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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

EDITORIAL 03.08.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month august 03, edition 000588, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






























  2. 1/6th America jobless, 5/6th doesn't care - By Paul Krugman













































The law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley has decidedly taken a turn for the worse with the separatists and their followers becoming increasingly belligerent. Despite curfew being imposed on virtually every town in the Valley and heavy deployment of security forces, separatists chanting anti-India slogans have been pouring out into the streets and attacking policemen as well as indulging in arson, targeting Government offices. What is particularly surprising is that mobs have been ransacking police stations, after forcing policemen to flee; the purpose is clear: To show that the men in uniform are no longer in control of the situation and, if the crowd is big enough, they will not dare to fire at the protesters. What has contributed to the apparent inability of the security forces to keep the mobs at bay is the Government's strict instruction that they should exercise maximum restraint. While this is no doubt a noble intention, it is definitely not paying dividends. On the contrary, the separatists have interpreted this as a sign of weakness and are using it to their advantage. Yet, the fact remains that the security forces, whether the State police or the CRPF, cannot afford to come down on the violent crowds with an iron fist: A higher death toll would only add fuel to the dangerous fire lit by the separatists. The situation is no doubt worrisome and the task of restoring peace is admittedly daunting, but what is required at the moment is a political offensive by all political parties who are opposed to the separatists: Nationalists must stand up and be counted, if only to demonstrate that the separatists are in an awful minority.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose efforts to restore calm are seen to be foundering on the rock of the separatists' obduracy, must not give up, no matter how difficult and frustrating it may be to deal with the trouble-makers. Dealing with the present crisis is his litmus test; he is expected to lead from the front. On its part, the Union Government should provide him with all assistance; the question of abandoning him at this moment does not arise and any suggestion towards this end should be rejected outright. The Opposition, namely the BJP, must pro-actively participate in the political process both in New Delhi and in Srinagar. Of course, this cannot happen if the Congress chooses to be cussed and places its narrow political interests above those of the nation. This is not to recommend a soft line while dealing with the mobs: In fact, extra forces should be rushed to the Valley and, if necessary, the Army should be deployed to put an end to the lawlessness that we are witnessing. The state's authority must prevail, irrespective of the cost that has to be paid. There is a sinister move by Pakistan to engineer a spurt in separatist violence so that the impression of a mass upsurge is created. This cannot be countenanced, not least because the overwhelming majority in Jammu & Kashmir does not back the separatists and wants peace to prevail. There have been similar conspiracies hatched in Islamabad and Rawalpindi in the past; as a nation we have succeeded in defeating the conspirators every time. This time too the anti-national elements in Srinagar and their sponsors in Islamabad shall fail. Tragically, the latest misadventure of the separatists will leave a trail of death and destruction for which they alone are to blame. 






The Central Bureau of Investigation's plea to shift the Sohrabuddin 'false' encounter case outside Gujarat on the pretext that the atmosphere is 'not conducive' in the State and hence 'fair' trial is not possible is fit to be trashed. The investigative agency is now indulging in nit-picking by saying the status report it has filed before the Supreme Court does not make any such categorical demand. The fact is that the report is believed to have claimed the "atmosphere is not conducive" for holding trial in the State. Under attack for serving more its political masters in New Delhi than the cause of justice, the CBI has only lived up to its dubious image of being a Congress tool to settle political scores. How is the CBI so certain that a fair trial cannot take place in Gujarat when proceedings have not even begun, leave alone the case going to trial? In fact, the CBI plea came just five days after it filed a chargesheet in the case, and in the midst of questioning the accused, including Gujarat's former Minister of State for Home, Mr Amit Shah. The case still has some way to go before actual trial proceedings begin. In the meantime, what indications has the CBI received for it to conclude that it will get a raw deal in the State? It must provide specific details and not take refuge in vague statements like the atmosphere there is "not conducive" for a proper trial. Just because the CBI is seen by many in Gujarat as being biased does not mean the State's judiciary will be persuaded by popular opinion. If the agency's convoluted logic is applied across the country then hundreds of cases would have to be transferred from various States.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the CBI's absurd pleas has angered Gujarat's legal fraternity. Both the Bar Council of Gujarat and the Gujarat High Court Bar Association have slammed the CBI for its crude remark; it has been pointed out that the agency is plotting to arm-twist witnesses to extract fabricated statements after getting the case transferred to another State. Given the manner in which the CBI has conducted its inquiry till now, this is a credible explanation for its strange demand. Even if for the sake of argument we were to accept the CBI's plea, does it not place a serious question mark on the competence and integrity of the judiciary in the State? Moreover, since the Sohrabuddin case is being directly monitored by the Supreme Court, there is no reason for the CBI to be so dismissive of Gujarat's judiciary. Quite clearly, the agency's brief has nothing to do with ensuring a fair trial. The Congress has pressed it into service to discredit the Government and thejudiciary of Gujarat with the ulterior motive of destabilising the BJP Government. 







Was the alleged rape of a nun, following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four sanyasis in Kandhamal on Krishna Janmasthami, August 23, 2008, an afterthought by missionaries targeted by enraged Hindus? Was it a planned vengeance, aimed at garnering the international spotlight and forcing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to break his alliance with the BJP, which empathised with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's anger at the murder of its octogenarian leader? 

The questions are legitimate given Fr Thomas Chellan's admission in court on July 26 that he did not report the alleged rape of the nun when filing the first information report with the police on August 26, 2008. The Baliguda Catholic Church pastor, a key witness in the case, admitted during cross-examination before Cuttack district and sessions judge Bira Kishore Mishra that he had not mentioned the alleged rape in the FIR filed a day after the incident is said to have occurred. His complaint caused the arrest of 23 people.

The alleged rape of the 29-year-old nun from Sambalpur is said to have occurred on August 25 in Kandhamal district, a day after agitated Hindus went on the rampage to protest the gunning down of Swami Laxmanananda and his disciple-monks in the precincts of his own ashram. Swami Laxmanananda had previously escaped several attempts on his life and had received death threats from missionaries infuriated by his anti-conversion activities. 

The nun worked at Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre at K Nugaon block. She was reportedly dragged out of a retired head clerk's house by 40-odd armed men who chanted "Bharat Mata ki Jai," taken to the office of an NGO, Jan Vikash, where one man allegedly raped her. At that time, 12 policemen of the Odisha State Armed Police were camping in a school in front of the NGO's office. The nun identified the main accused as Santosh Patnaik, alias Mitu.

Fr Chellan was reportedly beaten and paraded half-naked on the road the same day. He identified two accused in court as being part of the mob that attacked his church, but had failed to identify either man during the test identification parade held at Choudwar jail last year. The case was initially committed to a fast-track court in Kandhamal that was trying all riot cases, but was transferred to a sessions court in Cuttack after the nun petitioned that she felt unsafe in Kandhamal. (This is now the standard refrain in all anti-Hindu cases; Gujarat's former Minister Amit Shah is only the latest victim.)

Interestingly, Dr Chotray Marandia, who first treated the nun after the alleged assault-cum-rape, testified on August 28 that she had only complained of swelling on her face. "I only treated the swelling on her face and she did not complain of anything else," he replied when asked by defence lawyers about other injuries on her body. So we have no evidence of rape. 

The then block development officer, Mr BB Mishra, testified that he had accompanied the nun and priest to the local police station to file their complaint about the mob attack. Both thus had full official protection while filing the complaint, and cannot claim that the police did not record the FIR properly, or that the rape charge was ignored by the police. These testimonies are damning.

That the rape is most likely a fabrication can be seen from the nervousness of the prosecution. Earlier, her lawyers had sought a month's time for the nun to appear before the court. This is suspicious to say the least, but fits in with the church's hiding the nun from the local people and producing a veiled woman with a thick Malayalam accent at a Press conference in Delhi. Interestingly, last Saturday the nun failed to identify the key accused at a test identification parade.

The Church-prosecution embarrassment has been aggravated by the June 12 arrest of Pandit Bishimajhi for allegedly plotting to kill the nun and priest to prevent them from testifying against the mob. It was alleged that Bishimajhi led several mob attacks, one of which stripped and paraded the nun and Fr Chellan, and is thus complicit in the fast-disintegrating rape case.

It may be appropriate to put the anti-missionary violence in context. The Kandhamal violence erupted after the murder of Swami Laxmanananda, whose tireless efforts to uplift the tribal communities and protect their religion and culture against aggressive proselytisation infuriated the evangelists and Maoist goons (mostly converts). The Swami was severely injured in an attack on Christmas eve in 2007, and had then accused a Congress MP and World Vision chief for the attack. He alleged a nexus between Maoist terrorists and missionaries; which is why when Maoists claimed responsibility for the killings, public ire was directed at the missionaries. Certainly the murders had a purely religious motivation; Odisha has in recent years seen an influx of rich American Baptists for soul-harvesting purposes.

Beginning on December 26, 1970, Swami Laxmanananda was attacked eight times before he was finally struck down by AK-47-wielding assailants in 2008, according to the fact-finding commission chaired by Additional Advocate-General of Rajasthan, GS Gill. Soon after the multiple murders in the ashram, the State police arrested World Vision employee Pradesh Kumar Das while escaping from the district. Later, two men, Vikram Digal and William Digal, were arrested from the house of a local militant Christian, Lal Digal, at Nugaon; they admitted having joined a group of 28 assailants. Then, in July 2009, a Maoist couple, Surendra Vekwara and Ruby, also allegedly involved in the killings, surrendered to the Odisha Police. One does not know how the State Government intends to prosecute the cases against these persons, especially as the sensational rape case is silently falling apart.

However, as I have previously argued, the murder of Swami Laxmanananda closely resembles the murder of Swami Shanti Kaliji Maharaj in Tripura in August 2000. The latter was also shot in his own ashram by gun-wielding goons after several dire warnings against his anti-conversion activities in the tribal belt were ignored. Swami Laxmanananda's murder prompted Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy to insist that there was an

urgent need for an anti-conversion legislation as aggressive proselytisation was hurting the social fabric.

Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati had, just before his murder, demanded a national debate on conversions and an end to the foreign funding of NGOs. This is an urgent imperative.






This refers to the news story headlined "Rs 10-cr suit against animal rights activist" by Rathin Das (June 25). The report says "Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has filed the suit against animal rights activist Lisa Warden following a week-long spat, culminating in the Canadian posting video clips on Youtube showing the 'inhuman' and 'crude' manner used by the civic body to catch stray dogs." I was not the person who posted the video on Youtube.

The video was initially posted in December 2009 by someone I don't know. He was passing through the station and used his cell phone to film dog catchers catching a dog in the station using tongs. Neither did the "week-long spat" culminate in the posting of the video. As I have just explained, it was posted in 2009.

The report further says, "In an e-mail to the AMC top brass, Warden had threatened to lobby against the city's bid to get the World Heritage City status if the civic body did not agree to the dog catching method suggested by her." This is incorrect. What I told the AMC was that it needed to stop catching dogs with tongs and displacing them — both of which are illegal and terribly cruel. I did not "insist" that they use nets. I suggested nets, since that is one way to catch dogs humanely, and because there was an NGO in Ahmedabad who had agreed to train the AMC dog catchers free of charge to use nets. I had also arranged for nets to be donated to the AMC free of charge provided that their dog catchers successfully complete the necessary training.

Nor did I "insist", as has been claimed in the report, that the AMC's dog catchers should learn the technique from an NGO recommended by me. In a message to the Deputy Municipal Commissioner on June 13, I told him about several different places in India that the dog catchers could go to learn humane catching. None of the places is in Gujarat. The only reason I suggested AHF in Ahmedabad was because it would do it free of charge and I could also get the nets to the AMC free of charge.

It was simply in the interests of getting the AMC dog catchers quickly trained and equipped to do the job properly and humanely, nothing else. 






The Chinese Navy held a large-scale exercise off its south-eastern coast just as the US and South Korea conducted their joint naval drill last week. The Chinese exercise is proof of Beijing's determination to project its military strength in the neighbourhood and beyond

While the US-South Korean joint naval exercises were taking place in the Sea of Japan from July 24 to July 27, a large-scale exercise was simultaneously held by the Chinese Navy in South China Sea. Wide publicity was given by the China Central Television to the naval exercise. The Chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, Gen Chen Bingde, the Navy commander and other senior commanders of the People's Liberation Army oversaw the exercise in which the North China, East China and South China sea fleets participated. While China Central Television telecast photographs of the exercise, it did not specify where exactly it was being held in the South China Sea.

The accompanying commentary stated: "Gen Chen Bingde stressed that (the military) should pay close attention to changes in the situation and tasks, and get well-prepared for military conflicts." According to the China Central Television commentary, the exercise consisted of six parts, two of which were long-range precision strikes and defence against jet fighters and missiles. 

The channel telecast on July 27 footage of the Nanjing Military Command testing a new long-range artillery rocket on land towards the Yellow Sea. It said it is the first time China has carried out long-range artillery rocket drill on such a large scale. Gen Liu Mingjin, Chief of Staff of the Artillery Division, told the China Central Television that the drill was intended to test the troops' long-range striking precision. 

According to the television channel, the exercise took place in an electromagnetic environment meant to simulate realistic combat conditions. It added: "It is one of the drills in China's naval history that involved comprehensive cooperation and included the launch of many missiles." It said that the exercise was just one of a series of exercises the PLA undertook before and during the US-South Korea exercise in the Sea of Japan.

The China Daily quoted Mr Li Jie, a researcher with the Chinese Navy's military academy, as saying that Beijing has shown it has the determination to protect its territory not only through diplomatic action but also by demonstrating its military strength. He said: "If the line were to be crossed, China would react firmly. The actions further stress that the South China Sea is one of China's core interests. The fact that the chief personally watched the performances implies that the region is being seen as highly important and that the drills are considered vital." Mr Li further said that the South China Sea issue has become more complicated due to the involvement of the US and Japan and that the drill, taking place under an electromagnetic environment, had likely taken into consideration the advanced communication-jamming technologies of the US.

In a despatch dated July 29, Xinhua reported that while the naval exercise of the PLA-Navy had been taking place, an Army unit based at an inland province in the Jinan Military Command ferried combat forces and arms to 'a coastal city' in the Shandong province on July 27. Mr Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, has said he did not believe the Chinese exercises were directed at the US-Republic Of Korea drill, because such preparations take a long time and the timing may be a coincidence.

Code-named "Invincible Spirit," the four-day joint US-South Korea naval and air exercises involved 20 ships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington of the US Navy, submarines, 200 aircraft and 8,000 troops from the two nations. According to Xinhua, the exercise included anti-submarine drills, naval live-fire exercises, aerial training and computer-based simulation exercises. It quoted the South Korean media as saying that it is the first in a series of similar joint exercises to be conducted in coming months, part of military "counter-measures" against North Korea. Apart from the routine annual exercises, scheduled between August 16 and August 26, the two countries will also stage joint military drills in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula in September and conduct similar drills every month till the end of this year as a warning to North Korea.

The ships participating in "Invincible Spirit" kept out of the Yellow Sea in response to Chinese sensitivities, but the South Korean media has indicated that the September exercise would cover the Yellow Sea, too, in order to underline that the US and South Korea do not accept the Chinese contention that the Yellow Sea falls in China's 'psychological territory'. The Chinese claim that many past invasions of China took place via Yellow Sea and that, because of this, appearance of any foreign naval ship, particularly an aircraft-carrier, in its waters could create fear in the minds of Beijing's population. 

Mr Hu Zhengyue, a Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister, is currently on a visit to North Korea amid speculation that North Korea is pressing China to agree to a joint China-North Korea naval exercise. However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has described the visit as "a normal exchange between the two Foreign Ministries." 

Amid concerns over the US determination to counter Chinese maritime assertiveness, the debate on the need for the Chinese Navy to have one or more aircraft carriers has been revived. An editorial on July 30 in the Global Times, published by the People's Daily Group, said: "The recent war of words surrounding the deployment of the US aircraft carrier George Washington close to China's waters has once again sparked debate on the symbolic and practical significance of the large naval vessel. How would an aircraft carrier change the dynamics of China's rise and how would it affect the regional geopolitical landscape? The outcome depends on China's overall aircraft carrier strategy. An aircraft carrier is a crucial element of a modern naval force. There are 22 aircraft carriers currently in active service in nine countries. China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that does not have an aircraft carrier." 

 The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator. 







Chavez embarks on another misadventure

On July 22, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia accused Venezuela of allowing Left-wing Colombian rebels to have bases on the Venezuelan side of the 2,000-km. (1,400-mi) border between the two countries. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez replied immediately by giving all Colombian diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, moving troops to the border, and warning that the US and Colombia are planning to invade Venezuela.

Both men are being thoroughly disingenuous. Venezuela at least turns a blind eye to the dozens of camps that FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) maintains in western Venezuela near the Colombian border, if it does not actively supply and support them. But why did Mr Uribe wait until the last month of his eight years in office to bring this up?

Mr Chavez's behaviour is equally perverse. He detects an impending attack and puts the Venezuelan armed forces on "maximum alert" at least once a year — last year he even threatened to invade Honduras to reverse an alleged coup there — but normally it's just bluster that blows away after a few days. This time, he warns that a war with Colombia would bring "a hundred years of tears," but he really seems willing to risk it.

Mr Uribe's motive is fairly transparent. His successor, Mr Juan Manuel Santos, elected in May, is also a conservative politician, but he is widely seen as much more open than Mr Uribe to a reconciliation with Venezuela. As Brazil's President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva put it, "(Santos) has given signals that he wants to build peace. Everything was going well until Mr Uribe made this denunciation."

Very well, but then why did Mr Hugo Chavez fall for it? He is surrounded by yes men, but surely there must be somebody left in his entourage who would point out to him that Mr Uribe's last-minute accusations against Venezuela are spoiling tactics intended to undermine Mr Santos's forthcoming peace initiative. So why didn't Mr Chavez just maintain a dignified silence and wait until 7 August, when Mr Uribe leaves power and Mr Santos takes over?

Partly because Mr Chavez is constitutionally incapable of maintaining a dignified silence, but also because he is more vulnerable politically at home than ever before. Venezuela is in a mess, and Mr Chavez needs a foreign enemy fast to draw the public's attention elsewhere.

It's not all Mr Chavez's fault. This year has brought Venezuela its worst drought in a 100 years and the huge dam that supplies 73 per cent of its electricity has the lowest water level ever, so rolling power cuts black out large parts of the country daily.

The devaluation of the Venezuelan currency last January was ultimately his fault, on the other hand, and that is making even his loyal supporters among the poor really ratty. The Venezuelan Army is arresting shopkeepers every day for putting up their prices, but what else are they to do when imported goods cost twice as much in bolivars as they did last year?

That's why Mr Chavez needs lots of distractions for the public, or may be one big one that lasts a lot longer than his usual games. In mid-July Venezuelans were encouraged to follow the action on TV in real time as they dug up the great hero of South American independence, Simon Bolivar, in order to test Mr Chavez's theory that the Liberator had been poisoned 179 years ago, but that sort of thing gets old very fast.

So when Mr Uribe made his accusation about Venezuelan support for FARC, Mr Chavez promptly and deliberately misinterpreted it as a Colombian threat to invade Venezuela and overthrow him (allegedly with US support). The threat of war can keep people in line for years, as the Cold War amply demonstrated. It will serve Mr Chavez's purposes admirably, so long as it doesn't slide into a real war.

But it might, because the Colombian-Venezuelan frontier is mostly unmarked, and there are armed bands of guerillas crossing it all the time. The Venezuelan armed forces may also be over-confident and eager to try out their new toys (Mr Chavez has bought them $ 2 billion worth of Russian arms). But if it came to a real war, Venezuela would lose.

Drive east along a number of major roads in eastern Colombia, and an hour or two before you reach the Venezuelan border the highway suddenly gets ridiculously wide for a kilometre or so. These are emergency airstrips for refuelling and rearming combat aircraft, built many years ago in anticipation of a possible war with Venezuela. There are no comparable preparations on the Venezuelan side.

The Colombian Army has been in combat almost continuously against well-armed local insurgents for the past half-century. It is also three times as big as the Venezuelan Army, which has no combat experience whatever. And the oilfields around Maracaibo that provide most of Venezuela's income are very close to the border, whereas all of Colombia's major cities are far to the west of it.

If I were a Venezuelan General, I would be urging Mr Chavez to do nothing that risks provoking a war with Colombia. May be Venezuelan Generals really are saying that to him. But he doesn't appear to be listening.

-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist. 







The proposed tax on financial transactions to fund HIV/AIDS programmes in poor countries is ill-conceived and should be junked right away. Nobody gains from this hare-brained scheme

Officials and activists at the recent world AIDS conference in Vienna demanded a tax on financial transactions to fund HIV/AIDS relief in poor countries. HIV/AIDS is terrible, and so is poverty, but this is a bad idea. 

Money from rich countries for HIV/AIDS has fallen slightly in the recession, to $ 7.6 billion last year from $ 7.7 billion in 2008, so this Robin Hood Tax (named after the mythical English outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor)—would plug the gap.

Former US President Bill Clinton avoided mentioning Robin Hood, as President Barack Obama is not in favour, but said the best way is to "raise small amounts of money from a massive number of people," citing an air-travel "solidarity" tax in 11 countries that has netted the UN US$ 1.3 billion since 2006.

An architect of that levy, Mr Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chairman of UNITAID, said: "Knowing that 97 per cent of transactions are of a speculative nature, there will be no consequence on the real economy" from this Robin Hood Tax.

Wrong. The very rich won't be the ones who pay it. Nor will it help the very poor. Indeed, it will choke the only things that might help poor countries in the long term — trade and enterprise.

On top of the tax itself, there is the immensely complicated administration, IT, compliance and payment systems required for many millions of transactions a day, plus the cost of policing it. These costs would not be borne by rich bankers but would be passed on to their customers — mostly people of modest means. Those consumers would have less money to spend on the coffee, tea, fruit, textiles and so on that poor countries need to sell to survive.

And the proposed tax will directly harm trade. It will hit transactions like insurance cover for trade deals: Make that more expensive and you get less trade. If you make capital harder to get, poorer countries in particular will

be unable to raise the funds they need.

When Sweden tried to raise taxes this way in 1984, it proved a disaster. Financial markets collapsed and capital became unobtainable.

Robin Hood supposedly robbed the rich to give to the poor — but taxes do not go to the poor, they go to Government, to bureaucracy and to projects that politicians want, not what is needed.

Worse, HIV/AIDS is the wrong thing to spend it on: Far more people in poor countries die from other, preventable, diseases. HIV gets 25 per cent of all health aid but causes around three per cent of deaths globally (although double or more in many African countries — yet only 0.3 per cent in India).

Many more, entirely preventable, deaths come from respiratory illnesses, diarrhoea, malaria and tuberculosis. Campaigners say HIV justifies more spending because it is a disease of poverty. In fact, these others are the true diseases of poverty: They have been largely wiped out in countries that have been allowed to make themselves richer through trade and enterprise.

The big enemy of the poorest countries is not the lack of Western aid. It is the lack of property rights and the rule of law, the corruption, the high and arbitrary taxes, the regulations and the local trade barriers that make it pointless for people to invest in the businesses that would bring prosperity. Western trade barriers exacerbate the misery.

The — mostly Western — campaigners who call for more taxes to spend on HIV/AIDS are therefore wrong on all fronts. It will not be the rich who pay the Robin Hood Tax. Any drop in consumer demand will hit the poor. Making capital more expensive will hit the countries and businesses that most need investment. Spending more on HIV/AIDS will ignore the most urgent, and preventable, health threats to the poor.

Instead of more taxes amid austerity, the campaigners should be demanding that the European Union and the US set an example by freeing trade completely. That is the way to end world poverty and the diseases that go with it.

-- The writer is a Director of the Adam Smith Institute, London, an independent economic think-tank. 







The WikiLeaks exposé has not stopped the Bill on additional funding for the Afghan war from being passed. But the Democrats are now asking uncomfortable questions

In politics everything falls right into place sooner or later, and this is exactly what happened this week in the Afghan war, when tens of thousands of classified documents about the war were published. This information explosion will certainly affect US President Barack Obama's approval ratings, as the Afghan war is now even less popular than it was during Mr George W Bush's presidency.

On July 27, Mr Obama finally received the $ 37 billion in additional funding for his new war strategy which he had been requesting for nearly six months, when the US House of Representatives followed the Senate and approved the new war-funding Bill. That injection, in addition to the $ 130 billion allocated for the Afghan and Iraqi wars this year, should give the US military what it needs to "break the back" of the Taliban, if not completely defeat them, by the summer of 2011, when the US plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. 

Two days before the Congress approved the Bill, thousands of secret US military files about the war in Afghanistan were published by The Guardian, The New York Times and German weekly Der Spiegel, which obtained the documents from the Internet organisation WikiLeaks. The documents include reports by mid-ranking officers, details of civilian killings in botched military operations and information about the cooperation between the ISI and the Taliban. 

Speaking in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, Mr Obama said he was concerned about the massive leak of sensitive documents about the Afghan war, but that the papers did not reveal any concerns that were not already part of the debate. Indeed, the public is more or less aware of the facts contained in the leaked documents. Nor is it a secret that the occupying forces are not trained to distinguish civilians from Taliban or terrorists, that many civilian deaths go unreported, that the Taliban attacks are becoming more deadly, and that Afghans view their police as criminals and their central and local Governments as a malignant force in their lives. This is how a population generally feels toward an occupying Army and a puppet Government. There is nothing new here. As for Pakistan's Intelligence Service supporting the Taliban, you would have to be deaf and blind not to know about this by now. But it would have been indecent for Washington to go public with these accusations, considering that Pakistan is its main ally in the Afghan war.

The Taliban was created in Pakistan by the US Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was fighting its own Afghan war. The CIA most likely severed its ties with the Taliban, but it was more difficult for Pakistan to part with these former allies, partners and fellow Muslims who have settled in their country. In other words, the Afghan war leak didn't change the general picture, it just brought it into better focus.

However, the sheer volume of Pentagon documents released, 91,000, is truly shocking, even if some of them were a few words per page. Journalists from The Guardian said they sorted through the documents with experts for three weeks, and ultimately decided not to publish those documents that "might endanger local informants or give away genuine military secrets." These 15,000 unpublished documents are a ticking time bomb. The Pentagon and the other relevant US agencies are investigating the source of the leak. Often the most important element of a leak is not the content so much as the timing. There can be no doubt that this leak was timed to coincide with the Congress's vote on additional funding for the Afghan war. Still, the spending Bill passed the House by a vote of 308-114. All but 12 of the "no" votes came from Mr Obama's Democrats, who hold a 253-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats who do not support Mr Obama's strategy are not un-American or even against the war in Afghanistan per se. They simply cannot understand the objectives of the strategy or the zealous support their country is giving to President Hamid Karzai's corrupt Government. They do not understand how the US can leave Afghanistan without a functioning Government in place. What was the $ 1 trillion, nine-year war for? Few believe Afghanistan can become a truly democratic country.

-- The writer is a RIA Novosti political affairs columnist 








WITH 15 people killed in firing by security forces and Kashmir into its fourth straight day of curfew, it goes without saying that the Union and state governments need to do more to tackle the crisis. While it would be unfair to blame Chief Minister Omar Abdullah alone for his handling of the turmoil, it is difficult to escape the feeling that his lack of experience and rigidity has allowed the situation to worsen.


He has chosen to see the crisis as a law and order problem, which would cease as soon as the protestors were dispersed. This is only partly true. While it is necessary right now to douse the fires that are raging, there is need for a pro- active political process to ensure that the situation becomes less flammable.


For this, the Union government is also responsible.


The situation in Kashmir is too complex to be resolved by state leaders alone.


Mr Abdullah also needs to be more active politically. He is isolated from his own party and the sidelining of senior leaders like Abdul Rahim Rather and Ali Muhammad Sagar hasn't helped.


At the local level, the state government needs to take along members of civil society and mohalla elders as well as take measures to engage the youth. This is a generation which has grown up through the insurgency and hasn't witnessed any significant periods of normalcy. The protests are therefore an expression of their angst rather than a means for the attainment of certain concrete political ends.


Rahul Gandhi's generational change experiment in Kashmir shouldn't remain a cosmetic exercise of installing a young chief minister who is disconnected from the people. Rather it should lead to empowerment of the youth within the political process.


Prices as a political football


THE compromise formula that has ended the week- long blockade of Parliament by the Opposition is welcome. However, the country could have saved a lot of money and the precious time of the two Houses, had it come sooner.


It is difficult to escape a sense of cynicism about the compromise exercise. The consensus " sense of the House" resolution that will be passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday will have the term " inflationary pressure" instead of " price rise" at the instance of the Treasury Benches, and we are told the words " common man" have been included on the insistence of the Opposition.


None of this will give any comfort to most Indians who have patiently suffered the price rise of the past year. While a bit of inflation is part of the growth process, the steep rise in the prices of food has affected the poor people the most. Sadly, the reasons for this have been sheer mismanagement.


The Food Corporation of India is unable to store grain properly and is passing on the cost of its inefficiency to the consumer. Our politicians have not been above talking up prices for reasons that are too obvious to restate. But you can be sure that the debate on the issue will see a lot more hot air and platitudes.


Fitting the stereotype again


THE accident in the Andrews Ganj area in the early hours of Sunday in which a Volkswagen Passat carrying five young persons, including three girls, rammed into a static dumper, missing construction labourers at the spot narrowly, demonstrates once again how dangerous a young man drunk on wealth, and, in all likelihood, alcohol can prove to be behind wheels.


The youth also had the audacity to later quarrel and misbehave with the policemen and mediapersons that came to the spot after the accident. But the roll call of blame would not be complete without mentioning that the cops allowed the driver of the car to leave without conducting a breathanalyser test on him.


This is the second such accident in the capital in recent days. Earlier, a Honda City had run over labourers, killing four of them.


It is unpardonable that despite such incidents occurring with frightful regularity, the authorities are yet to make drunken driving an offence that exacts a heavy price from a violater.



            MAIL TODAY






NARENDRA Modi is back to doing what he does best.


Cornered by the Supreme Court and the CBI, he has once again invoked the question of Gujarat's pride in order to deflect attention from the steady stream of skeletons tumbling out of his regime's closet. A day will come when Modi will have to answer questions to the very same public who gets carried away by his pathetic rhetoric and his demagoguery. As the poet Faiz said about tyrants, Modi's day of judgement will not come elsewhere, in some other world, but here, and in this life.


The only thing that is utterly sad is the way the Gujarati middle class continues to support his splenetic outbursts against every civilised norm in this country. Since 2002, the Gujarati middle class has put its stamp of approval over every single misdeed of his in the guise of democratic legitimacy.


His party, the BJP, turns a blind eye to his actions and his impetuosity. Despite building a highly individualistic and megalomaniacal style of leadership, something that is in theory anathema to the RSS, the Sangh and the parivar seem to perceive Modi as their ultimate saviour. Corporate India loves him and he manages to charm the editors of even newspapers that have radical pretensions. What makes Modi survive and the Modi myth endure?




The Indian middle class loves someone who takes on imaginary and real villains. It cannot do much to make buses and trains run on time, it cannot wish away pollution that is caused largely due to its fondness for cars, and it cannot effectively ensure regular supply of drinking water and electricity.


It is impotent in the face of corruption and helps feed the corruption spiral by its sheer impatience. It loves words like efficiency and development, but gets worried when the same development leads to the naxal problem. It believes in nothing and stands for nothing.


It lives with the contradiction that there is no safe drinking water in large parts of the country but there is mobile phone connectivity almost everywhere. It celebrates shopping malls and American fast-food joints but knows that there is a fair chance of one never emerging the same as before after being inside an Indian hospital, be it public or private.


It speaks of merit and excellence but pays donations to get into colleges and universities. It hates the noise and the bustle of India but remains glued to reality shows as the only form of reality it can take in.


It swears by Indian traditions but is ready to flee to the United States and Europe at the slightest provocation. It calls Hinduism as a way of life but is oblivious as to whose way of life it is or who determines Hinduism. It celebrates India as the largest democracy in the world but envies countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China and Israel. Modi is the embodiment of this class: he too stands for nothing and believes in nothing but himself. That is why Modi and sections of the Indian middle class never suffer from any form, whatsoever, of contrition and think of honest self- reflection as a form of liberal indulgence.




If this is the case, Modi and his natural constituency do not believe in such ' trivial' institutions as the Indian Constitution.


Democracy only means mobilising the masses in order to come to power.


Neither is the idea of a formal and impersonal rule of law of any consequence.


Everything is personalised; everything can be twisted to suit political expediency of one kind or the other.


Therefore, when Modi imputes that the demand to take cases against his government and ministers out of Gujarat is an assault on the judicial system, it is just another rhetorical point coming from a rabble- rouser.


The truth is that Modi has politicised the police and the criminal investigation system to an extent where the judiciary cannot function and hope to deliver justice.


The suggestion by Modi that the Centre and the CBI were acting as if Gujarat was not a part of India is ironically true. While large sections of the Indian middle class admire Modi, the rest of India has not gone the way of Gujarat.


Rather, Gujarat refuses to be a part of India, subverting every civilised norm under the leadership of Modi.


Slogans like Ajmal Qasab ne biryani, police adhikariyon ni pareshani ( Biryani to Ajmal Kasab and trouble for police officers) only underline the efforts to convert Gujarat and India into a banana republic. These slogans have a salience in Gujarat despite evidence that some of its senior police officers allegedly killed innocent individuals in fake encounters.


Is there a way to neutralise Modi? The best and the most effective way to defeat Modi is for the media to ignore him and the bile he spews. He makes good copy according to current journalistic standards, so the most effective tool to defang him is to ignore him.


Starved of the fuel of publicity, Modi would be reduced to a cry in the wilderness.


Part of the other reason for Modi's longevity is the complete impotence of the Congress in Gujarat. It has refused to effectively take on Modi for fear of alienating the so- called Hindu vote. In doing so, the Congress emerges as weak, ineffective and confused.




Also, in the long run, the way the UPA government functions will have a bearing on the fortunes of the Congress in Gujarat.


If it continues to falter and waffle the way it is currently doing, it does not portend well for the Congress in the states either, especially so in Gujarat. The abiding myth that Modi has created is that of a strong, decisive and purposeful leader.


Only a similar alternative, though within the democratic framework, can challenge his hold over the people of Gujarat. If this is not done soon enough, come 2012 and the RSS will anoint Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. The Congress and the UPA look suspiciously incapable of handling Modi's manipulation of the media and his propaganda skills. The country will only have the Congress to blame for handing over the ideas of India to a man like Modi.


The writer teaches politics at the University of Hyderabad








W ERE YOU surprised with Rahul Mahajan's latest antics? I wasn't, not in the least. Rahul has always been the problem child of the Mahajan family, and though the family reluctantly rallies around him, eventually, it is not before his uncle Gopinath Munde gives him an earful.


Rahul's lifestyle was one of the major discussion points in the Mumbai BJP for a long time.


The Mahajan kid's celebration of a New Year's eve on a privately hired launch near Gateway of India turned the spotlight on.


The flashy lifestyle of the Mahajan kid had set tongues wagging in the Sangh parivar that detests celebrating New Year as per the Christian calendar.


The late Pramod Mahajan had issued a lengthy clarification to a local newspaper and had taken a dig at the local RSS leaders who had criticised him.


It was also the beginning of the worsening relations between the Sangh and Mahajan, who had just started to taste the fruits of power, even though the party was not in power, either in the state, or in the centre.


Two incidents are etched in my mind. A small diary item that appeared in a Mumbaibased evening newspaper that spoke of Rahul's link- up with a foreigner. The item was small and was carried on an obscure page. But Mahajan raised a hue and cry with the owner of the paper and threatened to cancel all advertisements through any government agencies. He was a minister by then and had become very powerful.


He was aware how his son's link- up with a foreigner would spell political disaster for him.


At a time when the BJP was raising a hue and cry over Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins, Mahajan's son wooing a foreigner would have taken away the wind from BJP's sails.. Another incident occoured right in front of me. I had gone to attend a filmy party thrown at a posh lounge in Juhu and there he was, among several film celebrities. Rahul Mahajan who had had a couple of drinks too many, was seen hanging around near the ladies and it seemed that he was trying to strike a conversation, though it was quite apparent that they were rather reluctant.


It was around this time that a daughter- in- law of a very powerful politician in the state arrived at the party. A S SHE was having a polite conversation with one of the guests at the party, Rahul stood near her, with a liquor glass in his hand, and kept looking at her and then said in Marathi something which meant that she had managed herself quite well in spite of her advancing years.


The woman was enraged, but she kept her cool and told him, " That's because I don't drink all this." Rahul was too stunned by this virtual slap and made a hasty retreat, only to try and chat up with another guest.


Shobhaa De once rightly observed how it was quite surprising to see the Mahajan children not completing their formal education despite having the best resources. One isn't sure whether formal education would have kept Rahul away from controversies.



SHIV SENA executive president Uddhav Thackeray celebrated his 50th birthday last week. The party mouthpiece Saamna, owned by the Thackerays, made a killing, bringing out a 96- page pullout. What everyone noticed was a half- page advertisement issued by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment congratulating Uddhav on his birthday. The advertisement instantly became the talking point as Sena had, only months ago, opposed SRK's movie ' My Name Is Khan' for his statement on the inclusion of Pakistani players in the IPL. If SRK wanted, he could have simply issued an anonymous advertisement — there were several of them in there. A multinational soft drink company issued a half page advertisement that simply mentioned their name and nothing else. It was an option that was available to SRK, but he did not utilise it. Maybe he wanted to send out a message to the Congress that he could not be taken for granted.


There was another interesting factor that was way too obvious — most of the advertisers in the issue were builders, developers, construction firms et al. Over a year ago, Uddhav took out a morcha demanding low- price housing for the poor in the city. In his speech at the morcha , he hit out at builders, calling them house rats who were eating away Mumbai.


The same house rats sponsored most of the advertisements in the Saamana pullout on the occasion of his birthday and Uddhav's paper had no qualms in accepting them.









For all the initial hand-wringing after British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments about Pakistan's role in exporting terrorism, the fallout now seems unlikely to be as disastrous as commentators both Pakistani and British had warned. True, ISI chief Shuja Pasha has cancelled his visit to Britain, but the more high-profile visit by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari remains on track. Words like 'disappointed' and 'concerned' have been used liberally by Islamabad but the overall thrust seems to be that Islamabad will endeavour to explain its position and avoid a row. All of which means that the focus can return to where it should be; the western allies' changing perception of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. 

It is worth remembering that Cameron, in essence, said very little that has not been said before by prominent US military and civilian representatives including secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The latter has gone so far as to say that elements within the Pakistani government know where Osama bin Laden is. Factor in the recent WikiLeaks controversy and the scenario that emerges is that while the main NATO players in Afghanistan have no option but to depend on Pakistan and acknowledge Islamabad's role for public consumption, they are under no illusions as to the ISI's problematic links with the Taliban. And that raises the question of why this double game is necessary. 

There is little to no chance that the US will cut off aid to Pakistan or abrogate its 'special' relationship. Policy reviews of the US strategy show that Washington feels its best bet to prevent the long-term threat of a radicalised Pakistan is to maintain a consistent relationship, backing the civilian government in Islamabad while at the same time demanding that it do more against terrorist and insurgent networks operating from Pakistani soil. The problem, then, is one of calibrating this dual-pronged approach and finding the leverage to persuade Islamabad to cut off terrorist groups. 

This is where talk of US and western 'withdrawal' from Afghanistan, undertaken to appease domestic constituencies in western countries, has proved disastrous. An actual withdrawal is not on the cards, as it would hand an epochal victory to al-Qaida and allied Islamist forces. But stronger signals are needed that the West intends to stay the course in Afghanistan. New Delhi should also advise low-key cooperation with Tehran and Moscow, which would help Washington recalibrate its Af-Pak strategy and reduce dependence on Islamabad. 







Bangladesh's painful journey to retrieve its original founding aims has received a fillip with a full bench of the nation's supreme court ruling against a 1977 constitutional amendment. This (fifth) amendment was introduced by military leaders to gain legitimacy for their actions against the elected government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The apex court observed that by omitting secularism from the Constitution, the military government "destroyed one of the basis of our struggle for freedom and also changed the basic character of the Republic". The judiciary has effectively restored the core liberal values that characterised the Bangladesh liberation movement. 

Since the 1975 coup, governments in Dhaka promoted religion rather than language as the binding force of the nation. But the introduction of a monolithic state religion, often hand in hand with a dominant political role for the military, opened up fissures in the polity and created conflict. It also cast a long shadow over Dhaka's relations with New Delhi. The grim results of a polity founded on religious identity can be seen in today's Pakistan. It's welcome that Bangladesh is moving in the opposite direction. It should give the lie to those who say that Islam and secularism can't coexist. As of now two major Muslim-majority states which happen to be secular, Indonesia and Turkey, are doing exceedingly well. Dhaka must now take the cue from its judiciary and complete the task of making the necessary amendments to the Constitution to protect its liberal spirit and content. An important step would be the removal of the eighth amendment incorporated by General H M Ershad, which made Islam the state religion of Bangladesh. 








There was consternation over the encounter killing of Hemchandra Pande along with Maoist spokesperson Azad in the jungles of Adilabad in north Andhra Pradesh in the first week of July. While the police contend that Pande was a Left ultra himself, Pande's wife Babita insists her husband was a freelance journalist who wrote for many papers. Obfuscated in this debate is that Pande possibly a Maoist sympathiser and not a hardcore ultra was gunned down in an encounter after allegedly being picked up from Nagpur, roughly three hours drive on the National Highway 8 from Adilabad. 

As Maoists run amok in large parts of the country and extremists from across the border try to disrupt peace, sections of the Indian middle class paranoid at this increasing threat to the republic have begun justifying extrajudicial killings. They argue that since the judicial system is not quick and effective, summary encounters are the only way to curb militancy. Though encounter killings are not part of official state policy, police and other agencies armed with this civil society sanction have been increasingly resorting to encounters and abrogating to themselves the role of judge and executioner. It will not be an exaggeration to say many encounters are cold-blooded killings. This has terrible consequences for democracy and rule of law. It also perniciously affects the police's performance, a development that does not augur well for the country. The following example will demonstrate this point effectively. 

In December 1999, three central committee members of the Maoist party were liquidated in an encounter by the Andhra Pradesh police in Karimnagar district. Three IPS officers were awarded the police medal for gallantry for their role in this encounter. This medal entitles an awardee to get a free land site and free lifetime 1st class travel by train, among other goodies. But an anonymous complaint led to an inquiry which revealed that the gallant trio were nowhere near the scene of encounter that day. In 2008, nine years after the encounter, the officers were served a "charge memo" asking why they should not be punished. But internal police pressure in the home ministry ensured the file lost its way in the meandering bylanes of North Block. 

This is not the end of the story. One of the 'gallant' officers, an SP then and now a DIG, was posted as the CRPF's boss in Dantewada earlier this year, presumably because he was a gallant man eminently qualified to take on the extremists in this Maoist-infested area. What happened next is history: 76 men of the CRPF were ambushed and gunned down by the Maoists on April 6 in an event that shook the nation. An official inquiry by a former BSF director general revealed that there was "command failure" and "standard operating procedures" were not followed. This was responsible for the CRPF men falling to the hail of bullets from the ultras. The DIG in question was sent packing from the area, but only after the damage had been done. The point is that he would never have had an exalted status if not for the gallantry award for a false encounter. 

The unfortunate thing is that not only are officers rewarded for false encounters, but officers resisting such encounters end up in the doghouse. Ask Harvinder Singh Kohli, an artillery colonel whose regiment was deployed in south Assam in 2003 to track down militants. At the end of an operation in August 2003, Kohli's men captured five militants from the Assam Commando Force. 

On hearing about the operation, his senior, the brigadier, ordered him to bump off these militants since all that mattered in the eyes of the bosses were "kills". The brigadier also indicated that his boss, the major-general, was in the know of things. The colonel resisted and quickly handed these militants to the police to ward off further pressure. But the brigadier would not relent, he told the colonel to photograph a staged encounter. The colonel chose the lesser evil. So five men were made to lie on the ground with ketchup sprayed on their bodies and their pictures taken to show that there were 'kills'. But the lid soon came off with a complaint and the colonel was court-martialled and sacked. 

Later the brigadier was also discharged from the army, but the major-general was allowed to retire. On appeal, the brigadier, who commissioned the activity, was reinstated with loss of seniority and a reprimand. But Kohli now an ex-colonel wearing the media-given label of 'ketchup colonel' is waging a Herculean battle to clear his name. There is, however, nobody to bell the cat and reinstate an officer who actually had the moral courage to refuse orders to execute a false encounter. Interestingly, defence ministry officials noted on the file reviewing Kohli's case that an unofficial policy existed to assess the peformance of units involved in counter-insurgency operations in terms of number of kills. 

A dispensation where officers resorting to false encounters get encomiums and those resisting are jettisoned can only lead to the brutalisation of security agencies, with individual policemen using the gun to also eliminate petty criminals and other suspects. This process has actually begun in many places. The consequences can be well imagined since, in a civilised nation, lawlessness cannot be countered by lawlessness. 







With the Central Vigilance Commission putting 16 Commonwealth Games projects under the scanner for alleged irregularities amounting to more than Rs 2,500 crore, fears of corruption in organising the international sporting event have become real. On top of this, the UK government too has initiated a probe into financial dealings between the Games Organising Committee and an England-based firm. Meanwhile, expenditure on the Games has escalated more than 10 times of the original budget. Yet there appears to be a concerted effort on the part of the government to put off investigation till after the conclusion of the event. 

While Union urban development minister Jaipal Reddy has criticised the media for dampening the "celebratory mood" of the nation in the build-up to the Games, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit emphasised at a recent press briefing that work related to the Games has to be "finished first" before any probe. It is all very well to treat the Commonwealth Games as a matter of prestige and national honour, but a corruption tainted Games will hardly help the image of the country. It is precisely for this reason that investigation into the irregularities needs to be carried out forthwith. The greater the delay in initiating a probe, the greater the chances of those guilty escaping with impunity. 

