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Friday, July 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 30.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month julyy 30, edition 000584, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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














































































In a shocking display of Taliban-like fanaticism, a lecturer has been barred from entering the campus of Aliah University in Kolkata, West Bengal's first 'Muslim university' set up by upgrading the Calcutta Madarsa and funded by taxpayers, simply because she refuses to wear theburqa as demanded by the students union. Ms Shirin Middya, who has stood up to the absurd and untenable demand that she comply with a 'decent' dress code, that is, don a burqa, has flouted no law of the land or rule of the UGC. Yet, she has so far found no support from either the university officials, including the Vice-Chancellor, or the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government. Authorities have inexplicably refrained from intervening although Ms Middya has been forced to stay out of the campus for three months now. Rather than succumb to the terror tactics of the Islamist goons masquerading as 'student leaders', who obviously enjoy the patronage of cynical politicians and their morally bankrupt parties, Ms Middya has chosen to sit it out. This is in sharp contrast to the other female lecturers who have meekly agreed to wear the burqa. What makes the hounding of Ms Middya particularly obnoxious is that Aliah University is not an Islamic charity funded institution but governed by the rules of the UGC; its expenses are borne by the public exchequer. Hence, to insist that female teachers must wear the burqa simply because the institution is labelled as a 'Muslim university' amounts to a crime that merits tough punishment. Tragically, the university has shown no courage in taking on the thugs who have sought refuge behind Islam to enforce their unacceptable 'dress code'. The Vice-Chancellor, more than anybody else, has a lot to answer for. 

As for the stunning silence and inaction of the Left Front Government, which does not tire of parading its 'secular' credentials, it can only be explained as craven indulgence of fanatics in the hope of Muslim votes. It is the Left's sly collusion with Islamists that has fetched grief to Kerala; the situation in West Bengal could not have been any better. Having realised the folly of appeasing mullahs, the LDF in Kerala is at least trying to distance itself from Islamists and has taken a tough stand against those trying to ape the Taliban. In West Bengal, on the other hand, the decrepit Left Front regime has chosen silence over reprimand. It could be argued that the CPI(M) is loath to take on the Islamists in fear of losing votes to the Trinamool Congress which has been brazenly pandering to the most regressive sections of the Muslim leadership. But that only underscores the pathetic plight of a duplicitous Left: It preaches uncompromising secularism from its perch in New Delhi and scornfully describes others as tainted by communal politics; but in its stronghold it practices the worst kind of minority appeasement to the exclusion of women's rights and dignity, as demonstrated by the harassment and humiliation of Ms Middya.

With what had been kept under wraps till now becoming public knowledge and the entire nation repelled by the grotesque assault on personal liberty by those claiming to speak for Islam, the least that the Left Front Government can do is to instruct the Vice-Chancellor to rid the campus of malcontents and abolish the 'dress code' that has been imposed by those who have scant regard and even less respect for the law of the land. If the Vice-Chancellor fails to do so, he should be sacked and the so-called university should be shut sine die. India does not need such dens of regressive fanaticism.







It is amusing to note that the US wants us to believe that the arms and ammunition which it is providing to Pakistan do not pose a threat to India. No less laughable is the American assertion that Pakistan requires F-16s and assorted sophisticated military hardware to fight terrorists. We have heard such statements before, too, and perhaps the time has come for us to tell the US bluntly that ours is not a nation of fools that can be persuaded to believe absurdities by way of explanations for American folly. The multi-billion-dollar military aid package for Pakistan that has been sanctioned by the Obama Administration is clearly meant to neither combat terrorism nor calm Pakistan's fears of being attacked by others, namely India. The aggressor cannot pretend to be the victim; it is Pakistan which has attacked India again and again, not the other way round. What the aid seeks to achieve is nothing more than to pamper Pakistan's men in khaki — the Generals want new lethal toys and the Obama Administration is more than happy to gift these to them. We also know why the Generals want the planes and the guns: They want an arsenal that will convince them of victory over India. And so we have state-of-the-art American weaponry being stockpiled in Pakistan under the supervision of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and his men, to be used at an appropriate time against India. To assume, as the Americans assure us, that the Pakistani Army will play by the rules and go by the letter of the agreements that have been signed with the US, would be downright stupid. 

So, where do we go from here? The answer lies in rapid acquisition of military hardware that has been kept pending for far too long by a Defence Minister who seems unwilling to clear any contract lest it lead to a controversy: The shadow of the Bofors scandal is being cited to keep every acquisition pending. But Mr AK Antony, whose reputation as an honest politician with unimpeachable integrity is contested by none, must realise that further delay will hobble our defence forces and render them increasingly weak and unprepared to meet any offensive move by India's neighbours in the future. The multi-role combat aircraft we urgently need are yet to be short-listed and ordered. The field guns that are needed immediately by the Army are yet to be tested. The aircraft carrier which was promised to our Navy still remains docked in a Russian port. These are only some examples. The list has grown longer over the years as funds allocated in the General Budget for defence acquisitions have remained unspent. This is an untenable situation and its continuance can no longer be countenanced. Mr Antony must act, and act now. 








The sentencing of a former Khmer Rouge jailer to 19 years' imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity takes me back to a single Indian, probably Tamil, face among the photographs of his victims in the Phnom Penh school, Tuol Sleng, which became S-21, the murderous regime's ultimate killing centre. It is now the Genocide Museum. 


Who was that hapless victim of Kaing Guek Eav, called Duch (pronounced Doik), whose eight-month trial ended last Monday? Had he sailed to Suvarnabhumi to make his fortune or was he a relic of the Diaspora? Did he have a wife and family? Did his kin in India ever hear of his fate? The questions crowded in on me but but no one knew anything. He was just one of the more than 17,000 people Duch tortured and murdered — only seven survived — in that bleak schoolhouse.

Tuol Sleng was a top-secret detention centre for the state's worst 'enemies' whose bleached skulls were piled high when I visited, a sight I have seen only in Bangladesh in 1971. Duch was in charge. His jail sentence of 35 years, less the 11 he has already spent in detention and five more for cooperating with the court, was the first verdict against a senior member of the genocidal regime.

No point is served by wallowing in the bestial details of Cambodia's 1975-79 reign of terror when nearly two million people died from starvation, neglect, slave-like working conditions, torture and execution. But it is as well to recall that those who later affected to be horrified by the brutality must share some of the guilt for it.

The Khmer Rouge was initially driven by the conviction that it was transforming Cambodia into an agrarian utopia just as Britain's notorious Cambridge-nurtured spies believed they were ensuring 'peace' by passing classified information to the Soviet Union. Khmer Rouge pioneers lived austere lives with no taint of wealth amassed or influence peddled. The leader, Pol Pot, visionary and villain, died in poverty-stricken obscurity in 1998.

But for reasons that had nothing to do with Cambodia and everything with rivalry for global supremacy, the West turned a blind eye to the Khmer Rouge's atrocities. It regarded King Norodom Sihanouk, staunch neutralist and nationalist in a world split by the Cold War, as an obstruction because he objected to American forces making free and easy with his country in pursuing their military objectives in Vietnam. The rebels who overthrew him received at least tacit Western (read American) encouragement.

Even the vicious Khmer Rouge's ouster — the only remedy which saved Cambodia — provoked fierce Western criticism. India was one of the few countries to support Vietnam's invasion to topple the regime like Tanzania's military intervention in Idi Amin's Uganda or India's own liberation of Bangladesh. But egged on by China, the Association of South-East Asian Nations denounced it strenuously. Vietnam, traditionally expansionist, hegemonistic and Communist, they said, was out to conquer Indochina!

This regional crisis had sinister global ramifications. Vietnam was an ally (puppet, screamed ASEAN) of the Soviet Union. China, closely collaborating with the United States to curb and contain Soviet power, was Vietnam's historic adversary. No matter how heinous the Khmer Rouge's crimes, post-Sihanouk Cambodia (then Kampuchea) was China's (and, therefore, America's) protégé. 

United Nations debates as well as the non-aligned nations summits in Havana and New Delhi echoed to shrill accusations against Vietnam as the cat's paw of Soviet imperialism. The United States, speaking through ASEAN, would much rather the Khmer Rouge and its inhumanities continued unchecked. Cold War imperatives didn't permit compassion. 

Unlike the other defendants, Duch, a former maths teacher who joined Pol Pot in 1967, was not among the ruling clique until 10 years later when he became head of S-21. He is the only major Khmer Rouge figure to have expressed remorse, once even offering to face a public stoning. But some of the sympathy this won him during the trial evaporated when, to everybody's surprise, Duch requested the court on the final day that he be acquitted and freed. Coming after weeks of saying he was sorry, the appeal left many wondering if his contrition was sincere. It also rekindled the debate about the role of apologising.

China seeks Japan's apology for Nanjing and Australian aborigines demanded Canberra's apology for their suffering, as if history can be unwritten by that one glib word 'Sorry!' Sociologists hold that to apologise is to divide yourself into two persons — the one who has offended and the one with a stricken conscience who recognises the wrong done. The tremendous introspective ability, moral conviction and courage the division calls for are not common qualities.

A recent report by two charities, Victim Support and the Restorative Justice Consortium, examines the possibilities of asking criminals to apologise, face-to-face, to their victims. The victims thereby have a chance to explain to criminals how the crime has affected their lives and to ask further questions. The process often results in apologies from chastened criminals. In Northern Ireland, where 'restorative justice' has been introduced, 75 per cent of young offenders take the opportunity to meet their victims. In nine out of 10 cases, the latter claim to be satisfied with the outcome. The charities say recidivism is reduced by about 27 per cent. 

But there are few survivors in Cambodia to say 'Sorry' to. Duch salves no wound by saying he "humbly apologises to the dead souls". A child under parental pressure might mutter through gritted teeth "I'm-sorry-I-hit-Arjun-and-I-won't-do-it-again" and wait for the first opportunity to do just that. The prosecution demanded a 40-year sentence because it did not equate regret with Duch's record.

The law, with all its faults and though now administered by those who turned away from Cambodia's killing fields, must take its course with four other top members of the Khmer Rouge awaiting trial. It will serve as an example though it will bring no comfort to the bodies putrefying under the shallow mass graves that still dot the countryside. 

I am not sure if the Indian (his only posthumous identity) is buried among them. Recent reports speak of Indian and Pakistani victims in the plural but the morgue shows only that one rustic face. Cruel destiny marked him out for a gruesome torture and a brutal death far from home. 







With the Lok Sabha Speaker scuttling the adjournment motion on price rice mooted by a united Opposition, the Congress-led UPA has lived up to the tradition of belying its claim of being an aam admi-friendly Government. It is ironical that a problem that affects over a billion people has been ducked because the Government likes to believe that it hasn't failed in discharging any constitutional duty, while the fact remains that the recent hike in petroleum prices has hit the budget of every Indian household. 

The Opposition trained its guns, and rightly so, at the Government for increasing the prices of kerosene and LPG. The privilege motion was well in order and conformed to all rules required for calling a discussion followed by voting to censure the Government. Lok Sabha Leader Pranab Mukherjee rejected the motion by saying that the issue of price rise had already been discussed during the cut motion during the Budget Session, which the Government managed to sail through. But petroleum prices have recently been raised and it's well in order to discuss the issue right now. 

The fat salaries after the Sixth Pay Commission have well armed all legislators and Government officials against rampaging inflation. But how does the Government expect people in the unorganised sector and non-Government employees to battle skyrocketing prices? 

What defeats logic in Speaker Meira Kumar's decision to kill the motion is that she did not think the Government failed to check spiralling prices and food crisis. It only reflects her political bias. When we talk of rotting food, hunger deaths, we are undoubtedly talking of India itself. Doesn't this reflect Government's failure to handle the food crisis that has been aggravated by poor storage facilities? Isn't this reason urgent enough to call for a motion to censure the Government? Ms Kumar should have exercised her discretionary power judiciously. 

If the Congress could demand and secure a similar motion in 1998 against the NDA regime, why is it not in order today? It was a battle against price rise then, and so it is now. Discussions happen daily, but extraordinary issues need unprecedented ways of handling. This is one such instance and it has been mishandled awfully.







Every year a huge quantity of foodgrains is allowed to rot in FCI godowns or lost to rodents due to poor storage facilities. The food that is wasted could have been used for feeding India's hungry millions. That would have ensured food security for the poorest of the poor

There's no doubt that the National Food Security Bill would come as a blessing for millions of families who sleep on empty stomachs. But the real question is, how will our authorities manage to mobilise this huge quantity of foodgrains? Distribution in itself is a huge bottleneck. More than that, the other impediments are procurement and storage.

Going by the Food Security Bill recommendations, if the Government has to distribute 420 kg of foodgrains to each of the 830 lakh BPL families every year, it would require 350 lakh tonnes of foodgrains every year. My scepticism behind the 'success' of this Bill revolves around the current state of our Food Corporation of India godowns.

The obscene destruction of foodgrains in FCI godowns, which in reality are a real feast zone for rodents, is nothing new. What's even more ironical is that despite food prices soaring like never before, the Government seems so very reluctant towards distributing foodgrains, even those stocks that are on the verge of getting damaged, if not already damaged.

According to reports obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage facilities and poor maintenance has destroyed a mind-boggling 10,688 lakh tonnes of foodgrains over the years. What's more shocking is that in spite of making allocation after allocation, and that too to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees towards food safety and food subsidy, foodgrain stocks worth Rs 50,000 crore had to be disposed of as waste over the past few years due to improper storage facilities.

The incorrigibility of our authorities is so predominant that despite having knowledge about these damages, they still have not taken adequate measures to improve the storage facilities. Otherwise, what else could be the logic behind the reliance on tarpaulin storage facilities for foodgrains? So much so that currently more than 170 lakh tonnes of foodgrains are stored in tarpaulin facilities.

Foodgrains stored under tarpaulin facilities not only have a low shelf life but also are exposed to frequent attacks by rodents. In the past, it was found that FCI's godowns in a locality in Jaipur were found storing liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation, while wheat stocks were left in the open.

If one goes by the Planning Commission's estimates that a family should be provided with 35 kg of foodgrains every month, then the food wasted over the years (from 1997 to 2010) could have fed 25,000 lakh families in one year, or 2,500 lakh families over the last 10 years. This would have also been enough to feed 830 lakh BPL families over the next 30 years.

In other words, adequate storage and systematic distribution infrastructure could have fulfilled the objectives of the National Food Security Bill, all by itself. If mistakes of the past are to be overlooked (which shouldn't be), the present stock of 590 lakh tonnes of foodgrains stored in various FCI godowns could easily feed 1,404 lakh BPL families for a year — and we would be still left with a huge buffer stock that could be used in an emergency. 

This distribution will not only bring these to-be-destroyed foodgrains to some effective use but will also benefit the Government economically. Assuming that the public distribution system is mobilised to distribute these stored foodgrains (590 lakh tonnes in various FCI godowns across India) at Rs 3 per kg (suggested by Planning Commission), it would add nothing less than Rs 17,000 crore to the Government's kitty. Such wastage of foodgrains is not only a waste of precious food resources but also offsets the whole rationale of food subsidy.

The food subsidy bill (that on an average is above Rs 50,000 crore) rarely finds itself reaching the needy. And such a waste means that along with foodgrains worth tens of thousands of crores of rupees, a substantial part of food subsidy, attached with these stocks, is also wasted.

With anywhere between 20 to 30 crore Indians sleeping hungry every night, such waste is not less than a criminal offence. In such a situation, one finds no logic behind storing foodgrains in ill-maintained FCI godowns, especially at a time when food prices are at their peak.

Rather than focusing on expanding, upgrading and modernising the FCI facilities, which can then pave the way for a successful and sustainable National Food Security Bill, the Government's focus on the Right to Food is outright populist. Not to forget it has still a lot to do with respect to the PDS. No wonder we do so much to keep earning a place that is worse than even sub-Saharan countries in the Global Hunger Index. 

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







Judgement on Babri dispute is due soon

By September, political focus will shift from the impact of unprecedented price rise on people's lives to the Babri Masjid dispute. This is because hearings in the title suit have ended after 60 long years. The three-judge Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court may pronounce its verdict in September. 

Last November, the Liberhan Commission Report on the demolition of the mosque, along with the action taken report, was tabled in the Lok Sabha after selective leaks, regarding culpability of those responsible for the mosque's destruction. Now, the aftermath of the verdict is expected to be stormy. The main parties to the dispute are already reported to be gearing up for action. Some Hindutva votaries have held a conclave in Ayodhya while the Sunni Waqf Board and Babri Masjid Action Committee are taking stock of the situation.

Amongst litigants, Mr Mohammad Hashim and Mr Mohammad Farooq are alive. Mahant Ramchandra Paramahans and Gopal Singh Visharad died many years ago. The former, belonging to the Digambar Akhara, was the driving force behind the Ram Janambhoomi movement in the 1980s. When, on the night of December 22, 1949, idols of Ramlalla and his retinue mysteriously appeared inside the mosque, the mahant was suspected of having carried the Ram image inside though believers credited the deities' appearance to a miracle. They tried to enter but the Government attached the mosque and denied access to both communities. The police report, lodged at Ayodhya police station the next day, charged three men, accompanied by 50-60 people, with trespassing and placing the idols inside. 

In January 1950, Magistrate KK Nair, ruling on a plea, allowed Hindus to worship there. They did so from behind the grill. The Nirmohi Akhara filed a case in 1959, laying claim to the land. The Sunni Waqf Board retaliated in 1961 by filing a suit for restoring the mosque to Muslims and removing the divine images. Revenue records noted that about 42 acres of land, adjacent to the site, was a Muslim graveyard. Waqf property is governed by Islamic law, and is meant for welfare purposes. Significantly, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed recently tried to dispel doubts, expressed by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, about whether or not Muslims' claim to the mosque could be adversely affected by the proposed amendment to the Waqf Act. The Babri Masjid title apparently was registered under the Act but not notified. He gave an assurance that Waqf property would always remain so.

Opposing claims to ownership suggest that for most contenders, the dispute is less about religion and more about property. The genesis of the feud goes back to 1526, when Mir Baqi, a General of the Mongol (Moghul) Babar, less than two years after Babar's victory in the Battle of Panipat, was stated in local annals to have demolished a shrine, marking Lord Ram's birthplace, and built a mosque on its remains. The Nirmohi Akhara laid claim to the site in the 18th century. They were opposed by the custodians of the mosque. The feud persisted. British records referred to the structure both as 'Janmasthan mosque' and 'Sita Rasoi Masjid'. Though in Muslim custody, Hindus worshipped outside. After the 1857 rebellion, their sites of worship were separated. In 1934, the Bairagis, a Vaishnav Ramanandi sect, tried to occupy the mosque, on being provoked by the sacrifice of a cow, reportedly, on the day of Id ul-Zuha. The police thwarted the attempt.

It is commonly accepted that the Rajiv Gandhi-headed Congress Government allowed the dispute to revive by not appealing against the Faizabad district and sessions court's order, which permitted the locks of the mosque to be opened in February 1986. Union Minister for Waqf Mr Rajendra Kumari Bajpai's oft-quoted advice to Muslims — "to take recourse to law and not to create disturbance" — needs recounting lest the Congress and people, in general, forget how the dispute was viewed by the party. Then, in order to mollify this minority vote bank, the Congress Government introduced in Parliament the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill later that year, revoking the Supreme Court order granting maintenance to Shah Bano, a 70-year-old woman, divorced by her husband.

Hindus, too, are divided by feuds regarding ownership of the site in Ayodhya. Historically, Nirmohi Akhara and Digambar Akhara have both staked claim to it. The Bairagis in Ayodhya — they popularised Tulsidas's Ram Charit Manas through dramatic renderings — are reported to have fought with Shaivs for control of shrines. And they laid claim to Ram's birthplace. The judicial verdict is unlikely to end these feuds.*







While the Opposition is relentless in its attack on the UPA for failing to control inflation, the Congress finds itself increasingly isolated — even by its allies

What is the politics behind the price rise agitation? While the Opposition makes noises against it every now and then, there are no concrete results on the ground. Public outcry against the spiraling price rise is increasing because it is impossible for the common man to buy dal at Rs 120 or tomatoes at Rs 60 or edible oil at exorbitant prices. With double-digit food inflation, the ordinary dal-roti has gone beyond the common man's reach.

The Parliament should reflect on the agony of the aam admi and it is only right that the people's representatives should raise their voices over the matter. However, the Congress is not keen to risk any motion that will require voting as the ruling coalition is fragile.

The line-up of the political parties in the House is revealing. The Opposition, consisting of the BJP-led NDA and the Left parties, has come together to launch agitations both inside and outside Parliament. Although the Parliament had discussed it in the Budget Session as well as on earlier occasions, it is a burning issue. The recent fuel price hike, for which the Government is on the defensive, has only worsened the situation. 

The monsoon session of Parliament has opened with agitations on the price rise issue. The Government was earlier adamant in rejecting the adjournment motion and the Opposition had been insisting upon it. The Opposition has raised the tempo by organising a bandh some time ago believing that the issue must be kept alive both inside and outside the House. In the background are elections to Bihar Assembly scheduled later this year and the 2011 Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and some other States. 

The Left and the BJP have been enjoying secret floor coordination since the start of the UPA2 Government's tenure. The Left seems to have now realised that it is the anti-Congress bandwagon that brings them together. Senior BJP leader LK Advani has openly called for support of all anti-Congress parties. However, the Left has made it clear that it can only offer issue-based coordination. It wants to attack Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee over the rise in train accidents in her tenure. But price rise concerns all and the Left parties cannot remain aloof from the agitation. Tactically evolving a non-Congress and non-BJP group, the Left parties have now come together with the TDP, BJD and AIADMK to put up a united stand.

Parties like the RJD, SP and Trinamool Congress are caught in a bind. For instance, it is important for the RJD to win a respectable number of seats in the Bihar elections. The SP is trying to deal with UP Chief Minister Mayawati's antics and elections to the UP Assembly are slated for 2012. A sustained public showing is required for the SP to come back to power and what better way to achieve that than take up the cause of the aam admi? Since the passage of the women's reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha, the three Yadav leaders — Mr Sharad Yadav of JD(U), Mr Lalu Prasad of RJD and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of SP — have come together politically on issues which are of importance to them, be it the backward caste census or the price rise. Ms Mayawati has already revealed her cards by demanding a special discussion on price rise suspending all other businesses.

UPA allies like the DMK and the Trinamool Congress face a piquant situation. Ministers representing their parties sit in the Cabinet meetings, which approve the petrol hike or any decision to deal with the rising prices. Both have to face Assembly elections next year. Ms Banerjee has been neglecting her Ministry to focus on the Assembly elections. As she has public support going by the results of the recent civic polls or last year's panchayat elections in West Bengal, she has to show her concern for the rising prices. Going by her track record, Ms Banerjee would be looking for an excuse to resign from the Government. However, she knows that only the combined strength of the Trinamool Congress and the Congress can install her in the Chief Minister's chair. What better way than to give a notice under Rule 193 (which requires no voting) for a discussion on price rise? 

The DMK is facing some problem due to quarrels in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's family with the ageing DMK patriarch fighting for return to power in next year's Assembly polls. His arch-rival AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa is hoping for a comeback and has begun to work out the winning arithmetic by getting allies for her front. Therefore, the DMK cannot seem unconcerned about the price hike. 

The NCP is keeping its silence because its chief, Mr Sharad Pawar, is the Union Agriculture Minister. The Congress holds him responsible for tackling price rise. Mr Pawar shrugs off responsibility saying that it is the Cabinet that makes all decisions. The Congress itself is pinning its hopes on dividing the Opposition. With a fragile majority in the House, party managers do not want to take any risks. Some in the party have even expressed their concern. They are not willing to believe the Prime Minister's prediction that food inflation will come down to six per cent. The Congress' only hope is a good monsoon, a bumper crop and better international prices. 







A revised version of the paper on the proposed Financial Stability and Development Council must address key areas, including its presumed super-regulatory role

The Union Ministry of Finance has a short while ago released a discussion paper on the proposed Financial Stability and Development Council which is supposed to be a roadmap for the next generation of financial sector reforms. The committee has been at pains to point out that a "roadmap has been chartered out by various Government-appointed committees. This agenda needs to be driven in a coordinated manner to achieve results. There is a need for an institutional mechanism that can coordinate and oversee the reform and development agenda for the financial markets as a whole". 

The 30-page discussion paper must be complimented for summing up some well-known debates and some well-known positions in one place. However, it is quick to explain that FSDC "will not be super-regulator" and it seeks to work "without undermining the autonomy of the regulators". The plain truth is that it is a reflection of the philosophy of the current High-Level Coordination Commi-ttee on Financial Markets.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a spate of writings on areas of financial reforms. The committee presumably had access to all of that. To what extent it drew upon them is not quite clear. The committee must have been seized of the internal contradictions which are replete in the Indian financial markets. However, its awareness of the same is not reflected in the adequate measure in the paper.

Consider, for example, the institution of financial intermediary. There are the banks, leasing companies, hire purchase companies, venture capital funds, stock broking firms, credit rating agencies, mutual funds and insurance organisations. No one regulator is in place to oversee all of them or even dealing with blocks of combinations of them. One would have expected the discussion paper to at least isolate these internal contradictions and intelligently interface the different cusps that can be created amongst these intermediaries to enable proper coordination. 

To talk of an intervention as a solution, one needs to structure the intervention. The paper rightly talks of financial literacy but the constituents of the target need to be not only outlined but also analysed. The Finance Minister has had made some references to FSDC in his budget speech and had, wisely, at that stage limited himself to talk of institutionalising the mechanism for maintaining financial stability. There are other widely talked of issues which have received inadequate attention in the discussion paper.

Consider the case of lavish bonuses and payouts to various employees of financial firms as was witnessed not so long ago. This was done in an institutional mode. This can not be treated simply as a private contract because it could lead to public harm if somewhere public money is involved. Wherever money is kept in a fiduciary capacity, somebody has to supervise and look at it. This was not happening enough when the slump took place and it is not happening adequately, today.

What is to be realised is that irrespective of instruments and systems we live in a world where flow of capital can and will continue to take place. All monetary policy of regulatory architecture and all instruments have to be fully prepared for eventualities of huge amount of capital flow.

There are modifications needed in various statutory provisions. Time has come to simplify the capital market. Consider the Security Contract and Regulation Act 1999. There exchange derivatives are anonymous order driven, trading on the screen. Simultaneously according to the contract law in India, wagering is illegal!

Somewhere the assumption, that existing designations manning freshly designed regulatory architecture will serve the purpose, needs to be seriously examined. To create a new dispensation, a new mindset is required. A new mindset requires a new design of work and information flow. Attempts at reform which seek to alter the design of the container while keeping the contents as the same, may work for attractive packaging but may not really work on the ground. Some of the thoughts are interesting, though many read like 'assuming' a can opener to open a can.

Be that as it may, there are gaps which a revised version of the paper needs to address. One of them is the risk management system as designed in the commodity futures exchange. There are others, but the key remains the attempt to regulate the regulatory system. This is a function of policy. The task has to be attempted with the kind of reach and depth merited by the issues. 








British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be putting his money where his mouth is. Preceding his India visit, there had been a fair amount of talk about London's desire to build a special relationship with New Delhi. Now, he is making the right moves, from an unexpectedly forthright denunciation of Pakistan's role in exporting terrorism to allowing the export of civil nuclear technology and expertise to India. These are indications that the New Delhi-London relationship is on the right track. But more can and should be done. As Cameron himself has noted, both countries need each other. 

Asia's rise and the shift of the global economic centre of gravity from the West towards the emerging economies have been widely noted. But the process is just beginning. Despite its formidable growth, the Indian economy faces a number of problems. Attracting investment to fuel that growth and maximise its potential is one of them. Given the EU's current economic woes, with a lack of investment opportunities and climbing unemployment rates, there is an obvious synergy here across sectors such as education, infrastructure and high-tech industry. In the defence sector, only 26 per cent FDI is allowed and numerous conditions skew the balance in PSUs' favour. If security and maintaining the competitiveness of domestic players are concerns, New Delhi must raise the FDI cap to 49 per cent and permit full-fledged collaboration between private sector Indian and British firms in defence and aerospace projects. 

There are congruencies in London's and New Delhi's geopolitical imperatives as well. As Cameron's tough talk on Pakistan indicates, both have a vested interest in Afghanistan's stability. Being prime targets for terrorism is a shared concern, if an unfortunate one. Based on efforts in these two spheres, from coordinating reconstruction efforts to intelligence sharing, a broader, pragmatic relationship is both feasible and desirable. 

There are points of discord, of course. Cameron's delegation has avoided the Kashmir trap this time but the UK's cap on immigration doesn't sit well with good reason in New Delhi. But the potential for cooperation overrides these, from trade and capital flows far from one-sided, as Lakshmi Mittal's and Tata's acquisitions show to the presence of a sizeable Indian diaspora in the UK. In its quest for a global profile, New Delhi has recast its relationship with Washington over the past decade. It should now proceed to do the same with London. 







As the labour movement rapidly gains ground in the industrial corridors of Tamil Nadu a state that has not seen too many red flags in the recent past the political role that unions play is becoming evident. The labour relations of big global brands like Hyundai, Nokia and Foxconn, who have set up base in the state, are now under scrutiny. The recent strikes in Hyundai and Nokia, as well as the labour scuffle in Foxconn, show how the DMK-affiliated Labour Progressive Front (LPF) is using its proximity to the government to gain recognition. There are signs that the employees went with the LPF mainly on the promise of reinstatement of some suspended staff, whereas their choice would have been CITU had their issues been purely wage-related. 

Tamil Nadu is proposing a law on the lines of Maharashtra and West Bengal, making recognition of trade unions mandatory. Forcing acceptance of trade unions can't be a welcome move. What is needed is responsible trade unionism which can work for the employees getting a fair share of the profits that companies earn not the militant or extortionist sort that blackmails managements. And certainly not unions that use political proximity to gain entry into factory gates. Unions should use democratic means to get their issues resolved and not resort to strike or stoppage of work, which costs both money and opportunity to companies. If push comes to shove manufacturing units can close operations in Tamil Nadu and move to friendlier environs, something the state cannot afford as existing investors are the best brand ambassadors it can get. Tamil Nadu shouldn't aspire to go Bengal's way, it ought to be the other way round. 








The brief but dramatic late night announcement on July 22 by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, would be accorded an extension beyond November 29, 2010 when he was due to retire was not unexpected. But the length of the extension, a full three years, definitely was. However, given the power of the office and the profile of the incumbent, slim dissent in Pakistan has been muted and couched in polite platitude. 

The centrality of the army, the 'fauj', in the power grid of Pakistan has never been in doubt since the bloody birth of the state in August 1947. General Ayub Khan, the first Pakistani army chief, received his four-year extension in January 1955 from the fragile civilian dispensation of the day. This precedent merits recall to better comprehend the implications of the Kayani extension for Pakistan, India and the larger region currently embroiled in the complex post-9/11 war against religious radicalism and jihadi terrorism. 

It is instructive that Ayub Khan, who was 'persuaded' by the political leadership in 1955 to stabilise a deteriorating domestic environment, soon assumed political primacy and laid the foundation for the consolidation of power by the 'fauj' in Pakistan's domestic calculus. The Cold War was on at the time, and the US actively encouraged the Pakistani military to join the war against communism. 

The correspondence with the manner in which the Kayani extension has been 'accorded' has received its share of irreverent and cynical comment, albeit anonymous, from astute Pakistanis. Even as the principal political parties the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) are locked in rivalry, thereby weakening the civilian democratic forces, the Pakistani army has once again become the arbiter and saviour of a beleaguered nation. 

Current Pakistani military operations against domestic terror groups have been advanced as the principal reason for the Kayani extension. But it has not escaped notice that, with this three-year extension, the general will be in office well beyond March 2013, when the PPP-led Zardari-Gilani combine completes its mandated five-year term. Notwithstanding the fact Kayani was seen as a trusted interlocutor between the Pervez Musharraf-led army and Benazir Bhutto during a rapprochement phase, an institutional animosity permeates the PPP-military relationship that goes back to the Zia years. President Asif Ali Zardari's relations with the army top brass remain brittle and the aspersions cast on the 'fauj' over Benazir's assassination rankle the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Thus, with Kayani's extension, it may be inferred that the PPP has bought itself an insurance policy wherein it hopes to keep the Nawaz Sharif-led PML(N) at bay and complete its five-year term. 

Will this be a Faustian bargain for the people of Pakistan? After the rejection of General Musharraf (whose dramatic coup against Nawaz Sharif had been enthusiastically welcomed in October 1999), the nascent democratic experience that began with a civilian government's election in March 2008 gave rise to considerable hope about the Pakistani army finally going back to the barracks. However, the crisis with the judiciary and the deteriorating internal security situation in Swat and beyond brought a discredited 'fauj' back into the power grid and, to Kayani's credit, he was able to salvage the military's reputation in the eyes of the common Pakistani. 

But the men in khaki soon obtained their pound of flesh when the civilian government was quickly reminded about who the real boss was when it came to 'core' issues such as the nuclear arsenal, relations with India, managing the ISI and its support to terrorist groups. Post the Barack Obama election, the US's earnest attempt to support the civilian government by way of the Kerry-Lugar provisions was quickly diluted. In essence, the status quo prevalent in Pakistan since the Ayub years and consolidated in the Zia-Musharraf interregnum was restored. 

With the assertive posture adopted by Pakistan's judiciary under chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Pakistan today has moved from the 'troika' of power-sharing to a 'quartet' that includes an uneasy president, a nimble PM, a combative chief justice and a quietly confident army chief in Kayani. The three-year extension may have enabled the individual actors but, as senior Pakistani editor Imtiaz Alam broods: "The 'quartet' may have the illusion of being secured, but what about democracy?" 

A return to meaningful democracy in Pakistan, it is evident, has been put on hold for another three years and the institutional orientation of the Pakistani army will remain unchanged. This augurs ill for the people of Pakistan in the long run and the texture of the bilateral relationship with both India and Afghanistan. Kayani is a staunch advocate of an inflexible India-centric security perception and the continuation of institutional support to terror groups as part of the distorted 'strategic depth' thesis. 

More than the maligned Musharraf, his inscrutable protege has taken the hound-hare strategy in the war against terror to near perfection. Unlike Musharraf, despite US drone attacks against the Taliban, Kayani is not being targeted by the extremists and their support base in the 'fauj'. Thus the extension may advance the collective interest of the Kayani-led quartet, but not the national interest of Pakistan or regional peace and stability. 

The writer is a security affairs analyst. 








They tell me i was facing the wrong way when i was born. And so it has been ever since. Even the words 'geographically challenged' fall spectacularly short when it comes to describing my utter cluelessness about locations. 

My friends don't trust my sense of direction (it apparently leads them all over town before bringing them home) and prefer consulting the map instead. But the ultimate ignominy was when a rickshaw-wallah pedalled away furiously when he saw me trying to thumb him. I'm not sure but he must have been the one i'd recently led into a concrete maze. Forever unsure about my left and right, i seem to have said 'left' every time i meant 'right' or vice versa, till we'd circled the colony five times and still been unable to find my friend's new place. 

The problem is this: from the security of my home, it seems like child's play to reach from point A to point B. Take the straight road by the post office. You'll reach Shri so and so road. From there, straight up to the big banyan, then straight to the small Shiv mandir. On the third left, cut to the famous 'paanwala' and there you are! Simple, you say? On the contrary. When i start out, i'm brimming with confidence that nothing can stop me from reaching my destination. How wrong could i go with so many 'straights' thrown into the directions? 

The confidence grows when i reach the PO without once losing my way. Okay, it's a straight road from my home, but still. From then on, it gradually goes downhill in more ways than one. Shri so and so road is dug up, so i have to take a detour which is bound to take me to some such godforsaken part of town from where even an explorer and a mountain-climber would have trouble tracing the correct way to anywhere. If the road is not dug up, its name is sure to have been changed to keep the ruling party in good humour. 

If not that, the "big" banyan would either have been sawed away to make way for a mall, or collapsed in the last storm. Or there would be at least three banyans, each looking bigger than the other. Which one was supposed to be my landmark? Rather than getting hopelessly lost, i turn back while i can still figure out where home is. I know my muttered, "Umm, i wasn't feeling well" to my friend's furious queries regarding my no-show, is not convincing. But it has to do till i can figure out where her darned house is. 

It's worse in new places. There is something Harry-Potter-ish about them! Before i move out for the day, i fix landmarks in my steel trap-like mind only to find that my steel trap was actually a sieve, or the landmarks had changed magically! For instance, on my way back i find the purple house has either transformed to blue or shifted location. The left turn has become right. The eye-catching hoarding with Aishwarya on it has changed to lovely Sonam's. And, finally, the beacon-like yellow car i'd counted on to guide me to our temporary residence has disappeared! This city is certainly unfriendly to visitors! Would it have been too much to ask to have left the car in one place, till i got home? 

A helpful soul who else but dear hubby got me a cellphone that's supposed to have an in-built GPS. I'm eternally grateful to the soul who thought of this ingenious device. But how is it going to help me if the only thing it does is to tell me that i'm at XYZ crossing of ABC road? I know i'm there, dummy! Just tell me: how do i reach home? 








We agree that Rs 5,000 crore is an awful lot of money. But pit it against the fact that it could have ensured two square meals for millions of hungry Indians, and it looks like small change. So isn't it surprising that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) has turned down a proposal from the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to release 50 metric tonnes of foodgrain to the states because the operation would have meant an additional Rs 5,000 crore in food subsidy? To our mind, when it comes to something as basic as food, it cannot be an either/or situation. Food has to reach the people — no matter how much cost and effort is required. Period.


As this newspaper's 'Tracking Hunger' campaign shows, it is not only a supply issue, but also a distribution problem. Foodgrain is rotting in the godowns of the FCI but people are not getting their legitimate share of grain. The Centre was cornered on this issue in Parliament on Wednesday. Fair enough, but can the states — in many cases run by the Opposition parties — absolve themselves of blame? India's public distribution system is the joint responsibility of the central and state governments with the former responsible for procurement, storage and transportation and the bulk allocation of foodgrain. The states have to distribute their foodgrain to the people, identify the target groups, issue identification cards and monitor the functioning of fair price shops. Like foodgrain, this whole gamut of operations is in a shambles and needs to be overhauled. Letting it continue as it is means that we are losing out on two fronts: first, the precious grain and second, the health of the people. A malnourished citizenry will only demand more of the state's already stretched health resources in the coming years.


It is futile at this juncture to discuss all over again the details of how things can be put in place. But these will not be effective unless and until there's a realisation that it is criminal to not ensure food to every Indian citizen and that we have very little time to lose. A debate is on about how much foodgrain to allocate to each person/family under the proposed food security law; the right to food activists are not happy with the government's proposal of 25 kg of grain at


Rs 3 per kg to only BPL families. The government's calculation has probably been done on the 'subsidy' principle. But why are we again forgetting that food is a basic requirement of human life and no matter how much subsidy is needed, there's no way we can cut corners on this account.







Modern Britain is proud of its multiculturalism — as it should be. Even a cursory visitor to a British city, typified by the polyglot megalopolis of London, will not really find himself out of place. But there may be one shortcoming of this multi-culturalism: Multi-culti Britain may have smothered what many would call 'Britishness'. Now, we desis more than anyone know that a catch-all word like 'Britishness' will upset many a Scotsman, Irishman and Welshman (not to mention a few Englishmen) as much as the concept of 'Indianness' will be debated till the holy cows come home. But nowhere is the eclipse of 'British culture' more visible, at least to us sitting here across a continent and a half away than in the food department.


We all know about how former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook tried to make it official that the chicken tikka masala — that orangy product of mutatis Britannia — was Britain's (read: New Labour Britain's) official dish. Frankly, we expected some show of liberal conservatism in the form of signature dishes like shepherd's pie, fish'n'chips, bangers'n'mash during meals hosted during Brit PM David Cameron's visit to India. We understand their desire to tuck into Indian food — the chicken tikka, as opposed to the chicken tikka masala, included. But surely for the rest of us, a helpful reminder would have been a 'full English' or a steak and kidney pie on the menu.


Let us make a suggestion to those who govern the land of balti cuisine and doner kebabs: do try and convince the magnificent Ferguson Hendersen to open his St John restaurants serving wholesome English food in India. And a flowering of fish'n'chip shops all across our land. That, Mr Cameron, would truly amount to a "enhanced partnership".








Despite 63 years of independence, feudal attitudes and values permeate the professedly secular, republican and democratic Government of India. Consider the recent proposal by the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry to appoint 'brand ambassadors' for its adult literacy programme. According to a news report, the names shortlisted by the ministry are those of Nita Ambani, Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi and Priyanka Vadra. All four are women, and all four owe their status in society principally to the fact they are the wife, daughter, or sister of a powerful or wealthy male.


If one is thinking of a name to motivate poor women or men to learn their letters, no name could be more spectacularly inappropriate than Nita Ambani's. She is soon to be the resident of a 400,000 square feet house; she is already the recipient of a Boeing aircraft as a birthday gift. If this exhibitionism doesn't run contrary to our constitutional commitment to socialism and equality, I don't know what does. As for our other national commitment to secularism and the scientific temper — which I presume the HRD Ministry shares — how does one square that with Nita Ambani's periodic visits to a Southern hilltop to pray for, of all things, a cricket team?


Nita Ambani would not be what she is had she not married the son of the richest man in India. By the same token, Supriya Sule would not be what she is had she not been the daughter of the most powerful man in Maharashtra. She owes her seat in Parliament entirely to her father. So does Kanimozhi, the third of the HRD ministry's proposed 'brand ambassadors'. Had she not been the daughter of the most powerful man in Tamil Nadu, she would not now be a Rajya Sabha MP, nor would she be spoken of (as Supriya Sule is too) as a likely entrant into the Union Cabinet.


It seems strange to say this, but in fact, of the four names on offer it is Priyanka Vadra who is least guilty on this count. Thus far at least, she has not benefited professionally from being the daughter of a former prime minister or the sister of someone who is likely to be a future prime minister. She is not in politics, and her recent foray out of private life has been to work with a family-run foundation. Even so, her name would hardly have occurred to the HRD ministry had she not been the daughter and sister of you-know-who.


The HRD ministry's proposal is patriarchal as well as feudalistic. It constitutes a sharp and direct insult to all of Indian womanhood. How is it that the ministry couldn't think of a single woman who had achieved distinction in her own right, without having first been elevated on account of being someone else's wife, daughter or sister? Had I been an official in the ministry, the first names that may have come to my mind are of those splendid Hyderabadi sportswomen, Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza. What Nehwal and Mirza have in common is that their achievements are entirely of their own making. They have nothing to do with genes or wealth or position that they have inherited from an already powerful male. In this respect, they are fairly representative of professional women in general. The two most widely admired women entrepreneurs in India are probably Chanda Kochhar of ICICI and Kiran Mazumdar of Biocon. They, too, owe their success to their own efforts and their own genes alone. The most admired social worker in India is probably Ela Bhatt of the Self-Employed Women's Association. She, too, is wholly self-made.


I have proposed five deserving names — readers of this column could easily expand the list to 50. Thus, the actor Shabana Azmi would make a fine ambassador for adult literacy, as would — if her health permits — the writer Mahasweta Devi. There is even a politician who qualifies — Mayawati, who (unlike Sule and Kanimozhi) rose from genuinely humble origins and who, despite her sometimes whimsical ways, has a huge appeal to the most disadvantaged of Indians.


