menon. He said Krishna was so bitterly opposed to Thimayya and indeed, all the really intelligent senior officers that he was sure he could never get Krishna to agree."


We never came as close to having a CDS as we did after the Kargil conflict. But when all hurdles were cleared, the political hierarchy dithered and put the issue in cold storage by saying that consensus of all the political parties was required, which is unlikely.


The powers-that-be have always shied away for two main reasons. One, the bureaucrats feel that the defence forces integrated under one head will become stronger, resulting in the bureaucrats losing some of their clout and powers. Two, the politicians suffer from an inherent phobia that a strong Army will not augur well for them.


In sum, synergy among the services cannot be achieved without creating a joint head for the armed forces. India is still following a system of command that is totally outdated and is neither in the interest of the country nor is it conducive to the operational efficiency of the services. There is, therefore a dire necessity to create a CDS as a modern war cannot be fought without integrating the three services under one head.


(The writer is a freelance journalist)









Long before he became a politician, Suresh Kalmadi was an Air Force pilot. Among his favourite memories, he has said in the past, was landing planes in Leh when there were no proper runways. The big question now is can he deliver the Commonwealth Games with what looks like poorly finished stadiums? Responding to such queries in the past, Mr Kalmadi has always been gung-ho, insisting, "We will be fully prepared." But as the August 1 deadline to hand over the stadiums to the Games Organising Committee approaches, it is clear that much of the work remains unfinished.


How did we get here? At its heart, the story of the Commonwealth Games has been a morality tale about different ideas of India: the India we want to be and the one we thought we had left behind. Shashi Tharoor may not be in fashion any more but he once penned a lovely allegory on modern Indian politics in his The Great Indian Novel, observing that India is not "an underdeveloped country" but "a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay". This phrase captured the overwhelming despair and shabbiness that had come to characterise the worst excesses of the license permit raj. The rise of the Azim Premjis and Narayan Murthys in the 1990s shattered that grand narrative of fallen greatness, ushering in a new era of self-belief. This is an India that is fast emerging as one of the new pillars of the world economy; one that gives billions of dollars to the IMF in return for a greater say on the global high table; and one that has the chutzpah to create a Nano. India unquestionably has the talent and the ability, yet it seems to have made such a mess of the Commonwealth Games.


As always, in India, opposites coexist. Just as the Naxals and their voiceless excluded multitudes continually remind us of our dark underbelly threatening to engulf the shining lights of Manmohan Singh's brave new India, so do shibboleths from the past co-exist with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. The story of the Commonwealth Games so far is a case in point.


To begin with, Delhi got off the starting blocks rather late. The planning for the Beijing 2008 Olympics and upcoming 2012 Games in London, for instance, followed a seven-year time cycle: two years for planning and approvals, four years for construction and development, and the last year for test events and trial runs. In the case of Delhi, though, the first few years were utterly wasted. As per the contract with the Commonwealth Games Federation, Delhi's Organising Committee was to be in place by May 2004, but it was not formed until as late as February 2005. This rendered most of the original timelines redundant. Delhi's bid document had four phases: 2004-2006 for planning, 2006-2008 for creating, 2008-2010 for delivering and 2010-2011 for concluding. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the Games found "no evidence of the four-phase approach being translated into action during the first phase years of 2004 to 2006." Planning only really commenced from late-2006, much of the construction only later.


Twenty-one major organisations and agencies were involved, each with different roles, budgets and reporting lines. As the CAG pointed out in 2009, "Many agencies were either unaware of their role or refuted the role expected of them." Many even had different timelines for the same project. Even though the government set up a Core Group of Ministers to coordinate the work, in practise pulling together so many moving parts proved to be a bureaucratic quagmire with as many as 22 sub-committees.

 The PMO was involved at sporadic intervals, but one gets the overwhelming impression that the entire impetus lacked a strong centre of the kind that Rajiv Gandhi gave to the Asian 1982 Games. In 1982, the prime minister's young son, cutting his political teeth, had spearheaded the effort, giving the Buta Singh-led organising committee a focused coherence from the highest level. 2010 seems to have lacked such a concentrated direction until the Sports Ministry began taking charge in 2009.


The big question now is: will Shera fly? Will the tiger mascot of the Games be remembered fondly like the Appu – the tubby elephant mascot of the 1982 Asian Games – or will it go into the dustbin of India's collective consciousness? Put simply, can India still pull it off?


(The author has co-written, with Boria Majumdar, a book on the politics of the Commonwealth Games, which will be published in August this year)



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Public finance experts will understandably find many flaws in the three-year plan that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee unveiled last week for moving to a single-rate goods and services tax (GST) regime of 16 per cent for the Centre as well as the states. The proposed rate at the end of three years is much higher than the 12 per cent recommended by the 13th Finance Commission as a feasible and revenue-neutral rate under the new taxation regime. Trade and industry, too, had expected a lower single-rate GST, which the government could have achieved with a wider and uniform coverage. The proposed exemption of alcohol, petroleum products and gas from the new regime, and the inclusion of as many as 99 items in the zero-rate category are expected to encourage similar demands from many more sectors, further weakening the revenue base and putting upward pressure on the final GST rate. The single-rate GST is already high at 16 per cent and any further increase under such pressure will be an incentive for tax evasion.

Several other complications are likely to arise from a system that allows two rates to prevail for goods in the first two years of the transition period. The likelihood of raw materials attracting the standard rate and the finished goods carrying the lower rate is strong and this will result in an avoidable inverted duty structure, giving rise to further problems for the exchequer where input credits or tax refunds may exceed output taxes or the final tax incidence. The three-year GST road map is also fraught with many risks as the government will have the challenging task of reducing the tax rate from the 12-20 per cent range, with which the new regime will kick off in April 2011, to 12-18 per cent by next year and finally to a single rate of 16 per cent by April 2013. Fiscal compulsions of raising revenues to bridge deficit during this period can put undue pressure on the Centre or states to either phase out the transition to the single-rate regime or even raise the final GST rate.

 However, it will be naive to assume that a fundamental reform like the introduction of GST in the kind of a federal structure that prevails in India is achievable without making small compromises with various stakeholders, particularly the states where the political parties in power may not always see eye to eye with those at the helm at the Centre. What the finance minister has offered has many flaws, but there is no denying that a basic structure of GST is now in place and a consensus around that has been built with most states agreeing to the idea. With the government deciding to introduce the Constitution amendment Bill to facilitate the launch of the GST regime in the monsoon session of Parliament, the target of April 2011 now looks achievable. While the proposed Finance Ministers' Council for GST should work towards removing the many flaws the new system will undoubtedly suffer from during the transition period of three years, it should not overlook the one big advantage the new taxation structure should benefit from. The GST rates over the three years are to decline from a high of 20 per cent to 16 per cent. This should make the GST regime politically palatable as tax rates under the new system will be declining






Regulatory issues kept on the boil for a long time usually turn into frustrations which then tend to boil over and overwhelmingly influence the regulatory architecture, and may even pull it down. The Sebi-Irda dispute on the Ulip matter resulting in the issuance of an ordinance by the government is a classic example. The recent court case between the MCX and Sebi is another. The third one, which is still on the boil, is the contradictory and contumacious stand taken by Sebi and the mutual funds on the load structure.

In the jurisdictional dispute between Sebi and Irda, it was not clear if the Union finance ministry, which is represented on the boards of the regulatory bodies, gave any advice to the regulators or discussed the matter in the board meetings. It was not quite apparent if the High Level Committee on Financial Markets discussed this matter; even if it did, the impact was not visible either on Sebi or Irda. The government allowed the regulators to go to the court, bought time, issued an ordinance and threw the regulators into a tizzy. The resultant effect was that the regulators, including RBI, became apprehensive about the government's intentions and implications for statutory powers and regulatory freedoms. The government has been needlessly made to appear apologetic about its decision. A little prescience could have avoided the mess. Lesson — resolve early such jurisdictional disputes before they are on the boil.

 When an entity seeks permission or regulatory approval from a regulator, the least it expects is a definitive response in accordance with the norms laid down in the regulations, provided it has satisfied the regulator with all required information and data. Establishing a stock exchange and running it efficiently is not an ordinary business. Surely there must exist transparent and rational eligibility criteria to determine this. Does the stock exchange add value to investors, issuers and the economy in terms of efficiency, transaction costs and new products? Is it sustainable in the long term? Would it provide fair and meaningful competition and does it offer investors a choice, or would it fragment the existing liquidity of the market? Do the board and the management of the stock exchange have the desired standards of competence and governance? These are some of the economic considerations which should underpin the decision of the regulator. No regulator can be faulted so long as its decisions are cogent on facts and sound on principles of law. But unexplained delays and absence of rational response could aggrieve an applicant and the result could be an extreme action like a court case against the regulator. Respect is a trait which a regulator must possess, and fear a useful emotional response which a regulator should evoke. Less of either erodes confidence in the regulator. The confrontation between mutual funds and the regulator cannot also be taken lightly by the regulator. Regulatory expertise lies in striking a judicious balance between protecting investors and developing the market while ensuring transparent regulations. Better to avoid confrontation than resolve conflict.







Even my window opens only to the south, the proud president of the German Bundesbank once told me, "so no winds of influence from the north can waft into my room!"

He was referring to the fact that located as the German central bank is, in Frankfurt, it jealously guards its independence from political authorities in the Capital (earlier Bonn and now Berlin) that lies to the north.

 The prized independence of the German Bundesbank is the envy of many central bankers around the world. The yo-yo battle for policy primacy between monetary and fiscal policy authorities is universal, and in India it has been going on from the very inception of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

In the early years after Independence, the charismatic leadership of Chintaman Dwarakanath Deshmukh and Benegal Rama Rau imparted to the central bank a certain stature that has waned and waxed since then. While Dr Deshmukh stood up to even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr Rama Rau's seven-year-long term ended in 1957 when he resigned in the wake of India's first major foreign exchange crisis and the Haridas Mundra affair. He was the only governor to so quit.

Of the Deshmukh-Rama Rau era, another distinguished central banker, K S Krishnaswamy, writes in his memoirs (Windows of Opportunity, Memoirs of an Economic Advisor, Orient Blackswan, 2010):

"Even in the corridors of power of New Delhi, the Reserve Bank enjoyed in the early 1950s a rare reputation for efficiency, integrity and sobriety of judgement. Part of this derived, of course, from the signal contributions the Bank had made under Chintaman Deshmukh's leadership, …but a substantial part also originated from the acceptance of the principle that the central bank of a country should enjoy de facto, if not de jure, great autonomy in matters of monetary and banking policy. It was believed that, like the Bank of England under Montagu Norman, the RBI should be the undisputed guardian of the nation's currency and banking standards and that in these and other matters, the government should not only not interfere with the RBI but seek advice for its own guidance in other matters." (p.184)

Dr Krishnaswamy, who worked off and on at RBI between the late1950s and the late1970s, and retired as its deputy governor, repeatedly refers in various sections of his memoirs to the ding-dong battle for authority between North Block, home of the Union finance ministry (MoF), and Mint Road, where RBI's home resides. If the 1950s were the heydays of RBI, the 1970s marked the nadir. The appointment of a Sanjay Gandhi crony, K R Puri, as governor, was universally resented by India's economic policy-makers.

Says Dr Krishnaswamy, "By the 1970s, relations between the RBI and the central government had changed enough to deny the former much of the prestige and independence it should have had as arbiter of the country's monetary policy."

Dr Krishnaswamy was not a puritanical central banker. He understood the importance of good relations between the government and RBI, and says at one point, "Like all other public institutions, the RBI management also had to maintain good relations with the PMO." (p.107)

Dr Krishnaswamy's recalling of MoF-RBI tensions echoes the memoirs of another central banker, the redoubtable governor I G Patel. (Glimpses of Indian Economic Policy: An Insider's View, Oxford University Press, 2002). Dr Patel had to handle three different governments as RBI governor, between 1977 and 1982, with varying perceptions about relations between Delhi and Mumbai, ending his tenure with Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister!

Dr Patel has some nice things to say about Mr Mukherjee, and adds, "He was very friendly — after all, I was a son-in-law of Bengal!" (p.176) But he was not so generous towards the prime minister of the day. "I had more than my share of undue pressure from Delhi after Mrs Gandhi's return to power", he complains, adding subsequently, "By the middle of 1982, it was clear to me that Mrs Gandhi would be happy to see me go."

Not all governors had a tough time with Delhi. It depended both on the style of the prime minister and finance minister of the day and on the governor's own willingness and ability to deal with pressures from Delhi. Both Dr Krishnaswamy and Dr Patel refer to pressures from minions below — MoF officials, especially of the banking division, and other ministers and power brokers. This is all par for the course in the corridors of power.

The quarter century since then, with Manmohan Singh, R N Malhotra, S Venkitaramanan, C Rangarajan, Bimal Jalan and Y V Reddy in saddle, has seen a number of RBI-MoF tussles. Dr Rangarajan was perhaps the luckiest governor since the finance minister he had to deal with, Dr Singh, was in fact his governor when the former was a deputy. (The Singh-Rangarajan partnership began in Mumbai in 1982 and remains robust even now!)

Dr Krishnaswamy's memoirs are a helpful reminder of how difficult the MoF- RBI relationship can get and how assertive the former can get if it wants to. Dr Krishnaswamy was himself a victim of this in 1977 when New Delhi decided to send an MoF secretary, M Narasimham, as a stop-gap governor asked to keep the seat warm for I G Patel, rather than name an incumbent deputy governor like him for the post. Dr Krishnaswamy suspects Mr Narasimham "wangled the job"! (p.124)

Given this history of the relations between the MoF and RBI, the recent bout of discomfort on Mint Street is par for the course. The question, however, is whether the recent attempt to deflate RBI was just one of those things or was it the "empire striking back" after that challenging era of an insurgent, if prescient, governor!







Recommending the abolition of the secondary market seems a bit radical, but when you think of it, it is quite in keeping with government policy. For years, we've maintained a policy that mandates around a third of the shares allotted under any IPO have to be reserved for the "small" investor (defined as anyone who buys less than Rs 1 lakh worth of shares), never mind that the policy was always open to the kind of abuse we saw in the Rupal Panchal case in 2006 where she applied for IPOs in various names of "small investors" so as to ensure she got the amounts she wanted. Couldn't these "small" investors buy their shares in the secondary market when the share got listed after the IPO? "Small" by the way is a bit of an oxymoron since with less than 1 per cent of all Indians investing in equity, either directly or through mutual funds, clearly these investors aren't the aam aadmi.

And now we have a report of a Sebi committee recommending that if, as a result of an M&A or a strategic investment, a person's shareholding crosses 25 per cent in a listed company, she has to make an open offer to buy all the remaining shares — the current threshold trigger is 15 per cent and the open offer has to be made for just 20 per cent of shares. Since these shareholders can just as well sell their shares in the secondary market, the implicit assumption behind insisting that an open offer be made for all shares is once again the same, that the secondary market doesn't work!

 (The fact that the open offer trigger is now 25 per cent instead of the earlier 15 is good since it makes it easier for private equity investors to put money in companies; there are probably more good/bad aspects of the Sebi committee recommendations; this column is restricted to the most obvious flaw in the panel's proposals.)

The principal intellectual argument made by the committee is that while promoters have got away with huge sums of money, the "small" investors haven't got as much. While the report doesn't mention the Singh brothers of Ranbaxy, this is the example mentioned by most — when they sold their 34.8 per cent stake to Daiichi-Sankyo in August 2008, they got around Rs 11,000 crore. Since the open offer was restricted to just 20 per cent, the argument is that the "small" shareholders could cash out just a fifth of their shareholdings. Apart from the fact that you don't make a law to take care of exceptions, it's useful to look at the facts of the case. At the time the brothers consummated the sale, the market price of Ranbaxy was just Rs 560 and it fell to around Rs 500 by the time the open offer closed. In other words, the "small" (and big) shareholders who sold 20 per cent of their holdings to Daiichi at Rs 737 per share did so at 30 per cent more than the market price. Isn't an extra Rs 2,000+ crore a good enough return, more so considering the way Ranbaxy's share prices were falling?

How much more money will shareholders get if an open offer has to be made for all shares instead of the current 20 per cent? It's difficult to say since a lot depends on the circumstances. If the offer price is lower than the market price, there will be no takers. If it is much more, perhaps all shareholders would like to cash out. If you take all the open offers made since January 2006, you find that less than a sixth of all offers have succeeded — in terms of money, while companies had set aside an amount of Rs 51,535 crore to buy 20 per cent shares, they actually ended up spending only Rs 30,255 crore. So, if the open offer has to be at least the price paid to the promoters (as is now the recommendation by Sebi), even if the open offer is restricted to 20 per cent, this would fetch shareholders Rs 20,000 crore more, or a hike of 66 per cent over what they got. That's a pretty substantial benefit, isn't it?

It's difficult to estimate how much paying for all the remaining shares, and at the offer price given to the promoters, would cost, but some examples will help. In the case of Ranbaxy, to buy the remaining 37 per cent shares that were left with the public, Daiichi would have had to spend another Rs 12,500-odd crore; in the case of Gujarat Ambuja in August 2007, the acquirer paid Rs 1,270 crore to get an additional 5 per cent shares — if the remaining 55 per cent that was with the public had to be bought out, this would have meant an additional Rs 14,000 crore or so. While there were 69 takeovers per year between 1997 and 2005, this rose to 99 in the period from 2006 to 2010 — given the substantial hike in costs, and the fact that Indian banks don't even like financing takeover bids, it is likely that M&A activity will take a huge fall if the recommendations are accepted. The other possibility, of course, is that those wanting to do M&As will restrict their acquisitions to 24.9 per cent, use merchant banks to buy the rest and ensure the paperwork shows there is no collusion between them.

The real problem area, Sebi would do well to keep in mind, is not so much to do with buying into a listed company, but lies in listed companies buying into unlisted ones since there is no transparent way of valuing them — and if the unlisted companies belong to the promoters, this is where they make a killing. This is where Sebi needs to focus on since all shareholders, big or "small", get shortchanged in the bargain.







This column, now continuing for more than 30 years, has often been critical of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in relation to its exchange rate policy, regulation of derivatives in particular and banks in general, and, sometimes, its monetary policy. It is time perhaps to balance the books in a longer term perspective.

 In one way or another, I have been dealing personally with RBI and its policies since the mid-1960s, i.e. for the last 45 years (I had been employed by its subsidiary SBI since 1957). My connection with the bank thus goes back longer than perhaps that of any of its existing employees! Over the period, I also had the privilege of working on various committees appointed by the central bank. For many years now, I have also had the privilege of being invited, along with economists and commentators, to share my views on policy issues at the highest level of the bank. Such formal meetings apart, informal discussions keep taking place at various levels. Many of my colleagues are pleasantly surprised at the cordial personal and institutional relationships that have been continuing despite persistent criticism of specific policies in my columns.

In fact, this is the great strength of the organisation — it is open to views different from its own and takes them into consideration while framing policies. (As one former executive director mentioned to me only half in jest: "While we may not do anything about your arguments and suggestions, one thing I can assure you is that a file gets started"!) On a more serious note, compared to most central banks in the developing world, its record on inflation control, management of the exchange rate and external account, safety of the banking system has been far superior — clearly a manifestation of its professionalism. One reason for this professional culture could well be — and I confess to Mumbai-chauvinism on this point — its location away from Delhi, away from the often feudal culture in Delhi.

One should also mention another factor: Unlike most other public institutions, there has never been a whiff of corruption or malpractice about its functioning even when it had huge discretionary powers under exchange control, the credit authorisation scheme, etc.; few public institutions in India can make such a claim.

One would have thought that the government would be anxious to preserve the autonomy, powers and culture of such an institution. But one smells from several recent moves an unmistakable trend of taking power away from Mumbai to Delhi. At one level, it was the purchase of SBI's shares from RBI; now, it seems, there is a move to do the same about the National Housing Bank, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, etc. There is also the proposal to take public debt management away from RBI, to a unit under the finance ministry. I am sure that individually each move has some plausible justification but, collectively, the intention is clear.

Is the last point (debt management) aimed at getting an even greater say in monetary policy? To be sure, in a socio-political economy like that of India, a central bank cannot have a single-point agenda of inflation control, whatever the monetary purists may say. It will need to have a broader developmental agenda — and this means coordinating monetary policy with fiscal policy. But the fact remains that one can hardly remember a time when so many Delhi bureaucrats made public statements on inflation and the specifics of interest rate policies — the finance secretary, the economic adviser, the secretary, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the commerce secretary, the finance minister himself, etc. Does this help in framing policies to manage inflation expectations, which is what the central bank is supposed to do? Even on banking regulation, one sometimes wonders whether Delhi is driving the agenda on issues like credit derivatives, for example, in the name of financial sector reforms and encouraging innovation.

The provocation for these thoughts is the move to convert the ordinance on regulatory coordination into an Act, instead of allowing it to lapse, as the RBI governor has suggested, perhaps with some cosmetic changes. One can add little to the substance of the argument over the issue to what the governor has so brilliantly articulated in his letter to the finance minister — see Tamal Bandopadhyay's column in Mint (July 13) which quotes some extracts.

Overall, it would be a sad day when the independence and autonomy of the banking regulator are curbed — or a vehicle was created that could be used for the purpose later.

Tailpiece: Toyota has had major and well-publicised manufacturing defect problems on some of its models and has had to recall a large number of cars for correcting the defects. The US Department of Transportation has analysed dozens of accidents involving Toyota and come to the conclusion that most of the accidents were due to driver failures and not car defects. Can one imagine an Indian regulator, or even the media, coming to such a conclusion where a foreign MNC is involved?






Many readers of my previous column that showed Kerala as the richest state in the country responded with their views on the state. Two common observations I made about these responses were that though Kerala was rich, it recorded the highest consumption of alcohol (a fact that I confirm from the data) and had the highest suicide rate. God's Own Country was populated, according to some, with the devil's own people — those who have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude or are outright lazy in their home state even as their kin work hard enough elsewhere and have an incentive to keep some people back home. Many other readers wanted to know what the situation was like in other states.

Honestly, I usually do not do interstate comparisons. The finding regarding Kerala, however, was just too good to let go. It was an aberration. States have varying sizes, different degrees of natural endowments and different history. Economic progress is often captive to these conditions and governance plays only a marginal role. It is instructive to note the continued dominance of Gujarat and Maharashtra in terms of attracting investments in spite of the riots and civil strife in both states over the past two decades when the governments clearly failed to contain a serious breakdown of law and order.

 The country as a whole is likely to have suffered because of these riots, but the erring states do not seem to suffer much after an investor has decided to invest into the nation. Investments, therefore, continue to be driven by the degree of natural endowments, network externalities and economies of scale. Sometimes, bad governance (such as procuring land by fiat and then giving it away cheaply) also attracts investments. Maharashtra took pride in itself for having attracted Enron. So, bad governance attracts bad investments, and good governance will attract good investments. But, to expect good governance to deliver results quickly would be unfair. We must be patient with Nitish Kumar's efforts in Bihar and must refrain from seeking evidence of his performance in interstate comparison exercises.

Interstate comparisons do not make much sense because often the intra-state disparity is high enough to render the state-level averages more or less meaningless. Small states face less diversity. But, as size increases, diversities also increase and then the state-level numbers start making lesser and lesser sense.

Ideally, estimations should be made over homogeneous regions — regions that have similar agro-climatic conditions and similar levels of economic development. Estimates of socio-economic parameters of such regions are more meaningful and can be used in comparisons.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has developed such a concept of homogeneous regions. These are clusters of neighbouring districts based on just three parameters — agro-climatic conditions, level of urbanisation and female literacy. Consumer Pyramids provide estimates of household income, expenses, savings, etc. at the level of the homogeneous regions. With the help of this data, we can now understand the sub-state level economic development of households. Note, that the income that is estimated here is not the same as the state domestic product which includes income generated by companies and governments besides that generated by households. We estimate the income and other parameters of households. This is the same data that had shown Kerala households as the richest.

This data shows that household incomes are remarkably uniform across the three homogeneous regions of Kerala. However, households are of a larger size in the northern region. As a result, the per capita income in Kozhikode-Mallapuram is significantly lower than what it is in the rest of the state. Statistically, the coefficient of variation of household incomes is 8 per cent, but the coefficient of variation of per capita income is higher at nearly 18 per cent across the three homogeneous regions of Kerala.

Kerala does quite well in terms of relative uniformity of economic well-being across the state. In this respect, Haryana and Punjab also score very well. Haryana is the best in this respect with a coefficient of variation of 4-5 per cent for household and per capita incomes. Punjab has a coefficient of variation of 9-12 per cent. Notably, all these are small states. And, they are the three richest states of the country.

The next richest state is Maharashtra. (Chandigarh, Delhi and Goa are also rich, but these are more like cities than states and I have, therefore, excluded them from this exercise.) However, Maharashtra's claim that it is among the richer states of the country is contentious. This is because of the very high diversity of incomes of the several regions within the state.