Also, a speedy inquiry will deter further corruption in unfinished projects. Contractors and officials will be motivated to ensure that nothing is amiss. Therefore, if we truly believe in the legacy of investing in such sporting events, a successful Commonwealth Games should also mean a clean Commonwealth Games. It's only then that we can hope to attract future sporting events as well as generate public support for holding them. Justice and propriety shouldn't be held hostage to the supposed expediency of postponing an inquiry till after the Games. 








Probing alleged financial irregularities by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee is absolutely necessary. There is no denying that corruption has become endemic in our system and it must be reined in. However, this is not an opportune time to initiate a probe as it would only disrupt and politicise an already complicated event. We must let the Games get over first. Then we should initiate the most stringent and rigorous probe possible and severely punish anyone who's found lining his pockets with funds meant for the Games. 

The Commonwealth Games 2010 are just two months away and the spectre of national shame and international ignominy is haunting India, thanks to the shoddy preparation of sports infrastructure. Media reports indicate an impending disaster. Corruption is an endemic issue that needs to be tackled, but it won't go away in a day. At this point the focus has to be on organising the Games. This is supposed to be the biggest sporting extravaganza after the 1982 Asian Games which will authenticate India's arrival on the international scene. Let's fulfil this promise first. 

We should not forget for a moment that now the Games are linked to our national prestige. A poorly organised event will not only deal a psychological blow to our people but also dent faith in the economy. It will have a cascading effect on non-sporting areas as well, as it will reflect on India's general ability to manage complex projects. It is time for us to get our act together and pull out all the stops for the sake of a successful Games. Only optimism and unity in action can save us from the looming humiliation. The onus should be on salvaging the Games and renewing our sense of purpose instead of playing spoilsport. 







Until the matter blew up on prime-time television, the chairman of the Commonwealth Games organising committee would happily talk about the glory of sport when asked for the financial details of the Games. And when our friendly neighbourhood masterminds were asked about their Mumbai marauders, they talked instead about Kashmir. None of them were lying, they just made lies redundant. While politicians as topic changers (TCs) may make front-page news, they aren't the only ones at it. There are bright young management consultants who have made a living (and until the downturn, a killing) with an avalanche of 'exponential', 'synergistic', and 'transitioning' until no one recollects what the original topic was. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, academicians, bureaucrats, journalists are all talented TCs in their own right. And as a matter of fact, i am no mean TC myself, having built a reputation as a peace-maker in social circles solely on the ability to deflect a conversation before it charts a collision course. 

Changing the topic does not always mean you are shirking the responsibility of arriving at a meaningful conclusion to a discussion. Rather, it means that like an astute Mahendra Singh Dhoni, you are opting for spin when pace does not seem to be delivering the goods. Successfully executed, topic changes can keep marriages afloat, prevent friends from flying at each other's throats, promote good neighbourliness, prolong careers and, in their own little ways, contribute to world peace. Frankly, i think the reason the world is getting to be such a mess is that we are running short of TCs. 

Topic changing comes from an acceptance of things as they are. It flows from the benign understanding almost Vedantic in its sweep that some problems are better left unattended. For instance, the logical thing to do when you are confronted with moral policemen outside a pub would be to point out the error of their ways. The trouble with this approach is that life is not logical and still less are moral policemen. Persisting with an argument in the quest of an immediate solution is hazardous you may end up losing both argument and life. As the Bard (arguably the world's most accomplished TC) would have said, those who change the topic return to debate another day. 

It is not only when conversations threaten to enter danger zone that you need a mid-course correction. As every hostess knows, a topic has in-built limitations, and long silences at what was supposed to be a convivial gathering can be embarrassing. So it is handy to have a TC around to keep the traffic moving. Imagine a group that is animatedly discussing, say, the lissome loveliness of Kareena Kapoor. After talking without a pause for an entire weekend, the group will inevitably reach the point beyond which even Saif Ali Khan may not be able to contribute anything significant to the discussion. This is when the TC steps in to bring up the subject of Kareena's possible nuptials. "That would make her a triple 'K', wouldn't it?" he enquires, ever so gently. A renewed gush of conversation ensues, and someone is bound to hark back to the other 'KKK' - America's defunct racist group - which can turn the spotlight on America's unfailingly interesting African-American president. And that is as good a cue as any to talk about the empowerment of India's own disadvantaged, to wit Mayawati. Before your audience knows it, you have successfully changed topics from the feline grace of Kareena to the elephantine power of Mayawati's party. 

There are bull-headed opponents who feel that topic changers only brush unpleasantness under the carpet. They insist that if the world has to be made a better place tomorrow, we need to confront issues head on today. I think it is pointless to argue with such single-minded opponents of changing the topic. I just change the topic. 








Gigantic billboards were used in Beijing to shut out more unpleasant sights like the poorer parts of the city when it hosted the Olympics. But then what do you expect in an undemocratic society went the logic. But what's happened in Delhi as we bumble towards the Commonwealth Games seems worse given that we are a democratic society. At least 42 labourers, according to official figures, have died in construction-related accidents as the authorities push at breakneck speed to complete the venues. Independent observers put the figure as being much higher since many who are working on the sites are not registered with the construction labourer welfare board. This means that many who are working do not get the minimum wages, have no safety precautions and no regulated working hours. Few, unlike a former sports minister, want the Games to fail at this stage given the colossal input of money and effort, not to mention that hoary old chestnut, India's international prestige.


But, surely, there could have been much more thought given to the conditions of those who will make this happen and then fade away into the background, artificial or otherwise? When the organisers and the Delhi government speak of making the city a world-class one, we presume it means for every citizen living in it. This spirit did not seem in evidence when the authorities summarily got rid of 40,000 rickshaw-pullers, small-shop vendors, foodstall hawkers and pavement dwellers so that they would not be eyesores to visitors. Were they rehabilitated or do they face a life of penury now? So far, there are no answers to these questions even as a maelstrom of controversies rage on the substandard infrastructure and dodgy contracts. For those who have died, there is little chance of adequate compensation since most labourers have been working with no legitimate papers. The so-called campaign against child labour seems to have gone for a toss with children openly working in many places. As for safety and shelter for the women workers, no one's even talking about it.


Given the haste with which contracts were handed out, bypassing all norms in many cases, surely it was the duty of the government and the Games' organisers to have had a proper registration procedure for those labouring in harsh weather conditions so that India may shine on the global stage. It certainly did not lack for resources. It hardly enhances the prestige of a democratic country to showcase a sporting extravaganza, howsoever successful, if it has been done on the backs of the vulnerable whose safety has been severely compromised. This really, is not playing by the rules of any game, even by our somewhat elastic standards.







You better believe it. Corruption levels in India are down. That's the only way we can explain Horlicksgate, the biggest scandal to rock the country, at least if you believe the country's prime watchdog, AmmaLeaks a.k.a.


J. Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK has supposedly uncovered a racket conducted by none other than members from the DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. It turns out that on July 12, some 9,000 jars of the malt-based 'health' powder, brought from Haryana, vanished from Sholavandan near Madurai. If that didn't raise her antennae, the free distribution of Horlicks by DMK Union Minister M.K. Alagiri in the chief minister's Andipatti constituency six days later certainly did. 


Ms Jayalalithaa is absolutely sure that the Horlicks that Mr Alagiri had doled out at Andipatti on July 18 was contraband and — here comes the coup de steaming mug — the very same batch that was mysteriously nicked. Naturally, Ms Jayalalithaa has demanded that the state government ask for a CBI probe into the incident as Mr Alagiri's 'widely suspected' to have a 'link' between the two Horlickses.


The DMK may have not have taken, what in investigative jargon is known as the AAA (Allegations Against Alagiri) kindly. But surely, we, people of India weaned on tales of crores being siphoned off, deals being made under the table and quid pro quos being quaffed all the time, can feel relieved and proud that the latest scam involves a few thousand jars of a concentrated health drink being lifted. The makers of Horlicks, the British pharma and healthcare giant GlaxoSmithKline, must be quaking in its boots awaiting the subsequent fallout.







A news item: "As part of the ongoing drive to beautify Delhi in view of the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the NDMC demolished last week nearly 5,000 homes it described as 'old' and 'dilapidated'. These were located in areas such as South Extension I, Golf Links, Sujan Singh Park, Shantiniketan, Moti Bagh and Karol Bagh. The residents were transported across the Yamuna and left in camps there. R.M. Khanna, 65, resident of 5/15 Shantiniketan, one of the houses demolished, spoke to this correspondent: 'What are we to do here? My parents came from Pakistan in 1947 and my family built that house. Now the NDMC breaks it because they say it is ugly and has thrown us out of the city! Where do we turn?' A spokesman for the Games Organising Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this correspondent: 'We are expecting lakhs of visitors for the Games. Do they not deserve to see a world class city free of these crumbling old houses?'"


All right, I made those paragraphs up. But change the words around and it could very well be a report about events that have happened in Delhi in the run-up to the Games. People have indeed been taken from their homes and deposited outside the city, their homes demolished because they are eyesores. Last September, Delhi's Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal kicked off a drive to prosecute beggars with this remark: "Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games, we want to finish the problem of beggary from Delhi." In March, Britain's The Independent reported: "Ahead of [the] Commonwealth Games, the [Delhi] government… has increased the number of mobile beggars' courts from one to three." Also in March, a report for the NGO SOS Children's Village had these sentences: "Thousands of shanty towns have also been flattened as part of the city's pre-Games facelift, leaving countless more homeless. The Games village has been built on the site of a demolished shanty town."


None of the people who figure in those reports were residents of Shantiniketan or Sujan Singh Park. They belong instead to the streets and slum colonies spread across India's capital, the interstices and open spaces left in between existing Delhi and everything that's being constructed so rapidly for the Games. They disfigure the city, so they must go. We are building 'world class', you see. Who objects to removing the eyesores?


And yet imagine if my faked news item had been real. Which resident of Delhi would stand for large scale demolitions in Golf Links or South Ex? (Eyesores, let's be frank, as some of those areas are). The crazy injustice of this, coupled with the now-daily revelations of Commonwealth


shenanigans, is the reason I'm staying away from the Games. If the organisers fling out my fellow Indians, well, they fling out me as well.


But the other side to this gets me nearly as much. What is our fascination with this term, 'world class'? Why are we so in thrall of it? I'll start where I'm told many of the lakhs of Games tourists will begin their visit: Delhi airport's new Terminal 3 — 'T3' it is. Since it was opened for use, I've seen plenty of breathless coverage about the space and the airiness, the beauty and who-knows-what-else there. I have no doubt it's all true. I've also read several times that T3 can handle 33 (or is it 34? 37?) million passengers every year. Which is one of those numbers that's flung about to impress. Shorn of context, it sounds hugely impressive and you think, as you are meant to think: 'world class!'


But here's context, or perspective if you like. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, erring always on the conservative side, shows that Mumbai's Victoria Terminus station handles… 150 million passengers a year. Close to five times what T3 is projected to do. Now it seems to me that in its ability to handle this number alone, VT is certainly a 'world class' transport hub. After all, how many do you know in the world like that? Yet I don't believe I've ever heard VT referred to as 'world class'. Why is it that we will build a glitzy T3 for 33 million passengers, but will do zip for the 150 million VT users? Why should the station not have glass and walkways, air-conditioning and cleanliness? My wife was at


VT the other morning and called me to report how 'filthy' it was. Would we tolerate 'filthy' for T3? Why do we tolerate it for VT? If we can build the splendour of T3, why can't we do something to make train travel more comfortable? 'world class'?


I realise how futile a question that 'why' is — especially when a skinny woman in a sari walks down my street. She has a basket on wheels and carries two pieces of cardboard. This is an employee of the richest municipality in Asia, and she uses those two pieces of cardboard to pick up trash from the side of the road. The same woman has walked my street with those (same?) cardboard pieces for more than ten years now. Building shiny T3s is, in the end, easy. I wish giving that woman something better than cardboard to pick up the trash with were as easy. Now, that would be world class. 


( Dilip D'Souza is a Mumbai-based writer and journalist )


*The views expressed by the author are personal







I  never went to a B-school nor have I read Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents. But when I look around, I see that free-market capitalism has failed to keep me going.


This may raise the suspicion that I am socialism's undying stooge or a raving lefty, but I really don't care: socialism or capitalism, I will be fine with whatever works. But I'm afraid, free enterprise hasn't. Private enterprises have become an expensive liability for taxpayers. De-regulations have led to such violent boom-bust cycles that free-market does not anymore have the capacity to create the kind of employment required.


The percentage of the labour force without jobs is now 9.7 in the US. Among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, Spain had the highest unemployment rate in April at 19.7 per cent, while the Slovak Republic's was 14.1 per cent. As Europe wallows in Greece's fiscal disaster and US tries to stem the slowdown, pressure is building on countries like India to hasten efforts to plug their fiscal deficits. We should borrow less so that global recovery speeds up. So, I just suffered a fuel price hike, as if over 16 per cent of food inflation wasn't enough. Economist Simon Kuznets has demonstrated that inequalities often sharpen in emerging economies, but narrow down as development progresses. Man, I don't have that kind of patience.


If we follow the pension models in vogue, I will never get to enjoy the tranquility a person's last years should bring. Germany raised its retirement age from 65 to 67, while Britain will increase it to 66 by 2016. France has raised it to 62, applicable by 2018.


I don't want to work till I drop or be a dead man walking around my office. Maybe, I'd want to tell my grandchildren stories. If only free enterprise allows me, that is.






The issue of price rise stalled proceedings in Parliament all of last week. The  Congress worked overtime to woo non-NDA  parties as the united Opposition moved  an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha on the issue. Congress managers worked tirelessly on the RJD, the SP and the BSP and were often seen engaged in discussions with leaders of these parties. After much persuasion, Lalu Prasad and  Mulayam Singh Yadav agreed to come to the government's rescue. While they were adamant on the adjournment motion, the Yadav duo assured Congress managers that they would walk out at the time of voting on the motion. But the ruling party seemed wary of trusting its one-time allies.


Gadkari has a dream


BJP chief Nitin Gadkari doesn't mind soliciting ideas from non-party leaders for his mission to rebuild the party. He has set up a study group to prepare a vision document namely "India Vision 2025" with independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar as its convener. The document is supposed to delineate the contours of the  BJP's vision for national development in  all its dimensions. In all, 50 subjects will be covered. Gadkari has asked industrialist Rajesh Shah, who is a BJP member, to be the joint convener.


Favours not in favour


Till over a year ago, the office of the minister for human resource development —  then under Arjun Singh — spent much of its time filtering requests for admissions to various schools and colleges. Requests that came with recommendations from  powerful politicians or close aides would be treated favourably, and a note sent to the institution where admission was sought.  Today, however, a staunch refusal from the minister's office is the only reply to such sifarish seekers. The HRD minister has told  his officials not to entertain any requests  for admissions to any institutions. The HRD ministry cannot claim to be trying to establish clean and fair educational practices if it does not stay away from influencing admissions, the minister is understood to have argued.


It pays to have priorities


Keeping the finance minister is good spirits is a good idea, when you want money for projects — and the human resource development (HRD) ministry is mastering the art. The ministry follows an unwritten rule to prioritise Pranab Mukherjee's requests and officers are often seen scurrying to respond to letters from the finance minister. Most requests received from Mukherjee pertain to West Bengal, his home state. But the HRD ministry is only too happy to accord special status to Mukherjee — as it desperately seeks funds for an unprecedented expansion in education. The approach may be working too — the finance ministry last week agreed to substantially increase the central funding share for the landmark right to education law, a hike that means the Centre will pay about Rs 90,000 crore more than earlier planned over the next five years.


Additions and additionals


Bringing more cheer to the bureaucracy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has finally given the green signal for the promotion of 43 officers of the 1980 IAS batch  as additional secretaries. With the batch strength being 108, the names of 63


officials were empanelled. Of them, 43 were approved by the Eminent Persons Group  (EPG) headed by P. Shankar. The EPG made the task of the Appointments  Committee of the Cabinet easier as it went through the performances of the 1980 batch. The promoted officials will, however, have to wait for the Cabinet Secretariat to begin fresh postings from November 2010. A few days ago, the PM had approved the 1977 batch to be posted as secretaries.








"But no, this is no mythological beast. I can see that his face is a mask. One of those masks that the young have started favouring…. It is a mask twisted into a permanent smile."


That is Tabish Khair, at his sarcastic best, in his novel, The Thing About Thugs. After reading this, I went into a pondering mood. Questions started reverberating in my mind, mainly on why we try to hide our real selves and put up a face that is far from the real. Have we become hideous beasts?


I believe much of the problems one faces today are because of one's "unreal posture on display." That is honesty killed and given a deep burial, and superficiality allowed to rule one's behaviour. That is why Hazlitt said, "Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought." I would go a step further: " In trying to show up what one is not, one is set to degenerate and lose all the good manners and good things about one."


As French critic Alphonse Karr said, " Every man has three characters – that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has." By displaying what he does not have, he is only putting his honesty and goodness on sale!


That is why it is said honesty begets the best of rewards in the long run; forget for the moment if it gets you some unpleasant results and response.


One must consult one's heart, not one's mind that tends to put one off the track quite often. Your heart speaks the voice of your soul; whereas your mind, over the years, has learnt to reason out and be cunning, and always goes selfish.


I would even say that your mind, at times, could become your worst enemy; but your heart will never fail you. And who can sum it up better than P.B. Shelley," Sometimes, the gentleman is the devil." Mind you, there is always a beast lurking in a seemingly perfect gentleman!



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






The Darjeeling hills have been cursed with a political culture of violence that has, since the '80s, denied the people the democratic life ordinarily taken for granted in most parts of this country. Things have not been "normal" since the GNLF's heyday. After a period of relative calm, during which the GNLF misgoverned and allegedly embezzled public funds, the Gorkhaland mantle was usurped by GNLF-dissenter Bimal Gurung's GJM, which not only hijacked the statehood agenda but also the GNLF style of stifling other Gorkha voices, though minus matching gore. Then, veteran Gorkha politician and All India Gorkha League chief Madan Tamang was brutally killed last May, and the GJM found itself accused of murder. In the eyes of the hills people, that was the moment the GJM's legitimacy to represent them came under a cloud.


This run-up frames the tripartite talks scheduled in Kolkata today, to which, to his own surprise, Subhash Ghising has been invited along with all Darjeeling political outfits, except the GJM. Not only the AIGL but also Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had been opposed to the GJM's inclusion. Ironically, while the GJM will not come to the talks, what practical end will be served without the largest Gorkha group is hard to guess.


The fate of the proposed interim set-up is uncertain. Irrespective of that, the imperative is to immediately restore order in the Darjeeling hills and rescue the people from lawlessness and political violence. The state government is constitutionally bound to provide that security and normalcy, instead of always looking for the easiest political option — as it has, historically, in readily accepting whoever's the loudest and most muscular in Darjeeling at the moment. Meanwhile, all parties need to make an effort to work out the rudiments of a sensible solution from the talks, which too should become more frequent, since the lack of an interlocutor breeds dangerous discontent.






Rising powers need friendly neighbourhoods. A relationship with our neighbours that is supportive, or at least cordial, would free us to think on a larger scale. Of course, India's western border shows no signs of being unproblematic any time soon. But, to the east, an election in 2008 in Bangladesh that brought in the Awami League — which does not subscribe to the anti-India rhetoric that is characteristic of the other main party there, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — should have been an opportunity seized with both hands. And, indeed, the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last January seemed to indicate movement. Five joint agreements were signed, especially on cooperation against terror and on electricity, but even more — on transit rights, extradition, and boundary disputes, for example — seemed in the works. The political will clearly existed on both sides. It seemed just a matter of time.


It is particularly shocking, therefore, that India seems to have dropped the ball. In case after case, the Bangladeshi side has done its bit, laying the groundwork for further agreement, or implementing what was already signed. And in case after case, the Indian side has not reciprocated to any reasonable degree. On boundary demarcation, for example, the Joint Boundary Working Group is yet to meet. On trade, the exception raj that seems to have replaced the licence raj for the UPA has scuttled any meaningful progress towards an agreement on freeing imports and exports. On transit issues, too, India hasn't matched the Bangladeshi side — though movement on that is colossally more politically sensitive for Bangladesh than for India.


Simply put, this is not how aspirational great powers behave with their neighbours. India should be doing all the running, not Bangladesh. And, furthermore, it is unclear how long this window of opportunity will exist: Bangladesh politics is notoriously volatile, and relations with India are a central wedge issue there. It would be a pity if the Delhi establishment's tendency to look obsessively at the western border means that it ignores what it must achieve on the eastern border.








On Monday, for the second consecutive day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a meeting to discuss the current unrest in the Valley. With Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also present this time, the resounding message was the same as that at the Cabinet Committee on Security meet earlier: that law and order must be restored before progressive steps are taken to deliver any political or development package. Abdullah said as much at a press conference later. Yet, as the state government takes stock of this weekend's escalated violence, it is equally clear that the situation demands steadying leadership, both political and administrative, that Abdullah has so far not shown himself up to.


That steadying presence has been absent this past month, the ability to reassure a population buffeted by street unrest and emergency curbs on the normal rhythms of their lives and also to give purposeful direction to security operations. Abdullah's address on state television on Sunday showed a chief minister unable to resist the collegiate temptation of projecting a period of strife (for the people and his administration) as a personal test of character — and every administrative procedure as a source of personal distress. In Obama-esque "we are the change that we seek" chatter, he continues to give the impression of a politician in campaign mode, one constantly in need of validation — and not a leader who got chief ministership a year-and-a-half ago with effusive, all-round goodwill, in contrast to his predecessors who had to hit the ground running. It is not that he has squandered much of that goodwill. It is that he failed to appreciate the circumstances he inherited — a state election that may not have signalled a break from old conflicts but one in which a critical mass has invested themselves in the political process. Fresh from his short but passionate speech in a Lok Sabha trust vote on what it means to be Indian, Abdullah proposed himself as the man to channel that public investment towards something good. However, the casual touch that befits a man proposing himself to greater things can easily be seen to be sloppy when he is in charge and nothing's going right.


Abdullah needs to be told that there are folks who will continue to fish in troubled waters because they want to make trouble, and not because it's a conspiracy hatched to slight him personally. And that the campaign is long over, and he must begin to be chief ministerial.









 At the heart of Maoist politics is located an enormous paradox. Maoists have a legitimate critique, but Maoism is a pernicious ideological graveyard. This paradox requires elaboration and comprehension, and has profound implications for public action.


The Maoist critique has two key aspects: one relates to governance and the other to capitalism. The state, they say, has not only demonstrated blatant disregard for the welfare of the Adivasis, but it has also used violence to silence those who protest state misdemeanor, or defend democratic tribal rights. Many of us, writing on Indian politics, have by now met enough activists, who have been shabbily, even brutally, handled by the Indian state for speaking up.


State misconduct in Adivasi lands has, of course, gone on for decades. The new twist is that in keeping with the worldwide collapse of an outdated ideology, India has lost its romance with socialism, and has begun seriously to rely on markets as a driving force of development. However surprising it may sound to some, India is now building capitalism.


Capitalism has implications for our Adivasis. In search of profits, without which capitalism cannot work, large private investors have arrived in the tribal heartlands for iron ore and natural resources. Software may not require old-fashioned raw materials, but steel industry does. As a consequence, it is not simply the forest officer and his unseemly contractor friend, as in the older days, who exploit the hapless Adivasis. A new force has arrived in the form of Indian and foreign capitalists.


To deny these Maoist claims would be an act of intellectual blindness. And it would be myopic to suggest that large-scale benefits of capitalism cannot be reaped until some groups make a sacrifice today. The latter is the hidden transcript of much economic thinking. The problem is simply this: Western capitalism could be built on the backs of the Oliver Twists of the time, but that was because the economically affluent countries of the West (as well as, later, East Asia) were not constrained by universal franchise when they started building capitalism.


India's emerging capitalism does not have that choice. India cannot give Adivasis the right to vote, and also at the same time expect them to be willing sacrificial lambs. Indian capitalism is being built within the framework of universal franchise. India has to embrace compassionate capitalism, not robber-baron capitalism. The former is called inclusive growth in official parlance today. Adivasis will have to be brought into the mainstream of Indian economy, not as victims but its beneficiaries.


But is Maoism the answer to Maoist critiques of the Indian state or development? This is where the supporters of Maoists, both in civil society and within state organs, have seriously erred. Four big analytic mistakes have been made.


First, supporters of Maoism show alarming ignorance about the distinction between insurgency and insurgent violence. In a modern-day classic, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Stathis Kalyvas, professor of political science at Yale, summarises hundreds of thousands of hours of research. The basic claim, now widely accepted, is that in all insurgencies the fiery rhetoric of ideologues at the highest level coexists with the everyday pursuit of desires, jealousies and vendettas on the ground level. Into high-sounding ideologies can be inserted all sorts of aims, both noble and ignoble, by the lieutenants and foot soldiers of an insurgency.


Arundhati Roy waxes eloquent over the Gandhian-style idealism of the Gond-area Maoists, with the major difference that Maoists believe in guns, not in what she calls the "humbug" of Gandhian non-violence. If she had familiarity with the research on the subject, she would not be surprised by the attacks on civilians in buses and trains. Insurgent ideologues can at best discipline the motives of foot soldiers in a small geographical area. But any large-scale insurgency ends up developing a Janus character, combining idealism and sordidness. Over the last several decades or so, we know of no exceptions. The implication should be obvious. India should get ready for more Maoist attacks not only on the police and paramilitaries, but also on civilians.


Second, a military counterinsurgency alone is rarely enough to defeat insurgents. While riots are urban, insurgencies tend to be rural, forest- or mountain-based, primarily because insurgents need safe hideouts. To construct hideouts, insurgents also build social relations and a supportive civilian environment. As a consequence, battle lines are never as clearly laid out as in a conventional war, and civilians get inextricably tied up in violence and counter-violence. Authoritarian systems can afford to ignore scores and scores of civilian deaths; democracies can't. As Amartya Sen has repeatedly reminded us in a different context, democracies may live with routine mass deprivation, but they can't take excessive mass suffering. Large-scale killings of civilians qualify as the latter.


India as a democracy, therefore, has had an unwritten rule about insurgencies. It has always followed a three-part strategy. Military counterinsurgency, the first part, aims to subdue the insurgents physically; more economic resources in the area of insurgency, the second part, seek to wean away the support base of insurgents and/ or buy off local elites; and persuading the insurgents to run for office or to come to a dialogue with the government, the third part, attempts a political resolution. The same three-fold strategy is necessary in the Maoist areas today.


Third, it should, however, be clear that while all three parts of the strategy should be simultaneously pursued, the insurgents will not accept a dialogue, or participate in the normal political processes, if they believe they are winning. A vast literature on insurgencies has developed around this point, and the consensus is undisputed. Groups committed to fighting the state violently do not give up, unless forced to. Those who argue that development is the only, or best, way to deal with


Maoism are making a huge mistake. Development is not possible in areas controlled by Maoists, only in those areas where they have no or uncertain control. Why would those who have built their political base by arguing that the state's resources never reach the needy allow the government to do a better job? Maoists must be militarily subdued before development or governance in areas controlled by them can make a comeback.


Fourth, and this is the final point, even if one accepts that Maoist complaints are right, they have no defensible blueprint for the future. In the end, Maoism cannot lift Adivasis out of their abject poverty. An unqualified opposition to markets is an ideology of yesteryears, whose hollowness has been demonstrated in countries that became anti-market icons of the world: the Soviet Union and China. The former does not exist any more, and the latter has embraced markets and delivered millions out of poverty, not by embracing Maoism but by jettisoning it. Maoism does not exist in the original land of Mao any longer.


The best way to combine the potential of markets and genuine Adivasi needs is to think about how Adivasis will be given stakes in the economic uplift of their forests and lands, which only private investors will develop in the future, not the state. How does one combine market forces with Adivasi interests? We should devote our intellectual energies to exploring such middle points in a creative way, not on blindly opposing markets in Adivasi lands or equally blindly sacrificing Adivasi interests for the uncertain promise of unregulated markets.


The writer is a professor of political science at Brown University, US








 A couple of days before the Telangana by-election results were declared, Home Minister P. Chidambaram inquired about the Congress's prospects from a ministerial colleague. The reply left him perplexed. "Not even one seat?" asked Chidambaram. But his party colleague from Andhra Pradesh offered little hope. The junior minister was vindicated last Friday when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) swept the polls, winning 11 out of 12 seats.


Congress leaders from Telangana had sensed the pubic mood and did not want to contest; they were overruled. The party had done well in the region in the 2009 assembly and Lok Sabha elections, apparently validating the late Y.S.R. Reddy's claims that the statehood agitation was a mere flash in the pan. This rout has, therefore, set alarm bells ringing. AP Congress president D. Srinivas's loss — the second time since the 2009 assembly election — could be a case study in ambivalence: he had assured voters that the Congress was all for Telangana, and it was the only party that could make it a reality. The TRS's K. Chandrasekhar Rao asked: if Srinivas's party was all for Telangana, why did the party chief not say so, on behalf of the Congress, to the Srikrishna Committee?


The Andhra PCC chief had no answer to KCR's poser. The party high command had allowed individual MLAs and MPs to submit their views before the Srikrishna Committee on statehood, but the Congress, as a party, wouldn't take any stance. Since Chidambaram's announcement about the initiation of the process for the formation of Telangana last December, which was followed by political mobilisation and protests on regional lines, the Congress had gradually made a quiet retreat to its time-tested formula of ambivalence. Since December, leaders from all regions of AP have been meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, but have failed to gauge their thinking on Telangana.


The Congress high command cannot overlook this reversal. The Srikrishna Committee reports by year-end; whatever its recommendations, violent protests all over AP are likely. The ruling party cannot then be divided; it must, therefore, sort out the internecine war in its state unit. Kadapa MP Jagan Mohan Reddy, YSR's ambitious son, is on the warpath, defying the high command's diktat to continue with his "Odarpu yatra" (a tour to console the families of those who had died of shock hearing of his father's death).


Jagan knows it's now or never: if he allows his father's legacy to fade from public memory, his time may never come. The high command, on the other hand, is not inclined to hand over the reins of the state to someone who challenged its authority. They are sure Jagan will not leave the party to float his own; it would be risky, as YSR stayed so loyal all his life. Yet, cracking the whip is tough. With most of the legislators having been hand-picked by YSR, a large number of them owe loyalty to Jagan. Besides, if they shift loyalty now, what happens to them if Jagan wins his battle? No assurances either way have come from Delhi, leaving them confused; many of them are already said to have an offer to recover the expenses they incurred in the last election, and a promise that the next election will be similarly taken care of.


The central leadership of the Congress wanted Chief Minister K. Rosaiah to deliver. He has, however, been far from effective. Jagan has successfully used his Sakshi newspaper and TV channel to campaign against the CM, alleging that Rosaiah was trying to undermine YSR's popular welfare schemes and programmes. The CM did not help his cause when he issued a diktat to legislators against joining Jagan's yatra; many did anyway, exposing his lack of control.


In their strategy of waiting for Jagan to tire himself out, the party may not have factored in the December-end report of the Srikrishna Committee, which will re-ignite passions in the entire state. Can the Congress wait and watch until Jagan gives up his fight?







Shekhar Gupta: My guest this week is a titan of Indian politics, Mr Somnath Chatterjee. Congratulations for your forthcoming book, Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian.


Somnath Chatterjee: I was requested by many people that I should write something about my experience in Parliament. I was very reluctant because I am no writer, really. This is my first book. You know I have been a member of the Lok Sabha 10 times. So many things have happened, I have met so many people and I have delivered over 500 major speeches.


I had the great fortune of enjoying the confidence of some of the Left leaders. When I was first elected, I was an Independent candidate supported by the CPI-M. The CPI was supporting the Congress then. Comrade Pramod Dasgupta, a leader I admired and respected, suddenly rang me up to say, 'I am sending somebody with a piece of paper, you just sign it'. It was a membership application form for the CPM. I was very happy because I was not from a rural background and not a typical choice for a member. They probably thought I would be able to serve the party. At one time, I was the president of nearly 30 trade unions affiliated to CITU. Then I was made president of so many governing bodies of colleges. That's all because of the party.


So you did become a Communist at heart.


Well, I became and I still am, though I may not meet all the requirements that probably a hardcore Communist feels I should have.


Such as?


Well, style of living, thinking or targetting A or B or C. What Jyoti Basu taught me is that politics is the best medium of public service. I still believe in it. In politics, you deal with people, get to know their problems, learn how to solve them.


You have rubbed shoulders with so many great Communist leaders. Name some of the leaders who influenced you the most.


Jyoti Basu, Pramod Dasgupta, Benoy Chowdhury, Hare Krishna Konar, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, EMS (EMS Namboodiripad) and AKG (A K Gopalan). They all influenced me a lot. AKG was a perfect Communist leader.


Do you think if they were around, they would have changed with the times?


I don't know. They were principled leaders. I am sure they would have understood how to serve the people better. If your support base has weakened, that means people don't have faith in your policies and programmes, which is nothing but a death nail for any political party. And if you are divorced from the ordinary people, what remains of a Left party?


You talk very fondly of Jyoti Basu. When you had all those problems in the party, don't you regret the fact that he did not intervene more strongly?


He was the only leader I have had. He was the first and the last word for me. I don't think he did not try. He tried but I don't think they listened to him. That's my assumption, I cannot prove anything. He was like a father figure, guided me and gave me so many responsibilities. He also wanted me to be a minister in the state government. But I said, 'Please excuse me, I am not mentally made for that.'


In response to some of the things you have said in your book, your party is now saying that Jyoti Basu is no more and you should not drag him into the discussions.


I have not dragged him after his demise. I have written all that they are objecting to much before he died. To me, he was a great man and a leader.


In the book, you have written about a note that he's supposed to have written...


A note was written. I didn't say what its contents were because I don't know. I have written in the book that I came to know from a reliable source that he has sent a handwritten note. I have not said anywhere that I know the contents of the note.


Did you expect this response from the party to your book?


Well, I expected that there would be a reaction—not from my Bengal comrades so much, but from Delhi. Naturally, they would not accept what I have said... You see it's a matter of controversy in the party itself whether the withdrawal (of support to the UPA government) was right or wrong. I have never said that you must keep the Congress government alive. I said, think about your own party, because the panchayat elections in 2008 in West Bengal proved that people were going away from the party. When the withdrawal came, there was no certainty that the government would remain safe. On the other hand, it was certain that the government would go—because Mulayamji's Samajwadi Party's support came much later. Therefore, there would be a fresh election, which was, according to me, unfortunate as it would not be good for the party. There was a likelihood of the NDA coming to power. And earlier, they (Left) had said they were supporting the Congress from outside to prevent the greater evil from coming to power.


On the nuclear deal, you have written that you were closer to the Left. But you didn't feel so strongly that you would pull down the government for this?


It was not in my authority to pull down but I felt that the party should consider the situation. The (nuclear) agreement had not been entered into. Just because they had gone to Vienna or IAEA for discussion, they thought enough is enough.


You describe Prakash Karat as insincere, arrogant...


No, I have not said insincere. I said arrogant and intolerant.


There is 'insincere' as well.


What I meant was that I was shocked that not even a show-cause notice was given to me. Till July 18, 2008, he had been saying that it is for the Speaker to decide. He told me himself that it is for you to decide. He said this at three press conferences, issued a public statement. But in the meantime, they had been confabulating on this and taking a decision. That was very painful to me. And I said that this is unheard of in a Communist party—that they make one statement for public consumption and inside, they think of something else.


What was the conversation between you and Sitaram Yechury? Because he had been coming and meeting you.


He came only once. And he probably had come to know my views. He knew I had met Jyoti Basu, he knew what Jyoti Basu had told me. I am sure Sitaram has not said anything to the contrary.


From what I understand, he also says that it is not correct to drag in Jyoti Basu's name now.


I must contest this attempt to malign me, saying I am bringing in the name of Jyoti Basu. This is a canard. It pains me very much. They should not indulge in this.


And what about 'arrogance'?


Arrogance comes from the way he dealt with this issue.


Just this issue? You have personal issues or more issues?


I was a (party) leader for 19 years until I became the Speaker. If I had continued on the floor, probably I would have continued as a leader (of the party). They found me acceptable, put me in so many important positions. Nobody found me to be lacking in honesty and sincerity or my commitment to the party and its principles. And suddenly, I become totally untouchable that they don't even give me the opportunity to explain my conduct, so that everybody could discuss it in the politburo.


But you also say in the book that the proximity (CPM leaders) had with the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi gave them an exaggerated sense of their image.


Yes, because they came to realise that their 'yes' was essential for the government to take a decision, their 'no' was enough to put it in cold storage. Somebody had said—I am not naming that very important comrade—that Manmohan Singh will get up when we ask him to get up, he must sit down when we ask him to. What is the mentality behind it?


You will not name the person who said this, not even now?


No. He is a member of the CPM politburo. And this what I feel is the trouble of having power without accountability, without responsibility.


Did the CPM suffer from a generation gap with suddenly much younger leaders coming in?


No, I don't think there should be any generation gap. But they have their own ideas about their own importance, about their thinking or their inevitably being right.


But there are veterans like you who also felt there was a gap.


I am sure you are aware of how Communist parties like this function. We are just small fries. A central committee member alone is nobody. Therefore, the one and two things that I might have said naturally does not create an impression.


But did some of the other veterans also feel that way? Did Jyoti Basu feel that way?


I must say that the general impression in the party is that Jyoti Basu did not want this withdrawal. That's an impression, I cannot vouch for it.


And his view was that they should have been more conscious of the ground situation, that the withdrawal would also damage the party.


It was a political decision...Therefore, ordinarily one would not question it. But the question is, why did you choose to support the UPA from outside? And what change took place that made you decide to withdraw? Would it serve the people whose cause you are espousing inside the House? Would you be able to serve the people better? You are inviting a fresh election. Who would you teach a lesson, to the Congress or George Bush?


Did this become personalised between Manmohan Singh and George Bush?


I don't think so. I never felt that Manmohan Singh will compromise the interest of the country. I maybe wrong, I maybe right. But that's my firm belief.


In the book, you talk about what you describe as the 'other big mistake', of trying to form a third front coalition with Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and others.


It was disastrous. It was a comic attempt.


And Mayawati as the likely prime minister?


One of the Left leaders said she was the fittest candidate to be the Prime Minister.


And that was a blunder?


I think that was contrary to the CPM's political formulation, ideas and understanding. You can't just join anybody and everybody.


Going ahead, how would the Left look at itself because now, it looks like the only person (Mamata Banerjee) to have ever defeated you will probably defeat the Left in Bengal.


That is media speculation.


How have you seen (Mamata Banerjee) evolve?


In Bengal, she has got a position now, she is also a Central minister with a very important portfolio.


Some people said you provided a lot of stability and calm. There were others who said you got angry to your soul. Arun Jaitley once said to me that (Chatterjee's) problem is that he is very sincere but his blood pressure begins at 200.


I wish he was there in my position. No, I am not a very calm person. But one is sent to Parliament by the people, and there you deliberately create problems? It's not even a spontaneous problem. If it is spontaneous, I don't mind.


This has not been said in public but whispered by your former comrades—that the real reason you are angry is because the party and its young leaders did not let you become the President of India. They did not let Jyoti Basu become the Prime Minister.


I can only say this is concoction. (But) the situation was such that that one nod would have been sufficient. One nod from the person who would decide finally. But that was not done.


That is Prakash (Karat) or Sonia?


I would not involve Sonia because I did not belong to her party.


So one nod from Prakash would have done it?


I think so, because some of his very close friends have also told me. But I can challenge anybody in this country to show that I have ever asked anybody to espouse my cause, or requested anybody. Many leaders from the NDA came to me offering the job. But I said, in my party, this is not the way it is done.


Do you think you would have made a good President?


I don't know. Probably I would have made a mess of it, that is why I was not allowed.


But was it ever explained to you why that nod was not given?


No. He came and said we have decided not to suggest any candidate for President. That was fair enough. I asked him, 'Why have you come to me? Have I told you to make me President? Have I told anybody in this world?' This upsets me, this type of insinuation.


But you are a political analyst. Can you guess or analyse why the nod was not given?


I don't know. I don't want to bring it up because it concerns me.


So that is not something that rankles you?


Not at all. What rankles me is not giving me a show-cause (notice) and that my people have been let down. The people who built up the party... the party workers.


Transcribed by Vikram Vishal








As The Indian Express reported yesterday, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is proving unsuccessful at selling cheaper wheat through open market sales to small traders, something that would have helped cool down wheat prices. First, this exposes the FCI's inefficiency in comparison to the private traders. Second, this brings to the fore the larger issues regarding the suitability of using the public distribution system either as a bulwark against inflation or for ensuring greater food security. After all, the FCI is neither able to match the open market prices of wheat nor able to smoothly coordinate the movement of grain from the surplus regions to the deficit areas. Add on the large administrative costs, and the corporation's operations are exposed as financially unviable. The growing disparities between the allotments and the lifting of the food supplies underline the inability of the public distribution system to match the current needs of the economy.


The numbers show that despite the high increase in the rice and wheat prices in 2009-10, the share of the allocated foodgrains lifted by the states actually came down during the year. For instance, of the 45 million tonnes of wheat and rice that were allocated under the targeted public distribution system in 2009-10—which includes allocations for BPL, APL and AAY categories—the states were only able to lift 30 million tonnes of grains or 65% of the allocation, which was marginally lower than the 67% share lifted in the previous year 2008-09. The inability of the public distribution system to push up even the subsidised food supplies in a period of soaring prices also puts a big question mark on using this system for attaining the target of the proposed National Food Security Act. Plus, consider the large losses from using such an inefficient supply system. To illustrate, the subsidy cost of the Food Security Act is expected to go up from Rs 76,719 crore to Rs 1,07,381 crore if the quantity of grain subsidised per family each month goes up from 25 kg to 35 kg. There are also other larger issues like the leakages from the public distribution system, which have been documented by various official and non-official agencies. To summarise all these points, we need a major rethink of the current policies. This should include considering more innovative delivery mechanisms like food stamps, which can reduce market distortions and also ensure greater value for the money spent.







India's mining laws were enacted in the 1950s and all concerned parties agree that they need overhauling. But what with inter-ministerial wrangling and Centre-state differences, a legislative update has kept getting pushed back. A GoM headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was set up last month to resolve all the cavilling over the draft Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Bill 2010. In its Friday meeting, the GoM considered the proposal to set up a National Mineral Regulation Authority (NMRA). It is proposed that this authority will be armed with substantive prosecution powers. This would be in marked contrast to the current situation where the Indian Bureau of Mines serves as a sector regulator, but a toothless one. It boasts technical expertise at most, while NMRA will reportedly have the powers to grant mining leases, file cases against violators and act against illegal mining. Given the corrupt quagmire into which the sector seems to have sunk, a strong regulator is definitely needed. But we hope this proposal will not be implemented with the snail's pace at which the new mining legislation has been progressing.


Even the briefest scan of mining scandals over the last few months presents a really worrisome picture. From Jharkhand, we had news of the former CM Madhu Koda clearing 41 files for iron-ore mining in an hour. From Orissa, we heard that over 60% of the mines were operating without statutory central government clearances. From Karnataka, stories continue to pour out about how illegal iron-ore mining is being fed by an overwhelmingly crooked nexus between politicians and the rest of the state machinery. As Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde said recently, from the forest department to the mining department and the road transparent department, from the police to the port authorities, "vested interests are controlling the whole industry". Remember, with Karnataka, we are talking about the image degeneration of a state whose exceptional IT and infrastructure success had won it a 'quality' reputation across the globe. This kind of degeneracy is obviously taking a heavy toll beyond state borders as well, as India's growing economic engine demands increasing amounts of strategic minerals and the global commodity market becomes more and more competitive. So, both the new mining regulator and the new mining Bill need to be pushed through on a fast track. The Bill holds the promise of creating competitive bidding, which will not only help maximise state revenue but also introduce transparent processes that vitiate against illegal mining. The regulator offers the promise of making these processes implementable.








 'India lets grain rot instead of feeding the poor'. Last week's headlines highlighted a damning contrast: even as policymakers debate the extent of the Food Security Act's safety net, millions of tonnes of grain have rotted or are vulnerable to damage. There were over 60 national and regional articles on the topic last week, blogs are chattering, and MPs questioned the minister of agriculture, food and public distribution about damage to foodgrains. Penal action is being taken against some FCI employees. The Supreme Court has requested a response to the investigation from the government.


On the face of it, last week's news flurry looks like an illustration of Amartya Sen's ideas in action. His 1981 book Poverty and Famines showed that famines are as much a function of inequitable distribution of food as overall lack of food. He argued that the opportunity to protest is an antidote to the first factor and an early warning system against the second. The alarm bell clearly sounded last week.


But does it mean that the system works? Is this a reassuring sign that lively public debate in India creates enough guardrails for policy to ensure that things cannot go too wrong? No. The 'rotting foodgrains' news cycle also demonstrates some of the dangers of relying on alarms to avoid policy failure.


First, if we are going to rely on catching mistakes to keep policy in line, the mistakes have to be caught and acted on faster. Yes, the minister reported 11,700 metric tonnes (mt) of damaged foodgrains in response to the fortunately-timed starred question no 30 in the Lok Sabha last week, but neither questions nor answers were new. He had reported similar figures on rotten foodgrains in 2002, 2003 and 2004 in response to question 3,771 in August 2004. There was actually more food rotting, 13,000 mt of grains, in 2002-03 and 2003-04. So it's actually somewhat impressive that there is as little reported damage as there is, given the increase in stock being held.


The same question asked for data on total storage capacity state-wise, but the response did not differentiate between godowns (buildings, good) and 'covered and plinth' (tarpaulins, not so good). Nor did anybody follow up until question no 346 on April 20, 2010, asked for data on foodgrains 'lying in the open'. The minister's response to starred question no 346 stated that more than 6.5 million mt of wheat held by the FCI and state government agencies were under tarpaulins. He reported a likely storage gap of 1.2 million mt for the next harvest in Punjab alone. Five other questions in the Fifteenth Lok Sabha were about similar issues.