The names offered in the preceding paragraphs are a good sight more deserving than the ones suggested by the HRD ministry. To the adult neo-literate, whose example shall be more admirable, more inspiring? Ela Bhatt or Nita Ambani? Saina Nehwal or Supriya Sule? Shabana Azmi or Kanimozhi? Chanda Kochhar or Priyanka Vadra? The first person in each pairing made it wholly on her own, the second person got a hefty leg up from her husband or father. To put it differently, the first person in each pairing represents the democratic ideals of the Indian Constitution, whereas the second person represents the lingering feudal residues in Indian society and politics.


Contemporary India has an array of gifted women writers, musicians, and committed women social workers and public officials, who have likewise achieved eminence without first hitching their star to a male of wealth or influence. Surely they would be more effective and credible brand ambassadors for adult literacy as compared to the privileged quartet proposed by the HRD ministry.


What, I wonder, are the origins of this ridiculous proposal? Is it a manifestation of the feudal culture within the allegedly democratic government of India, or is it rather the handiwork of a particular individual, seeking to please the richest and most powerful people in India? Gore Vidal once remarked of his adopted country, Italy, that occasionally it combined the worst of capitalism and the worst of socialism. I should say of my one and only homeland that sometimes it combines the worst features of capitalism, socialism and feudalism.


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







The strategic implications of the Middle Kingdom's economic trajectory on regional and global stability is an enigmatic riddle that defies linear answers. It was the subject of an animated discussion on the sidelines of an International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) on poverty alleviation, attended by functionaries of 55 political parties from 28 countries holding leadership positions in party hierarchies and government structures in China.


With a $4-trillion economy and laudable efforts at lifting 300 million people out of poverty, China today appears more socially cohesive than before. However, with an economic model that continues to be export-driven, with foreign trade accounting for 68.5 per cent of the GDP as per 2008 World Trade Organisation numbers, the consequences of a sluggish American economy and some serious belt tightening in the Euro-zone begs the obvious question — does China have the internal capacity to absorb the output of its production processes given the continuing slowdown in the Western economies and coupled with an intrinsic thrift milieu and moderate wage structure.


While analysts contend that China may see an opportunity in the economic meltdown to further its


G-2 aspirations, the highest echelons of the Chinese leadership emphasise that the nation continues to be a developing country that has profound developmental challenges to surmount. In an interaction with the delegates to the ICAAP conference, vice-president of China Xi Jinping articulated that China aims at eradicating poverty by 2020 in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and augmenting existing infrastructural capability by 2050 to emerge as a developed nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) league. The sub-text of Xi Jinping's assertions was to assure the Asian audience that China's rise is peaceful and that the Asian nations will benefit from it.


The inherent contradiction manifests itself when the development narrative is contrasted with China's burgeoning defence budget and an aggressive search for equity oil and natural resources around the world, thereby raising red flags in establishments charged with assessing the direction of Chinese Comprehensive National Power (CCNP). Independent assessments estimate China's defence budget for 2010 to be around $90-120 billion, substantially more than the official figure of $77.95 billion. This can't be put down to a factor of inflation in the present economic scenario. Moreover, China has one of the largest standing defence forces in the world.


But if you evaluate the regional landscape from a threat perception point of view, there is nothing substantive that can validate this defence dynamic, especially when the leadership emphasises that developmental priorities are uppermost in the pecking order.


Then, does India have anything to be concerned about, given the differing perceptions on a host of issues? There is the obvious spectre of existing and prospective Chinese naval and submarine bases stretching from Sanya in the South China Sea, traversing Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Marao in Maldives to Gwadar in Pakistan — the ubiquitous string of pearls encircling India. These naval bases can exercise oversight over the Sea Lanes of Commerce (SLOC) that are pathways of Intra-Asian energy flows from the West to the East. Given that China is the largest consumer of oil in the world and that it would be dependent on hydrocarbons till at least 2020, it can't wish away the import of the sea routes, though it's going to considerable lengths to surmount its Malacca dilemma.


Evaluated in the context of the conceptual shift outlined in the Sixth Chinese White Paper on defence, released in January 2009, from strategic counter attacks to strategic projection operations, it does raise the obvious question: does this heightened presence underscore just energy security anxieties or is it reflective of China's desire to acquire just strategic dominance of the SLOC or a more visible presence outside its sphere of conventional interest?


While enhancing trade to $80-100 billion by 2020 and increasing civilisational equities and other multilateral linkages in the region may create both a robust hedge and a sense of equilibrium to offset divergent strategic priorities, China would continue to remain among India's foremost strategic dilemmas in the 21st century. Does India have the intellectual capacity and structures to engage in the rigours of a dynamic multi-layered and nuanced relationship?


Manish Tewari is a lawyer and an MP, the views expressed by the author are personal.







Is marriage a help or a hindrance in spiritual and intellectual pursuits?


Marriage teaches a person to love another person.


According to the Bible, loving our fellow humans and loving God are the two things we are expected to do.


Marriage also implies the responsibility to bring up children, which is one of the great privileges of life.


A person contemplating marriage may wonder whether she/he will get solitude and peace of mind. Well, solitude is desirable, but not for all the time. A married person can remember Kahlil Gibran's suggestion: Let there be spaces in your togetherness.


What do authors and spiritual leaders say on whether one should get married?


Leo Tolstoy suggested that it is best to stay celibate; but if one cannot do so, one should get married and be faithful. As the vast majority of people are not inclined towards celibacy, marriage seems to be better.


Swami Sivananda said: "Great rishis of yore were married but they did not lead the life of passion and lust. Married life, if lived in an ideal manner, is no bar to the attainment of Mukti."


Marriage brings with it the responsibility to do a lot of work. One cannot remain all the time contemplating.


Swami Vivekananda said that a householder has to struggle to acquire two things: knowledge and wealth (for which work is essential).


One gets little or no payment for activities like social work or chanting. A married person may find things difficult unless she/he has a like- minded spouse who is willing to sacrifice material comforts.


Nirad C Chaudhuri warns a person who plans to write serious books may face problems if the spouse loves to socialise a lot or objects to pursuits that do not bring in wealth.


And, where there is marriage, there is quarrel. One must keep this in mind before getting onto the bandwagon of marriage.


Until such quarrels go to the point of break-up of one's marriage, one should take them in one's stride.


At times, they strengthen marriages.








In the period when pace bowlers dominated international cricket, the arrival of the Trinity of Spin — Muttiah Muralitharan , Shane Warne and Anil Kumble — was a glorious aberration in the annals of Test cricket.


Let us not forget that the evolution of bowling followed two contrasting directions: one depended on the sheer blistering pace of fast bowling, the other utilised subtler means to fox the batsman. The 'method' of spin bowling requires a spider's patience and a hunter's skill to lure the batsman into a trap. A spinner invites his prey to walk into his parlour. The 'teeth' of the spin bowler is his flight, the aerial geometry.


The dominance of spinners in Indian cricket may baffle many. But there's a natural relationship with the Chanakya-like art of spin bowling and India's talent to think things out to their logical conclusions. Murali's retirement from Test cricket and his staggering record of scalping 800 wickets, the highest by any bowler, has returned spin bowling to the centrestage. From among the legendary off-spinners — England's Jim Laker, South Africa's Hugh Tayfield, West Indies' Lance Gibbs and India's Erapally Prasanna — Murali is arguably the greatest ever to have spun a ball.


Spin bowling made headlines for the first time when West Indies were touring England in 1950. The tourists were armed with the run-making machine of the three Ws and the two spinners, Ramadhin and Valentine, who were really run-restricting robots. But the spin duo caused such a scare among the English batsmen at Lord's that they were deservedly immortalised in a calypso song: 'Yardley tried his best, Goddard won the Test, with those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine'. The Windies went on to wrest the rubber decisively (3-1) from England for the first time and Ram and Val overnight became heroes. Other historic victories attributed to spinners include Vinoo Mankad's 12 wickets for 108 runs against England at Madras in 1951-52.


The retirement of Warne, Kumble and now Murali has left a big gap. The problem has been compounded by the popularity of the instant cricket, reducing spin bowling to a secondary role. In an age that clamours for speed, one wonders if spin bowling of the likes of Murali's will become redundant.


Ravi Chaturvedi is a cricket commentator, the views expressed by the author are personal.



T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






Bullfighting, especially the Spanish "la corrida", was always a contest between man and beast. In the last few decades, it became an argument between tradition and modernity — the modernity of human rights, gender equality, pacifism and animal welfare as against what in Spain is a religion of art and masculinity (punctured now by women bullfighters). Spain cannot be imagined without the corrida. But few will deny Catalonia's ban struck a blow against an anachronism.


The traditionalists may yet preserve the corrida in Madrid and Andalusia (the bullfight heartlands). But their cultural contentions had been pulling less weight in Catalonia, an original homeland of the corrida. Yet, politicians who legislated the ban couldn't dodge the allegation that, right now, it has less to do with animal welfare than with Catalan nationalism. Earlier this month, the Spanish constitutional court struck down some provisions of Catalonian autonomy, notably its right to claim nationhood. In Madrid, they see the vote as revenge, an aggressive emphasis on Catalan difference from Castille. Catalan nationalist parties overwhelmingly voted for the ban, with Catalan elections just round the corner.


The world was another place when Hemingway valorised the arena as a place to die with equanimity, "authentic" as bohemian Paris was not. The torero has near-mythic status: the epitome of bravery, skill and honour. He's said to look his most graceful when laid out after death. Thus lamented Federico Garcia Lorca for his friend, legendary matador Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, that there may never again be "an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure." The bull is finally triumphant in Barcelona which, once of three bullrings, will see the surviving La Monumental close in January. Will that begin the battle for Madrid?







A recent piece of video art, 'Me' by the Iranian artist Ghazel, showed a burqa-clad figure sunbathing, swimming, riding a bike, ice-skating, even moonwalking — it was funny, poignant, and defied easy readings. Was it an affirmation of free movement, while being enclosed in a private space? Or was it also a reminder of the ways that the garment swaddles you, gets in the way, and keeps you from fully experiencing things? The unsettling character of the video owes to the deep ambiguity about the burqa itself. Is it merely a trapping of a woman-hating culture where their bodies, like their selves, have to be made invisible? Or can the idea be recuperated by pointing, as many Muslim feminists have, to the ways a woman in a burqa feels easy in her skin? Recently, when the French and Belgian governments experimented with banning the burqa, the liberal quandary was on full display. Even as they unpacked the various illiberal impulses that are masked by rhetoric of liberating Muslim women, they found themselves having to defend a practice that they were less than enthusiastic about.


However, what happened in West Bengal's Aliah University is unambiguously unfair. A young teacher was intimidated by the students union into abiding by the "decent dress code", or not take classes at all. Sirin Middya has no intrinsic issues with the burqa, but she refuses to wear one on someone else's injunction. The university has not protested this hijacking of individual freedom; instead it simply suggested that Middya take her problems somewhere else, and report at an off-campus library, while being paid her salary. The West Bengal government has not helped either, despite Middya's letter to the minority affairs minister. It has fallen upon other teachers' unions to agitate over Middya's rights, and demand action from the Left Front government.


If the communists can't find the spine to intervene when a Muslim woman explicitly demands her rights, then how can they claim any commitment to secularism? A university is supposed to be a freethinking enclave. This episode should jolt their conscience, as it underscores how the strategic conciliation of the most extreme corner of a community can roll over the rights of most of its members.








Opposition parties continued to force adjournments in Parliament on Thursday over demands for a discussion on price rise that concludes in a vote. A day earlier, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had ruled against admission of an adjournment motion. So, now the clamour from some parties was for a discussion under Rule 184, which too carries a vote. The government instead appears to be inclined towards a discussion under Rule 193, for which notice has been given by an MP of the Trinamool Congress, which is part of the ruling UPA coalition — this would not require a vote. On these technicalities, most of the first week of the monsoon session of Parliament has been washed away. And coming three months after voting on a cut motion in Lok Sabha revealed the complicated politics of parties outside of the UPA, NDA and Left Front, these adjournments draw attention to a rather recent fixation of the opposition with testing the government's numbers in the House. This self-serving insistence by the opposition on routine use of rare measures, in turn, asks tough questions about the government's floor management.


In the cut motion during the budget session, the UPA's smooth sailing was ensured once the BSP signalled that it would vote in support of the government. That immediately sorted out the SP, which charts out its political strategy in alliance with the RJD. Given Uttar Pradesh's politics, the SP could not afford to be isolated on the same voting position as the BJP. But three months is presumably a long time in politics. And the strident demands for a vote can be seen not so much as a way of testing the UPA's majority, as of sorting who stands where on the political spectrum. This time round, for instance, the Left would like to put the Trinamool in a spot by raising an emotive issue. Yet, it would be a long shot to predict that a discussion with a vote could find the government short of a majority. And the opposition parties must explain why stalling all business as a way of seeking political clarity is not a crude and cynical use of parliamentary instruments.


For such stalemates in Parliament, the treasury benches must draw scrutiny. Good floor management requires giving proceedings a sense of direction. Parliament's monsoon agenda is brimming with important legislation — among them, possibly, the nuclear liability bill, the women's reservation bill, the judicial accountability and standards bill and many related to the education sector. It is up to the government to marshal Parliament's attention towards movement on such issues.









 Avoid nostalgia. Don't think, even for a moment, about the Raj." That has been the near unanimous advice from the British media to the visiting Prime Minister David Cameron as he sits down with the Indian leaders on Thursday.


Whether Cameron refers to the Raj or not, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should. There has been much

realistic commentary from London on why Britain, presumed to be on relative decline, needs an India on the rise. This proposition has a flip side too. An emerging India too has everything to gain by deepening its British and Anglo-Saxon connections.


If London and Delhi do need to recast their relationship, Cameron seems just the right interlocutor for India. Unlike his post-modern political rivals in New Labour, who could not resist the temptation of telling India how to solve its problems, Cameron brings both realism and enthusiasm to the project of building a "special relationship" with Delhi.


Any suggestion of the Raj as a template for the proposed special relationship may irritate the nationalists at home and embarrass our guests from London. But Dr Singh broke that taboo five years ago this month when he spoke at Oxford University.


Underlining the many positive legacies of the Raj, Dr Singh cited Mahatma Gandhi's hopes for a productive post-colonial partnership between Delhi and London. Asked in 1931, during a short stay at Oxford, on whether India would distance itself from London after independence, Gandhi said, "The British Empire is an empire only because of India. The emperorship must go and I should love to be an equal partner with Britain, sharing her joys and sorrows. But it must be a partnership on equal terms."


Dr Singh also referred to the decision of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who took India into the British Commonwealth against much criticism in Delhi. Nehru explained his decision by underlining the "free basis" of the political cooperation he visualised with Britain.


India should not deny itself a beneficial engagement with Britain "simply because in the past we had fought and thus carry on the trail of our past karma along with us. We have to wash out the past with all its evil."


Despite the optimism of India's founding fathers about a future relationship with Britain, Delhi and London steadily drifted apart. The Cold War, the Anglo-American tilt towards Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir, India's drift towards the Soviet Union, and the steady erosion of economic links removed all foundations for a partnership — equal or otherwise.


It is only the end of the Cold War and India's outward economic orientation that opened the doors in the early '90s for renewing a serious bilateral engagement. Much has happened in the last two decades, but a lot remains to be done on bringing the British and Indian economies closer.


Beyond trade and commerce, Dr Singh and Cameron should focus on liberating the bilateral ties from the political constraints that have prevented a genuine security cooperation since the proclamation of a strategic partnership in 2005.


One important obstacle to stronger political ties had been Labour's condescension towards India. Whether it was Robin Cook's "values-based foreign policy" or David Miliband's emphasis on addressing the "root causes" of anti-India terrorism, the Labour governments could not mask their itch to meddle in India's disputes with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir.


If Cameron can bury the ghost of Kashmir, once and for all, he will remove an important source of lingering Indian distrust of Britain. That should, in turn, open the door for Dr Singh to explore the prospects for long-term security cooperation between Delhi and London in pacifying the turbulent lands between the Indus and the Hindu Kush, which have become the source of a great national security threat to both the countries.


Through much of its history, the Raj was obsessed with the security of its northwestern frontiers. Six decades after the dissolution of the Raj, that frontier is the world's epicentre of violent extremism.


A reconstituted Raj would involve Delhi and London looking beyond the question of a few arms sales. (A widely expected deal on the supply of additional Hawk jet trainers was signed in Bangalore on Wednesday.) Dr Singh and Cameron should try and define the framework for a strong bilateral defence partnership.


That security vision in turn must have two elements. On the question of "ends", the emphasis must be on returning India and Britain to the Raj tradition of keeping the global commons secure and open for all. This would involve India and Britain pooling their resources to keep open the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond. It should also include joint efforts to counter the growing threats to cyberspace, so critical to the functioning of international society and the world economy today.


Then there is the question of the "means". As Britain cuts its military expenditure, downsizes its armed forces and limits its political objectives amidst a big resource crunch at home, India should take the opportunity to propose a comprehensive partnership between the defence industries of the two countries.


Creating a policy environment for greater private sector investment in each other's arms production would help sustain the defence industrial base in Britain, its expansion in India and their eventual integration.


For all the talk of "decline" in London, Britain would want to keep punching well above its weight in world affairs. A strong partnership with India should help Britain prolong its place at the global high table.


India on the other hand needs partners who can ease its path to a larger international role. The people, resources and institutions of Britain are India's welcome force multipliers. Delhi and London, then, have every incentive to pool their resources — in other words reinvent the Raj — for mutual benefit.








 I remember an evening many years ago as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was with a girl, sort of a friend, the kind you speak to but not talk to. We were in a tiny dhaba close to college, where you could smoke illicit cigarettes and drink oversweet adrak chai, and she was speaking. The words were bullet-like, hard things about myself, things I hadn't heard before. When she was done, I was raw and unpeeled: on that hard dhaba bench, I left behind my old self, and started being what I am today.Udaan reminded me of that "before and after" day of my life, as I watched the 17-year-old Rohan running, breaking free into a future which promises to be very different from his present. Vikramaditya Motwane's beautifully-written debut feature, which took him seven years to bring to the screen, is also a coming of age of this kind of film in Bollywood. A coming of age implies that you've lived a life before, that there's been a journey, and that there's significance to both. The perennial Peter Pan heroes (and heroines) of Hindi cinema usually have no history, no credible backstories: they just are, and from whence they leap mid-screen, fully formed, there to jibber and jive, no one knows.


In this, as ever, Hindi cinema has taken its cue from society at large. We are not people who've encouraged our children to take wing and fly. A boy was deemed to have come of age when the patriarch decreed that it was time to marry. A docile bahu would be procured for the beta', the dutiful beta would carry on the family business, and a third generation would be readied for what their elders and betters declared was good for them. Rebellion would brew, but it would stop at choosing between an arranged bride, or a "love marriage": ordered romance, or a falling in love outside of the extended family's purview, was the acme.


For decades, mainstream cinema started with lead players ripe for romance, and ended in a mandap. The two iconic films of the ' 90s, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai lined up their winsome stars, and created a cosy, familiar, us-vs-them conflict between young love and confrontational parents, which closed with a convenient, conventional co-opt : those "girls" in threatening short dresses became daughters-in-law in sedate saris. And the boys became married men.


It's only in the last 10 years that the Me Generation has come to the fore, and new age Bollywood has kept pace. The Dil Chahta Hai boys were both representative as well as aspirational stars for the '00s: the parents were supportive, distant, backgrounded, the boys (not the girls, note, we still haven't got to the point where Bollywood girls can be allowed to come of age) did what they had, to grow up. One's love for an older woman defines him, another stops flitting between hare-brained, short-lived romps to snaffle a nice girl, and the third finds himself via true love.


It's interesting that Farhan Akhtar, who directed Dil Chahta Hai at a point when he was not much older than his leading young men, also made Lakshya, which focuses on one boy becoming a man. The first half focuses on the young layabout laying about, yawning through classes, squabbling with his ultra-focused girlfriend: in the second, he steps out of his comfort zone and goes to do battle for his country. His journey takes him from a shaggy-dog look to a stern crew cut, a manicured park to a stark mountainside pockmarked with gunfire, and in the end, he emerges a man.


Two other recent films, where boys head out to become men, come to mind. Wake Up Sid has a newish younger boy-older girl story, but Sid is a carryover from the past in terms of what he does and how he does it. And in Dev D, we have hopes that the dissolute Dev will one day become a man, only because a strong woman has decided to take him in hand.


Udaan is Bollywood's first genuine coming of age tale, because it takes an unformed adolescent and lets him struggle with his demons by plonking him in a place where there's no readymade comfort: no dream sequences, no song-and-dance, no artificial crutches. No girlfriend or crush to smoothen things. Rohan has to find his own way, and has to carve it from himself: his authoritarian father, who is given the sort of impressive detailing parents do not get in Bollywood, has his own dragons to slay. It's easier to smack a son than to give him respect, particularly if he is the antithesis of who you are. Udaan is also a subtle study of masculinity, of men and what they can be: the only females in this all-male story are a dead mother, an alive stepmother-to-be, and her daughter, all on the periphery. Leaving his old life behind, Rohan takes off into an unknown future, not knowing where it will take him. Only knowing who he is.








 A wise person once said that self-pity and self-destructive ego are a sure-shot recipe for disaster. As Indians, we should neither eulogise nor crow over the "failure" of a landmark event that, amazingly, is still more than two months away. Neither passion nor a total lack of understanding with respect to the difficulty that the nerve centre must face in organising this event on a daily basis — with innumerable countervailing forces pulling the logistics and planning in opposite directions — makes for a healthy attitude. Remember: the Commonwealth Games 2010 are set to alter and enhance the lives of Indian athletes, and fast-track the business of sports post-October 14.


Hypocrisy is well worth avoiding here. The facts won't change whether or not the detractors continue to pour scorn on the CWG: corruption, bribery, scandal, no-shows, question marks over capability and preparation, security concerns and the like are part and parcel of hosting any event of this magnitude. Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Munich, Seoul, Los Angeles, South Africa, all have had some hiccups along the way. Expectations for the CWG also need to be tempered by clearly stating that these are not the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, or even the Euro, in terms of viewership, tourism, quality of competition — indeed, in terms of every parameter possible. The CWG are meant to be the first step in what will hopefully one day be a successful Olympics bid.


This isn't such a leap: Rio de Janeiro is set to host the two biggest and most prestigious global sports events in the world, in 2014 and 2016. And while one hopes for the successful showcasing of one the world's most unique and scenic cities, if Indians are true to themselves, they would shy away from comparing the CWG to the likes of London, Beijing and Sydney, to name a few host cities; they should instead hold their peace until vultures start circling the Pao de Acucar and Corcovado a year from now. After all, it's Brazil and India that are similar; both are taking giant steps to cover their gaps, to become economic superpowers.


The CWG are the third largest multi-discipline sports event, with over 70 nations participating, and in excess of 5,000 athletes competing. Fast forward to 2014, and in all likelihood India (and the NCR in particular) will have five world-class facilities, "legacies" as they are known globally; a public transport system that will metamorphose the entire region, similar in implication to the Gautrain project that now connects Pretoria to Johannesburg; and global events to complement the star sportspersons that India churns out.


Forget the allegations, forget the cynicism, forget the complete and wanton disregard for the people who have put heart and soul into the CWG, trying to make India a force to be reckoned with. Forget for a minute the rumours we hear of vices untold, and of how the CWG will never take place, and will be a national disaster. This isn't about a single person.


Nor is it about a corrupt system. Nor should it be about a holier-than-thou mentality that glosses over how this has become a matter of national pride. That would violate the self-pride that India possesses.


There is a reason why, in the past and for other host cities, the skeletons surrounding such events have been buried permanently. We, as a country, need to accept that the CWG belong to India, not to any single sports federation, governmental authority, tycoon, or corporate house. When the sun sets on what one hopes is a stellar showcasing of the greatest city in the world, rest assured, the country and sports in general will be the better for it. It would be prudent too for our statesmen to accept that the CWG will take place, and will set the stage for the dawn of a brand new era in Indian sport. Then, with champions and with world-class facilities and infrastructure, India will be poised to be the next sports superpower globally. This is about more than mere acceptance: it's about embracing what the CWG mean to us as Indians, and closing ranks to provide a united front to the rest of the world as India and Delhi in particular become the centre of the sports world.


For once, let's focus on what could be, and not on what is, and what has been. Destiny awaits once the furore abates; just give the CWG a chance to prove everyone wrong. The CWG don't need flashes on the track and rackets on the court with an international flavour to make this event a success. We have enough talent to usher in an era in which the Mary Koms, the Sushil Kumars, the Abhinav Bindras and the Saina Nehwals showcase their ability, talent and single-minded focus as they shed the shackles of a colonial hangover. The real brand ambassadors and role models that India needed, and is fortunate now to have representing us.


The writer is a Delhi-based sports attorney







Conducting my never-ending search for cheerful news, I am happy to report that Chelsea Clinton is getting married on Saturday. Perhaps you hadn't heard.


"This is hard, let me tell you," said Hillary Clinton. She was referring to preparations for her daughter's big day, not high-stakes diplomacy. Although the two might be connected. Maybe the North Koreans threatened to nuke the American-South Korean war games because they thought our country would be easy to bulldoze while the secretary of state was labouring under the stress of wedding planning.


"I was one of those brides of our vintage," Clinton told me a while back. We are of the same generation, and during her presidential campaign she once said that she was always happy to see me because at least there would be somebody her age on the press plane. "We agreed to get married one weekend, got married the next weekend," Clinton reminisced.


Chelsea is definitely going in a different direction. The estimates of the cost of her wedding have all been coming from people who aren't actually involved in it, but if they get any more grandiose, we will have stories on Fox News about how the ceremony cost more than the national budget of Burundi.


Let her have her day. She's due. Chelsea has been a national public figure against her will since she was 12, and in all that time she has never embarrassed her family — or us. Before she went off to Columbia to study public health policy, she worked for a New York management consulting firm and a hedge fund where her colleagues unanimously (and off-the-recordly) reported that she was a stupendously hard worker. She recognised early on that when celebrity is thrust on you, the trick is to learn to do something besides being famous. (Talking to you, Bristol Palin.)


In days of yore, presidential offspring frequently came to grief. Early on, there were quite a few suicidal alcoholics. FDR's five children managed to produce 19 marriages. I always had a feeling that Amy Carter, who was sent to public school in Washington amid a crush of publicity, did not love the experience.


But she seemed to be happy at her own wedding in 1996 in the yard of her late grandmother's house, cutting a wedding cake she had baked herself. The bride wore an embroidered dress from the 1920s. The groom, a computer consultant, wore a ponytail. Her father did not give her away because, as Jimmy Carter told the press, "Amy said she didn't belong to anyone."


Jenna Bush had a few unfortunate brushes with the law during her White House years. But it was nothing that couldn't have been avoided if the legal drinking age in Texas had been 18. Anyway, she seems to have turned out great. After graduation, she worked for Unicef, taught at an inner-city public school in Washington and wrote a book about a young woman with AIDS in Latin America. She is now a reading coordinator at a school in Baltimore and makes occasional reports on education for TV.


Her sister, Barbara, worked at a hospital in South Africa, did educational programming for a museum and now leads a Peace Corps-type organisation called Global Health Corps. The twins are only 28, but they already seem to have racked up more good works than Mother Teresa.


Virtually everyone in America loathes either George W. Bush or Bill and Hillary. Yet every sensible person, no matter what political stripe, would have to admit that both families produced really good kids.


And they're not untypical. Although no generation lacks warts, our 20-somethings are terrific. We worry about the youth of America turning into distracted Twitterers with superficial values who will never find jobs, but every single day I trip over recent college graduates who are amazing — funny and smart with an astonishing work ethic. They all seem to be working on 14 different useful projects, most of them unpaid. If I had had to compete against them when I was 21, I'd still be working on my graduate school application.


Happy wedding, Chelsea. Excellent job, Bush twins. Good luck, Amy Carter, wherever you are. We are pleased to be a country that produced such nice young adults out of such a lunatic political environment.


"I'm having a vicarious experience," said Hillary Clinton happily. As are we all.








 The government of Nepal has formally protested against the United Nations vetting the human rights records of officials — mainly from the security agencies — nominated by the government to serve in the UN peacekeeping mission, calling it an assault on the authority of the state. Caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Nepal and Sushil Koirala, working president of the Nepali Congress, have also publicly criticised the chief of the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) for having prescribed a 60-week schedule to the Nepali actors in the peace process on various issues, including "integration" of the Maoist combatants, even though UNMIN has just about eight weeks of its tenure left. Attempts to play down the criticism that it was not a dictate of any sort from UNMIN have hardly convinced the Nepali actors. The way international actors, including some UN agencies, have conducted themselves here during the past four years has lowered their image, efficiency and perceived neutrality among some here, although in far lesser degree than is visible in Sri Lanka.


Both UNMIM and EU countries have been facing accusations of double standards on human rights violations allegedly committed by the state and the Maoists during the years of conflict. Even prestigious international think-tanks like the International Crisis Group have faced this accusation; in its reports it has repeatedly asked donors to not give visas to Nepali authorities if their human rights record during the years of conflict is not clean. But it has not made such recommendations for Maoists committing such violations.


Last month, though, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) recalled a delegation that had already landed in the United States to participate in a seminar there, after its politburo member Agni Sapkota, who was to participate in the same programme, was denied a visa at the last minute. Sapkota has been accused of murdering a rival political activist during the conflict. Successive governments have so far failed to constitute a truth and reconciliation commission, or TRC, as pledged in the comprehensive peace agreement, or CPA, signed as long ago as November 2006. And all these years, the three major political parties — the Nepali Congress, the UCPN-M and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — each of which has led the government one after another, have visibly adopted a selective approach on who to project as human rights violators.


The government led by G.P. Koirala, soon after the former king, Gyanendra, lost power in April 2006, formed a judicial commission headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Krishna Jung Rayamajhi to examine human rights abuses by the royal regime in its attempts to suppress the April movement. Yet Justice Rayamajhi, after his retirement from the bench, had been in the forefront of the movement; all four other members of the commission also belonged to political parties that had been part of the protests against Gyanendra. Besides politicians, the commission held 200-plus officials — civil, military, police, armed police force — guilty, and in some cases it gave no opportunity to the "guilty" to depose before it. The UN, the EU and the US had earlier stated publicly that a similar commission formed by the then king violated basic investigative norms. The Rayamajhi Commission's composition, conduct, process and findings were, though, endorsed. The government may have, for all practical purposes, dumped its report, but the "guilty" bear the stigma of having "human rights violators" on their records.


The government seems to have realised that treating them as "guilty", without the yet to be formed TRC investigating, would be problematic, and its lodging of a protest with the UN is a clear indication of that realisation.






In an editorial, Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express (July 26) writes: "The arrest of the confidant of Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, senior leader of BJP, and minister of state in the Gujarat home ministry, and that too on charges of committing heinous crimes, is not an ordinary incident in India's history. The significance and implications of this arrest are evident to every Indian and for this reason the Sangh Parivar is certainly dumbstruck... The meaning of Amit Shah's arrest is clear: not just Modi, but the entire BJP leadership is in the dock... The long arm of the law, that has seized Amit Shah's neck, can also reach the necks of his masters."


The daily Sahafat , published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, in its editorial on the same day entitled, 'Ab Modi ki baari hai' (now it is Modi's turn) writes: "In the Gujarat cabinet, the level to which Amit Shah enjoyed Narendra Modi's confidence could not be equalled by any other minister or BJP leader. Therefore, the political fall of Amit Shah is being considered as the greatest setback of Modi's political career, and the question is being raised as to whether Modi can come out of this setback."


According to Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj (July 26), "the CBI has performed its role in a perfect manner, the result of which is before us... This case has made it absolutely clear that no citizen of the country is above the law."


Rashtriya Sahara, (July 25) writes: "It is possible that the Central government makes use of the CBI. We do not have any clear proof in support or denial of this allegation except speculations. Those who have been in power might better know the truth. In the past, allegations of illegitimate use of the CBI were levelled against L.K. Advani when he was the country's home minister. It was said that he had pressured CBI to get his name cleared in the case filed over the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Therefore, if Advaniji is talking of misuse of the CBI by the Centre, he can understand it better."


Mulayam's Apology


Mulayam Singh Yadav's "apology" to the Muslims of the country for aligning with Kalyan Singh has been the subject of much discussion. Patna and Ranchi-based daily, Qaumi Tanzeem, in its editorial (July 20), writes: "Obviously, Mulayam Singh had shaken hands with Kalyan Singh, who was not only a senior leader of the BJP, but one whose ideological training was in the lap of the RSS, merely for political gains, and additional seats in the Lok Sabha and the UP assembly. In spite of this, Mulayam Singh's electoral performance was not according to his expectations and the secular vote in the state, with Muslims on the top of the list, slipped out of his hands. Therefore, if he has to apologise, this apology should be addressed to all secular people, and Muslims are an important part of this segment of society."


The editor of Rashtriya Sahara, Aziz Burney, writes on July 19: "In my view we should accept the apology of Mulayam Singh Yadav with an open heart so that all those secular politicians whom Muslims supported at some point of time, but became distant because of a change in their attitude, could realise when and where they had erred, and are compelled to review their decisions."


In an editorial on July 17, Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar writes: "It is thought that he (Mulayam Singh) has issued this apology to attract his old associate and fiery orator, Azam Khan, back as he had put this very condition for his return home. It is possible that Azam Khan, spending his time in political vanvaas, takes shelter in the SP once again because he cannot find a place anywhere else."


Noted columnist, Dr Rizwan Ahmad, (Hindustan Express, July 21), writes: "Amar Singh broke the house of Mulayam Singh into pieces. He dug out every brick of the house, having already damaged its foundation. In this condition, Mulayam Singh's visualising the possibility of his coming to power again in the state and at the Centre as nothing but a dream (ek deewane ka khwab).


Fake Degrees, Genuine Leaders


According to an article in Pakistan's leading daily, Jung, reproduced in Delhi-based Jadeed Khabar (July 18), many cases of fake degrees among political personages have come to light in Pakistan (graduation being a condition there for standing for parliament). The paper reports that the PhD degree of the country's law minister, Babar Awan, has been found to be fake. "We should be happy that at least his BA, LLB and MA degrees are not fakes, and he was eligible to contest the election to parliament, and today Pakistan is developing because of his capabilities."


One of the parliamentarians, according to the paper, passed his BA before his FA (as the "Intermediate" examination was referred to in the past) and the "Matric" was the last examination he passed, according to his degrees and certificates. Many members have passed their BA examinations from universities that did not have a BA course in those days!


Compiled by Seema Chishti







It says something about the new UK PM's commitment to his flagship foreign policy initiative in India that he has taken personal charge of his country's relations with ours, while the deputy PM Nick Clegg is charged with developing links with China. Let's remember that back in 2006, David Cameron's first overseas visit as the UK Leader of the Opposition had also been to India. And the UK newspapers have, by and large, been putting weight behind the Cameron investment in India. It has been widely noted that the India delegation is five times the size of the one that travelled to the US recently. Accompanying the chancellor, the foreign secretary, the culture secretary, the climate change minister, the higher education minister and the business secretary are the chief executives of more than 50 of the UK's biggest companies. The logic is clear; Cameron has called this a jobs mission. While the UK is warding off a double-dip recession with all hands at deck, India is growing robustly. There are analysts who strongly aver that India offers far more opportunities to the UK than, say, China, where the previous Labour government is charged with having plunked in too many eggs and gotten too little in return. On the balancing side, New Delhi will also do well to deepen its London ties. As our columnist today points out, Indians now comprise the largest ethnic group and the second largest foreign student body in the UK. These linkages, if built upon, can engender mutual benefits on various fronts ranging from security to trade.


From being the fifth largest exporter to India in 2005, the UK has slipped to the 18th spot. Its exports to India have dropped from $6.4 billion in 2008 to $4.5 billion in 2009. Cameron is looking to reverse this tide. As Indian companies continue to aggressively expand abroad, it behoves responsible UK leaders to try to attract this business to their own shores. Some people argue that a shared history will help this process. But in looking at the future, such a backward-looking approach is highly inadvisable. No wonder visiting diplomats erased ministerial references to "an equal partnership" between the UK and India. They feared such phrases would overstate the UK's importance to India as well as hint that the London-New Delhi relationship was unequal in the past. This was probably the prudent thing to do, given how Cameron was back-footed by a Koh-i-Noor question. Would the UK consider returning it to India? Nope, this would only be a precedent for emptying up the British Museum.







The reported move by the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation to introduce a housing start-up index that will measure the construction of housing projects is welcome. The much-needed index, likely to be introduced in December this year, was first suggested by RBI two years ago. Then the National Buildings Organisation under the ministry was deputed to collect data on building permits issued for new residential buildings in various cities. But the work for creating the index went into limbo because of data collection issues. Such an index, which exists in countries like the US, the UK, Germany, Canada and Australia, will help all stakeholders to gauge the demand and supply in the housing market. Housing starts are also considered a lead indicator of economic activity because of their strong forward and backward linkages with other sectors, and will help policymakers understand the pace of economic activity, investment trends geographically and consumer optimism on new housing. The index will also become an important input in monetary policy and help authorities detect property bubbles in their early stage. An early warning in case of a bubble can help home buyers take informed decisions on purchases and pay a realistic price for the property. The buyer and the seller can compare the index price with the offer price and this would help to keep speculators at bay.


Timely and quality data on housing starts can help companies in industries like steel and cement—the two most important raw materials for housing—plan their inventory and capacity addition. The cement industry is challenged with overcapacity at the moment—a situation that has been carried over from the time there was a sharp slowdown in construction activity after the crisis. The index, when in place, can help check such misallocation of private resources. The index will also be useful for developers, help them to ascertain the risk of building in a particular area and prevent them from entering a location where there is excessive construction and saturated demand. However, the success of the housing start-up index will depend on the accuracy of data collection, coding and processing. Checks must be performed on the data quality and municipalities will have to ensure that they keep data in digital form, which will lower the risk of reporting errors.








There was a time when the agriculture minister proclaimed he was not an astrologer. Therefore, he wouldn't be able to tell us when food price inflation would decline. After the success of Paul the octopus, people have become more forthcoming about forecasts. Recently, Sharad Pawar said, "Prices of most agricultural commodities are coming down.... The trend of food inflation will continue to come down in the coming weeks," and "food inflation is temporary." One should take comfort from the good monsoon and bumper harvest. There is a difference between prices declining and rate of inflation declining.


There are temporary reasons behind high food price inflation—drought, petroleum products price hikes, mismanagement of trade policies, transportation dislocations, debt waivers, speculation and so on. Per se, inflation numbers are also not really the point. There is no reason to expect that food price inflation will remain at 12.47%, which it was for week ending July 10. Such numbers are function of the base last year and will undoubtedly soften when the kharif crops arrive post-September. While short-term declines in prices of individual agro-commodities are possible, does one really believe that food price inflation will disappear?


It will moderate from double digits to 7% or thereabouts, but 7% is still inflation. And that 7% will remain, because there are medium-term causes behind the increase in food prices—NREG (which continues), increase in rural incomes (there is no reason to presume public expenditure in rural sector will taper off), increase in urban incomes, changes in consumption patterns and warped incentives through procurement prices and hikes in these (that isn't going to be reversed either). We are talking about increasing demand imposed on an inelastic supply. (Increases in production and productivity have been marginal.) There is a long list of agro-reforms that could have improved both production and productivity, and we know UPA and the agriculture minister haven't been able to catalyse these, blaming non-reform on states; although, Gujarat is an outstanding example of what simple agricultural reforms can do. However, there is a limited question too. Isn't better matching of existing supply with demand possible? Why isn't that happening? Sugar, pulses, milk, edible oils and coarse foodgrains have individual characteristics. But beyond these, agro-products broadly mean fruits and vegetables, on the one hand and rice and wheat, on the other. The latter is messed up through the FCI and PDS, both to be compounded through a food security Bill, and the MSP system, with minimum support prices now having been equated with procurement prices.


On fruits and vegetables, there are figures that float around on wastage, attributed to lack of cold storage and processing facilities, and bad infrastructure (power, transport). Similar figures float around for milk, fish and meat. In part, this is due to dysfunctional government controls over production, storage and distribution through the APMC Acts and orders under the ECA. There are studies to show that if there were to be a national integrated market through the elimination of these controls, there would be efficiency gains. But that's on the national integrated market. Dis-intermediation of agricultural distribution chains, without national integration, can lead to gains of around 25% for fruits and vegetables and around 15% for foodgrains. Why do we continue to have APMC Acts (some states have reformed) that compulsorily require sales/purchases through mandis and payment of high mandi fees? This entirely legitimate question is often asked. But what do the market committees do with the collected fees? That question is rarely asked. Those collected fees are meant to improve infrastructure, especially roads. A somewhat unappreciated reason for success of the Green Revolution in the 1970s in Punjab, Haryana and western UP was improvement in road infrastructure, through the use of mandi fees.


When APMC Acts are made flexible, we enter possibilities of direct contact between firms and farmers. Those gains then translate into higher prices for farmers and lower prices for consumers. This is the domain of corporate or contract farming. The use of the expression corporate farming has been unfortunate, since all contract farming needn't be corporate farming and use of the word 'corporate' raises hackles. Why do we need a law on contract farming? Primarily to resolve disputes, because we don't want any such disputes to get lodged into the normal court system. We haven't made any headway with contract farming legislation. But perhaps, one should recognise that in much of the developing world, including India, arrangements are often informal, without written contracts. Across several states, there have been various such instances. What's unclear is the impact of these on prices. Logically, these purchases (on the spot or through informal contracts) should reduce the gap between prices received by farmers and those paid by consumers. What is puzzling is that this doesn't seem to have happened. Or is it that one has not controlled (statistically) for other effects?


The author is a noted economist








One striking aspect of the economic relations between India and the UK is that they have not followed the route popularised by the dependency theories about the roles of the Centre and the periphery or the metropolitan countries and the satellites. Thus, while the strong trade relations, which dominated the colonial period, have slowly ebbed in the recent years, new vistas to extend cooperation into other more important and strategic areas have opened up to compensate.


We find that while the share of India's merchandise trade with the UK has dropped from more than a third in the colonial period to about 6% in the early 1990s and to less than 3% in the more recent years, the two countries have seen a sharp surge in bilateral investments. The surge in bilateral investments, even in the face of shrinking share of merchandise trade, has ensured that the UK continues to be the largest European investor in India and the fourth largest international investor, after Mauritius, Singapore and the US. Similarly, India has zoomed up from the seventh to the second position among international investors in the UK. This is evident from some of the biggest acquisitions involving the two countries, such as Vodafone's $11-billion acquisition of Hutchison Essar and Tata's acquisition of Corus for $12 billion.


As many as 700 of the 1,200 Indian companies operating in the EU are in the UK. Though most of the companies are in the IT sector, new inroads have been made in steel and engineering. And to cap it all, the Tatas have now become the largest foreign investor in industry and the single largest manufacturing company in the UK. Today, there are more than 70 Indian companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.


The growth of UK investments in India have been much more historical with companies like Cox & Kings and PricewaterhouseCoopers present in the country since the 19th century. The train, Maharajas' Express, which Cox & Kings runs through a joint venture with the Indian Railways, is the most luxurious train in the world. But the prime of the place has been taken by new entrants, like Cairn Energy, which has made large findings of oil and gas. British Gas and Shell have also expanded their operations in India. The most favoured areas of British investors include electrical and software segments (22%), power and oil refining (21%), financial and non- financial services (12%), timber products (8%) and telecom (6%).