There are 10 homogeneous regions within Maharashtra. And, the coefficient of variation of household incomes across these is as high as 41 per cent. The coefficient of variation for per capita income is even higher at 43 per cent. Compare this to the coefficient of variation of 4-5 per cent for Haryana or 9-12 per cent for Punjab. It is clear that the average number for Maharashtra is not representative of the state. This is true for many other states. Uttar Pradesh has a coefficient of variation of per household and per capita income of 28 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively. For Jharkhand, it is 29 per cent for both. For Tamil Nadu, the coefficient of variation of household and per capita income are 27 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively; while for Karnataka, they are 21 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively. Even a relatively small state like Orissa has a coefficient of variation of per household and per capita income of 27 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. States with low disparities across regions (other than the top three states) are Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

These substantive intra-state variations that render the average numbers less representative of the state as a whole make most interstate comparisons meaningless. Inter-HR (homogeneous region) comparisons make a lot more sense. If we do this, we find that the richest HR is Mumbai followed by Chandigarh, Delhi and then Palakkad-Idukki of Kerala and Firozpur-Sangrur of Punjab. These regions are internally uniform and also of similar size (except Chandigarh which is much smaller than the rest).

The poorest is the Malkangiri-Nayagarh region in southern Orissa. This is followed by Cuttack-Mayurbhanj also in Orissa and Madhepur-Kishanganj and Gaya-Banka in Bihar. But, there are several parts of Orissa and Bihar that are quite well off. Baleshwar-Gajapati in Orissa is nearly twice as rich as Malkangiri-Nayagarh. Similarly, in Bihar, the Siwan-Muzaffarpur region is as rich as the Coimbatore-Dharamapuri region of Tamil Nadu.

There is much to learn from this diversity, to strategise marketing plans and chart out developmental policies. Interstate comparisons make a travesty of India's rich diversity.

The author is managing director and CEO, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh did some plain speaking at the meeting of the National Development Council, telling the assembled chief ministers that some of the things they have been doing are just not acceptable: patronising Rs 40,000 crore worth of losses (mostly to theft) in the power sector, neglecting water management and, therefore, agriculture, poor governance leading to alienation of various sections, particularly the tribal people in areas where Maoists hold sway, relative neglect of education and health, and borrowing too much while raising not enough of tax, for example. Chief ministers do, indeed, need to be told all this. But, that, by itself, will do little to make them change their behaviour. If well-intentioned urging by the well-informed could modify how politicians behave, how simple would solving the world's problems be. Unfortunately, political conduct changes or fails to change in the desired direction, not because of sage counsel but as part of a political process. A meeting of the National Development Council is part of the political process, true, but not a life-changing part. Political change has to be initiated outside formal councils. For the ruling Congress, the place to begin the change is within the party. It must change from being a gaggle of powerbrokers, to borrow a term from Rajiv Gandhi, to what a party is supposed to be: a live, organic link between the people and the state. Congress-ruled states must take the lead in setting the official policy right, with the party organisation mobilising the people to implement the change. No government can start charging farmers for power or canal irrigation if political parties do not generate the people's, not just the farmers', consent for such a move. The Forest Rights Act cannot be implemented in spirit, unless political parties mobilise the intended beneficiaries of the Act to secure the rights being vested.

Development is not delivered to a passive populace by an enlightened administration. Only when the people are positioned as subjects of development, rather than its objects, can meaningful progress take place. Dr Singh thinks getting the party to move is Sonia Gandhi's job, not his. He is right, too. But he can help Mrs Gandhi do that, if he takes his passion to the party forum as well.









ASEBI-constituted panel's proposal to separate the post of the chairman from that of the managing director for listed public and private sector companies is welcome, for it should improve corporate governance. However, public sector undertakings (PSUs) have taken objection to the proposal, on the ground that it would only serve to foster delays. They have a case. Having the same set of norms for public and private sector company boards would make sense only when public enterprises are run by their boards, and the board members are chosen on merit rather than political expediency. Foisting a political flunky as chairman would defeat the very purpose of improving the quality of corporate governance. Similarly, the present practice of the government nominee on the board virtually dictating terms, when the ministry doesn't directly tell a company under its charge what to do when, makes it immaterial whether a public enterprise chairman is also its CEO of if the two are distinct entities. Sure, chairmen-cum-managing directors (CMDs) of public sector companies are under the gaze of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), government audit and Committee on Public Undertakings of Parliament. However, this cannot be a valid ground for stalling bifurcation of the two posts.


Expert committees on corporate governance have suggested separation of the two posts to promote balance of power. The role of chairman is distinct from that of CEO in the US, the UK and France. The ministry of corporate affairs, in its voluntary guidelines on corporate governance, back the recommendation. The norm, if adopted, will lead to a major overhaul of the board structure of most listed companies in India. More importantly, it would bring in greater accountability. It will also mean a clear demarcation of the roles and responsibilities of board members. Independent directors on the board are likely to discharge their intended function better, as well, when the chairman is separate from the CEO.









 EVEN if the Indo-Pak atmosphere is clouded with high-level fulminations, things are changing for the better on the ground — more specifically at the Wagah-Attari international border. With India's diplomatic corps headed by a woman, it was perhaps just a matter of time before Beating Retreat — the daily goose-stepping border tamasha — also saw the entry of women Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. The women were apparently selected for their 'height, enthusiasm, physical fitness and stamina', and the tallest have now been taking part in the institutionalised evening display of India-Pakistan hostility. These women constables had already been drafted in for more mundane and less-showy border duties such as checking and frisking, but the government — and BSF brass — must be complimented for deputing them for this ceremonial task as well. It is brave of them to contemplate putting women in a role hitherto reserved for towering men with bristling mustachios and bellowing voices on both sides of the border, who put on a show of faux martial intimidation and aggression as national flags are lowered at dusk. Women will undoubtedly bring in a measure of much-needed grace and equanimity.


If it had not been for lustily-cheering crowds on both sides, the exaggerated posturing that marks the pantomime would strike an onlooker as comical. This realisation must have dawned on the powers that be too, for under new orders the strapping BSF personnel will no longer have to kick their legs up in a goose-step that is more akin to the sychronised can-can of the Rockettes than anything soldierly. Of course, given the traditional tension between our two nations, the decision to depute women and finally tone down the ritualistic high-stepping and stomping as it caused 'mild-to-severe damage to joints in the lower half of (soldiers') bodies', should not be construed as a weak-kneed response by India…






CENTRAL bankers around the world failed to see the current financial crisis coming before its beginnings in 2007. Martin Cihák of the International Monetary Fund reported in July 2007 that, of 47 central banks found to publish financial stability reports (FSRs), 'virtually all' gave a 'positive overall assessment of their domestic financial system' in their most recent reports.


And yet, although these central banks failed us before the crisis, they should still play the lead role in preventing the next crisis. That is the conclusion, perhaps counterintuitive, that the Squam Lake Group,, a think tank of 15 academic financial economists to which I belong, reached in our recently published report, Fixing the financial system.


Macroprudential regulators — government officials who focus not on the soundness of individual financial institutions, but on the stability of the whole financial system — are sorely needed, and central bankers are the logical people to fill this role. Other regulators did no better in predicting this crisis, and are even less suited to prevent the next.


David Cameron's new government in the UK apparently came to the same conclusion when it announced plans to transfer regulatory authority from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to the Bank of England.

But agreement about the regulatory role of central banks is not widely spread. In the US, for example, there is recognition of the importance of macroprudential regulation, but not of giving this authority to the Federal Reserve. The newly-passed US financial-reform legislation entrusts macroprudential policy to a new Financial Stability Oversight Council. That is good, but the US Treasury secretary will be the council's chairman, and the Fed, despite gaining some new powers, will for the most part be only one of many members.


The head of the council is, thus, a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the president. Recent history shows that political appointees often fail to take courageous or unpopular steps to stabilise the economy. A modern US president certainly remembers how difficult it was to convince voters to put him where he is, and is perpetually campaigning to maintain approval ratings and to preserve his party's prospects in the next election. The Treasury secretary is part of the president's team, and works next door to the White House.


George W Bush won the 2000 election, despite losing the popular vote. In 2003, Bush chose as his Treasury secretary John W Snow, a railroad president who, as Barron's columnist Alan Abelson put it, 'may not be the sharpest knife in the cabinet'. Snow obliged the president and gave unquestioning support to his policies until leaving office in 2006, just before the crisis erupted. Under the new law, Snow would have been in charge of the stability of the entire US economy.


One theme that Bush found resonated with voters in his 2004 re-election campaign was that of the 'ownership society'. A successful economy, Bush argued, requires that people learn to take responsibility for their actions, and policies aimed at boosting home ownership would inculcate this virtue on a broader scale. That sounded right to voters, especially if it meant government policies that encouraged the emerging real-estate bubble and made their investments in homes soar in value.


SNOW echoed his boss. "The US economy is coiled like a spring and ready to go," he chirped in 2003. Two years later, near the very height of the bubbles in the equity and housing markets, he declared, "We can be pleased that the economy is on a good and sustainable path."


But, to Bush's credit, he also brought in Ben Bernanke in 2006 as Fed Chairman. Not part of Bush's team, Bernanke was protected from political pressures by US' long tradition of respect for the Fed's independence. The choice of Bernanke, an accomplished scholar, apparently reflected Bush's acceptance of the public's expectation of a first-rate appointee.


The same problems occur in many other countries. People chosen in part to win the next election often find their economic judgment constrained. A news story in 2003 reported, for example, that Australian Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry had warned of a 'housing bubble' there, but then quickly tried to withdraw his comment, saying that it was 'not for quotation outside of this room'. He did earlier this year finally propose new tax policy to slow the still-continuing Australian housing bubble, but now he can't get his government to implement it.


By contrast, in recent decades, central bankers in many countries have gradually won acceptance for the principle of independence from day-to-day political pressures. The public in much of the world now understands that central bankers will be allowed to do their work without interference from politicians. There is a tradition of the central banker as a worldly philosopher, who stands up for long-term sensible policy, and this tradition makes it politically easier for central bankers to do the right thing.


In fact, while the world's central banks did not see the current crisis coming and did not take steps before 2007 to relieve the pressures that led to it, they did react decisively and energetically as the crisis unfolded, with coordinated international action. This was facilitated by the tradition of political independence and cooperation that has developed over the years among central bankers.


 The crisis has underscored the utmost importance of macroprudential regulation. Although our central bankers are not perfect judges of financial stability, they are still the people who are in the best political and institutional position to ensure it.


 (The author is professor of economics at    Yale University and chief economist at    MacroMarkets LLC)








CERTAINLY, much of the course of our brains' development is determined while we are foetuses and young children. But as we will see, there are many other factors that can alter the process — in pregnancy, childhood, adulthood and old age. A father's smile, exercise before the workday, a game of chess in the retirement home — everything affects development, and development is a lifelong process. We are not prisoners of our genes or our environment.


Poverty, alienation, drugs, hormonal imbalances and depression don't dictate failure. Wealth, acceptance, vegetables and exercise don't guarantee success. Our own free will may be the strongest force directing the development of our brains and, therefore, our lives. The adult brain is both plastic and resilient, and always eager to learn. Experiences, thoughts, actions and emotions actually change the structure of our brains. By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be weakened or strengthened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become. Indeed, once we understand how the brain develops, we can train our brains for health, vibrancy and longevity. Barring a physical illness, there's no reason that we can't stay actively engaged into our 90s. Research on the brain's development has been fast and furious in this decade…


New imaging technologies and scores of studies are providing enormous insight into ways to help the brain develop in babies, children and adults, even in foetuses in the womb. Of course, there is also the chance here for misdirection.









THE fiscal consolidation programme initiated by the Centre is not making the same degree of progress among states. The economic recession has dented revenues, making the fiscal correction targets of many states unrealistic. Some states have been further handicapped by the declining share of central taxes, transferred to them through the recommendations of successive finance commissions. T M Thomas Isaac, economist-turned-politician and finance minister of Kerala, says the state's share has declined from 3.875% in the 10th Finance Commission period to 2.341% in the 13th Finance Commission period. He asserts that new conditions prescribed by the 13th Finance Commission for the release of grants go against the spirit of fiscal federalism.

The notion about fiscal consolidation can be different for different people, especially if their ideological predilections are different. The understanding of the concept of fiscal consolidation can also differ. While all this can be debated and a consensus can be arrived at, Mr Isaac says that Kerala is opposed to the Centre imposing its idea of fiscal consolidation on the states. The target fixed for a state like Kerala is zero revenue deficit and 3% fiscal deficit by 2013. Moreover, the financial devolution has been made contingent on meeting yearly targets. "This would mean that a newly-elected government may not be able to implement programmes that it would have promised to the people," he said.


Kerala's expenditure on education and healthcare are fixed investment in human resource development. The funds given to local bodies as a proportion of the state expenditure is one of the highest in the state. "I am not going to cut expenditure on health or education or devolution to the local bodies," he said, indicating that fiscal correction should be carried out without such cuts. The room for financial manoeuvrability for states has been further constrained by the new condition that the total debt of the state should not be more than 25% of the gross state domestic product. "There is a target for both revenue and fiscal deficit. On top of that, there is now a target on state's borrowing or a 25% cap on debt stock," he said, questioning the Finance Commission's reforms.


But what has elicited sharp response from the minister, whose anti-recession package in the state budget last year envisaged higher state investment, is the new conditionality clause attached to the release of grants. "The conditions stipulated for the release of non-statutory, non-plan grants are multifarious. This goes against federal principles and the compliance of these conditions will put the policies and priorities of a democratically-elected government under financial stress. For a state like Kerala, this would make half the devolutions dependent on the compliance of certain strict conditions."


Mr Isaac is quick to clarify that he is not against fiscal discipline. Despite the relatively high economic growth the state has achieved, its ability to mobilise funds for investment and growth is limited.


If the state is successful in reducing revenue deficit, it should be allowed to borrow more to step up its capital expenditure. The only argument against this is that a higher fiscal deficit may push up interest rates and bring down private investment. But studies have shown that this is not true, he said.


On the other hand, higher public expenditure in key sectors will, in turn, attract higher private sector investment. For example, Kerala needs huge investments to upgrade its infrastructure facilities. Higher public spending to upgrade these facilities will attract private investment.

After he assumed office as the finance minister of the four-year-old CPM-led coalition government in the state, Mr Isaac made e-governance the basis of tax administration. And tax revenues have seen an average growth of 18%. This year, growth in tax revenues is likely to touch 25%.


Despite these impressive gains and the relatively-high economic growth, the state is handicapped by the declining share of central tax pool and the strict conditions of the Finance Commission. Mr Isaac says that his government would hold discussions with other affected governments to see how the issue can be addressed. "We consulted constitutional experts and they said we have a strong case for legal recourse."









AS PARLIAMENT'S Monsoon session begins on Monday, the use and misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have become the key catchwords. The BJP has promised to 'rock the House' over the CBI move to arrest Gujarat home minister Amit Shah, who has since resigned. Even as it paints the CBI as a Congress/UPA tool, there have been quite a number of suitors for the very agency from the anti-Congress line-up during the past weeks.


The RJD-LJP combine virtually ransacked the Bihar Assembly demanding a CBI probe against the Nitish Kumar regime. In Karnataka, the JD(S) was equally enthusiastic over getting the CBI to probe the illegal mining scam. Mamata Banerjee and CPI-M's Biman Bose dare each other to face a CBI probe, each time a train goes off the rails in West Bengal. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav and Mayawati will flirt with the UPA regime, if the CBI keeps a safe distance from themselves and launches itself at their rivals!


In short, if the CBI is politically influenced, so is the conduct of the political parties when they seek the 'use' and oppose the 'misuse' of the same agency.


Yet, the show must go on.


That is why the BJP opposes the CBI's chase of Amit Shah, although it had hailed the very agency for giving Narendra Modi a clean chit in the Hiren Pandya murder case, dismissing the petition of the slain former Gujarat home minister's family members. Thus, expect political parties to allege the use and misuse of the CBI, the Raj Bhavan and Article 356 (providing for President's rule in a state) depending on their political location at a given time. That is also precisely why the people are put off by politicians.


It is no accident that political parties — from the left to the right through the centre — find it increasingly difficult to launch, sustain and build up their agitation/movements by mobilising people on the ground. Instead, the action is outsourced to soundbite warriors in television studios. Parliament sessions, meant to last at least a month, have, in the same vein, become a forum for politicians to strut 'on the national stage' by shutting down the House.


The build-up to the scheduled 33-day Monsoon session promises more of the same. The BJP is threatening to stall the entire session over the CBI probe, which has the potential to eventually reach Narendra Modi himself. The Left, facing electoral heat in Bengal and Kerala, is determined to launch 'an uncompromising war'. The regional outfits, most of them free-wheeling political freelancers, too, will be striking aggressive postures, even while searching for deal-making openings, of the kind the SP and the BSP found during the last 'floor test'.


Since Parliament sessions offer the best opportunity for both the government and Opposition to showcase their performances, it should also be an occasion to firm up their respective tactics. If stalling proceedings provides an easy option for the Opposition, it also gifts the government an easy escape route to duck 'floor scrutiny' of its deeds. For all its projected sense of anguish over disruptions, no government likes anything more than ramming its agenda — including tricky pieces of legislation — through, amidst Opposition protests, without discussions.


The Monsoon session has listed 26 Bills for introduction and another 24 for consideration and passing. They include critical ones such as on nuclear liability, women's reservation and economic policy, which call for careful Opposition scrutiny. Besides, the Opposition can also grill the government on tricky issues such as price rise, the 2G spectrum scandal, Union Carbide' former chief Anderson's safe passage, etc, provided it is in a mood to engage the treasury benches.


The Opposition has much to learn, from its own recent experiences, about the futility of 'disruptive tactics' that fail to reflect the public mood outside, especially when parties try to project their specific grievances as public causes. In the 14th Lok Sabha, the BJP tried to make its own inability to accept the 2004 poll verdict a lingering public grouse against UPA-I, only to suffer a bigger loss in the 2009 polls. In the last Budget session, the Left tried to be more aggressive than the BJP in stalling the House on price rise and still got routed in the West Bengal civic polls soon after. The BJP congratulated itself for successfully cornering the government only to find itself cornered by Nitish Kumar in Bihar and the Bellary brothers in Karnataka.


For all the battering it took on the floor, the UPA-II found eager support in the SP, the RJD, the BSP and even Shibu Soren, at critical junctures. Even now, issues like Amit Shah's arrest, 'Hindu terror', the women's reservation Bill and the mining scam will splinter the bogey of a 'united Opposition'. The hard political reality is that the Opposition is in no position, at least for now, to either topple the regime or offer an alternative or face a mid-term poll. The most sensible course, therefore, is for the Opposition to not expose its own political limits by disrupting the House but to engage the government in a constructive manner in Parliament.









ONE who chooses to conform, also saving for the rainy days, is rewarded with a sinecure living besides company of friends — good or the good weather ones. The home pot is also sure to be kept warm for generations.


Only the spiritual seeker, earnest but confused, has to wander 'between two worlds one dead, the other powerless to be born'. He would, perforce, have to find alibis and excuses, in case he fails to obtain eventual fulfilment.


It is to such wavering, though evolved, souls that two consecutive verses in Bhagavad Gita [VI, 5 and 6] are directed. The first is a brutallyfrank statement, suggesting that it is afolly to depend on support from others or to blame external factors or compulsions.


This verse notes that one should uplift one's self by the power that he has within, not ever becoming depressed or cynical or ever giving excuses, because ultimately one is his own enemy or his own friend.

This verse, on the face of it, would appear to be a repeat of various exhortations to fortitude, assertiveness, resilience and forbearance. At best, these would offer pleasing titillations but rarely can be applied in practical life.


However, the very next verse gives true practical delineation of how one can actually become one's true friend and collaborator, and how he can ensure that knowingly or otherwise, he himself does not sabotage his own true objectives and aspirations.


This verse points out that one who has won over his self through his own efforts would become his own ally in progress, while one who has not done so will become his own foe, himself inviting obstacles and problems.

The above verse, thus, gives broad hints to each aspirant, who could, with intelligence and application, divine, how, unwittingly though, he had, as applied to his own case, allowed retarding forces to sneak in.

his analysis would be the basis to evolve a course of action that would prompt this imaginative thinker to make needed changes towards things, relationships and commitments.


Learning thus from and being the better for past mistakes, he would find in his own refined and empowered self within, that true friend, philosopher and guide. Indeed, it was, therefore, not vainly said that you can be your own friend or also choose to be your own foe!


This choice purely is yours because options and opportunities are aplenty for the one who acts well and in good time!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Monsoon Session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, comes at a time when different parts of the country have become the site of multiple political contestations. These are likely to have their echo in Parliament and in the political activities of members outside the House. To that extent, an effort by a party or group of parties to mount a sustained political offensive against the government is likely to lack the needed edge. Ordinarily, the ruling side could have been brought under considerable pressure on the three issues of runaway inflation, the talks with Pakistan, and the government's inability to demonstrate that it has a credible strategy against Naxalism and Naxalites that goes alongside providing development goods to the tribal belt in central India that has spawned the present version of the Maoist insurgency. Cornering the government is now less likely than it may have been a couple of months earlier. Thus, the boycott of the Prime Minister's pre-session luncheon meeting by the BJP, the main Opposition party, appears to be a sign of peevishness by a single party, not the harbinger of a concerted anti-government strategy by a collection of parties. It is noteworthy in this context that even the BJP's NDA allies have not seen it fit to back it on the question of the Gujarat minister of state for home being chargesheeted by the CBI in the Sohrabuddin murder case, which is the issue on which BJP declined to break bread with the Prime Minister in protest. In Andhra Pradesh, the TD chief, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, is girding his loins to take on the Congress, using as his platform the Babli barrage issue. Mr Naidu desires to involve the lower riparian states locked in controversy with their upper riparian counterparts. His planned actions are likely to probe the alliance system in Tamil Nadu, which supplies a key Congress ally, the DMK. Another important UPA constituent, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, is under fire for mismanaging the railway ministry and allegedly being in cahoots with the Maoists. If this is bad for the ruling coalition, Trinamul's long-running violent battle with the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal weakens the Opposition as far as the Congress in Parliament is concerned. Apart from the messy Sohrabuddin affair in Gujarat, the BJP is on the backfoot on the issue of the mining mafia in Karnataka, with Opposition parties in the state gunning for the chief minister. In Bihar, the NDA government led by the JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar, who has in recent years earned something of a name for fostering development in a state many thought had retired to the stone age, has suddenly come under fire from the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India for dodgy accounting to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees, triggering a rare unity of Opposition parties in the state. Since several parts of the country are caught up in strife in which the issues thrown up have a national dimension, these may be expected to consume parliamentary time. To that extent, an anti-government focus may be hard to develop in the Monsoon Session. Although in a parlous state, it will be a pity if the Opposition is unable to pin down the government on the price issue and on talks with Pakistan.








Understanding Indian politics is extremely difficult without comprehending the politics of the Indian National Congress. The issues crop up again and again related to the views of the left, right and centre within the party, making the picture confusing because each of the groups upholding the views claims that they speak for the party as a whole. The latest statement of Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is a case in point. It is, of course, not surprising that every group will try to speak in the name of a party as a whole, but for understanding the evolution of the party position one has to go much beyond such pronouncements and analyse the objective realities that give rise to these different views.


Unlike other political parties in India or any other country, the Congress is more like a platform and has been like that throughout the history of the Indian national movement. It never had a unified view because it allowed different social groups and political forces the full scope of debate and controversy within the party itself as a sort of a mirror image of what went on in the country at the national level. The party had representation of the working class, the peasantry, big and small farmers and petty entrepreneurs, besides of course being represented by the big businessmen and landlords.


On regional and local levels, the Congress had representation of different castes, linguistic, ethnic and cultural groups. Although the conflicts of these local groups did get reflected in national politics, in most cases local issues dominated local politics, giving the impression from the all-India perspective of the fractured politics of India.


At the national level, however, the views have been more consolidated under different groups representing different perspectives in national politics to form themselves into the left, right and the centre. In spite of many attempts by the leadership to impose a semblance of unity in the Congress position on different issues, these differences could not be suppressed and the Congress will always have a left, right and centre position on different subjects, contesting each other in national politics. The likes of Mr Singh speaking in the name of the left have always been and would always be contesting the likes of P. Chidambaram presented as the right in national politics together with the centrist position of the party leadership.


In a sense, this position of a platform for all different points of views gives the strength to the Congress as an all-India national organisation. Throughout its history the Congress' leadership has tolerated all these internal differences without trying to suppress decadence. Even at the height of the Congress movements the left wing represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, with his large support based among the young people of India, and the right wing represented by conservative forces led by Rajendra Prasad and Acharya Kriplani, no attempt was made to suppress political differences. A national Congress position emerged under a national leadership projecting the view of the national Congress based on the relative strength of different social forces.