Second, one has to ask whether this storage of public food stocks is really an issue that should have come to the alarm stage. The public scrutiny seems to be promoting quick fixes in this case rather than directing more attention to the deeper systemic reasons that the state—one of the largest and most regular 'customers' for not particularly high-tech grain storage—could have had so much trouble for so many years finding adequate space. Some heads at the FCI may roll, and blame will migrate between state and central agencies, but will the more important and complex questions about the efficiency of public investment and constraints on private investment, in what can be a reliably profitable industry, be revisited?


Third, if we are expecting the system to direct attention to issues in food storage, the alarms are selective. Storage for public stocks is important, but reliable storage capacity for small farmers could fundamentally affect their incomes (thus their need for a safety net) by allowing them to hold crops instead of selling right after harvest for whatever price they can get. Empowering farmers to choose the timing of their sale is not quite as simple as just building storage lockers for small lots, since farmers often sell at harvest time in order to pay off pre-harvest loans and have cash on hand for holidays. But reliable, fair storage creates the possibility for the stored grain to become an asset against which farmers can borrow to meet cash needs while they wait for the right time to sell. And waiting seems to be a good strategy. The IFMR Trust's pilot foray into providing storage and post-harvest finance to farmers in Gujarat, for example, left the participating farmers with respectable double-digit annualised returns after paying back their loans.


You can take your pick of where the system failed: Parliament didn't ask enough questions, the media failed to report on those that it did ask, the ministry made mistakes, and the vulnerable did not have enough of a voice. But the headlines reveal more than just rotting grain.


The author is director, Centre for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial and Management Research, Chennai







Despite being different in many ways, China and India are often perplexing to analysts. One of the best examples of such shared perplexity is higher education. From the vantage point of western education service providers, China and India are typical cases of being 'so near, yet so far'.


Expanding capacities in higher education have been critical imperatives for both China and India. Both realise that government efforts are insufficient for providing matching supply responses to growing demands for higher education. Private initiatives are needed for supplementing state-led efforts in augmenting higher education facilities. Both have been trying hard to create an enabling environment for private education service providers, particularly foreign ones. China, in September 2003, invited foreign universities to set up campuses. India introduced a similar Bill in March 2010.


Both countries are used to long histories of the public sector being the sole provider of education services. The higher education architectures have evolved in manners that are consistent with such monopoly provision. Shaking off the legacies of monopoly service and shifting to a market-based system is not easy. China is relatively better placed to manage this transition since it begun reforming its education sector much before India did.


From the perspective of foreign education providers, China and India are deep and wide markets. While the size of the domestic market is the key determinant of their interests, there are many challenges for foreign providers with respect to operations. Many of these challenges emanate from cultural dissimilarities, particularly language barrier and unfamiliarity with local market conditions. Indeed, in this respect, western education providers encounter the typical problems of 'information asymmetry' that arise when entities from entirely different markets interact with each other. These problems became evident in the 1960s, following growth in transfer of patented technology from developed countries and its licensed use in developing country markets. The issues, from a developed country perspective, have resurfaced with respect to trade in education services between advanced economies and China and India. The current asymmetry, however, is more one-sided; education providers argue that recipients know more about their services than they do about the recipient market conditions.


Insufficient information has confined initial forays of foreign education providers in China and India to distance education programmes and efforts aiming to recruit students for home campuses. The latter efforts have been successful. China and India have become leading exporters of students to higher education institutions in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Europe. Lately, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand have also become popular destinations for Chinese and Indian students. But problems have begun surfacing with foreign providers shifting to more ambitious models of service provision entailing setting up campuses in host countries.


India's latest initiative for attracting foreign universities may not receive euphoric response, given the difficulties in choosing the right mode of entry. India's cupboard for foreign campuses is almost empty, barring rare examples such as the Leeds Met in Bhopal or the forthcoming Georgia Tech in Hyderabad. Even after the latest Bill becomes an Act, campuses may not start hatching overnight. Foreign providers will be hamstrung in their efforts to locate enabling local partners.


In China, degree-granting foreign institutions need to collaborate with a local partner. In India, while the Bill proposes that such institutions can function 'independently or in collaboration', most providers will scout for partners for better management of local operations. Lack of adequate knowledge about varieties and systems of local educational institutions will make the search for the right partner a long and arduous one. Further, in India, worries will be significant on account of the limited outreach of the regulatory purview. Out of India's 18,000 colleges affiliated to central and state universities, a little more than 6,000 are recognised by the UGC. There are a large number of institutions offering degree programmes that are yet to be sanctified by the UGC.


What foreign providers also find difficult to comprehend is the nature of involvement of central and provincial authorities in managing education. Both China and India have a large set of compliance requirements in this regard. Thus, much as they understand the virtues of digging into the two countries, they are baffled by the complexities. Indeed, foreign providers must be patient and persuasive. The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, and the Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University are good examples of rigorous exercises yielding fruitful results. They can also be useful instances for the Indian market.


The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views








Two months from now, it will be a year since the CBI registered a corruption case against unknown persons of the telecom department in the now infamous 2G licence case. The raids conducted by the CBI on the offices of DoT in October last year were significant not only since the needle of suspicion pointed to the Union telecom minister A Raja, but also because it is was the first major case of corruption in the UPA government's regime. But 10 months down the line, with numerous documented evidences available and a Delhi High Court judgement castigating Raja, the CBI is yet to complete its investigation. It is high time that the agency be asked what's holding its investigations when in private several officials of the DoT maintain that if one just peruses the related files, it is an open and shut case. One hopes the CBI has all the relevant files in its custody.


Just a short recap on events relating to the 2G scam: the Delhi High Court criticised the manner of allotment of licences declaring it akin to selling cinema tickets, the shooting down of DoT's defence with regard to advancing the cut-off date for allocation of licences to September 25, 2007, from the earlier notified October 1, 2007, the CAG's queries to the DoT detailing the irregularities and numerous reports in the media. The government's lack of confidence in Raja was aptly reflected when the 3G spectrum auction was taken outside his purview. Further action on Raja as stated by the PM is dependent on the CBI's enquiry.


This newspaper has carried detailed reports on how the then secretary DS Mathur opposed Raja's move to grant new licences without first coming out with a transparent and equitable policy. So much so that Mathur refused to sign any files until his retirement on December 31, 2007. This fact is catalogued in DoT's records and can easily be accessed. With all this established and all the notings and documents now available with the CBI, what is causing the delay in its report? The Public Accounts Committee is now examining the matter. In some time, the CAG would also come out with its report. Would the CBI wait to see the findings of these committees before it comes out with its own?








The Bangladesh Supreme Court has made a progressive and far-reaching contribution to the project of national renewal that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has undertaken since her return to power in December 2008. For much of its nearly four decade-long existence, Bangadesh has had the misfortune of having its national destiny determined not by the secular founding principles of its 1971 liberation struggle, but by military adventurers and — as in Pakistan — their hand-maidens, the religious parties. Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh's founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, and herself a participant in the liberation movement, there is a determined mood to reclaim those principles. With a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the ruling Awami League can easily make the required constitutional changes. But it now has a solid legal foundation in the Supreme Court's judgment upholding the annulment of General ZiaurRehman's Fifth Constitution Amendment. The amendment, introduced in 1979, legitimised the regimes that followed Sheikh Mujib's assassination. The Supreme Court has boldly struck down the Zia-era phrase "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah" in the preamble to the Constitution, and ordered the restoration of the original sentence containing the words "secularism, nationalism, democracy and socialism." The judgment does not cover the 1988 Eighth Amendment introduced by General H.M. Ershad, making Islam the state religion. But by explicitly ordering the restoration of "secularism" in the preamble, the Supreme Court has left the door open for legal challenges to it. The judgment also makes clear its abhorrence of military rule.


The reinstatement of Article 12 — omitted in Zia's rewriting of the Constitution — prohibiting religion-based political mobilisation could have immediate implications for Bangladesh's rightwing Islamic groups, some of which are known to have foreign patrons and links with extremist and militant organisations. The Awami League government must take into account the possible political fallout before seeking to ban religious parties on the basis of the judgment, considering that these parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, are aligned with Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh National Party. The atmosphere in Bangladesh is already charged on account of the ongoing trial by an "international war crimes tribunal" of Jamaat leaders accused of collaborating with Pakistan in 1971. The Sheikh Hasina government must be careful not to permit the country's political polarisation to negate the recent positive achievements towards nation-building.







From a start-up six years ago to the world's largest social networking site, Facebook has come to define contemporary social communication in the digital world. The exceptional popularity of this social networking site (SNS) in tricky cyber terrain is evident from the fact that the number of its active users has crossed 500 million. The imagination boggles: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world, behind China and India. Two other social network sites — MySpace (300 million) and Twitter (124 million) — would occupy the fifth and eighth slots, pointing to the magnitude of the revolution in cyberspace. The key to understanding the success of Facebook is that it rode on what social media theorist Clay Shirky characterises as the ability of the Internet to transform the manner in which information is created, shared, and distributed. The ease with which users can air their views and moods is an empowering attribute that prompts a global clientele to sign up. The SNS revolution started in 1997, and Facebook was not among the pioneers. Between 1997 and 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg launched the as a site to share with his fellow Harvard students, many such sites came into being. Most of them vanished without a trace.


So why Facebook? Over the past six years, it went from being a closed user-group to one that gradually opened up: to high school networks, corporate networks, and finally anyone on Earth with an Internet connection. This expanding canvas for inter-personal communication has important lessons. At its most basic level, it reflects the success of an idea that forced society to sit up and take notice. Facebook's effectiveness is in its user-friendly approach behind which lies the application of cutting edge Internet technologies to serve a basic urge: the quest for information. It also ties in with contemporary knowledge society, marked by the ability of individuals quickly to create, package, and share content around the world. Mr. Zuckerberg's success is also closely linked to an innovation by which the site opened itself to other developers, thereby building a network of applications that piggyback on, and bring in users to, the site. Facebook's success has its caveats, such as privacy concerns, which it is obliged to address regularly. All said, these are still early days for social media. The path to success for rising social networking sites lies in their technology-led ability to connect people round the world seamlessly and capability to navigate the uncharted waters of business in cyberspace and actually garner revenues.











Late in April, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani stood before a solemn audience that had gathered to mark Martyrs Day.


"There is no greater honour than martyrdom", Pakistan's army chief said, "nor any aspiration greater than it. When people are determined to achieve great objectives, they develop the faith needed to trust their lives to the care of Allah. We are well aware of the historical reality that nations must be willing to make great sacrifices for their freedom". "I am proud", he went on, "that the nation has never forgotten the sacrifices of its martyrs and holy warriors".


If it hadn't been for General Kayani's impeccably-ironed military uniform, his audience might have been forgiven for believing that the speech was being made by the Islamist clerics who have exhorted insurgents to claim the lives of over 2,700 Pakistani troops in combat.


Pakistan's Prime Minister went on national television in July to give his country's army chief an unprecedented three year extension of service. The decision has won applause in some western capitals, as well as from some liberal and conservative commentators in Pakistan. In the midst of a bitter war against Islamists many believe poses the greatest existential threat Pakistan has ever faced, Kayani's supporters believe its army needs continuity of leadership.


Those propositions might be true — but casts little light on the strategic considerations which have given Kayani three more years in office. Pakistan's army hopes, in essence, that Kayani will be able to craft a way out of the crisis without compromising the power and influence of its generals.


Islamabad elites had long been discussing Kayani's plans to secure an extension; this newspaper carried an extensive discussion of the issue in March. Key politicians, though, were evidently clueless. On May 17, Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the government "was neither granting extension to Chief of Army Staff; nor had the general sought it." But just a week later, media reported that a conference of corps commanders had called for an extension.


Some accounts hold that President Asif Ali Zardari, who is distrusted by the army, had little choice but to accept this fait accompli. Other commentary suggests both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani went along with decision, hoping to stave off any confrontation with the armed forces until 2013 — the year their terms in office end. Either way, as Pakistani lawyer and political commentator Asma Jehangir has noted, the extension suggests "that democracy has not taken root. The decision was taken on the basis of obvious pressure from the military".


But just what was it that drove this pressure? Pakistan's army isn't, after all, short of competent commanders. "My advice to Kayani", wrote the commentator Kamran Shafi days before the extension, "would be to issue his last Order of the Day on the appointed date of his retirement, receive his successor in General Head-Quarters, and after a cup of tea get into his private car and fade away." There are good reasons, though, why that advice wasn't heeded.


The Pakistan army's agenda

Kayani is at the centre of three projects critical to the long-term power of the Pakistan army. The first is this: extricating the Pakistan army from a counter-insurgency campaign that appears unwinnable. During Kayani's visit to troops in Orakzai on June 1, the Pakistan army announced "the successful conclusion of operations in the Agency". But, as analyst Tushar Rajan Mohanty recently pointed out, it has admitted to over a dozen engagements there since, involving the use of combat jets and helicopter gunships. Refugees displaced last year are yet to return.


Hoping to manoeuvre an exit, Kayani has escalated support to the jihadist networks of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani. Last week, Canadian diplomat Chris Alexander — who spent seven years serving his country and the United Nations in Afghanistan — charged Kayani with "sponsoring a large-scale, covert guerrilla war through Afghan proxies." "Without Pakistani military support," Alexander asserted "all signs are the Islamic Emirate's combat units would collapse". Earlier, Harvard University's Matt Waldman quoted Islamic Emirate commanders admitting that the ISI's role was "as clear as the sun in the sky."


Kayani, the Pakistan army hopes, will be able to secure its allies power in a future regime in Kabul — and then use their influence to scale back its conflict with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan at home. Pakistan has, notably, offered to broker a rapprochement between its jihadist allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's regime.


Linked to this objective, Kayani is working to heal President Musharraf's rupture with domestic jihadists — a

constituency who were once drawn to state-backed organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, but have been increasingly supporting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistan's India policy is being reinvented by Kayani to this end: the second project he needs time to see to fruition.


In a thoughtful 2002 paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, George Perkovich cast light on Musharraf's reappraisal of Pakistani military strategy on India. Lieutenant-General Moinuddin Haider, who served as interior minister under President Musharraf, told Perkovich he argued that the long-term costs of continuing to back jihadists would be higher than the potential losses from taking them on. President Musharraf feared that confrontation would provoke a civil war. "I was the sole voice initially", Haider said, "saying, 'Mr. President, your economic plan will not work, people will not invest, if you don't get rid of extremists.'"


Haider gathered allies — among them Pakistan's former intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Javed Ashraf Qazi. "We must not be afraid," General Qazi said in the wake of the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan military crisis "of admitting that the Jaish was involved in the deaths of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, bombing the Indian Parliament, [the journalist] Daniel Pearl's murder and even attempts on President Musharraf's life."


But Musharraf did little to develop an institutional consensus around these ideas — and, as his legitimacy eroded, proved unable to make a decisive break with the past. Many in the Pakistan army blamed him for precipitating the internal crisis which developed during his term in office. Like so often in the past, the Pakistan army moved to force out a commander-turned-liability.


Ever since Kayani replaced Musharraf, there has been mounting evidence that the Pakistan army is seeking to renew hostility with India. In 2008, the United States was reported to have confronted Pakistan's army with evidence that the ISI was involved in a murderous attack on the Indian diplomatic mission in Kabul. Later that year, it is now known from the testimony of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley, the ISI facilitated the carnage in Mumbai. Pakistan has denied its intelligence services were linked to the Mumbai attacks, but has neither questioned the officials Headley named, nor sought to interrogate him on the issue.


In February, Kayani told journalists the Pakistan army was an 'India-centric institution', adding that this "reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved".


Language like this fits well with the intellectual climate of Pakistan's armed forces. Lieutenant-General Javed Hassan — who played a key role commanding Pakistan forces during the Kargil war — was commissioned by the army's Faculty of Research and Doctrinal Studies to produce a guide to India for serving officers. In India: A Study in Profile, published by the military-owned Services Book Club in 1990, Hassan argues that is driven by "the incorrigible militarism of the Hindus." "For those that are weak," he goes on, "the Hindu is exploitative and domineering."


Faced with a flailing war against jihadists at home, Kayani's anti-India platform offers the army the strategic equivalent of an escape button: precipitating a crisis with a historic adversary, secure in the knowledge that Pakistan's nuclear umbrella guarantees it protection from a large-scale war. Pakistan's military, many Indian foreign policy analysts believe, precipitated the bruising showdown between Foreign Ministers SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad last month, undermining the fragile dialogue between the two countries.


India and Afghanistan are just parts, though, of the third, and most important project: guaranteeing the political primacy of the Pakistan army. In the wake of President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq's assassination in 1988, Pakistan developed what the scholar Hussain Haqqani — now his country's ambassador to the United States — described as "military rule by other means." Hasan-Askari Rizvi noted that the army chief became the "pivot" for political system. The army chief, in turn, derived his authority from the corps commanders who addressed "not only security, professional and organisational matters, but also deliberate on domestic issues".


In January 2008 General Kayani passed a directive which ordered military officers not to maintain contacts with politicians, and followed up with orders withdrawing serving personnel from civilian institutions. The move was interpreted as evidence of Kayani's commitment to genuine civilian-led democracy. But Kayani repulsed President Zardari's early efforts to bring the ISI under civilian control, and defeated his efforts to seek a grand rapprochement with India. Pakistan's army proved willing to cede influence over the administration of the state, but not over the structure and thrust of national strategy.


"The army is the nation," General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said in his Martyrs Day speech, "and the nation is with the army." Ensuring that this pithy proposition survives the crisis Pakistan is faced with is the purpose of the silent coup that has given Kayani three more years in office.









Three major elements of the United Progressive Alliance government's commitment to provide food security to the people are reforming the public distribution system (PDS), raising foodgrain productivity and production, and creating a decentralised, modern warehousing system.


Ideally, the reforms in the PDS should have come first for the availability and delivery of subsidised foodgrains to become meaningful and comprehensive. Be that as it may, the recommendation of the National Advisory Council (NAC) to launch universal PDS in one-fourth of all districts or blocks for a start should be seen as a paradigm shift towards universalisation. This move reveals that the all-powerful NAC headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has realised that the ability to deliver cheap foodgrains will be contingent on availability — availability that is home-grown, not based on imports.


In order to make a serious effort to meet the provisions of the proposed food security Bill, it is essential to enhance the production of wheat, rice, pulses, oilseeds and millets. This, in turn, needs a policy review in favour of land reforms, securing fertile agricultural land for foodgrain production rather than allowing the indiscriminate setting up of special economic zones (SEZs), mega-food parks and builders' colonies on farmers' fields.


By all indications, the 150 districts from where universal PDS would commence will be in the rural poverty-belt in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Recent events have shown that there is a certain urgency about reaching out to the poor and the marginalised people in this belt.


The rough calculation is that universalisation will begin in some 1,500 blocks (an average of 10 in each of the 150 districts) where more than 95 per cent of the population is poor. The criterion that is being worked out will exclude those who are in salaried or government jobs, are income tax payees, have a four-wheeler or own a plot or a house with a plinth area of over 500 square feet. Using these criteria, it is estimated that about five per cent of the population would be out of the scheme in these districts. This will be crucial because the identification of beneficiaries and implementation of the scheme will be done by the State governments.


It has also been decided to subsume the "poorest of the poor" — the Antyodaya Anna Yojna beneficiary families now numbering 2.5 crore of the 6.5 crore Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. The AAY beneficiaries buy PDS foodgrains at Rs.2 a kg. They will have to pay Re.1 more for grain under the universal PDS, which will provide 35 kg wheat or rice at Rs.3 a kg per family to all the identified beneficiaries, including those in the Above Poverty Line (APL) category, in the identified districts.


For the rest of the 490-odd districts where targeted PDS will continue for now, the Tendulkar Committee's poverty estimate of 8.07 core families will hold. Hence, for the APL population that is brought in or kept out of the PDS depending on grain availability, it will be status quo for the time being. The APL families will gradually (possibly over five years) be assured of a minimum of 25 kg per family at prices that will be worked out by the government. The subsidy burden will depend on the estimated offtake and the cost will be worked out by the Union Ministry of Food and Public Distribution.


Welfare measures including mid-day meal programmes, the integrated child development scheme and calamity relief programmes will continue. The inclusion of the destitute, migrants, the old, the infirm and the urban poor will be worked out after the Hashim Committee report on urban poverty is received. For now, pulses and edible oils will not be included in the food basket under the proposed National Food Security Act as the acute shortfall in the production of these commodities is met by large-scale imports.


Broadly, there will be an enhanced outgo of about 20 million tonnes on account of providing 35 kg (up from the present 12 kg) to the APL population at Rs.3 a kg in the 150 districts in addition to the BPL outgo. In a bad year, this may come from cutting APL or Open Market Sale Scheme allocations.


It is clear by now that the key to universalisation is the availability of foodgrains. For this reason, even the activists working under the banner of the Right to Food Campaign have accepted "phased" universalisation. The Food Ministry's cautious estimate is that the average annual availability for the PDS is about 43 million tonnes. The NAC seems to have gone by the Planning Commission estimate of availability of about 50 to 55 million tonnes to ensure the supply of cheap foodgrains in 150 districts besides fulfilling regular commitments of buffer and welfare schemes.


It is obvious that the UPA's seeming benevolence on the food security front is not going to be entirely without strings. The underlying principle is that the subsidy accruing from providing foodgrains at cheap rates will come from withdrawal of subsidies on petrol, diesel and, gradually, kerosene, and other unforeseen measures.


Besides ensuring minimum foodgrain entitlements at a discount, the draft of the National Food Security Act will indicate enabling clauses with regard to enhancing foodgrain production, public distribution reforms and improvement in drinking water, sanitation, health and hygiene for better intake and absorption of food by the poor.


In other words, the proposed Bill will provide for food security but call for nutrition security.










One golden rule of diplomacy, of course, is to tell your hosts what they wish to hear but another equally (some say, even more) important is to be discreet in public comment, especially when speaking on foreign soil and within hearing distance of the intended target.


From all accounts, David Cameron passed the first test effortlessly (the fact that the only job he ever held outside politics was in PR must have helped) during his maiden foreign tour as Prime Minister last week. But, in the process, he flunked the second with his so-called "tell-it-as-it-is" brand of diplomacy falling at the first hurdle when in his attempt to please his Indian hosts he publicly attacked Pakistan for its role in "exporting terror" and ended up sparking an almighty row with Islamabad.


Commentators said that even a child could have anticipated how his comment would be received in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, it provoked fury: protesters burnt his effigy on the streets of Karachi and the government reacted by calling off a visit by its intelligence officials to Britain ahead of President Asif Ali Zardari's trip this week.


At one stage, there was speculation that even Mr. Zardari might not turn up but, in the end, he must have realised the danger of being seen to be protesting too much. So, the trip is on but, given the events of the past week, the first Cameron-Zardari summit is unlikely to be an exactly cheery affair.


This is not the first time that a British leader has gone to the subcontinent and returned with a bloodied nose. Indeed, there is a history of British politicians blundering into controversy on their visits to the region, leaving Whitehall to pick up the pieces. Remember January 2009, when David Miliband, the then Foreign Secretary, found himself thrust into the centre of an ill-tempered row over his tactless remarks on Kashmir and the Mumbai terror attacks? Or 1997 when Robin Cook, the newly-appointed Foreign Secretary, nearly ended up wrecking the Queen's visit to India by infuriating Delhi with an offer to mediate on Kashmir prompting I.K. Gujral, India's Prime Minister at the time, to tell him to mind his own business dismissing Britain as "a third-rate power"? More recently, Gordon Brown was involved in a very public spat with Islamabad when on a visit to Afghanistan in the dying days of his premiership he said that two-thirds of all terror plots foiled by British intelligence agencies were hatched in Pakistan.


What is it, then, about the subcontinent that causes the famous British stiff upper lip go all a-quiver?


It is striking that while the more gung-ho Americans seldom put a wrong foot, the British despite their supposedly better understanding of the region and particularly Indian-Pak sensitivities never seem to get it right. Mr. Cameron is simply the latest casualty of a tendency that, one suspects, has something to do with a mindset which refuses to recognise that the era of Britain lecturing its former colonial subjects while they listened quietly is over.


His attack on Pakistan came barely hours after he upset Israel by describing Gaza as a "prison camp" when speaking in Ankara in what appeared to be a stab at pleasing his Turkish hosts. A BBC world affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds, noted on his blog that Mr. Cameron had "invented a new diplomacy — go to one country and criticise another".


While Mr. Cameron has defended his style saying "it is important to speak frankly", critics (and that means almost the entire British media from the right-wing Telegraph group to the centrist Times and the left-wing Guardian and the Independent) have accused him of "hit-and-run" diplomacy and making policy on the hoof to "charm" his audience. Openness, they point out, is one thing and rushing into ill-timed comments is quite another.


"This trip [to Turkey and India], after errors on his previous visit to see Barack Obama in Washington, has led to questions about a style that may be a little too freewheeling," said The Times urging Mr. Cameron to "reflect on the limits of seeking to charm his hosts in diplomacy".


At the other end of the spectrum, the Independent had the same message. It pointed out that while Mr. Cameron's criticism of Pakistan "may have been music to the ears of those he was trying to woo in Delhi" and his remarks in Turkey echoed "pretty much everything his hosts in Ankara wanted to hear", there were "dangers in saying so fully what his hosts want to hear". In diplomacy, frankness needed to be tempered with discretion. Enhancing economic relations with India was, no doubt, a good policy "but the Prime Minister must be careful to maintain a sense of balance between Britain's economic and its strategic interests", it said warning that "in making new friends it is wise not to be seen to scorn old ones".


Broadly, this has been the theme of British commentators —namely, that India may be a good market to sell British goods and services but it is Pakistan which is "our" key strategic ally in the region and it is more important to keep an ally on board than chasing potential customers across the border — at least so long as British troops are still in Afghanistan and on the tender mercy of Pakistan-based groups.








With the help of their namesake hairdo, members of the Sacramento Mohawks managed to stand out among their competition at the 2010 Street Soccer USA Cup on Sunday. Their collective rows of trimmed hair atop bald scalps helped form a sense of team commonality against the strong individualists on display during the tournament here. One player from the six-member Mohawks made herself even more distinguishable by virtue of her gender and her level of play.


Lisa Wrightsman, the only woman on the team, is the second career scoring leader for Sacramento State University. She also played several years of semipro soccer in California until personal problems overwhelmed her life.


Ms. Wrightsman, who said she had been clean and sober for nine months after drugs and alcohol had consumed her, found herself in a place she could not have imagined a year ago. On the final day of the three-day tournament, she shared some of her personal plights with a few hundred fellow homeless people at the Washington Kastles' team tennis stadium.


This was not the style of free-form street soccer played in many places around the world. Instead, it was an Americanised version, a fast-paced four-on-four game with referees ensuring adherence to rules and walls confining play on a 52-by-72-foot field, the goals being 12 feet wide and four feet high.


The games were played in an arena bouncing with lively music and a party atmosphere on a comfortably warm summer day. It was an environment well suited for street soccer players like Ms. Wrightsman, people who struggle in less-restricted personal environments.


Ms. Wrightsman said a week in jail for drug possession and trespassing persuaded her to seek recovery at the Mather Community Campus of Sacramento, which provides transitional housing for the homeless. Her case manager and the coach of the Mohawks, Chris Mann, talked Ms. Wrightsman into joining the Mather soccer team.


The pressures that accompanied her lifelong pursuit of perfection in soccer helped fuel her need to abuse drugs and alcohol, she said. Now, she has joined street soccer players who use the sport to help improve their lives.


About 200 players came from teen shelters, refugee resource centres and recovery houses from across the country, as well as one team from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russian team won the title, beating a team from San Francisco in the final, 6-1.


One of the Russian players, Arkady Tyurin (48), joked about the team's collective age as he accepted the championship trophy. "We are quite old, 220 years as a team and 44 years in sobriety," he said.


Mr. Tyurin talked about his two and a half years of living on the streets of Russia and his life struggling with alcohol addiction. He clearly relished the pleasure of competing in the USA Cup.


"From one hand, football is a competition; you play to the end," he said. "But the idea to connect is better than that. Soccer destroys borders." — New York Times News Service








The 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is due to begin in less than four months from now, at Cancun, Mexico. As yet there are very few indications of significant milestones being achieved at that meeting. There are some who believe that the outcome of Cancun might turn out to be so m ewhat similar to the lack of str o ng steps forward witnessed last ye ar at the 15th COP in Copenhagen.

For several months now there has been an expectation that the Senate of the United States would pass, in some form, a proposed bill that was introduced largely through the initiative of Senator John Kerry. However, this piece of legislation has not made any progress and for a variety of reasons most observers believe that perhaps legislation will not take place in the US till after the Congressional elections due to take place in November this year. After that what happens would depend largely on the political complexion of Congress as it emerges with a large number of new members.

Meanwhile, there are those officials in the administration who believe that much can be done through action by the executive branch of the government, particularly given the powers that the judiciary has provided to the United States Environment Protection Authority (USEPA). A very clear regulation to improve the energy efficiency of automobiles in the US is already in place. Another area where improvements in energy efficiency are economically viable is in the building sector. In fact, there are significant differences in energy efficiency of same-size buildings and for somewhat similar climates as bet w een some countries of Europe and the US. A programme of inc e n tives and disincentives could br i ng about an early and substantial improvement in energy efficiency in buildings in the US and, therefore, there could be a significant reduction in the emissions of gr e enhouse gases (GHGs). The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly specifies that the most effective instrument for bringing about mitigation of GHGs would be placing a price on carbon. A substitute for this would, of course, be a set of incentives, disincentives and regulatory requirements that could ac h i eve similar results in the short term.

There is currently a growing concern on the possibility of a gap developing between the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the beginning of the second. The first period would be terminated at the end of 2012. However, if there is no agreement on actions to be taken in the second commitment period then clearly there is a possibility of the second period coming into force after a gap of time. It is with this in view that a proposal has now been introduced for discussion and possible action, by which some of the rigid requirements of the original version of the Kyoto Protocol — which is currently in force — would be modified to allow flexibility in countries joining and exiting the Protocol as an agreement emerges for the second commitment period. All this is being proposed essentially to see that an agreement is in place well before the end of 2012 and with adequate provision of time for the second commitment period coming into force without a gap.

While a global agreement has enormous significance for protecting the global commons, such as the earth's atmosphere which to d ay is characterised by a rapid in c r ease in the concentration of GHGs, action at the local level across the globe is now becoming increasingly imperative. The likelihood is that through widespread awareness on the likely impacts of climate change in different parts of the globe and the means by which mitigation of GHGs can take place, substantial action can be triggered at the local level across the globe. These actions will also create adequate confidence and a substantive basis to facilitate an agreement being reached at the global level.

One reason for expecting initiatives by communities and societies irrespective of any global agreement lies in the enormous co-benefits that would accrue from reduced GHG emissions. This is likely to happen because those actions which reduce these emissions, such as higher levels of energy efficiency in various sectors of the economy and a major increase in exploitation of renewable resources of energy, would also carry several attendant benefits. These would be in the nature of lower levels of air pollution at the local level which would create a range of health benefits, higher levels of energy security globally, higher employment, such as through projects based on renewable sources of energy and higher agricultural productivity which would ensure higher food security.

There is now growing evidence based on long-term observations which indicates that there is an increase in the intensity and frequency of floods, droughts, heat waves and extreme prec ipitation events. Public concern on this is also growing. It is not merely bas ed on dissemination of the results of the AR4 but also as a consequence of observations by communities themselves on trends in changes of the climate systems which they are witnessing. The media, of course, has an important responsibility in spreading the re s ults of sc i entific assessments, both in res p e ct of the impacts of climate change and related adaptation measures as well as on opportunities and benefits associated with mitigation. It would, therefore, be reasonable to assume that understanding the hu man and economic costs of inaction and the net benefits from act ion would certainly create responses at the grassro o ts level th at in the aggregate would provide the basis for a global agreement.
Meanwhile, it is important that the negotiators who are engaged in coming up with a future agreem e nt, particularly in respect of the se c ond commitment period of the Ky oto Protocol, devise practical and flexible approaches by which the second period is not delayed and does actually come into force by January 1, 2013. The world now has adequate experience in de vising appropriate agreements that en sure a fair and effective resp o n se to the challenge of climate change across the globe and across all societies — an agreement that would hold and can be brought into force by a sizeable majority of nations.


Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute








At a time when the world outside is lauding India's genius for "frugal innovation" and raising a toast to our unique ability to remove "expensive but unnecessary bells and whistles", as the Economist so graphically put it, it may seem churlish to ask if our health administrators like the sound of money sloshing around, especially without oversight.

But if you live in Delhi, it is hard to ignore that sloshing sound emanating from the ongoing drama, also known as preparation for the Commonwealth Games. The latest instalment of this juicy tale dwells on the Delhi government's inexplicable penchant for buying medical equipment for athletes at six to seven times the market price. Investigation by the media points to an inflated bill in the name of medical preparedness. Last week, The Asian Age reported that contracts awarded to some firms for medical equipment, such as ice-making machines, used to make ice packs for injured athletes, have been heavily padded. What costs approximately Rs 50,000 per unit has been pegged at a level six to seven times higher than the original cost. An earlier investigation by a television channel showed that shortwave diathermy machines — used to treat muscle and tissue injuries — which normally cost around Rs 77,000 — are being procured at Rs 4.9 lakh. These are just two samples. If you add up all the bits and pieces of overspending which have come to light on medical gadgetry alone in the run-up to the Games, the loss to the public exchequer is over Rs 3 crore. Delhi's health minister Ki ran Walia says the expenses aren't directly in her domain but she "will definitely enquire into it". As I write, news is trickling in that the Central Vigilance Comm i ssion is indeed looking into the case.

Now contrast these problems of plenty with another story we heard just a few weeks ago. This is the poignant tale of 20-odd thalassemic children who reportedly got infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after blood transfusions at a government hospital in Jodhpur. Thalassemia is a genetic defect. Those suffering from thalassemia require frequent transfusions of blood for survival. The Jodhpur hospital has steadfastly refused to own up to any responsibility in the matter though this is not the first time it has come under a scanner. Two years ago there were reports of a similar incident at the hospital when a transfusion of blood led to five children getting infected with HIV and 29 others with Hepatitis C. The hospital maintains it follows the blood screening system for HIV prescribed by National AIDS Control Organisation, and yet repeatedly draws attention to its lack of critical medical facilities to detect impure strains in the blood.


The two unrelated tales have one thing in common — lack of oversight. They also show that one of the reasons behind India's underperformance in healthcare is co-existence of the problems of plenty and the problems of

scarcity. Without effective monitoring and supervision, both can lead to unhappy ends.

Out of the two, the story about the thalassemic children is the more heart-wrenching one. The National Human Rights Commission has asked the hospital for a report but the tragedy is slowly going off the media radar. And there is no news about the fate of the impacted children. There has been no offer to compensate the parents either.

The Jodhpur hospital authorities have argued that they are handicapped by the lack of facilities such as the Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) which aim at shortening the window period (a time when a patient has been infected and when they show up as positive by antibody tests). Such facilities can indeed reduce chances of contamination of blood.

"But less than half-a-dozen hospitals have facilities for NAT. That reduces the chances of contaminated blood but does not guarantee 100 per cent safety", points out Dr Sunil Rajadhayaksha, head, transfusion medicine, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. "If we make NAT compulsory, health budgets will go up. The top overnment hospitals and the private hospitals can deal with that. Not so, the rest. Blood transfusion cannot be 100 per cent safe anywhere. But we try to make it as safe as possible. Blood safety in this country is governed by the National Blood Policy. I think, more than a change in the policy, you need implementation and vigilance over the existing policy. The focus has to be on strategies to promote voluntary blood donation. Less than five per cent of the population donate blood because there is an erroneous belief that blood donation is only for the lowly", he adds.

Shivangi Rai, a legal officer with the non-governmental organisation Lawyer's Collective, also argues that though more money and better facilities such as NAT would help, the core issue is enforcing existing quality control procedures to ensure blood safety. The most viable strategy to ensure a safe and adequate supply of blood is the recruitment, selection and maintenance of voluntary blood donors. In this, the principles of consent and confidentiality once again come into play. The National Blood Policy, 2002, lays down guidelines to be followed by blood banks for collection, testing, storage and distribution of blood and blood products, including screening for infectious diseases. Donors are supposed to be counselled at length before their blood is taken and detailed information about donors, specifically information about "risk" behaviour, is also meant to be collected through a mandatory questionnaire. But much of this exists only on paper.

In a country where the availability of safe blood is not guaranteed, what can people do? The only recourse left to people who have been infected through blood transfusions is to seek redress in the courts. There have been instances where institutions like the Lawyers' Collective have helped aggrieved individuals and families to get compensation.

Last Saturday, I called Ms Rai to find out if the parents of the thalassemic children who reportedly got infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after blood transfusions at the Jodhpur hospital got in touch with Lawyers' Collective. "Sadly not", she replied. Not everyone is aware of the rights or about the legal options available in such situa tions. Money or no money, little will change on the ground till peo ple start demanding better hea lt hcare services as a matter of right.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at








The Bishan Bedi-Muttiah Muralitharan spat was waiting to explode. Having faced former India skipper's continued virulence; Murali has finally said enough is enough.


By calling Bedi an ordinary bowler, he has just increased the temperatures. The two spinners — unique in their own rights — are going to hit more headlines. It is unlikely that the last word on the whole issue has been heard.


Whether or not Bedi would have been hammered all around the park in modern day cricket — as Murali described the Indian's bowling — is anybody's guess but placing a bowler in a different era is not the best way to judge his skills. Murali was just scoring a point, not making one.


Having said that, one cannot overlook Bedi's role in precipitating the matter. Few can deny that Bedi is a controversy-monger.


By calling Murali a javelin or a shot put thrower, he was constantly hurling abuses on the Lankan, the pride of his nation, who incidentally also is the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. By dismissing bowler of 800 Test wickets, Bedi was only inviting retaliation. He may even attract a defamation.


For all his headline-grabbing skills, Bedi still has been raising one key issue — the legitimacy of the doosra. The ICC, more importantly its cricket committee, should have one final look at it and come out with a decree if the delivery is needed to be banned.


But you can be sure that the ICC will never do that. A firm ICC has never been a strong point of international cricket.







Nitin Nohria, Indian-origin dean of Harvard Business School, has delivered some home truths in his JRD Tata Memorial Lecture 2010 organised by Assocham on Sunday in Mumbai.


While it was heartening to hear that more Indian case studies are now part of the business study courses, he made some pertinent observations about the past and the future.


Looking back he explained how Americans were able to stay at the top for the whole of the 20th century. He said that from Andrew Carnegie who set up the steel mills at the turn of the century to provide ballast to American infrastructure to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who created the computer revolution towards the end of the century, the Americans remained leaders in business.


He contrasted this with Japan, which became a serious rival to the Americans in the 1980s but it failed to retain its position at the top for long.


The inference he drew was a simple one: it is not enough to reach the top but you have to remain there as well as long as you can. It was a gentle and indirect reminder to Indians that they should not be carried away by India's rising economic power in the global markets and that it is important to sustain the clout.


He said that the 21st century will be a Global Century and pointed out as to why he was not calling it the Asian Century as many have tended to do. His reason: In future no single country will be in the leadership position as America had been in the past.


He has also warned that it would not be wise to write off Japan and Europe Union. Nohria has laid out the map of the future and that is what a good academic tries to do at all times.







It is undoubtedly very kind of the UN secretary general to show such concern about the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.


His call for "all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and address problems peacefully" is incontrovertibly, excellent advice. It is also true that the situation in the street in some parts of India's northern state has been volatile and that street protestors have clashed with the security forces on a number of occasions in the last three months.


However, in spite of the very unfortunate loss of 17 lives in J&K, what is being played out is still very much an issue for India to handle internally. International intervention, if it is needed at all, would be better applied across the border, where our neighbour has a vested interest in making sure that Kashmir remains at pressure point. When all its other tactics fail, Pakistan tries to bring in the United Nations, as it has since 1948.


While it can be no one's case that the Omar Abdullah-headed government in Jammu and Kashmir has handled the situation deftly, it also true that the protests in Kashmir have become more volatile as international pressure has increased on Pakistan to control terror-related activities going on within its borders. At such times, it greatly suits Pakistan to try and shift focus to India and start its old practices.


Once again it seems that the international community feels that it has to pay lip service to the Pakistan line because it needs Pakistan's support in this ongoing "war" on terror. A slight expansion of the line of sight and it would be clear that India has so far been the biggest victim of Pakistan-encouraged terror and the current situation in Kashmir most probably fits into that category.


The relative stability in J&K in the recent past has not suited the separatist organisations who owe so much to Pakistan for their continued existence. It seemed clear that the scales were tipping in the Indian state's favour and these stone-pelting episodes have given them a new lease of life as it were. Pakistan, in its peculiar diplomatic moves with India, has also suddenly tried to bring Kashmir to the forefront again.


For India, it is the age-old problem between protestors andtrigger-happy security forces which gives our enemies a bit of extra leverage.


It is an issue which we know that we have to solve. If the UN is going to play Pakistan's little game then the UN might also ensure that Pakistan exercises "utmost restraint" as well.









O dear, dear — are we being too cruel, judging Suresh Kalmadi and Sheila Dixit so harshly? After all, the Commonwealth Games are a whole month away.


So much time left to build roads, repair stadia, build swimming pools and complete all those other jobs that have been known about since 2003 but still haven't got done. This is the way life is, after all.


I mean, so what if instead of Rs300 crore, we spent about Rs30,000 crore? And still didn't finish in time. Time is a false western concept imposed on us by our colonial rulers.


Besides, do you know how difficult it is to get things done in India? You have to ask for tender applications, then you have to go through them carefully to see which one will make you the most money, then you have ensure that they use third-grade cement but promise concrete, then you have to share out the proceeds, then you have to work v-e-r-y slowly so that you can increase the budget (accounting for the war in Iraq, global recession, bad rabi crop, poor monsoon, poor kharif crop, the El Nina effect, hurricane Celia, tiger poaching, change of government in Burkina Faso, Rahul Mahajan's swayamvar, Aamir Khan's new movie and so on) indefinitely.


And this process only began after 2003. Compare that to, say, the Bandra-Worli sealink — which took 10 years just to build, not counting all the work that went in for years before a single cement mixer arrived on the scene. This is the national capital which has its own chief minister and government and everything! No wonder work has happened so fast.


Then there are all these little minor quibbles and complaints. So a few roofs fell down, there are some leaks here and there, some flyovers are not made and there are no proper places for the athletes to stay. See, serious decisions have been made.


There will be no beef served. People have been told to smile. These are all important things which will definitely improve the image of our great country in the minds of all these foreigners who are coming.


Some people of course have no shame at all and have even accused the Great Organisers of corruption. This is too shocking for words. As if anyone would do such a thing when our country's prestige is at stake?


Yes, yes, may be there are a few wicked official here and there (see third-grade cement reference in para 2) but these are a few bad apples. An inquiry will be held and 300 years later, the guilty will be punished in case any wrongdoing is found: one full month's salary (not counting dearness allowance) for the government staff and one whole week of being blacklisted from all further government work for the contractors.


This is all according to the rules laid down in the appendix to Chanakya's Artha Shastra and we have not changed them since those Mauryan times. History, culture and tradition are very important to us.


Even worse, there are these people who are against the nation and want the Games to flop. And the high commissions who don't like the cabbies we hired. And the ministers who are always worried about budgets, as if they are accounting clerks.


And, sigh, next they'll be talking about the medals we didn't win. But not to worry. The inquiry commission for that has already been set up and the report will be ready in 3010. See, in some matters, we can think ahead and be quick about it.








Trade, with a GDP share of 15.1%, only slightly less than manufacturing at 15.6%, is an important segment of the economy.


More than 125 lakh kirana stores provide a source of livelihood to 16 crore people. Retail trade has grown faster than the economy: it registered a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4% between 2004-05 and 2008-09 when the Indian economy grew at 8.66%.


The retail trade comprises all kinds of people and formats — from street vendors to departmental stores of various types, shapes and characteristics.


More than 80% of trade is accounted for by partnership and proprietorship forms — often called the unorganised sector. The kirana shop adjacent to my home opens at 7am and closes at 10pm every day, 365 days of the year. It is very efficient, and one can order through a mobile. The owner knows the tastes and price preferences of our family, but his business is classified as "unorganised" by our experts and national income data.


The footfall in his shop cannot be measured using western models (since there is no place for anybody to set foot inside his shop), and so he is derided and ignored. It is like clubbing housewives along with prostitutes in our census data to show them as unproductive citizens.


These are economic constructs imposed by the west on the rest and it is a form of terminological terrorism which is mouthed ad nauseam by our economists and policy planners without understanding the implications. The retail trade suffers from two major handicaps. One is the non-availability of credit at reasonable rates from institutions; the other is the bribe one has to pay to the government babus to leave him in peace.


Nagamma has been a flower vendor for more than 20 years in my suburb of Bangalore. When she needs a loan, she participates in chit funds. Sometimes, she has lost big as the chit funds were run by crooks.


As a finance professor, I thought I should do some good in the world of practical finance and advised her to open an account with a commercial bank for saving her hard earned money and perhaps get a loan later.


The branch manager — a pleasant lady — was also acquainted with the flower vendor for many years, but the core banking software solution used by the bank will not recognise the Nagammas as customers. The bank's "know your customer (KYC)" norms require proof of address, PAN cards, proof of date of birth — everything but her dog's surname. She has no chance of getting this kind of KYC done.


Large companies get loan rates below the prime lending rate, but my vegetable vendor gets it at 0.5% per day. They have to return 50 paise at the end of the day for every Rs100 borrowed in the morning. This will work out to be more than 180% per annum.


My retail provision stores man gets his money in an interesting way. He gets Rs45,000 (for a loan amount of Rs50,000) upfront and pays Rs500 a day for 100 days to repay his full Rs50,000. It turns out to be more than 10% for three months. More than 70% of the working capital requirements of retail trade in 2009-2010 came from non-bank sources.