The close interaction between investors of the two countries has been enhanced through government-to-government relations, where the first major breakthrough was achieved when the two countries launched their comprehensive strategic partnership in 2004. It was Tony Blair, the then PM of Britain, who mooted the idea of India joining the G-8 discussions and invited the Indian PM to the G-8 plus 5 Gleneagles summit in 2005. The UK's continued support of India's candidature for a permanent membership to the UN Security Council, the civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed between the two nations early this year and the large induction of the jet trainer aircraft into the IAF highlight the growing importance of the strategic relations between the two nations.


One reason why the extensive relations between the two countries have continued to survive and flourish is the people-to-people relations. Indians (1.5-2 million) form the largest ethnic group in the UK. Today, there are 8 British MPs who are of Indian origin and close to two dozen peers of the House of Lords. Estimates also show that a million people travel between the two countries each year. The other human face of the relationship between the two countries is the large number of Indian students that flock to the education institutions of excellence in the UK. Indians constitute the second largest foreign student body in the UK, with about 40,000 students enrolled in higher education courses in 2009. And there are 80 collaborative India-UK programmes leading to the awarding of UK degrees in India and it is estimated that the British Council administered over 2,10,000 UK exams in India.


Another important indicator of the close relationship between the two countries is the sizeable growth in aid. UK alone contributed close to a third of the bilateral and multilateral aid to India in 2008 amounting to $613 million. And most recent numbers show that India has received more overseas aid from the UK than from any other country since 1998. But the the potential synergies between the two countries are even larger, given that the $3-trillion UK economy, the fifth largest in the world, is almost three times larger than the $1-trillion-plus Indian economy, which is still way down in the twelfth position.











As the government and policymakers debate the efficacy of universalising the public distribution system, India's apex court has suggested the total disbanding of subsidised grain distribution to above poverty line (APL) families, thereby restricting the facility only to below poverty line families. The SC's suggestion—even if it goes against the NAC's initial recommendations that called for the complete universalisation of the PDS (later restricted to one-fourth of the poorest administrative blocks) is worth considering, given the huge subsidy burden that the government incurs in distributing cheap foodgrains. At present, 10-35 kg (which has been recently hiked to 15-35 kg) of wheat and rice are distributed to 11.5 crore APL families every month. Wheat is sold at Rs 6.10 per kg, while rice is sold at Rs 8.30.


The central issue price (CIP) of wheat and rice sold through the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) has not been revised since 2002, while the minimum support prices have risen sharply. The central government bore a subsidy of 59.5% for wheat and a subsidy of 56.2% for rice sold to APL families through the TPDS in 2009-10, while it was 49.77% and 41.20% for wheat and rice, respectively, in 2006-07. The CIP remained static while the economy cost (sum total of the MSP, storage and transportation costs) continued to rise, causing the subsidy burden to soar. Although there has been some movement in the direction of increasing the CIP of foodgrains sold to APL families, no concrete action has been taken so far.


Of the 42 lakh tonnes of foodgrains allocated on a monthly basis for TPDS as of October 2009, almost 18.21 lakh tonnes is meant for APL families. Disbanding the cheap grain scheme for APL families would save huge amounts of grains and will also help in bringing down the subsidy burden. Not only this, the scheme would result in the reduction of government procurement. This would cause fewer storage-related problems as well as lower distortionary forces in the market. If circumstances necessitating the distribution of foodgrains at cheap rates to APL families arise, they can be considered on a case-by-case basis.


However, a robust foodgrain distribution programme for the poor, with close to zero pilferage and wastage is the real need for which the SC provides some very concrete solutions.








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.








India's non-violent political struggle for freedom from British rule was sought to be emulated by many former colonies. It is doubtful, however, if any of them would choose to follow this country's parliamentary practice. The way it has evolved betrays few signs that our Parliament, while being the repository of some great traditions, is really the legislation-making institution of a country which should be resolved with a sense of urgency to lift millions out of poverty and set them on course to a life of dignity.

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha resemble more a factory whose workers are ready for a flash strike at any time. At its most benign, a protest in the Indian Parliament against a government measure typically involves full-throated slogan-shouting by large numbers of MPs whose immediate object is to bring all business to a standstill. The most virulent form of protest is one in which the Opposition parties simply decide collectively that Parliament shall not be allowed to function. This is what has been on display most of this week as a consequence of the Opposition's demand that the unconscionable rise in the price of essential commodities must only be discussed under an adjournment motion and no other rule. People do not have too high an opinion of our politicians in any case, and seeing the latter shy away from their place of work is hardly likely to impress the electorate.

It is a good sign that our MPs — who move heaven and earth to get elected but show little inclination as a body to take their core function of lawmaking seriously — have decided to highlight the cause of ordinary Indians groaning for two years under a regime of extraordinarily high prices of essential goods. But if the protesting MPs were serious, and meant what they said when they criticised the government's policies that presumably led to the jump in prices, they would have forced discussions at several levels, including in the parliamentary committees, on the broad question of economic and monetary policies that have created the present situation. They should have come prepared not just with their views but also with data and analysis that will stand scrutiny. This is the kind of hard work most of our MPs give little evidence of being capable of. Creating mayhem is a lot easier. There are no costs attached as MPs seldom win or lose elections on the basis of their performance in the House. In effect, once elected, our MPs earn the dubious licence to conduct themselves in Parliament without purpose that may be linked to hard, unglamorous work on behalf of the people they represent.

This was not always so. Possibly that is because parties nominated individuals with a track record of hard work as social and political activists. The trend has certainly changed in the past quarter ce ntury. Whatever the quality of our MPs these days, all parties and presiding officers need to pay attention to reforming work sc h edules and work patterns. Compared to legislators in Western Eu rope or North America, our MPs work too few hours even at the formal plane in terms of the number of days in the year that Pa rliament is in session. Of this, an inordinately high proportion is lost on account of protest-related work blackouts. It is necessary for our Parliament and state Assemblies to frame rules that will in crease the allotment of time for discussion and debate both on the floor and in committee. Work days must go up. It must be ma de incumbent on parties to nominate every one of its MPs to committee work and to link their performance in these to renominati on. This would be a major step, and parties need to give it due co nsideration. The people's work suffers if legislators don't reform.








For a person who is so unmistakably Anglo-Saxon by temp e r a ment, Mani Shankar Aiyar has never been partial to the un de r s t atement. Whether in private or in his public utterances, this "man of letters" (an unlikely honour accorded to him by an eq ually unlikely judge of the arts) has packaged his undeniable wit in reckless hyperbole, an impishness that once prompted me to describe him as the Beast of Myladuthurai — a recondite allusion to a character from juvenile literature of another age.

Ever since he came into public gaze as a functionary of the Prime Minister's Office way back in 1985, Mr Aiyar has provided hours of amusement to all those who appreciate his brand of adult puerility. Unfortunately, Mr Aiyar has a niche appeal and his wit has invited the righteous indignation of those not fortunate to have been raised on a diet of Carry On films and Kooler Talk. The weightier bits of Mr Aiyar's interventions have been obscured by his merciless asides.

So it was with his spontaneous outburst against the Commonwealth Games (CWG), due to be hosted by Delhi in October. Having decried the thousands of crores being wasted on such "circuses", Mr Aiyar fell back on Biblical imagery to suggest that "those who are patronising the Games can only be Evil. They cannot be God". But it was his coup de grace that had the CWG officialdom reaching for their guns: "I will be very unhappy if the Games are successful because they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games…" An incensed boss of the Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi, the prime target of Mr Aiyar's ire, responded by calling him "anti-national", a charge that in public discourse is almost akin to questioning the marital status of one's parents.

If Mr Aiyar had been playing the loose cannon yet again, his intervention would have been treated with the familiar Mani-is-Mani refrain. Unfortunately for the government, and despite his characteristic overkill, Mr Aiyar's gripe touched a responsive chord in a Delhi that has been mute witness to an orgy of inept and profligate spending of taxpayers' money. In normal circumstances, the media and the political class have voiced the disquiet of citizens. In the case of the CWG, blessed with a mega-budget of unimaginable proportions, there have been scattered voices against particular projects — the renovation of bus shelters on roads where buses don't run, the re-paving of perfectly decent pavements, the slipshod finishing of sporting venues, et al. Sadly, these haven't been accompanied by any dissection of the event in its totality. The reasons for this lapse are a matter of conjecture.

Mr Aiyar's contribution lay in being bold enough to say that the Emperor has no clothes. Had he not done it with aplomb and polemical exaggeration, no one would have taken notice. Now the growing scepticism over the CWG can't be ignored. In riding his socialistic hubby horse, he has unwittingly created a window of opportunity for a widespread expression of disgust.

Beginning from the Berlin Olympics of 1936, international sporting events have become the occasion for countries and their governments to showcase themselves to the wider world. Yet, to succeed, official endeavours have to be accompanied by a huge measure of popular involvement, the Sydney Olympics of 2004 and even the just-concluded soccer World Cup in South Africa being case studies of purposeful harmony. What is striking about the Delhi CWG is the marked alienation of local citizens from an event that is also aimed at leaving behind a tangible legacy for the future.

Part of the reason lies in the sh e er arbitrariness that marked the decision-making over civic im p r ovements. In normal democratic societies, the re-fashioning of a city ought to have been preceded by widespread consultations between planners, local authorities and civil society. In the case of Delhi, tardiness at the initial st ages led to a flurry of rushed de cisions that left no time to ob s erve the niceties of consultation. Whereas the objective of ci vic improvements should have been to create a better city, the late start meant that the complet ion of projects by October 2010 became the sole criterion. The in­evitable consequence was a se ries of decisions that post-CWG Delhi may well come to regret.

The rush to meet an inflexible deadline has, of course, resulted in shoddy civil works that could result in some of the sports complexes becoming unusable in a year's time. But more galling has been the overhead route of the Delhi Metro that runs precariously close to residential areas, schools and even hospitals. Equally offensive has been the systematic felling of trees, the destruction of storm water drains and the questionable aesthetics of beautification. From being a city of parks, Delhi is in danger of becoming a city of parking lots.

This celebration of brashness isn't confined to the murder of aesthetics alone; it has a bearing on public finances. When the National Democratic Alliance government cleared the proposal to bid for the CWG, it was said that the cost would be Rs 150 crores. To enhance the quality of the bid, the figure was raised to nearly Rs 1,900 crores. Some cost overruns were predictable — the cost of hosting the London Olympics in 2012 has risen fourfold, from £2.3 billion to £9.4 billion — and dependent on the scale of the legacy projects. In the case of the CWG, there is a mystery over the actual costs with estimates ranging from Rs 30,000 crores to Rs 50,000 crores.

How much of this money has been judiciously spent to create tangible assets for the future? Sc epticism is justified when pe o ple see perfectly decent pavem­ents in Lutyens' Delhi being uprooted for something new and then new one being again up r o oted because someone forgot the drains or the water pipes. If there is a subsequent audit, it will reveal innumerable horror stories, enough to keep the ubiquitous CBI busy for years to come. If there isn't, the CWG will set a new benchmark of brazenness.

The CWG will have beneficiaries. Regrettably, it won't be the people of Delhi.


Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








There is something about controversies in India that is disheartening. The problem lies in the fact that as rituals of public debate and disclosure they are never complete. Consider the recent debates about Commonwealth Games.

The last round was sparked off by member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar's tongue-in-cheek statement that the monsoons are good for agriculture and bad for the Games. It was not clear whether he was being sport or spoilt sport. Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi took the latter interpretation and declared not a single stadium would have come up if Mr Aiyar had been sports minister. A wag added that if it is buildings they wanted, Mayawati would have been the ideal choice.

Levity aside, one is first of all struck by the predictable nature of the debate. The script when structured reads as follows: Theme one is the China syndrome. The Chinese did a perfect 10.0 job on managing the Olympics and we cannot run the Commonwealth or even the Commonwealth Games. Implicit in it is the tacit or overt war between the two systems, about which is more livable and efficient.

If the global split is China-India, the local split is Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP loves to remind everyone that Atal Behari Vajpayee got India the Games and the prestige, while the Congress has vitiated it through its lotus-eating tactics.

In both scenarios the Commonwealth Games is only a site for wider ideological debates about preferences. Underwriting both is the sense of national identity and pride where botched-up Games will be seen as a sign of Indian incompetence. It is this that makes the beleaguered organisers dub the critics as anti-national. The nation state is too official and too serious a vector to allow criticism.

The reader or listener following the controversy begins realising that the facts are incidental, that regardless of content, every debate is dressed in the standard costume ball of oppositions. Predictably, if the nationalists are holding forth, the socialists cannot be far behind. Their demand is that sport be nationalised. But this is seen as either bureaucratic greed or ideological nostalgia.

The next move notes that the stadiums are meant for sporting events and not training. They smell like exclusive clubs from which local athletes are excluded. The debate now takes the standard democratic or populist twist with human rights group talking of displacement and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) talking about the lack of participation and consent.

All this is obfuscated by a clash of personalities with people wondering whether Mr Kalmadi wishes to outdo Juan Samaranch in terms of longevity of claims to a position. One wonders if his sense of sport extends to the possibility of giving some others a chance at running the sport. One then realises that control of sport adds to the possibility of politics as conspicuous consumption.

By the time the scenario is enacted, the controversy sounds like a B-grade movie. Only in real life there is no hero to convert the last two months into an exciting finale. The spectator begins wondering whether the rhetoric of politics even allows for genuine problem solving.

Look at it another way. The preparation of the Commonwealth Games is actually a minor development project. Project delays are standard and predictable. Project overruns are a habit as if a project without a cost-overrun would lose status. Development projects, like Indian marriages, expect things to be miraculously solved or papered over in the last minute. What one misses is a sense of competence, transparency and participation. Contrast this to the British preparation for the Olympics.

The British Olympic organising committee has a charismatic leader, a genuine success story, in Lord Sebastian Coe. Coe is a great athlete, two-time winner of the Olympic Gold medal. He inspires. In true marketing style he has even produced a book, The Winning Mind, about his vision of life and sport. Our politicians and bureaucrats who run sport look flabby, seedy, overweight and incompetent next to Coe.

As a leader, Coe has put into place vision, method, transparency and a system of feedback. He wants to regenerate the City and in particular East London. Whatever the eventual success, the goals are clear, articulate and transparent. Beyond the clarity of goals, there is the clarity of markers which highlights the standards of evaluation. The Olympic committee has professionals and experts but the ritual of management is not only a technocratic exercise.

Coe and his team offer it as a vision of a city, a regenerated, participative city. The plans are available and he has followed it up with elaborate discussions. The plan has its sceptics, particularly about the usability and access to sports facilities after the Olympics. But the vision of the Olympics is a vision of a city, the benefits it might expect as a result of such investment mounting to £9 billion. It is visualised as the greatest building project "since the Great Fire of 1666".

Coe has already started a campaign for volunteers. He hopes that an auxiliary army of 70,000 volunteers will create a penumbra of excitement about the games, making it more participative. Predictably the corporations are joining the bandwagon with McDonald's offering a training programme.

Meanwhile, Delhi appears like a city with its intestines hanging out. To add to it, we have no programme of participation, content with the reputation of being rude citizens. What one misses is the absence of an imagination, a sense of the civics of the sport, and national pride. Why does sports management remain the seedy monopoly of seedier bureaucrats and politicians? One misses the effervescence, the sense of sport about the Games. Can state and civil society combine to redeem the spirit of the Games? Or do we as a society play spoil sport to a great possibility, content to say "I told you so".

One childishly wishes for the little miracle that redeems the current idiocy, the blame game which is the only sport Indians play well.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








In April 1943, a fisherman out at sea from a village in southern Spain spotted a decomposed body of a man floating in the water. It was in a uniform, boots on, a black briefcase attached to its waist by a chain. Contents on the body identified him as Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. The fisherman handed over the body to the Spanish authorities who in turn contacted the British.

World War II was in its fourth year, and Spain was still a neutral country. Word of a dead Bri tish officer with a briefcase chained to the body quickly spread in the es p i onage circles. In London, the Brits sounded desperate; they wanted their briefcase and its cl assified papers. So did the Germans. With the he lp of sympathetic contacts in the Spanish military, Nazi agents in the re gion managed to lay their hands on the briefcase.
They checked the body and found some love letters and London theatre tickets. There was no doubt about who the man was. They accessed the contents of the envelope without touching the seal. Inside was a letter from Lt. Gen. Archibald Nye, the vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, to Gen. Harold Alexander, the senior British officer in Tunisia. The top-secret document detailed Allied invasion plans in German-occupied Greece and the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

When the details of the letter and the allied strategy were conveyed to Hitler in Berlin, he quickly repositioned his troops to counter the Allied attack. The Brits were delighted; their ruse had worked.
The Germans did not know that the man wh ose body was found floating in the sea was not an officer of the British Army; he was a homeless person who had died from drinking rat poison, dressed in the uniform of a British officer. And the "confidential document" in the br i efcase was a fake written with the purpose of fooling the Germans. Th ey swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And soon Allied troops invaded Sicily, where the Germans least suspected an attack.

It may sound like a piece of fiction but it is a true story. This ingenious deception plan was codenamed "Operation Mincemeat", and is the subject of the British journalist Ben Macintyre's eponymous book.
The story of the operation is, in fact, quite well known. In spy jargon, it's said to be a classic use of "the haversack ruse" — you deliberately drop your haversack containing fake documents. Macintyre writes that this technique of planting misleading information by faking an accident goes back to the days of the Lawrence of Arabia. The committee where the project was planned specialised in counter espionage and was called the Twenty Committee (from Roman numerals XX implying double cross).

The man behind the idea to trick the Nazis was none other than Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, later author of James Bond books. Fleming based his "M" on his wartime boss, Admiral John Godfrey, the director of Britain's Naval Intelligence and a brilliant spymaster. Godfrey issued a top-secret memo — believed to be crafted by Fleming — outlining the broad contours of such operations: there were suggestions "for introducing ideas into the heads of the Germans".

It was refined and put into shape by two offi cers: Lt. Comdr. Ewen Mo ntagu and Squadron Leader Charles Cho lmondeley. The former, a criminal lawyer with an eye for detail and the latter was a young adventure seeker with poor eyesight who was too tall to fit into the cockpit of a plane. They roped in a nuts-and-bolts officer, Charles Fraser-Smith, the model for "Q" in James Bond novels. He was full of smart tricks and, among many other details, also figured out how the body could be kept fresh before it was dumped into the sea.
A few years after the end of the WWII, Montagu himself wrote about the operation in The Man Who Never Was, a book that was later made into a movie. But Montague couldn't tell the full story because the documents in his possession were still classified. Macintyre was given access to those papers a few years ago, and he combines the skills of a journalist and a historian and weaves a marvellous story.

I have neither read The Man Who Never Was nor seen the movie, but I finished Macintyre's Operation Mincemeat over the weekend and if you enjoy wartime espionage stories, this is a superb book that reads like spy fiction.

Every time I visit a bookshop, I look around for espionage books — fiction or non-fiction. It's been a long time since I saw a good one, and I am eagerly awaiting John Le Carré's Our Kind of Terror that I believe will be out in October. Till then, read Operation Mincemeat if you haven't. The question, although hypothetical, that comes to my mind is: if the Germans had not fallen for this ruse would it have changed the course of history?


 Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









The students of a Kolkata Muslim university appear to have banned a lecturer from teaching because she refused to wear a burkha. That this should happen in a Left-ruled state shows the pathetic depths to which our secularism has sunk.


We need to get our fundamentals right. Everyone in this country derives his or her rights from the Constitution. The primary point in giving individuals rights is that they need protection from society and groups that try to impose their own agendas on people, leading to tyranny.


But tyranny is what the students union of Aliah University has imposed on Sirin Middya, who has declined to wear a burkha on somebody's diktat. She apparently has no fundamental objections to the burkha, but will not wear it on anyone's say-so. We hope she sticks to her guns and refuses to bow to union bullies posing as guardians of religiosity in Kolkata.


Liberals in the west have linked the burkha to the suppression of women. While there is no doubt that traditional Muslim society — like many others — has oppressed women, today many Muslim women wear the burkha to emphasise their identities. This is their right, and they should be allowed to do so. But it follows, that those who don't think the same way should also be allowed to not wear the burkha.


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British prime minister David Cameron made all the right noises during his visit to this country. He has castigated Pakistan for its continued support of terror, he has touched upon the common cultural bonds between India and Britain and he oversaw the signing of a defence deal worth £700 million between British Aerospace and HAL.


A good day's work at the office, one might say. In Delhi, in the second leg of his tour, he assured his hosts that the new immigration policy would not prevent the "brightest and best" Indians from coming to his country.


Britain is looking to enhance its ties with India and take them beyond the old colonial links. In today's world, economic issues take pride of place over old world concerns on diplomacy. However, it's quite clear that on both Pakistan and immigration, India should evaluate the British position not from what is said, but what is done.


Cameron remarked in Bangalore that, "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world."


The fact of the matter is that Pakistan would not have been able to export terror anywhere had it not been for the support — tacit or otherwise — it has received from the UK and the US.


Britain still has a military presence in Afghanistan from where it wants to withdraw. This is what makes Pakistan a strategic ally. The US and Britain want to believe that there is a "moderate" Taliban one could talk to, but recent WikiLeakdocuments show that the Pakistanis have been in cahoots with the Taliban to attack US forces and Indian civilians in Afghanistan. Cameron needs to lean harder on Pakistan to become "moderate" before we talk of a moderate Taliban.


Even on immigration, the British need to look at moving away from absolute caps on numbers. It is all right for a country to regulate what kind of people it wants, but once that policy is in place, it makes no sense to impose quotas and limits unless one accepts that the idea is to keep certain types of skin colour out. It's not done.


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While the much-awaited India-Pakistan dialogue has got stalled even before it could take off, the latest reports from across the Banihal do not promise early restoration of normality in the Kashmir valley either.


The situation in Kashmir is tricky, and calls for an early initiative by the Manmohan Singh government to begin a dialogue with various political parties and other opinion-makers in the state.


Any delay in taking such an initiative can only help those in Pakistan who are in the business of whipping up trouble in Jammu & Kashmir. A few influential people at the Centre have often tended to believe that the route to a solution of the Kashmir question lies only through talks with Pakistan. Such thinking has time and again been proved erroneous and frustrating.


Pakistan is no longer seen as an attractive proposition by the silent majority in the valley. Talibanisation of Pakistan and daily reports of violence in the country cannot make separatists popular with the general public in the valley.


Ignoring the internal dimension of the Kashmir question has, over the years, led to the present mess, leaving hardly any scope for complacency or delay in taking fresh initiatives. Successive regimes at the Centre can be blamed for not following through the promises made for a new political settlement with the people of J&K.


The essence of these promises has been the Centre's readiness to discuss greater autonomy for J&K than it enjoys under article 370 of the Constitution. Autonomy for J&K is not a new idea. Past explorations apart, in the 1990s, when militancy was at its worst,PV Narasimha Rao said (in a substantive interview with me) that the "sky is the limit" for autonomy for J&K. He later repeated the offer, of all the places in Burkhina Faso, far away in Africa.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while in office, said he was ready for talks with various people of Kashmir within "a humanitarian framework". This was in reply to a question whether the talks he was proposing would be within the framework of the Constitution, or otherwise.


Prime minister Manmohan Singh, on his part, has more than once expressed keenness for talks with anyone who gives up the path of violence. However, for some reason or the other, no serious talks have taken place.


The exercise of holding roundtables and working groups has led nowhere, while the valley has been going through recurring bouts of extremist violence encouraged from Pakistan. Manmohan Singh, in his first term, appointed NN Vohra as aninterlocutor for preparing the ground forsubstantive talks with various parties and groups in the state. Following his appointment as governor of the state, no one has been appointed to pick up the threads where he had left off.


There is an urgent need now to appoint an interlocutor who could talk to various political parties, opinion leaders and even those who are critical of the Centre. There are several eminent personalities in the country who can take up the assignment for restoring the confidence of the people in the Centre's intentionsfor a dialogue on the quantum of autonomy the state should have under a new relationship between the Centre and the state.


The fear that the BJP may make political capital out of any initiative by the Centre may be exaggerated. Wider consensus among all the parties can be evolved if the prime minister and the Congress president make a move for it.


A similar effort would need to be made in Kashmir even if the eeting convened by chief minister Omar Abdullah was boycotted by Mehbooba Mufti earlier this month. The PDP cannot be left out of the exercise.


It should not be difficult for the new interlocutor to ensure that both


Mufti Sayeed and his daughter become part of a larger political consensus in the valley. They would also know by now that supping with the separatists can give them mileage on TV channels, but the enterprise carries with it the risk of their becoming politically irrelevant.


A political consensus at the Centre — and also within the state — has to be accompanied by reaching out to various sections of the Hurriyat and the civil society for evolving a new dispensation which guarantees a greater degree of autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir.


To believe that no new political settlement with the people of J&K is possible is short-sighted and self-defeating. So is the notion that only security forces can resolve the Kashmir question. The security forces can tackle a law and order situation; they cannot find a solution to a chronic problem.


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As a child each time I went vegetable shopping with my mother, my gaze would come to rest on the little pile of cauliflowers. And invariably my mind would settle on the image of the bouquets exchanged between the bride and groom at south Indian Hindu weddings.


Why pierce the hearts of flowers and bind them with leaves when a head of cauliflower would do just as well? The couple could be coaxed to clean and cook the cauliflowers as that first step of matrimony. Through sickness, health and cauliflower curry.


On speaking aloud this thought, my mother suggested that I have a cauliflower bouquet for my wedding. Fortunately for my mother, my husband dislikes cauliflowers with a passion. And so we exchanged the classic bouquets.


No vegetable has been as reviled as the cauliflower. In fact, the cauliflower could very well be the Shylock of the vegetables. More sinned against than a sinner. In fiction too, cauliflowers have it hard. Deemed incapable of exciting the imagination and suggesting rot within. In Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Peter Walsh, the man Clarissa Dalloway almost married says 'I prefer men to cauliflowers'.


I like cauliflowers. But very many people share my husband's dislike of cauliflowers. It probably has to do with how cauliflowers are available through the year. If the cauliflower like the mangoes were to be seasonal, would we love it more? I wonder.


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Here we were, smug; thrilled to be out of the heat and dust and the soul-sapping humidity of a Delhi summer. Sitting in a leafy suburb of Washington DC, in a centrally air-conditioned home with gorgeous French bay windows framing tall pine trees, the traffic snarls back home in a dug-up Delhi (courtesy the warlike preparations for the Commonwealth Games and the monsoon) seemed, thankfully, a planet away.


Or so I thought. Suddenly, the sky darkened ominously. The lights began to flicker. Thunder roared and the branches of the trees began to shake. The wind seemed to be hammering it's head on those lovely white bay windows.


Nature's fury that evening did not last more that fifteen minutes or so. It wasn't even a tornado: the winds were between 60-75 miles. But the lights went out in nearly 300,000 homes in DC and in the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia last Sunday. A quarter of a million people, it seems, were affected.


And, as I write four days later, the lights are still out. The traffic lights in many areas still don't work. A few post-offices have been shut and many gas stations in the affected areas abandoned.


Life seems to have been put, however briefly, in emergency mode.


Food is rotting in refrigerators. A few schools have become shelters for those suffering from the heat: the mercury this week has flirted with 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). Bookshops and movie theatres have been inundated by those trying to escape the heat.


A desi-American friend, an economist, often jokes about the US turning into a developing nation — "a third world country" as he puts it. And it's not just the increasingly capricious climate. Obviously, it is the big R word, recession, adding to the already rising figure of unemployment and the number of the homeless that has, according to him brought down this superpower from its pedestal.


During the "snowmageddon" (as some witty journalist christened those eerie few days) when quite large chunks of America came to a standstill, you even had the smart ones bury food in the snow to keep food from rotting.


In this land, where the notion of manifest destiny (first coined in the 19th century to enable and justify territorial expansion westwards) is deeply ingrained, many believe that man in cahoots with technology can tame and control nature — however "red, in tooth and claw"— to serve his purpose.


Well, nature's claws are obviously getting sharper, whether it is Hurricane Katrina or other such visitations of an angered or abused environment. People are increasingly being forced to look to the skies to see if it augurs good or ill for them.


It is getting to be a wee bit more like what happens on our shores. Too much rain and even metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi come to a standstill. Too little rain and there's drought, and people starve. Global warming may, in the end, be the great equaliser.


This week I certainly felt more at home, with so many traffic lights on the blink, and houses plunged in darkness. The smart ones — those who can afford it actually — have installed generators.

But there is one big difference between them and us. When the traffic signals are not working people calmly wait and give way to others. In Delhi the descent into chaos is almost-instant, and the choices of gaalis fill the air.


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Research in Motion (RIM), owner of the ubiquitous Blackberry communication devices, is reported to have assured the Indian government that its security concerns will be addressed. The idea is to ensure that terrorists cannot use the safe encryption technologies of the service to evade detection.


The ministry of home affairs has told the department of telecommunications (DoT) clearly that unless Blackberry allows the intelligence agencies to monitor the emails and messages passing through their dedicated servers, it should not be allowed a free run here.


The government's strong stand follows news that RIM may have agreed to meet Chinese insistence on direct access to Blackberry data. The latter is understood to have agreed to locate its servers inside China, bringing them within the ambit of national law.


Given this backdrop, there is no reason why India cannot demand the same. Blackberry has had similar problems with other countries (the UAE, for example) that have been unhappy with the fact that their servers are beyond the reach of national governments. The White House has a dedicated Blackberry server for the opposite reason: Obama's security staff do not want anyone outside the White House to have access to his conversations.


So, while there is no question that India must have access to Blackberry data when required, two caveats are in order. First, access to conversations should not be used as a blanket right to listen in to all kinds of private or business chatter that goes on between Blackberry subscribers. The privacy of Blackberry's customers must be respected.


Second, this is not just about Blackberry. Respect from privacy should cover all telecom customers. It is a well-known fact that many powerful people are able to commandeer mobile phone data and records merely by paying the right people and/or by using the law-enforcement agencies (illegally) to get what they want.


The government, which has not been above listening in to rival politicians' telephone conversations, needs to put in place a stringent law on privacy and ensure exemplary punishment for transgressors. But one wonders if it has the gumption to do this.


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THOUGH the Supreme Court has very categorically said that it is a crime to waste food in a poor country like India where millions go hungry, the situation is unlikely to change on the ground in the near future. The official apathy may be shocking for the Supreme Court and for the citizens feeling the heat of high food prices, but for the government it is a routine matter. Media reports of large quantities of food grains going down the drain have not forced representatives of the people in the government and in the Opposition to sit together and find ways and means of stopping the rot. They are rather bickering over whether there should be voting or not after a debate on price rise.


Instead of building silos, on their own or in partnership with private firms the Central and state agencies have remained mute spectators to the massive grain loss year after year. Media reports indicate that 140 million tonnes of food grains are lost in the country due to improper and inadequate storage facilities. The FCI admits there is a shortfall of 150 lakh tonnes of storage space but expects states to create additional capacity. A Punjab agency, Pungrain, had to cancel tenders for building godowns twice in the past seven months due to poor response from private players, who feel the returns are not good enough. Moreover, they do not want to be left at the mercy of FCI officials.


Presiding over the mess is Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who is already in the firing line for the relentless price rise. Before the monsoon he had held out the threat that criminal action would be taken against officials responsible for foodgrain wastage, if any. Nothing has happened. The Centre has no alternative except to encourage private and public investment for building sufficient scientific storage space for farm produce. Otherwise, the Supreme Court should teach the government a lesson or two in better food management.








THE national outcry that followed a year ago when Aman Kachroo, a medical student in Himachal Pradesh, died allegedly due to ragging, made one believe that the menace will be finally curbed. Not only did the death of the medical student stir up national consciousness and woke up people to the evils of ragging but the government too made the right noises. Shockingly a year later, the practice continues to claim lives and the last academic session alone saw 19 ragging deaths. The perceived injustice done by the lower court which had granted bail to the four accused students in the Aman Kachroo case may have been redressed by the High Court and needs to be welcomed. However, the scourge of ragging evident in doubling up of ragging cases in the 2009-2010 session is far from over.


Ragging, a colonial legacy, has transformed into a barbaric practice often manifesting in violence and sexual abuse too causing severe trauma to its victims. The Supreme Court banned it in 2001 and rightly issued many stern directives in the wake of Aman Kachroo's death. A national anti-ragging helpline that has since received nearly 1.8 lakh calls too was launched. But the fact that only 400 cases, that too with no follow up, were registered is a clear indictment of both regulatory bodies like the UGC and the AICTE as well as educational institutions. Besides it has taken the government more than 14 months to nominate an independent agency which would keep track of anti ragging measures.


Anti-ragging measures cannot be allowed to be a mere cosmetic exercise such as specifying punishment in brochures or taking an undertaking from parents of wards. The government must evolve a suitable mechanism to ensure that the anti-ragging helpline is not only able to track cases but also follow it up with deterrent action. Ragging cases must be lodged as police complaints as the Panjab University, Chandigarh has decided to do. Anti-ragging drive will remain an empty rhetoric till educational institutions own up responsibility. Besides, regulatory bodies like the UGC and the AICTE which have so far failed to take suitable action, let alone crack down on erring institutions, must also get their act together.









POLITICS and administrative shenanigans have fouled up the game for which India was justly famous—hockey. The administrators and officials of the game have done a great disservice to hockey by playing politics to such an extent that there is a real danger of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) expelling the eight-time Olympic gold medal winners and former world champions from international competitions, including two important ones that are scheduled to take place in near future—the Women's World Cup in Argentina, and the Commonwealth Games that Delhi is hosting.


The Government of India too shares the responsibility for this sorry state of affairs, in which there are simply too many bodies, at the Central level, and in states. It failed to follow the FIH guidelines that advocate a single body for both men's and women's hockey at the Central level. Although the Indian Hockey Confederation was formed in 2003 at the Central level, no such exercise was done for all the state bodies, and in fact Punjab had four hockey units and Maharashtra had six. On top of that the 2008 de-recognition of the KPS Gill-led Indian Hockey Federation became an embarrassment when recently the Delhi High Court overturned it.


There are too many cooks who are spoiling the broth. The Supreme Court is likely to intervene in this matter, especially since cases regarding this are pending in nine high courts. In the meantime, the government and leaders of various factions must work out an arrangement that allows India to follow FIH rules, and build an organisation that will allow hockey players to perform on the field. Overall, the women's hockey team has done better than the men's team. The recent sex scandal has already hit its morale. Every effort must be made to sort out this tangle before the next international event, which is the Women's World Cup in Argentina.

















THE Governor is appointed by the Centre but is not its agent. A wrong perception of his being so has gained currency mainly on account of many Governors acting in a blatantly biased manner. A Governor is a constitutional authority who derives his powers from the Constitution. He should be carrying out his duties like a judge on the basis of his own judgment and in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. He is not required to act on directions from the Centre.


In 1946, Sir Frederick Burrows, the Governor of Bengal, asked Mahatma Gandhi that with a popular government in power what was a governor expected to do. The Mahatma replied: "Nothing." This advice given to a British Governor who wielded considerable executive authority underscored the fact that even in those days, a Governor was not expected to interfere with the functioning of a popular government.


After Independence, there was a strong opinion against continuing the institution of Governor. Biswanath Das, a former Chief Minister of Orissa during the debate in the Constituent Assembly, stated, "Now we are going to have democracy from toe to neck and autocracy at the head." While accepting to retain the office of Governor, the Constituent Assembly ensured that that did not happen. The Constitution clearly defines the Governor's role. On all matters, he shall act on the advice of the council of ministers except when selecting a Chief Minister.


He can recommend President's rule in special circumstances and in that event, temporarily govern the state. A section of opinion in the country now feels that the Governor is an unnecessary relic of the Raj and we could do without this institution. I feel that besides his role defined in the Constitution, a Governor has other useful roles. He is a State symbol above the cut and thrust of politics. It is for nothing that in his address he uses the term 'My Government'. He should equally well use the term, 'My Opposition'. He should endeavour to earn the confidence of both. He should advice and caution the Chief Minister away from public glare.


During discussions in the Constituent Assembly, the calibre of the individual to be appointed Governor and his political impartiality were discussed at length. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted noted educationists or people eminent in other walks of life, who have not taken too great a part in politics, to be appointed Governor. T.T. Krishnamachari urged that a Governor should hold the scales impartially between the various factions in the politics of the state.


Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer was of the view that a Governor should be a person of undoubted ability who at the same time is not mixed up in party struggle or factions. The emphasis by everyone was on the political impartiality of the Governor. Unfortunately, in practice, this requirement has often been ignored. Active politicians from the ruling party are often appointed Governor. We have seen them playing musical chairs between Governor, Chief Minister and Union Minister. This tends to undermine the impartial image of a Governor.


Some Governors have been notoriously partisan and have been following the dictates of the Centre. At the same time, there have been exceptions where Governors have taken a principled stand. Surjit Singh Barnala refused to go along with the Centre and recommend the dismissal of the first Karunanidhi Government. He resigned as Governor. B.K. Nehru took a similar stand in respect of the Farooq Abdullah Government. He was transferred to Gujarat.


After the Emergency, the Janata Party Government summarily dismissed all the Congress-appointed Governors. On return to power, the Congress did a repeat for Janata-appointed Governors. In 2004, the UPA government sacked four NDA-appointed Governors. I was high up on the list to be removed, with my Chief Minister desperately trying to get me out, but somehow I escaped the guillotine.


The Constitution provides a five-year tenure for a Governor but he holds office at the President's (by extension the Centre's) pleasure. His position is very insecure as compared to other constitutional authorities or government employees. The Sarkaria Commission report states that between 1967 and 1986, 298 Governors were appointed and of them only 18 could complete their full five-year term. The recent Supreme Court judgment on the Governor's tenure should provide security of tenure to Governors just as the judgment on the Kesavanand Bharti case ended the era of arbitrary dismissal of state governments.


Let me focus now on the row over the transfer of a 100-acre plot of wasteland at Baltal, traditionally used as base camp for Amarnath pilgrims, to the Amarnath Shrine Board. A mass agitation was organised against the Baltal land transfer to arouse communal and anti-India feelings. This land is unapproachable and uninhabitable due to heavy snow for eight months in the year. Yet, a canard was spread that Hindus were going to be settled at Baltal with a view to changing the Valley's demography as Israel had done in Palestine.


In this theatre of the absurd, PDP Ministers who had processed this case for three years recommending it to the Cabinet and had been a party to the Cabinet decision to divert the land to the Shrine Board joined this agitation. Mufti and his party went full blast to support this agitation. To appease the agitators, the government cancelled the Baltal land transfer and even dissolved the Amarnath Shrine Board. This led to three months of counter-agitation in Jammu. Ultimately, the government was forced to restore status quo ante.


The Valley Press, as usual, played a very negative role carrying out totally false and mischievous propaganda. The national secular media showed little awareness of the problem. It stated that I, as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, had transferred the land on the eve of my departure and set the Valley on fire when I had nothing to do with that Cabinet decision beyond approving the application of the Board three years earlier.


As for the constitutional crisis involving Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, I had occasion to interact with him when he was the Union Law Minister and I found him helpful. However, his handling of the Quattrochi scandal in regard to defreezing his London Bank account and letting him off the hook in Argentina shocked right-thinking people.


A similar development has now taken place in Karnataka. A Congress MLC complained to the Governor against three Cabinet Ministers. Instead of forwarding the complaint to the Speaker, the Lok Ayukta, the Election Commission or the Chief Minister, for taking suitable action, he issued show-cause notice to the Cabinet Ministers and asked them to appear before him. For the first time in the history of Indian democracy, a Governor has taken such an unconstitutional step.


As the Ministers declined to appear before him, he forwarded the complaint to the Election Commission. He has now been publicly insisting that the Ministers be dropped from the Cabinet and the CBI should investigate the case. He even came lobbying to Delhi in full media glare and met the President, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. It is the Chief Minister's prerogative to drop ministers from the Cabinet.


The Constitution provides for the Governor to recommend dismissal of the government but not of individual ministers. A Governor has the right to caution and advise a Chief Minister but this should not be done publicly. There have been numerous cases of ministers at the Centre and in the states being involved in corruption but has any President or Governor publicly asserted that the Minister concerned be dropped?


On the face of it, a major violation of the Constitution in letter and spirit appears to be taking place in Karnataka.


The writer is a former Governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir








JOIN Facebook and meet 64 of your Carmel classmates", read an e-mail from Dilara Bastawala, the only old school friend I was in touch with. Delighted, I overcame my hesitation and signed up with my teenaged daughter's help even as she added: "It's difficult for adults but easy if you concentrate, Mom!"


In the days that followed, Havovi, Priti and Vidya showed me the ropes and sent me "friends' suggestions" for 60 other classmates – most of whom I remembered without difficulty. It was great seeing all their pictures. Nirupama even had a scanned copy of Macaulay's Minutes among her photos, while Smriti had a closeup of Ashoka's pillar inscription which presumably she could read —  we certainly couldn't.


Our 'friends list' swelled through collective effort. I chanced on one Perizad Van der Dyke-Smith and wondered if she was actually Perizad Anklesaria, our classmate. The others said: "She is indeed our Perizad, except that she now looks so poised and chic." However, I was unable to reconcile the image of "our Perizad", a tomboy, with the elegantly turned out lady in the pics.


I also noticed that Ms. Van der Dyke-Smith was a good 10 years older than all of us. I drew everyone's attention to this incongruity. Soon the conjectures flew: "People do change from tomboys to fashionistas, you know" or "The year of birth must be a typing mistake." Rukhsana Ginwalla wrote: "She is our Perizad, for sure.  I sent her a Zoroastrian prayer and she even thanked me for it!"


I said to my friends, "I am going to ask this Perizad Van der Dyke-Smith to confirm that she is Perizad Anklesaria." They felt that I was being unduly suspicious as everyone was sending Perizad messages and receiving responses too. Unconvinced, I wrote to Perizad of the double-barrelled name asking her if she had passed Class X from Carmel in 1984. I received no reply. "That doesn't mean she really is our Perizad !" I insisted.


Then Sanghamitra Roy announced: "Girls, guess what?  I met our Perizad in Kolkata. She is now Perizad Banerjee and has a son named Kaiser-Shantanu." "Awwww !"  went the collective groan on Facebook as realisation dawned. While our Perizad lay tucked away in Kolkata all along, another Perizad, a complete stranger, had become a part of our group! It was going to be very awkward to shake her off.


It seemed that the only thing in common between the two Perizads was the double barrelled name : our Perizad had one for her son while the trendy, glamorous interloper had one for herself!


Last heard, Perizad Van der Dyke- Smith was responding with amusement and good grace to eager questions from our group. She turned out to be a resident of Johannesburg with no Indian connection. But she loved her Parsi-sounding name and the scores of new Indian friends it had brought her.


Nobody had the heart to 'un-friend' her. After all, we were grown up and knew how to deal with life's twists and turns! Our new Perizad seemed to have become a very pleasant mascot of our quest to trace old friends, no matter what the consequences!









THE country is passing through a difficult phase due to poor governance. The common man is struggling due to rising prices. Growing lawlessness has made life insecure. Indiscipline is rampant among elected representatives, setting a bad example. There is no dignity of discourse.