It is therefore, not surprising that the current leadership of the Congress allows all these differences to remain open to crop up on different issues. Mr Singh's position on Naxalism has the support of a large number of Congressmen even if not of the leadership. The positions taken by Jairam Ramesh on environmental issues which are ultimately dividing business interests in India as well as abroad will continue to create conflict which might often embarrass the international position taken by the government in understandings reached with industrial countries. And then we have Mani Shankar Aiyar, speaking in the name of the common people in India, whose potential support base is huge among the poor, vulnerable and the unemployed who constitute more than three-fourths of our country. These differences cannot be and should not be suppressed for not destroying the national image of the Congress.


Indeed, a skilful handling of these different conflicts and the groups represented by them has been a major achievement of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ably supported her. It has been possible for them to maintain the image of a leftist leadership under Mrs Gandhi and that of a centrist leadership under Dr Singh.


There is often a misunderstanding in the media and political circles about the politics of Dr Singh. He has been a champion of neo-liberal economic policies, pushing the cause of economic growth in the formulation of his most of the economic policies. At the same time he is clear-sighted enough to combine this neo-liberal policies with effective and visible steps to protect the common people through employment, social security and subsidisation policies for helping them. In this, Dr Singh has followed the minimum needs strategy of Robert McNamara, the World Bank's president in the 1970s. That made huge political sense in a liberalising economy, where high investment rate of the rich, promoting a high rate of growth was supported by a visible programme of looking after the poor that were left behind.


In a very practical sense, Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh complement each other, one looking after politics of the party and the other administration of the government supported by both the left and the right within the party.


I am posing the issues of national politics in this way so that the debates and controversies in the party and in the country are sharpened, so that a proper analysis can be made of the occasions when the left and the right forces successfully assert themselves. These analyses can be extended to the foreign policy areas, which should be able to explain the changing foreign policy stances of the Congress. They are often pro-American, whenever the rightist forces take over the leadership. But they are also often deviating from the position of US interest, as a vast majority of Indians, especially the Islamic population cannot blindly support the US position on different issues.


Once these issues are raised, the questions in terms of the left, right and the centre within the Congress can be openly discussed so that an effective debate can be started on the nature of the Indian politics and the support of the different social groups.


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









When I first heard on Thursday that Senate Democrats were abandoning the effort to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases that cause global warming and promote renewable energy that could diminish our addiction to oil, I remembered something that Joe Romm, the blogger, once said: The best thing about improvements in healthcare is that all the climate-change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.


Alas, so are the rest of us. I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one GOP senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame US President Barack Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill. But the truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilised to press for this legislation. We will regret it.


We've basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature's operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: "Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That's all she is". You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and "Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000", says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we're doing.


Since I don't have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and emails that came across my desk in the past few days:


* Just as the US Senate was abandoning plans for a US cap-and-trade system, this article ran in the China Daily: "BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said".


* As we East Coasters know, it's been extremely hot here this summer, with records broken. But, hey, you could be living in Russia, where ABC News recently reported that a "heat wave, which has lasted for weeks, has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years. In some parts of the country, temperatures have reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit". Moscow's high the other day was 93 degrees. The average temperature in July for the city is 76 degrees. The BBC reported that to keep cool "at lakes and rivers around Moscow, groups of revellers can be seen knocking back vodka and then plunging into the water. The result is predictable — 233 people have drowned in the last week alone".


* A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation's biggest utilities, emailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. "If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that's roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years", said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)


* Making our country more energy efficient is not some green feel-good thing. Retired Brigadier Gen. Steve Anderson, who was Gen. David Petraeus' senior logistician in Iraq, emailed to say that "over 1,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan hauling fuel to air-condition tents and buildings. If our military would simply insulate their structures, it would save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save lives of truck drivers and escorts... And will take lots of big fuel trucks (aka Taliban Targets) off the road, expediting the end of the conflict".


* The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted: "Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for... what? Being needled by non-scientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible 'conspiracy theory': the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their PR skills, while wondering, as always: 'Have they no grandchildren?'"








Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt aka Munnabhai has managed to create a hate club for himself in the Samajwadi Party.

Ever since the actor said in a recent TV interview that he cared two hoots for the SP and had joined it because his mentor Amar Singh had asked him to, the Samajwadis in Uttar Pradesh are gunning for him.


Matters took a turn for the worse when a group of SP activists, who had tagged along with Sanjay during his political stint in the last Lok Sabha elections, went to Mumbai last week.


They went to the Dutt residence in the hope of meeting the actor but were rudely turned back from the imposing gates.


That is the differences between the Bachchans and Dutt", said an SP leader. "While the Bachchans have been gracious eno-ugh not to talk ill of the party, Dutt has proved that he is as opportunistic as his mentor".


Anyway, it has forced SP leaders to vow not to go near Bollywood stars for some time to come.


Karuna's box office mantra


The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, who is also a film scriptwriter of more than 50 years standing, has given a new prescription to the Tamil film industry to ensure box office success.


To ensure that his new flick Penn Singam (female lion) did not sink at the box office, its producers announced several prizes for those who watch the movie.


The first prize was an i10 Hyundai car and there were 100 second prizes of 10 gm of gold each, and 1,000 third prizes of one gm gold each. The movie did fairly well, partly because of his energetic DMK members who filled up the theatres and partly due to the gifts.


And now other producers are aping the success mantra. The makers of Vizhiyil Vilunthaval (She has caught my eye), that is due for release on Friday, has announced free groceries at home for one year and free schooling for kids as prizes for the lucky ones among the viewers. Movie watching has never been such fun.


CD gives nightmares

A CD has been creating much restlessness within the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for the last few weeks.

Though the CD that contains conversations between AGP leaders and Mr Sanjay Hans, a businessman of Orissa, is yet to be telecast, it is said to have enough material to rock the applecart of the party this election year.


If insiders are to be believed, four top leaders of AGP — Chandramohan Patowary, Phani Bhusan Choudhury, Keshab Mahanta and Padma Hazarika — are involved in the controversy.


It is alleged that the AGP leaders "sold" a Rajya Sabha ticket to Mr Hans and subsequently backed out from the deal after the businessman fulfilled his "financial commitment".


But Mr Hans was keeping a record of entire conversations with them. And things got hot when a Congress minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, whose wife runs a TV channel, claimed to have the CD.


He also created suspense among the public and consternation in the AGP by making public the first part of the CD — a "trailer" of what was to come. Watch your TV screens for more.


Calling all creatures of the night

Karnataka's Assembly Hall at the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru looks regal from outside.


But the 100-odd Opposition MLAs — including two women — who spent four days and four nights in the Vidhana Soudha as part of their protest against the Reddy brothers have a different story to tell.


The stone floors and wood may give it a grand feel in the daytime. But come sundown, it's the rodents that rule. And cockroaches also rushed in attracted by the mountain of food that our hungry representatives left behind. Moreover, the MLAs added to the general air of haunted melancholy by singing from Kannada movies of the '60s. Perhaps former chief minister J.H. Patel spoke words of wisdom when the then Opposition threatened a night-long dharna in the late '90s.


"I sincerely suggest you go home and renew your protest tomorrow," he told them. If some of you don't have a home, I suggest you go to someone else's home. It may be safer".


A minister turns spiritual

The Orissa mass education minister, Mr Pratap Jena, who is facing flak in the multi-crore coal scam, has suddenly turned spiritual. Apparently to ward off trouble, the young and urbane BJD leader recently performed a rudrabhishek (pouring of water on a Shiva Linga amid chanting of mantras by priests).


The rudrabhishek ceremony was performed at village in Jagatsinghpur district. The minister wore a dhoti and kurta and sat with his wife patiently in the puja mandap for over six hours. Wonder if the sudden appeal to God will help him save his skin.


Gehlot and the rain gods

The rain gods are a capricious lot. Just ask the BJP in Rajasthan!

The weak monsoon this year had dried up most of the ponds and lakes and the threat of drought and water scarcity had created anxiety among people.


BJP leaders chose the occasion to blame chief minister Ashok Gehlot for the poor rains, terming him apshakuni (inauspicious). "Whenever Gehlot come to power, rains have stayed away", said a BJP leader.


Not only that, the saffron leaders also spread an SMS campaign "Send CM away to get rains". To prove the contention, they also mentioned dates when Mr Gehlot was away from the state and rains graced the state.


However, the rain gods themselves mocked the campaign by sending copious showers to the state as soon as the SMS campaign started.


Even the holy city of Pushkar received rains after years and the Bisalpur dam, the main source of Jaipur's water supply, got good inflows. No need to say that it left the saffron leaders red-faced and Mr Gehlot smiling from ear to ear.








The Obama White House is too white.


It has US President Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.


But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand "the slave thing", as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.


The first black President should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the "smart-ass white boys" from Walter Mondale's campaign who tried to boss her around.


Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.


The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn't bother to Google, they weren't familiar enough with civil rights history to recognise the name Sherrod. And they didn't return the calls and email of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong.


Charles Sherrod, Shirley's husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the '60s.


As Lewis, the longtime Georgia Congressman, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted video clip of Sherrod talking to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).


"I've known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there's not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies", Lewis said.


We may not have a "nation of cowards" on race, as Attorney General Eric Holder contended, but we may have a West Wing of cowards on race.


The President appears completely comfortable in his own skin, but it seems he feels that he and Michelle are such a huge change for the nation to absorb that he can be overly cautious about pushing for other societal changes for blacks and gays. At some level, he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn't have to deal with race further. But he does.


His closest advisers — some of the same ones who urged him not to make the race speech after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue exploded — are so terrified that Fox and the Tea Party will paint Obama as doing more for blacks that they tiptoe around and do less. "Who knew that the first black President would make it even harder on black people?" asked a top black Democratic official.


It's the same impulse that caused Obama campaign workers to refuse to let Muslim women with headscarves sit in camera range during a rally. It's the same impulse that has left the President light-years behind W. on development help for Africa. In their rush to counteract attempts to paint Obama as a radical/Muslim/socialist, Obama staffers can behave in insensitive ways themselves.


"I don't think a single black person was consulted before Shirley Sherrod was fired — I mean c'mon", said Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, a black lawmaker so temperate that he agreed with an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday by Senator James Webb of Virginia, which urged that "government-directed diversity programmes should end".


"The President's getting hurt real bad", Clyburn told me. "He needs some black people around him." He said Obama's inner circle keeps "screwing up" on race: "Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don't think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite".


Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s House delegate, agreed: "The President needs some advisers or friends who have a greater sense of the pulse of the African-American community, or who at least have been around the mulberry bush".


And why does the NAACP exist if not to help clear a smeared champion of civil rights who gave a stirring speech about racial reconciliation at an NAACP banquet? Its President, Ben Jealous, shamefully following the administration's rush to judgment, tweeted Monday night that Shirley Sherrod was a racist without even calling his Georgia chapter President or reviewing the NAACP's own video of the speech.


It was Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, who, after hearing the entire speech, pushed to get it out and helped clear Sherrod's reputation on CNN.


The President shouldn't give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.







On December 5, 2009, one of the foremost yogis of contemporary India, Paramhansa Satyananda Saraswatiji attained mahasamadhi. The events leading upto his death are vividly described in the January-February 2010 issue of the Yoga magazine published by Sivananda Math, Munger. There are lessons in his death for all of us, as much as there are lessons from his life.


Satyanandji left the world in the manner, place and time of his own choosing, what our scriptures describe as ichchha mrityu. "He simply inhaled and with a deep breath withdrew his pranas from this body" seated in padmasana and in meditation. No wonder there was no mourning following his death because even in death he had achieved perfection.


Through his death he has given us what can be best described as a "doctrine for death" and, thereby, also a doctrine for living.


The message is clear: if you want to die well, then you must live in accordance with certain principles. What are these principles that gave the mahayogi ichchha mrityu?


First, is nishkama karma, perfect action by dedicating the outcome to God and without taking credit for it. For over half-a-century, Paramhansaji worked quietly in Munger (Bihar) and Rikhia village (Jharkhand) and created two of the finest temples, the Bihar School of Yoga — a yoga university dedicated to acquiring wisdom — and Rikhiapeeth, a medium for connecting with other people through service, love and sharing. For over two decades before his death, Paramhansaji worked relentlessly with the tribal population in Rikhia panchayat empowering the kanyas (young girls) and batuks (young boys) with the tools that would help them build their lives and also serve society. He was always humble — no pomp, no show. Reminds one of the famous quote by former US President Harry Truman: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."


This brings us to the second principle: seva. According to the guru, if we only focus on gaining wisdom and do not let it flow into our actions, then that wisdom is of no use. Wisdom is enhanced and grows by sharing. This was the main teaching of Sri Swamiji and he was eminently able to "walk his talk".


The third lesson is leadership. Paramhansaji not only created two world class institutions, but also groomed the next generation of leaders to take forward the good work. His successor Swami Niranjanananda Saraswatiji has already been freed from his social and institutional obligations so that he can concentrate full time on sadhanas and carrying the legacy forward. There is no parallel for such perspective leadership planning in the world today.


Last but not the least, Paramhansaji taught us that death is not the culmination of life.


In fact, "The steps of life begin at the threshold of death. Death is the river that unites two streams of life. Therefore, priests of death! Through the voice of the funeral fires, through the melody of the funeral pyres, sing the sweet song of the union of life."


In Kalyug, the life and death of the Mahayogi Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati shines like a beacon of hope. His biggest legacy for us householders is his "doctrine for death". All we have to do is to cull out our strategy for living from this. Do we have the humility and the wisdom to understand and more importantly implement this? Well, nothing is stopping us.


Manjula Joshi is wife of late General B.C. Joshi, former Chief of Army Staff, and a former president Army Wives Welfare Association








CONTINUING law-and-order difficulties might suggest the ambience is far from conducive, yet the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security to revive the dialogue with all those in Jammu and Kashmir who appear willing to talk must be appreciated. Positions harden in the absence of such a process. And with Omar Abdullah's earnestness failing to convert itself into either effective governance or political astuteness, the situation can only deteriorate into debilitating cycles of violence; one of which now appears on the downwind essentially because the fatigue factor seems to be coming into play. Yet dialogue in itself is inadequate to provide reason for hope, and New Delhi must steel itself into accepting that it will have to offer, or indicate a willingness to consider offering, certain concessions ~ particularly on the autonomy front. The release of political detainees might bring immediate benefit. Mere aid/development packages, and promises of more jobs, have not yielded results in the past so there is no reason to assume they will have any currency now. Further relaxation in cross-LoC trade and enhanced facilitation of people-to-people contact would help, though the security forces could apprehend some negative fallout. Some dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would certainly lubricate the dialogue. That actually would be in consonance with the gradual redeployment of the Army away from urban internal security duties and the decision to make only symbolic use of olive green when the situation was explosive a fortnight ago.

 The "mechanics" will be important. Since the leaders of units that are not deemed part of the mainstream have ego issues they would insist on interacting with political leaders of standing. Yet experience would confirm it is prudent to work upwards rather than attempt a breakthrough with a trickle-down effect. Where the talks will be held, the level of media glare and selective leaks will also have to be factored in. Some back-channel groundwork would surely help. But the greatest need is for sincerity. Obviously New Delhi cannot concede all demands, neither can it reject all outright. Far too often has dialogue been initiated, hopes raised, headlines secured ~ only to fizzle out fast. Yet until a modicum of progress is made on the internal situation in J&K, India will not have a secure footing from which to deal with the external manifestations of a complex set of problems.




THE last chief secretary of the West Bengal government, Asok Mohan Chakraborty, would appear to have appealed to officers to uphold the highest standards of integrity and impartiality in the manner that Mamata Banerjee did on Wednesday. However, they were on different planes. One was using a farewell message to preach what his subordinates had presumably failed to practise when he was empowered to enforce those standards. The other may claim to have appealed to the conscience of officers "misused'' by the party that she hopes to dislodge by suggesting that they would do themselves proud if they disobeyed "illegal'' orders. The most charitable response would be that the impressive turnout at the Martyrs' Day rally and her party's performance in recent elections have left Miss Banerjee with an exaggerated notion of her jurisdiction. Her political rivals who are in government would suggest she is holding out a veiled threat that officers who refuse to fall in line would find it difficult to survive in a regime that she hopes to lead. Whether a state opposition leader and Union minister is entitled to start a cleansing operation anticipating a change of guard in the government and police headquarters is a question neither Trinamul nor Congress may not like to answer. The tone and tenor of her appeal could well produce cross-currents and throw a spanner in administrative work where one party's interference can be as invidious as another's. 

This is not to dispute the extent to which the administration has been politicised over the long years of Left Front rule. Cadres have played their part in misusing their proximity to the centres of power while the line dividing party and government no longer exists. But Miss Banerjee, on her part, seemed to have played into Marxist hands by treading on delicate ground and by giving Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee an opportunity to declare in the assembly that she is acting true to style. Exerting pressure from outside on government officers and policemen ~ however shameless they may be in serving their political masters ~ to accept what she believes to be "legal'' is a perilous exercise. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would reinforce the culture of sycophancy with the scales tilted the other way. In a desire to rescue the administration from the Left's clutches, Miss Banerjee may have over-reached herself. A democrat would have emphasised that the bureaucracy needs to be rescued from all kinds of political influence.




NEPAL'S  politicians are a tribe unto themselves, forever agreeing to disagree, it seems. Since resigning on 30 June, Communist Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has been running a caretaker government. President Ram Baran Yadav's asking the three big parties ~ Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, Nepali Congress and Communist Party of  Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) ~ to form a consensus national government by 7 July has refused to register. Nor did the five-day grace period he granted yield fruit. The Maoists have the most seats in the constituent assembly and were they to give a fair trial to the terms set by the Nepali Congress for its support ~ decide on integrating former Maoist combatants with the Nepal army, return seized property to rightful owners and disband the Young Communist League ~ perhaps a breakthrough could have been possible. All the Maoists did was come out with an apologia ~ that those lodged in cantonments under UN supervision would be put under a special committee and their fate/rehabilitation decided within three months. No party found this convincing.

The President stepped in again and told the 22 parties to elect a Prime Minister on 21 July by a majority vote. But after both Maoist candidate Pusha Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress choice Ramchandra Poudel failed to garner the two-thirds majority, the CPN(UML), the third largest, withdrew its candidate (the Maoists let it down), necessitating a rerun on 23 July. But the poll on that day too was inconclusive. What will happen now on 2 August is anybody's guess. Nothing has worked according to the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that was to shape the country's future. Politicians missed several deadlines. The elections to the constituent assembly were delayed by 10 months, and the House's two-year term was extended on 28 May by a year to enable it to prepare a draft constitution by April 2011. Why, even the PM's election on 21 July was delayed by more than four hours!







There are more basic questions relating to the three-pronged approach. It is not enough to talk glibly of development and good governance. The question is what constitutes development and good governance. What is often done in the name of development ~ exploitation of forest and mineral resources ~ deprives the tribals of their traditional means of livelihood. It destroys their "way of life".

  In the name of "development", forest and mining contractors have ruthlessly exploited national resources and displaced the tribals from their habitat. The perceived benefits have enriched the contractors and their masters. The tribals have been impoverished. And the  government has supported the contractors and exploiters rather than the tribals whenever a conflict arose over development. This process of disparate development has been accelerated in the era of market economy, liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation which started in the name of economic reforms in 1991 with the blessings of the IMF and the World Bank.

MNCs the main actors

THE multinationals became the main actors in this  process of development. Governments signed agreements with Indian and foreign companies in complete disregard of environmental and social consequences. Tribals were deprived of their land and natural resources by the misplaced application of the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act. In the event of a confrontation between the tribals and the contractors of the multinationals, the police force was mobilised in favour of the contractors and against the tribals.

  Incidents of firing on the protesting tribals as at Kashipur and Kalinganagar in Orissa revealed the brutal face of governance. What happened in Orissa happened in other states as well. The collection of minor forest produce such as tendu leaves, honey and wood for fuel was for the tribals both a life support system and a source of income, however meagre. The hills and caves were the objects of worship. When the market supported by the state machinery destroyed the life-support system of the tribals, there was bound to be widespread disenchantment and anger.

The district administration in tandem with the police and the politicians have acted almost like "the advance guard of the companies" (Ramchandra Guha in his book, India after Gandhi). In March 1999, a group of social scientists visited Rayagada in Orissa and issued a report warning the state government that "unless the popular discontent among local tribals over the acquisition of land was properly addressed the peaceful district may turn into a hotbed of Naxalite (Maoist) activity". Similar predictions were made by the environmental journalist, Daryl DeMonte. 

The present situation in the  Maoist-affected areas is the outcome of accumulated anger. Development of this nature has accelerated post-liberalisation and in the wake of the open invitation to multinationals to set up huge steel plants and other mining projects.

Stereotype schemes such as "Narega" are no solution. It is based on the concept of "one size fits all". The tribal areas have special problems. Schemes of development  should be designed to meet the needs of the tribal communities and their way of life. In the years following independence, there were schemes like special tribal development blocks and tribal cooperative societies. They would help the tribals collect and sell the minor forest produce so that the benefit of the price paid for the produce in the market would go to the tribal members of the cooperatives. Such schemes no longer exist. Instead of using the market for the benefit of the tribal community through a sympathetic administrative machinery, the tribals have been thrown to the wolves as it were.
THE contractors and multinationals simply exploit them. Jawaharlal Nehru had consulted Verier Elwin who dedicated himself to the welfare of tribals and who lived with the tribals after marrying a tribal woman. Thakkar Bappa, a Gandhian, spent a lifetime serving the tribals in Dangs as did the community leader Godavari Parulekar in the Sawhar area of Maharashtra. Baba Amte and his sons ,Vikas and Prakash, spent years in the tribal areas, providing them medical service. So do the couple Abhay Bang and Rani Bang. They are respected by the tribals, but the government never consults them, let alone seek their guidance. Instead tribal leaders with vested interests rule the roost. Indian democracy has thrown up tribal leaders like Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren who have ruthlessly exploited their positions in government to indulge in corruption and amass a fortune. The latter was even convicted for murder.

The Maoist leaders have exploited the accumulated anger of the tribals to build up their network, precisely the support for their movement against the duly elected democratic governments of the Indian republic. They describe  democracy as a sham. 

The antidote to Maoism is not the power of the police or the armed forces, but a radical change in our democratic system. It must be an institution that serves the people with honesty and selflessness. This is what people in general ~ not just the tribals ~ expect from a democratic government. The nation will be engulfed in violence if the non-tribals also bare their angst.

There should be a moratorium on what passes for development ~ mega projects of steel and mining, compulsory acquisition of land for irrigation projects that submerge tribal communities and ruthless deforestation by forest contractors. This will leave  the tribal free to pursue his traditional vocation of collecting and selling the minor forest produce. This may appear to be a setback to development, but a policy announcement to this effect may yet assuage the subaltern anger. In the anxiety to become a superpower we cannot alienate our own people. If we do so, we will dig our own grave.








There is something strangely alluring about figures. The very fact that Muttiah Muralitharan dismissed 800 batsmen in Test cricket makes most persons immediately think of him as the greatest bowler cricket has ever seen. Figures make contexts irrelevant. Thus, people forget that many more Test matches are now played than, say, when Clarrie Grimmett — in between the two world wars bowling only against England and South Africa — secured more than 200 wickets. Now cricket is played throughout the year, with many more countries playing at the Test-match level. The use of superlatives to describe Mr Muralitharan's achievements needs to be heavily qualified. It also needs to be underlined that there was always a question mark over his action. This opens up the possibility that some of his dismissals may have been unfairly obtained. There was a time when the definition of an unfair delivery in cricket was left to the discretion of the umpires on the field and what they saw with their naked eyes. Not satisfied with this, the makers of cricket laws, the Marylebone Cricket Club, decided to alter the relevant law to enable Mr Muralitharan to continue bowling within the limits of the law. The point is significant since this must be the only case of a law being emended to accommodate the action of one bowler.


This alteration of the law is an indicator of the state of cricket and the way the game is run. In all major sports — football, tennis, golf and rugger — the conditions of play and the enforcement of rules are being made more and more stringent. In cricket, in some instances, they are being made lax. One reason for this may be the attempt to retrieve the popularity of cricket, which has been dwindling over the years. Another reason could be the balance of politics within the International Cricket Council. It may not be a coincidence that the law was changed to accommodate a bowler from South Asia, the region where cricket remains most popular and which is the biggest source of revenue for the game. These factors need to be borne in mind while discussing Mr Muralitharan's achievements only in terms of figures. His accomplishments might actually lie in a different direction. He probably transformed off-spin bowling. The off spinner of yore had a side-on delivery and imparted the spin with his fingers. Mr Muralitharan bowled from the wrist with a front-on position. This is no mean achievement.