The other perennial problem faced by the "unorganised" retail trade is the "organised" dacoity by minions of the state. They need to bribe the cops, bribe the municipal authorities and other local goons. The cost can be as high as Rs20 on an income of Rs200 or so per day. That is 10% of gross income. The same is true of fruit seller, the fast-food idli joint or the beauty parlour.


Instead of looking at these two important constraints imposed on the fastest-growing and most productive and efficient retail trade, our planners want to open the field up for global sharks in the name of liberalisation. For anything and everything the policy-maker wants Indians to emulate the Japanese, the French, the Germans or the South Koreans.


All petroleum services and products, rice, tobacco, salt, alcoholic beverages and fresh food traded at public markets are excluded in Japan from any "distributional aspect" by foreign companies. The French simply restrict any development of hypermarkets to protect what they call "centres of French towns and villages and the livelihoods of small shopkeepers".


Germany has legislative constraints on outlets above 1,200 sq m. This is despite trade constituting a relatively small portion of their economy both in terms of employment and value addition compared to India.


The paan-chewing, dhoti-clad, English-ignorant retail trader should not be seen as an inefficient entrepreneur who needs to be bleached by globally-accepted detergents. What he needs is a level playing field, in the full sense of the term, with access to affordable credit and the abolition of inspector raj in the form of harassment by various arms of the government. We are still a savings-based, family-oriented economy.


The sooner we have a ministry of retail trade to protect, preserve and enhance the capabilities of our kirana stores the better for the Indian economy.









THE Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has justifiably pleaded before the Supreme Court to shift the Sohrabuddin case out of Gujarat for fair investigation. In a status report, it maintained that free and fair probe into the killing of alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati (who was a key witness in the Sohrabuddin case) could not be conducted at present for various reasons. The CBI expressed apprehensions that the influence of senior politicians and police officers could deprive it of a "conducive atmosphere" to investigate the case further or prosecute those involved in the killings. The killings suggest a careful conspiracy that extends from planning and executing their murders to an unflinching cover-up. Police officers who tended to speak up against their colleagues — most of them senior IPS officers — have been forced into submission.


Disturbingly, the criminal justice system seems to have collapsed in Gujarat when it comes to cases which have a bearing on the government. It is common knowledge how justice finally triumphed and the culprits were brought to book only after the Supreme Court shifted some Godhra riot cases — including the Best Bakery case — out of Gujarat. The manner in which the police have handled these cases showed a total breakdown of law and order and their failure to fulfill their constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law. The state police are either biased or incompetent. In the Naroda Patia riot case, the Supreme Court itself ruled that the state police are either "in connivance with the accused or thoroughly worthless".


As for the Sohrabuddin case, the CBI is not getting effective cooperation from the Gujarat government. Consider how former Minister of State for Home Amit Shah reportedly gave evasive replies to the CBI during interrogation in the jail. While the CBI feels that it has enough grounds to question Chief Minister Narendra Modi too, it has summoned Rajkot Police Commissioner Geeta Johri and former DGP P.C. Pande for interrogation. In fact, many IPS officers (four of them are already in jail) are allegedly involved in the killings. There is also the Rajasthan angle. The need for a fair investigation to punish the guilty has thus become greater. Ironically, whenever the Modi government has been on the mat, it has gained politically. Indeed, Mr Modi has always dubbed every probe as political vendetta by the Centre.









THE damage to thousands of tonnes of wheat procured by the FCI due to improper storage is scandalous enough. But the rot seems to run far deeper than that. Punjab has been procuring highly substandard and damaged wheat with the help of its agencies like PUNSUP, MARKFED and the PSWC for the FCI. While many bags of grains procured by the state have been found to contain "mud slabs", some bags have 49 per cent to 55.2 per cent inorganic material. That shows the extent of corruption and mismanagement in procurement. Worse, this has been happening year after year, causing a huge national loss. The sufferer is the consumer.


Even otherwise, the preservation of stocks is highly unscientific. The state agencies are reported to have no trained staff to undertake the task and depend on laymen. Most of them do now know the proper use of ammonium phosphate and how to make wheat stocks airtight so that these are safe from pests and moisture. All these shortcomings, coupled with the fact that the agencies keep stocks on open plinths, ensure that the crop grown by the hardy Punjab farmers goes waste.


It is a crying shame that while millions of people do not get to have three square meals a day, 48,315 metric tones of wheat which had piled up over the past three years has become completely unfit for human consumption and can only be used as cattle feed. Still, an attempt is being made to pass the buck. What nobody seems to realise is that the whole idea of procuring wheat is to ensure that it moves smoothly from the farm to the plate of the common man. Unfortunately, the whole exercise has deteriorated into a money-making racket for a select few. They are enemies of the nation and must be punished like that.









DESPITE opposition from the Pakistan establishment, President Asif Ali Zardari has gone ahead with his visit to various European countries, including the UK. He has been under much pressure to cancel his visit to Britain in protest against UK Prime Minister David Cameroon's recent statement in India that Pakistan should stop "promoting the export of terror". The comment has caused considerable resentment in Pakistan, leading to ISI chief Shuja Pasha calling off his scheduled trip to London. The ISI chief's decision clearly shows that the Pakistan Army, too, is in favour of President Zardari abandoning his UK tour.


Various political parties like the PML (Nawaz) and the MQM, a partner in the PPP-led government in Islamabad, have approved of the ISI chief's decision and want Zardari also to listen to the call from various quarters in Pakistan not to visit the UK at this time to express Islamabad's displeasure over Cameroon's remarks. But Zardari has refused to alter his tour plans, which include steps to strengthen his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's position in the PPP. Even the death of more than 1000 persons in the floods in Pakistan's tribal areas has not had any impact on his current schedule.


Zardari, it seems, is not bothered about his critics within the establishment and outside it as his party, the PPP, continues to be solidly behind him. He has acquired the image of being the most corrupt Head of State in recent years in Pakistan, but he dismisses this as the creation of a section of the media. The judiciary is also after his blood, but he is fighting it without caring for the consequences that may follow. A few days back he reversed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's decision to remove his adviser on information technology, resulting in the cold war between the two coming into the open. Perhaps, Zardari believes that no one in the establishment can dare disturb his applecart because that may mean end of the present political dispensation. And the gainer may be former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who does not fit into the scheme of things of the Pakistan Army.

















IT is not clear as to when the idea or the concept of a "limited war" was first evolved and articulated. Maybe it was the fallout from the procrastination, dithering and timidity in our response and an alibi for the missed opportunity of a suitable riposte to a major mischief by Pakistan at Kargil. Such response would have put an end to the slow-bleeding of India by Pakistan. Or was it the result of the fiasco of "Operation Parakaram" (mobilisation of Indian defence forces consequent to the attack on Indian Parliament) where we thought we could go in for a limited war and then backtracked on conjuring up the prospects of a larger conflagration?


It takes a minimum of two contestants to make war. Therefore, both must subscribe to the idea of a limited war. It cannot work when one of the contestants does and the other does not fall for it. Then there is the issue of both scale and duration of the conflict. Here again there is the problem of the two adopting the same concept and course of action. There is also the hazardous undertaking of forecasting and then chartering the future course of a war and preparing for just that one contingency.


It is easy to start a war but difficult to conclude it on own terms. The German army, after nearly two decades of study, planning and preparation and detailed knowledge of every inch of the ground over which operations were to be conducted, prepared the Schlieffen Plan and catered for no other contingency. With over 350 army divisions, it undertook to over-run France in 40 days during World War I. The war lasted four years with disastrous consequences for Germany. The American war in Afghanistan is a case in point.


The second issue relates to a conflict between two nuclear-armed contestants. The parameters and compulsions for either side to transcend from a conventional war to a nuclear war are not that simple or easy to overcome. A whole range of considerations and possible consequences come into play, especially if the opponent has the wherewithal, the will and the capacity to completely devastate and lay waste the whole country. Consequently, in such a setting, the conflict will remain within the bounds of conventional warfare. Then there is the inevitable issue of reaching a stage (also sometimes called "threshold") where the very survival, nay the existence, of the nation comes into play when a fatal decision to go in for the nuclear option can be considered. Sooner than later, world pressure is likely to prevail in ending the conflict.


Coming to the specifics of the Indo-Pak setting, neither side is willing to concede territory. This has led to extensive obstacles being created by both sides close to the border and these are effectively held. Consequently, major battles will be conducted within a few kilometres on either side of the border. Such was the case in 1965 and 1971 on the western sector. That has been and will remain the dominant reality of a conflict between these two neighbours. It is here along the plains of J and K and Punjab where the centre of gravity of the two countries lie, more so of Pakistan, and it is here that decisive battles, if and when they occur, will be fought.


The second and more important issue relates to meshing together the military and political aims of a war. These two cannot work in isolation or exclusion of one from the other. Clausewitz records that "war is continuation of policy", but there has to be a "policy" to carry forward to war. Sometimes there can be a conflict or variance between the policy and the war aim. In such situations, it is the bounden duty of the military commander to lay bare before those who formulate national policy the full implications of pursuing a war which is at variance with military aim.


If in the opinion of the military commander, he is compelled to adopt a course other than what is in the national interest and the interest of his army, he should quietly make way for someone else. Had the then Army Chief in 1962 told some home-truths about the state of his Army and military infrastructure and offered to quit, the political leadership would have seen the reality and India could have been spared that humiliation and the Army the ignominy of a rout.


There are indeed innumerable instances where military commanders were able to carry their point and they proved eminently correct. The Russian army was required to defend Moscow against Napoleon's advance. The Czar and his entourage insisted that the city must be defended. But, purely from the strategic military angle, Marshal Kutozov thought otherwise. Withstanding enormous pressure from the Czar and others, Kutozov did not defend Moscow and in the process saved Russia, its army and eventually brought about complete destruction of Napoleon's army. During the invasion of Europe in World War II (Operation Overlord), as a political decision, the governments of the United States and Britain decided to keep "Strategic Air Command" outside the command of Eisenhower; the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord. Eisenhower told them that in which case he would have to find someone else for command purposes.


As at Kargil, Pakistan had a distinct tactical advantage in its offensive at Chamb during 1965. Consequently, the Army Chief impressed upon the then Prime Minister the imperatives of wresting the initiative and opening another front against Pakistan across the international border and obtained his clearance for the same, though politically no one wanted a full-scale war. This was at a time when Pakistan enjoyed marked superiority in armour (qualitatively and quantitatively), and our edge in infantry and artillery was only marginal. In a span of just two weeks India was able to bring about the destruction of Pakistan's armour and much else.


In 197,1 the political compulsions and the policy demand was to march into East Pakistan in May-June to relieve the unbearable pressure of influx of millions of refugees. The strategic military compulsions were quite different. The Army Chief had become the subject of a malicious whispering campaign. When the then Prime Minister told him that she was under great pressure from her Cabinet to march the Army into East Pakistan, Manekshaw told her that he could resign if that would help her. She had to then orchestrate diplomatic moves to gain international support, etc.


Weigh this against the meeting on May 18, 1999, where the Service Chiefs meekly accepted the orders from the PS to the Prime Minister (not the Prime Minister) without a whimper, detailing the defence forces not to use air power and permitting "hot-pursuit" of the enemy, only in the area of the ingress! Thus driving troops into suicidal frontal attacks up those impossible heights and slopes over a terrain where fire support was so much less effective.


It was left to a Pakistani brigadier to spell out through a newspaper article the course the Indian Army should have adopted rather than bash its head against the Kargil heights and suffer avoidable heavy casualties, thus discrediting generalship. In times of war the top military leader bears an enormous responsibility both to the nation and his army. He must fearlessly and forcefully advice the government on strategic military compulsions, and where he fails to carry his point he must act according to his own light and conscience








GUYS usually check reservation charts before boarding a train to see if they are lucky to get berth next to a girl.


As I boarded Rajdhani Express for Ludhiana from Jammu and placed my rucksack on the lower side berth, disappointment in the eyes of my co-passengers — all males — was too evident.


One of them, a Punjabi, could not hide his frustration. "I thought you would be a girl. Only your first name appeared on the reservation list. And, you can rarely make out the gender from some Sikh names," he chuckled.


But there was quite a commotion in other sections with people, mostly men, fighting over berths and luggage space.


Women were busy calming down their children, mostly toddlers. Such scenes are normal in trains in Jammu, where, families are returning from Mata Vaishno Devi shrine after a 'thanksgiving' trip for being blessed with a child.


And you will find groups of young men, all bachelors, who are always bragging on how fast they tracked to the temple. They are always smelly and dressed shabbily. Unfortunately, sections on either side of ours had such groups. They were quarrelling with others for berth and luggage space.


My Punjabi co-passenger had his large suitcase stuck in the aisle towards the neighbouring section. He was trying to adjust it but none of the unruly youths was helping him. The youths were equally hostile to an old couple, which claimed the lower berths were theirs.


Suddenly, there was silence in the neighbourhood as the fragrance of a feminine perfume hit me. It was a beautiful Kashmiri girl who had walked in carrying three bags. As all heads turned towards her, I knew all prayed she sat next to them.


The unruly youth suddenly became sober as the girl walking with great difficulty stopped next to them. They sprang to their feet helping her with the luggage.


She had the middle berth but asked for the lower berth. The youths had no problem. They adjusted her luggage under the seat and some on the upper berth. The girl took the seat which the youths had taken from the old couple, who were waiting for the TT, to restore justice.


One of the boys ran to bring water for the girl as she had forgotten to bring it with her. "Lucky b******s," said my Punjabi co-passenger, who had almost turned green.


Suddenly, the girl speaking Hindi with a Kashmiri accent, raised the alarm as the train moved. "Why is it moving?" she asked. "Obviously, because it is the departure time," answered a youth, who was already getting protective about her.


"Why? The departure time is 9 pm. Half an hour is still left." she argued. "See, my ticket says Shalimar express departure 9 pm." She shrieked when told this was Rajdhani.


The girl panicked and shouted for the train to be stopped. Someone pulled the chain and she asked the youths to help her with the luggage.


There was complete silence for several minutes after she left. Then, my dear Punjabi co-passenger broke it with a classic punch, "Hey, guys, please help me in shifting my luggage to the upper berth," he said mimicking the accent of the girl — mocking at the poor souls — whose sheepish look said it all.








IT is a beginning well made. Punjab is probably the only state in the country which has decided to rein in the uncontrolled mushrooming of drug deaddiction centres, regulate their functioning and ensure that they maintain minimum standards of treatment and care given to the patients.


More significant, however, is the fact that the Punjab government has shown no uncertainty in accepting that the problem of substance abuse and addiction is primarily a "health" issue and not merely a "social" one. The move to register every centre and allow it to admit addicts for treatment only after they procure a licence is largely the result of the efforts of the state's health department.


This is something that the government of India needs to learn from, and quickly. The problem of drug addiction or substance abuse in India is being dealt with by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The main thing that the ministry does in this regard is to fund private NGO-run drug deaddiction centres in India. Hundreds of such centres have, as a result, mushroomed across the country. But despite being the funding agency, the ministry has virtually no control over the running of these centres.


Almost anyone, without any medical background or the necessary training can open a centre and admit patients. Other than a flimsy system of self-appraisal reports, the ministry has not been able to have a regulatory mechanism in place to keep a check on the activities of these centres. Moreover, there is no standard method of drug deaddiction suggested by the ministry. Most of the centres follow their own known and unknown systems of treating patients. While some use substitution therapy to wean the addicts, majority do not subscribe to any specific treatment method. Internationally accepted treatment protocols laid down by WHO and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in this regard have been consistently ignored by the ministry.


Instances of addicts being abused inside such centres abound. At places the inmates are beaten up, starved, made to stand for hours, physically punished and made to live in sub- human conditions. Death of the inmate in such centres is also not uncommon. Over the past few years, following complaints, human rights activists have "raided" many such centres and "freed" the inmates in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.


The basic flaw is that even though such facilities are involved in "medically treating" the addict, they are out of the ambit of any quality control or monitoring by the health authorities.


In 2009, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment prepared a set of guidelines for the maintenance of minimum standards for the centres it funded. The ministry laid down certain regulations with regard to the infrastructure and employees but did not standardise the treatment protocol or regulate the cost of treatment. The whole effort, in any case was proved utterly useless as even though the booklet of guidelines were released by the ministry with much fanfare it has not been notified till date.


The current situation is that the government of India, through an unconcerned ministry, continues to give crores each year as grants to hundreds of private drug deaddiction centres without having the will or the wherewithal to monitor them.


To begin with government of India should recognise that substance abuse is a health issue and with the growing numbers of addicts it would soon be a community health concern. Government efforts, specially the ones directed towards providing treatment facilities, should be designed keeping in view the complex circumstances of an addict as a patient and should be then routed through health care providers.


A position paper for the World Summit for Social Development in 1995 prepared by the United Nations Drug Control Programme suggests that treatment provides a necessary foundation for rehabilitation and community reintegration. "The setting in which it occurs (community-based, clinic, workplace, prison or other) may be less important than the skills of persons involved, the processes used and the type of treatment. In planning to prevent relapse, many services are needed, including rehabilitation, community services and active follow-up," states the study.


"Since resources for specialised assistance for persons with drug problems are often not available in many countries, existing primary health care settings and networks may have to be adapted to care for drug abusers. The majority of persons in rural areas have no easy access to specialised health care but primary health care networks can provide a contact point and a means of intervention," it adds.


At the state level, following an interim order of Justice Rajive Bhalla of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Punjab Government has prepared a comprehensive plan to deal with the situation synergising the roles of the department of social security and the department of health.


The process of deaddiction is divided into two over lapping phases. "Detoxification" that lasts 1-4 weeks and focuses on physical treatment of withdrawal symptoms and physical and psychiatric co-morbidity and second, "long term rehabilitation" that lasts for many years and focuses on relapse prevention and psycho-social rehabilitation of the patient.


The state's heath and social security department would identify, register and license two types of drug deaddiction centres: Treatment centres with facilities for inpatient as well as outpatient treatment, including detoxification and counselling centres which will offer no in-patient detoxification or medical services but will be involved in awareness, counselling and rehabilitation on an outpatient basis. The "treatment centre" can be run only by an MD or MBBS doctor while "counselling centre" can be run by qualified non- medicos also. The two types of centres can be set up by a panchayat, zila parishad, municipality, state government, registered NGOs and trusts but not individuals. The centres would have to follow the minimum standards laid down by the committee of the High Court. In order to make use of its existing network of health facilities, the state government has also offered to open 10-bed treatment centres in all district hospitals.


How successful the state will be in implementing this plan remains to be seen. But for now, the Punjab government — pushed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court — has managed to bring about some order to the chaos.


The writer is Principal Correspondent, The Tribune, Chandigarh. The article is in part-fulfilment of her fellowship project instituted by the National Foundation for India, New Delhi








THE Holy city of Amritsar, called "Sifti Da Ghar" (land of values) never goes to sleep. The evening enchantments that begin at the twilight extend late into the night. Shortly after one set of residents retires for the night, the other is out on the roads. It continues to flow with devotees all the time.


However, perturbing developments in and around the city are rather unholy. Reason: Amritsar has emerged as the worst affected city in Punjab due to alarming drug addiction.


Indeed it is the darker side of the ancient city that at least one junkie dies every month in Maqboolpura, infamous as a locality of 'widows', Chhehrta, once famous industrial hub, and other parts of the border city due to overdose of drugs.


Drugs are easily available in the region as law-enforcement agencies have failed to check the menace, which has lately assumed alarming proportions.


Dalit-dominated Maqboolpura, only three kilometres from the main bus stand, is a place where victims of the Partition settled down. It is today infamous as the locality of widows.


Almost every family unit here has a story to narrate. Peddlers can be seen selling drugs, including smack, openly. What is worse, injections are administered to many addicts using one needle, which could play havoc. It could be disastrous if injections are administered to other persons with a needle already used by an AIDS patient.


Even as the seizure of drugs by the enforcement agencies, including DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) and anti-narcotic cell of the Punjab police in the border belt that includes Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur is common, yet everybody was shocked when the DRI had arrested a son of the oldest publisher of Sikh literature following seizure of 4.8 kg heroin, concealed in packets of CDs and DVDs of Gurbani (devotional material).This consignment was booked through a private courier and the DRI seized it before it was shipped to Canada in September 2008.


Shockingly, Amritsar has become the nucleus transit point for the drugs coming from Taliban- infested Afghanistan via Pakistan. Proximity to the border also provides greater access to all kinds of narcotic substances that Pakistan has been surreptitiously exporting to India. The bumper crop of poppy husk in Afghanistan spells doom in Punjab, which is connected by land through Pakistan. Afghanistan, which has traditional trade with India, is number one supplier of opium or heroin in the world. The throwing of heroin packets by Pakistani smugglers into the Indian territory near the border fencing has been in the news for a long time. The Border Security Force made many seizures in the past near the zero line. A number of cases registered against the Indian smugglers living near the border belt could be an eye opener.


The seizures made by the DRI in the last couple of years have shown that the deadly drugs being smuggled from this transit point find their way to metropolitan cities of India, besides Western countries through air and sea routes. The magnitude of the problem could be gauged from the fact that an Akali leader was nabbed by the DRI with 23 kg of heroin a couple of years ago. This consignment was being sent to Canada from Rajasansi International Airport (Amritsar), which has become the chosen route for international smugglers.


Even as opium and poppy husk have been preferred drugs in Punjab yet consumption of heroin is a recent phenomenon that has wreaked havoc in the region, which is fast emerging as a drug haven. The addicts, more dead than alive, can be seen walking in Maqboolpura and other ramshackle areas of Amritsar and its adjoining areas. They inject drugs into their bodies while the police turn a blind eye to the open sale of drugs.


The police have failed to check the open sale of "controlled drugs". The easy availability of these drugs leads to their over-consumption. The increasing number of deaths in this colony has been giving sleepless nights to the residents as the 'widows' and orphans find it difficult to eke out a living after losing their breadwinners.


Though the highly addictive substance, starting from the border belt of Amritsar, has found its way into various parts of this holy city, not much headway seems to have been made to contain the menace as the drug peddlers have political patronage.


The overdose of deadly drugs results in fatal accidents. Addict Pappu Baba was crushed to death when he threw himself before a running train. There are instances when certain teenagers of Maqboolpura working as couriers for drug peddlers, had started taking drugs themselves. Many addicts who cannot afford to buy drugs indulge in thefts. One such addict, 'Khanda', was beaten to death when caught stealing in a house.


Though the government has failed to come to the rescue of the victims, certain non-government organisations have done yeomen's service to mitigate their problems. The Citizens Forum Vidya Mandir, headed by Brij Bedi, husband of "super cop" Kiran Bedi, and Master Ajit Singh , a government teacher, have opened a school in Maqboolpura which is providing free education and meal to about 800 children, including orphans of drug addicts.


Government claims notwithstanding, the 10-bedded, deaddiction centre at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital has failed to help. The hospital has been facing staff shortage as only one professor is currently running the department. The hospital doesn't have any psychotherapist and specialist to look after the patients. A counsellor is considered a vital part in the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. Besides, the centre requires a professor, an assistant professor, an associate professor and nursing and helping staff as per Medical Council of India guidelines. Due to lack of proper monitoring, about 60 per cent deaddicted patients complain about the same problem owing to the absence of monitoring and follow-ups by the centres.


A foreign-based NGO had undertaken a major project four years ago to set up a rehabilitation and deaddiction centre with a unique programme, which included meditation, yoga, spiritual healing and round the clock strict regime. But the lack of trained counsellors and continuous follow-up with the patients who had returned home after treatment, resulted in the winding up of the three-month-long project.


The conditions at Red Cross Society run deaddiction centre is no better. The state and central governments have been a total failure in disbursing the annual grant of Rs 5 lakh to the department for last four to five years. Deputy Commissioner K S Pannu said that they are barely managing to run the centre in spite of huge financial crunch but he complimented the philanthropic public of the city, which provides essential help.








This weekend, all it took to go from the tedious to the thrilling – like a telemarketer would tell you – was the touch of a button. 


On one channel, a bunch of foreverweary cricketers were struggling to stay awake in an exciting country that somehow produces the dullest cricket the world has ever known. They yawned in plain view, unable to hide their boredom as time slowed down, turning hours into days and days into weeks. 


 On another, a mad, young team was settling into its new home with deliveries that swung in, cut away, missed the bat by a whisker, and occasionally sent the bails sky-high. The players hardly blinked, batsmen nervous they'd miss the line of the ball, fielders scared they'd drop a flying edge, bowlers worried they'd lose the opportunity to strike an early blow. 


 In an environment where each match is treated as an argument – either for its vindication or its expulsion – it was indeed a strange time for Test cricket, with its best and worst on display simultaneously. 


 The matches threw up some interesting little stories: Tendulkar's staying power in his 21st year in Test cricket, Sangakkara's rise to the top of the batting rankings, the emergence of Asif, Aamer and Gul as a world-class new-ball attack, and Pakistan's freakish ability to swing from path-breaking victories to ignominious defeats. But a more important talking point was the sub-continent's inability to prepare pitches on which Test matches can be even mildly entertaining. 


One of the most exciting facets of cricket is how the surface it's played on directly affects not just the outcome but the whole character of a match. On slow wickets, where the ball stops before coming on to the bat, cricket becomes a game of patience and endurance; on fast, bouncy tracks, it all about pluck and defiance. Which brand of pitch, or cricket, is superior is just a matter of personal opinion. 


The problem this week in Colombo, and in the sub-continent for a large part of the last decade, is not that the pitches here have been slow. This isn't an issue of prejudice towards regions that have a different soil structure and climatic compulsions, or of dismissing one brand of cricket as undesirable. 


Curators in the sub-continent – unlike those in England, Australia and South Africa – seem disinclined to produce wickets that offer enough to the bowlers for cricket to remain a contest between bat and ball, and not a battle of one-upmanship between bat and bat. Probe what's behind this and the reasons range between sheer incompetence and the tendency to play safe in a politically charged environment where there are too many people in power, each with his own set of demands. 


Indian groundsmen know that no one complains when they produce dead tracks on which scoring runs is like shooting fish in a barrel. But throw up a quick track, or a big turner, and all hell breaks lose -- if the home captain doesn't complain, the ICC does. 

 Take the 2004 India vs Australia Test series, for example. In the third Test in Nagpur, curator Kishore Pradhan, under instructions from his local federation, turned out a wicket that looked more like the WACA than the VCA. With the ball shooting off the live grass at both ends, India tumbled in four days, and with them tumbled the final frontier. Kishore Pradhan was called a traitor and his pitch is held up as an example of what never to do. 


 A week later, in the fourth Test in Mumbai, the Indian board ended up over-compensating when Polly Umrigar under-prepared the pitch at the Wankhede stadium so that it would help spinners. On the first day itself, the wicket became a snake-pit where every run was worth three. Michael Clarke famously picked up six wickets for nine runs, and India won the match in less than 15 hours of cricket. The ICC came down heavily on Umrigar, and the track was described among the worst tracks in history. 

 While there is no defence for either of those pitches, we'd rather take those fiascos than watch 1,598 runs being scored in five days in Ahmedabad and 1,478 runs for 17 wickets in Colombo. At least they'll be remembered for what happened on the field, not for digits on a scoreboard.



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After failing to come anywhere near the 10th Five Year Plan (2002-07) target of 4 per cent per annum rate of growth of agricultural output, the Planning Commission has projected a lower target growth rate of 3 to 3.5 per cent per annum for the 11th Plan period. While some may view this as a more modest target, others may consider it as still far too ambitious, given the track record of the 10th Plan period, when the actual figure was around 2.3 per cent, with the comparable number for the decade 1995-2005 being 2 per cent. What is, however, worrying is that this lower target rate of growth is, in fact, below the 3.62 per cent per annum growth rate recorded in the decade 1985-95. Moreover, given the anticipated overall GDP growth of over 8 per cent, the poor acceleration in the farm sector that still supports nearly 65 per cent of the population is an indictment of the strategy of "inclusive growth". What these numbers tell is that the much-hyped "second green revolution" is nowhere to be seen.


Several factors have combined to deliver this dismal result, ranging from inadequate investment in irrigation, research and development and in rural extension services to improper and often sub-optimal use of yield-enhancing inputs, including seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and, most importantly, water; poor technology transfer; and inefficient marketing that denies growers a fair share of what the consumer pays for farm goods. Also contributing to it are factors like inadequate reach of institutional, timely and affordable, credit. All these factors constrain the farmers' ability to invest in farming. Thus, while private investment is inadequate, public investment goes largely into "subsidies", some of which, like in the case of water and power, are proving counterproductive by accelerating degradation of natural resources. The Planning Commission had made it clear right in the beginning of the 11th Plan that hitting the target of 4 per cent annual agricultural growth would require the public investment to increase at a minimum of 12 per cent a year in real terms from its 2006-07 level. This seemed a truly tall order.


 The first green revolution owed much to the spread of irrigation, which, in turn, spurred the use of other inputs, notably fertilisers. That is not happening any more. For instance, most of the additional irrigation capacity created during the 10th Plan, only 50 per cent of the target on paper, was just notional because the land use data showed no increase in irrigated area. This could be partly because the created potential was actually not utilised and partly because the old irrigated area steadily went out of the net due to poor maintenance or decay of the irrigation system. Similarly, the use of fertilisers, the other key farm input that shows immediate results in terms of higher crop yields, is dismally low, besides being imbalanced. The country's per-hectare consumption of fertiliser is estimated at merely around 113 kg, against 166 kg in the neighbouring Bangladesh and 137 kg in Pakistan. Worse still, over half of the total fertiliser consumption is accounted for by five states — Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh — and virtually three crops (paddy, wheat and sugarcane). Such a situation is far from conducive for the green revolution to spread out to more states and more crops. Unless all such issues are addressed simultaneously, high and enduring agricultural growth may remain elusive. Both the Centre and states have to pay much closer attention to investment, productivity and institutional challenges in agriculture if the overall growth story has to remain hopeful.







A long-standing former chief editor and publisher of one of India's largest newspapers, Malayala Manorama, a former president of the Indian Newspaper Society, former chairman of Press Trust of India, founder-trustee and chairman of the Press Institute of India and Research Institute for Newspaper Development, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of International Newspaper Publishers and Editors based in France and a consultant of the International Press Institute. The late K M Mathew occupied many important positions in the world of Indian journalism. However, he will always be remembered as the most respected and successful journalist and publisher in India's most literate state, Kerala. Passing away over the weekend at his home in Kerala at the ripe age of 93, the late K M Mathew has left behind a media empire that spans the world of print and electronic media — newspapers, magazines, internet editions, television channels and the works. Under his stewardship, Malayala Manorama grew to print 17 editions and the group's publications included dozens of titles in Malayalam, English and Hindi. His achievements, and those of the publishing group, are all the more impressive given the highly competitive and politically conscious media market in Kerala.


Given the record of its performance, the quality and cosmopolitanism of its editorial and managerial leadership, it is surprising that Malayala Manorama did not make much of an impact outside the home state of Kerala. Indeed, few newspaper groups from non-metro centres have been able to go national. This is not always for want of trying. Malayala Manorama launched a weekly English newsmagazine that was unable to give its New Delhi-based rivals a run for their money. In new media, including television, few regional media groups have been able to acquire a national footprint. On the other hand, large metropolitan-based media groups have, in fact, bought into regional media, thereby diluting the decentralised character of Indian media. Growing concentration of revenue and power in the media is not a healthy development and public policy must grapple with the challenge. Policies that protect competition, discourage oligopolistic trade practices, punish the selling of news space, what has come to be called "paid news", and so on are becoming increasingly necessary to ensure diversity of ownership and opinion in the media. A worrying trend in media is, of course, the blurring of the lines between editorial and management. Owner-publishers have been editors for a long time, and more recently editors are doubling as publishers or CEOs. The late K M Mathew set high standards of professionalism among owner-editors that others could emulate to their benefit, even if he didn't empower professional journalists as much as he could have.









The last couple of weeks have seen focused activity on the tax reform front and that bodes well for the country. The finance minister's assurance to the states that their loss of revenue arising from the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) will be compensated in full, and his proposals on the threshold and tax rates to be levied by the states are very reassuring. Even more significant is the agreement by both the Union finance minister and the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers to the proposal put forth by Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), to set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to erect the information-technology platform for GST. Hopefully, the momentum will be maintained and the next few weeks will see agreements on structure and implementation issues as well as constitutional changes and regulatory systems at both central and state levels.


 Every tax involves three types of costs. The first is the cost of collection and having a simple tax system with minimum exemptions and preferences, and low and less differentiated rates minimises the collection cost. The second is the compliance cost and a simple and transparent tax system and the use of technology in tax administration to avoid the interaction between the taxpayer and the tax collector minimise the compliance cost. The third is the cost to the economy in terms of the distortions the tax creates. The best practice approach to tax reform advocates broadening the base and levying the tax at low and less differentiated rates. The destination-based consumption type GST is supposed to reduce all the three costs and ensure seamless trade throughout the country. While the introduction of VAT at the state-level in April 2005 has helped substantially simplify and rationalise the consumption tax system, GST is the next stage in the transition.


In developing countries, tax administration is tax policy and in the modern world, technology is a critical element of tax administration as it will help minimise all the three costs associated with taxation. Therefore, the agreement to set up the SPV for creating the IT infrastructure required to facilitate input tax credit, smoothen inter-state transactions in goods and services, and ensure accurate and timely zero rating of taxes on exports is the most significant development. The past tax reform exercises in indirect taxes did not include strengthening of the information system and, therefore, did not enhance the revenue productivity to the desired extent. The improvement in revenue productivity resulting from the institution of the tax information network in the case of income tax is well known as in just three years from 2003-04 to 2007-08, the revenue from income tax relative to GDP increased by over three percentage points. In this sense, the agreement by the Union finance minister and the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers to the proposal by the UIDAI chairman to incubate the information-technology platform with a technology partner such as National Payments Corporation of India or National Securities Depository Ltd and set up an SPV with majority stake held by the central and state governments is the most significant development. Of course, a lot of work will have to be done to erect the platform and surely the partner chosen will have the capability.


The second important development is the Union finance minister's offer to compensate the loss of revenue arising from both the abolition of CST and state VAT. In a cooperative tax reform initiative like the levy of dual GST, building the trust and confidence between the Centre and the states is important and the finance minister's offer to provide insurance against loss of revenue even if the amount is larger than that was recommended by the Finance Commission is commendable and this will help in keeping up the momentum. This will help restart the process that was partially jammed on account of the "all or nothing" recommendations of the Finance Commission.


A disappointing aspect, however, is the suggested rate structure. Surely, it is ideal to have a low and uniform rate of tax to reduce all the three costs associated with taxation. However, the suggested three-rate system for the Centre and a similar structure for the states is not in keeping with this tenet. It is suggested that besides an exempted list, a lower rate of 5 per cent on essential goods, a general rate of 10 per cent on goods and separate rate of 8 per cent on services will be levied by the Centre and the same has been recommended to the states for adoption. These are supposed to converge into a single rate of 8 per cent on all goods and services over the next three years. In fact, adoption of different rates for goods and services defies logic, for, goods enter into services and vice versa, and differentiating the rates between them will increase the compliance cost, create administrative complexities and classification disputes, and add to distortions. If revenue-neutral calculations warranted levying the tax at a higher than 8 per cent, the general rate could have been pegged at 9 per cent for both goods and services and there was no need to tax goods at 10 per cent and services at 8 per cent. Indeed some of the states still want higher rates and want that the empowered committee should merely stipulate the floor rate, leaving the states the autonomy to choose their own rates above the floor rate. Although it is possible to accommodate this in the IT platform, it will definitely increase both compliance cost and cost in terms of distortions.


There are still a number of steps to be taken before GST is put in place. The most important steps relate to the constitutional amendment and a monitoring mechanism, and both are beset with serious differences between the Centre and the states. The trade-off is between states' fiscal autonomy and tax harmonisation. Given the momentum created, the next few weeks will be exciting as these issues will be resolved and a mechanism to ensure conformity to the rules and discipline for a harmonised GST by both the Centre and the states will be put in place.


The author is director, NIPFP. The views expressed are personal. Comments at: 









Vikram Malhotra was the head of marketing for Kingfisher Airlines for about five years before he joined Balaji Motion Pictures as COO in September 2009. One of the first few films that he was involved in,Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, released last week to rave reviews. The biopic is loosely based on the rivalry between underworld dons Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim.


 Malhotra's newness (and, therefore, neutrality) to the area is what prompted me to ask him, why don't TV companies succeed as film producers and vice versa?


Yashraj Films created a slew of exclusive shows for Sony, which got neither the channel nor the production house anywhere. For a hot production house with a library full of blockbusters that is a poor show. Balaji's own foray into film production has been, to put it kindly, average. Some of its films such as Shootout at Lokhandwala and Love, Sex aur Dhoka did get critical acclaim. Again for a production house which changed the rules of the game on TV with one hit after another, it has been a less-than-spectacular show.


There are two exceptions. Rajshri Films managed to have a great debut on TV with Woh Rehne Wali Mahlon Ki, a hit on Sahara TV. UTV started life as a TV production company, before branching out into films, rather successfully.


However, generally the migration from one format to the other has not created the kind of content powerhouses you would have expected — with the exception of UTV.


So, why do film companies make poor TV producers and vice versa? Malhotra quotes Balaji's creative chief in response, "Ektaa (Kapoor) says that you cannot wear the same hat to talk to both audiences." He goes on to add his own take. He reckons that entertainment on celluloid has to have mass appeal and on TV it has to be aspirational.


When you use a film to tell a story, you do it in a dark room, with hundreds of other people, where the audience is cut off from the outside world. You can't use your mobile phone, can't talk, it is what Malhotra calls, "a warp zone". So for a film, "the delight or disappointment will always be exaggerated. Nobody says 'I hate that TV show'", says he.


Alright, so there is a difference in the mindset with which an audience sees a film versus a TV show. It still doesn't explain why both can't do the other's job as well. Is it the format? Do people from TV find it difficult to tell a story over two hours instead of stretching it over 52 weeks? On the other hand, do film-makers who tell a story over two hours find it difficult to tell it over half hour episodes?


That doesn't make sense. If that was the case, why do ad guys, who make 30-second ad films, make good film-makers and storytellers. R Balki, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas India, has proved his mettle with Cheeni Kumand Paa. Rensil D'Silva, a former copywriter, wrote Rang De Basanti and recently directed Kurbaan. Jaideep Sahni is usually used as a shining example of an ad guy doing well with film-writing. Prasoon Joshi, chairman and chief creative officer of McCann Erickson, doubles as an award-winning lyricist.


My guess is that both format and audience mindset combine to make storytellers shape up. If people are merely distracted and multitasking while watching TV, they are downright put off the moment an ad comes on. So, ad guys have to tell a story that no one is even willing to hear, forget paying for it. They have to tell it quickly, engage the audience and yet create a brand. Have a look at some of the better commercials on air currently; Happydent chewing gum, Perfetti, Asian Paints. Most have the look and feel of a feature film. The singers, musicians, lyricists could all be from the film world. The look, feel and narrative of the commercials are pure 35-mm cinema.


Maybe that is where TV and film companies wanting to grow into other media should look for inspiration. 









The nature of debates that engage ministers and bureaucrats in different Bhavans on and around New Delhi's Raisina Hill is a usually reliable indicator of the Union government's policy priorities and concerns. If we use this yardstick, it would appear that in its second term, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has seen a perceptible shift in the nature of such policy debates.


A quick review of what is currently engaging the attention of ministers and bureaucrats in different central ministries, therefore, will be useful. For the last several months, North Block, which houses the finance ministry headquarters, has been busy with the goods and services tax (GST) and the direct taxes code. The two major tax reforms will bring about as fundamental a change in the country's taxation structure as was seen in the first phase of reforms in the 1990s.


 Successive governments in that decade had reduced and simplified the customs duty, introduced the service tax, moved towards a central value-added tax system and cut the direct tax rates to reasonably low levels for both individuals and companies. The debate during those days had a different tinge to it. Domestic industry was wary of the impact of the lowering of the import tariff barrier and Left critics were worried that the sharp cut in duties and taxes would fail to trigger higher compliance and increased revenue buoyancy. In the end, it turned out that these fears were completely misplaced.


The current discussion over GST and the new direct taxes code has none of that shrillness. Industry, in general, is happy that the government is moving ahead with these changes. If they have some concerns, these are over the need to make the new system more simple, uniform and foolproof. Taking the place of industry as sharp critics of the new system are new players like the state governments and even some central ministries.


States, particularly those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, are opposed to the idea of losing their fiscal autonomy of fixing a state-level GST rate of their choice. They are not happy with the proposal that the Centre will enjoy the veto power in the council of finance ministers, which would settle all disputes over the implementation of the GST system. They are also demanding higher compensation for the revenues they might lose after the implementation of the new system. Note that these are disputes among governments. Industry and consumers are quiet bystanders, who hope that the new system would be in place soon enough making their life more simple and businesses more efficient.


The surprise is that the real opposition to the new direct taxes code has come from within the Union government. The commerce ministry, which had introduced the scheme of special economic zones with statutory backing in 2005, is upset that the direct taxes code may take away the tax incentives granted to the units set up under these zones. A major debate is now going on within the government over the extent to which the finance ministry can tweak the new code to retain or modify these incentives.


Another change in the nature of debates in UPA-II is that they are no longer restricted to the formulation of fiscal policies. Instead, they are now spread over other areas. Roads, Highways and Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath is upset with the Planning Commission, which has come out with a study that found that the ministry's business model for building roads is financially unviable. The debate between Kamal Nath's ministry and Yojana Bhavan has reached a level where the minister described the Planning Commission as a body of armchair advisors.


Not just the home minister's strategy to tackle Left-wing extremism in large parts of the country is now under attack from within the Congress, there is also greater scrutiny of the government's plan to legislate the people's right to food. Don't forget that the right to food is being framed under the supervision of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which has activists like Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy as members and Congress President Sonia Gandh as its chairperson.


Yet, non-government organisations outside NAC have mounted a major move against the right to food, arguing that the quantity of food assured under the law is inadequate and that the law should guarantee not just availability of foodgrains but also pulses and vegetables (food security cannot be delinked from nutritional security!).


A fresh debate may surface when the human resources development ministry allows the entry of foreign universities. Already, the proposal to allocate 26 per cent of equity in mining companies to tribal people, who lose their land to such projects, is a subject of heated debate among various departments within the government. Similarly, the civil aviation ministry is unhappy with the environment and forests ministry's strict enforcement of laws that do not permit the construction of a new airport that would destroy mangroves and cause other ecological problems.


The point you cannot miss is that the debates in UPA-II are no longer only about economic or fiscal policies. They are more about infrastructure, internal security, education, land rights for tribal people, environmental concerns over industrial projects and the right to food security.









After every crisis, the tendency has been to firm up the regulatory processes so that the inherent malaise is tackled. But such actions have the potential to slow down the economy, which is why they run the risk of being counterproductive. Contrarians argue that better surveillance rather than new laws is more important and could be the real solution as it helps pre-empt a crisis. Changes in the financial order have been discussed and the so-called


Basel III is the latest in the study book. It is an interesting development that adds fresh dimensions to an existing issue, and it will come up for further discussion this November when the G-20 meets. Basel II is still incomplete and we are going to Basel III, which is based more on the wisdom of hindsight. What is this new financial order all about?


 The genesis of the large-scale failure was in having highly leveraged institutions that were under-capitalised. The talk, therefore, surrounds these twin issues to ensure a stable banking system in future. Four subjects now dominate the discussion. The first is, of course, capital. The thought process involves making capital requirements more stringent so that there are fewer escape routes and this would, therefore, tackle treatment of off-balance sheet items more closely. Further, capital, or rather Tier- 1 capital, is to be redefined as percentage of risk-weighted assets, and there will be some exclusion such as goodwill, minority interest, deferred tax assets, bank investments in its own shares and provisioning shortfalls. All forms of hybrid capital would be phased out. These definitions are to be put in place by 2012.


The second issue is liquidity. Banks need to have adequate liquidity in order to survive a crisis situation. Here, it has been suggested that liquidity should be adequate to survive a stress period of 30 days. But, the issue of what constitutes liquidity remains unanswered as in the current scenario, sovereign bonds, which conventionally were considered good, have come under a bit of a cloud. The suggested guidelines also talk about the matching of liabilities with assets, as banks typically have short-term liabilities that are associated with long-term assets. More long-term funding is the suggestion here.


The third point of debate pertains to taxes and executive pay. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suggested a tax on the assets of the banks to build a corpus that can be used at the time of a crisis. This is contentious since while the UK, the US and Germany have gone along with and are considering a 0.04 per cent tax, France and Canada are opposed to this idea. A consensus will develop on the issue in the course of time.


Compensation has been an eyesore in this crisis and there is official talk of not just deferring bonuses, but also devising systems to claw back the bonuses in case of a crisis. Although this sounds good, it may be hard to implement. Several dealers/bankers had taken risks and got good payoffs when the going was good. However, when the crisis unfolded, on account of the risks that had been taken, they could not be made to pay for their actions. It is still not certain as to how this can be done.


The last issue is about making banks safer institutions. Two thoughts have come up here. The first is to have larger banks, which in the past were considered to be too big to fail, to go in for higher capital charges — a kind of surcharge wherein they have to have higher Tier-1 capital. This is an extension of the concept of pro-cyclical buffers, which are built during good times to take care of the rainy days. Simultaneously, there is a demand to build contingent capital which can be converted from debt to equity in times of crisis. The second pertains to assigning higher weights for proprietary trading activities as the attempt is to restructure banking activities into proprietary trading and main banking activity.