Even after six decades of Independence, a sizeable section of our population is poor and illiterate while the constitutional mandate was to provide for free and compulsory education within ten years. Empowerment comes through education, but mere learning is not education. Inculcation of values underlying the Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties in the Constitution is a must. Character building through liberal education stands neglected.


The Election Commission is unable to regulate political parties for want of power to cancel their registration when they act contrary to their solemn assurance to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, to practise secularism and uphold the unity and integrity of India. Public Service Commissions in several states are packed with incompetent and corrupt henchmen of the leaders in power. Chief Ministers and ministers in several states make money in transfers and postings of officials.


The sovereign people of India in whose name and for whose benefit the Constitution was made, are helpless. Winning a seat is more important for a representative than serving the constituency. The choice of ministers is guided by expediency and not fitness and integrity.


Lack of good governance and corruption breed litigation. The judiciary is unable to cope with the demand for justice. The litigants are waiting in unending queues. Corruption has entered the ranks of the judiciary. The quality of justice is not the same as before. The judiciary being the last hope, the common man is worried. Radical reforms are imperative to stem the rot and restore vitality to the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.


Electoral reforms are a must to keep away undesirable elements who get elected with money power, muscle power or both or on the basis of appeal to caste and community and to bring into the legislatures well-equipped, clean, secular minded and service-oriented persons. There is no dearth of such persons.


The Dinesh Goswami Committee, the Indrajit Gupta Committee, the Law Commission of India and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution have suggested wide ranging electoral reforms. The late Vice-President Krishan Kant suggested two amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951: (a) to make it necessary for a candidate to secure at least 50 per cent + 1 vote out of those polled in a constituency to get elected; and (b) to provide for a negative vote. If a majority of the voters reject all the candidates contesting through negative vote, there should be a fresh election with new candidates. If these were implemented, the political parties would be constrained to field better candidates. No one then can win a seat relying on caste or community.


Administrative reforms are equally important to ensure recruitment on merit for each and every post under the state including posts in public sector undertakings. Persons recruited on extraneous considerations cannot match the terrorists who are well-equipped, well-trained, well-motivated and prepared to die for their cause. The Prevention of Corruption Acts, 1947 and 1988 have not achieved their object. Convictions are few and acquittals are many. There should be a provision to get rid of public servants of doubtful integrity at anytime in public interest.


The Bakshi Tek Chand and K. Santhanam Committees had made recommendations for tackling bribery and corruption. The National Police Commission recommended police reforms. In Prakash Singh's case, the Supreme Court issued certain directions to the Union and States which are yet to be implemented.


In 2006, the Veerappa Moily Committee suggested meaningful measures for better administration. Eminent judges, jurists and the Law Commission have suggested extensive judicial reforms. To improve the quality of judicial appointments, the power of selection should be vested in a National Judicial Commission. Alternatively, a statutory search committee should suggest panels of candidates for consideration by the Collegium of Judges. Separate search committees are required for the selection of suitable chairmen and members of service commissions.


The Press Council of India's suggestions for effective regulation of the media including the electronic media merit implementation to ensure effective self-regulation and checking the menace of paid news, which compromises the independence of the Fourth Estate.


Reforms need reformers. Will the political leadership across the spectrum join hands to solve the problems by concerted action? If they get together and carry out a few amendments to the Constitution and the laws and have them implemented, things would definitely improve. Parliament alone has the power to reform the law. Who can make Parliament act?


The writer, a noted constitutional expert, is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court








RECENT events have brought to the fore the urgent need for legal reforms to fast track cases, provide easy and affordable access to justice and prevent corrupt elements from entering the judiciary, higher and subordinate.


Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily is firm on reducing the average time span of court cases from the present 15-17 years to two-three years. Even before he could take concrete steps for achieving this, the trial court verdict in the 26-year-old Bhopal gas leak case was out, much to the embarrassment of the government and to the dismay of the victims and the nation. The six convicts got a mere two-year jail term for the world's worst industrial disaster.


It is not that the judiciary, the investigative machinery or the prosecution is responsible for the delays and apparent miscarriage of justice in most cases. Where there is a will there is a way. And this has been proved in the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 and Parliament attack in December 2001. The trial took just one year in the case of Ajmal Kasab, the prime accused in the Mumbai case, and two years in the Parliament attack case. In both cases, the main accused got death penalty.


In the Parliament case, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court dealt with the appeals in record time and the dithering crept in only later, the culprit being the executive which is sleeping over the mercy petition of Afzal Guru for over four years now.


While reforms are the need of the hour, the government and the legal fraternity know that the way forward is full of hurdles. This became evident when the Judicial Standard and Accountability Bill was met with stiff resistance within the Union Cabinet, forcing the draft to be referred to a Group of Ministers. The Bill reportedly has provisions for disciplinary action against erring judges, short of impeachment which has proved to be nearly impossible.


The issue relating to Justice P.D. Dinakaran is a classic example of apparent goof-ups by both the judiciary and the executive. The impeachment move against Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court will depend upon the report of the Justice B. Sudershan Reddy committee.


Another pointer to the difficult reform road that lies ahead is the widespread opposition to the Bar Council of India's (BCI) proposal for holding an all-India entrance examination for fresh law graduates before allowing them to practise in courts. Besides students, the State Bar Associations are up in arms against the move.


The Centre is yet to muster courage for notifying the 2008 amendment to the Crimal Procedure Code facilitating bail for persons charged with offences punishable with seven years in jail or less. Advocates are fighting tooth and nail against it for obvious reasons.


Mr Moily says he is firm on making his tenure an era of legal reforms. He unveiled a blueprint for pruning cases involving the Centre or the states as litigants. However, real action is yet to be seen on the reform front.







The proposed second generation reforms in legal education, including the establishment of the Directorate of Legal Education under the Bar Council of India, is a step in the right direction. The proposal for an all-India entrance examination for law graduates is welcome.


The quality of legal education and ensuring high standards in the legal profession are inextricably intertwined. While the entrance test for joining the legal profession is desirable, structural reforms in legal education and improving the quality of over 900 law schools will address the problem of mediocrity in the Bar and the Bench.


The question of regulating legal education deserves more attention. Law schools, including law academics, lawyers, judges and civil society have an important role to play in this effort.


— Prof C. Raj Kumar, Vice-Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University and Member, National Legal Knowledge Council


LITIGATION POLICY: In government litigation, there are two major areas – criminal cases and service matters. The government should not go for appeal in criminal cases and use the appeal option sparingly in the event of acquittals. Most service matter cases are wrongly recommended for filing special leave petitions in the apex court. Such cases should not go even to the High Courts after adjudication by the Administrative Tribunals. I welcome the Centre's national litigation policy for pruning the cases filed by the Centre and the states and reducing the number of pending cases. State Law Secretaries should be involved in implementing the new policy, besides the Advocates General.


— J.S. Attri, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court


MEDIATION: Mediation provides a better way than battling it out in courts. It offers the most practical solution to most disputes, particularly those relating to family and business matters. What the parties to the dispute need is the inclination to evaluate their options, both in terms of process and substantive dispositions. Lawyers should take a lead in this regard without the fear of losing a brief! However, mediation is not the answer to every dispute. Nor is the lawsuit the only recourse to every litigant.


— Bimal Roy Jad, Advocate, Supreme Court


BANE OF JUSTICE: Adjournments have proved to be the bane of speedy justice. At present, courts are happy to give adjournments as 50-60 cases are listed for each court every day. Instead, each court should take up only 15 cases a day. Lawyers should be asked to make alternative arrangements if they are unable to appear for various reasons rather than taking adjournments.


The Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) is a paradise for lawyers as they can move as many applications as they want. And these hold up the trial. The person who gets injunction wants to delay the process. The problem of the other litigant starts after the decree. The CPC should be dispensed with. When consumer and labour courts and appellate tribunals can dispense with this procedure, why not civil courts? There is nothing magical about the CPC.


— Anil Nag, Advocate, Supreme Court


(As told to R. Sedhuraman)









 At Devprayag in the Garhwal Himalaya, the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi slam into each other and become the Ganga. Once, both were mighty. The Bhagirathi's waters poured at nearly 29,000 litres per second. Today, it is a trickle: just 56 litres per second. 


 The cause is man-made. Imagine a body of water a quarter kilometre high, 42 square kilometres in area. Imagine it at an altitude of 872 metres – higher than Matheran or Lonavala. Place it in a major geological fault zone. What you have is the Tehri Dam, the world's fifth (some say eighth) highest dam, the third at this altitude and the only one in a fault zone. It submerged an entire town, displaced over 100,000 people, destroyed vast forests – all supposedly to provide manifold "benefits". 


For 20 years, Sunderlal Bahugana fought against it. Petitions were filed in the Supreme Court. Repeatedly, its safety was questioned. The dam was built anyway. The Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the Tehri Dam say it is "safe"; that its benefits outweigh its risks. 


Do they? The dam is in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a fault zone prone to severe earthquakes. Large dams, because of the sheer weight of the water they hold, increase earthquake intensity. The dam is supposed to withstand quakes of up to 8.5 Richter. 


What if it does not? Experts say the consequences would be catastrophic: that mass of water would crash through the Himalayan gorges; Devprayag, Rishikesh and Hardwar would cease to exist; and directly downstream lie the cities of Meerut, Kanpur, Allahabad, Kanpur, Varanasi and Calcutta. 


This is not an isolated case of a dubious EIA. The EIA for Dandeli Mini Hydel Power Project was entirely plagiarised from another EIA for a different project. Only the name was changed. 


The more recent designer-EIA for a power plant in Sompeta, Andhra Pradesh, is a marvel of linguistic manipulation. By transposing one letter and adding two, it transformed ecologically fragile, biodiversity rich wetlands into wastelands. The environment ministry cleared it. Fortunately, the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) stepped in and rejected the clearance. Ninety-five per cent of the people at a public hearing opposed the project. 


The central Ministry of Environment and Forests first introduced EIAs in 1994. These are supposed to impartially weigh project benefits against social and environmental costs. There is a detailed procedure, including an environment management plan and public hearings. 


Today, after the plastic surgery of 12 or more amendments, some highly questionable, the EIA Notification is as close as it is possible for a legislation to get to Michael Jackson's face. A slew of industries are exempted from some requirement, many from the critical one of public hearings. 

A project proponent chooses its own agency for the EIA report. For a supposedly objective report, this is absurd for the project proponent becomes the EIA agency's 'client'; and what agency wants to say anything its client doesn't want to hear? Often, agencies conduct no independent studies or data collection. They just take what the client gives them and massage the numbers. Even better: the World Bank loves EIA reports, and agencies love the World Bank. 


It's a simple recipe. Ingredients: One used EIA. Method: Blend the EIA through a word processor, reformat, and serve garnished with photographs. It doesn't matter that the report spins yarns about crocodiles in the Kali River. There are none. 


The law requires public hearings and making the EIA report available. Nothing is easier to arrange: Stuff the hearing with your own people, make sure the report is hard to get hold of. 


There is simply no way to assess the quality or accuracy of an EIA. From Himachal to Sikkim in the north, down to the Sethusamudran project, environmental clearance was granted routinely no matter how shady the EIA, how manipulated the public hearing. 


Fortunately we have Jairam Ramesh, our determined Minister of State for Environment and Forests. He has a quaint notion that befuddles industry, that without environmental protection there can be no real 'development'. And the NEAA is also beginning to flex its muscles. What we now need is this: guidelines for appointing agencies; data collection and reporting norms; mechanisms for independent assessments of EIA reports; and monitoring of public hearings. 


There's a reason for EIAs, one that underlies the faceless phrase "costs and benefits". An EIA tests the genuineness of the public interest in the project. It should not be a device to make dirty projects look pretty. 


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For a country whose prime minister was willing to routinely skip the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, till an Indian diplomat eyed the top job at its secretariat, it may have appeared odd that in 2003 India's national Capital raced against the obscure city of Hamilton, Canada, to win the bid to host the 19th Commonwealth Games. On the other hand, it could well be argued that after Malaysia became the first Asian country to host the Games, the "jewel in the crown" could not have shied away from trying seriously at least once. The decision of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government to underwrite the total cost of the Games reportedly helped India win the vote 46-22. It was estimated at the time that the Games would cost Rs 1,899 crore, with the government not required to shell out too much given optimistic projections of potential revenue from the event. The theme for India's bid at the time, the year of "India Shining", was "New Frontiers and New Friendships". So, the mood was hospitable. Seven years, and a lot of construction and criticism later, not only has the cost of "underwriting" the Games gone up, but no one is quite sure if any "new frontiers" will be crossed or "new friendships" made. There are mind-boggling estimates of cost over-runs, with the total cost estimated to be anywhere between Rs 10,000 crore and Rs 30,000 crore, depending on what elements are included as cost of the Games. This is at least one reason why the Games continue to attract hostile media attention. The Delhi government has been increasing tariffs of public utilities and raising revenues in the name of the Games without explaining why the taxpayer has to cough up so much.


Second, the combined effect of ministerial incompetence, confounded by one sports minister's active disinclination to deliver; organisational sloth and suspected corruption; and misplaced priorities of the local government in infrastructure development, has made a mockery of the Games. The event's organisers and Delhi's state government have taken the citizen for granted, not explaining why they are doing what they are doing. The lack of transparency has meant that the government is spending money doing ridiculous things like digging up and re-plastering pavements in Lutyens' Delhi, while neglecting footpaths in the rest of the city, where people actually walk. More than the cost and corruption, what is truly tragic about the run up to the event is the absence of any marked public enthusiasm. The government and the Games' organisers seem to have done little so far to cross "new frontiers" and make "new friendships". This explains the apparent disinterest of the corporate sector with few companies yet willing to come forward and sponsor the Games. If the organisers don't attract enough private funding, as promised, they will force public sector enterprises to step in, as so often happens. In the end, the Games may still be conducted without too much dislocation and confusion, in a typically Indian way, but the one important lesson already learnt is that India must wait for some more time before bidding for the Olympic Games.







US President Barack Obama has signed into law the US Financial Reforms Bill. The debate on the Bill has been going on for quite some time now and, as usually happens in such politically charged debates, the original purpose and objective of the Bill has gotten lost in various compromises. It was important for Obama to keep his promise of financial reforms and so he came forward with an Act that introduces some reforms. Unfortunately, as is the case in most democracies with less-than-strong and visionary leadership, what one ends up with is very different from what one started with. For example, the Act does nothing to restrict the size of banks, a major objective of the original reform proposal. Admittedly, while the US could regulate the size of its own banks, it could do very little to cap the size of foreign banks. Since the US and foreign banks operate in the same global and national space, it is difficult to restrict the size of US banks if they are to compete with their bigger foreign counterparts. This once again highlights the necessity to coordinate financial market reforms across countries, something the emerging countries have been aware of ever since they were hit by the crisis they did not bring upon themselves.


The other objective, possibly less desirable but wanted by most people, was a restricted compensation policy for bankers. At the very least, it was expected that the fees of the top management would be structured in a manner that relates bonuses and fees to long-term bank performance indicators. While the Act requires shareholders to vote on executive fees, the outcomes of these votes are not binding on the bank management. In general, this is not a problem if there is market discipline. Unfortunately, financial markets and their institutions are notorious for following the herd and, hence, one is sceptical about the impact non-binding shareholder voting will have on executive pay packages.


 Many of the derivatives and risk instruments traded by the banks prior to the crisis did not take place in standard markets. Consequently, there was little or no transparency regarding what the banks were up to. The Act requires standardisation and trading of derivatives in open exchanges. This will force banks to compete in volumes and customers will gain on both improved service and reduced price. However, which derivatives have to be placed in open exchanges is to be decided by the regulators. Given the experience during the most recent crisis, when the regulators were unable, or unwilling, to rein in the banks, leaving such things to them may not be very desirable. The flip side is if not regulators, then who? The banks themselves? Politicians? Of course, all this would have been unnecessary if the Act allowed banks to fail. This is politically infeasible, especially when banks are "too big to fail". But since the Act does nothing to restrict bank sizes, one may only wonder how long this window dressing is going to last before the banks get back to their old ways of doing business.









Just how bad is the outlook for the United States' economy? Unfortunately, you cannot tell from the forecasts. These days, it is common to read forecasts predicting that the US economy will grow at a 3 per cent annual rate in the coming year. But just what does that mean?


 The forecaster is not saying that she is confident that growth will be exactly 3 per cent. Every forecaster recognises that the actual growth rate may be higher or lower than the number that she states. There is a distribution of possible growth rates, and the forecaster is telling us just one of the outcomes that she can contemplate.


But if a forecaster tells us that she "expects" a growth rate of 3 per cent, does that mean that she thinks that it is as likely to be above 3 per cent as it is to be below 3 per cent — the "median", as she sees it, of the distribution of possible growth rates? Or could it mean that she thinks the most likely growth rate will be close to 3 per cent (the "modal" value), even though she may believe that it is much more likely to be less than that value than to be greater?


Many forecasters currently believe that there is a significant probability that the economy will slump during the next 12 months — a "double dip" in the expansion process. It is possible for them to hold that view and still forecast 2 per cent growth for the next 12 months as the most likely outcome or the "median" of their probability distribution.


Any decision maker who depends on forecasts — a businessman, an investor, or a government official — needs to know the probability of very low or very high growth rates, as well as the median forecast. But that information remains hidden.


Some surveys of forecasts report the distribution of the forecasts of different individuals being surveyed. We might read that the average forecast of 20 different forecasters is 2.8 per cent, with the five highest forecasts above 3.2 per cent and the five lowest forecasts below 2.5 per cent. While that is useful information, it does not say anything about the extent to which each forecaster believes that growth might turn out to be less than 1 per cent, or even less than zero.


Recent US data have clearly raised the probability that the economy will run out of steam and decline during the next 12 months. The key reason for increased pessimism is that the government stimulus programmes that raised spending since the summer of 2009 are now coming to an end. As they have wound down, spending has declined.


The government programmes failed to provide the "pump-priming" role that was intended. They provided an early spark, but it looks like the spark did not catch. For example, a tax subsidy for car purchases caused GDP to rise in the third quarter of 2009, with more than two-thirds of the increase attributable to motor-vehicle production. But now that the subsidies have ended, the level of both sales and production has declined. A recent survey of consumers reported the lowest level of intended car buying in more than 40 years.


Although annual GDP growth was 3 per cent in the first quarter of this year, almost all of it reflected inventory accumulation — some of which, no doubt, was unwanted build-up caused by disappointing sales. When inventory accumulation is excluded, first-quarter growth of "final sales" was just 0.8 per cent in annual terms — and 0.2 per cent compared to the fourth quarter of 2009.


The second quarter benefited from a surge in home purchases, as individuals rushed to take advantage of the tax subsidy for home buyers that expired in April. But what will happen in the third quarter and beyond now that that program has ended?


While it would be rash to forecast a double dip as the most likely outcome for the economy during the rest of this year, many of us are raising the odds that we attribute to such a downturn. Unfortunately, those forecasts of what might happen remain hidden.


The author is professor of economics at Harvard, was chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors, and is former president of the National Bureau for Economic Research









Raj Jain, the president of WalMart India and managing director & CEO of Bharti Walmart, made an interesting observation at a recent Business Standard event. The first-mover advantage, he told the audience, is a grossly over-rated business tactic. In their eagerness to be the first to hit the market, companies often come out with an incomplete or imperfect product. Those who do well, said Jain, are often the second or the third movers. They learn from the mistakes made by the first mover. Other speakers agreed with Jain that the first-mover advantage has outlived its utility. The audience, which comprised men and women from the world of marketing and advertising, nodded in agreement. Jain had articulated what many of them had felt for a long time. The buy-in was more or less universal.


 The thinking behind the concept of first-mover advantage is that you come out with a product before your rivals, and sell at a premium because there is no competition in the marketplace. Once rivals move in, the premium is lost; but you have made a killing by then. But the first mover may not have the final laugh.


Look at some global examples from the new economy. The first mover in personal computers was Altair in 1975; the market leader is Hewlett Packard. In word-processing software, the first off the block was WordStar in 1979; the leader is Microsoft Word. Mosaic was the first web browser launched in 1992; the segment is led by Microsoft Internet Explorer. The first search engine was Excite (1993), while the leader by a wide margin is Google. The first to hit the market does not necessarily stay the market leader for long. Similarly, Amazon was not the first online retailer. Before Jeff Bezos set up Amazon in 1994, there were several others who had tried their hand at the business. In fact, nobody seems to remember who first started an online book store.


Closer home, there are enough examples that show that the first mover can often be at a disadvantage. Before the Indian Premier League (IPL) burst on the scene, the Essel group had come out with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) with teams from India and Pakistan. It got completely blown away in the IPL tornado. Capt Gopinath started India's first budget carrier with Air Deccan. It won him a lot of recognition in India and abroad, but the venture ran up huge losses in double-quick time. Strapped for cash, Capt Gopinath sold it to Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines. The brand is dead; the Air Deccan fleet was brought under Kingfisher Red. Subsequently, airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet have shown how to run low-cost operations profitably. Both the airlines have turned profitable. They avoided the mistakes Air Deccan had made. Much before others could think of modern retail stores, Anil Nanda had come out with Nanz stores. It was the first experiment in the country in the modern retail format. The venture proved unsuccessful and the stores had to down their shutters eventually. Now, of course, there are a lot of people who run larger stores with greater efficiency. Or take the example of home shopping. Years after others made a hash of it, a bunch of new players is going about it in a systematic way.


Actually, marketers at all levels have now begun to talk of the second-mover and third-mover advantage. These people learn from the mistakes of the first mover and then come out with a business proposition that is foolproof. The first mover has to charter his course in unknown waters. For this, technology has to be invented, a distribution network has to be established and consumer insights need to be gathered. This can push the costs up, and make it an unviable business proposition. Of course, the returns can be high if the product clicks in the market; but the risks are high too. The second mover knows the do's and the don'ts from the experience of the first mover; so his is likely to be a more sustainable model.


So, is the first-mover advantage totally irrelevant? Not really. In many cases, it is inherent in the nature of the business. Take generic medicine, for example. In the United States, the world's largest pharmaceutical market, any drug maker who is the first to file an application with the Food & Drug Administration to launch the generic version of a drug once it goes off patent, gets exclusive rights to sell it for 180 days. Prices may fall by over 90 per cent once the patents come off, but there is still decent money to be made. This is what generic companies, including several of those from India, thrive on — such is the nature of the beast. Same is the case with telecommunication services. At a time when voice calls and SMSs have become commodities, features and applications are driving the business. Those who come out with new features and applications can expect to stay ahead of rivals for some time. Or look at consumer electronics. There is a mad rush amongst incumbents to come out with new technologies because that's how they can capture mind space. Technology is everything in consumer electronics. The first off the block scores with the consumers. Clearly, there is mixed evidence on the ground.









That India desperately needs to generate more power is beyond question. The country has the lowest per capita consumption of electricity in the world; this, when we know that access to energy correlates with development, and, indeed, with economic growth.

 Let us not dismiss this need for energy as a simple issue of intra-national equity, that is, the rich use too much, while the poor do not have enough. This may be true for other natural resources, but energy scarcity is more or less all around. Data show the country's energy intensity has been falling — we do more with each unit of energy produced. The reason is not hard to see. India's energy prices are among the highest in the world and they do pinch industry and the domestic consumer. So, saving is part of the energy game. This is not to say we must not do more to cut energy use and be more efficient. But there are limits to efficiency.


Why am I stating the obvious? The reason is that even though the country knows it needs more power, what it does not realise is that it will not get this power through conventional ways.


Just consider what is happening in the country. There are widespread protests against building major power projects, from thermal to hydel, and now nuclear. At the site of the coal power plant in Sompeta in Andhra Pradesh, the police had to open fire on some 10,000 protesters, killing two of them. In the Alphonso-growing Konkan region, farmers are up in arms against a 1,200 Mw thermal plant, which, they say, will damage their crop. In Chhattisgarh, people are fighting against scores of such projects, as these will take away their land or water. The list of such protests is long even if one does not consider the fact that most of the coal needed to run these projects is under forests, and many mines are contested and unavailable.


Hydel projects are no different. Environmentalists are protesting against the massive numbers of projects planned on the Ganga, which will virtually see the river dry up over long stretches. The Assam government is asking for a review of the hydel projects in upstream Arunachal Pradesh because it believes these are resulting in floods. Assam's 2,000 Mw Subansiri project is in trouble because state-appointed experts say the dam could have serious impact on downstream areas. The two yet-to-be-built nuclear projects — the 6,000 Mw Jasapara project in Bhavnagar and the 9,900 Mw Jaitapur project in Konkan — are already facing enormous anger from the people.


We are not seeing the big picture as yet. We still believe these countless struggles are minor hiccups. But I believe not. As I have argued in the past, this is the environmentalism of the very poor; people across the country are fighting for survival. They know their poverty will only be replaced with more destitution if and when these projects are built.


So, it is time we accepted this fact. It is time we accepted that many of the projects that are being planned or proposed will not be built. The availability of land and water will be the real constraints on growth. So, what do we do?


One, we need a law that makes basic energy a fundamental right of all Indians, like the right to employment, education and, now, food. This will ensure people are empowered to demand energy as a right and that the state has to share whatever it has with everyone. This will create real conditions for generating energy in new and different ways. It could be decentralised and local or even big and grid-connected. This will give every community a real stake in power development.


Two, India must accept it cannot build all the projects it has planned. It has to prioritise projects taking into consideration the cumulative capacity of the environment. In other words, it needs to assess how much water can be taken away for hydel projects while ensuring natural flow in rivers at all times. It must allow only those projects that do not compromise the environment and people's livelihood. Currently, this is not being done. Every stream and every district is up for grabs. In Arunachal Pradesh, there are 10 projects on every stream; some 150 MoUs have been signed, thereby adding to some 50,000 Mw of power generation (roughly one-third of the country's current installed power). Just one block of Chhattisgarh, Dabra, has nine thermal projects in a 10-km radius. MoUs have been signed for 49 projects in Janjgir-Champa district of Chhattisgarh. This madness must stop.


Three, India needs to enhance the capacity of environmental regulators so that they take correct and clear decisions. Projects need more careful scrutiny, and the assessment must have credibility in people's eyes.


We must first realise the need to change the game of development. Only then will there be light. 








India must find a way to engage Pakistan's all-powerful Army chief


To no one's surprise, General Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, got his tenure extended by another term of three years by the civilian government. The decision was formally announced by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani in a late night broadcast after he had consulted President Asif Ali Zardari, who also happens to be the chairman of the ruling party. After the recent 18th Amendment, the power to nominate the service chiefs had been restored to the Prime Minister as it was at the time of Z A Bhutto and in the second term of office of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff.


 This extension of tenure for an army chief by a civilian government is happening for the first time since 1955 when the government headed by Iskander Mirza gave an extension to General Ayub Khan, the country's first army chief. At that time, the Pakistan Army did not have very many senior officers and General Ayub Khan's extension did not create any controversy.


On the present occasion, a leading Pakistan daily, the Dawn, has commented, "Like it or not, the extension does not reflect well on the army as an institution. It is almost an article of faith that the Pakistan Army is the only viable, strong and vibrant institution in the country. Whatever General Kayani's intimate familiarity with the present state of affairs and whatever his unique understanding of the situation, a strong institution should be able to withstand the retirement of one man, however experienced.


A compelling example of institutional concerns coming before individuals was provided recently by the US, where the architect of the present American counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan was replaced. This in the middle of a war that is by all accounts going badly for the US. Here in Pakistan, the public is constantly told that the internal security situation has improved, that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is on the back foot, that progress, while slow, is real and meaningful. If it seems difficult to reconcile the idea of a strong institution having depth in talent and leadership with the 'indispensability' of a single man, then that's because it truly is."


General Kayani is not just the chief of the army. He is also the first Director-General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to become the army chief. In that sense, he may not be the originator but truly the sustainer of the Pakistan strategy of using the various terrorist organisations as "strategic assets". He is in direct control and charge of the "crown jewels" of Pakistan — its nuclear weapons.


General Kayani is a far more sophisticated man than General Pervez Musharraf, who felt compelled to make himself the president of Pakistan to be able to get proper protocol when he came to meet the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Agra in 2002. In the process, he had to rig two presidential elections and earn unpopularity among the people of Pakistan. By assuming direct responsibility for governance, he became accountable for the enormous governance deficit in the country. He got himself associated in the popular mind with the United States and thereby generated the hostility of the public at large and some of the more virulent jehadi organisations. General Kayani has avoided most of those mistakes.


He delinked himself from General Musharraf and gave the green light to political parties to push him out. He earned the reputation of having conducted the second free-and-fair elections in the history of Pakistan. Political parties hailed him as being democratic. He is not blamed for governance deficits and not even for the terrorist outrages committed by jehadi organisations earlier patronised by the ISI. On the other hand, he is hailed for fighting the TTP earlier nurtured by the ISI and he is considered indispensable by the prime minister and president to continue the counterinsurgency operations against the jehadis.


In spite of continuing terrorist attacks on US targets, the Obama administration argues that there is no alternative to the Pakistan Army and its present leadership to pursue the anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan. Though General Kayani does not hold any Cabinet office, there is no doubt in the minds of Pakistanis and Americans who rules Pakistan. The strategic dialogue with the US is conducted by him with Foreign Minister Qureshi providing the façade of being the leader. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spends more time in discussions with him than any Cabinet member.


On the eve of the strategic dialogue with the US, he summoned all the secretaries to the government concerned with the discussion to the GHQ in Rawalpindi and chaired the meeting to finalise the agenda. When he expressed the displeasure of the Pakistan Army on the Kerry-Lugar legislation, a senator was rushed from the US to mollify him. Clearly, General Kayani knew he had made himself irreplaceable, which is why he was not replaced.


All this highlights that India cannot have effective communication with the real power centre of Pakistan by talking to the foreign minister, the prime minister or the now powerless president. For meaningful communication, India should be in a position to talk to the Pakistan Army chief. This cannot be done by our strictly apolitical army chief trying to talk to his counterpart. Here too, General Kayani has an advantage. He can let loose Mr Gillani on Manmohan Singh, Mr Qureshi on S M Krishna while keeping the ultimate veto power with himself.


Therefore, the Indian prime minister has to think through an innovative solution. That has to be an empowered personal envoy like the one he nominated to talk to the Chinese premier. He has to be knowledgeable to deal with terrorism, counter-terrorism, conventional military balance, nuclear deterrence, Afghanistan, China, evolving strategic balance in the area and bilateral Indo-Pakistan issues. Such missions have to be undertaken without publicity as was done with the "back channel" discussions during President Musharraf's tenure.


In the US, Harry Hopkins was used by President Roosevelt in such a role. Will the Pakistan Army chief agree to receive a special envoy of the Indian prime minister? That will be a litmus test of his intentions towards India and his seriousness to have a real dialogue with New Delhi.










 IT IS welcome that the government is waking up to the requirement of cyber security, the proposal to levy a fine on any telecom operator that installs any piece of equipment containing any malicious capability, the amount of the fine being equal to the value of the contract through which the equipment was procured. It is expected that the telecom operator would incorporate clauses in their contract with the equipment vendor to pass on the cost of the fine to the supplier. This is welcome as a minimum deterrent. But much more needs to be done to safeguard our data networks that today embrace all kinds of vital infrastructure in energy, commerce, transport, governance, education, healthcare and finance, making them more efficient at lower cost, but also exposing them to data theft, manipulation and potential takeover of control by hostile actors. These hostile actors could be states, states within states, or non-state actors who are lent technological capability by state actors. We need a comprehensive strategy, laws, budgets, professional cadres and dispersed awareness to secure the safety of our communication networks. But while these are being put in place, we cannot hold up expansion of the telecom network. Hence, the current proposal to levy fines for breach of ethical standards and to mandate submission of source codes and design of equipment installed in the network are welcome. Now, physical equipment by itself cannot create a network. Several overlays of software reside over the physical network to enable communication. The feasibility of mandating that the hardware and the software overlay be unbundled and sourced from separate, unconnected companies from different countries needs to be examined, even if it raises network costs a bit. 


 The internet was not designed for safety, the designers aspiring for a global commons where malice had no role. Software is not written with security in mind. Engineering courses do not train students to integrate cyber security into the basic design and coding of software. All this must change. That calls for coordinated action on multiple fronts, including legislation, setting up new institutions for coordination, public-private partnership and, why not, creating markets for systemic cyber security.








 IT IS a matter of regret that ailing public sector carrier Air India, which is deeply in the red, instead of cutting costs, is to go on an extended aircraft-buying binge. With the growth in passenger traffic at 28% in the first quarter, the Air India management has reportedly firmed up a scheme to acquire as many 127 new aircraft, hoping to break even by 2014-15. But with accumulated losses adding up to over Rs 14,000 crore, a debt burden of Rs 18,000 crore and dipping market share to boot, Air India's gameplan for revival seems both fanciful and reckless. Instead, the airline needs to improve on its moribund finances by way of operational efficiencies now that its fleet size is over 130, and seek synergy from the 2005 merger of Air India and Indian Airlines. The way ahead is to form strategic business units that function as profit centres for such functions as maintenance, repair and overhaul, cargo and ground-handling. The idea is to seek custom from other carriers, so that the business units emerge as independent profit centres, with attendant scope for unlocking value. Just as important, the hiving off would mean that almost two-thirds of the over 32,000 staff can be taken off airline payrolls, thus considerably lowering the bloated aircraft-to-employee ratio. Also, well into the 1980s, Air India had an enviable worldwide reputation for quality of service — flying Maharajah-style — and it would pay to go the extra mile on the service quality front, especially now that brand India suggests a tradition of quality offerings and growth. 


It cannot be gainsaid thought that the biggest stumbling block for Air India's turnaround is political and bureaucratic interference, with the unions facilitating and exacerbating the problem. That problem cannot be solved so long as it continues to be under the ministry. Ideally, the outfit should be privatised and, pending that, transferred to an SPV managed at arm's length. Pouring more money into the outfit as it subsists today would be a very bad idea.







 WHEN the potted history of India's democratic practices is written, there should be a special chapter on those silent sentinels in public spaces who are the first target of political ire. We refer, of course, not merely to the brave uniformed guardians of the country's official buildings and legislatures — who at least have the option of ducking, brushing off, staring down, or even running away from irate protesters — but those poor sap(ling)s who remain unfortunately rooted to the spot. The inability of potted plants to beat a retreat when confronted by a mob looking for handy weapons to chuck around inevitably leads to shattering consequences. Even worse, while human targets of rampaging legislators and activists eventually get first aid and some modicum of reparation, the greens are left to wither away on the rubbish heap of history. Rajiv Gandhi had memorably said on another unfortunate, if unrelated, matter that when a big tree falls, the ground shakes; unfortunately when small plants and flowerpots are felled, there is nary a quake. Viewers may wince momentarily as TV channels beam images of portly protesters taking obvious pleasure in smashing earthenware pots to smithereens or flinging them at the nearest glass-fronted door or window, but then discussion turns to their motive than to the plight of the leafy victims. Had there been an NGO or some pressure group to take up their cause, these plant-hating people would probably be more circumspect. 


 Incensed plant lovers should consider forming an association, perhaps on the lines of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), perhaps called Maibaap, short for Movement Against Injuring, Breaking or Assaulting Plants. It should not be very difficult to get a few celebrity endorsements to create a wider awareness of this green issue. Then the weight of public opinion could force callous governments and plant-tossing heavyweights to turn a new leaf — or be turfed out.







THE story of Indian retail is a complicated one. To put things in perspective, about 40% of the country's total GDP of $1 trillion comes from retail sales to Indian consumers. The local, one-off corner stores account for more than 94% of this total retail sales of around $400 billion. So-called organised retail that can be defined as a chain of anything more than 3-4 stores backed by an Indian entrepreneur or promoter, accounts for only 6% of total retail sales. This category includes names such as Reliance Retail, Spencer's, Pantaloon, Aditya Birla Retail, Bharti, etc. 


 It would help to put some facts in perspective. Store sales and store profitability are an outcome of a number of factors. First, how the supply chain is configured, how efficient it is, how does the fruit-and-vegetable (F&V) supply-chain work, what is the dump, what is the negotiating power of the store, etc. Second, how well the store understands consumer preferences and needs, how good its merchandising skills are, how well its people are trained, and the ability to provide credit and convenience. And third, what is the store's location, the cost of its real estate and its overall positioning. 


An interesting fact about retail globally is that it is not a business that travels well. There are very few truly global retail chains. Wal-Mart has been successful in several countries, but equally it has done poorly in others. Carrefour and Tesco are the only other companies that have a strong market share in more than one country. In addition, the small-format store, or the convenience store, is almost always local in nature. So, even for Tesco, Wal-Mart and Carrefour, the format that they have used across borders has been the large-format, or hypermarket, store. 


As regards the F&V supply chain, much is made of how organised retail can contribute. However, this part of the business is hardest to manage and run profitably, and no Indian retailer has been successful so far. Most chains keep F&V to generate footfalls, but it's mostly a loss leader. The supply chain for the rest of the merchandise is easier to manage and is already reasonably efficient in the Indian context courtesy the distribution prowess of the large FMCG companies. 


 With this perspective, let's examine the government's intention and analyse what makes sense and what does not. Are the fears of the small retailers justified and what is the likely evolution of Indian organised retailing with Indian groups as well as foreign participants? The Dipp draft report states that FDI could be helpful in improving the backend, generate efficiencies in the supply chain that could help reduce inflation, provide employment and generally help reduce costs that will ultimately benefit the Indian consumer. These are all noble objectives and one can't really object to any of them. But let's take them one by one. 


 Will the backend improve: My view is that the normal supply chain will definitely improve as the large retailers will be able to bring their advanced expertise to bear. More importantly, the likes of Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour will be able to bring a global scale in their negotiations with the MNCs such as Unilever, Nestlé, Reckitt, P&G, Pepsi, Coke, etc. They will be able to pass on these reduced prices to their customers and, India being a price-sensitive market, this will certainly help them pick up sales. On the other hand, I do not quite believe that these companies will be able to bring skills to bear onthe F&V side — this is an area fraught with inefficient intermediaries such as the arthiyas and mandis, and while you can set up a direct distribution linkage with farmers, managing it successfully on an end-to-end basis is not an easy task — something that even the likes of Reliance and Pantaloon have also not been able to manage so far. 

Will the customer experience improve:Sure it will. Those customers who go to the large retail outlets will get better pricing and a better shopping experience, but whether it beats the convenience of kirana down the street for day-to-day shopping is highly debatable. 


SO, WHEREVER organised retail is available, there will be some shifting of shopping baskets such that the monthly shopping might move to the larger hypermarket, but the convenience and day-today vegetable shopping will continue from neighbourhood stores. 


 Will FDI in retail generate new employment: 


Of course it will. As the Indian GDP grows, so will the need for new retail formats, experiences and outlets. New stores, whether kirana, organised retail or FDI, will automatically lead to new employment generation — it really depends on how much of the incremental spend each of these three categories captures. It is a fallacious argument that employment generation will go up only because FDI retailers are entering the system — as penetration of any form of retail goes up in India, it will inevitably lead to new employment generation. Yes, one can argue that the speed of this penetration will increase through more competition and, therefore, employment generation will get hastened. 


 Will the kiranas be hit:Those kiranastores next to a new store would, of course, be hit. But that would be the case whether the new store would have been an FDI store, an organised retailer's store or even a new kirana. In general, however, I think that the value proposition of a kiranais so well-defined that it would be difficult to completely replace them: the convenience of location, credit, home delivery, years of established relationship, cheaper real estate, deep understanding of their communities and incrediblytightly merchandised stores will be impossible to replicate by a new player even in the long run. Having said that, new competition would be good for consumers and bad for the existing players. And it can be nobody's argument not to allow new competition. 
    The only question is whether we should allow new competition in the form of foreign players who can sustain years of losses. My view is: let them try. I don't believe that Indian retail is an easy business and kiranas will also not simply roll over. They will band up, improve their sourcing ability, improve their already-robust product offering and compete fiercely. All this will be healthy in the long run for the Indian economy and the Indian consumer, and I believe that all the new entrants in the market, whether foreign or local, will take from the growth in the pie, rather than from the existing market. 


 So, all in all, competition will get tougher, but I don't think the kiranas need to fear the new players. They will weather the FDI storm just as they have successfully weathered the entry of the domestic organised retailers. And consumers will certainly benefit, even if the elusive F&V supply chain is not much improved, notwithstanding the government's expectations in this regard. 


  (The author runs SaVant Advisors,     afinancial advisory firm)








Ex-Commissioner Delhi Police Time to introduce institutional checks 


IPOSED the same question to Sir Robert Mark, the legendry Police Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, London, in 1971: how do they manage to resist so successfully political interference. My question confused him. He asked me to clarify the question. I explained: if politicians try to interfere in the registration or investigation of a case, how do you tackle it? He was taken aback by my explanation and said, "but Mr Marwah, that is unthinkable in this country!" Alas, that is not the case in our country! The ruling party leaders are blatantly manipulating every police agency; both at the Centre and the states, to further their political and even personal agendas. Political interference is increasing with every passing year. 


Not all that long ago, the credibility of the CBI was so high that a CBI investigation into politically-sensitive and controversial cases had higher credibility than judicial enquiries. The implementation of Supreme Court directive about the appointment to the post of the director, CBI, was expected to check the rot, but that has unfortunately not happened. 


 Since there is little hope of a change in our political culture, there is no alternative to introducing institutional checks. One, the leader of the opposition should be a member of the committee for the selection of an officer for the director's post from the panel prepared by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner along with the minister of personnel under whom the CBI functions. Two, the CBI should revert to its long-standing practice of not arresting an accused, except in rare circumstances, and leave it to the court to decide whether to issue warrant of arrest after the submission of the charge-sheet. Three, no press briefing or leakages about the progress of investigation should be made unless it is considered absolutely necessary in public interest till the completion of the investigation of a case. Four, the director should have a fixed tenure of, say, three years, and no extension should be given after the completion of his tenure. And five, he should not be eligible, for two years, for appointment to a government job after his retirement.





THE CBI has become the whipping boy for its alleged misuse. The Opposition has alleged that the CBI has become the Congress Bureau of Investigation. The Central Bureau of Investigation, the central government's premier investigating agency, was given this name by an Executive Order, though legally, there is no such thing as CBI. Legally, it is the Special Police Establishment. It cannot either investigate or function in any state without the consent of the state governments. The CBI cannot draw a road map for its functioning. 
 While some of its staff are from the cadres of the CBI itself, many other top functionaries, especially those who generally deal with legal matters in the constitutional courts, are representatives of the law ministry for whom the future is not with the investigating agency but with the law ministry. Hence, a suspicion is always there that it is the law ministry that calls the shots. 


And it is the government and not CBI that decides as to who will represent it in the constitutional courts and what legal stand will be taken in a court or whether an appeal will be filed in a case in the higher courts. Notwithstanding these constraints, the average conviction percentage of the CBI cases is 70%. 

AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi conceded on May 5, 2009, "Every party in power can pressure institutions. Every government tries to push its people into such agencies. It is a fact, it is a reality of Indian politics." The BJP has described Mr Gandhi's comments as a 'confessional statement' on the misuse of CBI. The Opposition has been steadfast in its charge that CBI was being manipulated by the ruling Congress. Of late, even parties viewed as friendly to Congress have accused CBI of calibrating its probe in sensitive cases to suit the whims of the forces in power. On whether the CBI has been misused, my answer is simple: it is an easy question to deal with since the answer is obvious. The only way to insulate the CBI from political interference is to give it a constitutional status like the Election Commission, high courts and the Supreme Court.