There is a bone-headed stubbornness about any persistent bias. Otherwise it would not have been possible for the country's new census records to list homemakers as "non-workers". Fundamental attitudes to women looking after their households may not have changed, but official India had enough time to take note of the growing acknowledgment, at the insistence of women's rights activists, that not only is housework 'work' but its economic value too should be properly assessed. Now that the Supreme Court has said essentially the same thing when coming down heavily on the equating of homemakers to "beggars, prostitutes and prisoners as equally non-productive workers", there is no excuse to pretend that housework does not matter. The court's objections to the implied comparison of housebound wives to other categories of presumably non-productive workers make a certain dark irony inescapable. It is also a reminder of the struggle of sex workers to be acknowledged as workers. However, the court has put down the official attitude towards homemakers to an insensitivity to the dignity of labour and a strong gender bias. In both, the court is undoubtedly correct, and its pointed comments raise important allied issues.


Housework is invisible, hence it is easy to ignore and exploit. Yet it does not take genius to conclude that without this invisible work going on uninterruptedly, no economic activity by those who go out of the house would have been possible. Quantifying the contribution of homemakers to the economy is not a desirable job: a proper assessment could make many earning men look quite silly. But in these changing times, concepts of housework and gendered distribution of the work are changing too. Different aspirations and economic goals are inducing different lifestyles and values. But the change will take some time to spread. Meanwhile, in spite of the court's displeasure, the low value accorded to housework will continue to haunt the status of homemakers. And the other group of women which will continue to suffer for this would be paid domestic workers. Their wages reflect exactly how little housework is valued by Indian society.









In infrastructure regulation, the government was forced to set up independent regulators because of the need to attract private and foreign investment. The way in which the bureaucracy managed to retain control was one that they later applied to other areas, like the right to information and competition. They ensured that almost all selections of members and especially chairmen were from the Central services, and, as a small concession, other (usually) retiring officers from different services and from State-owned enterprises. This ensured that governments retained control over important regulatory decisions. Resistance came from the judiciary when this control process was tried with the appellate tribunals. The judiciary felt that the tribunals should be neutral and objective. Ultimately the bureaucracy conceded that the chairmen of these tribunals would be judges (serving or retired).


Financial regulators — the Reserve Bank of India, the Securities and Exchange Board of India — were created much earlier, while the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority was created almost at the same time as the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. Particularly after Independence, it was common practice for the governor of the RBI to be a former finance secretary or senior bureaucrat. Rarely, when he was not from the Central services, he would have served in an administrative position earlier. Both Sebi (except once when a Life Insurance Corporation chairman was selected) and Irda have always been chaired by former bureaucrats, and always from the Central government services.


Of course, this quiet compliance to the suzerainty of the ministry was sometimes abandoned by the bureaucrat who, when appointed to a regulatory commission, took wings as he tasted the freedom of independence. The best example in the RBI was Y. Venugopal Reddy, who pursued his mandate even when it conflicted with the views of the finance ministry. But it was more common for the finance ministry's views to prevail.


Many reasons were cited for appointing bureaucrats to regulatory commissions. One top bureaucrat told me with a straight face that otherwise there would be no qualified candidates. Others said that the remuneration would not attract non-bureaucrats. (The last Pay Commission has substantially raised the remuneration for regulators.) The arrangement incidentally helped to ensure consultation and coordination regarding major policies between the government and the regulator and when there was disagreement between them, the government position would prevail. This has happened repeatedly in decisions on monetary policy, and with infrastructure regulators in holding back justifiable tariff increases. It was no punishment that the practice would also extend the bureaucrats' serving life after retirement.


One result of this practice, allied to the strong instincts of turf protection of bureaucrats and the ministers advised by them, was the plethora of 'independent' regulatory bodies created after the economy opened up in 1991. Each ministry had to have at least one such body, and in some cases, more than one department in the ministry had its own. Energy has the CERC and the state electricity regulatory commissions; the ports ministry has the Tariff Authority for Major Ports; petroleum and natural gas has the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board; coal is to have one soon; and in some there are appellate tribunals to match, with government officers as members since the judiciary has reserved the chair for judicial officers. There are times when the regulatory jurisdiction of one regulator impinges on that of another.


For example, when I was at the CERC as chairman (the only non-bureaucrat or judge so far to hold such a position in a regulatory body, except for a former chairman of the State Bank of India, M.S. Verma, in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), the Power Grid Corporation of India, holding the national monopoly for interstate transmission at the time, wanted to string fibre optic cables across the country on its towers. I discussed it with the then chairman of Trai (the judge, N.K. Sodhi) and we agreed that the electricity consumer should get credit from the company for using the electricity towers. We left before a decision had to be taken. Many of us have foreseen similar jurisdictional issues between the Competition Commission and the infrastructure regulators. The latter are charged to promote competition in their sectors, and of course there are issues of mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Commission is a new body and has many other things it has to do. When natural monopolies are involved, investments are lumpy and so installations are not in proximity, and there is a shortage, as with electricity. Competition in infrastructure requires the regulator to simulate the effects of competition. This requires some knowledge of the sector. The consensus is that such issues should be left to the sectoral regulator.


In the last few years, electricity trading markets and exchanges have been in place and are in considerable use. The exchanges which initially engaged in spot and day-ahead trading obviously saw the need for futures trades as well. The Forward Markets Commission thought all futures trades were in its jurisdiction. The dispute awaits resolution but it is best resolved by discussion or by the appellate tribunal — there is one for electricity. It should certainly not be resolved by the ministries. That would take away the concept of independence that is enshrined in the formation of these bodies.


Such a conflict over jurisdiction arose between Sebi and the RBI about the regulation of unit-linked insurance plans. It was set to go to court when the finance ministry decided to intervene and decided in favour of the Irda. This was bad enough, since it brought the executive into resolving a dispute between two regulatory bodies. It has now created the precedent that the executive is the authority over these bodies. The independence that was given them to avoid various forces — political, personal or simply power-related — from influencing their decisions has been violated by bureaucratic and ministerial interference. The only influences in resolving disputes by regulatory bodies must be purely objective ones based on detailed analysis of the facts and the law as it applies to any situation.


Now the government has gone much farther by issuing an ordinance which it threatens to get made into legislation by Parliament in six months, that will create a body chaired by the finance minister with representatives of the regulators (RBI, Sebi, Irda), to resolve such jurisdictional disputes. Thus, at least, in such disputes, the executive will be supreme when it should be a judicial body that decides on the solutions to such disagreements between independent regulatory bodies. Unfortunately, politicians and bureaucrats, when they are in power, have delusions of immortality. They think that they are objective, neutral and honest, taking decisions only in the nation's interest, and that this will remain so. They might be objective, neutral and honest, but there is no assurance that future appointees will remain so. Once legislation is passed, such powers will be exercised by whoever is holding the office in government. The power it gives the executive makes a mockery of the independence these regulatory bodies are supposed to have.

We need to rationalize the plethora of regulatory bodies and such coordination must be within the body itself. Why not the RBI governor as chair of the proposed apex committee to decide on a majority basis? Why not put all energy regulations under one body? Appellate tribunals headed by judges should be few, and might decide jurisdictional issues. Appointments to regulatory bodies should not be only from among current and ex-government servants but be filled on advice from a body of eminent persons who would choose from among academics, lawyers, businessmen, and others they deem suitable. Experienced and respected ministers like Pranab Mukherjee should not take motivated bureaucratic advice aimed to enlarge their turf. They must consider how power might be wielded by successors.

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








Monkey see, monkey do. Soon after France's National Assembly passed a law making it illegal to wear a full-face veil in public, Philip Hollobone, a British MP, announced a private member's bill that would make it illegal for people to cover their faces in public in Britain. Neither bill mentioned Muslims by name.


Hollobone has previously called the Islamic veil "offensive" and "against the British way of life," so we may safely assume that his bill is not aimed at people wearing motorcycle helmets. We can also assume that it will never become law, for British immigration minister, Damian Green, immediately replied that "telling people what they can and can't wear, if they're just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do."


The last thing anybody needs is for another major European state to copy the French initiative. But it cannot be denied that many Europeans feel profoundly uneasy when they see these shrouded, masked women moving silently in their midst.


The veil is not Islamic at all. It pre-dates all the Abrahamic religions. They all come from the Middle East, and that's why they all — Jews, Christians and Muslims — used to be obsessed with female 'modesty.' The principle of 'modesty' was a way of controlling the behaviour of women who had the power to upset the social order, so how poor women behaved didn't matter. The early Mesopotamian laws ordaining the veiling of women applied only to the wives of powerful men. Several thousand years later, Greek, Roman and Byzantine upper-class women still went veiled, while their poorer sisters moved freely with their faces uncovered. We cannot know what proportion of women in pre-Islamic Arabia went veiled, but until quite recently poorer and rural Arabian women covered their hair but otherwise went unveiled. It seems safe to assume that the situation was not much different in the Prophet's time.


Historic battle


I do not presume to interpret the Quran, but its injunctions on veiling were simply an endorsement of existing social customs. I would also observe that most Muslim communities through history have interpreted these customs as requiring the concealment of a woman's hair but not her face. So why have women from non-rich Muslim families in European cities now taken to wearing full-face veils or burqas?


One reason is fear; the majority society's values are so seductive that good Muslims must be isolated from it. This also explains why you see girls as young as two or three wearing hijabs in Paris and London: their parents believe that the habit must start early if it is to withstand the majority society's influence. A second reason is defiance: think of it as a non-gay version of "we're out and we're proud. Get used to it." Both anecdotal evidence and personal observation suggest to me that a large proportion of the fully veiled women in Britain are recent converts to Islam who grew up in the dominant post-Christian culture. Converts often get carried away.


So which part of this is a threat to public order? Why did a law banning the full veil pass through the French parliament without opposition, whereas a similar bill will never reach the floor of the House of Commons? Not because the French are more anti-Muslim than the British, but because they are the heirs of one of the great battles between religion and the secular state. Britain hasn't seen such a battle since the 17th century, and the official religion just gradually retreated to the sidelines of modern life. The fight was long, bitter and more recent in France, so the French state takes public displays of religious allegiance far more seriously. But it is still behaving stupidly. And what about Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland, where similar bans have been discussed? They should be ashamed of themselves.





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





An unwelcome fallout of the resolution of the jurisdictional dispute between the Securities and  Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority over Unit-Linked Insurance Policies (ULIPs) is the creation of a joint committee of finance ministry officials and representatives regulatory bodies to adjudicate on all such future disputes. The committee will be chaired by the finance minister. This mechanism by composition is a government-dominated body but will wield powerover the affairs of autonomous financial institutions like the SEBI, the IRDA, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority, and more importantly, the Reserve Bank of India. The RBI governor has openly disapproved of the move and SEBI has opposed it. The government's action raises questions about its commitment to the independence of regulatory institutions.

It was through an ordinance that the government settled the dispute between SEBI and IRDA, in favour of the latter. The propriety of deciding on an issue which the ministry wanted referred to the court and issuing an ordinance for that is questionable. The reason for the haste is now clear because the government smuggled in through the ordinance the idea of the joint committee. The bill to replace the ordinance is to be passed by Parliament. If it is presented with a done decision on the powers and functions of regulatory institutions, Parliament should resist it. There is already an RBI-headed High Level Co-ordination Committee which adjudicates on regulatory disputes. It could not resolve the SEBI-IRDA dispute but that is no reason for the government to intrude into areas where it should not enter.

Regulatory bodies work effectively only when there is no government intervention. By definition these autonomous institutions are above the domain of the finance ministry. A super-regulatory body in the guise of the joint committee is a contradiction of terms. The dominant role of the finance minister in it can inject politics into decisions which should strictly be based on  objective financial criteria and public interest. The professionalism, transparency and expertise that should attend such decision-making processes will be lacking when the government controls them. The status of the regulatory institutions, especially the RBI, should not be diminished for narrow ends. They should be left to themselves to do their work and settle  disputes.








There is no doubt that the drama enacted in Maharashtra last week by Telugu Desam and former Andhra Pradesh leader Chandrababu Naidu was driven by considerations of electoral politics. A former chief minister's violation of ban orders, entry into another state, courting arrest, refusing to be released on bail and finally being bundled out of Maharashtra is political theatre and Naidu needed the arc lights of attention on him when there are 12 by-elections to be held in the Telangana region. The TDP's flipflop on the issue of statehood for Telangana had not endeared Naidu to the region's people and presenting himself as a protector of its interests made electoral sense. The opportunity was doubly useful because both the government of the state, whose actions he was protesting and that of Andhra Pradesh, which he criticised for its inability to protect the people's interests, belonged to the Congress(I).


Andhra Pradesh may have a genuine grievance with the Maharashtra government's plan to construct the Babli barrage on the Godavari which feeds the Sriramsagar dam in its territory. The barrage might reduce the flow of water to the dam and pose more scarcity in a number of water-starved Telangana districts. The dam even now is unable to provide the quantum of water it was expected to release to the region. The dispute is already before the Supreme Court which has ordered Maharashtra not to install the gates on the barrage. Naidu had no reason other than political to rake up the issue.

Water is an emotive issue and the large number of inter-state disputes on sharing of river water show that political and legal processes have been unable to resolve them to the satisfaction of contending states. Very few disputes have been solved and most of them are festering, erupting off an on in law and order issues and fuelling parochialism. It is as if politicians have a vested interest in keeping them alive and making use of them as Naidu has tried to do. The disputes even affect the best and optimum utilisation of water by some states. It is also a fact that some of them even lose their importance when water resources in rivers and lakes and, more importantly rain water resources, are managed efficiently. While most of the water is wasted, we fight over what is left.







It would be odd, and wholly unacceptable, if secularism were to be defined by the fate of a gangster in Gujarat.


At stake in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case is not the religion of the individual, or his preferred means of sustenance (in this case, crime), but the rule of law. It was in pursuit of this principle that the Supreme Court handed over investigation of his death in a fake encounter, and the subsequent murder of Sohrabuddin's wife Kauserbi, to the CBI on January 13, 2010. The Gujarat government effectively lost its credibility when it admitted in December 2006 that Sohrabuddin had been killed in a fake encounter on 26 November 2005 and that his wife had been murdered two days later.

Court's business

The Supreme Court has taken a stand that should terrify not just the Gujarat government, but any administration. It has asserted that it is the court's business to determine guilt and innocence, and not that of the police. The truth is that for at least two decades, and in some places for longer than that, security forces have used fake encounters as the easy option in their war against crime and anti-national terrorism. This is not unique to Gujarat.

We do not know how many innocents have been killed in Mumbai in the process of tackling the renowned underworld of the city. Police officers who shot first and refused to answer questions later have been glamorised as heroes, not only by the Maharashtra  government but also by Bollywood.

Bollywood intervened only because this practice has the support of many citizens, for reasons that might not be palatable to either the police or the people. We no longer believe that crime, let alone anti-national terrorism, can be controlled through legitimate means, because corruption has made large parts of the police-judiciary system impotent. Now comes the difficult part: we citizens are partners  in crime as well, since we buy  products that the underworld sells.

Every user of drugs and narcotics in Mumbai is complicit in corruption, because the underworld would not survive without this trade. Rich Mumbaikars who need a hashish puff to keep cool during their fancy parties might want to think before they smoke. Our selfish self wants a level of crime which sustains our weakness, and the elimination of criminals who threaten our comfort.

Amit Shah cannot escape, no matter how smart a politician he might be. The wheels of Indian justice may take their time, but when they move they grind with persistence. Shah will attempt to exploit contradictions in the public mind, for there will be those who support "killer-solutions", but his case is badly tarred by the accusation that he took money from businessmen in the larger transactions surrounding this case. Shah, and Narendra Modi, will learn that the circumference of power is wider than the political world. This episode will also interfere with Modi's hopes of becoming his party's candidate for prime minister, which may not displease everyone in his party.

But surely accountability cannot be limited to just one case in one state. Who is responsible for the death of Rajkumar Cherukuri Azad, the 55-year-old Naxalite leader who was shot dead by the Andhra police in Adilabad district? Was this an 'encounter' or a 'fake encounter'? Do the police have evidence of a Naxal attack, to which they were responding? Or did they track Azad on orders from Delhi or Hyderabad, and then murder him?

Naxal upsurge

There is a political dimension to Azad's death, for he was the prospective bridge between government and the Naxalite  movement for any negotiations. Did Delhi want him eliminated because the Home Ministry had decided that it would kill its way through the Naxal upsurge, and its offer of talks was not serious? Intermediaries like Swami Agnivesh have suggested as much. Is this the moment when Swami Agnivesh should move a writ petition in the Supreme Court, arguing that the Andhra police, being complicit in the death, will make no effort to try and answer these questions?

It is perhaps easier to pose questions than to find answers since we are dealing with a prickly proposition: who is an enemy of state? There is no confusion about a Kasab and the many thousands who have been sent across an international border to damage our country. The problem gets more opaque for the Supreme Court when categories change.

The court has taken a courageous decision in ruling that a man like Sohrabuddin, who has killed gangsters to spread an extortion racket and has employees armed with automatic firearms, cannot face an arbitrary death squad. Does Azad, in the opinion of the court, deserve to be killed without a trial because certain persons in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have decided that this is how it should be?

The Supreme Court is not a political party. It cannot vary its principles to suit pragmatic needs.








In the past 18 months, the international community has trained some 10,000 Somali soldiers


In 2006, the Bush administration declared Somalia the latest front in the war on terrorism: a newly influential movement, the Union of Islamic Courts, was suspected of playing host to Al Qaeda there. When this union took over the capital in June 2006, the US States tried to coax moderates within it to enter a dialogue with Somalia's official government, a toothless institution that was exiled from the capital. But by December of that year, when the Islamic courts seemed about to take down the government, Ethiopia convinced US officials that allowing the courts to control Somalia would be tantamount to handing the country to Al Qaeda.

And so, the Ethiopian military moved into Somalia to protect the unpopular government, and for the next two years the US bankrolled a brutal occupation. Today, no one doubts that this was a tragic error. To defend the dysfunctional government, Ethiopian soldiers robbed, killed and raped with abandon. The perception that the US had sided with Ethiopia and the African Union internationalised the conflict. Ultimately it allowed Al Qaeda to gain a foothold in a country that American intelligence, in 2007, had declared to be "inoculated" against all kinds of foreign extremist movements.

Sadly, today, the Obama administration is poised to repeat its predecessor's mistake.


Inflicting casualties

The situation now is very similar to what it was in 2006. The Ethiopian soldiers are gone, but the regime they protected, the so-called Transitional Federal Government, is still in place, now protected by 6,000 African Union peacekeeping troops. Like the Ethiopians before them, African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi are inflicting thousands of civilian casualties, indiscriminately shelling neighbourhoods in Mogadishu. Today most of southern Somalia is under the control of a vicious mob of teenage radicals known as Al Shabab, who are clearly getting guidance from Al Qaeda and who have proudly claimed responsibility for the attack earlier this month that killed 76 people in Uganda.

Nobody, from the White House to the African Union, can believe that the ineffectual transitional government has any hope of governing Somalia. During the latest round of infighting the speaker of Parliament was ousted and the prime minister was fired (though he has refused to step down), and soon afterward the minister of defence resigned, accusing the government not only of incompetence but also of trying to assassinate him.
Yet in the past 18 months, the international community has trained some 10,000 Somali soldiers to support this government, and American taxpayers have armed them. Seven or eight thousand of these troops have already deserted, taking their new guns with them. Indeed, Somalia's Western-backed army is a significant source of Al Shabab's weapons and ammunition, according to the United Nations Monitoring Group.

There are better ways for the US to prevent the rise of terrorist groups in Somalia. A strategy of "constructive disengagement"-in which the international community would extricate itself from Somali politics, but continue to provide development and humanitarian aid and conduct the occasional special forces raid against the terrorists — would probably be enough to pull the rug out from under Al Shabab. This group, led mostly by foreign extremists fresh from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, is internally divided, and is hated in Somalia.

It has recruited thousands of Somali children into its militias and uses them to brutally impose a foreign ideology on the religiously moderate Somali people. The only way Al Shabab can flourish, or even survive in the long term, is to hold itself up as an alternative to the transitional government and the peacekeepers.

Why has the Obama administration allowed this violent farce to continue? In a nutshell, it has fallen into the same trap as the Bush administration: Distracted by the unwarranted concern that withdrawing the soldiers would allow Al Qaeda to take control of Somalia, the administration argues that it can't afford to step back. On the contrary, it can't afford to do anything else. To truly stabilise Somalia by force would require 100,000 troops. Putting another few thousand on the ground — as the African Union has announced it will do — would only increase the violence.

Because plans to send more soldiers to Somalia cannot succeed without American support, the Obama administration is at a significant crossroads. It is essential that it resist the temptation to allow history to repeat itself.






'She had metamorphosed into a sparrow that flew past the green channel'


Barring crows and an occasional fluting cuckoo, Chennai's spreading concrete jungle seems to have no other significant avian specimen. A few parrots can be spotted de-winged and caged to pick cards to predict men's future. Also lovebirds entwined on the sands of Marina, under threat of being chased by police maintaining Love and Order.

"But where are the sparrows?" asked Subbu, a specialist in rhetorical questions. "May be the cell phone signals are the culprits. You can't spot those tiny, plump brown-grey passerine birds any longer picking seeds with their strong beaks," Subbu said.


""You can  spot them at Anna International airport", I said laughing. As he raised his left eyebrow theatrically demanding clarity, I added, "Customs code words. Ants are small time operators, and sparrows big time in carrying contraband."

"That reminds me of my maiden foreign jaunt," he said sipping hot coffee that was served. "Twenty five years back I was sent to Sri Lanka by my boss to submit a tender. I was thrilled. The whole family, including our dog, proudly saw me off at the airport. Even Hanuman on his Mission Sita to Lanka wouldn't have had such a hearty send off from his fellow Kishkindaites," Subbu recollected.

He took another sip. "With a paltry foreign exchange at my disposal I eventually came back with a few knickknacks, but without the mandatory two-in-one, air thermos jug, pen-cum-torch and a bottle of duty-free scotch," he remembered. "My wife greeted me with the longest face. She had indented for a wrist watch but I didn't have the time to pick one at Colombo. As a compromise, I gave her the tin of Ovaltine I got, hoping the health drink would cheer her up," he said.

"But when prised open it did not have chocolate brown granules but caked up solids. Her disappointment compounded she threw the contents into a basin with silent rage. Giving a O Henrian twist to this episode, she fished out a cellophane pack from the heap. Inside a pricey, gold-strapped lady's watch was ticking. Fancy that!" "Which means" I pointed out, "you had metamorphosed into a sparrow that merrily flew past the green channel hoodwinking hawk-eyed customs!"









Religious extremism and narrow parochialism have, for now, once again gotten the better of reason.

It seemed that a temporary compromise had been reached to avert the snowballing crisis between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel over "Who is a Jew." Late Thursday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement outlining the compromise, which was similar to ideas expressed in these columns and based squarely on reason: The two sides would agree to a sixmonth moratorium on all legal and legislative action aimed at changing the religious status quo regarding conversions to Judaism – namely the Reform and Conservative movements' petition to the High Court and Israel Beiteinu's conversion bill.

In the interim, a special committee would be created, headed by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, which would bring together representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements with representatives of the Israeli government. Through dialogue, the two sides would hammer out their differences.

But Shas and United Torah Judaism, unwilling to sit with non-Orthodox Jews, have rejected the proposal and vowed to continue to back the conversion bill that would anchor in law the haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate's de facto control over conversions, the delegitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions, and the very Jewishness of all non-Orthodox converts.

Meanwhile, Israel Beiteinu's MK David Rotem, the mastermind behind the bill, is being non-committal.

He apparently is none too anxious to pit himself against the two haredi political parties, which enjoy a steadily growing constituency boosted by one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Besides, the Knesset is on summer recess until October and no bills will be passed until then anyway.


The intransigence of Shas and UTJ is not particularly surprising. UTJ's Uri Maklev sees the alienation of non-Orthodox Jewry that was caused by the bill as proof of its worthiness. But even moderate religious Zionist groups have come out in favor of Rotem's legislation. Traditional-minded legislators from Likud or even Kadima would support it as well.

WIDE SUPPORT for Orthodoxy's de facto monopoly over religion in Israel goes back to the establishment of the state. Of all the secular Jewish movements that grew out of the Haskala, Zionism was the most in need of cooperation with tradition.

Although Zionism rebelled against old parochial modes of Jewish existence in its rejection of the exile, its push to reestablish Jewish sovereignty and its goal of creating a "new Jew," the pioneering Zionists nevertheless needed tradition to explain the Jewish people's special connection to the Land of Israel, to co-opt the idea of chosenness, and to promote social cohesion.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, understood the centrality of tradition to Zionism and made a pact with the Orthodox establishment, giving it control over strictly religious matters such as marriage and divorce, building synagogues and ritual baths, and burials. Secular Zionists, who were responsible for the creation of the state, would control everything else.

Reform and Conservative Judaism, foreign to the vast majority of eastern European immigrants who made up the Zionist leadership, was never an option. The waves of immigration from Muslim countries in the 1950s and 1960s made it even less so.