While these proposed guidelines would make banking sound, there are some uncomfortable possibilities that may prop up. To begin with, such firm regulation would put brakes on the expansion of bank credit, which can impede growth. Typically, shocks that affect banks' capital make them adjust to loan supply to meet leverage and capital ratios. The Institute of International Finance (IIF) has estimated that banks will have to raise up to $700 billion of equity and $5,400 billion of wholesale debt between 2010 and 2015 to meet these requirements. This can affect the recovery process in countries that are dependent on bank finance (Europe) as against the ones dependent on capital markets (the US). IMF VaR (value at risk) models suggest that Europe can lose 2 percentage points growth in GDP on this count. Secondly, there is a case of borrowers shifting to the capital market from banks on account of these constraints, which, in turn, can increase the risk factor. The basic justification of intermediation is the ability to bridge the information asymmetry between borrower and lender. With banks being constrained, there would be a shift to the debt market where the perceived risk could be higher. Third, greater recourse to long-term funding to ensure that banks do not have a liquidity squeeze will have a bearing on cost of operations. Finally, the guidelines on proprietary trading and bonuses will have a bearing on financial innovation. While the exotic products did deal a blow to the financial system in the last few years, admittedly, they did bring about substantial re-engineering and churning of funds to sustain the growth process.


The picture is grim as any new regulation runs the risk of clamping down on a sector that has strayed. While such a discussion is in order, Basel III should try not to drive conservatism so hard that it makes banking difficult. Better surveillance instead of over-regulation, it is felt, may just be what should be recommended today. And surprisingly, there isn't much talk on this subject.


The author is chief economist, CARE ratingsViews expressed are personal







AS SALARIES of corporate honchos rise faster than the profits of the companies they run, shareholders and policymakers fret, around the world. But there is no real cause for alarm in India. At one level, to the extent those who run companies choose to compensate themselves in the open, in a manner in which they pay taxes on their incomes, it is a big improvement on the bad old days when the government used to place stringent limits on executive pay and corporate managements used to routinely take money off the books of companies. Even today, the absence of institutional funding of politics is the single-biggest obstacle to corporate governance reform in India, with all major companies having to generate funds off their books to pay off politicians and parties. It is not fashionable to acknowledge this embarrassing detail, namely that the great Indian democracy that we are all so proud of runs on money skimmed off the books of companies. Industry and the political class must put their heads together to lift this constraint on India's growth. In the meantime, it is possible to improve the functioning of shareholder democracy, the market for corporate control and the market for managerial talent for corporate pay to strike the right balance between destructive greed and appropriate reward. In the US, even after reformist legislation to give shareholders some say on executive pay, shareholder opinion remains non-binding on the board on the subject. In India, top management pay has to be approved by the general meeting of shareholders. However, the functioning of shareholder democracy remains stunted in India. Shareholder democracy works, ultimately, in tandem with the market for corporate control — shareholders should have viable options to vote with their feet when confronted with rapacious promoter directors. 


 Rather than tinker with compensation committees, it might make sense to stipulate that only non-promoter shareholders would vote on top management pay. That would allow institutional shareholders to exercise meaningful judgment on the subject. Mandatory disclosure on the ratio of CEO pay to the median pay of all employees, too, should help.








 JET Airways' move to distance itself from the airline industry's attempts to restructure its mounting debts may have upset its plans to present a united front vis-àvis the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). It certainly weakens the case for industry-wide support being mooted by the Indian Banks' Association. In any case, there is no justification for any restructuring using taxpayer money. It would set a bad precedent: what is to prevent the automobile, telecom or any other sector making a similar plea? It would also go against the basic premise of the market-driven model of development. Namely, that competition will weed out the inefficient and allow only the fittest to survive. If the airline industry is in a bad shape, it has only itself to blame. In a notoriously-cyclical industry, many airline companies went in for largescale capacity expansion during the boom days. It is but inevitable that they should suffer in a downturn. For much the same reason, banks that got carried away by rosy projections and financed over-aggressive expansion plans of airline companies without doing their homework should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their own folly. Their plea for a special dispensation for these loans on the grounds of poor financial health, capital intensity of the sector and long gestation period does not wash. None of this is new or unexpected. Yes, in the past, the RBI has allowed corporate debt restructuring of individual loans but that is not the same as allowing sector-wide concessions. 


 Regulatory forbearance should be the exception, not the rule. To be sure, we saw the US government come to the rescue of its auto industry at the height of the recession. But those were exceptional circumstances, and political economy considerations in terms of job losses at a time of high unemployment drove the decision. That is not the situation in India today. The airline sector is a high-skill, high-wage industry and though job losses anywhere are bad news, there can be no justification to rescue jobs and companies using taxpayer money. Companies and banks must be made to pay for their excesses.







 THERE is obviously nothing common about the wealth being allegedly generated for a few individuals, but the games being played to discount any wrongdoing in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) are worth a few laughs. First is the startling explanation by Union urban development minister S Jaipal Reddy that what the public sees as leaky roofs and flooded chambers are possibly new drainage techniques being implemented by the engineering wizards who constructed the stadium that he inaugurated along with Union sports minister M S Gill. Could that new system be rainwater harvesting, undoubtedly a major concern for most Indian cities, especially perennially-parched Delhi? If that is the case, using the buildings themselves as catchment and storage areas instead of underground recharge tanks is a revolutionary idea that no one else but the CWG engineers could have thought of. 


 Then there was the equally-amazing assertion by Mr Gill that organising the CWG is like arranging a 'Punjabi wedding', where things fall into place at the last moment and the wedding party leaves satisfied with the bandobast. The fact is, even the most lavish Punjabi wedding does not cost anywhere near what the CWG has so far. Besides, this spectacle is being funded by taxpayers' money, not the largesse of an indulgent, well-heeled Punjabi parent. Even if that analogy is allowed to be used, a fond papa overlooking any blemishes in his offspring can be forgiven, but the public would be less willing to swallow Mr Gill's robust assertion that 'these stadiums have no faults and leakages anywhere'. Perhaps, like the emperor's new clothes, the resplendent CWG regalia is visible only to those who are willing to go along with the tailors' story of its grandeur.








 BEFORE I published The innovator's dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail, I got a call from Andrew Grove, then the chairman of Intel. He had read one of my early papers about disruptive technology, and he asked if I could talk to his direct reports and explain my research and what it implied for Intel. Excited, I flew to Silicon Valley and showed up at the appointed time… 


 I told the story of how Nucor and other steel mini-mills had begun by attacking the lowest end of the market — steel reinforcing bars, or rebar — and later moved up toward the high end, undercutting the traditional steel mills. When I finished the mini-mill story, Grove said, "Okay, I get it. What it means for Intel is…," and then went on to articulate what would become the company's strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the Celeron processor… If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, I'd have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think — and then he reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own… When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I'll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they'll say, "Okay, I get it." And they'll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.






 INFLATION has grabbed headlines as well as the attention of policymakers in 2010. Following the financial crisis in 2007-08, commodity prices fell, leading to a decline in input costs, swelling corporate sector profit margins. 


The economic recovery has reversed this trend and India Inc has had to recently endure increase in commodity prices. Although commodity price volatility is exogenous, appropriate strategies can help firms mitigate risks arising out of volatility in commodity prices. 


The impact of the financial crisis on the Indian corporate sector became evident in the first quarter of 2008-09 when the rate of growth of profits after tax (PAT) plummeted to 3.27% from the record high growth rate of 37.22% in the corresponding quarter of 2007-08. For the two subsequent quarters, the crisis deepened and profits showed a heavy decline (see chart: The challenge). 


 However, since the last quarter of 2008-09, an unexpected upward movement was noticed in profits of the corporate sector despite the financial crisis. The PAT picked up from –26.42% in the third quarter of 2008-09 to 18% in the first quarter of 2009-10. In the subsequent quarters of 2009-10, strong performance was shown by the corporate sector in terms of growth in PAT and this occurred despite fall in net sales from the last quarter of 2008-09 to the second quarter of 2009-10. 


 An important reason for such strong growth of profits has to do with commodity prices. As is widely known, the financial crisis softened prices in commodity markets. The commodity crisis, in turn, cushioned the impact of the financial crisis as Indian companies improved their margins from the savings in input costs, mainly raw material prices. 


 The fall in input prices resulted in an impressive growth in profits as PAT recorded a growth rate of 134% and 161% in second and third quarters of 2009-10. 


 In recent months, commodity prices have, however, rebounded. According to the World Bank, global energy prices have increased 60%, and metal and agricultural prices increased by 62% and 19% respectively in the first quarter of calendar year 2010 compared to the corresponding period in 2009. 


 The recent increase is notwithstanding the recent crisis in the PIGS countries — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — and fear of the collapse of the eurozone. While the European crisis did affect commodity prices, especially the prices of industrial commodities, during May — oil prices fell from a high of $87 per barrel to $68 per barrel and some metal prices declined more than 20% from their high levels in April — the World Bank predicts that energy prices will rise by 25%, while nonenergy and commodity prices will increase around 17% in 2010. 


 In addition to this, there are signs of recovery in the Indian economy — strong growth in industrial production and revised estimates of GDP — that has revived capital flows and increased domestic liquidity. Add to this the fact that India is facing capacity constraints and we have a recipe for an imminent price inflation. 


 Of the many reasons for inflation, volatile commodity prices pose the most serious challenge for the country's corporate sector. Upward movement of commodity prices squeezes earnings in the short term. 
 Some companies try to mitigate the impact by improving efficiency of supply chains, by substituting the costly material components with lesser expensive varieties, and by cutting down on general and administrative costs. 


Those companies that have the market power succeed in passing on the prices to the consumers. A small, though unrepresentative, number of companies hedge in the commodity market using futures or option contracts to minimise the risks linked to volatility. 


The most important task for firms in an environment of volatile commodity prices is to understand commodity market dynamics such as the external and internal environment, the cost drivers of commodities they purchase and an accurate and realistic assessment of their market power. 


 A complete understanding will enable the corporates to craft better strategies to mitigate risks arising out of price volatility. In addition to addressing the underlying risk, such strategies will result in reduced procurement spending and more importantly increased shareholder value. Informed strategies, therefore, dominate the 'sit, wait and do nothing' approach adopted by most firms. 


 The year 2010 is showing signs of recovery as well as commodity price volatility. So, this becomes a litmus test for the corporate sector to display its true strengths. It would be interesting to see whether India Inc comes out as a shining winner at the end of this test. 

(The author is researcher at Icrier)








ERE'S irony indeed: earthworms, eagles and orangutans are examples of creatures that seem to be in harmony with themselves and everything around them. They are born, give birth, kill or get killed and ultimately go individually extinct without ever bothering to reflect — or having the capacity to do so — on such activity with the kind of perfect equanimity attained by those who areenlightened. Alas, if only Arjuna could have been shown the way a cockroach lives, some 18 profound chapters of an annotated sermon on the momentous battle might have been avoided. 


That's because we who aren't just biological machines and happen to be gifted with a delicacy of awareness are not so lucky. Doomed to constant introspection, we fret to death on thoughts, words and deeds because there's something called humanness that is more than mere animal that has evolved in us. But, somehow, that humanity hasn't turned out to be enough; something obviously seems to have been lost along the way. Else, why would we be told by those who are wise to not be wholly fulfilled by our everyday existence and exhorted to bettering our being? 


There is, however, a flip side to this existential angst. All that inner wrangling has given birth to some of our best poetry and painting along with the greatest in literature, music, song and sculpture. It has also created societies, systems of governance, economic structures and founded religions and mythology. 


And, just as importantly, it has given rise to an overarching curiosity about the worlds we inhabit so that we no longer stand in fear and awe of the unknown but understand how things work and make them work for us instead. We think such magnificent tools of science have also defined us away from animals forever. 

 Nothing wrong with that and more power to us, but now we are told the future lies in the melding of man with mechanisms wherein implants, electrodes and computer-brain interfaces with digital data uploads to the brain and downloads to disc are inevitable. 


 Yet, whether you internalise a tool or externalise out into it, you risk becoming the tool as much as the tool risks becoming you in the process of creating this higher order tool. The only possible danger is that we could then devolve into something resembling biological machines all over again, living in harmony with ourselves and everything around us. Would that be worth it?




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In June, to which the genesis of the current troubles in Kashmir can be traced, few would have thought the prejudicial events in the Valley would take one serious turn after another, leading to more than 30 deaths in firings by the state police and the CRPF at the last count. Within the space of a month, the Cabinet Committee on Security presided over by the Prime Minister has seen it fit to meet twice to discuss Kashmir developments, and there is no end in sight. With Independence Day coming up, it may be safe to assume that the troublemakers will be encouraged to step up the tempo of their "protests" which have little to do with the aspirations of the people and become carefully staged opportunities to vent the separatist sentiment of a small minority mostly fuelled by elements across the Line of Control. Some have sought to compare the current events with the turbulent 1980s and early 1990s when terrorist outfits nurtured by Pakistan ruled the roost and caused mayhem. This is an exaggeration. The circumstances have changed fundamentally since then, and the popular mood now is underpinned by a long-term desire for normality, peace and progress within the ideological framework described by India and the assurances extended to the people by New Delhi. It is the transformation to this stage — marked by the successful conduct of two parliamentary and state elections, not to mention the relative prosperity in Kashmir in relation to many parts of the country which stands out in sharp contrast to conditions in parts of the state seized by Pakistan in 1947-48 — that also underscores, however, the obvious failure by the state government and the Centre to keep the wheels of normal life turning. Chief minister Omar Abdullah, unlike certain other leaders Kashmir has known, is earnest, sincere and transparent. But he has to demonstrate the ability to place this invaluable asset in the effective service of the people. Such an effort would necessarily involve galvanising the machinery of his party and that of his allies, and neutralising the machinations of the narrow but vicious pro-Pakistan constituency and its camp followers. The latter do not lack for wile, guile, or resources. New Delhi must continue to extend the young CM every support and help defeat reactionary moves aimed at imposing governor's rule or mid-term elections on the state. The emergence of either option will bespeak of the failure of governance and detract from the mandated opportunity to improve the lives of the people of Kashmir within the framework of democratic politics and respect for human rights. The CM is correct in his assessment that the problem in Kashmir is political. But he needs to complete the equation by pointing out that the "anti-social" elements he refers to are in reality remnants of the defeated pro-Pakistan end of the political spectrum that must be identified, exposed and isolated. If this is left undone, the delivery of the politics — and the economics — needed in Kashmir will be thwarted. Indeed, it will not be permitted to succeed if street violence continues to have a field day over a protracted period. The time may have come to deploy big-ticket political reforms along with effective steps to rein in criminal elements intent on anarchy.





1/6th America jobless, 5/6th doesn't care

By Paul Krugman


I'm starting to have a sick feeling about prospects for American workers — but not, or not entirely, for the reasons you might think.


Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That's bad. But what's worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn't care — that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal.


And I worry that those in power, rather than taking responsibility for job creation, will soon declare that high unemployment is "structural", a permanent part of the economic landscape — and that by condemning large numbers of Americans to long-term joblessness, they'll turn that excuse into dismal reality.


Not long ago, anyone predicting that one in six American workers would soon be unemployed or underemployed, and that the average unemployed worker would have been jobless for 35 weeks, would have been dismissed as outlandishly pessimistic — in part because if anything like that happened, policymakers would surely be pulling out all the stops on behalf of job creation.


But now it has happened, and what do we see? First, we see Congress sitting on its hands, with Republicans and conservative Democrats refusing to spend anything to create jobs, and unwilling even to mitigate the suffering of the jobless.


We're told that we can't afford to help the unemployed — that we must get budget deficits down immediately or the "bond vigilantes" will send US borrowing costs sky-high. Some of us have tried to point out that those bond vigilantes are, as far as anyone can tell, figments of the deficit hawks' imagination — far from fleeing US debt, investors have been buying it eagerly, driving interest rates to historic lows. But the fearmongers are unmoved: fighting deficits, they insist, must take priority over everything else — everything else, that is, except tax cuts for the rich, which must be extended, no matter how much red ink they create.


The point is that a large part of Congress — large enough to block any action on jobs — cares a lot about taxes on the richest one per cent of the population, but very little about the plight of Americans who can't find work.


Well, if Congress won't act, what about the Federal Reserve? The Fed, after all, is supposed to pursue two goals: full employment and price stability, usually defined in practice as an inflation rate of about two per cent. Since unemployment is very high and inflation well below target, you might expect the Fed to be taking aggressive action to boost the economy. But it isn't.


It's true that the Fed has already pushed one pedal to the metal: short-term interest rates, its usual policy tool, are near zero. Still, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has assured us that he has other options, like holding more mortgage-backed securities and promising to keep short-term rates low. And a large body of research suggests that the Fed could boost the economy by committing to an inflation target higher than two per cent.


But the Fed hasn't done any of these things. Instead, some officials are defining success down.


For example, last week Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, argued that the Fed bears no responsibility for the economy's weakness, which he attributed to business uncertainty about future regulations — a view that's popular in conservative circles, but completely at odds with all the actual evidence. In effect, he responded to the Fed's failure to achieve one of its two main goals by taking down the goalpost.


He then moved the other goalpost, defining the Fed's aim not as roughly two per cent inflation, but rather as that of "keeping inflation extremely low and stable".


In short, it's all good. And I predict — having seen this movie before, in Japan — that if and when prices start falling, when below-target inflation becomes deflation, some Fed officials will explain that that's OK, too.


What lies down this path? Here's what I consider all too likely: Two years from now unemployment will still be extremely high, quite possibly higher than it is now. But instead of taking responsibility for fixing the situation, politicians and Fed officials alike will declare that high unemployment is structural, beyond their control. And as I said, over time these excuses may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the long-term unemployed lose their skills and their connections with the work force, and become unemployable.


I'd like to imagine that public outrage will prevent this outcome. But while Americans are indeed angry, their anger is unfocused. And so I worry that our governing elite, which just isn't all that into the unemployed, will allow the jobs slump to go on and on and on.








As more and more scams are unearthed about the manner in which facilities for the Commonwealth Games in


Delhi have been built and continue to be constructed, the moot question that was raised during the Asian Games nearly three decades ago remains as relevant as ever: Who does the government spend money for — those who have or those who don't? The answer is apparent.


Indian society was always unequal. But, in recent years, as the country's gross domestic product (GDP) has grown faster and more consistently than before, there is little or no evidence to indicate that economic inequality has come down. On the contrary, there are indications that India has become more polarised, perhaps more vertically (that is, across income and expenditure classes) than horizontally (namely, across geographical regions). Economists have debated this issue endlessly, but even if the poor in India have not become poorer, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow even as politicians mouth empty slogans about the need for "inclusive growth".


It is often argued that economic growth invariably results in inequality widening but that poverty cannot be alleviated without growth — the analogy drawn is about a small cake being cut for a growing number of people vis-à-vis baking a bigger cake. It is also claimed that China has not just grown faster than India but that China is more unequal than India. Both these contentions can be challenged and, in fact, have been in a book, Awakening Giants: Feet of Clay with a subtitle Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India, that has been written by Pranab Bardhan, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and recently published by Oxford University Press.


Less than two years ago, at a fancy function in a five-star hotel where a television channel was awarding state governments which had performed well in terms of human and social development, one of the judges of the competition made a brief intervention. Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and Rajya Sabha MP Bimal Jalan stated that the total value of the assets of the country's top five billionaires (in US dollar terms) equalled those of the bottom 300 million people. He was no party-pooper that evening for scarcely an eyebrow was raised before the booze started flowing.


When, in May 2006, the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector headed by Arjun Sengupta claimed that 78 per cent of those who work in the unorganised sector in India live on Rs 20 a day or less, there was a huge hue and cry from economists who questioned the methodology and the authenticity of the data that was used to arrive at such a conclusion. In December 2008, an expert group headed by the former head of the Prime Minister's economic advisory council, Suresh Tendulkar, estimated that roughly a quarter of the country's urban population live on Rs 19 a day while close to 42 per cent of the rural population consume goods and services worth roughly Rs 15 a day.


Has it become boring and unfashionable to repeat certain facts about the world's largest democracy, where one out of three computer software engineers in the world has originated and a country where one out of three of the planet's malnourished and illiterate also reside? Economic writer and columnist Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar had argued that if the poor were really concerned about inequality, they should have celebrated the erosion in the wealth of the rich on account of the worldwide recession. But his logic is somewhat convoluted.


Prof Bardhan points out that inequality in India is not merely higher than in China but possibly "in the Latin American range" as official data from the Government of India (notably, from the National Sample Survey Organisation) is largely based on distribution of consumption expenditure and not income. This clearly under-estimates inequality as the rich tend to save much more than the poor.


He has further argued that the temporary reduction in the net worth of sections of India's corporate oligarchy — after all, we just went through a slowdown not a recession, didn't we? — has not at all reduced its corrupt grip on the country's political life or brought down the power of large landlords or the elite that captures local governance and misappropriates funds and services meant for the poor.


If one considers factors such as inequality in the distribution of land and capital, access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities and mobility across generations and social groups, Prof Bardhan believes that India's performance is inferior to that of China. He writes that while regional disparity in income or consumption is greater in China than in India, over the last two decades, China's backward regions have grown at rates almost comparable to its advanced regions and regional earning disparities may be narrowing (though not yet per capita income disparities).


In India, on the other hand, the poorer states (largely concentrated in the central and eastern regions) have grown much more slowly than richer states (mostly in the west and the south), implying that relative inequality has increased. In his book, Prof Bardhan explains why the impact of growth on poverty reduction has been weaker in India than in China, "probably on account of initial conditions, including larger inequality (of opportunity) in India, owing to inequalities of land, education and social status". The penultimate sentence of the chapter on poverty and inequality reads: "The link between economic reform and inequality is… ambiguous and difficult to disentangle from the effects of other ongoing changes".


We in India may aspire to hold our heads high in the comity of nations but we cannot also ignore the fact that not just China, but other countries that were historically unequal, such as Mexico, Brazil and Chile, have been far more successful than India has been in reducing poverty and inequality.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educatorand commentator








The 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is due to begin in less than four months from now, at Cancun, Mexico. As yet there are very few indications of significant milestones being achieved at that meeting. There are some who believe that the outcome of Cancun might turn out to be somewhat similar to the lack of strong steps forward witnessed last year at the 15th COP in Copenhagen.


For several months now there has been an expectation that the Senate of the United States would pass, in some form, a proposed bill that was introduced largely through the initiative of Senator John Kerry. However, this piece of legislation has not made any progress and for a variety of reasons most observers believe that perhaps legislation will not take place in the US till after the Congressional elections due to take place in November this year. After that what happens would depend largely on the political complexion of Congress as it emerges with a large number of new members.


Meanwhile, there are those officials in the administration who believe that much can be done through action by the executive branch of the government, particularly given the powers that the judiciary has provided to the United States Environment Protection Authority (USEPA). A very clear regulation to improve the energy efficiency of automobiles in the US is already in place. Another area where improvements in energy efficiency are economically viable is in the building sector. In fact, there are significant differences in energy efficiency of same-size buildings and for somewhat similar climates as between some countries of Europe and the US. A programme of incentives and disincentives could bring about an early and substantial improvement in energy efficiency in buildings in the US and, therefore, there could be a significant reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly specifies that the most effective instrument for bringing about mitigation of GHGs would be placing a price on carbon. A substitute for this would, of course, be a set of incentives, disincentives and regulatory requirements that could achieve similar results in the short term.


There is currently a growing concern on the possibility of a gap developing between the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the beginning of the second. The first period would be terminated at the end of 2012. However, if there is no agreement on actions to be taken in the second commitment period then clearly there is a possibility of the second period coming into force after a gap of time. It is with this in view that a proposal has now been introduced for discussion and possible action, by which some of the rigid requirements of the original version of the Kyoto Protocol — which is currently in force — would be modified to allow flexibility in countries joining and exiting the Protocol as an agreement emerges for the second commitment period. All this is being proposed essentially to see that an agreement is in place well before the end of 2012 and with adequate provision of time for the second commitment period coming into force without a gap.


While a global agreement has enormous significance for protecting the global commons, such as the earth's atmosphere which today is characterised by a rapid increase in the concentration of GHGs, action at the local level across the globe is now becoming increasingly imperative. The likelihood is that through widespread awareness on the likely impacts of climate change in different parts of the globe and the means by which mitigation of GHGs can take place, substantial action can be triggered at the local level across the globe. These actions will also create adequate confidence and a substantive basis to facilitate an agreement being reached at the global level.


One reason for expecting initiatives by communities and societies irrespective of any global agreement lies in the enormous co-benefits that would accrue from reduced GHG emissions. This is likely to happen because those actions which reduce these emissions, such as higher levels of energy efficiency in various sectors of the economy and a major increase in exploitation of renewable resources of energy, would also carry several attendant benefits. These would be in the nature of lower levels of air pollution at the local level which would create a range of health benefits, higher levels of energy security globally, higher employment, such as through projects based on renewable sources of energy and higher agricultural productivity which would ensure higher food security.


There is now growing evidence based on long-term observations which indicates that there is an increase in the intensity and frequency of floods, droughts, heat waves and extreme precipitation events. Public concern on this is also growing. It is not merely based on dissemination of the results of the AR4 but also as a consequence of observations by communities themselves on trends in changes of the climate systems which they are witnessing. The media, of course, has an important responsibility in spreading the results of scientific assessments, both in respect of the impacts of climate change and related adaptation measures as well as on opportunities and benefits associated with mitigation. It would, therefore, be reasonable to assume that understanding the human and economic costs of inaction and the net benefits from action would certainly create responses at the grassroots level that in the aggregate would provide the basis for a global agreement.


Meanwhile, it is important that the negotiators who are engaged in coming up with a future agreement, particularly in respect of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, devise practical and flexible approaches by which the second period is not delayed and does actually come into force by January 1, 2013. The world now has adequate experience in devising appropriate agreements that ensure a fair and effective response to the challenge of climate change across the globe and across all societies — an agreement that would hold and can be brought into force by a sizeable majority of nations.


* Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute








The ancient science of yoga is based on the laws of nature. In nature you will find that for every aspect there exists an equal and opposite. Darkness is nothing but the absence of light. Similarly, silence is nothing but the absence of sound. It is only the duality in nature, the coexistence of positive and negative, that gives meaning to the existence of the whole.


The ancient scriptures speak of a masculine energy, Shiv or the doer, and a feminine energy, Shakti or the force. In reality, the whole Creation derives its energy from Shakti and without her even the Lord is just a form. At the same time, Shakti without the Lord is just pure energy which needs a vehicle to carry out what it desires. The complete evolution thus becomes Lord Ardhanareshwar. This is the form of the sacred union of Shiv and Mata Parvati as one. Interestingly, a union between a married man and woman also symbolically represents the Ardhanareshwar.


The vedic rishis saw the union between a man and woman not for lust or gratification of sensual desires but as a sacred union for the purpose of procreation. Vedic rishis set yogic techniques and Sanatan Kriya which when followed can give a child of one's choice. Parents often wish to decide everything about their child even before conception. They wish to fulfil their unfulfilled dreams through their children, but these dreams cannot be fructified without Guru Kripa. However, there are certain basic guidelines that can be followed for children of a particular pravriti.


In a day, energy patterns keep changing. Similarly, day-to-day patterns also keep changing. Every object of creation, all lokas (dimensions of existence) and yugas (dimensions of time), as per the revelation of the ancient yogis, exist as energy forms. The movements of earth change the dimension of time — it lies tilted on its axis, and when the axis tilt, yugas change, just as when it moves on its axis, the seasons change. Every movement from one dimension to the other brings about a change or transformation as every day comes with its unique energy patterns.


To better understand energy changes that occur daily we must first understand the concept of sandhya, that is, when one energy transforms into another. Vedic philosophy describes four types of sandhyas that occur on any given day. The first, Brahma Sandhya, occurs an hour before and after sunrise. Positive forces are at their peak during this phase. Since this period is the best time for communion with higher energies, a child that is conceived during the Brahma Sandhya will be a pure and saintly soul. As the day progresses, energies transform, positive energies go down while negative energy starts to rise, leading to the Tantrik Sandhya. This occurs between 10.20 am and 11.30 am, where the positive and negative forces are equal in strength. This sandhya aids material gain, thus a child conceived during this time will have a strong hold over material things. At sunset again energies change, giving rise to the third sandhya where negative energies are at their peak. A child conceived during this period can show negative traits. However, practices like the Sanatan Kriya are done during this time to protect the child from the negative energies in the environment. The last and fourth sandhya occurs at midnight, when negative energies are going down and positive energies are going up.


Interaction with the spirit world is very easy during this time. Children conceived during this time will be level headed and have the potential to interact with the world of ether.


However, at the end of it all if your child has Guru Kripa, no matter the time or day of birth, there is nothing s/he will not be able to achieve.


— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at [1]







At a time when the world outside is lauding India's genius for "frugal innovation" and raising a toast to our unique ability to remove "expensive but unnecessary bells and whistles", as the Economist so graphically put it, it may seem churlish to ask if our health administrators like the sound of money sloshing around, especially without oversight.


But if you live in Delhi, it is hard to ignore that sloshing sound emanating from the ongoing drama, also known as preparation for the Commonwealth Games. The latest instalment of this juicy tale dwells on the Delhi government's inexplicable penchant for buying medical equipment for athletes at six to seven times the market price. Investigation by the media points to an inflated bill in the name of medical preparedness. Last week, Deccan Chronicle reported that contracts awarded to some firms for medical equipment, such as ice-making machines, used to make ice packs for injured athletes, have been heavily padded. What costs approximately Rs 50,000 per unit has been pegged at a level six to seven times higher than the original cost. An earlier investigation by a television channel showed that shortwave diathermy machines — used to treat muscle and tissue injuries — which normally cost around Rs 77,000 — are being procured at Rs 4.9 lakh. These are just two samples. If you add up all the bits and pieces of overspending which have come to light on medical gadgetry alone in the run-up to the Games, the loss to the public exchequer is over Rs 3 crore. Delhi's health minister Kiran Walia says the expenses aren't directly in her domain but she "will definitely enquire into it". As I write, news is trickling in that the Central Vigilance Commission is indeed looking into the case.


Now contrast these problems of plenty with another story we heard just a few weeks ago. This is the poignant tale of 20-odd thalassemic children who reportedly got infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after blood transfusions at a government hospital in Jodhpur. Thalassemia is a genetic defect. Those suffering from thalassemia require frequent transfusions of blood for survival. The Jodhpur hospital has steadfastly refused to own up to any responsibility in the matter though this is not the first time it has come under a scanner. Two years ago there were reports of a similar incident at the hospital when a transfusion of blood led to five children getting infected with HIV and 29 others with Hepatitis C. The hospital maintains it follows the blood screening system for HIV prescribed by National AIDS Control Organisation, and yet repeatedly draws attention to its lack of critical medical facilities to detect impure strains in the blood.


The two unrelated tales have one thing in common — lack of oversight. They also show that one of the reasons behind India's underperformance in healthcare is co-existence of the problems of plenty and the problems of scarcity. Without effective monitoring and supervision, both can lead to unhappy ends.


Out of the two, the story about the thalassemic children is the more heart-wrenching one. The National Human Rights Commission has asked the hospital for a report but the tragedy is slowly going off the media radar. And there is no news about the fate of the impacted children. There has been no offer to compensate the parents either.


The Jodhpur hospital authorities have argued that they are handicapped by the lack of facilities such as the Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) which aim at shortening the window period (a time when a patient has been infected and when they show up as positive by antibody tests). Such facilities can indeed reduce chances of contamination of blood.


"But less than half-a-dozen hospitals have facilities for NAT. That reduces the chances of contaminated blood but does not guarantee 100 per cent safety", points out Dr Sunil Rajadhayaksha, head, transfusion medicine, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. "If we make NAT compulsory, health budgets will go up. The top government hospitals and the private hospitals can deal with that. Not so, the rest. Blood transfusion cannot be 100 per cent safe anywhere. But we try to make it as safe as possible. Blood safety in this country is governed by the National Blood Policy. I think, more than a change in the policy, you need implementation and vigilance over the existing policy. The focus has to be on strategies to promote voluntary blood donation. Less than five per cent of the population donate blood because there is an erroneous belief that blood donation is only for the lowly", he adds.


Shivangi Rai, a legal officer with the non-governmental organisation Lawyer's Collective, also argues that though more money and better facilities such as NAT would help, the core issue is enforcing existing quality control procedures to ensure blood safety. The most viable strategy to ensure a safe and adequate supply of blood is the recruitment, selection and maintenance of voluntary blood donors. In this, the principles of consent and confidentiality once again come into play. The National Blood Policy, 2002, lays down guidelines to be followed by blood banks for collection, testing, storage and distribution of blood and blood products, including screening for infectious diseases. Donors are supposed to be counselled at length before their blood is taken and detailed information about donors, specifically information about "risk" behaviour, is also meant to be collected through a mandatory questionnaire. But much of this exists only on paper.


In a country where the availability of safe blood is not guaranteed, what can people do? The only recourse left to people who have been infected through blood transfusions is to seek redress in the courts. There have been instances where institutions like the Lawyers' Collective have helped aggrieved individuals and families to get compensation.


Last Saturday, I called Ms Rai to find out if the parents of the thalassemic children who reportedly got infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after blood transfusions at the Jodhpur hospital got in touch with Lawyers' Collective. "Sadly not", she replied. Not everyone is aware of the rights or about the legal options available in such situations. Money or no money, little will change on the ground till people start demanding better healthcare services as a matter of right.


* Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at [1]









INEVITABLE was yet another "peaking" of the flood of violent protest sweeping the Kashmir Valley because so little by way of non-police action was undertaken since the last one. That the lone all-party meeting in Srinagar would not even serve as a fire-fighting measure was evident before it concluded, that little follow-up was visible has resulted in worrisome new angles to the agitation. Women are now in the forefront of the agitation, the local police are being attacked in addition to the CRPF and other symbols of authority ~ railway property ~ are being targeted. Omar Abdullah offers nothing beyond a mismatch of appeals and "police" to offer to break the violence cycles. In New Delhi, the CCS merely reviews a host of disturbing reports and regurgitates "advice" that has made no previous headway. And so Bloody Sunday took the death toll since 30 July to 14, and to 31 since 11 June. With a large number of CRPF/police personnel also suffering serious injuries. The photograph of the badly-beaten CRPF jawan stripped to his underwear reflected high levels of hatred, and fear is mirrored in reports of J&K policemen carrying civilian identity cards as off duty "protection". Curfew across large swathes of the Valley is only notionally protective, it provokes the stone-pelting etc. that provokes the paramilitary/police into opening fire. Back to square one. The union home ministry's line that violence must abate before dialogue commences is bureaucratic academics, has it worked with the Maoists? Any loud thinking about Governor's rule would cause further alienation and boost the "case" of those who write off the democratic process. Merely pointing accusing fingers in several directions brings small comfort. To what extent has in-fighting in the J&K Congress impacted on the coalition government's capacity for political assuage? 

 Has the Centre a considered, clear policy on J&K? For in its absence there really is little to talk about, at any level in Srinagar or New Delhi: surely there has been enough exchange of views by now. What about diluting AFSPA, a policy to rehabilitate militants who have served their jail terms, a scheme by which "misguided youth" can return from POK, etc? The brand of violence in J&K cannot be equated with riots in other parts of the country. It will require a sustained New Delhi-powered drive to make a breakthrough. For example, the kind of impetus that propels the effort to cut Modi to size in Gujarat. 



AS the central government dithers over a  caste-based census, distinctions in the cow belt have assumed sub-human proportions. Mayawati's social engineering ~ by nominating Brahmins ~ prior to the last Assembly elections has backfired. And it has backfired to the extent of verging on untouchability in an emerging India. Children of primary schools in no fewer than four districts, notably Kanpur, have refused to eat midday meals cooked by Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It might be labouring the obvious to submit that the social outrage in the schools in Etawah, Kanauj, Auraiya and Kanpur has been perpetrated by UP's upper caste adults. Both the state and guardians are using children to buttress an adult agenda. It is a protest against the Chief Minister's order last April, making it mandatory for the listed classes and OBCs to be appointed as cooks in schools. The upper castes, who might have been impressed by Mayawati's bout of electoral social engineering, are now up in arms against job reservation in the school kitchens, one that has been reinforced with the government order (GO). Though the order has been modified on 23 July, considerable damage has been done. It hasn't ended the food boycott; nor for that matter have classes resumed.  

It isn't merely the midday meal prepared by SC/ST/OBCs that has been spurned; the majority of the predominantly upper caste students have stopped attending classes for the past few days. Learning has come to a virtual halt between the Bahujan Samaj Party's casteist agenda and parental intervention. In the event, the state that sends the largest contingent of members to the Lok Sabha has disgraced itself. Mayawati has used the schools to sharpen the social divide. Tragically, the children are now being used by upper caste parents to widen the rift further still. Those BSP leaders, etched in stone despite Supreme Court orders to the contrary, are now mute witnesses to a state that has turned the clock back by at least two centuries. The Chief Minister has pandered to a social constituency by ordering the kitchen quota. Uttar Pradesh being Uttar Pradesh, an upper caste backlash was only to be expected. The boycott of food and classes has exacerbated social tensions. This is food for thought for the Group of Ministers, now chewing over a caste-based census. A casteless society is anathema to the Hindi heartland; caste-conscious UP illustrates that it can flounder on the rock of  a child's entitlement ~ the midday meal. 



With attention focused on the talks scheduled in Delhi and Kolkata, Central and state representatives must be desperately hoping that the parties can be persuaded to agree to an interim arrangement in Darjeeling. But now, more than an administrative solution, there is the bigger concern about who represents people of the Hills. For the last 25 years, Darjeeling has been dominated by self-styled rulers who have thrived on whipped up sentiments rather than the electoral process. Subash Ghisingh firmly resisted popular endorsement when he sensed that his stock was declining. Then the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha found Bimal Gurung to match Ghisingh's autocratic style. Now in the wake of Madan Tamang's assassination, the morcha finds itself challenged by a formidable line-up of rivals. To that extent, it is open to debate whether the last tripartite talks in Delhi with the morcha embraced all shades of opinion. The Centre has sought to make amends by inviting Ghisingh for the next round on 17 August. This will not only leave the morcha fuming but will be questioned by non-morcha parties who shuttle between militancy and moderation and use the Gorkhaland card to keep passions alive. 

The Left Front finds itself on the back foot after action has shifted to Delhi. But with the morcha's proposal of an extended Gorkhaland to include tribal areas in the plains ~ rejected by adivasi outfits ~ it is turning out to be another Centre-state issue. The state has introduced a fresh complication by convening a meeting of non-morcha parties in Kolkata. It helps Kolkata to let Delhi believe there is no consensus on who represents the Hills in the post-Ghisingh era. Gurung, like Ghisingh, prefers to rule by decree rather than elections but may no longer go unchallenged. If the Chief Minister has reservations about tripartite talks without comprehensive representation and the ground situation being conducive, the Centre banks on Gurung to get the administrative process going, a proposal unlikely to get Ghising's nod. It puts a question mark on the whole process. The Centre and state appear to be pulling in opposite directions with the ominous prospect of the entire process being rejected by those who claim political space but find themselves excluded. If local elections are impractical at this stage, although why that should be so is anyone's guess, the only alternative is to strive for a consensus.








IT is unprecedented in Pakistan's army ~ the three-year extension granted to its chief, General Kayani by the civilian government. He will retire on 28 November 2013. To understand the Kayani saga, one needs to turn the pages of history. The tradition of supersession began with Ayub Khan. 

Commissioned in the 1/14 Punjab Regiment, Ayub superceded Iftikhar Khan to become the army chief from 16 January 1951 to 26 October 1958. Subsequently, he scuttled democracy to become a dictator Field Marshal in the guise of President from October 1958 to 1970. As the Head of State, Ayub appointed two Chiefs during his tenure ~ Muhammad Musa Khan, a Shia Pashtun (October 1958-June 1966) and Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan also a Shia Pathan (June 1966 ~ December 1971). Thereafter, Zulfiqar Bhutto had two Chiefs, first an acting commander, Lt.-Gen Gul Hassan Khan (December 1971-March 1972) and Tikka Khan, a Punjabi (March 1972- February 1976). Bhutto, however, committed the fatal blunder ~ he replaced Tikka Khan, appointing Zia-ul-Haq as the army chief on 1 March 1976. Misled by a deceptively quiet and potentially pliable  General, one who migrated to Pakistan as a refugee from Indian Punjab, Bhutto preferred Zia because he didn't have a base in the army or even tribal support. In the process, he ignored six other senior officers, including Lt.-Gen M Shariff, a highly professional and apolitical soldier who once was Zia's boss in Multan.

Prolonged tenure

Thus began the unusually long tenure of an army chief, thereby affecting the promotion prospects of other officers for approximately 12 years and six months. Earlier too, when Ayub was the Field Marshal, the army chiefs were chiefs only in name and on paper. The result was frustration and suppressed anger at the level of the top brass.

Interestingly enough, Zia was the first "Indian" to be the chief of the Pakistani army as none of his four predecessors ~ Ayub, Musa, Yahya and Gul ~ hailed from the Indian side of the border.  There have been six  chiefs after Zia, including two "Indian" Mohajirs ~ Mirza Aslam Beg (Baloch Regiment) from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and Pervez Musharraf (Artillery) from Delhi's Daryaganj.

In effect, three "Indians" from Jalandhar, Azamgarh and Delhi have held Pakistan's top military post for 24 years and 6 months ~ between 1976 and 2010. In other words, almost 71 per cent of the last 34 years, its  army had three commanders of "Indian" descent. In retrospect, all of them have wrought severe damage to the military with their vigorous anti-India campaign merely to buttress their loyalty to their adopted nation, under the influence of religious bigots and fundamentalists.  They had to establish their own credentials and strengthen the power base. Zia and Mirza led their army to what has been described as a "dead-end legacy of Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric."

Zia's cunning, deception, insincerity, treachery and religious bigotry percolated down to the officer corps. No one stood a chance to climb up the professional ladder without complete obeisance to the state religion and India-baiting. No one for that matter could aspire to become army chief as long as Zia was in office.
Mirza Aslam Beg's Operation Kashmir, undertaken in 1989 ~ intended also to take the inexperienced Benazir on board ~ continues to wreck havoc across the Valley. Lashkars,  Ghazis, Fidayeens and Mujahideens are thriving on Indian soil. The Mohajir Mirza was constantly on the move, proving his loyalty by outdoing all sons-of-the-soil comrades-in-arms. It was a daunting task for the likes of Zia and Beg to eradicate the stamp of India in the Pakistan army.

For the Pakistan-born Generals, Asif Nawaz (1991-1993), a Rajput Muslim of the Punjab Regiment; Abdul Waheed (1993-1996) a Pathan of the Frontier Force Regiment and Jehangir Karamat (1996-1998), a Punjabi from the Armoured Corps, professionalism eclipsed the negative deeds of the past commanders. To make matters worse, in October 1998, a third "Indian Mohajir", Pervez Musharraf, took over as the army chief. Up until 2007, his dispensation tried to prove how and in what manner an army of 5.5 lakh could lead a Muslim nation of 16 crore down the garden path. Musharraf's nine-year tenure as army chief again blocked all promotion avenues. This demoralised the officer corps and created a division of sorts within the fraternity. Several attempts on Musharraf's life by insiders/members of the armed forces bear testimony to the reality.
An important, but oblique, anti-Punjabi  feeling is mentioned in Musharraf's autobiography: "My promotions from Brigadier upward invariably faced obstacles ~ some political, some merely because I was competing against the elite, against officers born with a silver spoon in their mouth." However, Musharraf seems to have conveniently forgotten that he was made chief by a Punjabi Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, only because he was not a Punjabi, thereby superseding at least three senior Lieutenants-General ~ Ali Quli Khan, Khalid Nawaz and Salahuddin Tirmizi. Nine years later when Musharraf was forced to demit office, he chose a relatively junior Punjabi, Lt.-Gen  Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as army chief on 2 October 2007, thereby bypassing two seniormost officers, Lt.-Gen Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, Director-General, Strategic Plan Division who was also Pakistan's nuclear button in-charge and Lt.-Gen Asif Hayat.

ISI head as chief

NO Pakistani army officer can match Kayani's professional experience and exposure. He has held all the important and sensitive "India-centric" commands. As a Major- General, he commanded the 12th Infantry Division, Murree, deployed to all over the Line of Control. This was followed by a three-year stint as Director-General, Military Operations from December 2000 to September 2003. On promotion as Lt.-General in September 2003 Kayani became commander of Rawalpindi's X Corps for a year and then Director-General, ISI, for three years (October 2004 to October 2007). On his elevation in 2007,  Kayani became the first ISI chief, in the history of Pakistan, to become the army chief.


One of the most crucial aspects of Kayani's career is his connection with the US armed forces. He has done the Infantry Officer Advanced Course in United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia; the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii. The US administration welcomed his appointment as army chief, notably the then CIA chief Michael Hayden, the National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell, and the Central Command Chief, Admiral William Fallon. The US military high command even predicted that being a "soldier's soldier", the Pakistani army under Kayani would perform much better than his predecessor Pervez Musharraf.
Thus, Kayani's apparently "apolitical" and professional image gave him a distinct advantage. It enhanced his acceptability to the quarrelling politicians of Pakistan. "Civilians"  may constitute the "boss-in-front", but Kayani remains the fulcrum and the invisible centre-of-gravity. Kayani asserted himself when he removed Musharraf's men from sensitive positions in September 2008. He changed four of the nine Corps Commanders and appointed a new head of the ISI.  He always consults civilian leaders, and Zardari and Gilani have no reason to complain. When Zardari offered to send the ISI chief to New Delhi for discussions in the immediate aftermath of 26/11,  Kayani turned down the proposal. The President's failure made Kayani politically more powerful than his own Head of State.

(To be concluded)


(The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a Member of International Institute for Strategic Studies, London)






The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, may well have made an understatement in Parliament when he described the situation in Kashmir as "grave". The valley seems to be ploughing new depths of low with as many as 15 deaths in a little over two days and the spread of violence to fresh areas. It must be painfully evident to the state administration that the summoning of the army had coincided with the ebb in the previous spate of violence. Having shown its hand already, the Omar Abdullah administration seems to be in a curious fix when faced with the resurgence of violence in a matter of ten days. Not unexpectedly, the chief minister, in his meeting with members of the cabinet committee on security on Monday, could only press, and hope, for an augmentation in troop numbers to cope with the present crisis. To him, and to many of his backers at the Centre, the only way to tide over the immediate problem is a greater show of force. Mr Abdullah has reportedly ordered the state police to act accordingly and is hoping that the addition of troops will see him through this bad spot and give him enough respite to start the political process. Similar thinking had prompted the request for army presence, but if that could not guarantee a suitable interval to rekindle dialogue, Mr Abdullah may be said to be hoping for too much this time as well.