THICK heavy clouds hung over a stormy Arabian Sea. Flashes of lighting streaked across the sky. The scene could be regarded either as spectacular or gloomy, depending on how one chose to see it. Much like the revised discussion paper (RDP) on the proposed direct tax code — one could say that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had ironed out many difficulties, or one could say it had only added to the problems of the corporate taxpayer. 


 Zenobia Aunty, down with a few niggling ailments, was not her cheerful self and preferred to see the glass half empty, so to speak. A paragraph tucked away in the RDP proposing the ministry of finance intent to introduce controlled foreign corporation (CFC) provisions in India caught her eye. 


This proposal is viewed as an anti-avoidance measure and provides that passive income earned by a foreign company that is directly or indirectly controlled by an Indian resident, shall be subject to CFC provisions. In other words, even where such passive income is not distributed to the Indian shareholders, it shall be treated as having been distributed and shall be subject to tax in India in the hands of the Indian shareholders as dividend income. 


Mind you, dividend received in India is taxed at the full corporate rate (currently 30%) plus applicable surcharge and cess. It is only dividend that is declared by an Indian company, on which dividend distribution tax has been paid, that is exempt from Indian income tax in the hands of its shareholders, be they Indian or foreign. 


"Why introduce something which was not there in the draft direct taxes code?" muttered Zenobia Aunty. "Why can't they go to the root of the problem?" she added and stomped her foot in anger, taking a slumbering Spot by surprise. 


 Dear readers, please bear with her while she repeats herself: if only India would exempt dividend repatriated from overseas, there would be no need for Indian companies making overseas forays to set up intermediary holding companies to park overseas profits and no need for introduction of complicated CFC provisions. True, the Indian corporate tax rate has steadily declined, but if one compares it with the tax rates in some developed regimes, such as neighbouring Singapore which is now 17%, we still have a long way to go. 


 Thus, bringing back dividends into India and subjecting such income to 30% tax doesn't make economical sense, it seems more feasible to keep it overseas and use it for further overseas growth. The best solution, to attract dividend repatriation, is either a full exemption to foreign dividends repatriated to India or, if this is not possible, areduced rate of tax. 


"Further, how could the intention of introducing CFC provisions be announced without a parallel intent to introduce underlying tax credit rules? In the absence of underlying tax credit rules, the Indian multinational will be subject to multiple taxation of the same income," exclaims Zenobia Aunty. An underlying tax credit is a credit for any tax on the underlying profits, out of which the dividend is paid. 


 Perhaps it was the Vijay Mathur Committee, which in its report in January 2003, first mentioned the need for introduction of CFC provisions. However, the same report also spoke of the need to introduce underlying tax credit. This report provided illustrations of various exemptions from the CFC regime — in other words, instances where the undistributed profits would not be taxed in the hands of the Indian shareholder as dividend income in India. 


The exemptions covered: a CFC that would distribute a certain percentage of income in a year; was engaged in genuine business activities; was not established for the purpose of avoiding domestic tax; was listed on a stock exchange; or even a de-minimis exemption if the total income of the CFCs did not exceed a particular threshold amount. 


In addition, the Vijay Mathur Committee accepted that since CFC regime attributes income to the shareholders before actual distribution of income, relief provisions are ordinarily built in to prevent double taxation of CFCs income that is subsequently distributed. It provided illustrations for inclusion of relief provisions such as: relief on account of foreign taxes paid; relief on account of dividend paid out of the previous attributed income; relief in respect of losses incurred; and relief from double taxation on subsequent capital gains arising from disposition of shares arising out of CFC by the shareholder, where the shareholders have been previously taxed on the undistributed income of the CFC. 


 It would have been simpler to encourage repatriation of foreign dividend into India, but now that the intent to introduce CFC is made clear, care must be taken to ensure it does not sound the death knell for Indian companies. Perhaps, some sensible measures will cheer up Zenobia Aunty.







 WHERE does morality come from? For the majority of people who are believers, it comes from God because God is the ultimate good and, therefore, He must have created us with the ability to know right from wrong — as opposed to animals who we assume don't have this judgemental acumen. But then along came Darwin and the moral naturalists who felt that such a discerning sensibility was an evolutionary handme-down established by such social creatures as bees, pack-hunting wild dogs and monkeys who cooperate towards a common goal for the betterment of their group or community. 


 Or, as David Brooks puts in a recent New York Times op-ed, "By the time humans came around, evolution had forged a pretty firm foundation for a moral sense… we have natural receptors that help us recognise fairness and cruelty." 


 He then quotes a study where six-month-old babies were shown photographs of a figure struggling up a hill along with another figure helping him and a third hindering. Apparently, even these early infants demonstrated their preference for the helper over the hinderer. 


It's a short detour from there to altruism, sacrifice and the search for value within the environment of cooperation. 


Yet, there's a problem: cooperation doesn't axiomatically culminate in goodness or value. The unbelievable degree of teamwork achieved by George Clooney's gang of casino robbers in Ocean's Eleven is something that would put whole generations of termites to shame, but does that mean what they did was right? 

The Nazis collaborated like a fine-tuned orchestra in running their concentration camps for a 'final solution', but is genocide right? 


Is there a shred of morality here? Cooperation might have evolutionary value, but is not necessarily principled on ethics because it's ultimately limited in scope. Survival of the fittest may be transformed into survival of the 'goodest', but only in a very restrictive sense where the greater good is conveniently left out. 


 On the other hand, take a man who says he will not kill any animal for food even if that animal happens to be an accidental germ. Such a person is actually bucking every evolutionary attribute in him that predicates the kind of meal his species intakes. Others may think he's completely nuts, but no one in his right mind believes he's a bad person or in any way evil. So much for evolution explaining our morality.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




India's non-violent political struggle for freedom from British rule was sought to be emulated by many former colonies. It is doubtful, however, if any of them would choose to follow this country's parliamentary practice.


The way it has evolved betrays few signs that our Parliament is really the legislation-making institution of a country which should be resolved with a sense of urgency to lift millions out of poverty and set them on course to a life of dignity. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha resemble more a factory whose workers are ready for a flash strike at any time. A protest in the Indian Parliament against a government measure typically involves full-throated slogan-shouting by large numbers of MPs whose immediate object is to bring all business to a standstill.


The most virulent form of protest is one in which the Opposition parties simply decide collectively that Parliament shall not be allowed to function. This is what has been on display most of this week as a consequence of the Opposition's demand that the unconscionable rise in the price of essential commodities must only be discussed under an adjournment motion and no other rule.


People do not have too high an opinion of our politicians in any case, and seeing the latter shy away from their place of work is hardly likely to impress the electorate. It is a good sign that our MPs — who move heaven and earth to get elected but show little inclination as a body to take their core function of lawmaking seriously — have decided to highlight the cause of ordinary Indians groaning for two years under a regime of extraordinarily high prices of essential goods. But if the protesting MPs were serious, and meant what they said when they criticised the government's policies that presumably led to the jump in prices, they would have forced discussions at several levels, including in the parliamentary committees, on the broad question of economic and monetary policies that have created the present situation. They should have come prepared not just with their views but also with data and analysis that will stand scrutiny. This is the kind of hard work most of our MPs give little evidence of being capable of. There are no costs attached as MPs seldom win or lose elections on the basis of their performance in the House. In effect, once elected, our MPs earn the dubious licence to conduct themselves in Parliament without purpose that may be linked to hard, unglamorous work on behalf of the people they represent. This was not always so. That is because parties nominated individuals with a track record of hard work as social and political activists.


The trend has certainly changed in the past quarter century. Whatever the quality of our MPs these days, all parties and presiding officers need to pay attention to reforming work schedules and work patterns. It is necessary to frame rules that will increase the allotment of time for discussion and debate both on the floor and in committee.








For a person who is so unmistakably Anglo-Saxon by temperament, Mani Shankar Aiyar has never been partial to the understatement. Whether in private or in his public utterances, this "man of letters" (an unlikely honour accorded to him by an equally unlikely judge of the arts) has packaged his undeniable wit in reckless hyperbole, an impishness that once prompted me to describe him as the Beast of Myladuthurai — a recondite allusion to a character from juvenile literature of another age.


Ever since he came into public gaze as a functionary of the Prime Minister's Office way back in 1985, Mr Aiyar has provided hours of amusement to all those who appreciate his brand of adult puerility. Unfortunately, Mr Aiyar has a niche appeal and his wit has invited the righteous indignation of those not fortunate to have been raised on a diet of Carry On films and Kooler Talk. The weightier bits of Mr Aiyar's interventions have been obscured by his merciless asides.


So it was with his spontaneous outburst against the Commonwealth Games (CWG), due to be hosted by Delhi in October. Having decried the thousands of crores being wasted on such "circuses", Mr Aiyar fell back on Biblical imagery to suggest that "those who are patronising the Games can only be Evil. They cannot be God". But it was his coup de grace that had the CWG officialdom reaching for their guns: "I will be very unhappy if the Games are successful because they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games…" An incensed boss of the Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi, the prime target of Mr Aiyar's ire, responded by calling him "anti-national", a charge that in public discourse is almost akin to questioning the marital status of one's parents.


If Mr Aiyar had been playing the loose cannon yet again, his intervention would have been treated with the familiar Mani-is-Mani refrain. Unfortunately for the government, and despite his characteristic overkill, Mr Aiyar's gripe touched a responsive chord in a Delhi that has been mute witness to an orgy of inept and profligate spending of taxpayers' money. In normal circumstances, the media and the political class have voiced the disquiet of citizens. In the case of the CWG, blessed with a mega-budget of unimaginable proportions, there have been scattered voices against particular projects — the renovation of bus shelters on roads where buses don't run, the re-paving of perfectly decent pavements, the slipshod finishing of sporting venues, et al. Sadly, these haven't been accompanied by any dissection of the event in its totality. The reasons for this lapse are a matter of conjecture.


Mr Aiyar's contribution lay in being bold enough to say that the Emperor has no clothes. Had he not done it with aplomb and polemical exaggeration, no one would have taken notice. Now the growing scepticism over the CWG can't be ignored. In riding his socialistic hubby horse, he has unwittingly created a window of opportunity for a widespread expression of disgust.


Beginning from the Berlin Olympics of 1936, international sporting events have become the occasion for countries and their governments to showcase themselves to the wider world. Yet, to succeed, official endeavours have to be accompanied by a huge measure of popular involvement, the Sydney Olympics of 2004 and even the just-concluded soccer World Cup in South Africa being case studies of purposeful harmony. What is striking about the Delhi CWG is the marked alienation of local citizens from an event that is also aimed at leaving behind a tangible legacy for the future.


Part of the reason lies in the sheer arbitrariness that marked the decision-making over civic improvements. In normal democratic societies, the re-fashioning of a city ought to have been preceded by widespread consultations between planners, local authorities and civil society. In the case of Delhi, tardiness at the initial stages led to a flurry of rushed decisions that left no time to observe the niceties of consultation. Whereas the objective of civic improvements should have been to create a better city, the late start meant that the completion of projects by October 2010 became the sole criterion. The inevitable consequence was a series of decisions that post-CWG Delhi may well come to regret.


The rush to meet an inflexible deadline has, of course, resulted in shoddy civil works that could result in some of the sports complexes becoming unusable in a year's time. But more galling has been the overhead route of the Delhi Metro that runs precariously close to residential areas, schools and even hospitals. Equally offensive has been the systematic felling of trees, the destruction of storm water drains and the questionable aesthetics of beautification. From being a city of parks, Delhi is in danger of becoming a city of parking lots.


This celebration of brashness isn't confined to the murder of aesthetics alone; it has a bearing on public finances. When the National Demoratic Alliance government cleared the proposal to bid for the CWG, it was said that the cost would be Rs 150 crores. To enhance the quality of the bid, the figure was raised to nearly Rs 1,900 crores. Some cost overruns were predictable — the cost of hosting the London Olympics in 2012 has risen fourfold, from £2.3 billion to £9.4 billion — and dependant on the scale of the legacy projects. In the case of the CWG, there is a mystery over the actual costs with estimates ranging from Rs 30,000 crores to Rs 50,000 crores.


How much of this money has been judiciously spent to create tangible assets for the future? Scepticism is justified when people see perfectly decent pavements in Lutyens' Delhi being uprooted for something new and then new one being again uprooted because someone forgot the drains or the water pipes. If there is a subsequent audit, it will reveal innumerable horror stories, enough to keep the ubiquitous CBI busy for years to come. If there isn't, the CWG will set a new benchmark of brazenness.


The CWG will have beneficiaries. Regrettably, it won't be the people of Delhi.


* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist








Saturday will mark the 30th death anniversary of Mohammed Rafi, India's singing legend who was loved beyond the borders of South Asia. Though he was paired with many playback singers over a career spanning four decades, his more memorable songs were rendered with the iconic female vocalist, Lata Mangeshkar. Rafi was a Punjabi Muslim, Lata a Maharashtrian Hindu. Their love songs still inspire millions.


The Lata-Rafi pairing was not some deliberate shoring up of maudlin secularism in the clichéd Hindu-Muslim mode. Just before them, the duets of Kundan Lal Sehgal and Khursheed Bano were a rage in a self-assured India. After the trauma of 1947, Rafi and Lata, unconsciously and unobtrusively, came to symbolise the multicultural resilience and the feasibility of the experiment called India. And nearly all their duets were similarly — unconsciously and unobtrusively — a musical rejection of the idea of Pakistan, not necessarily the way its founder conceived it, but the way it evolved.


For decades after Partition there were other ways in which India claimed the higher moral ground over Pakistan in the realm of popular and classical cultural motifs. I am privy to an ongoing discussion between worried artists, mostly from Pakistan, about the state of affairs. To back up their thesis they listed several grievances with their country.


Only on Sunday, says Waseem Altaf who seems to have initiated a Web discussion in Pakistan, he was watching a TV programme on the novelist Quratulain Haider. She went to Pakistan in 1949 where she joined the Press Information Department. In 1959 her great novel Aag Ka Darya was published. It raised important questions about Partition. It was this more than anything else, feels Altaf, that made it impossible for her to continue to live in Pakistan. So she returned to India and permanently settled there.


Similarly, Sahir Ludhianvi, a much-loved romantic poet, had settled down in Lahore in 1943, where he worked for a number of Urdu magazines. Everything was going well until his writings, influenced by Communism, appeared in Savera. A warrant for his arrest was put out by the government of Pakistan. In 1949 Sahir fled to India and never looked back.


Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the magical classical singer, was a Pakistani citizen. He became so disillusioned by the apparent apathy towards him and his art in Pakistan that he applied for and was granted a permanent Indian immigrant visa in 1957-58. He migrated to India where he lived happily till his death. Perhaps all who migrated to India lived a full life and were conferred with awards and affection.


On the other hand, Saadat Hassan Manto, whose acerbically crafted stories of the Partition still evoke and define the tragedy, migrated to Pakistan after 1947 where he was tried thrice for obscenity. Disheartened and financially broke he died at the early age of 42.


Zia Sarhadi, the Marxist filmmaker who made memorable films like Footpath and Humlog, was a celebrity in Bombay when he chose to migrate to Pakistan. Rahguzar, his first movie there, turned out to be the last he ever directed. During Gen. Zia-ul Haq's martial law he was picked up by the Army and kept in solitary confinement in terrible conditions. The charges against him were sedition and an inclination towards Marxism. On his release he left the country to live in the UK never to come back.


The scholar poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was arrested in 1951 under the Public Safety Act and charged in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case. Later he was jailed for more than four years.


Ustad Daman, the popular Punjabi poet, had a charisma of his own. His radical views landed him in jail on one occasion following the discovery of a bomb planted in his room by his detractors. Pandit Nehru wooed him to take Indian citizenship but he stayed put in Pakistan in spite of the challenges he faced.


It was common to find Pakistanis seeking refuge in India right up to Zia-ul Haq's martial law regime. Indira Gandhi ensured that the special guests were well looked after. In the 1990s, the tide turned and this is what the excessively nationalist Indian intellectuals fail to accept. They seem to have little idea of how deeply the rise of the Right-wing in India corroded the very idea on which India was founded.


The events in Ayodhya found a bewildered Jyotindra Nath Dixit, a fine diplomat who was foreign secretary when the Babri tragedy happened in December 1992, telling his team to simply admit to the worried world that the Indian dream had suffered a setback, not a reversal. Was he right? Time will tell.


Perhaps it is already too late. The Right-wing rumblings in India, a country many Pakistanis till recently saw as an escape from Zia's bigotry, was beginning to look like a replica of Pakistan. That's how Fehmida Riaz, sensitive to India's Nehruvian tryst, not the least because she had found refuge there through much of Zia's military excesses, was moved to speak up. She wrote:


"Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle

Ab tak kahaan chhupe thay bhai

Wo ghaamadpan, wo jaahilpan jisme humne sadi gawaee

Ab pahonchi hai dwaar tumharey

Arey badhaee, bahot badhaee"


On one occasion when Fehmida was reciting the poem at a mushaira in Delhi, an enraged Army officer believed


she was insulting his patriotism and whipped out a pistol. She was quickly rushed out and escorted to the safety of her hotel room.


The Lata-Rafi fan club is substantially curtailed today. Along with it the era of their multicultural representation of India has all but waned. It would strike anyone from that era as something odd to read a newspaper headline, as one did on Wednesday, to the effect that the Indian government wants to correct the absence of an Islamic motif from the Commonwealth Games due in October in Delhi.








There is something about controversies in India that is disheartening. The problem lies in the fact that as rituals of public debate and disclosure they are never complete. Consider the recent debates about Commonwealth Games.


The last round was sparked off by member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar's tongue-in-cheek statement that the monsoons are good for agriculture and bad for the Games. It was not clear whether he was being sport or spoilt sport. Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi took the latter interpretation and declared not a single stadium would have come up if Mr Aiyar had been sports minister. A wag added that if it is buildings they wanted, Mayawati would have been the ideal choice.


Levity aside, one is first of all struck by the predictable nature of the debate. The script when structured reads as follows: Theme one is the China syndrome. The Chinese did a perfect 10.0 job on managing the Olympics and we cannot run the Commonwealth or even the Commonwealth Games. Implicit in it is the tacit or overt war between the two systems, about which is more livable and efficient.


If the global split is China-India, the local split is Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP loves to remind everyone that Atal Behari Vajpayee got India the Games and the prestige, while the Congress has vitiated it through its lotus-eating tactics.


In both scenarios the Commonwealth Games is only a site for wider ideological debates about preferences. Underwriting both is the sense of national identity and pride where botched-up Games will be seen as a sign of Indian incompetence. It is this that makes the beleaguered organisers dub the critics as anti-national. The nation state is too official and too serious a vector to allow criticism.


The reader or listener following the controversy begins realising that the facts are incidental, that regardless of content, every debate is dressed in the standard costume ball of oppositions. Predictably, if the nationalists are holding forth, the socialists cannot be far behind. Their demand is that sport be nationalised. But this is seen as either bureaucratic greed or ideological nostalgia.


The next move notes that the stadiums are meant for sporting events and not training. They smell like exclusive clubs from which local athletes are excluded. The debate now takes the standard democratic or populist twist with human rights group talking of displacement and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) talking about the lack of participation and consent.


All this is obfuscated by a clash of personalities with people wondering whether Mr Kalmadi wishes to outdo Juan Samaranch in terms of longevity of claims to a position. One wonders if his sense of sport extends to the possibility of giving some others a chance at running the sport. One then realises that control of sport adds to the possibility of politics as conspicuous consumption.


By the time the scenario is enacted, the controversy sounds like a B-grade movie. Only in real life there is no hero to convert the last two months into an exciting finale. The spectator begins wondering whether the rhetoric of politics even allows for genuine problem solving.


Look at it another way. The preparation of the Commonwealth Games is actually a minor development project. Project delays are standard and predictable. Project overruns are a habit as if a project without a cost-overrun would lose status. Development projects, like Indian marriages, expect things to be miraculously solved or papered over in the last minute. What one misses is a sense of competence, transparency and participation. Contrast this to the British preparation for the Olympics.


The British Olympic organising committee has a charismatic leader, a genuine success story, in Lord Sebastian Coe. Coe is a great athlete, two-time winner of the Olympic Gold medal. He inspires. In true marketing style he has even produced a book, The Winning Mind, about his vision of life and sport. Our politicians and bureaucrats who run sport look flabby, seedy, overweight and incompetent next to Coe.


As a leader, Coe has put into place vision, method, transparency and a system of feedback. He wants to regenerate the City and in particular East London. Whatever the eventual success, the goals are clear, articulate and transparent. Beyond the clarity of goals, there is the clarity of markers which highlights the standards of evaluation. The Olympic committee has professionals and experts but the ritual of management is not only a technocratic exercise.


Coe and his team offer it as a vision of a city, a regenerated, participative city. The plans are available and he has followed it up with elaborate discussions. The plan has its sceptics, particularly about the usability and access to sports facilities after the Olympics. But the vision of the Olympics is a vision of a city, the benefits it might expect as a result of such investment mounting to £9 billion. It is visualised as the greatest building project "since the Great Fire of 1666".


Coe has already started a campaign for volunteers. He hopes that an auxiliary army of 70,000 volunteers will create a penumbra of excitement about the games, making it more participative. Predictably the corporations are joining the bandwagon with McDonald's offering a training programme.


Meanwhile, Delhi appears like a city with its intestines hanging out. To add to it, we have no programme of participation, content with the reputation of being rude citizens. What one misses is the absence of an imagination, a sense of the civics of the sport, and national pride. Why does sports management remain the seedy monopoly of seedier bureaucrats and politicians? One misses the effervescence, the sense of sport about the Games. Can state and civil society combine to redeem the spirit of the Games? Or do we as a society play spoil sport to a great possibility, content to say "I told you so".


One childishly wishes for the little miracle that redeems the current idiocy, the blame game which is the only sport Indians play well.


* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








Ignatius of Loyola. Know him? Perhaps not! Jesuits? Know them? Perhaps not! Xavier's School or Loyola College? Surely, you've either studied in one or you've heard about this brand and the brand that runs institutions north-south from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and east-west from Kolkata to Khambhat. They call themselves Jesuits and owe their origins and existence to one man: Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) whose feast is celebrated on July 31.


Have you seen the A.M.D.G. abbreviation on emblems of Xavier or Loyola institutions and wondered what that meant? I too wondered when I entered a Jesuit school. Seniors told me that it stood for "Aunty Mary, Dirty Girl!" — a mentally-challenged woman nicknamed "Aunty Mary" who begged near our school-gate. Later I learnt that A.M.D.G. wasn't coined by Aunty Mary but by Ignatius who, in fact, had sometimes been considered mentally-challenged, but was an expert in challenging, mentally.


Ignatius was considered mentally "different" since he always thought out of the box. A vanquished Basque warrior, after an arduous pilgrimage, he started a multinational religious organisation, the Society of Jesus. Ignatius loved stargazing and dreamt how his group could be "up there", gooder than the good and better than the best. That's why he hit upon the Latin A.M.D.G. — Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, meaning, "For the greater glory of God". Ignatius summed this up in another Latin word: magis, meaning, more!


To grasp the import of "more" let's take an example. Suppose you're merely "good", you'd want to be "better" or something "more". Hence, Ignatius desired that his disciples always seek the "more", the greater — so that, pumped up by a holy restlessness they'd strive to love God, and all God's children, with that "more" would make them athirst for excellence.


True to the dreams of Saint Ignatius, some Jesuits were extraordinary men, like Francis Xavier who came to India, and Matteo Ricci who so impressed the Chinese Emperor Wan-li that he was called "Sage of the West". In India, we've had Jesuits like Camile Bulcke who compiled the best English-Hindi dictionary, Carlos Valles, acclaimed author in Gujarati literature and an expert on Jainism, Jerome D'Souza, who was a member of the constituent Assembly and S. Ignacimuthu, former vice-chancellor of the University of Madras and accomplished scientist.


What makes Jesuits tick? In his book Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney reveals the values that have guided the Jesuits for more than 450 years: self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism. Ignatius taught his shishyas methods of prayer famously known as "Spiritual Exercises" aimed at making one aware of inner dispositions and spiritual depths.


Ingenuity is about keeping pace with a fast-changing world. Describing himself as a "pilgrim", Ignatius wanted Jesuits to be ever on the move — dreaming impossible dreams and building new bridges. The ideal Jesuit was to be one with one foot raised, ever ready to respond to emerging exigencies.


The name Ignatius derives from Ignis, the Latin equivalent of Agni, fire. Like mythical Prometheus who gifted humankind with fire, Ignatius inspired Jesuits to be fires that would enkindle other fires. Obviously, that doesn't always happen. One often sees thanda Jesuits who mouth magis slogans with "minimus" output. Jesuitical, indeed!


Anyone familiar with the Loyola or Xavier brand will look up with pride at that man — nay, that "more" than other mortals, Ignatius — who did everything A.M.D.G — for the greater glory of God!


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







While conducting my never-ending search for cheerful news, I noticed that one of New York's senators made the Top 10 in a list of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill.
The second piece of good news is that it was not Chuck Schumer. Congratulations, Kirsten Gillibrand!

Additional happy tidings: The gulf oil spill doesn't look as bad as we thought. Although you never can tell what's going on deep down below. Surface appearance is not everything. Do you hear that, Senator Gillibrand?


Finally, I am happy to report that Chelsea Clinton is getting married on Saturday. Perhaps you hadn't heard.


"This is hard, let me tell you", said Hillary Clinton.


She was referring to preparations for her daughter's big day, not high-stakes diplomacy. Although the two might be connected. Maybe the North Koreans threatened to nuke the American-South Korean war games because they thought our country would be easy to bulldoze while the secretary of state was labouring under the stress of wedding planning.


"I was one of those brides of our vintage", Clinton told me a while back. We are of the same generation, and during her presidential campaign she once said that she was always happy to see me because at least there would be somebody her age on the press plane.


"We agreed to get married one weekend, got married the next weekend", Clinton reminisced. Chelsea is definitely going in a different direction. The estimates of the cost of her wedding have all been coming from people who aren't actually involved in it, but if they get any more grandiose, we will have stories on Fox News about how the ceremony cost more than the national budget of Burundi.


Let her have her day. She's due. Chelsea has been a national public figure against her will since she was 12, and in all that time she has never embarrassed her family — or us. Before she went off to Columbia to study public health policy, she worked for a New York management consulting firm and a hedge fund where her colleagues unanimously (and off-the-recordly) reported that she was a stupendously hard worker. She recognised early on that when celebrity is thrust on you, the trick is to learn to do something besides being famous.


(Talking to you, Bristol.)


In days of yore, presidential offspring frequently came to grief. Early on, there were quite a few suicidal alcoholics. FDR's five children managed to produce 19 marriages. I always had a feeling that Amy Carter, who was sent to public school in Washington amid a crush of publicity, did not love the experience.


But she seemed to be happy at her own wedding in 1996 in the yard of her late grandmother's house, cutting a wedding cake she had baked herself. The bride wore an embroidered dress from the 1920s. The groom, a computer consultant, wore a ponytail. Her father did not give her away because, as Jimmy Carter told the press, "Amy said she didn't belong to anyone".


Jenna Bush had a few unfortunate brushes with the law during her White House years. But it was nothing that couldn't have been avoided if the legal drinking age in Texas had been 18. Anyway, she seems to have turned out great. After graduation, she worked for Unicef, taught at an inner-city public school in Washington and wrote a book about a young woman with AIDS in Latin America. She is now a reading coordinator at a school in Baltimore and makes occasional reports on education for Today.


Her sister, Barbara, worked at a hospital in South Africa, did educational programming for a museum and now leads a Peace Corps-type organisation called Global Health Corps. The twins are only 28, but they already seem to have racked up more good works than Mother Teresa.


Virtually everyone in America loathes either George W. Bush or Bill and Hillary. Yet every sensible person, no matter what political stripe, would have to admit that both families produced really good kids.


And they're not untypical. Although no generation lacks warts, our 20-somethings are terrific. We worry about the youth of America turning into distracted Twitterers with superficial values who will never find jobs, but every single day I trip over recent college graduates who are amazing — funny and smart with an astonishing work ethic. They all seem to be working on 14 different useful projects, most of them unpaid. If I had had to compete against them when I was 21, I'd still be working on my graduate school application.


Happy wedding, Chelsea. Excellent job, Bush twins. Good luck, Amy Carter, wherever you are. We are pleased to be a country that produced such nice young adults out of such a lunatic political environment.


"I'm having a vicarious experience", said Hillary Clinton happily.

As are we all.


By arrangement with the New York Times









OF far greater relevance than the rumbustious proceedings over food prices in Parliament on Tuesday was the Supreme Court's rap on the knuckles of a faltering government. Any laboured excuse for ballooning inflation or assurance by economic advisers that the rate will decline very shortly are of lesser moment than the affirmation of reality by the Bench (coram: Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, JJ). The observations mirror the overwhelming failure of the Food ministry to avert the "large-scale rotting and wastage of food across the country''. It confirms the impression that the crisis isn't embedded entirely in the drought and failed crop. No less critical is the fact that there aren't enough facilities to store the available grain; food worth Rs 800 crore is said to be rotting in Punjab alone, an index of the callous indifference towards minimum precautions in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and UP as well. The irony couldn't have been more cruel. The authorities will let food rot "instead of distributing it among the poor who are dying of starvation", to quote the Bench. Just as they can afford to be remarkably insensitive to rising prices, the collapse of the PDS and the dithering over the Food Security Bill. Hence the court's directive to the Centre to report within a fortnight on the steps taken to streamline the rationing system. The diversion of foodgrain to the blackmarket isn't uniquely Bengal; that such diversion has assumed nationwide proportions is fairly implicit in the ruling.  

While the discourse on universal PDS hobbles the Food Security Bill, the Supreme Court's suggestion calls for reflection.  Specifically, the abolition of the Above Poverty Line segment matched with a corresponding expansion of the BPL category. As it is, the ration card is of little or no use to the APL holders who can afford to pay open market rates. In tangible terms, this ought to make more food available to the poor without additional public spending, the carping point of the Group of Ministers at the meetings of the National Advisory Council. Small wonder why the pitch for universal PDS by the social scientists, pre-eminently Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, has made no headway. The court's caveat ~ not a single foodgrain should be wasted ~ indicates the extent of the rot. Once again, the judiciary has stepped in where the executive has failed to tread. 




INCONGRUOUS it might appear that after declining to go along with the Speaker's suggestion to shift Question Hour to the evening, the Opposition exploited the first available opportunity to indulge in the disruptive tactics that had prompted presiding officers of both Houses into advocating a time-switch. Yet that scuttling of the initial Question Hour of the monsoon session can in no way be cited as validating the proposal ~ for it actually amounts to shifting the goalposts in accordance with the drift of the ball. While full details are not available of what transpired at a series of meetings, the Opposition does appear to have made a couple of valid points. Not the least of these being that attendance thins as the day wears on, and if few members were present to put supplementaries the government would get away relatively lightly. Tradition would be turned on its head for state legislatures would follow suit. It would also deprive the Opposition of a "weapon". The buzz is that the government is not too keen either. Both ministers and officials would have to drastically rework their "systems"; at present many of them complete their parliamentary duties in the forenoon, deal with other matters thereafter. And despite the contention that "Parliament is supreme" those other aspects of government have relevance and importance too. They cannot be downgraded, even if a rescheduled Question Hour were to proceed smoothly ~ of which there can be no guarantee. 

Is Question Hour as sacrosanct as the "parliamentary authorities" contend? This is a contention that almost every presiding officer has endorsed. As indeed have the members themselves, through a couple of unanimous resolutions that, alas, remain only on paper. True that, in theory, it is the period when individual members rather than parties have opportunity to scrutinise governmental functioning, but is that the reality? On almost every tricky issue the government's responses are calculatedly vague and there have been very few occasions when the presiding officers have pulled up ministers for being evasive, or palpably unprepared. Action in that regard might cause members to place greater stock in Question Hour, find the exercise genuinely rewarding. Presently it does not mean too much. Party leaders would then be less-inclined to opt for deliberate ruckus the moment the first quorum bell of the days ceases to ring. That is a tall order, yet one which the presiding officers should not duck.



IT may have pained Nirupam Sen to see the Congress jumping to the defence of its partner in the Assembly on the Singur controversy but he did nothing to solve the mystery of the site allotted for the Tata car factory. He contradicted Manas Bhuniya's contention that the land is "disputed'' but tied himself and his government in knots in trying to explain the status of the agreement with the Tatas. He did not explain why he had invited the Railways to explore the possibility of setting up a coach factory when ~ as he confirmed ~ the land is still legally in the possession of the Tatas. And he added to the confusion by suggesting that Trinamul sort out disputes "if any'' when virtually no one is privy to the lease agreement. If that is the escape route chosen ~ to shift the onus on the Opposition ~ it raises serious questions on the government's intentions. From providing subsidies to transport operators to announcing a rehabilitation package for disillusioned Maoists, the government has gone out of its way to buy the goodwill of different sections. In much the same vein, it may have gained some credit by reviving hopes in Singur.  

By keeping the deal a closely guarded secret, the Left raises suspicions that it has too much to hide. The industry minister has been given to making selective revelations, in this case making it clear that the government is entitled to take back the land should the Tatas fail to set up the project in time. The time factor is left delightfully vague so that the Railways cannot get down to planning  the coach factory. This would suggest that the Left is happier leaving it to the Opposition to sort out the mess. Since that is far from probable, the controversy may be kept alive. The result will be that the coach factory remains on paper and discontent among a section of farmers who haven't received compensations remains until the next election. Singur has become a political flashpoint. Clearly, it would be suicidal for the Left at this stage to allow Trinamul to run away with the advantage.  








THE leakage of 91000 US classified documents relating to the war in Afghanistan by the WikiLeaks website could be a major game changer. The Indian media has seized upon classified revelations about the long alleged official Pakistani links to terror. That is understandable. But the impact of the leaks might go far beyond Pakistan and the ISI. Let us see how.

The WikiLeaks website is run by Julian Assange. He is of mixed Chinese-British parentage. He was born and brought up in Australia. For the last two years he has been shuttling between countries in East Africa seldom staying long at the same place for personal security. Whether his kind of shoe-string operation, huge access to secret documents in all spheres, and his kind of movements arise from a solitary effort or are aided logistically by a bigger force is a question that may be put aside for the moment.

All the 91000 recently leaked documents on his website are classified US material. It was passed on by Assange to the New York Times in America, The Guardian in Britain, and Der Spiegel in Germany. All three media outlets are respected and liberal. The primary source of the classified leaks must be an insider in the US government. One junior official has been arrested. He could be only a minor cog. The prime source has to be much higher. What needs to be determined is whether the leakage had the tacit blessing of the Obama administration or occurred despite it. Either way US policy towards Pakistan will have to change. Once there is official admission that Pakistan is aiding the terrorists who kill US soldiers public pressure will impel change of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Already official statements from Washington suggest that.

White House response

Officially, the White House has frowned upon the leakage and ordered an investigation. In fact it may have been very pleased. Reportedly the New York Times Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet, before publishing took reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt to brief the White House on what they planned to write. "I did in fact go to the White House and lay out for them what we had," Baquet has been quoted as saying. "We did it to give them the opportunity to comment and react. They did. They also praised us for the way we handled it, for giving them a chance to discuss it, and for handling the information with care. And for being responsible."
In other words, the White House knew all along what Islamabad was doing to help terrorists. Now it is prepared to publicly acknowledge it. Why? Probably because in the forthcoming election to the US Congress and Senate the Democrats are expected to lose. That could put President Obama's continuance in jeopardy.
Reportedly there is evidence about his birth allegedly outside America which lies in the freezer waiting to be used by opponents. It might be recalled that soldiers challenging the President's legitimacy due to his alleged foreign birth refused to serve in Afghanistan. They were not dismissed by the Pentagon. Instead they were allowed to not serve in Afghanistan. To win in the November election President Obama must do something dramatic. What can be more dramatic than a substantial withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan and divert the billions of dollars saved to revive the US economy? Unless of course Pakistan immediately shows spectacular success in the war on terror!

Up till now the US knowingly put up with Islamabad's double-faced policy. Surely the nation that could ruthlessly bomb Iraq without its complicity in 9/11 could have done the same in Pakistan known to have links with Al Qaida and even with 9/11 through its agent Mohammed Hatta? How could Pakistan brazenly succeed with its double-faced policy and mock the US? The answer lies with China. America could not punish Pakistan because of Islamabad's powerful links to China. America could not abandon Pakistan because it did not want to present it on a plate to China. America has to be very cautious in dealing with China. Its close economic ties with China give Beijing a stranglehold over America's domestic stability.

By acknowledging the authenticity of the leaks is Washington about to change course in Pakistan? If so, it will call China's bluff. Will China consent to be the sole power supporting Pakistan now acknowledged as the hub of global terrorism? Or will China restrain Pakistan? Up till now Beijing has obfuscated its own role in fomenting terrorism.

Cosmetic exercises

THE cosmetic joint anti-terror exercises between the PLA and Pakistan army deceive only the gullible. The much touted terror threat in Xingjian reflects merely resentment of a repressed population, no real terror threat. A compliant West readily traces the terror trail to Islamabad. It does not acknowledge that the trail leads to Beijing. To indicate Beijing's complicity one can do no better than recall the evidence often cited by this scribe but put together by D.J. McGuire, author of Dragon in the Dark: How and Why Communist China Helps Our Enemies in the War on Terror.

McGuire has recalled how in 1998 after the American missile attack on Al Qaida China paid $10 million to Al Qaida for unexploded cruise missiles. In 1999 two Communist Chinese colonels presented a battle scenario in their book Unrestricted Warfare in which the World Trade Center is attacked. The authors identified Osama bin Laden as someone with the ability to orchestrate the attack. On 11 September 2001, China signed a pact on economic cooperation with the Taliban. Just after 9/11 China's official press agency made a video glorifying the terrorist strike. Also after 9/11 on CNN, Willy Lam claimed that Chinese leaders considered Al Qaida as a check on US power but thought the time unsuitable to confront America. Also after 9/11, China announced opposition to US troops being based in Pakistan. After 9/11 US intelligence confirmed that the PLA owned technology firm, Huawei Technologies, built a telephone network in Taliban-ruled Kabul. In 2002, US raids of Al Qaida hideouts by NAO allies discovered huge caches of Chinese weapons including surface-to-air missiles. In August 2002 the post-Taliban Afghan government claimed that China had made the Kashmir portion illegally ceded by Pakistan to China a safe haven for Al Qaida.

Despite all this and more evidence, the West has remained silent about China's role in terror. Will the leaks change that? It remains to be seen how America, Pakistan, India and China react to the leaks in the coming days. It is difficult to predict what will eventually happen. It is safe to assume that much will happen.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Without going into the unseemly controversy regarding a memoir that is yet to be published, it should be noted that the controversy throws up important aspects of Indian political life. The reference is obviously to the memoirs of Somnath Chatterjee, the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha who was expelled from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) because he refused to resign as Speaker when the CPI(M) withdrew support from the first United Progressive Alliance government in 2008. The move to expel Mr Chatterjee was driven by the general secretary of the CPI(M), Prakash Karat. The irony of the situation was that the views of someone who had no popular mandate prevailed over those of a person who had come to the Lok Sabha after winning an election. This sounds somewhat odd in a democracy. (It is also true that it would have been proper for Mr Chatterjee to have given up his membership of a political party when he was elected Speaker.) This oddity is by no means particular to the CPI(M). The latter's ideological rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is also led by a person — the party president — who is not an elected representative of the people. It stands to reason that, in a democracy, only those who have been elected by the people should wear the mantle of leadership. It follows that a political party outside the parliamentary party is an anomaly in a democracy.


There is another aspect that is related to the present discussion. Indian political parties, almost without exception, have a streak of authoritarianism in them. The crucial decisions in political parties are all taken at the top. This is true of a party with a rigid organizational structure — such as the CPI(M) — or a party with a powerful leader, such as the Congress under Sonia Gandhi. In both instances, opinions and interests emanating from the states tend to get submerged, or even suppressed, by what is perceived by the "national" leadership of the party to be in the "national" interest of the party. Just as the Indian State suffers from too much centralization, so do the political parties. Yet sometimes — the case of the CPI(M) and West Bengal comes immediately to mind — a particular state unit of the party is critical to the entire party's existence, but that unit's views and interests are ridden over roughshod. What is equally unfortunate is that these issues are seldom, if ever, debated in Indian public life.








The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have mislaid its political sense. The four leaders of the party, L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley, who were invited to lunch by the prime minister, decided to snub him in order to show "solidarity" with Gujarat's minister of state for home, Amit Shah. The Central Bureau of Investigation has charged Mr Shah with murder and criminal conspiracy in the 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. The BJP accused the Congress of deliberately using the CBI in order to destabilize Gujarat. The allegation was not entirely unreasonable; political parties in power do have the habit of using investigative agencies to further their own agendas — often extremely narrow, affecting nothing but the power tussle within their own parties. Only this time, it was the Supreme Court that directed the CBI to investigate, not the Centre. The court was reportedly irritated with the slow progress of the state's investigation even after, embarrassingly enough, the state government had admitted that Sohrabbuddin and his wife had been "wrongly killed".


The BJP's knee-jerk show of solidarity with Mr Shah was no doubt prompted by the leaders' anxiety to please Narendra Modi, under whom Mr Shah has flourished. Logic would have showed them that the CBI, taking over the inquiry at the Supreme Court's direction, would not have reached so high without some significant evidence. The credibility of encounter deaths has long been under scrutiny, and the state government itself admitted to a "wrong" in this case. Mr Shah's alleged connection to it is yet to be proved, but the barrage of accusations against the Congress immediately after the CBI's extremely serious chargesheet against Mr Shah can only look like a desperate attempt at distraction. Mr Shah did resign, and gave himself up to the CBI after vanishing for a few days — neither of which fact added shine to the BJP's virtuous outrage. It seems to be realizing, a little too late, that the other Opposition parties will not be sharing the floor with it against the Congress on this count. Instead, the Congress can now accuse it of supporting a criminal who was a minister in its most prized state. Crime in high places is hardly novel. But the incident has exposed the BJP's state of disarray. With only Mr Modi to show off, it has completely surrendered whatever it had of political wisdom.










The eras of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Behenji were far in a distant at-that-point-unfathomable future; Lucknow in the early 1950s was an exciting place to be in. The taluqdars had taken their bow, but a whiff of their sophistication still hung in the air, maybe a whiff of their indolent living too. They were replaced at the top of the social scale by politicians. Jawaharlal Nehru was very much the role model for the political set, especially in Uttar Pradesh, at that juncture. Since he loved books and preferred to be closeted with learned people in his spare moments, politicians based in Lucknow tried to follow suit.


The university at Lucknow, located across the river Gomti over a lazy sprawl, was small and overwhelmingly residential. The faculty had arrived from all over the country; several of them were known for their deep scholarship. Exercised over major issues involved in nation-building, Lucknow's politicians eagerly sought the advice of professors, who, it was assumed, knew a bit more about many of these issues. It was therefore reckoned as essential for the two communities — political activists and university professors — to meet constantly and exchange views. Curiously, or not so curiously, the venue for these rendezvous was the India Coffee House round the bend at Hazratgung, the emerging downtown of Lucknow. University students and young lecturers would cross the Monkey Bridge and go 'gunging' on weekday evenings and Sunday mornings. The senior dons would drive down in their cars and perhaps first stop at the trim little bookshop set up by an earnest young man, Ram Advani, and then head towards the Coffee House, in which the politicians had already ensconced themselves.