But while Ben-Gurion recognized the importance of tradition, he was also careful not to allow the Orthodox establishment to force on the fledgling Jewish nation an overly narrow, exclusionary definition of Jewishness that would alienate Diaspora Jewry. In 1958, for instance, he asked dozens of scholars and thinkers in Israel and in the Diaspora for their opinion on the relationship between religion and nationhood.

To this day the question of "who is a Jew?" has remained open. If it is to be resolved, it must be through dialogue and compromise, not through coercion or unilateral acts.








If the Arab world feels so threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, shouldn't it cooperate more closely with the West to seek a solution?


Readers often ask why it is that threatened by Iran, Syria, terrorist violence and revolutionary Islamists, Arab regimes don't cooperate more with the West or actively seek to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sure, they do some things – Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel, there is some real work with the West, as in the rescue of Kuwait from Iraqi aggression in 1991. But why not much more, on the level that could achieve more stability in the region?

One reader wrote: These despots don't seem cunning to me at all.

But that's flat wrong. They are very cunning and if you understand how, you can begin to comprehend the Middle East.

These rulers' most important priority is regime survival. The people's well-being and country's interest is secondary at best. To stay in power, a dictatorship needs to generate foreign enemies, reduce freedom and monopolize economic wealth. This is, in many ways, the opposite of the Western democratic view that a government which provides freedom and material benefits for its citizens is the one most likely to stay in power.

To ensure regime survival, the dictatorship must protect its Muslim and Arab credentials. Using these two pillars in various combinations, rulers mobilize the people. A key way to do this is anti- Western and anti-Israel demagoguery: The government portrays itself as a champion of Islam and Arabism against demonic foes.

What the West does in response is unimportant to a populace that already views it as an enemy and whose information about the outside world is filtered through regime and ideological propaganda.

Suppose the US distances itself from Israel. How do Arab populaces know or interpret this step? They are told nothing has happened, that it is a trick or far from sufficient. Rather than prove the West is "nice," these developments are interpreted as merely proving it is weak and frightened, or at best being won over to the Arab regimes' position. This leads to more demands, not more gratitude.

In these dictatorships, the army's main purpose is to support the regime rather than win wars. The main purpose of the educational system and media is to glorify the regime, not tell the truth and help fix its problems. The economy's main purpose is to provide the regime with assets for rewarding friends and punishing enemies, not to create prosperity or raise living standards.

This approach provides neither rapid progress nor better lives for the people. But if you start with the original premise – keeping the regime in power comes first – everything makes sense.

NOW LET'S move to a more advanced stage. Here's a paraphrase of a letter from another reader which parallels the first one: "Given that Israel is not the only country in the Middle East that feels threatened by Iran's nuclear ambitions, and that Israel is likely to be the only country that has the political will to do anything about the situation, doesn't this give Israel a considerable strategic advantage? It strikes me that a number of demands could be made upon Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in exchange for Israeli action against Iran."

This is a very good question. But the answer is no. Why? Because there is little or no give and take. If Arab regimes get something from Israel, they will not give anything in return (I'll qualify that point in a second). If they don't get anything from Israel, they will not give to get an advantage. They will let events go as they may.

The same point, by the way, applies to US-Arab state relations. Of course, the US saved Kuwait in 1991 and Kuwait likes having US military forces around. But there has been no effort to promote pro-US feeling or to help out much on such issues as the Arab-Israeli conflict or the efforts to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Two years later when Washington begged for assistance in the Oslo process, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia did nothing.

Why? Are the regimes stupid or irrational? No, they are following their interests as they perceive them. True, one day they may pay a high cost for their policies, but so far they've survived pretty well. The exception is Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who miscalculated and just kept going too far.

Of course, they can hope that Israel or the US will attack Iran for their own reasons, or at least US policy will contain Teheran without their having to do much. They watch a West apparently desperate to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If the West fails, the regimes win by complaining how much they are suffering and demand compensation; if the West succeeds, their passivity worked.

And they have still another reason for acting this way: The West lets them get away with it. When they choose between fearing the US or defusing radical threats at home and abroad, the decision is easy. It is usually more risky to be moderate or work with the West than to defy it.

If you tell them they would be better off if they went to a more Western-style system, they would reply that this is not their culture; their masses might not like it; and their rivals at home and abroad would portray them as traitors. Arab elites watched what happened in the Soviet bloc in the 1980s. The West cheered a peaceful change for freedom; Arab regimes shivered at the thought of anarchy and their own downfall.

So, is this system pragmatic? Yes and no. It is not pragmatic in terms of keeping people happy through freedom and high living standards. It is pragmatic in judging that demagoguery and control are alternative means of securing passivity or even outright support for the regime. It is pragmatic in achieving the main goal: stability and regime maintenance.

Homework: Apply this model to Palestinian politics. In this framework, why isn't the Palestinian Authority as eager for a complete peace settlement and an independent state through compromise as one would expect using a Western model of politics?

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








Palestinians in the Strip seem to be breaking out of their self-professed siege mentality by visiting the newly inaugurated shopping mall.

That was quick. No sooner had Israel announced it was easing the blockade on Gaza, in the wake of the flotilla affair, than the poor starving residents we've all heard so much about opened a shopping mall. Talk about conspicuous consumption.

The mall was apparently a work quietly in progress for more than a year – many UN debates and European Union statements on the "humanitarian crisis" ago – but it officially opened only last week.

Putting things in proportion, the shopping center, covering roughly 9,700 sq. ft., is only on two stories, does not have an escalator and, according to Palestinian journalists, does not come even close to the style of an American mall. Or even Israeli malls, for that matter.

On the other hand, as an Israel Television reporter noted, neither does it need to have armed security guards and metal detectors at the entrance. Unlike Israeli malls, the Hamas-sanctioned shoppers' paradise is not likely to be the target of Palestinian suicide bombers using it as a stop on the way to jihadi heaven.

I read several different reports of the mall launch – for obvious reasons, I could not personally check this out even if I were a consumer culture fan.

None mentioned whether the Gaza shopping center is equipped with missile- proof shelters. No new buildings in Israel – from malls to housing projects – are built without them. That's because just about every Israeli in the North and South of the country knows what it's like to come under attack – it's only been four years since the Second Lebanon War, after all, and Gazalaunched missiles still land in the Negev now and again (and again), even a year and a half after Operation Cast Lead put an end to the massive 80-rockets-a-day bombardments.

The new mall is equipped with airconditioning, adding to its obvious attraction – in the summer heat, it's either there or Gaza's beautiful beaches.

But this just fuels my suspicions that the much-publicized Gazan energy crisis (blamed like everything else on Israel) is not quite as severe as the Hamas leadership, dramatically photographed working by candlelight, would have us believe.

Vendors at the shopping center claim that most of the goods were smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt because of the Israeli blockade.

(Actually, Egypt, equally concerned with the ramifications of Hamas control in Gaza, also imposed an embargo, which is often overlooked.) Still, it seems huge quantities of cement and metal must have entered the Strip after all. It makes you wonder about the amount of arms that got through.

Altogether, the mall requires a mind shift. Looking for photos, the first images that popped up on the search engines were of a homeless family still living in a tent after Israeli forces reportedly bulldozed their house during Cast Lead – in an area from which Hamas was launching missiles among its human shield population.
It seems strange that Gazans can build a shopping mall for those who can afford to shop (or afford to dream) before rebuilding the homes of those who lost them in the mini-war.

AS FAR as I know, none of the Israelis whose homes were destroyed by Palestinian missiles are out on the streets – which probably goes to show why Israel over the past six decades or so has successfully absorbed millions of immigrants and refugees while the Palestinians are the only people who have managed to perpetuate their refugee status for more than 60 years.

If bombed-out Israelis thought that the government was encouraging the construction of shopping malls before replacing their apartment buildings, they would move into protest tents, not shacks.

Not, of course, that all Israeli construction has gone smoothly. As I have noted before, in all the brouhaha created by the extreme haredim over the construction of new emergency rooms on the site of ancient graves at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, it was easy to overlook the fact that the main reason for the new wing is that it would be missile-proof. We've become so used to the thought that Israeli hospitals can be (and have been) hit by rockets that it doesn't seem unusual anymore. Just the same as Israelis traveling abroad are surprised by the lack of security checks at the entrance to foreign malls, not targeted by Islamist suicide bombers (heaven forbid).

Israeli hospitals also have security checks. Who would purposely attack a hospital? Well, some people are so ungrateful. Just look at the arrest publicized last week of a Hamas-affiliated gang of terrorists operating in the West Bank and responsible for killing policeman F.-Sgt. Yehoshua "Shuki" Sofer in a roadside ambush on June 14, just three months ahead of his wedding.

Two weeks before the attack, a leader of the terror cell accompanied his daughter to the Ein Kerem campus of Jerusalem's Hadassah University Medical Center where a tumor was removed from her eye in surgery reportedly funded by an Israeli aid organization.

Shopping might provide some form of escapism for those who (unlike me) enjoy that sort of thing, but there is still a war going on out there. Actually, there is still a war raging in my e-mail inbox, which is daily bombarded with messages about Israel's "war crimes." While writing this piece, for example, I found among my incoming mail a screed from a Danish-based group called The Palestinian Information Center, whose anti- Israel message is obviously outdated, although sadly not unfashionable.

"Stop Israel's War Crimes in Gaza," its logo screamed; among the alleged crimes: a humanitarian disaster, torture, home demolitions and illegal detentions.

It also proclaims "Gaza on Fire." If I suggest that they use the water from Gaza's Olympic-size swimming pool to put it out, I wonder what the group's next e-mail will say. But I would like to remind them that Hamas controls Gaza, not Israel. And as they brought up the subject of illegal detentions, it wouldn't kill Hamas to let Gilad Schalit go four years after he was abducted.

And another thing: The group should drop the photo of Ariel Sharon.

He's been out of the picture since he became comatose following his stroke in January 2006.

Sharon's name did come up this month, however, as members of the Jewish communities expelled/evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif began marking the fifth anniversary since disengagement. While not exactly refugees, many of the 7,000 former residents have yet to move into permanent homes. And I have yet to find the person who lived there – even those who have rebuilt their lives – who can't say "told you so" regarding the increased shelling from Gaza that followed the pullout.

Still, there is something comforting about the thought of Gazans building a mall – any hint of economic improvement brings with it a hope for peace and quiet.

News of the mall opening, however, coincided with reports of the latest Hamas-imposed restriction. On July 18, the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry issued an order banning women from smoking nargilas in public places in the Gaza Strip, saying the practice "violated social norms and traditions."

Who would have thought that the consumer culture symbolized in shopping malls would be considered more acceptable than smoking a water pipe in public? It goes to show that the customer does not always have rights.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.







The political impasse offers a unique opportunity for a dialogue.

The dust is starting to settle over the latest conversion skirmish.

The Knesset has gone into its summer hibernation, and the conversion debate that rocked the Jewish world over the past two weeks has gone quiet as well.

Looking back, perhaps it is now time to thank MK David Rotem, the initiator of the bill that sparked the controversy.

First, we should thank him for the bill itself, which in its original version went a long way toward bringing comfort and legal remedy to hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Israelis who may wish to become part of the Jewish people.

Indeed, we fervently hope that he will continue to advance the bill's original intent, without the problematic amendments that transformed it into an attempt to settle the "Who is a Jew" controversy.

But there is yet another reason to thank MK Rotem. His surprise introduction of the bill in the Knesset Law Committee on July 12 launched a remarkable and instructive battle of wills between Israeli lawmakers and some American Jewish leaders, even if it ended as it always has: in a stalemate.

Time and again the Jewish people has revisited the conversion confrontation in recent decades, and each time the argument is the same. It is a debate between those who want to codify in legislation that Israel will recognize one universal standard of conversion and those who wish to see Israel embrace a broader spectrum of religious practice.

Each side in this face-off has its own compelling and unique weapons: one side the strength of state institutions and legislation; the other direct access to Israeli leaders, public opinion of millions of Jews worldwide and the ability to petition the High Court of Justice for redress of grievances.

This time, each side entered the battle at the peak of its power. Rotem brought the bill to the Knesset at an almost ideal political moment and had every reason to believe he would succeed in pushing it through. Two of the major coalition partners, Israel Beiteinu and Shas, agreed to join forces in moving the bill forward. Together, they made up a huge bloc in a government that already enjoyed a strong majority in the Knesset. Rotem's bill – at least in its original form – is even part of the coalition agreement.

So by creating "facts on the ground," Rotem hoped to use his political advantage to force the bill into law, even over the angry objections of many Diaspora leaders. The bill's easy passage through the Knesset Law Committee seemed to prove the efficacy of the moment.

But the other side, too, enjoyed a favorable political window. As Gabriella Shalev, outgoing ambassador to the UN, warned last week, the Jewish state is today "the most isolated, lonely country in the world," and this constitutes its greatest strategic challenge. Israel is caught in a diplomatic and media tsunami of delegitimization and vilification that reaches every campus and every rights group, every church and every television set around the world. In this battle, world Jewry is our closest friend, our first and best line of defense.

While it fights against our common detractors, no responsible Israeli leader can afford to delegitimize its Jewishness.

AS EACH side of the conversion debate brought its own views to the table, it discovered how little it knows about the other. Indeed, for the large numbers of Diaspora leaders and dozens of MKs who participated in last week's marathon meetings and discussions, it was the first time they had faced each other and held serious discussions on this issue.

So it is fortunate for all that this round of the confrontation yielded no clear victor.

The political impasse offers a unique opportunity for a dialogue in which each side can move past its earlier erroneous assumptions about the other and begin to grapple sincerely with the deep logic of the interlocuter's view.

One side of the debate is asking a fair question: Why can't Israel be more like America? Why are state institutions and politicians given power over spiritual matters? But Israel is not America. In its relationship with the Jewish world, Israel sees itself as the state of all Jews, a principle expressed most prominently in the Law of Return, a Knesset law from 1950 that grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew who wants it.

This simple fact – that any Jew can receive Israeli citizenship and that millions have done so – means that Israeli officials must have some way of determining who is eligible for citizenship.

Therefore it is the civil magistrates who must deal with a question that might be viewed as religious under other conditions – who is Jewish and who is not.

It is this unavoidable result of statehood – and not simply, as is commonly assumed, haredi pressure or political blackmail – that leads some Israeli leaders to repeatedly try to establish a universal benchmark for conversion.

Then there is the other side, which asks: Why do these Diaspora Jews interfere in our conversion legislation? We don't interfere in their conversions.

By the same principle articulated before – the Jewish state is the state of all Jews – every Jewish community should be able to feel that Israel is its home too. That is why Israel cannot pass legislation that is viewed by these communities as undermining this connection.

So we are caught in a complex dilemma.

The same ideal requires, on the one hand, a single universal standard for who is a Jew, and on the other hand, that Israel remain open and committed to the global Jewish community in all its diversity.

This tension is unavoidable. It is inherent in Jewish statehood and in the fact that Jews uniquely constitute both a nation and a religion. And if either side wins, both sides lose – because we lose the Israel we all want, the unique country that is a homeland for all Jews, wherever and however they may live.

In the last two weeks, both sides of this debate discovered that they cannot resolve their differences by force. The fact that they have now agreed to a moratorium on unilateral actions – whether legislation in the Knesset or petitions to the High Court – shows that they have gained a new understanding of each other. Perhaps the intense encounter during the latest political wrangling has given each one a better appreciation of the sincerity on the other side.

The threats that face the Jewish people are far too great to be overcome by a divided polity. In the larger battle to guarantee our shared future, we must all understand that we have no greater ally than each other.

We must start listening to each other, and the sooner the better.

The writer is chairman of the Jewish Agency.






The Palestinians want to keep the lava of the refugee problem at full boil.


Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's plan to assist the Gaza Strip in becoming an independent entity has encountered wall-to-wall Palestinian opposition. The dual-headed Palestinian regime in Ramallah (Fatah) and in the Gaza Strip (Hamas) totally rejects Lieberman's proposal to recruit the European Union to build power stations to supply electricity, desalination stations and a sewage treatment plant. This was to be part of a plan that would totally sever all connections with Israel, which would forgo its naval supervision over merchandise entering the port of Gaza and would totally seal the border with the Gaza Strip.

The arguments against exercising Palestinian independence resemble each other. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency in Ramallah, views Lieberman's plan as a plot "against the Palestinian people's aspirations for unity, liberty and independence" and as one that "expresses the aspirations of the Israeli extreme right."

Ahmed Assaf, spokesman for the Fatah organization that props up the Palestinian Authority, argued that the Gaza Strip is still under "Israeli occupation" and so it will remain, because it constitutes a single geographic unit with the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Sami Abu Zuheiri, a Hamas spokesman, explained that "although Gaza was liberated in practice from the military and settlement presence, it is still from a legal and practical standpoint under occupation" and the Lieberman initiative is "an attempt to elude the responsibility imposed on the occupation."

Abu Zuheiri argued that Israel, "the occupying country," must continue to provide for the Gaza Strip's needs including food, electricity and fuel.

THE HAMAS position exemplifies one of the major absurdities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, which took pride in liberating the Gaza Strip from the occupation via jihad, is struggling with all its might to preserve the "Israeli occupation" and obligate Israel to continue transferring supplies to an entity that avowedly declares that it will liberate all of Palestine, liquidate the State of Israel and kill and expel its Jewish inhabitants. Hamas receives support for its position from international human rights organizations (Amnesty, Human Rights Watch), Palestinians and Israelis. These, similar to Hamas, vigorously argue that Israel is still "an occupying force" and therefore it must concern itself with "the security and welfare of the Gaza residents."

Unfortunately, the position of the human rights organizations on which Hamas relies raises substantial questions. If Israel is still an "occupying force" in the Gaza Strip, as they contend, why do these organizations not demand that Israel exercise its obligation to assure the security of the Gaza residents and operate against the Hamas regime that is gradually applying Islamic law while flagrantly trampling human rights, suppressing the opposition with an iron hand and by executions? Furthermore, not a single one of the human rights organizations suggests the necessary conditions for the conclusion of the "occupation," but all are demanding that it should be extended by a full opening of the border. This position constitutes a paradox, because if Israel was to lift the siege pursuant to the human rights organizations' demands (including the naval blockade and control of airspace), then the occupation is presumed to have concluded, and therefore Israel will no longer be under the obligation to concern itself with the Gaza population. Even currently there is no real effective Israeli "siege" and the Gaza Strip is not a "prison," as the data of the Hamas government on the transit of goods (imports of $1 billion per year) and people (scores of thousands, including personnel of the Hamas military wing) via the border with Egypt will attest.

Egypt as well is interested in the continuation of the occupation and it once again warns Israel that it should not dare rid itself of it. The official explanation explicitly clarifies its policy: "Concurrence with the argument that posits that the Gaza Strip is considered liberated territory conveys reconciliation with the plan that attempts to impose the burden of managing the Strip on the neighbor who lives in proximity to it, namely Egypt. One must not agree to this, because this will provide Israel with an excellent escape outlet from the strait of the occupation and transfer its repercussions to Egypt, and this could result in the liquidation of the Palestinian problem."

GIVEN THIS background, the question of why everybody is so enamored with the Israeli "occupation" is accentuated. Why are the Palestinians still adamant in their opposition to receiving total independence, at least at the first stage, on part of Palestinian territory? A possible key to the answer was provided by Prof. Anat Biletzki, formerly the chairwoman of B'Tselem, who warned in a lecture at MIT in 2007 of the danger that the Palestinian leadership, due to its fatigue, might agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on part of Palestinian soil and two-state solution. Biletzki argued that only the solution of a single state in the entire territory of Palestine can provide a just and realistic solution, and she then proceeded to sharply criticize the preparedness of Prof. Sari Nusseibeh to forgo the refugees' right of return.

This is primarily the guiding logic behind the position of the Palestinian leadership that has not renounced the idea of liberating Palestine in its entirety. Five years have elapsed since the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Hamas government continues to preserve the refugee camps despite their crowded conditions and immense deprivation, and continues to demand international assistance to help them via UNRWA. Housing refugees in the areas of the settlements that were vacated in Gaza (or by the PA in the West Bank) will not impair the right of the refugees to raise their right of return during negotiations, just as the rights of Palestinians defined as refugees living in cities and abroad is not impaired.

However the goal of both the PA and the Hamas government is identical, namely, to keep the lava of the refugee problem at full boil, as this constitutes the key to the ultimate objective of the historic Palestinian odyssey – the liquidation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the real reason behind the Palestinian love affair with the "Israeli occupation."

Hamas wants to eat out of Israel's hand and then proceed to eat the hand itself and the entire body.

Israel's opposition to placing the noose over its neck with its own hands is depicted by Hamas as a violation of international law.

The writer is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a cofounder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former adviser to the Policy Planning Division of the Foreign Ministry. This article was first published on and is reprinted with permission.






The process of appointing a new director for the Rabbinic Court is an opportunity to enable women to compete for this position.


In the coming months the minister of justice will be appointing a new director of the rabbinical courts. This position will, in all probability, not be staffed by a woman. This is not because of a lack of qualified women, but because of legal restrictions, since the candidate must be an authorized dayan (rabbinic judge) or city rabbi.

In this way, Israeli law blocks the candidacy of talented and capable women who have been dealing for years with the issues of personal status in general, and in the functioning of the courts in particular. There are women who know the system well and can release it from its failed functioning, and treat – even partially – its many ills.

The basic "progressive" laws of the
State of Israel – Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Liberty – that are the basis for the values of equality in almost every public sphere, do not apply to the issue of personal status that constitutes the main source of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court which recognizes gender equality as a protected value, through the interpretation of the basic law of 'human dignity and freedom,' is prevented from dealing with the laws of marriage and divorce.

The rabbinical courts are being defended, through this basic legislation and equal rights law for women, thereby protecting and resisting their obligations to apply an authentic element of gender equality.

BUT THE legislature isn't satisfied with just implementing the halacha of inequality regarding marriage and divorce, and not even in preventing women from serving as dayaniot (rabbinic court judges) and holding official religious positions. It even surpasses itself by preventing women from serving in administrative positions that accompany judicial tasks in religious institutions.

A study of the lists of judicial and administrative positions in the rabbinical courts reinforces our concerns: We did not find among the positions even one woman who served in a judicial or senior administrative position. Throughout the decades of existence of these courts, there has been direct discrimination regarding the employment of women.

The notorious glass ceiling that at times arouses false hope because of its deceptive transparency, changes the rabbinical courts into an official reinforced fortified wall which reflects harsh and outrageous discrimination.

The time has come for renewed investigation of the legislative regulations in the area of personal status and in relation to the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It's time to clarify the extent to which these regulations reflect the principles, purpose and character of the state, and if the discrimination hidden in them violates a tolerable boundary.

The process of appointing a new director for the Rabbinic Court, after 20 years, is an opportunity to take action by enabling women to compete for this position. This will be another step in the direction of integrating women into the system of public service positions.

This demand gains validity in light of the inequality and prejudice built into the rabbinic courts system: in the gender homogeneousness of those who hold senior positions; in the inequality of couple's relationships, and in the lack of a practical solution in the rabbinical courts for the acute problem of women who are agunot (anchored in marriage) and mesoravot get (denied receiving a divorce).

A bill that will enable the appointment of women for the position of director of the rabbinic courts, which has been written under the initiative of the Na'amat and Mavoi Satum organizations, will be submitted to the Knesset this week by MKs Orit Zuaretz and Marina Solodkin from Kadima.

The writer is director of the Mavoi Satum organization for women denied a divorce.







Concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program are heard these days more in Arabic than any other language, including Hebrew.


In recent weeks, it seems that temperatures on both sides of the Persian Gulf have come to a boil. Temperatures in the Gulf, although usually high during the summer, reached a peak not due to global warming but because of increasing fear of Iran among Arab Gulf states. Indeed, concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program and negative involvement in the region are heard these days more in Arabic than any other language, including Hebrew.

The current peak is associated with a statement made by the
United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States, the same kind often heard behind closed doors. The ambassador publicly endorsed the use of the military option to counter Iran's nuclear program, if sanctions fail. "It's a cost-benefit analysis – we cannot live with a nuclear Iran...I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE," he said.


Traditionally, the monarchies' vulnerability leads them to be cautious and seek to maintain as normal relations as possible with Iran. In their eyes, in some scenarios they are likely to remain alone to deal with Iran. This perspective leads them to present a conciliatory line, thinking that it is not wise to quarrel because Iran, unlike the US, is not expected to go anywhere. Therefore it is in the best interests of the emirates to contain the crisis and not to anger its threatening neighbor, and indeed UAE officials said that that "the statements were taken out of context" and that they support a diplomatic solution to the rift. Interestingly, they did not deny the content.

For its part, Iran wants to show that it enjoys good relations with the Arab monarchies, and officials there said that the alleged quotes are a lie. Among the loose UAE federation,
Abu Dhabi is taking a harder line against Iran than its neighbor Dubai, an important commercial artery for Iran: Some half a million Iranians live there and there are as many as 8,000 Iranian- owned businesses there.