What is needed, perhaps, is a fundamental change in the way the violence that has gripped Kashmir is perceived. Since the time the current phase of protests started, Mr Abdullah has scarcely changed his outlook, blaming first "anti-nationals" and then "anti-socials" for the bloodshed. Much of this attitude is responsible for the state administration's consistent failure to deal with the violence on the street that calls for a lot more sensitivity than the state police and the paramilitary have been showing. The latter, of course, are bearing the brunt of the cumulative hatred that has built up owing to the failure of the political process in Kashmir. Instead of waiting for this hatred to die down and for Kashmir to return to 'normalcy', it is imperative that dialogue, be it internal or external, be carried out simultaneously. It is too important a matter to be kept on the backburner, and too critical for the people of the state to be picked up on the initiative of the Centre alone.








David Cameron has proved himself to be a model guest. When in India, the British prime minister said exactly what Indians would like to hear. He scolded Pakistan for abetting terrorism, much to the glee of his hosts and to the chagrin of their neighbour. India warmed up to him further when he promised to relax immigration rules for its nationals keen on studying and working in Britain. A deal to buy 50 fighter jets from Britain was also fixed in his presence. The leaders of the British corporate world who accompanied Mr Cameron on this trip deserve a mention as well (although they could have come on their own if they wished to explore business ventures in the country). So far so good. However, as a report on the visit of a head of State, none of the above sounds particularly significant, let alone impressive. Indeed, Mr Cameron could have jolly well achieved all these aims from the comfort of Downing Street. He really need not have taken the trouble of personally flying down to India. This is, of course, not to suggest that the British prime minister is not welcome in India. Rather, the observation merely states the obvious: that the sun has finally sunk on the former rulers of one of the most powerful empires in history.


Britain's diminishing geopolitical importance has been palpable since the end of World War II, which also ushered in the era of decolonization. It is remarkable that with the rise of the European Union and the United States of America, Britain has allowed itself to be pushed into relative obscurity. Trapped in a haze of nostalgia for its glorious past, Britain has become quietly isolated from the mainstream of Western politics, economics and culture. Even emerging powers such as China and Japan are head and shoulders above Britain in the global financial scene. Perhaps it is a reflection of the sterility that has settled in Britain that the visit of an all-important entourage of British dignitaries to a developing country like India did not succeed in generating much excitement beyond the standard media hype. Over the years, bilateral ties between India and Britain, although amiable, have stayed on an even keel. In contrast, India's friendship with the US has acquired a special vibrancy, increasing possibilities of mutual advancement. If the British premier managed to warm a few hearts, the US president, in his forthcoming visit, is likely to win millions more.









Last month, the president of the United States of America and commander-in-chief of the US armed forces sacked General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation coalition forces in Afghanistan. This rare step — repeated after the erstwhile president, Harry S. Truman, fired the general, Douglas MacArthur, at the height of the Korean war — was prompted after an article appeared in the Rolling Stone magazine profiling the general. The article included many unflattering and mocking comments that the general or his aides had apparently made in casual conversations among themselves in the presence of the journalist. The reported comments reflected a degree of frustration that the general and his close staff felt towards the higher levels of the civilian leadership, including the US vice-president and even the president. Once such comments became public, the US president's decision became inevitable.


It cannot be anyone's case that in a democracy, where the armed forces work strictly under the civil authority, senior soldiers and commanders should voice dissenting opinions in public. It would be equally naïve to believe that the military brass does not have the intellect to form their own opinions in the field of their command, irrespective of whether they conform to the opinions of their civilian leaders or not. Indeed, differences will arise, but under normal circumstances they must remain strictly within the confines of a restricted environment and never be aired in front of outsiders, least of all the media.


It would appear that the error that the general and his aides made was to allow unhindered access to a journalist in an environment that should have remained exclusive to those involved in operational matters. One can recollect a similar instance when the Indian army allowed access to mediapersons during the Kargil conflict only to regret adverse consequences. One template that still needs to crystallize in free societies in the information age, where military forces are being committed in sub-conventional conflicts, is the right balance between information and security in conflict zones and environments.


What is intriguing is why an experienced and battle-hardened general, who was hand-picked by Barack Obama to take command of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, should want to allow a journalist from a rather obscure magazine such unhindered access that the journalist was able to take on record every snippet of the conversation of the general and his aides during de-stressing in an Irish pub in Paris. It is conceivable that this was neither some indiscretion on the part of the general as some have made it out to be, nor some aberration in an otherwise well-established concept of civil-military relationship. Such simplifications would be to underestimate the level of professionalism and maturity that is the hallmark of military leadership in the US, and the more complex nature of challenges within institutions of governance in free societies faced with sub-conventional conflicts.


Clearly, the answer may lie in Afghanistan where the US and Nato forces are committed to battling an insurgency against heavy odds. Even as military casualties mount by the day, it is well known that there are differences of opinion within the US president's senior advisers on how exactly to handle the Afghan government, the operations, the AfPak region, the many Taliban factions and the US's most favoured and recalcitrant non-Nato ally, Pakistan.


There is little doubt that having convinced the president of the counter-insurgency strategy to be followed, McChrystal then found that his hands were tied. Not only was he granted far fewer troops than he had asked for, but acute sensitivity to civilian casualties also led to very strict rules of engagement being enforced on his commanders and field units. This not only led to increasing casualties, but began to seriously undermine the morale of the troops in the front line.


In a directive issued in July 2009, McChrystal had written: "The Taliban cannot militarily defeat us — but we can defeat ourselves. When we reward troops for not defending themselves — and take away their air and artillery support — that appears to be exactly what is going on." Yet the wide gap between those making policy in Washington and those executing it in the hostile Afghanistan terrain is best exemplified by the institution of a "Military Medal For Courageous Restraint" to be awarded to those who demonstrate restraint in the face of threat. No commander worth his salt would want to commit his troops to danger with their hands tied and to offer decorative inducements for such suicidal restraint.


If battling an insurgency in faraway Afghanistan with a fragile and corrupt government and institutions, a tribal culture, multiple complexities of drug and warlords and an ally across the border playing a double game were not challenges enough, McChrystal must have found it frustrating that there were differences among the president's senior advisers on Afghanistan.


To execute counter-insurgency operations, the strategy must encompass many diverse subjects such as governance, economic development, public administration, law and various cultural, religious and other ethnic complexities. By their nature, COIN operations need persistence, are long-drawn-out and require patience and staying power. In his book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula stipulates that "essential, though it is, military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose being to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population".


Lack of clarity regarding the challenges at the political level and poor civil-military integration down the chain of command hardly made McChrystal's task any easier. In this respect, Obama's approval of a counter-insurgency strategy along with an exit strategy is a contradiction that has not been lost on the wily Taliban and other factions, including the ally, Pakistan. In the face of these contradictions, it is plausible that the general chose indirectly to vent his frustration, knowing full well its consequences.


The deeper import of this unfortunate episode is not about individual generals or civil-military relations, but about democratic institutions and the challenges they face with the changing nature of war and the growing importance of sub-conventional warfare. It is here that the episode may have valuable lessons for India, where the Indian army, which is a force trained for conventional warfare, has been engaged in internal counter-insurgency operations since the 1950s. An estimate by the home ministry identifies nearly half of the total districts of India as being afflicted by insurgencies of one form or another. These cover Maoist activities, different insurgencies in the north- eastern states and the Pakistan-backed proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. Not surprisingly, the prime minister has identified this as the greatest security challenge. Yet, over the decades, the politics seems to have handed controls to the military and fallen asleep at the wheel.


Criticizing successive governments for harming the country's internal security apparatus in a paper titled, "Counter-insurgency: some myths and principles", Ajay Sahni, a globally acknowledged expert on counter-terrorism, writes, "If effective counter-insurgency (CI) policy and strategy is to be designed within this degraded system of institutions and capacities, its core leaders and principal respondents will have to discover a greater clarity of assessment, purpose and intent than is currently evident."


Not only is such clarity lacking, any proactive move very soon falls victim to either institutional or political wrangling and remains a non-starter. Witness the endless political differences, even within the ruling coalition, over tackling the Maoist insurgency. Mercifully, the army has so far been spared this debate, although the Indian air force was briefly dragged into it when the air chief sought permission for his helicopters to fire in self-defence. Human rights activists were quick to present this as the IAF wanting to unleash its air power, prompting the air chief to soothe nerves.


Public memory being short, few will remember the Manipur agitation in 2004 against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, targeting the security forces. A similar voice is again being raised by elected representatives in the midst of continuing disturbances in Kashmir. Vested interests paint the army as the villain that wants the act in place in order to perpetrate human rights violations. The Central government, rather than defending a statute of which it should be the upholder, and the army, which acts under its charge, vacillates and promises to make the act "more humane" — a euphemism for more insurgent-friendly, politically appeasing, which, consequently, is costly for the army.


Little surprise that the army chief was compelled recently to go public with his opposition to any changes in the AFSPA, rightly claiming that demands for a dilution of the act were being made for "narrow political gains". Not unexpectedly, the very system that has failed to check decades of insurgency is quick to criticize the army chief. Commanders, who see their men and women doing a thankless job, paying with their lives and yet not enjoying the support and confidence of those whose chestnuts their troops are pulling out of the fire, cannot be faulted for empathizing with General McChrystal.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force








Parliament is being misused and democracy is being abused and insulted. It is shameful to watch our elected representatives reduce every critical issue that the country faces into a tragic farce. One rues the gargantuan political immaturity involved in not being able to work out the mechanisms of protest — taking along the affected citizens and encouraging their participation to evolve a strategy to ensure dialogue and thereafter, a solution. For example — why don't our parliamentarians address and complete pending legislations in Parliament during working hours, and indulge in 'protests' thereafter, in their leisure? Why are they so adamant about the unending screaming and yelling, forcing the constant adjournment of both Houses at huge cost to India?


The selfish, daily disruption of parliamentary proceedings by the Opposition has meant a gross misuse of privilege and public money. The values projected by our leaders that we are witnessing in the public domain, smack of selfishness and of a clumsy use of untenable tools of protest. The MPs and MLAs should march through the streets andmohallas, address meetings and do whatever else after 'office hours' to win the support of their constituents. On price rise in particular, all parties could walk hand in hand and apologize for their collective failures, ensure safe and sane solutions, storage and distribution systems, and more. The lack of serious intent is evident in the hollow hysteria India is being subjected to every passing day.


In the midst of all these embarrassing activities in Parliament, we had the visit of the British prime minister, David Cameron — whose name was mispronounced as Cameroon — and his high level, impressive entourage. From culture to economics, he has envisaged a broad canvas for possible exchanges and partnerships. It was most refreshing to hear him speak with candour, honesty and intellectual integrity.


Without prejudice


Quite different were the comments of expat journalists settled in this country, who felt that their prime minister should not have aired his real views on Pakistan. To many in India it was an absurd reaction of a retreating generation, one that is mired in policies that have divided the peoples of this subcontinent. Hopefully now these stances — which had added fuel ever so often to the fire that had kept the pot of the subcontinent simmering — may change. Past policies were fashioned to keep the largest marketplace, housing one quarter of our planet's population, backward, insecure, disturbed and ridden with socio-economic and political problems. This constant 'enactment' of divisive tactics laced with a profound sense of condescension kept the club of Western powers closed to diversity and pluralism.


Sadly, this kind of 'diplomacy' has aggravated and destroyed relations between India and Pakistan over the decades. Half-truths planned and fine-tuned by officials in favour of the status quo, and then put in the mouths of visiting heads of State during official trips, created much suspicion and alienation. Now, the same lot is criticizing Prime Minister Cameron for breaking away from the untenable foreign policies of the past because the fresh approach could intervene positively to support new processes for peace in the region. Today there is a leadership at the helm of the United Kingdom that does not carry the baggage of an imperial power.


After a long time, one got the feeling that there was genuine political will to build an inclusive, abiding partnership based on faith and commitment for a more purposeful future. In the next few years, we shall experience a generational shift that will bring with it new mechanisms of governance, an attitudinal transformation, and hopefully, a desire to reinvent India and Bharat without the prejudices of the past.






Sharecroppers in a Murshidabad village are being dispossessed of vested land even as the Left Front crows about land reform, writes Uddalak Mukherjee


The results of the last three electoral contests in West Bengal — the panchayat polls in 2008, the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 and the municipal elections this year — have indicated that the state is in the cusp of a political transition. At a time when the Left Front is ceding considerable ground to its principal opponent, it may be instructive to re-examine the present condition of some of its political programmes that had yielded electoral dividends in the past. One such initiative, undoubtedly, was Operation Barga — the fabled land reform programme, which aimed to redistribute land among sharecroppers (bargadars), legally protect them from forcible eviction by landlords and bestow upon them rights as cultivators.


Such a re-examination, despite its localized nature, has the potential to answer two critical questions. First, has the land reform instituted by the Left Front since the late 1970s achieved its intended goal? Second, can the Left Front's continuing dismal performance at the hustings be explained, at least partially, by the persisting problems that have weakened its land reform policy?


I travelled to Gangadhari village in Murshidabad recently in search of the answers. Admittedly, it would be unfair to draw conclusions about the pattern, efficacy and problems of land reform in Bengal on the basis of my experiences in a single village in one district. Nonetheless, Gangadhari raises a few uncomfortable questions that must be addressed to understand why the fruits of land reform have eluded the weakest, and hence the most deserving, sections of the peasantry.


But why Gangadhari of all places? This village, which is only two kilometres from neighbouring Nadia, has a total land area of 1,424.42 acres, out of which 199.2 acres are vested land. This means that nearly 15 per cent of all land in Gangadhari is 'vested'— plots that were confiscated from landowners (in this case, from the erstwhilezamindar, Balaram Chandra Rudra) and then redistributed among the landless. I was told by the officials concerned that the amount of vested land in Gangadhari is much higher than the approximate state average of five per cent. With such a high incidence ofpatta distribution, Gangadhari, under the Nowda block, serves as an interesting crucible to test the various claims that are made by this government in the name of land reform.


Imagine my surprise when one of the first persons I met in Gangadhari was a landless farmer by the name of Zamiruddin Sheikh. Zamiruddin's fate has been doubly cruel. His father, Chaitan Sheikh, a landless peasant, had received 18 kathas after Operation Barga. However, within a span of a few years, he was forced to 'lease' his land to Abdul Bari Mollah — a Revolutionary Socialist Party leader who, currently, is the chairman of the Nowda panchayat — for Rs 3,000 to meet a medical emergency. Today, Zamiruddin works as a day labourer and makes Rs 1,400 a month, instead of the Rs 2,500 that he requires, he said, to feed the mouths at home.


Zamiruddin's plight offers significant insights into the problems that afflict Bengal's land reform programme at present. A sizeable number of farmers, who had received pattasafter land redistribution, have now been reduced to landless peasants once again. In Gangadhari alone, I was told that there are over a hundred farmers who have not received pattas or have lost possession of their land. A survey conducted by the West Bengal State Institute of Panchayats and Rural Development some years ago had found that 14.37 per cent of registered sharecroppers have been dispossessed of vested land, over 26 per cent harboured fears of losing their land in the future and 13.23 per cent had lost access to their holdings in the state.


But this issue of dispossession is tied to a larger, and more critical, failure. For peasants to prosper, merely transferring the ownership of land is not enough. What is also required, in tandem, is an augmentation of farm productivity and holistic development, something that the Bengal government's land reform policy failed to sustain since that early glimmer of promise. In fact, as early as 1986-88, a survey of the qualitative aspects of land reform in the three districts of Birbhum, Burdwan and Jalpaiguri had noted that even though sharecroppers had received their stipulated plots, farm productivity had been on the wane. According to an independent research report, published in the portal, Science Alert, this June, the contribution of agriculture to West Bengal's State Domestic Product at constant prices has declined from 41.16 per cent in 1970-71 to 27.1 per cent in 2000-01. Significantly, the production of every major crop has dwindled since the 1990s. To take just one example, the output growth rates of amanand boro rice have declined to just 1.04 per cent and 3.35 per cent per annum. There is no reason to believe that the government has been able to reverse the slide since. Gangadhari's shockingly high rates of migration among farming families can be attributed to the lack of employment and the diminishing returns from agriculture. In Gangadhari, reform in the spheres of education and health has been as sporadic. This was, once again, consistent with my earlier experiences of development being dangerously skewed in rural Bengal.


During my meeting with the panchayat chairman, he furnished evidence of Gangadhari's 'development'. The village has two primary schools, a primary health centre, two shishu shiksha kendras, a junior high school and a rural library. Given my limited time, I managed to visit the PHC and the school. The health centre, which once provided indoor facilities, was run by a woman, a trained nurse, who usually worked from 10 in the morning. The only doctor, who travelled from Berhampore over 30 kms away, had not turned up on the morning of my visit. The nurse, tired and irritable, informed me that on an average 250 villagers turn up at the PHC to receive treatment for ailments such as fever and malnutrition every single day. Apart from doctors, basic medicines are in short supply. For instance, of the 2,500 paracetamol tablets that were requisitioned by the PHC recently, only 1,000 were sent by the authorities, that too after a month.


Next, I visited the Gangadhari H.B. Junior High School. At first, I thought I had been taken to a correctional

home by mistake. The school was surrounded by a high wall, and an ancient, enormous lock hung on its gate. The drop-out rate, I was told by a group of young teachers inside, was over 30 per cent and the children, whose parents worked in the nearby brick-kilns, skipped classes regularly. The teachers complained bitterly about the near-absent infrastructure, the inadequate book grant for students, and the government's decision to institute a commission to monitor corporal punishment in district schools. Such a step, they argued, would compromise the standards of discipline among their wards.


But let us not forget Zamiruddin and his dead father just yet. Their predicament is a reminder that, in some instances, the philosophy behind Bengal's land reform has been turned on its head as a result of some severe institutional flaws. The law prohibits the selling or leasing of vested land, something that Zamiruddin's father had done to raise money. Biswanath Saha, the land and land reform officer of Nowda block, whom I met later, had initially dismissed the possibility of such malpractices. But, on hearing about Zamiruddin, his confidence seemed to wane. He grudgingly admitted that "only a few instances of irregularities" had come to light during his tenure. Despite his discomfort, Saha took time to explain the process of patta distribution, thereby exposing yet another glaring inconsistency. Under Section 49 (1) of the West Bengal Land Reform Act, said Saha, a joint survey is conducted by the members of the panchayat samiti and the block land and land reform office to identify vested land and their bona fideclaimants. On the basis of the findings, a list is prepared and sent to the sub-divisional land and land reform office, which, after completing its own scrutiny, approves the claims. Patta forms are then prepared and pattas distributed in a function, which is often graced by political representatives of the government. Considering the complete politicization of every institution in Bengal, including the bureaucracy, the identification and distribution of pattas in Gangadhari, as in the rest of the state, are blatantly unfair. The RSP is in power in Gangadhari's panchayat. Some of the sharecroppers I met, who are yet to receive pattas even after two decades of land reform, alleged that they have been denied their share because they happen to support the Congress.


Before I left the Nowda BLLRO office, Saha gifted me with another, equally startling, piece of information. In Nowda, there have also been instances of vested land — which, according to the law, cannot be purchased, leased or marketed — being sold and the deeds being registered at the district registry office. I could have reminded Saha of his earlier claim that patta distribution has been untouched by corruption. Instead, I thanked him for his time, and the tea, and left.


Much of the Left Front's early political gains had been attributed to the success of its land reform programme. But with land reform being severely flawed, at least in its present form, what has been its impact on the coalition's recent political performance in Murshidabad? If the results of the last three assembly elections are looked at, it may seem that a faulty land reform programme has not hurt the Left politically. In the assembly elections of 1996, the Left Front won 10 of the 19 seats; in 2001, its tally rose to 11, and there were significant gains in 2006, given the divided state of the Opposition on that occasion. But democracy is a complicated and tiered political system. Apanchayat election, rather than the one that elects a Vidhan Sabha, is a better indicator of the mood and aspirations of a rural people. It is, therefore, telling that at present, in Murshidabad, of the 254 panchayats, the Congress is in power in 157. It is thus difficult to discount the claim that the shortcomings in land redistribution have caused considerable damage to the Left Front in political terms.


Gangadhari revealed many bitter truths — dispossessed sharecroppers, uneven social reform that has intensified their penury and hopelessness and institutionalized fallacies that have crippled a programme which, undoubtedly, had the potential to change the future of a people. Unfortunately, the reality in this village also made me realize something else. For all the talk of decentralization of power through panchayati raj — touted as yet another of the Left Front's pioneering initiatives — local leadership at the grassroots continues to be deeply divided on political lines. This saps it of the will to empathize and work for those whom it is meant to serve.


I would like to end by recounting two recurring dreams of two different people who live in Gangadhari. The RSP leader and panchayat chairman, now no more young, still dreams of the day during the early stages of Operation Barga. In his dream, he is all of seven, and he sees himself running to plant the red flag on a field that had just been 'liberated' from the zamindar. Zamiruddin, whose father's vested land is now leased to the panchayat chairman, also shared his dream with me. It had nothing to do with his dead father, he said. In it, he only sees the land his family had lost one morning many years ago.







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





Just when the Kashmir Valley seemed to be limping back to normalcy, violent clashes have erupted again, killing 19 people over the past three days. It is a pattern that has become all too familiar in the Valley. Police fire on people protesting against killing of protesters in earlier demonstrations. These in turn result in more casualties. But it is not just police firing that is causing injuring and deaths. The protesters are violent, hurling stones not just at the security forces but at other civilians. They are setting ablaze vehicles and shops. Every protest is resulting in deaths and injuries of both the public and the security forces. Kashmir is in the grip of a spiral of violence, where every incident is followed by a higher level of violence. On Sunday, protesters went on a rampage through the streets of Srinagar, Sopore, Anantnag and other towns burning a railway station, attacking doctors and ambulances. Nine people were killed on that day alone. People are defying curfews to take on the police.

The spiral of violence needs to be broken. Use of force and curfews serve to provide a temporary respite. They do not resolve the conflict. It is time the Centre woke up to the fact that conflict containment is not enough. There is a need for resolution of the conflict, which means that the government has to start thinking about ways to address the core issues, which will mean going beyond the band-aid solutions attempted so far. Development packages and promises of jobs, however generous these might be, are not enough. The conflict is political, it must be tackled politically.

It is more than likely that the violence is engineered from across the border. But waiting for Islamabad to mend its ways before we can address the internal dimension of the Kashmir conflict is foolish. India has tried that approach and it has not worked. How about India addressing the grievances of Kashmiris vis-a-vis the Centre first, denying Pakistan the pool of disgruntlement in which it has been able to fish for six decades? India promised the Kashmiris autonomy several decades ago. Talks on the subject gathered momentum under the NDA, then fizzled out. The Centre must take this up seriously. Autonomy has the potential to blunt the appeal of secession. The UPA government must consult opposition parties and include them in the quest for a solution to the crisis.







The results of the 12 assembly byelections in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh are more a psychological setback for the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party than a great victory for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The TRS won all the 11 seats it contested and one seat was won by its ally, the BJP. But the TRS had held 10 seats which it has now won again. The byelections were caused by its MLAs' resignations in connection with the statehood issue. There was no chance of the party losing any seat in a region where statehood is a popular and emotive issue. It has actually received a boost  when all the candidates won with a larger margin of votes than in the past. 

The Congress and the TDP paid the price for their insincere and inconsistent policies on the statehood demand. The Congress has suffered a grievous blow with its state unit president losing the election from the Nizamabad Urban constituency. The defeat and the challenge posed by former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son Jaganmohan Reddy will have an impact on Congress politics in the state in the near future. It is the second successive defeat for state Congress chief. The party's flip flop on the statehood issue cost it dearly, even though it was the UPA government that announced the acceptance of the demand for a separate Telangana last year. The TDP fared worse than the Congress by losing a seat it had held and forfeiting its security deposit in all the seats. The party's position on Telangana was more dubious than that of the Congress and Chandrababu Naidu's obviously motivated attempt to stir passions over the river water dispute with Maharashtra did not impress the electorate.

The byelection results do not take the Telangana issue forward any further. The elections were not a referendum on Telangana. There are a number of issues other than the endorsement of or opposition to the demand expressed in various ways in a region, that go into a decision on statehood. The Srikrishna committee, which has been appointed to study the issue, is seized of the matter, and its report is likely to be ready by the end of the year. All parties should wait for it, especially the TRS, which should resist any temptation to overreact to its impressive victory.







The United States never shared the Indians' one-dimensional view of the Taliban as representing the forces of darkness.


The highly-combustible Indian imagination has caught fire over the Wikileaks disclosures regarding the curious methods of the Pakistani military in pretending to be the United States' ally and immensely benefiting out the alliance while at the same time keeping its dalliance with the Taliban going.

But the intriguing part is what the US President Barack Obama said, namely, that Wikileaks hasn't brought anything new to the table. Which means, Washington knew all along since 2004 how the smart Pakistani generals operate — especially the then chief of Pakistan's ISI by the name Pervez Kayani — and worse still, kept defraying the latter's 'expense account.'

Something obviously doesn't gel, does it? The Indian strategic community has rushed to judgement that all this happened because the US is in desperate hurry to 'scoot,' as a former chief of the Research Analysis Wing told me. But then, that is appalling naivety. Wikileaks disclosures pertain to the period of the second term of the George W Bush presidency when Washington was so snooty about the war that it was utterly convinced it was winning.

No one was talking about an exit strategy at that point in time that Wikileaks disclosures pertain to. The fact of the matter is that the US and the Pakistani generals have been locked into a deathly dance from Day 1 of the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Few will recollect that the first time the US conceded Pakistan's special interests in Afghanistan was after a visit by the then US secretary of state Colin Powell to Islamabad in mid-October 2001. 

Maybe the Indian establishment which conferred the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize on Afghan president Hamid Karzai was innocent — and maybe it still is in a blissful state of innocence — but the US administration and ISI certainly weren't — that but for the al-Qaeda strike on 9/11 Karzai was all set to be appointed as the Taliban government's official representative in Washington.

In short, Washington's decision to pitchfork Karzai into power as the head of the interim government in Kabul after the Taliban regime's ouster itself was a calibrated move. So indeed was the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad who used to be a fervent advocate of the Taliban in Washington in the late 1990s, as the US ambassador in Kabul during the formative period that witnessed the disarray of the Northern Alliance — and predictably, the revival of the Taliban.

To go back a little bit more, does anyone recollect today that for a split-moment even the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra expressed his sense of exasperation that Washington allowed Pakistani aircraft to evacuate under the very nose of the US Special Forces the Taliban contingents that were besieged by the Northern Alliance forces in the Kunduz region in northern Afghanistan in October 2001?

Combined effort

That is to say, the contrived nature of the 'ouster' of the Taliban regime in Kabul by the US in 2001 was never really in doubt. It is plain common sense that the so-called international community should have taken help from all quarters that were willing to help vanquish the al-Qaeda and its Taliban affiliates from Afghanistan. On the contrary, the US consistently turned down, ignored or has been ambivalent about the role regional countries like Russia, Iran and India were willing to play.

Bush was obsessive that Pakistan had to be the US' privileged partner — 'non-Nato ally' — in this war. And, furthermore, let us not forget that it was Musharraf who arranged Karzai's election victory in 2004 (upon Bush's request), by delivering the votes of the 3-million strong Afghan refugee community living in Pakistan.

How do these various strands add up? One, the US is not quite the bumbling superpower at the mercy of the Pakistani generals, as the Indian strategic community estimates. Plainly put, this has been a symbiotic relationship. Two, the US never shared the Indians' one-dimensional view of the Taliban as representing the forces of darkness. The US played a seminal role in the immaculate conception of the Taliban; its strategies were geopolitical and it visualised the Taliban as a potent instrument for bringing about 'regime change' in Central Asia (including Xinjiang).

Three, the US is not terrified of the Taliban. On the contrary, the Taliban leaders willingly accepted funding by US oil companies in the past and there is no reason why they — including the Haqqanis — shouldn't do so again. Fourth, the core issue is that Taliban should be somehow 'finessed' to play its geopolictical role — something which Washington is convinced only the Pakistani generals can do.

Fifth, the Nato's future is involved as well as the US' trans-Atlantic leadership itself and the US knows that the rising China and the resurgent Russia will never allow the American military presence to be re-established in the strategic Central Asian region if the US forces pack up and leave Afghanistan for good.

A final question: Will the Taliban agree to a Status of Forces Agreement with Nato? Yes, it will — provided the US is willing to reciprocate by accommodating the Taliban's and its mentor's interests as well. Let us remember that the Taliban was always willing to dump al-Qaeda provided the US accorded diplomatic recognition to its regime in Kabul.

Therefore, what the Wikileaks reveal is quintessentially that the 3-way US-Pakistan-Taliban equation that has been maturing over time may well be progressing to its final stage.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








Uighurs trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan by al-Qaeda are aiming to destabilise Xinjiang.



The arrests last fortnight of three men in Norway and Germany accused of orchestrating a terrorist bomb plot seemed like another routine raid by a western government in the continuing campaign against groups linked to al-Qaeda. But one detail stuck out: Norwegian officials said one of the men was a Chinese Uighur, and all three supposedly belonged to a group that advocates separatism in western China.

If the Norwegian officials are right, the bomb plot was a rare instance in which the group, the Turkestan Islamic Party, had tried to carry out an attack in the West that was unrelated to its goal of gaining independence for the restive region of Xinjiang, in China's hinterlands.

Terrorism experts say the plot in Norway indicates that al-Qaeda and the few members of the Turkestan Islamic Party, or TIP, who trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan see some mutual benefit in cooperating. The use of relatively obscure ethnic Uighur recruits could allow al-Qaeda to penetrate more deeply into the West.

Uighurs' role

For militant Uighurs, taking part in attacks against the West could give them a raison d'etre at a time when the Chinese government has seemingly defused any chance of a widespread insurgency's taking root in Xinjiang, despite occasional spasms of violence. Uighurs may also feel alienated by the West given that the United States and most other major nations have largely accepted China's contention that Uighur separatists are part of a broader threat to stability posed by Islamic fundamentalists.

al-Qaeda, for its part, also appears to be able to channel the anger felt by extremist Muslim members of nationalist causes in places outside West Asia and South Asia, analysts say. The incident has caused deep concern in western China. They say ethnic Uighurs trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan by al-Qaeda are aiming to destabilise Xinjiang.

But in recent years, only a handful of Uighurs have been captured by American forces or their allies in those countries, and TIP does not appear to be a cohesive organisation that wields the abilities of more infamous terrorist groups based in the lawless Waziristan region of Pakistan.

A number of Uighurs were captured by American forces in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan. While some were held at Guantanamo Bay for years, American officials decided they did not pose a direct threat to the United States. The Uighurs were released, and some have been transferred to far-flung locales like the tropical island of Palau.

"My understanding is there were just hangers-on left there," Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism and insurgency scholar at Georgetown University, said of Uighur militants in Pakistan. "So it's interesting to see them resurface now. This to me just reflects al-Qaeda's emphasis on diversification."

"I think they hope they can leverage off of al-Qaeda's name and enhance their status," he added. "I think this gives their operatives something to do and acquire some useful experience. This isn't like al-Qaeda or many of the Pakistani terrorist groups. This is on a much different level; it's much smaller, it's more fractured, it's more aspirational than actual in its capabilities."

The origins and strength of TIP, based in Waziristan, are murky. Most members are ethnic Uighurs who have become disaffected by China's policies in Xinjiang that tend to favour ethnic Han, the dominant group in China. Many Uighurs call Xinjiang their homeland, and some want an independent state there called East Turkestan.

For years, Chinese officials have been blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or dongtu in Chinese, for violent acts in Xinjiang, though they say the 2009 riots were inspired by a Uighur businesswoman living in the United States, Rebiya Kadeer, and other subversive forces. Chinese officials do say that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was responsible for earlier episodes of violence, in particular a 2008 attack on paramilitary troops in the Silk Road oasis town of Kashgar that resulted in the deaths of 17 officers. Under the administration of President George W Bush, the US state department put the group on a terrorist watch list.







This story stands out as a moving illustration of selflessness and self-sacrifice.



There are many stories that depict true love. There are many relationships that foster unconditional love. There are many situations that bring out latent love. This true story, which reveals all of the above, is a moving tale of a brother's extraordinary love and selfless sacrifice for his older sister.

My friend came from a family that today's generation would consider large. She was the oldest of four sisters and one younger brother. Besides being good friends at school, we connected well with each other and shared many a good time at school and outside school. As is always the case, these good times came to an abrupt end with her father being transferred to another city and she joining a boarding school. Years passed and we moved on with our lives, got married and started families of our own. It was the usual the case of old friends losing touch with one another.

A sheer turn of luck bought the two of us again one fine summer morning a few years ago. We bumped into each other at our sons' school. Surprised and overjoyed, at meeting my school buddy, we chatted as we reminisced the good old times. During the course of our chit chat she mentioned that her brother had emigrated from the country for higher studies and subsequently settled in the US. We exchanged contact details and from time to time thereafter kept in touch. However with the hustle and bustle, a whole year went by before I could call on her again.

The resumed phone call brought a lot of bad news. I was pained to hear that the last one-year had been rough on her as she had to endure many health problems. At only forty years, she suffered a complete renal failure and needed a kidney transplant from a compatible donor. Her married sisters were unable to donate a kidney due to health and other family reasons. Surprisingly, her younger brother, an eligible bachelor, decided to make the sacrifice in the prime of his youth and endure the stress and strain of many tests and surgeries.


The rest of the details, as one can imagine are as moving as the story line of a sentimental movie. This drama in real life brought the younger brother from the US amidst his busy schedule, for three weeks, to donate one of his kidneys for his sister. Besides showing his plentiful love for his sister, it was an act overflowing with courage, chivalry, sacrifice, heroism and selfless giving. In an age and time dominated by "I, me and myself", this true love story stands out as a moving illustration of selflessness and self-sacrifice. It is said that true love transcends all barriers and endures every obstacle. The younger brother had indeed proved the wisdom of these words. As Tagore says, "He, who gives all, keeps all" and I'm sure all the joy and happiness in this world will be his.








What is a Jewish state to do with the children of foreign workers? If you ask Shas's Eli Yishai, all 1,200 of those who are known to have been born here to workers who came here legally should be deported immediately. They endanger Jewish continuity. A few years from now, these cute little boys and girls will be marrying our sons and daughters. And if we let them stay, more are sure to come, further weakening the fragile Jewish majority.

If you ask ministers Isaac Herzog (Labor) or Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), however, they will give you another answer. The Jewish state has a special obligation to the foreigner, to the sojourner in a land that is not his. The Jew must remember his history, first in Egypt and later in other exiles, of being a guest in another people's land.

On Sunday, the compromisers won out. A Jewish state must address both sets of concerns. It has an obligation to foster a strong Jewish identity, the cabinet decided, and it must also show empathy to the plight of the stranger. Most of the children up for scrutiny – 839, to be precise – will be allowed to stay, along with their families. The rest will be deported after being given the right of appeal.

Tasked as it is with realizing the self-determination of the Jewish people and serving as a shelter against anti-Semitic persecution, Israel's standing among the nations is special. In the age of globalization, the perception that mass immigration is a threat to national identity may not be a uniquely Israeli phenomenon, but it has a particularly complex impact here.

WAVES OF immigration, especially from countries conquered under 19th-century colonialism, have swept across Europe. With foreigners expected to become a majority in several of their cities, Europeans are undergoing a wrenching cultural soulsearch.

Doomsayers warn of the advent of Eurabia and the imminent demise of European culture.

In the US, meanwhile, a controversial immigration law granting law enforcement officers wider powers to question and arrest suspected illegal aliens was adopted by the state of Arizona. The law, nixed this week by a federal judge, has sparked lively debate.

At least one Republican legislator has recommended a change in the 14th Amendment granting US citizenship to anyone born in America, including children of illegal aliens. In states like Texas and California, a Hispanic majority is expected by 2025.

Arguably, though, Israel's situation is more precarious.

The Jewish state hosts between 250,000 and 400,000 foreign workers. And half of them are illegal, compared to just one-third in the US and less than that in the EU. Foreigners make up 8.5 percent of the total workforce in Israel compared to just 6% on average in OECD countries. Israel has also integrated some 350,000 non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and tens of thousands of Falash Mura. Some 130,000 Palestinians have received Israeli citizenship under family reunion arrangements. Finally, an estimated 25,000 Africans from Sudan, Eritrea and other countries have infiltrated the country via Egypt. Together with Arab Israelis, approximately 30% of the population (inside the Green Line) is not Jewish.

Admittedly, 400 children and their families are not going to make or break the Jewish majority. Given the hardship inflicted on these children and their families, as well as the negative world media coverage of a "xenophobic Israel," the deportation effort hardly seems worth it.

But the crux lies elsewhere. Remarkably, and dismally, Israel, which faces such formidable demographic challenges is, as a recent Metzilah Center report noted, "the only Western democracy that still lacks an immigration policy."

The old paradigm of Israel as a repatriation state for Jews is anachronistic. Transparent, coherent criteria for the naturalization of non-Jews – criteria that serve Israel's unique needs and give advance notice to migrant workers of the conditions of their stay – can help prevent future heart-rending situations in which little boys and girls and their families are forcibly deported. That is the truly fair, just – and Jewish – way of handling our immigration challenge.







Let the families of those killed on 9/11 decide the fate of the Ground Zero Islamic center.

The cacophony of voices offering their strong opinions on whether the Ground Zero mosque ought to be built – from Mayor Michael Bloomberg who is in favor to Sarah Palin and Abraham Foxman who are opposed – omits the most important voices of all, that of the victim's families. Ultimately, theirs is the opinion that really matters.

More than being a shrine to the greatest terror attack against America in history, Ground Zero is a burial ground. Thousands of bodies that were incinerated in jet-fuel-fired heat and were never recovered are part of the very ground and air of the place, and it is utterly inappropriate to build anything on that cemetery without the consent of the families. The very first thing the Mayor of New York and the Islamic organizers of the $100 million project ought to do is canvass the families.

BUT HAVING established that, my opinion, as well as every other nonfamily commentator, is secondary, I have to say how absurd the debate on the mosque has become. Should a 13-story Islamic mosque and cultural center be built adjacent to the hallowed ground where nearly 3,000 people were killed by Islamic extremists? Yes, but only if one of its principal focuses is a museum dedicated to the atrocity that took place on 9/11 with a heavy educational emphasis on a repudiation of Islamic extremism.

Such a museum, built by Muslims, would incorporate a modern history of those who have abused Islam for hate-filled purposes – including the hijackers themselves – and museum-style educational exhibitions highlighting how both the Koran and Islam utterly dismiss such hatefilled interpretations of the Islamic faith. If the mosque organizers were to place a museum of this nature at the very center of the cultural center, it would, I assume, be welcomed by the families of the victims and the residents of New York.

And in truth I am astonished that the mosque organizers haven't thought of this themselves. After all, the cultural center is set to incorporate a swimming pool and a large auditorium. Could the organizers be so insensitive as to ignore the elephant in the room and not address the murders that took place in the name of Islam just two blocks away? Imagine if BP, in an effort to bolster their PR, decided to build a BP information center on a beach in Louisiana that focused on their global operations, research into cleaner energy, safety procedures, and even global philanthropy, without a mention of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the eleven BP employees who were killed fifty miles off-shore. Would the effort produce anything but anger? Would it serve to advance the interests of BP or to reinforce the public's impressions of a global behemoth that puts profits before people.

THE MOSQUE organizers at Ground Zero risk reinforcing a growing international impression of Islamic insensitivity if they proceed with an Islamic center that refuses, as its primary goal, to hallow the memories of the three thousand innocent people who were killed on 9/11.

In the Jewish religion we raise our children with the awareness that wearing a yarmulke on their heads automatically anoints them as ambassadors of the faith. How they behave both in public and in private will reflect either positively or negatively on their tradition. If you claim to be a religious Jew but are not honest in business – even if you keep all the Jewish rituals like Sabbath observance and kosher food – you have brought the religion into disrepute. It is a sensitivity that I urge my Muslim brothers and sisters to embrace. There can be no higher honor for a religious man or woman than to add luster to their faith through their humane and sensitive dealings with all whom they encounter. Conversely, there can be no greater insult to the religion than to behave inhumanely while claiming to live by a higher spiritual and moral code.

The mosque organizers have an opportunity to reverse a growing mainstream impression that Islam knows how to take offense to perceived slights even while dishing it out unawares through what is perceived as bullying behavior.

Americans are good-natured, tolerant, and loving people. Religion flourishes in America as in no other nation on earth. The idea of women being banned from wearing a burka or the hijab in the United States, as is the growing trend in Western Europe and especially in France, is inconceivable in America. Why alienate such a fair-minded people by unilaterally deciding that a mosque be built in a place of profound American tragedy and pain? I am a religious Jew who has deep respect and affection for my Muslim brothers and sisters. I decry all forms of religious bigotry and intolerance, and on my radio show, whenever a caller defames Islam as an evil religion, I respond forcefully with the history of Islam as a faith that for many centuries was progressive and tolerant, with a strong emphasis on education and even women's rights when these things were largely unknown in medieval Christian Europe. But there can be little question that, in our time, the public face of Islam is becoming one of intolerance and hate. And it is a tragedy for the hundreds of millions of decent, peace-loving and G-d-fearing Muslims who are being unfairly grouped together with hatefilled extremists.

Only Muslims can rescue Islam from that growing darkness by serving as public ambassadors of a faith that, rather than imposing itself on families who are still mourning relatives killed in the most brutal manner, works with them to perpetuate the memory of those they lost.

The writer hosts 'The Shmuley Show' on 77 WABC in New York City and is the Founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author most recently of Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.








It doesn't look good at the moment,but developments in direct negotiations are all we have if we want this conflict to end.


Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are likely to resume in the near future. Both sides will reluctantly pay a price to enter the room even though neither side is too anxious to actually be there.

Netanyahu's price tag will be the extension of the settlement building moratorium (even though he will try to continue building in east Jerusalem in areas that he believes will be part of the annexed areas). Abbas's price tag will be the removal of all the pre-conditions for direct negotiations that he has held onto for the past seven months. Both sides faced the weight of White House pressure in order to come to the "right" decision. So the negotiations will begin. But let's face it, since the launching of the Oslo process, the problem in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has never really been how to begin negotiations – the problem has always been how to conclude them.

IS THERE a starting point for these negotiations? Abbas demands that the negotiations should resume from the point where they ended in the previous round between himself and then prime minister Ehud Olmert. Before being indicted, Olmert presented Abbas with a plan complete with maps that included establishing the Palestinian state in 94 percent of the West Bank with territory exchange of lands inside of Israel proper in the amount of almost four percent. There would be two capitals in Jerusalem. There would be a symbolic return of Palestinian refugees called family reunification, appropriate security arrangements and coordination at all levels, and an agreement on the end of conflict and claims. Those talks did not reach an agreement because they were cut short before they had chance.

Abbas wonders why we have to start from the zero point. In 16 years of negotiations, some progress has been made, why should there not be continuity from one round of negotiations to the next? Netanyahu keeps on saying "try me – you will be surprised," but with Netanyahu's own ideological positions and his coalition constraints, it is unlikely that any offer he puts on the table can be accepted by any Palestinian leader.

With this in the background, the direct negotiations seem rather futile. The Palestinian hope is that after the US midterm Congressional elections in November, President Barack Obama will table his own set of parameters for peace that will enable the negotiations to move forward.

But unfortunately looking at the performance of Obama and his team so far, it seems rather unreasonable to expect or to hope that the increasingly unpopular US president will delve into something as difficult as resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The chances of success are much less than failure. With the need to focus on the economy and the with war in Afghanistan sending home an increasing number of dead NATO soldiers, no new government in Iraq, a dangerous war on terrorism in Pakistan and Yemen, and a percolating global crisis in Iran, why should Obama even attempt to rescue the Israelis and Palestinians from their own inability to resolve their own conflict? Obama used to describe the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict as a "vital US national security interest."

Today, it seems that the Israeli Palestinian conflict has been downgraded to a nuisance that won't go away but one that we can live with. That might be the view from Washington, but from Jerusalem, for both Israelis and Palestinians the resolution of our conflict is an existential reality. One of our problems is that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians do not believe that peace is possible; neither believes that there is a partner for peace on the other side and both sides are experiencing an unprecedented period of calm and economic growth. The "status quo" seems pretty good – why upset it? Israelis seems quite content to ignore the continuation of the conflict, they don't feel it nor do they see it. Palestinians have become invisible for most of them and aside from Israel's increasing international isolation life seems pretty good. In the West Bank, Palestinians are enjoying security and calm which they have never known. The new-found stability has created economic growth which provides the same sense of "leave us alone and let us live."

There will be no ground swell of public outcry to make peace neither in Israel nor in Palestine.

WHERE ARE the responsible adults who will understand the urgency? Time is not on our side and time is also not on the side of the Palestinians. Last month I wrote that our peace timetable is linked to the US elections calendar. I personally have lost the hope that Obama will save us from ourselves. I am not expecting any real US presidential engagement. My revised time table is linked more to the lifeline of the moderate Palestinian leadership. No leader remains in power forever, although some of the leaders in our region seem to look that way. The leadership timeline of Abbas and Fayyad is nearer to its end than to its beginning.

Abbas will soon retire and Fayyad lacks a political movement behind him. While Fayyad's success in creating stability and economic growth is admired equally by Palestinians as it is by rest of the world, without a political movement behind him and because he has effectively closed the finance faucet to Fatah, his political lifeline, unfortunately, may not be too long as well.