Lucknow was celebrated for its tradition of courteous conversation. Conversation broadened the mind; it taught one to give and to receive in equal measure, and was at the root of the acquisition of knowledge. The politicians assembled at the Coffee House were a remarkably mixed lot: Congressmen, socialists, communists, even some who described themselves as revolutionary communists. The dons, too, would be from a wide array of disciplines: historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, physicists, botanists, biologists, musicologists, philosophy and literature buffs. The menagerie would be completed by the presence of poets, playwrights, artists, singers and, inevitably, some nondescript gadflies.


The juxtaposed aroma of coffee and nicotine, the demure lighting, the murmur of voices clashing with the murmur of other voices floating from other tables, would create a particular ambience. The glitterati were all there: D.P. Mukerji, scholar extraordinary, enlightening Zain Ahmed, the communist trade unionist, on what distinguishes a Marxologist from a Marxist; Narendra Deva, savant, socialist and at the time the university's vice-chancellor, listening stoically even as Feroze Gandhi would keep narrating one naughty political gossip after another; Fariq Malihabad exchanging graceful banter on the asymmetries of Urdu and English prosody with the redoubtable professor of English, N.K. Siddhanta; a batch of young university lecturers provoking a visiting Rammanohar Lohia to explain why he thought Nehru's foreign policy was all wet. The range of themes covered was truly astounding, from the sociology of knowledge to Nye Bevan's National Health Service to the on-going campaign against betterment levies in Punjab to the historiography of Arnold Toynbee to Edgar Snow's latest book on China to the debate in the pages of the New Statesman on the Two Cultures to Begum Akhtar's recent recital at a private soirée to Maurice Thorez cold-shouldering the French socialists.


One exciting issue reverberating across the tables —sometimes the tables were joined together to bring the genteel combatants closer — concerned the class-caste dichotomy in Indian society. Among budding as well as seasoned socialists and Marxists crowding the Coffee House, quite a few were sold on the idea of the nation gradually mutating into a classless paradise. To ensure this denouement, it was, they agreed, necessary to bring together into a single integer the country's mute masses, splintered into a multiplicity of castes, sects and tribes. Those advocating the undiluted class line nursed the belief that this would come about once the level of consciousness of peasants and workers attained a certain level.


There would be formidable dissenters to this proposition, divided roughly into two broad streams. One group would imagine an apotheosis in the form of a grand coalition of proletarian caste groups, who, while reluctant to shed their caste identities, would nonetheless acknowledge the cruciality of united struggles for resisting and overcoming economic and social injustice; class would not swamp caste, it would, however, emerge as a magnificent rainbow of castes. Others would argue somewhat differently. Caste alignments in the country, in their view, were an inalienable datum; class consciousness could only aspire to be a humble camp-follower. What they were close to hinting at was that, with its background of chaturvarnashram, Indian society was destined to be an arena not of class war, but of caste war. A sprightly PhD scholar would make no bones about it: he was a Yadav first, his priority was the uplift of the Yadavs; that he was a socialist and an Indian was of secondary significance.


All this was many decades before the Mandal Commission and the political rise of the other backward classes or the Bahujan Samaj Party. Still, morning showed the day. The communist party — only it — stuck to the orthodoxy of the class line and continued to argue that caste issues were subsumed in the class issue. Apart from Kerala and West Bengal, it has had few other notable successes with the adopted line, not even in Andhra Pradesh. Contemporary Indian history is replete with chronicles of identity politics, glaringly manifested in the carnival of reservations for this or that caste or community.


If it is agreed that Indian Maoists are lapsed Marxists, it would be a sort of tautology to accuse them of deviating from the impeccability of the class line. At least in one respect, though, they have not broken away from the mainstream of national politics. They have evolved their strategy by championing the cause of the tribals. This choice on their part is qualitatively no different from the stance of any of the caste lobbies currently occupying the nation's centre-stage.


What, however, sets them apart is their gruesome programme of indiscriminate assassinations, including the killing of ordinary householders. In this matter, they are conforming to no alien model either. In the 1970s, the rump of Cohn-Bendit followers in West Europe, as also the urban guerrillas in South America, took to widespread terror tactics. But in both instances the targets were capitalist dogs, not general citizens. The Maoist praxis over here is far different. It was initially a photocopy of the line of action endorsed four decades ago by the Charu Mazumdar faction of the Naxalites. And what Charu Mazumdar believed in was actually the credo of Bengal's romantic revolutionaries in the early decades of 20th century.


The nation had to be liberated from the clutches of alien rulers; namby-pamby, non-violent agitation would not do, it was necessary to take to arms. Raising a national army to fight the foreign usurpers was yet inconceivable. Therefore the romantic youth decided on the alternative course: of terrorizing the enemy by targeting individual British magistrates, judges, police personnel and, besides, native sons who operated as lackeys of the foreign masters. Little thought was expended on whether such acts of isolated bravado were enough to scare the daylights out of the imperialist rulers.


The revolutionaries themselves perceived their strategy as akin to one-night stands; there is no other explanation for their consuming potassium cyanide, almost inevitably, as the finale to their 'actions', even when they could make an easy getaway. Those of the romantic heroes who were gathered in and underwent long prison sentences realized in due course the futility of individual killings to further the cause of national liberation. Accepting the imperative need of mass mobilization, most of them joined the communist party.

That propensities and inclinations have a way of getting handed down the generations was proved by the Naxalite programme of killing sundry people in the name of eliminating class enemies. This, in fact, alienated them from the masses for whose sake they were itching to create an instant revolution.


The Maoists have gone a step further. They are no longer targeting individuals; they have chosen general terrorization, with indiscriminate murders and mindless destruction as the road- map of successful revolution. They are, instead, likely to arouse mass aversion; not among the tribals, they will presumably retort. And possibly that is their real objective, to provoke the Indian establishment into an ethnic war. Some quarters in New Delhi — and in one or two state capitals — cannot, it would seem, wait to obey their script.








Whether some people in the public domain, journalists and politicians, choose to admit it or not, the truth is that at least nine of the stadiums constructed or upgraded in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games are of quality and meet international standards. Unfortunately, the real problem that pulls India into the mire is the financial racketeering, infighting, back-biting and the ridiculous number of 'points of reference' in the decision-making, management and organizational structure of such national and international events. Government agencies are all over the place, and India has not been able to restructure this terribly faulty system that does one thing only: pass the buck and stall the delivery of goods and services. This is the reality in every area of socio-economic activity, thanks to an ineffective bureaucracy and political class that are not accountable. All-invasive corruption and abject neglect have degraded us to the level of an anarchic, third-world nation-state in spite of a healthy rate of growth.


No one wants to rock the boat, shake up the lethargy and generate reform and fresh ideas, initiatives and solutions to chronic problems in our corroded and malfunctioning system. Too many comfortable feathers would be ruffled and the club that misrules us today would be exposed for its gross inefficiencies. The tragedy is that no political dispensation seems excited by the possibility of an overhaul of a non-working delivery mechanism and does not have the urge or passion to lead productive change. Once in the protected cocoon of politics and government service, leaders become oblivious of the rigours of working and living in modern India. Nobody cares a hoot.


In the wrong place


To top all the inept madness, we have to listen to aging, failed politicians, who are given cushy sinecures, insult India. It was shocking to hear a former cabinet minister (a former member of Indian Foreign Service) spout inanities about how happy he will be if the games fail. It did him damage to speak in this immature manner. If Mani Shankar Aiyar was so adamant about not hosting the games in India, he should have made sure during his tenure as minister that they were shelved. If he had other ideas for how to allocate money spent on the games into government-backed, honestly executed projects to make a new generation of sportspeople internationally competitive, he failed to do so. Equally, he failed to restructure and modernize existing sports bodies to cope with challenges and competition in the international arena. He was not proactive about sports. His interest lay elsewhere. The wrong person in the wrong place is the other failure in governance structures. Aiyar should have been allowed to reinvent the panchayati raj system for the delivery of good, grass-root governance. That was his passion.


Some questions arise. Why are development and panchayati raj mechanisms still corrupt and unable to serve civil society? It would be rivetting to hear leaders of this sector, erstwhile and present, spell out the experience of failure and the solutions, both radical and simple, that are required. Charity begins at home. It would make a show on television called The Hot Seat, or Prayashchit, where men and women who have ruled, and those who rule today, are grilled about why they failed to deliver the services they were mandated to ensure. Being snide about the failures of others, without addressing those of one's ministerial responsibility to the nation, does not rise above the petty or make a positive impact. Remember, it was Rajiv Gandhi who supported both sports and panchayati raj with vigour, realizing that in a multi-dimensional world, both are imperative, a developing Bharat and an emerging India.



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





Rampant corruption at every level of the organisation of the Commonwealth Games has been laid bare in a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report. The report says that almost all organisations executing infrastructure works for the Games have flouted rules in tenders and inflated prices. This means that the government has made excessive payments to contractors. This is of deep concern. Tax payers' money is being looted. What is more, the report reveals that the quality of construction is poor. The cement used is of inferior quality and electrical installations in most stadiums have not been checked for safety. By compromising on the quality of construction, contractors are putting the lives of athletes and the public in jeopardy. When confronted with the skyrocketing budget, contractors and officials had claimed in the past that pressing deadlines had inflated budgets. But construction of several stadia is running way behind schedule. So whether it is with regard to costs, quality or deadlines, the contractors have simply not delivered.


The Games were touted by Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and others as a grand event that would showcase the new India's capacity to hold a world-class event. However, showcasing such capacity seems a distant dream now. All that is on show is India's corruption and chaos. The ceiling of the Yamuna stadium was blown away by a downpour and Siri Fort is leaking, while embankments at the shooting range have collapsed. Officials are blaming the monsoons for the delays and infrastructure problems. 
Surely they knew that monsoons hit Delhi every year in June-July. The deadline for completion of stadium infrastructure is August 31. With barely 60 days to go for the opening of the Commonwealth Games, India is still far from ready to host the event.

But, nobody would agree with former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's criticism about holding the Games itself and much less with his 'wish' that it ends as a failure. Issues like poverty and priorities cannot come in the way of holding the Games, which is a matter of national prestige. Didn't South Africa hold the World Cup of football successfully, despite all its other problems, perhaps bigger than India's? But what is of grave concern is that the UPA government seems to have paid scant attention to strict supervision and accountability in building the infrastructure, which would have been an asset for future development of sports in the country.








The hiking of key rates by the Reserve Bank of India as part of its first quarter review of credit policy has not come as a surprise. The central bank has been taking an increasingly hawkish policy stance ever since inflation has gone beyond acceptable limits. It has made it clear that the rising inflation rate remains its major concern and all monetary tools have to be used to contain it. It has therefore increased the repo rate, the rate at which banks borrow from it, by 25 basis points and the reverse repo rate, the rate at which it borrows money from the banks, by 50 basis points. The reduction of the gap between the two repo rates will help to protect the short term interest rates from major fluctuations. The banks would otherwise have found it difficult, especially because there has been a major outflow of credit in the recent past. The cash reserve ratio (CRR) has been left untouched in view of the demand for liquidity.

The measures did not cause any shock in the market since they were expected. The RBI has declared that it would keep its sights on inflation which it expects to be at 6 per cent — higher than its earlier estimate of 5.5 per cent — at the end of the year. It has revised its growth expectations also from 8 to 8. 5 per cent. The challenge, not only for the monetary policy but for the wider policy stance, is to strike a balance by keeping inflation low without hurting growth prospects. Some factors which have a bearing on the situation are beyond the central bank's control too. It hopes for a good monsoon, which will moderate domestic prices, and a fall in oil and commodity prices as result of the slow pace of global growth. But domestic demand is set to rise on account of steady economic growth.  Though in the short term the RBI's policy prescriptions might be weighted in favour of fighting inflation, they will ultimately be conducive to creating a more stable environment for growth.

The RBI has also taken a good decision to increase the frequency of its monetary reviews from one in each quarter to another four in between, so that there are eight in a year. This will make its policy interventions more gradual and remove the scope for disruptions in the market through sudden rate changes.







One reason why the Left parties are not selling any more is that their ideologies have become jaded and they have nothing new to offer.


One interpretation of the Cultural Revolution in China that happened four decades ago, evokes some justification for it. Mao Tse-tung wanted his partymen and bureaucrats to go to the villages and stay there. His intention was that they should imbibe the rigours of living in the countryside so that they would not be complacent when they returned to their chair.

The communists' rout in Kolkata's recent civic elections should renew Mao's thoughts. CPI leader A B Bardhan has attacked the communist government in West Bengal for becoming 'swollen headed' because of its distance from the ground realities and people's aspirations.

Indeed, a government which has ruled for 33 years and had all the time to experiment with the communist way of administration, is either inept or incapable to rule. The growing conviction is that a communist state does not fit into today's world of free thinking and pragmatic working.

The communists in Bengal did not do badly and remained popular, particularly in rural areas, as long as they were effecting agrarian reforms, transferring power to the panchayats and making the countryside feel that it was the master of its destiny. Both the communist cadres and those in power then sat back as if they had nothing more to do. They became slaves to their chairs.

People were exasperated over the status quo and expressed their resentment by defeating communist candidates in byelections. Still, the communists did not get the message. The people became more expressive when they voted against the communists in the last Lok Sabha election and reduced the Left's strength in the country from 59 to 24.

The party's politburo considered the defeat an aberration and did not anticipate the mood of the people when chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya announced that the industrial development had to have priority if economic conditions were to improve in the state. He said that falling living standards and growing youth unemployment could not be tackled without industrialisation. This was a departure from the communist policy which was primarily based on agrarian reforms. Most ministers, much less the cadre, did not understand or appreciate the new policy.

Even the calculation of the top communist leaders was wrong. How could West Bengal attract industrialists when their cadre had driven them out two decades ago, after humiliating them? The communist cadres had organised hartals and committed daylight crimes which went unpunished because of an indulgent police. Big industrial houses which had their headquarters in Kolkata eventually moved out.

Force on farmers

And when Buddhadev wanted to bring back the industry and began with the Tata's Nano car plant at Singur through land acquisition, he failed because he had not prepared the ground. When the communist cadres, with the help of the police, tried to fight the farmers who were not willing to give their land for industry, they became oppressors. The West Bengal government committed atrocities to the horror of liberals and failed to make any headway.

The Left did not understand — and it does not do so even now — that the support won through the betterment of villages could not be diverted to the industry in which farmers would have no equity. Farmers could not be expected to hand over their land for cash which would not last them for life.

The government should have realised that the land acquired for an industry did not come under the purview of 'public interest.' How could the Left create something akin to special economic zone when it had vehemently opposed to the Union government's decision to have such exclusive estates?

The reason why the Indian Maoists have spread to nearly 200 districts is not because they use force but because they pay special attention to the development of the countryside where the tribals and the marginalised live. They have not made industry their priority and have apparently stayed with the agrarian needs.

The administration in Kolkata appears at the beck and call of the communist leaders who throw their weight around for personal ends. The Left should also try to find out why they are not selling as they did in the past. One reason, of course, is the lessening of liberal appeal in the glittering world of consumerism. But another reason is that the communist ideology has got jaded.

The 21st century has different challenges, different calls and different compulsions. What strings different endeavours together is the fight against bigotry on the one hand and vested interests on the other. The Left should understand that this battle cannot be won until the people's say is strengthened. Any kind of dictatorship, either of the proletariat or of others, is bound to fail. The communist ideology has to be reinterpreted.

When West Bengal is introspecting over the causes of its unpopularity in the state, it should be considering how to build an agrarian society which can increase the output, enhance farmers' income and bring about egalitarianism. This cannot be done through the steps where the land is acquired in 'public interest' to benefit a few industrialists. The communist ideology should be radiating with fresh thinking for retrieving idealism which is receding into the shadows.








It is possible that the Pentagon will have to look for the first time at cuts to the health benefits.


After nearly a decade of rapid increases in military spending, the Pentagon is facing intensifying political and economic pressures to restrain its budget, setting up the first serious debate since the terrorist attacks of 2001 about the size and cost of the armed services.

Lawmakers, officials and analysts said the combination of big budget deficits, the winding down of the war in Iraq and President Barack Obama's pledge to begin pulling troops from Afghanistan next year were leading Congress to contemplate reductions in Pentagon financing requests.

Defence Secretary Robert M Gates has sought to contain the budget-cutting demands by showing Congress and the White House that he can squeeze more efficiency from the Pentagon's bureaucracy and weapons programmes and use the savings to maintain fighting forces.

 But the increased pressure is already showing up in efforts by Democrats in Congress to move more quickly than senior Pentagon officials had expected in trimming the administration's budget request for next year.


And in the longer term, with concern mounting about the government's $13 trillion debt, a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission is warning that cuts in military spending could be needed to help the nation dig out of its financial hole.

Gates is calling for the Pentagon's budget to keep growing in the long run at one per cent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the war. It has averaged an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 7 per cent a year over the past decade, including the costs of the wars. So far, Obama has asked Congress for an increase in total spending next year of 2.2 per cent, to $708 billion — 6.1 per cent higher than the peak under the Bush administration.

Gates is arguing that if the Pentagon budget is allowed to keep growing by one per cent a year, he can find 2 per cent or 3 per cent in savings in the department's bureaucracy to reinvest in the military — and that will be sufficient money to meet national security needs. In one of the paradoxes of Washington budget battles, Gates, even as he tries to forestall deeper cuts, is trying to kill weapons programmes he says the military does not need over the objections of members of Congress who want to protect jobs. 

The course of the war in Afghanistan will no doubt have an impact on the debate, as might the outcome of the midterm elections and ultimately the 2012 presidential race.

But the first signs of pressure on military spending have surfaced, as both the House and the Senate are moving to trim the Pentagon budget request for the fiscal year that starts Oct 1.

The Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to cut $8 billion from the Pentagon's request for an $18 billion increase in its basic operations.


Norm Dicks, chairman of the House defence appropriations subcommittee, is planning to trim $7 billion from the administration's budget request. "There's a lot of support up here for restraint," he said.

In the short run, the worries about the deficit could help Gates halt the two main arms programmes he has identified this year — an alternate engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter and the purchase of five more C-17 cargo planes from Boeing. 

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, said the president fully supported Gates' initiatives, which already have set in motion savings from cancelling or trimming more three dozen weapons systems in 2009. "This is not business as usual," Emanuel said.

At the moment, the administration projects that the Pentagon's base budget and the extra war spending will peak at $708 billion in the coming fiscal year, although analysts say it is likely that the Pentagon will need at least $30 billion more in supplemental war financing then.

Two-thirds of Pentagon spending is on personnel costs. It is possible that the Pentagon will have to look for the first time at cuts to the health benefits provided to active and retired military personnel and their families.

Some analysts said the Pentagon would eventually come under pressure to reduce the size of the armed forces. Adams, the Clinton administration budget official, wrote in a recent analysis that for "any real savings on defence budgets to occur, end strength must shrink". But the Pentagon strongly opposes cutting the number of troops, said Peter R Orszag, director of the president's Office of Management and Budget.

"During the end of the Cold War, one could imagine a significant downsizing of the American military," Orszag said. "That is a fundamentally different proposition than the situation we find ourselves in today."







After the walkathon, one hopes at least the health of the state improves.



Health, like 'papa' or 'punya', CL or PL is not transferable. You enjoy (or suffer) your fate.
So when you walk you are totally selfish because it is your health that improves, not even that of your spouse. And walking is the most inexpensive health habit that one can develop. All that one needs is a road, even if it is a muddy one or an open field. You don't need to spend on a gym membership. That's why doctors suggest walking as the no-cost health habit for all.

But sometimes one walks for other's health. Take the Bellary walkathon for instance. It is totally unselfish. Our netas, old and young, healthy or otherwise, powerful or not, are footing it out not for their health but for the health of our state. As they have made it clear, the walk is to help preserve the state of environment and save the mines. Though one is not sure if their health improves after reaching Bellary, one hopes at least the health of Karnataka improves. That's why this walkathon could be hailed as the most unselfish walk in recent times. True, Chandra Sekhar walked from Kanyakumari to Rajghat in the '80s, and I was with him for a couple of kilometres as a newsman, but he was out to prove his grit and determination and not to improve the health of the nation.
But the road brigade now is out to improve the 'swasthya' of the state. If their opponents see red it is because they are not as unselfish as the walkers. Otherwise, they too could have joined the walk and with the general improvement of the health of our netas, they could have ruled the state with less tension. But alas! It was not be.

By the way, this padayatra is not inexpensive. Considering the backup and the makeup kit that are following the unselfish walkers it will cost a fortune to keep them fit and afloat. A team of doctors, three ambulances, personal attendants, physiotherapists, masseurs, a state of the art van for relaxing purposes, et al are following to keep the men and women on their way to Bellary — which unfortunately is a distant destination, in more than one sense. Walking for one's own health may be inexpensive but if one walks for another's health the cost is high.

 And considering the ill-health of the state, I thought the walk would be sombre reflecting the concern. But the TV grabs show a mela like mood en route. Looks as if the health has already improved! But at the end of the 300 plus km footwork, if the state's health improves it will only be incidental!








This week, Orthodox rabbis, teachers, women, signed "statement of principles" outlining an open, accepting approach to homosexuals who want to maintain ties with community, family and friends.

Talkbacks (1)


Homosexuality has become the latest contentious issue straining the unity of Orthodox Judaism. This week, about 100 moderate Orthodox rabbis and teachers, including many women, from North America and Israel signed a "statement of principles" outlining an open, accepting approach to homosexuals who want to maintain ties with their Orthodox community, family and friends. Publication of the document coincided with Jerusalem's annual Gay Pride Parade, which took place Thursday. It also coincides with the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the "Bar No'ar" gay community youth center in Tel Aviv, which resulted in two casualties and whose culprit has yet to be caught.

The document, a product of months of deliberations, is full of the tensions and nuances inherent in any attempt to combine liberalism, openness and sensitivity with a commitment to tradition and religious strictures. The rabbis and educators differentiate, for instance, between prohibited male homosexual sexual relations on one hand, and the gay man's or woman's uncontrollable sexual attraction, which is not specifically proscribed or disparaged by the Torah. In another example, the rabbis call on Orthodox communities to embrace the children of homosexual couples, while rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex unions. This is obviously an honest and heartfelt attempt to grapple with the reality of homosexuality.

Some of the principles seem self-evident and hardly in need of mentioning. The first principle, for instance, insists that homosexuals, like any other human beings, were created in the image of God and should, therefore, be respected.

Yet, sadly, in many Orthodox circles, this moral axiom is far from obvious. A case in point was haredi Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yitzhak Pindrus's odious request to the capital's police force to hold a "donkey parade" alongside Thursday's Gay Pride route to express what Pindrus called the "bestial" nature of homosexuality. As befits a healthy democracy, which probably would not exist if men like Pindrus had their way, haredi anti-gay demonstrators were offered the compromise of carrying cardboard cut-outs of donkeys – which was accepted. Komimiyut, a religious Zionist settler movement, organized its own "beast parade" several years ago. And Shas chairman Eli Yishai has called homosexuals "sick people."

A WIDE divide separates Yishai, Pindrus and other reactionary representatives of Orthodoxy from signatories of the "statement of principles" such as Israeli rabbis Benny Lau and Yuval Cherlow and American rabbis Haskel Lookstein and Avi Weiss.

Besides the issue of homosexuality, these two "camps" in Orthodoxy differ on everything from conversion, to the role of women, to how to cope with the aguna problem – the plight of women who are unable to remarry due to the intransigence of a husband who refuses to give a get.

In each case, the moderates have been willing to make adjustments to accommodate modernity. Liberal-minded Orthodox rabbis in Israel have taken into consideration the mitigating effect that the creation of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority has on conversions performed in Israel, while their American counterparts have heeded the dangers of assimilation. These moderates have noted the radical changes in women's roles as doctors, lawyers, judges and other key leadership roles and have realized that it no longer makes sense to block them from Torah scholarship or even from rabbinic ordination. And they have been more sensitive to agunot.

Conspicuous in their absence are those "mainstream" rabbinic organizations – Tzohar in Israel and the Rabbinic Council of America – that have chosen not to back the statement of principles, though individual members of both organizations have signed on.

To be fair, hundreds of rabbis probably identify with the document's spirit but did not sign for various reasons, including a desire to maintain a semblance of unity among Orthodox Jews. But sometimes one must choose sides. And the call to sign the statement of principles is one of those moments.

Refraining from doing so is a concession to extremism. More importantly, it is an injustice to those homosexuals who struggle to retain their faith amid adversity, and to their families, who grapple with the social stigmas of their being gay and Orthodox.







Popular sentiment in Britain is shifting against Israel, says outgoing Ambassador Tom Phillips candidly.


Tom Phillips is a model British ambassador. He's personable, empathetic and he knows his stuff. He's well-liked by his Israeli interlocutors, and by his colleagues in the diplomatic corps.

He's served in Tel Aviv for four years – years when Israeli-British relations have seen their ups and downs – without causing offense or making enemies here, and also without doing or saying anything that would cause offense or make enemies elsewhere in this region. That much is evident in the fact that, as he now completes his term, he will head off almost immediately to another challenging posting, though one where his hosts will probably be more deferential: Saudi Arabia.

The successive high-ranking appointments underline his standing and prestige back home – a status further highlighted by the knighthood he was awarded in the Queen's Birthday Honors List just last month.

He comes to an interview well organized, with a folder of paperwork to make sure he faithfully represents British policy where necessary. And though he's not working from any prepared script, and this is a farewell conversation, Sir Tom is a diplomat to his soul.

What follows, therefore, is emphatically not a case of a demob happy, departing ambassador cutting loose. It constitutes, rather, the carefully measured assessments of an intelligent, highly credible, experienced envoy – Her Majesty's man in Tel Aviv relaying, in typically unruffled terms, the kind of insights he more routinely vouchsafes to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

As an ex-Brit who goes back once a year or so, I find Britain to be increasingly troubling territory.

I lament that Britain appears incapable of internalizing the challenges we face, and it faces, from Islamic fundamentalism.

And I chafe with indignation, frustration and anger at a growing sense that our reality is misrepresented, misreported and misunderstood in Britain.

As such, I found our conversation profoundly dispiriting. Not because of any feeling that Sir Tom Phillips is himself hostile to Israel. Quite the reverse. I'm certain he entertains a genuine affection for our country.

But his overview, to my mind, gives relatively marginal weight to what I would consider Israeli mainstream sentiment, and more amply encompasses the arguments of those, within this country and without, who would point disproportionately at Israeli failures when explaining the years of peace process setback and deadlock.

The uncertainty Phillips highlights about whether this coalition, under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is ready and willing to make drastic territorial concessions to the Palestinians, is more than legitimate; it may well be that even Netanyahu hasn't made his mind up. The conviction that the Palestinian Authority is ready and willing for a viable deal is more jarring.

The devastating impact on the Israeli psyche of the second intifada, though Phillips acknowledges it, seems underappreciated, as does the impact of the security barrier in necessitating a Palestinian change of course. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and its dismal consequences goes unmentioned; so, too, Netanyahu's settlement freeze and his repeated calls for direct talks.

And Ambassador Phillips, remember, is not analyzing us through the filter of The Guardian, The Independent and the BBC. He's been right here – representing Britain to us, and us to the Brits.

He evidently believes we risk making a frightful mess of things. He fears we are blind to the peacemaking bona fides of Mahmoud Abbas. He's far from convinced that we're ready to relinquish "Fortress Israel." And he's being diplomatic.


Israel was quite distressed by David Cameron's comments in Turkey this week (including his description of Gaza as a "prison camp," his insistence that "the situation in Gaza has to change," and his renewed condemnation of the "unacceptable" Gaza flotilla "attack"). Does this reflect new British government policy? 

The remarks that the prime minister made in Turkey in broad terms were not new language. He's used language along pretty much the same lines in the House of Commons in the past. It doesn't mean that we don't welcome the steps Israel has taken to relax access to Gaza… but we think more can be done. The number of trucks going in could be increased quite substantially.

And in the end there's got to be some more allowance for Palestinian exports as well.

We accept that all of this has got to be consistent with Israel's security concerns. But one of the effects of the blockade has been that you've driven the economy into a Hamas-controlled tunnel economy and the Palestinian Gaza private sector has been almost completely destroyed.

We need to get that going again.

Broadly speaking, it's the British sense that Israel has been dealing with Gaza in the wrong way? 

Yes. The situation is unsustainable, very difficult – as it was before there was any relaxation.

And counterproductive.

We had people going into Gaza, and they were bringing back stories of the "legal economy" being severely undermined.

The economy becoming totally dependent on the tunnel trade. Hamas being able to benefit from that politically, to take credit. The private sector being destroyed. Young boys on the streets with no role models apart from the Hamas guy in the black shiny uniform on the street corner.

So although one understood all the political pressures that were leading Israel to that situation, the fact is it was causing significant humanitarian concerns. But also it was creating, in psychological terms, another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel.

What of the argument that the easier it is for Hamas to rule Gaza, the more it can solidify its hold there, and allocate resources for arms? 

The blockade was helping Hamas to solidify its rule there, giving them a total grip of the economy. I've been out to Sderot many times. I understand the security concerns. We have to find a way that doesn't mean more harm is going to come to them. There are many aspects of this problem. But where we were was not solving the problem. It's as simple as that.

Is the British government thinking that Hamas should be granted more legitimization? 

We are firm on the Quartet principles. We want the political focus to be squarely on the Mitchell process – and that's the discussion between the PA and the Israeli government.

Do you see an optimistic scenario for Gaza? 

It's very difficult. In the short term, unless Hamas surprises us by evolving, we have to find more clever ways to prevent the humanitarian situation getting worse there, but without empowering Hamas in the way that the blockade was empowering Hamas. In the meantime, progress should be made on the negotiating tracks so that the choices for the Palestinian people, including Hamas, get clearer and clearer.

So the people of Gaza will look across to the West Bank and say, "There you see the benefits of dialogue and conciliation. We need something like that here"? 

Something like that. This is a question of degree. One doesn't want to keep all the people of Gaza in a total, locked down, negative economy.


If you imagine any peace process, there's going to be a moment of choice for the Israeli people and for the Palestinian people – however it's done, referendum, elections, whatever. At that moment of choice, it has to be clear: what the gains would be from going for what I hope will be the offer of a sustainable two-state solution, as opposed to anybody else pushing another agenda.

Is Britain broadly coming to the opinion that Israel is not acting in its own interests, that the Israelis are being very foolish? 

After four years here, and having gone back to the UK quite often, talked to people there – in the Jewish community, in parliament, the press, universities, etc – I certainly think there is a problem.

There is a drift of opinion away from Israel. This is not government. This is happening with the popular mood.

What's the core reason? When I grew up, I remember taking my [exams] when the Six Day War was happening.

You've got plucky little Israel against a sea of non-democratic states as a dominant image out there. Now the image is the other way round. David has become Goliath and vice versa. The image that's out there is of Israel as the occupying power.

What people see in the UK is, OK, Israel has some genuine security concerns and they've got to be met. But the answer to that cannot be keeping several million people without full civil, human and other rights, in a state of occupation. This is not a problem of hasbara. You get a lot of people in Israel who say, "Let's launch a new hasbara campaign, change our image in the West, hunky dory." No, it's a problem of substance.

People in the UK sense that Israel hasn't made up its mind. What does Israel want? Is Israel so drawn, for understandable reasons, for deep historical reasons, to the biblical homeland – east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – that it cannot renounce them, even if renouncing them is the only way to achieve sustainable long-term life for the Jewish people? Or is it really ready to make that compromise? This is why the settlements issue has become so crucial.

Because to go on building settlements signals "that's the agenda. Actually we want to go on building there. We haven't made that choice."

And that's why settlements has become a critical litmus test of Israeli intentions.

You have basically two choices: Fortress Israel – we stick there and we hold on until, we hope, things are better. Or you try to achieve peace with your neighbors.

There's a question, of course, about whether that's possible. But I would say it's much better to try for the latter.

For me, the two-state solution is the only sustainable way for Israel to achieve a secure place in the Middle East. It is also the only way to meet that slow climate of opinion change that's happening in the international community out there.

The international community has to be very, very responsive to all the security worries that underline why this is a tough choice for Israel. And we also have to accept, as does Israel, that the Palestinians do have rights. That the Palestinians do have a narrative. They're in an impossible situation at the moment. It's going to be a very tough deal to put together. We owe it to you to try and support that deal.

You say it's not an issue of hasbara, but in that very interesting and not unconventional overview, you only had a semi-clause there – you said something like, "Obviously there are questions about whether the Palestinians are ready for it."

Mainstream Israel, it seems to me, does not believe in Fortress Israel. Mainstream Israel recognizes that to keep Israel Jewish and democratic it needs an accommodation with the Palestinians. That transformation is embodied in Ariel Sharon. The overwhelming weight of the problem, for mainstream Israel, is the sense that we have not had a Palestinian partner.

That Arafat chose not to make peace at Camp David. That Abbas has not emerged from Arafat's shadow, and has not said to the Palestinian public, "You know what, the Jews have historic rights here. We're going to have to compromise." I think that is massively underestimated in the West.

You'll have seen that both Prime Minister Fayyad and President Abbas have been more out there in the Israeli press recently, trying to explain that they really can be partners for peace. We believe they are serious about achieving a two-state solution.

We believe they are involved in the process of trying to build the sort of accountable state that Israel will be able to live with. We've been trying to help that.

There's another story in the last four years – there's been a success story in the West Bank. There is the beginning of a sustainable two-state solution. I don't think many Israelis understand that. They're not seeing it.

I do take on board that when Abbas was in America just now he did say unusually positive things about the Jewish presence in this land. But where do you see the signs of a remotely serious effort, top-down on the Palestinian side, to tell the people of the West Bank and Gaza that 'the Jews have rights here too, and we're going to have to compromise'? Instead, what you see and what you hear is the continued delegitimization of Israel in Palestinian media.

Israel has moved a great deal because of the sense of its interests – that the demographics were such that we need an accommodation with the Palestinians.

The last Palestinian leader was Yasser Arafat, deriding the notion of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. And the middle ground in Israel is not remotely persuaded that the Palestinian leadership is telling its people to prepare for peace. To prepare for statehood, sure.

A state at reconciliation with Israel? I don't think most Israelis believe that. And I think that most Israelis believe the international community underestimates that, and has forgotten about the terrorist onslaught of 2001, 2002 and 2003.

In all these situations there are terrible parallels. Israel says, "We have no partner for peace." You go to the Palestinians and they'll say, "We have no partner for peace." There are remarks that have been made by some of the ministers in this cabinet, about peace not being possible for a decade, or the settlements going to let rip in September. They would see those sorts of remarks as incitement in the same way as you would see some of the things they say as incitement.

I would say to anybody who was around, or aware of what was happening, during the second intifada or earlier, in these terrible waves of terrorist bombings, that there's a change here. When the Palestinians were unhappy not that many years ago, what happened? Arafat might have whispered to Hamas or something and you'd see a terrorist bomber coming down to Netanya. The Palestinians are still unhappy. Hey, they're an occupied people.

Are you surprised they're unhappy? What are you getting? You're getting peaceful protests in some of the areas.

You're getting political action against settlement produce. Isn't this an enormous advance? A peaceful political protest. You can say that's delegitimization. I would say look at the political evolution.

You might say it's change of tactics, if you wanted to be cynical.

But in human life terms, hang on, this is a very significant plus.

The polls on both sides show majorities in favor of a two-state solution. That's important. The polls also show a majority on both sides fear that it cannot be achieved. Both sides have got to take steps towards recognizing the full validity of the other's narrative and the other's identity.

The peace process is about recognition of each other's narrative identities, and the rights that go with that. And I don't think either side is fully there yet. That's why the two hardest issues here are Jerusalem and the right of return – the refugee issue – because they are the two issues which encode the identity narratives which are at stake here. That's one of my reasons for pessimism, because I know how hard it's going to be to have an incremental approach while people are still waiting to know what's going to happen on the big issues.

I grew up in Britain, and I hugely appreciate that my father's family was able to build new lives in Britain after fleeing Nazi Germany. Today, I think the hostility to Israel is really quite terrifying. And I think part of that is because this country is not fairly understood. Parts of the British media are extremely unfair in their representation of the Israeli reality.

I wouldn't want to deny that there is anti- Semitism in the UK. It's a very difficult area between "Israel as a state must take legitimate criticism" and a gray edge to that which gets into dark forces. The government has to try and hold that line very carefully in its own discourse, and we do so.

When I've gone back to the UK, I've spoken at universities, and I talk pretty much like I'm doing now, about how I see the problems, about how Israel has the right to be here, about how the Palestinians have the right to be here, too, and the only way to meet the national aspirations of the two peoples is a two-state solution...

At SOAS, Oxford and places like this, I haven't had people throw sticks at me and say, "It's a Zionist entity, get out, imperialism."

You can have a really intelligent debate if you cast it in the right way. I don't feel the debate is lost, the argument is lost, once you really go into the history, the Peel Commission, the Mandate, the rest of it.

Between the two countries, we have trade running at over £2 billion a year, and 25 percent up in the first few months of this year.

We've worked very hard on the cultural front.

This research and academic exchange scheme, set up by Gordon Brown and Ehud Olmert in 2008, is a big success. There's a lot going on at the people-to-people level that doesn't get the headlines. This is not a simple story of hostile Britain drifting away from Israel.

But you have boycott efforts in academia. When half a dozen Israeli scientists get invited to the British Science Museum, it becomes a semi-scandal, given the climate, with protests that scientists who by extension purportedly help fuel the Israeli military machine are being hosted by Britain.

The climate can be difficult. That's why I say the government has a clear duty to spell out our opposition to boycotts. We have done that. None of these boycotts has actually happened.

We've done what we can to foster the bilateral links.

I'm not trying to say there isn't a problem.








"Oliver stone joins Thomas, Gibson in ranks of out-of-closet Jew-haters."

Talkbacks (3)


It's springtime for Jew-haters. This week Oscar winning conspiracy theorist Oliver Stonejoined Helen Thomas and Mel Gibson in the swelling ranks of out-of-the-closet celebrity Jew-haters. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Stone said that Adolf Hitler had been given a bum rap and that through "Jewish domination of the media," the Jews have inflated the importance of the Holocaust and wrecked US foreign policy.

In the wake of criticism in Jewish circles, on Wednesday Stone's publicist issued a mealymouthed clarification.

Stone failed to retract or amend his statement that "There's a major lobby in the United States.

They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington.

Israel has f---ed up United States foreign policy for years."

He also did not retract his view that Jews use the Holocaust to control American foreign policy.

Stone simply referred to his claim that Jews make too much of the Holocaust because the Germans killed more Russians than Jews as "clumsy."

He then broadened his initial allegation that Jews make too much of the Holocaust by allowing that we are joined in our efforts by non-Jews.

And since non-Jews are involved also, he was wrong to criticize us.

As Stone put it, "The fact that the Holocaust is still a very important, vivid and current matter today is, in fact, a great credit to the very hard work of a broad coalition of people committed to the remembrance of this atrocity."

(Emphasis added.) Stone still believes that the rounding up and exterminating of three-quarters of Europe's Jews is really not as notable or morally troubling as high Russian wartime casualties, but it's not solely Jews' fault that people don't share Stone's views.

Arguably even more despicable than Stone's display of Jew-hatred was the manner in which it was received. On the one hand, there was the thunderous silence of the media. And on the other hand there were the insistent, repeated attempts to justify his statements.

Readers' talkbacks to write-ups of his remarks were rife with assertions that Stone's statements were not bigoted. Many agreed that Jews dominate the media, and since they believe this is true, they argued that saying so is not a bigoted act. Others claimed that while Stone's statements were inaccurate, there is no evidence that he hates Jews and therefore, his statements weren't bigoted. At any rate, Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times and many others have argued, it would be wrong for Stone to be discredited for his attacks against Jews.

It is difficult to imagine that if someone trafficked in ethnic stereotypes about groups like blacks, and claimed that they wreck US foreign policy to serve their own nefarious aims, Goldstein and the talk-backers would defend him.

But then anti-Jewish bigotry has different rules than other hatreds.

Stone and his defenders are not alone in either their attitude towards Jews or their denial of their attitude towards Jews. Indeed, they are part of a worldwide trend.

TAKE THE situation in Malmo, Sweden. Last Friday, Jew-haters set off firecrackers outside a synagogue in Malmo. The blasts came a day after Jew-haters posted a bomb threat on the wall of the synagogue for the second time in two weeks.

Malmo is a hotbed of anti-Jewish violence and the Jews of the city are fleeing in droves.

Yet in the face of all this, Malmo's non-Jews cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that there is a problem with anti-Semitism in their city.

Even those who are supposed to be responsible for combating anti-Semitism refuse to acknowledge that Jews in Malmo are being attacked because they are Jews.

Bjorn Lagerback is the man in Malmo who is supposed to care about anti-Semitic violence.

Lagerback serves as the coordinator of the local forum in the city charged with combating hate crimes. In an interview with Malmo's The Local cited by the World Jewish Congress, Lagerback tried to impress on the world that the bombing was serious. Not because it was violence aimed at Jews, of course.

No, according to Lagerback, this bombing is serious because it might hurt non-Jews. He said.

"We condemn this completely. Such an event is not just directed against the synagogue, but also at other targets that could be described as ethnic or religious."

Forget about the fact that only Malmo's synagogues, and not its churches and mosques, require around the clock security. If no other ethnic or religious groups were targeted, would bombing synagogues no longer warrant condemnation? The acceptance of anti-Semitism has reached epidemic proportions.

In Amsterdam, anti-Semites are making the mundane act of walking around outside in broad daylight a dangerous prospect for Jews.

Jews are regularly attacked verbally and physically by anti-Semites as they walk on the streets of the Dutch capital.

In an attempt to catch and punish anti-Semitic thugs, the Amsterdam police force has dispatched policemen dressed as Jews to pound the pavement. The hope is that these decoys will be able to draw out the offenders and arrest them.

Apparently, some Dutch have a problem with punishing anti-Semitic attackers. As Paul Belien reported in the Brussels Journal, "Evelien van Roemburg, an Amsterdam counselor of the Green Left Party, says that using a decoy by the police amounts to [entrapment], which is itself a criminal offence under Dutch law."

In other words, Van Roemburg thinks that people who walk around while appearing to be Jewish are asking for it.

Van Roemburg no doubt also believes that women in mini-skirts deserve to be raped.

ALL OF this brings us to a discussion of the most endemic form of contemporary anti-Semitism: Anti-Zionism. There is no reason for anyone to be surprised that anti-Semites deny that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. After all, they deny that every other form of anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism. Why should anti-Zionism receive special treatment? It is self-evident that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

Zionism after all is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. To say that Jews – uniquely among all the nations – have no right to freedom and self-determination is obviously anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semites give a variety of excuses to justify their rejection of the Jewish people's right to freedom and sovereignty in our homeland. Sometimes they say they have no problem with Jewish nationalism per se. They are simply anti-nationalist generally. But remarkably, these anti-nationalist anti-Zionists invariably just happen to be outspoken supporters of Palestinian nationalism.

Moreover, it is curious that universalist antinationalists only have a special term to describe their opposition to Jewish nationalism. No one ever mentions being anti-Irishist, for instance.

When someone says they oppose Irish nationalism, the obvious conclusion is that they don't like Irish people. Just so, people who are anti-French tend not to like French people. And yet, the anti- Zionists would have us believe that their opposition to the Jewish state has nothing to do with their feelings about Jews.