Beyond economic considerations, it may be that keeping trade open is a sort of "insurance policy" against future Iranian attacks.

EVEN IF the ambassador were "out of context," he still reflected the fear of Iran among the small sheikhdoms. Earlier this year, in another unusual statement, the foreign minister of the UAE compared the Iranian occupation of the UAE's three Gulf islands – Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb – to none other than "the Israeli occupation of Arab land."

The ambassador's remarks did not come in a vacuum: The UAE recently took steps to curb Iran's efforts; it stopped shipments to Iran, freezing more than 40 international and local companies that were associated with Iran's nuclear and missile programs, and there are reports (whose reliability is not clear) that there was a refusal to refuel Iranian commercial aircraft.

Teheran wants to convey that it sees itself as a partner for all of the Gulf states, but its actions, including questioning the legitimacy of regimes, explicitly threatening to shut the Straits of Hormuz and to target strategic facilities in their territories, threatening military maneuvers, occupation of Arab land and even statements like Bahrain being in fact the 14th district of Iran – don't contribute to calm on the Western side of the Gulf.

There is a genuine worry in the Gulf that an Iranian bomb will enable it to set the future political, economic and strategic agenda in the region.
The Gulf states see the difficulties of the international community in stopping Iran on its way to nuclear capability and tried to maintain a passive opposition to Iran with maintenance of good (mainly economic) neighborly relations to avoid a direct confrontation. So, is there a change in policy?

Although the Gulf states have so far demonstrated passive behavior and stayed for the most part on the margins of the diplomatic effort vis-à-vis Iran, recently a change can be identified in their strategy, adopting a more active policy. Specifically, it may have more to do with the particular disillusionment of the Obama administration with Iran and recent steps the US has taken against it in the Security Council and Congress, and US demands for wider sanctions against the country, which may have contributed to current confidence on the Arab side of the Gulf and gave legitimacy to such steps.

Beside the American pressure to take concrete steps against Iran, it can be attributed to the last economic crisis in Dubai and Abu Dhabi coming to its rescue. It is unclear exactly what promise Abu Dhabi extracted from Dubai in return, but it is not inconceivable that this change in policy vis-à-vis Iran is related to the matter.

If the monarchs are convinced there are indications that Iran intends to "break out" to nuclear military capability and that a military action is the only way to prevent this – and if there is an explicit request from the US – it is reasonable to assume they will allow it to use their territory for this purpose. As the ambassador said, ultimately they will prefer to absorb a limited blow from Iran, painful though it might be, and not to live for many years with the negative consequences of a nuclear Iran.

The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University. He joined INSS after coordinating work on the Iranian nuclear challenge at the National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Office.








After a man murdered his three children in Netanya this weekend, hasty cries to immediately identify the guilty parties, and at any cost. If an inquiry committee is created, its members must focus on recommendations for the future and not only on assigning blame, which will be the focus of the police investigation into the case.


After a man murdered his three children in Netanya this weekend, hasty cries to immediately identify the guilty parties, and at any cost, could be heard. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the murders at the start of yesterday's cabinet meeting, while Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog announced the imminent formation of a committee to determine whether they could have been prevented.


The circumstances surrounding the crime, as well as the conduct of the welfare and mental health services toward the family beforehand, certainly warrant scrutiny. The recent determination by a psychiatrist at Lev Hasharon Psychiatric Hospital in Pardesiya that the father, Itai Ben Dror, was mentally stable and should be allowed unsupervised visits with his children must also be looked at. These visits had previously taken place at a visitation center and in the presence of a social worker.


There is no justification, however, for prematurely pointing an accusatory finger. Before the facts have been examined, it is certainly too early to determine that "the writing was on the wall" and that the family had not been cared for properly. The prime minister, cabinet ministers, Knesset members and all members of the media as well have a duty to exercise restraint until all the details are known.


The murder of children is an appalling thing, and a child being murdered by his or her own parent is inconceivable and that much more terrible, but shock is not a treatment for such cases. There have been more than a few such incidents in Israel in the past. While it's possible that a few of them were preventable, the majority were not foreseeable. Eleven years ago Erez Tivoni murdered his two children at the WIZO headquarters in Tel Aviv. In 2008 Eli Pimstein murdered his daughter, Hodaya. That same year Michael Fisher, a police officer, shot his wife and their children to death before killing himself. In 1992, Marina Davidovitch killed her two daughters. The motives and circumstances of all these apparently similar cases were different, only the frustration with the murderers' success is the same.


If an inquiry committee is created, its members must focus on recommendations for the future and not only on assigning blame, which will be the focus of the police investigation into the case. While it is difficult to bear the great emotional burden of such a tragedy, a responsible society should be able to respond even to intolerable tragedies with wisdom and levelheadedness.









Israel Navy chief Rear Admiral Eliezer Marom, who has been on the defensive ever since he encountered the Mavi Marmara, received some indirect support from afar last week. In contacts with foreigners, Marom's rank is "Vice Admiral," that is, a three-star Flag Officer; landlubbing lieutenant generals like Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi do not care how people call admirals abroad. One man who uses his acquaintence with Marom as proof of his concern for Israel's security is three-star admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for senator from Pennsylvania.


A conservative alliance of Jewish Republicans and messianic Christians attacked Sestak as as a hater of Israel. In response, he fondly recalled his six visits to Israel when he was in the navy. In 2003, ahead of the war in Iraq, he protected Israel from Iraqi missiles as a commander of a naval task force. In Congress he consistently votes for bills to assist Israel and thwart the Iranian nuclear program. Last year he discussed protection from missiles with senior officials in the Defense Ministry. And to top it all off, during Hanukkah 2007, Sestak was a guest at the home of the Israeli ambassador in Washington for a talk with Marom.


About five years ago, Sestak was ousted from his post as a deputy chief of naval operations and pushed into retirement and politics. The man who removed Sestak, in his first week as Chief of Naval Operations, was Admiral Michael Mullen, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a friend of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Ashkenazi. The tension between Mullen and Sestak is palpable during House Armed Services Committee hearings. The Democratic Party considers Sestak a member of the Bill and Hillary Clinton faction; that does not necessarily bring him closer to President Barack Obama, who tried to entice Sestak not to run in the Democratic primary against Arlen Specter, in gratitude to Specter, who jumped lines from the Republican Party, thus ensuring Obama a supermajority in the Senate. However, now it is important to Obama that Sestak overcome his Republican adversary in the November elections and thus do his part to stop the erosion in the two houses of Congresses.


That is how it happened that in Pennsylvania and other swing states, the attitude of Obama and the Democrats to Israel has become a contentious issue in the election campaign. This is a game all sides know very well how to play. Obama hid his sharp teeth behind a forced smile in his meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. State Department official Andrew Shapiro, Hillary Clinton's former Senate aide, enumerated Obama's and Clinton's contributions to Israel. A similar formulation appeared in a letter from the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Howard Berman.


Shapiro and Berman made a ridiculous effort not to mention the name of George W. Bush. In 2007, the administration promised $30 billion in a decade to Israel. Good for Obama, the Democrats say - he is continuing to fulfill the pledge of what's his name, his predecessor.


This turmoil has a clear expiration date: the first week of November. The day after the elections the smile will give way to the bite, and once again, reality will slap Netanyahu in the face. But Netanyahu is not really a prime minister in a sweaty Hebrew-speaking Middle Eastern country. He thinks like an American politician, armed with more fluent, accentless English than that Austrian from California, Arnold Schwartzenegger; a senator or governor from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Louisiana - Benjamin Nitai from Boston, governor of Israelsylvania or Israeliana.


This could be the right time to get some security achievements out of Obama, such as a discount on the F-35 fighter aircraft (reducing the surcharge the Pentagon unloads on the manufacturer's price ) and installing Israeli systems in it - but not political concessions. The direct talks, to which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will agree, do not necessarily mean only bilateral, without American presence in or near the room. And the essence will not change, even if the Republicans secure a blocking majority against Obama. Bush was the first president to call for a Palestinian state, and in Annapolis he launched the talks that Netanyahu cut off and will be renewed from that same point. Netanyahu's petty politics undermine the serious statesmanship that Israel is in dire need of.









The "check it out" trend these days is: "Check it out, they're not spacey leftists, but true-blue rightists who have a vision of one state for Jews and Palestinians."


My heart is gladdened, really and truly, not sarcastically, when reading these words in the July 16 edition of Haaretz Magazine ("Endgame" ). "The harm we are inflicting on the Palestinian population has become far more mortal," said MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ). "It's impossible to go on like this, with a situation in which my Palestinian neighbors have to cross three checkpoints to get from one village to another," said Emily Amrousi, former spokeswoman for the Yesha Council of settlements. "The worst solution is apparently the right one: a binational state, full annexation, full citizenship," said Uri Elitzur, former chairman of the Yesha Council. "If Zionism means 'as little as possible for the Arabs,' I have to say that I do not accept that," said former defense minister Moshe Arens. "Whenever I hear about a demographic threat, it comes first of all from a type of thinking that says Arabs are a threat. ... I am appalled by this kind of talk," said Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ).


But at the same time, harassment of the Palestinians continues in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel. The Likud sponsored and voted for bills excluding Arabs from work, from Jewish communities and from their own families. A bill for a pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state was rejected at the last minute thanks to Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor; the Public Security Minister and Police Commissioner called for pardoning a policeman who shot an unarmed Arab burglar; the Yesha Council is revving up for the end of the settlement building freeze; the Knesset revoked the pension rights of former MK Azmi Bishara (who was never convicted ) and some of the rights of MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ), alongside a display of physical aggression against her.


The seeming contradiction is resolved if you delve into the question of what kind of citizenship the people quoted above offer the Palestinians in the one state: "I want it to be clear that I do not recognize national rights of Palestinians in the Land of Israel. I recognize their human rights and their individual rights, and also their individual political rights - but between the sea and the Jordan there is room for one state, a Jewish state," said Hotovely.


So in any case the Palestinians are inferior people, whose human rights do not include national self-determination, and anyway we decide what happens to them and for them.


Exactly like what we do in practice to the Palestinian Israelis. With them, as well, no one talks about peace. Closeness, understanding, cooperation - peace. No one on the right sees the Palestinians who are here and those who are there as equal to him or her, and none really trusts them. Even if one of his or her best friends is an Arab.


In that respect rightists are not really different than leftists. Even most of those who have been talking for a long time about two states are speaking about a political settlement, about separation, in the best case, an agreement (and Netanyahu's revolutionary invention: occupation plus economic peace ). Just not about peace.


But that is the heart of the matter: peace. It can be in a format of neighboring states, or of two national federations under a state that is jointly run, or even in one multinational, multicultural, multi-religious state.


Every one of these solutions, though, depends on our desire to be on good terms with the Palestinians. Every one of these solutions can only happen if and when we see our neighbors as people, as equals, and we want to live in peace. Not in security, but in peace.


As long as we don't want peace or to believe in it, no matter what we call it, we will live with occupation and war, and not for long.










Most of the Jewish public perceives the refusal by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accede to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state prior to negotiations and a final agreement as evidence of a hidden agenda. For them, this agenda is based on a "strategy of phases" and the aspiration to destroy Israel as a Zionist state.


But many who believe so are blind to a process in which, under cover of the demand to recognize Israel as the "Jewish state," another state is developing here - one which is alien to the Zionist vision of the "founding fathers" and is leading to that vision's demise. Therefore, before seeking such recognition from the Palestinians, the Israeli public ought to first clarify with itself what kind of Jewish state it wants. It should demand that the prime minister work to shape the state according to this perception, and it should be prepared to pay a "painful price" for it.


We must decide whether the Zionist impetus for establishing Israel and its reason for existence relate to the need for a safe haven for the Jewish people (which Theodor Herzl was prepared to realize through sovereignty in any territory ), or perhaps "we settled ... because we were commanded to inherit the land," according to the doctrine of the disciples of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.


Historical Zionism viewed the state as a modern tool that would ensure the existence of the Jewish people through the ingathering of exiles and building a society that enjoys sovereignty, a Jewish majority, national security, and economic and social strength. As these elements are more important than historical territory, the borders of a state established according to this vision have no religious sanctity.


In order to achieve the goals of Zionism, its elected institutions have legitimacy and authority to concede parts of the homeland, just as David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon did.


In contrast, leaders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement through the years have believed that the ingathering of exiles, establishment of the state and maintaining its security are merely initial layers in the process of the Jewish people's redemption, the completion of which requires conquering the whole country. In their view, the Knesset and government have no legitimate authority to relinquish what was divinely promised to the Jewish people. Lately we've even been told that the land is "the wife" which must be clung to in its entirety - even at the price of conceding the Jewish state, which is no more than the temporary "handmaiden."


Israelis must decide if they want a state that is part of the family of nations, that recognizes international law and the decisions of the international community, or a state in which "the historic right" of the Jewish people overrides every other right - including human rights, civil rights and community rights - and legitimizes ruling over the Palestinian people, dispossessing them and discriminating against them.


In other words, do we want a state based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace that maintains social and political equality, or a state in which, in the words of the late Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, no law - national or international - can infringe on the Jews' ownership and proprietary rights, according to Torah law, over the entire Land of Israel? The practical meaning of such a question is whether Israel should seek peace and pursue it, or adopt the position that says seeking peace harms security and we must therefore "empty the land of its inhabitants."


Zionism means a democratic state of the Jewish people, in which a Jewish majority lives alongside an Arab minority with equal rights. It means a state that is part of the family of nations. In order to realize the goals of Zionism, we must relinquish 22 percent of the Land of Israel.


By contrast, the vision of the right is none other than a "strategy of phases" to eliminate the Zionist vision - by sanctifying land more than life, by casting a pall over Zionism and by turning Israel into a pariah state. .









The British ambassador to Israel, Sir Tom Phillips, who is widely admired here for his erudition and knowledge of the Middle East, concludes his term this week and is leaving the State of Israel a going-away gift.


During the past four years, Phillips and Israel's ambassadors in London have dedicated much effort to conveying to the British government Israel's strong opposition to Britain's universal jurisdiction rules. These provisions in effect permit any individual to file a petition in a lower court for the arrest of persons suspected of committing "war crimes" without even having to produce substantial evidence.


Last week the British government announced it will soon be introducing new legislation in Parliament barring the issuance of arrest warrants on suspicion of "war crimes" without the approval of the chief prosecutor. The amendment to existing law seeks to create a balance between the British commitment to ensuring that suspected war criminals are brought to justice on one hand, and the requirement that there be solid evidence of the suspicions which justify limitations on a person's liberty.


Within the past year, an arrest warrant was issued, and then rescinded, for Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak while he was visiting Britain. Pro-Palestinian activists also initiated such warrants against former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for her diplomatic involvement in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. For this and other reasons as well, Livni canceled a visit to London, but her case led to pressure on the British government. Meanwhile, senior Israel Defense Forces officers, both past and present, are avoiding visits to the U.K. out of concern that their presence will trigger arrest warrants.


It is not only in Britain that problems of this nature have arisen. The United States has shown interest in the subject, and brought about the repeal in Belgium of a law supporting universal jurisdiction after the U.S. threatened to withdraw NATO command headquarters from Brussels. In the meantime, via direct contact with the British government, Israel has stepped up its activity on the issue over the past year as well.


The legal situation in Britain is unusual. There it is a question of invoking universal jurisdiction against foreign nationals who were not involved per se in activities against Britain or its citizens. In 1957, the British Parliament passed the "Geneva Convention" law, which turned the provisions of the convention into concepts anchored in local British law. As a result, anyone in the U.K. can at present approach the courts and seek to invoke the law in an effort to turn ostensible international war criminals into criminal offenders in violation of British law.


The law in question had not been invoked until it was "discovered" in 2005, when an arrest warrant based on this law was issued for Maj. Gen. (res. ) Doron Almog, who was about to land in Britain. The warrant was premised on allegations involving the destruction of 30 homes in the Rafah salient. Decisive action on the part of the Israeli ambassador in London at the time, Zvi Hefetz, prompted Almog not to get off his El Al plane, according to the instructions of the most senior officials in Israel.


I was in London at that time, and met immediately afterward with the legal advisers to the British Foreign Office, who expressed determination to invoke the law in the future even though it had been a "dead letter" since it was passed. The British seem to view every piece of legislation as "vintage wine" and vigorously reject Israeli contentions that there is selective enforcement of this law when it comes to Israelis, in contrast to a lack of enforcement against other nationals.


I presented their position to the relevant officials in Israel, and did not get the impression that they took the prospect seriously that high-ranking Israelis would be arrested in the U.K. at the request of any person or organization by low-level courts, where some of the judges may not be professionals.


The advent of David Cameron's Conservative government has created the possibility for a change in the law. Indeed, British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has announced that he will introduce a bill in Parliament amending the "Geneva Convention" statute. It should be remembered that no one is talking about repealing the 1957 law that deems that acts involving international war crimes are criminal, as per the British system.


The issue will in the future be thrown into the lap of the chief prosecutor, who is not considered political by nature. He can approve a judicial arrest warrant, but in such a case, the senior Israeli or other official can probably manage to leave British territory on time. That's much better than the current situation, but it's not an insurance policy.




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




The flameout of an enormously expensive drug to treat advanced breast cancer will pose a critical test for the Food and Drug Administration. Will the agency have the courage to reverse course when a medical treatment that it approved based on preliminary evidence flops badly in follow-up studies?


Two years ago, the F.D.A. gave Avastin, which is made by the Genentech unit of Roche, "accelerated approval" as a treatment for breast cancers that have spread to other parts of the body. Such cancers are essentially incurable so the best that current treatments can do is extend a patient's life.


The hurry-up mechanism allows approval of a drug that has not yet been proved safe and effective in thorough clinical trials but has shown promise that it might benefit patients with life-threatening diseases. Rather than make such patients wait, they are treated with the drug while the manufacturer completes additional tests.


When Avastin was granted "accelerated approval" to treat advanced breast cancer, the primary evidence was a single clinical trial. It found that Avastin, when used with another drug, slowed progression of the disease but did not significantly extend patients' lives.


Now two follow-up trials by the manufacturer have failed to confirm even those meager gains. In the initial trial, Avastin held tumor progression at bay for five and a half months. In the two new trials, pairing Avastin with different chemotherapy drugs, the delay in tumor worsening was much shorter: up to three months in one trial and less than a month in the other. The Avastin combinations also caused serious side effects.


Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, a pace-setter in evaluating medical advances, issued draft guidance this month against using Avastin for advanced breast cancer patients in the National Health Service. It called the clinical trial data "disappointing" and the cost "too high for the limited and uncertain benefit it may offer patients."


By a 12-to-1 vote last week, an F.D.A. advisory committee quite sensibly urged the agency to revoke Avastin's approval for breast cancer. That would not affect its other approvals, gained through the standard regulatory process, for treating colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. Avastin would remain available to doctors for off-label use against breast cancer. Many insurers, however, might refuse to cover an unapproved use.


The cost of Avastin has always seemed outrageously high for the medical benefits it confers. The wholesale price for a typical breast cancer patient is about $88,000 a year. Genentech has been capping annual spending at $57,000 for patients with incomes below $100,000.


The F.D.A. has rarely removed drugs that were given accelerated approval and sometimes has failed even to compel completion of follow-up studies. But there are signs it may get tougher. In June, the agency finally forced a leukemia drug off the market that had been given accelerated approval a decade ago, after a long- delayed follow-up study showed no clinical benefit and an increased risk of death. With Avastin, the follow-up studies were completed in a timely manner — with such meager results that withdrawal seems the right response.






Just a year after the Group of 20 agreed to triple the resources of the International Monetary Fund to $750 billion, the head of the fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is asking for $250 billion more to bolster its lending war chest.


This is a lot of money. Given its stake in the fund, Washington's share could be about $42 billion. The fund should still get it. No one should forget that just a few weeks ago the I.M.F. had to commit nearly $40 billion to help stop Greece from imploding, and days later, it promised $320 billion to try to stop the euro from crashing.


At a time when an economic crisis can spread in seconds, the fund also needs to become more agile. It comes to the rescue usually only after a country is deeply in crisis, offering loans in exchange for painstakingly negotiated policy reforms. It has rightly begun to look at ways it can help head off crises before they start.


Last year, it started new "flexible credit lines" — preapproved unconditional loans for countries that meet tough macroeconomic policy criteria but could still get sideswiped as a crisis ripples around the world. The I.M.F. hopes that with this kind of guarantee the pre- approved borrowers may never need to draw on the loans. Now it is looking at "precautionary credit lines," with conditions, for countries with weaker finances.


So far only Mexico, Poland and South Korea have lined up for the blue-ribbon "flexible credit lines." Others have feared that doing so would signal weakness to financial markets. The "precautionary credit lines" may be even less popular. Still, the I.M.F. is right to be thinking this way.


Credibility is also essential for the fund to do its work. Right now it has far too little in the developing world, where it is seen as unfairly favoring wealthy countries. Developing countries noted that its loan to Greece amounted to 22 times Athens's share of the fund's capital. And many Asian nations — critical of the drastic budget cuts the I.M.F. demanded of them during the 1990s Asian financial crisis — are resentful of the relative lenience the fund has shown toward Europe.


The fund's thinking has evolved in recent years. It must, of course, require borrowers to commit to sound fiscal policies. But it increasingly accepts the notion that countries need to maintain viable social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable. And it has dropped its emphasis on "structural" performance criteria — privatization, banking regulation, trade policy — that were seen as doctrinaire and unrelated to the problem at hand.


The fund could bolster its credibility in the developing world if the United States and Europe were to chuck their 65-year-old agreement to have a European running the fund and an American in charge of the World Bank.


Rich countries must also give more voting power to developing countries, including China and Brazil, whose growing power in the world economy is not matched by their say at the fund. Leaders of the G-20 must follow through on their pledge to shift 5 percent of the I.M.F.'s shares and voting power from rich countries (mainly in Europe and the Middle East) to developing nations.We know that calling for more money for the I.M.F. will not be politically popular, especially at a time when governments around the world have vowed to cut spending at home. Some European countries are already balking at giving up some of their voting power. These are perilous times. And a strong, credible and well-financed fund is absolutely essential for global economic stability.







A "tough on crime" federal law that requires harsher prison terms for people arrested with crack cocaine than with the powered version of the drug is scientifically indefensible and hugely unfair. A bill that reduces this onerous sentencing disparity has passed the Senate easily. The House, which has been vacillating over whether or not to schedule a vote on the Senate bill, needs to show the same good sense.


Congress passed the misguided law two decades ago, when it was believed that crack — cocaine in baking soda — was more addictive and led to more violence than the powdered form of the drug. These myths were quickly debunked. But the country was stuck with a law under which a drug defendant found holding five ounces of crack received the same mandatory five-year prison term as one busted with 500 ounces of the chemically identical powdered form of the drug.


African-Americans make up a minority of crack users but account for about 80 percent of those convicted under the statute. The mandatory sentence has pushed drug policy in the wrong direction, imprisoning addicts who should have been sent to treatment programs.


Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, sensibly called for equalizing the sentences in his original Senate bill. Mr. Durbin accepted a compromise that still penalizes crack more heavily than powder, but less so than the original law. It is still unfair. But it would ensure that thousands of drug defendants each year received fairer treatment from the courts.


The Senate passed its bill unanimously with the support of law enforcement groups like the National District Attorneys Association and the sponsorship of conservative Republicans, including Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. That means that House members have all the political cover they need to quickly do the same.






Even before the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico was finally capped, an army of more than 600 lobbyists was at work in Washington trying to put a lid on a rush of government proposals to crack down on the oil and gas industry. This is the natural order in the world of government and the K Street lobbying industry. They co-exist so handsomely. But new data provide worthwhile insight into just how tight the hand-in-glove relationship of government and the industry has become.


Three out of four lobbyists working for the oil and gas industry — a total of 432 — arrived by way of Washington's golden revolving door, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. They operate as special-interest pleaders with deep past experience as legislators, staffers and executive appointees who are better paid in the fields where they lobby.


The typical federal alumni mix on K Street is less than one out of three. The oil lobbyists' far higher ratio should be kept in mind as questions focus on how haphazard government regulation has been in overseeing the industry and its many wells in the field.


By coincidence, just weeks before the disaster, the director of the Minerals Management Service — the now renamed oversight agency heavily criticized after the gulf explosion — departed his $150,000 job for an industry post typically paid twice that. His path was well worn, according to The Post, which found more than a dozen former specialists from the agency already working for the industry. These include former monitors of the gulf's wells now paid by companies they regulated.


The industry's battalions boast 18 former senators and representatives and platoons of former staffers who specialized in writing industry legislation. Can anyone be shocked by all of this? Not hardly. Not after former Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous wooing of industry heavyweights. Or the parallel labors of Democratic lobbyists bundling rich donations for lawmakers pondering how tough to get with the oil and gas industry.