The opportunity to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will never be better. A deal can be reached, all issues in conflict can be resolved and I am quite sure that at the end of the process, the Palestinian side will be prepared to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. If we lose this opportunity we may have to come to the conclusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be resolved.

There is a majority on both sides in support of the "twostates for two-peoples" solution. There is no other solution to this conflict. The next generation of Palestinian leaders is likely to be less moderate, less pragmatic and less willing to accept the limitations of the only existing solution.

Missing the opportunity to divide the land into two states leaves us with the reality of two peoples living under one state.

Netanyahu and Abbas are responsible. They can both reach a deal and they can both deliver. Is it completely audacious to hope that they will? Probably, but hope may be all that we have left.

The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and an elected member of the leadership of Israel's Green Movement Political Party.








Israeli Left and Obama administration offer to serve up Israel to the Palestinians for negotiations that have no chance of success.


The Israeli Left is on a collision course with the Obama administration. It is reportedly trying to undermine negotiations between the Netanyahu government and Fatah. The Obama administration is earnestly seeking to initiate them.

According to an unnamed eyewitness interviewed by Israel Radio, during a July 8 meeting between Kadima Council Chairman and former vice premier Haim Ramon, and Fatah chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Ramon urged Erekat to tell Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to reject the Netanyahu government's offer for direct negotiations towards a peace deal.


Ramon allegedly claimed to speak for President Shimon Peres and warned Erekat that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not give the Palestinians what they demand. In light of this, Ramon urged Fatah to reject Netanyahu's offers to meet.

The implication was clear. If the Palestinians wait out this government, a Kadima-led leftist government will happily give them what they want: Israel on a platter.

Ramon has rejected these allegations. He has also accused the eyewitness of being an agent of the Prime Minister's Office.

If Ramon is telling the truth, the PMO would have been justified in keeping an eye on him. According to reports from late March, Ramon played a central role in instigating the crisis between Israel and the US that erupted during US Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Israel. Ahead of the visit, Kadima MK Yoel Hasson gave an interview to Israel Radio in which he said that the people of Israel would soon see how bad Israel's relations with the US had become under Netanyahu.

During that visit, the administration seized on a routine meeting of Jerusalem's municipal planning committee as a means of provoking the largest crisis in US-Israel relations in some twenty years. After Biden's visit, Makor Rishon reported that Ramon met with one of Obama's senior Middle East advisors before Biden arrived.

If Ramon did in fact tell Erekat to refuse Netanyahu's offers to negotiate, it means that the Israeli Left and the Obama administration are working against one another. After all, the administration has made clear that it fervently wishes for Abbas to agree to direct talks with Netanyahu and begin those talks ahead of the midterm Congressional elections in November.

BUT WHILE they disagree on when these negotiations should take place, the Israeli Left and the Obama administration agree on what it will take to get them started and keep them going. Like Ramon, Obama seeks to woo Abbas to his side by promising to deliver up Israel. According to media reports, Obama has pledged that if Abbas agrees to negotiate, the administration will use America will coerce Netanyahu into submitting to the Palestinians' demands on substantive issues. These include borders, Palestinian militarization, ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judea and Samaria and large portions of Jerusalem, and other issues.

Yet despite these and other massive inducements, Abbas still refuses to negotiate. And so the Americans have released their heavy guns.

No, Obama is not threatening to end US training of the Palestinian army. That $550 million training will continue despite Israel's position that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized and its concern that the US trained force will turn its guns on Israel.

Members of the Palestinian security forces and their Fatah affiliates have been responsible for most of the lethal attacks against Israelis in Judea and Samaria in recent years.

But the Obama administration's commitment to its Palestinian army is so massive that the US's General Accounting Office just published a report criticizing Israel for not being sufficiently supportive of the UStrained military force.

No, Obama is not threatening to end US support for Palestinian statehood or stop defining that objective as the US's central goal in the Middle East. Indeed, Obama's decision to upgrade the PLO mission in Washington signals that he is willing to consider accepting a Palestinian state formed outside the framework of a peace deal with Israel. That is, he is willing to consider supporting a Palestinian state that will be at war with Israel.

So what are the big guns that Obama has just turned on Abbas in his bid to cajole him into talking to Netanyahu? According to the Daily Telegraph, Obama is threatening not to increase the pressure he is currently exerting on Israel to extend its ban on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria if Abbas refuses to negotiate. That is, Obama's "stick" against the Palestinians revolves around the intensity of pressure he will place on Israel for the Palestinians' benefit.

While it is ironic that Ramon's meeting with Erekat places Kadima in conflict with the Obama administration it supports, but arguably more remarkable than what divides the two is what unites them. In both cases, the Israeli Left and the Obama administration are offering to serve up Israel to the Palestinians for negotiations that have no chance whatsoever of leading to a peace deal.

They are both willing to serve up Israel not for peace, but for political theater.

IT IS hard to think of anything Abbas hasn't already done to make clear that he doesn't want to negotiate. He has refused to negotiate.

He has demanded impossible preconditions.

He has asked Fatah and the Arab League to refuse to negotiate. While Abbas rejects the legitimacy of the Jewish state, his refusal to sit down with Netanyahu is not primarily a question of ideology.

It is important to remember that Abbas doesn't actually represent anyone anymore.

Abbas has no legal authority to represent the Palestinians. His term of office ended in January 2009. The only reason he continues to be referred to as the president of the Palestinian Authority is because the US insisted that he pretend that he is still represents someone.

But Abbas's status as a has-been is the least of his problems. Even if Abbas's term had not ended a year and eight months ago, he still wouldn't have the power to make a deal with Israel. Hamas, not Abbas' Fatah holds the cards in Palestinian society. This much was made clear in the first instance when Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006. By most non-Abbas controlled accounts, despite the billions of dollars Fatah has received in US and EU aid since then, if elections were held today, Hamas would likely win again.

And then there are the military realities.

Today, it is not the US-trained and financed Palestinian army that keeps Abbas' expired government in power in Judea and Samaria.

It is the IDF. If the IDF were to withdraw, Hamas would take over in those areas just as it took over Gaza three years ago.

And if Abbas signed a peace accord with Israel tomorrow, he would have no capacity to implement it. He would be dead before he had a chance to declare statehood. And he knows it.

When Hamas reinstated its missile war against Israel last week, the media contended that Hamas is seeking to derail talks between Abbas and Netanyahu. Whether this is true or not, it misses the point.

The point is that Hamas can derail talks any time it wishes because Hamas is the real power in Palestinian society – not Abbas.

And because the US has coerced Netanyahu into agreeing to hold talks with a Palestinian who has no power to negotiate, and because the Palestinians with actual power are controlled by Iran and wholly committed to Israel's destruction, it is clear that Obama's most earnestly held goal and the Israeli Left's greatest desire is to engage in political theater with Abbas at Israel's expense.

UNFORTUNATELY, WHILE the goal is theater, its consequences are anything but entertaining. Indeed, they are deadly.

This longstanding penchant for having Israel negotiate with the Palestinians despite the latter's refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state has brought about a situation in which Israel faces the prospect of a two-state solution that involves the creation of two Palestinian states. The first – the Palestinian state in Gaza, has existed for five years.

It is run by Hamas and is controlled by Iran and Syria. The second – the Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is run by Fatah. Protected by the IDF, it wages war against Hamas in the streets. And legitimized by the Israeli Left and the US, Fatah wages diplomatic war against Israel internationally. And when the blinds are pulled, Fatah forces join with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their common goal of killing Israelis.

Because this political theater requires everyone in a position of power to ignore the fact that the Palestinians have both no interest and no ability to make peace with Israel, the Palestinians are consistently supported. And since it requires Israel to make endless concessions to the Palestinians to keep the drama going, support for Israel has consistently eroded.

Reality on the Palestinian side is not the only thing the likes of Ramon and Obama ignore in the interest of their love of theater.

They also ignore that the Israeli people have had enough of their play acting.

In a poll of Israeli Jews carried out for Channel One last week, by a margin of more than two to one, respondents said the withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake. By a margin of three to one they said they would not support similar withdrawals in the future. By a margin of nearly four to one they said their support for settlers had increased since the expulsions from Gaza. And by a margin of two to one, they said that the withdrawal harmed Israel's deterrence.

Ramon is the architect of the unilateral withdrawal strategy. He cooked it up back in 1994 when the Palestinian introduction of the suicide bomber to the daily lives of Israelis soured the public on the peace process with the PLO. And now, with no chance that Abbas or any other Palestinian leader will sign or implement a deal with Israel, it is clear that the only way to progress in the political theater Obama and Ramon so fervently desire is for Israel to give more unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians.

The obvious remedy for all of this is for the Israeli Left and the US to recognize what it is that they are doing. Outside the world of theater, neither the Israeli Left nor the US have an interest in building yet another terror state in Judea and Samaria in addition to the one in Gaza. Neither has an interest in weakening Israel to the point where it cannot defend itself and therefore invites aggression from its neighbors.

If the Israel Left and the Obama administration truly want peace, they would be making some demands on the Palestinians. At a minimum they would demand that the Palestinians accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state and reform their anti-Semitic institutions.

But then they wouldn't have their political theater. And that is something that cannot live without.







British PM apparently believed that by condemning Israel, he could curry favor with Turkey.


British Prime Minister David Cameron raised diplomatic eyebrows the other day when he accused Pakistan of "looking both ways on exporting terrorism."

This may well be true, but a few days before, in Turkey, it was Cameron himself who was looking both ways, condemning Israel for the way it had dealt with the "humanitarian" flotilla to Gaza and equating the Strip to a "prison camp" (never mind that a state of the art shopping mall had just been opened there with great fanfare and that a number of new seaside tourist resorts are being inaugurated).

Cameron recently found himself in an embarrassing situation when he made an erroneous statement about Britain's World War II history, so perhaps one shouldn't judge him too harshly for mis-speaking about the complicated issues in the Middle East, including the situation in Gaza.

Be this as it may, he then paid a brief visit to Washington in order to try to extricate his country from the public relations disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (his efforts were not helped by the revelation that BP had been instrumental in getting the Libyan terrorist responsible for the Lockerbie outrage, in which 270 passengers on a Pan Am flight lost their lives, out of jail and flown back to Libya a free man).

AND FROM Washington to Ankara. After all, Britain does have important political and economic interests in Turkey – so, someone may have advised Cameron, why not engage in a bit of Israel-bashing there, which seems to go down rather well with Turkey's present Islamic regime? Though Britain has in recent years experienced grievous terrorist attacks on its own soil and is still very much a potential target of jihadi violence, the British PM and his advisers apparently believe that by condemning Israel whose civilian population is under constant threat from terrorists (at the time of writing, a medium-range missile launched in the Gaza strip hit Ashkelon, causing severe damage to property, but, fortunately, no casualties) he could curry favor with Erdogan – as well as buy "protection" against terrorism in his own country. Or was he just cynically "looking both ways" when he stated that "the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable"? Nor will this make Britain more popular in America. Even theFinancial Times, more often than not critical of Israel, has faulted Cameron for making these statements, attacking third countries in public, adding that he may be accused of "sucking up to his audience."

Others have blamed him for inexperience, and as the FT also remarked in its editorial, Cameron "has failed to grasp that it is impossible to segment a message in a networked world."

But reality may be even more ominous. Britain in recent years has become a hotbed of anti- Israel activities, often with anti-Semitic overtones.

Its outgoing prime minister, Gordon Brown, had valiantly, though not always successfully, fought against this dangerous – dangerous to Britain itself – trend and one hopes that David Cameron isn't indifferent to those blatant expressions of bigotry either.

IN AN important recently released book, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, Anthony Julius has described the long history of Jew-hatred in the British Isles. Harold Bloom, America's most prominent and formidable literary critic and commentator, in his extraordinarily cogent review of the book has pointed out in the New York Times Book Review that "the English literary and academic establishment essentially opposes the right of the state of Israel to exist, while indulging in the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism".

To be fair, there is also another, more decent, side to Britain, and the Churchills, the Balfours, the Crossmans are bound to outshine the Chamberlains, the Macdonalds, the Bevins (and the Mosleys) and their present-day imitators and followers on the Left and the Right.

It is up to David Cameron to decide with whom he will choose to be compared by history.

The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.








Was the president really wrong when he called the British establishment 'deeply pro-Arab' partly due to anti-Semitic dispositions?


Shimon Peres, Israel's 87-year-old president doesn't usually arouse antagonism among Europeans.

A tireless peace advocate for decades, and architect of the Oslo Process for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize, he has long presented Israel's moderate face to the outside world.

Yet last week he provoked anger among British politicians and Anglo- Jewish leaders when he told a Jewish website that the British establishment had always been "deeply pro- Arab ... and anti-Israel," and that this was partly due to endemic anti- Semitic dispositions. "I can understand Mr. Peres' concerns, but I don't recognize what he is saying about England," said James Clappison, vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. "Things are certainly no worse, as far as Israel is concerned, in this country than other European countries. He got it wrong."

But did he? While few arguments have resonated more widely, or among a more diverse set of observers, than the claim that Britain has been the midwife of the Jewish state, the truth is that no sooner had Britain been appointed as the mandatory power in Palestine, with the explicit task of facilitating the establishment of a Jewish national home in the country in accordance with the Balfour Declaration, than it reneged on this obligation.

AS EARLY as March 1921, the British government severed the vast and sparsely populated territory east of the Jordan River ("Transjordan") from the prospective Jewish national home and made Abdullah, the emir of Mecca, its effective ruler. In 1922 and 1930, two British White Papers limited Jewish immigration to Palestine – the elixir of life of the prospective Jewish state – and imposed harsh restrictions on land sales to Jews.

Britain's betrayal of its international obligations to the Jewish national cause reached its peak on May 17, 1939, when a new White Paper imposed draconian restrictions on land sales to Jews and limited immigration to 75,000 over the next five years, after which Palestine would become an independent state in which the Jews would comprise no more than one-third of the total population.

Such were the anti-Zionist sentiments within the British establishment at the time that even a life-long admirer of Zionism like prime minister Winston Churchill rarely used his wartime dominance of British politics to help the Zionists (or indeed European Jewry). However appalled by the White Paper he failed to abolish this "low grade gasp of a defeatist hour" (to use his own words), refrained from confronting his generals and bureaucrats over the creation of a Jewish fighting force in Palestine, which he wholeheartedly supported, and gave British officialdom a free rein in the running of Middle Eastern affairs, which they readily exploited to promote the Arab case. In 1943, for instance, Freya Stark, the acclaimed author, orientalist, and Arabian adventurer, was sent to the US on a seven-month propaganda campaign aimed at undercutting the Zionist cause and defending Britain's White Paper policy.

That this could happen at the height of the Nazi extermination of European Jewry of which Whitehall was keenly aware offered a stark demonstration of the mindset of British officialdom, which was less interested in stopping genocide than in preventing its potential survivors from reaching Palestine after the war.

So much so that senior Foreign Office members portrayed Britain, not Europe's Jews, as the main victim of the Nazi atrocities.

THIS ANTI-ZIONISM was sustained into the postwar years as the Labor Party, which in July 1945 swept to power in a landslide electoral victory, swiftly abandoned its pre-election pro-Zionist platform to become a bitter enemy of the Jewish national cause. The White Paper restrictions were kept in place, and the Jews were advised by Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin not "to get too much at the head of the queue" in seeking recourse to their problems.

Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors who chose to ignore the warning and to run the British naval blockade were herded into congested camps in Cyprus, where they were incarcerated for years.

"Should we accept the view that all the Jews or the bulk of them must leave Germany?" Bevin rhetorically asked the British ambassador to Washington.

"I do not accept that view. They have gone through, it is true, the most terrible massacre and persecution, but on the other hand they have got through it and a number have survived."

Prime Minister Clement Attlee went a step further by comparing Holocaust survivors wishing to leave Europe and to return to their ancestral homeland to Nazi troops invading the continent.

While these utterances resonated with the pervasive anti-Semitism within British officialdom (the last high commissioner for Palestine, General Sir Alan Cunningham, for instance, said of Zionism, "The forces of nationalism are accompanied by the psychology of the Jew, which it is important to recognize as something quite abnormal and unresponsive to rational treatment"), Britain's Middle Eastern policy also reflected the basic fact that as occupiers of vast territories endowed with natural resources (first and foremost oil) and sitting astride strategic waterways (e.g., the Suez Canal), the Arabs had always been far more meaningful for British interests than the Jews.

As the chief of the air staff told the British cabinet in 1947, "If one of the two communities had to be antagonized, it was preferable, from the purely military angle, that a solution should be found which did not involve the continuing hostility of the Arabs."

One needs look no further than David Cameron's statements on the Middle East to see this anti-Israel mindset is alive and kicking. In the summer of 2006, when thousands of Hizbullah missiles were battering Israel's cities and villages, he took the trouble of issuing a statement from the tropical island on which he was vacationing at the time condemning Israel's "disproportionate use of force."

Four years later, while on an official visit to Turkey, he went out of his way to placate his Islamist host, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by criticizing Israel's efforts to prevent the arming of the Hamas Islamist group, which, like its Lebanese counterpart, had been lobbing thousands of missiles on Israel's civilian population for years.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The writer is professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, editor of the Middle East Quarterly and author, most recently, of Palestine Betrayed.








A cost-benefit analysis of the US relationship with Israel over the past thirty-plus years shows an Israeli ally at a bargain.


Adapted from remarks given at the Nixon Center ( debate "Israel: Asset or Liability?" with Chas Freeman on July 20.

I don't think there is anyone who would disagree with the contention that there is no country in the Middle East whose people and government are so closely aligned with the United States; in some countries, the people are pro-American, in others, the government, but in Israel, it is unabashedly both.

Opinion: What's in it for America?

Our two countries share ways of governing, ways of ordering society, ways of viewing the role of liberty and individual rights, and ways to defend those ideals. Some realists tend to dismiss this soft stuff as having no strategic value; I disagree. This commonality of culture and values is at the heart of national interest; it manifests itself in many ways, from how Israel votes at the United Nations to how its people view their role as being on the front line against many of the same threats we face.


It is to America's advantage to have in Israel an economy that is so closely associated with ours and that is such an innovator in the IT field, in high-tech medicine, and in green technologies, like the electric car.

Indeed, the strength of our relationship helped turn Israel from an economic basket case into an economic powerhouse – and our economic partner. Just ask Warren Buffett and all the other American investors who view Israel as a destination worthy of their capital.

It is to America's advantage to have had a close working partnership with Israel for the last thirty-plus years in the pursuit of Middle East peace. Some bemoan the peace process as "all process, no peace" and critique the strength of the US-Israel relationship as an impediment to progress, not an ingredient of it. I disagree. First, I would argue that a strong Israel, with a strong US-Israel relationship at its core, has been central to what we know as the peace process.

And second, in historical terms, the Middle East peace process has been one of the most successful US diplomatic initiatives of the last half-century.

In the words of one knowledgeable observer: "The peace process has been a vehicle for American influence throughout the broad Middle Eastern region. It has provided an excuse for Arab declarations of friendship with the United States, even if Americans remain devoted to Israel. In other words, it has helped to eliminate what otherwise might be seen as a zero-sum game."

That sort of praiseworthy peace process was born out of the 1973 war, when two interlocking developments began to take shape – the growth of the bilateral US-Israel strategic relationship, which took off in economic and military terms, and the emergence of a peace process in its current, American-led form.

Since then, the Arab-Israeli arena has changed dramatically in favor of US interests. Over the past thirty years, we have seen peace agreements between Israel and the most powerful Arab state (Egypt) and the state with the longest border with Israel (Jordan). We have also seen thirty-seven years of quiet on the Syrian border and seventeen years of diplomacy between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. That is also a huge and positive difference.

INDEED, THE first twenty-five years after the establishment of Israel, the regional situation could be described as continuous war with periodic outbursts of diplomacy. The second thirty-five years – the period since 1973, the period since the take-off in US-Israel strategic relations – can be described as continuous diplomacy with periodic outbursts of war.

Since 1973, there has not been a regional war or a state-to-state conflict in the Arab-Israeli area. We have had limited wars – Israel versus Hizbullah, for example – but nothing that engulfed the region. That's a huge and positive difference.

We tend to forget the context – the fear of regional war – that dominated the Arab-Israeli arena for years. For more than thirty-six years, it hasn't happened. Of course, it may happen again and the circumstances on Israel's northern border may be leading in that direction.

But let's look at what we know: The peace process over the last thirty-five years has essentially evolved into a process to resolve issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

These issues are difficult, complex, and highly emotional. The failure to resolve them can lead to bloodshed and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as we saw in the second intifada. But despite all those ups and downs, it has never reverted into regional war.

Indeed, one of the great achievements of USIsrael cooperation, manifested through their partnership in the peace process, is to have reduced the Arab-Israeli conflict to an Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Look at the experience of the second intifada, for example: approximately 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead in the worst outburst of intercommunal violence since 1948.

Despite this, the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan survived and not one Arab state intervened to provide military support to the Palestinians; in fact, the only state to lend military support to the Palestinians was Iran.

The observer I referred to earlier as praising the peace process for eliminating the zerosum game of Middle East politics – a peace process whose oxygen is the strength and vitality of the US-Israel relationship – was Chas Freeman.

AND THEN there is the long list of militaryrelated advantages that Israel brings to the United States directly, by its own actions and through the bilateral relationship. I will cite just a few: • Since 1983, American and Israeli militaries have engaged in contingency planning, and Israeli facilities can be made available to the United States if needed. American forces have practiced the use of many Israeli facilities, ranging from Ben Gurion Airport to pre-positioning sites. All four US armed services routinely conduct training at Israel Defense Forces facilities.

• The US has deployed an X-band early warning radar for missile defense on Israeli soil.

This facility supplements other American missile defense assets and is available for both America's regional missile defense architecture and our own reconfigured missile defense concept for protecting Europe from longerrange Iranian missiles.

• America began stocking war reserves in Israel fifteen years ago. Those stockpiles are hardly "minimal"– the total value is approaching $1 billion. They're US property and the Pentagon can draw upon them at any time.

America has shown it is able to move military supplies from Israel to the Gulf; for example, it sent Israeli mine-plows and bulldozers to Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991.

• Israel has proven to be a prime source of effective counterterrorism/counterinsurgency tactics, techniques, and procedures, which have played a significant role in US success (thus far) in Iraq • Israel has also been an outstanding innovator in the technology, tactics, techniques, and procedures of unmanned aerial vehicles, which the US now relies upon so extensively in Afghanistan.

Add all this up: Israel – through its intelligence, its technology, and the lessons learned from its own experience in counterterrorism and asymmetric warfare – has saved American lives. And when you add to this Israel's unique counterproliferation efforts – destroying nuclear reactors in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007) – Israel's contribution to our security is even greater.

DO A cost-benefit analysis of the US relationship with Israel over the past thirty-plus years and the US relationship with its Arab friends in the Gulf. What do you find? To secure its interests in the Arab-Israeli arena, the United States has spent about $100 billion in military and economic assistance to Israel, plus another $30 billion to Egypt and relatively small change to others. Our losses: a total of 258 Americans in the Beirut embassy and barracks bombings and a few other American victims of terrorism in that part of the Middle East.

Compare that with the Gulf. Look at the massive costs we have endured to ensure our interests there, the principal one being to secure access to the region's energy resources at reasonable prices. The United States has spent more than $1 trillion – $700 billion on the Iraq war alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office – lost more than 4,400 US servicemen, fought two wars, endured thirty years of conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran and a global al-Qaida insurgency fed originally by our deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia. After all that, the Gulf region is still anything but secure. It's when you boil it down to this very simple arithmetic that I can say that our relationship with Israel helped produce a strategic bonanza for the United States at bargain prices.

Is it a fairytale marriage? Of course not.

Do the two sides have differences, even profound ones, on some critical issues? Absolutely. Do certain Israeli actions run against the tactical advice and preference of various US administrations? To be sure.

But their common recognition of the strategic benefits they derive from this relationship has given the United States and Israel strong incentive to manage these differences fairly amicably over the years.

What about the argument that all this has come at a huge strategic price? I know it is de rigueur to cite Gen. David Petraeus on this issue. But look closely at what General Petraeus actually said in his prepared testimony to the Armed Services Committee. In the section of his remarks titled "Cross-Cutting Challenges to Security and Stability," he cited eleven different items. The entire list bears mention: militant Islamic networks; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; ungoverned spaces; terrorist finance and facilitation; piracy; ethnic, tribal, and sectarian rivalries; disputed territories and access to vital resources; criminal activity; uneven economic development and unemployment; lack of regional and global economic integration; and, of course, insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.

Would US interests be advanced if there were comprehensive peace? Of course.

Who argues to the contrary? But General Petraeus blamed neither Israel nor the USIsrael relationship for the lack of such progress; nor did he even hint that this issue is somehow the key to overcome the other ten major obstacles that he outlined.

And then there's the argument about the US paying for Islamist recruitment because of its relationship with Israel.

Again, in an echo of the long list of factors that Petraeus said pose challenges to security and stability, radical Islamists also have a long list of complaints against America, of which US-Israel relations is only one among many and not nearly the most important.

If you think Osama bin Laden is all about Israel, and not about America, let me quote a very learned fellow: "Mr. bin Laden's principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point."

That very smart fellow was Chas Freeman.

Bottom line: a disinterested, professional net assessment of the impact of Israel and the US-Israel relationship on US strategic interests in the Middle East would show that the 63 percent of Americans who told the most recent Gallup poll that they sympathize with Israel – more than four times the percentage who sympathize with what the poll presented as the other side, Palestinians (I didn't like the wording, but it's their poll, not mine) – that those 63 percent are pretty good strategists. They know that our relationship with Israel is not just good for Israel, it's good for America.

What we really need in the Middle East are more "Israels"– not more Jewish states, of course, but more strong, reliable, democratic, pro-American allies. It would certainly be nice to have one or two in the Gulf.

The absence of those sorts of allies is precisely what has gotten us into such deep trouble over the past thirty years.

The writer is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.











Fourteen years ago, then-justice minister Yaakov Neeman - a private attorney before and after his stint in the cabinet - resigned from then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet. Neeman had a credibility problem that became an indictment.


Fourteen years ago, then-justice minister Yaakov Neeman - a private attorney before and after his stint in the cabinet - resigned from then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet. Neeman had a credibility problem that became an indictment. He was tried but acquitted because it was not proven that he had acted deliberately.


Ten months ago, in view of Neeman's vigorous drive to split the attorney general's position into legal advisor to the government and head of prosecution, the question arose as to where his loyalties lay. As Netanyahu's confidant, Neeman was appointed by him again last year as justice minister, under pressure by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is suspected of criminal activity.


Netanyahu had claimed he would not follow in former prime minister Ehud Olmert's footsteps, with the exception of Justice Ministry matters. Neeman was meant to continue the path forged by Daniel Friedmann, also a non-elected personal appointment, who was at loggerheads with the attorney general and state prosecutor.


Neeman failed in his attempt to have one of his preferred candidates appointed attorney general. The police's recommendation to indict Lieberman, endorsed by the state prosecutor, is lying on new attorney general Yehuda Weinstein's desk.


When he was dealing with splitting the attorney general's position, Neeman concealed from the state prosecutor and other ministry officials the full extent of his intentions and plans. Now he has once again damaged his credibility with his own statements, and the matter can no longer be left hanging in the air.


Last week Yossi Verter reported in Haaretz that Neeman said the legal counsel to the Prime Minister's Office, Shlomit Barnea-Fargo, had ruled out names of women he had proposed for the committee investigating the Turkish flotilla incident, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel.


He made this statement at the cabinet session called to approve adding members to Turkel's committee. Barnea-Fargo issued an unequivocal denial to Neeman's claim, which has not been refuted.


Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi's political future is under fire because he was convicted of perjury. Two outstanding commanders, Moshe (Chico ) Tamir and Imad Fares, ended their military careers because they reported falsehoods.


The justice minister is required by law to be one of the six members of the ministers' committee for national security. He must be credible beyond a shadow of a doubt. If Neeman cannot demonstrate his credibility he must resign. If he refuses to do so, it is the responsibility of the one who appointed him, Netanyahu, to get him to do it.










How do you launder "black" intelligence? Via a broadcast on Israel Radio. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "persons not from the right" were trying to thwart direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and quick as a wink, the proof was found in the pudding of Israel Radio's "It's All Talk" program.


Netanyahu still has anonymous soldiers who know how to stumble onto the right table with the right device, and then show up on the right show, in order to bolster his claim. And yet: To Netanyahu's sorrow, and perhaps to the even greater sorrow of various "persons not from the right" - including Kadima MKs Ronit Tirosh and Otniel Schneller - former minister Haim Ramon's meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat did not produce a scandal.


"With all due respect," said Erekat in response to the attempts to paint Ramon as possessed with some kind of magical influence over the Palestinians, "[U.S. President Barack] Obama, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak have a greater impact on the Palestinians' decisions."


Instead, all eyes are now on Netanyahu. He, and not Ramon, is the one who will be judged on the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks and their outcome.


Israeli politics are rife with internal quarrels and mutual recriminations from both right and left, even when sensitive negotiations are talking place. Netanyahu has shown his own talents in this field in the past. But in contrast to his own past behavior and that of his predecessors, this time Netanyahu has been dragged into an attempted confrontation not with the leader of the opposition, but with a former senior official.


Past episodes had a harsher odor. In June 1995, then Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak was holding talks with his Syrian counterpart, Hikmat Shihabi, in Washington. Netanyahu, then leader of the opposition, obtained a copy of the so-called "Stauber document," which detailed the main points of Israel's positions in the negotiations - primarily, a willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights.


Netanyahu brandished this document in the Knesset plenum. Then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin accused him of revealing state secrets. And on November 1, 1995, Rabin made an appearance on the television show "Moked" (Focus ).


This week, I watched parts of that program again. Rabin looked furious over the incitement against him following a wave of Palestinian terror attacks. His interviewers, Ehud Yaari, Shimon Schiffer and Yaron Dekel, also asked him about the languishing talks with the Syrians.


As part of his response, Rabin said, "Netanyahu sent [then Syrian president Hafez] Assad a message that he would be better off doing business with the Likud, not with Rabin."


When asked the source of this information, he refused to reply. But his interviewers did not sound especially surprised by his assertion, and no scandal arose over it. Three days later, Rabin was murdered.


In January 2004, then prime minister Ariel Sharon gave the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee details about a meeting between then opposition leader Shimon Peres and then Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala ). "I have no preconditions for a meeting with Abu Ala," Sharon said caustically in response to a question about why the two had not met. "But he won't meet with me because he's busy holding meetings with left-wing politicians."


Specifically, he said, Qureia had been meeting with Peres at the homes of the Norwegian and American ambassadors.


"This is a scandalous act, of unparalleled gravity," responded Peres. "Sharon is using classified material from the intelligence services in order to follow and harass me."


Over the last few days, the bon ton has been to assert Netanyahu's willingness to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. According to the pundits, Obama, Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan (and also Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak ) have all recently heard encouraging things from him that they had not heard in the past. Talks, and an agreement, are on the way.


But if so, then why, at the height of the effort to launch direct talks, is Netanyahu already casting about to find people to blame for their failure, even before they have begun?









The interminable discussions in the government on the exact wording to be used in the pledge of allegiance for those taking on Israeli citizenship are a complete waste of time. What's more, this discussion is an indication that government ministers seem not to realize that allegiance cannot be enforced, not even through the words of a pledge for new citizens composed by a committee of government ministers.


Loyalty to a country is something that must come naturally. It is an expression of the innermost feelings of a citizen toward his country and countrymen. Its ultimate expression is the willingness to defend the country against its enemies.


The soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews and Arabs, although formally sworn in after completing basic training, need no pledge to affirm their loyalty to the State of Israel. Their service in the IDF, and their willingness to risk life and limb for the country, is sufficient confirmation of that.


Defending Israel against external threats via IDF service is an essential element of integrating Israel's Arab citizens into the fabric of society. Only those prepared to defend the state truly feel at home here.


Not that other dimensions of citizenship can be neglected - budgets need to be allocated to Arab townships, efforts have to be made to provide equal opportunities to Arab citizens - but achieving an equality of obligations, including service in the IDF, remains the cornerstone of successful integration.


We do not need to look at other democratic countries to confirm the truth of this assertion. Israel itself is the proof of that. The minority population that has achieved the highest degree of integration into the Israeli social fabric are the Druze. Unquestionably, this is due to their army service.


It affects their view of themselves as Israeli citizens, as well as the view of Israel's Jewish citizens of them. But successive Israeli governments have neglected to engage the Arab Muslim and Christian communities as far as military service is concerned.


Over the years individual Christians and Muslims have volunteered for military service. Attempts to encourage Bedouin to volunteer for service in the IDF have been no more than desultory. (That, by the way, and for different reasons, has been true of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as well. )


But there has been no government policy that would lead to obligatory military service for all.


One of the reasons given for this abnormal state of affairs is that one should not expect Israel's Arab citizens to be willing to fight against Israel's Arab enemies. Yet no other democratic country exempts some of its minorities from military service on such grounds.


Some have gone even farther in their reasoning, insisting that different nationalities cannot be expected to live in peace with each other within a common framework of sovereignty, an argument that better not apply to Israel, with its large minority population.


The basic question is whether it is possible to build a society in Israel in which Arab citizens will feel at home, feel a sense of loyalty to the state and be prepared to defend it against its enemies. Israel is not Bosnia or Serbia, not the Caucasus and not Sudan, countries frequently cited in attempts to prove the impossibility of building a harmonious multinational society.


Israel is a well- established democracy, in which the rule of law prevails. It has a high standard of living and is a land of opportunity for hundreds of thousands, who yearn for its borders.


Most of Israel's Arabs know that all too well. Most of them prefer living in Israel to being incorporated into a future Palestinian state. So why not take part in defending it?


At present two factors militate against that. First, great economic benefits are attached to not dedicating three years to military service, and having gotten used to that it is a habit not easy to break. Secondly, there is the subversive Islamic Movement spreading its propaganda among Israel's Arab citizens, and preaching against military service.


A determined government effort can overcome these obstacles. A pledge of allegiance will not.









Iceland is considered a very expensive country. But a visit to that northern isle reveals that we here in the Middle East have managed to match even Iceland. Food here is as expensive as it is in Iceland, and our hotels are even more expensive. Renting a car is admittedly cheaper here, but we've managed to outdo Iceland when it comes to housing prices.


But it's not just Iceland. Visits to several other places that, until a few years ago, were considered horrendously expensive reveal that we've caught up with them as well. A friend of mine visiting from Miami complains bitterly about the prices, which he says are higher than Miami's - including for restaurants and bars.


In "expensive" France, Camembert cheese costs less than it does here, as do bread and most other food products. A simple hotel anywhere in France costs 60 euros, as does a nice bed-and-breakfast. Where in Israel can you find a bed-and-breakfast or a hotel room for NIS 300 a night? Even rooms in youth hostels cost more than that.


A decent hotel in London's Russell Square, a hot spot for tourists, costs 110 euros a night, including breakfast. Show me a similar hotel in Tel Aviv for NIS 550 a night.


So how did Israel become one of the most expensive places on earth?


One reason is the strengthening shekel. In June 2002, the exchange rate was NIS 5 to the dollar; now it is only NIS 3.8. That is a significant increase, and it raises our prices compared to those in other countries.


Another reason is the high risk level in Israel, which compels hotel and business owners to charge a risk premium. As an example, just look at yesterday's rocket attack near Eilat.


Yet another reason is the structure of the economy, which is highly concentrated. We have too many conglomerates, cartels and entire industries dominated by only two or three competitors. That inevitably leads to high fees and sky-high prices.


And then, of course, there are the big monopolies, which have been making fools of us for years. Take, for instance, the Israel Electric Corporation, which suffers from inefficiency, excess manpower, excessive salaries and fabulous pensions - all of which find expression in the price of electricity, as well as in the company's heavy debts. Now, the IEC is threatening us with rolling power outages at the height of the current heat wave - and at the same time demanding an increase of 18 percent (! ) in electricity rates.


Also worth mentioning are the ports cartel, which gives terrible service but collects scandalous "transit fees" on all imports; the Israel Airports Authority monopoly, which raises the price of every airline ticket by a significant percentage; and the cement monopoly, which raises housing prices.


Even the myth of our cheap food prices has recently come a cropper. It's simply not true any longer. The reasons for this include bans on imports, protective tariffs and administrative quotas, all of which prevent competition from imports. And therefore, food prices are high.


The need to make many products kosher also adds to the price. For instance, it is forbidden to import nonkosher meat, which is much cheaper.


Consider the dairy industry. This industry operates as a cartel, and there is also a sweeping ban on importing milk or dairy products, except in purely symbolic amounts. Moreover, Tnuva buys all its milk from the dairy farmers at an identical "target price." Consequently, there is no competition. The result is that the cost of milk production at Israeli dairies is 28 percent higher than it is in the European Union and 45 percent (! ) higher than in the United States. If we add in Tnuva's domination of the milk products market, the result is inevitable: high prices for all such products.


Once, we used to boast of our cheap fruit and vegetable prices, but today, this, too, is no longer true. Even worse, nowhere in the Western world do you find fruits and vegetables of such poor quality as those sold in our major supermarket chains. For when there is no competition from imports, you can abuse the consumers to your heart's content.


I also asked a moshav chicken farmer why fresh chicken here is not as good as it is in Canada or France. He replied that the entire industry is controlled by the slaughterhouse owners, and they have various ways of persuading the growers not to deviate from the norm.


So that is how we reached Iceland's price levels. But Iceland residents at least have one comfort we are denied: Prices may be sky-high, but summer temperatures are much less so.









1.Since Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has been restrained and restraining. It has no desire for another round. Especially now that the Gaza Strip has become the darling of the enlightened world, and Israel its doormat. And now a Grad lands here and a Qassam there, an ominous trickle begins, especially the five rocket strikes in Eilat and Aqaba yesterday. So far, as in the first days of the Qassams, they caused no Israeli casualties. But the memories are quite fresh and when the siren sounded in Ashkelon on Friday the people rushed to get to their reinforced rooms. The commentators believe the rockets were launched by small extremist organizations that are not under Hamas control. But Hamas may have slackened the leash or, of greater concern, be testing the range for future targets and that if it feels it is being left out of the party with the approach of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks it may seek to torpedo it. Gaza will be part of any future Palestinian state. As such Israel must demand in its negotiations with the Palestinian Authority that the PA ensures a total cease-fire in Gaza. A peace agreement is out of the question with the Russian roulette coming from Gaza.


2. The role of the state comptroller is to supervise the proper management of state institutions. There's no denying that this is an important job. But every time State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss appears in public he seems to imply that the task of monitoring the country's executive branch is beneath him. In his latest interview on Channel 2 television he said, or at least hinted, that he will soon turn to examining the judgment exercised by the country's leaders with respect to the Gaza aid flotilla and other issues such as Operation Cast Lead. That is odd. With all due respect, he is a civil servant, not an elected official. It's not his job to oversee the judgment of the country's elected leaders. Some say he aspires to succeed Shimon Peres as president. That proves he's getting too big for his britches. There's only one Peres.


3. The wheels of justice turn slowly here. That's not new. But an investigation that lasts five or 10 years is a delay of justice by any standard, especially when the subject is a politician or public official. But the most troubling question is how long it will take before we know what is happening in the trial of former president Moshe Katsav. We all heard the embarrassing testimony from women identified by an initial. It was uncomfortable to hear about the fly opening and the presidential hand waving his member. We all saw the television horror spectacle in which Katsav compared himself with Dreyfus. By way of contrast, take the case of Erez Efrati - a former bodyguard of the army chief of staff, not a president - and how quickly he was tried and sentenced for sexual assault. He didn't blame the media or claim that he was framed.


4. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara tend to draw criticism, justified or not. The campaign against the birthday party they gave at the Prime Minister's Residence for their 19-year-old soldier-son Yair was outrageous. The criticism focused on three things: First, why were 100 people invited? Second, why was the event held in the Prime Minister's Residence, at the state's expense? And third, why wasn't the party halted with the news of the Israel Air Force helicopter crash in Romania? As someone who hasn't minced his words about Bibi, starting with his first term as prime minister, the criticism this time really irritated me. Had he canceled the party, critics would have said that he panicked. He could not have done anything about the crash. Particularly infuriating was the criticism about the party being held in the prime minister's official residence and at state expense, and that this wouldn't have happened in England. Not quite. London's 10 Downing Street is both the residence and the official office of the prime minister, and the separation between the two functions is built into the national budget. The wife of a former Israeli prime minister once told me it's fun to be prime minister because every expense in the residence is paid by the state. Yair's party was no exception.


The marriage of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, conducted by both a rabbi and a Methodist minister, raises two questions: Does that mean she remains a gentile and he a Jew? What happens if Chelsea has a son? Will he be baptized or given a brit milah, or both?




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Over the opposition of most Republicans and the massed lobbying power of the oil industry, the House last week narrowly approved legislation imposing new safeguards on offshore oil drilling. The bill would tighten environmental rules, sharply increase penalties for spills and, in myriad other ways, seek to minimize the risks of oil and gas exploration in America's coastal waters.


Harry Reid, the majority leader, promises to bring a similar bill to the floor, but there is little time remaining before the recess in which to approve it. It would be shameful if the Senate does not. Still fresh in our minds is the Senate's lamentable decision to abandon comprehensive energy and climate legislation that the House had passed the year before with considerable political fortitude. The least it can do is muster a meaningful response to one of the most appalling environmental disasters in American history.


Both the Senate and the House bills would reorganize the agency at the Interior Department responsible for overseeing drilling — an agency whose serial misbehavior and conflicts of interest allowed BP to manipulate the system and short-circuit regulatory reviews that might have prevented the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Both bills also would provide the presidential commission investigating the blowout with subpoena powers; both would require companies to furnish more detailed response plans before receiving permits to drill; and both would eliminate the $75 million liability cap for companies responsible for a spill.


BP already has agreed to pay $20 billion in personal damage claims and could be on the hook for billions more in environmental damages. But lifting the liability cap would serve as a powerful incentive to other companies to take every possible precaution against a blowout.


Each bill has worthy provisions that the other does not. The House bill has detailed rules governing blowout preventers, the equipment that failed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. It would close loopholes that have allowed big oil companies to escape an estimated $53 billion in royalties for oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico.


The Senate bill includes several energy-efficiency provisions unrelated to the spill, as well as grant programs to encourage the development of vehicles that run on electricity and on natural gas. These merit approval, as do sections in both bills establishing long-term financing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the government's main vehicle for acquiring open space.


But these and other good provisions will never become law unless the Senate acts. Mr. Reid will not have an easy task of it. Industry continues to complain about the liability provisions. The Republicans will try to end the administration's six-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling in the gulf, even though a similar attempt failed in the House.


But overcoming obstacles like this is what leaders are for. And do the Republicans really want to tell voters in the fall that they have done nothing to respond to the spill? The hand-wringing on Capitol Hill began the moment the Deepwater Horizon caught fire more than 100 days ago. Here is a chance for responsible senators to do their jobs by trying to ensure that a disaster like this never happens again.







It took too long, but Israel made the right decision in saying it would cooperate with a United Nations-led investigation into its disastrous attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship. Only a transparent and credible inquiry has a chance of calming international outrage over the incident and beginning to repair fractured Israeli-Turkish ties.


Turkey is understandably furious about the death of eight Turks and one Turkish-American in the May 31 raid on a flotilla. Israel says its soldiers acted in self-defense and that the flotilla was organized by radical activists, supported by Turkey, bent on provoking an incident.


After resisting cooperation with the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel showed good sense when he said Monday that "Israel has nothing to hide" and that it is in Israel's "national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident is revealed to the whole world." Turkey also welcomed the investigation and promised to cooperate.


This is a leap of faith for Israel, whose enemies have sometimes used the United Nations as an anti-Israel cudgel. The four-member panel will include Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand; the outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe; and an Israeli and a Turk, who must be of high caliber and committed to an honest outcome.


Unfortunately, it is not clear that the panel's mandate is sufficiently broad enough to fulfill the Security Council's June 1 call for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."


A United Nations spokesman said the panel would make "findings about the facts and circumstances and the context of the incident." But the United States ambassador, Susan Rice, described a narrower mandate — receiving the conclusions of separate Israeli and Turkish investigations into the flotilla attack but focusing on preventing future incidents.


The panel will have no subpoena authority and is not empowered to do its own inquiry, although it can request additional data from Israeli and Turkish officials.


For six weeks after the flotilla incident, Israel and Turkey traded threats that played into the hands of extremists and came to the brink of severing ties. So it is a relief that they have cooled the rhetoric and looked for a way to put the incident behind them.


Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United States worked hard to negotiate the compromise agreement. They must work just as hard to ensure the investigation is not politicized and that it uncovers the full story of what happened on May 31 so it won't happen again.







Nativism in American politics has become so rampant that it is considered scandalous in Republican circles for a judge to acknowledge paying any attention to foreign courts and their legal rulings. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the few prominent jurists to speak out against this trend in recent years, gave an on-the-money speech last week pointing out the xenophobia on recent display in the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan.


At one point, Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, noted with scorn that Harvard Law School, where Ms. Kagan had been dean, required first-year students to study international law. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma, asked why Ms. Kagan thought it was acceptable to use foreign law to interpret the Constitution, which she retorted was almost never the case. Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican of Arizona, summed it up: "I'm troubled by it," not because foreign law would create a United States precedent, but "because it suggests that you could turn to foreign law to get good ideas."


In her remarks on Friday, delivered to the International Academy of Comparative Law at American University in Washington, Justice Ginsburg said that kind of thinking is completely at odds with the views of the nation's founders, who were extremely interested in the opinions and laws of other countries. The authors of the Federalist Papers, she noted, cited the "high importance" of observing the "laws of nations." And, of course, the Declaration of Independence itself was an appeal to the "opinions of mankind" in a "candid world."


To the extent that the United States wants its ideals and legal system to inspire others, it should take interest in ideas from overseas, she said, not necessarily adopting them but drawing on them. Ms. Kagan made it clear that foreign opinions are not authoritative, Justice Ginsburg said, adding: "They set no binding precedent for the U.S. judge. But they can add to the store of knowledge relevant to the solution of trying questions."