Beyond their nonsensical attempts to deny the fact that anti-Zionism is a specific rejection of a specific – that is Jewish – type of nationalism, there is the fact that anti-Zionists tend inevitably to drink from other anti-Jewish sewers as well.

Take former British parliamentarian Clare Short for example.

During her just ended career in the British Parliament, Short became known as an outspoken anti-Zionist. Short rejected Israel's right to exist and castigated it for its "bloody, brutal and systematic annexation of land, destruction of homes and the deliberate creation of an apartheid system."

But Short's Israel kick didn't end with her frequent condemnations of imaginary but lurid Israeli crimes. As time went by, Short began channeling centuries of British Jew-hatred. Like her forefathers who blamed Jews for rain, drought, plague and fire, Shore blamed Israel for global warming.

As she put it in a speech at the European Parliament three years ago, Israel "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming."

As Shore saw it, European leaders are properly obsessed with attacking the Jewish state. But because Israel insists on existing and so requires Europeans to condemn it, Israel prevents the Europeans from attending to the

threat of carbon that, if left unregulated, will "end the human race."

So if the world boils over, the cauldron will be made in Israel.

One of the most prominent anti-Zionists today is Prof. Juan Cole from the University of Michigan.

Part of being a successful anti-Zionist involves claiming that Jews have no right to the land of Israel. So to be a good anti-Zionist, one needs to deny Jewish history.

To this end, in March Cole published a piece of historical fiction in the Salon online magazine.

Titled "Ten reasons why East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel," Cole mixed half truths with flagrant lies to justify his denial of Jewish history and belittlement of the Jewish rights.

Cole wrote, "Jerusalem not only was not being built by the likely then non-existent 'Jewish people' in 1000 BCE, but Jerusalem probably was not even inhabited at that point in history. Jerusalem appears to have been abandoned between 1000 BCE and 900 BCE, the traditional dates for the united kingdom under David and Solomon."

This assertion is so mendacious that it takes your breath away. As anyone who has actually been in Jerusalem can attest, it is all but impossible to be physically present in the oldest areas of the city and not bump into relics dating from between 1000 and 900 BCE.

Cole's allegation is the academic equivalent of Louis Farakhan's claim that white people are devils planted on earth by aliens. As an anti-Zionist anti-Semite, it was just a matter of time until Cole traveled into the fetid swamp of denying the historical record to facilitate his false claim that Jews are not a people and therefore are bereft of rights as a nation to our national homeland.

And why shouldn't he cover himself in anti- Semitic muck? So far, the stench has brought him great success. The very fact that I felt compelled to write an essay explaining why anti- Semitism is anti-Semitism and why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is depressing proof that anti- Semites have been wildly successful in whitewashing their bigotry.

What makes contemporary anti-Semitism unique is its purveyors' great efforts to hide its very existence. Their motivation is clear. Outside the openly genocidal anti-Semitic Muslim world, most anti-Semites are self-described liberals who claim to oppose bigotry. For these people, pretending away their prejudice is the key to their continued claim to enlightenment.

And so the likes of Oliver Stone publish clarifications.

And Cole invents history. And the Europeans blame Jews and Israel and Zionism when Jews inside and outside Israel are assaulted and killed.

And I am sorry I wrote this column.

Because an audience that demands an explanation of why evil is evil is an audience that has already sided with evil.

CORRECTION: In Tuesday's column I wrote that the US's upgrade in the PLO's Washington diplomatic mission gave added privileges to PLO representatives in the US. In fact, the upgrade is a symbolic gesture of support for the Palestinians. The representatives do not enjoy diplomatic immunity.







Minutes from Knesset Children's Committee

Children, children please! Settle down. Quiet.

We're all very upset, tired and hungry, but we have a lot to get through today and we need to begin. So please sit down and be quiet.


OK, as chairchild of this committee I will first read out a statement and then read out the agenda and then everyone can have his and her say, then we'll make up some new laws and everything will be okay and then we can all go outside and play.

First, the statement: Like children everywhere in this country, we are shocked to our core by the recent behavior of some of our parents. It is quite clear to us, despite our small ages and littleness, that there is very little correct playing together by the organizations of the government that are supposed to look after our parents so that they don't become crazy in the head and kill us. All children are children at risk and this committee must make laws that will help our parents and the government play nice with each other, for our sakes. These laws must take into account our parents' right to their mental privacy so that not everyone in the world knows what scary monsters are running around in their heads, but that privacy must not come at the expense of our safety. This committee calls on all the different people in the government with all the information about some of our crazy parents to share that information with each other, right now.

Now, on to the agenda: How to stop parents from killing their children; how to stop parents from using their children as immigration human shields; how to stop the government from using children as excuses to boot their parents out of the country; and how to stop parents from one ethnic group from teaching their kids to hate children from another ethnic group.

First off, let's hear from the child who wants to grow up to be a politician.

The child who wants to be a politician: Thank you, Miss Chairchild. I want to propose a law that would make it harder to release a really messed-up-in-the-head parent from a hospital. I mean, if the really messed-upin- the-head parent is already in a psychiatric hospital and the doctors want to release him/her, then someone must ask the children if that's okay, like if they're okay with mommy or daddy, who are really sick in the head, coming home. I know we all want to see our mommies and daddies at home and happy and everything, but maybe the psychiatrists can ask us how we feel about it.

And if we're scared about it then the parent mustn't come home yet. Or maybe the parent can come home with a doctor or someone who can sit in the corner and watch, like our grandparents have. And also, maybe the doctors or the police or someone can come and spend some time in the house with us when that mommy and daddy, who are really sick in the head, come back home.

The psychiatrists should be there when we see the crazyin- the-head parent, just to see if everything's okay.

Chairchild: I think the psychiatrists should stay in the hospitals and the nice people from the social services office should come by the house and be there when the parent comes home. But they could also be really busy because there are so many of us kids who need them.

Let's ask the children who want to be psychiatrists and social workers when they grow up: How easy it is to release a parent who is really sick in the head from psychiatric detention? Maybe when they get out the doctors who let him go should tell someone, like the police or the social services? The child who wants to grow up to be a social worker: Well, we don't hear so much from the psychiatrists and when we do it's not really enough information and it comes really late, when we're already tired or doing other things. When they tell us that a crazy-in-the-head parent is better now, because they've been eating three meals a day like good parents and taking their pills after they eat, we believe them, and then we allow them to see their children. But they don't tell us what could happen to those parents once they're out of the hospital and not taking the pills anymore because they're not allowed to tell us more than what they're allowed to tell us. I think they just don't know what a parent could do once they release them from hospital.

The child who wants to grow up to be a judge: It's called a nondisclosure boundary and it's important for our democracy, otherwise we'll all know how crazy everyone here is. And it's also dangerous to interfere in family dynamics because that would also endanger our democracy.

The child who wants to grow up to be a politician: Jeez, those are big words. So let's change that law. Let's make it that the psychiatrists have to tell the social workers to watch out for parents who are really sick in the head, and the social workers have to tell the police, and the police have to watch our houses all the time. It's not so nice for the police, and they're busy running after bad guys also, but our parents need someone to watch over them while they're watching over us.

THE CHILD WHO wants to grow up to be a psychiatrist: Miss Chairchild, the child who wants to be a social worker and the child who wants to be a politician are clearly crazy in the head. They can't put the blame on us; we're innocent professionals, we're professional innocents. What I propose is a really tough law that says that when we release a parent from psychiatric care because he or she is a little bit better in the head, the social services need to keep a close eye on that parent. We don't have the time to follow every a little-bit-better-in-the-head parent back home. In any case, we are doctors, and we can't give parents an "almost stable" stamp, or a "temporarily stable" stamp, or an "okay for now but watch this person closely" stamp. That wouldn't be nice, and by law, no social worker would allow that parent to visit his or her children, that means us, and that wouldn't be nice for anyone.

The child who wants to grow up to be a social worker: So let's change the law. We can't do this alone. We can't take responsibility for our really complicated parents, with all of the monsters in their heads. It's not enough that the hospital tells us that the person is "stable"; that "right now" he's not psychotic, and he can meet us, his children, and leave it at that. That's not good enough.

Chairchild: I'm hearing blame from both sides. The social workers are blaming the psychiatrists; the psychiatrists are saying that the social workers are clearly insane and that the lawmakers, the police, and the judges are all living in a fantasy-land and need urgent medication.

The child who wants to grow up to be a psychiatrist: Miss Chairchild, you're sounding a little crazy in the head, maybe you should calm down. Take a chill pill. In any case, what we're talking about are parents who are crazy in the head and you can tell that because they try kill themselves, sometimes before they kill us, and sometimes after they kill us. So we need to go after parents who want to kill themselves, because they're the ones that might end up killing us.

The child who wants to grow up to be a policeman: There is no legal way to arrest parents who just threaten to kill themselves, or actually try to kill themselves, so maybe we should change that law too. Like, let's make it illegal to kill yourself, period. And if you try, we'll put you in jail, and if you succeed in killing yourself, the judges will throw the book at you and you'll never come out of jail.

Chairchild: How do we figure out how dangerous a parent is to themselves and their children? Is there a way that the social workers could add their input into the psychiatrists' evaluation of a parent's level of dangerous craziness? 

The child who wants to grow up to be a psychiatrist: Well, there's no way to tell really unless we keep them in hospital for a very, very long time. And that could actually make them worse. And the social welfare people have no idea how to spot crazy-in-the-head parents.

The child who wants to grow up to be a social worker: I'm looking at one now! You're crazy in the head for letting crazy-in-the-head parents out of hospital! 

Chairchild: Okay stop it, you're behaving badly. Both of you. So maybe children should visit their sick-in-thehead parents only in the hospitals or in police stations? Child who wants to grow up to be a policeman: I don't like hospitals.

Child who wants to grow up to be a doctor: I don't like police stations.

Chairchild: Okay, look we're all tired and this is getting nowhere, and we haven't even discussed the other issues on the agenda. Let's take a break for a few months and come back to this with renewed strength. Hopefully no more children will die until then.








The IDF operation to retrieve the remains of six airmen was another reminder of what makes Israel unique – its quick response to disasters and its determination not to leave anyone behind.


BOBOC, Romania – The Romanian air force base here looks nothing like its equivalent in Israel. Home to the RAF's flight school, the base has barely any security – just a fivefoot wall without barbed wire and a few boredlooking soldiers who stand unarmed at the entrance playing with some stray dogs.

On one side of the base, which is not even fenced in, is a long runway where pilots take off and land on training missions. On the other side is what appears to be a junkyard filled with outdated Soviet military equipment – radars from the 1960s and surface-to-air missiles which have seen better years.

The IAF delegation arrived at the base about two weeks ago for what was supposed to be a standard helicopter search-and-rescue exercise to help Israeli pilots learn to fly in unfamiliar terrain – mountains, ravines, forests.

But the exercise turned into a real search-and-rescue mission on Wednesday when members of the IAF's elite search-and-rescue Unit 669 arrived at the scene of the helicopter crash and retrieved the remains of the six IAF servicemen killed in Monday's training accident.

The mission was extremely complicated. IAF Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion "Yasour" helicopters flew the teams of rescuers to the Carpathian Mountains early Wednesday morning and landed in a field next to an old cottage about a kilometer-anda- half from the crash site. The soldiers hiked the rest of the way, climbing steep mountains, jumping over waterfalls and streams and trudging through thick mud.

The scene of the crash was not easy to digest. The remains of the air crew were scattered over an area the size of a soccer field. Part of the helicopter was wedged into a mountain cliff; other pieces were scattered in the valley below. The soldiers tied a series of ropes between the mountain and the valley so the wreckage would not fall on the soldiers working below. Each soldier carried about 50 kilograms of "findings" on his back.

By nightfall, the operation was completed. As the commander of Unit 669 told his soldiers before taking off for the crash site: "Our motto is that we do not leave any wounded behind, and in the same way today, we will not leave any of the dead behind." His soldiers lived up to the unit's motto.

Ultimately, the operation was another reminder of what makes Israel unique. Like the rescue delegation to Haiti earlier this year and other delegations in recent years to Thailand, India and Turkey, the mission in Romania was a demonstration of Israel's humanitarian side – its quick response to disasters and its determination not to leave anyone behind and to bring all of the boys back home. What made this possible was without a doubt the close coordination between the Romanian and Israeli militaries.

"Romania is a very special country for us," Ambassador to Romania David Oren toldThe Jerusalem Post. "Since 1948, it is one of the only countries in this part of the world that consistently retained its ties with the State of Israel."

Oren went on to explain the extent of the relations, noting that an Israeli company recently built the largest shopping mall in Romania. "The business ties span the entire economy – the food, hotel, hi-tech and textile industries," he said.

Military relations, though, are a different story and have only in recent years gained importance. The IAF's first joint training exercise with the RAF was in 2004. Two years later, defense minister Shaul Mofaz flew to Bucharest and signed an agreement with his Romanian counterpart to formalize the ties. At the time, the agreement did not receive much media attention, since most of the IAF's overseas training was carried out in Turkey.

The Romanian interest in bolstering defense ties stemmed from the deep respect the military here has for the IDF. Romania's participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan solidified the ties, as the Romanians looked to Israel to learn how to effectively conduct counterinsurgency operations and fight terrorists in urban settings.

From an Israeli perspective, the ties gained importance over the past year-and-a-half because of the deterioration in ties with Turkey prompted by Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. Locked out of Turkey, the IAF began searching for new training grounds and looked to Romania, setting up a joint helicopter drill for July. First reported in the Post in April, news of the upcoming drill caused quite a stir in Romania but demonstrated to the Turks that Israel had viable alternatives.

The reason for the exercise goes almost without saying. Israel has limited airspace, much of which is over the same terrain – desert and some sparse forests in the North. Flying elsewhere provides pilots with the ability to see what other countries look like, what it is like fly over mountains, searching for targets in deep valleys and ravines, bombing sites hidden inside forests.

The training in Romania was for the IAF's fleet of Yasour aircraft, which has played and will continue to play a critical role in any future IAF operations. The aircraft are the workhouse of the IAF, transporting troops and supplies behind enemy lines in operations that still remain classified.

The IAF, however, has recognized that the Yasour is aging and has carried out a number of comprehensive modification and upgrade programs. Most recently, the "2025 Yasour" program included upgrades to the hull and the avionics and was meant to extend the aircraft's life by another 15 years.

The reason the IAF has been investing in upgrades instead of purchasing new transport helicopters is because until now there has not really been a viable replacement for the Yasour. Boeing has offered the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey, which can take off and land vertically and then fly at speeds like a regular aircraft, but it is smaller than the Yasour and can carry fewer soldiers.

Sikorsky, the Yasour's manufacturer, has announced that it is developing a new transport helicopter, but it is still years away from becoming operational.

Training in places like Romania is crucial for the IAF as it prepares to deal with faraway threats like Iran. There have also been reports of commando operations in places like Sudan aimed at stopping the weapons smuggling to Gaza and Lebanon.


If Israel decides to attack Iran, it is likely that the Yasour helicopter will play a role, most probably in search-and-rescue operations in the event that pilots are shot down.

Either way, the IAF does not plan to stop flying overseas due to the training accident. The threats are growing, senior officers said this week, and the pilots need to be ready.








A fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some that direct talks will lead to peace.

Talkbacks (2)


Will Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally agree to direct peace talks with Israel? Judging by the recent US enticement – and the reported Israeli concession – of an upgraded PLO mission – now called a "general delegation"– in Washington that will be entitled to fly the Palestinian flag, signaling an American acceptance of near sovereignty, Abbas will be hard-pressed to turn down President Barack Obama's offer.

The White House has expressed confidence that the latest symbolic US gesture is meant to jump-start successful bilateral talks and bring about an eventual "independent, viable Palestine living side by side with Israel." White House spokesman Thomas Vietor noted that "we should begin preparing for that outcome now."

A new fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some in the Beltway that long awaited direct talks will finally lead to an elusive peace agreement. However, it seems more likely that American and Israeli goodwill are fuelling Palestinian plans to establish a state unilaterally on the 1949 armistice lines – inaccurately called the 1967 borders – either by declaration as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has wanted or by a UN Security Council resolution as Abbas has preferred.

Threats by the Palestinian leadership in late 2009 to declare statehood unilaterally, while supported quietly by some European officials, have been flatly rejected by the Obama administration.

In line with the Oslo interim accords of 1995 that still govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Washington insists that bilateral talks and a Palestinian state by agreement is the legal and proper diplomatic path to take.

However, the recent dramatic announcement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia "did not violate international law" holds substantial ramifications for the Palestinians, as it does for other prospective succession bids including the Kurds and Northern Cypriots.

IT SHOULD be recalled that the US was one of the first powers to recognize Kosovo's unilateral succession from Serbia nearly two and half years ago, despite only tepid international support for the move. However, since 2008, PA officials have invoked Kosovo as a model for "Palestine."

PA senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo said soon after Kosovo's declaration that "our people have the right to proclaim independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence."

PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has worked tirelessly for a Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, also said in late 2009 that "the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other official channels."

Abbas and Fayyad have also mentioned the Kosovo model as an option.

The context of the ICJ's nonbinding yet supportive opinion for Kosovo's succession renders the latest US gesture a far more significant step toward Washington's recognition of Palestinian sovereignty than simply a generous peace process outreach.

Even if the Palestinians agree, as Abbas indicated in media reports last week, to avoid making unilateral declarations, the combination of the latest Palestinian "flaghood" in the capital of the free world and the latest international legal backing for unilateralism paves the path for the current Palestinian default position: a resolution in the UN Security Council seeking recognition of "Palestine" on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital.

Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has publicly supported this option, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly been positively inclined to the idea in conversations with Palestinian leaders over the past year.

A major question is whether the Obama administration will continue to insist on direct peace talks as the only legal and secure path to peace and whether it will level a veto over this second and dangerous form of Palestinian unilateralism if and when it comes to a vote in the Security Council.

The implications for Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East are too far-reaching to ignore.

The writer is the director for strategic affairs at the World Jewish Congress and a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.








secular government cannot legislate religious questions.

Talkbacks (2)

We have now been advised that the conversion crisis will be put off for six months, during which time, presumably, the debate will continue. Publicists will decry the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens speak Hebrew, serve in the army, pay taxes, bear the day to day burdens of Israeli life, yet are not and cannot (because of halachic strictures) become "Jewish."

The American Jewish community will foresee a rift between Israel and the Diaspora. Local prophets of doom warn of an ideological civil war.

Pundits will propose solutions – relaxation of halachic standards, authorizing local Rabbis (who are presumably more lenient or more subject to political pressures) to carry out conversions, etc.

Floating above all of this activity will be the question of individuals who have been converted abroad under the aegis of the Conservative or Reform movements (and in some cases even by Orthodox rabbis), who view themselves as Jewish and may find that Israel takes a different view.

The Supreme Court will once again be forced to intervene and its legitimacy will be subject to further erosion.

The ground is fertile for futile debate and much political mud-slinging, not necessarily substantive.

IN SIX months we will be back to square one, not because the problem is so complex, but because once again the discussion is irrelevant and off the mark. Regardless of what the legislature decides, most Rabbinic authorities will never accept a conversion that does not involve a bona fide commitment to full halachic life.

Every conversion will be checked and re-checked by the various bet din authorities. Rather than promoting unity, conversion leniencies will perpetuate rifts.

The six-month hiatus will be useful and productive only if the participants in this saga finally realize that the goal should be, not to reform the conversion process, but to get the secular State of Israel out of the business of legislating religious questions, and to provide reasonable, practical, non-stigmatizing solutions for those individuals who are not halachically Jewish, but nonetheless are or should be fullfledged members of Israeli society.

All participants in the debate must come to terms with the idea that a secular government simply cannot legislate religious questions. In order to solve the problem, we must ask the correct question: As the Talmud says: "lemai nafka minah ?" What is the practical difference and the practical solution ? How can an individual who bears all of the responsibilities of Israeli citizenship, even if not halachically Jewish, also benefit from the attendant rights and benefits? How can such an individual achieve the same civic status as a person born of two Jewish parents ? If the question is thus asked correctly, and only in such case, an answer can be found. As I have suggested previously in these pages, the solution must at the least contain two elements: First, "Jewish" should no longer be a nationality option in the Israeli identity card. If an individual was born in Israel or made aliya under the Law of Return, then his secular nationality is "Israeli."

The identity card should simply state "Israeli" or perhaps one of the following categories: "Israeli by birth" (one who was born in Israel), or "Israeli under the Law of Return."

The latter appellation would apply to individuals who are entitled to make aliya, and do so, whether born of one or two Jewish parents or grandparents, whether or not halachically Jewish, and would be stigma-free.

SECOND, THE option of civil marriage should be provided for anyone who wants it (whether or not halachically Jewish). If one wants to be married by the Rabbinate, it would be the Rabbinate's prerogative to examine whether one meets the requirements for halachic marriage. The same would be true of Christian clerics, Muslims and every other religion.

Whether the religious authority accepts the individual to be married is a religious issue, not a legislative one.

There would be no stigma attached to a civil marriage. It is simply a matter of choice and the rules of the club.

Indeed, civil marriage will avoid many mamzerut and aguna (anchored in marriage) problems. A woman married in the civil marriage regime would not be considered married for halachic purposes (particularly if the civil marriage documentation recites that the individual has "opted out" of a religious ceremony). Such an individual would not require a get (divorce) to be remarried, but rather another form of judicial cancellation of the marriage. A child born out of wedlock after such a marriage would not be illegitimate under halacha. The notions of aguna and mamzer would become virtually extinct.

Once these steps are taken, the non-halachic immigrant would be well on his or her way to achieving exactly the same status as every other Jewish Israeli. The identity card would not in any way disclose personal religious background and he or she would be able to marry in Israel without resorting to trips abroad or clandestine activity. On the other hand, the Rabbinate would maintain its integrity.

I am aware that many groups, including particularly the religious parties and establishment, decry any "secularization" of religious status on the grounds that this would divide the country. I suspect that hidden behind these arguments is a desperate attempt to maintain control of the huge marriage and conversion bureaucracy. But even if the position of these opponents is untainted by personal or pecuniary interests, the

ogic is simply incorrect.

The split in Israeli society already exists. The fact that an individual was converted by the government sanctioned special conversion court has absolutely no weight before the Rabbinic courts or the marriage registrars, which review each situation anew. If conversion standards are made more lenient, then the notation "Jewish" in an identity card will be even more meaningless.

If today there is a presumption that Rabbinate conversion was proper, even that presumption will be eliminated. Not only the haredi community, but also the more "modern" elements in the religious community will give no credence to the acts of the local Rabbinate.

Thus, rather than strengthening the Rabbinate, the relaxation of standards and the proposed legislation will make the Rabbinate into the laughing stock of the religious community.

After the Jewish Enlightenment movement took hold in Europe, many Jewish communities were split into two: the official community which had a Rabbi mitaam – i.e. a Rabbi appointed by the local political authorities – and a separatist "halachic" community. If the conversion plans and legislation go into force, the same situation will befall the State of Israel.

The six-month hiatus brokered by the Prime Minister should be used, not to find compromise solutions, but to ask the right questions, so the correct answers can flow.

The writer, an ordained Orthodox Rabbi, is an international lawyer based in Tel Aviv.













"Those who are systematically sabotaging the start of direct negotiations, people on the Palestinian side and elements at home and abroad who are not enthusiastic" was a phrase Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used this week at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He gave no details and did not mention names. But he bound himself to an ultimatum when he announced that the construction freeze in the settlements will end as planned after 10 months have elapsed, "and not a day later."


The 10th month is approaching and the Palestinians are still not prepared to enter direct negotiations with Israel, despite the pressure on the Palestinian Authority's leadership by U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union, and the ticking clock in Israel. What have they gained by wasting the freeze's 10 months? Are they waiting for terrorist attacks to resume? Are they just trying to play for time, or is it the inability of PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ) to wade into the cold waters of peace, as Moshe Dayan was fond of saying?


The settlement-freeze conditions set by the PA are reminiscent of the time Israel conditioned negotiations with the Palestinians on "stopping terror first." They did this on the assumption that it wouldn't happen anyway. With time, the terror stopped but peace didn't break out.


Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the PA's Preventive Security Force and currently an aide to Abu Mazen, was a guest this week of the Council for Peace and Security; he took part in a discussion on what is and is not happening between the two peoples. He spoke fluent Hebrew, and one of the participants praised him for his command of the language. His answer: "I don't wish on you studies in the university where I learned Hebrew." (He spent 17 years in our prisons. )


Gen. (res. ) Mendy Meron asked him: "Why are you delaying entry into direct negotiations with us? Another settlement house, another 100 homes - what significance will they have when land swaps are negotiated as part of a comprehensive settlement?" Rajoub evaded the question and didn't even answer indirectly. He reiterated that he is for direct talks, but he had no convincing explanation for why the PA has failed to exploit the construction freeze to conduct direct negotiations. When the freeze ends, the same question will remain: What difference will one house more or less make when the question of land swaps is on the table?


Some of the people at the discussion got the impression that there is an internal Palestinian opposition, or that

the PA doesn't believe that the Netanyahu government is ready to reach an agreement when the international climate favors the Palestinians. Could it be that Hamas, in control of Gaza, is pressing the PA not to start direct negotiations? Rajoub's answer: Gaza belongs to the Palestinians. That's our problem, and we'll have to deal with it internally. At the same time, he advises us not to start negotiating the refugee issue. Leave it for the end, he says, it's an international issue.


The question why it wasn't possible to hold direct negotiations during the freeze probably occurred to more than one participant in the meeting with Rajoub. Doesn't the PA leadership understand that the extreme right in Israel is only too happy to hear and repeat the slogan that there is no one to talk to, and to use it as a weapon against extending the freeze? Since any future agreement will require changes to the 1967 lines, what was the point of Abu Mazen's ultimatum in The Irish Times this week? In that interview, he said that despite international pressure he does not intend to enter direct talks before Netanyahu agrees in advance to accept the principle of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines.


Maybe Abu Mazen is putting off direct negotiations because he doesn't really trust Netanyahu. He also wants to wait and see if Obama has the power to press Netanyahu to commit to concessions even before the end of the freeze - a kind of deluxe negotiation in which the U.S. administration provides the Palestinians with answers to all their demands on a silver platter.


The way things look now, it doesn't seem like Bibi can extend the freeze even as a "confidence-building measure" without a revolt by the extreme right and part of Likud. And maybe that's what the Palestinians expect - that the U.S. administration and the European Union will join forces to impose an agreement on Israel.


But given what is happening in the world, especially in our region, because of the Iranian threat, it's doubtful Obama will come out against Israel as the PA leadership hopes.


It will be pathetic if the Palestinians, who have not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, don't learn the lesson and miss again.









Many studies have proven unusual success by Jews, since the Emancipation, in the areas of science and thought, relative to the populations of other nations. The survival of the Jewish people and its flourishing in exile prove the existence of a collective "Jewish mind," or an abundance of gifted people.


In Israel there are many areas of successful creativity: in the economy, civil society and a few governmental bodies. But the situation is different in the area of political-security thinking, where the question "Where is the Jewish mind?" presents itself.


Hypotheses about the nature of the "Jewish mind" in the Diaspora contain explanations for its absence in the political-security arenas in Israel. According to some of these hypotheses, the difficult conditions of the Diaspora led to the development of talents that fit the circumstances, either as cultural traits or as individual, quasi-genetic traits. Some of the hypotheses emphasize the role of demanding, elitist Torah study.


But these processes did not apply to diplomacy, an area in which the Jewish people were not involved in exile. The ways of dealing with the government were mainly through go-betweens, and only a few Jews attained positions of political leadership. In other words, we lack a tradition of statesmanship, of educational institutions aimed at developing leadership, and of a quasi-"aristocracy" from which democratic leadership grows. The years of the state's existence are too few to fill this gap.


The result is a "primitively intelligent" political-security culture. Many of the officials are intelligent. There is no lack of common sense, since complicated problems require complex thinking.


But such thinking has not developed enough here. Instead, we suffer from intelligent but primitive political-security thinking that cannot deal with challenges.


The primitiveness is expressed in the failings of political-security thinking. For example, the inability to combine values and aspirations with a realistic view of the limits of the possible; restriction of creativity by conventions; reaction to developments instead of initiative; a lack of historical thinking that considers current issues with long-range perspective; treading in place when confronted with controversial alternatives; attachment to concepts; tunnel vision that blocks out important considerations; an imbalance between the power of political-security bodies and the inordinate influence of the army; failure to consult people with varied perspectives.


In addition, uncertainty is dealt with childishly, by adherence to one-dimensional "working assumptions" instead of planning for a variety of possibilities, both optimistic and pessimistic; there is a lack of skepticism and critical thinking about "the obvious;" contempt for others, including the enemy; resistance to abstract theoretical thinking as one of the essential bases of diplomacy; and underdevelopment of advanced professional expertise in terms of evaluation and planning.


There are also difficulties in achieving cooperation between political and security bodies, such as the Defense Ministry and the IDF on the one hand, and the National Security Council on the other, against the background of a coalition government. And, most seriously, the denial of failures.


The result is a "negative added value" of the whole political and security system, whose overall output is eroded by the friction between its units, in place of mutual synergistic reinforcement.


If Israel were not facing fateful decisions, all these could be seen as "childhood illnesses" that will pass in a generation or two. But that is not the situation. That is why there should be a revolution in the culture of political and security thinking, on all levels.


This requires changes in the government. But even without them, much can be done, including concentrating political and security issues in the hands of the prime minister, instead of distributing them among many ministers.


A situation that prevents integration; a new type of professional training for those responsible for evaluation and planning; rotation between political and security bodies, and between them and external think-tanks and research centers; defining "points to be considered in political and security decisions" as a helpful tool, not as a restrictive framework; in-depth discussions for cabinet members of political and security issues (this recommendation by the Winograd Commission was greeted with scorn in the Prime Minister's Office ); rebuilding some of the evaluation and planning bodies in a way that is appropriate for a complex reality and reduces friction, including a real strengthening of the National Security Council and its status; and both positive and negative incentives for decision-makers and their advisers - including removing those who stand out for their primitive thinking.









This column joins in the call: Let's have proximity talks. For the talks are close, but the proximity is far off.


It is not by chance that Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refrained from responding to the questions of the mediator who, had he not identified himself as the representative of a great power, would be suspected of loitering. Why reply, as long as it is possible to put him off with empty verbiage, and every delay is for the best?


In order to live for the moment and forfeit eternity, Netanyahu will never tire of searching for a new pretext for treading water. He will search every dark corner with candles, which are soon liable to turn into memorial candles.


First he made progress conditional on the Palestinians agreeing to recognize the Jewish state - as if Israel's existence depended on what they say, as if anyone but the person concerned can define his right to exist and his identity. Then he made it conditional on an end to violence: Let the terror stop, and then we'll talk. Now, we have his demand for direct negotiations.


Grant Netanyahu his wish, since he has promised to surprise everyone and sign an agreement within a year. Let the miracle happen, and we shall be as dreamers.


And indeed, a miracle is called for. The talks this time will be more complex than ever before, since everything has turned upside down.


This time, the Palestinians are the ones who will demand that Israel stop the terror, perpetrated by the cursed inhabitants of the Har Bracha settlement. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have succeeded where Netanyahu and Ehud Barak have failed.


The Palestinian Authority dealt with the terrorists in their territory and overcame them; it imposed law and order in the West Bank. The government of Israel, in contrast, has been defeated by the abominable hilltop youths of Yitzhar, who this week once again crawled out of their caves to set a "price tag," burning field after field.


And if the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service insist on their own contribution to the current quiet, the Palestinian security services are hereby invited to offer their help. Perhaps they, with their proven experience, can manage to catch the torchers of mosques who still walk free and the rabbis who incite to murder by basing themselves on Jewish religious law. A revolving door is better than a door that never closes on these Israeli pogromists.


The Palestinians' starting position is better than ours: They have fulfilled most of their obligations under the road map peace plan, while we have not removed even one of the illegal outposts we were supposed to dismantle. Moreover, they may demand at the outset that we put an end to the incitement against Israeli Arabs and their elected representatives and annul the racist laws the Knesset has recently been approving so lavishly.


Netanyahu is incarcerated in the jail of his coalition and fettered with the chains of his parental home. The cards he is holding close to his chest are bits of paper on which he has written the main points of speeches like the one he gave at Bar-Ilan University.


In two months' time, the momentum of construction in the settlements will be resumed - and this, too, is a kind of violence. And the roar of the bulldozers will shake the negotiating table.


At that point, the international community will have to figure out how to digest the goose it cooked for itself. America will have to decide how to handle Netanyahu: with the stick of Election Day or the stick of D-Day. The Palestinians will have to decide whether to switch to unilateral moves or continue moaning about their bad luck.


And we, the citizens of Israel, will have to consider the new proposal by the priests of the right - establishing a binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps that is the way - the last road of the Zionist enterprise. Perhaps the time has come to begin saying the "Hear O Israel" prayer that one recites before dying.








The reopening of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, after three years of renovations, reflects an enormous cultural investment. The museum was refurbished at a cost of $100 million (with most of the money coming from individual donors and foundations ), and the exhibit space was expanded to 58,000 square meters, which will allow archaeological findings and artworks from every period of history to be exhibited simultaneously. This will further solidify the museum's international reputation and its status as Israel's foremost cultural center.


This event is a reminder that Israel is capable of attaining global renown because of its rich spiritual heritage and cultural and artistic excellence, and not only because of its wars. Moreover, it makes clear that "the rocks of our existence" and our "heritage sites" do not necessarily have to be controversial, wrapped in a religious cloak or found in parts of the country whose future is debatable.


At a time when we have been exposed to architectural megalomania and corrupt planning (the new Habimah Theater and the Holyland project are only two examples ), we should applaud the sense of proportion and good taste of those who planned the renovation of the Israel Museum. They added new lobbies and hallways and easy access to the exhibition rooms without damaging the original, low-profile, rustic plan that spreads unpretentiously over the Givat Ram ridge and fits into its surroundings.


The museum's festive reopening, including the international coverage of the event, is reminiscent of the feelings that accompanied the museum's original opening in 1965. A Haaretz editorial at that time expressed the hope that "because of this effort, Israel's place on the international museum map will be assured - modest in some respects, but significant and even noteworthy in others."


The editorial modestly noted that "we will not be able to compete with the major museums of Europe and America, which developed over hundreds of years," but it nevertheless expressed pride and a vision of the future, along with the hope that in addition to illuminating the culture of ancient Israel and Jewish art and "nurturing Israelis' aesthetic sense," the museum would reflect cosmopolitan openness and integrate Israel into the international cultural and artistic scene. That hope was realized through the museum's development of Israeli and international art collections and the important exhibitions it hosted.


The museum opened two years before the Six-Day War - the one that switched the emphasis from the humility, sense of proportion and focus on culture and spiritual life that Jerusalem's Givat Ram symbolized to physical expansion, force and superficial religiosity. The effort to digest, in one fell swoop, all that was symbolized by Ammunition Hill, the Western Wall, Gilo, Jebel Mukaber and Abu Dis caused the spiritual power of the Israel Museum, Hebrew University, the Sculpture Garden and the Shrine of the Book to be almost forgotten.


Let us hope that this symbolic Givat Ram does not become a museum piece, and that the Israel Museum's renovation will revive the spirit that accompanied its establishment.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a diplomatic gain yesterday: The Arab League authorized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold direct talks with Israel. Further efforts will be needed to reach an agreement on the framework of the negotiations, as well as their goals and conditions, but Netanyahu's repeated call for direct talks, which has been met with a persistent Palestinian refusal, is close to bearing fruit.


The turning point was Netanyahu's July 6 visit to the White House, where U.S. President Barack Obama announced his support for direct negotiations. Obama's declaration put an end to the proximity talks, which had not produced results, and led to a campaign to pressure Abbas to end his opposition to dialogue with the Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu has since visited Cairo and Amman, and the Arab League's decision yesterday suggests that Egypt's and Jordan's leaders decided to give the process a chance.


In politics, Netanyahu adheres to the principle "if they give, they'll get," and this gives rise to the question - what has he given Obama in return for direct talks? The details of the talks at the White House have not been leaked, but it appears Netanyahu is willing to extend the freeze on settlement construction, perhaps only outside the large settlement blocs, and transfer more territory in the West Bank to Palestinian civilian responsibility. The start of the talks will give Netanyahu cause to continue the freeze, against growing pressure from the Yesha Council of settlers and its supporters who want to expand settlement construction throughout the West Bank.


Netanyahu celebrated his victory over Abbas with a little shot at his bitter political rival, Haim Ramon, who, even when not in the government or Knesset, annoys the prime minister. Ayala Hasson reported on Israel Radio that three weeks ago Ramon met with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and tried to convince him not to resume direct talks. President Shimon Peres' name was mentioned, as if Ramon had been sent on the mission, something Ramon denies.


There were immediate, and expected, reactions from the right, which blamed Ramon and the head of his Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of assisting the enemy - nothing less. Netanyahu hinted early this week that the opposition was trying to undermine the negotiations, and now the story broke.


Netanyahu is not original; he is rehashing an old trick of Ariel Sharon. In early 2004 Sharon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about secret meetings. On one side was Peres, then the head of the Labor Party, the opposition and others in the "peace industry." On the other side was Ahmed Qureia, a leading figure in the Palestinian Authority.


When asked why there was no movement in the peace process, Sharon blamed the opposition. "Don't they know the Arabs talk?" Sharon told his aides, suggesting that intelligence had information about the meetings with the Israeli opposition.


Ramon reportedly told Erekat that there is no point in direct talks because "Bibi will not agree to anything." So who said there is no consistency in the peace process?








What a wonderful coincidence. A few days after Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted - and his confidants said explicitly - that Haim Ramon was striving to foil direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a John Doe dropped by Israel Radio's talk show "Hakol Dibburim" (It's all talk ). In a deliberately distorted voice, as though he were a father of a raped child, he made the case against Ramon.


He said Ramon had met senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat in the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem three weeks ago. The man happened to be sitting next to them and apparently wrote down or recorded what they were saying. He said the defendant (Ramon ) urged the Palestinian not to open direct talks with Netanyahu. The defendant said he was sent by President Shimon Peres.Even through the electronic distortion it was clear the speaker was an intelligent man, well versed in the peace process. He was fluent and sharp. Unfortunately for Ramon, he chose to sit down, of all places, near the anonymous speaker's table, for lunch.


Only the talk show host, Ayala Hasson, knows who the speaker is. His motives are also unknown. But why deal with trifles - the witch hunt has begun. Barely an hour went by and MK Zeev Elkin, from Likud, declared Ramon a traitor. MK Ofir Akunis, also Likud, called in to express his horror. And MK Otniel Schneller, not from the Likud (yet ) but from Kadima - the party in which Ramon serves as council chairman - announced sadly that his party was not worthy of heading the government. What remains but to prepare the hanging tree.


Ramon's statements, if indeed he made them, made sense. He said the Palestinians, who had rejected Olmert's more moderate demands, had nothing to expect of Netanyahu. The latter would not offer them 50 percent of what Olmert did. But what difference does it make? The fact that Ramon, Tzipi Livni's confidant and chief strategist, was caught asking the Palestinians not to engage in direct talks with Bibi is no less than a political catastrophe for Livni. At a time when both the United States and Europe are pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to talk with Israel - even the Arab League gave him the green light yesterday - the man closest to her transpires to be an obstacle? An instigator?


For Netanyahu, this is a political gold mine. A wish come true. Until today, when the opposition accused him for the absence of direct talks, he blamed the Palestinians. From now on he can say the Palestinians are guilty, but so are you, Kadima.


Ramon's entanglement is not personal. It paints Kadima with a leftist, subversive, treacherous hue. The hue that in years gone by had stuck to Labor. It clung to Peres, Beilin and Weizman, who talked to the PLO when it was banned.


This served Likud well in its election propaganda. Now Kadima too is seen as a cynical, power-hungry political creature that would stop at nothing to topple the government. This stain will now stick to Ramon too. He will be seen as guilty until proved otherwise.


Ramon denies some of the things the stranger said, and Peres denies having sent him. Peres can always speak to Palestinian leaders directly. There is something very strange about this story.





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




It is just a technical matter, the Obama administration says: We just need to make a slight change in a law to make clear that we have the right to see the names of anyone's e-mail correspondents and their Web browsing history without the messy complication of asking a judge for permission.


It is far more than a technical change. The administration's request, reported Thursday in The Washington Post, is an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign.


In a 1993 update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Congress said that Internet service providers have to turn over to the F.B.I., on request, "electronic communication transactional records." The government says this includes the e-mail records of their subscribers, specifically the addresses to which e-mail messages were sent, and the times and dates. (The content of the messages can remain private.) It may also include Web browsing records. To get this information, the F.B.I. simply has to ask for it in the form of a national security letter, which is an administrative request that does not require a judge's signature.


But there was an inconsistency in the writing of the 1993 law. One section said that Internet providers had to turn over this information, but the next section, which specified what the F.B.I. could request, left out electronic communication records. In 2008, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion saying this discrepancy meant the F.B.I. could no longer ask for the information. Many Internet providers stopped turning it over. Now the Obama administration has asked Congress to make clear that the F.B.I. can ask for it.


These national security letters are the same vehicles that the Bush administration used after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to demand that libraries turn over the names of books that people had checked out. The F.B.I. used these letters hundreds of thousands of times to demand records of phone calls and other communications, and the Pentagon used them to get records from banks and consumer credit agencies. Internal investigations of both agencies found widespread misuse of the power, and little oversight into how it was wielded.


President Obama campaigned for office on an explicit promise to rein in these abuses. "There is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties," his campaign wrote in a 2008 position paper. "As president, Barack Obama would revisit the Patriot Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of tools like National Security Letters, sneak-and-peek searches, and the use of the material witness provision."


Where is the "robust oversight" that voters were promised? Earlier this year, the administration successfully pushed for crucial provisions of the Patriot Act to be renewed for another year without changing a word. Voters had every right to expect the president would roll back authority that had been clearly abused, like national security letters. But instead of implementing reasonable civil liberties protections, like taking requests for e-mail surveillance before a judge, the administration is proposing changes to the law that would allow huge numbers of new electronic communications to be examined with no judicial oversight.


Democrats in Congress can remind Mr. Obama of his campaign promises by refusing this request.







Gov. David Paterson's team has said many absurd things about his office's attempt to interfere with assault charges against one of Mr. Paterson's closest aides, but perhaps the most absurd of all was the claim that he was "exonerated" by the report issued by the former chief judge of New York State.


It is true that Judith Kaye, the retired chief judge of the State Court of Appeals, said she was not recommending criminal charges against Mr. Paterson or any of the other people on the government payroll who seemed to do everything they could short of outright threats to stop a Bronx woman from pursuing the assault charges against the aide, David Johnson.


Why she chose to do that is a bit baffling in light of the portrait she painted of government officials abusing the public trust, exhibiting appalling judgment and apparently perjuring themselves during the investigation. But that was her decision, and we all have to respect it.


What is completely unacceptable is that some of the officials who are so roundly condemned in this report as unfit to serve are still drawing government paychecks.


Mr. Paterson misled his own press staff, and the state, about his involvement in the Johnson affair from the start. He did not bother finding out early what had happened between Mr. Johnson and his former girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker. He left a plaintive message on Ms. Booker's phone, pleading with her to change her public statements and attempting to remind her that he was not trying to get her to drop any charges against Mr. Johnson. Ms. Kaye added that his administration had failed to cooperate "fully," in part by taking too long to produce requested evidence.