Climate change legislation has been dying in the Senate for months now, but Harry Reid's decision to finally admit as much — in the midst of an endless East Coast heat wave, no less — has supporters of cap-and-trade casting about for somebody to blame. They've blamed the Obama administration, for prioritizing health care reform over an energy bill. They've blamed the American people, for being too concerned with economic issues to grapple with longer-term threats. And they've blamed figures like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, erstwhile supporters of cap-and-trade who have steadily backpedaled away from it.


But most of all, they've blamed conservatives — for pressuring Republican lawmakers to abandon legislation they once supported, and for closing ranks against any attempt to tax and regulate our way to a lower-carbon economy.


Cap-and-trade's backers are correct to point the finger rightward. If their bill is dead, it was the American conservative movement that ultimately killed it. Climate legislation wasn't like health care, with Democrats voting "yes" in lockstep. There was no way to get a bill through without some support from conservative lawmakers. And in the global warming debate, there's a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the conservative movement and the environmentalist cause.


To understand why, it's worth going back to the 1970s, the crucible in which modern right-wing politics was forged.


The Seventies were a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms, and none was more potent than the fear that human population growth had outstripped the earth's carrying capacity. According to a chorus of credentialed alarmists, the world was entering an age of sweeping famines, crippling energy shortages, and looming civilizational collapse.


It was not lost on conservatives that this analysis led inexorably to left-wing policy prescriptions — a government-run energy sector at home, and population control for the teeming masses overseas.


Social conservatives and libertarians, the two wings of the American right, found common ground resisting these prescriptions. And time was unkind to the alarmists. The catastrophes never materialized, and global living standards soared. By the turn of the millennium, the developed world was worrying about a birth dearth.


This is the lens through which most conservatives view the global warming debate. Again, a doomsday scenario has generated a crisis atmosphere, which is being invoked to justify taxes and regulations that many left-wingers would support anyway. (Some of the players have even been recycled. John Holdren, Barack Obama's science adviser, was a friend and ally of Paul Ehrlich, whose tract "The Population Bomb" helped kick off the overpopulation panic.)


History, however, rarely repeats itself exactly — and conservatives who treat global warming as just another scare story are almost certainly mistaken.


Rising temperatures won't "destroy" the planet, as fearmongers and celebrities like to say. But the evidence that carbon emissions are altering the planet's ecology is too convincing to ignore. Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance.


But this doesn't mean that we should mourn the death of cap-and-trade. It's possible that the best thing to do about a warming earth — for now, at least — is relatively little. This is the view advanced by famous global-warming heretics like Bjorn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson; in recent online debates, it has been championed by Jim Manzi, the American right's most persuasive critic of climate-change legislation.


Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.


But it's also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose.


Liberals disagree, of course. They think the skeptics underestimate the potential for catastrophe, and overestimate the costs of regulation. They, too, look to the past for lessons, but their model is the Clean Air Act and its various modifications, which reduced domestic air pollution relatively cheaply.


But the Clean Air Act didn't require collective action on a global scale — the kind of action that last year's Copenhagen conference placed ever further out of reach. What's more, a crucial technology, the catalytic converter, was already on the way as the act's provisions went into effect. Cap-and-trade is more of a leap in the dark.


Liberalism specializes in such leaps. But you can see why conservatives might lean toward the wisdom of inaction. Not every danger has a regulatory solution, and sometimes it makes sense to wait, get richer, and then try to muddle through.







Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they're still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.


Of course, you can't infer trends in global temperatures from one year's experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say "See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!" Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we're currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn't work even on its own terms.


But will any of the deniers say "O.K., I guess I was wrong," and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.


So why didn't climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let's talk first about what didn't cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.


First of all, we didn't fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.


Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You've probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers — allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of "Climategate," and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don't believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod.


Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy's growth rate.


So it wasn't the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?


The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.


If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn't be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.


Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you'll find that they're on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.


Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.


By itself, however, greed wouldn't have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.


There are a number of such climate cowards, but let me single out one in particular: Senator John McCain.


There was a time when Mr. McCain was considered a friend of the environment. Back in 2003 he burnished his maverick image by co-sponsoring legislation that would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. He reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn't — and it's hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity's future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.


Alas, Mr. McCain wasn't alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price.







IF President Obama and Congress had announced that no financial reform legislation would pass unless Goldman Sachs agreed to the bill, we would conclude our leaders had been standing in the Washington sun too long. Yet when it came to addressing climate change, that is precisely the course the president and Congress took. Lacking support from those most responsible for the problem, they have given up on passing a major climate bill this year.


It's true that passing legislation to rebuild our fossil fuel-based economy was always going to be a momentous challenge. Senators and representatives feel in their bones (and campaign accounts) the interests of utilities and the coal and oil industries. Even well-intentioned members of Congress struggle to balance the competing needs of energy-intensive industries, coal workers and American families.


But with climate change a stated priority for President Obama and Congress, how did they fall so short? By weaving four coordinated threads into a shroud of inaction. This began long before President Obama took office, but rather than rip up the old pattern — as he advocated during the campaign — the president quickly took his place at the loom.


Thread No. 1: Climate is out; green jobs are in. Despite climate change being the greatest challenge of our time, with millions of people facing inundation, starvation and conflicts over scarce resources, the White House directed advocates not to discuss it. At a meeting in April 2009 led by Carol Browner, the White House coordinator of energy and climate policy, administration message mavens told climate bill advocates that, given the polling, they should avoid talking about climate change and focus on green jobs and energy independence.


Had Lyndon Johnson likewise relied on polling, he would have told the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to talk only about the expanded industry and jobs that Southerners would realize after passage of a federal civil rights act. I could imagine Dr. King's response.


The urge to avoid the topic of climate change is not new. While Bill Clinton and Al Gore have done noble work on climate since leaving office, when they had the presidential megaphone they did little to educate the public about the wolf at our door. President Obama has followed suit, and our national comprehension of climate change continues to stagnate. Virtually the only public officials working to shape opinion on this over the past two years have been those committed to misrepresenting the science.


Thread No. 2: Devising a bill for historic polluters, not the American people. Remember the president's campaign pledge to represent the people, not the lobbyists? That's not what he's done on this issue.


For several years the Beltway wisdom has been that it is impossible to pass a bill without the approval of historic polluters, particularly the utilities, which run coal-burning power plants, the nation's single largest source of climate-changing pollution. The administration and Congress did their best to get the industry's permission for new regulations. They proposed handing power companies hundreds of billions of dollars worth of allowances to pollute, additional billions to subsidize the development of technology to sequester carbon from coal-fired plants, and evisceration of federal authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon. Peter Orszag, the budget director, said giving away pollution permits would be "the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States." But no matter — it wasn't enough.


Thread No. 3: A Rube Goldberg-policy construction. Because Congress built a policy machine designed for special interests, most proposals were chockablock with policy contraptions impossible to even explain, much less put into effect. Provisions included pollution allowances for favored corporations, carbon credit-default swaps, complicated worldwide offset provisions to enable avoidance of actual pollution reductions at home and loopholes to extend the life of the dirtiest coal plants. By the end of the process, even Campbell Soup demanded a special deal for the carbon-intensive job of making chicken noodle soup.


This rush to the trough was inevitable once President Obama ditched his plan to push a simple market-based bill that would have required polluters, rather than citizens, to pay for switching from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy.


Thread No. 4: The public sits it out. American history has few examples of presidents or Congresses upending entrenched interests without public pressure forcing their hand. Teddy Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore for a reason.


Citizens wouldn't support an approach they couldn't understand to solve a problem our leaders refused to acknowledge. Even the earth's flagging ability to support life as we know it couldn't stir a public outcry. The loudest voices insisted that leaders in Washington do nothing.


They obliged.


Lee Wasserman is the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund.








THE current range of opinion on the Securities and Exchange Commission's $550 million settlement in the Goldman Sachs fraud suit lines up closely with that evoked by previous S.E.C. settlements with corporate defendants. Some Americans are outraged that Goldman "got off easy," while others feel the deal could be a model for gaining some measure of justice against those responsible for Wall Street's meltdown.


Both sides are wrong: at best, such agreements reflect case-specific facts and circumstances; at worst, they are nearly arbitrary. While the government often claims such high-profile deals are of historic significance, they typically have little effect on future cases and do nothing to resolve long-standing conflicts as to how the law should treat misconduct by public companies.


The question of how best to discipline what Chief Justice John Marshall in 1819 called "an artificial being, invisible, intangible and existing only in contemplation of law" is indeed vexing. A corporation can't be put in jail, its fines are ultimately paid by investors not responsible for the misconduct, and a court order forbidding future violations merely shelves the issue until the next occurrence.


In 19th-century America, permissive incorporation laws and rapid economic development led to the rise of the large corporation, which, in turn, led to a century of expanding federal regulation. Most measures regulated certain forms of conduct and prohibited others, specifying fines for failure to comply. There was little consideration given to questions of when, as a matter of practical legal policy, an artificial entity should be treated as if it were a person.


The S.E.C. wasn't forced to grapple with the issue until 1990, when Congress greatly expanded its power to seek financial penalties from corporate violators. (Before then, companies could shrug off civil orders as a passing embarrassment.)


Initially, however, the agency made infrequent use of this new authority. Its staff saw fining public companies as harmful to shareholders, the very people the S.E.C. was created to protect. It also feared that managers would tap their corporate treasuries to buy their way out of individual liability.


But the public, the press and Congress didn't accept any abstract arguments that corporations shouldn't pay fines for securities law violations, as they did for, say, antitrust violations. Eventually heeding these views, the S.E.C. began to seek money penalties from public companies more frequently, in ever-increasing amounts. As with the recent Goldman settlement, record penalties were presented by S.E.C. officials as illustrating the agency's resolve to enforce securities laws.


Objections that such settlements only hurt shareholders were partly overcome with the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002, which included a provision authorizing the S.E.C. to give civil penalties it collected to injured investors rather than the Treasury. But doing so can put the agency in the same business as class-action lawyers: taking money from current shareholders for the benefit of previous investors, who are deemed somehow more worthy.


In 2006, however, the pro-business tenor of the S.E.C. under President George W. Bush found expression in written guidelines widely seen as intended to provide a principled basis for limiting fines paid by public companies. They emphasized such mitigating factors as a corporate defendant's cooperation with investigators. The commissioners, who have to approve all deals in the end, also now insisted that staff consult them before soliciting settlement offers, apparently to avoid putting themselves in the potentially embarrassing position of rejecting penalties negotiated by the staff. (This policy has now been discarded — wisely in my view.)


The S.E.C. under its current chairwoman, Mary Schapiro, is clearly raising the ceiling on the money penalties it will seek from (at least) high-profile corporate wrongdoers. Thus investors will find there is yet another way that management misconduct can cost them. This is defensible if it achieves compelling law-enforcement objectives. But that is where things get muddy.


When, exactly, does fining a public company deter potential future violators, bring attention to the significance of particular forms of misconduct, signal shareholders to throw the (management) bums out, or readjust appropriately the interests of current and former shareholders? And when, on the other hand, does it merely provide a platform for agency self-congratulation?


Do not look to the Goldman settlement for guidance. It concludes a case in which the S.E.C. injected itself into a transaction between large financial entities (Goldman and the banks and funds that bought the subprime-mortgage vehicles it peddled) quite capable of defending their own legal interests. This was an unexplained departure from previous practice. The amount of the money penalty bears no relation to the benefits derived by Goldman from its alleged misconduct (reported as $15 million).


More important, the settlement brings the commission no closer to developing a clear standard when it comes to seeking redress for the behavior that led to the economic disaster. Its settlements with public companies will probably be much like settlements in private litigation, an ad hoc process that defies standardization and sometimes logic. The quality of the evidence, the perceived culpability of the wrongdoer and the parties' negotiating prowess and appetite for complex litigation will all go into the mix, with unpredictable results.


As for the half-billion paid by Goldman — well, given the unfortunate vagueness of the system, it's probably about as good a number as any.


Richard C. Sauer, a former administrator in the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division, is the author of "Selling America Short: The S.E.C. and Market Contrarians in the Age of Absurdity."










It's reasonable to ask what policymakers have done in the past 24 months to try to reduce that vulnerability. For that matter, it's reasonable to ask what they've done in the 37 years since the Arab oil embargo, which caused huge lines at gasoline stations, to stop enriching hostile petro-states in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The answer: not nearly enough.


There have been energy bills, incentives for oil drilling, tax breaks for solar and wind and biofuels, billions for energy research, and so on. But here's the one metric that matters: In 1973, the United States imported about 30% of its oil. Now it imports about 68%.


The Senate will soon take up another energy measure, one that now looks likely to emerge as a watered-down compromise that will do little to change things. The legislation could contain some useful incremental provisions to address BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and promote home energy efficiency. But it won't swing for the fences. "Cap and trade" — a mechanism to limit greenhouse-gas emissions by making oil, coal and other fossil fuels more expensive over time — is dead for now.


That's too bad. Because if there's one thing that really works, it's price.


Consider what happened when gasoline prices spiked in 2008. It was painful for just about everyone, and particularly hard on lower-income people and those who had to drive long distances. But it did more to change habits and reduce oil usage than anything Congress and a parade of presidents had done in decades.


In June 2008, Americans drove 12 billion fewer miles than in June 2007, part of the longest sustained drop in driving since high prices discouraged driving in the 1970s. Car buyers suddenly wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and began to try to shed their SUVs. Sales of Toyota's 50-mpg Prius hybrid shot up by 69% in 2007, exceeding those of the popular Ford Explorer SUV. The Toyota Corolla was the No. 1 selling car in the country in June 2008, while the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado pickups — traditionally best-sellers but comparative gas guzzlers — had dropped to fifth and sixth place. But once prices fell, so did sales of the Prius and Corolla. The F-150 and Silverado again rose to the top of the heap.


Four decades of experience suggests the only way to wean the nation off its ruinous oil addiction is prices that go up and stay up. And, although it's a political non-starter for now, the simplest and best way to achieve that is to gradually raise the federal gasoline tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has been since 1993.


The arguments for a gas-tax increase are no less compelling for their familiarity. Higher taxes would produce substantial revenues — roughly $1 billion a year for every extra penny in tax — that could be used to fix roads and reduce the budget deficit. They would make fuel-efficient cars more attractive.


Ultimately, higher taxes could help drive alternative technologies that would slow the flow of money to finance some of the world's worst regimes and multinational oil companies, such as BP.


Whether increasing the gas tax would reduce the need for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Gulf depends on worldwide demand for oil, which is being driven upward by the rising economies of China and India. But those countries have their own efforts to curb gasoline use, and reducing consumption in the USA, the world's top oil consumer, is essential.


To be sure, the middle of a shaky economic recovery is a bad time to raise taxes. But total gasoline taxes are now lower than they've been in decades after adjusting for inflation — less than half what they were per mile driven in 1970, for example. And while shocking the economy with a tax increase of 50 cents or $1 a gallon all at once wouldn't be prudent, phasing in such an increase — a penny or two a month for 48 months, for example — would limit the economic damage.


A gradual increase would also send an unmistakable message that the price of gasoline will eventually rise to reflect its real cost to the economy, the environment and national security. And it would give car owners plenty of time to plan for a change.


Brave (or foolish) politicians have been calling for this for years with no success, but it's an idea whose time should come. The alternative is a status quo where nothing changes except the amount of environmental degradation and the nation's weakness in the face of foreign oil suppliers.








If you think the USA would be better off with a higher unemployment rate, fewer small businesses and less money in family bank accounts, you should support big increases in federal taxes on gasoline and other motor fuels.


Enacting sharply higher fuel taxes that would make it dramatically more expensive for people and goods to move around our nation would have the effect of imposing economic sanctions on ourselves. This amounts to a perfect recipe for a double-dip recession.


Opposing a huge fuel tax increase isn't the same as opposing energy conservation and the use of alternative fuels.


The United States already has in place federal fuel mileage standards approved for new cars and light-duty trucks requiring them to be able to go an average of 36 miles on a gallon of fuel by 2016. That alone will save billions of gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel each year.


Additionally, a law enacted in 2007 will require American refiners to mix 36 billion gallons of biofuels (such as ethanol) with gasoline and diesel fuel each year by 2022. American refineries are expected to produce 180 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel this year, so the law already in place will substantially cut the amount of petroleum used to fuel vehicles.


While challenges must still be overcome to achieve this level of biofuels — and government has a responsibility to ensure the objective and, through scientific testing, to make sure that biofuels in larger amounts are safe for engines and the environment — work should continue to examine alternative fuels, including electricity and natural gas.


What's disturbing about efforts to establish alternatives to affordable and efficient petroleum fuels for our vehicles is that these efforts always depend on multibillion dollar taxpayer subsidies. As a result, as the number of alternative-fueled vehicles grows, the amount of subsidies coming out of the wallets of Americans could easily rise to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, with no limit.


It makes sense for Congress to consider approving a small increase in the federal 18.4-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax — a handful of pennies per gallon — if the money raised would go to the Highway Trust Fund to maintain, improve and expand our nation's road system.


Using some of this money to fund mass transit, to further reduce gasoline consumption, is also worth considering.


But piling on billions of dollars in new gasoline taxes on top of billions of dollars in growing subsidies for other forms of energy is unwise, unaffordable and harmful.


Charles T. Drevna is president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.








To no one's surprise, Solicitor General Elena Kagan displayed intelligence and charm during the hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on her nomination to the Supreme Court. In addition, and also as expected, she avoided with impressive discipline sharing specific answers to senators' questions about the Constitution and the judicial role.


She did, however, provide, a few clues. In her opening statement, Kagan said that the court "has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals," but "must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people." A justice, she said, must be a vigilant "trustee" of the "blessings of liberty," but also "properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives."


Among our most cherished "blessings of liberty" is the freedom of religion, our "first freedom." In the words of James Madison, the "father of the Constitution," America's experiment in religious liberty has brought "lustre to our country."


What, in Kagan's view, is the role of the court in this experiment? When it comes to questions of religious liberty and church-state relations, does she think a justice should show vigilance or deference?


Three cases to consider


The court decided two cases presenting such questions this past term, and a third is on the docket for next year. How would a Justice Kagan vote, or have voted, in these disputes? Justice John Paul Stevens was consistently wary, even critical, of religion's public role and influence. Are there reasons, given her Senate testimony, to hope for better from his replacement?


Consider the decision in Salazar v. Buono, which involved a retired Park Service employee's challenge to a war-memorial cross deep in the desert of the Mojave National Preserve. The case presented a variety of tricky procedural and technical questions, but at its heart was a straightforward one: Did this tribute to our fallen soldiers unconstitutionally express the government's "endorsement" of religion? Or was it instead — in Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority — a permissible "public acknowledgment of religion's role in society"?


In another recent ruling, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a bare majority upheld a public law school's rule requiring official student groups, including religious groups, to accept "all comers" as members and leaders. Joined by Justice Kennedy, the court's liberal bloc rejected the argument that the rule undermined the legal society's ability to determine its own character and message — that is, to be distinctively Christian — and concluded that the requirement encourages "tolerance, cooperation, and learning among students" while re-enforcing California's disapproval of "discrimination."


Finally, the justices will consider next year whether Arizona's tuition-tax-credit law violates the Establishment Clause. This innovative policy provides a credit to taxpayers who contribute their own money to scholarship funds which, in turn, help children attend private and religious schools. Flying in the face of Supreme Court precedent upholding such programs, a lower federal court concluded that the Arizona program illegally "advances" religion.


What does Kagan's embrace of both judicial responsibility and restraint tell us about how she would have approached, or will approach, such cases? We know that she will, in general, be a reliably "liberal" or "progressive" voice on the court, but will she follow in Justice Stevens' footsteps when it comes to religious liberty?


As she told the Judiciary Committee, the First Amendment ensures that religion "never functions as a way to put people, because of their religious belief or because of their religious practice, at some disadvantage with respect to any of the rights of American citizenship." "You are a part of this country," she insisted, "no matter what your religion is." She was right. Our Constitution protects religious liberty and welcomes religion in public life, but the criteria for membership in our political community are secular. Clearly, courts have a role to play in policing these criteria and making sure that "rights of American citizenship" are never made to depend on religious professions or practices.


But what is that role, and how should it be exercised? The ability of unelected judges to identify those government actions that actually "establish" religion is limited, and so is their authority to second-guess others' policy decisions. It is not just the responsibility of judges, but also of legislators, public officials and voters, to be good stewards of our "blessings of liberty" and to guard against political exclusions on religious grounds.


The judicial tea leaves


So, what about the Buono case and the question of religious symbols on public property? An appropriately modest and "deferential" justice — that is, a justice of the kind that Kagan told the senators she would be — should humbly appreciate the fact that such symbols rarely have one clear meaning and do not necessarily send a message of exclusion. Yes, a cross is a religious symbol, and no one should pretend otherwise. However, reasonable people can disagree about what, in context, such a symbol is saying. Thus, Kagan — who said that courts should be inclined to "respect the choices made by the ... people" — should allow monuments like the longstanding memorial in the Mojave to stand.


In the Christian Legal Society case, by contrast, the court should not have deferred to the law-school's "all comers" rule. True, the policy might seem, at first glance, to promote the inclusive political community that Kagan endorsed. In fact, though, it excludes from the law school's common life groups with distinctive identities and penalizes the view that members' beliefs matter to the group's shared purpose. A justice committed to making sure that religion is not used to put people at a "disadvantage with respect to any of the rights of American citizenship" should have joined the court's "conservatives" and vindicated the Society's First Amendment rights.


Looking ahead to next year's tuition-tax-credit case, appropriate judicial deference to Arizona's education-reform policy is precisely the way to vindicate Kagan's understanding of the First Amendment's purpose. To exclude religious schools from the program would not only hamstring efforts to enhance educational opportunities, it would also send a clear but unseemly message that religious schools are somehow unworthy of participating in the community's shared project.


History has shown, to several presidents' regret, that Supreme Court justices do not always vote in accord with what Supreme Court nominees said. But if Kagan adheres in religious-freedom cases to her endorsement of judicial modesty combined with an appreciation for our "first freedom," it will serve her legacy — and our Constitution — well.

Richard W. Garnett is professor of law and associate dean at Notre Dame Law School.







20 years after Disabilities Act, why are we still struggling?

By Lisa A. Goldstein


I met a mom recently who was struggling with her daughter's hearing loss. She expressed all the typical concerns: Will her daughter make friends who like her for who she is? Will she grow up to be happy and fulfilled? Subconsciously, perhaps she was also wondering whether her daughter would be discriminated against simply because she isn't "like everyone else."


I was born profoundly deaf and raised to lip read and talk. I did my best to reassure this mom. I told her how lucky she was because kids today have many advantages my generation didn't. E-mail, the Web, cochlear implants, captioning and other technologies were still in the experimental stage when I was growing up.


While things have improved dramatically since, my peers and I still have to fight for accommodation.


I was off at leadership camp learning how to best serve as president of my youth group when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The United States is unique in this sweeping piece of legislation, compared with other countries, which don't have such extensive protection. At the beginning, however, there was a steep learning curve. Even now, lawsuits continue, and there are businesses and people in society who are still insensitive.


Case in point: Ten years ago, I was hit by a truck and used a wheelchair for a month and a half. You can't tell I'm deaf unless you notice my hearing aid, cochlear implant under my hair, or deaf accent when I speak. But when I used a wheelchair, I had a more visible disability that was harder to ignore.


I experienced stares and pity to no end, and many kinds of discrimination. Ironically, the worst form of discrimination I experienced was due to my deafness. The whole experience left me feeling that despite 10 years of the ADA, we as a society had a long way to go with accessibility and awareness. Ten years later, I'm still unhappy with the progress.


When I had two kids, I was relieved that they were hearing. After having had to advocate for myself my whole life, I wouldn't need to do that for my children. Little did I know that they would both be diagnosed with celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder in which their bodies can't tolerate gluten, which is found in many foods. Now in addition to advocating for myself, I do it for them, too.


Though the ADA established rights, it has not reduced the need for advocacy. People with disabilities have always had difficulty finding jobs. In fact, there is a 42% employment gap that separates working-age people with and without disabilities in the workforce, according to Cornell University researchers. Having a disability often means added costs — whether it's the expensive gluten-free foods or hearing aids that are not covered by insurance. Hearing aid insurance legislation is hopefully in the works, though it won't protect all age groups, nor does it cover the costs of added expenses such as earmolds. Tales of fighting insurance companies for cochlear implants are common.


Right now, a real problem is the gap in the ADA regarding the Internet. People with sensory loss are routinely being left out when it comes to online content. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has introduced a bill that will hopefully help with this, though it currently leaves out people who are both deaf and blind.


I accepted my deafness a long time ago. I never expected to have to deal with other disabilities, such as using a wheelchair, or my kids' celiac disease. My almost 94-year-old grandfather uses a walker and hearing aids. I'm sure my parents will need hearing aids at some point, too. My sister had a mental illness. You never know when you, a family member, or a friend will end up part of the disability community. Be proactive and more sensitive. Learn about the ADA. Adopt the principles of universal design so that you make places and things accessible and useful for everyone.