In 2002, the Supreme Court prohibited the execution of those mentally retarded, noting that the practice is overwhelmingly disapproved around the world. In 2003, it struck down prohibitions on gay sex, which it called "an integral part of human freedom in many other countries." In 2005, the court prohibited the execution of minors, again noting global opinion. "It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in that case, to acknowledge "the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples."


The reasoning in those cases was greeted with catcalls from legal isolationists, as no doubt will be Justice Ginsburg's brave speech. Foreign law will undoubtedly be cited this week as a reason why many Republicans will vote against Ms. Kagan's confirmation. They might want to re-read James Madison's description in the Federalist Papers of the ideal legislator: "He ought not to be altogether ignorant of the law of nations."







First, a little history. In 2002, a lawsuit by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York was resolved by the Bloomberg administration. That brought an end to what many New Yorkers remember as the garden wars, the Giuliani administration's effort to sell or develop many community gardens.


When he was mayor, Rudolph Giuliani framed the dispute in ideological terms — a free-market economy versus communism. The deal that resulted from the Spitzer suit takes a more benign and realistic view. It recognizes the value of community gardens and offers some basic protections, under which the gardens have thrived.


That agreement expires next month, and New Yorkers have until Aug. 10 to comment on new rules being proposed by the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The changes are troubling. The new rules talk mostly about transferring gardens — making them available for sale or development — and they remove the section of the 2002 agreement that creates a process for offering gardens to the city. In short, critical safeguards vanish for unprotected community gardens — those not owned by a land trust or the parks department.


We urge the city to reconsider these rules, and we also urge community gardeners to make their voices heard. Everyone who lives near a community garden — and they are scattered all across the boroughs — knows the benefits one brings: green space, recreation, local food, and a strong sense of shared neighborhood. City planners understand that the future of cities depends on greening them. So do the gardeners, hard at work on their plots, and so do all the rest of us who stop to admire the softer, greener geometry of a midsummer garden in the midst of this hard-edged city.











The Army, to its credit, tells the story of a middle-aged lieutenant colonel who had served multiple combat tours and was suffering the agonizing effects of traumatic brain injury and dementia. He also had difficulty sleeping. Several medications were prescribed.


On a visit to an emergency room, he was given a 30-tablet refill of Ambien. He went to his car and killed himself by ingesting the entire prescription with a quantity of rum. He left a suicide note that said his headaches and other pain were unbearable.


As if there is not enough that has gone tragically wrong in this era of endless warfare, the military is facing an epidemic of suicides. In the year that ended Sept. 30, 2009, 160 active duty soldiers took their own lives — a record for the Army. The Marines set their own tragic record in 2009 with 52 suicides. And this past June, another record was set — 32 military suicides in just one month.


War is a meat grinder for service members and their families. It grinds people up without mercy, killing them and inflicting the worst kinds of wounds imaginable, physical and psychological. The Pentagon is trying to cope with the surge in suicides, but it is holding a bad hand: the desperate shortage of troops has forced military officials to lower the bar for enlistment, thus letting in people whose drug and alcohol abuse or other behavioral problems would previously have kept them out. And the multiple deployments (four, five and six tours in the war zones) have jacked up stress levels to the point where many just can't take it.


The G.I.'s have fought valiantly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands have died and many, many more have suffered. But the wars have been conducted as if their leaders had been reading from a lunatic's manual. This is not Germany or Japan or the old Soviet Union that we're fighting. But after nearly a decade, neither war has been won and there is no prospect of winning.


Trillions of dollars are being squandered. George W. ("Mission Accomplished") Bush took the unprecedented step of cutting taxes while waging the wars. And Barack Obama has set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan without having any idea how that war might be going when the deadline arrives.


This is warfare as it might have been waged by Laurel & Hardy. Absent the bloodshed, it would be hilarious. I'd give a lot to hear Dwight Eisenhower comment on the way these wars have been conducted.


July was the deadliest month yet for American troops in Afghanistan. Sixty-six were killed, which was six more than the number who died in the previous most deadly month, June. The nation is paying little or no attention to those deaths, which is shameful. The president goes to fund-raisers and yuks it up on "The View." For most ordinary Americans, the war is nothing more than an afterthought.


We're getting the worst of all worlds in Afghanistan: We're not winning, and we're not cutting our tragic losses. Most Americans don't care because they're not feeling any of the tragic losses. A tiny, tiny portion of the population is doing the fighting, and those troops are sent into the war zone for tour after tour, as if they're attached to a nightmarish yo-yo.


Some kind of shared sacrifice is in order, but neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Obama called on Americans to make any real sacrifices in connection with either of these wars. The way to fight a war is to mobilize the country — not just the combat troops — behind an integrated wartime effort. To do that, leaders have to persuade the public that the war is worth fighting, and worth paying for.


What we have in Afghanistan is a war that most Americans believe is not worth fighting — and certainly not worth raising taxes to pay for. President Obama has not made a compelling case for the war and has set a deadline for the start of withdrawal that seems curiously close to the anticipated start of his 2012 campaign for a second term.


It's time to bring the curtain down for good on these tragic, farcical wars. The fantasy of democracy blossoming at the point of a gun in Iraq and spreading blithely throughout the Middle East has been obliterated. And it's hard to believe that anyone buys the notion that the U.S. can install a successful society in the medieval madness of Afghanistan.


For those who haven't noticed, we have a nation that needs rebuilding here at home. Maybe we could muster some shared sacrifice on that front.


It's time to bring the troops back, and nurse the wounded, and thank them all for their extraordinary service. It's time to come to our senses and put the lunatic's manual aside.









This is a column about two ways of thinking about your life. The first is what you might call the Well-Planned Life. It was nicely described by Clayton Christensen in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, in an essay based on a recent commencement talk.


Christensen advised the students to invest a lot of time when they are young in finding a clear purpose for their lives. "When I was a Rhodes scholar," he recalls, "I was in a very demanding academic program, trying to cram an extra year's worth of work into my time at Oxford. I decided to spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth.


"That was a very challenging commitment to keep, because every hour I spent doing that, I wasn't studying applied econometrics. I was conflicted about whether I could really afford to take that time away from my studies, but I stuck with it — and ultimately figured out the purpose of my life."


Once you have come up with an overall purpose, he continues, you have to make decisions about allocating your time, energy and talent. Christensen, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School and the author of several widely admired books, notes that people with a high need for achievement commonly misallocate their resources.


If they have a spare half-hour, they devote it to things that will yield tangible and near-term accomplishments. These almost invariably involve something at work — closing a sale, finishing a paper.


"In contrast," he adds, "investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn't offer that same immediate sense of achievement. ... It's not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, 'I raised a good son or a good daughter.' " As a result, the things that are most important often get short shrift.


Christensen is a serious Christian. At university, he was the starting center on his basketball team and refused to play in the championship game of an important tournament because it was scheduled for a Sunday. But he combines a Christian spirit with business methodology. In plotting out a personal and spiritual life, he applies the models and theories he developed as a strategist. He emphasizes finding the right metrics, efficiently allocating resources and thinking about marginal costs.


When he is done, life comes to appear as a well-designed project, carefully conceived in the beginning, reviewed and adjusted along the way and brought toward a well-rounded fruition.


The second way of thinking about your life might be called the Summoned Life. This mode of thinking starts from an entirely different perspective. Life isn't a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored. A 24-year-old can't sit down and define the purpose of life in the manner of a school exercise because she is not yet deep enough into the landscape to know herself or her purpose. That young person — or any person — can't see into the future to know what wars, loves, diseases and chances may loom. She may know concepts, like parenthood or old age, but she doesn't really understand their meanings until she is engaged in them.


Moreover, people who think in this mode are skeptical that business models can be applied to other realms of life. Business is about making choices that maximize utility. But the most important features of the human landscape are commitments that precede choice — commitments to family, nation, faith or some cause. These commitments defy the logic of cost and benefit, investment and return.


The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency, and asks, "What should I do?" The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context, and asks, "What are my circumstances asking me to do?"


The person leading the Summoned Life starts with a very concrete situation: I'm living in a specific year in a specific place facing specific problems and needs. At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities and specific options. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?


These are questions answered primarily by sensitive observation and situational awareness, not calculation and long-range planning.


In America, we have been taught to admire the lone free agent who creates new worlds. But for the person leading the Summoned Life, the individual is small and the context is large. Life comes to a point not when the individual project is complete but when the self dissolves into a larger purpose and cause.


The first vision is more American. The second vision is more common elsewhere. But they are both probably useful for a person trying to live a well-considered life.









THE devastation wrought by the great recession is still all too real for millions of Americans who lost their jobs, businesses and homes. The scars of the crisis are fresh, and every new economic report brings another wave of anxiety. That uncertainty is understandable, but a review of recent data on the American economy shows that we are on a path back to growth.

The recession that began in late 2007 was extraordinarily severe, but the actions we took at its height to stimulate the economy helped arrest the freefall, preventing an even deeper collapse and putting the economy on the road to recovery.


From the start, President Obama made clear that recovery from a crisis of this magnitude would not come quickly and that the recovery would not follow a straight line. We saw that this past spring, when the European fiscal crisis posed a serious challenge to the markets and to business confidence, dampening investment and the rate of growth here.


While the economy has a long way to go before reaching its full potential, last week's data on economic growth show that large parts of the private sector continue to strengthen. Business investment and consumption — the two keys to private demand — are getting stronger, better than last year and better than last quarter. Uncertainty is still inhibiting investment, but business capital spending increased at a solid annual rate of about 17 percent.


Together, private consumption and fixed investment contributed about 3.25 percent to growth. Even the surge in imports, which lowered the rate of increase of G.D.P., actually reflects healthy and growing American demand.


As the economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have written, recoveries that follow financial crises are typically a hard climb. That is reality. The process of repair means economic growth will come slower than we would like. But despite these challenges, there is good news to report:


• Exports are booming because American companies are very competitive and lead the world in many high-tech industries.


• Private job growth has returned — not as fast as we would like, but at an earlier stage of this recovery than in the last two recoveries. Manufacturing has generated 136,000 new jobs in the past six months.


• Businesses have repaired their balance sheets and are now in a strong financial position to reinvest and grow.


• American families are saving more, paying down their debt and borrowing more responsibly. This has been a necessary adjustment because the borrow-and-spend path we were on wasn't sustainable.


• The auto industry is coming back, and the Big Three — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — are now leaner, generating profits despite lower annual sales.


• Major banks, forced by the stress tests to raise capital and open their books, are stronger and more competitive. Now, as businesses expand again, our banks are better positioned to finance growth.


• The government's investment in banks has already earned more than $20 billion in profits for taxpayers, and the TARP program will be out of business earlier than expected — and costing nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars less than projected last year.


We all understand and appreciate that these signs of strength in parts of the economy are cold comfort to those Americans still looking for work and to those industries, like construction, hit hardest by the crisis. But these economic measures, nonetheless, do represent an encouraging turnaround from the frightening future we faced just 18 months ago.


The new data show that this recession was even deeper than previously estimated. The plunge in economic activity started an entire year before President Obama took office and was accelerating at the end of 2008, when G.D.P. fell at an annual rate of roughly 7 percent.


Panicked by the collapse in demand and financing and fearing a prolonged slump, the private sector cut payrolls and investment savagely. The rate of job loss worsened with time: by early last year, 750,000 jobs vanished every month. The economic collapse drove tax revenue down, pushing the annual deficit up to $1.3 trillion by last January.


The economic rescue package that President Obama put in place was essential to turning the economy around. The combined effect of government actions taken over the past two years — the stimulus package, the stress tests and recapitalization of the banks, the restructuring of the American car industry and the many steps taken by the Federal Reserve — were extremely effective in stopping the freefall and restarting the economy.


According to a report released last week by Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, advisers to President Bill Clinton and Senator John McCain, respectively, the combined actions since the fall of 2007 of the Federal Reserve, the White House and Congress helped save 8.5 million jobs and increased gross domestic product by 6.5 percent relative to what would have happened had we done nothing. The study showed that government action delivered a powerful bang for the buck, and that the bank rescue on its own will turn a profit for taxpayers.


We have a long way to go to address the fiscal trauma and damage across the country, and we will need to monitor the ups and downs in the economy month by month. The share of workers who have been unemployed for six months or more is at its highest level since 1948, when the data was first recorded, and we must do more to ensure that they have the skills they need to re-enter the 21st-century economy. Small businesses are still battling a tough climate. State and local governments are still hurting.


There are urgent tasks to be undertaken to reinforce the recovery, and Congress should move now to help small business, to assist states in keeping teachers in the classroom, to increase investments in public infrastructure, to promote clean energy and to increase exports. And while making smart, targeted investments in our future, we must also cut the deficit over the next few years and make sure that America once again lives within its means.


These are considerable challenges, but we are in a much stronger position to face them today than when President Obama took office. By taking aggressive action to fix the financial system, reduce growth in health care costs and improve education, we have put the American economy on a firmer foundation for future growth.


And as the president said last week, no one should bet against the American worker, American business and American ingenuity.


We suffered a terrible blow, but we are coming back.


Timothy F. Geithner is the secretary of the Treasury.








Later this year, two big automakers will introduce radically new cars. The NissanLeaf, an all-electric car with a range of about 100 miles, will debut at $32,780. TheChevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric hybrid with a backup motor to give it more driving range, will come in at $41,000.


Cheap, they are not. But not to worry. The federal government has decided to pitch in, with a tax credit of $7,500 for buyers of the pricey but climate-friendly vehicles.


The intentions are good, the need to jump-start an alternative-energy industry is real and the cost is fairly low. But put the subsidy in another context, and the appeal plummets. It is just the latest addition to a long, long list of industry-specific tax breaks designed to encourage certain types of consumer behavior and aid certain favored interests. Collectively, they cost the Treasury a staggering $1 trillion a year, much of it for dubious ends.


Uncle Sam wants you to buy a plug-in car, just like he wants you to buy a car that can run on ethanol. Last year, he wanted you to buy just about any car, so long as you traded in a gas-guzzling clunker. He's very keen on having you go into a lot of debt to buy a house. He also wants you to choose an expensive health insurance plan that covers everything.


Credits and deductions that encourage certain purchases make the tax code impossibly complex. They distort the economy by directing capital to inefficient sectors and by picking winners and losers among industries. Along the way, they add to the endemic corruption of Washington as industries buy favors in Congress with campaign contributions or worse.


Consider the deductibility of interest payments on mortgagesof up to $1 million. This costs the Treasury $92 billion a year, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center and theUrban Institute. And yet homeownership rates are no higher in the USA than in Canada, which has no such deduction. The tax subsidy merely drives up home prices by stimulating demand, leading to larger loans and bigger brokerage commissions — but not a better standard of living for home buyers. And why on earth should ordinary taxpayers be subsidizing people who qualify for million-dollar mortgages?


The exemption from taxes on employer-sponsored health policies of any size encourages people to opt for "Cadillacplans." These have few deductibles or co-pays, removing any incentive for patients to shop around or be the least bit thrifty when considering what treatments they need. That behavior, in turn, leads to higher insurance premiums for everyone. It also costs $138 billion per year.


Ethanol subsidies, meanwhile, not only cost taxpayers tens of billions but also drive up corn prices, raising the cost of food in the supermarket.


Compared with breaks like those, the $7,500 for plug-in cars is modest in scope. But it is not without its faults. Why should the government favor plug-in vehicles or ethanol? If it wants to cut gasoline consumption (which it should) it should hike the gasoline tax and let markets decide how to respond.


Many supporters of the plug-in credit would undoubtedly oppose a new "spending program" to send $7,500 checks to buyers of the favored electric cars. But tax credits are, of course, spending by another name.


The plug-in credit, created as part of the 2009 stimulus bill, is part of an agonizing trend of tax complexity. Economists and tax policy experts from the left and right have argued for years that the tax code is a major drag on the economy, not to mention a costly headache for taxpayers every April. And yet each year, regardless of which party is in power, the complexity grows.


The instruction booklet for the IRS 1040 long form is up to 172 pages, and the average person who fills out his or her own 1040 spends 21.4 hours. Not surprisingly, about 86 million households use professional preparers, whose fees add up to a $107 billion complexity tax on the public.


At some point, government needs to ask whether it should be in the business of social engineering at all. Maybe it should let people make their own decisions without considering a raft of complicated tax considerations. Now that would be something radically new.







Tax expenditures come in many forms, and hardly anyone defends the practice broadly. Various interests avidly defend their particular benefits, though. A sampling:


Brian Wynne, president, Electric Drive Transportation Association, on the tax credit for electric cars:


Electric drive vehicles, which replace oil with electricity, are essential to solving U.S. oil dependence and the

economic, security and environmental threats it creates.


As is true of emerging technologies, plug-in cars are currently more expensive than conventional cars. As a targeted and limited-term incentive, the plug-in electric drive vehicle credit helps consumers purchase these revolutionary cars while manufacturers build the economies of scale to bring prices down. By 2012, some 15 different electric vehicles will be available.


Today, the U.S. imports 57% of its oil, costing some $1 billion a day. Vehicles fueled by electricity boost our own economy. And by using power from the existing grid, plug-ins can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third.


In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico drilling disaster, $4 gas and memories of the oil embargo, it is obvious that investing in consumer choice and clean electric drive cars is both wise and essential.


Vicki Cox Golder, president, National Association of Realtors, on the mortgage deduction: Many Americans have built their futures through homeownership, and to a certain extent, the U.S. tax code has helped them do that.


The tax deductibility of interest paid on mortgages is both a powerful incentive for homeownership and one of the simplest provisions in the tax code. The capital gains exclusion helps people build wealth through homeownership at the point of sale when their primary home has appreciated in value.


People usually don't buy homes because of these benefits. They buy homes to satisfy social, family and personal goals. The mortgage interest deduction and capital gains exclusion do, however, facilitate homeownership, which in turn sustains communities and the nation's economy. Changing these tax code provisions would considerably erode the value of homes, effectively closing the door on the American dream for many who strive to attain it.


Janice Tolley Walters, communications manager, National Corn Growers Association, on ethanol: Extending ethanol tax incentives makes sense in today's economy. The U.S. ethanol industry supports nearly 400,000 domestic jobs and in the past year, ethanol added more than $50 billion to the national economy.


These are just two examples why the National Corn Growers Association urges Congress to extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which is set to expire in December. If the tax credit expires, over 100,000 jobs could be lost. Our country needs to continue to invest in a homegrown alternative fuel industry and to encourage automakers to build more flex-fuel vehicles.


These incentives are especially important to farmer-owned ethanol facilities, and the rural businesses and communities that rely on them. Corn farmers throughout this country are continuing to meet the need for food, feed and fuel, but Congress must do its part to encourage investment in the future of ethanol.


Diana Aviv, president, Independent Sector, which represents non-profits and foundations, on charitable deductions:


America has a tradition of voluntarily coming together to help improve lives and advance the common good.

Charities and foundations are created and sustained by people who devote their time and resources to solving problems and enriching their communities with the help of charitable donations.


Our government wisely encouraged giving by incentivizing donations with tax deductions. In other countries where there is no such incentive, the amount of chartable giving drops radically. The tax code should be used to advance the good in society. In these difficult economic times, it is even more essential that our government preserve vital incentives for all of us to support programs and organizations that improve our lives.








A recent episode of NPR's This American Life (quite possibly the best reportorial journalistic enterprise going today — an admission that might cost me my right-wing decoder ring) focused on the plight of Haiti. The island nation was a basket case long before last January's horrific earthquake. Indeed, despite the fact that the country hosts some 10,000 aid groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it has gotten worse over the past half-century.Haitians on average make half as much as they did 50 years ago. Despite the best of intentions, aid agencies simply haven't made the country better.




The usual answer from the left is a long indictment of America and the West's legacy of racism, imperialism and slavery. But even if you concede all of that, it won't get you very far in explaining why Haiti has only gotten worse as that legacy has faded further into the past and the West has grown in generosity. (Roughly half of all American households donated to earthquake relief.)


This American Life, hardly a capitalist hotbed, has a more constructive answer: Haiti's problems in large part boil down to a culture of poverty. Haitians do not lack the desire to make their lives better, nor do they reject hard work. But what they sorely lack is a legal, social and intellectual culture that favors economic growth and entrepreneurialism.


'Just a little' investment


In one NPR vignette, a mango farmer needs a small canal from a river abutting her property if she wants to expand her crop beyond two meager trees. Technology "Sumerians probably took for granted 5,000 years ago" could transform this single mother and her kids from "some of the poorest people on earth to much better off," according to reporter Adam Davidson. But despite a surplus of both cheap ditch-digging labor and aid agencies, she can't get a loan to build it.


"This is what kept striking us in Haiti, just a little upfront investment and people could be living so much better," added fellow correspondent Chana Joffe-Walt.


Instead, Haitians themselves explain, most aid agencies spend much of their energies trying to justify their own existence rather than helping Haitians help themselves. There are important lessons here for U.S. policymakers, not just in regard to Haiti (hardly a national security priority) but also for such places as Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly now that President Obama has announced the combat phase of the Iraq project is coming to an end.


The "root causes" crowd always had a point about the effects of poverty on political stability. Where their case truly fell apart is in the remedy: economic planning from above. For decades, the "international community" bet on big-ticket state-run make-work jobs and white elephants. The West, including America, is expert at pouring aid into poor countries; it's less adept at teaching poor countries how to stop being poor.


Carl Schramm, the president of the entrepreneurism-boosting Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, wants to change that. In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, he laid out the case for "expeditionary economics," whereby the U.S. wouldn't export merely democracy but also the economic policies necessary to sustain it.


Economic growth is indispensable to counterinsurgency theory for obvious reasons. Delivering not just better material conditions — but also the sense that better days are ahead — is at the core of any American sales pitch for democracy. Only a thriving entrepreneurial class can create a healthy middle class, which research shows is essential to democratic stability. The Taliban would still be able to recruit fanatics if Afghanistan had a surging job market, but it would be much harder to win the support of the general population.


'Messy capitalism'


Recently, there has been a bipartisan boom in support for microfinancing. But it remains the case that for economic planners, putting your faith in the chaos of the market is akin to letting go of the wheel on the highway.


Which is why Schramm argues that the U.S. military should take the lead in bringing "messy capitalism" to places such as Afghanistan. Entrepreneurialism is surely a mind-set, but it is also a skill. And the United States, of all countries, should teach it — even if it seems that the Democrats would rather un-learn these lessons here at home.


There's a rich body of research suggesting such an effort would pay off.


According to Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, the Third World brims with entrepreneurs, but they must work in the black market because the legal economy bars them. In the early 1970s, when de Soto started his work, it took a Peruvian 200 days of full-time work, and staggeringly expensive fees and bribes, just to start a business legally. De Soto estimates that if the world's poor could just be given clear title to their land, they'd gain access to $9.3 trillion in capital, to borrow against or sell.


Even if that's too rosy a prediction, one thing is clear: The way we've been doing things abroad in places such as Haiti hasn't worked very well, while entrepreneurialism at home has fueled staggering economic growth.


And heck, maybe if we turned Afghanistan and Haiti around, we might return to the same policies here as well.


Jonah Goldberg, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.









The simmering debate over whether Barack Obama did the right thing by going on The View centers on whether his foray into the murky ground of daytime TV besmirches the dignity of the presidency. But this concern is a shallow one that turns our attention away from an issue that is deeper and far more troubling.


Nearly 7 million people watched Obama wedge himself onto a couch betweenBarbara Walters, the show's creator, and the program's four co-hosts. The five women — an irascible, eclectic mix of estrogen — didn't make him squirm during an hour of questioning on the program, which resembles more of a coffee klatch than a news show.


Of course, that's why Obama decided to go on The View. With his approval ratings sagging badly and his Democratic Party hoping to stave off a drubbing in the mid-term congressional elections, the president needs to rally female voters, who are nearly 80% of the show's audience. So it makes sense for Obama to try to reverse his slide with women on The View, rather than on a TV news show.


Demeans presidency?


I know such an acknowledgement sounds like treason to those who think presidents should only subject themselves to the questions of serious journalists. Even Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Democratic Party chairman, objected to Obama going on the show.


"The president should be accessible, should answer questions that aren't pre-screened, but I think there should be a little bit of dignity to the presidency," he said during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Rendell compared The View to The Jerry Springer Show, and added: "I think the president of the United States has to go on serious shows."


But "serious" journalists are everywhere, from the TV news shows to the comedy-show circuit and beyond. The lines between "serious" journalism and news-entertainment has been blurring for years. In 1994, while promoting his book, then-CBS news anchor Dan Rather went on the Late Show with David Letterman and exhibited his tobacco spitting skills.


Before being picked to anchor the CBS Evening News in 2006, Katie Couric was a guest host of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After taking the job, she went on Jon Stewart's Comedy Central faux news show and joked about giving a free colonoscopy to viewers of her CBS show to beef up its audience.


Comedy and news


In 2007, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams hosted Saturday Night Live. And earlier this year, Christiane Amanpour played a TV journalist in the movie Iron Man 2. This month she takes over as host of This Week, ABC's Sunday morning news show.


Given this cross-dressing, it's not surprising that Stewart was ranked alongside "serious" network anchors in 2008 when Americans were asked which journalist they admire the most.You can expect the confusion over who's a real journalist to grow as more news organizations try to do journalism on the cheap. Using untrained people to provide video to broadcast news outlets and newspapers' reliance on "citizen journalists" to help fill the void created by the downsizing of their news staffs blur the line even more.


The short-term financial gain news organizations get from this watering down of journalism will, in the long run, make it harder for Americans to distinguish between programs such as The View and a network newscast. And it will make it increasingly easy for savvy politicians such as Obama to avoid answering tough questions from this nation's dwindling number of truly serious journalists.


DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.










When it comes to religion, secular Europeand spiritual America are more than an ocean apart. So, too, when it comes to the veil.


In the USA, even opportunistic anti-immigration politicians are steering clear of the question of head coverings for Muslim women. But legislation banning burqas, niqabs and other forms of Islamic dress that cover the eyes is being hotly debated across Western Europe.


On June 30, a Tory member of Parliament introduced in the United Kingdom a bill that would make it illegal to cover one's face in public. On July 13, France's lower house of parliament passed, by a 335-1 vote, a ban on face-covering veils.


Politics is, of course, about power, but power is energized by symbols, and in Western Europe the veil symbolizes gender inequality — a "walking coffin," according to the French immigration minister, Eric Besson.


It also symbolizes what Christians and secularists alike fear is a growing Muslim threat, which opponents of the veil articulate as a threat to public safety. To paraphrase The Shadow, who knows what evil lurks behind the jihab?


In 2004, France, which is home to Western Europe's largest Muslim minority (about 5 million), responded to this threat by banning all religious symbols, including crosses and Muslim head scarves, from its public schools. In parts of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, public school teachers are forbidden to wear Muslim head scarves, though Catholic attire for nuns and priests is allowed.


American legislators are going in the opposite direction. In April, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law legislation lifting a ban on religious garb for public school teachers. Enacted during the anti-Catholic panic of the 1920s, this ban wasdesigned to keep nuns from teaching in public schools.In recent years it had been used to dismiss a teacher who wore white clothes and a white turban after converting to Sikhism. But it had not been employed to dismiss teachers who wore crosses.


A Western divide


According to a Pew Forum survey released earlier this month, support for laws prohibiting face-covering veils is strong across Western Europe, with huge majorities in France (82%), Germany (71%), Britain (62%) and Spain (59%) supporting such legislation.


Not so in the USA, where only 28% approve of such a ban.


Why the discrepancy? Why are European politicians making hay over this issue, while American politicians are largely avoiding it?


One factor is the relative size of these countries' Muslim communities, which according to Boston University's World Religion Database account for only about 1.5% of the U.S. population but 5% of the citizens of Germany, 6% in the Netherlands and 9% in France.


A second factor is culture. In the name of their holy trinity of liberté, égalité and fraternité, the French bow down at the altar of secularism. So it should not be surprising that French politicians want their streets and schools to be religion-free zones.


America's public sphere, by contrast, has never been naked of religious expression. Then again, it has never been given over to religion either. So Americans struggle with a challenge quite unknown to the French — how to balance a godless Constitution with a Declaration of Independence that derives our inalienable rights not from the state but from the Creator.


Years ago, in a gathering on American religions sponsored by Boston College's Boisi Center, Ingrid Mattson of Connecticut's Hartford Seminary asked whether an American Muslim public school teacher ought to be allowed to wear a hijab to work. Mattson, who was at the time the vice president of the Islamic Society of North America (she is now president), said the answer was obvious: Muslim head coverings should be allowed in public schools on religious liberty grounds.


I thought the issue was far more complicated. In fact, I thought it presented a classic case of the First Amendment at war with itself.


Dueling ideas


On the one hand, the free exercise clause ("Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion) seems to support Mattson's view that public school teachers should be free to express their religious identities at work. On the other hand, the establishment clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion") seems to argue against any sort of religious dress for public school teachers, on the grounds that impressionable students might read such garb as an indication that their school is pro-Catholic (if their teacher wears a habit), pro-Sikh (if their teacher wears a turban), or pro-Muslim (if their teacher wears a hijab).


I believe that the Constitution requires public schools to allow teachers in upper grades (where students are generally less impressionable and less deferential to authority, and typically cycle through various teachers each day) to express their religion in dress, as long as they maintain in their teaching the religious neutrality required by the Constitution. However, I believe that the Constitution requires public schools to deny this same freedom to teachers in lower grades because here, students are generally more impressionable and more deferential to authority, and often have only one teacher in a given school day.


Creating a balance


My position might seem convoluted, but it is no more so than many U.S. Supreme Court rulings on religion, which are forever trying to balance the demands of the establishment clause for religious neutrality with the demands of the free exercise clause for religious liberty. My position is also in keeping with the views of many ordinary Americans, who continue to differentiate themselves from Europeans when it comes to religious tolerance.


To be sure, fear of Islam is a staple for many U.S. radio and television personalities, who worry continually about the imposition of sharia (Islamic law) on American life — a worry even more remote than the possibility of cross-dressing criminals concealed behind burqas starting a spate of bank robberies from London to Rome.


Occasionally, this fear spills over into the general public, as recent hearings on the proposed Ground Zero community center and mosque can testify. But the so-called culture wars are a product more of the news media than of the middle class.


Ordinary Americans (those without talk shows) exhibit what sociologist Alan Wolfe referred to in One Nation, After All as a striking tolerance for competing religious perspectives — a "soft multiculturalism" that, true to our nation's highest ideals, gives to others the same religious freedoms we want for ourselves.


What will happen in the USA if Islam claims the 9% of the population it now claims in France? Or if another 9/11 befalls us at the hands of a terrorist praying "Allahu Akbar"?


I don't know. For now, I am grateful that our talking heads are not whipping our legislators into a frenzy, and thatMuslim women are free to wear whatever they want in our public places.


Stephen Prothero is a religion professor at Boston University and the author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.








The tax battle brewing in Washington hasn't become top-line news yet, but it will in just a few weeks. The core issue is whether the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which heaped the biggest benefits on America's wealthiest 5 percent while vastly increasing deficit spending, should be continued despite rising federal deficits and the cumulative national debt.


The issue is monumental both for politically symbolic reasons, and for its direct fiscal impact on the nation's fiscal integrity and on major entitlements and safety net programs in the coming years and decades.


The Bush administration the Republican-controlled Congress at that time put the tax breaks under a 10-year expiration period chiefly because the soaring federal deficits they would have generated — in the trillions of dollars over the next 10-to-20 years due to the loss of tax revenue —were blatantly unaffordable. The Bush administration and his party would have had to acknowledge those stunning red-ink costs if it had made the tax cuts permanent, and that would have killed the deal.


The annual deficits and total debt the Bush administration left for the 10-year life of the tax cuts is onerous enough as it is. George W. Bush took office after the Clinton-Gore administration had worked its way out of the Reagan/Bush I deficits and turned in three consecutive budget surpluses. The Bush II administration quickly reversed that stellar financial picture, doubling the nation's debt from $5.7 trillion to more than $12 trillion through the 2009 budget he left for President Obama's first fiscal year. Part of that new debt, to be sure, came from the unpaid-for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which by all logic should have precluded the tax cuts.


The Obama administration, and a legion of economists, believe the most sensible policy for 2011 is to renew the tax cuts for the 95 percent of American families with incomes under $250,000 ($200,000 for singles), but to cancel the cuts for the 5 percent of Americans — and especially the top 1 percent — whose incomes are well above that level.


Though that would still increase the deficit, it's justifiable as a matter of tax equity for the huge majority of Americans whose inflation-adjusted wages have fallen over the past 10 years. It's also vital to keep consumer spending stable enough to help the economy's slow recovery from the financial implosion of 2008 and the recession that drags on in the wake of that crisis.


Republicans, by contrast, are preparing a battle plan apparently hinges on a belief that Americans have collective amnesia. They have seized on federal deficit spending as their new campaign whipping boy. Never mind that their tax cuts created most of the current debt; They are preaching more tax cuts for the rich as the remedy for the sour economy that still haunts the nation.


That would be disastrous, but their trickery never fails to gleam like pyrite. They hope voters will conveniently forget the GOP's Bush-era fiscal sins that drove the nation into the deep hole we're in, so they're counting on voters to swallow the notion that letting the tax cut for the wealthiest expire amounts to a tax increase. They already are claiming that letting those high-end tax cuts expire will amount to a job-killing action. And, their saying that tax cuts don't need to be paid for because they stimulate the economy. In fact, contemporary statistics prove the opposite on both points.


If Republicans cared about stimulating the economy, they would not have killed, by Senate filibuster, a Democratic proposal to let the Federal Reserve open a $30 billion line of credit for loans to small-businesses to which cash-hoarding banks have stopped lending. And if they cared about laid-off workers and the underemployed, they would have voted for an extension of unemployment benefits.


Those votes, along with their urgency to renew tax cuts for the wealthy, prove precisely where their empathy and priorities lie. That's what voters should remember when the battle over begins over the proper recipients for renewal of the Bush tax cuts.







Like Santa Claus in the song, many parents are busily making a list and checking it twice. Malls and merchants are scheduling special sales and some even plan to extend hours. The reason? It's again time for Tennessee's sales tax holiday, an event which happily coincides with back-to-school shopping and provides in some instances substantial savings for many families. This week's Friday-Sunday event is certainly welcome in tough economic times, though there is legitimate debate about its long-term value.


To be sure, parents who shop during the weekend — the tax-free period starts Friday at 12:01 a.m. and concludes at 11:59 p.m. Sunday — can save a considerable sum on clothing, school supplies and computers, the staples of back-to-school shopping lists, The sales tax exemption, in fact, is not limited to back-to-school shoppers. It is available to anyone in Tennessee who buys qualified goods — clothing and school supplies that cost $100 or less per item and computers that cost $1,500 or less — during the holiday.


Shoppers can save nearly $10 for every $100 spent. That's because Tennessee, which does not have an income tax, is heavily dependent on sales taxes to fund government operations. Consequently, the combined state and local levy can reach almost 10 percent in some locales. The weekend holiday temporarily lifts that heavy surcharge.


The sale tax holiday certainly has an appeal. The average family, according to the National Retail Foundation, will spend nearly $600 on back-to-school purchases this year. Many Tennessee families, then, could save nearly $60. The holiday also is a boon for businesses, many still struggling to improve their bottom lines in a somewhat flat retail climate.


There are nagging problems with a sales tax holiday, though. The state will lose some revenue — $8 million-$10 million by some accounts — though local governments, though, won't suffer. The state will cover their losses arising from the holiday. There's also an substantive equity issue.


True, shoppers who take advantage of the reasonable and highly publicized price limits on items during the tax holiday will save money. That's certainly helpful to the many families of modest means struggling to properly clothe and equip children for the upcoming school year. What would be more helpful, though, is a fairer tax system that provides long-term relief for hard-working families of limited means that currently must spend a disproportionate share of their annual income on sales taxes rather than on necessities.


A weekend tax hiatus, to be sure, is better than nothing,. But legislators should do more. They should approve broad-based, significant tax reform. Year-round — not temporary — relief from sales taxes would be far more meaningful to state residents than the temporary reprieve the holiday provides.







Americans have many differences when it comes to politics, government and social policies, but they are united on some matters. One is that veterans who have served their country will be treated with dignity and honor in death. No wonder, then, that revelations that officials at Arlington Cemetery, the nation's most hallowed, seem to be responsible for as many as 6,600 mismarked graves has stirred widespread outrage.


The problem is not new, a point made clear last week when John C. Metzler, Arlington's former superintendent, and Thurman Higginbotham, his former assistant, were compelled to testify before a Senate committee. Both grudgingly admitted that they had been aware of problems with graves as early as 2003. There were other instances, too, that should have spurred corrective. That it failed to do so dishonors veterans and victimizes their families — the antitheses of Arlington's mission and purpose.


Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, icily reminded them that even if they failed to act in 2003, they should have in 2005. That's when urns with unidentified cremated remains were discovered in a cemetery landfill. Still, the men took no action to rectify those problems, or others that followed. Nothing was done, in fact, until late June, when an Army Inspector General's report found that 211 graves in one section of the 600-acre cemetery that contains more than 330,000 graves were mismarked. The pair, under pressure, then resigned.


Subsequent investigations suggest that thousands of additional graves might be mismarked, though the number is uncertain. Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army's National Cemeteries Program, told committee members that there are "more discrepancies" with the graves at Arlington. The investigation continues. It is possible, then, that more families of veterans will learn to their horror that the remains of their loved ones have been mistreated or mislabeled.


Mr. Higginbotham and Mr. Metzler failed to explain how such a sorry state of affairs arose on their watch. The former pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions. The latter first said that he accepted "responsibility for all my actions and for all of my team's actions," but then reneged. He subsequently blamed his staff, an antiquated card-based record-keeping system and problems with an automated record system for the cemetery's woes. The senators would have none of that self-serving talk. Neither should the American people.


The Arlington situation should be made right. An ongoing Army investigation will determine if criminal charges are warranted. That's the first step. The next is to establish operational and personnel policies that help ensure that such mismanagement never occurs again. There is an estimable template available.


The Department of Veterans Affairs operates 131 national cemeteries — including the Chattanooga National Cemetery. It does so without a hint of the scandal currently afflicting Arlington. The Army, which manages Arlington, can learn from the VA, and will suffer no loss of prestige if it seeks such expert help. The damage to its reputation in this instance is already done.


America promises those who serve that they will be buried with dignity in a place of honor. At most national cemeteries that pledge is kept. At Arlington, though, it is increasingly obvious that the promise is not always met. Mismanagement of burials is a disgrace in any circumstance, but especially so at the nation's most well-known burying ground. Veterans and their families — and the nation that purports to honor both — deserve better.







The popular old-standard song "Summertime" in the famed operetta "Porgy and Bess" describes this season as being "when the livin' is easy." Well, maybe. But summertime also is the season that's hot. And this August has begun a lot hotter than usual.


Even though we in the South are somewhat accustomed to high temperatures, we are sweltering now as there are several days in a row when our thermometers are close to or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.


August this year has started out with a real heat wave.


We all like summer — but many 100-degree days can cause serious problems for some.


It's not possible for everyone to find a swimming pool or lake, and air conditioning isn't universally available. Lots of people have to work outdoors, and really feel the heat. When temperatures are as high as they are these days, it's important for everyone to be careful. Older people who don't have air conditioning and those who must work outdoors need to be particularly cautious.


You know the rules: Stay out of the sun as much as possible. Be cautious to avoid heat exhaustion. Drink lots of

water. Be careful about too much exertion. Those without air conditioning should seek cross ventilation in their homes, but even then the air will be hot.


We are accustomed to warm summers — but prolonged periods of 100 degrees are unusual. We are likely to face a month or more of really hot weather before there is much cooling. We want to enjoy summer, but don't want any heat casualties.


"Summertime" should be "easy," not dangerous.







Chattanooga has an attractive downtown, with some tree-lined, divided parkway streets conveniently serving traffic, lots of large office populations and a variety of retail stores. But from time to time, we have had to face a recurring problem: providing enough parking places along our streets and in garages for our highly car-centered people.


The challenge, of course, is to have enough parking places "close to where we want to go" at a cost that is reasonable and acceptable.


Parking meters along main streets are fine for accommodating motorists for short stops. And many parking garages have been developed for daytime workers and for shoppers who spend many hours downtown. But there never seem to be "enough" places where we want to stop for a price we want to pay.


Building parking garages is expensive. Street-level lots are popular, but are limited in the central city because the real estate close to stores and major businesses is expensive.


Chattanooga has faced its parking challenges from time to time over several decades, making adjustments to provide parking, then running out of enough, and needing more places for our cars.


We are fortunate that our city, unlike some others, is still thriving downtown. We still have many retail stores, big offices and super attractions such as our wonderful Tennessee Aquarium, museums and theaters.


But needs, enterprise, geography, convenience and economics must be combined to achieve a reasonable parking balance.


To keep the heart of our city alive and attractive, we surely must make continuing efforts to assure the availability of parking places where we want them and can afford to provide and use them. It isn't easy. It is important.






Americans are strongly united in opposition to illegal immigration, as from 11 million to 20 million illegal aliens in our country, many of them taking jobs that could otherwise be filled by laid-off U.S. citizens.


But opposition to illegal immigration does not mean the American people support unscrupulous treatment of illegal aliens by those who hire them.


Many so-called "day laborers" in the United States are here illegally. They often congregate near construction sites or in other places, seeking work and a paycheck. Many of the people who hire them pay them the agreed-upon wage for their work.


But researchers in Newark, N.J., among other places, have found that many day laborers are cheated out of their pay by employers who believe they can get away with that because the illegals are unlikely to report them to police.


It is unfortunate that the illegals' own unlawful actions put them in a position to be taken advantage of that way, and it is disgusting that an employer would turn the foreigners' vulnerability to an employer's financial benefit.


So what is the solution? Should illegal alien workers who have no right to be in this country to begin with be given "rights" in labor disputes with exploitative employers?


No. The federal government should start by enforcing our immigration laws to reduce the illegal invasion of our country. Meanwhile, there should be adoption of clear verification procedures by which employers can know whether someone seeking a job is in the United States legally. That would dry up the availability of jobs for illegals, and many would return home voluntarily or never come here in the first place.


And finally, Americans who hire illegal aliens and then cheat them out of promised wages should be sent to prison.


We should fight both illegal immigration and employer fraud.







Like it or not — some dread it while some are excited about it — we are not far from the start of our school year again!


That's why the volunteers in the annual Nehemiah Project are working, coordinating and seeking contributions to supply about 3,500 backpacks with school supplies for children in need in our Hamilton County schools.


How wonderful it is to get children off to a good educational start by sending them to school with the things they need in addition to buildings, good teachers and books.


Volunteers are accepting contributions (The Nehemiah Project, P.O. Box 25351, Chattanooga TN 37422, or by calling 355-4093, or at and are working to get needy youngsters off to a good school start.


It's one of many fine philanthropic efforts in our generous community.







Most members of the U.S. House of Representatives are conscientious, hard-working, well-meaning national legislators. But some of them — Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, for example — keep giving members of Congress "a bad name."


Rep. Rangel, a familiar figure in the news, currently is facing 13 charges of violating Congress' ethical standards.


There have been recurrent charges that he has not appropriately reported personal assets of more than $600,000 on his congressional disclosure statements. There are questions about his rent-controlled Manhattan office and his villa in the Dominican Republic, as well as other allegations of violation of House ethics rules, postal questions and more.


Rep. Rangel's votes and actions would be bad enough, even without all of this. He keeps setting a bad example in Congress.








A few of us at the Hürriyet Daily News are old enough to remember a standard feature of Istanbul life decades ago: the dancing bears. The bears and "trainers" would wander main thoroughfares. For a few liras, the colorfully-dressed bear handler would begin the beat of a drum and the domesticated animal would lumber to his hind feat. Not usually without a few whacks from the handler's stick, in tempo with the beating drum. Guidebooks would hail them, tourists would line up to see them and somehow the practice was treated as a cheerful part of local lore.


Not any more. Public consciousness has grown and matured in many ways in recent years. Lots of customs once benignly regarded no longer exist. Child labor that might have been winked at 30 or 40 years ago is actively banned. Street vendors selling food are now regulated. Even doctors' waiting rooms and hospital wards not long ago were equipped with ashtrays. Not anymore. Society matures and progresses and attention to animal rights is part of this process.


We realize, of course, that animal rights, hygiene standards, regulations on child labor are not today on a par with, say, Sweden. But progress has been remarkable. And no one could today imagine an itinerant bear handler strolling with his chained charge along the Bosphorus. Public mores, not to mention the law, would not allow it.


And so it should be with "dolphinariums." Aquatic shows featuring dolphins with their toothy smiles have proliferated in Turkey in recent years, particularly along the southern coasts.


Also proliferating are protests of the practice. The latest to get involved, as we reported yesterday, is filmmaker Savaş Karataş. He has embarked on a series of consciousness raising stunts, including plans to swim the breadth of the Dardanelles Straight, and is urging a boycott of dolphinariums.


Around the world, aquatic parks and dolphin shows have been drawing attention to the fact that most of them are based on myths. In most cases, the dolphins are not "rescued" from being washed up on a beach some place but are commercially captured. Studies indicate at least one dolphin is killed for every one taken live.


That playing with dolphins is an effective therapy for disabled children is a common argument heard in defense of dolphinariums. This is sheer nonsense, without any scientific support.


And that life penned up is a form of torture for animals accustomed to swimming up to 40 kilometers a day, a type of sensory deprivation, is apparent. Even forcing the creatures to live in chlorinated water is a form of abuse well documented.


We think the case is clear that it's time that Turkey's aquatic park dolphins go the way of Istanbul's dancing bears. Authorities should take steps to ban the parks. Tourists and families should shun them and find amusement elsewhere.








The battle over Turkey's constitutional reform goes on in familiar lines: the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, whose rule has been unchallenged since the Nov. 3, 2002, elections, is leading the "r