At least Mr. Paterson had the grace to take himself out of the running for a full term as governor. Other officials resigned, including the one who supervises the State Police, which inserted itself into the Johnson-Booker case in a wildly inappropriate way.


But two other officials are, inexplicably, still on the government payroll.


Ms. Kaye's report said that the State Police major in charge of Mr. Paterson's security detail, Charles Day, called Ms. Booker on the night of Mr. Johnson's alleged assault to try to get her to forgo a criminal complaint and later gave what the report delicately calls "inaccurate testimony" to investigators. A senior adviser to the governor, Clemmie L. Harris Jr., admitted that he tried to find a way to get Ms. Booker to drop her case.


These people do not have any right to a government paycheck, even if Ms. Kaye thinks they should not be prosecuted.


The entire affair, from the confusing start, to the troubling middle, to the damning conclusion is just more evidence of Mr. Paterson's haphazard way of governing. While Ms. Kaye spent four months coming to this less-than-satisfying ending to her investigation, Mr. Paterson spent four months failing to get a solid, balanced budget out of the State Legislature.


If the governor wants to make it up, a bit, to New Yorkers for his bad judgment and misbehavior, he will finish that task soon.








It is disheartening for the nation that Representative Charles Rangel, once one of the most powerful members of


Congress, must face 13 charges of violating House ethics rules.


The citation of "substantial reason" to believe the New York Democrat committed misdeeds was announced by an investigatory subcommittee, pointing toward a trial by the full ethics committee that could recommend acquittal, censure or expulsion after Mr. Rangel's 40 years in Congress.


The grave proceeding ended a week of speculation about a compromise deal amid calls for Mr. Rangel to resign to avoid the public spectacle of judgment before his peers.


The congressman, proud and combative in proclaiming his innocence, had every right to demand a full airing of the charges. Now taxpayers invested in an ethical Congress have the right to know the truth.


The charges have accumulated across two years of investigation that earlier cost Mr. Rangel the prized gavel of the Ways and Means Committee.


They include: his failure to report at least $500,000 in assets on his House disclosure papers; his misusing Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for his legacy school at City College of New York; his defending an offshore tax loophole worth tens of millions to one of the school's more generous donors; his failure to pay taxes on rental income from his Dominican villa; and the acceptance of four rent-stabilized apartments in violation of House gift rules.


Mr. Rangel might have pursued a wiser, more apologetic course than blanket denial. But the priority now is that the allegations be presented in clear detail and judged apart from the obvious political ramifications. A Republican member of the subcommittee put it best: "Credibility is exactly what is at stake here — the very credibility of the House of Representatives itself before the American people."







There is a chilling warning for the nation's commuters in the scathing analysis of last year's collision of two Washington subway trains that killed nine people and left dozens injured. According to the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, automatic train control circuits had been malfunctioning for years on the region's sprawling Metro system. The system's managers were found to be negligent.


Metro executives are vowing to repair the faulty equipment and attitudes. But there's no real guarantee, because the transportation safety board has no enforcement powers.


That means Congress must step in and give the federal government the much needed authority to create and enforce safety regulations for the nation's mushrooming public transit systems.


Pending legislation would grant oversight and enforcement powers to the Federal Transit Administration and increase safety spending for public transit. In the meantime, transit administration officials have wisely announced a review of federal grants with new emphasis on the transportation board's recommendations in the Metro crash, including getting rid of faulty tracking equipment and dated cars.


Faulty control systems in Washington's Metro triggered so many thousands of alarms each week that officials ignored most of them. In the deadly collision, a paused train on the track went undetected by the supposedly fail-safe control system, and a moving train plowed into it at a high speed.


Some of the same dangerous equipment and unsafe commuter cars found to be at fault in the Metro tragedy are in use in major systems across the nation. Commuters are right to wonder about their own rides and right to insist that Congress put a robust regulatory system in place.











We could be in for a long, slow decade. There's a confluence of forces that are probably going to retard economic vitality.


Consumers are still overindebted, and it will take years of curtailed spending before households are back on a sustainable path. Federal and state governments also will have to pull back. Labor markets were ill before the recession and are worse now.


Our trading partners in Europe and Japan are stagnant or in peril. Banks in this country are not lending to small businesses and banks elsewhere have huge write-downs to endure. The psychological war between business and the Obama administration also is taking a toll. Business types think the administration is stuffed with clueless professors. Some administration officials think corporate honchos are free-market hypocrites prowling for corporate welfare.


What we have is not just a cycle but a condition. We could look back on the period between 1980 and 2006 as the long boom and the period between 2007 and 2014 or so as the nasty crawl.


Politically, this period could be akin to the late-1970s. Economic anxiety could produce good and bad ideological effusions. As the economy stutters, people will ask fundamental questions about the nature of our political-economic structures and come up with grand proposals to revive growth. The electorate could shift in ways hard to imagine.


In my previous column, I tried to imagine what a moderate Democratic growth agenda would look like. You could call it the Moon Shot Approach. In this approach, government tries to spur economic development first by creating the context for growth with a big infrastructure program and then by focusing subsidies and tax credits on key sectors, like energy research.


The Republicans have their own growth agenda. You could call it the Unleash America Approach. The underlying worldview was deftly sketched out in Arthur C. Brooks's book, "The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future."


Brooks (no relation) argues that Americans are a uniquely entrepreneurial people. A nation of immigrants, "America's vast success might be explained in part by our genetic predisposition to embrace risks with potentially explosive rewards."


Citing an array of polling data, Brooks argues that 70 percent of Americans embraces this free-market and entrepreneurial vision of their country. But 30 percent prefers a more government-centric, European-style vision. The battle, Brooks concludes, is between the 70 percent, trying to reclaim the country, and the 30 percent, which is now expanding the federal role on an array of fronts.


Paul Ryan, the most intellectually ambitious Republican in Congress, lavishly cites Brooks's book. Over the past few years, Ryan has been promoting a roadmap to comprehensively reform the nation's tax and welfare system. On the tax side, he would sweep away most of the special-interest-favoring tax credits and subsidies and give people a chance to join a simple tax system with only two rates.


On the welfare-state side, he'd sweep away most subsidies to the middle and upper classes, like the tax exemption on employee health plans. He'd essentially voucherize federal benefits, like health care and Social Security, and increase federal subsidies for people down the income scale.


The idea would be to end the complex and sclerotic arrangements and solve the fiscal crisis. The effect would be to radically reduce the power of federal policy makers and shift discretion (and risks) onto individuals.


Both the Democratic and Republican approaches have problems. The Moon Shot Approach relies on omniscient experts to pick out the engines of future growth and on public-spirited legislators to pass bills that maximize productivity instead of special-interest favors. The weakness of the Brooks and Ryan approach is that their sociology is off a bit. America is not a nation of risk — embracing pioneers. It is a nation of heroic bourgeois families who want to thrive within a secure social order. The economic debate is not as Manichaean as the culture war since most people are split down the middle and because it's easier to compromise on money than on life.


Still, these two visions are better than the nativist and antiglobalist visions that will be arising. And despite the tough battle talk, they are combinable. At his best, Ryan wants to cleanse and rejuvenate the nation — to sweep away the special-interest sclerosis that strangles flexibility and growth. At his best, Obama wants to create a context for innovation — to employ blue-collar workers and to spur growth clusters like Silicon Valley, which, let us remember, was a magical cocktail of federal research subsidies, hippie culture, entrepreneurial daring and university settings.


The two projects are in tension, but in a sane political culture they are not mutually exclusive. It should be possible to simplify the tax code, target welfare spending and also build strong infrastructure at the same time.









Why does the Obama administration keep looking for love in all the wrong places? Why does it go out of its way to alienate its friends, while wooing people who will never waver in their hatred?


These questions were inspired by the ongoing suspense over whether President Obama will do the obviously right thing and nominate Elizabeth Warren to lead the new consumer financial protection agency. But the Warren affair is only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga.


Mr. Obama rode into office on a vast wave of progressive enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was bound to be followed by disappointment, and not just because the president was always more centrist and conventional than his fervent supporters imagined. Given the facts of politics, and above all the difficulty of getting anything done in the face of lock step Republican opposition, he wasn't going to be the transformational figure some envisioned.


And Mr. Obama has delivered in important ways. Above all, he managed (with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi) to enact a health reform that, imperfect as it is, will greatly improve Americans' lives — unless a Republican Congress manages to sabotage its implementation.


But progressive disillusionment isn't just a matter of sky-high expectations meeting prosaic reality. Threatened filibusters didn't force Mr. Obama to waffle on torture; to escalate in Afghanistan; to choose, with exquisitely bad timing, to loosen the rules on offshore drilling early this year.


Then there are the appointments. Yes, the administration needed experienced hands. But did all the senior members of the economics team have to be protégés of Robert Rubin, the apostle of financial deregulation? Was it necessary to install Ken Salazar at the Interior Department over the objections of environmentalists who feared, rightly, that his ties to extractive industries would make him slow to clean up a corrupt agency?


And where's this administration's Frances Perkins? As F.D.R.'s labor secretary, Perkins, a longtime crusader for workers' rights, served as a symbol of the New Deal's commitment to change. I have nothing against Hilda Solis, the current labor secretary — but neither she nor any other senior figure in the administration is a progressive with enough independent stature to play that kind of role.


What explains Mr. Obama's consistent snubbing of those who made him what he is? Does he fear that his enemies would use any support for progressive people or ideas as an excuse to denounce him as a left-wing extremist? Well, as you may have noticed, they don't need such excuses: He's been portrayed as a socialist because he enacted Mitt Romney's health-care plan, as a virulent foe of business because he's been known to mention that corporations sometimes behave badly.


The point is that Mr. Obama's attempts to avoid confrontation have been counterproductive. His opponents remain filled with a passionate intensity, while his supporters, having received no respect, lack all conviction. And in a midterm election, where turnout is crucial, the "enthusiasm gap" between Republicans and Democrats could spell catastrophe for the Obama agenda.


Which brings me back to Ms. Warren.

The debate over financial reform, in which the G.O.P. has taken the side of the bad guys, should be a political winner for Democrats. Much of the reform, however, is deeply technical: "Maintain the requirement that derivatives be traded on public exchanges!" doesn't fit on a placard.


But protecting consumers, ensuring that they aren't the victims of predatory financial practices, is something voters can relate to. And choosing a high-profile consumer advocate to lead the agency providing that protection — someone whose scholarship and advocacy were largely responsible for the agency's creation — is the natural move, both substantively and politically. Meanwhile, the alternative — disappointing supporters yet again by choosing some little-known technocrat — seems like an obvious error.


So why is this issue still up in the air? Yes, Republicans might well try to filibuster a Warren appointment, but that's a fight the administration should welcome.


O.K., I don't really know what's going on. But I worry that Mr. Obama is still wrapped up in his dream of transcending partisanship, while his aides dislike the idea of having to deal with strong, independent voices. And the end result of this game-playing is an administration that seems determined to alienate its friends.


Just to be clear, progressives would be foolish to sit out this election: Mr. Obama may not be the politician of

their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares. But Mr. Obama has a responsibility, too. He can't expect strong support from people his administration keeps ignoring and insulting.








Portland, Ore.

GENERAL MOTORS introduced America to the Chevrolet Volt at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a low-slung concept car that would someday be the future of motorized transportation. It would go 40 miles on battery power alone, promised G.M., after which it would create its own electricity with a gas engine. Three and a half years — and one government-assisted bankruptcy later — G.M. is bringing a Volt to market that makes good on those two promises. The problem is, well, everything else.

For starters, G.M.'s vision turned into a car that costs $41,000 before relevant tax breaks ... but after billions of dollars of government loans and grants for the Volt's development and production. And instead of the sleek coupe of 2007, it looks suspiciously similar to a Toyota Prius. It also requires premium gasoline, seats only four people (the battery runs down the center of the car, preventing a rear bench) and has less head and leg room than the $17,000 Chevrolet Cruze, which is more or less the non-electric version of the Volt.


In short, the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy. And though President Obama's task force reported in 2009 that the Volt "will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short term," it didn't cancel the project.


Nor did the government or G.M. decide to sell the Volt at a loss, which, paradoxically, might have been the best

hope for making it profitable. Consider the Prius. Back in 1997, Toyota began selling the high-tech, first-of-its-kind car in Japan for about $17,000, even though each model cost $32,000 to build.


By taking a loss on the first several years of Prius production, Toyota was able to hold its price steady, and then sell the gas-sippers in huge numbers when oil prices soared. Today a Prius costs roughly the same in inflation-adjusted dollars as those 1997 models did, and it has become the best-selling Toyota in the United States after the evergreen Camry and Corolla.


Instead of following Toyota's model, G.M. decided to make the Volt more affordable by offering a $350-a-month lease over 36 months. But that offer allows only 12,000 miles per year, or about 33 miles per day. Assuming you charged your Volt every evening, giving you 40 miles of battery power, and wanted to keep below the mileage limit, you would rarely use its expensive range-extending gas engine. No wonder the Volt's main competition, the Nissan Leaf, forgoes the additional combustion engine — and ends up costing $8,000 less as a result.


In the industry, some suspect that G.M. and the Obama administration decided against selling the Volt at a loss because they want the company to appear profitable before its long-awaited initial stock offering, which is likely to take place next month. For taxpayers, that approach might have made sense if the government planned on selling its entire 61 percent stake in G.M. But the administration has said it will sell only enough equity in the public offering to relinquish its controlling stake in G.M. Thus the government will remain exposed to the company's (and the Volt's) long-term fate.


So the future of General Motors (and the $50 billion taxpayer investment in it) now depends on a vehicle that costs $41,000 but offers the performance and interior space of a $15,000 economy car. The company is moving forward on a second generation of Volts aimed at eliminating the initial model's considerable shortcomings. (In truth, the first-generation Volt was as good as written off inside G.M., which decided to cut its 2011 production volume to a mere 10,000 units rather than the initial plan for 60,000.) Yet G.M. seemingly has no plan for turning its low-volume "eco-flagship" into a mass-market icon like the Prius.


Quantifying just how much taxpayer money will have been wasted on the hastily developed Volt is no easy feat. Start with the $50 billion bailout (without which none of this would have been necessary), add $240 million in Energy Department grants doled out to G.M. last summer, $150 million in federal money to the Volt's Korean battery supplier, up to $1.5 billion in tax breaks for purchasers and other consumer incentives, and some significant portion of the $14 billion loan G.M. got in 2008 for "retooling" its plants, and you've got some idea of how much taxpayer cash is built into every Volt.


In the end, making the bailout work — whatever the cost — is the only good reason for buying a Volt. The car is not just an environmental hair shirt (a charge leveled at the Prius early in its existence), it is an act of political self-denial as well.


If G.M. were honest, it would market the car as a personal donation for, and vote of confidence in, the auto bailout. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of cross-branding that will make the Volt a runaway success.


Edward Niedermeyer is the editor of the Web site The Truth About Cars.








Ithaca, N.Y.

BOTH the United States and Mexico have approached the war on Mexican drug cartels with Colombia in mind.


Washington's Merida Initiative, loosely modeled on its Plan Colombia antidrug campaign from a decade ago, provides Mexico with money for helicopters, police training and command-and-control technology. The Mexican government, meanwhile, has taken steps to modernize its judicial system, purge the police of corruption and improve intelligence services.


But according to a Government Accountability Office report released this summer, the billions of dollars spent by Mexico and the United States over the last four years have done little to thwart Mexico's cartels.


The problem is that the two countries have ignored a fundamental lesson from the Colombian experience: foreign aid, security cooperation and judicial reform were necessary but not sufficient conditions for reducing violence. Plan Colombia succeeded because, at the same time that it stepped up its antidrug efforts, Colombia aggressively reformed its tax system and greatly improved government accountability. Unless Mexico can do the same, antidrug efforts there will fail.


Like Mexico, Colombia confronted a domestic security crisis that it could not afford to resolve without higher tax revenues. So it created a "wealth tax" directed at the country's richest taxpayers, earmarked to finance the security effort.


Then, realizing that the wealthy would tolerate increased taxes only if they believed the government was not squandering resources through corruption or inefficiency, President Álvaro Uribe mandated that security forces provide annual, publicly available reports on how money is spent and how effectively it is used.


Colombia also created a civilian Ministry of Defense, making the military accountable to democratically elected leaders. The new ministry put the armed services under a single chain of command directly responsible to the president and developed a cadre of experienced civil servants.


These steps quickly led to a steadier stream of funds devoted to antidrug efforts, more reliable security forces

and, most important, strong public support. As a result, Colombia has made significant strides in fighting drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitaries: since Mr. Uribe's election in 2002, coca production has decreased by a third, kidnappings have dropped by 90 percent and murders have fallen significantly.


Mexico stands to learn a valuable lesson from Colombia's experience. At 11 percent of its gross domestic product, Mexico's tax collection capacity ranks among the lowest in Latin American countries — compared, for example, with Brazil's 23 percent. Without increased tax revenues, its antidrug efforts will not be sustainable.


Mexico's security apparatus is also one of the most outdated in the hemisphere. Like pre-reform Colombia, it lacks a civilian minister of defense and civilian experts on military affairs, and so there is a lack of accountability and public support for the antidrug effort. Mexico desperately needs to reform its security agencies, something the United States can facilitate by providing technical assistance to strengthen Mexico's judicial and security institutions.


There is no reason Mexico can't follow Colombia's lead — and every reason it should, as soon as possible. President Felipe Calderón, who has just two years before his term-limited presidency comes to an end, hails from the right-of-center, pro-business National Action Party, putting him in a strong position to sell tax increases to the wealthy.


Moreover, neither of the country's other two leading parties, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party and the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party, shares President Calderón's tough stance against drug cartels. This means that Mr. Calderón's successor is unlikely to undertake major reforms.


Mr. Uribe's reforms didn't bring the Colombian drug crisis to an end overnight. But over time, they enabled the government to get the upper hand against the cartels. And for a country as deep in crisis as Mexico, they offer a clear path forward.


Gustavo A. Flores-Macías is an assistant professor of government and a research fellow at the Polson Institute for Global Development at Cornell.








Federal Judge Susan Bolton's ruling this week blocking Arizona's new immigration law added fuel to the overheated debate that the law ignited. Now, the appeals process seems destined to push the argument into the fall campaigns, so perhaps it's worth taking a moment to separate fact from fiction about immigration more broadly. Two common assumptions just don't hold up.


Myth #1: Violence along the border is spiraling out of control.

In April, a dozen members of Congress, of both parties, argued for stricter border security because "the level of violence along the border continues to increase." That was followed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's claim that authorities had found headless bodies in the desert, which turned out to be urban legend.


Perhaps such assumptions are logical given the drug violence raging in Mexico and the stresses of a weak economy. But the facts don't support the claims. For instance, FBI reports and Arizona police statistics show crime rates in the three largest Arizona cities along the Mexican border — Yuma, Nogales and Douglas — have remained essentially flat for the past decade, The Arizona Republicreported in May. According to FBI crime reports reviewed by the Associated Press, violent crimes in Southwest border counties dropped more than 30% in the past two decades. Further, the nation's four safest big cities are San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin —all in border states.


Myth #2: Illegal immigration is surging to record numbers.


In fact, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border has steadily dropped this decade. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, estimated Mexican migration declined from 605,000 in 2000 to 175,000 in 2008.


The number of illegal immigrants in the USA is also down, from nearly 12 million in 2007 to less than 11 million last year, according to the Homeland Security Department, mostly because the recession has wiped out jobs that draw immigrants.


None of this is to say that illegal immigration isn't a big problem. It is. Many industries continue to depend on illegal labor. And after previous recessions, illegal border crossings have quickly returned to previous levels.


Such persistent failure to take the problem seriously is why today's mood is so hostile and why Arizona passed a law committing its own enforcement resources to do what the federal government has not.


Unfortunately, it did so in a clumsy way that seems certain to invite racial profiling. The federal government then over-reached, suing to block the law before any actual offense occurred. Judge Bolton bought the federal argument, and now the appeals process is off and running, probably toward the Supreme Court.


In the best case, the ultimate ruling would inspire the kind of cool-headed, balanced solution that difficult problems demand. Unlike previous reforms, it would includecredible border and workplace enforcement. That, in turn, should be enough to justify a guest-worker program, and a rigorous path to legality for those already here who stay out of trouble and pay fines and back taxes.


Someday that will happen, regardless of the Arizona law's fate. Overheated political rhetoric and fear rooted in fiction just prolong the unhappy status quo.








There is a concerted effort on the part of advocates for illegal aliens to dismiss the widespread public outrage over unchecked illegal immigration as irrational. The illegal immigration crisis is not a myth, and the American people have not succumbed to mass hysteria. The problems are real: They affect Americans' lives, jobs and pocketbooks, while the Obama administration intentionally refuses to enforce most immigration laws. These realities are precisely why Arizona enacted SB 1070.


According to a new study by FAIR, illegal immigration now costs U.S. taxpayers $113 billion a year — about $1,117 for every native-headed household. Arizona, which like most states is facing a severe fiscal crisis, spends $2.5 billion a year on illegal aliens. In addition, lawful residents see a daily impact on schools, hospitals and, yes, crime as a consequence of the federal government's refusal to enforce immigration laws.


Fixing our broken immigration system is an urgent priority. True reform must begin with the recognition that the American people are the most important stakeholders in U.S. immigration policy. However, the "cure" that President Obama insists upon — mass amnesty for millions of illegal aliens — would further undermine the interests of ordinary Americans.


Ironically, before it even went into effect, SB 1070 proved illegal immigration can be addressed without mass amnesty. Since Arizona first began getting tough on illegal immigration in 2004, the federal government estimates that the number of illegal aliens in the state has declined by some 100,000. Since Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 in April, there have been countless reports of illegal aliens packing up and leaving Arizona in large numbers. Replicated at the national level, a serious enforcement policy would inexorably lead to significant reductions in the illegal population.


Americans who demand enforcement of immigration laws are responding to reality. Rather, it is the people who insist that we again grant amnesty to illegal aliens in exchange for government promises of future enforcement — and expect different results — who believe in myths.

Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)








The Obama administration reacted to the thousands of so-called secret documents about the Afghanistan war released this week on the Swedish website WikiLeaks by saying they tell us nothing new.


That's right. It was mostly rehash. That's the problem. Some of the things we've known all along:


•The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is morally corrupt and financially irresponsible. We've blown hot and cold with him.


Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cohorts who were responsible for 9/11 are in Pakistan and protected by our "ally" there.


•There are only 300-500 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan now.


•The Taliban we're fighting number between 30,000-35,000. We have 95,000 military men and women there.


Despite what we've known all along, Obama doubled down our number of military men and women in Afghanistan. Congress, at the president's urging, this week appropriated another nearly $59 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.


That brings the price tag for the tragic misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to:


•5,506 servicemen and women killed.


•Over $1 trillion spent or appropriated.


The reason we've paid that terrible price is that Obama, President George W. Bush before him and most members of Congress don't know that "war is hell," as Civil War Gen. William T. Sherman told us.


The last president to understand that was Dwight D. Eisenhower, because he had been there and done that. That's why he warned us against the "military industrial" complex that always is war-bound. Obama gets his advice mostly from people he got to know in Chicago or at Harvard. Most of them are pretty smart. They understand politics. They just don't understand wars.


If Obama doesn't get it about Afghanistan, he'll be moving back to Chicago in 2013.


I voted for Obama for president. But.








Not long ago I had a conversation with my 95-year-old grandmother, Sweetie Pie, who spent an hour lamenting how TV has changed over the years.


"I saw a reality show on TV and everyone was wearing as little clothing as possible and engaging in shameful, lewd and moronic behavior. ... Is this what we've become?" she asked. Sweetie Pie is old enough to remember the birth of TV, so the world of reality TV has been a rude awakening for her.


These shows may be profitable, but the primary basis for many of them seems to be to put people in painful, embarrassing or humiliating situations for the rest of us to watch — and, presumably, be entertained. This assault on our intelligence is not healthy for the soul or our kids.


As a military chaplain, I witness "reality" every day that you may not see on TV. I'm talking about the "reality" of families who have lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. The reality I've seen is of everyday people who can't afford college, find a job or stop their home from going into foreclosure. Real life is about people who have been victimized by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and oil spills.


I worry that we're turning our young people into callous, uncaring individuals who delight in the discomfort and humiliation of others. Instead, we should be encouraging young people to reach out to others less fortunate, who need our empathy, help and prayer. We should also be introducing young people to different "reality stars" who have overcome great odds, and whose achievements should inspire them to reach high and then use that success to help others.


I recently gave my 11-year-old daughter, Amara, a book about Madam C.J. Walker, a child of former slaves who rose from an impoverished childhood in the late 1800s to become a self-made hair-care entrepreneur. Walker used her success and wealth in the cause of civil rights. I told Amara this would be a great book to read when we flew to Los Angeles in two weeks to visit Sweetie Pie. To my surprise, 10 minutes later I saw her reading the book. The reality show she was watching had been upstaged by the story of a true hero.


Perhaps when I tell Sweetie Pie about the choice her great-granddaughter made, she'll conclude that she has not lived too long, but instead, long enough to see signs that life is slowly turning in the right direction.


Capt. James Key is a U.S. Army chaplain at Fort Myer, Va. His new book, Touch and Go: From the Streets of South Central Los Angeles to the war in Iraq, will be published this summer.








Randall Amster, blogger, on The Huffington Post: "Following the news that a federal judge has struck down what are essentially the worst parts of Arizona's immigration law ... there is a sense of vindication and relief on the part of many who have been working for justice in regard to immigration issues. Still, there remains a basic recognition that this ruling is only a temporary piece of the larger puzzle, and that (the law) itself ... is likewise merely one aspect of a larger struggle for human rights, dignity and a morally tenable immigration policy in this country. So while there is cause for celebration, this is not a moment to sit back and rest on one's laurels — in fact, advocates and activists should be emboldened by the judge's well-crafted decision, and take this as a sign to forge ahead."


The Washington Times, in an editorial: "U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton miscalculated when she blocked critical aspects of Arizona's immigration ... law. Her decision will further intensify efforts by states to find solutions to problems posed by the Obama administration's unwillingness to take command of this pressing issue. ... If Arizona had passed a law that defined U.S. citizenship ... federal supremacy would apply. However, the case at hand doesn't deal with pre-emptive law but with parallel enforcement. Arizona's law does not define who has broken immigration laws; it deals with what to do when police apprehend these criminals. ... Bolton's judicial activism is out of step with the law, out of step with politics and out of step with the good of the country."


The Arizona Republic, in an editorial: "Despite all the criticism heaped on Arizona since (Jan) Brewer signed (the measure), our state is a victim in this international drama. We became a prime smuggling corridor because of federal policies and congressional inaction. The immigration law is wrong for a long list of reasons. But Arizona is not the only state striking out. Other states are considering ... copycat laws. ... These state actions are evidence of the utter failure of the federal government to do the job it went to court to claim. ... A federal judge's assertion that immigration is Uncle Sam's job creates an opportunity to refocus on the culpability and the solution."


The New York Times, in an editorial: "We hope this is the beginning of the end of the misbegotten Arizona rules and what they represent. ... Arizona's law is not a case of a state helping the federal government do a job it neglected. It is a radical upending of immigration priorities, part of a spiteful crusade to force a mass exodus of illegal immigrants. ... Judge Bolton's ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way: an incoherent immigration system, squandered law enforcement resources, diminished public safety, the awful sight of a nation of immigrants turning on itself. We hope (President Obama) goes on to make clear to all the states that the Arizona way is not the American way."


Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and contributor to AOL News: "The ruling's effects are likely to be positive for the cause of enforcement of immigration laws. ... Today's ruling ... reinforces the public sense that the federal government is simply uninterested in securing the borders. ... This is probably the most important lesson from the Arizona lawsuits: that comprehensive immigration reform is out of the question. Enforcement measures must not only be legislated before any discussion of amnesty takes place; they must be fully litigated, too."









Some elected officials serve so long and so well that they become the institutional face of the office they hold. County Clerk Bill Knowles, who is finishing his ninth four-year term, is one of that select few. Mr. Knowles merits that status for two reasons: the widely acknowledged level of innovation and dedication he brings to his job, and because he has generously gone out of his way so often to help people accomplish their business with his office. Both prompt a strong recommendation for his re-election to a tenth term.


Many office holders would have become complacent and would be coasting on their laurels by now. Not Mr. Knowles. If he had a professional mantra, it would be "innovate, innovate." Indeed, his record-setting stint as this county's longest-serving county clerk has yielded an impressive list of helpful firsts.


His office was the first to provide Internet license renewals in Tennessee, a service, approved by the state, that has since been used by more than 300,000 drivers. It was the first to provide driver's license renewals, a boon to people who waited hours in state driver testing centers, and the first to offer tag and title service in a county clerk satellite office. His satellite office is in the county's general service satellite facility on Bonny Oaks Drive.


To avoid the long waits that people experienced for new vehicle titles from Nashville, Mr. Knowles found a local printer to do title printing, reducing turn-around time to three days or less. He also was the first county clerk to provide online marriage license research to support genealogy study, with records dating back to 1857.


One of the myriad functions of the county clerk's office is to record the minutes of the County Commission meetings, and to make them available as public records. Mr. Knowles' office is credited with developing the best records system in the state for that duty.


Mr. Knowles' legacy of innovative services goes back decades. He helped establish the mail-in option for license tag renewals 35 years ago. And he was among the first county constitutional officials here to invest his office's fee revenues in interest-bearing accounts.


For all his excellent service, claims of nepotism against Mr. Knowles by his Republican opponent have attracted attention that merits some examination. Chester Heathington has correctly pointed out that Mr. Knowles has three relatives among the 59 employees on his office's payroll: his son, Finley Knowles, the chief administrative deputy clerk (salary, $82,381); his son-in-law, Don Kunselman, director of inventory controls, (salary, $59,130); and his grandson, Brett Kunselman, motor vehicle utility and mail specialist (salary, $30,833). The three have been employed by Mr. Knowles since 1998, 1988 and 2001, respectively.


Mr. Knowles acknowledges the label of nepotism, but points out that his emplacement of these relatives in his office's employment charts falls within state guidelines for relatives in the workplace. None, he said, report directly to him, the key criteria. His son reports to his chief deputy, and his son-in-law and grandson report to other managers in the office.


While true, the burdensome appearance of nepotism remains. In an office where any serious dispute or personnel problems ultimately stop at the desk of the elected official in charge, each of the individual staff employees and supervisors all implicitly answer to Mr. Knowles. And he doesn't have a superior in the county general government's political hierarchy to restrain him.


However much Mr. Knowles manages in a judiciously benign and careful way, his other staff employees may well operate as if his relatives outrank them in the county clerk's family's hierarchy. That is why nepotism, though a traditional and unfortunate hallmark of county government offices around Tennessee, should be banned entirely.


Mr. Heathington's candidacy, in any case, has its own problems. He lacks the credentials and the record of public service to make his candidacy for the office of county clerk viable, and a few scattered brushes with the law are further barriers for his campaign. Mr. Knowles offers a far superior resume for the duties of the office. The taint of nepotism aside, he clearly merits re-election.







It is shocking and highly disturbing that a federal judge has aided the illegal invasion of Arizona by hundreds of thousands — perhaps half a million — people who have no right to be in the United States.

A nation that does not protect its borders from illegal invasion invites very serious troubles.


It is primarily the duty of the federal government of the United States to protect our borders. But when U.S. officials obviously are not doing an effective job meeting that responsibility, states should not be prevented from defending against illegal invasion.


Arizona, which has among the highest numbers of illegal invaders of any state, enacted a law to deal with its problems. But now U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix has seriously hindered the efforts of Arizona's legislators and governor to protect their state and its people from a massive wave of illegal entrants.


Many illegals have engaged in serious drug, smuggling and other crimes. So Arizona sought to reduce its problems by requiring immigrants to carry legal papers if they have them, thus identifying those who have entered by violating the law. Arizona also made it illegal for undocumented individuals to solicit employment in public places, which large numbers had been doing.


But Judge Bolton has ordered Arizona law enforcement authorities not to check suspected violators.


Judge Bolton said, "Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked."


But doesn't "not checking" hundreds of thousands of illegals challenge the rights of legal Americans? Showing papers should be little bother for those who are here legally, but would be effective in discouraging illegal invasion.


There may be sympathy for foreigners who want to come to the United States seeking better opportunities. But there is no U.S. obligation to provide opportunities for the rest of the world at the expense of endangering Americans with more crime and increased welfare and other costs.


There are laws for legal immigration, and there are laws against illegal invasion. The laws should be enforced. Judge Bolton's ruling, however, seriously hinders American defense against the massive illegal invasion of the United States.








The unpopularity of ObamaCare socialized medicine showed up again in a recent survey of our neighbors to the south in Georgia.


Mason-Dixon Polling & Research asked 625 likely voters this question: "Do you support or oppose repealing the health care reform plan approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama?"


The results? Fifty-six percent said ObamaCare should be repealed. Only 32 percent — not even one-third — were against repeal. The remaining 12 percent were undecided.


Support for repeal had high support among various groups. Repeal was backed by 59 percent of men and 53 percent of women. Not surprisingly, 79 percent of Republicans supported repeal. But more than a third of Democrats also want ObamaCare repealed, as do 56 percent of independents.


Georgia is a generally conservative state, so those results might not be particularly surprising. But they are not unlike other polls around the nation that show strong opposition to ObamaCare. Recent nationwide surveys by CBS News and Rasmussen Reports found 11 percent to 13 percent more opposition to ObamaCare than support. Those figures include both liberal and conservative states.


Voters should express that opposition in upcoming primary elections and in general elections for Congress in November.







Judges — all good judges — are supposed to be unbiased, impartial, learned in the law, ruling in each case according only to the Constitution and the law, certainly not reflecting any political or personal bias. Right?


Presidents and governors, members of Congress, state legislators, etc., are expected to have personal, political and philosophic views, and to express them. But courts, judges — no!


It is unfortunate and regrettable that most members of our nation's highest court — the Supreme Court — have not always lived up to the desired impartiality standard.


Don't you know which way most of our U.S. Supreme Court justices "lean" before they make their rulings?


We are reminded of that unfortunate situation as the way is being greased in the Senate to confirm President Barack Obama's latest nominee, Elena Kagan, to be a Supreme Court justice.


She's a liberal. But we should not want a Supreme Court nominee — or justice — to be a conservative, either, in any rulings on the court.


The ideal would be for every justice — and every judge at lower levels — to rule in each case in such a way that we would never even suspect the personal views of the justice or judge.


All justices and judges should be ruling only according to the Constitution, the law and the facts in each case. Shouldn't they?







Back in April, the director of the U.N.-run World Health Organization traveled to Communist North Korea to assess its medical system. She forbade foreign reporters to go with her.


Considering the extreme poverty suffered by that nation's citizens, it was strange to hear the head of the U.N. group praise North Korean health care. She said citizens there enjoy "universal" coverage, and that a child immunization program there is the "envy" of many nations.


But scores of defectors from the totalitarian regime tell a very different story. One told rights group Amnesty International that after his ankle was crushed in a train accident, five people held him down while a doctor amputated part of his leg without anesthesia. Another challenged the claim that North Korea has "universal" coverage.


"People in North Korea don't bother going to the hospital if they don't have money. If you don't have money, you die," the defector said, though some get care by offering doctors alcohol or cigarettes. Medicine, heat and even electricity are sometimes lacking in hospitals, Amnesty found.


We are not surprised by those horrible conditions in a dictatorship, where there is no free market to foster efficiency. Sadly, it is also no surprise that the corrupt U.N. covered up such conditions — conditions that would be alleviated if only Communist North Korea, like South Korea, were free.







People of the World War II generation surely recall the brave and sonorous words of Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940 when Britain was threatened with invasion by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.


Mr. Churchill declared in memorable tones:


"We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."


Few realized his rallying cry was uttered with a set of dentures to maintain his distinctive, lifelong natural lisp.


But alas, what indignity now! A partial set of Mr. Churchill's false teeth was put on sale at auction — and sold Thursday for 15,200 British pounds, or about $23,700.


The dentures may have a price — but Mr. Churchill's words remain priceless!








Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likely won few points with women over his recent remarks about not believing in male-female equality, comments we've already said have unfortunate implications for Turkish society. Unsurprisingly, opposition parties are trying to milk some political capital out of the statement, positioning themselves as champions of women's rights ahead of the 2011 general elections.


In a way, though, one of the main arguments the opposition has been making to that end in fact supports one of the prime minister's points.


Speaking to a group of women earlier this month about the government's democratic initiative, Erdoğan said: "I don't believe in the equality of men and women; women and men are different, complementary."


That different perspective is what main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu invited into the political arena when he urged more women to enter politics, promising they would be treated better than they had been in the past.


While we at the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review strongly reject the prime minister's assertion that men and women are not equal, we also believe that they do bring different perspectives to the table – and that a country deadlocked on so many crucial issues can use as many fresh ideas and voices as it can get.


Both Kılıçdaroğlu's Republican People's Party, or CHP, and Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equal representation – less than 10 percent of each party's deputies in Parliament are women, with the CHP having a slight lead in this regard.


Gender-based quotas in elections would boost the number of women making crucial decisions for the country, though women's groups are divided on the idea, with some supporting it and others seeing it as an unhealthy form of tokenism. (Most political parties have quotas for their own internal bodies, though they are not required by law.)


It's not just Parliament where women are underrepresented either. According to recent figures from the State Personnel Department, none of the undersecretaries in Turkish ministries, and only two of the deputy undersecretaries, are women. The governorships might as well be a boys' club too: no girls allowed.


Changing the cultural norms and economic disadvantages that hold many women back from broader political participation won't be any easy task. But from a country that prides itself on giving Turkish women the vote before their French, Spanish and Italian counterparts, we should expect nothing less.








Turks and Kurds had been living in peace for centuries, without the slightest confrontation of any sort. They always loved and respected each other. They viewed each other as the two loving halves of one single home that was the Ottoman Empire and is now Turkey which they all commonly loved with the deepest of all possible feelings of patriotism. A conflict between a Kurd and a Turk along their ethnicities was unheard of. Until last week, when ethnic riots at both ends of the country shocked the nation.


This is the only possible narrative based on Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin's assessment of the incidents in which Turks and Kurds acted in big groups to destroy anything and anyone they deemed as "the other."


Mr. Ergin said that intelligence services were investigating whether the two episodes of unrest had been "engineered." He blamed "provocateurs who favor the status quo in Turkey" and those "who are trying to block the government's efforts at democratization."


The Turkish reincarnation of Hercule Poirot may think he must be convincing. He can be. If the audience was a kindergarten class. But one for children younger than 4-6 years of age.


About three years ago, a reader reminded me of a quote that may tell Mr. Ergin who the "engineers" of the ethnic clash could be:


"His Excellency Pasha, it is not as difficult as you presume to leave the Kurds, whose assimilation to Turkishness has been proven de facto impossible, alone on their own Kurdistan… You should be certain that imprisoning the Kurds is more difficult than killing them… If, in spite of everything, you do not have mercy on the poor Anatolian boys, who spill Muslim blood while dying with a Muslim bullet, you should know that, the Kurd has always excess blood in his veins, which he will spill while dying and while killing." (Letter from Celadet Ali Bedirhan (1893-1951), a Kurdish ağa, to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in January 1931).


In Kurdish gambit (IV), I wrote:


"Time has proven the ağa correct about his judgment/warning about the Kurdish nature/behavior. The trouble about the Turkish-Kurdish conflict is that the ağa's reference as early as 1931 to Kurds and blood is probably true for many other nations, including the Turks. So, how do two nations 'which always have excess blood in their veins' sort out an already too bloody conflict? They just do not." (Oct. 31, 2007).


Engineers? Provocateurs? No, Mr. Minister of Justice (for some). Don't look for a fairy tale-like explanation for something too bitterly worldly. To fight 'engineers and provocateurs' you may have needed the services of characters like Superman, Batman and Spiderman. This is a conflict that needs the services of genuine statesmen.


You can ask your fellow cabinet member, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, for tips on having zero problems with neighbors. His next book should perhaps analyze the merits of having zero problems among our own people -- with different ethnicities. Mr. Strategic Depth should be able to devise a panacea for that too, after miraculously having removed all of our problems with all of our neighbors.


Alternatively, you can – reluctantly – recall that the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, stepped up its attacks on Turkish targets after – not engineers engineered – Abdullah Öcalan said that he was calling off talks with the government – your own government.


You can also ask your prime minister why does the much controversial package of constitutional amendments, to be voted in a referendum on Sept. 12, NOT contain a single 'reform' for broader Kurdish rights. Ask him also, why he keeps on blocking an opposition proposal to lower the national threshold for parliamentary representation to seven percent from 10 percent, a truly undemocratic barrier that makes Kurdish representation as a political party impossible?


If you dare ask him these questions you sure can ask him more: What stopped him from going ahead with his "Kurdish initiative?" Why does he insist on the opposition's participation in the 'initiative' while he always ignores the opposition when other legislative moves have been in question? Your party surely has enough seats in parliament to pass any legislation. What stops you from enacting the liberal reforms you always claim is in your liberal spirits?


Forget the opposition; go ahead with your Kurdish reforms at full speed. Like you did with thousands of pieces of other legislative efforts. How can a weak minority in parliament be stopping your too-powerful group from passing more reforms?


And remember Mr. Ergin, your comrades and your supporters in the yellowest-ever press – if you happen to believe in other fairy tales such as peace and loving times between the Turks and Kurds under the Ottoman rule as a possible solution, others may be urged to remind you of the huge volumes of unpleasant episodes in the Ottoman history along the same lines Bedirhan Ağa mentioned in his 1931 letter.


Finally, failing all those suggestions revisit your prime minister's genius panacea which he proposed a couple of years ago: Islam as cement between Turks and Kurds. Try that again. When in need of help give us a shout. We'll all be there to take you back to the real world from the realm of cartoon characters.








Our minds are bombarded with new question marks because of a claim that a group of military officers tried to hit Herons, collecting intelligence from the air, in order to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.


How strange is it this time that we see serious contradictions between the first intelligence report submitted by the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, to the General Staff and the information provided by the military.


As the General Staff makes a public announcement that the MİT report includes no names or identities yet, the MİT tells otherwise.


Which is true then?


Investigating prosecutor: No name in the MİT note


Let's go back to the beginning in order to have an answer.


An investigation was launched after the MİT kept a record on a conversation between two soldiers and transferred it to the General Staff on Oct. 25, 2007. By all reasonable means, the MİT either coincided with this conversation while pursuing a suspicious military officer or the conversation mixed with a random tracking on two officers.


One of the references in the discussion was the Air Force Military Prosecutor Zeki Üçok, who was arrested for some other reason while running an investigation on this particular subject.


Üçok, investigating the dossier, issued a statement through his lawyer on July 8. "The identities of the persons in the phone records by the MİT are unknown. There are no specific words such as 'Sir' or 'Lieutenant' used in this conversation. The younger voice made the call from a public phone booth in Etlik, Ankara, to a cell phone in Gaziosmanpaşa, Ankara," he said.


This conversation was linked to the military because the person on the phone called the other end as "My commander, Sir."


The General Staff: MİT revealed no name, no rank


Üçok in another statement to ODATV on July 22 said he asked the MİT if they have a court decision for wiretapping, but was answered with "We usually wiretap public phone booths at