To quote a disability rights expert and lawyer, Bruce Goldstein, who has been in the field since I was born (Hi Dad!): "I think the ADA has done some good, but more in the realm of perceptions and expectations than in actual court cases."


It has been 20 years. Why are we still struggling?


Lisa A. Goldstein is a freelance journalist with a master's in journalism from UC Berkeley.








Israel's standing in the international community understandably suffered a massive blow earlier this year following a commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship that killed nine and injured many pro-Palestinian activists. The fallout also roiled the Israeli home front, prompting a sweeping inquiry of the event. Another casualty of the foray was the promising diplomatic relationship between Israel and Turkey, the Jewish state's strongest Muslim ally in the Mideast. The importance of the latter should not be underestimated.


The raid immediately created a gulf between the erstwhile allies. Turkey demanded an apology, compensation for raid victims and an international investigation. If Israel fails to meet those demands, Turkish officials publicly say, they'll end diplomatic relations. Israel is just as intransigent. It won't apologize. It says a domestic inquiry is sufficient.


On the surface, then, it would appear that Israel and Turkey are close to severing ties. Appearances, though, can be deceiving. Public posturing about the flotilla raid aside, neither nation, it seems, is prepared to make the break. There are sound reasons for their reluctance to do so.


Turkey, which has become a bastion of Muslim moderation in the tinderbox Mideast, would like to expand its role and influence in the region. Severing ties with Israel would make that almost impossible.


Israel, too, can ill afford an abrupt end to the relationship. The country has carefully cultivated Turkey, understanding that it needs a Muslim friend both to end its political isolation in the region and to help promote its interests in the world at large. Ending the relationship because of the raid would severely damage those hopes.


There are other global ramifications, too. Turkey has served ably as mediator in disputes involving Israel and its neighbors, most notably in a case involving Syria in 2008. Both Turkey and Israel have strong ties to the West — the United States — and many European nations. A major breach between Turkey and Israel could threaten the tenuous diplomatic and military balance in the region. The global community can ill afford that.


There are indications that both nations are working quietly to resolve problems. General trade between the two remains brisk, though military business has declined. Turkey allowed an Israeli volleyball team into the country for a tournament last week. That might not seem like much, but it is an important gesture because many Mideast nations refuse to honor Israeli passports.


Israel, for its part, is signaling a similar willingness to resolve the difficulties arising from the attack on the flotilla. Officials there ended a warning on travel by Israelis to Turkey, a popular vacation destination. Those are minor steps, to be sure, but they signal a welcome willingness by both nations to repair a relationship that eventually could play a major role in bringing peace to the troubled Mideast. Their mutual effort should be encouraged and supported by the international community.







Parks play an immensely positive role in the life of a community. Chattanooga and Hamilton County are powerful testimony to that fact. It's hard to imagine how different each would be without Miller Plaza, Coolidge Park and the other inviting green and open spaces that dot the riverfront, the shores of the lake and cities and neighborhoods both small and large throughout the city and county. Other communities understand the benefits of parks as well. Cleveland, Tenn., is one of the most recent examples.


First Street Square, that city's newest park, officially opens with a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning at 11:30. Unofficially, the park has been open for a few days. If the initial responses from visitors to the downtown site are any indication, the park quickly will become a beloved and heavily used destination. That's certainly understandable. A well-designed and inviting place of repose nestled in the heart of the city is always welcome.


First Street Square, in fact, is doubly welcome. It will provide a resting spot for downtown workers and for visitors. It also replaces an eyesore — a long-shuttered dry cleaning plant — and an alley, which, one resident said, was so threatening that many people were afraid to walk there.


The new park does the reverse. It invites people in rather than frightening them away.


The park, several years in the planning, is the result of a joint effort by the city of Cleveland and MainStreet Cleveland, a nonprofit, grass-roots organization that works to revitalize downtown Cleveland. As is often the case — it certainly was in Chattanooga — the partnership between government agencies, public-minded citizens and private entities proved extremely beneficial to Cleveland and the surrounding area.


MainStreet Cleveland played a major role in initial planning for First Street Square, then approached the Cleveland City Council for assistance in bringing the project to fruition. The public-private partnership that ensued proved immensely beneficial, allowing the park project to move to completion without undue controversy or delay.


The result — an inviting, passive space with trees and other well-tended greenery, with comfortable seating, bike racks and with a stage for performances and other events — transforms the area.


If experiences elsewhere are a guide, the transformation of the unsightly community eyesore into an attractive park should serve as a catalyst for growth in downtown Cleveland and nearby areas. That's certainly proved to be the case in Chattanooga and other places across the country, where even small parks in once moribund downtown areas have prompted additional development and investment.







County Clerk Bill Knowles is as fine a public official as we can find in our whole community. He is running for re-election, and voters should eagerly approve him overwhelmingly.


He is a gentleman of honesty and dedication to faithful and impartial service to all who come into his important office.


What do the county clerk and his able staff do?


They serve the public with vehicle registrations, marriage licenses and business licenses, and with renewal of driver's licenses. Mr. Knowles keeps records for the County Commission. His office offers game and fish permits and boat registrations, and many other such services to the public.


The county clerk serves in an office provided for by the Constitution of Tennessee and is elected by the people.


Mr. Knowles is a Christian gentleman of impeccable reputation and dedication to his official duties.


The County Officials Association of Tennessee elected him "Outstanding Official of the Year for 2006." He could qualify for that honor every year.


Mr. Knowles is married and has three children and eight grandchildren.


Hamilton Countians are most fortunate to have Mr. Knowles serving them and running for re-election, which he deserves.


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Most of our citizens have a general idea of what our judges do, but may not know in detail.


We see that our City, General Sessions and Criminal Court judges handle "criminal cases," and that City, General Sessions and Circuit courts have cases dealing with "civil and property law." But many may not be familiar with the jurisdiction of the two divisions of Chancery Court in Hamilton County, whose judges are usually called "chancellors."


It is timely for voters to become familiar with Chancery Court because on Aug. 5 they will select a new chancellor for Chancery Court, Division 2, from among three candidates.


The candidates are Art Grisham, Jeff Atherton and Valerie Epstein. All have reputations as honorable lawyers. A majority of their colleagues in the Chattanooga Bar Association have recommended Mr. Grisham — as do we.


A chancellor handles domestic relations cases, worker's compensation, estates, trusts, delinquent taxes, wills, contracts and a wide variety of other civil law cases.


Mr. Grisham, a graduate of the University of Tennessee School of Law, has practiced law in Chattanooga for 39 years in a variety of trial and other cases. He also has served from time to time as a special judge.


He is a past president of the Chattanooga Bar Association, having been honored and elected by his

knowledgeable fellow attorneys.


He also has served as chairman of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Wastewater Board, as a member of Hope for the Inner City Board, as a member of a blue ribbon panel of the Erlanger hospital Financial Committee, and as an elder of the New City Fellowship church in Glenwood.


Mr. Grisham served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1969 and received the Distinguished Service Medal.


We believe Mr. Grisham's much broader and more extensive experience, and his judicial temperament, recommend him to be elected by the voters Aug. 5 to serve as a judge in Hamilton County's Chancery Court.


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Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





Our state judges — all of them — are very important. Most of them, thankfully, try to "stay out of politics," in the sense that they avoid "partisan political issues." Most seek to rule in each case only according to the law and the facts.


In Tennessee, incumbent judges, instead of running for re-election against named opponents, are listed periodically on ballots only for retention or replacement. That is the case for two judges in the Aug. 5 election.


Voters will be asked in one case, "Shall Sharon Gail Lee be retained or replaced in office as a Judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court?"


A totally separate question will be, "Shall John W. McClarty be retained or replaced in office as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Division?"


Most of us really know very little about these judges. Most of us have never come in contact with them. We know no reason to reject either of them.


We do not like this system of re-electing judges in Tennessee. But that is not the judges' fault.

We know of no specific reason either of these judges should not be "retained."







It is understandable that nearby Catoosa and Whitfield counties in Georgia have adopted resolutions opposing a bill in Congress that would force counties in many states to grant collective-bargaining rights to police, firefighter or other public safety unions. The resolutions were in no way approved out of disrespect for those important, courageous workers.


But government workers should not be unionized. They serve the public at taxpayer expense, and especially where police or firefighters are concerned there should be no hint that the protection of the public will be compromised or delayed by labor negotiations. If public safety workers believe their wages and benefits are inadequate, they should make their case to the public, which has the power to remove the elected officials who set wages and benefits.


Mike Babb, Whitfield County Commission chairman, made that point in an interview with the Times Free Press: "We believe this is not a good thing for the citizens," he said. "All of our employees have the ultimate negotiating skills in that they can vote us out of office."


The bill in question would force counties to recognize public safety worker unions and meet collective-bargaining standards set by Congress. The federal government would take over the "negotiations" if it felt a county had not met its standards.


The head of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes the bill.


"I'm not saying that law enforcement doesn't deserve good salaries, but it should be based on merit and what the communities can afford," said Frank Rotondo of the police chiefs group. "Unions have a tendency to protect inferior workers."


We highly respect those who risk their lives to protect the public, but Congress should defeat this bill.


Congress should also defeat another power grab by Big Labor.


Some in Congress have been trying essentially to do away with secret-ballot votes when workers consider

unionizing. Instead, employees would sign or not sign cards stating their support for unionizing. But without the security of a secret ballot, they could be intimidated by labor bosses into voting for a union even if they do not really want one.


And the fact is, Americans by and large do not want their workplaces unionized. Union membership has rapidly dropped over the past few decades, to the current low of 12.3 percent of all workers. What's more, a majority of union workers today are in government. In the private sector, only 7.2 percent of workers are unionized.


Workers do have a legitimate right to organize — freely, fairly and without intimidation from management or labor. But that right should be restricted to the private sector, and unions should not be imposed without secret-ballot votes.










We hear statements these days from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he never uttered during the first term of his party's government. Wanting to gain the confidence of local and international audiences that were initially suspicious of his religious roots, Erdoğan was extremely careful in his statements on women's issues as well as on alcohol consumption.


Nowadays, the prime minister does not seem to see any inconvenience in making statements that could irritate members of secular circles not only in Turkey but also abroad. Maybe he feels he has already gained the confidence of those circles, or maybe he no longer cares. Whatever the motivation, his statements last week on both subjects are unfortunate, especially because of their implications for society.


At a meeting with female representatives, Erdoğan said he did not believe in the equality of men and women.


As the famous book's title implies, one can believe that men are from Mars and women from Venus. But this means they are not the same. Being different does not mean men and women should not enjoy equal rights.


Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has received praise for introducing the most advanced reforms to date to improve women's rights. But while legal amendments are important, implementation is equally critical.


By urging Turkish families to have at least three children, Erdoğan had already made his feelings known on the place and role of women in society. Yet those who wanted to maintain their optimism still tried naively to believe that while Erdoğan might personally prefer to see his female relatives sit at home and raise children, he would do his utmost as a prime minister to ease the life of working women who are participating in the workforce while maintaining their responsibilities as mothers.


Women's organizations have pressured the government to introduce regulations that will ease the lives of women, regulations that often go unnoticed by civil servants and local authorities. The groups say government members must be vigilant, to ensure that civil servants take the regulations seriously. Yet how can a civil servant take seriously a regulation that aims to improve the rights of women when the head of the government says he does not believe men and women are equal?


Erdoğan's statements on smoking and drinking have been problematic as well. Many were surprised to see the smoking ban implemented so successfully in a society that inspired the expression "smoke like a Turk." The prime minister's strict hatred of smoking has nearly terrorized the authorities responsible for implementing the ban. He also recently made clear his disapproval of drinking alcohol, saying, "those who want to drink can eat fruit."


In small rural areas, as well as in certain neighborhoods in big cities, some people are scared to openly drink alcohol. In a polarized society where secularists feel threatened, the prime minister cannot say his statement is simply innocent words. He should know that his statements carry the potential of justifying what others see as wrongdoing








Since polling firm KONDA asked me to write on the upcoming referendum for their August Barometer report, I have been immersed in their last two surveys, trying to find the magical determinants of an aye or nay on Sept. 12.


I am bound my KONDA's commitment to their subscribers to keep the numbers to myself, but I can reveal that while the race seems to be quite close at first glance, you encounter a lot of voters who are unlikely to switch votes when you look at voting behavior by party affiliation. Go out and find me a Republican People's Party, or CHP, supporter who will vote yes in the referendum, and I will be impressed. Find me a Justice and Development Party, or AKP, supporter who will vote no, and I will put your name down for my quest for the Holy Grail.


The same results hold true if you look at voting behavior by ethnic and religious identity as well as stance on current political issues. In fact, referendum voting choices are just another reflection of the political polarization I had demonstrated when I had first started working for KONDA in March. One surprise is Kurdish voters, who do not seem to share Peace and Democracy Party's, or BDP, distaste for the constitutional amendments and are more likely to vote yes than any other ethnic group.


So does this mean that the referendum is already decided (remember that I am not telling you who is ahead)? Hardly, once you notice that neither the ayers nor the nayers hold the majority. The first place goes to the undecided and those who have no idea, what I call undecideas. Then, it is my civic duty to tell a bit more about these folks, in case any of the campaigners out there are reading my columns.


The undecideas are more likely to be women than men. The probability of being undecidea decreases with education. Finally, someone from Thrace is more likely to be undecidea, even after controlling for other factors. The latter result is a bit surprising, but digging a bit deeper (but not as deep as Bilica) reveals that polarization is considerably less in this region. It may then as well be that Thracians, known for their secularism, are torn between their distaste for AKP and merits of the constitutional changes.


This last result hints on the possibility of last-minute swing votes. Regardless of all the white noise in the academedia, worsening economic conditions or more terrorist attacks are unlikely to pull votes to the nay camp a lot. The anti-AKP camp's only viable strategy at this stage would be to try to reach out to the less polarized among the undecideas and convince by reason.


By the way, I had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, so I reran my election modeling toolkit from my days as a bank economist, which was dusting in my hard drive. As CHP has been arguing for the national election threshold to be reduced to 7 percent, I was wondering what would be the magical number that would deny AKP majority in the Parliament.


According to my calculations from the last two KONDA surveys, a 7 percent threshold is not much different from a 10 percent one, as both result in a three-party Parliament and an AKP majority, not much different from the status quo. But things change when the threshold goes down to 5 percent, letting BDP in. Suddenly, AKP has lost around 40 seats, all to BDP, as well as its majority in the Parliament.


I showed last week that AKP advisers were well-versed in Excel. It could be that they are working with different numbers than me, but their colleagues in CHP just do not seem to be as deft. Or maybe they are just making a conscious tradeoff between the lesser of two evils, as they see it, which is, when you think about it, is actually worse than being a skxawng.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at







As observed in my previous column, the introduction of Law No. 5651 in May 2007, intended to regulate publications on the Internet, only raised concerns among a limited number of people. For most of us, it took some time to realize that this law was being used to close down a growing number of websites.


In January of this year, a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, confirmed these rising suspicions. It was not just that almost 4,000 websites been blocked until that moment. Law No. 5651 had been applied in an arbitrary way, turning precautionary measures into permanent blocking decisions without making the reasons behind these judgments clear.


On top of that, a basic principle of Turkish law has been constantly violated because only the judiciary can make decisions that interfere with the freedom of communication and the right to privacy. But most websites have been blocked as a result of administrative orders issued by the Telecommunication Transmission Directorate, or TİB, an opaque body that is hard to control.


To make things worse, it was recently announced that the Religious Affairs Directorate would also get the power to interfere with the content of websites, thereby increasing the already existing lack of judicial and administrative transparency. On the basis of this report, the OSCE's media-freedoms chief, Dunja Mijatovic, declared that Law No. 5651 is severely damaging freedom of expression and information rights. He called on Turkey to stop blocking YouTube and thousands of other websites, saying that by doing so, it was restricting the free flow of information in the country.


Adding insult to injury, Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım announced in June that search giant Google, the parent company of YouTube, owes Turkey 30 million Turkish Liras in taxes for revenues from advertisements placed in Turkey. Google should register as a taxpayer in Turkey, Yıldırım said, adding that this step would help accelerate the lifting of the YouTube ban. To put pressure on Google, TİB has already started blocking some of its services.


We are now in a situation where the Turkish authorities are using both a restrictive Internet law and a highly disputed interpretation of the tax laws to make life extremely difficult on one of the most popular companies worldwide. It is true that other countries have criticized Google for paying most of its taxes in low-tax paradise Ireland, but Turkey is the first country to wield the stick of censorship over the issue. The irony is that tax evasion is not included as one of the crimes under Law No. 5651 as a legal justification for blocking access to websites from Turkey.


It is easy to see why many Turkey watchers tend to agree with Haluk Şahin, a professor of media studies at Bilgi University who blames the Internet crackdown on a lack of Turkish tradition in defending free speech and an official failure to understand the "information age."


"The mentality is one that has relied on censorship and on the stoppage of messages rather than the free flow of information and dealing with information with counter-information," Şahin said.


One should not underestimate the negative impact of the Turkey versus Google case on the perception of Turkey in Europe. Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament and a strong defender of Turkey's accession to the European Union, has said this row discredits Turkey and puts it in the same category as countries such as Iran and China. "At some point, it's right for Europe and the international community to say, come on, you've got to adhere to international standards and in terms of trying to cut off the Internet, it's time for Europe to talk tough," Howitt has said.


My guess is that pressure from Europe can certainly help, politically as well as legally, through the European Court of Human Rights, where two cases, tabled by the new Common Platform Against Internet Censorship, have been opened. But the most effective pressure on the government can only be organized in Turkey itself. Why not think out of the box and imagine a coalition between the platform, President Abdullah Gül, who has already voiced his opposition to the current restrictions, and main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who, as Şahin put it, could take the lead for once in defending freedom of speech and make Internet freedom one of his campaign promises?







 "Blogging is not real journalism. It is a platform for bad reporting and a tool for blackmailing. It is a way to damage personal reputation, a channel for disseminating false information, a tool for shady people. Nothing to do with journalism, nothing to do with investigative reporting," were some of the last words of the legendary Greek investigative journalist Nicos Kakaounakis before he died last year.


Kakaounakis belonged to a generation of journalists for whom real journalism was associated to traditional methods of face to face interviewing, interpersonal relations, background knowledge and a strong sense of smelling the news before it actually happens. His methods had little to do with the cyber world of today's journalism. For his likes, the Internet became, of course, a necessity but did not dominate his trade.


As many traditional press journalists of his generation, Kakaounakis had to deal with the onslaught of the new media technology generated by the invention of the Internet in the mid-nineties. And most of all he had to deal with the new type of the media professionals who called themselves "online journalists" for whom the Internet was the source and the platform of their reporting. 


Kakaounakis, however, had no hesitation in deciding on what the "rights" and the "wrongs" of journalism were. Certainly for him - and for many others - journalism was a process that was based on real life interaction with people and situations. Cyber-journalism, which involved essentially a stationary person searching his subject through the Internet was certainly a "wrong" journalism.


He came to my mind very vividly last week. When I had watched him on a private Greek TV channel, it was actually one of his last appearances. He was predicting that the former Greek prime-minister Costas Karamanlis was going to go for "snap" early elections, which "would lead him to a crushing defeat." He was describing Karamanlis' utter fatigue with politics, his wish to stay at home, his drinking and eating habits, etc., basing all of these on his "exclusive information from reliable sources from the Greek prime minister's environment." It was all good fleshy stuff coming from a septuagenarian reporter whose sources could range from his fellow Cretans – found in abundance in every official or unofficial state post, to literally any person on the street who could offer him good information. His predictions then were all correct. But he was looking tired and exhausted. A few days later, he was admitted to a hospital and died due to a medical error.


The reason of my vivid recollection of Nicos Kakaounakis - whom I never met in person - was the brutal gunning down of the young controversial journalist Socrates Giolias by three assailants with weapons previously used by a newly emerged terrorist group calling themselves "Sect of Revolutionaries." Thirty seven year old Giolias was shot several times in front of his apartment block in Athens suburbia. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the murder so far, so the association of the murder with the terrorist group is purely guess work. The Greek police remain in the dark and hope to get more information after talking to the pregnant wife of the victim this week.


The news of Giolias's murder – the first of a journalist in Greece in more than two decades - circulated quickly throughout the world. He was portrayed as a brave investigative journalist whose "digging into murky waters" brought upon his tragic death.


However, the picture slowly being put together by local journalists in Greece is more complicated. Yes, he was a gifted, intelligent, charismatic reporter digging into the murky waters of our society, but it seems that to some extent he was swimming in the same pool, too.

Giolias spent most of his professional life as a close assistant of a controversial veteran investigative Greek journalist, Makis Triantafyllopoulos, whose "world exclusives" have been based on the use of secret cameras and hidden microphones, where "keyhole" journalism has ruined many private lives under a heavy veil of moral hypocrisy. Giolias was initiated into the mystique of indiscriminate ruthless reporting where blackmail was among the most used tool of the trade. His close association with his mentor stopped abruptly over a year ago when he chose to switch camps and joined his mentor's opponent after the dramatic break up of their newspaper venture. 


As the initial shock and the understandable sympathy for the loss of a young journalist is wearing out, more and more fellow Greek journalists are speaking openly about the not very brave new journalism that Giolias was involved in, which included dealings with the dark world of secret services, powerful business circles, the corrupt sports world and the shady interlinked world of business and politics.


After he broke up with his mentor and joined the camp of his opponents, Giolias set up a powerful blog, which became the most visited site in the Greek blogosphere. "Troktiko" (Rodent), a news "dustbin" of mostly unsigned, non-sourced and often dubious information in often misspelled text, which put the news of a "newly born three-legged mammal" together with that of the "illegal luxury villa" of a corrupt Greek politician. It was an uncategorized diarrhea of news that flooded the Greek media and caused a big headache for many.


"The logic of "Troktiko" is the type of news journalism I love to hate. It represents everything they taught me that journalism is not: nonsensical accusations, so called revelations, misspellings… I am an old style journalist. In my middle-aged mind, which still works with editorial hierarchy, properly arranged columns, etc., all this equals to a badly sounding digital delirium. I do not know what kind of job these kids did, but I could certainly say we do not belong to the same profession," wrote journalist Rika Vayianni in a "columnist blog," whose principles provide that everybody's comments are signed and published with the commentators' photograph. Her particular column was widely read and approved by many. But it was also criticized heavily by more, who pointed out that unsigned, unfair, unsourced commentary also existed in the old world of print journalism, where it was too costly and complicated to sue a newspaper for malicious reporting.


I am of two minds. Both about the unfortunate Giolias – was he a young bright crusader-like reporter trying to tell the truth in a nasty society using new technology, or was he a product of the evil side of new media technology? Is the cyber world of flash news, blogs, unsigned commentary, with no dividing line between professional hierarchical journalism and the personal "free" expression, the new reality of what we call journalism? Or was Kakaounakis right?







Rumor has it that in the 1960s, a Turkish delegation visited Gamal Abdel Nasser, the celebrated Egyptian leader and champion of pan-Arab nationalism in the Middle East. The focus of the visit was a radio station Nasser had founded in Cairo to broadcast in Kurdish. In those days, his relations with the Iraqi leadership were turbulent, and he wanted to become, via this radio station, an influential actor in Iraqi politics. After the Turkish delegation presented their concerns and asked for it to be closed, Nasser, with a mocking smile on his lips, replied: "Why do you complain? You say you don't have any Kurds in Turkey. Or do you?"


We have come a long way since those days when Kurds, in the official Turkish jargon, were merely "mountain Turks." Today, we have reached the stage of forthright debate to the extent of questioning whether the country should be split into two. There have been a variety of solutions to the conflict floated, the latest of which has come from Mustafa Akyol, a writer of an important work on the subject in question and a fellow Hürriyet Daily News columnist. In his op-ed dated July 20, Mr. Akyol, in short, argued that we need a deal, not war, with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).


No doubt, this is a very sensible suggestion. But I have three reservations about it: First and foremost, the timing is of grave importance. When operational superiority is in the hands of the terrorist organization, in the Middle East in particular, where self-deception militates against rationality, the concessions you will have to eventually make will be more than you have initially planned. Making such a move from a position of disadvantage could result in a farce like that of the Habur border gate, where 34 militants, upon the decision of the PKK leadership, "surrendered." Doing a deal would have likely been more productive had it been done when PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured. Unfortunately, we missed that opportunity.


Secondly, the public needs to be prepared. The Turkish people were neither ready, nor prepared for the "democratic and/or Kurdish opening" approach of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government. The government should embrace all segments of the political spectrum, but has chosen to work only with those liberal and pro-government intellectuals whose habit it is to tell the government what they want to hear. Like Cervantes' Don Quixote tilting at windmills, these figures